Book Review: Gemina, by Amie Kaufman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_geminaTalk about an adrenaline rush! Gemina is the action-packed follow-up to Illuminae, a book quite unlike any I have ever read before. A combination of transcripts, reports and IM conversations, interspersed with some absolutely delightful drawings by the very talented Marie Lu.

New characters, new setting, and a few familiar faces, but the same heart-racing, page-turning, rollercoaster-ride-of-emotion that I experienced with its predecessor.

Gemina is set in Heimdall, the jumpstation and destination for the refugees from the Kerenza events of book one. Hanna’s father is the resident captain, and Hanna is somewhat pampered, but definitely not to be underestimated. It’s hard to live the high life in a space station at the edge of the universe, but Hanna still wears the latest fashions, dates the most handsome guy, and illustrates her life in her journal.

Nik is a member of a notorious crime family, delving (reluctantly) into their underground drug operation (it involves cows and alien parasites, and is one of the most disturbing things you will ever read about, trust me). Their lives have little in common, and their paths rarely cross.

Until BeiTech operatives invade the jumpstation. Their mission: seize the jumpstation, silence the incoming Hypatia crew, and destroy all evidence of the Kerenza attack. Little do they know who they’re going up against. Hanna’s more than a pretty face, and Nik has quite a few aces up his sleeve. But can two teenagers survive against armed militants, alien predators, and a malfunctioning wormhole that threatens to tear space and time apart?

Like Hanna and Nik, we’re in for one heck of a ride!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Illuminae Files_02: Gemina
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781925266573

Book Review: The Pretty Delicious Cafe, by Danielle Hawkins

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_pretty_delicious_cafeThe Pretty Delicious Cafe is a light, sweet and tasty treat of a tale. The characters are endearing and interesting, and the setting – Northland, New Zealand – scenic. Our heroine is Lia, overworked and unlucky-in-love, struggling to keep her cafe running whilst also suffering the angst-ridden attentions of her why-won’t-he-just-go-away ex-boyfriend. Things change the night a sexy stranger turns up on her doorstep, first terrifying her out of her wits, then quietly sidling into her affections. But Jed comes with burdens of his own – not so much his 4-year old son, but more the weight of the emotionally-troubled ex-wife. Will Lia allow herself to follow her heart? Or will she allow insecurity to rule?

The story is relatively light fare, a quick and easy escapism. Liberally sprinkled with wry humour, witty dialogue and dusted with a touch of the bittersweet. There are some darker moments too, when one considers the nature of Jed’s previous relationship, and with the ex-boyfriend skulking in the background. The four-year old son is an absolute delight, charming his way into this cynical reader’s heart.

Pretty Delicious is a story of determination, of love, of allowing oneself the freedom to follow their dreams rather than allow themselves to be restrained by self-doubt or burdened by that which they cannot control. It is a story of friendship – Lia and Anna – and the power of reconciliation and forgiveness. The characters, with their flaws and neuroses are heart-breakingly real, and thus easy to identify with.

Also includes some mouth-watering recipes, so if the descriptions of the food in the cafe make you hungry, then you can try some out for yourself!

Danielle Hawkins is a New Zealand author, and her style should appeal to fans of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Josephine Moon and Monica McInerney. Her stories are rich with small town charm and a delight to read. I am an avid supporter of local authors that write for the more commercial market, and look forward to reading more.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Pretty Delicious Cafe
by Danielle Hawkins
Published by HarperCollins

Book Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks, by Emily Barr

cv_the_one_memory_of_flora_banksAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.
Flora Banks is no ordinary teenager. She is 17 years old, but has no memories since the age of ten, when a tumour took part of her brain. To compensate for her lack of memory, Flora relies on keeping notes: scrawled messages along her arm, post-its, and a notebook carried with her always, and photographs on her cell phone. No memories last longer than a few hours, until the night she kisses a boy on the beach and discovers, much to her amazement, that she can remember it. Unfortunately, it is also the kiss that ruins her friendship with best-friend-since-childhood, Paige. The boy leaves, to study in the Arctic north, and her parents are called away – Flora’s barely-remembered brother is ill, very ill, and he needs them more than she does. For the first time in her life (as far as she knows), Flora is left alone, alone with the memory of the boy who kissed her. The boy she remembered…

Written from Flora’s perspective, this makes for an uncertain narrative: how much of Flora’s life is she sharing with us, and how many secrets are hidden in the blank spaces between the paragraphs? What is truth and what is fantasy? The longer her parents are away, the stronger and more independent Flora becomes, until they don’t come back and she decides, instead, to chase the fantasy and seek greater understanding of herself.

