Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard
Published January 10, 2017 by PanMacmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder is Sara Barnard's second novel. I absolutely loved her debut, Beautiful Broken Things, but I didn't have the same intense feeling for AQKoT.

Sixteen year old Steffi Brons lives in Bedfordshire. She spends school terms living with her dad and step-mum, and holidays with her mum, step-dad, and younger half-sister. She was diagnosed with selective mutism aged 4 and also has severe anxiety, especially in social situations. Steffi talks to her family and to close friends, but is unable to talk in class or to strangers. She starts sixth form at Windham High School, minus her best friend, Tem. She's asked to show a new student around, Rhys Gold. Rhys is deaf and Steffi is assigned to him because she has some knowledge of British Sign Language.

The good thing about this story is how diverse it is. Steffi portrays life with severe anxiety, Rhys and Tem are both children of immigrants, and as already mentioned, Rhys is deaf. Steffi also juggles living between two houses since her parents are divorced and this felt very true to real life.

But though I loved the diversity, I never fully connected with the story or the characters, and therefore didn't have any strong emotional reactions to anything that happened. It's a very romance centered story, but that aspect was believable as it was Steffi's first first serious relationship. The relationship is very quick to start but the portrayal of sex for the first time was honest and realistic.

While A Quiet Kind of Thunder didn't capture my love, I definitely suggest reading Sara's first book, Beautiful Broken Things, because it is stunning.

Ableist language: dumb, gormless, lame, idiot, crazy.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my ARC.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Beachside Bookshop's First Birthday

A year ago a wonderful bookshop opened in Avalon on Sydney's Northern Beaches, Beachside Bookshop. Libby and her staff have lots of experience and incredible passion for books, especially when it comes to YA fiction, specifically Australian YA fiction.

Libby requested some nails to celebrate their top 5 bestselling books of the year: Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar, Promising Azra by Helen Thurloe, Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle, The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis, and Bro by Helen Chebatte. As well as a set to match their lovely stripey logo.

The shop has an excellent range of YA, middle grade, children's books, as well as new adult ficton releases, and they have regular author events. If you're in the area, I highly recommend you stop by to support this fantastic independant bookshop.

Shop 20, 11 Avalon Parade
Avalon Beach NSW 2107

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
Published January 3, 2017 by Penguin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Flora has amnesia. She can't remember anything day-to-day: the joke her friend made, the instructions her parents gave her, how old she is.
Then she kisses someone she shouldn't - and the next day she remembers it. It's the first time she's remembered anything since she was ten.
But the boy is gone.

The One Memory of Flora Banks is not going to be an easy book to talk about and I think it's best not to read too much about it, in case the plot gets spoilt for you.

Seventeen year old Flora lives with her parents in Cornwall. She has had no short-term memory since the age of ten so she relies on notes written on her hands and arms, as well as a notebook with information in it, written by her mother. When she rereads this, she discovers the cause of her memory loss was the removal of a tumour. She takes medication and will always live with her parents, in their house, in the same town. Sometimes she remembers an older brother, Jacob, but he no longer lives with them. She has one close friend, Paige, they've known each other since they were little.

I spent most of this book feeling confused but intrigued. I felt as though there was something off about Flora's life, especially when it came to her parents. Her situation would be difficult to deal with, she is often confused, disorientated, and scared. Sometimes she's even mad at herself for not being what she considers normal. She often regresses and thinks she's a ten year old girl. Not only was this sad for her, but I also felt for her parents (to a degree) and for Paige, who has stuck by her for years.

I suppose the confusion I felt as a reader, which increased as the story went on, could have been intended to mimic Flora's own confusion as she spends a week alone at home while her parents go to France to see her brother. Flora is a very unreliable narrator, but I was prepared to go along on her journey to see where she'd end up.

Unfortunately the ending was a little underwhelming and I felt as though the story collapsed in on itself. Prior to that the tension and intrigue had been building, but the big reveal fell flat. I also had a lot of questions about just how much Flora would have been able to do, as a girl whose knowledge and memories stopped at age ten.

The One Memory of Flora Banks is a captivating and intriguing story of a girl desperate to prove she can live a life fuller than the one her parents intend for her. Despite the underwhelming twist, the story ends on a hopeful note.

Thank you to Penguin for my copy.

