Save the Date – What a disaster!

Savethedate

Author: Morgan Matson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

I had heard such great things about this book and when I bought it, I saved it for a weekend when I knew I would have no distractions because I wanted to enjoy it. Well, I was happy that I read it quickly because this book annoyed me no end. It wasn’t a book, it was a script for a BAD romantic-comedy. You know one of those movies you wait to come onto Netflix – that you don’t waste good money to go see at the cinema.

Save the Date revolves around the Grant family who have grown up in the public eye through their mother’s national comic strip. The Grant family consists of mum, dad and five siblings. The comic strip is adored by many and as such Charlie’s family is considered a national treasure.

The story is told through the eyes of Charlie, 17, who is the youngest and the only child still at home. Charlie adores her family. In her eyes, they are perfect. Charlie’s sister, Linnie is getting married, which means all the Grant siblings will be reunited and Charlie is thrilled about her whole family being together for the weekend. Though the entire weekend is a debacle and it is one error after another. The writer missed the mark completely. What could have been a funny story about a not-so-perfect family just became annoying and tedious. I just wanted it all to end.

It is quite disappointing because I have heard such great things about Morgan Matson’s books and I wanted to like this book. What should have been an easy read is instead a difficult read.

There wasn’t much I liked at all. I did like the comics and I wished there had been more of them because they were great.

I did write notes about this book and every time something annoyed me I wrote it on an index card, but I seem to have lost my notes (which is probably a good thing) because most of my notes were quite snarky.

Of course, this is my opinion entirely. I have read MANY wonderful reviews of this book, particularly in Australia and I am incredibly suspicious of this because this book did receive a lot of publicity here in Australia. I have also read that Morgan Matson is a great author and reviewers who didn’t particularly like this book have praised her other books. Though, I am hesitant because I found this book hard work and I am not sure I could wade through another book that is so excessive and indulgent.

Bouquet, Celebration, Color, Colorful

Lovely War – not so lovely!

lovely2
Author: Julie Berry
Publisher: Viking

I’d seen a lot of reviews for this book before I read it and I thought it would be a perfect read for me – an impressive mix of mythology, historical fiction and romance. I have to admit, though, that the majority of the book left me cold, it wasn’t until the last third that I became interested. Once again, I find myself at odds with most reviewers who loved the book. I liked this book, but I didn’t find it captivated me like I think a book of this magnitude should do.  I found it slightly dull, particularly the interaction of the characters with each other. I thought Berry’s writing lacked humour and it was all so so.

I do applaud Berry for her meticulously researched book that spans two wars and two worlds. The majority of the action revolves around four young people finding love, experiencing loss and discovering themselves during World War I, but the principal story is set during World War II – a romantic triangle between three Greek Gods: Aphrodite, the goddess of love; her husband, Hephaestus, the god of fire and Ares, the god of war.

I will admit that Berry manages to weave these two storylines together magnificently. She is quite a competent writer, but it lacks humour, charm and that something that makes you want to keep on reading and for the story to never end. Personally, I found the book quite tedious at times and there were many times that I consider not actually finishing the book. To be quite honest, I couldn’t wait for the book to end!

I did read from many reviewers that they were amused and delighted by the Immortals’ snarky comments and constant competition with one another. Though I was left bored and I didn’t find the storyline amusing.

Berry begins her story in a Manhattan hotel on the eve of World War II, Aphrodite and Ares have been caught together by Hephaestus – Aphrodite’s husband and Ares’ brother. Hephaestus gives Aphrodite a chance to explain herself and so she begins to weave an elaborate tale of mortal love during wartime.

Moving between the present and the past, the goddess’ narrative centres on Aubrey, an African-American musician, Colette, a Belgian singer; Hazel, a naïve British pianist; and her beau, James, a hopeful architect who are all brought together by fate during the First World War.

The resulting story told by Berry is visually beautiful and historically accurate. By having an African-American character, Berry can highlight the racism that occurred during this time and this gives the book a point of difference.

