Welcome to Hell

Welcome to OrphancorpWelcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is one I had been wanting to read for some time and I was not disappointed. Ward’s depiction of a world where children are a commodity to be bought, sold and treated as merchandise is chilling and brilliantly realised. Mirii is a damaged and defiant protagonist. Having survived as a child of the industrial, government-sanctioned orphanage, Mirii is weeks off turning 18: the age where she will be released into the outside world to fend for herself. Within Orphancorp Mirii has used her time to educate herself (as much as the system will allow her to – an ignorant slave is easier to control than an educated one), and to refine her tattooing skills so she has something to keep her alive when the time comes. When Mirii meets Vu, and finds herself in a mess of trouble not all of her own making, it looks like she might not even make it out of Orphancorp alive.
This is a raw, gritty and wholly affecting novel. There is disturbing violence, perpetrated against children by adults, and by children on each other. It’s a dirtier Hunger Games in many ways. Damage and despair are all around Mirii – from the erratic and aggressive Freya, to the sensitive and wide-eyed Cam, and of course Mirii’s lover, Vu; there is always a sense of oppression and sadness. That does not mean this novel is without hope – all the characters, even the very damaged Freya, have a vision of what they want their lives to be. For some it’s just to survive to “ageing out”; for others it’s reconnecting with friends and loved ones on the outside; but everyone has something they are clinging to. Just as we all do in our own lives in some way.
I can’t wait to read the sequel, Psynode.
Recommended for ages 14 and up – mainly because of the violence.

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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.

The word is suspense

Every Word (Every, #2)Every Word by Ellie Marney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Watts and Mycroft are back, this time with a mystery that takes them to London, scene of Mycroft’s parents’ death in a car accident, and a case with many parallels to that incident. This mystery is more complex and sinister than the first, but still believable. Watts and Mycroft come across as such authentic people, it all makes sense. Mycroft is still trying to distance himself from Rachel, trying to protect her, but inexorably drawn to her.

Watts and Mycroft have chemistry, HOT chemistry, but it never gets in the way of the story. I admire the restraint shown by Ellie Marney in not taking things too far too early. It would be easy to do because Marney writes these scenes so well, but she holds off just long enough.

This overseas adventure leaves both Mycroft and Watts with emotional scars, to be dealt with in the next novel, Every Move. I look forward to reviewing it here soon.

A fine bromance

The Way We RollThe Way We Roll by Scot Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Scot Garner is an optimistic person. I know this because no matter what he puts his characters through, no matter how bleak things look for them at the start, he always manages to end his novels with a feeling of hope.
Will, a former private school student and former resident of Garland, is a trolley jockey who works at the local shopping centre. He has just been partnered with Julian, a former juvie from West Tennant. On the surface it appears they are complete opposites and when they brawl in the carpark over a found purse, it looks like their friendship is over before it’s begun.
Of course it’s not, and so begins a bromance of epic proportions. Julian invites Will to leave his “home” under the bowling alley and stay at his place, with his mum, Mandy and brother, Duane. Will moves into the spare room and slowly the boys learn more about each other and worlds collide.
Gardner has written some fantastic characters in Will and Julian. I have a soft spot for Julian. He has a rough, street-smart facade, but he is kind, funny and deep down he really cares about people. Will is troubled, secretive, and estranged from his father, but he is a loyal friend to Julian and also to the rest of the guys in the trolley crew. Mandy, Julian’s mum, is a totally believable adult character. Sometimes the “grown-ups” in YA novels are bit players, but Mandy is full of life and good advice, and love for her boy Julian. Nishi, Julian’s steadfast and perky girlfriend, is also really well-drawn. I want to be friends with her – she’s a keeper.
Make no mistake, this book is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are hard, gritty issues at play here, but the relationship between Julian and Will, and the way it changes both their lives for the better, shows just how redemptive real, true, solid friendship can be.
When the traitorous conduct of Will’s father is finally revealed, you will, I guarantee, shake your head. There is betrayal, love, sadness, injustice and, ultimately, hope in this novel. You will fall in love with these boys and their circle of friends and family, and you will urge them on to bigger and better things as I did.
Show this book to boys 13 and up, and show it to girls 13 and up too. It’s a corker.

