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Belle's Bookshelf

"With a dreamy far-off look, and her nose stuck in a book..."

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What Maisie Knew
Henry James
My Friend the Enemy
Dan Smith
Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages
Guy Halsall
Mind Your Mental Health: Dealing With Moods, Grief, Depression, Anxiety, Eating Disorders & More - Kaz Cooke Mind Your Mental Health is a small ebook that is basically an extract from Kaz Cooke’s larger guide to life (for ladies), titled Women’s Stuff. When I saw it on Netgalley I was immediately drawn to the subject matter and hoped it would be enlightening. I suffer from an anxiety disorder myself and while I’ve read a helluva lot online about it (ah, the joys of compulsions), I haven’t actually read any books on the topic. Maybe because I already know a lot about the subject, I didn’t really find anything that I wasn’t already aware of in Mind Your Mental Health. It briefly covers various aspects of mental health – including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders and grief. The problem is, it’s not in depth enough to provide any real help for someone suffering from a particular issue. For that reason, I think it’s probably of more use to people wanting to get a quick overview of mental health problems rather than a deeper understanding of one area in particular.With frequent references to Women’s Stuff, Mind Your Mental Health at times felt like nothing more than a hook to get people to read the larger book. But it does contain some useful information. What I liked most were the many quotes from women who had particular conditions or had experienced certain circumstances. It’s always reassuring to know that there are other people out there going through the same thing – and, even better, have come out the other side. I also liked the extensive reference lists at the end of each chapter, featuring helplines and places to go to get more information. It’s the sort of thing that’s good to have on hand, especially when dealing with such topics. Overall, Mind Your Mental Health is a good introduction to the subject matter but I wouldn’t recommend it for people wanting extensive information and/or guidance.I received a review copy of this book via Netgalley.See more of my reviews and other features at Belle's Bookshelf.
Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology - Caroline Paul, Wendy MacNaughton Rating: 3.5/5At the risk of getting kicked off the internet, I have a confession to make: I'm not a cat person. I mean, they're cute and all, and I'm sure they make great pets... for other people. But I prefer the loyal adoration of dogs over the hot-and-cold independence of cats. That's just me. What drew me to Lost Cat was the possibility of finding out what pets do when their owners aren't around. In humorous, touching anecdotes and adorable and clever illustrations, Lost Cat reveals how the author, Caroline, dealt with the disappearance and reappearance of her cat and the feelings of loss, betrayal and hope that went along with it. It also explores her depression as a result of an injury and also her grief over another type of loss. It sounds like heavy stuff, and there are some very sad moments, but more than anything it's a funny, heartwarming tale. I think this comes down to the first-person, conversational language. Caroline isn't afraid to poke fun of herself and her outrageous behaviour - like using spycams and GPS to track her "cheating" cat. Her affection for her little family is also incredibly clear, and the feelings of betrayal at the disappearance of her cat, the grief over the loss of another, and the ultimate acceptance that a cat's gotta do what a cat's gotta do, are beautifully rendered. Lost Cat is a quick and enjoyable read, and the illustrations, drawn by Caroline's partner Wendy, really enhance the story. I liked Wendy's inclusion in the story - she wasn't a cat person, either - until Caroline converted her. I'm still not quite converted into wanting to actually own a cat, but I was nevertheless affected by this story. A pet is a pet at the end of the day, and no matter what animal it is, the love and affection you feel for them is the same. They are with us for such a short period of time and it makes you think WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES - until you remember that they create more awesomeness in 10 years than some people create in 100. That, more than anything, is what Lost Cat is about.And now for a cat gif party, because reasons...OK, I may be a little bit converted.I received a review copy of this book via Netgalley.See more of my reviews and other features at Belle's Bookshelf.
