Breaking boundaries

Land of Fences (Winter #3)Land of Fences by Mark Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great conclusion to a brilliant series. Land of Fences retained the momentum of the previous two installments in the Road to Winter trilogy, and delivered everything readers had been hoping for. Revenge, redemption, rescue and revelations are all here. A touch of sadness at the loss of some characters, but also the joy of reunions too. The developing relationship between Kas and Finn was beautifully rendered by Mark Smith, who has a light and lyrical touch when describing them together. The ongoing hardship of the displaced Sileys was also a great plot element – there are definitely parallels to be drawn in today’s cultural landscape, which makes this novel all the more believable (unfortunately). All the threads are drawn together here and while there is not a neat bow tied, all the lines lead to hope and new beginnings. Congratulations Mark Smith – this is a great addition to the #LoveOzYA lexicon, and the series an instant classic. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
For ages 13 and up.

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Say her name with love

My Brother's Name is JessicaMy Brother’s Name is Jessica by John Boyne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is important. It is raw and real and doesn’t pull any punches. The reactions of the adults are totally believable. Sam is a young boy trying to process his brother Jason’s recent revelation that he is, in fact, a girl. Their parents (mum is an MP with PM aspirations and Dad is…well, a jerk really) react with alarm and incredulity. Sam is confused and doesn’t want to lose his brother. Hurtful words are said, misunderstandings are addressed and then exacerbated, Jason/Jessica is trying to find her way in an increasingly messed up world. Jessica’s Aunt Rose, and her soccer coach, Mr O’Brien, are shining beacons of acceptance and love – and provide great counterpoints to Sam’s parents and schoolmates. I really enjoyed this novel. It’s honest and simple and does a great job. There is hope at the end, and a wonderful sense of the love of these two siblings breaking through all the other stuff and winning the day.
For ages 10 and up.

Democracy sausage FTW!

From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory VotingFrom Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting by Judith Brett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book – Judith Brett has produced a genuinely interesting account of how Australia came to be one of the few countries in the world to have compulsory voter registration, and compulsory voting. I learned a lot, and along the way I was introduced to historical figures I had never heard of until now. I would recommend this fascinating read to everyone who has even a passing interest in Australia’s history. It’s great!

What I like about this novel

What I Like About MeWhat I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I held it to my heart after I finished it because I wanted to hug Maisie, and her sister, and her friend Leila, and her mum (who was trying to grow), and Beamer and the lovely Seb. And most of all, I wanted to hug Jenna Guillaume, an emerging author who has captured parts of my teenage years so well it’s like she was there with me. I was Maisie – a big girl, a girl who felt invisible even though she took up a lot of room, a girl always needing external validation – but too afraid to try anything new or out of my comfort zone.
This book – it’s about knowing yourself, then accepting and loving yourself, and then SHOWING yourself to the rest of the world – and screw the consequences. It’s life-affirming, it’s gentle and sweet, and you must show it to every invisible girl or boy (or the ones who think they are – or should be) you know. NOW.
For ages 12 and up.

Ride the whirlwind

Still Life with TornadoStill Life with Tornado by A.S. King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A.S. King is one of my favourite US YA writers. She manages to weave fantasy and reality together so deftly you hardly notice it. Sarah, this novel’s protagonist, is a sixteen year old who is floundering. She feels lost, disconnected and uncomfortable in her own skin – so much so that she wants to change her name: to Umbrella. Little by little we see the cracks in Sarah. She starts to encounter other versions of herself, at 10 years old, 23 years old, and finally at 40 years old. Sometimes she is with all three. King lets Sarah, for the most part, push the story along – but there are periodic interjections from her mother, Helen. Helen, an ER nurse who works mainly at night, also reveals herself bit by bit and as we read we realise that Sarah might not be the only family member in crisis. Sarah’s absent brother, Bruce, begins to form in the story about a third of the way in and it is clear his expulsion from the family in contributing to Sarah’s fragile state. I don’t want to say too much because there are so many kernels of wonderful to explore in this novel. Sarah is a great character: sensitive; smart; funny and trying to find the girl she once was; just like her mother Helen. Can’t wait to read the next A.S. King on my list – Dig

