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Us
Us

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A favourite of 2014, October 4, 2014
This review is from: Us (Kindle Edition)
'Us' is the much-anticipated new novel from David Nicholls, coming five years after his successful `One Day', which sold 5 million copies and was made into a movie starring Anne Hathaway.

After `OneDay' came out, Nicholls was heralded as something of a lad-lit novelist, with Richard Curtis rom-com undertones ... and perhaps for that novels' enormous commercial success, he was marked as something of a lightweight. As Mark Lawson summarised for The Guardian recently: "assumed to be a sentimental populist by those who have read about his success rather than reading his books." So it came as somewhat of a surprise when before `Us' even hit bookshelves, it was longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The longlisting has probably left some to wonder if there's more to Nicholls than they first thought (undoubtedly), or if the Man Booker should go down in their esteem - but I quite liked Nicholls' summary of the accolade: "I'm trying to give an answer that isn't too insipid, but I was extremely flattered by it, and in the same way I was a bit surprised, I'm sure lots of other commentators were surprised."

I, personally, loved `One Day' - and his novel before that `Starter For Ten' is also a favourite of mine. And while he hasn't released a book in five years, I've also enjoyed following his television-writing career - his most recent TV movie `The 7.39' was particularly wonderful. So I was just excited to read something new from Nicholls, accolades or no, because I find his books to be both comforting and mildly confronting as he explores rather ho-hum aspects of middle-class existence with cutting humour and uncomfortable introspection. I loved `Us', and will mark it as a favourite of 2014.

`Us' is about the Petersen family Grand Tour of Europe - London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Venice, Florence, Siena, Madrid and Barcelona - with Connie, Douglas and their 18-year-old son Albie who is about to go off to college and study photography. But the Grand Tour is a more weighted affair for Douglas, who a few weeks previously was told by his wife that she intends to leave him.

As a man of science, biochemist Douglas believes that with forethought and planning he can use the Grand Tour as a last-ditch effort to save his marriage. But of course it all goes horribly, horribly wrong amidst the Botticellis and Uccellos of Paris and the Rembrandts and Vermeers of Amsterdam.

Douglas is our narrator, and for reasons of openness and thoroughness (and just plain common sense) he would probably be the first to admit that he'll be an unreliable one at that. The book is told in `real-time' as the Grand Tour gets underway, while Douglas also recounts his and Conie's decades-plus marriage in flashback chapters that run concurrently to his detailing their family's holiday from hell.

I would hesitate to call `Us' a romance - because by the time we meet them on their Grand Tour, I think it is unmistakable that Douglas and Connie are at a rather perilous point in their marriage. This is further evidenced by their opposites-attracting courtship that Douglas recounts. Connie is the artistic, bohemian in their marriage, while Douglas is the Type-A personality who, try as he might, never quite grasped the spontaneity and laissez-faire attitude Connie has been trying to instil in him since they met. But, at the same time, I would call `Us' a romance of sorts, as the book is very much about the relationship between Douglas and his son, Albie.

Albie takes after his mother in all things, and since wriggling out of his father's grasp at age eight Albie has treated Douglas with a special kind of contempt, while also harbouring a deep-seated (not entirely inaccurate) belief that he is a great disappointment to him: "I have had some experience of unrequited love in the past and that was no picnic, I can tell you. But the unrequited love of one's only living offspring has its own particular slow acid burn."

Something that struck me while reading `Us' was that there is a hint of `One Day' in the book, and I do wonder if the kernel of an idea was planted back in Dexter Mayhew's relationship with his father, Steven. Dexter's father quite openly disapproved of his son's lifestyle choices, and Dexter was much closer to his mother (the two of them often sharing private jokes at his father's expense). There was also something quite lovely about that relationship by the end of the novel, when Dexter's father (knowing from experience what his son was going through) helped get Dexter through a great depression and out of bed in the morning.

I know that lots of people read `One Day' and couldn't quite champion the romance aspect, because Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew were often prickly characters and not very easy to like. Those same people will probably struggle with `Us' too; as Douglas, Connie and Albie are all hard to swallow at times. But that's half the appeal of Nicholls, for me anyway - it's not just that he writes flawed characters, but that he writes them with such uncomfortable aplomb. If you can't see your own flaws in them, then they'll at least remind you of what you so dislike about other people in your life ... Though, having said that and for all his flaws, there's something charming about Douglas. I was going to write `pathetically charming' but it's not even that - he is so downtrodden and beaten in this book, but that he champions his own marriage and family is kind of remarkable, even when faced with such devastating odds.

While reading this I did also think that Douglas Petersen has something of the Don Tillman to him (the Asperger's hero of Graeme Simsion's own publishing phenomenon `Rosie Project' and this year's `Rosie Effect'). Douglas and Don are the men of science in love with carefree wives Connie and Rosie, and I can imagine that if Rosie threw down a divorce gauntlet, Don would pick it up in much the methodical, calculated way that Douglas does ... but at the same time, I think `Us' has more in common with Rainbow Rowell's 2014 novel `Landline'. Both are about marriage-in-crisis, and begin at a crossroads in the very real possibility of separation. Rowell and Nicholls also employ similar flashback techniques, though with varying success - for Douglas, recounting his and Connie's life together is all part of gathering the facts and empirical evidence of happier times and also trying to pinpoint where it all started to go wrong. In `Landline', protagonist Georgie discovers an old rotary phone that allows her to dial her husband (before he became her husband) in the past - reliving a happier time in their courtship. I wasn't a huge fan of `Landline', and found the recounting of a marriage in strife to be quite dull ... Nicholls, for his telling this tale from the perspective of stick-in-the-mud husband whose battle changes to being more about connecting with his son, was far more interesting to me.

`Us' does read like a coming-of-age novel, even though Douglas is 54-years-old when he starts having these cataclysmic revelations about his wife and life. And the book is a bit like reading a car crash in slow motion, as readers reach the inevitable conclusion far quicker and easier than Douglas ever does. But for all that this is a sad subject to be exploring (and a somewhat pedestrian one - how many marriage end in divorce now, and late-in-life divorce is also on the rise) it didn't feel like a sad book. I laughed so much while reading, and I admired Douglas as a quiet everyday-hero who is doing something so ordinarily admirable in his life. I loved that this is really more a father-son relationship book, and that it felt like the resounding BOOM! of echoes from Nicholl's `One Day', and even `Starter For Ten' which explored the absence of a father in protagonist Brian Jackson's life.