The House at the End of Hope Street - Menna van Praag The blurb for The House at the End of Hope Street promised a whimsical, magical, delightful tale featuring literary and historical heroines and inspiring female characters. While the outline of those things are there, and it is lovely in parts, on the whole I felt it failed to deliver on its potential.The story opens with Alba, whose life has hit rockbottom for unspecified reasons. Feeling utterly alone, she winds up on the doorstep of the titular house on Hope Street, and is welcomed by the quirky lady who runs the place. She is told she may stay for 99 days and that she will be inspired and helped by the house, like the many famous women who have been through it before her and who now (literally) speak from the portraits lining the walls. I loved this book to start with. The magical house drew me in and the whimsy and beauty was all very exciting. But my enjoyment soon lagged. The plot development was rather slow, and the narrative was bogged down by the constant changing point of views. That’s right – we see into the head of pretty much every character that appears on the page. Sometimes we see inside the heads of each character as they are having a conversation with each other, and it all gets very confusing. It's just too much information. This overload of perspective made it hard to connect with any of the characters, let alone Alba, who I suppose was meant to be the main character but was overshadowed by the many other points of view. As for the secondary characters, I did enjoy their stories more than Alba’s, and I especially liked Peggy, the house's landlady, for lack of a better word. But again I feel they all suffered from an overcrowded narrative, and were not as fleshed out as they might have been otherwise. I was particularly troubled by Carmen, a Portuguese singer who is also staying at the house. The way her accent was written was quite distracting and off-putting. Meanwhile, the antagonists were completely two-dimensional. The many amazing literary and historical figures were also not utilised to their potential. Many times they were merely passing references, and when they are given a voice it just doesn’t feel right. I did like the rundown of who they are and what they did at the end of the book, but was disappointed with how they were used in the actual narrative.I had been looking forward to a magical story in The House at the End of Hope St, but in the end I found it quite predictable and ordinary. I could tell what was going to happen with all the characters, and unfortunately it was way too cheesy and perfect for me. I like a happily ever after, but the way things worked out for EVERYONE so wonderfully was just a bit hard to swallow.I really, really wanted to love this book. I thought I would. Unfortunately I liked the idea much more than the execution. It wasn’t terrible, but it could have been so much more.Note: I received a review copy of this book via Netgalley.See more of my reviews at Belle's Bookshelf.
The First Third - Will Kostakis When I was little - I think about seven or eight - I spent my pocket money on a key ring with a little book attached, for a Mother's Day gift for my mum. On the front was a picture of a mumma cat with her two kittens. Inside, I wrote a story about a mum who got angry with her two kids and then felt bad about it. I was totally creative (or so I thought) and gave my characters names that were one or two letters off my own family's. I proudly showed my gran - my mum's mum."Why did you change the names?" she exclaimed. "It's bleedin' obvious it's you."I was a teensy bit crushed. But she was right. It was bleedin' obvious it was us.Which is pretty much how I feel about The First Third.Will (short for William) Kostakis is a Sydneysider with Greek heritage. He grew up with his mum and two brothers (according to the acknowledgements of The First Third - which also suggest his mum is looking for love). As he mentioned at the Penguin Teen Live (PTL) event I attended a few weeks ago, he has an absent father, which contributed to making him incredibly close to his grandparents - his yiayia in particular. Judging by the story he told at PTL that inspired The First Third, he finds his grandmother's poor English skills and attempts to interact with unsuspecting retail workers hilarious. He also has a gay best friend with cerebral palsy. People confuse him with another Greek Australian writer, Christos Tsiolkas.Bill (presumably William) Tsiolkas is a Sydneysider of Greek heritage. He grew up with his mum and two brothers. His mum is looking for love. He has an absent father, and has grown up incredibly close to his grandparents - his yiayia in particular. He finds his grandmother's poor English skills and attempts to interact with unsuspecting retail workers hilarious. He has a gay best friend with cerebral palsy. His