Saturday, 31 December 2016

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz
Published September 2016 by Harlequin Teen
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Jasmine de los Santos has always done what’s expected of her. Pretty and popular, she’s studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud, and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship.
And then everything shatters. A national scholar award invitation compels her parents to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all, and the very real threat of deportation. But Jasmine won't give up. Because when the rules you lived by no longer apply, the only thing to do is make up your own.

Something in Between is a story closed to Melissa de la Cruz's heart as it closely mirrors her own story of immigrating to the USA. Jasmine de los Santos has worked hard at school, she's a perfectionist. She's cheer captain, she volunteers and she's determined to get into college. Her parents have set her a good example, both work hard and they expect Jasmine to do well. Jasmine's the sort of character that a lot of high school students will be able to relate to. There's so much pressure on kids today, and even though she feels tired, she will not admit it.

It was easy to understand Jasmine's fear and and anger when she finds out her parents have been keeping their status a secret. Jasmine doesn't want to see all her hard work go to waste. She left the Philippines age nine and no longer thinks of it as home.

Her relationship with Royce was sweet, though it did border on being a little dramatic at some points in the story. I also felt like the middle section dragged on a bit and the book could have been edited down a bit to keep the momentum going.

Something in Between is a story filled with hope and promise. It will appeal to teens and adults, and it's the sort of story we need to be reading now more than ever.

Abeist language: spaz, crazy, lame, dumb.

Thank you to Harlequin Teen for my review copy.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers

Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers
Published September 2016 by Harlequin Teen
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible—and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct—and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down.
Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.

I've had some good luck this year when it comes to reading unsolicited review copies. I'm not always a huge fan of fantasy, but more often that not when I've given an unknown book a try, I've enjoyed it.

I'd never heard of Assassin's Heart before receiving a copy, but I was intrigued by the unique premise. It started out really strong, I loved the idea of feuding assassin families, each with their own family mask and territory. I really liked that seventeen year old Lea was already in a relationship - finally a book that doesn't need to focus on a developing relationship. But things changed quickly in this story and while I was disappointed that the original relationship didn't last, it was still an intriguing and mysterious story.

Lea's love and loyalty to her family was admirable. It was understandable that she would want revenge, even if she had to include her boyfriend in the list of possible suspects. Lea is excellent at what she does, she's worked hard to become a skilled assassin and now she has to put all her knowledge to use to avenge her family.

However, once Lea reaches Yvain, the plot really slowed down and became quite repetitive. Lea is constantly swearing to herself that she will get revenge on the Da Vias, but she doesn't actually make a lot of progress. There's a lot of wandering around town, being captured/almost captured, escaping, training...but it really started to drag and I would have liked a bit more urgency.

I did like that the new romance that develops between Lea and Les wasn't rushed. They spend a lot of time together before things start to develop and it definitely wasn't the focus of Lea's story.

The ending wrapped things up nicely but it also felt like there was a sequel to come, and I'd be interested to see what direction the follow up would take. Overall Assassin's Heart was a surprising and interesting fantasy novel, filled with faith, love, and forgiveness.

Ableist Language: dumb, crazy, lunatic, idiot.

Thank you to Harlequin Teen for my review copy.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Beautiful Malice, Sweet Damage, and Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James

I've had Rebecca James' first two books on my bookshelf for years now, but for some reason I never got around to reading them. I decided this month I'd have a Rebecca James week and I borrowed her third book from the library. I'm so glad I finally read her books, they're fantastic! Below are my thoughts on each.

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James
Published May 2010 by Allen & Unwin
Source: purchased
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Katherine has moved away from her shattered family to start afresh in Sydney. There she keeps her head down until she is befriended by the charismatic, party-loving Alice, who brings her out of her shell. But there is a dark side to Alice, something seductive yet threatening. And as Katherine learns the truth about Alice, their tangled destinies spiral to an explosive and devastating finale. 

Beautiful Malice is Rebecca James' debut novel. It's the story of seventeen year old Katherine Anderson (formerly Boydell). Her younger sister Rachel is dead, and Katherine has moved to Sydney to stay with her aunt so she can escape the aftermath. At her new high school she tries to keep to herself but she catches the attention of a classmate, Alice Parrie, and soon Katherine is swept up by Alice's personality and attention. 

There's a skill needed as an author to reveal a major part of the ending at the beginning - in this case the death of a main character or two, and still keep the story riveting and mysterious. Rebecca James has that skill. From the beginning I believed I knew who was going to die at the end but I was still curious about Katherine's past and how the story would unfold.

