Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Book that Made Me edited by Judith Ridge

The Book that Made Me edited by Judith Ridge
Published September 1, 2016 by Walker Books
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: A book for book lovers!
The Book That Made Me is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world. Inspirational. Affecting.A perfect collection of personal stories for book lovers!Personal stories by fantastic authors such as Markus Zusak, Jaclyn Moriarty, Shaun Tan, Mal Peet, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Simon French, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Bernard Beckett, Ursula Dubosarsky, Rachael Craw, Sue Lawson, Felicity Castagna, Benjamin Law, Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, James Roy, Alison Croggon, Will Kostakis and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Also features black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan!

The Book that Made Me is a collection of 32 stories by Australian and international authors, edited by Judith Ridge. All of the stories are about books and reading, with a focus on the first book that evoked strong feelings.

If you're in your twenties or older, this will probably be a very nostalgic book for you, if you too grew up reading. If you're younger than that, you have a whole list of books that you can now look forward to!

I loved each and every entry in this collection, often I resonated with the childhood described or the books mentioned, and sometimes I'd never heard of the author or their selections, but I still got something out of their story.

Like so many of the contributors, I don't remember when I learnt to read, I just know I learnt very early on and I have loved books ever since. I was the sort of child who bought their book to the dinner table, only to be told to put it aside. I quickly fell into the habit of re-reading books over and over again, in particular I remember being proud of the fact I'd read Matilda by Roald Dahl at least a dozen times.

I loved series like Emily Rodda's Teen Power Inc., The Baby-sitters Club (and the Little Sister books), Sweet Valley High, Brian Jacques' Redwall series, The Saddle Club, Adrian Mole, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Dark is Rising, and Nancy Drew. I loved authors such as Libby Hathorn, Morris Gleitzman, Robin Klein, Ethel Turner, David Metzenthen, and Roald Dahl. I used to keep a list of books I'd read and I wish I still had that notebook because I'm sure I'm forgetting many beloved books and authors.

One year I won the MS Readathon at my primary school (my prize included an Agro's Cartoon Connection cd - score!) I think taking part in the readathon ultimately led to my love of Goodreads, a place where I can organise the books I read and set myself a yearly reading goal.

Some of the contributors mentioned books I hadn't thought of in years, for example The Silver Sword. I loved it as a child and I am thrilled to see it's still in print and now plan on buying a new copy. But most of all, this book made me want to read even more. I've added books to my to-read list like 1984, Josh, and Zigzag Street, and I can't wait to read them.

The Book that Made Me will delight book lovers because, as Anne Shirley would say, the contributors will feel like your kindred spirits. Each author loves storytelling and appreciates a well told story. The essays are humorous and heartfelt, and you're bound to find mention of your favourite childhood books, as well as discovering books you're yet to read.

Thank you to Walker Books for my review copy.

Cover illustration: Sarah Wilkins

This is such a lovely cover. Who wouldn't want to have access to a tree that grew books? I wonder if the tree grows a mix of genres or just one? I know I'd like an AussieYA tree in my backyard.

I used Essense L.O.L for the base, an almost-match for the pale green of the cover. I used acrylic paint for the rest.

Monday, 24 October 2016

My Best Friend is a Goddess by Tara Eglington

My Best Friend is a Goddess by Tara Eglington
Published Ocotber 24, 2016 by Harper Collins
Source: the author
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Sixteen-year-olds Emmily and Adriana have been besties sinse Year One. Way back when Adriana had a gap between her teeth and was super-skinny. Emily wasn't any less awkward-looking, and ever since they've stuck together on the social sidelines.But when Adriana returns during Year Ten, after having spent eighteen months overseas, she has gone from awkward to AMAZING. As in utter goddess.Thankfully, Adriana is no different on the inside. She's still the same best friend Emily knows and loves. But Emily just wishes that one guy, any guy, would want to get to know her for a reason other than being Adriana's best friend.Cue Theo...

I adore Tara Eglington's first two books, the Aurora Skye duology, so I was thrilled when she sent me a copy of her latest novel, My Best Friend is a Goddess. Like the Aurora books, it too is set in the fictional Australian suburb of Jefferson, and the two main characters, Emily Wood and Adriana Andersson, attend Jefferson High.

The story is told via alternating chapters from each girl's perspective, as well as excerpts from their diaries or inner thoughts. It was easy to distinguish between the characters, both of them being individuals. Em is an extroverted artist, living with her artist mother. Her father left before she was born and she doesn't know much about him. Adriana and her father have spent the past eighteen months in Borneo, it was a chance for them to escape their grief at losing Adriana's mother, and for Adriana to escape the relentless bullying at school. The girls are reunited and Em expects everything to go back to normal.

