Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle





Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle
Published July 12, 2016 by Hachette
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Ben and Grace Walker are twins. Growing up in a sleepy coastal town it was inevitable they'd surf. Always close, they hung out more than most brothers and sisters, surfing together for hours as the sun melted into the sea. At seventeen, Ben is a rising surf star, the golden son and the boy all the girls fall in love with. Beside him, Grace feels like she is a mere reflection of his light. In their last year of school, the world beckons, full of possibility. For Grace, finishing exams and kissing Harley Matthews is just the beginning.
Then, one day, the unthinkable. The sun sets at noon and suddenly everything that was safe and predictable is lost. And everything unravels.

Breathing Under Water is Sophie Hardcastle's debut novel, set in the fictional coastal town of Marlow. Seventeen year old twins, Grace and Ben live with their parents, a high school teacher and a surfboard maker. Both love to surf and while there's no doubt that Ben will go pro, Grace always feels stuck in his shadow, always second best.

This is a beautifully written book, but it did take me a while to warm to it. Grace is quite a passive character. She allows events to happen around her, she constantly compares herself to Ben, and to her best friend, Mia. When it comes to Ben she feels ignored at home, at school, when surfing. Her dad has one set of rules for Ben, but another for Grace. When she compares herself to Mia, she feels inadequate because she hasn't developed breasts yet, because she's not as bubbly and open, because she's not as popular. The idea of Grace being easily ignored and inferior was really hammered home in the first part of the book, and while it helped to sell what happens later, it felt a bit heavy handed.

The fact that an accident, and possibly a death, was going to occur, hung over the story and each time the kids went for a surf I was anticipating what I thought would happen. When it does finally happen, it occurs off screen, this felt anticlimactic. And this feeling was one of my main issues with the story. I feel like some scenes were cut out on purpose, to perhaps create mystery, but instead it felt like there were things that needed to be dealt with that are left ignored. If it's implied a character gets raped, I expect some fall out from that. For a start it was never clear if that is what occurred and then it's never discussed, by the victim, by the friends or family.

What happens after the accident felt both realistic and slightly unbelievable in parts. I really thought Grace's mum would have noticed her daughter's school attendance, she's a teacher herself and surely the school would have contacted her more. But, perhaps this is why Grace's lack of importance within the family was highlighted so much at the beginning, and now that Ben is gone, she still doesn't register on her mum's radar.

I will mention that I was sent an advanced reading copy (an ARC) so perhaps things were changed in the final edition.

The ending was able to bring me back to the story, I was happy with the resolution, it was very emotional and filled with hope.

Thank you to Hachette for the ARC.


Monday, 22 August 2016

Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell




Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell
Published July 1, 2016 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad's stories.But then Foster's dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.A heartbreaking story about what it means to forget and to be forgotten.

This book, this book, THIS BOOK. I read Dianne's debut novel, Creepy and Maud, a few years ago so I knew Dianne was good at writing heartbreaking stories, but I was still unprepared for the emotions this book would put me through.

Seven year old Foster has a wonderful relationship with his parents, particularly his father. His dad loves to tell stories and encourages Foster to do so as well. They have word games in the car, they tell stories together, each adding a new line or taking the story in a different direction. So it comes as a surprise to Foster when his dad starts to forget things and slowly Foster realises it might not be something he can get back.

I think the saddest thing for me was Foster's age and how hard it was for him to comprehend what was happening to his dad. It's such a young age to start losing your father, even if he's still physically present. Part of the issue is that his mum and aunt keep him in the dark, often deliberately not telling him things with the assumption that it's better he doesn't know. This leads Foster to try and work things out alone, often acting out on purpose just to get some attention.

The author perfectly captures the point of view of a seven year old without ever talking down to the reader or making things too simple. It was compelling to watch Foster work things out on his own, to see his thought process and feel all his emotions.

