Review – Disharmony: The Telling

by Leah Giarratano.

When I finished this book I hopped onto Goodreads, thinking that there would be a stack of reviews up from people who had loved this as much as I did. But instead I found mostly average reviews, complaining about the pace (and a couple lamenting the fact that as a YA this was clearly never going to be as good as an adult book – don’t even get me started).

I’m disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and if it initially took a while to get going, it was because the complex set up was required to match the intricacies of the characters. Frankly I think people will enjoy this book much more than some other reviews might suggest.

At the outset of the story we’re introduced to the psychopath, the empath, the genius and The Telling – an ancient prophecy predicting the safety of the world, or the destruction. The prophecy is directly linked to the three siblings – mothered by a witch determined to bring the prophecy into reality and bend it to her own will. Bur the siblings are scattered around the world, knowing nothing of their destiny or of each other.

The chapters have alternating perspectives, following in this story, the psychopath and the empath as their destiny finds them, and they set out on a quest to find each other. I often find this way of writing frustrating, not because it suggests a poor quality, but because I’m always just catching the flow of one section, when I’m closed out and shifted to another. This method certainly keeps the momentum going, as it means a cliffhanger every few chapters – and I once heard one of my favourite authors say that they wanted every page to leave readers wanting to read the next. Disharmony certainly does that.

My only complaint are the chapters that open and close the book, and appear very occasionally in between. User:Intellicide is an unknown character to us, leading us through the story, and the tone in these chapters seems patronising, especially in contrast to the complex cleverness in the rest of the book. I’m hoping that in future books in the series we’ll find out more about this character and there will be a particular reason for the tone.

Overall though, I loved this after so many same-same fantasies I’ve read recently. It’s an original idea with the potential to turn into something intricately clever and fascinating to read.

Review – Other Brother

by Simon French

Simon French has written a stack of books and won as many awards for his writing. so I’m ashamed to say that Other Brother is the first of his titles that I’ve read. From page one I was hooked. I was coming down from a foray into fantasy and so the books I’d picked up prior to this one hadn’t grabbed my attention. I was definitely suffering from a book hangover. But French’s light touch and subject matter had me from page one and I found myself counting minutes until lunch breaks or times when I could stop whatever else I was doing and get back to the story.

In chapter one we’re introduced to Keiran – your fairly standard young boy. He’s not a mean kid, but from the first time he meets his cousin Bon things don’t go well. As Keiran’s mother snaps a photo of the two boys Bon leans close and smiles, saying “we’re brothers, we are”. Keiran tenses, hating this stranger’s intrusion into his life and his family. His animosity towards Bon grows after the boy leaves and Keiran discovers that two of his toys are missing. Bon drops out of Keiran’s life for two years, dragged back to his vagabond life on the road with his mother. And then he comes back. This time for good.

Bon’s reappearance isn’t welcomed by Keiran, who hasn’t let go of his grudge from two years earlier. Bon has grown into a weird kid, with a girlish plait and a ratty rainbow beanie. Bon can’t do anything right – when he starts attending Keiran’s school, Kerian stands by, pretending not to know him as he’s teased and bullied. He hates Bon for not even trying to stand up for himself. Everyone in Keiran’s family sees Bon as the victim, but for Keiran, he’s the fly in his soup. And to make matters worse, Bon has managed to befriend the other new kid Julia, who frowns at Keiran for his attitude towards his family.

It’s hard as an outsider to empathise with Keiran, who comes across as so sulky and unfair that you want to shake some sense into him. I haven’t found myself so invested in a story like this for some time – watching everyone try to explain Bon’s situation to Keiran, and then seeing him turn his back again and again is heartbreaking. If I could have helped Bon myself, I would have. It was this passion that dragged me through the book. I devoured page after page, desperate to know what it would take for Keiran to man up and shift his perspective outside his own self-centred desires.

At it’s heart (and I say that deliberately, as Other Brother has heart in spades), this is a book about family. At the periphery there’s the story of an outsider trying to fit in at school (and the side story of Julia, who’s mysterious background acts as the catalyst for the climax of the book), but the story focuses much more on family dynamics than anything else. French could have chosen to write about Bon as the central character, describing his difficulties fitting in via conflicts with school bullies. While those conflicts are there, it is Keiran’s behaviour that is heartbreaking, much more so than the schoolyard bullies. His attitude towards Bon and the dynamics within their extended family provide the gripping emotional background to the book and forces readers to invest themselves thoroughly in every page.