I love David Nicholls, I've missed him and am quietly thrilled that despite a five-year absence, I count his triumphant return to bookshelves as a favourite of 2014.


The Infinite Sea: The Second Book of the 5th Wave
The Infinite Sea: The Second Book of the 5th Wave
by Richard Yancey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.16
129 used & new from $4.88

14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bring on the alien-hordes, but pray for the tardy bell!, September 28, 2014
*** This review contains spoilers for first book `The Fifth Wave' ***

When we last left Cassie Sullivan, she'd been reunited with her little brother after storming Vosch's command centre and discovering her high-school crush, Ben Parish, among a band of human mercenaries who had been brain-washed into believing they were fighting the alien invasion ... without realising it was the aliens who had been training them.

But in finding her brother and breaking into the alien command centre, Cassie also lost the one person who had become so important to her since the First Wave hit ...Evan Walker. Alien in a human body - Evan was the Silencer sent to kill Cassie, but instead he fell in love with her. Now, for all Cassie knows, he's dead. Just like her mother, her father - and so many others.

Now Cassie is hanging out with a band of brother soldiers - a severely wounded Ben Parish, her little brother Sam (sometimes called Nugget), Dumbo, Poundcake, Teacup and Ringer (`Marika') - a particularly hardened soldier who is sent out to locate a new safe house for her crew. But Cassie wants to stay and wait for Evan - convinced that he'll keep his promise to her, and return.

`The Infinite Sea' is the second book in Rick Yancey's sci-fi young adult series, `The Fifth Wave'.

Between `TheFifth Wave' and `The Infinite Sea', it was announced that Rick Yancey's first book in this new series would be adapted into a movie. And is it really any wonder? `The Fifth Wave' was always destined for the big screen, when Yancey wrote such an addictive, alien-hordes thriller that was a fairly universally praised crowd-pleaser.

So going into `The Infinite Sea' it's all but impossible to not start thinking of how this story will likewise translate to the big screen - Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, If I Stay) will play Cassie Sullivan amongst a cast of relative unknowns (though Nick Robinson playing Ben Parish was great in The Kings of Summer, and will be an action-hero star by the end of 2015, as he's also appearing in Jurassic World). Yancey and Susannah Grant will be writing the screenplay (Grant wrote Erin Brockovich) and Columbia Pictures are producing. And as if fans don't have enough to get excited about with a `Fifth Wave' adaptation, they'll also be thrilled with this follow-up, which creeps us closer to the trilogy's finale.

`The Infinite Sea' begins on the flipside of `The Fifth Wave' high-octane opener, which saw protagonist Cassie trapped beneath a car on a deserted highway by a Silencer - an alien marksman. In this sequel's opener readers find themselves in the calm before the storm. Our band of merry humans are holed up in a rat-infested motel, trapped by Ben Parish's mortal wounds and Cassie's determined belief that Evan Walker survived the attack and will be coming for her, to meet in this agreed-upon location. Everyone is on-edge, feeling not unlike sitting ducks. And, sure enough, the calm doesn't last long - as is becoming Yancey's MO in this series, a moment of peace and quiet for these characters will eventually equal adrenalin-fuelled terror in the coming pages and chapters.

Interestingly though, Yancey keeps swerving and cutting into the drama to make for a few cliff-hanger chapters. And unlike the first book, which saw Ben and Cassie sharing the alternate narrative, `The Infinite Sea' expands to include perspective from Evan, Ringer and even Poundcake. This alternation heightened tension again and again, but also gave readers a chance to get inside the heads of these tricky characters in a way we wouldn't be able to if only seeing them through Cassie and Ben's eyes.

Evan's chapters are particularly fascinating, as he's an alien with the memories of his human-half. In this book he reflects on the moment when, as a teenager, he became aware of an `other' occupying his mind.

A recurring symbol in this novel is `rats' - the young army crew, youngest girl Teacup in particular, are haunted by the rats who scurry in the walls of the motel they're holed up in. And a few alien characters allude to thinking of humans on this earth as rats - vermin, to be exterminated. It's a disturbing, and bleak symbol to keep touching on, but an apt one for our humans to be preoccupied with. Even more interesting is that Yancey often parallels the rat discussions against more theological talk around what these humans are surviving for - hope, dissent, love? What hope do these humans have surviving against a far superior race, especially if they are the last humans on Earth? Ben Parish has a particularly poignant soliloquy on his longing for the tardy bell: "Think about it! When a tardy bell rings again, normal is back. Kids rushing to class, sitting around bored, waiting for the final bell, and thinking about what they'll do that night, that weekend, that next fifty years. They'll be learning like we did about natural disasters and disease and world wars. You know: `When the aliens came, seven billion people died,' and then the bell will ring and everybody will go to lunch and complain about the soggy Tater Tots. Like, `Whoa, seven billion people, that's a lot. That's sad. Are you going to eat all those Tots?' That's normal. That's what matters."

I love that: a teenage boy's reason for combating an alien-horde is the hope that soggy Tater Tots will again be served. On the one hand it's flippant and funny - but on the other, Ben Parish totally nails it.

A big drawcard of the first book was Cassie and Evan's completely wonderful and complicated romance - alien boy falls in love with the human he was sent to eliminate. I think some readers will be somewhat less thrilled with the romance in this book, but as this is the second outing it's not surprising that Yancey went for deeper explorations into Evan and Cassie's complexity, rather than skimming over with kisses and puppy-dog eyes (something Cassie makes fun of).

I loved `The Infinite Sea' - and I'm excited that 2015 will gift readers both a `Fifth Wave' movie adaptation and the finale book in Rick Yancey's addictive, adrenaline-fuelled trilogy. Bring on the alien-hordes, but pray for the tardy bell!


Afterworlds
Afterworlds
by Scott Westerfeld
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.39
123 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Westerfeld is conducting a symphony on the page, September 24, 2014
This review is from: Afterworlds (Hardcover)
‘Afterworlds’ is the new contemporary/paranormal stand-alone novel from YA-genius Scott Westerfeld.