So what kept me reading besides my stubbornness to finish. Berry does write beautifully. Her sharp eye for detail is quite compelling. I found myself lost in her writing of places such as London and Paris. She captures the beauty and makes you wish it was you walking the cobblestone streets of Paris. She also depicted the French front remarkably well – the nightmare that those young soldiers went through and she makes you wonder how so many of them were able to come home to a relatively normal life after all that they had experienced and witnessed.

The first casualty of war is the truth.

The characters are beautifully written and quite authentic, but I didn’t find that they kept my attention. I found the conversations between the characters quite mind-numbing and I wanted more. I wanted to feel their vibrancy, their youth, their humour and their originality. I also wanted to be enchanted by the Gods, particularly Aphrodite. I did like the take that Berry took on Hades, God of the Dead and the Underworld; I thought that she showed an interesting side to this god and his story was one that did have me quite interested.

Many have said that this is an unforgettable romance, I disagree. The writing of the places is beautiful – Berry has a way of transporting you to another place and this is a gift, but I didn’t find the characters memorable and I didn’t feel invested in any of the characters. I read that this novel will make you laugh, cry and swoon, but I didn’t feel any of these emotions when reading Lovely War.

But in saying all of that, this is one book that I will keep because it is so sumptuously beautiful.

Heart, Love, Romance, Valentine, Harmony

Steven Herrick shines a light on domestic violence

 

bogan

Author: Steven Herrick
Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Steven Herrick is one of my favourite authors. His gentle humour and vibrant characters bring both light and heart to difficult topics. The Bogan Mondrian deals with themes of grief and domestic violence.

Herrick’s writing is always unashamedly Australian and personally, I love this about his books. The Bogan Mondrian is set in the Blue Mountains where Herrick has lived since 1994. I might add that Herrick was born and bred in Queensland and I always feel this Queensland connection whenever I read his books – notably his sense of humour which features in all his work and despite the heavy themes of The Bogan Mondrian Herrick adds humour to this story which helps to balance it out.

‘Absenteeism…’ he repeats.
‘A scourge,’ I finish. Charlotte is a bad influence.
Cue loud exhale.
‘You will both report to Mr Dexter,’ he checks his watch again, ‘at lunchtime, for one week of detention. An email will be sent to your parents.’ He looks at me meaningfully. ‘I’d welcome a meeting.’
‘There’s only Mum left,’ I say.

He offers a stage-managed cough. ‘Yes, I’m well aware, Saunders. I believe you mentioned that last time you were in here.’

‘My dad’s alive,’ Blake adds, perhaps trying to be helpful. ‘But he lives in Queensland.’

When the book opens, we are introduced to Luke. A young man who lost his father to cancer and despite losing his dad two years ago, Luke’s grief is still raw and real. Since his dad’s death, Luke has lived in a fog and he is meandering through life with no direction. As a result, Luke spends much of his time wagging school and swimming at the reservoir. Luke doesn’t hate school but thinks it is boring and pointless. But when Charlotte, a young woman from a wealthy family, comes into his world, he realises there are worse things than school. Charlotte’s father beats his wife.

In reading a piece that Herrick wrote for Reading Time, he had this to say about choosing Charlotte’s family as victims of domestic violence.

The choice of a well-to-do family was deliberate – domestic violence affects people from all classes, races and religions. In the novel, Luke becomes a catalyst for Charlotte confronting the violence happening behind the neatly-trimmed hedge, circular driveway and security door. I chose a teenage boy and girl because this is not a women’s issue – the notion of masculinity and our propensity to violence is for us to understand and fix. I hope Luke is an example of male strength, kindness and empathy. I hope he’s a believable antidote to the destruction wrought by Charlotte’s father.