surname is Tsiolkas.I know they say to write what you know, but this just seems a bit much to me. I felt uncomfortable reading this with the knowledge that it was so heavily autobiographical. Like the author was somehow taking advantage of the people in his life. Now, they might not feel that way at all, but it's just the impression I was left with.This was especially troublesome in regards to the treatment of his mother and grandmother. They were frequently the butt of WBill's jokes - with his mother's looks in particular subject to demeaning remarks, such as she looked like a "reanimated corpse" after a night at the hospital, or that in her underwear "her body frowned". I don't think the writer intended to be sexist - in fact, there's a nice speech in there on feminism by Sticks, the main character's best friend. But it oddly came in response to another character's mention of "dropping" a girl. Apparently, that's misogynistic. Now, unless there's some history to being "dropped" that I'm not aware of, it's really not sexist. It's slang for breaking up with someone and can be (and is) applied to both sexes. It's not a gendered term. Repeatedly disparaging the female body, however? Pretty damn offensive. So while it was nice to see an explicit, positive discussion of feminism in a Young Adult book, this was seriously undermined by the problematic undercurrent of much of the novel's humour.On the subject of humour, a lot of it was just plain unfunny. Early on in the book, Bill and Sticks head to Melbourne, and Sticks comments about the city, "I get the feeling that it's trying too hard to make me love it." I couldn't have said it better myself. The comedy in this book felt forced in many places, like the author was trying way too hard.Kostakis was actually at his best when he forgot about attempting to be funny and just let his story flow. At its heart, this is a touching tale that centres around something I think pretty much everyone can relate to - the fear of losing loved ones. I know it got me all weepy just thinking about it. The importance of family, and the unbearable idea that they might not be around forever, is an admirable theme and was one of my favourite parts of The First Third.I also loved that Kostakis featured multiple gay characters and a character with a disability and treated them with respect. There was no tokenism and they weren't just there for added drama. They were well-rounded and important parts of the story. If only I could say the same for the treatment of the female characters.The First Third is a good book, but for me it was not great. The potential was there, and if certain parts of the novel were stripped back - especially the forced humour - it could have lived up to it and been amazing. As it is, I'll be interested to see what Kostakis does next.I received a review copy of this book from the publishers.For more of my reviews, check out Belle's Bookshelf------Ready for a readalong with Eleanor, Mandee, Mel and Melanie.

Red Dust Road: An Autobiographical Journey

Red Dust Road: An Autobiographical Journey - Jackie Kay Before attending the Sydney Writers' Festival earlier this year, I had never head of Scottish poet and author Jackie Kay. But I had time between the events I had planned on going to and decided to go along to her Q&A session, because I was interested in the subject matter of how the imagination helps us to cope in distressing situations. The session began with her reading from her new collection of short stories, Reality, Reality. I was immediately blown away by the story itself and her delivery of it. There was so much heart and humour in both. After the reading, Kay answered questions from both the facilitator and the audience. I came away in awe of not just her talent but her spirit - she radiated joy, compassion and wisdom. This was especially the case when discussing her memoir, Red Dust Road, the story of her search for her birth parents. I came away desperately wanting to read it - as did everyone else, apparently, because by the time I got to the bookshop downstairs it had sold out! I bought Trumpet instead with the intention to get Red Dust Road down the track, if I actually enjoyed Kay's writing as much as I enjoyed listening to her talk.Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and Audible.com ran a free trial that allowed the download of one audiobook. Remembering that Jackie Kay narrated the audiobook of Red Dust Road herself, I was eager to check it out. I didn't even finish listening to the sample before I downloaded it. I had to stop myself from listening to the whole thing immediately, because I had committed to reading nothing but Netgalley this month. But a couple of nights later I found myself lying awake at 2am and decided to try listening to Red Dust Road to switch my mind off. An hour later I realised my sleep strategy hadn't worked, because I was too engaged with the story and actually wanted to stay awake to keep listening!This was my first audiobook and I think it was a great place to start. I found it hard to put down. It was such a delight. Kay's narration is wonderful - engaging, dramatic, humorous and all the more meaningful because this is her story. She relates anecdotes as if she's talking to a friend, and it's incredibly touching. The language she uses is evocative and lovely. In fact, that was one downside of an audiobook - there were several quotes I would have underlined and reread repeatedly if I had a physical copy in front of me. It was just such gorgeous writing.Another small downside of the audiobook, although perhaps it would have felt this way with a physical book, was that it was hard at times to keep track of when events were happening. It's told in a non-linear way, jumping back and forth between decades, and so it was a little bit confusing in places. On the plus side, this did enhance the conversational nature of the book, with scenes flowing naturally and not necessarily chronologically, just as they do when you hear anecdotes from someone in real life.As for the story itself, I found Kay's search for her birth parents, and her mixed feelings about it, to be quite fascinating. The way she describes her Nigerian birth father in particular is colourful and quite hilarious. His treatment of her - and to an extent, her birth mother's reaction to her - are obviously and understandably sources of some pain. But she is able to find humour, joy and even beauty in every situation. It reinforced my impression that she's a remarkable woman.And no wonder. Her parents - the Scottish couple who adopted her - are clearly remarkable people, too. I loved that a big part of the book is dedicated to them and their love for Kay - and her's for them. She seems to have inherited her delightful humour from them, with many of their interactions making me laugh out loud, but there were also times when I felt myself getting all misty-eyed due to the things they said or did. One instance that sticks out is when Kay's mother, upon hearing that someone told the young Jackie to be thankful she was adopted by her parents, insisted, "No, Jackie, don't ever let anyone tell you that you should be grateful. It is WE who are grateful."Red Dust Road is a beautiful tale of family and what makes us who we are. It is about belonging and love and grief and identity. It is about an extraordinary woman from an extraordinary family, full of warmth and humour and love. It is not only one of my favourite books of the year - it's probably up there with my favourite of all time.For more of my reviews, check out Belle's BookshelfEarlier...Amazing. Review to come after I digest a little. My mind is kinda blown right now.
Song in the Dark - Christine Howe This book was just not for me. It wasn't bad. In fact, it was rather well-written. But for some reason I just couldn't connect with it. Which really surprised me because it's set in my hometown of Wollongong - a rare experience and something that I was very excited about. But even though the setting was familiar, I felt distant from the narrative and I can't quite put my finger on why.Song in the Dark is the story of Paul, a young drug addict who does something terrible in his quest for drug money. His grandmother, Hetty, is left to reflect on her broken relationship with her grandson - when she had done nothing but love and support him. Paul is wracked with guilt at hurting the one person who has always been there for him, and his path to redemption is an interesting one.Song in the Dark obviously deals with some very heavy issues. But it does so with respect and realism. Paul does some very bad things yet you can't help but feel for him. It's a sympathetic portrayal of addiction - something that not everyone views with sympathy. And your heart just breaks for Hetty. The sense of betrayal is gut-wrenching, and yet she still loves and hopes.I did experience many emotions while I was reading Song in the Dark, and yet, as I've mentioned, it didn't particularly get under my skin. Perhaps it was the bleak nature. The frustration at everything going wrong. The briefness of it all. The third person perspective. I think the inconclusive ending certainly didn't help. I wanted more closure, but was just left confused. I think the writer intended it to be powerful and symbolic, but I was left wanting more. Can someone who has read the book please tell me what they thought of the ending? I can't decide. I really hope Paul and Hetty managed to reconnect and she was just dreaming, and not dead. Song in the Dark would probably be a powerful experience for many readers. It unfortunately just didn't quite hit the mark for me.I received a review copy of this book via Netgalley.For more of my reviews check out Belle's Bookshelf.
