#AWW2021 #LoveOzYA“Simple dreams are the hardest to come true” // Book Review: “Looking for Alibrandi” by Melina Marchetta

1Title: Looking for Alibrandi
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 01/03/2021 – 05/03/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This is one of those YA books I really wish I had read when I was actually a young adult. By the time I was in high-school it was already firmly established as an Australian Classic, but it was never on my curriculum and somehow I never got around to it on my own time before now.

Melina Marchetta beautifully explores what it is like growing up caught between two identities, and how that can affect family and friend relationships. It’s hard to explain exactly what it is, but there’s something really Australian about the tone and voice of this book.

Josie is sometimes a difficult character to sympathise with but at the same time, she is a self-aware of a lot of her faults. While we see the other characters through Josie’s eyes, they do become their own fully formed characters. I especially loved how the relationship between Josie and her Nonna developed, and how it was nearly torn apart towards the end when certain revelations came to light.

One of my colleagues saw me reading this in the lunch room and said that Melina Marchetta is one of her favourite authors, and that she always returns to her books “when she needs a good cry”. I definitely found myself getting teary at the end. It wraps up perfectly, even as it goes to show that life will always be messy and you can only do your best to follow the path you want.


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Book Review: “Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley

Title: Firekeeper’s Daughter
Author: Angeline Boulley
Genre: Contemporary/thriller
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 24/03/2020 – 31/03/21
Rating: ★★

Review:

I really struggled with this one and I’m so disappointed. Apparently this is being touted as a thriller, but there is a crime/investigation element to it, I didn’t find it thrilling at all. For the most part, I was bored.

Let’s start with what I did like. Check out that incredible cover! It’s stunning.

I also really loved the descriptions of the Ojibwe traditions. I will confess that while I know there are others out there, this is the first Own Voices book I have read by a Native American author. I really appreciate Boulley being willing to allow the rest of us in. I did have to guess at the meanings of some of the words used, but most I was able to figure out from context.

But the rest? The drug ring investigation? The romance? I just didn’t feel anything. It was a hard slog to get through, and I think it was just too long. It did pick up in the last 20% but overall it was too little too late to really get me engaged.

Also on the romance: a) it came pretty much out of nowhere. I didn’t really feel like the characters had any chemistry. And b) was incredibly inappropriate. Admittedly, another character did call it out as such, but I just… felt pretty squicked by it. I could understand why Jamie would connect with Daunis as he did, but still…

The other thing that kept throwing me off was that it was set in 2004 for no reason that I could really figure out (though some reviews I’ve read say that 2004 was around the time crystal meth was really starting to take off, so I wondered if that was it). Apart from the absence of social media and the occasional reference to a now-outdated phone, there was very little to place it there, so whenever a specific reference was made (such as “class of 2004” or a mention of Janet Jackson’s infamous Superbowl wardrobe malfunction) it always threw me for a second.

I am obviously in the minority with this view – the current GoodReads average is 4.55/5 from over 1700 ratings. I wish I could have been one of the 5 star reviews but not this time.


Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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#AWW2021 Book Review: “The Girl in the Sunflower Dress” by Katie Montinaro

1Title: The Girl in the Sunflower Dress
Author: Katie Montinaro
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 02/03/2021 – 04/03/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This is a really engaging debut novel! It made me stay up past bedtime to finish it, and I am not generally one for staying up late, even if the book is good.

The Girl in the Sunflower Dress follows Chelsea Roberts in the summer after she finishes high-school. She’s questioning the route her life is taking and then her life is thrown into upheaval when she accidentally discovers her father is having an affair.

Chelsea is a really well-written MC. I really sympathised with her as she agonised over whether to share her discovery with her family or keep it to herself. I can’t imagine having that sort of secret weighing on me, especially when it’s on top of things like enormous family expectations.

Chelsea’s journey to figure herself out and what she truly wants to do with her life and finally speak to her true desires was just as interesting as the bigger affair storyline. Having said that, I did find her dad’s opposition to the arts a little baffling given that their mutual love of photography is a whole plot point. I could understand being worried your child won’t succeed in the arts and wanting them to have a backup, but he was outright snobbish about Noah’s graphic design business, even though Noah was able to point to rarely being without work.

