Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

 

Title: The Fever

Author: Megan Abbott

Published: Little Brown & Co June 2014

Status: Read from June 16 to 17, 2014 – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Megan Abbott has created an unsettling thriller with The Fever.

Set in an ordinary small town idyll, The Fever begins when Deenie witnesses her best friend, Lise, suffering a frightening convulsion in class. Less than twenty four hours later, Lise is in a coma and, with the health authorities unable to determine a cause, when a second, and then a third girl, fall ill the community begins to panic. As the unidentified contagion spreads, rumours swell, blame is apportioned, and still there are no answers…

While the community, growing ever more hysterical, looks for something, or someone, to blame, it slowly becomes apparent that the cause of the affliction is infinitely more simple, and complex, than a toxic lake or contaminated vaccine.

Best friends, Deenie, Lise and Gabby are the teenage girls at the center of The Fever. When the illness strikes the three are in the throes of renegotiating their friendship which has become a tangle of love, possessiveness, loyalty and envy as they grapple with the complications of adolescence.

Of the three girls, it is only Deenie who has a narrative voice, which has a hazy, almost dream like quality, playing perfectly into the uncertainties of the plot. Obsessed with her own fears and concerns, Deenie is not the reliable narrator she first presents as.

There is not a lot of overt action in The Fever, much of the truth of this story lies just under the surface of what is happening. I thought the pacing was superb, nurturing an increasing sense of unease as the story unfolds.

The ‘fever’, we eventually learn, is a symptom – of the confusion and angst of female adolescence, of damaged families, and cultural fears – masterfully explored by Megan Abbott. A darkly compelling novel, The Fever is an intriguing mystery and mesmerising psychological study.

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Review: The Caller by Juliet Marillier

 

Title: The Caller {Shadowfell #3}

Author: Juliet Marillier

Published: Pan Macmillan Au June 2014

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Status: Read from June 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The Caller is the rewarding conclusion to Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell trilogy, in which Neryn and her allies finally confront King Keldec in a battle to reclaim Alban from his despotic rule.

Picking up where Raven Flight left off, Neryn is continuing her quest to complete her training with the Guardians before the planned Midsummer rebellion. As winter approaches Neryn joins the the Guardian of the Air, but the White Lady is fading and when her haven is destroyed, Neryn is forced to move on. Though Neryn still needs to seek the wisdom of the Master of Shadows, time is running out and when she learns of the horrifying new threat to the rebellion, Neryn has no choice but to enter Keldec’s court.

One of the strengths of this series has been Marillier’s characterisation of the principles, Neryn and Flint and their struggle to reconcile their own conscience and behaviour with their need to serve the greater good. Never is the conflict more clear than when Neryn is forced to witness the King and Queen’s cruelty in Keldec’s stronghold, and remain silent. Despite the personal cost, Neryn has be hold strong, trust in herself and her allies, in order to defeat the King and his dark forces.
Flint is near his breaking point in The Caller, struggling with the deeds he has had to commit as an Enforcer in order to provide the rebellion with what they need. Marillier explores his conflict with authenticity and compassion.

Though there is never any doubt that Neryn and her allies will prevail, the final confrontation is as stirring as to be expected with impassioned speeches by Flint, Tali and Neryn, and a violent conflict that leaves several of the characters the reader has come to know and love dead on the battlefield. It is a rousing conclusion though if I have any criticism… ***minor spoiler*** it is the way in which Kedrec and his cronies escape any immediate punishment for their crimes – surely the Queen could have been snatched bald or something!

Overall, the Shadowfell Trilogy is an enjoyable young adult series and The Caller provides a fine conclusion to Juliet Marillier’s tale of fantasy and adventure.

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Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Published: Macmillan Au April 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from March 30 to April 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“Why do we write fiction?” Professor Piper asked.
Cath looked down at her notebook.

To disappear.”