Marilyn - Gloria Steinem Like so many others, I am fascinated by Marilyn Monroe. She was a gorgeous, iconic, complex and ultimately tragic woman. I think it's the mystery of Marilyn, the enigma of her life, that makes her legend so enduring. Sure, the many photographs of her that are part of the fabric of our pop culture are absolutely stunning, but I think it's about more than the pretty face and gorgeous body. It's the soul that reaches out of her eyes - the sadness, hope, confidence, insecurity, intelligence, fear, innocence, loneliness, sensuality - the myriad facets of Marilyn that continues to touch our hearts and get under our skin.I've seen a few documentaries and trashy TV movies about Marilyn's life, but this was my first biography. I think it was a good place to start to get a taste of the truth. It's short and covers each aspect of her life only briefly, but the key information is there and, more importantly, a sympathetic and authentic portrait of Marilyn herself. Steinem focuses on a different theme in each chapter - childhood, body image, career, marriage, and so on - and by looking at such aspects of Marilyn separately, you get a more comprehensive understanding of the whole woman.Drawing heavily on Marilyn's own writing and interviews, Steinem attempts to get at the heart of the star. What emerges is an overarching picture of a woman of many contradictions. She was incredibly beautiful but incredibly insecure. She was seen as a sex goddess but didn't particularly enjoy sex herself. She was very intelligent but consistently cast as the dumb blonde, both on screen and off. She wanted to be taken seriously as an actress but was forced into silly roles in dubious comedies again and again. She was an independent career woman whilst remaining chronically needy of men. She desperately wanted to be loved but had no relationships that lasted. She had fans all over the world but was unbearably lonely. She was terrified of the mental illness that took her mother and grandmother, but spent most days self-medicating with alcohol and assorted drugs. She had fraught relationships with women and often felt judged by them, but was also at her most comfortable around other women and had some strong female friendships. She loved children and yearned to be a mother, but for one reason or another, she had multiple abortions. She was childlike and innocent but also very sexy and sensual. She was Norma Jeane and she was Marilyn.Ultimately, Marilyn's tale is an impossibly sad one. Steinem handles it with intelligence, respect and a sense of poignancy. Through her words, you get a sense of not only the Marilyn that was but the Marilyn that could have been. In many ways she was ahead of her time, and had she been born 50 years later, her tale might have ended very differently. But then, without Marilyn, the world might be a very different place.I received a review copy of this book via Netgalley.More of my reviews can be found at Belle's Bookshelf.
My Immortal - Tara Gilesbie Nemo and YAL, I thank blame you.Dramatic reading FTW. I can't decide if that was the work of a genius troll or a deranged tween.Either way I haven't laughed so hard in months.
All This Could End - Steph Bowe All This Could End is told from the third person perspective of two teenagers, Nina and Spencer, whose budding romance is cut short when Nina has to move away. Because her family are secretly bank robbers on the run. Yeah, not your average YA love story, that’s for sure!I have to admit, I had a bit of trouble getting into All This Could End to start with. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t particularly connect with it. I found once I put it down I wasn’t really compelled to pick it up again ASAP. So I read the first 50 or so pages and then a week went by when I didn’t even touch it. I was a bit frustrated by this, and was considering putting it aside to come back to at a later point, but decided to read another chapter first to see if it would grab me.Boy, did it grab me. A couple of hours later I found myself more than half way through the book and realised I was sticking with it after all. So I decided to read one more chapter before bed. The next thing I knew, it was 1am and I had finished. After the initial speed bump it was a page-turner for me, and I loved it.I think what finally drew me in was when Spencer and Nina met and spent one intense night together, talking and laughing and adventuring. It reminded me of all-in-one-night stories like Graffiti Moon, which I adore, and there was a real sense of connection between the characters. After that, I was interested in the development of their relationship and how the events would lead up to Nina holding a gun to Spencer’s head (that’s not a spoiler, BTW, it’s the start of the book, with the rest told in flashback).But while I really liked Nina and Spencer’s chemistry, I have to say I agree with my friend Eleanor in that I wished there had been more “on-screen” time between the two. A great deal of the book is actually focused on their disastrous family lives, and although I definitely appreciated that aspect, and liked that the story wasn’t all-romance-all-the-time, I think it did come at the cost of the development of their relationship. It’s never even really clear whether they are in a relationship or are just friends who have kissed at least once. I liked what was there, I just wanted more. That said, I did really like the exploration of family dynamics. They were tense and heartbreaking and beautifully rendered. I especially loved the sibling relationships that both Nina and Spencer had. Although I do kinda wish at least one character in the novel had a decent mother. I wanted to throttle both Nina and Spencer’s mums. Especially Nina’s. But I didn't mind too much - because while she was truly awful as a mother, she was fascinating as a character.Overall, All This Could End is a unique, refreshing Aussie YA with a great plot, interesting, flawed characters and some lovely – and not-so-lovely – relationships. I can’t wait to see what Steph Bowe does next.Like this review? Obligatory blog plug.