Charlotte father is a charismatic, attractive and successful man. When Luke first meets him, he questions Charlotte’s story. The man he meets doesn’t fit the version that Charlotte has given him. Luke starts to disbelieve Charlotte. Charlotte’s father is protected by his wealth, his status and his persona as a “good bloke”.  Herrick shines a light on so many facets of domestic violence. Men who hit their wives don’t always look like monsters and don’t always come from the wrong side of town.

As we all know, violence against women is about power. Herrick shows in The Bogan Mondrian what happens when the power is taken away. He encourages us to think about how we can take power from these men. Luke and Charlotte took away Charlotte’s father’s control. Herrick admits that how this was achieved in The Bogan Mondrian is not a solution to domestic violence. Domestic violence is complex and different for everyone experiencing it – to say that there is one solution is to simplify the issue and Herrick doesn’t want to simplify the matter. He wants to show how, as individuals and as a community, we can flip the power away from these violent men.

I’ve always admired authors who can give us fleshed out minor characters and Herrick does this beautifully. The Bogan Mondrian has a stellar cast. There is Rodney, the car thief who is both shady and kind. Luke’s best friend, Blake, who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but his goodness shines through. There is the librarian, Tracey, who shows Luke where to find information and give him moral guidance and Mr Rosetti, who is teaching Luke how to swear in Italian.

The Bogan Mondrian is a sensitive and beautiful story that highlights an issue that affects 1.5 million Australians, but most importantly, Herrick gives us Luke – a lovely young man who hopefully is our future.

Mondrian, Red, Blue, Yellow, Abstraction

 

After the Lights Go Out

lights2

Author: Lili Wilkinson

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

I was captivated by this book. I find preppers endlessly fascinating. Full-on doomsday preppers and conspiracy theorists seem driven by paranoia and pessimism and I find that sort of mindset curious.

Before I read this book, I thought that doomsday preppers were a little eccentric, maybe slightly mad. Pru’s father would certainly fit that bill, but what I also learnt is that doomsday preppers have some fantastic skills and are certainly prepared for any disaster that may prevail.

Pru, her two sisters and her doomsday prepper father live on the outskirts of Jubilee, a remote mining town in the Kimberley. The girls are home-schooled and live a relatively isolated existence as their father has forbidden any social media and they aren’t encouraged to make friends or become a part of the community. They spent most of their time learning skills and practising drills for the apocalypse. The girls humour their father, but unlike him, they don’t believe that one day the world will cease to exist as we know it.

So what happens when their dad is right? When a solar flare triggers a shutdown of all power and electronics and Pru and her sisters are thrown into a world that their father has prepared them for, or has he?

Pru’s father is away at work on the mines hundreds of miles away and Pru, as the oldest sister, must take charge and make decisions for her and her sisters. With a bunker of supplies and survival skills provided by their conspiracy-theory obsessed father, the girls know how to keep themselves safe. Pru’s dad has been prepping the girls for this event for years.

But the girls don’t think like their father and that’s where the problems arise. Pru’s dad has trained her for this event and in that training comes the mantra, ‘family first’. But Pru isn’t like her dad and she feels a connection to the people in the town. As each day passes and Pru feels the severity of the situation, she begins to wonder whether her father was right.

Would you share supplies, even if it meant depriving your family? Would you keep your family safe? Would you keep your secrets from a community that needed you? As an introvert and someone who doesn’t particularly like people, my first thought was that I would bunker down and not worry about the community. But I have to admit that Wilkinson made me question this decision and that’s the beauty of this book. I can understand Pru’s dilemma, she is following her dad’s directions and she feels an obligation to the only person who has ever taken care of her but is her dad right?

The book chronicles a disaster and its aftermath, but it is also a story of community, friendship and love. There is also a lot of humour in the book. The characters are beautifully written and you find yourself, like Pru, drawn to them. The people are realistically and honestly portrayed and Wilkinson has done an excellent job of making you care for each and every member of the community.