If my reading this year has taught me anything, it's that I don't often feel a lot of sympathy towards main characters dealing with grief, if the character they're grieving is unknown to me. But in this case, the reader gets to know Rachel via Katherine's backstory. Each time Rachel's death got closer, I became more anxious. At one point I had to stop reading because I knew I was about to read the most horrific scene and I felt too tense to continue. It's been a while since a book has elicited such a physical response in me.

The relationship between Katherine and Alice was an insightful look at female friendships. Katherine feels lucky just to be noticed by Alice, and so allows most of the power to sit with Alice. But Katherine's strength grew over the course of the story, her happiness slowly increasing the more she took control.

I have to say that when I realised that I had guessed incorrectly at the identity of one of the characters who would later die, I was sad. I also felt the final death scene wasn't as dramatic as I thought it would be, and it felt a little rushed.

Ableist language: idiot, insane, crazy, maniac, psycho, dumb, lunatic, moron.

Beautiful Malice is a thrilling, mysterious, and devastating story featuring believable characters with complicated lives. 

Sweet Damage by Rebecca James
Published April 2013 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: When Tim Ellison finds a cheap room to rent in the perfect location in Sydney it looks like a huge stroke of luck. In fact the room comes with a condition, and the owner of the house, the mysterious Anna London, is unfriendly and withdrawn. When strange and terrifying things start happening in the house at night, Tim wonders if taking the room is a mistake. But then his feelings for Anna start to change, and when her past comes back with a vengeance, Tim is caught right in the middle of it.

Sweet Damage is Rebecca James' second novel. Tim Ellison is in his early twenties but doesn't feel the same drive as some of his friends to go out and start a career. He enjoys swimming and surfing, working as the cook at his dad's restaurant, and pining after his ex-girlfriend, Lilla. But living with Lilla and her new boyfriend is not working out, so when a room becomes available in a beautiful old house at a low rental price, Tim takes it, despite wondering what the catch could be.

I immediately loved this story because it's set in Manly and Fairlight on Sydney's Northern Beaches. It provided a beautiful backdrop for the mystery, and I found it so easy to picture the locations described.

It was easy to like Tim, I admired him for not caving to the pressure to jump into a corporate job, just because it was expected of him. He's a loyal friend and a hard worker, but he also wants to enjoy life. While this was mostly Tim's story, Anna's perspective is also shown and I enjoyed the insight into her life. She has secrets and they're slowly revealed over the course of the story. I felt protective of her, and was glad Tim came into her life.

The setting, an old house called Fairview, added an element of mystery, and some of the occurrences were a little spooky and creepy. I did work out the culprit before the reveal, but I had completely different motives in mind, and I thought they had an accomplice - I'll share my thoughts on Goodreads because I can use spoiler tags.

Ableist language: insane, dumb, idiot, crazy, lunatic, mad, mental.

Sweet Damage is the type of new adult novel I can enjoy. It's mysterious, captivating, and clever. It focuses on life after high school, friendships, and relationships, without unnecessary drama or stereotypical characters. 

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the review copy.

Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James
Published October 2014 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the library
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Cooper Bartholomew's body is found at the foot of a cliff.
That's the official finding, that's what everyone believes.
Cooper's girlfriend, Libby, has her doubts. They'd been
happy, in love. Why would he take his own life?
As Libby searches for answers, and probes more deeply
into what really happened the day Cooper died, she and
her friends unravel a web of deception and betrayal.
Are those friends – and enemies – what they seem?
Who is hiding a dangerous secret? And will the truth set them all free? 

Rebecca James' third book, Cooper Bartholomew is Dead, is set in the fictional town of Walloma. Cooper worked as a carpenter and furniture builder and lived with his mum. He and Libby Lawson reconnected after a chance meeting and began dating, despite not really hanging out together when they were in high school. Each of their friends has reasons for not wanting them to date, but they slowly fall in love. When Cooper is found dead, Libby knows it can't have been suicide and is determined to figure out what really happened.

Told from multiple perspectives and over two timelines - then and now, this story was compelling from the beginning. Knowing Cooper died didn't mean much at first, but as the story progressed and his character was revealed, it became much more emotional because I wanted to be able to change the outcome of the story.

Rebecca James really excels at writing realistic characters with depth. They never seem stereotypical or flat, there's always more to them, and it was intriguing to get to know the four main characters, Cooper, Libby, Seb, and Claire. Even the ones who were prickly at first grew on me, so it was all the more devastating to realise what had happened.

Ableist language: psycho, dumb, idiot, insane, crazy, midget.