Cather is comfortable escaping into the realm of anonymous fanfic where she can be free of her crippling social anxiety, and always know what to say and do. College is nothing but uncomfortable, and it is all she can do, while struggling with the separation from her twin sister, Wren, and her father, to make it to her classes. But gradually, Cath is forced out of her comfort zone, encouraged by her roommate Reagan and the irrepressible Levi, in this charming contemporary novel by Rainbow Rowell.

I wavered between wanting to shake or hug Cath a lot of the time. Though I thought her sweetly shy and endearingly awkward, smart and often funny, her naivety sometimes stretched credulity. There were things I could relate to though, like this;

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when you’re done, why is everyone watching you?” (on why Cath avoids the dining hall)

I remember that anxiety when I first went to university and having to force myself to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Cath really struggles with the changes college forces on her and it’s a slow, sometimes frustrating, transformation but I think Rowell handles it realistically and thankfully she has Reagan to look out for her;

“Cath rolled her eyes and looked at Reagan. “Do you really want me asking you stupid questions?”
“If they’re about food, water, air or shelter – yes. Jesus, Cath, I’m your roommate.”

Reagan is the perfect roommate for Cath – often absent allowing her the time on her own she craves but doesn’t hesitate to call Cath out on her ‘crazy’, in a blunt but non-judgmental way.

I loved the relationship between Cath and Levi, so much awkward cuteness. Their romance is sweet, moving from acquaintance to friendship to lovers without feeling rushed or forced. And even though he screws up quite badly at one point, Levi with his goofy, ever-present smile, is just so appealing.

I really wasn’t a fan of the fan fiction excerpts, the whole Simon Snow/Harry Potter thing made me feel a little uncomfortable. And I have to admit I don’t really get the whole fan fiction scene anyway, though I know it is huge and I respect Cath’s passion for it. The plagiarism debate that takes place between Cath and her professor seemed disingenuous, I found it hard to believe, no matter her private opinion, that Cath would have thought her fanfic be acceptable for an assignment specifically asking for an original story.

The scenes I particularly enjoyed included those where Cath was reading aloud to Levi, her Emergency Kanye Dance Party (though Kanye… ugh) and her and Reagan’s cafeteria observations (a friend and I used to do that too).

Unusually for YA/NA fiction, Cath’s family has an important role in this story. Cath’s identical twin, Wren, (get it? Cather..Wren) is also a freshman but unlike her sister Wren is eager to establish her independence and reinvent herself in their new environment, which means leaving Cath behind. The dynamics between the sisters is realistic I think, with its mix of love and resentment, complicated particularly by their oppositional feelings about their absent mother. The girls father, who is bipolar, is very much present through the book through phone calls, messages and trips home.

Fangirl isn’t perfect, but it is a sweet, funny and moving coming of age novel. I’d certainly recommend it for young adults on the cusp of graduation and those struggling with the transition to college, but it is also a charming read in it’s own right for anyone who remembers stepping nervously into the college dining hall for the first time.

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Review: Vengeance by Megan Miranda

Title: Vengeance {Fracture #2}

Author: Megan Miranda

Published: Bloomsbury February 2014

Status: Read on February 11, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I wouldn’t recommend reading Vengeance without first having read Fracture, Megan Miranda’s debut novel. Fracture introduces the primary protagonists, Delaney Maxwell and Decker Phillips, and provides vital back story that this story relies on.

Vengeance is told from Decker’s point of view (whereas Fracture was told from Delaney’s perspective. It has been a few months since Delaney was trapped beneath the frozen surface of Falcon Lake but the events of the past winter linger for them both and it seems neither the Lake, nor death, has finished with them yet.

Miranda is able to revive the tense and sinister atmosphere of Fracture in Vengeance. From the first pages, death seems to stalk Decker but you are never entirely sure where the threat is coming from. As he struggles with feelings of guilt for Delaney’s accident and still mourning Carson’s untimely death, Decker can’t shake a feeling of foreboding, of worse things still to come.

I loved the ambiguous nature of the threat. You are never quite sure who, or what, is stalking Decker and Delaney until the final scenes of the novel and that uncertainty generates the suspense that kept me turning the pages. I did think the story was diluted in places though, the vengeance angle wasn’t pushed quite hard enough to suit me, and Decker’s emotional angst/relations woe is given too much attention at times.

