Thursday, 31 August 2017

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, and Fiona Wood

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, and Fiona Wood
Published August 29, 2017 by PanMacmillan
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: 3 award-winning authors.
1 compelling book.
ADY - not the confident A-Lister she appears to be.
KATE - brainy boarder taking risks to pursue the music she loves.
CLEM - disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy.
All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies. St Hilda's antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try - but sometimes all it takes is three girls.

Four years ago, on the now defunct podcast Ladies of YA, I interviewed Fiona Wood and she let slip that she, Cath Crowley, and Simmone Howell were working on a book together. I have been eagerly anticipated that book since that day. Finally receiving an ARC of Take Three Girls, a book coauthored by my three favourite authors, was a dream come true. To say I love this book would be an understatement because I love it with ALL my heart.

Sixteen-year-olds Clem, Kate, and Ady are in Year 10 at St Hilda's, a private girls school in Melbourne. Clem and Kate are boarders, but Ady is a day girl. Clem, a competitive swimmer was forced to board after her parents relocated to Singapore for work. She chose not to room with her twin sister Iris. Kate, a passionate cellist, has left her country home to try and get a scholarship so she can study medicine and not be such a burden on her parents' finances. She winds up rooming with Iris, both of them studious and serious. Ady loves fashion and art, and now dreams of becoming a costume designer. Her parents are fighting non-stop, and she's tiring of her friends and their judgemental ways. The three girls are thrown together in a new initiative at school, and they find the friendship they've all been unknowingly searching for.

Told from three perspectives, I was instantly hooked by the voices of Clem, Kate, and Ady. Each girl so different, yet also sharing similar qualities, insecurities and fears. All three of them have problems they try to avoid, despite knowing they need to eventually deal with them. They were well developed, and as the story went on, their histories and personalities were revealed in depth.

An accident forced Clem to stop swimming and now that she can return to her former pastime, she finds she's not really bothered about it. She's also struggling with how her body has changed in the six weeks since she stopped training. She's conscious of the weight she's gained and finds herself fixated on food. And Stu, he boy who bumped into her, causing her to break her wrist. She falls head over heels for him; her crush was sweet and naive.

Kate knows she's lucky to be attending such a good school, one that will hopefully keep her from having to return to her small town, even though she loves her family home. She dreams of becoming a musician and enjoys experimenting with sampling songs and playing over them on her cello. She finds Oliver, a fellow cello player in the orchestra, incredibly annoying, but watching them slowly get to know each other was such a delight. Kate's torn between doing what she feels is right and doing what her heart desires.

Ady is creative and observant. She's slowly becoming aware that she's tired of playing games and being fake, something she's had to do with her group of friends. She's also not into her boyfriend Rupert, even though she feels as though she should be, instead she later finds herself attracted to a girl named Max, someone she meets through Kate. Ady's also dealing with the guilt that she and her siblings are the reason her father is an alcoholic and coke addict, but she's determined to play it cool and not talk to anyone about her home life.

I made so many notes in regards to pop cultural references, whether it was art or music, as well as places the girls go. I loved the layers to each character and finding out all the little details that influence their lives.

The story tackles a lot of subjects including bullying, feminism, sexism, addiction, sexuality, friendship, and first loves. It looks at them realistically and sensitively and in a way that's totally relatable for teens. It's so relevant to the social issues in our world right now, and I hope that it's picked up by teenagers and their parents.

Ableist language: crazy, fuckwit, dumb, lame.

Take Three Girls is a touching, funny, beautiful story, one that is sure to appeal to readers of all ages. It made me nostalgic for my teenage years while at the same time speaking to me as a woman in her thirties. I love the characters, I love the setting, I love the issues, I LOVE THIS BOOK. I cannot wait to reread it when the finished version is in stores!

