“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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Book Review: “Looking for JJ” by Anne Cassidy

Title: Looking for JJ (Jennifer Jones #1)
Author: Anne Cassidy
Audio book narrator: Shirley Barthelmie
Genre:
YA/drama/thriller
Date Read: 25/11/2017 – 28/11/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I think this book was supposed to be a thriller but I didn’t really find especially thrilling. Still, I did enjoy it as a straight drama, apart from a few quibbles.

Jennifer Jones has been in juvenile detention for six years after killing a girl when she was just eleven years old. Now seventeen, she’s been released under the name Alice Tully, and is trying to resume a normal life. But with press interest looming, it’s only a matter of time before this carefully constructed new life begins to crumble. And Alice begins to wonder if a person really can change.

I really liked the character of Jennifer/Alice. I felt for her as she tried to navigate her new life, and even more so in the second section of the book, where we learn of the circumstances leading up to the death of her friend. I also really liked her case worker, Rosie, who is staunchly in Alice’s court when the media starts to catch up with her.

My main issue in terms of characters was Alice’s boyfriend, Freddie. He was controlling and often seemed to be pressuring her into things she wasn’t ready for. And yet, Alice always went on about how romantic he was and how much she loved him. He then flipped to the opposite extreme once he found out that Alice was a virgin, going on about how the first time should be special and how he didn’t know if he was up to the task (or something). Both attitudes were kind of gross in their own way.

The writing itself was very good, though I felt the structure could have been a bit better. There are flashbacks during Part 1, then Part 2 centres solely on young Jennifer and the events leading up to the death of her friend. Part 3 then returns to Alice’s POV. I think the story would have been stronger if the whole back story had been woven in with the present story.

There is a sequel to the book, but I didn’t find myself compelled to seek it out. I felt that the story wrapped up in a satisfactory way and I was happy to leave these characters where they were. The sequel sounds like quite a different kind of plot, so it might be something I seek out when I’m in the mood for a more introspective kind of read.


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“Life is like a musical: it’s here one moment and gone the next.” // Review of Life is Like a Musical by Tim Federle

Title: Life is Like a Musical: How to Live, Love, and Lead Like a Star
Author: Tim Federle
Genre: Non-fiction/memoir/self-help
Date Read: 28/09/2017 – 29/09/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Tim Federle is my people. If we’d been at school together, we would have been friends because then we would have each had someone to geek out with about musicals when no one else cared. While the advice in this book might be somewhat generic, I really enjoyed the theatre anecdotes that he used to back up his claims, a lot of the time because I could relate, having had a similar experience somewhere in my amateur theatre experiences.

This book is full of lessons Tim learned during his time on Broadway as a dancer, as well as later, writing theatrical material and novels. You can see some of them on the cover: “Let someone else take a bow”, “take the note” (i.e. accept constructive feedback without getting defensive”) and “Dance like everyone’s watching”. He applies these lessons to wider life, careers and relationships.

I really enjoyed some of the anecdotes about being backstage at a theatre. I’ve never performed on Broadway, just at a couple of local theatres in the towns where I’ve lived, but the experiences are much the same. I laughed out loud a lot. I also enjoyed the stories about the big names the Tim worked with on Broadway.

This book probably isn’t for everyone, and I think it probably will particularly appeal to those like me who have a theatre background (even if it’s not a very extensive one). But I laughed out loud several times and related to Tim’s stories so often, so I definitely recommend checking it out.


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

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#AWW2017 “How could she be so close, almost here, and completely out of my reach?” // Review of “The Space Between” by Rachel Sanderson

Title: The Space Between
Author: Rachel Sanderson
Genre: YA/Contemporary/Drama
Date Read: 05/08/2017 – 06/08/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Somehow, despite being in the same writing group as Rachel Sanderson for the past five years, I’ve never really sampled much of her writing until this year. I was so excited when she announced that she had published The Space Between, and grabbed myself a copy straight away. I’m glad to say I really enjoyed reading it; it’s a fantastic YA page-turner.

What should be a regular weekend away camping turns into a nightmare when Erica’s best friend, Daina, goes missing. Coming to terms with Daina’s loss also means coming to terms with the fact that she didn’t know all there was to know about her best friend, as well as trying to navigate messy relationships with both family and friends in the wake of tragedy.

The atmosphere in this book was what struck me the most. There’s a real rawness underneath everything. When Erica ached, I ached. I really felt under her skin. She did sometimes make decisions that I raised my eyebrows at and didn’t really support, but her actions were no more outlandish than a lot of other YA characters’, so it didn’t irk me too much. And they did help to move the plot forward, so there was that.

The writing style is fantastic, and very readable. The pacing is good throughout and I found the book hard to put down.  The set-ups for later revelations about Daina, Erica and their families were done well so when those revelations came about, they made a lot of sense without the story feeling predictable. There were a few moments towards the end where I felt myself tearing up a little; as I said, I felt really close to Erica and really had a sense of her loss.

While I don’t read a huge amount of contemporary YA, this is one I would definitely recommend (and not just because I know the author either 😉 )


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2017. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2017 Book Review: “The Year of Freaking Out” by Sarah Walker

Title: The Year of Freaking Out
Author: Sarah Walker
Genre: YA Contemporary
Date Read: 12/07/2017 – 14/07/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Part of my challenge-within-a-challenge for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge was to read at least two books by LGBTI* authors. This is my first one. 

Kim knows deep down that she is attracted to girls, and it’s only confirmed when she meets Rachel, who has recently transferred to her school. She doesn’t know how to confess any of this to her friends, though, and liking girls isn’t even the worst of the secrets she keeps from them…

I don’t normally enjoy first person narration, but Kim’s voice was very genuine so in this case it worked. I really enjoyed her friendship group as well. They honestly all sounded like individuals, and like teenagers, a tricky feat to manage. There’s the messiness of relationships, fights with parents, the general trying-to-figure-out-your-place-in-the-world struggles.

Along with sexual identity themes, the book also examines sexual assault and the impact that has on young people. It did feel a little at odds with the lighter tone of the narration of the book and most of its other events. However, I felt that it was handled well, especially the revelation that leads to Kim opening up about her own experiences towards the end of the book.

And now, since I have your attention, a rant about how non-heterosexual content is marketed in books. The back of this one describes Kim having to make the biggest decision of her life, between her “passionate friendship” with Rachel and her “feelings for her friend, Matthew”. That’s not the choice at all! I know this book is twenty years old, but Rachel is the one she has feelings for; she tries to convince herself she has feelings for Matthew, but she knows that it’s just an attempt to make herself “normal”. But we couldn’t have that on the back cover of a book! Someone think of the children! Or something.

I wouldn’t say this book had a profound impact on me, but I can totally understand the reviews that say they wish they had had this book when they were trying to figure out their own identities like Kim. It was a sweet, fun read though; definitely recommended if you enjoy coming-of-age YA stories.


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2017. Click here for more information.

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