The One Memory is a roller-coaster ride of emotion and uncertainty, tempered with frustration. Flora is likeable in her innocence, her seeming-fragility that masks are harder, sharper core. Watching her grow to become more than just the memory-hampered teenager, is both rewarding and a little frightening. It should be enjoyed by fans of John Green and Jennifer Niven, and anyone who likes a good teenage drama with (relatively) good morals.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The One Memory of Flora Banks
by Emily Barr
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN 9780141368511


Book Review: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, by Cassandra Clare et al

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tales_from_the_shadowhunter_academyTales from the Shadowhunter Academy is a collection of ten short stories set around Simon, Clary’s best friend, training to become a Shadowhunter. It connects the timelines between the first six Mortal Instruments books and the Dark Artifacts series, fleshing out some of the background and helping develop (and explain) some of the backstory for Lady Midnight. To create this collection, Cassandra Clare has enlisted the assistance of some other writers: Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman. The stories are fun, kind of tongue-in-cheek, but do feel somewhat like official fan-fiction.

This review will contain some spoilers from the Mortal Instruments series. If you haven’t read it but intend to, I suggest you continue no further.

Simon Lewis was first introduced as Clary’s best friend, spent some time as a vampire before his humanity was restored, but his memories fragmented in the process, so that he is no longer the hero his friends remember. This, as you may guess, leads to feelings of inadequacy and confusion. Thus, Simon decides to train as a Shadowhunter, drink from the mortal cup and, hopefully, ascend. Along with a number of Shadowhunter teenagers (the “elites”) and Shadowhunter-hopeful humans (the mundanes or “dregs”), Simon travels to Idris to attend the newly restored Shadowhunter Academy. It has fallen into an almost comedic state of disrepair, the meals are disturbingly unpleasant and random rodents occupy the walls. Not only that, but there is a distinct line in the sand drawn between the so-called Elites and the mundanes. Simon quickly makes friends, specifically with his Scottish room-mate George Lovelace (Shadowhunter in name, but mundane by birth) and the two experience a rather delightful bromance, filled with hearty banter and wit.

As the tales were released individually, there is a small amount of re-capping and reminding at the beginning of each “episode”, and the different authors lead to variation in the writing styles. Alongside the various experiences of Simon, George and the other Shadowhunter students, there are intermingled tales from “guest stars”, explaining in further detail select events from that character’s past: we get to read about Clara’s mission to track down Jack the Ripper; are delivered some insight into Valentine’s past, through the eyes of Robert Lightwood; and learn more about the Blackthorns, such as the half-fae older children, Helen and Mark.

The concept of writing short stories, further exploring the background of characters and helping to develop the backstories of side characters is a crafty idea. Not only does it help the author to get a stronger grasp on their characters (albeit with the assistance of other authors), but it provides additional information on the characters that are beloved to the readers but do not get a great deal of “screen-time”. Whilst it is not compulsory to read Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, it is an enjoyable read, written with enthusiasm and affection, and should provide enlightenment for the dedicated fans, giving us something to read whilst we await the sequel to Lady Midnight.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy
by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406362848

Book Review: The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_sun_is_also_a_starIn an era where books intended for teenagers tend to have a darker edge and deal with heavy issues, Sun is a ray of delight. That is not to say it doesn’t deal with some fairly pressing issues: illegal immigrants, family expectations, cultural differences, and fear of losing oneself, but the way in which these are portrayed are refreshing.

The two main characters: Daniel and Natasha are both quirky and different. Natasha is a scientist, believing in only what can be proven and holding a cynical view re love and destiny. She also only has 12 hours or so until her family are being deported, back to Jamaica. I loved her for her attitude, and also appreciated her taste in music: 90’s grunge, such as Nirvana and Temple of the Dog.

Daniel has the heart of a poet. He does believe in love and destiny – although he also respects scientific fact. Unfortunately, his parents are pushing him to become a doctor : a path he does not wish to take. His relative naivete and playful openness are utterly endearing.

Through a series of events, call it coincidence or call it fate, the two are drawn together and become intrinsically linked. Daniel, attracted to Natasha not only for her appearance and quick mind, but also her cynicism, issues a challenge: he can make her fall in love with him, using science. Natasha, who is likewise attracted to him but also extremely skeptical, accepts.

Intertwined with their stories – split narrative between the two players – we have brief science lessons plus insights into the lives, and minds, of minor characters who cross their path: the driver that almost runs Natasha over (Daniel saves her life), a security guard, Natasha’s father, the paralegal and his secretary. These add an element to the tale, their stories either influencing, or being influenced by, Natasha and Daniel.

Overall, an engrossing and delightfully charming read with moments both bitter and sweet. A touch of magic delivered into the real world.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Sun is Also a Star
by Nicola Yoon
Published by Corgi Children’s
ISBN 9780552574242

Book Review: Holding Up the Universe, by Jennifer Niven

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_holding_up_the_universeFollowing up the masterful All the Bright Places is no mean feat, but Jennifer Niven succeeds nicely with this second YA drama about teenagers that just don’t quite fit in and are trying to find their footing in the world. It is a lighter affair than Bright Places, although the characters are no less threatened by their circumstances.