‘In the past,’ he says slowly, ‘the holiest priests were the ones who kept themselves apart from the world. They formed monasteries in harsh, remote places. They saw only one another, and spent their lives devoted to prayer. This, they told themselves, brought them closer to God.’ He uses a tea towel to wipe the mugs clean. ‘I respect their devotion, but honestly I think that’s nonsense. Prayer brings me comfort, but it doesn’t bring me closer to God. People do. Hard work. Helping others.’

After the Lights Go Out has a dramatic premise of a disaster placing Australia and most of the world in a situation that is scary and unthinkable for most, but like most Australian young adult writers Wilkinson writes with such humour that you find yourself laughing throughout the book. I love how Australian authors use humour to balance their stories.

Keller pulls his shirt over his head and follows her. He doesn’t react to the coldness of the water in any way, because he would think it unmanly to squeal. That’s the kind of dickhead he is.

Wilkinson is a brilliant writer. Her writing pulled me into the story and I was mesmerised from beginning to end. After the Lights Go Out is uncompromising, shocking, thrilling and yes, funny.

Lights

Wild Blue Wonder

wild2

Author: Carlie Sorosiak

Publisher: Harper Teen

Wild Blue Wonder is a quirky, original and beautiful book about grief and guilt.

The story alternates between two timelines, both narrated by Quinn. We follow Quinn in the present day during fall/winter, as well as the previous summer when Quinn’s life changed forever.

Quinn is seventeen years old and the middle child in a family that has drifted apart. As well as Quinn, there is her gay older brother Reed and her rebellious younger sister, Fern.

Quinn’s life was turned upside down when her best friend Dylan died in the summer. Dylan was adored by all three siblings and his death tore a once close-knit family apart. We find out that Quinn feels responsible for Dylan’s death and it would appear that her siblings blame her as well. She feels ostracized by not only her family but the small town that her family live within. The siblings are grieving and rather than turn to each other for support; they have decided to deal with Dylan’s death alone.

Instinctively, I roll my eyes, noticing that Fern and Reed do, too, and for a split second we forget not to smile at each other. When we remember, even the room sighs, all the hardwoods letting out a collective whoosh.

Quinn’s family owns a summer camp called The Hundreds, which serves as the setting for the majority of the book. The Hundreds is a magical place and Sorosiak makes you want to live in such a place. Her writing makes The Hundreds come alive both in summer and winter with her beautiful descriptions – blueberries grow in  winter, sick cats wander into the woods and suddenly they’re cured, ghosts wander through the camp and according to the family, an aquatic monster roams the depth of their cove.

The Hundreds, the summer camp that my family owns and operates – where we live. It’s aggressively pretty under the moonlight and dusting of snow. Small rustic cabins. A meadow of dormant wildflowers. A hundred acres of birch, ash and maple trees that whisper to one  another in the wind. No matter how green it is in June, The Hundreds is most striking in fall and winter.

In the flashbacks to the summer, we are given glimpses of life for the family before Dylan’s death. The siblings were inseparable and loving. They were the perfect family. The happiness and love you feel during the summer months contrast entirely with the emptiness, anger and despair that you feel in the winter months. Quinn was present when Dylan lost his life and she blames herself. She has decided that she is not worthy of living a happy, full life when Dylan’s is gone. Her siblings are confused and angry and all this is enhanced by the cold winter backdrop.

Wild Blue Wonder is a story of grief, but it is also a story of friendship and family. Sorosiak lightens the read by introducing us to some beautiful supporting characters including Quinn’s best friend, Korean-American Hana Chang and Alexander Kostopoulos, a Greek-British student grappling with family issues of his own. Hana and Alexander provide a humorous element to the book so that you aren’t overwhelmed by the guilt, anger and grief felt by the family characters. Also add to the mix, Quinn’s eccentric, hilarious grandmother Nana Eden who is determined to put the family back together again.

The plot is compelling and you will be drawn in by the mystery of what happened to Dylan, the fun of the summer camp, the beauty of winter in Maine and the characters who will make you laugh, cry and scream.