Siege and Storm - Leigh Bardugo "The Hunger Games meets Potter meets Twilight meets Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones..." - Stylist magazineSeriously? Do you want to throw any more in there?

Between the Lives

Between the Lives - Jessica Shirvington I didn’t think I would like Between the Lives. I don’t know why. Maybe because the only other books Jessica Shirvington has written are a series about angels, which is SO not my thing. And even though the plot of THIS book – about a girl living two parallel lives – sounded interesting, I probably let the anti-angel thing colour my judgment a bit. I wasn’t even going to read Between the Lives. Then I saw some positive reviews from bloggers I trust, and I decided to give it a go.I’m glad I did, because this was such a great read. That will teach me to be Judgey McJudgerson! Sure, it was a little bit telly-not-showy in places, but overall it was a compelling and unique story. While initially I was dubious about the world building, my judgments once again proved too quick and in the end everything was explained to my satisfaction. There were still some things left mysterious, but I thought that made sense considering the main character, Sabine, didn't fully understand everything herself. The reader doesn't know any more than she does – which is that for as long as she can remember, she’s been “switching” between two different lives. She hasn’t been able to tell anyone – until she meets Ethan.Now, when Ethan first appeared, I still had my massive Judgey pants on and was ready to roll my eyes at what looked like just another clichéd YA romance. Once again, I was wrong. Ethan and Sabine's love story did not play out how I initially expected it to at all. While I still guessed what was going to happen before it did, I found I was really interested in where these characters were going. Their relationship was quite touching and actually really got under my skin. To the point where over a week later I still catch myself thinking about the two of them and their stories. There was some really lovely moments in Between the Lives, but there was also some incredibly brutal and emotional scenes. Fair warning, there is some violence which is quite sickening. There’s a lot of heartache, too. Shirvington definitely doesn't shy away from heavy subjects. Ultimately, though, this story featuring a girl with two lives is quite life-affirming. It’s about how we make meaning in each day and what we do to make our lives count. Even if we only get to live one. FancastWilla Holland as SabineA younger Jay Ryan as EthanEarlier...Real review to come at some point when I've caught up on others.See more of my reviews and other features at Belle's Bookshelf.
Sister Sister - Andrew Neiderman I picked this up randomly at a secondhand store for three dollars while I was away in the Blue Mountains. I had just finished reading Floundering and I needed something that wouldn’t hurt my head. A trashy horror novel about telepathic conjoined twins by V.C. Andrews’ ghostwriter seemed like just the thing. Also did I mention it was three dollars?Anyway, to some extent I did enjoy it in a so-bad-it’s-kinda-good way, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to anyone. Because it was really, really bad. Sure, it was still pretty entertaining to start with, but by the end of the book I found myself just getting irritated. The dialogue was so forced and silly, and the plot was predictable and unfortunately not very scary. If you’ve read any V.C. Andrews, you’ll recognise the writing style from a plantation away. Except instead of incest, there’s conjoined twins who can hear each other’s thoughts and move things with their minds.Which brings me to the worst part of this book: it is so incredibly offensive. The treatment of conjoined twins and kids with birth defects as freaks and monsters was absolutely appalling. Meanwhile, the main character is a macho douche, yet his supposedly intelligent co-worker, a female psychologist, treats him like he’s some sort of god. He, on the other hand, is completely condescending to her, like “oh, you’re so cute, with your degree and individual thoughts and no wedding ring, how novel!” Ugh. They have sex once and are talking marriage, because of course you can’t have sex unless you’re going to spend the rest of your life with that person. Oh, um, spoiler, I guess. Except it’s not really a spoiler because you can totally tell it’s going to happen from the moment he skeezily looks her up and down the first time they meet. Also I don’t really care about spoilers because I don’t think anyone should read this book.Seriously, don’t read this book. Just don’t. It got to the point where it was more crap than craptastic. Which is a shame. But if you have any recommendations for trashy horror novels that won’t drive me completely nuts, I’d love to hear them!
