Thursday, 1 September 2016

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Published August 30, 2016 by PanMacmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: This is a love story.
It's the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets, to words.
It's the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she's back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal. She's looking for the future in the books people love, and the words that they leave behind.

Words in Deep Blue is the long-awaited new release by Cath Crowley. I know for some readers and book bloggers it's a book we've been looking forward to for years and it is definitely worth the wait. I've read it twice already and I know it's a book I will reread again and again.

The story begins with eighteen year old Rachel Sweetie who left the fictional Melbourne suburb of Gracetown three years ago along with her mother and younger brother, Cal. They moved to Sea Ridge and almost a year ago Cal drowned. This changed Rachel's life completely, she failed year 12, distanced herself from friends and her boyfriend, and now she's moving back to the city to stay with her aunt.

Henry Jones, Rachel's former best friend, still lives and works at his family's bookshop, Howling Books.  He has no idea of Cal's death because Rachel stopped writing to him soon after she left and he's never been able to figure out why. He's been dating Amy on and off for years but now she's finally broken up with him for good.

Crowley has created two wonderful main characters and each get to tell their side of the story via alternating chapters. Rachel's grief was palpable, she's depressed and can't see the point in life now that Cal is gone. Rachel used to love science and facts, she knew what she wanted to do with her life, but with Cal out of the picture, she's lost.

Henry is ever the optimist, but this personality trait is being tested by his mother's wish to sell the bookshop. In their family they all get a vote on decisions and he knows his younger sister George will side with him, so ultimately his vote will decide their fate. He feels like he has to choose between his parents and the decision weighs on him. He's also always known that Amy will come back after they break up, but this time it feels more final, though he can't help but hope. His optimism was so adorable and realistic because he's such a romantic.

Not only was it a pleasure to read about Rachel and Henry and to see them rekindle their friendship, but the secondary characters were just as lovable, especially George, Cal, Martin, and Lola.

Howling Books was a beautiful setting for the story, a store run by a family of book lovers, selling second hand books and containing a section called the Letter Library, where people can write in the books or leave letters in them. I can't help but wish that this shop really existed and I've read that a bookshop has now started their own Letter Library which is fantastic! Crowley's love of authors, books, quotes, and words was so evident throughout the story, I made note after note of the pages where authors or books were mentioned and it was lovely to see so many AussieYA authors/books, as well as a shout out to Beachside Bookshop.

This was a really emotional book, from Rachel's grief over Cal, to Henry's insecurities, to George's fear. I felt so much while reading this, at certain points I had to stop so that I wouldn't cry in public or so I could savour a particularly sweet moment. The inclusion of some of the letters from the Letter Library was a beautiful touch, each showing a different story or point of view, from the past and the present.

Words in Deep Blue is indeed a love story. It's a story about all the sorts of love you can experience: love for family, friends, partners, your livelihood, your hobbies, your city. It's a book for readers, writers, and book lovers. I have no doubt this will be a favourite of many readers to come.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my review copy.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick

Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick

Published June 27, 2016 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Life for Jonah and Manx means fishing for mullet at the lake, watching their school mates party on Friday night and wishing they had the courage to talk to Ella and Rachel.But now their lakeside town is being sold off, life doesn't seem so simple. Manx holds a grudge against the wealthy blow-ins from the city and Jonah just wants his parents to stop arguing.One memorable night at the lake will change everything.

Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick is a verse novel set in the fictional town of Turon. Sixteen Jonah lives with his mother, and his father, an interstate truck driver, is often away. Jonah spends his days at school and the rest of his time with best mate, Manx. They enjoy fishing in Coraki Lake, and drinking with local kids on the weekends.

Jonah is struggling with his home life. His father's absence is creating tension between his parents, and eventually his mum moves to her sister's leaving Jonah alone. Luckily he has Manx, a true best friend and someone that looks out for him. Jonah also develops a relationship with a long term crush, Ella, and she brings some happiness and lightness into his life.

Manx is struggling with out-of-towners moving in and wanting to develop their town. He butts up against the rich kids who live in mansions at Tipping Point, but he also uses them to his advantage. It was admirable to watch Manx fight against them and to see Jonah try and protect his friend.

Another Night in Mullet Town is a quiet story but one that manages to tackle a lot of issues. At heart it's about family and community. The writing beautifully captures a slice of small town life and what true friendship means.

Thank you to UQP for my copy.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle

Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle
Published July 12, 2016 by Hachette
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Ben and Grace Walker are twins. Growing up in a sleepy coastal town it was inevitable they'd surf. Always close, they hung out more than most brothers and sisters, surfing together for hours as the sun melted into the sea. At seventeen, Ben is a rising surf star, the golden son and the boy all the girls fall in love with. Beside him, Grace feels like she is a mere reflection of his light. In their last year of school, the world beckons, full of possibility. For Grace, finishing exams and kissing Harley Matthews is just the beginning.
Then, one day, the unthinkable. The sun sets at noon and suddenly everything that was safe and predictable is lost. And everything unravels.