The tagline for ‘Afterworlds’ reads: "Darcy writes the words. Lizzie lives them." Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. Westerfeld has essentially written a two-in-one novel. First we meet eighteen-year-old Darcy Patel, who has just signed a six-figure, three-book deal with Paradox Publishers for her debut YA trilogy ‘Afterworlds’ … then in alternating chapters we read ‘Afterworlds’, which is about perfectly normal teenager Lizzie who survives a terrorist attack that leaves her with the ability to see a hidden world beneath our own – the world of the dead.

Sound tricky? It’s surprisingly not – the ‘Afterworlds’ chapters are differentiated from Darcy’s with sold black lines at the top and bottom of the page, not to mention Darcy’s chapters are decidedly contemporary, while Lizzie’s story is very much paranormal romance. Both are told in third-person, but are so different in tone and what they’re exploring that you never, ever get confused as to which world you’re in with each new chapter …

In Darcy’s world, we are bearing witness to a rising new talent in the YA literary world. Darcy is being touted as the new “it” girl of publishing (think Samantha Shannon, Veronica Roth or Sarah J. Maas – all very young first-time novelists who nabbed huge multi-book deals for their debut works) Darcy is so invested in becoming a full-time novelist, that she even defers College for a year to move to New York, home of her publishing house and a city with enough life that she feels sure her creative juices will flow more easily there. Darcy’s first novel ‘Afterworlds’ is to be released in 428-days (her younger sister keeps a countdown) and she has to get through rewrites and edits, and start thinking about plotting the second instalment in the series … but she is the hot new novelist in town, and soon finds herself suckered into the YA writer’s club of NYC. She gets invited to drinks and parties to mingle with the authors she’s grown up admiring – sharing canapés and discussing each other’s new books like it’s no big thing (when she’s squealing inside!). Then she meets fellow debut author, Imogen Gray and soon finds herself swept up in her first ever romance that’s fuelled by creativity and lust in a heady combination that could see Darcy lose sight of why she came to New York in the first place….

Much is being made of the fact that art is imitating life in Westerfeld’s ‘Afterworlds’. He is, of course, at the centre of the infamous YA writers club that Darcy is so awed by. First published in 1997, Westerfeld is the author of successful YA series including ‘Uglies’, ‘Peeps’ and ‘Leviathan’. He’s also married to fellow bestselling YA author Justine Larbalestier … and if you need further proof of his impressive standing in the YA-community, just look at the shout-outs in his acknowledgements: Maureen Johnson, E. Lockhart, Robin Wasserman … not to mention the likes of Holly Black, John Green and Gayle Forman have appeared in spoof ‘attack ads’ promoting ‘Afterworlds’ (and yes, the novel does include a John Green-esque character who’s likewise a YA juggernaut). Westerfeld and Larbalestier have many, many friends in the YA community and are part of many authors’ origin stories – like Melina Marchetta, who has said that the couple offered her their New York apartment as a writing retreat, and it was while staying there that she had the idea for ‘The Lumatere Chronicles’ series (interestingly, there’s an Australian character called Kiralee in ‘Afterworlds’, who I don’t think is Marchetta, but more represents the recent Aussie YA stronghold of the YA writing scene). All of this is very, very fascinating … particularly when Westerfeld gets tongue-in-cheek and somewhat snarky. For instance: Darcy is a little intimidated and annoyed by the ‘debutante’ authors (debut author for that publishing year) who are full of painfully terrible doomsday-advice (like, if your surname isn’t at the beginning of the alphabet for best shelf-placement you may as well be dead!). There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that those of us on the fringe of the YA community will get excited over.

But, fun as all the inner-workings of the YA community are in this book (and real YA- aficionados will totally gobble up this behind-the-curtains peek Westerfeld is offering into our favourite author’s lives) he’s actually doing many great things in ‘Afterworlds’ that deserve praise – both in Darcy’s as well as Lizzie’s worlds.

For one thing, Westerfeld opens up discussion about appropriation in writing through Darcy’s chapters. Darcy is Hindu – or, her parents are – and in ‘Afterworlds’ she’s turned a Hindu death-god into a love interest for Lizzie.
She didn’t do this with any sort of malice in mind, far from it, but she’s still reluctant to let her parents read the manuscript for fear of their response … and when fellow author Kiralee speaks about her own struggles with appropriating Indigenous culture in her bestselling book, Darcy becomes somewhat panicked by her sudden self-awareness. This is so fascinating on a number of levels – for one thing, I think Westerfeld is questioning if he is appropriating Hindu culture by writing an Indian protagonist in Darcy. He’s also, maybe, asking if he’s appropriating LGBTQI culture … because in Darcy’s chapters we read an unfolding romance between her and Imogen – Darcy’s first ever relationship. It’s really tricky, and I commend Westerfeld for putting the question out there, let alone writing both racially and sexually diverse characters in both his stories. I don’t know what the answer is to the question of appropriation that Darcy is grappling with – but I do enjoy her tussling with the question throughout the book.

I will say that Darcy’s chapters, overall, were stronger for me. That comes down to me really, really enjoying the tongue-in-cheek YA writers scenes, and thinking that Darcy and Imogen’s romance was really strong – I was probably more eager to get back to the contemporary chapters than Lizzie’s paranormal ones, and especially towards the end I got a little frustrated having to return to the fictional world of Darcy’s ‘Afterworlds’. But that’s not to say that Westerfeld leaves all of the theorising in the contemporary world – his paranormal story also throws out some interesting questions, particularly around action-hero/damsel-in-distress conventions:

I really can’t get over the phenomenal pacing of this novel. It really is like Westerfeld is conducting a symphony on the page – keeping track of so many players and plots, themes and deeper meanings – and he plays them all beautifully. This is a stand-alone novel (though Darcy has more to write…) and I think it works really well as a one-off. Mostly because I can see how hard Westerfeld must have worked with ‘Afterworlds’, and I can imagine it would have been a gruelling experience he wouldn’t be too quick to rush back into.

I really, really loved this book – a sure sign was that while reading I was getting excited by the prospect of *talking* about this book with other people. Yep, it’s that kinda book.