On Target

First Person ShooterFirst Person Shooter by Cameron Raynes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I wake to the fig tree rattling its fruity thumbs against the gutter outside my window and lie there, thinking good thoughts…” p.3
When I read the opening line of Cameron Raynes’s new YA novel, I knew I was in good hands. I could immediately hear that sound and imagine the tree, and I knew it was an Aussie summer. Raynes’s descriptive language in this book is wonderful. He captures so well the inner voice of his protagonist, Jayden, who is constantly battling with a stutter and the bullies and sapped confidence that so often accompany such a condition. Jayden has no stutter in his narrative voice, when he is talking to the reader, at least, and we see a smart guy who never really gets the chance to show it because his mind won’t let him. He describes the worst thing about stuttering as “that horrible moment when a person turns away from me. As if…they can’t bear to look.” The next worst is “the way it makes me look timid and frightened.” (p. 12)
Jayden lives in a town where shard (Ice) is an industry and two families rule the roost. There is a war brewing between these families and the town is worried about being caught in the middle. Jayden’s best friend (and developing love interest), Shannon, is awaiting the release of her mother from prison after her mother, Madeleine, shot her abusive husband. There is a lot of tension surrounding this impending event because the dead man’s brother, Pete, is a psychopath intent on revenge. Pete is a spectre hanging over everyone’s heads because the town knows he will show up when he knows Madeleine is back in town.
Jayden plays first person shooter video games such as Call of Duty, to let off steam. He has a lot of pent up frustration surrounding his stuttering and the unwanted bullying from Thommo, who is related to one of the drug cooking families. These are a big part of his life, to the detriment, sometimes, of things like school work. His father does not approve of him playing them so often, but he also does nothing decisive to stop it either. Both of them are still suffering the death of Jayden’s mum a few years earlier. Jayden’s dog, Charlie, is dying and the way Jayden takes care of him is touching and poignant. His neighbour, Nigel, a veteran, is also dying and Jayden and Shannon take turns looking after his chooks and both visit him regularly. Nigel is the wise man of the piece, offering many pieces of sage advice and has already held his own wake so he could see all the people who are important to him and say goodbye.
From all this, you are probably thinking this book is a bit of a downer. It is so far from it. This is a life-affirming book, a story full of characters to cheer for – especially Jayden and Shannon. Shannon is courageous and caring; Jayden is intelligent and resourceful and they make a great pair. Jayden and Shannon do something that will force the hand of the rival drug gangs, and it sets in motion a series of confronting and life-changing events for both of them. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but if you are anything like me there are tears of rage and sorrow ahead.
If you know anyone who stutters, I would point them to this book – it is certainly a well-crafted depiction of what it is like to deal with a stutter daily, in everyday situations. I think Raynes really captured the feeling of utter frustration of one’s body (in this case your mouth) not doing what you are telling it to do, and how it impacts on the other parts of your life.
This book would be suitable for mature 14 year olds and up.

The sky’s the limit

Pieces of SkyPieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tears in my cereal this morning as I finished Trinity Doyle’s debut novel. What a moving story. Lucy’s brother, Cam, drowned a couple of months ago. Before that, Lucy was a champion backstroker. Now, she can barely look at the pool, let alone get into the water. Her whole life has been the pool, but now she must find other things to fill it. Drifting aimlessly, she is drawn to her ex-best-friend, Steffi, who has turned into a bit of a wild child. There is also Evan, the new boy in town, who Lucy can’t stop thinking about. Complicating things is Cam’s best mate Ryan, for whom Lucy carries a smouldering torch.
One day as she goes through Cam’s things looking for answers, Lucy finds his mobile phone. Someone has been sending cryptic poetic messages to it – seemingly romantic messages. Lucy is determined to find out who the mystery texter is and along the way finds out more about her brother – and herself – than she bargained for.
I found the developing relationship between Lucy and Evan very believable in this novel. Evan is just the right blend of cool and nerdy and intriguing, whilst Lucy is messed up, lost, smart and looking for love. I also loved Lucy’s caring, distant, flawed parents. Her mum is devastated by the loss of her son – not knowing how to take a step forward. Her dad reminded me of my own father – head down and focus on anything except the huge hole in his life with his son gone.
This is a beautiful first novel, full of emotion, raw and pure, with a lyrical and uplifting ending. Read it. It will make you love life more.