Breathing Under Water is Sophie Hardcastle's debut novel, set in the fictional coastal town of Marlow. Seventeen year old twins, Grace and Ben live with their parents, a high school teacher and a surfboard maker. Both love to surf and while there's no doubt that Ben will go pro, Grace always feels stuck in his shadow, always second best.

This is a beautifully written book, but it did take me a while to warm to it. Grace is quite a passive character. She allows events to happen around her, she constantly compares herself to Ben, and to her best friend, Mia. When it comes to Ben she feels ignored at home, at school, when surfing. Her dad has one set of rules for Ben, but another for Grace. When she compares herself to Mia, she feels inadequate because she hasn't developed breasts yet, because she's not as bubbly and open, because she's not as popular. The idea of Grace being easily ignored and inferior was really hammered home in the first part of the book, and while it helped to sell what happens later, it felt a bit heavy handed.

The fact that an accident, and possibly a death, was going to occur, hung over the story and each time the kids went for a surf I was anticipating what I thought would happen. When it does finally happen, it occurs off screen, this felt anticlimactic. And this feeling was one of my main issues with the story. I feel like some scenes were cut out on purpose, to perhaps create mystery, but instead it felt like there were things that needed to be dealt with that are left ignored. If it's implied a character gets raped, I expect some fall out from that. For a start it was never clear if that is what occurred and then it's never discussed, by the victim, by the friends or family.

What happens after the accident felt both realistic and slightly unbelievable in parts. I really thought Grace's mum would have noticed her daughter's school attendance, she's a teacher herself and surely the school would have contacted her more. But, perhaps this is why Grace's lack of importance within the family was highlighted so much at the beginning, and now that Ben is gone, she still doesn't register on her mum's radar.

I will mention that I was sent an advanced reading copy (an ARC) so perhaps things were changed in the final edition.

The ending was able to bring me back to the story, I was happy with the resolution, it was very emotional and filled with hope.

Thank you to Hachette for the ARC.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell
Published July 1, 2016 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad's stories.But then Foster's dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.A heartbreaking story about what it means to forget and to be forgotten.

This book, this book, THIS BOOK. I read Dianne's debut novel, Creepy and Maud, a few years ago so I knew Dianne was good at writing heartbreaking stories, but I was still unprepared for the emotions this book would put me through.

Seven year old Foster has a wonderful relationship with his parents, particularly his father. His dad loves to tell stories and encourages Foster to do so as well. They have word games in the car, they tell stories together, each adding a new line or taking the story in a different direction. So it comes as a surprise to Foster when his dad starts to forget things and slowly Foster realises it might not be something he can get back.

I think the saddest thing for me was Foster's age and how hard it was for him to comprehend what was happening to his dad. It's such a young age to start losing your father, even if he's still physically present. Part of the issue is that his mum and aunt keep him in the dark, often deliberately not telling him things with the assumption that it's better he doesn't know. This leads Foster to try and work things out alone, often acting out on purpose just to get some attention.

The author perfectly captures the point of view of a seven year old without ever talking down to the reader or making things too simple. It was compelling to watch Foster work things out on his own, to see his thought process and feel all his emotions.

Thinking back to Creepy & Maud, I remember feeling annoyed at the idea of just how many people have kids and don't stop and think about how their behaviour impacts them, and I feel like it's a subject that Dianne writes about well, whether intentionally or not, and she does so without preaching. All I could think about was how this time in Foster's life was going to change the person he was to become. But things aren't always dealt with in the best way, sometimes things are tough. I will say the ending left me feeling really hopeful that Foster and his family would manage to do the best they could.

Forgetting Foster is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful story about a family dealing with Alzheimer's Disease. It's a book that is perfect for readers of all ages, covering topics from disease, bullying, family secrets, to health care, and love.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy. RRP A$19.99.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye

The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye
Published June 2016 by Harper Collins
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

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

The Crown's Game is Evelyn Skye's debut novel and from the outset I was utterly captivated. Sometimes I read negative reviews of a book and I let them put me off reading it, but I am so glad I gave this a chance. I started out skeptically wondering why, if the tsar needed an enchanter so badly, wouldn't he choose to use both of them? But of course the author had an answer for my ridiculous notion and after that I was completely sold.

