Review: Roseblood by AG Howard

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I grew up absolutely in love with the Phantom of the Opera musical, so you can imagine my extreme excitement at finding out Roseblood by AG Howard would be a YA modernised retelling! And it was absolutely beautifully written, with a good dash of creepy and disturbing. A glorious tribute to the original! Except far less singing. And more cats. But I’m not arguing. I’m a big fan of this author and her Splintered series is one of my top favourites of all time, so I’m so glad her new book didn’t disappoint at all!

Roseblood basically follows the tale of Rune, who is possessed with an amazing operatic voice…that she can’t control. It literally forces her to sing and is more than a little disturbing. She’s shipped off to a musical boarding school in Paris (that just so happens to be inside an old abandoned Opera House) where she meets a ghostlike boy in the garden who plays a violin and coaches her singing. But the boy is also the adopted son of the original Phantom…who just happens to want Rune for something decidedly sinister and deadly. It’s absolutely stuffed with aesthetically pleasing scenes and it rekindles theories about the original story and also adds in new and exciting twists! It reads a bit like a “sequel” and a “but what happened next”, which I absolutely loved.

Plus who doesn’t want to go to boarding school in an old opera house, right?!

It’s told in dual point-of-view, with both Rune and Thorn narrating. I loved Rune as she learns to accept her magical abilities, but Thorn absolutely stole my heart. He’s a tortured and haunted sort of boy, hiding in shadows with his brilliant violin playing. He wears a mask as legacy of the Phantom, his adopted father, too. And the two of them together were just the cutest thing of ever.

I’m pleased there was so much music too. As it should be. I’m a complete music fiend and used to play violin myself, so I adored Thorn’s capabilities (lowkey jealous of his Stradivarius) and I love how Rune was a singer.

It also has delightfully creepy elements. There are bleeding roses and ghosts staring at you behind mirrors and weird dreams and dangerous magical powers that may or may not suck all the energy out of those around you when you use it. Rune was very self aware of how creepy the opera house was, too, and I like how she punched typical horror-story cliches by knowing what she was getting into when she walked into abandoned buildings. Very meta. Very nice.

The writing is absolutely lush and detailed and beautiful. Although sometimes the description did get a bit over-the-top and took away from the action of the story. Overall, though, I loved getting swallowed into the vivid and gorgeous scenery. The plot itself wasn’t so face paced, but it kept my attention on every page. I wanted to know about Thorn’s tragic past and I needed more details about the morally grey Phantom’s plans.

Roseblood is a beautifully written retelling that does the original justice! It lacked in the action department, but made up for it with the lush writing and the winning characters and the lovely creepy factor, like roses that bleed all over you and ghostly cats. It may or may not, however, inspire you to run around your house belting out the Phantom of the Opera theme songs. You’ve been warned.

Review: The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore is a beautiful example of why Magical Realism is the best. It took me a few pages to get into the swing of this magical world where people can grow feathers and curses are very real, but after that? I was hopelessly hooked. The writing was flawlessly gorgeous. It was the kind of writing that absolutely devoured your attention so it was just you + book = everything there is. (Which is a little unfortunate if one has to, like, stop reading and go to work or whatever. Note To Self: read this book when you have a free weekend and can devour it all at once!)9781250058652

This year has only just begun and already I’ve found a few favourite!

The story is basically of two warring performer families: the Spanish Palomas family who wear mermaid tails and put on whimsical shows, and the French Corbeaus family who grow feathers and wear wings and dance in the tree tops. Their rivalry dates back generations and they believe even touching each other will cause death and curses. It has a Romeo & Juliet feel! And of course two teens from each side accidentally end up falling for each other, in a slowburn and entirely magical romance. Lace gets thrown out of the Paloma family and ends up masquerading as a nobody in the Corbeaus family in an effort to get a burned curse lifted off her arm. She doesn’t mean to fall in love with Cluck, the outsider with damaged hands and red feathers in his hair. But bring on performances, burns, terrible storms, and hopeless accidents and here is The Weight of Feathers.

This is magical realism at its finest. It mixes real world settings with dashes of magic and comes across so well written I felt like I got sucked into another land. The story is also mostly set in a small town, and I loved the aching summery vibe of stillness and loneliness. When the setting just leaps off the page, you know you’re in for a good read.

The diversity is also amazing and exceptional. Not only do we have French and Spanish protagonists (dual narrating) who are also people of colour, it also touches on disability representation. Cluck has damaged fingers which complicates his job of making wings for his family’s shows. Lace sustains massive scarring on her face and has to learn to accept herself and not view herself as damaged. It’s really beautiful how all the themes are woven together. I also loved the amount of French and Spanish words! I did have to resort to Google Translate a few times, but mostly you can tell what they’re saying by context. And it gives the cultures a deeper feel to see them using their own tongue.

I absolutely loved the protagonists too. Usually dual point-of-view and I don’t get on well. But both Lace and Cluck’s perspectives were brilliant. Lace is more logical and down-to-earth and will not be pushed around by anyone. Cluck is dreamy and an outsider even with his own family. He’s constantly abused and pushed aside by them and he wears strange clothes and is unknowable — until Lace chooses to know him. The way they ended up relying and being strengthened by each other was so encouraging to read.

I also appreciated that the romance was very slow. No instalove or falling into each other’s arms on page 5 and professing eternal love. It felt realistic! And it was more a journey of trust = friendship = love.

This is definitely a book I’ll come back to for copious re-reads. It was unique and beautifully written, with a storyline that wasn’t particularly new, but was written in such a fresh way that I was addicted to every page. Lace and Cluck are the most adorable and winning couple I’ve read about in a long time. And I rooted for their lives to get better! It features family, magic, and quite a bucketful of suffering. I only wish there were more books.

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Review: The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

We are barely into 2017 and I am already going to call The Cruelty as one of my top ten kids/young adult books for this year! There is really only one word to describe this novel – Kick-ass! Not the most eloquent description I know but it really is like a kick to the stomach that will leave you breathless.

Ten years ago Gwendolyn’s mother was killed right in front of her eyes. Since then it has been just her and her Dad. But nothing is really as it seems. While he is on a ‘business trip’ to Paris Gwendolyn’s father disappears. She is about to find out her loving diplomat father is actually a spy. The kindly old neighbours who she loves like Grandparents are also spies. The problem is everyone seems more concerned that her father may have defected than in actually finding out what has happened to him.

Now the only person Gwendolyn can rely on is herself. And she isn’t going to let anything or anyone get in the way of getting her Dad back. Diving head-first into the seedy European underworld of drugs, violence and prostitution Gwendolyn must decide who to trust and who to hurt. With moves and counter-moves, double-crossing and the danger escalating there is no place for mistakes.

I couldn’t help comparing The Cruelty to my all-time favourite young adult series, The Hunger Games. Not the story lines because they couldn’t be any more different. The strong female leads of Gwendolyn and Katniss, however struck me because of how confronting I found The Cruelty. In the end it all came down to the fact that Gwendolyn goes where Katniss won’t. Katniss shows a reluctance to harm and when she has to it costs her emotionally. Gwendolyn has no such qualms.

This is a coming of age story like no other. Imagine if Jason Bourne was female and sixteen. That just about sums up The Cruelty. Rocketing along at breakneck speeds it will leave you shocked, thrilled and horrified all at the same time. And with the promise of more to come Gwendolyn may be about to do for self-defence classes what Katniss did for archery.

Smart, dangerous, kick-ass (yes, really) and an absolute page-turner, The Cruelty, is sure to be one of the hits of 2017. Look out Katniss – here comes Gwendolyn and she’s about to kick your butt!

Review: Reckless by Cornelia Funke

With the new edition of Reckless by Cornelia Funke just having hit the shelves, I decided I had to try this dark fairy tale retelling! I had no idea what to expect since I read Inkheart when I was only a small bookworm and it’d been so long I’d forgotten most of it anyway. But I was intrigued by the idea of a book being edited and rewritten again before being released with a new cover. And, in the author’s note, Cornelia Funke seemed very pleased that she had the opportunity to make a beloved story even better. So I was excited! I dived right in!9781782691242

Reckless was stuffed with dark, twisted fairy tale-seque stories. We have monsters and mayhem and murder and evil fairies and tricks and prisons and animated dark woods. My kind of story basically!

The story follows Jacob Reckless, who discovered a world behind his mirror. He’s spent most of his life in the Mirrorworld, being a treasure hunter and getting tangled up in monsters and faeries and unicorns. He’s made enemies and friends and it’s more home to him than the human realm. Then his little brother crawls into Mirrorworld, survives a vicious attack by monsters, but ends up with his flesh being petrified to jade. Jacob has to reverse it or lose his brother forever. This will require a quest. Probably a deadly quest. Probably everyone will betray them and the cure will be the least easiest thing to achieve.

The best part of this book is obviously the magical world! I had in the back of my mind it would be a whimsical and gentle middle-grade story. BUT NO. It’s very dark, although not graphically written, so it just leaves the mayhem up to your imagination. I also appreciated all the fairy tale references! I adore fairy tales, especially from a more sinister angle where nothing is as it seems in the originals. I particularly like how the whole of Reckless had a Sleeping Beauty theme happening, but instead it was a sleeping/petrified boy who’d need to be woken by the girl’s magical kiss. Genderbent retellings give me life.

Also sibling stories are easily the best thing. I love it when brothers have to risk everything to save each other! It’s always a refreshing change from books focused solely on romance too. And even though Jacob is a rather severe, closed off, and serious type of fellow, there’s absolutely nothing that’d stop him from rescuing his brother in time. But it also has an amazing secondary cast that includes: a shapeshifting fox girl who may or may not be in love with Jacob and he in love with her though they both won’t admit it; a sassy backstabbing dwarf who would sell you for a tube of toothpaste probably; a sweet and loving girl who will give Jacob’s brother the kiss of life if only she doesn’t die before they get there in time.

Basically Reckless is an amazing story and not to be missed! It left me feeling rather inspired and excited and wanting to read more (thank you dear universe that it’s a trilogy) which is exactly the kind of feelings I want to finish a book with. I’m so glad this series got a revamp and I can’t wait to see how Jacob tackles the next volume. Full of adventure, torture, and monsters, this is a tale the Grimm brothers would be proud of.

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Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of Cages by Robin Roe is an incredibly heartfelt and raw story. The writing was beautiful and emotional, and the characters just sneaked off the page until they became incredibly real and relatable people. I was so invested!

I’m also endlessly impressed at how this is a debut book! This author is already on my auto-buy list and I can’t wait for whatever she writes next. A List of Cages was my first five-star read of the year!

Basically this is a story about friendship and abuse. I will warn you: it’s not easy to read. It heavily features child abuse and emotional and mental manipulation. It was thoroughly heartbreaking, also for the fact that these things happen when they shouldn’t. It had me near to tears several times.9781484763803

The story is dual narrated by Adam, a highschool senior with ADHD, and 14 year old Julian, who is a foster kid living with an abusive uncle. Back when Julian first lost his parents, he lived with Adam’s family for a while and they become like brothers. Then Julian vanished when his abusive uncle got custody of him and no one knows what’s going on. As the two attend the same school again, Adam tries to rekindle friendship with Julian and figure out what happened to the bright bubbly kid he once knew.

I loved the emphasis on friendship! Also how it was “unconventional” friendship because the boys aren’t the same age. And I think this is really important to represent in fiction. Not only does it show us that (A) it is awesome and great to be friends with people who aren’t necessarily your same age, and (B) Adam and Julian had an “adopted big brother / little brother” relationship which was absolutely adorable and precious. I love how Adam just stepped up to protect Julian and look out for him.

Even though it was dual narrated it was so easy to tell between the boys’ chapters because they had such different voices! This is just such excellent writing. Adam’s chapters were bouncy and bright and energetic, while Julian’s were reserved and laced with fear.

