Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson
Published July 29, 2015 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: When Astrid and Hiro meet they give each other superhero names. She's Lobster Girl and he's Shopping Trolley Boy. Not an auspicious beginning. But it gets better. Then it gets worse. Much worse. Classic romantic comedy: girl-meets-boy, love blossoms, and is derailed. Incredibly engaging, upbeat, funny and smart. 
Astrid Katy Smythe is beautiful, smart and popular. She's a straight-A student and a committed environmental activist. She's basically perfect.
Hiro is the opposite of perfect. He's slouchy, rude and resentful. Despite his brains, he doesn't see the point of school.
But when Astrid meets Hiro at the shopping centre where he's wrangling shopping trolleys, he doesn't recognise her because she's in disguise - as a lobster. And she doesn't set him straight.
Astrid wants to change the world, Hiro wants to survive it. But ultimately both believe that the world needs to be saved from itself. Can they find enough in common to right all the wrongs between them?

Green Valentine is Lili Wilkinson’s latest novel. I’ve read all but one of her YA books (A Pocketful of Eyes is on my shelf but I’ve been saving it because I don’t want to be done with reading all her books) and it’s every bit as funny as her previous novel, Love-Shy (my favourite Lili book).

Set in the fictional Melbourne suburb of Valentine, Astrid Katy Smythe lives with her recently separated mother (her father cheated and has since moved out). She has two best friends, Paige (the most popular girl at school), and Dev (he’s openly gay and it was awesome to see that this was completely accepted at their school).

Astrid is a passionate environmentalist; she looks down on consumerism, processed foods, plastic and packaging, and wants people to care about more than just cute animals. She’s also extremely judgemental, annoying and flawed (a character type that Lili writes really well, I adored the same characteristics in Penny from Love-Shy). Despite claiming to care about the environment, Astrid is not a vegan – this is the single biggest personal choice someone can make if they truly care about our world and all animals (want more info? Watch Cowspiracy.) She describes herself as a vegetarian, but she’s not as she makes exceptions for organic meat and bacon (cue eye rolling). So while I could see this admission coming from the moment I started reading, and I could rant about how annoying it was for me to read, it really contributed to her character; I believed Astrid exists, and the fact that she wasn't perfect made her judgeyness all the more infuriating, yet she was also lovable and relatable.

Astrid meets Hiro Silvestri, an Asian-Italian student from her school, as she’s trying to petition people at a local mall while dressed as a lobster. She immediately judges him as one of the stoner kids, but as he doesn’t recognise her they strike up a friendship, despite Hiro admitting that he detests girls just like her (the popular, pretty girls he likes to call Missolinis).

The mistaken identity plot line was fun, it allowed Astrid to get to know Hiro in a way that wouldn’t have been possible, and ultimately it brings them closer together. Hiro has learnt a lot about gardening from his grandmother, and when their school garden project takes off, Hiro and Astrid begin guerrilla gardening at night – this totally reminded me of a very short lived tv show from 2009, Guerrilla Gardening. The gardening aspect was so different for a YA novel but it was really well done, with wonderful descriptions and ultimately they were doing something really positive.

The plot lost me towards the end, things started to seem a little unrealistic, almost too dramatic and movie-like. Astrid and Hiro apparently garden each night until the early hours of the morning and then go to school on a couple of hours sleep and this happens every night for weeks/months on end. The evil workings of the local council seemed a little far-fetched, and the identity of the major was obvious, even if Astrid didn’t put it together. The “hippies” Astrid and Hiro meet also seemed clichéd, this plot line was my least favourite.

Having said all that, I really enjoyed this book. I started reading it the afternoon I received it and didn’t stop reading until I finished it that evening, and I haven't been reading much fiction lately, so this was a big deal for me. The story is fun, Astrid is entertaining, and the romance was sweet. It was a really positive story and I think it could make a lot of readers think about the world. I know a lot of people will not be able to look past Astrid's quirks, but if they do, they'll come to see her as a girl trying to figure out how she can make a difference in the world.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy.

I love the cover of Green Valentine, it’s quite different from Lili’s last few novels.

I started with a base of China Glaze White Out.

