A Riotous Romp

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings, #1)The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a corker. A fun romp with the dissolute and self-centred Monty and his faithful and close confidante, Percy. Along for the ride is Monty’s sister Felicity who is not your average Regency chick. After embarking on their Grand Tour, things go horribly awry for Monty and his party when he decides, out of spite, to pilfer a small box from the home of a French Minister, the Duke of Bourbon. Their trip turns into a daring and breathless chase across France, Spain and Italy as they are robbed, kidnapped and enlisted as pirates along the way.
Monty and Percy are developing a close relationship, closer than society would like and, to make things even more complicated, Percy reveals he is epileptic – an affliction that will see him thrown into an asylum.
Lee maintains a good narrative pace, and the characters are engaging and likeable. The historical details feel accurate and cover a wide variety of issues of the period. Of particular interest are the treatment of black people such as Percy, and conventions around the roles of women such as Felicity. Monty is the lens the reader sees these things through, and he learns as we learn.
Heartily recommended for ages 14 and up.

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Aces High

All Aces (Circus Hearts, #3)All Aces by Ellie Marney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my favourite in the Circus Hearts series so far. Contortionist Ren and card-sharp Zep are a great combination. Both trapped in some way by family ties, looking to make their own way, on their terms, in a hostile world that seems to put obstacles up at every turn. Zep is smart, sexy, sensitive, and – despite having the despicable Angus Deal for a father – a straight shooter. Ren is struggling to prove to her family that circus life is what she wants and is a worthwhile career option. She is also recovering from severe smoke inhalation from a fire; a fire Zep Deal saved her from.
Zep and Ren develop an unstoppable attraction and along the way they put themselves in danger to make sure Angus and the saboteurs from the past two novels, go to prison for a long time.
The beautiful, vulnerable, but resilient Ren and the savvy, handsome, and protective Zep are the best romance in this series yet.
More please!

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.

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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Surviving the dark

After the Lights Go OutAfter the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Doomsday preppers…riiiight….I was not sure if I would enjoy this as much as Lili’s other novels. Sure, I knew it would be well-researched, and the writing would be impeccable, but preppers? I shouldn’t have worried. From the first page I was drawn in and couldn’t wait to know more. Pru and her sisters, twins Grace and Blythe, live with their Dad in the remote town of Jubilee. In the first pages of the book we see the girls dodging intruders and threats, but eventually learn it’s a drill their father makes them do on a regular basis. Already the reader is made to feel uneasy because Pru is a doomsday prepper, or at least the child of one, and they are not necessarily known for their rational view of the world. Having a possibly unreliable narrator just serves to make the story more interesting. Then, the unthinkable (except for preppers) happens. There is a massive disastrous event and all of a sudden nothing that relies on electricity, or that has circuitry, works. No cars, no phones, no radio, no TV. No electric cooking, etc. To make matters worse, there’s been an explosion at the mine where Rick, the girls’ Dad, works and only a few have survived. The girls are on their own, in their bunker, with only each other to rely on. “Family comes first” their father has drilled into them since their mother left, and the girls are determined to survive, even if it means denying the other people in town much-needed assistance. When someone tells the other townsfolk of the girls’ secret, things take a turn. I will not spoil the rest of the story, but this book is an absolute page-turner. Survival, romance, betrayal, violence, death, redemption – it’s all there and Wilkinson writes her narrative with admirable restraint. There would be a tendancy for someone less experienced to pump up the hyperbole and drama, but Lili Wilkinson allows the drama to develop from small things- things that become huge in remarkable and terrifying circumstances. If you like gritty and realist fiction with a dytopian edge, this is for you.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.

