Thursday, 31 May 2018

Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

If I Stay ended with Mia making the decision to emerge from her coma with her devoted boyfriend Adam watching. It was unclear what would happen to the couple--she a studious and, dare I say it, slightly prissy Cello player, and he the frontman of an up and coming rock band. Where She Went picks up three years later, and is told entirely from the perspective of Adam who is now a major international star. It turns out that he and Mia did break up, though not in the way that the author hinted at toward the end of If I Stay. Adam has been left with a lot of heartache, and a lot of questions, about the breakup, while Mia has seemingly disappeared into thin air. He knows nothing of her until one evening in New York when he sees a poster advertising Mia's first major concert. He goes, inevitably the pair cross paths and what follows is one life changing night where both are able to find answers and to finally let go of the ghosts of the past.

And can they, perhaps, have a second chance at love?

For me, this was an entertaining, though often heartbreaking, read. I really felt for Adam. I felt that he was a bit too kind to Mia in many ways, though she eventually proves herself not to be as selfish as I initially thought at the beginning of the novel. (Though I'll stick with my opinion that she is prissy.) Like many of Forman's novels, the narrative takes place over a short space of time and uses flashbacks to fill in the blanks. The style really works for the author. 

Recommended, though it's best to read If I Stay first to get a better understanding of Mia's past and the terrible event that changed her life forever.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Review: City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

Having just finished City of Glass, I'm now fairly bloody certain that this series was originally intended to be a trilogy. Packed full of action, the novel works steadily toward a confrontation, one that the likes of the Shadowhunters have never seen before, and will change their world forever. 

In City of Glass, the major characters find themselves in Idris, the traditional home of the Shadowhunters. Some are there by choice, others by accident and not everyone is welcome. (Simon, it seems, is always doomed to experience the worst of things.) A day of war--and reckoning--with Valentine is drawing near and there are some surprising twists, turns and a big reveal that will change Jace and Clary's lives forever ... provided that they live long enough.

This was a ripper of a story that builds on the previous two and works toward an action packed and satisfying climax. Surprising truths are revealed as well as new characters--it seems that Valentine has another son. The final chapters have the most impact, and there are some surprising twists and turns, though I have to admit, the return of one key character was a bit disappointing and the news she brought was revealed in a less than dramatic fashion. Otherwise though, this one is the perfect read for anyone who loves urban fantasy that features young characters and an emotionally charged storyline. 


Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Review: Liars Candle by August Thomas

Liar's Candle is a rollicking political thriller that is most definitely not for the faint of heart. Penny Kessler is a young intern working in the US Embassy in Turkey. Frightened and vulnerable, Penny is photographed emerging from the embassy during a terrorist attack clutching an American flag. She is a defining symbol for all that America holds dear for some, but for others there are serious concerns. What does Penny know? And, more importantly, who can she trust in a foreign country where there are people on both sides who want her out of the way ...

This one is a bona fide page turner, filled with corrupt politicians and one unlikely avenging angel who must face up to certain truths, and fast, if she wants to make it home alive. The plot is fresh and exciting, and sure to please fans who like their storytelling fast and filled with action. Parts of the plot stretch the bounds of credibility (the fact that someone with a concussion was able to do all that Penny did in the space of thirty-six hours,) but the storytelling is so fast and twisty that I couldn't help but get swept up in it all. (I guess it's a bit like watching a Bond film.) Ultimately, this is an interesting political thriller that has emerged out of what are interesting political times. I'm keen to see where author August Thomas takes the next Penny Kessler book.


Friday, 25 May 2018

Friday Funnies: Bugs Bunny Opera

This is true. It's actually surprising how much culture was introduced to kids via the Looney Tunes cartoons. Along with a couple of operas, Looney Tunes also did a surprising, but clever, take on Of Mice and Men. Which way did he go George, which way did he go ...

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Review: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Clary Fray is back. In the second instalment of The Mortal Instruments, Clary knows who she is. With her mother in a coma and her father intent on world domination, Clary is embroiled deeper and deeper in the world of the Shadowhunters. Which is kind of unfortunate, given the fact that she and Jace had to break up after discovering that they were brother and sister. Clary is doing her best to make her new relationship with her best friend and longtime admirer with Simon work, but there are plenty of obstacles in their way--like the fact that Simon is turning into a vampire and that Clary is still secretly in love with her brother. Meanwhile, the young Shadowhunters must bound together to one, stop Clary's evil dad Valentine and two stop Imogen Herondale from using every legal means possible to destroy Jace to get revenge on Valentine. Even with the help of Clary's almost-stepdad, Warewolf Luke and powerful warlock, Magnus Bane, the group have the odds stacked against them, but maybe, just maybe, Clary has skills deeper than anyone knows ...