I used acrylic paint for the leafy lips and vines.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
Published September 9, 2014 by Greenwillow Books
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 5 stars
From the blurb: On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road. Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect?
I read this back in January and for some reason took no notes, so I’m just going to tell you how this book made me feel: depressed and sad, but it was also beautiful and something I want to recommend to every YA reader. Liz was an amazing and complex main character, she’d been a mean girl for so long but was tiring of it, but she also found it a hard role to abandon. Reading about how she planned her death really got to me, I could not stop thinking about what it would be like to plan it in so much detail and spend all that time with such a big secret. I loved this book and despite the sad theme, it’s a book I definitely want to re-read. It’s a powerful and intense story so don’t let the topic put you off reading it.

Thank you Greenwillow Books for my Netgalley review copy.

I loved this cover on first sight and knew I’d do my nails to match, these were done back in February.

I started with a base of China Glaze At Vase Value and I used acrylic paint for the car, hand, road, and all the equations.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray
Published June 24, 2015 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars
From the blurb: Molly’s mother is not like other mothers: she rides a yellow bike and collects herbs and makes potions, perhaps even magical potions. Molly wants to be normal, like her friend Ellen, and watch television and eat food that comes in packets. But when Molly’s mother accidentally turns herself into a tree, Molly turns to the strange and wonderful Pim for help. And as they look for a way to rescue her mother, Molly discovers how to be happy with the oddness in her life.

I don’t read a lot of middle grade fiction, but my attention was captured as soon as I saw the lovely cover of Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray.

Molly and her mother live near the woods, along with their cat, Claudine, and their dog, Maude. Molly’s mother isn’t like the mothers of her friends at school. Her mother goes wandering in the woods at dawn to collect herbs, she makes potions, and she doesn’t like Molly to eat packaged foods. Molly just wants to be normal, like her best friend Ellen’s family.

When Molly’s mother accidentally turns herself into a tree, Molly has to fend for herself, battling the nasty and nosy neighbours, the Grimshaws, and finds she has no one to turn to, except Pim, a boy from school. Molly struggles with loneliness, believing that Ellen will judge her for being different and abandon her if she shares her problems, so instead she suffers on her own.

I liked the focus on friendship and how tough it can be for any child that feels as though they or their family are different, and how communicating can often resolve this issue, if you’re lucky to have an understanding friend like Ellen. I also enjoyed how much nature was a part of this story, it was easy to picture the woods, how green Molly’s garden must be, and the wonderful local animal life.

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars is a sweet and heart-warming story, perfect for children and adults too.

Note – in the story Molly makes reference to some cashew-chocolate balls that she makes to feed herself while her mother is a tree, and it was mentioned a couple of times that she shared her meal with Maude the dog. Kids, please don’t feed your dog treats containing chocolate because it’s toxic to them and can be fatal.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my review copy.

I couldn’t resist doing a manicure to match this cover illustrated by the author.

I started with a base of China Glaze Secret Peri-Wink-Le.

I used acrylic paint for the detailing.

Claudine was on the back cover, so I decided to include her as well.

I used Ulta3 Glamourpuss for the stars.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Lullaby by Bernard Beckett

Lullaby by Bernard Beckett

Published May 27, 2015 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Rene’s twin brother Theo lies unconscious in hospital after a freak accident left him with massively disrupted brain function. There is hope, though. An experimental procedure—risky, scientifically exciting and ethically questionable—could allow him to gain a new life.

But what life, and at what cost?

Only Rene can give the required consent. And now he must face that difficult choice.

But first there is the question of Rene’s capacity to make that decision. And this is where the real story begins.
Lullaby, by New Zealand author Bernard Beckett, is set in an unspecified future. Eighteen year old Rene is talking to a hospital psychologist, Maggie, and they have six hours to talk before she must decide if he is competent enough to make the decision to save Theo’s life. Theo’s brain is severely damaged but his body is intact. Scientists are working on a way to scan a brain for memories and then implant those into another brain. They wish to use Rene and Theo in an experiment and are hoping Rene will allow it.

This was a very interesting book and it definitely captured my full attention. Rene starts off trying to be smart and funny, hoping to impress Maggie and sway her judgement, but eventually he begins to share the details of his life with Theo. We learn about their parents death, their games as children, their school years, and the girls they liked and loved. It was clear there was once a really strong bond between the two of them that began to weaken as they grew older.

Listening to Rene was heartbreaking, he feels like his world is ending and that he is to blame. I enjoyed his interactions with Maggie and thought I was pretty sure of the decision he would make. The pacing was perfect, by the end the urgency and importance of the situation was palpable.

I stopped taking notes as I read because I became so absorbed with the story, but I do remember moments of surprise and the twists were unexpected, though the ending was not. It’s a book that left me wanting a little more.