I also appreciated the representation of disability here! Although it is hard to read at times, because both boys face hurtful treatment due to people dismissing their disabilities. This is actually a sad and realistic truth about “invisible disabilities” like ADHD and Dyslexia. They both got into a lot of trouble at school and it’s heartbreaking. But what I loved was the support network amongst their family and friends and how the boys weren’t portrayed as broken or in need of curing. So encouraging! So wonderful!

The book is actually quite small, so I flew through it in just a few hours! Although sometimes the shortness did work against the novel, in that a few things were glossed over or rushed. Adam’s romance with Emerald didn’t feel nearly explored enough, nor Emerald really fleshed out. And I would’ve liked to know more about Adam’s personal life and have some other facts cleared up that I can’t talk about because of spoilers. But I still appreciated that the book was to the point and absolutely addictive. I just wanted to know if everyone would be okay!

I definitely recommend this book! It gave me so many emotions and absolutely caught me in the feels (a term here which basically says I’m mildly HEARTBROKEN but also filled with hope at the ending). I think it was realistic, relatable, and poignant. The power of friendship is important and knows no bounds!

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Review: Normal by Warren Ellis

9780374534974“He was a futurist. They were all futurists. Everyone here gazed into the abyss for a living. Do it long enough, and the abyss would gaze back into you.” So writes Warren Ellis in his novella  — originally published as a digital short — Normal, a concise but immensely satisfying psychological thriller.

When futurist Adam Dearden suffers a nervous breakdown, he is taken to a secret hospital — the “Normal Head Research Station” — which is a recovery station for those whose minds have come apart as a consequence of their occupation. When you spend your life contemplating the direction of mankind — are we circling the drain or reaching for the stars? — you’re bound to unravel, and that’s precisely what’s happened to the patients at Normal. The futurists are themselves divided into distinct types, and their differences essentially boil down to those who’re optimists and those who’re pessimists; is the glass half full or half empty? Are we headed for catastrophe or greatness? Ellis’s text doesn’t provide an answer, but will certainly make you wonder…

After one a fellow patients disappears in impossible circumstances, the patients at Normal are advised that government officials are launching an investigation — which is something nobody wants. So Adam forms a necessary alliance with a section of his inmates in order to get to the bottom of this mystery: and the answer might just break him once and for all.

It’s rare for me to wish a book was longer — I’m always so quick to advise cuts and merges rather than more pages — but Ellis’s premise deserves more room to truly shine. Normal is a novella that’ll make you quiver, but really, it could’ve been something shook you to your core. It’s a blast while it lasts, and I suppose it’s always best to leave an audience wanting more rather than having them glancing at their watches, but with some expansion, Normal could’ve rivalled Ellis’s fantastic novel Gun Machine. Instead it’s a solid detour, and a fun sampling of the writer’s work. Bring on his next novel.

ISBN: 9780374534974
Format: Paperback (191mm x 127mm x 12mm)
Pages: 200
Imprint: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
Publish Date: 11-May-2015
Country of Publication: United States

Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is equal parts beautiful, emotionally damaging, and incredible. I absolutely adored it. Because who doesn’t like a book that will nearly make you cry?? Obviously everyone loves that kind of thing. For sure. This story is gut-wrenching and precious and inspiring and hopeful and balances darkness and hope using some of the best storytelling I’ve experienced in a long time. 9781783443819

The story is about three protagonists: Dill, Lydia, and Travis. They all live in a tiny gossiping town that is smothering and suffocating them. Dill’s father was a preacher but is now in jail for being a peadophile. So basically everyone hates and distrusts him and he’s severely depressed. Lydia has a loving family but is about to leave town after highschool to pursue further education. Aka she’s leaving all her friends behind. Aka her friends that are not doing very well at all. Travis has an abusive family but he’s the sweetest most loving boy who is obsessed with a fantasy series and uses it as an escape. They all need each other. But everything is falling apart.

It’s a story of survival and friendship. Normally I don’t even like books narrated by three protagonists, because it’s confusing. But Dill, Lydia, and Travis were all so different and complex and relatable and heartbreaking that I loved them all. I can’t even choose a favourite!

 

Brief Overview Of The Characters:

  • DILL: He’s the son of a preacher who’s just been imprisoned for sexual charges and EVERYBODY knows Dill and is disgusted by him. Tiny backwards town, remember? Not very forgiving. His mother hates him, school is hell, he’s got NO FUTURE because he’s stuck in this town and his best friend Lydia is leaving for college and basically he was tragic and adorable and quiet and nearly broken and I couldn’t love him more. He does lash out irrationally with passive-aggressive arguments with Lydia. But I get it?!? When you face losing someone, sometimes you push them away first to help dull the pain.
  • LYDIA: she’s a super famous fashion blogger and only 17 #NoImNotJealousHaHaHa. She’s fashionable, super sassy, epically fabulous, definitely not skinny, and has a future of success paved out before her. I adored her relationship with her parents, too! The banter is hilarious and perfect. I love how she as flawed and flawless.
  • TRAVIS: He was the most adorable dork to ever dork in the universe. He’s obsessed with fantasy, specifically this trilogy which he can’t stop talking about. He’s big and kind and unassuming and just downright lovely. Books about lovely boys need to be more of a thing. I adore how his love of fantasy started turning him towards writing, as an escape from his abusive household, and that was beautiful written.

The writing is also absolutely fantastic. It was heavily dialogue centred and balanced hilarious humour with poignant scenes. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even laughed out loud several times actually! (My dog looked mildly displeased at the noise.) And I loved the contrast of their lives: Dill slowly fading to nothing, Lydia being rich and full of purpose, Travis finding escape in writing.

“And anyway, how is a coffee shop Christian?”
“It implies that normal coffee shops are satanic.”
“Which they totally are. It’s like, can I please just get a cup of coffee without having to kneel before Lucifer and pledge my eternal soul?”
“Here’s your latte. Will that be cash, credit, or the blood of a virgin?”

It really tackles mental illness and it does so perfectly. Depression is not an easy topic and yet The Serpent King really captures the complexity of it.

The Serpent King is definitely an extraordinary book. I am of the loud opinion that everyone should read it. Immediately. It’s definitely a coming of age story about friendship and trying to figure out your future and what you want. It has romance, but it’s not overly romantic. The writing will sweep you along and it will, almost definitely, stab you in the chest one or nine times. It was brutal and hopeful which is a perfect combination.

 

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Review: Timekeeper by Tara Sim

9781510706187Timekeeper by Tara Sim was an absolutely magical and adorable steampunk fantasy! And I most empthatically loved it. I’m quite excited over that too, becasue I’ve not found a good steampunk I loved until now. Timekeeper goes firmly on the “favourites” list for including all the glorious things a book should have: great plot, relatable and sympathetic characters, tea and scones, very adorable clocks, and explosions. There is literally so much win here.

Timekeeper is set in an alternate Victorian London, where Danny Hart is a clock mechanic who’s survived a tragic accident and is now reeling from PTSD and severe anxiety. In his world, clocks control lives. And if one Stops? People will be forever trapped inside a minute. Mechanics must maintain clocks and keep the world together. And they must not fall in love with the clock spirits who reside in the towers. Cue Danny meeting the adorable, naive, and winning clock spirit named Colton. And if that doesn’t complicate his life (he doesn’t want to get fired?!) there’s also someone sabotaging all the clocks in England which could permenently kill everyone. Nice.

I loved how the book heavily featured clocks! I’m actually a complete clock nerd and am obsessed with time so (yes I’m the person who knows when it’s 2:32 because that is a huge difference to 2:30, of course) and the fact that there were clock spirits (aka time was personified!) absolutely intrigued me. I wanted to know more immediately! I love books centring around anything that vaguely resembles ghosts or spirits who are nice and just want to live a happy life. Precious darlings.

The charactesr were amazingly complex. Danny was an entirely winning protagonist. I thought his portrayal of anxiety and PTSD was amazingly done, and I really appreciated reading a book that dealt accurately with mental illness — while still having an exploding, mystery, stabby, exciting plot line. Danny is very driven and persistent and yet every time he crumbled, I kind of wanted to scoop him off the floor and feed him a cookie. I also adored his relationship with his best friend, Cassie, who’s a kickass car-mechanic. #SquadGoals

The romance was absolutely delightful too. I loved Colton, the clock spirit! Their relationship is slowburn and very complicated…considering, well, Colton isn’t really human. I love how they related through fairy tale stories and Greek mythology. They both were tragic in their own ways (Danny suffering from his accident and Colton being forever trapped in his clock tower) and it was an all round well written romance that you can’t help but root for.

Plus the plot was exciting and full-on. Between Danny’s baggage and his budding romance with Colton — we also have that little teeny tiny problem of someone trying to destroy the world. Danny has lots of competition as a mechanic and people who’ll make life hard for him because he’s the youngest Mechanic ever. There’s a good dose of Greek Mythology going on too, with gods I hadn’t heard of before so that was interesting.

Timekeeper was a thorough win for me. Good plot. Good characters. Good romance. Cute clocks. What more could you want? The representation of mental illness was spot on. And I loved the engaging high-stake story, the family elements, and the aesthetics of a London run on clocks and steam.

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Review: In the Dark In the Woods by Eliza Wass

In the Dark, In the Woods by Eliza Wass is an utterly addictive and seriously messed up story. So I loved it. Of course. It also goes by the title “The Cresswell Plot” (which I admit I am a little more fond of). It’s a YA contemporary that is about a cultish family with a terrifying controlling father and rather feral kids who want something more from their lives. And what they’ll do to get out.9781784299910

The story is from the perspective of Castley who lives in a decrepit house in the woods with her large family and her father who believes they are the perfect chosen ones destined for great things from God. He doesn’t let the kids have friends, they spend hours listening to him read from his cultish book, and they’re only allowed to wear basically sack-cloth. The kids have to go to school, but they’re under strict orders to interact as little as possible. Their father even has them paired off to marry eventually. Yep. Never complain about your family again.

It’s chilling and addictive and you sit there biting your nails and wondering if the father is going to do something really bad at any second.

It also basically has a checklist of things I enjoy reading about:

  • big family (6 siblings) ✓
  • complicated sibling relationships ✓
  • heartbreaking tragic boys ✓
  • minimal romance ✓
  • super freaky moments because you never know if the father might snap and murder the kids or not
  • incredible names (Castley, Mortimer, Hannan, Caspar, Jerusalem and Delvive) ✓
  • excellent writing ✓

 

It’s quite the cult story. Castley’s father has basically written his own “bible” and he abuses the children when they step out of line. The mother is disabled and depressed and can get no help from the outside world because the father thinks anything too modern is evil. I thought the book really captured the confusion of how it’d be to live like this as well. Castley knows her father is wrong, but at the same time this is her family and she loves them. I wanted her to get out of the situation so badly, but at the same time, I didn’t want her to lose her siblings. And she loved her siblings so much, but some of them were brainwashed into thinking their father was right. Stories about abused children are very emotional and I think the book captured this perfectly, while adding in lighter moments and some bantering dialogue, so the overall tone was “terrifying” instead of “utterly depressing”.9781484730430

There cast of characters is huge, but everyone was so complex and interesting! I loved Castley’s narration voice, and she was winning and captivating. Her brothers Mortimer and Casper were also my favourites. Precious darlings. They waxed and waned between rebelling and following in line with the cult father. Jerusalem didn’t speak. Hannan, the oldest, was a bit aloof and somehow bypassed the brunt of all abuse, but he didn’t try to help the others. Ergo I didn’t like him much. Del made herself very timid and nondescript to avoid attention. But the kids totally stole my heart.

The book is rather small so the plot is fast. There are plenty of school scenes, where Castley does drama and finds a “friend” that she develops quite a crush on. She starts to try and find out what it’d be like to live as a “normal” person, while her family situation is escalating as their father runs out of money and goes even more insane. I whipped through it in just a few hours!