This was an enjoyable return to the world of the Shadowhunters, and another ripping, page-turning read. It was interesting watching some of the characters form new relationships--I was more or less expecting Alec and Magnus to get together; young werewolf Maia developing a crush on Simon was probably more of a surprise than Simon becoming a vampire. In this volume, we learn more about the world of the Shadowhunters and the Clave, and not all of it is nice. Perhaps the most surprising thing of all, though, was a note at the end of my copy of City of Ashes advising readers that the Shadowhunters would face their final challenge in the next book, City of Glass. Does this mean that the series was originally intended as a trilogy? 

In any case, the whole thing is a lot of fun. Recommended. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Review: Whisper by Lynette Noni

Some novels open with a great hook and never quite live up to their promise and, sadly, Whisper, is one of them. A young woman 'Jane Doe' as she has become known has been imprisoned and experimented on in a secret government facility for two years. Her captors want her to speak, to tell them her name, but Jane holds a terrible secret and she knows that if she speaks, the consequences could be deadly ...

This one started with a great idea, but failed to live up to its potential. With every twist, the story lost the very thing that made it unique and interesting and it soon began to follow a path that experienced readers of speculative fiction may find a tad predictable. Some parts of the novel were quite similar to The Girl With All the Gifts, though this one was a bit more light hearted and humorous in places. And one thing that I do think is worth mentioning--I was a bit surprised that a novel written by an Australian author, published in Australia and set in Australia would use American spellings throughout. (Though "mum" was one notable, and pleasing, exception.) All that said, I did feel some empathy for Jane and her predicament, and wondered what would become of some of the other major characters.

This one will probably be of interest to readers in the 12-14 year old age bracket who are looking for a twisty read written by the author of The Medoran Chronicles

Whisper is the first instalment in a new series.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Disappearing Dawn Schaefer (A BSC Nostalgia Post)

Kirsty, Claudia, Stacey and Mary Anne will always be remembered (and loved) by readers as the original members of the Babysitters Club series. Stacey would leave the club twice--once when her parents moved to New York, and again when she decided that she had outgrown the club. On both occasions, she found her way back to the club. But did you know that another key character also made more than one exit from the club?
That character was Dawn.

Dawn was the first new character to join the club. She entered the series in Mary Anne Saves the Day, as the new student at Stoneybrook Middle School. She and Mary Anne share a table at the school Cafeteria and soon become fast friends--and soon the girls discover that their parents were childhood sweethearts.

Seemingly, Dawn adjusts to life in Stoneybrook quite well, though she does struggle a bit with her new domestic arrangements when her mother marries Mary Anne's dad. Relatively late in the series she leaves for a six month visit to California. Initially, the books tell of her adventures with the We Love Kids Club, (a laid back version of the babysitters club,) and then she returns to Stoneybrook. A few books later, she leaves again, this time for good. Dawn then got to appear in the California Diaries a darker spin-off series, undoubtably aimed at kids who had, or who were about to, outgrow the Babysitters Club.

In return a new character was introduced to the BSC--Abby.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Friday Funnies: Fifth Cup of Coffee

As always, the Awkward Yeti is brilliant.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Review: The Book Ninja by Ali Berg & Michelle Kalus

The Book Ninja is a slyly crafted dark comedy that is almost certain to bring a smile to even the most humourless of book lovers. As for the rest of us, some of the jokes had me laughing out loud, which was kind of awkward, seeing as I was on public transport at the time. But, I digress. This is a great debut and I hope that it zooms straight to the top of the bestseller lists, because honestly, it deserves to. I'd start banging on about how I think it is the best new release for June as well, but I think everyone reading this review has the idea by now that I enjoyed it very much and that you should all read it.

Frankston "Frankie" Rose is an author and bookseller living in Melbourne who is looking for love. She comes up with a novel (bad pun, sorry,) approach for finding love. She places her favourite books on public transport with her contact details inside. It's a fun and clever plan, maybe this way she will meet the literary lover of her dreams. Fate has other plans in store, however, and soon Frankie finds herself falling for Sunny, a thirty-something who only reads--gasp--young adult. Can a lover of fine literature really find happiness with someone who is into YA novels?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, with its many literary references and its often darkly comic depiction of Frankie's escapades. Frankie is supported by a number of eccentric characters, each one more dysfunctional that the last. Every one in this story is slightly selfish, everyone is dysfunctional and the results are fucking hilarious. There's also a great moral in there about what happens if you decide to get revenge on someone by filling their car up with bananas. (Sorry. I just had to put that in.)