Lullaby is a captivating, clever, and unique story, and I recommend it to any YA or adult reader.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my review copy.

Friday, 5 June 2015

The Flywheel by Erin Gough

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure. Excuse the short review as I read this back in February but wrote the review this week.

The Flywheel by Erin Gough
Published Feb 1, 2015 by Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars
From the blurb: Seventeen-year-old Delilah’s crazy life is about to get crazier. Ever since her father took off overseas, she’s been struggling to run the family’s cafe without him and survive high school. But after a misjudged crush on one of the cool girls, she's become the school punchline as well. With all that’s on her plate she barely has time for her favourite distraction – spying on the beautiful Rosa, who dances flamenco at the tapas bar across the road.

Only her best friend Charlie knows how she feels about Rosa, but he has romantic problems of his own. When his plan to win an older woman’s heart goes horribly wrong, Del is the only one who can help Charlie stay out of jail.

All this leaves Del grappling with some seriously curly questions. Is it okay to break the law to help a friend? How can a girl tell another girl she likes her without it ending in humiliation and heartbreak? And – the big one – is it ever truly possible to dance in public without falling over? 
The Flywheel by Erin Gough won the Ampersand Project in 2013. Set in Sydney, seventeen year old Delilah Green has been left in charge of her father’s café, The Flywheel. After her mother left them, a trip was the only thing to get her father excited, so he went overseas during school holidays, leaving their manager and Del in charge. But when he decides to stay longer, Del lies and says everything is fine, despite the manager getting deported, her barista stealing from them, and her lack of school attendance. To top it off things between Del and her best friend Lauren aren’t what they used to be, and Del is still getting teased at school because she’s gay.

Poor Del! She had so much on her plate and she really struggled with keeping her life on track. The idea of her running a café on her own may have seemed a little implausible, but the reason she lied to her father was admirable. I adored her friendship with Charlie, and the way she was so good at trying to care for others. Her crush on Rosa was so sweet and I wanted nothing more than for her love to be reciprocated.

I liked the look at female friendship, the lack of communication between Del and Lauren caused a misunderstanding between them which is so common for teenage girls.

The Flywheel is a sweet, fun, love story and it’s no wonder it won the annual Ampersand Project. It’s a wonderful example of Aussie YA and I highly recommend it to all readers.

Thank you to HGE for my review copy.

I couldn’t resist doing a manicure for this lovely cover.

I used acrylic paint for the gradient background and to paint Del, Rosa, and their surroundings.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

You're the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About by Daniel Herborn

You’re the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About by Daniel Herborn
Published May 1, 2015 by Harper Collins AU
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars
From the blurb: Tim’s a young singer-songwriter with a guitar case full of songs and dreams of finding an audience to embrace his tunes. 
Mandy’s obsessed with music and a compulsive dreamer. She’s longing for something more fulfilling than daytime TV and cups of tea with best friend Alice, something like the excitement and passion of rock ’n’ roll.
When their eyes meet at a gig, sparks fly across a crowded room and hope burns in their hearts.
But in a city of millions and a scene overrun with wannabes, can they ever get it together? Will Mandy’s nerves doom their romance before it even starts? And where does the darkness in Tim's songs come from?
This is a story of Sydney's Inner West, of first love, crush bands and mix tapes; of the thrill of the night and what happens when the music stops.

Daniel Herborn’s debut novel, You’re the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About, is the story of Mandy and Tim, two teens living in Sydney’s Inner West. Mandy lives at home with her older sister, her father, and step-mother. She took a year off after finishing high school but so far all she’s done is sleep, watch lots of daytime tv, and work at a local cafe. Tim lives has always wanted to be a musician. He’s currently living with his uncle, writing songs, and playing any gig he can, which is how he meets Mandy.

Mandy is someone I’m sure a lot of us can relate to, whether we’re a teen or an adult. Her summer is not going how she thought it would, she feels restless, as if she’s waiting for something, but she doesn’t know what. She loves music and it is one thing that gets her out of the house, that and hanging out with her best friend, Alice.

To begin with there's a bit of mystery with Tim’s story as he’s repeating Year 12 and it’s clear something happened in the previous year, plus his parents are absent from his life. He loves how music allows you to reinvent yourself, and how you can convey things in songs that you’d never say aloud.

I was expecting a lot from this book, it’s Aussie YA and set in my city, but unfortunately I didn't love it, instead I felt disconnected, though on the whole it’s not a bad book.

