Weekend at Sylvie’s…

The WeekendThe Weekend by Charlotte Wood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A searing and honest look at women’s friendships and the unseen baggage carried. A mirror that can’t be looked away from, this novel richly deserves its Stella Prize nomination. When I started it I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it as much as The Natural Way of Things and while it is different, there is a familiarity about the care Wood shows in crafting her brittle and flawed characters. Happily, amongst the devastation eventually wreaked, there is a uplift of hope in the final paragraphs, and a show of resilience that all women will recognise. Charlotte Wood is a potent force in Australian contemporary literature. More please.

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Finding her way

The Year the Maps ChangedThe Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review copy supplied by publisher.
Danielle Binks‘s debut novel is wonderful. Written with a light but confident touch, Binks draws on events and places from her childhood to infuse this coming of age story with an authenticity that is hard to deny. Having grown up in Frankston and frequently visiting locations along the Mornington Peninsula myself, it was lovely to see places I knew popping up. Sphinx Rock, Point Nepean, Sorrento and the enduring Farrell’s Bookshop were welcome touchstones all the way through.
Winnifred (Fred) is a clear and affecting character. Still working her way through the grief of losing her mother five years earlier, she struggles with changes happening in her small family. When we meet Fred, her beloved grandfather Jeff is in hospital. With his steadying presence taken away, Fred finds coping with other changes such as her father’s new partner (and her son Sam) even more difficult. Then the Kosovo refugees start arriving.
Fred’s father, Luca, is a local police officer and Fred finds herself caught up in the plight of the displaced people escaping a war zone as her father is volunteering in the safe haven at Point Nepean. As Fred’s life becomes further complicated by the pregnancy of Anika, her father’s girlfriend, she becomes more and more anxious about the fate of the refugees.
The way the author links these events, and the way they are portrayed shows her prodigious writing talent. Binks has commented that this novel was five years in the making, and the care she has taken shows on every page. Not only are the central characters convincingly realised, the supporting characters such as Fred’s teacher Mr Khouri; her friend Jed, and Jed’s mum Vi are great and have important things to add to the story. This would be a useful companion read to something like The Bone Sparrow in a school setting.
There are sad times, confusing times, happy times and most of all, a big dose of hope contained in these pages. I hope this is a huge hit for Binks because I for one can’t wait to read more of her work.
Suitable for ages 9 and up.

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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.

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.

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.

Three of a Kind

Take Three GirlsTake Three Girls by Cath Crowley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting book. There are three distinct voices telling the story, and we see events unfold from a number of perspectives that only enriches the experience. Clem, Ady and Kate are thrown together as part of a “wellness” program exercise and discover things about each other that ends up binding them together in deep, meaningful friendship. Each girl has her own baggage, and each commits herself to steadfast support of the other two.
Gender politics, sexual identity and finding one’s own path are the overriding themes here, with each girl having to make difficult and far-reaching choices about her life.
Not sure I personally would have given it CBCA Book of the Year (2018), but it certainly deserved a nomination, and it is a novel I would recommend highly for readers aged 13 and up.
There is power in this story, for everyone.

Boy Overboard

A Different BoyA Different Boy by Paul Jennings

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Jennings has done it again. This carefully crafted book has emotional resonance, complexity in narrative, and is wrapped in an engaging and approachable narrative that would suit ages 8 and up. It is a simple story, but adds complexity with alternating points of view. Anton the orphan runs away, somewhat inadvertently, and finds himself a stowaway on a ship to the “New Land”. There he meets Max, a boy who is has his own struggles – with learning and reading and life in general. Max’s mother cares for Anton, planning to adopt him as her own when they arrive at their destination. Then a near-tragedy changes everything. I don’t want to give away anything because I like to be spoiler free, but there will definitely be tugging on the heartstrings as this tale reveals its secrets to the reader.
Absolutely recommended and a lovely companion to the earlier A Different Dog by the same author.

Dem Bones….

All the Little Bones (Circus Hearts, #1)All the Little Bones by Ellie Marney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the start of a great new series by Ellie Marney. Colm and Sorsha are a hypnotic combination and the back story of being on the run was perfect to throw them together. As usual the first kiss between the two protagonists is HOT, which is an Ellie Marney speciality. Marney effectively paints a picture of circus life and show folk well, and I look forward to reading more about this cast of characters. Can’t wait for All Fall Down to drop into my Kindle!

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This one has heart

Tin HeartTin Heart by Shivaun Plozza

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marlowe, the central character in Shivaun Plozza’s accomplished second novel is a fantastic protagonist. Flawed, fragile, but ultimately stronger than she realises, Marlowe is finding her way back into the world after having a life-saving heart transplant. Obsessed with connecting with the family of her donor, Marlowe is frustrating, but also highly likeable. Her mum is a “vegan warrior” who only wants the best for Marlowe, but she also tries to be her friend a little too much. I didn’t enjoy this character as much as I hoped to, but Pip, her wonderfully eccentric and self-confident little brother is an absolute delight. I kind of wish younger kids could get to read Pip too, because he is such a positive character. As such, Pip is a great reflection of Marlowe, who is often down on herself and others much of the time. No matter what, Pip can find the good in almost everything. As Marlowe’s relationship with the sister of her dead donor develops, the reader can see there is disaster looming, and when Marlowe starts falling for Leo, son of the local butcher, there is conflict of epic proportions brewing. No more story elements for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say Marlowe has to confront more than a few personal demons and work on mending lots of fences before the story ends.
Plozza’s writing is heartfelt and her dialogue, as in her debut novel Frankie, is absolutely on point. Leo is a laconic smart arse, but has a heart of gold. Marlowe is trying to break away from her family, but ultimately loves them more than anything. The realities of an adolescent trying to find her place, and settle into it comfortably are familiar, and handled here with aplomb. Highly recommended for ages 14 and up.

Top Gear

Changing GearChanging Gear by Scot Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I see you, Scot Gardner. I see the vagabond in you; the rough and tumble philosopher; the man-boy trying to make sense of the world, even after living in it for years; the raconteur; and someone whose love of this land we call home runs as deep as the roots the trees he walks amongst. I see you because it is all here in this life-affirming, totally disarming novel. Until I finished this book today my favourite Scot Gardner book was The Way We Roll, but now it is this gem. Changing Gear is a triumph of noticing small things and showing how important they are.
Merrick Hilton is eighteen and on the verge of final exams. He exists between two houses, but is loved in both. Grieving the death of his much-beloved grandfather and feeling hemmed in by expectation (his own and those of the people around him), Merrick takes off on his trusty postie motorbike and heads into the landscape.
This is a road trip of self-discovery, and of self-affirmation. As Merrick travels he meets Victor, a long-time wanderer and finds himself drawn to his life of walking and camping as the landscape dictates. Victor and Merrick settle into laconic patter with ease and Merrick finds himself letting go of things he had thought to be important, and learning to value simpler things like a decent cup of tea, succulent sun-warmed strawberries and the companionship of someone with no expectations of him at all.
The questions Merrick asks himself are timeless: am I enough? Am I gay? Will I ever get laid? What comes after school? How do I recover from the loss of a loved one/best friend? His journey (ugh, hate that word, but it applies here) brings him some answers and gives him the courage and tenacity needed to find the rest.
No spoilers here, but I urge you to read this book – if you are a teenage boy, are raising teenage boys, know a teenage boy, or wondered what it is like to be one. My Aussie YA of the year so far, no doubt. Thank you, Scot Gardner, for giving us yourself in Merrick – and Victor – and showing how good writing and compelling characters can help shape confused boys into decent, caring young men.
For ages 13 and up.