‘Turtles all the Way Down’ – John Green

I started this book a number of times and just wasn’t ‘clicking’…but I’m glad I got in the right place for this eventually. It’s a slow-burner, definitely, and I think I’d gone into it with a certain expectation. When this wasn’t there, I was a little non-plussed.
Basic story revolves around sixteen year old Aza and her best friend, Daisy. Aza has quite debilitating mental health issues. We watch these two girls go about their daily lives and there’s a side story involving a boy from Aza’s past, Davis, their fledgling relationship and the disappearance of his father.
At moments this felt very much like things I’d read before. The story about Davis’s father felt like a framework, and there was a real sense of episodes that we were bearing witness to rather than a cohesive story.
Those comments make it sound really negative, but that’s not the feeling I got from this read. The plot itself was fairly so-so; I wasn’t unduly bothered what happened. However, what I found absorbing was the inner workings of Aza’s mind.
This is a girl suffering. She’s very absorbed in herself, and constantly questions her actions. She is the kind of person who might be utterly draining to actually be around, but the attempt to get into her mind was fascinating. This will strike a chord with so many because of the way it explores mental health, and for that reason alone it’s a book I’d be happy to recommend. I cannot get the image of the spiral out of my mind, and I think the way the book ended offered hope without being saccharine-sweet and incredible. This doesn’t have quite the appeal of The Fault in our Stars, but I found it more satisfying as it forces you to confront your own misconceptions/views on mental health.

‘Nevermore:The Trials of Morrigan Crow’ – Jessica Townsend

A recent visit from my sister-in-law had us talking books – and she was raving about a book she’d heard about from several friends. She said it was flying off the shelves in Australia, and the buzz about this book was amazing. It was only later on that she remembered the title…Nevermoor.

Having been granted an ARC by NetGalley, I was so disappointed that the digital copy I received was nearly impossible to read. I persevered through chapter 1, and loved it, but didn’t feel up to the task of reading the whole book in that way…so I made myself wait until publication to be able to read it properly.

Film rights for this have already been snapped up, and it has – perhaps inevitably – drawn comparisons with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. However, it struck me as a much more assured story, darker in some ways and more universal.

Nevermore tells the story of Morrigan Crow, a young girl who is cursed. She was born on Eventide (the unluckiest day of the year), and is destined to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. Throughout her short life, her father has apologised for her existence, and she is used to being blamed by those around her for everything that goes wrong.

At this early stage in the book you can’t help but wonder where this is going, but then Morrigan is given a way out…the rather strangely titled Jupiter North offers to act as her patron. He wants her to become part of the Wundrous Society, a prestigious organisation that admits few members. In order to become part of this elite, Morrigan has to successfully pass four trials, competing against some of her country’s most talented peers. With no discernible talent, Morrigan is up against it.

The world-building in this story is magical. Morrigan’s new home of the Hotel Deucalion and the magnificent Magnificat, Fen, were enchanting. There’s an evident cinematic quality to this, and a rather whimsical tone to the writing. The settings are easy to picture, and I really can’t wait to see how this goes down with my youngest son who’s just about the right age to – I hope – be entranced by this.

My only gripe is that now there’s another series that I’m desperate to read…

‘Everless’ – Sara Holland

It’s at times like this that I really cannot sing the praises of NetGalley enough…this isn’t due for release until early 2018…but I’ve read it…and it’s a book that I can see marking a very exciting series.

The story is intriguing. In the land of Sempera, blood is currency. Time is extracted from blood and mixed with iron to enable people to use it as payment. The wealthy, such as the Gerling family, use this process to tax the poor. It’s certainly a dangerous world, but particularly so for our main character Jules.

When we first meet Jules she is worried about her father. Determined to do what she can to support him, Jules plans to return to Everless – the palatial estate owned by the Gerlings where Jules used to live as a child – as they are offering time as payment. Her father is unhappy about this prospect, and it’s not until much later on that we get to understand why.

Watching Jules return to the place she seems to feel is home was interesting. She clearly still harbours feelings for Roan, the Gerling boy she remembers playing with as a child, and there are little clues dropped that Jules might have a part to play in events beyond the walls of Everless.

As with many books in this genre, it’s not until we have been given all the details that we start to see just how well it has been plotted. Jules’s resolve to meet the Queen and solve what she thinks is the key problem carries us happily through most of the book. We watch Jules get taken under the wing of Ina Gold, the Queen’s heir, and it was definitely interesting to watch her piece together details of her past and start to work out just who she is. At the point that we were told one or two hitherto unknown details everything clicked. It was a shock, but it made sense…it’s just a shame it happened so late on and is clearly setting us up for where Jules goes next.

I can’t wait!

‘We Can’t Be Friends’ – Cyndy Etler

Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review, and I’m happy to post my thoughts but don’t really want to rate such a personal book.
Cyndy is a hard narrator to get under the skin of. She is quite abrasive, and jumps around topics almost as a coping mechanism when things get too uncomfortable.