4.5/5


Guy in Real Life
Guy in Real Life
by Steve Brezenoff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.62
68 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the disconnection between who we are online, and who we wish we were offline, September 6, 2014
This review is from: Guy in Real Life (Hardcover)
It’s a pretty typical night for Lesh Tungsten (his mum is a big Grateful Dead fan), he’s spent the night at a heavy metal concert with is best friend Greg, watching one of their favourite bands, and now he has a belly full of alcohol and the long walk home to puke his guts up. But while stumbling his way homeward bound he crashes into a girl on a bike – a beautiful, hippy girl wearing an odd long skirt and with her gold-white hair streaming around her. Even in his drunken, sorry state Lesh is struck by her beauty and commitment to alternative swear words – fiddlestick! He thinks that’s the last he’ll see of the mysterious girl …

Svetlana’s favourite sketchbook was ruined in the encounter with the drunken metal-boy last night. But it’s alright, because she has copies of her precious gamekeeper log – complete with drawings of the fabulously frightening monsters she and her friends encounter while playing their fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG). It should be the last time she thinks of that wretched drunkard boy, until she returns to school and spots him eating in the cafeteria. To avoid an unwanted amorous encounter with the son of her family’s friends, Svetlana decides to use the metal-boy as a distraction and dine with him … whereupon she learns that his name is Lesh and he isn’t so vile.

Lesh can’t quite believe that beautiful bike girl – real name the lip-bitingly sexy Svetlana – sat with him, let alone had a conversation with him. Admittedly, it was to avoid a fellow senior (and seeming lap-dog) named Fry, but Lesh will take it. Especially since his parents have recently grounded him, and Lesh is finding room confinement so awful, he’s turned to playing his best friend Greg’s ridiculously stupid and geeky multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Lesh is currently playing as an ogre – a boring, stupid, smelly ogre in this stupid boring online game. But, actually, since his second encounter with Svetlana, Lesh can’t stop thinking about her … that’s the excuse he’ll go with, if he gets caught out making a character in this online game who looks just like her (in elf form) named Svvetlana.

‘Guy in Real Life’ is the new contemporary YA novel by American author Steve Brezenoff.

This was such an interesting book, particularly for being a YA romance. I’d certainly say it’s unlike any other contemporary romance I’ve ever read, and that’s one of the book’s biggest strengths. It’s alternately narrated in first-person by Lesh, Svetlana and Lesh’s elf character creation ‘Svvetlana’, as she navigates the online game he’s playing. The book is really interesting for observing the teen worlds of role-playing (reminiscent of ‘Dungeons and Dragons’) and online game-playing (akin to ‘World of Warcraft’), but it’s real heart and soul lies in Lesh’s explorations into his feminie side when he enters into the online domain as female Svvetlana … and how confusing that is for him.

I started reading this book the same week that the news story broke about feminist video game critic, the fantastic Anita Sarkeesian, receiving a number of murder threats that resulted in her fleeing her home – further highlighting the reality behind the online misogyny she discusses in her YouTube show. Perhaps for that reason I found myself wishing that Brezenoff explored more the online harassment women experience online in MMORPG’s – particularly because Lesh was in a really interesting position to comment on it. As it is, there were one or two disturbing scenes that touched on the sexual harassment and brutality against women and they were fascinating and disturbing. Lesh observes his friend Greg playing the online game, and at one point stalking a female character (though it’s not clear if the actual person playing her is male or female), killing her, and then waiting for her resurrection to kill her again;

I really, really loved this book – I got suckered into it so quickly, not unlike Lesh being unwittingly sucked into the online game. Brezenoff has done a marvellous job of teasing out Lesh and Svetlana’s real and fantasy worlds – in the real world Svetlana adores Björk, dragons, drawing and sewing, and is the black sheep in her all-American family of soccer fanatics who can’t understand why she doesn’t reciprocate the affections of Fry, the son of their oldest friends.

Lesh, meanwhile, has two parents who work all the time to put food on the table. He’s trying to deal with his raging hormones that alternate between fantasizing about beautiful, strawberry-smelling Svetlana and metal girl Jelly, whose belly-button ring sends him to distraction. He loves heavy metal, but his time as the good, loyal and morally righteous Svvetlana has him feeling shame and wondering if the next step after game-playing as a woman online is turning to drag in real life.

If I had any other complaints about the book, it’s that a character who is only revealed at the very end felt interesting enough to have perhaps warranted a fourth narrative. But that’s a minor complaint, and I think that character still served an important service that spun back around to highlighting the online/offline abuse of women.

I loved ‘Guy in Real Life’. It’s the first YA book I’ve ever read (though I’m not claiming there are none others out there) that so beautifully explores these fantasy-created worlds that many people live in, and the disconnection between who we are online and who we wish we were offline. Brezenoff touches on sexism and misogyny, and through Lesh’s creation of Svvetlana he really excels at having his male character walk a mile in a woman’s shoes. Outstanding, and a favourite novel of 2014 for sure.


As Stars Fall
As Stars Fall

4.0 out of 5 stars A ‘Silent Spring’ for young adults that also explores dramas of the heart, August 27, 2014
This review is from: As Stars Fall (Kindle Edition)
The book begins with a curlew watching a bushfire rage: "The light was strange. The darkness was a deep red, and there was a thickness between the stars."

There is a human caught in the “stinging air”, and the curlew watches on as the human is, “Taken away. Bought forever to the stars.”

Thus begins Christie Nieman’s debut Australian YA novel, ‘As Stars Fall’.

From the beginning alone, readers will know that they are about to go on a somewhat harrowing journey made no less painful for the poignancy of Nieman’s masterful words. I was not surprised to discover that Christie Nieman is in fact a playwright, even winning a Green Room Award for her play ‘Call me Komachi’. She sets the stage for this novel so beautifully – beginning with a scene many Australians will be familiar with. Even if you’re not someone who has found themselves and their town ravaged or threatened by bushfire, the summer seasons in Australia are often marked by a tragedy we are all too familiar with. Watching the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires on the TV, visiting the eerie memorial to the 2003 Canberra bushfires, I’ve even heard first-hand accounts of the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires from my dad, who was a police officer at the time and sent to direct fleeing traffic. Nieman’s book begins from the point of view of a curlew bird watching the flames come, and then alternates to the perspective of a human woman about to be swallowed up by the fiery monster – it’s a viscerally frightening scene made even more so for the calm beauty of Nieman’s words, describing something so sinister and mindless.

From there, we are introduced to three main players. There’s first-person narration from Robin Roberts (cruel parents), a country girl who has moved to the city with her mum – leaving behind her beloved Murramunda after fires ravaged the land.