For ages 14 and up

Clear as day

Are You Seeing Me?Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Perry has a brain condition that can cause him to feel anxious or upset in different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and sometimes it results in inappropriate behaviours. I appreciate your understanding and patience.”
Perry Richter and his twin sister, Justine, are going on a holiday to Vancouver. Perry is a young man with Asperger-like behaviour and Justine is his principal carer since losing their father to cancer four years earlier. Everywhere they go, whenever they meet new people this is the spiel she gives them in an effort to navigate their way through life’s necessary processes. The trip is a last “fling” before Perry enters Fair Go, an independent living program for people with similar conditions to his. Justine has left her boyfriend, Marc, behind to see how things feel without him – to get some breathing space. Relationships are examined and questioned right through this novel as we see the events unfold from each twin’s points of view. We hear from Perry what he thinks about his sister, earthquakes, sea monsters and their Dad’s passing; Justine tells us about her frustrations with Marc and her love and admiration for her brother and her contempt for the mother who abandoned the family when she and Perry were young.
Justine has arranged for a meeting with her mother, who now resides in Canada. Wanting to reconcile with her children, Leonie is a fragile, guilt-ridden woman who genuinely wants to make amends for fourteen years of radio silence, but Justine is not going to make it easy for her and is determined that Perry will not be hurt. As the novel unfolds, we see Justine is dealing with issues of her own – of control over her own life, of committing to someone other than Perry, and of course about letting Perry find his way. In many ways Perry seems the stronger of the two – because his condition allows him to be removed from “grand” emotional expression.
Perry is a young man of great intelligence who only wants the best for the sister he loves deeply. He knows that she feels obligated to look after him, that he does need someone to help him, but he worries that Justine is losing herself in caring for him all the time. Perry is insightful about other people’s emotions and reactions which enables him to sometimes predict their behaviour – something he says is “only logical” when you look at all the information.
Things come to a head when Perry and his mother have a day together without Justine, and for a moment it seems that all is lost. Everything seems to be turning bad and then a seismic shift of events turns things in a different direction. Earthquake metaphors are used really effectively in this novel – the ground moves under the feet of these characters a few times through the story. The other device Groth uses really well is Perry’s love of action hero Jackie Chan. There is a sequence towards the end of the book (spoilers, so no detail) that is just fantastic. Darren Groth is clearly a Chan fan and he uses it to his advantage really well,
Are You Seeing Me? has a big heart – huge – and it deserves to be read by a wide audience. I look forward to the next book Darren Groth has up his sleeve.
For ages 14 and up.

Take a deep breath…

Every Breath (Every #1)Every Breath by Ellie Marney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had Every Breath on my to-read list for a long time, and after meeting Ellie Marney at the Reading Matters conference I made the decision to READ it. I am so glad I did. It is a great mystery novel with a nice raw edge to it. Set in Melbourne, this mystery follows neighbours (Rachel) Watts and (James) Mycroft in their investigation of the death of a homeless friend, Dave. The police investigation, headed by Detective Pickup (great name), is looking at the death as a “sport” killing of opportunity. Mycroft and Watts think there is more to it, and so begins the fast-moving story of their own investigations into the killing.
Watts is a girl who is still trying to find her feet after moving to the city from the country, still trying to find her space and where she fits in to the rapid pace of her new home. Mycroft is a guy who thrives on city life, has a chequered past and seems to teeter on a knife edge most of the time. The way Marney builds the relationship between these two is fabulous, not going too over the top and highlighting their strong friendship before exploring anything more between them.
No words are wasted in this novel, not by the characters and not by Ellie Marney. Her language is precise and effective at every turn. The minute I read the word “cogitating” in the novel I knew Marney was a quality writer. It seems small, I know, but many writers would use this word when it did not apply or add anything to the story. When used to describe Mycroft thinking, it totally nailed it for me. I could absolutely picture him in my mind, cogitating.
Watts starts this story as an angry young woman – who is finding it very difficult to cope with her family and her sense of displacement. She and Mycroft are like opposite sides of a coin, joined together along the edges. Their fates are tied together for better or worse. Mycroft is a wonderful character – at once charming and infuriating and a little scary. We discover his parent’s death in a carjacking has made his behaviour erratic and he has been a patient in a mental hospital. He is struggling as much as Watts. They are both displaced in some way. Through his friendship with Watts, Mycroft learns he can rely on people other than himself, without sacrificing who he is.
The supporting characters are great too. Mai is my favourite, the legal studies student with all the answers when it comes to police procedure, she is cute and quirky and I hope she features in the next book too.
There are a number of fantastic set pieces throughout the novel, including a breathtaking scaffold climb that jangled the nerves of this acrophobe! As the clues fall into place, Watts and Mycroft race off to find the last piece of the puzzle, and walk into a life-threatening situation.
The scenes where Mycroft and Watts confront the murderer and are placed in mortal peril (can’t tell you what, exactly – spoiler, but WOW!) are really tense, and tautly written too. Once I started this I couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait now to read Every Word.
Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Pause for thought