The different threads of the story are for the most part woven together really well and come to a head at the end, leading to a satisfying conclusion. The middle sometimes got a little repetitive with Chelsea’s back and forth-ing about what to do about various situations, but I’m not sure there was really a way to avoid that.

But overall, I really loved this debut and I’ll definitely be watching out for Katie Montinaro’s books in the future!


Thank you to the author for providing me a gratis copy of this book in exchange for a review. The Girl in the Sunflower Dress will be available for purchase from April 13, 2021.

This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“An invisible hand squeezes my heart for the nameless women history brushed aside.” // Review of “Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know” by Samira Ahmed

Title: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genre: Contemporary/mystery/historical
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 09/01/2021 – 1/01/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Who doesn’t want to read a book bringing to life the story of a woman history forgot in favour of the men around her? Or at least, presenting a fictional possibility of such a woman. I certainly do!

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know presents dual stories of Khayyam, a modern-day budding art historian, and Leyla, who might be the inspiration for heroine of the famous Byron poem, The Giaour.

I admit I found the historical parts more interesting than the modern-day parts. Leyla’s story is incredibly sad, but also a story about a woman making her own way against all odds.

Khayyam spends quite a lot of time mooning over boys. Having said that, part of that is integral to her overall arc of finding her voice and her identity as a French-American, Indian-American and Muslim-American young woman, and the scene where she finally put herself first was awesome.

For most of the book, I felt it was a 3-star read. I wasn’t overly invested and was reading more to find out the mystery than because I was rooting for the characters. But the ending was very powerful, to the point I even got a little teary, and for that, I bumped it up to four.


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“When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?” // Review of “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone

Title: Dear Martin
Author: Nic Stone
Genre:
Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 15/09/2018
Rating:
★★

Review:

This book appeared on my phone unexpectedly. I actually thought I had put a hold on the audio book; it wasn’t until I went to download it I realised otherwise. I began reading it on my phone and was instantly engaged. I downloaded it on my tablet soon after and had finished reading by the end of the day.

Like Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, this book was partially inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It gives another insight into growing up black in America and the everyday prejudices African Americans have to deal with. There were times in this book where I had to check my privilege, tell myself “No, this actually isn’t far-fetched, that’s the point, Emily” and try to listen to what the book was trying to tell me.

The book is short and I felt that it could have done with some fleshing out in parts. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about the format at first. There are sections where class discussions are shown in script format rather than prose, but there was really no reason why the conversations couldn’t have been described. I suppose having a chapter full of dialogue with little description  in the middle is also clunky, but at least it would have been consistent.

#aww2018 #LoveOzYA “You thought your community was gone? Think again, babe.” // Review of “White Night” by Ellie Marney

Title: White Night
Author: Ellie Marney
Genre: Contemporary/romance
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 05/09/18 – 10/09/18
Rating:
★★★☆

Review:

This book  totally found its way under my skin. I was thinking about it all the time when I wasn’t reading, and I had ideas about where the story was going and was supremely worried for the characters.

Bo has a lot on his mind, between footy, the end of high school and crisis in his family that his parents aren’t talking about. When Rory, a girl from the local off-the-grid commune, begins attending his high school and he finds himself drawn into her way of life.

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve started reading Ellie Marney’s books this year is that she has the ability to really capture the Australian experience of being a young adult. These aren’t just teenagers that could be lifted out of her book and transplanted somewhere else. These are very definitely Australian teenagers. This is an Australian small town. There’s just something about the descriptions and the way the characters speak that wouldn’t work anywhere else.

I loved Bo’s character development and Rory’s. Their romance is affected by things like Rory not having access to a phone, and it was interesting to see that explored. Bo’s wider friendship circle is also great; everyone felt real. Sprog in particular has a great arc that’s central to the plot.