The friendship in this story felt so, so real. I am sure teens and adults will be able to relate to the ups and downs of long term relationships. The story also explores insecurity and grief. Em, while typically the tougher of the pair, is constantly ridiculed at school for the shape of her nose, and internally she berates herself for her small breasts. This teasing increases over the course of the school year and her confidence decreased each day. Adriana, is more of an introvert and has always reacted sensitively to criticism and bullying. Being home brings her grief to the surface and she finds herself increasing angry with her past behaviour and the people around her. She can't stop replaying all the taunts she used to hear and still thinks of herself as the same girl.

In TV shows, one of my least favourite tropes is miscommunication. I always find it a unbelievable when two characters can't have a conversation and reveal the true issue and sort out their problems. Em and Adriana's story revolves around this trope and while it grated on me a little, especially towards the end, in this case it made sense. In a friendship like theirs, where they have always been able to talk freely, a problem like crushing on the same boy would seem daunting. And when one friend is already overwhelmed, it was realistic to see the other choose to put her friend's happiness first. On top of that, even a strong friendship will suffer from a long absence and the girls needed more to time to get reacquainted because Adriana had changed more than either of them realised.

I thought I could predict the ending but instead I found myself surprised and quite sad. Ending the narrative and finishing the story only via diary entries and inner thoughts was an interesting choice, and allowed the passing of time to be hastened.

Ableist language: crazy, lame, dumb, mental, psycho, insane, maniac.

My Best Friend is a Goddess is a wonderful exploration of friendship, grief, and anxiety. It's full of depth, sweetness, and heartache.

Thank you to Tara Eglington for a signed copy.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley

Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley
Published September 2016 by Faber & Faber
Source: Allen and Unwin
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Solomon hasn't left the house in three years, which is fine by him. Lisa will do anything to get into university - including befriending and 'fixing' Solomon for the benefit of a school psychology project.And Clark, Lisa's boyfriend, would do anything for her, because that's what love is.The three become friends, but secrets bubble beneath the fun, and it's not long before each of them relaises there's more than one way to hide yourself from the world. And sometimes, it's only your friends that can bring you back into the light.

From the moment I started Highly Illogical Behaviour, I was drawn into sixteen year old Solomon Reed's world. When he was eleven he started having panic attacks and over the years they began to happen more frequently and become more severe. At his worst they were happening up to three times a day. Water is one thing he finds soothing, and so on his last day in the outside world, he hopped into the fountain at school and lay down in the water. After that he convinced his parents he'd be better off indoors, that was three years ago.

I felt for Solomon instantly. He's happy but he is a little lonely. His parents are wonderful and supportive, but he knows his mum worries he'll be living with them forever. He still has the occasional panic attack and wishes they had a pool, but he's afraid asking for one would get his parents' hopes up.

The story is also told by Lisa Praytor. She was a year above Solomon at school and remembers the day with the fountain. She's a dedicated student and can't wait to leave home and go to university. She's determined to get into psychology and when she realises she's found Solomon, she decides to write about him... without getting his permission first. Lisa is also dating Clark, but she waits a month before introducing them.

Despite Lisa having an ulterior motive, I didn't hate her.It was easy to see why she wanted to go to college so badly and she really did help Solomon, and herself, even if if she went about it in the wrong way. Reading about the three of them hanging out was heartwarming, especially as Solomon almost feels as though he wants to follow them when they leave.

The story explores both mental health and sexuality. Solomon's agoraphobia was portrayed perfectly. Lisa's issue with Clark's sexuality showed that making assumptions about another person or demanding they tell you their sexuality isn't the way to go.

I adored all the pop cultural references, especially those about my favourite tv shows/movies eg. Community and Robin Hood Men in Tights.

Ableist language: lunatic, crazy, lame, insane, dumb, psycho.

Highly Illogical Behaviour is an enjoyable, insightful, honest look at mental health and teenage relationships. I recommend it to readers of all ages.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy. RRP A$16.99.

Cover design: Lisa Horton

I love this cover, and initially it's what made me want to read the book. I like this more than the US cover, but, the US cover makes more sense once you've read the story.

I started with a base of Illamasqua Load which is the perfect pale yellow for this cover. I used the following polishes for the stripes: Zoya Creamy, Zoya Maura, Zoya Robyn, Zoya Dana, WnW Who is Ultra Violet?, and Nail It! Toffee Apple.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
Published October 4, 2016 by Indigo Books
Source: Hachette AU
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off the most daring heist imaginable.But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, they're low on resources, allies and hope.While a war rages on the city's streets, the team's fragile loyalties are stretched to breaking point. Kaz and his crew will have to make sure they're on the winning side... no matter what the cost. 