Thinking back to Creepy & Maud, I remember feeling annoyed at the idea of just how many people have kids and don't stop and think about how their behaviour impacts them, and I feel like it's a subject that Dianne writes about well, whether intentionally or not, and she does so without preaching. All I could think about was how this time in Foster's life was going to change the person he was to become. But things aren't always dealt with in the best way, sometimes things are tough. I will say the ending left me feeling really hopeful that Foster and his family would manage to do the best they could.

Forgetting Foster is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful story about a family dealing with Alzheimer's Disease. It's a book that is perfect for readers of all ages, covering topics from disease, bullying, family secrets, to health care, and love.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy. RRP A$19.99.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye



The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye
Published June 2016 by Harper Collins
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love... or be killed himself.As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear... the Crown’s Game is not one to lose. 

The Crown's Game is Evelyn Skye's debut novel and from the outset I was utterly captivated. Sometimes I read negative reviews of a book and I let them put me off reading it, but I am so glad I gave this a chance. I started out skeptically wondering why, if the tsar needed an enchanter so badly, wouldn't he choose to use both of them? But of course the author had an answer for my ridiculous notion and after that I was completely sold.

Vika Andreyeva is sixteen and has grown up on Ovchinin Island, with her father, Sergei, a Baron. They're isolated from the Russian aristocracy and it's here Vika hones her magical skills. Her strength lies in controlling the weather and elements such as water and fire. Eighteen year old Nikolai Karimov was an orphan taken in by Galina, a countess. His power lies in the mechanics of things, he's good at creating objects that move, as well as putting things together. Seventeen year old Pacha is the tsesarevich, the tsar's son. He has little interest in becoming tsar or attending to any official business. He enjoys hanging out with his best friend, Nikolai, and sneaking away from his guards, dressed as a regular citizen of St Petersburg.

Knowing the three main characters were going to be thrown together, I was prepared for a love triangle, but it never truly formed. While each of the boys liked Vika, I believe she only had eyes for Nikolai, and these feelings took time to evolve, in both directions. Pasha was the only one to fall in love instantly, and perhaps this is because he was constantly on the look our a distraction from his life.

The game itself was not what I was expecting, I thought the enchanters would have to duel it out, attacking each other, but in this case, the tsar suggests they use their turns in the game to enchant the city in honour of Pasha's upcoming birthday. There were some beautiful descriptions of what Vika and Nikolai chose to create, each more imaginative than the last.

There were a few characters I was unsure of such as Pasha's sister, Yuliana. She seemed quite sinister and I was sure she was up to something, only to find she remained more of a background character - perhaps there'll be more of her in the sequel. And Aizhana really surprised me, I didn't see the twist coming at all.

The Crown's Game is beautiful, magical, captivating, and clever. I was utterly enchanted and completely surprised when I found myself heartbroken and in tears at the end.

Thank you to Harper Collins for my review copy.

Monday, 15 August 2016

With Malice by Eileen Cook



With Malice by Eileen Cook
Published June 9, 2016 by Hot Key Books
Source: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…. wasn't just an accident.With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn't the one to blame?

With Malice by Eileen Cook tells the story of eighteen year old Jill Charron. While on a trip to Italy an accident occurred involving her and her best friend, Simone. Jill survived and has woken to find herself back in the USA and without memories of the past 6 weeks. It turns out the Italian authorities, as well as the American public, are blaming her for Simone's death and saying it was planned.

When a book is billed as being "a chilling psychological thriller" I expect that and this story did not deliver. There was no suspense, it was not chilling, and it didn't feel like a thriller at all. It felt like a very slow reveal and then an anti-climatic ending.

I can't quite put my finger on what bothered me about this book, but I think it was a number of things that when added together, just left me unimpressed.

The characterisation seemed weak. The story is told from Jill's perspective but I was never really sure who she was. Sure, she's lost some memories, but she had seventeen years before her memory loss, and even she seemed to question herself. She's mean, judgemental, selfish, and I felt nothing for her.