We begin with Cyndy returning to high school after months in rehab. We learn she was sent there at fourteen, by her mother, who seemed convinced she was an addict after what could be seen as experimenting. I understand there’s another book chronicling this experience, but the flashbacks we get here are enough to demonstrate how abusive it was.

Any memoir is subject to criticism. We only get that person’s perspective. Their thoughts and emotions are valid, but we never know how someone else would view the situation. Unfortunately, we’re told that Cyndy suffered abuse at the hands of her stepfather which was ignored. We are told her young stepsister is experiencing the same things. But their mother does nothing…I know it’s not her story, but I just cannot comprehend how a parent can hear these things and not take action to benefit their child.

It becomes quite apparent that Cyndy seems to have low self-esteem and is depressed. Her reactions to her peers really illustrate her desperate need to be validated in some way. How she tries to get this validation is understandable, though upsetting to read.

An unflinchingly honest read. Definitely not pleasant, but certainly important.

‘Hunting Prince Dracula’ – Kerri Maniscalco

After the events of Stalking Jack the Ripper Audrey and Thomas are in need of respite and she flees the country, determined to win a place to study at the renowned forensics academy in Romania.  Unfortunately the academy is in the home of the man known as Count Dracula, and things do not go smoothly.

The journey is fraught with tension, and the discovery of  a body drained of blood sparks their curiosity. Rather than turn a blind eye, Audrey is determined to prove her worth and work out what is going on.

As the body count is hiked up, Audrey and Thomas are thrown into increasingly dangerous situations. Their developing relationship is a wonderful blend of humour and tension, and while we might not be wholly convinced by the reality of the predicaments in which they find themselves it makes for great reading.

Personally, I cannot wait for book three and can’t wait to find out what situation they will find themselves in when they journey to America.

‘Satellite’ – Nick Lake

Satellite is one of those reads that had some wonderful moments but which also left me feeling rather flat. A tough one to review, and this will be one that I think splits views.

In this novel Lake focuses us on Leo, a young boy born in space who is desperate to ‘go home’, to earth. It’s a journey he and his two companions, Libra and Orion, have been looking forward to for as long as they can remember.

Our story is split into distinct parts. We watch the teens in space, planning their lives on earth. We see them journey to earth and look at their experiences. Then, perhaps most oddly, we return from whence we came.

Leo’s voice is distinctive. Overcoming the writing style will be a big factor in your response to the story. It’s written in what seems to mirror the language of the transmissions that Leo and the others are used to communicating in, and clearly marks Leo out as ‘other’ – an alien in his environment. However, if you can look beneath this you’ll probably find yourself quite taken with these kids.

As we learn more about Leo’s family, and get a sense of just where he’s come from, it’s hard not to fall a little under his spell. Seeing the experience of life on earth from the view of someone who’s not physically prepared for it is intriguing. Watching the relationships Leo has develop is pretty compelling.

Unfortunately, much as I liked Leo and grew to care for him I felt the latter stages of the novel took us so far into the realms of incredibility that I really didn’t enjoy it as I’d hoped to.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for my thoughts.

‘The Empty Grave’ – Jonathan Stroud

I was so impatient for this, and found myself desperate to finish it while being reluctant to get to the end. No more? There’s options, and I’m certain we could dip further into Lockwood & co and what happens to them following this book…yet there’s something bittersweet about knowing that there could still be a story to tell and not getting it.

We open fully aware that this is going to be a humdinger of a case. Lucy admits that this case is their biggest yet, and it has far-reaching consequences.
The dynamics between Lockwood, Holly, George and Lucy remain fresh and funny. They are quickly caught up in an investigation into possibly the biggest upset of the series…the exact situation regarding Penelope Fittes. I didn’t see this coming, and it was ripe for exciting scenes on the other side, battles and ghostly goings-on.

For me, there were two strands that were focused on in this book that just caught me by the heart-strings and tugged over and over again. It may be a story about ghosts, but I wanted Lucy and Lockwood together. Their attraction was even more obvious here, and I was excited to see how he opened up to her. His backstory and the details surrounding his family were just what was required, and though it’s been all too obvious how they feel about each other I like that Stroud has kept this under the surface.

Oddly the love story that has most impact for me in this series is that surrounding Lucy and the skull. From the moment she could hear its vile mutterings we’ve known Lucy and the skull share a special bond. He is a character crucial to events but the kind of character who entertains and infuriates in equal measure. His comments towards Lockwood certainly show his feelings for Lucy, and this book was all about whether she’d trust him. How can a spirit character who spends his time chained to a jar be the character I’m most engaged by? Simple…his actions later in the book were just beautiful. That glimpse on the windowsill at the end is just enough for me to hope that his actions weren’t in vain.