Monday, 9 January 2017

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of Cages by Robin Roe
Published January 10, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he's got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn't easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can't complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian--the foster brother he hasn't seen in five years.
Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He's still kind hearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what's really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.

A List of Cages is Robin Roe's debut novel. Fourteen year old Julian has lived with his uncle for the past four years. Prior to that he was in foster care after the death of his parents. Julian misses his parents everyday. They were wonderful parents and he doesn't understand why they would leave him. Adam, a senior, has ADD. He lives with his mum, a former social worker. He's a pretty happy guy, he has a bunch of close friends, and he manages his ADD using homeopathy and nutrition, something he started after he reacted badly to medications a few years back and his mum decided to try a different approach.

I didn't know much about the plot of this book when I requested it, it was mostly a cover-choice, but I'm so glad I read it. I was about to say that I enjoyed it, but I don't know if I can use the word enjoy with a book like this. I haven't had such a visceral reaction to a book in a long, long time. I felt a range of things: sickened, sadness, disgust, anger. And I really felt them, so much so that I had to keep stopping to take a breath and calm down. I know this sort of reaction might put people off, but I hope you won't let it stop you from reading this amazing book.

Julian's life felt so real and scary. From the first time his home is described I could feel the creepy and anxiety-inducing environment that he lives in. Julian's uncle is abusive, seeming to stem from his own trauma as a teenager. Julian has been enduring this for so long that he doesn't want anything to change, he doesn't want to be punished for getting his uncle in trouble. It was absolutely heartbreaking.

Adam comes back into Julian's life just at the right time. Julian's school attendance is slipping and he often hides in a secret room at school, but once Adam starts hanging out with him, he's able to make some progress.

My only issue, and it's a minor one, was the ending. There's a dramatic final scene and while something major happens, the consequences for one of the secondary characters was never explained. Also, despite feeling so much throughout this story, I didn't feel quite as connected to Julian or Adam as I would have expected.

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

A List of Cages is an impressive, compelling debut novel, and a powerful, important story. It's perfectly paced, hauntingly atmospheric, and so real it's heartbreaking.

Thank you to Disney Hyperion for my Netgalley copy.

Cover design: Liz Casal and Marci Senders.

I love this cover, it stands out with the bold choice of navy blue and yellow on white, and it was definitely a major factor in my decision to request this book. 

I started with a base of white nail polish and used navy blue and yellow for the illustration.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Lisette's Paris Notebook by Catherine Bateson

Lisette's Paris Notebook by Catherine Bateson
Published January 3, 2017 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Eighteen-year-old Lisette has just arrived in Paris (France!) - the city of haute couture and all things stylish - to practise her French and see great works of art. Her clairvoyant landlady Madame Christophe forces her to attend language lessons with a bunch of international students but soon Lise discovers she's more interested in studying boys than art or verbs ...
When the undeniably hot Anders jogs into her life it feels too good to be true. Things get even more complicated when she is pursued by Hugo, a charming English antiques dealer.
Can she take a chance and follow her own dreams? How far into the future can Madame Christophe see? And could Lise really be falling in love - in Paris?

Lisette's Paris Notebook by Catherine Bateson is set in, you guessed it, Paris! I adore books set in Paris, whether they're memoirs or fiction, so I was really looking forward to this release.

The story did not disappoint. It was charming, picturesque, and so wonderfully French. Eighteen year old Lisette Williams has finished high school and has left Melbourne to spend her summer in Paris. She's ditched her usual nickname, Lisi, and has decided she'll go by Lise while abroad. She was raised by her mother, a seamstress, after her father left before she was born. She never got to know him and now she's had word from his lawyers that he's passed away. Lise goes to France at the urging of her mother, a woman who has always loved the idea of Paris, and Lise ends up discovering more about herself than she expected.

I loved this story right from the start. It reminded me of the first time I went to Europe alone, and the time I spent in Paris with friends. The setting was easy to imagine and allowed me to travel vicariously through Lise's trip.

Lise was a complicated but genuine character. I was intrigued by her past and the factors that drove her her to France. It seemed to be more of her mother's dream than hers, and yet there is so much she loves about her time overseas. She's a girl who likes to have a plan, who likes to know the outcome before she makes a choice, but of course when you add love into the mix, things go awry. Her mother's distrust of men has been ingrained into Lise's personality and it was frustrating to see her struggle with indecision about her future. Ultimately she shows a lot of growth over the course of the story which only endeared her to me even more.