Crooked Kingdom picks up a week after the events of Six of Crows. Kaz and his crew are back in Ketterdram and now they have a serious situation to sort out. Despite being home, their troubles have only increased.

I was thrilled to be able to read this right after finishing Six of Crows, my heart was still racing from the ending of book one and I knew I couldn't rest until the crew had... retrieved their very important cargo... I'm being vague on purpose so as not to spoil readers. This book definitely didn't feel like it was over 500 pages long, I flew threw it in fewer days than it took me to read Six of Crows.

It was fantastic to get back to their group and already know them so well. In Crooked Kingdom we learn more about them which made the story more thrilling and extremely nerve-racking because I wanted them all to make it out alive.

It was great to see Ketterdam explored further and and learn more secrets about this harsh and dangerous city. I will say I got a bit lost in some of the business talk and the auction procedure but I just went with it knowing it would all make sense eventually.

I know a lot of readers are mourning the end of this duology and wishing it was a trilogy, but I am perfectly happy with just two books. A format like this, where plans are made and then foiled, dangerous situations are entered into and then escaped from, often become repetitive and formulaic. Thankfully the plot in book two kept escalating, but under a less skilled author it really could have fizzled and become boring. A third book probably would have been too much for my heart to take anyway.

Speaking of my heart, Kaz and Inej, ag! Those two made me so sad, happy, and heartbroken. They are my favourites, though I love the other four as well. Their scenes towards the end had me in tears.

Crooked Kingdom is the perfect sequel to Six of Crows. It takes the stakes and raises them. There's more action, more danger, more depth. It's hard to imagine the level of planning and editing that went into this story, but it was executed perfectly - much like a Kaz Brekker plan.

Ableist language: dumb, crazy.

Thank you to Hachette for my review copy.

Cover art: John Bartlett and Thomas Walker
Cover design: Rich Deas and  Thomas Walker

Like Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom has a beautiful cover. I used a base of Natio Aura and acrylic paint for the design.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published September 2015 by Indigo Books
Source: Hachette AU
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it, he'll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist:Break into the notorious Ice Court(a military stronghold that has never been breached)Retrieve a hostage(who could unleash magical havoc on the world)Survive long enough to collect his reward(and spend it)Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done - and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together, they just might be unstoppable - if they don't kill each other first. 

Black crow, black crow, tell me what you really know
Will we flourish in this hurricane, or will we fall and die?
Black Crow - Jamiroquai

*Scheming reviewing face*

I remember hearing about Six of Crows when it was released late last year, but I let my ambivalence towards the Grisha Trilogy get in the way and didn't bother to read it. Now I am so glad I waited because I was able to read Six of Crows and follow it immediately with Crooked Kingdom. I did wonder if I should finish the Grisha Trilogy (I've read Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm but have never read Ruin and Rising) but you don't have to have read that series to read this duology. Though, I do think there are some spoilers for the trilogy in this duology, mostly in book two.

Six of Crows is set in the same world as the Grisha Trilogy, with this story beginning in Ketterdam. Kaz Brekker is a seventeen year old resident of the Barrel, the bad part of town. He runs a gang, the Dregs, and enjoys his reputation as Dirtyhands because people keep their distance from him. He replies on Inej, a Suli acrobat, and Jesper, a sharpshooter from Zemeni. Along the way they recruit Nina, a Grisha, Wylan, a boy good at chemistry and blowing things up, and Matthias, a Fjerden soldier.

Bardugo has done such an excellent job juggling six main characters. Each of them have detailed backstories and different motivations, and none of them were forgettable. I will say I felt more for Kaz and Inej which is understandable since their perspectives are given more time, and for most of the book I lacked a connection with Jesper, but eventually I got to know him better.
Also in regards to the characters, they are so wonderfully diverse in multiple ways: race, religion, and sexuality.

On top of the characters there's a complicated plot involving plans upon plans, tricks upon tricks. The heist idea is handled in such a clever and fun way, and it was suspenseful. More than once I got goosebumps or gasped while reading, it felt as if I was right there with them and I didn't want anything to happen to this unique cast of characters.

The ending wraps up the major plot perfectly, while leaving some mystery for the next and final book. Waiting to read this book ended up being an excellent decision because the wait for book two would have been unbearable.

Six of Crows is an excellent addition to the Grishaverse, and I enjoyed it so much more than the Grisha Trilogy (a series I would like to reread and finish). It's clever, thrilling, and full of heart. You'll fall in love with Kaz and his crew, I guarantee it.