Floundering - Romy Ash This book was such a disappointment.I picked it up at the Sydney Writers' Festival after it won the SMH Young Australian Novelists of the Year award. Seeing that it also made the Miles Franklin Award shortlist, amongst others, I expected it would be amazing, and I liked the concept. Told from the perspective of a little boy, Floundering details a road trip and stay in a caravan park with his brother and his mum – who has actually kidnapped the boys away from their grandparents because she's a terrible mother.For the first part of the road trip I was quite enjoying the ride. I liked Ash’s interpretation of a child’s view of the world, and while some of the language seemed too adult, I thought it was mostly quite authentic. The lack of quotation marks was strange but effective. Then the road trip just kept going. And Loretta, the boys’ mother, got progressively more awful. I was impatient for them to get where they were going and things to start happening. The language started to bother me a little, but I was still willing to stick with it.When they finally got to the caravan park I thought, now we’re getting somewhere. Except we didn’t. We didn’t get anywhere. Ash achieved an atmosphere of intense, hot, boredom – but while that was probably what she was going for, it was unfortunately incredibly boring to read. It felt like nothing ever happened, except Loretta was becoming more and more neglectful. When something did finally happen, it was so utterly sickening that I don’t even want to think about it. By that stage the language was well and truly grating on me and the formatting just felt like it was trying too hard. I had to actually force myself to finish the last half of the book, and it was only because I had already come so far that I kept going. There seemed no point to the story, other than to show a snapshot of some really terrible things happening to two children. Even when there’s some hopeful imagery, it gets dashed and the kids just wind up more miserable than before. Floundering was bleak, boring and ultimately a horrible reading experience.
This is Not a Test - Courtney Summers Holy crap did I love this book.It reminded my a little of The Walking Dead, in that it’s set in a zombie apocalypse but the zombies are merely the backdrop for the human drama. But while The Walking Dead features a mostly adult cast (give or take an annoying kid or two), This Is Not A Test focuses on six teens as they hole up in their high school and try to figure out how to survive. Or if they even want to.You see, the book opens with the protagonist, Sloane, contemplating suicide. But not because of a zombie apocalypse. Because of the very human problem of living in an abusive home and feeling abandoned by her sister, the one person who promised to take care of her. Then zombies appear on the scene and it’s almost a relief to her. She’s away from her abuser for the first time in her life, but she’s still despairing that her sister left her. Oh, and the fact that the world’s gone to hell. Much of the book centres around the tension between her desire to die and her increasing interest in life, and it’s quite a fascinating concept. I also really enjoyed watching the dynamics of the group unfold. A lot of conflict derived from who survived when they perhaps shouldn’t have – and who didn’t survive when they should have. It was also interesting to see how people who wouldn't normally interact adapted to living in constant close quarters. There was a lot of tension but also a lot of lovely bonding moments.The setting of the school and the atmosphere of impending doom was awesomely claustrophobic. There's one particular section early on where the zombies are constantly banging on all doors and windows and it's dreadful (in a good way). The repeated unchanging messages of "This is not a test" also added to the tense mood. It all felt very authentic.What I loved most of all about This Is Not A Test were the raw emotions. Anger, despair, hope, fear, love, hate, attraction, detest, grief... there are so many emotions the characters go through and they're all beautifully and realistically rendered. Forget braaaaains, this zombie book will grab your heart and twist it and rip it and squish it until all your left with are frayed nerves and FEELS. So many feels.Headcanon CastLily Collins as SloaneSteven R. McQueen as RhysEarlier...