Libby Strout, once house-bound, dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen”, is now determined to enjoy her future of freedom. Unfortunately, that also means facing High School, the stares, and the whispers. Everyone seems to think they know her – but few seem willing to look beyond her weight and see who she really is: the girl shattered by grief, still picking up the pieces of her life since her mother died; the girl who loves to dance, whose spirit was free even when her body was trapped.

Jack Masselin has swagger, a beautiful girlfriend, a bevy of friends and is considered “popular” amongst his peers. But he has a deeper secret hidden beneath the mask he wears: ever since he fell from the roof at the age of six, Jack has not been able to recognise people by their faces. Even his brothers become strangers.

A cruel game, bordering on bullying, brings them together, and sharing their secrets draws them closer still. Libby, with her outspoken, protective nature and don’t-mess-with-me personality really shines as a character, a powerful role model to any teenager out there who is feeling insecure or uncertain. Even as an adult, her story had resonance with my own memories of High School.

Holding Up the Universe is an engaging tale, with strong characters and a plot both inspiring and true. I learned a lot about Prosopagnosia too! Recommended to fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell and Sarah Dessen. High School drama at its most satisfying.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Holding Up the Universe
by Jennifer Niven
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN 9780141357058

Book Review: Shield, by Rachael Craw

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_shieldShield is the third and final book in Rachael Craw’s young adult science thriller. It brings with it tension, revelation, and brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. If you have not picked up its predecessors: Spark and Stray, then I would highly recommend you do. Whilst aimed at the teenage market, they display a level of complexity and maturity that clearly demonstrates how much care the author has taken in weaving her world and her words. It is one I would recommend for the older teens, and potentially the “new adult” market.

In Spark, Evie discovered that she was a Shield, a genetically-altered being designed to protect the vulnerable Sparks. These Sparks, generally gifted and bright individuals, are in turn being hunted by Strays – people that remain seemingly ordinary, until they come into contact with the Sparks, then they become struck with the savage, all-encompassing, desire to kill the Spark. Evie’s best friend, Kitty is the Spark, and a Stray has found her…

In Stray, Kitty teams with Evie in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, as they try and prove that Strays can be cured. Unfortunately, the project that created her, Affinity, is not open to fresh ideas and wants her back under their control. Meanwhile, there are numerous family revelations, tragedies, heart-break and non-stop action.

Shield felt slower moving than its predecessors. It delved more heavily into the politics and inner workings of Affinity, as Evie finally found herself, inescapably, in their clutches. The action really did not take off until the second half of the book – and then it was a helter-skelter, rollercoaster of a ride. Instead, it dealt more with emotions. This perhaps weakened it a bit in my mind: I’m somewhat less interested in teenager jealousy, miscommunication and blind assumptions than I once was. However, it was true to the characters and there was more than enough action to keep me hooked. There were also a few steamier moments – but nothing too overboard for a teen novel – and several surprise revelations.

Definitely worth a read, and I highly recommend the trilogy to those that love suspense, romance, and genetically-altered heroes.

Book reviewed by Angela Oliver

by Rachael Craw
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922179647

Book Review: At the Edge, edited by Lee Murray & Dan Rabarts

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_at_the_edgeAt the edge of reality, the edge of sanity, things get darker, grimmer and a little bit strange. This is a collection of such tales from a selection of New Zealand and Australian authors. Beautifully, lyrically written, these are not stories for the faint of heart. From the realistic to the surrealistic, within these pages you’ll find a mix of horror, science fiction, dystopia, post-apocalyptic; stories to keep you reading far into the night, stories to haunt your dreams.

Here are a few of the stand-out tales, in my opinion:

‘Hood of Bone,’ by Debbie Cowens, is a tale that borders the realms between reality and horror, and sent shivers down my spine. Decidedly unsettling; a women drags her dog away from a rotting fish and is confronted by a madman. But is it merely dementia, or something far more horrifying?

We also have ‘Crossing,’ by Anthony Panegyres, a ghost story with a difference. Poignant, bittersweet and something of a lesson in letting go of the past, it tells of Jane Self, separated by a cruel twist of fate from her husband and desperately seeking closure.

The lines between reality and unreality become very blurred in ‘Narco,’
by Michelle Child. A woman is unable to stay awake on a train through the night. What is real and what is a dream? What happens when awake and asleep blur into one? This is a chilling short story that will make you think twice before travelling alone.