Thank you to PanMacmillan for the ARC.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black

In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black
Published August 1, 2017 by Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: The latest winner of the Ampersand Prize is a genre-smashing kidnapping drama about Tamara, who's faced with an impossible choice when she falls for her captors.
Yet this is no ordinary kidnapping. Tamara has been living on a freighter in deep space, and her kidnappers are terrifying Crowpeople – the only aliens humanity has ever encountered. No-one has ever survived a Crowpeople attack, until now – and Tamara must use everything she has just to stay alive.
But survival always comes at a price, and there’s no handbook for this hostage crisis. As Tamara comes to know the Crowpeople's way of life, and the threats they face from humanity's exploration into deep space, she realises she has an impossible choice to make. Should she stay as the only human among the Crows, knowing she'll never see her family again … or inevitably betray her new community if she wants to escape?

Cally Black's debut novel, In the Dark Spaces, won the 2015 Ampersand Prize. Tamara lives in secrecy on board a spaceship called Starweaver Layla, along with her baby cousin, Tamiki (nicknamed Gub). Her aunt Lazella smuggled them on board a year ago when she took a job working in the kitchen. No children are allowed so Tamara and Gub rarely speak, instead communicating in facial expressions, gestures and the occasional whisper. Tamara is desperate to grow so she can pass for a sixteen-year-old and earn a spot on the crew, so she spends Gub's nap times sneaking around the ship via the ducting and crawl spaces.

I didn't know much about In the Dark Spaces before I started, but I always enjoy the Ampersand Prize winners so that was enough for me. I really liked going into this with little knowledge because I was absolutely blown away.

I love contemporary reads and they will always be my go-to. While I do have a vivid imagination, my brain can be lazy and prefers to imagine scenarios that are familiar to me. If I read about a character walking along the street and hopping on a bus, I can easily picture that. But when I read fantasy or sci-fi, my brain protests. I read the description of a space ship, for example, and my brain complains "too hard!" In the case of In the Dark Spaces, once the action took off, my brain was happy to go along for the ride.

The story surprised me with its uniqueness and creativity. I really hadn't expected what arrives on the ship and I was both terrified and intrigued. Tamara's actions were understandable and admirable. She's a child who has longed for a home, somewhere to be safe. She's also loyal and brave, always wanting to do the right thing. I adored her. The scenes between Tamara and Gub were so beautiful, and also bittersweet.

The action is fast-paced and thrilling. Once the story got going it did not stop and I was captivated by Tamara's journey. It was dark and sad, but also reflected all too closely our current world.

In the Dark Spaces is an impressive, clever debut. The story is violent yet heartwarming, graphic yet sweet. The plot and pace will trap you, the characters will captivate you, and you'll be hooked all the way to the satisfying conclusion.

Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for my copy.

Cover design: Astred Hicks

I love this cover! I didn't really think about it much before I started reading, but once I was into the book, I got it! I think it's really subtle and clever, and I love the colour scheme.

I have a nail art tutorial for this look, you can watch it here or on my YouTube channel.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

*Scroll down for a link to my video review

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Published May 18, 2017 by Harper Collins
Source: purchased the physical copy and the audio book
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is Gail Honeyman's debut novel. Set in Glasgow, we meet twenty-nine-year old Eleanor. Eleanor works as a finance clerk for a graphic design company. Eleanor has a very routine-bound life: she goes to work, eats very similar meals each day, speaks to her mother on the phone on Wednesday evenings, and each weekend she spends her time somewhere between sober and drunk. Then Monday finally comes around and her week repeats itself. Her world is very small, she has no friends, and she's incredibly lonely. But if you asked her how she was, she'd tell you she was fine.

Clearly Eleanor is anything but fine. She has depression and won't acknowledge some aspects of her former life, and therefore is quite an unreliable narrator. I was captivated by her voice from the first page, I could hear her clearly and was immediately intrigued. Honeyman has developed her character so well, with layer upon layer of detail. Her quirks, mannerisms, and habits were revealed via her daily life and interactions with those around her. I found her easy to relate to and also felt extremely protective of her.

The relationships in this story were the focus, particularly the growing friendship between Eleanor and her new co-worker, Raymond Gibbons. Eleanor's reluctance to interact with Raymond was understandable, and highlighted her feelings on other humans. Eleanor is very judgemental, often seeing other people as unintelligent. She's also very critical of appearances, even though she dislikes being judged for her own appearance as she has some facial scarring from a childhood incident.

