The Outsider by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I expected more scares that I got, but somehow it didn’t matter because Mr King is such a great writer of character I was completely engrossed. There is horror – the book begins with an absolutely HORRIFIC crime – but the reader quickly becomes connected to the characters, and I found myself very quickly caring about what happened to them all. I had not read the other Bill Hodges books, but I would go back to them on the strength of this novel, and he’s not even really in this one!
Holly, Hodge’s former investigative partner, is a brilliant character. I would have read this for her alone. I won’t give away too much here, because I try to be spoiler-free, but I did love the weaving of urban and ancient mythology into the storyline.
If you want a plot that slowly draws you in and then doesn’t let go, this is the book for you. One to curl up with on a rainy day (or couple of days – it’s a pretty long read) and immerse yourself in.
Recommended for ages 16 and up (there is some pretty graphic content in here).
Concentr8 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(Recently found unpublished draft from 2016)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)
This 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.
Found by Fleur Ferris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Beth (Elizabeth) Miller lives in a small town, Deni, and has just started a relationship with local boy, Jonah. When we first meet them, Beth is trying to work up the courage to tell her father, “Bear” – a local teacher and karate instructor – about her boyfriend. Beth’s Dad disappears after the appearance of a nondescript white van and from that moment on, her entire life is turned upside down and inside out. Everything Beth thought she could be sure of in her life becomes shaky as she discovers her family has been in hiding from a dangerous, vengeful criminal who has now found out where they live.
I love how Fleur Ferris throws the reader immediately into the middle of the action in this novel. We have barely met Beth and Jonah when things begin to go pear-shaped, and the pace does not let up for the rest of the 300 pages. Beth turns out to be a highly capable and resourceful girl, because her parents have always been secretly preparing in case they were found out; but she is also incredibly fragile, trying to make sense of everything that is going on AND trying to keep herself and her family alive.
Jonah is interesting too – especially because he learns things about his own behaviour (he’s a bit of a selfish prick for a while), and he has great mates like the fantastic Warra to help pull him back into line. Willow, Beth’s best friend, is also well-drawn and the conversation between the two girls feels natural and easy.
I won’t give any more plot points away, but I CAN say that just when you think you know everything, there is another surprise or shock over the next page!
Fleur has found her stride here – a great mix of excellent scene-setting, and well-paced action – and has cemented her place as a premium writer of YA thrillers.
Mirror Me by Rachel Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A review copy was provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Rachel Sanderson’s last book, The Space Between was a well-constructed thriller and Mirror Me is too. Sanderson Shows a surer hand here – the characters are more clearly realised, and the tension is tighter, and more nuanced.
Central character Abbie moves to the rural community of Derrington with her mother, Mum’s partner Stacey, and little brother, Tom. Mum is a doctor who is taking over the local practice for a year after the sudden departure of Dr O’Brien. Abbie has left her school, her BFF and everything she knows and feels safe with to come and live in the back of beyond. Initially she feels a bit our of her depth, but she makes some new friends and all seems to be going okay until she discovers she is the spitting image of another girl, Rebecca (Becky) O’Brien, who was murdered a year ago. Weird things start to happen. Abbie has dreams about Becky’s murder, she feels drawn to the house where it happened, and begins to obsess about the details.
Abbie also has to cope with a bully named Dave, a blossoming romance with a guy named Zeke, and a deepening friendship with the local handyman, Andy. Little by little coincidences start to stack up and Abbie is convinced the dead girl is trying to communicate with her.
Sanderson builds the growing tension well in this novel. The pace is just right. In The Space Between the ending felt a little rushed, but she takes her time here, giving the characters time to breathe and explore their own stories. The result is a really great, suspenseful story that had me gripped to the very last page.
LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book, but I knew I was in for a wild ride – it’s never boring with Jay Kristoff at the helm. Lifel1k3 is everything is promises on the cover – and more. Twists and turns abound – if you think you know where it’s going, keep reading; you’ll find yourself exclaiming words like “no way!” or “WHAT??” often as you speed through it. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because, spoilers, but I CAN say that this novel is about love and loss, identity and idealism, and turns the 3 laws of robotics on their head – more than once. The characters, particularly Lemon and Eve, leap off the page and bind themselves to you, and robot sidekick Cricket is a cracker too.
Just get your hands on it before too many people can give too much away to you. It’s a ripper.
P.S. May 2019 is waaaaaay too long to have to wait for a sequel, but if it’s as good as this one, then I guess it will be worth it!
Ages 14 and up.
My 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.
The Dry by Jane Harper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An absolute page-turner from beginning to end, I read this in record time. Jane Harper’s debut is a corker.
Aaron Falk has returned to Kiewarra, his drought-ridden country home town, for the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke Hadler. Hadler’s wife and son were shot and Luke apparently turned the gun on himself in an act of desperation – leaving little baby Charlotte an orphan. A Federal Police investigator, Falk is soon suspicious about the circumstances of the Hadlers’ deaths and begins to poke old wounds in his quest to find the truth. Ably assisted by Sergeant Raco, local cop, Falk begins an off the books investigation that stirs up tension and ill-feeling across the town.
The atmosphere is tense, tinder-dry, and expectation builds as you read your way towards an explosive conclusion. I loved that there were no neat ends pulled together in this novel – some of the denouements are messy, just as in real life. I won’t post anymore for fear of revealing too much more about the plot. Suffice to say, you will not be disappointed in this debut offering from Jane Harper. I look forward to reading many more mysteries of this calibre from her.
Ages 15 and up
Thirteen by Tom Hoyle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
“Thirteen is the last year of childhood….the boy must be killed before he is a man.” – this is a quote from Coron’s Great Book . Coron is the deluded leader of cult known as The People. The cult believes that 13 (evil) male children born at the turn of the millenium (in 2000 AD) must be kiiled in order for their “Master” to retain his powers and annoint Coron as the King.
This is an addled excuse for a novel. I really found it difficult to read as the narrative is all over the place. Adam, the thirteenth boy on The People’s hitlist is not fleshed out enough as a character for me to care about what is happening to him. His best friend, the plucky Megan, is a better character and better written too. Coron is a cliched, sociopath and not that scary. I was continually disappointed in this novel and I really wanted it to work. The premise itself is interesting and the production values of the book itself (with its yellow cover and great page edges) promised way more than it delivered. The ending of the book indicates there is another one to come, but I won’t be bothering.
Don’t waste your time with this one – read Gone or Cherub or Uglies instead, you will find better character development, story arc and genuine suspense.
For ages 12 and up, if you can be bothered.
The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy is a bleak and disturbing novel which thrusts the reader into a post-apocalpytic nightmare. Fin and his younger brother, Max, are having dinner with their Dad and stepmum when the unthinkable happens. A nuclear “test” by a neighbouring country (unspecified) has gone terribly wrong and they are plunged into nuclear winter. After an argument, Kara, the stepmum, takes off into the night and Greg, Max and Fin’s dad, goes after her. Fin and Max are left to fend for themselves in a community that is disintegrating around them. No electricity, no telephones, food becomes scarce, their neighbours start dying around them and Fin and Max make the decision to find their Dad. Along the way they draw in Noll (Arnold) an Asian boy whom Fin was guilty of bullying at school, and Fin’s friend Lucy, with whom Fin is in love.
When it becomes obvious that Fin and Max’s Dad is nowhere to be found, the group of survivors try to find their mum, a scientist, who they think will know what is going on and where to find help. Along the way there is danger and death and they are all forced to question their existence and how far they are prepared to go to survive. One way or another they all have to stand up to be counted.
There is definitely a sequel in the offing here as the conclusion is very much up in the air, and I really hope Claire Zorn is writing furiously right now! Due to a bit of swearing and the bleak content I would recommend for readers over the age of 13. A great debut novel.