Although still quite brutal, there is dark humour in ‘Street Furniture,’ by Joanne Anderton. Have you ever wondered why furniture gets left out on the street? Well, goblins are real, and they can grant wishes – particularly those requiring unpleasantness – if paid accordingly. Wishes, such as the removal of an unpleasant step-father. But such debts are not to be taken lightly…

‘Call of the Sea’ by Eileen Mueller is beautiful and tragic. Reality and surreality merge in this tale of loss, as a child is snatched away by the ocean. Heart-breaking, haunting and eloquently written.

The odd, but engaging, ‘Responsibility,’ by Octavia Cade is the tale of two sisters – one who brings life and one who brings death. What happens when the life-sister must look after her death-sister’s house and collection of zombie critters? With all the bleakness and tragedy, it’s nice to have something that feels a little lighter, even if there are still shadows of decay creeping around the edges.

This is a well-compiled collection of memorable tales, and well worth the read for anyone who enjoys the many facets of speculative fiction and likes their stories dark and, yes, edgy.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

At the Edge
Edited by Lee Murray & Dan Rabarts
Published by Paper Road Press
ISBN  9780473354152

Book Review: Moonlight Dreamers, by Siobhan Curham

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_moonlight_dreamersAn addictive read for teens that, on the surface, looks fairly light fare, but actually deals with some difficult and very relevant issues. Siobhan Curham most recently came into the spotlight as the author who assisted vlogger Zoe Sugg (Zoella) in writing her bestselling, Girl Online, and there are definite similarities. Both deal with the price of internet infamy, and online bullying.

The Moonlight Dreamers is a story about friendship, it is about being true to yourself, and finding the courage to follow your dreams. It contains a multitude of important messages, from how an act of rebellion can have disastrous consequences, to how if one seeks to fulfill their dreams, it is important to take initiative with the first steps. One of the things I loved about it was that the girls were all so different, and it was more about finding the confidence: to compete in a poetry slam, to talk to the boy she fancied, rather than the outcome.

It is the story of four girls, Amber, Maali, Sky and Rose, all very different but with one similarity: they are all Moonlight Dreamers.

Amber, with her two fathers, struggles to fit in at High School, where several of her peers have turned against her. She seeks solace in the words of Oscar Wilde, whose poem inspires her to start the Moonlight Dreamers: a secret society for girls like her, those that feel the don’t quite fit in and are proud of the fact.

Shy, sweet Maali is one of the kindest and most generous girls you might ever met, she loves to take photographs and only wishes she knew how to talk to boys, one boy in particular.

Sky is a poet, and she loves living with her father on their riverboat, but their peaceful life is about to be turned upside-down, when her father moves them in with his girlfriend. Now, not only does she have to share her good-hearted father, but she has to cope with the resentments of the girlfriend’s daughter, Rose. Beautiful Rose, pushed to be into modelling like her mother, secretly dreams of baking cakes, and staying out of the limelight.

Written in multiple narrative, interspersed with emails and Tumblr posts, with a couple of poems and a recipe thrown in for good measure, The Moonlight Dreamers is a tale that will find resonance for many a modern teenager.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Moonlight Dreamers
by Siobhan Curham
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406365825

Book Review: Breathing Under Water, by Sophie Hardcastle

Available today in bookshops nationwide.

cv_breathing_under_waterBreathing Under Water is a beautifully written, lyrically told tale that takes a tragic and heartbreaking turn. The language is rich and poetic, immersing the reader until they too, drown in the story. I was with Grace as she began her dark, downward spiral, dealing with her grief in a manner that was both destructive to her and the relationships and lives of those she cared for. I was her conscience, wishing she would see what she was doing to herself, wishing that someone would step in and say, “Enough!”

Grace was born 12 minutes after her brother and for her whole life she has felt to be living in his shadow. He was always the golden child, the poster boy surfer, the glint of pride in his father’s eye. But not only that, he was also the spirit, the heart of the family, the spark that kept them all together. So, when tragedy strikes, everything begins to fall apart, starting with Grace…

With its strong Australian vibes, and the passion the prose shows for the ocean, this is sure to strike a chord with teenagers down under. It is emotionally powerful, eloquently written and deeply immersive. For teenagers, I believe, it is important to see how shattered one’s life can become – but how it is still possible to begin to pick up the pieces, mend the cracks and seek renewal. It is a story of grief, and how we deal with it. It is a story of love, and what challenges it. And it is a story of humanity.

It is at times wild, and does feature drugs and sexual references (although those are fairly subtle), as well as some pretty dark themes. As such it is more fitting to a somewhat-mature teen audience – but fans of John Green and Melina Marchetta should devour it greedily. The writing style, likewise, takes a little getting used to – at times it is more poetry than prose – but I found it an evocative and compelling read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Breathing Under Water
by Sophie Hardcastle
Published by Hachette Australia
ISBN 9780733634857