Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson
Published July 29, 2015 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: When Astrid and Hiro meet they give each other superhero names. She's Lobster Girl and he's Shopping Trolley Boy. Not an auspicious beginning. But it gets better. Then it gets worse. Much worse. Classic romantic comedy: girl-meets-boy, love blossoms, and is derailed. Incredibly engaging, upbeat, funny and smart. 
Astrid Katy Smythe is beautiful, smart and popular. She's a straight-A student and a committed environmental activist. She's basically perfect.
Hiro is the opposite of perfect. He's slouchy, rude and resentful. Despite his brains, he doesn't see the point of school.
But when Astrid meets Hiro at the shopping centre where he's wrangling shopping trolleys, he doesn't recognise her because she's in disguise - as a lobster. And she doesn't set him straight.
Astrid wants to change the world, Hiro wants to survive it. But ultimately both believe that the world needs to be saved from itself. Can they find enough in common to right all the wrongs between them?

Green Valentine is Lili Wilkinson’s latest novel. I’ve read all but one of her YA books (A Pocketful of Eyes is on my shelf but I’ve been saving it because I don’t want to be done with reading all her books) and it’s every bit as funny as her previous novel, Love-Shy (my favourite Lili book).

Set in the fictional Melbourne suburb of Valentine, Astrid Katy Smythe lives with her recently separated mother (her father cheated and has since moved out). She has two best friends, Paige (the most popular girl at school), and Dev (he’s openly gay and it was awesome to see that this was completely accepted at their school).

Astrid is a passionate environmentalist; she looks down on consumerism, processed foods, plastic and packaging, and wants people to care about more than just cute animals. She’s also extremely judgemental, annoying and flawed (a character type that Lili writes really well, I adored the same characteristics in Penny from Love-Shy). Despite claiming to care about the environment, Astrid is not a vegan – this is the single biggest personal choice someone can make if they truly care about our world and all animals (want more info? Watch Cowspiracy.) She describes herself as a vegetarian, but she’s not as she makes exceptions for organic meat and bacon (cue eye rolling). So while I could see this admission coming from the moment I started reading, and I could rant about how annoying it was for me to read, it really contributed to her character; I believed Astrid exists, and the fact that she wasn't perfect made her judgeyness all the more infuriating, yet she was also lovable and relatable.

Astrid meets Hiro Silvestri, an Asian-Italian student from her school, as she’s trying to petition people at a local mall while dressed as a lobster. She immediately judges him as one of the stoner kids, but as he doesn’t recognise her they strike up a friendship, despite Hiro admitting that he detests girls just like her (the popular, pretty girls he likes to call Missolinis).

The mistaken identity plot line was fun, it allowed Astrid to get to know Hiro in a way that wouldn’t have been possible, and ultimately it brings them closer together. Hiro has learnt a lot about gardening from his grandmother, and when their school garden project takes off, Hiro and Astrid begin guerrilla gardening at night – this totally reminded me of a very short lived tv show from 2009, Guerrilla Gardening. The gardening aspect was so different for a YA novel but it was really well done, with wonderful descriptions and ultimately they were doing something really positive.

The plot lost me towards the end, things started to seem a little unrealistic, almost too dramatic and movie-like. Astrid and Hiro apparently garden each night until the early hours of the morning and then go to school on a couple of hours sleep and this happens every night for weeks/months on end. The evil workings of the local council seemed a little far-fetched, and the identity of the major was obvious, even if Astrid didn’t put it together. The “hippies” Astrid and Hiro meet also seemed clichéd, this plot line was my least favourite.

Having said all that, I really enjoyed this book. I started reading it the afternoon I received it and didn’t stop reading until I finished it that evening, and I haven't been reading much fiction lately, so this was a big deal for me. The story is fun, Astrid is entertaining, and the romance was sweet. It was a really positive story and I think it could make a lot of readers think about the world. I know a lot of people will not be able to look past Astrid's quirks, but if they do, they'll come to see her as a girl trying to figure out how she can make a difference in the world.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy.

I love the cover of Green Valentine, it’s quite different from Lili’s last few novels.

I started with a base of China Glaze White Out.

I used acrylic paint for the leafy lips and vines.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
Published September 9, 2014 by Greenwillow Books
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 5 stars
From the blurb: On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road. Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect?
I read this back in January and for some reason took no notes, so I’m just going to tell you how this book made me feel: depressed and sad, but it was also beautiful and something I want to recommend to every YA reader. Liz was an amazing and complex main character, she’d been a mean girl for so long but was tiring of it, but she also found it a hard role to abandon. Reading about how she planned her death really got to me, I could not stop thinking about what it would be like to plan it in so much detail and spend all that time with such a big secret. I loved this book and despite the sad theme, it’s a book I definitely want to re-read. It’s a powerful and intense story so don’t let the topic put you off reading it.