Robin meets and reluctantly befriends a strange girl at her school called Delia … whose mother was the human that the curlew bird was watching in the beginning, being consumed by a firewall.

Delia and her brother Seth’s chapters are in third person, perhaps a reflection of the disconnection they feel, living in the fallout of their mother’s tragic death. A lecturer, their mum was in the bush doing research on the bush stone-curlew – the very same bird that Delia notices Robin idly sketching during detention one day.

Robin is, in fact, a “bird nerd” feeling unsettled in the concrete city jungle, partly because she misses the variety of birds. When Robin, Seth and Delia discover a bush stone-curlew in nearby parklands, the discovery binds them together ever tighter.

Christie Nieman really needs to be commended – she’s clearly done a lot of research into the psychological impacts of bushfires, particularly on teenagers. Delia and Seth are coping in their own, very different ways. For Delia, it’s throwing herself into her mother’s research on the curlew and looking for connections and glimpses of fate in the wake of her loss. For Seth, it’s choosing oblivion with the drug ‘angel dust’, and many of his chapters read like wading through the smoky haze of his subconscious and self-hatred.

Robin is also feeling the impact of the bushfires, but mainly in the displacement of home and the fractures she’s felt in her family; "I should have seen it as an omen, the birds all leaving like that. They left first, and then Mum and I left for the city a few weeks later. And I haven’t been back since. I don’t even know if any of them have returned."

I really loved that Nieman went into the range of loss for these characters – particularly because their pain is so viscerally connected to nature. This is really a recurring theme in the novel, as Nieman explores the side-by-side affects of disaster on both humans, nature and wildlife; "And that’s the complicated thing about disturbance. It’s a natural part of an ecosystem. It compels life, it changes life, it makes like dynamic. It makes an ecosystem what it is, and it makes us who we are too. But it can be dangerous: give an ecosystem, or a person, too much disturbance, and it can drive them past their point of no return."

I did occasionally feel quite cold towards Seth and Delia, but only because they felt deliberately distanced from readers with their third-person narration. Compared to Robin’s voice – vibrant, sometimes combative, a little bit cheeky – Delia and particularly Seth’s chapters were harder to get through. I appreciate that this was deliberate, and a way for Nieman to communicate just how disconnected the siblings are after the loss of their mother, but it was my response to their chapters nonetheless.

‘As Stars Fall’ is a tender morsel of a novel, a ‘Silent Spring’ for young adults that also explores dramas of the heart in the wake of nature’s tragedy. Christie Nieman is bringing something very different to contemporary YA, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.


Like No Other
Like No Other
by Una LaMarche
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $9.99
89 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute triumph for Una LaMarche, August 26, 2014
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This review is from: Like No Other (Hardcover)
There's a storm raging across New York, and at a Brooklyn hospital two teenagers from vastly different worlds are about to collide.

Jaxon is sixteen-years-old and currently sitting by his best friend's bedside, after Ryan attempted to jump a fallen tree branch with his skateboard and got a broken arm in the process.

Devorah is also sixteen, sitting in a waiting room with her pious brother-in-law, Jacob, awaiting the premature birth of her first niece. As the generators power on, Devorah becomes increasingly worried for her eighteen-year-old sister Rose as she goes into labour; their parents are out of town visiting a sick aunt, and it's down to Devorah to be her sister's strength.

But when Jaxon and Devorah - two perfect strangers who couldn't be more opposite - get into the hospital elevator, they have no idea what fate has in store for them. The elevator stops and throws them into darkness - stuck, as the storm outside cuts power to the hospital.

Forced to keep one another company, Devorah only remembers that the boy in the elevator is very tall, and black and she's breaking `yichud' by even just telling him her name - because her Jewish religious law says she cannot speak to men outside her family and unchaperoned ... never mind that her family really wouldn't want her talking to someone who is so very secular.

Devorah, Jaxon learns, is a Hasidic Jewish girl who lives practically next-door to him in Brooklyn ... except she's from the Hasidic community of Crown Heights. When he can't contain his shock at this revelation, and Devorah replies with a snappy; "What? We all look the same to you?" he feels himself falling harder and faster for this girl than he ever has in his not-so-illustrious romantic history.

And even though the two of them part ways after an elevator rescue - they both conspire to meet again, each intrigued by the other and consumed by the need to see where their attraction may lead ...

`Like No Other' is the new contemporary young adult novel from American author Una LaMarche.

This book has been on my radar for a while now - after that gorgeous cover came out (illustration by Michael Kirkham) and the story promised some much-needed diversity in YA. I went into this book with extremely high-hopes ... and by about 10 pages, I was relieved to discover that each and every one would be met. Because I knew after those 10 pages, that `Like No Other' was going to be a deserving hit.

The story begins on August 28 and ends on September 22 - and in that timespan we get alternate chapters told from both Jaxon and Devorah's point of view. And even though it's a relatively small slab of time for these characters, I was surprised that the whirlwind romance they enter into feels no less raw and vivid for being so condensed. Indeed, the page starts igniting with sparks from the moment of Devorah and Jaxon's fateful meeting; "I can really see her eyes for the first time, big and gray flecked with shimmering hints of sky blue, like someone bottled that moment when Dorothy steps out of her black-and-white farmhouse and into Oz."

But even though Jaxon and Devorah both tell their sides of the story, make no mistake that the real protagonist of `Like No Other' is Devorah. She's the one who goes on the bigger hero's journey, and of the two of them she's the one who most needs her world shook up, and her foundations rocked by Jaxon.

From our first meeting Devorah, readers will suspect that this is a girl who will not be tamed. Indeed, while reading this book I had many goosebump moments from LaMarche's words, never more than when Devorah is witnessing the birth of her niece.
Readers will then be surprised to discover that Devorah is considered to be the very definition of `frum' (very pious) by her family and friends; she's top of her class, respectful, modest and shuns technology and the secular world in a way that even her peers consider extreme (indeed, Devorah's young brothers hide iPods and magazines). But, after her sister's marriage and now her pregnancy (and only at the age of 18!) Devorah has to acknowledge that she's scared of what the next two years will bring - when she'll have to leave her education behind and her parents will go to the matchmaker to find her a husband. Devorah can quietly admit to herself that she's not ready for that life, but it's meeting Jaxon that causes her to start questioning the reasons why...