Lisette's stubbornness and fear, while realistic, had me worried about what choice she would make. But, the end of the story came with a satisfying conclusion that left me wondering if the author has plans for a sequel.

Ableist language: crazy, lame.

Lisette's Paris Notebook is a delightful and captivating story of a girl trying to figure out where she wants her life to go. The Paris setting is vivid and daydream-inducing, and is sure to have you planning your own trip before you've even finished reading.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the ARC. RRP A$16.99.

Cover design: Debra Billson.
Illustrations: Hanna Bobrova, Anna Kozlenko, Nancy White.

I adore this cover. I love the style of the illustrations and the focus on red, black, white and blue. I really enjoyed painting it.

I started with a base of Ulta3 Sugar Coat, a pale neutral shade. I used acrylic paint for the illustrations.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeil

The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeil
Published September 2016 by Pushkin Press
Source: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 2 stars

The Vanishings started without warning. People disappearing into thin air - just piles of clothes left behind. Each day, thousands gone without a trace.
Max was abandoned in a bookshop and grows up haunted by memories of his parents. Only he can solve the mystery of the Vanishings.
To find the answers, Max must leave this world and enter the Beginning Woods. A realm of magic and terror, life and death.
But can he bear the truth - or will is destroy him?
Greater than your dreams. Darker than your fears. Full of more wonder than you could ever desire. Welcome to the ineffable Beginning Woods...
I took one look at the beautiful cover of The Beginning Woods (designed by the talented Helen Crawford-White at studiohelen), read that blurb, and wanted to love this book. At first I thought I would. I found the story charming, enchanting, and mysterious, up until the end of the first third, and then I got a bit lost in the woods. I found my interest waning, it was all a bit confusing and hard to follow. I pushed myself to keep reading, hoping to find more of the magic from the beginning, but in the end I skim read to the end.

Ableist language: crazy, idiot.

The Beginning Woods started out as a captivating and magical read, and I only wish that sentiment had carried on into the rest of the story. I'm sure there'll be readers who will enjoy this more than I did.

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

Sunday, 1 January 2017

When the Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane

When the Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane
Published November 2016 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: When Madeleine is shipped off to stay with her eccentric grandmother for the holidays, she expects the usual: politics, early-morning yoga, extreme health food, and lots of hard work. Instead, Madeleine tumbles back in time to 1900, where the wealthy Williamson family takes her into their home, Lyrebird Muse.
At a time when young girls have no power and no voice, set against a backdrop of the struggles for emancipation, federation and Aboriginal rights, Madeleine must find a way to fit in with the Williamson family's four sisters - beautiful, cold Bea; clever, awkward Gert; adventurous, rebellious Charlie; and darling baby Imo - as she searches desperately for a way home.
Meanwhile, the Williamson girls' enchanting German cousin, Elfriede, arrives on the scene on a heavenly wave of smoke and cinnamon, and threatens to shatter everything... 

I've read Kim Kane's previous YA novel, Cry Blue Murder, co-authored with Marion Roberts, so when her new middle grade/YA novel showed up I was keen to give it a go, despite being really put off by the drab cover.

Twelve year old Maddie Barnes has been sent to stay with her grandmother in Melbourne, not far from an old house called Lyrebird Muse. When Maddie walks there one day, she finds herself transported back to 1900. She meets the Williamson sisters, Bea, Gert, Charlie, and Imo, and joins them in their daily life.

It's clear from the start that the author has done a lot of research when it comes to the family life, politics, and customs of that time. Maddie learns about the sort of clothing girls had to wear, the sort of food eaten, how servants were treated, and what it was like to be a woman. She's horrified at the racism and annoyed by the strict rules girls had to follow.

As Maddie learns about the history of her country, so too does the reader. This book would be perfect for students studying Australian history and might engage them more than a textbook (I know I found Australian history far less interesting than European history when I was in high school).

I don't read a lot of time travel stories so I liked that this aspect wasn't dwelt on too much. Maddie and the sisters accept that she is there and that she will somehow get home again. They didn't spend too much time wondering how or why it had happened.

But, the pacing was a little slow and I didn't find myself that connected to Maddie. However, the ending wrapped up well, bringing her story some closure.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the review copy.