In The Dark, In The Woods is a solidly enthralling story with excellent writing and amazing characters. It’s very character focused and I loved how real everyone felt. It was written with visual gorgeousness and I couldn’t stop reading. Like, please, someone duct tape this book to my soul. I love it. Definitely recommend to fans who like cult books, lowkey thrillers, and stories about sibling bonds.

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Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

9781473621435Becky Chambers blew me away with her amazing debut The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It was science fiction at is best and was longlisted for literary as well as science fiction awards, and rightly so. So when her follow-up fell into my hands I was giddy with excitement and anticipation. Could it match the emotional resonance of the first book? Especially as it is a “stand-alone sequel” meaning the crew I fell in love with in the first book wouldn’t feature? The answer is YES and then some!

Sidra was an Artificial Intelligence on aboard a spaceship who has been transferred to a human “kit” body and must now learn to navigate the sentient world. She must keep her existence secret as it is highly illegal to transfer an AI and she will be shut down and her system wiped if she is discovered. Helping her navigate through this new life is Pepper, a highly skilled technician who can fix and rebuild almost any machine. Pepper has a vested interested in helping Sidra adjust to her new life in part due to her upbringing. Both Sidra and Pepper are searching for their place in this crazy universe and together they might just find it.

Becky Chambers once again sucks you into the world and universe of her two main characters. She alternates Sidra’s story with that of Pepper’s upbringing. We get the ups and downs of Sidra discovering her new life, her new capabilities and new limitations. And we learn about Pepper; who she is, where she came from and why she cares so deeply about what happens to Sidra. We live through both characters joys and heartbreaks, new experiences and frustrations. And I guarantee you will shed at least one tear by the end.

Once again Becky Chambers builds a world full of alien species, futuristic technology and space travel but truly amazes you with her characters and emotional resonance. A science fiction novel that isn’t battles and adventures but a wonderful exploration of humanity and belonging.

Buy the Book Here…

Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley is one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the pleasure of devouring at dawn. Actually I devoured it at midday but, please, let’s not get caught up on the details. The fact is: this is an amazingly gorgeous book of romance and writing and bookshops a9781742612386nd I can’t love it enough! Can Cath Crowley do no wrong?! I’ve adored her books A Little Wanting Song and Graffiti Moon and I’m so glad I tried her latest book too. It’s beautiful. I’ll just continue saying that…forever, basically.

The best thing about this book is: IT’S ABOUT BOOKS. I think books about books are (A) the best kind of bookish inception, and (B) doomed to capture readers’ hearts because we all relate! It’s partially set in a failing bookstore that’s facing being sold. It’s stuffed with references to other books, discussions on the importance of words, and letter writing. And being set in a second-hand-book-store just makes the entire thing so very aesthetically pleasing. Hush. That’s a thing.

It does reference newer books amongst the classics too! Although the focus definitely is on the older books (I assume because more people will recognise them).  But it references The Fault in Our Stars and other newer, Aussie books like Summer Skin!

The characters and dialogue were beyond amazing! It’s dual narrated by Henry and Rachel who are ex-best friends and in the process of becoming friends again. (Or more…) Henry is suffering a break up with the girl of his dreams and Rachel is recovering from the death of her younger brother. Both have their issues. And their secrets. And both need to be smacked with a large book occasionally for their selfish and deluded reasonings. But ultimately I loved them! Henry had an amazing sense of humour and was a huge bookworm. Rachel had snappy comebacks and was learning how to live through her depression. Plus their banter is amazingness.

“What?” she asks.
“Your head,” I tell her, “is a very pleasing shape.”
“Likewise,” she says, and smiles.

I also adored the secondary characters! They were all complex and amazing, with their own character arcs, trials, and focuses.

It does sort of contain a love-triangle, but it is a perfectly written one. Usually I’m very anti-triangles, but this was such an intriguing one because, for starters, it was 1 boy = 2 girls. And secondly, it’s very shippable. Henry was pretty deluded about his ex and Rachel was deluded about her feelings for Henry. You can’t help rooting for them to work out their differences and get together!

The book has a very comfortable, calming vibe. This in no way means the book is dull! It is the opposite to dull. But since it was set in a cosy bookshop with lots of food and banter and contained teenagers with excellent vocabularies who love of dusty old books…it just felt so comfortable to read! It was equally sad, moving, and beautiful. I’d call it a “quiet book” and mean that in the best possible way.

Basically I love this book an exuberant amount. Obviously. I can’t get over how beautifully Cath Crowely stitches words together and how easy it was to get sucked into this marvellous story and end up nearly crying over a gorgeous bookstore being sold. (Please! No!) I loved the letter writing, the plot twists, and the intense love of second-hand books. My bookworm soul is thoroughly won over.

[buy here]

Review: Passchendaele: Requiem for Doomed Youth by Paul Ham

9781864711448Paul Ham reaffirms his status as one of the best current Australian historians writing today, taking his astute eye to the devastating battle of Passchendaele. This is not a history book solely about Australia’s involvement in the Flanders campaign of 1917. This is an all-encompassing look at the events and the situation that led to the battle and the wholesale slaughter of over half a million men. Ham combs through the histories and memoirs of those involved on both sides and all ranks, wading through the lies and falsehoods, myths and legends, excuses and justifications that have festered over the decades to put together a picture of a battle that somehow exceeded the horrors of The Somme and Verdun only a year before.

Paul Ham primarily explores how a toxic relationship between Prime Minister Lloyd George and Field Marshall Douglas Haig allowed an offensive to go ahead whose only true goal was absolute attrition. He shows how the lessons learned during the butchery of The Somme about tactics (tactics that could preserve men’s lives and actually gain ground;  the creeping barrage, bite and hold) were not employed due to the weather and in some cases battles went ahead with no artillery support at all. Ham demonstrates that the immense casualties on both sides were not some catastrophe or blunder of leadership but planned for, expected and deemed necessary and shows how those in a position to stop the carnage did nothing, putting personal grievances ahead of the lives of over 500,000 men.

This is a book not only for all Australians to read but New Zealanders, Britons, French and Germans as well. Paul Ham puts this battle and consequently The First World War in its context of the time, not some revisionist context in light of subsequent events and conflicts. This a cutting, insightful and moving look at one of the bloodiest and most futile battles of the First World War.

Buy the book here…

Review: Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil by Melina Marchetta

9780670079100I have to confess to some reticence in picking this book up. I hadn’t read Melina Marchetta in years (since Saving Francesca in fact) and even though Looking For Alibrandi was one of the best books I had to read at school I had some reluctance picking up her first novel for adults. But after Kate started reading and RAVING about it it was next on my pile and I was instantly hooked. This isn’t just a good thriller, this is a top class thriller easily equal to the great stuff Michael Robotham writes.

The novel opens with a bang and doesn’t look back. DCI Bashir ‘Bish’ Ortley’s life is slowly falling apart. He still grieves for the son he lost in a drowning accident. His marriage, already on rocky ground, didn’t survive the tragedy and his relationship with his teenage daughter Bee is on tenterhooks. He’s been hitting the bottle to get through each day but that has resulted in his suspension from The Met on disciplinary grounds. Everything is put to the test though when a bomb goes off on a tourist bus in Northern France.

His daughter is on the bus and Bish immediately races to the scene. He soon becomes the liaison between other frantic parents, the French police and British officials. Bish is relieved to discover that his daughter is unharmed but that cannot be said for others onboard the bus. When he discovers that also on the bus is the daughter of a bombing suspect he locked up thirteen years ago his, and others’, suspicions are raised. When she disappears soon afterwards those suspicions seemed confirmed by her actions. Bish has his doubts though and his search for the missing girl not only reopens old wounds but may also reopen an old case.

Marchetta unfolds this thriller with the skill of a veteran crime writer. I especially like the way she explores the role social media plays not just on people’s quick judgements of guilt but also in reconstructing the timeline of the events leading up to the bombing. Marchetta puts this up against the role of the traditional media in the earlier case showing how the media’s rush to judgment, both old and new, then and now, haven’t changed that much and that guilt and innocence are blurred and lost very easily with devastating consequences.

I could not put this book down and I hope it is not the last we are going to see of DCI Bish Ortley, a fantastic new character to add the crime genre by a writer we knew from growing up was something special who can no-show off that skill to a whole new audience both here and around the world..

Buy the Book Here…

Review: Riders by Veronica Rossi

Riders by Veronica Rossi is truly a stupendous read! I was very excited to try this because it has a huge conglomeration of things that I love to read about, including (A) the apocalypse, and (B) Biblical mythology retelling. You know the four horseman of the apocalypse as told about in Revelation? Well here they are! But they’re teenagers and they’ve all “died” and come back and now they’re here to fight demons. Unless they kill each other first or, well, get killed first. Life as a horseman is not easy, let me tell you.

9780765382542The story starts off following Gideon, who is a fiercely angry little firecracker who joined the army as soon as he was out of highschool. But an accident leaves him “dead” for several minutes, and when he comes back he has a strange metal cuff on. His injuries heal super fast and he meets a girl called Daryn, who’s here to unite the 4 horseman for a mysterious quest that she can’t yet disclose. Because demons are out to reader minds and smash heads, so, let’s all be cautious, shall we? It turns out Gideon is the embodiment of War, and now they need to connect Famine, Conquest, and Death.

This is probably my favourite end times novel since I read Good Omens! It’s like the TV show, Supernatural, in YA book form. And if that doesn’t excite your little heart, what will? Oh wait. Let’s throw in some: fighting, military, sass, an evil dragon, fiery horses, and incredibly tall stacks of pancakes.

And while it was the premise that won me over, it kept me hooked with the glorious writing. It’s narrated in 1st person by Gideon Blake, and his a true Sass Master. He has the best internal monologue and his dialogue was equal parts realistic and funny. The whole book felt like a conversation and was so easy to get lost in.

Obviously, I loved Gideon. But I felt all the characters were downright epic. I just wish we’d gotten to know them a bit better, because I felt we didn’t have enough time with the last two Horseman (Conquest and Death) as they were found because the book was keying up for the climax.

But a quick rundown of the characters!

  • GIDEON: He’s war, and an army dude, and has such anger issues, but is also kind of charming.
  • SEBASTIAN: He’s Famine, Latino, and an actor and super sweet and nice and basically the best of them all. He can make people really hungry for stuff, being Famine and all.
  • MARCUS: He’s Death. I wanted to love Death, but we really didn’t get to know him very well. He’s African American and very angry and withdrawn and he and Gideon just punch each other all the time for no reason. I still can’t figure that out.
  • JODE: He’s Conquest and British and super rich and has literally no other personality because he only appears about 70% through the book and then we go into battle mode. He seems nice?
  • DARYN: She’s the “Seeker” who puts all the horsemen together to go on this Grand Mission. As a character, I liked her toughness and capability! She also adores pancakes and I can get behind this.

The plot is mostly just a journey to find everyone. So it’s like 80% “where are you, mate” and 20% “let’s fight demons, mate”. I actually really enjoyed the finding part, and found the battles slightly confusing in their whirlwind of activity. Also the travel across the world, so yay for stopovers in Italy and Norway!

Riders was an action-packed pocket of firey fun. It was non-stop sass, adventure, mythology, and fighting. The story was easy to get sucked in to and I loved the apocalypse elements. Not to mention the epic magical weapons and equally epic magical horses. The sequel can’t come out fast enough!