Back in July I read 'Invisible City' by Julia Dahl, a murder-mystery set inside a Hasidic Jewish community of Brooklyn. From reading that book I was already familiar with a few traditions, and in particular the patriarchal system. Una LaMarche really must be commended for how tenderly she portrays this community and questions it - yes, through the character of Devorah she is critical of many aspects of how this community operates, but she never does so in a disrespectful way. In the acknowledgments LaMarche thanked a group of women - "I dove into `Like No Other' knowing that the book would be doomed if I didn't give Devorah a real, vibrant inner voice, family life and community, and I am forever indebted to the women who told me their stories so that I could tell hers." That respect and attention to detail shines in the text, and young readers will be both captivated and forced to question the foundations of the community while still acknowledging Devorah's deep love and respect for it. A hard balancing-act, but LaMarche does it.

Though Devorah's is very much the larger character arc (purely for needing the most change in her life) Jaxon is a no less wonderful protagonist. Particularly because LaMarche touches on so many relevant racial tensions in this book; indeed, the horrible events surrounding Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri were playing out while I read the book, and highlighted the importance of continuing to campaign for diverse voices in YA such as LaMarche's Jaxon: "... some people don't notice anything but an almost-six-foot-tall black man. After Trayvon Martin got shot in Florida, Mom wouldn't let me wear a hoodie for six months."

`Like No Other' was also a great book for teaching me so much. About the Hasidic Jewish community, of course, but LaMarche also highlights some pertinent historical markers that I never knew about - like the Crown Heights riot of 1991, when tensions between Hasidic Jews and the Crown Heights black community boiled over. This book has been praised for its diversity, and I do think it's entirely deserving.

I loved this book, and it's going down as one of my favourite of 2014. It's a tough book, even while cloaked in the very romantic story of Devorah and Jaxon. LaMarche is writing a deeper tale of star-crossed lovers, one that discusses racial and religious tensions, feminism and independence - an absolute triumph for Una LaMarche.


Isla and the Happily Ever After
Isla and the Happily Ever After
by Stephanie Perkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.38
98 used & new from $1.83

5.0 out of 5 stars The finale fans were hoping for, August 23, 2014
Isla has been in love with Josh Wasserstein for most of her high school life - though it takes a trip to the dentist and heavy medication for her to get up the nerve to have an actual conversation with him.

That conversation takes place at Kismet, a café around the corner from their respective New York apartments - and the fate aspect of that is not lost on Isla. You see, she and Josh actually attend the America School in Paris, so she has plenty of opportunities throughout the year to talk with him (and, actually he once commented on their mutual love of Joann Sfar - so there was that, their most significant exchange ... until now). While still slightly high on dentist meds, Isla strikes up a conversation with Josh when she spies him at her favourite café drawing in his ever-present sketchbook, and because it's Josh (!) and she's feeling brave she can't help but flirt with him ... and be mortified the following morning when she remembers snapshots of their exchange.

Her best friend, Kurt, assures Isla it couldn't have been so bad. But she's not so sure Kurt really understands - partly because he's on the autism spectrum and has a hard time reading people's emotions - and partly because he's borne witness to all the insignificant exchanges between her and Josh over the years (as Kurt also attends the America School) but he wasn't there to properly catalogue the Kismet event.

Sure enough, when School's back for the year Isla feels her connection to Josh has strengthened (and that fate is still playing a part, when she finds herself assigned to Josh's old room from last year).

Something is happening between her and her crush-from-afar, Josh Wasserstein - they have a connection, and as they both start building on their Kismet encounter, the more she's convinced that Josh can feel it too.

`Isla and the Happily Ever After' is the third and final book in Stephanie Perkins's romance YA series that started with `Anna and the French Kiss', continued with `Lola and the Boy Next Door' and will finally end with Isla and Josh's story.

I was really nervous to read this book. `Lola and the Boy Next Door' came out in 2011, a year after `Anna and the French Kiss' ... but `Isla', although announced as the third and final book around the same time that `Lola' came out, took three years to get here. Stephanie Perkins has been very open and honest about how hard this book was to write and explained the hold-up (which sounded like a combination of all the worst things that can happen to an author - writers block, lack of confidence and sheer exhaustion). Perkins also teased fans that this book would not be all smooth sailing for Isla ... and that warning, coupled with the knowledge that this was her hardest book to write, was a little nerve-racking as a reader and fan. I didn't know how Perkin's creative struggle would translate to the finale of one of my favourite contemporary YA series.... But I can say, with hand over my heart, that Stephanie Perkins has done it. She has given fans the most wonderful of endings to this series.

It took me a while to get into this book, however. Probably down to a few niggling reader-worries going in, but I found myself starting to read `Isla' and then putting it down ... picking it up for a few pages, and then putting it down. I wasn't getting hooked, initially, but once the story took us back to Paris (and the original setting of `Anna and the French Kiss') I stayed glued to that page.

So, the book begins with Isla having her `Kismet' moment with Josh (while high on meds, admittedly) - fans will recognise Isla as the few years younger pupil at the America School who Anna figured out was crushing on Josh, one of the boys in her group of friends. For the reason that Isla stretches back to the first book, it's easy to fall into sympathy with her one-sided crush on the beautiful Josh Wasserstein (son of a senator, artist- extraordinaire and bad-boy of the America School who is always on his third and final warning);

I both really loved the melodrama of `Isla', and sometimes it bugged me (but only slightly). Look, a lot of the appeal of YA lies in the fact that it's all about firsts - and the heightened emotions surrounding them. But so much of `Isla' is about falling hard and fast - I mean, it's like a piano falling on both Josh and Isla's heads. And I loved that, I really did - but at one point Josh shows Isla a panel from his graphic novel memoir and he's included a drawing of the two of them, and the thought-bubble `salvation!' above his head. Moments like that made me chuckle, and I don't think that was the intended reaction.

But I did love Josh and Isla. They feel like a couple straight out of a Cameron Crowe movie (I'm looking at you, Lloyd Dobbler!) they're this perfect combination of sweet and heat - and, speaking of, Stephanie Perkins writes a seriously good sex scene that's commendable for being about female satisfaction, without venturing into inappropriate smut. It was refreshing to read something so frank in contemporary YA.