Glowing prose

White NightWhite Night by Ellie Marney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was excited when this book landed at my local bookshop. Anything new from Ellie Marney is always going to be good, but this is great. Still set in rural Australia, in the fictional town of Lamistead, this is a terrific YA realist novel with a message that doesn’t beat you around the head.
Bo is approaching the end of his schooling and trying to decide whether to follow his gut and study subjects that will lead to him becoming a chef, or stay with what is expected and focus on sports and things his Dad will approve of. New girl Rory comes into his life, after being home-schooled forever, and everything gets turned on its head. Not only has Bo fallen hard for Rory, she lives in a community called Eden, which is about saving the planet – and Bo find himself drawn to their message (and Rory). Toss in a family secret that has Bo doubting everything he thought he knew about his parents, a friend going through a rough time at home at the hands of an abusive parent and sibling, and the imminent closure of the local skatepark, and you have the ingredients for an engaging and involving novel that hits all the right notes. The developing relationship between Bo and Rory is believable and sweet, and all the bit players like Sprog, Lozzie and Cam are terrific too. I wrote about this novel as a classic example of YA realism for a Uni essay this year and got 95%. Need I say more! Read it – you won’t be sorry.

Two Worlds in One

AfterworldsAfterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scott Westerfeld has taken two genres and meshed them together to create a novel that, whilst requiring concentration, is still great fun to read.
There are parallel stories going on here.

Story 1: Darcy Patel has written her very first novel, Afterworlds – a supernatural romance/suspense story. She is eighteen and bashed the book out in a month. Now, she has a two-book deal, and a massive advance to finance her first move away from home – to New York City – to work on the rewrites and start fleshing out “Untitled Patel 2”.

Story 2: Lizzie is the survivor of a terrorist attack at an airport. She survives this attack by playing dead, and unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the Underworld – the land of the dead. There she meets the strange and alluring Yamaraj – and romance is born.

This idea is very cleverly pulled off by Westerfeld. He gives us enough of each story in the alternating chapters to want to read on. I thought I would find this format tedious and I struggled intially to engage with the characters (and I still don’t think I fully engaged with them), but there was enough to keep me interested all the way through to the end.

Darcy’s story gives fascinating insight into the world of YA publishing and the personalities and processes that personify it. Lizzie’s story, to me, felt the more forced of the two and I did not find myself as immersed in her world and story as I did in Darcy’s.

Still, Scott Westerfeld writes well – it is clear he loves his characters and we are taken along for a very entertaining ride.

Recommended for ages 14 and up, due to some of the content and concepts.

A Great Vintage

Going VintageGoing Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lindsay Leavitt has written a little gem. Going Vintage has a great style that really captures the inner voice of a teenage girl without being sappy or patronising. Leavitt also manages to impart a little wisdom without being preachy or ramming it down one’s throat, which is where many other writers of YA or children’s lit fail.

Central character, Mallory, is likeable and sympathetic – she has been cheated on by her boyfriend who also has an online girlfriend. After she breaks up with Jeremy, Mallory finds a list written by her grandmother when she was Mallory’s age and it inspires her to try living “60s style”. To do this she disconnects from social media, her moblie phone and her computer. The consequences of this, at school , at home and in her friendships and relationships are more far reaching than she could ever have realised. Mallory’s sister, Ginnie, is her partner in this experiment and proves to be a feisty, strong and steadfast friend too. As the days roll by, Mallory discovers secrets and talents about herself and those around her. The dumping of technology changes her life, not just her love life, and everything becomes harder and challenging. Her parents are fighting and her Mum is secretive, Jeremy is begging her to take him back, Ginnie is looking for her first steady boyfriend, Mallory’s grandmother seems to be pushing her away and then there is Oliver, Jeremy’s cousin. His funny, gorgeous, hipster cousin. Where does he fit in to all of this? Mallory has had a tendancy in the past to quit when things got the better of her, will she quit this time?
As usual, no spoilers, but I can guarantee you will enjoy this tale of romance, family and life choices. A great book for girls who are trying to find out who they are, and for boys who want to know those girls better!
For ages 12 and up.

Wrong boy, right book.

The Wrong BoyThe Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hanna Mendel is living in a ghetto in WWII Hungary. One horrible night she and her family are rounded up and thrown onto a truck bound for Auschwitz. This is not what Hanna had planned for her life, and things are about to take an even more unexpected turn.