 

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Review: Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman took me completely by surprise! I was a bit dubious going in because while it looks like a dark hearted pirate book, I’d been warned it was more of a historical romance. That’s true! While this is the infamous Blackbeard’s origin story, it’s about before he turned to the sea. And yet, despite the lack of pirate action, I was completely in love with the story. I adored it! It had complex and winning characters, excellent writing, a dash of sass, and the promise of pirates in the sequel. So really — I am hooked.9781481432696

The story basically follows two very different people: Anne and Teach. Anne is a maid and because she’s half black, half white, she’s ostracised by everyone around her and she doesn’t feel like she belongs. All she wants to do is take a ship over to the West Indies to find her deceased mother’s people. So she’s kind of stealing from the manor lord to do so. Um, very bad idea. And on the other hand, we have Teach, who dreams of the sea but his father has him set up to marry an insufferable duchess and stay safely behind closed doors all his life. To which Teach says: no. Anne and Teach’s lives get caught up wonderfully because they both want to defy society’s expectations and follow their true dreams.

Hopefully Teach’s true dream involves pirating in the future, because I have expectations.

I loved how complex and interesting both Anne and Teach were! Teach loves books and while he can be an insufferable jerk, he’s really sweet too. Anne is very epically strong and will boss you around and woe to anyone who tries to take advantage or swindle her. She will, literally, thwack them with a bucket. They were both pretty strong-willed characters and yet still complimented each other marvellously.

I was totally onboard with this romance. Okay, but Teach did annoyed me with his supremacy attitude. But I wasn’t a fan of how he wanted to “protect” Anne, which basically entailed controlling her. That was the thinking of the era. Basically “Oh I like this woman, I must make sure she never gets hurt ergo I must make sure she never does anything without my permission first so I can check it’s safe.”  HOW ABOUT NO. Sit down, Teach. But, he did get better as the story went on. And I did adore how they argued so much! It just made me like them so much together. They are pepper and fire.

Yes it’s also the “origin” story of Blackbeard. Which is awesome. I did wish Teach had indicated more piratey tendencies. He honestly was a bit too much of an upstanding citizen, so I do wonder how he’s going to end up joining the dark side. I will find out once the sequel is released!

The writing was very marvellous too. I have a wariness of historical fiction and its usual tendency to be hard to read with stilted language style. But this? It was great! There are plenty of lords and ladies primly shouting, “I SHALL NOT, GOOD SIR!” but otherwise, there was banter and it was easy to devour. I didn’t want to put it down! Plus several scenes had me laughing out loud.

Blackhearts is definitely a book not to be missed! Sure it had cliche moments and I felt any complications towards the characters’ goals always got resolved a bit too fast. But there is a massively exciting cliffhanger finale, and Teach and Anne are amazing and I’m completely hooked on the storyline. Bring on the pirates!

 

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Review: The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney

The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney is an incredible tale that is part coming-of-age story and part murder-mystery. Except the one in question who is murdered is only a horse. So don’t panic too much. (This book doesn’t tangle very deeply in the dark side.) It is narrated by Jacob who also has Cerebral Palsy. And it’s an Australian homegrown book! So much to love here!9780732299941

What’s it About?

Everyone thinks they know what Jacob O’Leary can and can’t do – and they’re not shy about telling him either. But no one – not even Jacob – knows what he’s truly capable of. And he’s desperate for the chance to work it out for himself. When a shocking and mystifying crime sends his small country town reeling, and fingers start pointing at the newcomer, Jacob grabs the chance to get out in front of the pack and keep mob rule at bay. He’s convinced that the police have accused the wrong guy; that the real villain is still out there. And he’s determined to prove it – and himself – to everyone.

 

When I heard about this book, I leap towards it for several reasons. (1) The Aussie factor always wins me over because I don’t read nearly enough books from my own country. (2) Jacob is in his finale year of highschool and facing Big Life Decisions, which is always relatable, and he also has cerebral palsy, which is something I’ve only read about in one other book! (That book is Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern.) (3) THERE IS A MURDER MYSTERY. And it was a good story! I read it in just a few hours because it’s super short, but it was definitely satisfying and wonderful.

Jacob is a pretty awesome protagonist. He didn’t let anything hold him back. Plus he was sassy and capable and just downright cool. He stood up for himself to bullies, but he still was venerable and suffered a lot with his condition. He felt frustrated when people judged him unfairly because of it. And, well, I was so frustrated with how other people would judge him. There is cruelty and discrimination in this book, some of it accidental, and some of it intentional.

The plot is 80% school and 20% “oh things are dead”. But, like I said: animal deaths. So a horse and a pig have been murdered and the town is blaming the local Muslim family for it. Jacob wisely says, “hey where’s your proof!” and therefore he kind of gets caught up in debunking this unfair blame game.

I loved the amount of diversity in this book! Such a good representation of Australia, too, since we’re quite the multicultural nation. Not only does it feature disabilities — it also touches on racism and cultural differences.

The Beauty Is In The Walking is a quick and fun and engaging. I definitely learned more about CP, which is grand. And I think Jacob was a winning dude and I seeing the world from his perspective. Also the Aussie slang and culture just made the book feel endlessly homey. Plus someone gets called a “dingbat”, which just goes to show how awesome we Australians are at insults. I loved the relationship between Jacob and his older brother, and I loved the emphasis on finals and “what do you want to do with your life”, which is a question I think all teens relate to. It’s a solidly good book and definitely recommended!

 

[purchase here]

Review: The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jack Serong

9781925355215Jock Serong has written a clever and unique Australian crime novel weaving together the folklore of cricket, both the backyard variety and the international, into a classic piece of noir. The novel is told from the point of view of Darren Keefe, the younger brother of former Australian Cricket captain Wally Keefe. Darren’s life is literally flashing before his eyes as he lies gagged and bound in the boot of a car on his way to what he expects is his certain execution.

Darren recounts his childhood growing up with Wally; their epic battles in the backyard and their rise through Australia’s cricket ranks. Wally is a stoic, stubborn opening batsmen who accumulates his runs without ever giving the opposition a sniff of getting him out. While Darren is the more brash, younger brother, taking risks and entertaining the crowd. These traits are reflected in each brother off the field. Wally, the more responsible and sensible, is quickly elevated to the Test team and then it’s captaincy while settling down to start a family. Darren, meanwhile,  is the larrikin everyone loves to watch and wants to know who flits from scandal to controversy on and off the field. All the while moving closer to his possibly imminent end inside the boot of a car.

This is one of the funnest crime novels I’ve read in years and is definitely the cricket/crime novel I never knew I wanted to read. This is going to be THE book for summer. Perfect for reading in front of the cricket itself.

Buy the book here…

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

If you’re looking for an epically dark fantasy, with a dash of sass and plenty of stabbing — A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab is absolutely entirely for you. I actually procrastinated reading it for ages, despite 90001 people yelling at me to try it (I have really great friends who recommend books so kindly) but the hype was high and I was nervous! I’d previously read and adored Vicious by VE Schwab and, hello look at that: A Darker Shade of Magic was no differe9781783295401nt! It captured my adoration instantly. It’s dark and bloody and has an incredibly marvellous magic system. I could not stop reading!

What’s it About?

Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers – magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There’s Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There’s Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London…

 

9781494510756What captures me the most is: how very unique it is! It’s basically alternate realities + 20th century + epic magical fantasy + magicians and kings and queens + dark EVIL that does not sleep. I honestly hadn’t read anything like this before and (as an avid bookworm who devours at least 200+ books per year) this was so exciting.

Plus it basically rattled off a checklist of things I absolutely adore reading about. Did it read my mind??? Does this book exist solely for me to adore it??? (Answer: yes basically.)

Check List of Things I Adore Reading About:

  • Magical multi-sided coat ✓
  • Characters who put things in pockets, like millions of things (I have a pocket infatuation) ✓
  • Sassy, snarky witty banter ✓
  • A girl who’s #1 aspiration is to be a pirate (#goals) ✓
  • Evil magic that does not sleep ✓
  • Concise but yet visually astounding writing ✓
  • Lots of stabby stabbing all the time ✓

I absolutely adore Schwab’s writing style. It’s brisk and too the point. It doesn’t fluff around. And she is QUEEN of world-building. The alternate Londons were all so different, yet linked, and it was perfectly easy to get sucked in without confusion. Not many books manage to make a world this complex and dimensional but EASY TO UNDERSTAND.

I also couldn’t get enough of the amazing group of characters! They’re all intensely different and complex (and very good at snarky comebacks):

  • KELL: was perfect. A little bit tragic and bitterness and mysterious backstory that not even he remembers…but he’s also totally sassy and his dialogue is my favourite. The entire book’s plot comes about because he makes a terribly stupid mistake. How wonderful! He’s such a winning protagonist, with definite anti-hero vibes and he’s immensely flawed.
  • LILA: of course, is my hero. She’s nasty. She’s a thief and so snarky she’d bite you. And she’s wondrous. I love how she starts off just wanting an adventure — but then she meets Kell and the “adventure” turns a bit more life-or-death than she anticipated. And while she and Kell are continually saving each other and do have a connection, the romance is not very intense which was refreshing.
  • RHYS: was definitely a potential favourite. I did love him, but there wasn’t enough of him! (Although this changes in the sequel much to my relief.) He was really cocky and dashing and dazzling and spoiled and vibrant and fantastic. Also the future King of Red London, so there’s that.
  • HOLLAND: I feel the need to mention Holland, who is another magician like Kell (they’re the only two of their knd who can jump through worlds), and he was really creepy. But tragic? I felt really bad for him even as he was doing terrible evil things. He was enough of a villain to be hated, and enough of a victim to make me whisper a small “oh dear” and feel sad for him.

I also really appreciate how it didn’t spare the characters. Everyone’s moral compasses were super twisted. And there was much stabbing and blood magic and darkness everywhere.

All in all? This book is a masterpiece and I cannot recommend it enough! I thoroughly enjoyed the plot twists, the complex characters, the ingenious world, and the enthralling plot.

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

9780007313273On the surface this looks like a book about horse racing and the Kentucky derby but don’t let the cover or blurb fool you. The is an epic American novel on the scale of Philipp Meyer’s The Son. It is a story of family, money and race and the everlasting consequences each leaves upon subsequent generations. It is a story about dreams and obsessions, love and revenge and a thoroughbred filly called Hellsmouth.

Central to the novel is the story of the Forge family. One of the wealthiest families in Kentucky that goes back to the time of slavery and has not changed much since it’s abolition. We meet Henry Forge as a young boy. His father is trying to teach him about the Forge fortune and the Forge world view, built upon crops and people. But Henry dreams about horses and becomes fascinated by horse breeding and the pursuit of perfection that is tested upon the racetracks of the nation. A dream that clashes with his father’s vision of the future. But Henry pursues his dream regardless, turning his father’s farm and property upside down upon his inheritance. But his pursuit of perfection is not so easily won. Twenty years on, and with his daughter now a part of the new family business, he is yet to produce a horse of note. That is until Hellsmouth, a horse that seems destined to win it all.

C.E. Morgan weaves into this tale to story of Allmon Shaughnessy. A young African-American man who has grown up in Cincinnati. He has grown up without his white father who is long gone and his mother battles with illness they cannot afford to properly treat. It is not long before Allmon is in trouble with the law. After spending time in prison, Allmon, now a grown man, is determined to turn his life around. His world is about to come crashing into the world of the Forges as he is hired as the new groom for Hellsmouth. When he and Henry’s daughter embark upon an illicit love affair the consequences are beyond devastating or tragedy. Henry Forge’s past and future collide with monumental and shocking ramifications.

This is an immense novel of family, history, class and greed by a writer of tremendous talent. Morgan’s use of language is a wonder to behold on its own but the way she builds the story up and the wraps layers around it is also quite amazing. This is a novel that will totally absorb you before dropping you on the seat of your pants in utter shock and awe with an ending you will never forget. If you loved Philipp Meyer’s The Son this is your next epic read!

Buy the book here…

Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

9780708898376An absolute tour de force. A novel, unfortunately, that could not be more timely by a writer who doesn’t flinch at any stage.