The PauseThe Pause by John Larkin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Larkin blew me away a few years ago with The Shadow Girl, so I was keen to read this new novel. I was not disappointed.
Declan is a teen who, on the surface, seems to be well-adjusted and living a wonderful life. He has great mates, a loving family and a beautiful girlfriend. There is little to betray what is gong on underneath the surface. When his girlfriend, Lisa, is sent away to Hong Kong, Declan’s world unravels. Feeling depressed and in despair, he makes a split-second decision to throw himself in front of a train – and then time separates. In a “Sliding Doors” moment, one version of Declan jumps, and dies. A warning here, the description of his death is graphic and horrific – there is no glossing over what happens to a body when it is hit by a train. This Declan’s life ends.
The other version of Declan pauses, just for a second and is pulled back by the concerned people on the platform. They call an ambulance and Declan is taken away for assessment. The rest of the novel follows this “other” Declan – through psychiatric evaluation, trying to rebuild his relationship with his shell-shocked family, and coming to terms with how he ended up depressed enough to contemplate suicide in the first place.
This is a “what if” story, and Larkin tells it with humour and humanity. Declan’s parents are flawed, but well-meaning and their relationship gets put under the microscope as much as Declan’s life does. As the months pass by, it is clear that there are things in Declan’s past that have had a greater influence on him that anyone could have imagined, and that there are things that have been swept under the carpet by everyone around him. As the secrets unfold, you wonder how Declan has held it together for so long, and all the reader’s sympathy lies with him, as it should.
I found this an emotional read, particularly having lost a loved one to a similar incident which took Declan’s life, but it is well worth the time. John Larkin has written an important book for young adults: about choices; about love; about secrets; and about looking after yourself – telling someone when you are feeling bad, sad or alone.
I really think this book could save a life, if put into the hands of someone who thinks they have no other options. It is a life-affirming story, dark and sorrowful, but full of hope and light too.
For ages 13 and up – I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Hannah the Heartbreaker

The ProtectedThe Protected by Claire Zorn My rating: 5 of 5 stars I read this book in 3 hours. It’s that good. Hannah’s sister Katie is dead. Killed in a car accident in which Hannah’s dad drove, and Hannah was a passenger, the accident happened almost a year ago. With a court case approaching the pressure is on for Hannah to remember what happened in the accident. But she can’t. Or won’t. Hannah’s mum spends most of her days in bed,m not talking to anyone. When she does venture out an argument with Hannah’s dad usually ensues and it is a miserable existence for all of them. We learn that Hannah has been bullied ever since starting high school 3 years ago and that Katie was not the sister she should have been. In fact, Hannah’s life was a living hell and Katie was a bystander – not bullying, but not standing up against it either. Through a series of flashbacks we learn just how horrible Hannah’s life was – until her sister died and everyone started treating her differently. Hannah is one of the most hearbreaking characters I have read in reent years. She is gentle, sensitive, intelligent and good listener, but also timid and socially awkward. As I read about this girl who is not understood by anyone in her family I remembered the teasing I faced in my early high school years – about being the tallest, the one with the biggest boobs, and the nickname that stuck right up until year 12, FA (Fat Arse). Hannah doesn’t reach out to her parents for help, because she knows that nothing they can do or say is going to make a difference. She wants to break free of her isolated life, but can’t because she is held back by her memories of Katie and the accident. Hannah felt very real to me and Claire Zorn writes her perfectly. The way she talks, the way the other characters talk, feels authentic. Anne, the school counsellor, is wonderful – the right mix of concern and warmth, without being schmaltzy and Mrs Van, Hannah’s next door neighbour is a peach. Josh, the developing love interest, is great but he was a little Augustus Waters for me at first. He got better as the novel went on and seemed a perfect foil for Hannah in the end once his posturing was over. This is a great book for anyone who has experienced the pain of not quite fitting in, and the tiny fluttering joy of finding someone who wants to stick around and help you find a niche. This book has been long-listed for the 2015 Inkys and I am confident it will be on the shortlist – you read it here first. Suitable for ages 13 and up. Highly recommended.