The Ratcatcher’s Daughter by Pamela Rushby

ratcatcher The Ratcatcher’s Daughter is a terrifically detailed book about a period in Brisbane’s history that we know very little about. At the turn of the century, Brisbane was innundated by rats infested with the bubonic plague. Many people were infected, and the government of the day did not cope well with managing and controlling the outbreak.

Issy is the main character, a 13 year old girl, forced to leave school and work as a maid to the Lewis family, who run an undertaker’s business. Issy’s family get caught up early on in the plague infection, but they also benefit, as Dad has a pack of terriers trained as ratcatchers. Rushby’s style is easy to read and her ability to combine historical facts through the narrative never makes the story seem expository or preachy.

Highly recommended.

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

cinnamon girlI found myself addicted to this book. I had to keep reading and the funny thing is that it was actually uncomfortable to read.

It’s hard to explain my reaction to this book. In effect, it’s no different from many YA stories – Alba, small town girl, finished Yr 12, the future stretches out with many possibilities and yet she is paralysed by uncertainty and fear.

Its the writing that makes it different. Makes it more. I felt uncomfortable reading it because Alba is uncomfortable. She no longer fits her skin, and yet, she’s not sure what’s happened and she’s in denial about everything.

The portrayal of the small rural Australian town is spot on. The feeling that everyone knows each other’s business and the annoyance of that but also the safety and the stability of that. The secondary characters – Alba’s mum, her high school friends and people around the town are described in rounded and realistic ways, and they are all great.

I haven’t mentioned Grady or Daniel. Two boys. Alba’s boys. One who has been with her throughout her entire life, and one who was dragged off when they were aged 10. When Daniel returns (and why he comes back is a whole other issue!) Alba has to confront a lot of stuff including the death of her father and what to do now school is done.

I rushed through this. But I loved it. I smirked and snorted, because seriously, the whole sub-plot involving the end of the world is hilarious and really well written.

Alba is a feisty girl, and even though she needs to make a few decisions, she doesn’t swoon or whine, although admittedly she does wallow… But that’s allowed, right?

Really strong follow-up to Life in Outer Space.

Tigerfish by David Metzenthen

tigerfish

What Mezenthen does with the voice of his main character and narrator Ryan is nothing short of brilliant. This kid knows his reality. He knows what he doesn’t have (privilege and easy success), but he is also very much aware of what he does have (supportive, loving family, a steady best friend, a genuine girl, the best dog in the world & the Western Bulldogs).

Ryan’s sense of self is strong, positive and totally sympathetic. His progression through the novel is tense and endearing. There are dark and scary moments, but there are also heart-felt, poignant ones too.

Readers are very soon conscious they are in the hands of an author in control of his story and a master of language and style.

Loved it.

Read from June 08 to 14, 2014. Review originally posted at Goodreads.

 

Intruder by Christine Bongers

intrudersChristine Bongers’ new novel develops the plot device of an intruder, not into a mystery or suspense narrative, but to a coming-of-age story. Fourteen year old Kat is about to be intruded upon by people and situations she does not want. Her life has been on hold since the death of her mother but grief is a finite excuse. Kat needs to move on, find friends, take risks and most importantly trust again. The catalyst of a stranger in her bedroom is just the fright she needs to stop the navel gazing and start living.

If only Kat’s progression could be easy. She fights the introduction of a protector – a drooling loveable dog called Hercules.  She resists the overtures of the re-establishment of a relationship from her mother’s best friend, Edie, and she manages to halt the progress of a possible romance with a new boy across the park, Al. Kat’s selfishness, her deep grief, her sense of betrayal from both her father and Edie are still fresh wounds. These flaws are balanced with Kat’s snarky humour, her burgeoning understanding about how insular she has allowed herself to become, and her growing sense that it’s not always about her.

I love the gritty realism that defines this author’s writing. Chris doesn’t shy away from dog drools and farts. Kat screams when unhinged, yells thoughtlessly, and acts like an angry teenager who believes the world is against her. It’s both maddening and totally understandable. The other characters in the book are depicted through Kat’s eyes, so we slowly come to see their true qualities as Kat does. Jimmy, dad, musician, absent father turned desperate dad, trying to give Kat the space she needs, but quickly running out of patience. Al, dog lover, science geek with his own story to share, who tells Kat a few home truths she’s not ready to hear. And the enigmatic Edie, whose unusual habits start to make sense as pieces of Kat’s life puzzle fall into place.