The off-the-grid community was also well-written. I liked that it wasn’t presented as a crazy cult from the get-go, and that the majority of people living there genuinely wanted to do something good for the world. A sense of unease begins to develop and by the last fifty pages, I couldn’t have put the book down even if I had wanted to. The only reason I knocked off half a star was because I did feel that sometimes the speeches given by Ray, the sort-of-head of the commune, were often a bit info-dumpy. They served a purpose but I did find myself skimming them a bit.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#aww2018 #LoveOzYA “The house was always empty. Even when it wasn’t.” // Review of “I Had Such Friends” by Meg Gatland-Veness

Title: I Had Such Friends
Author: Meg Gatland-Veness
Genre: Contemporary
Target age group: YA
Dates read: 29/06/2018 – 30/06/2018
Rating: ★★

Review:

I feel like this book could have been good but it tried to tackle too many big issues in a short amount of space and ended up not doing them the justice they deserved.

There was also the issue that for probably 75-80% of the book, I just couldn’t stand the main character. He had basically no redeemable qualities, though he did finally get his act together towards the end. He is awful to his so-called best friend (and for someone who calls himself a nerd, he sure was judgey about cosplay and video games and anime). He’s pretty sexist, judging all the girls at school except the one he’s friends with because of course, she’s not like those other girls. And he’s so terrified of sounding like a girl or coming across as sissy, like that’s the worst thing you could possibly be perceived as.

One could argue that this is a fairly typical representation of a lot of country boys, and you’d probably be right… but I can’t stand when this stuff is unchallenged within a text. And highlighting it with the occasional “I know it made me a bad person to think that” doesn’t really make him any better. ve

Oof. That was a bit of a rant. Sorry. Hamish just really bugged me.

The story tries to tackle sexuality, grief, domestic violence, and coming of age issues, and sometimes it nearly hits the mark. But I just never felt any kind of emotional pull while reading, and I predicted the outcome, too. It just never really felt true enough. A lot of this is probably because I didn’t like Hamish enough to care, but I think also the writing style was a bit detached and disjointed, making it hard to really get drawn in.

I do think Gatland-Veness shows promise as a writer. This one just didn’t work for me.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

Thank you to Pantera Press and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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#WWW Wednesday – February 28, 2018

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This blog hop is hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for this week, and just answer the three questions.

wwwwednesday

I didn’t post here last Wednesday as I have decided to alternate Wednesday posts between this blog and my writing blog. That way I might actually find time to visit fellow participants in each blop hop! So this post covers my last two weeks of reading.

What have you recently finished reading?

First up, I finished The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. While I had a couple of issues with the pacing and being able to keep track of a fairly large cast of characters, I thought this was a great insight into the life of a Black teenager in present-day America. I reviewed it in more detail here.

I also read Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen. This is the book form of the webcomic Sarah’s Scribbles. It is cute, though I think I like it better as an isolated comic I sometimes see on the Internet, rather than all of them packed in together.

Because of the amount of walking and hiking (and driving to the mountains) I’m doing to train for my trek in Nepal in April, I’ve finished many audio books! Though I haven’t necessarily loved many of them, they have been a good distraction when I have been walking uphill for four hours (I am not even kidding).

First I finished Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley, which was fine, I guess. I felt the balance between the sci-fi elements and the fantasy wasn’t quite achieved, and most of the characters annoyed me, but I did like most of the world-building and the mythology. You can read my full review here.

Then I finished the audio book of Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. This was another 3-star book, as I felt it read more like a MG book, except it had more mature content in it. While it is the first in a series, it concluded enough that I’m not going to keep going.

After that was The Matchmakers by Jennifer Colgan. This was a cute fantasy romance about a cupid-type Fey who has to team up with a human to help three couples fall in love or they both lose their ability to love forever. I did enjoy this one.

And then there was Bootleg by Alex Shearer, which was a fairly short kids’ book about a Britain under control of the Good For You Party, which bans chocolate and all other sweets. This one was a bit silly but in the way you let slide when reading children’s books.

I’ve still got to get reviews written for most of these!

What are you currently reading?

I’ve had barely any time to read, what with hiking and actually finding inspiration for my own writing again, so I’m still reading the same ebook I started after The Hate U Give. It’s called Deadly Sweet and is by Lola Dodge, and even if I end up hating it (I am enjoying it so far), that cover is going to be one of my favourites of the year.