As well as Jill's thoughts, the story is helped along by news articles, blog posts, comments, police interviews, and emails. At first I thought this would be a good addition to the story, but it turns out they just doubled up the information dumping. First I'd read an article and then I'd have to read Jill's thoughts on how she had just read the same article.

It's hard to talk about anything else without spoiling this for other readers, but overall this was nothing like what the blurb promised and not at all like books I've seen it compared to eg. We Were Liars.

Ableist language: dumb, spaz

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Road to Winter by Mark Smith



The Road to Winter by Mark Smith
Published June 27, 2016 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars


From the blurb:
Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.
He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.
But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.
And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

The Road to Winter is Mark Smith's debut novel, set in the fictional town of Angowrie. When a virus spread throughout the country, people in Finn's small town began to panic. Even with a quarantine in place, people began to get sick or leave. Fifteen year old Finn Morrison has been on his own for two years or more now. His father died and was soon followed by his mother. Finn lives a quiet, simple life, and despite rarely seeing anyone, he is always on alert. He and his dog Rowdy spend their days together, hunting, doing chores, and occasionally surfing. When a girl shows up on the beach one day, his life is changed drastically.

This sort of story always appeals to me because  a story that is as realistic as this one, is always more chilling than a story about something paranormal. In The Road to Winter, we get a snapshot of what happens in a small town when a deadly virus wipes out most of the population. What's happened in major cities or around the world isn't known, all that mattered was Finn and the life he's carved out for himself.

Finn is admirable from the beginning, he's loyal, determined, and optimistic. When things started to get worse, he was sure his town would band together, but he was wrong. Despite losing his parents, he hasn't given up. And when Rose shows up in need of help, he doesn't turn her away, instead he's kind and patient.

It's not clear when this is set, but it's a version of Australia that I do not want to see. The government allowed the importation and sale of refugees as workers and later these refugees were blamed for the virus. Rose is a refugee and what she and her younger sister, Kas, have experienced is horrifying.

The ending is satisfying but also bittersweet, and if I hadn't known about the sequel, it would have been obvious that there was room for one, and it's a book I'm looking forward to.

The Road to Winter is a chilling post-apocalyptic story, but one with plenty of heart and hope . If you're a fan of The Sky So Heavy or Tomorrow, When the War Began, definitely pick this up, it won't disappoint.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.


Monday, 8 August 2016

Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray





Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray
Published May 2016 by Alma Books
Source: Bloomsbury
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Liv Bloom’s life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year-old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into Mum’s shoes. The only person she can turn to is her best friend Sarah, who gets out of scrapes at school and is a constant source of advice and companionship. One day Liv discovers a book of recipes written in her mum’s handwriting, which sets her off on a journey towards self-discovery and reconciliation – but a theft, a love rivalry and a school bully are just some of the many obstacles on the way.Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts is a coming-of-age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are. 

How would you describe a recipe book? Sweet, satisfying, and complicated. Caramel Hearts is all those things and more. Set in a fictional area of North-East England, Egerton, fourteen year old Liv has just discovered an old cookbook belonging to her alcoholic mother. Her mother is in a womens home for another attempt at recovery, and Liv's older sister, Hatty, has left uni in Edinburgh to return home and care for her. Her father left when she was two years old and she's grown up knowing her mother blames her for his absence.

I only recently heard of Caramel Hearts but I knew it was a book I had to read. E.R. Murray has perfectly captured what it's like to live and grow up with an alcoholic parent. Liv's house is in a low-income area, and neither she nor the residents of the area are strangers to hard times.  Liv and Hatty have been doing ok, but they do clash, both girls struggling to control their emotions, something they learnt subconsciously from their mother. She may not be in the house, but her presence is certainly still felt.

Liv's optimism and enthusiasm was beautiful, but also so easily crushed. Discovering the cookbook sparks something inside her and she longs to be able to whip up the creations she reads about, but funds are tight. She resorts to lying to the cook at school, and later to stealing, to accomplish her dreams. She believes that baking is a way to reach her mum, even if at the same time, she wishes she didn't have to see her mum again.