Fucking hilarious. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC of The Book Ninja

PS: Random trivia, the authors are also the pair behind the successful Books on the Rail project, which encourages readers to leave copies of their favourite books on trains and trams for others to discover and enjoy. 

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Eleven years after I started reading The Mortal Instruments, I've gone back to re-read the series from the beginning. Finding the first book wasn't exactly hard--my first Australian edition of City of Bones (the one that comes complete with a note in the back to say that the sequel will be released in 2008,) has been sitting proudly on my bookshelf for years, beside novels by other authors who first became popular during the era, which was post-Harry Potter, but just prior to the advent of the Kindle. Vampire Academy and Twilight were two notable series to come out of this time. Incredibly, as some may have seen from my review last week, The Mortal Instruments universe is still going strong, though it has been rebranded Shadowhunters, to fit the fact that it now incorporates three different series set in different eras that are linked by common themes. There has also been a Mortal Instruments feature film, and a Shadowhunters television series which is now in its third season on Netflix. Of course, I knew nothing of what the series would become back when I read the first book. What's probably more surprising is that I never really took that much notice of the many sequels and spin-offs as they were released, given how popular the series has become. Too much else going on, I guess.

Anyway, I've gone back to the start, with the intention of reading all of the books. And this time around, I'm slightly gobsmacked by just how addictive this series is. Clare certainly knows how to write a page-turner. In the first novel, we are introduced to Clary, a seemingly ordinary teenage girl living in New York who, though a series of unfortunate events discovers that everything she has known for the past fifteen years is a lie. She is actually a Shadowhunter--a human with angel's blood. A chance encounter with a Shadowhunter named Jace followed by the mysterious disappearance of her mother (a Shadowhunter who has been in hiding for many years,) forces Clary to play an active part in an ancient war between the Shadowhunters and various demons ... and against her father who is the most dangerous Shadowhunter of all ...

Some tropes exist for a reason (ie an ordinary kid finding out that they have extraordinary talents,) and most of that has to do with the fact that when they are executed well, they're bloody entertaining. Clare's talent comes from taking established tropes and myths and shaping them into a page turner featuring young characters that you can cheer for. There is a VC Andrews style twist toward the end, but the author handles it in a tasteful fashion--in fact, this is something that the ghostwriter for VC Andrews may want to take note of. Probably the best thing about this series is that although it features teenage characters, it's not strictly for teenagers, which is probably why my local bookstore places the books in the fantasy section, rather than the YA section. 

Overall, this was an enjoyable read and I'm looking forward to reading the second book in the series in the near future. Recommended.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Review: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Sometimes life just sucks and History of Wolves, the debut novel by Emily Fridlund does its best to drive that point home with a novel that is beautifully written but lacking in resolution.

Linda is a fourteen-year-old girl living with people who may or may not be her parents in a former hippy commune in the backwoods. Isolated and somewhat neglected, she lacks social skills and does not fit in with the people in her small town. From there, two separate plots develop about two very different, but equally broken people who try to reach out to her. In each instance, Linda knows that something is very wrong, though she cannot identify what it is, exactly. The book raises the question how can someone with such little understanding of the world possibly recognise signs that a child is being abused and speak up? Did Linda truly understand what was happening around her, and its implications?

And the answer is well ... you'll have to make your own mind up about that.

I found this novel uncomfortable, not so much for its subject matter, but for its lack of resolution. To me, it felt like a book with a lot of potential that never quite got there.

Not really recommended. 

Friday, 11 May 2018

Friday Funnies: This Means War

Admit it. You just read that meme in a Bugs Bunny voice, didn't you?

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Review: The Last Garden by Eva Hornung

Intriguing, awful, well written, brutal ... The Last Garden is a novel that is as readable as it is irritating and left me with some very mixed and unresolved feelings.

The main characters live in a world that is very much like ours, yet something is a bit different. Something is a bit off. They live in a German settlement in a part of Australia sometime during the early 20th century, but when exactly is difficult to tell. And it's certainly not much like the German settlements that we learned of in our Australian Studies classes at school. Or the ones in Colin Thiele books. Even the language is slightly different. There is something darker about this place--the author does a commendable job of creating a world that is as rich as it is dark. I'd say gothic and maybe I'd nail it, but the word also brings to mind a lot of pop novels from the 1970s and this book is nothing like any of them.