Though not perfect, I really enjoyed Vengeance. It works well as sequel, and I think Miranda was true to the established characterisation and story. Though some questions may still remain unanswered, I hope the author doesn’t attempt a third book but instead starts fresh, I really want to see what else she can do.

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My Review

 

 

Review: When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan

Title: When Mr Dog Bites

Author: Brian Conaghan

Published: Bloomsbury ANZ February 2014

Status: Read from January 27 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When sixteen year old Dylan Mint overhears part of a whispered conversation between his mother and his doctor he becomes convinced he is dying and with just six months or so to live, he develops three ‘Cool Things To Do Before I Cack It’. The first is to shag Michelle Malloy, the second is to find a new best bud for his best friend Amir, and the third is to get his father home from the war before time runs out. It’s a deceptively unambitious plan but given anytime he gets anywhere near Michelle he has the irrepressible urge to shout ‘slag’ in her face, Amir is an Autistic Pakistani who smells of curry, and he can’t directly contact his soldier father who he believes is on special ops in the Middle East, it might not be as easy as it seems.

Set in Glasgow (Scotland), this quirky coming of age tale features a teenage protagonist with Tourette’s, a condition that causes verbal and physical tics. A student at a ‘special school’, Dylan is almost seventeen and like most adolescent boys he has his priorities, dictated by his hormones, which forms the basis of his personal bucket list. As a character, Dylan is endearingly awkward with an optimistic and thoughtful nature and though he struggles with his condition, he is determined to not let it drag him down. What did concern me about the portrayal of Dylan was his naivety, I can only assume he has more complex neurological issues related to, or in addition to, Tourette’s, which weren’t, but perhaps should have been, shared.

In addressing the themes of friendship, intolerance and family in When Mr Dog Bites Conaghan often uses humour to temper the more serious challenges Dylan faces like bullying, blackouts and learning the truth about his absent father, but there are also some sweet and poignant moments. The story unfolds mainly as you might expect, with some minor twists in the details. I do I think the language may prove to be a barrier for non commonwealth readers who may find the slang and cockney rhyming difficult to make sense of but I wouldn’t want that to put anyone off.

I liked When Mr Dog Bites, and I think it’s weaknesses were balanced by its strengths, but I was hoping for something more. However I think it will satisfy a young adult audience of around 14-18, and would be especially suitable for boys looking for contemporary fiction.

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Review: Doomed by Tracy Deebs

Title: Doomed

Author: Tracy Deebs

Published: Bloomsbury ANZ  January 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from January 25 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

On the morning of her seventeenth birthday, Pandora Walker receives an email from the father she has neither seen nor heard from in ten years. In it, her father apologises for his absence from her life and provides a link to a blog that he says explains everything. Curious, Pandora clicks the link and unwittingly unleashes a virus that systematically begins to cripple the world’s electronic infrastructure. Now, as the veneer of civilisation begins to collapse, Pandora has just ten days to solve the obscure clues her father has provided her with in a handful of childhood photographs and the virtual reality game Pandora’s Box, if she is to halt the cascade of devastation, before the world is Doomed.

Pandora is the heroine of this fast paced, action packed, young adult thriller, dropped into the midst of a nightmare when her environmentalist father decides to teach the world a lesson. She proves to be strong-willed, resourceful and compassionate, if also often stubborn and prone to the odd freak out or two. I liked her and thought the author created a credible character responding to extraordinary circumstances.

Help with Pandora’s quest comes from the gorgeous, and conveniently useful, Eli and Theo. It is here that Deebs enthusiastically embraces the YA cliche, portraying Eli as the outgoing, blonde charmer and Theo as the silent, tall, dark and handsome brooder. Inevitably they are also pitted against one another as romantic rivals for Pandora’s affection, and there are no prizes for guessing who Pandora falls for.