Thank you Greenwillow Books for my Netgalley review copy.

I loved this cover on first sight and knew I’d do my nails to match, these were done back in February.

I started with a base of China Glaze At Vase Value and I used acrylic paint for the car, hand, road, and all the equations.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray
Published June 24, 2015 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars
From the blurb: Molly’s mother is not like other mothers: she rides a yellow bike and collects herbs and makes potions, perhaps even magical potions. Molly wants to be normal, like her friend Ellen, and watch television and eat food that comes in packets. But when Molly’s mother accidentally turns herself into a tree, Molly turns to the strange and wonderful Pim for help. And as they look for a way to rescue her mother, Molly discovers how to be happy with the oddness in her life.

I don’t read a lot of middle grade fiction, but my attention was captured as soon as I saw the lovely cover of Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray.

Molly and her mother live near the woods, along with their cat, Claudine, and their dog, Maude. Molly’s mother isn’t like the mothers of her friends at school. Her mother goes wandering in the woods at dawn to collect herbs, she makes potions, and she doesn’t like Molly to eat packaged foods. Molly just wants to be normal, like her best friend Ellen’s family.

When Molly’s mother accidentally turns herself into a tree, Molly has to fend for herself, battling the nasty and nosy neighbours, the Grimshaws, and finds she has no one to turn to, except Pim, a boy from school. Molly struggles with loneliness, believing that Ellen will judge her for being different and abandon her if she shares her problems, so instead she suffers on her own.

I liked the focus on friendship and how tough it can be for any child that feels as though they or their family are different, and how communicating can often resolve this issue, if you’re lucky to have an understanding friend like Ellen. I also enjoyed how much nature was a part of this story, it was easy to picture the woods, how green Molly’s garden must be, and the wonderful local animal life.

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars is a sweet and heart-warming story, perfect for children and adults too.

Note – in the story Molly makes reference to some cashew-chocolate balls that she makes to feed herself while her mother is a tree, and it was mentioned a couple of times that she shared her meal with Maude the dog. Kids, please don’t feed your dog treats containing chocolate because it’s toxic to them and can be fatal.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my review copy.

I couldn’t resist doing a manicure to match this cover illustrated by the author.

I started with a base of China Glaze Secret Peri-Wink-Le.

I used acrylic paint for the detailing.

Claudine was on the back cover, so I decided to include her as well.

I used Ulta3 Glamourpuss for the stars.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Lullaby by Bernard Beckett

Lullaby by Bernard Beckett

Published May 27, 2015 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Rene’s twin brother Theo lies unconscious in hospital after a freak accident left him with massively disrupted brain function. There is hope, though. An experimental procedure—risky, scientifically exciting and ethically questionable—could allow him to gain a new life.

But what life, and at what cost?

Only Rene can give the required consent. And now he must face that difficult choice.

But first there is the question of Rene’s capacity to make that decision. And this is where the real story begins.
Lullaby, by New Zealand author Bernard Beckett, is set in an unspecified future. Eighteen year old Rene is talking to a hospital psychologist, Maggie, and they have six hours to talk before she must decide if he is competent enough to make the decision to save Theo’s life. Theo’s brain is severely damaged but his body is intact. Scientists are working on a way to scan a brain for memories and then implant those into another brain. They wish to use Rene and Theo in an experiment and are hoping Rene will allow it.

This was a very interesting book and it definitely captured my full attention. Rene starts off trying to be smart and funny, hoping to impress Maggie and sway her judgement, but eventually he begins to share the details of his life with Theo. We learn about their parents death, their games as children, their school years, and the girls they liked and loved. It was clear there was once a really strong bond between the two of them that began to weaken as they grew older.

Listening to Rene was heartbreaking, he feels like his world is ending and that he is to blame. I enjoyed his interactions with Maggie and thought I was pretty sure of the decision he would make. The pacing was perfect, by the end the urgency and importance of the situation was palpable.

I stopped taking notes as I read because I became so absorbed with the story, but I do remember moments of surprise and the twists were unexpected, though the ending was not. It’s a book that left me wanting a little more.

Lullaby is a captivating, clever, and unique story, and I recommend it to any YA or adult reader.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my review copy.