Cooper Bartholomew is Dead is a mysterious, captivating story filled with intertwined lives, fully-realised characters, and a heartbreaking ending. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Portraits of Celina by Sue Whiting

Portraits of Celina by Sue Whiting
Published April 2013 by Walker Books
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: Celina O’Malley was sixteen years old when she disappeared. Now, almost forty years later, Bayley is sleeping in Celina’s room, wearing her clothes, hearing her voice. What does Celina want? And who will suffer because of it?A ghost story. A love story. A story of revenge.
Portraits of Celina by Sue Whiting is set in the fictional rural town of Tallowood. Sixteen year old Bayley Alexander and her family have moved there, leaving behind the beachside Sydney suburb of Cronulla. Her father died eight months ago and Bayley feels as though she's the one being relied upon to keep the family together. Her little brother has anxiety, her older sister is binge drinking, and her mum quit her job and decided to move them to an old family home beside a lake. Almost forty years ago Celina O'Malley, a distant relative of Bayley's, disappeared from the house and was never found. Now Bayley thinks she's being haunted and needs to figure out what Celina wants.

I've had Portraits of Celina on my shelf for three years and thought I'd finally get around to reading it over the end of year holidays. Unfortunately this book and I did not gel at all. I wanted to quit pretty early on but forced myself to keep reading in the hopes it would improve, finally I skim read the ending just to get it over with.

One of the first things I noticed was the overuse of the characters' names. During almost every conversation, each character is repeatedly named. No one talks like that in real life, it's more of a tv/movie trope, and it continued throughout the entire book.

The repetition continued with Bayley's thoughts. All she thinks about is Celina, often repeating her full name, Celina O'Malley, again and again. Not to mention thinking and talking about the peace chest and the clothing it contained. Perhaps this repetition could be seen as Celina's ghostly presence taking over Bayley's life, but it made for dull reading because it wasn't really Bayley's story, it was Celina's.

Another issue I had was the language. I'll list the ableist language below, but Bayley was constantly referring to herself as an idiot/moron/lunatic, and she also used these insults towards Oliver, the boy she has an insta-crush on, and in return her called her 'crazy eyes'. Told in first person, the reader unfortunately spends a lot of time in Bayley's had, and this habit really grated on me. Not only was she always insulting herself and others, she was constantly question-talking to herself - this is always jarring and interrupts the narrative.

A lot of the plot felt manufactured, as if certain elements had been shoved in to provide a typical YA read. The romance felt forced, there was no spark between Bayley and Oliver. They interacted but their dialogue never sounded authentic, and often their encounters ended in one of them flouncing off (there were a lot of overly dramatic scenes in this story). The ghostly element never felt spooky or scary. The murderer was obvious from the beginning of the book, and the final scene was predictable and anticlimactic.

Ableist language: crazy, cracked, nutter, idiot, mental, pinhead, wacko, psycho, lame, loony, fool, dumb, insane, moron.

Ultimately, Portraits of Celina didn't work for me at all. The setting and main story arc had potential, but unfortunately they were let down by the slow pace and all the repetition.

Thank you to Walker Books for my review copy.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Nevin

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Nevin
Published October 6, 2016 by Penguin Random House
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed 'America's Fattest Teen'. But no one's taken the time to look past her weight to get to see who she really is. Since her mum's death, she's been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby's ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin too. Yes, he's got swagger, but he's also mastered the art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a secret: he can't recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He's the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can't understand what's going on with the inner workings of his own brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don't get too close to anyone.Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game which lands them in group counseling, Libby and Jack are both angry, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world - theirs and yours.

I never got around to reading Jennifer Nevin's debut, All the Bright Places, but it's a book I've been meaning to read because I know it's well-loved. So when I saw her second novel was being released, I jumped at the chance to read it.

Holding Up the Universe is a cleverly told story of two very distinct and realistic characters. Both Libby and Jack grabbed me from the beginning and I was intrigued to get to know them. Libby is amazing, she has been through so much from her mother's sudden death to her life-threatening weight gain, but she is unbelievably strong and determined. Jack is dealing with prosopagnosia - the inability to recognise faces, even those of your loved ones and closest friends. His fear of being teased, lied to, or attacked was so palpable, it was easy to see why his anger got out of control.

It was endearing to watch the relationship between Libby and Jack develop and to see each of them grow over the course of the story. Each of their conditions is written about honestly and with sensitivity. The ending was sweet and hopeful, and left me a little teary.

Ableist language: freak, dumb, crazy, idiot, lame, imbecile, moron, maniac.

Thank you to Random House Australia for the ARC via Netgalley.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Fly on the Wall by E.Lockhart

Fly on the Wall by E.Lockhart
Published: December 2016
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: At the Manhattan School of Art and Music, where everyone is unique and everyone is 'different', Gretchen Yee feels ordinary. It doesn't help that she's known as the girl who sits alone at lunch, drawing pictures of her favourite superhero, just so she won't have to talk to anyone. Her best (and only real) friend is there for her, but that's only if she's not busy - she's always busy!It's no surprise that Gretchen isn't exactly successful in the boy department. Her ex-boyfriend is a cold-fish-sometimes-flirty ex who she can't stop bumping into. Plus, she has a massive crush on a boy named, Titus but is too scared to make the first move. One minute he seems like a sensitive guy, the next, he's a completely different person when he's with his friends. She can't seem to figure boys out! Gretchen has one wish: to be a fly on the wall in the boy's locker room. What are boys really like? What do they talk about?This is the story of how one girl's wish came true.