Fifteen-year-old Benedict returns home from boarding school to discover that his father has shot his mother and then killed himself. And then comes the first annoying thing about this book--we see Benedict as he walks the long trek home from the railway station. Then the story flips straight to the funeral. And then the author flips on us again, creating a realistic depiction of a child who is on the verge of becoming a man experiencing a grief so profound that he cannot leave the family farm, yet he cannot stay inside the house where it all happened. And so, he goes to live in a barn with the horses and while he grieves he builds a strong, and perhaps even spiritual relationship with those horses. Meanwhile, the the local Pastor must convince him to rejoin the outside world, but this is something that Benedict can only do if and when he is ready.

This one is quite profound for its complex and in depth depiction of grief. However, that world is so well, and so cleverly depicted that it comes at the expense of taking the reader properly on the journey with the characters. What is not said and depicted is equally as important as what is said and depicted, or maybe that was the point. And then of course there are the references to the last garden. If the Garden of Eden was the first, then perhaps this is the last and therefore, Eden's opposite. 

Or maybe I'm a dumbhead who completely missed the point of this novel.  

In any case, someone published it, it's won a shitload of awards and there are critics with far more credentials than me who are raving about it. 

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Review: Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

I was absolutely blown away by how much I enjoyed reading Lord of Shadows, the second novel in the Dark Artifices series, which is set in the world of the Shadowhunters. Set in Los Angeles, the novel features a large cast of adolescent Shadowhunters--humans with angel blood whose purpose is to keep the rest of humanity safe from dangerous paranormal activity. Unfortunately, Shadowhunting comes with a lot of rules, there is plenty of infighting in their governing body, the Clave, and their relationship with other paranormal folk is rather delicate. As the group comes together (and occasionally apart,) to find the only copy of The Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book that yields enormous power (especially if it gets in the wrong hands,) they find themselves battling against a number of others, including a group of Shadowhunters who want to take the Los Angeles Institute for their own--and who will stop at nothing to get it. 

Author Cassandra Clare has a way of gripping readers with page turning plot twists, and emotionally charged situations featuring characters who are just on the cusp of adulthood. It's been more than ten years since I read her first novel, City of Bones, but I'm thinking that I may have to go back and re-read that one, along with her other Shadowhunters novels. (So far, there are three series published featuring the Shadowhunters, The Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices and The Dark Artifices.)

Big shout out and thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of Lord of Shadows.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Friday Funnies: Coffee

I love this Ink on the Side Comic almost as much as I love coffee ... mmm, maybe not ...

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Review: A Wedding at Windaroo by Barbara Hannay

Barbara Hannay is a prolific Australian author, who writes romances featuring spirited heroines and their strong, sturdy soul mates. Numerous readers have recommended her novels to me, however, it wasn't until I found one of her books on a sale table that I decided to give it a chance. When I got the book--titled Inheritance--home, I discovered that it was actually a bind up of three Mills & Boon novels that the author had written and published about fifteen years ago. This was a little awkward--while I've got nothing against Mills & Boon and can see their escapist value--I'm also not normally that kind of a reader. Then again, a lot of people had recommended the author to me, I'd paid for the book and I figured that I may as well give at least one of these stories a go. I chose the first volume, A Wedding at Windaroo, as it looked like a nice enough story.

Piper O'Malley is a woman with a problem. A big problem. Her loving but somewhat scheming granddad won't leave the family cattle station to her unless she gets married. This causes the tomboyish Piper to go on a quest to basically change everything about herself so that she can trap a man. Her childhood friend Gabe is reluctantly recruited to help and from there everyone (especially a delighted granddad,) can see what is going on between the pair, except for Piper and Gabe.

I'd probably describe this one as fun and flirty, a great escapist read that delivers on everything it promises, along with the usual tomboy-in-Aussie-romance tropes and a romanticised glimpse at the outback and cattle farming. I don't want to criticise the book for its lack of depth, because hey, I read the book knowing what it was and what its aims were, and I think it succeeded. (Let's face it, no one picks up a novel titled A Wedding at Windaroo and starts wondering whether or not it should have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.) The whole thing is pleasant enough and it isn't difficult to see why the author is popular with lovers of romance novels.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018