This is the heart of what it's like to be parented by an alcoholic, you crave their attention and approval, while at the same time you despise their weakness. You pick up their behaviour, that Jekyll and Hyde mentality - one minute you're high as a kite, the next your mood is as low as it can go. From happy to rage in a matter of seconds. Liv struggles with this throughout the whole story and it was frustrating but realistic.

The recipes were a really lovely touch, each of them sounding more delicious than the last. It was a good outlet for Liv, and ultimately a way to bring her closer to her mum.

Caramel Hearts is a touching, heartbreaking, and very true to life look at a family dealing with alcoholism.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my review copy.


Thank you to E.R. Murray for participating in the following interview: 

1. How long have you been writing? 

I’ve been writing with a view to being published since around 2009, but in truth, the written word has always been part of my life. As a child, I was an avid reader and I would devour anything I could get my hands on at the local library. I particularly loved myth and legend, and I wrote lengthy epic poems that filled whole notebooks, packed with heroes and murders and vengeful gods. They were rather verbose (and not very good) but I fell in love with the writing process. I had a few poems published locally at school, but after that, life got in the way and although I remained an avid reader, I forgot about writing for a while. I concentrated on getting through uni, travel and working my way up the career ladder; eventually I realised this was futile and writing returned to me, like an old friend, in my late 20s. Although I didn’t even consider publication at that time, I was just enjoying playing with words, I was hooked and I haven’t looked back since. 

2. Why do you write for young adults?

It’s not really a conscious decision; I get the character and mood first, then I find the story by writing lots of quick and terrible drafts. I vomit words onto the page, writing myself into cul-de-sacs so I can find the story. The story then dictates the intended age group of the reader, I do love young adult fiction; I think it’s brave and compelling and exciting, so I’m glad Caramel Hearts joined the ranks, even if it wasn’t initially intentional!

3. What does a typical writing day look like for you?

I hate routine so I try and mix it up as best as I can – routine bores me and makes me lethargic – but I always give the best part of my day, the part when I’m most alert and creative, to my writing. This used to be early morning, around 6am, and that would be when I usually wrote, but these days I’ve found that those early starts aren’t working any more. I think it’s because I’m tired – I’m working on my fourth book in 20 months, with three books published in a 12 month period – and so I’m exploring a different way of working. 

I have heard other writers say that suddenly they wake up one day and their usual routine just doesn’t work any more, so maybe I’ve hit that point? Who knows! What I do know is that I’ve taken the pressure off myself – writing shouldn’t feel like a battle – and I’m starting later, at 12 noon (or before if I’m ready) with the morning focusing on walking the dog, the vegetable garden. Going to the gym and swimming pool, and remembering to eat breakfast! I find outdoors and exercise invigorating, and so far so good, though it’s only been a week! Figuring out your process is all part of the fun. 

4. Do you plan and plot or just write and see where it takes you?

No plotting or planning at all; I thought this would change when I was working on Book 2 and 3 of my Nine Lives trilogy – seeing as I already had the characters and some of their story – but it hasn’t. I write a first draft of 50-60K words in a month (it comes to a natural end) without editing a thing. I like the frenzy of it, the freedom. It’s so bad, I wouldn’t even show it to my dog, but I need to do this to find the story. Then, I let the manuscript sit for a week or two before rewriting – this is the real first draft, where things start to fall into place. This is a clumsy and messy way to write, and it needs lots of rewrites, but I make huge leaps between drafts and up to now, this is the only way I can work. 

5. What are you working on now?

I’m writing the final book in my Nine Lives Trilogy, The Book of Revenge. It’s difficult because although I love trying to wrap up the story of Ebony Smart, I have a new idea that is calling me – a sparkling, shiny idea that is making lots of promises, like new projects do! So far I’m managing to stay focused, but when the manuscript is delivered to my publishers, I’m going on a month’s break to Bangkok to recharge. Then it’ll be back to edits and more edits – only I’ll be playing with my new project during the quiet periods when my book is with my editor. I’m excited!

