Review: The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters

 

Title: The Cure for Dreaming

Author: Cat Winters

Published: Amulet Books October 2014

Status: Read from October 16 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley)

My Thoughts:

“Your future is to become a respectable housewife and mother. Women belong in the home, and inside some man’s home you’ll stay.”

Set in the year 1900, seventeen year old Olivia Mead is a bright girl dreaming of one day going to university, but in Portland, Oregon ‘respectable’ women are still expected to desire little more than becoming wives and mothers. Olivia supports the voices of the suffragettes clamouring for the right to vote, to wear bloomers when they ride their bicycles, to choose education and independence but her father, a dentist, is appalled by his daughter’s rebellious attitude and hires a young traveling hypnotist, the renowned ‘Henri Reverie’ performing in town to ‘cure’ Olivia of her ‘unfeminine’ dreams.

The Cure for Dreaming is an unusual tale combining a specific historical issue and era with a twist of the paranormal. Aimed at young adults, the plot and characters are fairly simplistic, yet it is a thought provoking read, sprinkled with an appealing mix of romance, horror, magic and mystery.

Henri modifies Olivia’s father command for his daughter to accept society’s demands of women somewhat by telling Olivia she will wake and the see the world as it truly is. Her new perspective is frightening and far from supporting her father’s world view it shows faded and caged women, men with red eyes and sharp teeth and simply makes Olivia’s belief in female emancipation even stronger. With help from a contrite Henri, Olivia eventually reclaims her voice and her dreams.

The setting is vivid and atmospheric and supported by the inclusion of half a dozen photographs from the period. For much of Winters’ young adult audience the history about the rights of women is sure to be an eye opener.

A quirky and quick read, I think The Cure For Dreaming would be a wonderful choice for any mother/daughter book club in particular.

 

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Review: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James

 

Title: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead

Author: Rebecca James

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Status: Read from October 13 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When Cooper Bartholomew’s broken body is found at the base of a cliff his death is declared a suicide but Libby, Cooper’s girlfriend, refuses to believe him capable of it. Desperate to understand what led him to the edge, Libby retraces Cooper’s last hours, eventually unraveling a tale of betrayal, jealousy, and shocking secrets.

The story unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Cooper, Libby, Sebastian and Claire, and shifts between ‘then’, detailing the events that led up to Cooper’s death, and ‘now’, exposing its aftermath.

Though well paced, the novel lacked much of the tension I had been expecting, this is more of a psychological drama than a thriller. I found the plot fairly predictable and while the circumstances surrounding Cooper’s death, when finally revealed, are emotionally powerful, they didn’t come as a surprise to me. However, I found the narrative very compelling, due in no small part to my investment in the characters.

All four protagonists felt genuine in ways to me that other characters in the New Adult genre have rarely done, I believed in their emotion, motivation and actions. The characters have distinct voices, which is important given the structure of the narrative, and are complex individuals. The relationship dynamics are also convincingly drawn.

An engaging read about friendship, first love, loss and lies, I really enjoyed Cooper Bartholomew is Dead. This is Rebecca James’ third novel following on from Beautiful Malice and Sweet Damage.

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Review: Rain Dance by Karen Wood

 

Title: Rain Dance

Author: Karen Wood

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2014

Status: Read from September 24 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Rain Dance is an enjoyable Australian rural romance for an young adult audience from accomplished author, Karen Wood.

When the Harvey family loses their house to the bank, they are forced to relocate from their coastal home to an isolated property in Gunnedah to fulfil a temporary building contract. Fifteen year old Holly, along with her two older brothers, Brandon and Jake, and younger sister, Eva, have no option but to make the best of the situation but she can’t imagine ever considering the arid land home.

Seventeen year old Kaydon Armstrong is shocked when he returns home from boarding school for the holidays to learn his father has made a deal with an investor to expand their cattle farm. Given the current drought conditions, Kaydon is suspicious of the investor’s motives but his father isn’t interested in his doubts and is determined for the deal to go through.

Rain Dance is an engaging story set in Gunnedah, a regional area in New South Wales. There is a sweet romance that develops between teenagers Holly, a vegetarian, and Kaydon, a fifth generation cattle farmer, action packed scenes when an accidental fire sparks and threatens Holly and her family, and a touch of intrigue when it becomes obvious the investor willing to bankroll the Armstrong’s plans for expansion has his own agenda.

While Rain Dance is aimed at a young adult audience Wood doesn’t shy away from illustrating the realities of life. She explores the affect of the financial crisis through the Harvey family’s losses, the emotional and financial strain drought has placed on regional farmers and raises the environmental risks of mining. Wood also examines some difficult themes through some of the minor characters. Kaydon’s best friend Dan has been struggling since the death of his father in a farming accident. Dan’s mother has been unable to maintain the farm and, with the family on the verge of losing everything while the insurance company delays payment, Dan is growing increasingly desperate. Jake, Holly’s brother, has admitted to being gay and is feeling lonely, and Holly’s mother has just been diagnosed with cancer, with the only treatment available hundreds of kilometers away.

With appealing characters, a strong sense of place and a well crafted plot, Rain Dance is a lovely read. I’d recommend it for adult fans of the rural romance genre to share with the teens (age 12 and up) in their life.

 

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The Book of Days by K.A. Barker

 

Title: The Book of Days

Author: K.A. Barker

Published: PanMacmillan September 2014

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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

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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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