I also really liked Isla's friendship with Kurt - who is on the autism spectrum (what was once called Asperger syndrome), though I did think they had a lot of problems with their friendship towards the end of the book that I don't feel were given proper page time. The Kurt/Isla friendship also had echoes of Sibylla and Michael's friendship (perhaps minus romantic undertones) from Fiona Wood's marvellous 'Wildlife', but I think Wood handled that friendship better than Perkins did in the end.

While I was worried that Stephanie Perkins' struggles with writing this book would show through in the final product, I was actually surprised at how it helped shape Isla's story. Anna and Lola's romantic struggles were a mix of physical and emotional struggles - Anna had Etienne's girlfriend to contend with, Lola had her current boyfriend at the time, and a long history with the Bell's as her roadblocks. A lot of Isla's struggles in coming together with Josh are internal, they're her own hang-ups that she needs to conquer (though she tries to make out physical obstacles as her excuse, readers know better). I feel like that's a reflection of what sounded like Perkins' internal struggles to write this book (like her lacking self-confidence). Then there's the moment when Isla offers some harsh editing critiques of Josh's very personal graphic memoir - I feel like that was a little author moment creeping in, commenting on how hard (but necessary) it is to hear those criticisms. I really liked that Isla's hang-ups were about her confidence, and overcoming something in herself - that was so interesting and relatable to me.

I also loved that we're back in Europe with this book. I liked the San Francisco setting in `Lola', but a lot of the fun in `Anna' came from the Paris setting. This time we're back at the America School in Paris, but there's also a jaunt to Barcelona that I absolutely adored because I'VE BEEN THERE! and it's one of my favourite cities in the world. I particularly liked the description of Antoni Gaudí's Catalan modernist architecture (which is like something out of a dream) and cathedral Sagrada Família: "It looks like a fantasyland castle - wet sand dripped through fingers, both sharp and soft."

`Isla and the Happily Ever After' is the finale fans were hoping for. Isla and Josh are the perfect way to finish this series, and fans will absolutely squeal in delight when we get to catch up with Lola and Cricket, but especially Anna and Etienne.

4.5/5
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 23, 2014 11:46 PM PDT


Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery
by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.05
111 used & new from $2.44

5.0 out of 5 stars I bloody love this series!, August 19, 2014
It was only in November 2012 that I discovered the series that awakened me to the wonderful world of comics: ‘Saga’ by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Since first meeting Marko, Alana and bub Hazel I’ve become obsessed and now buy single-issues because I simply can’t wait for the Volumes.

But there is a downside to having been spoilt rotten with my introdiction to comics – and that is finding other, equally enthralling, series’ to get hooked on. I’ve had some luck with ‘Ms Marvel’ and enjoy the ‘Peter Panzerfaust’ series – but nothing comes close to my ‘Saga’ obsession … until now.

Comic fantasy series ‘Rat Queens’ is created by the man behind ‘Peter Panzerfaust’, Kurtis Wiebe and published by my favourite, Image Comics. Roc Upchurch does the art, and ‘Saga’ favourite Fiona Staples the incentive covers.

‘Rat Queens’ Volume 1 is the collection of issues #1 to #5, and follows a group of female monster-hunters for hire – Hannah, Violet, Dee and Betty – who work hard and play hard (to the point of destroying the very town they’re often hired to save). When we meet them in issue #1, the Rat Queens are being given various monster clean-up assignments, along with groups of other mercenaries who have angered Mayor Kane with their violent revelries. But while on assignment cleaning up goblins, the Rat Queens are ambushed by an assassin and nearly murdered – they later discover the other mercenaries were similarly set-upon, and from there the arc becomes a ‘whodunit’ of who would want these lovable screw-ups eliminated.

I bloody love this series! And my love is getting up there with my ‘Saga’ obsession, if my impatience for issue #8 (due out on September 3) is any indication.

I love this series because it’s so funny – and mostly of the rude and crude variety. The awesome foursome who make up the Rat Queens are delightfully detestable – Hannah is an Elven Mage with an attitude problem; she’s most likely to throw the first punch and when she gets mad, she gets scary. Violet is a blood-thirsty dwarf with family issues. Dee is a healer with some serious skeletons in her closet, and miniature Betty is a lesbian smidgen who loves mushrooms and brawling. These women feel a little like anti-heroes, insofar as they really do cause a lot of unnecessary violence and havoc in their town and it’s entirely believable that someone would be so fed-up with them they’d want them dead … but it’s because they’re this amazing mix of vulgar and sassy that I love them. They booze, brawl and bang their bed-heads – but they also have each other’s backs in the thick of battle, and are each dealing with personal problems that are slowly being teased out.

Hannah has an inconvenient dalliance going with Mayor Kane’s head of police, the luscious Sawyer (against his better judgement and good sense). Betty is crushing hard on a girl who can’t see past her violent friends. Violet’s family are a mystery and painfully shy Dee has some secrets up her sleeve. I love that it takes a few issues for readers to start chipping away at the armour each woman wears, but the glimpses we see of vulnerable underbelly hint that this series and these protagonists have a long life in them …

And this series is funny – often juxtaposing gore-splattering, blood-soaked violence alongside awesome one-liners and the types of running jokes that Joss Whedon was known for.

I’m obsessed with ‘Rat Queens’, and I can see why this comic series has taken off in such a big way (it was voted for best new series in the 2014 Eisner Awards). It’s rowdy and rude, heartfelt and gory with four lovably riotous female protagonists who I both want to be best friends with, and would recommend crossing the street to avoid.


Through the Woods
Through the Woods
by Emily Carroll
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.85
61 used & new from $10.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Emily Carroll is a storyteller, in the most primordial sense of the word, August 14, 2014
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This review is from: Through the Woods (Hardcover)
Emily Carroll is a storyteller, in the most primordial sense of the word. All of her illustrated gothic/horror stories feel like a conjuring of campfire tales told with a dash of folklore, urban legend and heady doses of fright. What makes this a particular accomplishment is that many people (like me) would have first discovered Carroll via her webcomics, scrolling through the panels of her stories, which are made no less terrifying for their original screen medium.

But now, for the first time, Carroll has gathered those webcomics in a book – ‘Through the Woods’ is her debut graphic novel collection of old and new stories.