Seven Irish Young Adults Writers Everyone Should Read

I was asked for five book recommendations but seeing as choosing a favourite book is like choosing a favourite puppy, I thought I’d recommend some writers instead. And seeing as I live in Ireland, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite Irish writers right now… And seeing as I’m cheeky, I decided to sneak an extra two in… (I’d love to see some Australian YA author recommendations in the comments below).

Claire Hennessy: Claire’s latest, Nothing Tastes as Good, is so smart and funny and snarky, it’s completely unique – but Claire was 14 when she was first published, so she has many books for you to choose from! 

Kim Hood: for raw, emotional and moving tales of friendship, family and teenage struggles, Kim is a master. Both Plain Jane and Finding a Voice are unforgettable reads.  

Ruth Long: If urban fantasy is your thing, check out Ruth’s dark and daring Dublin-based trilogy, starting with A Crack in Everything and continuing on with A Hollow In the Hills. Faerie folk like you never imagined them!  

Louise O’Neill: Although completely different in style and theme, both of Louise’s books have won multiple awards; Asking For It is a brutally honest story that explores rape culture, and Only Ever Yours is a brilliant futuristic tale that explores body image and society’s expectations of women. 

Dave Rudden: Another fantasy writer, Dave’s use of language is sublime, his characters are gripping, and the overall tone dark and delicious – read Knights of The Borrowed Dark and be blown away! 

Deirdre Sullivan: another versatile writer, Deirdre’s books include the witty and wonderful Primrose Leary trilogy (starting with Prim Improper), and the incredible Needlework dealing with the aftermath of abuse; it’s beautiful, poetic and heart wrenching.  

Sheena Wilkinson: if you like books that are real, that show life in all its guises, Sheena’s Belfast-based stories are honest, gritty and very, very moreish. Taking Flight is one of my favourites.  

To learn more about E.R. Murray visit her website or connect with her on twitter @ERMurray or instagram elizabethrosemurray.


Cover design: Jem Butcher

I love this cover design and it makes for a fun and easy manicure. I started with a base of white polish and used acrylic paint for the hearts




Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Another Day by David Levithan



Another Day (Every Day #2) by David Levithan
Published August 2015 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin. She’s even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.But one morning everything changes. Justin wants to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning.Confused, depressed and desperate for another great day, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Until a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with—the one who made her feel like a real person—wasn’t Justin at all. 

I read Every Day by David Levithan over three years ago, I found it completely captivating but I was also left with a lot of questions about how and why A's life is the way it is. I was expecting to have all of those questions answered in the sequel, Another Day, but instead it's a look at the same time period only through the eyes of Rhiannon.

Despite not having read Every Day recently, I didn't feel the need to re-read it in order to move onto Another Day, in fact I think some time in between is a good thing, otherwise the story might seem even more repetitive.

I really felt for Rhiannon and the way Justin treats her, I could feel how scared she always is, how his moodiness brings her down, how lonely and on edge she is. This is made worse by the fact that she has no one to talk to - Justin calls her crazy, her friends would encourage her to dump him, her older sister is away at college, and she doesn't get on with her mum and dad. No one should be with someone who they're afraid of, who uses and manipulates them. Seeing how Rhiannon lived broke my heart.

Her relationship with A is just as complicated and confusing as it was from A's point of view, only this time we get to see how Rhiannon starts falling for A, how she tries to adjust and make it work.

As a personal aside, I loved Rhi's explanation on why she's vegetarian, I mentioned this in my review of Every Day but I had to mention it again. It's spot on, succinct, and definitely sounds like the reasoning of someone who is vegetarian/vegan.

Another Day is a thought provoking story on acceptance and what people will go through to be with someone they love.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my review copy.