Winter has come

The Road to Winter (Winter, #1)The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book took me by surprise. I was expecting another tired,formulaic dystopian novel and what I got was a well-written, thoughtful and genuinely engaging story populated with vivid and interesting characters.
Finn is a boy living on the edge. After his family, most of his coastal town and indeed it seems Australia, has fallen to a devastating disease, he survives. A loner before the pestilence, Finn has adjusted to his new life with his dog, Rowdy, killing his own food, growing some, and trading with his surviving neighbour, Ray, who grows more veggies and has chooks. Ray and Finn stay out of each others way most of the time, because there is another group of survivors, Wilders, who think they run the place. They treat women (who are rare now as the disease hit them worst) as possessions, tagging them with ID chips to keep tabs on them.
With Finn’s recount of how the disease took hold, and the breakdown of society that followed, Smith has a deft touch. Enough detail to be compelling, but nothing gratuitous either. We understand that Finn has survived with a combination of cunning, stealth and, it must be said, some fortuitous planning by his parents. And I have to say, Rowdy is the PERFECT name for Finn’s dog – inspired writing right there!
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Rose arrives. Nineteen year old Rose is a terrified escapee from the Wilders compound, with a secret I won’t reveal here – but it’s a doozy. She and her sister, Kas, have become separated and Rose believes the Wilders have recaptured her. Begging Finn to help her rescue Kas, Rose wins him over and they set off on a dangerous mission to take her back. The Wilders are in pursuit of Rose, so Finn is left with no choice but to help her – to save himself as well.

I like Finn – he is independent, but vulnerable – with a yearning for his old life characterised by sneaking away to surf.

Something that kept me in touch with my old life. It’s dangerous, not because of anything in the water but because of what’s on the land – who might arrive in town while I’m caught up enjoying myself. But it’s a risk that’s worth taking to stay sane.

With its boy-and-his-dog, a girl appearing from nowhere, and band of rabid testosterone-driven yahoos, this book had shades of Patrick Ness‘s The Knife of Never Letting Go, so if you enjoyed the Chaos Walking series, you might like this one. I am interested to see where the next installment takes us, as our protagonists are in more peril than ever by the end of the story.

Bring on book #2!
For ages 13 and up

Take a breath…

A Shadow's BreathA Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review copy provided by author in exchange for a fair review

Tessa’s life has been pretty crappy for a long time. Her beloved Dad had an undiagnosed mental illness, where he changed almost overnight into a depressed and erratic shadow of his former creative self. He committed suicide a few years ago. Her mum, a sad and lost alcoholic, has a new partner, “the arsehole”, who likes to bash her and abuse Tessa too. She used to draw but the arsehole tore up a year’s work in a rage one day and she has not drawn seriously since.
Finally, after a terrifying close call, her mum finally kicked out the arsehole, changed the locks and is drying out. It’s still all new, but Tessa’s life is turning around. She has a caring boyfriend, a loyal best friend and now her Mum is being motherly after a long emotional absence.
And then the accident happens. Nick, Tessa’s boyfriend, misjudges a corner as they are driving in his car and now they are trapped in the wreckage at the bottom of a gully outside town. Now it’s a true battle of survival.
Nicole Hayes writes great contemporary fiction. The voices of these characters, particularly of Tessa, her mother Ellen, and her friend Yuki ring out loud and true. The story is told by switching back and forth between “now” (the aftermath of the crash) and “then” what preceded the crash. I think this device is used well – to illustrate how this battle for life after a terrible car crash and Tessa’s car crash of a life are equally devastating. It is clear Tessa is emotionally damaged courtesy of her past home life, but we are able to dig deeper into that thanks to the benefit of the “then” mechanism, which then helps us to understand the “now”.
As far as tone goes, I think this is closer to Hayes’ first novel The Whole of My World than her last novel, One True Thing. There is great emotional depth and exploration going on here. I feel like this is a very personal novel for Hayes. Her care in crafting the fragile but resilient Tessa, and the struggling but steadfast Ellen, in particular, is wonderful. I really liked Ellen – flaws and all, because she never gives up trying to get better, and she truly loves her daughter. Tessa is fluttering on the precipice of adulthood, but still has growing to do, and issues to confront as long suppressed memories about her father start to surface.
No spoilers here – I won’t tell you if they survive, or what the memories are – they are yours to discover as a reader. What I will say is that I feel privileged to have read this novel so early, because now I can try my damnedest to promote it to as many young adult readers as possible.
Congratulations Nicole Hayes – it’s another beautiful, true, heartfelt and heartbreaking story to add to the amazing OzYA lexicon.
For readers 14 and up.

Moving on…

Every Move (Every, #3)Every Move by Ellie Marney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is my favourite of this trilogy. Rachel really gets to take centre stage this time around, and while Mycroft is still there, this is her story I think. Mr Wild, and his nefarious cronies, have pursued Watts and Mycroft back to Australia, and the body count grows quickly as their intimidation campaign steps into high gear. Wild wants the coin Mycroft has and it appears he will stop at nothing – including killing innocent bystanders – to bring the message home.
Mike and Rachel return to Five Mile to visit the family’s former home and Harris Derwent, a good friend of Mike’s, returns with them to Melbourne to “experience” a big city. Rachel is not impressed with Harris – writing him off as a bit of a lunkhead, but he offers to be her personal trainer and she gets to know him a bit better. After her traumatic experiences in London, Rachael is experiencing panic attacks and can’t be held – not even by Mycroft. Harris helps her to work her way back from these issues, by helping to restore her confidence with physical training – and as their friendship develops Watts realises Harris has his own scars to bear.
It’s nice to see Mai’s boyfriend, Gus, pop up again in this novel and to see that he and Mai are inseparable. They are a cute couple and are moving in together. As usual, Mai is resourceful and helpful as ever – I wonder if she’ll get her own series one day?
When Mike is badly injured by Wild’s henchmen in a botched attempt on Rachel’s life, Mycroft, Rachel and Harris head to Five Mile. This is done partly to draw them away from other family and friends, but also to force a confrontation and end the torment once and for all.
As usual, Mycroft has a plan and when Wild shows up in Five Mile to claim his prize Harris and Rachel think all the bases are covered and help will be on its way. And as usual, Mycroft has some twists and turns to send their way that once again put them all in grave danger.
Harris shows what he is really made of during the final confrontation by taking a bullet and his unrequited love for Rachel is evident. Rachel gets into the action too, falling into a quarry to almost certain death.
The story resolves itself well and not no-one comes out of in unscathed, as it should be. This is gripping suspenseful writing that takes each of the main characters on a journey not only of detection and crime-solving, but also a more introspective one – of self discovering and acceptance.
Can’t wait to see what’s next from Ellie Marney.

Suitable for ages 14 and up.