Friday, 27 May 2016

The Special Ones by Em Bailey

The Special Ones by Em Bailey
Published April 1, 2016 by Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Esther is one of the Special Ones – four teens who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? Here, they are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are – all while broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside.Esther knows he will renew her if she stops being Special. And yet she also knows she's a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, no genuine advice to offer her followers. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape. 

The Special Ones is Em Bailey's second novel, and after reading it, I regret letting her debut, Shift, sit on my shelf unread for so long. From the moment I began reading I was immediately caught up in Esther's story, I could feel her fear - at the thought of doing a task incorrectly or of receiving her renewal notice. Her guilt over recruiting a new member was also apparent, yet she has to obey or risk her own life. I could feel her loneliness and longing, and I could sense the watcher, making sure his toys were all behaving as expected, and it sent chills through me.

The descriptions of her daily life were so vivid it was easy to picture the old house, the period clothing, and the manual tasks Esther and the others undertake each day. I found myself curious about how The Special Ones initially began, who was behind it, and why.

There is a point in the story when something changes and at first that left me a little disorientated, but I imagine that mimicked what Esther would have been feeling at the time too. The pacing picks up at this point, and the fear and urgency of her situation increased, culminating in a gripping ending.

The Special Ones is a creepy, compelling look at the mind of a psychopath, and how his game impacts the lives of his chosen participants.

Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for my review copy.

Friday, 20 May 2016

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard
Published February 1, 2016 by Allen & Unwin
Source: purchased
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Alice Nightingale writes about how it is to have perfect thoughts that come out in slow, slurred speech. She imagines herself stepping into clear midair with wings made of words and feathers.Manny james runs at night, trying to escape memories of his past. He sees Alice on the roof of her river-house, looking like a figurehead on a ship sailing through the stars. He has a poem in his pocket and he knows the words by heart. He is sure that girl has written them.Alice longs to be everything a fifteen-year-old girl can be. And when she sees the running boy she is anchored to the earth by her desire to see him again.

Fifteen year old Alice Nightingale lives with her younger brother, Joey, and grandmother. Her mother left them, her father is dead, and her grandfather is in jail. A horrific event occurred when Alice was twelve, and sometimes she thinks she'll forever be stuck as the girl she was then, but she knows she's ready to become more than what people expect of her. She stays home now, something the family has to hide from the town, because school is too noisy and she finds it hard to speak, though she has no trouble writing. When a new boy in town notices her, Alice finds the first person outside the family that she feels she can trust.

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard is a beautifully written and captivating story of a young girl, but also her family, and the life of an adopted refugee. Getting to know Alice was slow going for me, at first I found her words hard to follow, I had to get used to the cadence of her writing, often re-reading sentences. But soon her words put me into a trance and I was completely mesmerised by her life - and when I say trance I mean it, I was reading on the train and normally I look up at each station, but this time I was so absorbed I almost missed my stop, and when I got off and took my first step up the staircase, I fell because I was still thinking about Alice, and not about making my feet move.

Despite the misfortune scattered throughout Alice's life, she is a kind, caring, loyal girl. She worries over her grandmother's health and dotes on Joey, who is a wonderful and protective brother. She escapes into her writing, often taking inspiration from the books she has at home, or the nature that surrounds their hideaway house.

Manny's story was just as heartbreaking and moving as Alice's. He's come to Australia from Sierra Leone and is haunted by the war that took his family, an event he was forced to witness. He's been taken in by Laura and Bull, and he couldn't have ended up with better adoptive parents. He finds himself smitten with Alice's poems that he finds around town, they give him something beautiful to think about, instead of his past.

The mystery of what happened to Alice is woven into this story, slowly revealed as the plot progresses, finally coming to a head with a powerful scene that I wasn't expecting but that moved me to tears. I haven't cried that hard while reading since Code Name Verity.

I know that some readers will be put off by knowing this is a sad story but I urge them to read it anyway, because it's also a beautiful story, and sometimes you can't have one without the other.

I love the design of this beautiful cover and it was good inspiration for some nail art.