There are times when Pandora and the brothers are immersed in the game that the line between actual and virtual reality blurs. I’m not sure how I feel about that, it doesn’t seem quite right though it does pull you into the on screen action and the mix of gaming action and geo-caching, as they dodge mythical Greek monsters, panicked citizens and Homeland Security, ensures the pace of the story rarely lags.

The world post electronic Armageddon is a scary place and Deebs captures the chilling reality well, from the seemingly simple loss of traffic control to the meltdown of a nuclear facility, the author’s vision is uncomfortably plausible and there are one or two scenes that graphically illustrate the terrifying possibilities.

I do however have one significant reservation about this novel. At more than three quarters of the way through the novel I was convinced Doomed had to be the first in a duology, possibly even a trilogy, and though it’s not, it should have been. There are still several days, and several clues remaining, when Pandora’s quest is abruptly resolved, leaving me to suspect that an editorial decision was made to present Doomed as a stand-alone. If that was the case, the task timeline should have been adjusted accordingly, instead it feels like the conclusion of what would have been the second and final book was tacked on to the end of the first book.

I imagine the exciting premise and agreeable characters will have particular appeal for the young adult audience the story is targeted and despite my criticisms I do consider Doomed to have been an enjoyable read.

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Review: A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey

Title: A Breath of Frost {Lovegrove Legacy #1}

Author: Alyxandra Harvey

Published: Bloomsbury ANZ January 2014

Status: Read from January 15 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A Breath of Frost is the first book in Alyxandra Harvey’s The Lovegrove Legacy trilogy. Set in the early 1800′s, it features three debutante cousins, Emma, Gretchen and Penelope, who discover their secret family legacy, and open the gates to the Underworld, after Emma accidentally breaks a keepsake given to her by her mother. As murderous witches and hellish beasts threaten the magical community, the girls must embrace their legacy to end the deadly chaos.

While each of the cousins is involved in this story, the focus of this first book is on Emma. It is she who stumbles across murdered classmates, she who the Order targets, and she who must solve her mother’s riddles to banish the terrifying Greymalkin sisters. I liked Emma, who is not complex but not stereotypical either. Though all three girls seem to be rather casual in their acceptance of their new world order, I’m grateful not to have to endure lady like fainting and fluttering. There is romance for Emma as well with Cormac Fairfax, a young man without magic but who works for the Order and is determined to protect her.

I enjoyed the world building, Harvey establishes the novel well blending the historical with the supernatural. There is some contemporary interpretation of historical detail, like language and behaviour, which purists may be peevish about but didn’t really bother me. Witches are amongst my favourite paranormal elements and I liked the variety of magics Harvey created including spells, charms and innate abilities.

I do think the novel was overwritten though and could have been pruned by at least 50 pages without detracting from the atmosphere, plot or characters. There was some scene repetition and the pace was a little uneven, but there was also some good action and a couple of twists.

I have to admit I wasn’t really expecting much from A Breath of Frost, I didn’t think much of a previous book I had read by the author, but I am glad I gave this a chance because despite its flaws it is overall an entertaining and engaging read.

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Review: Taste of Darkness by Maria V Snyder

Title: Taste of Darkness {Healer Trilogy #3}

Author: Maria V. Snyder

Published: Harlequin Au January 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from December 27 to 28, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher via netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The final installment in Maria V Snyder’s ‘Healer’ trilogy is an entertaining and satisfying climax to a what has a been an enjoyable series.

Avry, Kerrick and their allies may have won the battle with King Tohon, trapping him in stasis, but not the war, as Cellina and Sepp take control of his troops and a new power, The Skeleton King, arises to bid for control of the Fifteen Realms. Fast paced and action packed there is also plenty of emotional angst as Avry and Kerrick face threats both from without and within.

In terms of the story, new elements are introduced, most notably the Skeleton King, but the focus is on tying up loose ends. Most issues were resolved but some events, like Belen’s fate, were glossed over and I thought the finale was perhaps a little rushed, though overall satisfying.