There is often arguments when it comes to historical fiction about accuracy. How much leeway should story get over truth? For me historical fiction is not primarily about recounting historical events but  is about conveying historical events through story so that as a reader you empathise and get a richer understanding and viewpoint  that nonfiction is often constrained against providing. This is what Colson Whitehead does as he takes the folklore of the Underground Railroad, the network of safe houses and pathways that helped slaves in the 1800s escape north, and imagines it as a real working railway.

Colson Whitehead tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Cora has grown up in a brutal and unforgiving world. The only world she has ever known. Her mother ran off years before and is the only slave known to have successfully escaped the farm on which Cora is enslaved. When Cora is approached to escape she at first refuses but after a series of, even more brutal than usual, beatings she decides it is time to run. Whitehead details Cora’s journey as she escapes via a real underground railroad. A railroad that takes her slowly north where Cora experiences new worlds, some better than others, but all shrouded by racism and violence. Sometimes overtly, other times more hidden.

Cora’s journey unfolds like an odyssey as Cora explores each new destination she arrives in with monsters and horrors hidden in various forms. Whitehead uses Cora’s journey to explore all the different manifestations slavery takes on in society. From the basic and ruthless slavery of people as property or beasts of burden to more subtle and sinister forms of racism and enslavement. Colson Whitehead’s writing is unflinching and uncompromising letting the brutality and reality of Cora’s world through. At times painful to read and at others more hopeful but never shying away from the awful truth.

Colson Whitehead has written a novel of true power. A novel more important than ever, that will stay inside you long after you put it down. A true must read.

Buy the book here…

Review: Revolver by Duane Swierczynski

9781444754247I’m a massive fan of Duane Swierczynski. His novels are usually almost out-of-control roller coaster rides where you have no idea where the story is headed next. While sometime his plots seem a little far fetched he always grounds them in a reality that makes you believe. With his new novel he has written a historical crime novel spread over three generations. He dials down the usual craziness but at the same time dials up the authenticness that always grounds his work and in doing so produces his best novel to date.

Revolver is told over three generations with each chapter alternating between each generation. The first story is set in 1965 where two cops are gunned down in a bar. In subsequent chapters we flash back twelve months to meet these two cops. See how they became partners and follow the events that led up to their tragic deaths.

The second timeline is 1995 and we follow Homicide detective Jim Walczak. Jim’s father Stan was one of the cops killed in 1965 and his death has shaped Jim’s career. Jim has just caught a high profile murder but is distracted from the case. The man he believes shot his father has just been released from prison, sent away for a different crime, and Jim is going to get a confession out of him one or another and possibly his own version of justice.

The third timeline is 2015. Jim’s daughter Audrey is studying (and failing) forensic science and sees her grandfather’s unsolved murder as her ticket to graduation but the more she digs into the old case the more family secrets she begins to unearth and the man everyone thought was the shooter maybe completely different but it also maybe too late.

Swierczynski unfolds each story brilliantly and they could easily be their own stand alone stories. But as each story comes to its’ conclusion the tension is built tenfold each with a twist with huge ramifications for the next. This is an absolute masterclass in crime fiction by a writer I already knew was top shelf but who will now proved it to a lot more crime readers.

Buy the book here….

Review: The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

9780733632280I don’t read short story collections and I certainly never read biographies or memoirs. Maxine has now blown me away writing both. She has been described as “a powerful new voice in Australian literature”. I’d like to make a few adjustments to that quote. Maxine Beneba Clarke is the powerful voice of Australian literature. Reading Foreign Soil was like being introduced to a raw power. Like most short story collections there were stories that burst out of the book and others that slowly simmered but in every story Maxine’s power as a writer was apparent and you came away from the collection knowing that when she turned her attention to one subject, one narrative for a whole book, it was going to be something to behold. And that is exactly what she had done with The Hate Race turning her attention on herself and her childhood growing up in Western Sydney.

Maxine recounts the story of her parent’s emigration to Australia from England in the early days after The White Australia policy was dismantled by The Whitlam Government of the 1970s. She tells her story growing up in Western Sydney as one of the few families of colour and the systemic, casual, overt and unrelenting racism she had to deal with from kindergarten through to high school; from teachers, parents and classmates alike. She shows how that affected her, how that changed her, how that made her who she is and how it unmade who she is. At times it is painful to read and at other times infuriating. Anger that is tempered by your own shame when you remember similar incidents from your own childhood growing up where you looked the other way, did or said nothing or maybe even contributed in one way or another through your own ignorance of what was going on around you and the pain it was causing. Maxine recounts all this with humour, humility and honesty.

For anyone who thinks Australia isn’t a racist country, read this book. For anyone who thinks casual racism isn’t hurtful, read this book. For anyone who thinks Australia has changed a lot in the last 30 years, read this book. For anyone that has ignored a racist comment because they haven’t wanted to get involved, read this book. For anyone who wants to know what Australia is really like, read this book.

There are books that are often described as important. It is a phrase that can get thrown about a bit too much and it’s true meaning gets lost or is diminished. But every now and then a book comes along that makes you sit up. A book that quite literally takes your breath away. Sucks it out of you and it is not until you stop reading that you truly notice what the book has done. A book that opens your eyes to something you knew was there but have failed to really acknowledge. A book that confronts you with its honesty and raw emotion. A book you wish everybody around you would read so that they too can have the same realization. A book like that is important. Maxine Beneba Clarke has written a very important book. An extraordinary book. A truly remarkable and powerful book. A book I hope as many people as possible will read.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick

After absolutely adoring My Life Next Door, I was super excited to pick up Huntley Fitzpatrick’s companion novel: The Boy Most Likely To. Was it good? OH YES VERY MUCH SO. But before we dive into my (ah…flailing) review — I do think it’s important to read My Life Next Door first! While the companion novel is by the point of view of a different character, the first book does provide needful backstory.9781405280396

But onwards!

The Boy Most Likely To is about Tim who is, basically, a drop-kick. He’s been kicked out of school, he’s got severe addiction habits, and his own family doesn’t really want anything to do with him. But he’s cleaning himself up! He’s going to AA meetings and he’s living above the garage of his best friend’s house: Jace Garrett. The Garrett family has, um, a gazillion kids and they are just downright awesome. And Tim has a ginormous crush on the oldest daughter, Alice — although Alice is about as warm and cuddly as an iced over cacti. Good times! And just when things are looking up, Tim gets a HUGE BOMB DROPPED ON HIM that changes everything. Still more good times!

It’s such an adorably tragic story at time that my heart hurts. I was a fan of Tim already from My Life Next Door, but this just cemented my love for him. (Plus anyone who’s name is “Tim” automatically reminds me of Tim Tams and that’s just beautiful.) I loved how sassy and witty Tim’s comebacks were! Plus his character development is just amazing throughout the story. I loved being in his perspective! Although it was super sad at times…because even though he’s trying to kick his addictions, he still has so much baggage from them. Plus his family is 0% supportive. It would be so hard to be strong and stay on track with s little support.

Plus I really like how this book talks openly about addictions and recovery. Tim is a recovering alcoholic. I do see many YA books talking about falling into the addiction route, but rarely do I find one that is about getting out of it. So this is such a super important story! Seeing the fall is needful: seeing the recovery is twice as important.

But let’s talk about Alice! The book is actually dual-narrated by both Alice and Tim and I’m immensely pleased about that. Because while they like each other, they’re not entirely honest. Tim covers up his attraction to Alice with sassy jokes, and Alice is too sharp to admit she has intense feelings for Tim. Please, children. TALK TO EACH OTHER. Alice is also under a lot of pressure to look after her million-and-two-siblings after her father’s accident and her mother being pregnant again. Plus she’s had to divert her nursing course. Poor Alice. I get why she’s so sharp! But it was agony waiting for her and Tim to move past that and admit feelings for each other!

Also, of course, we must mention how awesome the Garrett family is! I love reading about big families! And the representation here is on point. Just the kids’ banter and the messes and dynamics…ahhhh! It was honestly perfect (and this is coming from someone who has first hand experience with large families: ahem, that would be me).

Of course there are plenty of plot twists that will keep you glued to the page. And there are a lot of pages actually. I thought, at 500-pages, it could’ve sped things up a little and not dragged so much in the middle. But considering these characters are adorable, I didn’t mind too much. Plus the plot twists were just WOAH and equal parts adorable and daunting. The story will definite have you feeling aaaall of the things.

Basically, The Boy Most Likely To is a new favourite contemporary of mine! It had feels! It had big families! It had tragic but adorable protagonists! Tim and Alice were far from perfect and their relationship was rocky to say the least, but it was so so excellently written.

 

[purchase here]

Review: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

9780571321759I’ve reached the point now with Laura Lippman novels where I don’t even read the blurb anymore, I just know I’m going to love them no matter what. I vaguely knew this new book was about an attorney so I had it pegged as a possible legal thriller but of course with Laura Lippman it is way more than that. In fact at times the crime/mystery central to the story isn’t even apparent but you don’t care because Lippman builds such rich characters and story that you are already simply engrossed.

Lippman’s latest novel focuses on one family. Lu Brant, is the newly elected State Attorney for Howard County, Maryland; following in the footsteps of her father, despite everyone always assuming it would be her brother, AJ, that would take this path. She is determined to make her own name in the job and takes on the first case her office receives with gusto,despite it not being one that will be in the headlines. But as she prepares for a relatively straight-forward trial Lu’s family’s past begins weighing on her mind, with startling revelations.

As always Lippman builds the story perfectly, seamlessly blending together Lu’s story in the present with her memories growing up. You almost get so lost in Lu’s backstory that you forget about the impending trial of the present, so rich is the narrative Lippman weaves. There is a strong Harper Lee essence as Lu recounts the story of her and her brother growing up with their State Attorney father. But every family has its secrets and the true heart of this story is how we bury those secrets in our memories and how it only takes one strand to be pulled loose for the narrative of our own life to be turned upside down.

This is Laura Lippman once again at her absolute best; able to lose you so easily in the narrative but also keep you guessing all the way to the surprising end.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

If you’re looking for an incredible YA fantasy that features delicious things like spooky destroyed countries, medieval vigilantes, princesses-in-disguise, and various sharp knives — then The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows is calling to you. Practically screaming your name. You want it, just trust me on this, yes?

 

WHAT’S IT ABOUT:

18081228An epic fantasy filled with adventure, intrigue, and romance from Incarnate series author Jodi Meadows. This duology is perfect for fans of Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. When Princess Wilhelmina was a child, the Indigo Kingdom invaded her homeland. Ten years later, Wil and the other noble children who escaped are ready to fight back and reclaim Wil’s throne. To do so, Wil and her best friend, Melanie, infiltrate the Indigo Kingdom palace with hopes of gathering information that will help them succeed. But Wil has a secret-one that could change everything. Although magic has been illegal for a century, she knows her ability could help her save her kingdom. But magic creates wraith, and the deadly stuff is moving closer and destroying the land. And if the vigilante Black Knife catches her using magic, she may disappear like all the others…

 

I will warn you that it ends with a dreadfully glorious cliffhanger! So do the smart thing and order both The Orphan Queen and the sequel, The Mirror King, simultaneously. You’ll thank me, I swear. Also it’s simply a duo! So no need to freak out waiting for a third book!

As a huge fan of YA fantasy, I’m really glad this lived up to my expectations! I wouldn’t say it’s the most original book out there, but it was well told and had unique elements. AKA = it basically had a medieval vigilante Batman. I cannot even contain my excitement over that! It felt really new and different to me.

Plus add in destroyed kingdoms, spies expeditions, and the occasional murder…what is not to love here?

