The Book of Days by K.A. Barker

 

Title: The Book of Days

Author: K.A. Barker

Published: PanMacmillan September 2014

Read an Extract

Most people believe the best way to forget someone is to throw them down a well. Or lock them in a room with eight keys, or bury them at a crossroad in the thirteenth hour. But they’re wrong. The best way to forget someone is for them never to have existed in the first place.

When sixteen-year-old Tuesday wakes from sleep for the first time, she opens her eyes to a world filled with wonder – and peril. Left only with a letter from the person she once was, Tuesday sets out to discover her past with the help of her charming and self-serving guide, Quintalion.

Along the way she runs into mercenaries, flying cities, airships, and a blind librarian. But what is her connection with the mysterious Book of Days – a book that holds untold power..

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Review: Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts

 

Title: Zac and Mia

Author: A.J. Betts

Published: HMH Books for Young Readers September 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from September 11 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A.J. Betts won the Text Prize for YA and Children’s Writing in 2012 for her unpublished manuscript of Zac and Mia. Set in Western Australia, it is the story of two teenagers who meet while receiving treatment for cancer.

Seventeen year old Zac Meier is partway through an enforced period of isolation after a bone marrow transplant to treat his second re-occurrence of acute myeloid leukemia. Stuck in the adult oncology ward, with only his mother and the nurses asking about his bowel movements for company, when a blast of Lady Gaga penetrates the thin adjoining wall of his hospital room, Zac is intrigued by his new neighbour, Mia.
Before her diagnosis of osteosarcoma Mia gave little thought to the future but she could never have imagined she would face it as a ‘one legged freak’. Furious with everyone and everything, including herself, and desperate to deny the reality of her situation, Mia tries to run as far away as she can from her old life.

The narrative is shared between the perspectives of Zac and Mia. Betts characterisation is credible and I felt her portrayal of her protagonist’s emotions and behaviours was realistic.

Zac is an easy character to like, he is sweet, thoughtful and deals with the indignities cancer treatment forces upon him graciously. His family is supportive, with his mother rarely leaving his bedside. He has a sense of humour about his situation, and remains hopeful even despite his bleak odds of long term survival.

“I don’t moan about treatment because what’s the point? The way I figure it, this is just a blip. The average life span for an Australian male is currently seventy nine years or 948 months. This hospital stay, plus the rounds of chemo and the follow up visits, add up to about nine months. That’s only 1.05 percent of my life spent with needles and chemicals, which, put into perspective, is less that one of the tiles of the eighty-four on the ceiling. So, in the scheme of things, it’s nothing.”

Mia is a seemingly less sympathetic character, she is bitter, angry and absorbed by her own misery after her diagnosis, however I never held that against her. In truth, Mia is simply terrified and, completely overwhelmed, lashes out indiscriminately.

“Lucky?
While my friends were dancing at Summadayze, I was kept in observation with intravenous morphine. I pitched in and out of the world, visited by shrinks who attempted to talk about change and perspective and body image and luck. Then they hooked me up to more chemo. I couldn’t eat, wouldn’t talk, didn’t watch when the wound was unbandaged or the staples taken out. I tried to trick myself beyond my fucked-up body, slipping between vivid dreams until the morphine was taken away and I was left to live like this.”

The relationship that develops between Zac and Mia is well crafted and believable. Despite their differences, the pair form a tentative friendship, starting with a few taps on the hospital wall dividing them. It isn’t until Mia unexpectedly turns up on Zac’s doorstep once he is home though that the pair really begin to get to know one another.

While there is a touch of romance, it is important to note that Zac and Mia isn’t a love story. This is a story about friendship, understanding, family and finding the strength to face life’s difficult challenges. It is poignant and sweet, though Betts doesn’t gloss over the darker realities of battling cancer.

The comparisons between Zac and Mia and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars are almost inevitable given the similar premise, so I think it is important to point out that author interviews have them drafting their novels at about the same time and published only months apart (Text publishing 2012) . I loved The Fault In Our Stars but of the two, I think Zac and Mia is the more genuine story.

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Review: Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

 

Title: Apple and Rain

Author: Sarah Crossan

Published: Bloomsbury September 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on August 31, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A poignant and touching story, Apple and Rain is a story about family, poetry, wishes and growing up.

Apple is thirteen and has lived with her grandmother since her mother left one Christmas Eve when she was two. Her Nan is loving but strict and Apple can’t help but imagine that her mother will one day return and that her life with her will be all she has ever wished for. When Annie does suddenly reappear on a grey afternoon, she offers Apple her hearts desire, a home of their own, and with barely a backward glance Apple packs her bags, excited that her imagined perfect life is about to begin. Apple finally has the mother she loves, and the freedom she craves, but neither are quite what she imagined, and then there is Rain.

Apple(her full name is Apollinia Apostolopoulou – named for her Greek father) is a sincere character with believable thoughts, motivations and actions appropriate for her age. I found her to be very sympathetic as she struggled to cope with a teens familiar disappointments – being excluded by a best friend, targeted by a mean girl and having an unrequited crush, as well as dealing with her mother’s homecoming, and the surprise of a little sister. As her new life begins to unravel, Apple takes comfort in poetry, inspired by a substitute teacher, and a new neighbour, Del, but must also confront some uncomfortable truths about her mother, her sister’s obsession and her own needs.