Sorosiak has masterfully written some likeable and well-developed characters and you will want everything to work out for them. This family deserves a happy ending. This is the first book of Sorosiak ’s that I have read and I was mesmerized by her writing.

She can write snark:

Fern can walk out of a room like she’s slamming a door in your face.

And she can write so so beautifully:

Outside it’s foggy, tendrils of haze crawling along the ground like vines. Even though the birch trees are whispering to each other, it feels empty. Beautiful, but empty. I miss the summer – the chaos of voices in the mess hall, sunshine against emerald glass, and fullness. Now the only moving things aren’t living at all: icicles on the ropes course swaying with the wind, haloed mist swirling above the wildflower meadow, and vague, shadowy shapes on the Yoga and Meditation Cabin’s porch. When I pass, they drift back and forth like splinters of moonlight, dispersing in the air as squid ink does in water.

Carlie Sorosiak, I am happy I found your beautiful book.

wild

Imposters

Author: Scott Westerfield

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

imposters

I loved Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series. I have read other Westerfield books, but none have captured my imagination as the Uglies series did.

I was pretty excited to hear that there was to be a continuation of the Uglies series consisting of four new novels, the first one being Impostors.

Set in the futuristic world of Westerfield’s Uglies books, I was hoping that this book would hold my attention as much as the original series. I enjoyed Imposters and I know that Westerfield fans will love this book and I think that he will gain a whole new readership with this series, I found it to be a good read, but I didn’t devour this book like I did the original series.

Frey and Rafi are sixteen-year-old twins and their father is a powerful and controlling man, leader of the city of Shreve.

Rafi was raised in the public eye; she is the face of Shreve. She has been taught to be the ultimate diplomat and the good daughter. She has a public profile and regularly attends parties and functions. Frey is a secret to the public. As far as the people of Shreve and other cities know there is only one daughter. Frey has been taught to be Rafi’s body double. She has been trained to ward off would-be assassins and she takes Rafi place in the public when it is deemed too dangerous for Rafi.

The twins father strikes a deal with the first family of a neighbouring city, Victoria. He wants steel and is negotiating an agreement with the ruling family. The family do not trust the twins father and ask that Rafi is sent as collateral to ensure that there’s no funny business on his part. Of course, Rafi is not sent but Frey. As far as their father is concerned Frey is disposable.

Frey is sent to Victoria. The first family of Victoria are honourable people and they live a different existence to the people of Shreve. I did enjoy this part of the story. Victoria and Shreve are ruled entirely differently and it makes me wonder what our world will be liked in the future and how different countries and cities will adapt.

Col and I walk on the street like randoms. No body armour, just half a dozen wardens blending into the crowd around us. A single drone hovers up among the pigeons. It’s probably only there to make sure I don’t run. The weird thing is, I’m more free as a hostage here than as a second daughter back home. House Palafox has no special corridors or elevators. No spy dust in the air.

My tutors explained how privacy is an obsession in Victoria. The city scrubs its data every day, forgetting where everyone went, what they pinged each other, what they made with their holes in the wall.

Shreve felt a little like a future America and Victoria felt like a European city. Westerfield through the depictions of the different cities and leadership is able to explore themes such as environmental conservation and individual freedom.

If the wardens in Shreve want to know what happened at a certain place and time, they just call it up on the city interface. They can watch from any angle, replay any sound but the softest whisper.

The book is flawlessly plotted as you would expect of a Westerfield novel. It is a book that moves quite quickly but still allows you to have an understanding of the character’s motivations (including the minor characters).

It is an impressive book by an accomplished author, but for me, it lacked the heart and emotional connection of the Uglies series.

imposter2

Grace and Fury

grace and fury

Author: Tracy Banghart

Publisher: Little, Brown

I enjoyed Grace and Fury, but it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. I was led to believe that it would be more groundbreaking. There seems to be a lot of books these days that have us believe that we are going to be thrown into a world where women have very few rights. Is this a way to remind women of how far we have come or is it because it makes for a good story? It would be nice to read a book where the men are the inferior sex or maybe where women and men are equal, but where’s the outrage in that story?