Intruder is smart and funny, with authentic characters and poignant moments of insight and affection. Highly recommended.

Pandora Jones: Admission by Barry Jonsberg

 

Pandora Jones Admission sm

 

We all know by now that Jonsberg writes well. But what he also does well is write across age groups and genres. His foray into dystopian fiction is a great addition to the growing Australian collection. Not that it feels all that Australian to be honest.

What is does feel though, is controlled and tense. Pandora is our view into this new world. But she recognises that her memories and her understanding aren’t necessarily reliable. She is curious by nature and suspicious by experience, and the reader learns more about The School and the rules as she does.

It’s best to read this novel without prior knowledge and go along for the ride. It’s a turbulent one and the ending is explosive. Fortunately number two is out later this year. I spoke to the man himself at the cbca conference, and he was reluctant to share any spoilers.

So if you are looking for an exciting narrative, full of mystery and suspense, as well as great writing and well developed characters, this could be the one for you.

The end of (dystopian series) days

All good things must come to an end. And so over 2013, readers have seen a number of very popular dystopian series publish their final books. Some of these concluding novels have been applauded, while others have been described as disappointing. It must be a difficult thing to bring all the plot threads together in a way that satisfies all readers (I was never happy with who Katniss ends up with in Mockingjay).

I am going to run through some of my favourite series of the past three years with links to the concluding books on Goodreads for you to see how well they are doing. I will start with Across the Universe by Beth Revis, who was the first to publish the third book, way back in January 2013.

The three books are :

Across the Universe (my review from 2011) shadesearth

A Million Stars (my quick review posted at Goodreads that didn’t make it to this blog)

Shades of Earth ( a must-read for me these summer holidays – can’t believe I haven’t read it yet! Wish this was our cover.)

 

 

Another series I started, but never finished is The Chemical Gardens trilogy by Lauren de Stefano. The three books are:

 

witherWither (my review on Goodreads. This one had my favourite of the three covers)

Fever (my even shorter review that explains why I never finished the series)

Sever (which I never bought. It came out in February 2013)

 

 

On the other hand, I had high expectations for the conclusion to Delirium by Lauren Oliver and am glad to report it didn’t disappoint. The third one came out in March 2013. My reviews at Goodreads are so short, they aren’t worth linking. But there are lots of other people who raved about all three books. One amazing thing about this series is all the short stories that Oliver wrote in between the novels. They serve a corequiemuple of purposes – they keep people interested and  they offer glimpses into secondary characters which enrich the world building and the series. The three books are:

Delirium

Pandemonium

Requiem (third book came out in March 2013)

It was a long wait then from March to October, when the next lot of concluding books were published.

For me the most consistently enjoyable trilogy is the Legend series by Marie Lu. Admittedly, I haven’t yet read the final books of the next three I plan to include, but so far, based on what I have seen, I think this will stay true. Lu got it all right – the characters remain noble and committed to their cause; the narrative stays within the bounds of authenticity, and the climax and subsequent conclusion are better than just legend satisfactory. The three books are:

Legend (my review from 2011 on this blog)

Prodigy (one of the few books where I gave more stars to book 2 than book 1)

Champion (lots of reviews on Goodreads where it’s averaging 4 and a half stars out of 5, and it only came out on November 5 2013)

Divergent was the surprise hit when it was first published in 2011. The film version reaches our screens next year. Veronica Roth followallieganted up with Insurgent and finally we have Alliegant. Apparently, there is a lot of disappointment about the final book. The word ‘boring’ is being bandied about, and I don’t think there’s anything worse for a book to be called. The three books are:

Divergent (lots of reviews on Goodreads)

Insurgent (my own explanation of why I wasn’t totally won over)

Alliegant (am yet to read it. Soon hopefully)

 

The last three I want to mention don’t really fit into my original group. Their final books won’t be out till 2014, but they are really early 2014, so I am just going to ignore my own rules and list them as well.

stillblue

 

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi was followed by up Through the Ever Night and Into the Still Blue will come out in   January 2014 (blue looks like the preferred colour of covers at the moment).

