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(Recently found unpublished draft from 2016)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)

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 Sparkling Biography

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and DisasterThe Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This biography is as illuminating about the biographer as it is of her subject. Sarah Krasnostein lays herself bare many times in this fascinating account of the life (or lives) of Sandra Pankhurst. Sandra reveals little sections of her life story to Krasnostein, forcing her to piece together all the disparate parts, sometimes filling in the blanks with her best guess. As we travel the road of Sandra’s life with her biographer, we get a definite sense of a person who has undergone terrible trauma herself, and now helps other people deal with theirs, in various ways, as her job.
Sandra is the classic unreliable narrator, sometimes choosing not to include details which Krasnostein later uncovers. The fact that any of it leads to an immensely satisfying conclusion is testament to Krasnostein’s easy writing style and willingness to “go with it” when speaking with Sandra; and to Sandra Pankhurst’s dogged determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.
Drawn to this initially because of the professional cleaning aspect (Pankhurst cleans death scenes, crime scenes and hoarders’ houses for a living), I found myself staying because I cared about Sandra, AND because I felt connected to her biographer who, by her own admission, struggles with the task she has set herself in documenting Sandra’s life.
Sandra’s clients help Krasnostein turn a light on her own life and experiences and the book is the richer for it. This is biography at its finest, despite its flaws -and it has plenty.
I can ignore the chinks in its armour, though, because I found this story compelling. I hope lots of other people do too, because as a tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming odds, it is a testament.

Shiny, shiny, right there behind me…

The Shiny GuysThe Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To echo some other reviewers of this novel – wow. This was not what I was expecting at all. Doug Macleod has penned a very sophisticated and involving story indeed. I was totally captured by the story of Colin Lapsley and the “shiny guys”.
The setting is a psychiatric hospital in 1985 and Colin is seeing things no-one else sees (shiny guys) on the periphery of his vision. His parents have hospitalised him following a family tragedy and little by little we learn about how Colin came to be where he is. Colin’s friend, Mango, has his own set of problems that mainly centre on him randomly hugging people and not letting go. It doesn’t bother Colin. Eventually Mango calms down and lets go. Then Anthea shows up. Reserved and focused on shooting 100 netball goals a day, she is drawn into Colin and Mango’s circle.
Colin is an eloquent and clever narrator and at times you start to wonder if the shiny guys are real – he certainly believes they are.
Bit by bit we learn more and more of Colin’s story, and those of Mango and Anthea. My heart cried a little bit at each revelation, as I further understood how these things had come to be.
I won’t post spoilers, as is my policy, but as I read the last pages over breakfast this morning and then reached the end, there was slamming of the book on the table and lots of “WHAT? Seriously? Aaargh!” from me. I will be interested in hearing comments about that ending from others. I loved and hated that ending simultaneously.
I can’t wait to see where Doug Macleod goes from here, because The Shiny Guys is brilliant.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.

Not as creepy as you might think…

Creepy and MaudCreepy and Maud by Dianne Touchell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was confronting for me. I can’t go into details here, but it was heartbreaking, insightful and very close to home. I loved Creepy, and the object of his obsession, Maud, but at the same time I ached for them. For their youth, for their hearts, for their minds. Dianne Touchell really lives inside the heads of her characters, which is amazing and disturbing. There are not a lot of players in this story – there is mainly just Creepy and Maud – and their parents. No-one, except Creepy and Maud (who are in separate houses), is communicating with anyone in this book – I found that unnerving. That both sets of parents could talk so much without SAYING anything real to one another, or to their children was a tragedy to me. Even Nancy, the psychiatrist that Maud sees, cannot adequately communicate to Maud’s parents the depth of Maud’s problems. Until the very end….the tiny note of hope at the end of the book was something I will cling to for a while.
Creepy and Maud certainly captures the obsessiveness of teenage love, how sometimes it can eclipse everything else in your life and consume you. It should be noted that there are elements of self-harm in this book that some readers may find hard to take.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.

Shift – where imitation is not flattery….just dangerous

ShiftShift by Em Bailey

WOW. It’s easy to see why this won the Gold Inky on Inside a Dog this year. Em Bailey has written a taut, incisive and entertaining suspense novel here. The book has a killer opening paragraph:
“There were two things everyone knew about Miranda Vale before she’d even started at our school. The first was that she had no parents – they were dead. And the second? They were dead because Miranda had killed them.”
This serves to instantly draw us in and stir our curiosity. Who is Miranda? Did she really kill her parents? Is she dangerous? Whilst the rest of the school wonders why someone “like that” would be coming to their school, Olive, our protagonist, and her friend, Ami, can’t wait to meet her.
From the beginning of this story, we know Olive is “different” to other people at her school. We discover her life is one of routines, medication and visiting Dr Richter, hinting that there may be some mental health issues and making us consider she may not be a reliable narrator. But, she has a firm friend in Ami and we realise that theirs is a very close friendship. It is established that there was an “incident” and that Ami has also been through something similar. They seem to understand each other implicitly – it is clear that this relationship is an anchor in Olive’s life and it is fun to read, too.
Olive’s family has its issues too – Dad is absent, and her Mum, a skittish online vitamin salesperson, barely seems to cope at times. Her adoring younger brother, Toby, has recurring nightmares that Olive blames herself for. Olive also states she is the reason her Dad left. Like I said – issues.
Miranda arrives and more or less blends into the background. Until she starts to trail after Katie, a former friend of Olive’s, who is part of the popular crowd. This instantly brings up more questions about Olive, who is very clearly no longer part of that group. Through a series of seemingly unconnected events, Miranda and Katie are suddenly best friends – inseparable. Ami and Olive notice things about Miranda that seem weird – her mirror eyes, her strange skin. There is a mystery to be solved here. Events begin to spiral out of control as Katie becomes thin and wan, and Miranda thrives in direct counterpoint. Olive and Ami suspect that Miranda is a shapeshifter, sucking the life out of Katie, but who can they tell? Who would believe such a thing?
I am determined not to put any spoilers in here, but this story just gets more intense, the further you go. Once I was three-quarters of the way in, I HAD to finish it.
This is the beauty of Bailey’s writing – she begins to peel back what we see, layer by layer, until we understand we are looking at the truth. The truth is sometimes not want we want to hear, nor what we expect, but the truth, in the end, is what will save you and this is proven in the satisfying conclusion to this excellent first YA novel. I look forward to the next offering from Em Bailey, but I am a little scared about where it will take us!
For ages 12 and up.