Grace and Fury is another book where female readers are meant to be incensed at the fact that women are subservient to men. It is all a little predictable. Though in saying all that, I did enjoy this book and I found it easy to read, fast-paced and gripping, but I am hoping that the next book in the series is more left of centre and takes the characters in a different direction. Grace and Fury is just another feminist story of oppression and resistance that is beginning to get a little old and unoriginal.

A story about two sisters, Nomi and Serina, who are fighting for their freedom in a world where women have no rights. One of the sisters has been chosen as a Grace (a Grace is a female companion to the royal leader) and the other sister has been sent to an island where she must fight for her life under primitive and cruel conditions.

The setting is a world with a tyrannical monarchy that makes the rules up as it sees fit. The only choices that women have in this world are servitude, factory work and marriage unless of course you are chosen to be a ‘Grace.’ A Grace is an attendant to the royal monarch and means that you and your family will be looked after. A Grace will never want for anything, but in return, she is a servant to the royal monarch in every way. She can make no choices for herself and must never refuse her royal monarch.

Serina wants to be chosen to be a Grace to the Heir of the monarch and she and her mother have spent their whole life working towards this goal. Of course, we have Nomi, the unruly rebellious sister who wants nothing but to be able to read and study like her brother. In this world, it is illegal for women to go to school or to read (sound familiar?).

Of course, nothing goes smoothly and Nomi being the wild younger sister sets off a chain of events that results in the girls being separated and facing challenges that they haven’t been prepared for in their young lives. Serina has been brought up to be a Grace and Nomi was brought up to be her sister’s maid. Neither is equipped to deal with the challenges that they are about to face.

Also, just once, I would love a character like Serina – who has trained her whole life to be a Grace to crumble under the adversity that is thrown her way, but of course, she doesn’t and she rises to the challenge – as all strong women do.  I understand what the author is trying to achieve, but I find it all a little banal and would welcome something a bit unexpected in stories like this one if only to throw the reader off balance.

I  was disappointed that considering this was meant to be a story of women empowerment that there were love stories thrown in for both girls. Though thankfully the romance didn’t take over the plot. I found both romances to be unnecessary and I think the author could have found more original ways to incorporate these men into the story.

Grace and Fury is an entertaining book and you will find it gripping and hard to put down once you start reading but if you are looking for a book with a fresh take on female empowerment than you need to keep looking.

fury

Hive – AJ Betts

Author: AJ Betts

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

I am not quite sure why I decided to buy this book.  I liked Zac & Mia (AJ Betts most well-known novel), but it isn’t one of my favourite books, so I didn’t buy this book because I loved Zac & Mia.  I think I bought it because I had just come off from reading In The Dark Spaces by Cally Black and How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (who are actually the same person but that’s another blog post!) and I was drawn in by the idea of bees (through the cover) and a new world.

It took me quite some time to get my head around AJ Bett’s strange world in Hive. I often found myself re-reading sections because I thought I had missed a critical piece of information. I struggled to understand the world that AJ Betts had created, but I am happy that I kept reading because, by the last third of the book I couldn’t put it down, I was completely and utterly immersed in this unique world.

AJ Betts builds up this world, slowly and almost hypnotically. Her writing is mesmerising and you find yourself drawn into this strange, distinctive and closed world. I have read a lot of dystopian novels over the years, but this world is utterly original.

The protagonist of the book is a beekeeper named Hayley. At first, it would appear that Hayley is quite content in her small, inflexible and strict world. An underwater world ruled over by a mysterious, indistinct council.