I’ve been a fan of Emily Carroll’s webcomics since first stumbling across her website many years ago. I remember finding and falling in love with her work, even before I really got into the comic scene with the likes of ‘Saga’ and ‘Ms Marvel’. I don’t think I even really understood that Carroll was a comic artist back then – when I thought comics were all Batman, Superman and not much in-between. I think I just thought of her as a writer-illustrator who scared the beegeesus out of me with the story ‘His Face All Red’ (which is still my favourite).

There are five stories in this collection, plus an introduction and conclusion.

‘Our Neighbour’s House’ tells the tale of three sisters left to fend for themselves when their father does not return from his hunt, and what happens when a man in a wide-brimmed hat starts visiting them in the dead of night.

‘A Lady’s Hands are Cold’ has a ‘Bluebeard’ feel, when a young woman goes hunting through her new husband’s house for the source of a mysterious song.

‘His Face All Red’ is my personal favourite, from Carroll’s original webcomics series. It tells the tale of a man who has it on good authority that the person claiming to be his brother is an impersonator.

‘My Friend Janna’ is about two friends who get into the medium business; contacting spirits of people’s deceased loved ones.

‘The Nesting Place’ introduces us to Bell, who is staying with her brother and his strange fiancée while she’s on school break … but discovers something terrifying in the woods near the house.

Carroll is a great gothic storyteller, but more than that she’s a wonderful short-story writer. She knows how to pack a lot into just a few sentences, and has mastered the art of building to a climax – really hitting home with great one-liners in particular. All of her stories feel like they fit on either the folktale or urban legend spectrum – either seeming like something harking back to medieval times (like ‘A Lady’s Hands are Cold’ reminding of the French folktale ‘Bluebeard’) or they feel urban legend in that “a friend, of a friend of mine” sense (like ‘The Nesting Place’).

The other thing I love about Carroll is that her illustrations often look like old-school children’s book illustrations, and that seems to make them feel all the more sinister. Some of them have quite a Miroslav Sasek or J.P. Miller look – but often the bright colours and round-faced characters are at odds with the creepy text. Not surprisingly, Carroll has cited children’s books as a big inspiration for her – from Charles Keeping to Andrew Lang (“Essentially any book that gave me nightmares when I was a kid is a driving force behind what I make now.”)

Carroll has been published in anthologies and her webcomics have made her quite famous (in fact, Carroll is illustrating the graphic novel adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s ‘Speak’, due out in 2016) but ‘Through the Woods’ is her graphic novel debut … but it definitely won’t be her last.


Safe Harbour
Safe Harbour

2.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of peptide, August 13, 2014
This review is from: Safe Harbour (Kindle Edition)
‘Safe Harbour’ is the new romantic suspense novel from Australian author, Helene Young.

So, this is my first Helene Young read and I’ll be the first to admit that I picked the wrong book to start with. I know she’s a beloved Australian romance author (Romance Writers of Australia Romantic Book of the Year Award-winner in 2011 and 2012 and was shortlisted in 2013) and I know that some of her other books would have been a better place for me to start (I have ‘Wings of Fear’ on reserve at the library). I just so happened to grab her latest book first, and really didn’t enjoy the experience … but if I’d been a bit more discerning I probably would have had some personal forewarning and avoided this book. My fault.

Darcy Fletcher is a volunteer rescue worker in the town of Banksia Cove. On a terribly stormy night she’s called to help rescue a man trapped on a boat that’s getting dangerously close to the rocks. Her childhood friend, now Banksia Cove policeman, Noah is the other person on point for the rescue – which starts to play out much like another terrible night when Noah and Darcy were much younger, trying to save their friend Grant … who died in the water.

Darcy eventually saves a man from the wreckage of his boat, but when he wakes up he has amnesia and is given the name Tyrone until Noah can do some digging into who he is.

Meanwhile, the story of Darcy’s estranged father plays out in Sydney – Stirling abandoned his wife and daughter for a high-flying career as rugby league coach, but the life he led in Banksia Cove is coming back to haunt him when his daughter hauls this man out of the water…

The No. #1 reason this book didn’t work for me was because the suspense in this romantic suspense is based around drugs in sport. Yup. In a rather convoluted, coincidences a-plenty way, the story of Tyrone and how he comes to wash up on the Banksia Cove shores (and is entangled in Stirling’s murky past) is all connected to drugs in sport. Sigh.

Since 2013 the Australian media (well, Victorian – I’m not so sure Queensland and New South Wales care so much about AFL) has been dominated by stories of the ‘2013 supplements controversy’ – which is currently rearing its ugly head again as the major players involved plead their case in court. Don’t ask me to give a run-down of the controversy because I’m sick of hearing about it, while also having no interest in learning the various in’s and out’s of the “saga” – something about Essendon footy players taking Pepsi? … Pepto-Bismol? … Peptide! I really could care less. I think AFL dramas dominate news headlines enough as it is in this country, and this particular headline is no longer just a dead horse that’s been flogged - it’s a dead horse that’s been resurrected and now the zombie-version is being flogged. I’m over it … which probably goes some ways to explaining why I didn’t like ‘Safe Harbour’, when this is the crux of the storyline.

It is a serious stretch to link amnesiac man Tyrone – who happens to be rescued by Darcy, who happens to have a dark past since the suspicious death of her best friend, which in turn is linked to her father Stirling and a ‘drugs in sport’ scandal … – to the current suspenseful events as they play out. It was just a little too much suspended belief, even in this suspense novel, for my taste.

Coupled with the fact that when Noah has flashbacks of talking to his friend, Grant, about taking ‘supplements’ to improve his rugby game it read like a bad Hallmark movie (a lot of “but there are side-effects!” PSA-dialogue)

I started out quite liking this book. I thought Darcy and Noah posed an interesting ‘will they or won’t they?’ and I was intrigued by Tyrone’s mysterious circumstances. But when it all started tying together so absurdly and neatly, my interest started to waver … particularly when I started reading echoes of the real AFL supplements scandal.

I limped to the end of this book, but I do blame my lack of enjoyment on myself. This wasn’t the first Helene Young book I should have read, purely for the sake of it being her latest (though I would have appreciated some sort of ‘drugs in sport’ flag in the blurb – I’m pretty sure that would have warned me off). I do have her ‘Wings of Fear’ waiting to read, and I have higher hopes for that one.


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