The plot chuffs along on a fairly steady pace. Probably more on the slow side. Wil, the lost princess of a destroyed kingdom, is going undercover in the enemy’s castle. So while she spends the evenings jumping around with knives and disguises, the days are filled with polite small talk and pretty ballgowns. At least it’s a nice mix! Wil was seriously badass. It was endlessly amusing reading her acting the part of an air-headed Duchess and then turn around and be plotting cunningly.

Wil was a really awesome protagonist. She didn’t seem particularly different to Every Other Hidden Princess Ever. But the trope is one of my favourites, so I don’t mind! She has a slow-burn romance with the vigilante, Black Knife. Basically that was my favourite thing of ever. Plus Wil has a really epic best-friend and their relationship is goals.

Plus there is magic! Magic is illegal in this world (fun stuff always is, dangit). Wil’s power is to animate things. She says “wake up” to a wall and it’ll eat a person. (Why can’t I have this superpower??? I could make the sink do the dishes for me and life would be perfect.) I thought this was a really clever and unusual twist on magical abilities!

The world building = very very good. It actually felt like a fully complex and rounded world.

And then we have that freakishly awesomely horrible cliffhanger. AH! If you want a book that will literally have you shrieking and clawing for the sequel: this is it. The finale was so exciting and action-packed and emotional.

Obviously, I’m a fan of this story! This is also my first Jodi Meadows books and clearly I need to read her other series. I’m very invested and want to see Wil get her throne back!

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

I had a very severe suspicion that I would absolutely adore The Crown’s Game by Evelyn SkyeNow why is that? Well, it contains all the greatest things in life including (A) beginning in a bakery, (B) Russian fantasy! and (C) magician duels! What could be better?!? And thankfully the book did not disappoint at all!

WHAT’S IT ABOUT:

9780062560605Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air.They are enchanters the only two in Russia and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side. And so he initiates the Crown s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with beautiful, whip smart, imaginative and he can t stop thinking about her.And when Pasha, Nikolai s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown s Game is not one to lose.

 
The story is a nice blend of fantasy and historical fiction. The author’s note says she did a ton of research and studied Russia in college and you can absolutely tell! The details are incredible and I honestly felt like the book had swallowed me whole. There are so many Russian words and descriptions of places and the culture was brilliantly woven in. I’m so so impressed! The attention to detail made it seem so very real.

“Imagine, and it shall be.
There are no limits.⁠⁠⁠⁠”

The characters were grand little bundles of magical joy! I was very impressed with the lot of them, although I confess I didn’t really emotionally connect to anyone. Probably because I am a stern melon at times. But the main trio was epic and fabulous, if not the most complex characters I’ve ever encountered.

  • VIKA: She’s an enchanter, a fiery red-haired totally spunky girl. VERY powerful. VERY fierce.
  • NIKOLAI: He’s the other enchanter, more like the quiet nerd? But he’s very intelligent, as opposed to Vika’s punch-them-in-the-face thing going on.
  • PASHA: He’s the Tsar’s heir, and he kinda doesn’t want to be. He sneaks out, gets grubby with the commoners and is fun and quirky and generally nice. I think he was my favourite, honestly! (FYI his real name is Pavel and not Passionfruit as I deludedly assumed at first. Ahem.)

 

Now for the actual “game” part of the plot! But first, full disclosure: it wasn’t the kind of “game” I thought it’d be! If you say “game” I start thinking of violent things like The Hunger Games. Ah, no. It was more like “impress the Tsar with your magic skills” not actually “blast each other’s heads off.” I expected the book to be a high-staked blazing game of glory, whereas in reality it was a slower moving and more about magical creation than murderous duels. Despite that it was still so fun! So magical! The things the magicians created were magnificent and so visual!

There is a love triangle, but I didn’t find it irritating for once. The romance is on the quieter side, with the focus being on the magic.

I’m so glad I devoured The Crown’s Game! I think the stakes could’ve been higher and the characters more complex, but apart from that it was magical and exciting and beautifully written. The world building was exquisite and the cliffhanger was pure torture. I can’t wait for the next instalment!

 

[purchase here]

Review: The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell

9781509837441Whitney Terrell delivers one of the most original war novels in recent years and the most moving war novel I’ve read since Kevin Power’s The Yellow Birds.

In many ways this novel is a classic war story. A platoon that comes together during training, forges a bond, only for it to all fall apart under the pressures of war and combat. However it is the way in which Whitney Terrell tells this story that changes your perceptions and reinvents this war story by flipping everything on its head.

Firstly the good lieutenant of the title is a woman, making it the first war novel I know of with a female protagonist. Terrell doesn’t play the female lead as a novelty, instead he uses Lieutenant Emma Fowler to flesh out different aspects of war, combat, the military and being a leader in the most extreme, as well as the most banal, of situations. Terrell uses Fowler to explore what it means to be a good leader; the pressures, the expectations, the politics, and how no matter how good your intentions a good result is often unobtainable or just a matter of perception.

Secondly Terrell tells the entire story backwards. Rather than building the bonds of a platoon and then ripping those bonds apart Terrell begins with the bonds in tatters and goes backwards to show how those bonds were built and where the strengths, and weaknesses, in those bonds were forged and reinforced.

The novel opens with an operation going wrong, badly wrong. Lieutenant Fowler is leading a mission to recover the body of a member of her platoon who went missing on a previous operation days before. An Iraqi civilian has been killed and her platoon subsequently ripped to pieces in an ambush. Terrell then jumps back to show what happened to Fowler’s missing platoon member and then back again to detail the events that lead up to him going missing. The story continues going backwards showing all the elements, relationships, choices and uncertainties that lead, in one way or another, to the catastrophe at the opening of the novel. By the end of the novel the tragedy of its beginning is even more apparent than if the story was told in the traditional chronology. What has been lost more painful and how it has been lost more devastating.

This is another outstanding piece of fiction to join the canon of outstanding writing that has emerged from the tragedies of war over the last 15 years.

Buy the book here…

Review: Black Teeth by Zane Lovitt

The Midnight Promise announced9781925355147 Zane Lovitt as a great new talent in Australian crime fiction. His new novel is even more incredible. Lovitt takes a wicked sense of humour and clever plotting to once again brilliantly subvert the crime genre.

The novel opens with a piece of classic noir. A man opens his door to an insurance salesman. He wants to take out life insurance because he is planning revenge and he doesn’t expect to survive from taking it out. By the end of the first chapter the subversion is already apparent and you know you are in a very different kind of crime novel.

Lovitt adds another piece to this revenge story and another character. Jason Ginaff is a bit of a social outcast. He spends his days vetting people online for companies, finding people’s darkest secrets online and showing them to their current, future or former employer. Jason often works under an alias, primarily because he is much more confident when he is trying to be someone else and it helps him remain private. When he has to be himself things tend fall to apart. So when he finally tracks down the man he thinks is his biological father, does he meet him first as Jason or as somebody else?

Lovitt quickly has these two seemingly disconnected stories weaved inextricably together. Lovitt plays off the conventions of the crime genre fantastically which makes for some darkly comic moments as well as plenty of surprises which will have you flicking back chapters discovering other bits you may have missed the first time around. The ending is mind-blowing and I am still trying to get my head around it, which I love.

Move over Peter Temple, your heir apparent has arrived and is breaking all the rules of crime fiction with a talent and skill that is unique, daring and quite simply a pleasure to behold on the page.

Buy the Book Here…

Review: The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller

9781925106954Norwegian By Night was one of my books of the year when it was published in 2012 and we loved it so much in the shop it was our bestselling book of that year (it even outsold Fifty Shades that year!). It was a literary thriller like no other that had a deep emotional resonance. In many ways it was a book that is almost impossible to follow up but Derek Miller has done just that in his timely new novel.

Before publishing Norwegian By Night Derek Miller worked in international affairs for over twenty years. In his new novel he calls upon his wealth of knowledge and experience to give us another emotionally moving thriller that looks at Iraq and the mess The West has made in the Middle East in the last twenty five years (and more). Miller makes what many say is too complex to understand and puts it in a context that is clear, precise and telling without ever being simple. He shows us the beginning of the mess that was made with the first Gulf War in 1991, the consequences this had for the second Gulf War in 2003 and shows how each war and our reaction in the West to both has ultimately led to the rise of ISIL and ISIS and how our continued attitude to the region is fuelling the problem.

The novel opens in 1991. The Gulf War is over and Kuwait has been liberated. US Army soldier Arwood Hobbes is stationed at Checkpoint Zulu, 240 kilometres from the Kuwaiti border where he meets British journalist Thomas Benton. They are both about to observe close hand the massacre of a Shia village by Saddam Hussein’s forces. Helpless to intervene they are forced to witness the death of a young girl wearing a green dress. Twenty-two years later Arwood contacts Benton. He has just seen a video of a girl in a green dress in a mortar attack on the Syrian/Kurdish/Iraqi border. He is convinced it is that same girl and that she is still alive and that this time they both must save her to right the wrong of the past that has had a deep impact upon both their lives.

Like Norwegian By Night, another writer could have taken this story in a variety of directions and delivered a completely different kind of novel but Miller cuts through the rhetoric and the cynicism and gets to the heart of what is happening in our world at the moment. A heart that, while it is full of conflict, is also full of hope. Miller manages to convey all this to the reader in a page-turner that is both funny and sad, intelligent and full of hope. This is a must read from a writer of extreme talent and compassion.

Buy the Book Here…

Review: Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke was delightfully messed up. It’s a whimsical YA contemporary with a fairy tale vibe that nearly makes it seem magical realism. And it’s basically populated by slightly psychotic characters. But don’t fret! They’re adorable psychos. (Ahem.) After finishing my brain basically just spun with emotions and I feel like I did paddle in a bucket full of crazy. With no regrets.23203106

What To Expect In This Story:

  • Magical, fairy-tale whimsical writing
  • A love triangle
  • But the most messed-up triangle you have ever seen
  • Mind games
  • Characters who mess with each other because what the heck; they’re teens; it’s summer; lets read your tarot cards and predict DEATH MWAHAHHAHA
  • Minor magical realism
  • Plot twists that will leave you splattered upon the ground
  • So many strawberries
  • Toxic friendships
  • Feelings of strangulation towards the characters; but also sadness and the need to possibly cuddle or protect them all.

 

I definitely did enjoy this one! It’s told by 3 point-of-views, which usually is not my favourite, but I quite enjoyed how the author pulled it off. Plus everyone had very different voices! Wink’s chapters always read like a fairy tale, while Poppy’s were feisty and Midnight’s morose. The combination just made me feel like I fell into a magical fairy tale summer.

  • MIDNIGHT: He’s like this very sad lonely pancake that everybody adores and wants to maliciously devour. I felt rather sorry for him. He’s trying to get away from the toxic relationship he had with Poppy but she acts like she owns him. Midnight was super cute! I do think he was emotionally/sexually abused by Poppy which made me so sad for him.
  • POPPY: She’s a psychopath. Like, the end. SHE IS ONE. She plays mind games, hates everyone, has no feelings, and ruins lives for the “lolz”. She’s a manic pixie dream mean girl.
  • WINK: She’s Midnight’s new next-door-neighbour…the feral wild child who’s grown up with a tarot-reading mother and 5 siblings and they all just tumble around in permanent fairy tales. She believes in supernatural mystical things. She’s just not really into reality, okay? Which is fair, reality sucks. But she’s so very calm and unemotional the whole book, which makes me suspect she has psychopathic tendencies.

 

Wink kissed deep. Deep as a dark, misty, forest path. One that lead to blood and love and death and monsters.

It’s basically a revenge/mystery/discovery plot. Midnight wants to get away from Poppy; Midnight falls for Wink; Poppy tries to break them up; but Poppy has a thing for Wink’s brother. It’s like a love triangle, but it’s much more complicated. And even though I’m an avid triangle hater, I enjoyed the twisty-ness of this one.