Friday: Black Heart by Holly Black

Happy Friday all! The last day of my week of reviews, although I had such a nice time I may well do it again soon (plus it’s brought be well up to speed with things).

I’m finishing with my most recent read and one of my favourites – Black Heart by Holly Black. Ever since I read The White Cat I’ve loved this series, which combines the Sopranos with Harry Potter and one of my all time favourite things – a con!

It’s one of the few series that I’ve actually stayed with as each book has come out (even though this one’s been sitting on my shelf for a few months now, just waiting for me to have enough down time to actually read it). Red Glove didn’t grab me quite as much as the first and now the last, but overall it’s been an incredibly strong series and a real joy to read.

Cassel Sharpe is a curse worker who has been conned by his family, by the mob and by the government. He thought he could join the good guys, but it turns out in this game there are none. Cassel is the kind of lovable misfit that you can’t help but follow into this complex maze of a story. His way is never the easy way. It’s never the safe way and it is certainly never the legal way. But what good would a story be if everything was done by the book? It’s almost as though the more Cassel tells you what a bad guy he is, the more you love him for it.

I love a good fantasy, that really works my imagination, and I love it when it’s surrounded by the gritty urban streets of reality. The Curse Workers does all that and more. It’s the kind of story that makes you realise that everything you were reading earlier was actually a bit mediocre, the kind where you don’t even notice where one chapter finishes and a new one begins because you’re too busy speeding through to the end. The kind that when you finally do reach that last page, and it’s exactly the end it should be, you’re still disappointed, but only because you know that you’re never going to have the chance to read it for the very first time ever again.

Thursday: Everything Left Unsaid by Jessica Davidson

Has anyone else noticed the abundance of cancer books this year? The Fault in Our Stars   (a clear winner by John Green, who’s brave enough to find laughter even in the most tear-jerking of scenarios), Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (good, you can read my full review here) and now this.
It’s a tear jerker, there’s no doubt about that. It had me going from the end of chapter one, pretty much until the end of the end and even then a little bit after.Tai and Juliet are the Australian Joey and Dawson – they’ve been friends since forever, each on harbouring a secret crush on the other but never quite game enough to come clean. When they do it’s magic, they’re destined to have the perfect relationship. Except that at exactly this moment we find out that Tai’s sick, and it’s looking pretty unlikely that he’s going to get better.
There are parts of this that I didn’t enjoy – I wanted more lightness to alleviate the relentless sadness that I felt reading it (although to be fair, the characters probably wanted something to alleviate their sadness too and we all know that life just doesn’t work that way), and the timing of Tai getting sick was almost too perfect (and of course I mean perfect in a completely awful, gut wrenching sort of way).
But then there were parts that I really loved. Tai and Juliet were great characters, and they each got a chance to tell their part of the story. I loved that they had selfish moments and moments of not being able to communicate, because even though it’s frustrating as a reader to see what they’re both thinking and to know that talking it out would help, it makes it a much realer journey to see them struggle through it on their own.
This is absolutely, unabashedly a Sad Book. But with the amount of Nicholas Sparks readers out there I’ve no doubt that people will read it, they’ll cry, but like me, they’ll find something in it that they love.

More feedback!

People this year have been so lovely, making my visits to schools and libraries particularly enjoyable. A recent trip up to Geelong (I wish I’d had more time so I could have spent the day, as it was lovely and sunny on the drive up and the beach looked especially appealing) saw me speak to the SLAV branch up there and I received this lovely feedback via Booked Out.

In recent years our literary has been an informal drinks function and this format has proved to be very successful. In 2012 instead of having an author promote their books, our committee decided to celebrate Australia’s National Year of Reading by inviting Bec to talk about the latest trends in young adolescent fiction. Feedback from the event has again been overwhelmingly positive!

Bec was so easy to listen to and the time literally flew. She clearly demonstrated her knowledge and enthusiasm for YA literature.

It was such a lovely evening up there and even nicer to come home to something like this!