Hanna, her sister Erika, and her parents have managed to remain happy, after a fashion, since being made residents of the ghetto. Food is meagre, but they get by, and Hanna is still able to practise on her beloved piano. She had planned to become a concert pianist, but those plans had to change when the Jews in her town were made prisoners in their own homes. Late one night the Nazis enter her house and tell Hanna and her family that they are closing the ghetto and they are being “resettled”. Before the soldiers return to take them away, Hanna’s father takes them all into the back garden and silently counts out steps, holding his hands up with numbers to let them know how many steps he has taken. He buries the family’s valuables in the earth and makes sure everyone knows where it is – all in total silence. Hanna has no idea how important this simple ritual will become for her.

At the last minute, as the soldiers are forcing them all out the door the next day, Hanna runs back to her piano and yanks off the loose C-sharp key her father never got around to fixing. Erika helps her to sew it into the lining of her jacket so she can keep it with her. Forced onto a crowded train car, with nowhere to sit and surrounded by 200 people, Hanna and her family endure a nightmarish journey to their new “home” Auschwitz Labour Camp. In the Camp, life quickly takes bad turn after bad turn for Hanna and her family. Her father is sent to another part of the Camp and they never see him again. Hanna’s mother increasingly disassociates herself from reality, reminding Hanna to practise her piano and planning her next recital. Erika becomes her rock and someone who sees the ugly truth about where they are. Mistreated by the Jewish guard in her dormitory, starving and filthy, Hanna grasps at the opportunity to play the piano when she gets it. Only one problem – she is to play for the Commandant in his house.

When she “audtitions” for the Commandant in his house, Hanna thinks she has no chance of being selected, but the Commandant’s son, Karl, chooses her. This decision will change the course of her life – not only in the camp, but for the rest of her life – period. She receives new clothes. but she can only wear them in the Commandant’s house. Hanna receives extra rations, which she tried to share with her sister, only to find her sister is persecuted by the rest of the female prisoners for having extra food. Hanna’s life is lived between the house and the camp. The Commandant likes her piano playing and she is there a lot. His son Karl usually sits in the corner, sullen and not making eye contact with her at all. She thinks he hates Jews. She is wrong.

I don’t want to tell you any more of the plot because it is yours to discover, but the second half of the book becomes filled with suspense and tragedy. I was unable to put it down for the last 80 pages or so – I just had to find out what happened. This is not an easy book to read at times, but it is sensitively written and Hanna is a fantastic, real, central character. The story raises all sorts of questions about people’s expectations of one another based on the most basic of details and also about how just one person can make a difference. This book will stay with me for a long time.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

No Fault in These Stars

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hazel’s mum thinks she is depressed. She is almost seventeen. She hardly eats anything. She sleeps a lot. She keeps reading the same book, over and over. Oh yeah, and she has cancer. Then Hazel meets Augustus.

At her parent’s suggestion, Hazel attends a Kids with Cancer support group. Here she meets, Isaac, a boy with eye cancer, Patrick, the preachy group counsellor, and Augustus. To say much more about this book would be to spoil the treasures within – take my word for it, it is full of treasures. The relationship that develops between Hazel and Augustus (Gus) is real. It has prickles and softness, happiness and sadness, triumph and tragedy. In this novel, John Green has captured a brilliant, brittle, sparkling moment in the lives of his protagonists and we are swept along and buoyed by its depth and poignancy. Everyone, from Hazel’s loving but flawed parents, to Peter Van Houten, the boorish, drunken author of Hazel’s favourite book, is drawn from a place of truth. Gus is a hero any girl would fall for – intelligent, funny and pensive; and Hazel is a feisty, independent and fragile heroine. I could not put it down for 2 days, and when I did I felt better for having known them both. In years to come, I think this will be hailed as a young adult classic, but it is so much more than that. It is a book about living and dying, about how the living approach dying and the dying approach living. I could write for hours about it, so you had better just go ahead and read it.

For ages 13 to 103.