Apple’s first person narrative is genuine and appealing. Crossan’s plain writing style and natural dialogue is appropriate for her audience. The pacing of the novel is good and the story is well structured.

Apple and Rain is a bittersweet tale, exploring contemporary themes in a realistic and thoughtful manner. I’d recommend it for readers aged 12 and up.

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Apple and Rain arrived wrapped in brown paper with a warning label and a packet of tissues!

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Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

 

Title: Heir of Fire {Throne of Glass #3}

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Published: Bloomsbury September 2014

Status: Read from September 01 to 03, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Pushed into a corner by the tragic events that concluded Crown of Midnight Celaena Sardothien is forced to face her past and embrace her future as Queen Aelin Galathynius in Heir of Fire, the third exciting installment of the Throne of Glass series from Sarah J Maas.

At just over 550 pages, Heir of Fire is quite an epic with a stronger focus on character development and insight than story, though it still offers plenty of intrigue, danger, fast paced action and a touch of romance.

Though sent to Wendlyn by King Ardalan to assassinate the Ashryver royal family, Celaena, mourning the loss of Nehemia and the end of her relationship with Chaol, has her own agenda. She needs to confront Queen Maeve and convince her to help Celaena to destroy the King, or at the very least answer some of the many questions she has about the Wyrdkeys and her family. Maeve however will not entertain her niece until she has an idea of her worth and insists she proves her mettle by training at Mistwood, under the supervision of Maeve’s blood servant, fae warrior and prince, Rowan Whitethorn. And as Celaena works to control her magic at the remote demi-fae haven, King Ardalan makes his first move…

In confronting Queen Maeve, Caelaena earns herself a new ally in Rowan. It is not an easy relationship to begin with and later its boundaries are a little hard to define but I loved it. Rowan is exactly what Celaena needs to help her move past the self pity and stand up for all that has been lost.

While Celaena is absent from the Ardalan court, Dorian and Chaol struggle with what they have learned about the King. Chaol is faced with some difficult issues about trust, loyalty and friendship in his quest to protect Celaena. Meanwhile Dorian finally loses his heart, but in doing so risks losing everything.

The introduction of Manon Blackbeak, a fearsome witch readying herself and her kind for battle on the side of the King, was initially an unwelcome distraction, but I eventually found myself intrigued by her story. It is obvious Manon will play a crucial role in the battle to come and I look forward to witnessing it.

I have really been loving this series, I’ve become totally invested in the characters and lost in Maas’s world of magic and intrigue. I am assuming that the next book will be last in this series (though there is potential to drag it out) – I am both eagerly looking forward to its release and simultaneously dreading the approach of the series end.

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Read my reviews for the first two books in the series


Review: Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

 

Title: Are You Seeing Me?

Author: Darren Groth

Published: Woolshed Press: Random House Au August 2014

Status: Read from July 29 to 31, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A heartwarming and touching novel from Darren Groth, Are You Seeing Me? is a story about siblings, family, love and understanding.

After losing their father to cancer just weeks shy of their eighteenth birthdays, nineteen year old twins, Justine and Perry, are heading to Canada for a holiday of a lifetime. Perry is hoping to find proof of the Ogopogo’s existence and visit the area where his favourite Jackie Chan movie, Rumble in the Bronx, was filmed. Justine, anxious about their impending separation, is determined this will be an adventure Perry won’t forget. Neither are fully prepared for the seismic events that will rock their world.

Are you Seeing Me? is told, with compassion and insight, from the alternating first person viewpoints of Justine and Perry. Justine, older than Perry by three minutes, is ‘neurotypical’, Perry, as Justine is often forced to explain, “…has a brain condition that can cause him to feel anxious or upset in different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviours”. Since the death of their father, Justine has been Perry’s sole carer, their mother having abandoned the family when the twins were only four.

The unusual sibling dynamic is wonderfully portrayed, ‘Just Jeans’ and ‘Pez’ have a loving bond. Shortly before his death, the twins father made arrangements for Perry to move to an assisted living community, but Justine is struggling to accept the decision despite acknowledging Perry’s right to independence and Perry is determined to hide his reluctance to leave his sister in the belief that doing so will free her to live the life she put on hold to care for him.

I thought the twins were realistically depicted, and very likeable, characters. Justine is mature and capable but not perfect. Perry’s perspective is believable, though occasionally confusing given his occasional slip into an imaginary narrative.

There aren’t any real surprises in the plot of Are You Seeing Me?, but the story is well paced and believable. It is well written with natural dialogue and I particularly enjoyed the author’s dry sense of humour.

Are You Seeing Me? is an engaging read, appropriate for both mature YA readers and adults.

FYI: Groth dedicates this novel to his own daughter who, like Justine, is neurotypical while her twin brother, like Perry, has been diagnosed with autism (whom he honoured in Kindling)

 

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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

Read an Extract

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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