Wednesday: “Shadows” by Paula Weston

As a special hump-day post, I’m throwing in two books for the price of one – Shadows and also Rapture, the final book in the Fallen series by Lauren Kate.

A disclaimer first, that I haven’t managed to keep up with the whole series, so although I read the first one or two books in Fallen I’ve definitely missed one, maybe two before jumping ahead to the grand finale.

Let me start by warning you that I’m a little jaded when it comes to paranormal romance. I feel like I’ve read it to death, and when it comes to reviews, well, I’m finding it hard to say anything new, and often even harder to say anything nice.

So when I received the press release for Shadows telling me that I would 100% absolutely love this book and all the characters in it I was sceptical to say the least. A Queensland author making her first foray into the world of YA fiction in a genre that had been so long in the oven that the broccoli had gone from limp to charcoal? I had my doubts.

But page by page Paula Weston drew me into this well written, captivating, and Very Well Researched novel. At first I didn’t even realise it was happening. And then halfway through the book I realised the despite my best intentions she had done what I thought was absolutely not going to happen, to make me heartily enjoy this latest offering to the world of paranormal romance. What I loved about the story of Gaby Winters was that

1. it was so well researched that it was blindingly clear from the get go that Weston’s passions lie at least as much in the myth as the romance, no shoddy plot holes here!

2. Gaby Winters is a strong independent female character who makes her own decisions throughout the book rather than falling vapidly into someone’s arms the minute trouble shows up.

and 3. The local setting. Set along the Queensland coast (initially at least) there’s something refreshing about reading a book set amongst jacaranda trees rather than tall, lonesome pines.

So with a hopeful heart and a taste for angels I set about reading the second book on my pile – Rapture, the series final by Lauren Kate. I’d been slightly taken with the epic love story of Luce and Daniel when I read the first book in this series, but unfortunately, for the grand epic conclusion, four books later, I really didn’t feel that the story had moved that far from where I’d left it. There are similarities between Luce and Gabe – memory loss, the weight of all of the world on their shoulders and two smouldering angels battling for their affections but that’s where it ends. I love a good romance as much as the next girl, but what I find really compelling about a great paranormal romance is the attention to detail, the exploration of the myth, and that real sense of deep historical magic that comes from writing stories based in something so old.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have read Rapture immediately after finishing Shadows, but if I had to recommend one, there’s no doubt which one it would be.

Tuesday: Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar

From nostalgia to downright terror, and yet there was something about this book that made me take a trip down memory lane as well. In this case it was the fact that something in the book reminded me of the eerie feeling I had when my year 5 class teacher read aloud Del Del by Victor Kelleher. Now I don’t remember the plot, but coming out of both books made me feel the same way, as though I had unleashed some creature in the reading that I’d never quite be able to let go of again.

Kirsty Eagar fascinates me, because unlike many authors she doesn’t seem to have any preferred genre. She’s swung so far from a very gritty (and well written) YA story about rape, to surfing vampires, and now with Night Beach into the realms of horror, thriller and speculative. In fact, the link between her books isn’t from genre at all, but from a very prevalent theme in each – surfing culture. Now, I don’t know anything about surfing or surfing culture so I’m not even going to pretend that I do, but Kirsty Eagar obviously does, because not once for a moment, in reading any of her books, do I doubt a word of what she’s telling me.

In Night Beach she’s telling the story of Abbie, an art and surfing obsessed senior who is also desperately attracted to Kane. She’s spent most of the past few years watching his every move, so when he comes home after a surfing trip Abbie’s the first to notice that something’s changed about him, something dark has come with him for the ride.

I hesitate to call this horror, because it isn’t the Christopher Pike knife-wielding horror of my teenage years, however there is something intensely disturbing about this book. In some places it made me think of depression or mental illness, that blackness that you can’t quite escape that all too frequently leads to obsession and the desire to venture down dark and twisted pathways. and then in other moments it’s like a surreal, speculative dream, bordering on a nightmare, but so skilfully woven that you can’t wake up, and you don’t want to.

I’ve never stood on a surfboard in my life, am growing sick of vampire books, and find it very hard to relate to the particular kind of ‘tough but vulnerable wave nut’ that Eagar writes about. But I’ll keep reading any word she writes, because her characters, if not familiar, are achingly real and her stories, no matter how dark, are spellbinding and startlingly original.