Though headstrong and often reckless Avry has been a likeable heroine. She is loyal to the cause but her priority is always those she loves. Even though she is separated from Kerrick much of the time their romance matures in this installment and their connection becomes vital in the struggle to win the war.

The Monkeys are their usual irascible selves, and Flea plays a surprisingly crucial role in the storyline, so much so I have to wonder if Snyder is considering a spin off with Flea taking centre stage. I was happy that Captain Od opted to support Avry and had a part in this final.

Combining adventure, fantasy, drama and romance the Healer trilogy is a enjoyable read and I am a little sad to see it end. I hope Snyder will provide the opportunity to visit this world, and its characters again.

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Review: Snake Bite by Christie Thompson

Title: Snake Bite

Author: Christie Thompson

Published: Allen and Unwin October 2013

Status: Read from November 14 to 15, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A coming of age story set in the suburbs of Australia’s capital during the 1990′s, Snake Bite is a story of adolescent rebellion and disovery.

It’s the summer before her final year of school and seventeen year old Jez spends most of her time with her best friend Lukey, contemplating new piercings, playing X-box and popping pills… until new girl Laura lures Luke away. While her single mother works nights and spends her days sleeping off a hangover, Jez seeks the company of her neighbour, Casey, who has no qualms about exposing Jez to the excesses of her lifestyle.

The themes of the novel are universal amongst adolescents, despite being couched in local colour. For Jez, all the angst, fear and boredom involved in growing up is complicated by poverty, family dysfunction and addiction. The summer challenges her ideas about love, sex and friendship when she confronts betrayal and exploitation. Thompson deftly evokes the intensity of emotion and drama teenagers struggle with as they learn about who they are, and who they want to be.

The story also explores the fragile relationship between Jez and her mother. Like most teens Jez considers her mother an embarrassment but the issues between them are compounded by Jez’s mothers alcoholism and lack of responsibility.

Change happens slowly, and often painfully, but eventually Jez discovers hope for a future that won’t necessarily include dealing drugs, stripping or repeating her mother’s mistakes.

Perhaps because I have a 17 year old daughter, the slang used doesn’t bother me the way in which it seems to irritate others. The few terms I was unfamiliar with could be understood by context, and neither do I have any problem with the casual use of explicit language, though some might find it confronting.

Snake Bite is a gritty, poignant and authentic novel, a raw slice of contemporary Australian life exposed for its uncomfortable truths. I enjoyed it and I’d recommend it particularly to YA readers, and adults who experienced adolescence in the 1990′s.

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Review: Where The Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

 

Title: Where The Stars Still Shine

Author: Trish Doller

Published: Bloomsbury October 2013

Status: Read from October 25 to 26, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Like Trish Doller’s debut novel, Something Like Normal, Where the Stars Still Shine is a gritty, contemporary young adult novel favouring realism over fairy tale.

Barely able to remember her father, Callie believed her mom when she told her that their life on the run was necessary to protect them from him. So when her mother’s lies are finally revealed, and her father reclaims Callie after twelve years, she is overwhelmed both by what she has lost, and gained. Now Callie has the opportunity to lead the normal life she has always dreamed of but can she let go of the past to create a future?

I really like the way in which Doller portrays Callie’s conflicted thoughts, emotions and behaviour in a realistic manner. After twelve years of a transient lifestyle, Callie isn’t sure she is capable of adjusting to the expectations of her father and her extended family. Callie battles feelings of self doubt, confusion and anger every day, almost afraid to hope that her life can now be different but wants to fit in despite often feeling overwhelmed by the change in her situation.

Callie also keenly feels the loss of her mother. Reconciling her anger with her love for her mom is difficult for her, not only is she now aware of what was lost when her mother took her, she is still dealing with her mother’s failure to protect her from abuse. Learning that her mother is mentally ill complicates the issues of blame and betrayal.

While settling in to her new life is made easier by Callie’s father’s compassion and understanding and her friendship with Kat, it is her unconventional relationship with Alex that gives Callie confidence and perspective.

Where the Stars Shine is an emotional story of family, community and love and I was touched by Callie’s challenging journey to find her way home.

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