I started with Orly La Playa and used acrylic paint for the rest.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis

Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis
Published: April 2015 by Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: It already lies dormant within you: the ability to move within time.In 2084, three teenagers discover the secret to time travel. At first their jumps cover only a few seconds, but soon they master the technique and combat their fear of jumping into the unknown. It's dangerous. It's illegal. And it's utterly worth it for the full-body bliss of each return. As their ability to time jump grows into days and weeks, the group begins to push beyond their limits, with terrifying consequences. Could they travel as far as ten years, to escape the authorities? They are desperate enough to find out. But before they jump they must be sure, because it only works in one direction. Once you trip forwards, there's no coming back.

Lifespan of Starlight is the first book in a trilogy by Australian author Thalia Kalkipsakis. Set in the future, Australia is a very different place. Citizens are now microchipped and this chip allows them to move freely in society and gives them access to basic necessities like food and water, which are now rationed. Anyone who chose not to be chipped are now Illegals, these people are often turned in by citizens.

Fourteen year old Scout is an Illegal, she was never chipped. Her mum has managed to keep her a secret, they share her rations, and Scout has spent a lot of her life indoors or sneaking around. Thanks to a kind neighbour, she's great at hacking and uses her mum's compad to view and change things on the government's system. When she comes across the opportunity to steal a chip, she jumps at the chance, but this leads to her being followed by two boys, Mason and Boc. They think she's someone she's not and assume she can help them time travel.

I had no idea what I was in for when I began Lifespan of Starlight, I only knew that I usually avoid books about time travel as I find it hard to wrap my mind around the concept. But this was a really unique and clever way of looking at the topic. The futuristic setting was bleak, it's a world where the population is fully controlled and even your choice of employment or to give birth is made for you.

Scout is a clever and kind girl, she feels guilty for sharing her mother's rations, and all she wants to do is make it up to her one day. When the chip gives her a way of doing this she immediately sets about paying her mother back and wanting to give her things she's missed out on. She also revels in the chance to move among society legally, never having been able to even access cafes, stores, or trains. Befriending Mason makes up for what has been a very lonely life up until that point.

I really liked that the way to jump forward in time is via meditation, I don't think I've ever seen it referred to in a YA book, and if it has it's been with all the usual negativity. Using meditation as a way to skip time was also a good way of moving the story forward.

Though the story did move forward, I found it a little slow in parts, but the ending really picked up momentum and leads nicely into the sequel, which is out this month.

Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for my ARC.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Adrift by Paul Griffith

Adrift by Paul Griffith
Published July 2015 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Best friends Matt and John are spending the summer working: Matt to save money for college, John to kill time before trade school. On the beach, the beautiful Driana stops Matt in his tracks. Dri, Stef and JoJo invite the boys to a party at Dri’s Hamptons mansion, and Matt drags John along.When Stef decides it’s a beautiful night to go windsurfing, the others race out on the water to make sure she’s safe. But with no land in sight and a broken boat engine, it’s not just Stef they have to worry about. And as the hours turn into days, the prospect of rescue seems further and further away…

Adrift is an intense survival story that I found hard to put down, even when I wanted to stop reading because it was overwhelming. It's the sort of story that makes you wonder about the clues you'd leave behind if you went missing, and what story would be constructed by those uncovering the clues. What would they assume about your disappearance - would they think you'd done something wrong or would they think you were in danger? If your life is at stake, there's a huge difference.

The story starts by introducing us to seventeen year olds Matt Halloway and John Costello. Though they've been friends since childhood, they have drifted apart since Matt started attending a selective public school in New York, and John stayed at the public school in their working class neighbourhood. They've reunited for the summer to earn money working jobs in Montauk, and John is determined not to talk about his father's murder, something both boys witnessed three years ago. While selling refreshments on the beach, the boys meet three teens, Dri, Stef, and Jojo. They're from Brazil, though Dri lives in Manhattan. The boys are invited to join them at party and they attend, even though they know they'll stand out compared to the rich kids.

Adrift takes a look at quite a few different topics from falling in love, to class, to friendship and mental health and manages to do so well. From the moment these five teens come together, the differences between them are apparent, but once they find themselves lost at sea, they have to try and see beyond this.

If author Paul Griffith didn't spend a couple of weeks at sea on a boat, then he has an amazing imagination because this felt vividly real. It was intense, chilling, and really depicted what it might be like to be lost at sea. Each character handled the situation differently and we got to know more about them from their reactions.

Adrift is a thought-provoking story that examines relationships, human nature, and what it means to survive. It's a story that will stay with you, long after you've finished.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my review copy.