E.Lockhart has been one of my favourite authors, ever since I read the Ruby Oliver series. I quickly followed that with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, Dramarama, and We Were Liars. I've been putting off reading Fly on the Wall because it would be my last book of hers until her next release, but I'm so glad I finally read it.

Gretchen was so easy to like. She's a talented artist but even at her school, which specialises in the arts, she feels as though she's not good enough. She loves to draw in a comic/graphic novel style and one teacher in particular is very critical of her. Gretchen's also dealing with the feeling that her best friend Katya is pulling away from her, the divorce of her parents, and she fears she'll never have the courage to tell Titus, her long term crush, how she feels.

All of these issues will make for a relatable read for teenagers. The one things that stands out as different from the typical teenage experience, is that for a week Gretchen spends time as a fly in the boys' locker room.

What I liked about this was that how or why Gretchen became a fly isn't a priority. What she learns about boys, the school, and herself, are far more important. Gretchen doesn't dwell on it, she just accepts it and it leads to growth and change.

Ableist language: half-wit, idiot, insane, dumb, maniac.

Problematic language: Titus' friends use words such as fag, faggot, and gay as insults a lot. But, Titus eventually tells them off which was great to see.

Fly on the Wall is a quick, fun, honest, unique story that is perfect for high school teenagers.

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

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily (Dash & Lily #2) by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Published November 2016 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Dash and Lily have now been going out for nearly a year - and it's been a really hard year. Lily's beloved grandfather had a heart attack and fell down some stairs. He survived, but his recovery has been slow. Lily insists that everything's fine. But Dash knows that her spirit is sagging. Her enthusiasm has been exhausted. And even with Christmastime, her favourite time, approaching, she doesn't really feel...anything.Action must be taken. There are twelve days until Christmas. Twelve days for friends and family to take Manhattan by storm to help Lily recapture the magic of New York City in December. Twelve days to find Lily's cheer, and help her fall in love with life again. Twelve days left for Dash and Lily...?

It's been almost five years since I read Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan but I had no problem slipping back into their world. It's been a year since we last caught up with them and it's now December 13. Dash still feels as though Lily's brother Langston hates him, but when he asks Dash to meet him, he goes along. Langston wants to talk about Lily. She hasn't been happy since her grandfather had a heart attack. Lily has tried to take on his full time care herself, while also attending school and running her dog walking business. Dash feels as though she's slipping away from him and he agrees to try and cheer her up before Christmas Day.

I don't remember much of the first book, but it was easy to get to know Dash and Lily again. They are both such fully formed characters, it's hard to imagine they don't actually exist. Because we get both sides of their story, it's easy to see where they're going wrong. Neither of them are saying what they actually need or feel. Dash feels useless and assumes Lily wants time alone. Lily feels as though Dash doesn't love her and finds her to be a chore. It was really fun and sweet to watch them over the course of two weeks. Both of them go to great lengths to do nice things for each other, even if they don't always turn out as planned.

Ableist language: dumb, lame.

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily is a really quick read, and one that will have you wishing it was Christmastime. It's fun, heartwarming, and full of hope.

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

Friday, 9 December 2016

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
Published September 2016 by Harper Collins AU
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At eighteen she's already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she's learned how to forget it. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep and the pain washes out the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don't have to think about your father and the bridge. Your best friend who is gone forever. Or your mother who has nothing left to give you.
Every new scar hardens Charlie's heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen to find your way back from the edge. 

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow is an absolutely stunning debut novel. She states in the author's note that it took her nine years and fourteen drafts to write. That dedication really shows in the quality of her writing. I am so impressed with just how amazing this book is.

Seventeen year old Charlotte Davis is in a facility for girls that self-harm. She's undergoing treatment after a diagnosis of NSSI (non-suicidal self-harm). She's had a hard and rocky life up until this point: her father committed suicide when she was eight. Her mother verbally and physically abused her. Her best friend attempted suicide and suffered brain damage. She left home and lived on the street for eight months, sharing a van with a drug addicted boy and his friend, winding up at a house where a man kept girls drugged and sold time with them to the men who frequented the residence.

A less-skilled author would have made a mess of a story like Charlie's. It would have been overly dramatic, angsty, forced, disrespectful. But Glasgow's sensitivity and experience shines through in this novel. She writes with honestly and compassion.