Ableist language: dumb, crazy, lame, demented

Thank you to Hachette for my review copy.

Cover design: Rich Deas

Leigh's books always have stunning covers and Six of Crows is no exception.

I started with a base of Nubar Rockin' the Garden, and then sponged on China Glaze Sea Spray and Barry M White. I used acrylic paint for the crow and wing and the same polish for the buildings.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín
Published September 2016 by David Fickling Books
Source: Scholastic AU
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Three minutes... On her birthday, Nessa finds out the terrible truth about her homeland, Ireland - the truth that will change her forever.Two minutes... That she and her friends must train for the most dangerous three minutes of their lives: THE CALL.One minute... That any day now, without warning, they will each wake in a terrifying land, alone and hunted, with a one in ten chance of returning alive.And it is Nessa,more than anyone, who is going to need every ounce of the guts, wit, and sheer spirit she was born with, if she  - and the nation - are to survive.

I don't read a lot of horror, I'm really sensitive to it and scare easily. I make exceptions for Stephen King books but even then I read them during the day, and if I'm particularly disturbed, I watch at least one episode of a sitcom to take my mind off it. When a copy of The Call showed up I thought I'd make an exception for it as I'd been seeing really positive reviews, and I'm glad I did.

The Call is set in a alternate Ireland, one with a declining population. Around twenty-five years ago the Irish made a truce with the Sidhe (fairies) and they were banished to another world, the Grey Land. Ever since that day no human has been able to leave or enter Ireland. Then The Call began. Children as young as ten would disappear, leaving their clothes behind. They would return 3 minutes and 4 seconds later, usually dead, their bodies often disfigured and badly injured. Some survive. The odds used to be 1 in 100 but these days they have improved to 1 in 10.

Fifteen year old Nessa Doherty has been training for the past four years. All over the country, survival training camps have been taking in kids and teenagers, making them athletes and fighters. Nessa lost her older brother before she'd been told about The Call and now she is determined to survive. Her parents were hesitant to let her go as Nessa has a disability: she had Polio as a child and as a result her legs are twisted. She can walk and run but is able to move faster when she can fashion a pair of crutches out of branches.

I was drawn to Nessa from the minute her story started. She's amazingly strong, dedicated, and intelligent. She speaks Gaelic, English, and Sidhe. She participates even when some of the instructors tell her not to bother, and she hates being pitied. She has wonderful, loyal friends in Megan and Anto, and while she loves them, she tries to always stay calm and a little distant.

This was such a clever take on Irish mythology and the way the story was told was excellent too. Nessa is the main narrator but each time The Call occurs we are transported to the Grey Land with that teen and shown their experience. These scenes are gory, gruesome, and creepy. The Grey Land is a dangerous place and the Sidhe love to hunt and torture the teenagers.

This was a thrilling story that only grew more intense as the plot progressed. As more teens are Called, the chance of Nessa being called increased. I had no idea how the story would end but it concluded perfectly. This could easily be a standalone, but I've heard talk of a sequel which I'm already keen to read.

The Call is a unique spin on Irish mythology, with an admirable main character, a suspenseful plot, and lashings of horror. If you're a fan of The Darkest Part of the Forest or the Book of Faerie series, this will be your cup of tea as well.

Thank you to Scholastic for my review copy.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller
Published July 1, 2015 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it's just the risk she's been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions. 

The Devil You Know is Trish Doller's third novel, and one I was thrilled to read because Trish is one of my favourite authors. Set in High Springs, Florida, we meet Cadie Wells. Ever since the death of her mother, she's been caring for her younger brother, Danny. Her father doesn't seem to notice that Cadie is holding them all together, and while she loves Danny, she's starting to feel resentful. She jumps at the chance to do something different and attends a lake party one night, meeting a pair of cousins, Noah and Matt McNeal. When they invite her on a road trip, she says yes.

Cadie is the sort of character that a lot of readers will be able to relate to. She's kind and caring, but she's put up with a lot since losing her mum three years ago. She feels unappreciated and as though her dreams don't matter. It was easy to see why she would enjoy taking the night off from her life, and playing a more confident and outgoing version of herself. And why she'd say yes to road tripping with two strangers.

Recently I've read a couple of YA books labelled thrillers and found myself underwhelmed. I'm happy to report that this story is thrilling and suspenseful. The setting of the lake and the idea of a road trip helped that atmosphere along. And even when I was picking up on the clues quicker than Cadie was, I was still enthralled until the chilling ending.

The Devil You Know is an intense, suspenseful story of a girl from a small town looking to change her life. It's atmospheric, captivating, and also tinged with hope.

Ableist language: insane, crazy, lame.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my review copy.