Initially I didn't know the setting was Glasgow, I had wrongly assumed England, possibly London, as Eleanor frequents places like Tesco. But 46 pages in I realised my mistake and from then on I could easily imagine the voices with Scottish accents.

There's a perfect balance of humour and heartbreak in Eleanor's story. While I spent a lot of it clutching at my heart, sobbing, and trying to get my breathing under control, I often found myself laughing aloud at Eleanor's jokes and mannerisms. The friendship made my heart very happy, and I adored seeing Eleanor's life improve.

On a personal note, I found myself relating to quite a few aspects of this story. I like routine so I understood Eleanor's need for it. I also get eczema on my hands so I found it to be a visceral experience as my hands were as red and sore as Eleanor's because I read this during winter. Also, Raymond's mother reminded me of my English mum and I adored her scenes. And I loved Eleanor's immense vocabulary, I must have written down at least thirty words that I want to look up in the dictionary.

The pacing was perfectly done, with events acting as catalysts to slowly introduce change into Eleanor's rigid, solitary lifestyle. Slowly, her world starts to widen, causing her long-held assumptions and delusions to be examined, leading up to a heartbreaking climax, followed by a satisfying resolution.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a sensitive exploration of loneliness, grief, mental health, and survival. Eleanor's voice is captivating and her story is compelling. I loved this book so much that immediately after finishing the library copy, I went out and bought it in paperback and audio book via Audible, then ended up reading it three times in a row over the course of three weeks. I hope you love this beautiful, impressive, debut as much as I do.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Marsh and Me by Martine Murray

Marsh and Me by Martine Murray
Published May 1, 2017 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Joey Green wants to stand out - he wants to be the best at something. He plays the guitar, but only when no one is listening. And no one knows he wants to be in a band - no one except the birds and the old kangaroo that live on the hill at the back of his house. When Joey goes up there he can be anything he likes.
But when he finds someone has built a treehouse in an old peppercorn tree on the hill, he's not very happy. Who could this intruder be? And why is she so strange and unfriendly and full of secrets?
Joey has a mystery to solve, and a plan to solve it. And some unexpected discoveries to make.

Marsh and Me is the follow up to Martine Murray's 2016 novel, Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. I adored that last year and absolutely loved Marsh and Me!

Joey Green likes imagining his future careers and his possible successes. Will he be an explorer, an astronaut, a guitarist? Only time will tell. He also worries about what he's good at, but when he asked his mum, all she could come up with was that he is a nice kid. But Joey doesn't want to be known for that. One day while exploring the hill out the back, he discovers someone has disturbed his favourite place and he decides to investigate.

Joey's voice was clear from page one. He's smart, funny, and endearing. He wonders about historical events, like how did Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong decide who got to go first? He worries that he's not good enough, that he's not like other boys. He's not good at sports and is shy about sharing his love of music. He feels as though he's a bit of a disappointment and this really weighs on him.

I loved Joey's family relationships. Opal, his younger sister, dotes on him, but he finds her annoying most of the time. I thought she was hilarious, her words and actions always made me laugh aloud. Joey's parents are wonderful and supportive, but at the same time, he was a typical kid who didn't want to tell them everything. He also had a good friend in Digby, despite them being very different.

Joey's friendship with Marsh was a delight. Watching them slowly grow closer, seeing him become more tolerant and caring, rather than resentful and angry. Marsh's story was heartbreaking so it was lovely that she found a friend in Joey.

Ableist language: dumb, bonkers.

Marsh and Me is a beautiful, heartwarming story of friendship, grief, and being true to yourself. The mystery and fairy tale aspect is captivating, and kids will easily relate to Joey's dreams and insecurities.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.

Cover illustration: Kat Chadwick
Cover design: Imogen Stubbs

This cover is perfect. I love the illustration, I love the colour scheme, it suits the story so well. I painted Molly and Pim last year and couldn't wait to paint Marsh and Me!