Liar - Justine Larbalestier Micah lives with her parents and little brother in New York City. She spends summers with her eccentric grandmother and great aunt. She loves to run. She has a boyfriend who has gone missing. And she is a compulsive liar. Talk about an unreliable narrator!Liar is split into three parts, and in each Micah tells a version of what she claims is the truth. I loved the first part of the book and was intrigued about the unfolding mystery around Zach's disappearance. I couldn't put the book down. Then I just about threw it down when it took an unexpected supernatural twist in part two. I thought I was getting a contemporary thriller so I was disappointed  - even angry - when it turned out I was apparently reading something else. Then I remembered Micah is a liar and decided to keep reading to figure out whether this twist was actually "true". By the third part I was very much drawn into the story again. Then the end came and there was no concrete resolution. Being a stickler for closure, I was frustrated once again.But, I have to say, Liar got me thinking. And the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated it. You see, while you never find out the exact "truth" in the text, there are two clear options - and it's up to you to decide which one is right. There are other interpretations that work too, discussed by fans on the SPOILERY SPOILER thread at Justine's website, and reading through them kind of blew my mind. Instead of being frustrated as I initially was, I became awed at the possibilities and loved how the book really encouraged creativity and imagination in its readers. I like that you can make up your own mind about the truth. Or whether there even is a "truth".So yes, Liar makes you think, which is awesome. But it also makes you feel, which is even awesomer. I didn't warm to Micah at first - I mean, she's a compulsive liar, it's hard to love someone like that - but boy, did she get under my skin by the end. My heart broke for her in places. She may not be likable or reliable, but she's complex and interesting and unique and fierce. This is her story, and while the facts might be blurred, the emotion is distinct and true.Liar is a remarkable book, and has definitely made me want to read more of Larbalestier's work. It's amazing that she pulled this off and a testament to her skill as a writer. It might not work for everyone, but it really worked for me.Spoilery talking points-After thinking about it a lot, I believe Micah was lying about the whole werewolf thing. I think it was symbolic of her wildness, perhaps even her sexuality, that her parents tried to contain.-I think maybe her brother died in an accident that Micah was somehow responsible for, and she probably killed Zach during a blackout. I think the other wolf was a personification of a fragmented part of herself, the part she felt had been abandoned by her parents, the part she hated herself. -I think the farm is symbolic of a mental institution. It was so heartbreaking when her parents left her there.-At the end I think she's probably still in some sort of facility, but on her way to healing.I'd love to know if anyone else who has read it has any theories!Check out my blog for more reviews and other bookish fun.
In Falling Snow - Mary-Rose MacColl In Falling Snow tells the story of two amazing women: Iris, who travels from Australia to France during World War I to bring her little brother home, and ends up helping to run a hospital in Royaumont Abbey that’s fully staffed by women (including the doctors); and Grace, Iris’ granddaughter, who as a doctor in 1970s Australia is still facing the same kind of sexism her grandmother’s co-workers experienced decades earlier.It was the WWI aspect that initially drew me to In Falling Snow, and the story of Royaumont Abbey is a fascinating one. Although Iris is an invention, many of the characters are based on real people and Royaumont really was an all-female WWI hospital. The tenacity and bravery of those women is absolutely awe-inspiring. Still, while I admired the idea of Royaumont, I did find some parts of the chapters set there a little slow. The little details about how the place worked were interesting but distracted from the overall story for me. Iris herself was a bit hard to connect with as a young woman, as she seemed quite reserved, but I felt for her as an ailing old woman looking back on her life. As the story progressed and I gained further insight into her character I admired her all the more and understood why she was telling her story in this way.Unexpectedly, although they weren’t what interested me to begin with, I found myself falling in love with Grace’s chapters and growing impatient to get to them. Even though it was still set 30-40 years ago, it was a more recognisable setting and a situation not too far removed from what women still face today (unfortunately). Grace’s struggle to balance work and family, especially when things went wrong, is one I think many women can connect with. I don’t currently have kids, but the tension between wanting a career and wanting to take care of a family is something that already plays across my mind. I can only image how tough it is for women actually doing it. While In Falling Snow shows how far we’ve come, at the same time it also reveals how little has really changed. There’s a few twists in this book which I saw coming but I don’t want to spoil them for others. Even though I predicted what would happen, the story was still compelling to me. It’s quite an emotional journey, as you’d probably expect from a generation-spanning war tale. The setting of WWI France is beautifully rendered, and I really, really want to visit Royaumont now. Overall this is a gorgeous book; I definitely recommend it for fans of historical fiction.I received a copy of this book from The Book Depository as part of their affiliate program, in exchange for an honest review.