It is very vivid with the description! (Although at times it got rather repetitive.) But it drew you in with vibrant colours and sensory details so I felt like I was experiencing the summer with the characters.

“You just have to eat a strawberry and then wait for tomorrow.”

 

I also listened to the audio book which I can’t recommend enough! It has 3 audio narrators too to differentiate between the characters. It also flowed so nicely and musically that I’m super glad I chose this way to devour the story, although I did feel the narrators read a little slowly. So be prepared for that.

I definitely enjoyed Wink Poppy Midnight. It was such a different story and all the mind twisting had me wondering who was telling the truth. I honestly had no idea what exact crazy twist would happen or whether ghosts and murderers would pop out of the woodwork.

 

[buy it here]

Review: The Lost And Found by Katrina Leno

The Lost And Found by Katrina Leno is a precious little bookish creature built for anxious people with internet friendships. It’s so very relatable! I immediately felt at home with the teens who confessed it’s easier to make friends online sometimes. (YES IT IS.)

Although, be ye warned: It’s actually contemporary with a slight dose of magical realism. The magical aspect isn’t going to drown you, but it’s still there. Things go “missing” in the story and end up appearing in impossible places.

9780062231208What’s It About?

Frannie and Louis met online when they were both little and have been pen pals ever since. They have never met face-to-face, and they don t know each other s real names. All they know is that they both have a mysterious tendency to lose things. Well, really, things just seem to . . . disappear.FOUNDLouis and Frannie both receive news in the mail that sets them off on a road trip to Austin, Texas, looking for answers and each other. Along the way, each one begins to find, as if by magic, important things the other has lost. And by the time they finally meet in person, they realize that the things you lose might be things you weren’t meant to have at all, and that you never know what you might find if you just take a chance.

The story is dual narrated by Frances and Louis. Both narrators have very distinct voices and I was invested in both their lives. Frances lives with her grandparents because her own parents are pretty crazy. And she’s wondering if a famous movie star is actually her father. Louis has severe PTSD and anxiety after his twin sister fell out of a window and lost both her legs. And he’s a tennis champ. And he’s not sure if he should move off to college. Because anxiety.

I adored Louis and his twin sister, Willa. Their relationship was fantastic and full of sibling banter and tension. Willa’s really matter-of-fact about her disability and basically lets nothing stop her. She puts up with stares and discrimination over it, but it doesn’t get her down.

The story also is full of diversity! Louis and Willa are half-Indian. Willa has no legs. France’s adopted cousin, Arrow, is Vietnamese. It talks openly and honestly about anxiety disorders.

I also am a huge fan of the way it portrayed internet friendships! So often I see books only outline all the horrible things that can happen on the internet…but that’s not always how it goes down, okay?! Sometimes you meet the nicest most special people online! Louis and Frances had been friends online for several years before they decided to meet up. I mean, they were safe about the meet up. They took friends for backup. But ultimately, it was all sweet and real! It’s a great reminder of the power of internet friendships.

As for the magical realism aspect? Both Frances and Louis are always LOSING stuff. It just disappears. I did like this a lot, because when you have anxiety, you actually often lose track of things. So I appreciate how it added in something real like that, but put in a magical twist.

Ultimately, this book resonated with me so much! Coupling internet friendships with accurate portrayal of mental illness and witty banter and delicious tacos…I had no choice but to adore it! It’s also entirely quotable and precious. The writing was utter perfection and it was fast and easy to read, yet complex and poignant.

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review – One Would Think the Deep

One Would Think the DeepIf you thought Claire Zorn’s first two YA novels, The Sky So Heavy and The Protected, were brilliant, you’re going to need double tinted Ray Burns for her latest masterpiece, One Would Think the Deep.

Zorn manages to mould rough edged, grit-encrusted reality into exquisite accomplished prose with the mere flick of her fingers. One Would Think the Deep is a story that surges with emotion, confrontation, and ultimately, hope.

If I were to reflect on Sam’s story too deeply, I’d be overwhelmed with the melancholy of it, of him but this is not a tale of woe and hopelessness, in spite of its gently grim beginning. Its sincerity and swagger from the opening lines swept me along and held me afloat until the very end.

Shortly after one fateful New Year’s Eve, Sam Hudson finds himself suddenly orphaned, teetering on the precipice of shock, grief, graduation and homelessness. My stomach filled with sick ache for him as he called his Aunty Lorraine to inform her of his mother’s premature death.

With nothing more than his skateboard and a collection of 90s something mixed tapes (he listens to Jeff Buckley on his Walkman with the same obsession I did to ABBA), Sam lingers uncomfortably in the small coastal town of Archer Point with his aunty and cousins, Minty and Shane. He is caught in a turbulent no man’s land of past boyhood memories and buried family secrets, incapable of finding his fit. Grief and despair are his most loyal companions, second only to his cousin, Minty with whom he spent a chunk of his childhood.

Minty is the laWavetter day version of Taj Burrows, young, gifted, a surfing legend amongst the local crowds. His laconic life views and ability to work any wave endears Sam to the ocean. But it takes a few months before his newfound surf therapy begins to take effect. Despite the elegant monastic simplicity of ‘a life in the water’, Sam’s life continues its complicated hurtle toward (his) self-destruction. He pines for a past he doesn’t fully understand, yearns for the affections of a girl he can barely speak to and is constantly at crushing odds with most of his family members including, Nana. Sam’s emotional dichotomy of good boy battling the bad within is fascinating and heart wrenching at times. It’s impossible to dislike him because of what you feel for him feeling so much.

Sam’s story of hurt and healing is beautifully rendered. Even the most vicious of emotional situations are depicted with refined tenderness so that I found myself weeping emphatically throughout, not just at the end where you’d expect a need for tissues.

Each character is drawn with knife-edge sharpness. Each speaks with a clarity that never dulls. Every sense is heightened by the wrenching complexity of the lives of this very inconsequential, simple group of ordinary individuals. And it’s not just Sam who is damaged and vunerable. Each is noticeably flawed or at least weighed down by their own limitations to a point of exquisite confusion. I loved them all.

It’s not the surf, time, or chance or even family that ultimately saves Sam in as much as they all conspired to also undo him.  It’s that old chestnut love, which I believe is the true nucleus of One Would Think the Deep (the moments between Gretchen and Sam are incomparable).The ability to surf the ‘glistening wake’ of your leviathan fears and laugh about the results with people who love you is ultimately the key to surviving the ride.

If you are experiencing loss and your soul feels displaced, if you have a passion for the waves or you are still in love with the sounds of the 90s, then you must submerse yourself in this book.  I can almost hear Jeff Buckley crooning Hallelujah

UQP June 2016

Claire ZornStick around…in the coming weeks I’ll be chatting more deeply with Claire about her latest work and how she developed such impressive surfing lingo.  Meantime, you can find all her great reads, here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Starflight by Melissa Sanders

Starflight by Melissa Sanders was an incredibly fun surprise! I didn’t have very high expectations because the author’s previous book, Alienated, was cute but a bit unimpressive for me. Yet Starflight?!? IT WAS AMAZING. It was like Cinder meets Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and it was stuffed with action and hilarious dialogue. This is the kind of quality intergalactic space shippy books I want to board immediately.9781484723241

I haven’t read a lot of sci-fi (space opera?) before this. So I literally have nothing to compare it to. But Starflight is basically about Solara who is a criminal and Doran who is son of rich galaxy company dude and how they end up working for each other — and hating each other. Solara is a mechanic. And Doran is an entitled selfish grape who gradually shows he is a small gooey chocolate pudding whom I adored. They get caught up in space-chases, get into trouble with pirates, and end up with assassins hunting them down. As you do.

The hate-relationship between Solara and Doran was definitely my favourite. I love this romance trope! It starts off as aggressive arguments and the small wish to boot each other off the galaxy….and then warms to an adorable romance I can’t help but root for. Plus there’s plenty of excitement around them. Doran treats Solara like a peasant to begin with, and then she stun-guns him and cons him into working for her. They fight endlessly and it’s hilarious.

“Scoot over,” she whispered.
The mattress shook with his movement.
“A little more,” she said.
“If I get any closer to the wall,” he hissed, “I’ll have to buy it dinner.”

The plot is monstrously action filled too. There’s definitely no chances to be bored because you’re too busy wondering what calamities these two are going to accidentally throw themselves into next. They’re either zooming through space, running from assassins, getting conned into pirate marriages, getting drunk tattoos, stealing things, or complaining about the lack of bed space on board the ship. And the writing was just downright pleasant to devour. It made 3rd person so personal and I really connected to both Solara and Doran. I can’t even choose a favourite.

Also it has amazing witty banter! I laughed out loud. (Which doesn’t happen very often for me.) The sarcastic quips were amazing and clever and definitely had me wishing I could think up such snarky comebacks.

“Demarkus invites you to join his table.”
Solara’s prideful grin faltered. She wanted nothing to do with Demarkus. Besides, nobody had told her about pirate dinner protocol. She might use the wrong fork and start a war.

 

I’ve definitely found a new favourite sci-fi book that I’ll basically recommend to everyone of ever. It’s such a fabulous feeling to finish a book and just feel so happy about how awesome it was. It was fun and exciting and hilarious and I loved the complex characters and their amazing development. The writing was perfection. My only sadness is that this is a standalone! I could’ve read a ton more books about these characters!

 

[Purchase Here]

Review: The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

9780752897912I absolutely loved The Passage. It totally blew me away it is depth of storytelling, its scope, its characterization, its structure. You name it, I loved it. I’ve read the book three times now and loved every bit of it each time. But I have to admit to being slightly disappointed with the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve. I don’t know if it was the weight of expectation or the troublesome curse of book two but it just didn’t reach the same heights for me. I even gave it a second reading before this book and while I enjoyed it much more than the first time around there were still parts that didn’t resonate with me and seemed to grate against the previous book. But Justin Cronin returns to form in the exciting conclusion.

The final book opens with the virals, who all but wiped out humanity, seemingly gone. Life is slowly returning to normal, slowly at first, as the surviving population hesitantly emerges from behind their walls and lights. But, as we know, all is not as it seems. The Twelve maybe all but gone but there is another. There is Zero. As the terrifying truth slowly approaches our heroes must band together one last time to save the world once and for all.

I loved how Cronin structured this final book. After reintroducing us to our favourite characters he goes back to tell the story of Tim Fanning, a novel almost in itself. Unlike the back story told at the beginning of The Twelve, this gels more evenly with the mythology Cronin has created and sets up the final epic showdown perfectly (but not before a few more twists are thrown in). The way Cronin slowly builds the approaching dread and terror is brilliant and reminded me why I loved The Passage so much.

This is the final installment this epic trilogy deserves and ensures this trilogy goes down as one of the best of its genre.

Buy the book here…

Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

9781473618701 (2)This is a truly wonderful novel that captures the outbreak of the Second World War in London which will hook you from the opening line:  “War was declared at 11:15 and Mary North signed up at noon”. We follow Mary North, who from the war’s outset, is determined to use this tumultuous time to change the status quo. Mary is from a well to do family and rather than rest on her family name she wants to get involved in the war effort. She signs up immediately with dreams of becoming a spy or being involved in the newly forming war machine. Instead she is assigned as a school teacher and sent off to prepare the school children of London for evacuation. Mary takes this all in her stride and is even more determined to throw herself wholeheartedly into her new vocation.

Through Mary we meet Tom whose job it is to organise the schooling of those not evacuated. We also meet Tom’s roommate Alistair, an art restorer at the Tate, who also signs up immediately and is sent to France. Through Tom and Alistair we explore another side of the war; the guilt of those who stay behind and the transformation of those from civilian to soldier. After surviving the disaster at Dunkirk Alistair is transferred to Malta, where like those in London, he must survive the endless siege from the air of the Germans.