From the moment Charlie is introduced, I wanted to protect her. I found myself tearing up each time she was showed kindness by another character. I felt hopeful but also sad that she was having to go through life alone. I could understand each time she took a step backwards instead of forwards. It never felt as if she was deliberately self-sabotaging her recovery, it showed she was trying to cope the only way she knew how.

The pacing was really well done. It takes time for Charlie to reveal her past and her story is captivating. I could picture her life vividly and found myself completely absorbed.

There isn't a lot of self-harm in the story. Yes, it's mentioned a few times and described in detail, but this story is about so much more than that. It's about love and self-love. It's about hope and faith. It's about finding yourself and knowing your life is worth living.

Ableist language: crazy, freak, dumb, psycho, loony, wacko, loopy, mental, 'have a fit'.

Girl in Pieces is a heartbreaking and intense story of one girl's recovery, but most importantly is full of hope. A beautiful and brutal story, it's now one of my favourite books of 2016 and all time.

Thank you to Harper Collins for my review copy.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Lobsters by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison
Published June 2014 by Chicken House
Source: purchased
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Sam and Hannah only have the holidays to find 'The One'. Their lobster. But instead of being epic, their summer is looking awkward. They must navigate social misunderstandings, the plotting of well-meaning friends, and their own fears of being virgins for ever to find happiness. But fate is at work to bring them together. And in the end, it all boils down to love.

I love #UKYA as much as I #LoveOzYA so when I saw friends saying Lobsters was hilarious, I knew I had to read it. While I enjoyed it overall, the story felt a little forced and I definitely didn't find myself laughing out loud. My main issue is that stories that revolve around miscommunication annoy me to no end. When the plot could be solved by a character saying one short sentence, I lose all belief in the story. Sam and Hannah's problems could have been cut short as soon as they met after the party, but instead they're prolonged for the rest of the book. There was also lot of unnecessary drama and that never makes for a fun read.

Perhaps I just wasn't in the right mood for this book, and I wouldn't mind giving it another go one day.

Ableist language: mental.

Cover design: Studio Helen

This is such a fun cover and suits the story perfectly.

I started by sponging on three green nail polishes: Barry M Mint Green, CG Higlight of my Summer and CG Too Yacht to Handle, I sponged on white polish for the clouds. I used acrylic paint for the lobsters and the daisies.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Published November 8, 2016 by PanMacmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: A girl who has a talent for cooking magical confections that can alter a person's emotions catches the eye of the King of Hearts, who wants her for his bride. She will do anything to avoid this fate, particularly as she finds herself falling in love with the mysterious new court jester...

I've only read the first 3 books of the Lunar Chronicles (I'd like to re-read them before I finally move onto the final book) and I found the series really creative and unique. So, I was excited to hear about Marissa Meyer's latest release, Heartless, an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland re-telling. I have never read Lewis Carroll's original, but I'm a big fan of the Disney version (I know, I know, that doesn't count!)

Unfortunately, Heartless didn't work for me. It is in no way badly written, it's very detailed and cleverly created. It had a great fairy tale atmosphere and at first I was enchanted. Lady Catherine Pinkerton, daughter of the Marquess of Rock Turtle Cove, lives in luxury. But she yearns for a different life. She loves to bake and dreams of opening a bakery with her maid, Mary Anne. Unfortunately, her mother, the Marchioness, has other plans such as catching the attention of the King.

I didn't feel much for Catherine and that's probably where my problems began. I admired her love of baking - the story involves lots of descriptions of baked goods, but there wasn't a lot more to her. She is unhappy with the path her mother is trying to force her onto, but she rarely spoke up, and when she did, she was easily quieted.

I wanted to like the romance between Catherine and Jest, but there wasn't a lot to go on. Catherine has been dreaming of a yellow-eyed boy and when the new court joker appears, she's sure it's him. They fall for each other, but nothing really happens between them, other than talking about how they can't be together.

There's a lot going on in the background, and I'm sure it was meant to build mystery and suspense, but it to me it felt like a lot of scenes that went no where. Jest is hiding a secret and refers to it but then repeatedly tells Catherine he can't discuss it. Peter and his wife were obviously up to no good but they felt very one dimensional.  I thought perhaps the King was hiding something, but ultimately there wasn't any more to his character other than what's described. All of this became repetitive and the plot moved too slowly.

Ableist language: usually this section of my review is just a list of words used by the author, but in this case I take issue with a main character. I know Wonderland involves a lot of talk of being mad but the portrayal of the King was a bit harsh. He's almost never referred to without being called a name such as dim, simple, simpleminded. Other words used frequently: doltish, fool, idiot, loon, dumb, twit.