Vika Andreyeva is sixteen and has grown up on Ovchinin Island, with her father, Sergei, a Baron. They're isolated from the Russian aristocracy and it's here Vika hones her magical skills. Her strength lies in controlling the weather and elements such as water and fire. Eighteen year old Nikolai Karimov was an orphan taken in by Galina, a countess. His power lies in the mechanics of things, he's good at creating objects that move, as well as putting things together. Seventeen year old Pacha is the tsesarevich, the tsar's son. He has little interest in becoming tsar or attending to any official business. He enjoys hanging out with his best friend, Nikolai, and sneaking away from his guards, dressed as a regular citizen of St Petersburg.

Knowing the three main characters were going to be thrown together, I was prepared for a love triangle, but it never truly formed. While each of the boys liked Vika, I believe she only had eyes for Nikolai, and these feelings took time to evolve, in both directions. Pasha was the only one to fall in love instantly, and perhaps this is because he was constantly on the look our a distraction from his life.

The game itself was not what I was expecting, I thought the enchanters would have to duel it out, attacking each other, but in this case, the tsar suggests they use their turns in the game to enchant the city in honour of Pasha's upcoming birthday. There were some beautiful descriptions of what Vika and Nikolai chose to create, each more imaginative than the last.

There were a few characters I was unsure of such as Pasha's sister, Yuliana. She seemed quite sinister and I was sure she was up to something, only to find she remained more of a background character - perhaps there'll be more of her in the sequel. And Aizhana really surprised me, I didn't see the twist coming at all.

The Crown's Game is beautiful, magical, captivating, and clever. I was utterly enchanted and completely surprised when I found myself heartbroken and in tears at the end.

Thank you to Harper Collins for my review copy.

Monday, 15 August 2016

With Malice by Eileen Cook

With Malice by Eileen Cook
Published June 9, 2016 by Hot Key Books
Source: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…. wasn't just an accident.With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn't the one to blame?

With Malice by Eileen Cook tells the story of eighteen year old Jill Charron. While on a trip to Italy an accident occurred involving her and her best friend, Simone. Jill survived and has woken to find herself back in the USA and without memories of the past 6 weeks. It turns out the Italian authorities, as well as the American public, are blaming her for Simone's death and saying it was planned.

When a book is billed as being "a chilling psychological thriller" I expect that and this story did not deliver. There was no suspense, it was not chilling, and it didn't feel like a thriller at all. It felt like a very slow reveal and then an anti-climatic ending.

I can't quite put my finger on what bothered me about this book, but I think it was a number of things that when added together, just left me unimpressed.

The characterisation seemed weak. The story is told from Jill's perspective but I was never really sure who she was. Sure, she's lost some memories, but she had seventeen years before her memory loss, and even she seemed to question herself. She's mean, judgemental, selfish, and I felt nothing for her.

As well as Jill's thoughts, the story is helped along by news articles, blog posts, comments, police interviews, and emails. At first I thought this would be a good addition to the story, but it turns out they just doubled up the information dumping. First I'd read an article and then I'd have to read Jill's thoughts on how she had just read the same article.

It's hard to talk about anything else without spoiling this for other readers, but overall this was nothing like what the blurb promised and not at all like books I've seen it compared to eg. We Were Liars.

Ableist language: dumb, spaz

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

The Road to Winter by Mark Smith
Published June 27, 2016 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb:
Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.
He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.
But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.
And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

The Road to Winter is Mark Smith's debut novel, set in the fictional town of Angowrie. When a virus spread throughout the country, people in Finn's small town began to panic. Even with a quarantine in place, people began to get sick or leave. Fifteen year old Finn Morrison has been on his own for two years or more now. His father died and was soon followed by his mother. Finn lives a quiet, simple life, and despite rarely seeing anyone, he is always on alert. He and his dog Rowdy spend their days together, hunting, doing chores, and occasionally surfing. When a girl shows up on the beach one day, his life is changed drastically.

This sort of story always appeals to me because  a story that is as realistic as this one, is always more chilling than a story about something paranormal. In The Road to Winter, we get a snapshot of what happens in a small town when a deadly virus wipes out most of the population. What's happened in major cities or around the world isn't known, all that mattered was Finn and the life he's carved out for himself.

Finn is admirable from the beginning, he's loyal, determined, and optimistic. When things started to get worse, he was sure his town would band together, but he was wrong. Despite losing his parents, he hasn't given up. And when Rose shows up in need of help, he doesn't turn her away, instead he's kind and patient.

It's not clear when this is set, but it's a version of Australia that I do not want to see. The government allowed the importation and sale of refugees as workers and later these refugees were blamed for the virus. Rose is a refugee and what she and her younger sister, Kas, have experienced is horrifying.

The ending is satisfying but also bittersweet, and if I hadn't known about the sequel, it would have been obvious that there was room for one, and it's a book I'm looking forward to.

The Road to Winter is a chilling post-apocalyptic story, but one with plenty of heart and hope . If you're a fan of The Sky So Heavy or Tomorrow, When the War Began, definitely pick this up, it won't disappoint.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.