I am also reading Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. I am sure many of you remember the blog of the same title, which gave us such gems as The Alot and This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult (where “Clean all the things!” originated). The book is a mixture of some of the blog posts and some new content.

What do you think you’ll read next?

That’s a great question, I’m glad you asked it! I’m actually working on my March/April TBR right now! Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie and The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon are the two left over from my January-February TBR but knowing me I’ll probably get distracted by something else 😛

What are you reading this week?~ Emily

#WWW Wednesday – February 14, 2018

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This blog hop is hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for this week, and just answer the three questions.

wwwwednesday

What have you recently finished reading?

Only one finish this week: Keep Her Safe by Richard Parker. I know many people really loved it but I wasn’t a fan. I just couldn’t make sense of a lot of it. You can read my review here. Sorry it’s a bit ranty.

I actually DNFed Hellhole by Gina Damico, as the humour wore off after a while and I wasn’t really into the story. And given that I had completely forgotten about it until I looked at last week’s post to start this one, I guess that shows how much I was into it.

I also posted my review of Hunted by Meagan Spooner this week. You can find that one here.

What are you currently reading?

I am finally reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. For those unaware, this book came out of the Black Lives Matter movement and is about a black teenager whose best friend is shot by a white police officer while unarmed. I have put it off for a long time because I was worried about how I would find it. And it isn’t an easy read and is making me frustrated and angry a lot of the time, but in a good, this-book-is-challenging-me way.

On audio, I am still listening to Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley, though I’ll probably finish it today or tomorrow. I like many of the ideas, but I’m not so sold on the plot itself. The MC is surrounded by characters who refuse to explain what is going on, mostly for the sake of padding out the plot, which is annoying. And I don’t care about her best friend who is trying to find her back on earth. I’ll finish this but unless the ending is really impressive, I don’t think I’ll read the sequel.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m going to try to knock a couple more books off my February TBR. Possibly Dollhouse by Anya Allyn will be next. Or The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon if I feel like a physical book instead of an ebook.

What are you reading this week?~ Emily

#aww2018 #LoveOzYA “Own your art. Own your existence.” // Review of “Beautiful Mess” by Claire Christian

Title: Beautiful Mess
Author: Claire Christian
Genre: YA contemporary
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I used to begin reviews like this with something like “I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA but…” as though I needed a disclaimer for any contemporary I enjoyed. I am getting rid of that disclaimer now because I’ve found in the past year that contemporaries have been among my favourites, while YA SFF has often been further down. My attitude used to be “why would I want to read about teenagers and their dramas?” but now I’m realised that these stories have so much to say that transcends one particular age group. This is one such book.

Ava is struggling with depression after the death of her best friend six months ago. Gideon has struggled with anxiety and self-esteem issues all his life. When they meet after both beginning work at the same kebab shop,  they form a bond that could just be the one thing that keeps them both going.

There was nothing especially revolutionary about the plot of this novel. What was fantastic to see, though, was the way Christian subverted so many of the tropes commonly found in YA books that deal with this subject matter. Neither Ava nor Gideon’s parents were absent or uninvolved in their kids’ lives; both kids had good relationships with therapists (in Gideon’s case, the idea of trying out different therapists until you find one that clicks with you is acknowledged) and the characters are not saved throught The Power of  LoveTM.

Both Ava and Gideon are beautifully formed characters. The chapters alternate between their first-person POVs, which I often find irritating, as I often find that in first person, both characters end up sounding much the same. This was not an issue here. Gideon writes poetry and competes in poetry slams and I loved the inclusion of his poems throughout the text.

For a fair chunk of the book, I was hoping that it wouldn’t become a romance, and would instead focus on the strength of friendship. Inevitably, though, the main characters did get involved romantically. For what it was, this was mostly done well, but I did find Gideon behaving in a disappointing fashion towards the end of the book. I felt that the ending left a little bit to be desired, but at the same time, I’m not sure these two characters’ story could have worked out any other way.

Still, as you can tell, I highly recommend this book with its great mental health rep, strong characters and some beautfully-written poetry.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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