I got to the final 150 pages and decided to skim-read the rest because I just couldn't see myself finishing any other way. It seems like the pace picks up considerably only to lead to quite an abrupt ending. I think perhaps some of the middle could have been edited out to leave room for a more developed ending.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my review copy.

Monday, 14 November 2016

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for. Nothing else.
For Nemesis, that person is Sidonia, heir to the galactic Senate. The two grew up side by side, and there’s no one Nemesis wouldn’t kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the Imperial Court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.
She must become her.
Now one of the galaxy’s most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced Senators’ children, and Nemesis must find within herself the one thing she’s been told she doesn’t have—humanity. With the Empire beginning to fracture and rebellion looming, that could be the one thing that saves her and the Empire itself.

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid is set in a futuristic world where the majority of humans now live in space. Humans that remain on Earth are referred to as the Excess and they rely on the space-dwelling elite for survival. All new technology has been banned and people must exist with old technology. The only new things to be developed are human-like beings in the form of servants and Diabolics. High ranking families purchase them to guard their heirs. One such Diabolic is Nemesis, purchased to protect Sidonia Impyrean, daughter of a senator.

The idea behind The Diabolic is interesting and the world building was detailed but also quite dense. It was hard to wade through all the different terms for people, their technology, their titles, their religion etc.

I think my major issue with the story was that I never connected with Nemesis. She has a very stilted narration, and I assume this was done on purpose to convey her robot-like nature. But it made for a story that was mostly tell and little show.

Another issue was that nothing was surprising and all of the twists were easy to spot a mile off. Nemesis being intelligent and programmed to protect seemed to miss an awful lot of clues, though perhaps that was because she lacked true knowledge of human feelings and interactions. A lot of the plot points seemed forced, eg. very convenient deaths that seemed to serve no purpose other than creating a reason for Nemesis to act. But, Nemesis would often make a declaration, only to go back on it a chapter later, and each time it was obvious she would change her mind.

I ended up skim-reading the last third just to get it over with. It seemed as though the end was wrapped up a bit too abruptly, especially compared with the very slow pace of the beginning and middle of the story.

Ableist language: fool, idiot, insane, madness, madman, invalid, imbecile.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for my review copy.

Cover design: Lizzy Bromley
Cover illustration: There is Studio

I used China Glaze White Out and BYS Steel a Kiss for the base. I used acrylic paint and nail polish for the butterfly and details.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Published November 1, 2016 by Random House
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

The Sun is Also a Star is Nicola Yoon's second novel and once I was done I immediately knew I was going to have to read her debut because she writes beautifully.

This is a story of two New York teens who meet on a very important day. For Natasha it's her last day in New York before she and her family are deported. For Daniel it's the day he interviews for college. Neither are happy with the way their day is going, until their chance meeting occurs.

The author has created two very distinct and detailed characters in Natasha and Daniel, and I enjoyed getting to know them over the course of their day. In terms of the timeline we don't get to spend much time with them, but their histories and their current problems are all conveyed seamlessly.

While the romance felt a touch unbelievable, I didn't actually want to be cynical about it because it does happen. There are plenty of people who fall in love quickly, especially teenagers. And, it was nice for the boy to be the one head over heels and for the girl to be reluctant. It was easy to see why Daniel would be so in love with the idea of love at first sight. He's a poet, he's a dreamer, he's optimistic. And learning more about Natasha's parents made her disbelief understandable.

Because of the short timeline there was a sense of urgency with the story, especially with the threat of deportation looming over Natasha. But the story never felt rushed, it simply moved at a steady pace and I found myself easily swept up in their tale.

The topics covered were easy to relate to and timely, especially in regards to Natasha's family. This is the second book I've read this month regarding US immigrants facing deportation and I feel we'll see more stories like this in the future. Daniel's story is perfect for teens who are unsure about their future. It was also wonderful to have two racially diverse main characters, each dealing with their own familial expectations and cultures.

The Sun is Also a Star is a clever, beautifully written story of two teens and their chance encounter. It's endearing, hopeful, and a reminder to make the most out of every day.

Ableist language: dumb, freak, crazy, lame, idiot, insane.

Thank you to Random House Aus for my review copy.

Cover art: Dominique Falla
Cover design: Elaine C. Damasco

Nicola Yoon has such beautiful book covers, and the making of this one is so clever and fascinating. You can check out Dominique's video here.

I used a base of white polish and then acrylic paint for all the lines.

Monday, 7 November 2016

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Published December 2016 by Harlequin Teen
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

The Star-Touched Queen is Roshani Chokshi's debut novel, inspired my Indian mythology. Seventeen year old Maya lives in the kingdom of Bharata. She is the Raja's daughter, but she is shunned by the harem. There are rumours that she's cursed, that she brings death wherever she goes. Her father asks her to marry to end the war, but when that plan is foiled Maya finds herself in a whole realm she never knew was real.