Cleave expertly captures the early days of the war with everybody disbelieving it can possibly be as bad as the government is trying to prepare them for. When the blitz does begin, much to everyone’s shock and sincere disappointment, he skillfully portrays the change of mood and stiff upper lip attitude employed by Londoners to get by. He contrasts all this with Alistair’s experience of the war showing that despite the contrasts between the Homefront and the frontlines there are also many similarities. Survival and sanity the key ones in both. As the war progresses Cleave conveys the steadfastness of this demeanour, both in London and in Malta, despite everything that happens to the contrary.

This is a truly amazing novel that left me shattered at many different moments. I haven’t read such an original take on the Second World War like this since Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, and those were both streets ahead of any other novel of the last ten to fifteen years. Cleave captures the spirit of a people so subtly and honestly and how that spirit is harnessed in order to survive. The sense of humour in the book is pitch perfect; dark, sardonic, self-deprecating, infused with camaraderie. At the same time Cleave also shows the darker side of human behaviour.

There are not enough superlatives to describe how brilliant this novel is.

Buy the book here…

Review: Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker

9780571325825 (1)I have read a lot of war fiction, especially the new wave that has been coming through in the last few years about Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a genre that, when done well, is visceral, shocking and gives you insight into experiences that are almost unimaginable. But it is also a genre that can easily slip into cliche, lessening its impact. Harry Parker takes a unique and unusual approach to his novel about war and in doing so sheds the burden of any cliche and gives the reader a whole new perspective of both sides of modern war and its repercussions.

Tom Barnes is a captain in the British Army in an unnamed Middle Eastern country.  It is his job to lead a platoon on patrols and liaise with the local population as they deal with insurgents whose aim is to throw the foreign army out of their country. We follow Barnes as he tries to navigate through this world of IEDs and reprisals, where the mission and its outcomes are never clear. We also follow two local boys as one is drawn more and more into the insurgency and the two different paths they take which can’t help but intersect again. We also follow Barnes after he is wounded and his long and exhausting rehabilitation process to not only deal with his injuries but the civilian world he has returned to.

What sets this novel apart is the perspective Parker chooses to tell the story from. The novel is told from the point of view of 45 different objects. From a pair of army boots to a child’s bicycle, a bag of fertilizer to an IV drip. Parker uses these different objects to tell his three stories from every different angle and experience. This could easily go wrong or not last the length of a novel but Parker pulls it off partly due to how he structures the novel.

The story is not told in chronological order. Barnes’ story is mixed together. We start with him being wounded and move on to his recovery but this is mixed together with the beginning of his journey into war. The two boys’ story is also set on a different chronological line that is interwoven with Barnes’ timeline at different points in the novel. This may all sound like it gets confusing, which for a novel about war is not necessarily a bad thing, but Parker keeps everything together through the different perspectives. One of the devices he uses for this is to refer to Captain Tom Barnes only as his serial number, BA5799, before he is wounded. This has the added affect of making Barnes seem like just another instrument of war just like his boots, weapon, dog tags and helmet. After he is wounded, he is no longer a piece of army equipment and must become a person again.

Harry Parker has etched his name alongside the likes of Kevin Powers and Phil Klay in showing us the consequences of recent wars that don’t seem able to ever end. A powerful novel that not only gives you a new perspective on war but multiple perspectives.

Buy the book here…

Review: Cambodia Noir by Nick Seeley

Cambodia NoirTake your time with Cambodia Noir. Savour it. Although the journey is dark, it is truly unforgettable.

The great Otto Penzler – distinguished editor of mystery fiction in the United States, and proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City – once said of noir: “[It] is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they’d be better off just curling up and getting it over with.” For the characters who populate these tales, there is no happy ending. These people spend their lives stitching themselves up inside their own body bag. Their demise is entirely their own doing; they are trapped in a fate of their own construction, a prisoner of inevitability.

The spiral of once-great war photographer Will Keller, the protagonist in Nick Seeley’s Cambodia Noir, began years ago. An inauspicious photograph taken in Kabul inspired his relocation to lawless, drug-soaked Cambodia, where he spends his days floating from one score to the next, taking any job that pays, while he fills his nights with sex, drugs, booze, and brawling. Keller’s terminal, and he knows it; he just doesn’t care, pushed far beyond the point of no return. But his spiral toward oblivion is interrupted by Kara Saito, a beautiful young woman who begs Will to help find her sister, who disappeared during a stint as an intern at the local paper. Unfortunately for Keller, there’s a world of bad things June could gave gotten mixed up in. The Phnom Penh underworld is in uproar after a huge drug bust; a local reporter has been murdered in a political hit; and the government and opposition are locked in a standoff that could throw the country into chaos at any moment. Keller’s best clue is June’s diary: a disturbing collection of experiences, memories, and dreams, reflecting a young woman at once repelled and fascinated by the chaos of Cambodia. But is there any truth to the young woman’s words?

Cambodia Noir is propulsive and electric. It’s classic noir revitalized in a setting rarely explored in the genre. Nick Seeley uses the skills honed as a reporter, and submerges the reader in the sights and smells of Phnom Penh, celebrating Cambodia’s culture and its idiosyncrasies even as he shines the spotlight on its dark underbelly. It’s a novel that is thematically weighted, with an ending that begs for discussion. You won’t read a finer contemporary noir novel than this.

Buy Cambodia Noir from Boomerang Books here…

Review: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Fool Me OnceForgive me for throwing out this hackneyed phrase — but Fool Me Once is a world-class thriller. I mean, seriously; just when you think Harlan Coben has reached his apex, when you’re thinking there’s no way he can beat what’s come before, he produces his best, most compulsive novel yet. Shudder in fear, fellow thriller writers; Coben has set the bar stratospherically high this year.

As always, Coben’s latest is peopled with believable characters thrust into seismic situations.Fool Me Once stars Maya Burkett, a former special ops pilot, home from the war, and suffering from PTSD following a decision she made in combat. This is a woman who has been through much in recent years; the death of her sister, and more recently, the murder of her husband, Joe. Despite that – her festering demons – Maya is determined to stay strong for her young daughter. So when she glimpses her dead husband on a nanny-cam just two weeks after his death, the familial normalcy she is striving for threatens to completely unravel. Maya finds herself digging deep into the past, uncovering the shocking truth about her husband and the kind of man he really was — and the kind of woman she is.

Coben’s mastery has always been the blindside; the plot-twist readers never see coming. I consider myself a ‘veteran’ thriller reader (see this patch I sewed onto my jacket?) and particularly gifted at predicting these dramatic zigzags (I am waiting for Professor X to sign me up to the X-Men, because I consider this my mutant power). But the grand finale here shocked me; it rocked me to my very core. I turned the final pages with my mouth agape, disbelieving, but believing at the same time. Because this is a twist that doesn’t feel contrived; it makes sense. It’s like an awakening; the journey up until now takes on a completely new meaning. If my reading stack wasn’t already threatening to topple and crush me in my sleep (why couldn’t my mutant power be invincibility?!) I’d re-read Fool Me Once with this new mindset.

Sure, it’s a little humourless at times — occasionally I’d find myself missing the Myron Bolitar’s one-liners (although a recent Tweet suggests we’ll be reunited with that old favourite soon) and the zinging dialogue of some of Coben’s wittier protagonists — and the novel takes slightly longer than usual to kick into high gear; but the build-up is worth it for that gut-punch of an ending. With Fool Me Once, Harlan Coben has once again proved to be the consummate master of the modern day thriller. I know better than to assume he won’t one-up himself next year.

You can purchase Fool Me Once from Boomerang Books here.

Review: Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Okay WOW. Damage Done by Amanda Panitch was simultaneously glorious and terrifying. It’s a thriller about a school-shooting and the plot twists had me absolutely enthralled. I’m actually very hard to surprise…having read, like, a million and two books. (That’s a very accurate statistic of course.) But this one definitely hooked my attention and had me shrieking at the end.

 

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What Is The Story About?

22 minutes separate Julia Vann’s before and after. Before: Julia had a twin brother, a boyfriend, and a best friend. After: She has a new identity, a new hometown, and a memory of those twenty-two minutes that refuses to come into focus. At least, that’s what she tells the police. Now that she’s Lucy Black, her fresh start has attracted the attention of one of the hottest guys in school. And someone much more dangerous. She thought her brother’s crimes were behind her. But now she’s being forced to confront the dark secrets she thought were safely left behind. How far will Julia go to keep her slate clean? One thing is clear: The damage done can never be erased. It’s only just beginning…

PURCHASE HERE

The story takes off when Julia and her parents are moving to a new town for a fresh start after her twin, Ryan, shot 11 people at their old school. So we basically get Julia’s feelings of fear of the future, denial of the past, missing-her-brother-even-though-he’s-a-monster, and trying to stay undercover. Which, totally doesn’t work out. Since it’s from the persepctive of the shooter’s sister, it reminded me of Hate List by Jennifer Brown (which I also highly recommend if you like a feelsy punch in the guts). Julia was surprisingly held together though and managed to keep up some wit and the semblance of trying to have a life despite all of these. Go Julia.

There were a few times where I had to “suspend disbelief” though. That’s literally my only negative. There are a lot of convenient plot developments and police fumbles that really wouldn’t happen in real life.

But other than that? The rest of the story was perfect and engaging and TERRIFYING. I loved the writing style! I adored Julia’s voice. She has this mixture of slightly self-deprecating humour meshed with intense traumatised meltdowns. She felt venerable but coping at the beginning. I also loved her obsession with hot chocolate. I MEAN WHO DOESN’T LIKE HOT CHOCOLATE?!?

Also I’ll take a moment to say Michael was the perfect love interest. He was adorable. He cooked for her (!!) and any guy who makes a girl an omelette or from-scratch lasagna is a winner. Also, Julia’s best friend, Alane, was pretty epic too. I was really impressed at how fleshed-out, dimensional and interesting all the secondary characters were. It made the world feel very real.

The plot twist will absolutely KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF. Obviously I can say no more because of spoilers but woah. I was sucked in. It was perfectly revealed (although there were a few info dumps at the end) and I was glued to the page.

This is a thriller that’s not to be missed! It totally twists your brain and it’s addictive to read. Don’t let the calm contemporary-feeling beginning lull you. At the beginning it’s a school story with a cute boy and cafes and a little bit of trauma — and then the ending just GETS YOU. This is positively wonderful.

Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

T9780571258130his is a book I almost missed this year. I had an early review copy but it just sat in my TBR pile well after the book had been released. I don’t know why I kept passing it over but I am so glad I finally got around to picking it up. Sarah Hall is a superb writer and I am confused as to why this book has so far been overlooked for this year’s major literary prizes.

Rachel Caine is an expert on wolves. For the past ten years she has been working in Idaho studying wolf populations on the reservations. Keeping as far from home and her upbringing as she can manage. She is also distant from her colleagues, forging as little close relationships as possible. However she is drawn home by an ambitious plan to reintroduce the grey wolf to Britain. The plan is not without controversy, opposed by the local population.

The idea is driven by the Earl of Annerdale who has the political and financial capital to make the plan a reality. Rachel accepts the Earl’s offer to manage the project and returns home. Her mother has recently passed away and when Rachel finds herself pregnant she grasps the opportunity to not only restart her professional life but also her personal life. While she sets about smoothing over the locals concerns and arranging for the introduction of two wolves into a preserve that has been set aside she also sets about restoring her relationship with her estranged brother and preparing for the arrival of a new addition to her own new family.

Sarah Hall’s writing is absolutely captivating. Her descriptions of the wolves and their behaviour is cleverly set against and matched with Rachel’s experience of pregnancy and motherhood. Added to the backdrop of the story is Scotland’s quest for independence and the politics and conflict wrought by Britain’s class system and history of land ownership.

A deeply fascinating, evocative and personal story, this is one of the books of the year.

Buy the book here…