The chapters are very short and that was off-putting, I found it a hindrance in getting to know both Mandy and Tim. The mystery surrounding Tim’s life turned out completely different to what I was expecting and I didn't believe the resulting change in dynamic between Mandy and Tim. There is also insta-love and while it’s not as over-the-top as in some other YA novels, Mandy and Tim do seem to think that their relationship has been through a lot when in actual fact it’s been a very short amount of time and nothing very dramatic happened to them.

This book is a lovely ode to Sydney, to its music scene, and the suburbs of the inner west.  The descriptions of summer evenings in the city were spot on, and there are a lot of bars, clubs, and suburbs mentioned, as well as a lot of music references from so many decades and genres that I don’t think they’ll date the book.

I get quite excited at the prospect of new Aussie YA, and while this didn't quite deliver, I’d still recommend it to contemporary YA fans.

Thank you to Harper Collins for my review copy.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Just a Girl and Just a Queen by Jane Caro

This post contains a review and a bookish manicure.

Just a Girl and Just a Queen by Jane Caro
Published May 11, 2011 / May 1, 2015 by UQP
Source: library / the publisher
Rating: 4 stars / 3 stars
From the blurb of Just a Girl: Determined, passionate and headstrong, Elizabeth I shaped the destiny of a kingdom.

Her mother; Anne Boleyn, was executed by her father Henry VIII. From that moment on, Elizabeth competed with her two half-siblings for love and for Britain’s throne. In the gilded corridors of the royal palace, enemies she couldn’t see – as well as those bound to her by blood – plotted to destroy her.

Using her courage to survive and her wits to confound those who despised her, this young woman became one of the greatest monarchs the world has ever seen.

Even though she was just a girl, she had already lived a lifetime.

From the blurb of Just a Queen: Just a girl to those around her, Elizabeth is now the Queen of England. She has outsmarted her enemies and risen above a lifetime of hurt and betrayal – a mother executed by her father, a beloved brother who died too young and an enemy sister whose death made her queen.

Not knowing whom she can trust, Elizabeth is surrounded by men who give her compliments and advice but may be hiding daggers and poison behind their backs. Elizabeth must use her head and ignore her heart to be the queen her people need. But what if that leads to doing the one thing she swore she would never do: betray a fellow queen, her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots? 

When I received a copy of Just a Queen for review and realised there was a previous book, I decided to grab a copy from a local library and review both books. Just a Girl focuses on Elizabeth’s childhood and the years before she became Queen of England. Just a Queen picks up Elizabeth’s story, twenty-eight years later, after Mary Queen of Scots has been beheaded.

I found Just a Girl to be completely engaging, there was plenty of intrigue and mystery, as long as you’re not too familiar with Elizabeth’s story. I enjoyed the liberties the author took in showing us what Elizabeth may have thought and felt during her life. Her life was filled with death, from the execution of her mother, Anne Boleyn, to the later deaths of her father, brother, and sister. But, she also learnt a lot from her time in and away from court, and these experiences shaped her future as Queen.

In contrast, I didn't find Just a Queen as compelling. I read it only a day after finishing Just a Girl, but the spark was missing from this part of Elizabeth’s story. The focus is on whether or not Elizabeth was to blame for the order to have Mary executed and the back and forth regarding this issue grew a bit tedious. I enjoyed looking back in time to Elizabeth’s earlier years as Queen, but often details became repetitive and sometimes things were said twice in consecutive paragraphs.

Nevertheless, this is still a really intriguing time in history and reading these books had me googling more details on Elizabeth’s life, as well as wanting to return to a couple of tv shows I never finished: The Tudors and Reign.

Each book contains a large cast of characters, and the author has provided a list of these for the reader, though as they’re included at the end, I wasn't aware of it until I finished Just a Girl, so if you find the cast hard to keep straight, you can always refer to the back. The author also includes a note about her love of the Elizabethan era and the research she did for these books. It’s clear the research was extremely thorough and I enjoyed her interpretation of events. She also hopes to write a third book and I know I’d be keen to read it, so fingers crossed!

Just a Girl and Just a Queen provide a historically-accurate glimpse into Elizabeth’s life both before and during her reign as Queen of England. I highly recommend these for fans of historical fiction, and books such as the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers.

Thank you to UQP for my review copy of Just a Queen.

I love the simplicity of both covers, so I kept my manicure simple as well.

I started with 2 coats of Ulta3 Berry Crush. I followed that with a coat of Orly Take a Chance.

I used acrylic paint and a fine brush to paint the crown on the ring nail.