I was really intrigued by the premise of The Star-Touched Queen and instantly found the writing beautiful and the world vividly described. Maya seemed distant as a character, there's not a lot of time to get to know her before the action begins, though it was easy to see she was lonely and longed for more.

It wasn't long before the story became quite repetitive and I found it just wasn't holding my attention. In the palace of Akaran, Maya spends a lot of her time roaming the hallways, depicted in multiple descriptions of mirrors and doors. Because of this, her daily life became quite a chore to read about. I'm sure the intention was to convey how Maya herself would have felt living in such a restricted way but it didn't make for entertaining reading.

The writing, while beautiful, also became repetitive. Everything was overly described with some words used far too often, for example their hair was always mussed. Wading through paragraphs of details became tiring.

The last third of the story really lost me. I don't know if it's because I was reading an ARC but scenes seemed to shift with no connection between them. I found myself confused by some scenes which then turned out to be memories or possible memories. It's always hard when a character has no clue what's going on - a plot device that this sort of retelling relies on heavily. It means the reader feels just as lost and confused as the main character, and I certainly felt that way for a lot of this story. It was frustrating to know Maya was making the wrong decisions simply because she couldn't be patient and heed the warnings.

I ended up skimming the last 100 pages. So, on the whole, this wasn't my cup of tea, and reviews online certainly seem to be split between utter love and similar opinions to mine. It's definitely worth giving it a go because you might fall into the former category.

Ableist language: fool, dumb, insane, mania.

Thank you to Harlequin Teen for the ARC.

Cover design: Danielle Christoper

This is a really beautiful cover and I couldn't resist turning it into a manicure. I started with a base of black nail polish. I sponged on white polish, followed by Savvy UFO. I dotted the stars using Barry M Blue Moon and sponged on some glitter using Orly Shine on Diamond. For the fiery sky I sponged on white polish followed by Zoya Creamy, Zoya Maura, and Orly Ablaze. I used Orly Purple Crush for Maya's sari. I used acrylic paint for the city.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Hexenhaus, Becoming Aurora, and Daughter of Nomads

It's always sad when I don't enjoy and AussieYA book, but today I thought I'd share some mini reviews for a few books that haven't just haven't worked for me.

Hexenhaus by Nikki McWatters
Published Oct 31, 2016 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: In 1628, Veronica and her brother flee for their lives into the German woods after their father is burned at the stake. At the dawn of the eighteenth century, Scottish maid Katherine is lured into political dissent after her parents are butchered for their beliefs. In present-day Australia, Paisley navigates her way through the burning torches of small-town gossip after her mother’s new-age shop comes under scrutiny.
Hexenhaus is Nikki McWatters' second YA novel. It's told over three different time periods, involving the witch hunts of 1628 in Germany and 1896 in Scotland, as well the present day in Bundanoon, NSW.

At first I found myself intrigued and horrified by the stories set in the past. In Bamberg,  seventeen year old Veronica's parents have both been burnt at the stake and she must now flee with her younger brother, Hans. In Renfrewshire, nineteen year old Katherine has also been made an orphan. She falls in with a crew of Jacobites, while working as a housemaid. And in the present day, Paisley must defend her mother when she's accused of bewitching a boy after he visited her new age store.

Unfortunately I found it hard to connect with the characters. This probably stemmed from the extremely short alternating chapters, especially in the beginning of the story. I was never fully able to immerse myself in any of their lives because before I could it was onto the next character.

It's clear this is a topic the author researched well, but sometimes the chapters sounded as narrative purely written to share said research, this was especially the case in Veronica's chapters.

I was 200 pages in when I realised this just wasn't holding my attention and I found myself not wanting to continue, I ended up skim reading to the end.

I have no doubt this will work for other readers as on the whole it was an interesting and well researched story.

Ableist language: nuts, lame, psycho, dumb.

Thank you to UQP for my copy.

Becoming Aurora by Elizabeth Kasmer
Published September 2016 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Sixteen-year-old Rory is at a crossroads in her life. While her gang plans its next move in a racially motivated turf war, Rory is sentenced to spend her summer at an aged care facility. She's proud of taking the rap for a crime her gang committed and reading to a feisty old boxing champion isn't going to change that.But what happens when Rory's path intersects with migrant boxer Essam's and she becomes the victim, not the perpetrator? Can she find the courage to face her past and become the girl her dad called Aurora?