I am not sure whether it is because I am watching The Handmaid’s Tale, but I felt myself making many comparisons. The world is much kinder in Hive – there are no sanctioned hangings or chopping off limbs for disobeying, but there is still this sense of foreboding in the world because everything is controlled by the “council”. Three hundred people live in this constructed hexagonal world. The world is set underwater, so day and night is created with phased artificial light. Zero population growth is carefully maintained and because there are so few citizens, this is a process that is methodically followed to safeguard genetic integrity. Within the world there is a shared sense of community and purpose – everybody does what is expected of them in their job and station. No one questions the council or the way the world operates. It feels very cult-like. There is no spontaneity in the world. Every day, every hour, every second is meticulously planned. This world doesn’t like surprises. Knowledge is confined and the citizens are given a limited vocabulary. The citizens cannot read or write. Books are non-existent for the citizens because as the judge’s son says, “Books never forgot.”

I love how AJ Betts subtly allows you to feel the cult-like world that Hayley lives in.

“Solitude wasn’t a sin, but to desire it was a cause for suspicion. It could be a symptom of sickness or melancholy – or worse, madness. Solitude was frowned upon and not to be trusted.”

Hayley enjoys her role as a beekeeper and it would appear that she is quite happy with her life, but she suffers from “head pains” (migraines).  In the world that Hayley lives head pains are seen as a sign of madness and Hayley has seen what happens to those who are deemed “mad”. Hayley finds that the one place that she seems to have relief from the head pains is the engineering room, so she breaks the rules and finds herself seeking solace in the engineering rooms on a regular basis.

During one such visit, Hayley finds a drip in the ceiling and it this drip in the ceiling and her interaction with the judge’s son that makes Hayley start to question everything she knows about her world. Hayley’s questioning takes her into a dangerous place because being inquisitive is not acceptable. The council likes their citizens ignorant and docile. The more Hayley questions her world and the council the further removed she is from her safe and predictable world. Hayley’s head pains lead her to seek relief through different avenues and at times she finds herself seeing the harsh reality of her world. The more Hayley sees, the more Hayley questions. Though Hayley finds all the questions “maddening” and she wishes for a simpler life – like her fellow citizens, but Hayley can no longer go back to living in her simple, ignorant world.

“I inhaled the sweet smoke of paperbark, hoping it would calm me as it calmed the bees. If only I could fall asleep while someone took apart my world, cleaned it up and put it back together in a neater version than before.”

Hive is a cleverly written dystopian novel that will appeal to fans of this genre. Hive, though, is much more than a dystopian read. AJ Betts has carved out an intimate, intriguing world and in this world, she has placed a tenacious protagonist who is questioning everything that she knows. Hive has captured my imagination and I am very much looking forward to reading the second and final volume in the series, next year.

honey-bees-401238_960_720

The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Publisher: Freeform Books

I had wanted to read this book for a long time, so I deliberately didn’t learn much about it.  I do know that I loved the cover – beautiful and eye-catching. But as we all know, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!

The Belles is beautifully written, almost to the point where you can visually see the descriptions come off the page. Dhonielle Clayton doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Though personally,  I did love this about the book. Clayton’s words and descriptions are scrumptious. Almost every page has a description exquisite to read.

Glass canisters hold colourful liquids. Golden pins poke out of a pink velvet cushion. Carts hold tiers of pastries frosted in rose-petal pinks and pearly whites and apple reds, flutes overflow with jewel-tone liquids and sugar-dusted strawberries and pomegranates sit in glass bowls. Vases spill over with flowers in a rainbow of colours.

Though, I love the decadent and gorgeous descriptions I am not sure they will be for everyone. I can imagine after awhile that they become tedious for many readers and readers will find themselves skimming over the rich descriptions to get on with the story.

The story revolves around a land called Orleans, where everybody is born ugly – skin is grey and eyes are red. This is the natural state of the citizens of Orleans. And this is where the Belles come into play. It is their role to transform the citizens of Orleans – to keep them beautiful.

Belles are kept in seclusion until their sixteenth birthday when they are delivered to Orleans in a grand ceremony.

Descendants of the Goddess of Beauty, blessed with the arcana to enhance the world and rescue the people of Orleans.