The Outsider

The OutsiderThe Outsider by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I expected more scares that I got, but somehow it didn’t matter because Mr King is such a great writer of character I was completely engrossed. There is horror – the book begins with an absolutely HORRIFIC crime – but the reader quickly becomes connected to the characters, and I found myself very quickly caring about what happened to them all. I had not read the other Bill Hodges books, but I would go back to them on the strength of this novel, and he’s not even really in this one!
Holly, Hodge’s former investigative partner, is a brilliant character. I would have read this for her alone. I won’t give away too much here, because I try to be spoiler-free, but I did love the weaving of urban and ancient mythology into the storyline.
If you want a plot that slowly draws you in and then doesn’t let go, this is the book for you. One to curl up with on a rainy day (or couple of days – it’s a pretty long read) and immerse yourself in.
Recommended for ages 16 and up (there is some pretty graphic content in here).

Lost Concentr8tion

Concentr8Concentr8 by William Sutcliffe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Recently found unpublished draft from 2016)

I was incredibly disappointed with this novel. The premise held such promise – a society that could be our own right now, treating “troublesome” young people with a cheap medication en masse to keep the peace, then the drug is taken away suddenly and there are riots in the streets. The story’s focus then becomes a group of friends who take a low-level government employee hostage – because they can.
I guess part of the reason for writing this book was to show that medicating children, stifling their emotions, is a rollercoaster to nowhere, and Sutcliffe has captured that well, but I wish there was MORE. This felt like lazy writing to me and I kept hoping there would be more to it. Like some other reviewers, I was not “gripped” by this story at all, and I really had to force myself to finish it so I could review it properly. Concentr8 is full of cliches, lots of swearing and not much else. A genuine disappointment from an author who is capable of so much more.
Suitable for mature readers 14 and up (mainly because of the swearing – there’s a LOT of it)

A lively conclusion

Undying (Unearthed, #2)Undying by Amie Kaufman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The conclusion to the epic Unearthed has been worth the wait. Mia and Jules are in a desperate race against time to save Earth from an imminent Undying invasion. Stowed away on the Undying’s ancient spacecraft, Mia and Jules manage to make their way back to Earth (no details – too many spoilers) and go on the run. As they try to convince the authorities that the Undying do indeed still exist and are an exigent threat, the two adventurers develop an attraction to each other, but one that neither is brave enough to act on. The URST in this novel is great – a real bonus as it adds weight to the perilous situations in which they continually find themselves. With the help of Jules’ cousin Neal, Jules and Mia attempt to reach his Jules’ father – the one man who might be able to help them stop the invasion.
I can’t wait to see what Kaufman and Spooner come up with next. This one is a corker!

When lies become the truth

This Story Is a LieThis Story Is a Lie by Tom Pollock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an interesting read this was! Started out as one thing and then took a left turn and became something even better. Taut, suspenseful and compelling; this is a corker of a debut novel. Pollock is writing from a place of knowledge and his portrayal of Peter, in particular, is fantastic. I sympathised with his character straight away and loved his story arc as he becomes someone he never imagined he could be. There are plenty of sinister and shady support characters too, and the parental influences here are terrifying. The ending of this book left me hanging, which was absolutely by design and very cleverly done. I look forward to seeing what else comes from the mind of Tom Pollock. This is a very self-assured and breathtaking debut.

A Riotous Romp

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings, #1)The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a corker. A fun romp with the dissolute and self-centred Monty and his faithful and close confidante, Percy. Along for the ride is Monty’s sister Felicity who is not your average Regency chick. After embarking on their Grand Tour, things go horribly awry for Monty and his party when he decides, out of spite, to pilfer a small box from the home of a French Minister, the Duke of Bourbon. Their trip turns into a daring and breathless chase across France, Spain and Italy as they are robbed, kidnapped and enlisted as pirates along the way.
Monty and Percy are developing a close relationship, closer than society would like and, to make things even more complicated, Percy reveals he is epileptic – an affliction that will see him thrown into an asylum.
Lee maintains a good narrative pace, and the characters are engaging and likeable. The historical details feel accurate and cover a wide variety of issues of the period. Of particular interest are the treatment of black people such as Percy, and conventions around the roles of women such as Felicity. Monty is the lens the reader sees these things through, and he learns as we learn.
Heartily recommended for ages 14 and up.