Becoming Aurora is Elizabeth Kasmer's debut novel. Aurora, better known as Rory, lives in a small Queensland town and is part of a small gang of teenagers. They target businesses owned by immigrants. When we first meet Rory, it's clear she's taken the wrap for something the gang did and now has to do community service. At first she feels proud, she's cheered on by the gang and gets their tattoo, but she starts to form new opinions when she meets two people: Jack Sanford, a retiree, and Essam, an Iranian boy.

Becoming Aurora is a slip of a book and sometimes that is just perfect because I know it's going to be a succinct story. But in this case, I felt like someone had taken to the manuscript with shears, cutting out a lot of information. At the start of the story we learn that Rory went to court over the incident, but it's not clear what the gang did. We also learn her father died and again there's mystery surrounding that, but it takes a while for each event to be described.

I couldn't quite connect to Rory, she often talks about what she used to like, but we only know her as the girl she is now. She's racist, rude, and naive. But once she meets Jack via community service, and Essam because of the gang violence, she really started to grow as a character, and that was heartwarming.

Ableist language: maniac, demented.

Thank you to UQP for the review copy.

Daughter of Nomads (The Tales of Jahani #1) by Rosanne Hawke
Published June 2016 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: First Moon of Summer, 1662: Fourteen-year-old Jahani lives peacefully in the village of Sherwan. But havoc is brewing in the Mughal Empire with tyrants and war lords burning villages in their quest to rule the northern kingdoms.
After an assassin strikes in a bazaar, Jahani discovers her life is not as it seems. Before long, she is fleeing with her mysterious protector Azhar.
Will their journey to the Qurraqoram Mountains lead Jahani to danger or to her destiny?

It's lovely to discover authors I haven't read yet and to read YA/Kid Lit that is unique, so I was intrigued by Daughter of Nomads. Unfortunately I was unable to connect with the story or Jahani herself. It was clearly well researched but there was a lot going on. I found myself reluctant to keep reading, but upon receiving the sequel, I forced myself to get to the end via skim reading.

I think this could be excellent for some readers and there are reviews that much more positive than mine so I wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from giving this a go.

Thank you to UQP for the review copy.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Miss You by Kate Eberlen

Miss You by Kate Eberlen
Published August 2016 by PanMacmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb:Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven't met properly yet. And perhaps they never will . . . Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can't get it out of her head, even though she's in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Her life is about to change forever - but not in the way she expects. Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence. Their lives have already changed suddenly and dramatically. Gus tries to be a dutiful son, but longs to escape and discover what sort of person he is going to be. For one day, the paths of an eighteen-year-old girl and boy criss-cross before they each return to England.Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and fate, there's no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly . . . or is there?

I don't read a lot of adult fiction these days, but when Miss You by Kate Eberlen was sent to me, I could not ignore the adorable cover and the interesting premise: what if you never meet the person meant for you?

I started this after spending a week trying to read another book, a book that left me underwhelmed. So when I finally started this it felt like pure reading bliss. Told from alternating perspectives, I was completely captivated by the lives of Tess and Gus. The author has perfectly crafted two main characters and I was equally invested in both of them.

It's 1997 and Tess Costello has returned home from Italy ready to start university, only to find out her mother's cancer has returned. After her death, Tess is left to care for her younger sister, Hope. It becomes clear that Hope is different to the other children and it takes years before she's tested and diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Tess' older brothers are both overseas and her father spends more time at the pub than at home. She puts her future on hold and stays home with Hope.
Angus, nicknamed Gus by his first college friend, has recently lost his older brother to a skiing accident. He feels to blame and thinks his parents blame him as well. He enrols in medicine to make his parents happy and starts making a life for himself in London.

The story follows Tess and Gus over the course of the lives, with the end of the book taking place in 2013. Each of their stories was fascinating, something I always think is hard to do in a contemporary book. An author has to work hard to make day-to-day life interesting, and in this case it worked perfectly. Each of them come of age in different ways, making and losing friends, embarking on their first sexual experiences, starting jobs, pursuing passions and then abandoning them.

I won't say whether they do or don't end up meeting, but I know I would have been happy no matter the outcome as each of their stories worked on their own as a realistic look at life, love, and fate. In a typical romance book, the story follows one couple with a predictable ending, but this novel had so much more depth and honesty to it. No love story is as simple as often portrayed in fiction, and I felt a gamut of emotions while reading, culminating with a lot of crying at the end.

I adored Tess' love of reading and Gus' interest in art, running, and cooking. I loved the nod to the title by featuring a Rolling Stones concert. The scenes in Italy were beautiful and vivid, as were the descriptions of their childhood town and London.

Miss You is a compelling love story that's very much true to life. Covering death, grief, family, and destiny, it's a book that will captivate you from beginning to end.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my copy.

Cover design: Joanna Thomson

I love the adorable simplicity of this cover. I used white nail polish as a base and acrylic paint for the design.