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Reading Quest - My TBR

I'm taking part in The Reading Quest! The Reading Quest is a reading challenge created by Aentee of Read at Midnight. All of the beautiful artwork was created by CW of Read Think Ponder. To take part in the reading challenge you must sign up at Read in Midnight by Sunday, August 13.

I'm taking part here on my blog, and on my YouTube channel, Cook Read Create!

To take part, you choose one of four characters and you go on their quest along the game board, earning points as you go. Head to Read at Midnight for the instructions and rules.

I have chosen to be a Knight! My TBR is:

  • Genesis (The Rosie Black Chronicles #1) by Lara Morgan - The First Book of a Series
  • If Birds Fly Back by Carlie Sorosiak - A Book with a Verb in its Title
  • Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor - A Book with a Weapon on its Cover
  • Final Girls by Riley Sager - A Book with a Red Cover
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King - A Book that has a TV/Movie Adaptation

The first three books are physical copies, Final Girls is an eARC and The Dead Zone is an audio book.

I am really looking forward to taking part and seeing what everyone else has chosen to be and to read! Let me know if you're joining us on The Reading Quest!

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Dream Walker by Victoria Carless

The Dream Walker by Victoria Carless
Published June 27, 2017 by Hachette Australia
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Sixteen-year-old Lucy Hart has been counting the days till she can get the hell out of Digger's Landing - a small Queensland fishing hamlet home to fifteen families, a posse of mongrel dogs, and Parkers Corner Store (no apostrophe and nowhere near a corner).
But just like the tides, Lucy's luck is on the turn, and as graduation nears her escape plans begin to falter; her best friend, Polly, is dropping out of school to help pay the bills, and Tom has been shipped off to boarding school, away from the flotsam of this place. And then there's Lucy's nightlife, which is filled with dreams that just don't seem to belong to her at all . . .
When the fish stop biting, like they did when her mum was still around, Lucy realises she isn't the only one with a secret.

The Dream Walker is a debut YA novel by Australian author, Victoria Carless. Set in the fictional town of Digger's Landing, we meet sixteen-year-old Lucy Hart. She and her father are still trying to get by after the death of her mother the previous year. Lucy promised her mother she'd finish high school, and she intends to do so before leaving the town for good. But Lucy is haunted each night by dreams and soon becomes the target of the town's malice.

Lucy cannot wait to move to the city. She and her best friend Polly have been dreaming about it for years, but they need to save up more money. Tom, another friend of theirs, was going to join them, but after a car accident last year, he was been sent to school in the city. Ever since the accident, Lucy's been having dreams and these dreams start to intensify and become more real, often involving the townspeople. Lucy has no one to talk to about this issue; her father is distant, and soon Polly leaves school for full time work. Lucy finds solace in Glen, one of the stray dogs that lives in town, and her time spent in nature. She internalises the pressure of needing to meet their fishing quota so her father won't lose his license. She helps him before school and on weekends, but nothing she does ever seems good enough.

Her desire to leave is so understandable. The town felt stuffy, menacing, and cage-like. There are only fifteen or so families, each of them adhering to unspoken rules: only greet another boat with the flick of a finger, don't ask each other about their fishing haul. They know everything about each other. But Lucy seems to be unaware of a secret the town is keeping.

The pacing was a touch slow for me in parts, and sometimes the events felt disjointed. I also felt like certain things were built up and alluded to (for example, the car accident) and then turned out not to be that significant. I was reading an ARC, so perhaps these things were changed before publication. The dream element was something I just had to accept as part of the story, not knowing if it was real or something Lucy was experiencing as a way of coping with her grief.

Ableist language: dumb, psycho, halfwit, crazy.
Other warnings: animal cruelty and death.

The Dream Walker is a beautifully written, atmospheric story capturing the teenage desire to grow up and move on, as well as the loneliness often associated with small town life. The novel tackles subjects like grief, poverty, bullying, death, in a sensitive and realistic way.

Thank you to Hachette for the ARC.

Cover design: Astred Hicks

I adore this beautiful cover, it suits the dreamy, water-themed story perfectly. I filmed my nail art process, you can view it here or on my YouTube channel.