You can’t choose your family…

My Sister RosaMy Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just wow. This gripped me like no other novel has for a long time. Justine Larbalestier has created a tense psychological thriller that keeps you turning the page, even though you dread what might come next.
Che is the narrator of this tale, a sensitive, troubled seventeen year old who is trapped in a family where his parents don’t understand him, and his little sister, Rosa, understands him too well. Ten-year-old Rosa is malevolent, scheming, manipulative, and looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. All her life, Che has been there – to watch over her, monitor her, and prevent her doing anything “bad”. Rosa is a deeply disturbing character, but it seems the only person in her family who really sees this is Che. Sally and David, Rosa and Che’s parents, seem incapable of believing Rosa would do anything truly evil, and Che is left in despair every time he tries to show them what Rosa is really like.
When Che’s family moves to New York for business reasons, Che is yanked away from his Australian support network, and struggles for a while to find his feet. A gym junkie, Che finds his solace in training at a local boxing gym, and it is here he meets Sojourner (Sid), a lean mean fighting machine with killer looks to match her ability in the ring. At the same time, he also starts a friendship with the children of his parents’ boss. Leilani – a girl about Che’s age, and twins Maya and Seimone, start spending a lot of time with Che and Rosa; and it is a relationship that will change all their lives forever. As Rosa becomes closer and closer with Seimone, Che feels uneasy about what Rosa might do to her twin sister Maya. For spoiler reasons I can’t say much more except: strap yourself in because this ride has more ups and downs and gasp-out-loud moments than the biggest rollercoaster.

Things I loved about this book:
* The way Che and Rosa talk to one another – chilling;
* Che and Leilani’s friendship – starts as mutual dislike and ends up fast and firm and true;
* Che’s feeling of displacement in New York, and then his gradual appreciation of its differences to Australia;
* The fact that Larbalestier doesn’t describe Sid as black; or Leilani as Korean – we just find out they are through dialogue (fantastic)
Things I hated about this book:
* That I didn’t write it!

This is a book that will leave you looking over your shoulder, and wondering about some of those kids you knew back in primary school – especially the kids everyone thought were perfect. (shudder).
Highly recommended for ages 13 and up. Very, very creepy.


A Wilder ride

Wilder Country (Winter, #2)Wilder Country by Mark Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The sequel to The Road to Winter, Wilder Country is a satisfying read. We continue following the fortunes of Finn and his companions, Kas and Willow, after their battles against the Wilders, led by the repugnant Ramage. It is about six months later and the three have survived the winter using their wits and developing survival skills, avoiding Wilders at every opportunity. As spring arrives, Finn’s attention turns to the promise he made to Rose – to find her baby, Hope. This installment centres on the search for Rose, and the blossoming relationship between Finn, Kas and Willow into a family of sorts.
I found this novel to be grittier and harsher than the first, but I think that is because things are getting tougher all over by this point in the book. Food is scarcer, weapons are used to kill in order to survive; the desperation is palpable now. Despite this, Finn remains a sensitive and caring young man – sometimes to his detriment. Kas is more pragmatic and ruthless and Willow has become an adept hunter, but still very much a little girl at heart.
I am looking forward to the third book in this series because I can see that all the threads will be deftly drawn together for what promises to be an explosive and affecting conclusion. I find all the characters, even the adults, highly believable and sympathetic (except, obviously, the evil and morally bankrupt Wilders) and I can’t wait to see how this all plays out. No more for fear of spoilers, but Mark Smith is doing a great job with these novels. More please!
Recommended for ages 14 and up.

The Darkest Night

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle, #1)Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this after reading Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman‘s Illuminae and Gemina and I was not sure what to expect. I had heard this was very different, but I did not realise HOW different until I read the first chapter. This book, centred around the complex Mia Corvere and her quest to become an assassin, is full of bloody action, shady characters, and a pace that never lets up. If you like your fantasy full of swords and sweat, this is for you! Couple that with fantastic character development and shadowy powers over darkness and you have an amazing read. I can’t wait to read Godsgrave because this certainly left me wanting more. Won’t write more for fear of spoilers, but I highly recommend this first book in the Nevernight Chronicles.
Due to some language and mature content I would suggest ages 15 and above.

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.

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.