Of course, like everything that is sought after, beauty in Orleans comes at a price – changing one’s appearance is a painful process.  The citizens of Orleans are obsessed and are willing to pay whatever price is needed to keep themselves beautiful and relevant.

Within the book, we have our flawed heroines and we have our villains. The villains in this story are cruel, twisted and dark and have an insatiable appetite to destroy and mock. The villains appear to have no redeeming features and tend to get darker and more ruthless as the book progresses.

I did find the book hard to get into and though I found the writing gorgeous, at times, though,  it did hinder the story. The book does start to get its rhythm about a third of the way through and everything starts to fall into place and you understand where Clayton is going with the story.

The story ends on a cliffhanger and it does leave you wanting more, mainly since the book’s pace develops quite quickly at the end and you are taken on quite a ride.

I do worry that Clayton will alienate a lot of readers with her rather elaborate prose (mainly male readers). I find that most males will read a book with strong female characters, but I am not entirely sure that male readers will persevere with this story. I found the cover quite beautiful and it drew me in but will it alienate male readers? Clayton wrote this book after eavesdropping on a conversation that a group of males were having, so isn’t part of the point of this book to make men understand those unrealistic standards of beauty are destructive and dangerous? How can this be achieved if men do not read this story? I don’t like to stereotype men but working in an all boys school tells me that this book will be a hard sell to young male readers.

 

The Secret Science of Magic – Melissa Keil

Melissa Keil is one of the finest voices in Australian YA fiction. Her books are always delightful, entertaining and wonderfully eccentric and The Secret Science of Magic, her third novel is no exception.

A quirky, high school romance unfolds in alternating voices of maths whiz Sophia and aspiring magician Joshua. The Secret Science of Magic is a book with a lot of heart that deals with complex questions of love, identity, friendship – sensitively and realistically.

Sophia is a fantastic and refreshing character. She is almost certainly on the autism spectrum – brilliant in science and maths but finds people challenging. Life for Sophia is not comfortable – crowds frighten her and she suffers from panic attacks. She lives inside her own head and sees the world a little differently to those around her. Sophia is authentically geeky and readers will emphasise with her anxiety.

I like that Sophia shows us that just because someone doesn’t feel comfortable around people doesn’t mean that they are shy, aloof or uninterested. Many of those on the spectrum choose to be alone, preferring their own company – a little like introverts.

“I resist the urge to remind her that I am not shy. That’s always been the conclusion most people draw about me, the simplest and least demanding diagnosis, which I rarely bother to correct, ‘shy’ is a label everyone can get on board with.”

Keil has an exceptional gift of putting together characters who are uniquely different but so well matched. Joshua is empathetic, vulnerable, awkward and romantic. He understands Sophia and Sophia needs a Josua in her life.

Joshua brings fun and joy to Sophia’s life. He uses his magic to woo her (often anonymously) and it works. It is sweet, charming and gorgeous. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like magic.

“Mr Grayson’s vintage movie projector on the back of the room starts to whirl…it floods the dreary lab with flickering light and then begins broadcasting a Dr Who Xmas special.”

Josh is unique because at school he’s a loner but he’s okay with this, he’s happy and he isn’t fazed by what other people think.

Melissa Keil has a knack for creating colourful and likeable characters that you wish you knew in real life. Her characters feel real and always are fun, engaging and intelligent.

The Secret Science of Magic is a modern classic for today’s generation. Both Joshua and Sophia are clueless about what their life after high school will look like. Keil doesn’t sugar coat the reality of what life can be like for a teenager and the confusion that occurs particularly in Year 12 where life is about to change dramatically.

What I love about Melissa Keil’s books is they sparkle and yet they have hidden depths. She always makes her books funny, uplifting but also moving and emotionally wise. She makes it look so smooth and effortless, but a book with this much heart has been written by an exceptional author.

Like her previous novels, The Secret Science of Magic is humorous, heartfelt and compelling. Once again Melissa Keil has delivered a book that is heartwarming, empathetic and often hilarious – a delightful read.

heart