 

 

ignite me

I first read Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi in November 2011, and maybe by that time I had my fill of dystopia, but actually I got sucked into this one too. I do hate the cover we have in the library, and thankfully there is a better option for newer readers. The second one, Unravel Me has got a great average score, but when I read my own review, I wonder if I will make an effort with number three, Ignite Me, which will be published in February 2014.

 

 

gods&monsters

While I absolutely loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I found the second book, Days of Blood and Starlight both gruelling and depressing.   But the writing is so luminescent, that I am sure I will have to read the third book, Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Plus those covers! So beautiful.

 

 

I think this is my longest blog post ever. Never again! It took three days. Back to just one book, one review.

 

Reality Boy by A. S. King

realityboyI have loved all of A.S.King’s books so far: Please ignore Vera Deitz; Everybody sees the ants and Ask the passengers. Her latest one, Reality Boy is just as thought-provoking, just as raw, just as clever.

Here we have Gerald, 17 years old, struggling with a very difficult past – a mother who put the whole family on a reality TV show when he was just five; a psychopathic older sister who bullied and terrorised him, and a therapist who continues to tell him that he is not in the right place to get involved with a girl. How Gerald is holding it altogether is a mystery to readers. And yet he does. With humour and deep breathing, and by not getting close to anyone. The girl he is attracted to remains ‘checkout operator #1 girl’, long after he starts to talk to her, thereby allowing him the distance he needs to feel safe and in control.

Not that any of that lasts for long.

This is an intense study about a boy, and by extension the novel also explores some issues about contemporary life: that of celebrity status, that of living in a dysfunctional family, and the need to break free to figure out who you are. There’s a point where Gerald and Hannah kidnap themselves and send ransom notes to their family. Their demands are quite simple: ‘I don’t like the way you treat me. Please listen’.

This is great stuff. Read November 2nd 2013. A different review is posted over at Goodreads.

Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles

jackiechanLiving with Jackie Chan is beautifully written, with a very authentic portrayal of a teenage boy coming to grips with the harsh reality of his impulsive actions. Desperately keen to lose his ‘virgin status’, Josh sleeps with Ellie and of course, she gets pregnant. All of this occurs in a book called Jumping off Swings which I have never read, but I didn’t feel like I missed much by diving straight into this one. Although I would be interested in the end, because at the start of this one, Josh is barely holding himself together. His anger and hatred of himself is powerfully depicted. So, it must have ended on such a downer.

Josh cannot stand to stay in his home town after his irredeemable (in his eyes) behaviour, so he moves to his uncle’s apartment, (about 4 hours drive away) to finish his senior year in an attempt to get into College. It takes ages for Josh to really start to make peace with himself, and along the way, he meets a group of people who help him.

First and foremost is the Jackie Chan of the novel – Josh’s uncle Larry. I tell you, this man is awesome. He is so upbeat, so funny, and so gentle with Josh (who he calls Samurai Sam) that his role in the book in extremely significant. He never pushes too hard, but the one time he does, it results in Josh picking up karate again, and partnering the girl-next-door, Stella.

Although their friendship develops during karate, Stella has an extremely possessive boyfriend, and the tension this creates causes much of the angst of the narrative. If I was to have one little niggle, it would be that there are a number of Josh’s thoughts are repeated unnecessarily throughout the story, sometimes using the exact same words. It was really obvious, and it resulted in drawing me out of the story.

I was really satisfied with the ending. Positive and hopeful but not in a cloying or over sentimental way. It was realistic and I appreciate authors who don’t feel the need to sugar coat everything. I think some of you boys will like it.

Highly recommended. Read October 11th. A version of this review was originally posted at Goodreads.

 

A shoutout to me

Over the last couple of years, I have begun a friendship with a local author, Christine Bongers. She spends some time in our library and borrows some books to read, and in the course of this, she asked me to read her yet-to-be-published manuscript, a story tentatively entitled ‘Intruder’.

I read it, and loved it (of course) and then talked to her about it. Just last Friday, she announced that the book will be published and on her blog, she gave me a little shoutout.

It’s gratifying, a little bit humbling and lots exciting that I may have had a tiny part to play in the publication of this book. The blog entry is here.

The self promotion ends now.

And if you want to have a look at her writing up till now, I have both of her previously published YA novels in the library. Dust and Henry Hoey Hobson.

dust-coverhenryhoey