Friday, 27 May 2016

The Special Ones by Em Bailey

The Special Ones by Em Bailey
Published April 1, 2016 by Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Esther is one of the Special Ones – four teens who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? Here, they are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are – all while broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside.Esther knows he will renew her if she stops being Special. And yet she also knows she's a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, no genuine advice to offer her followers. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape. 

The Special Ones is Em Bailey's second novel, and after reading it, I regret letting her debut, Shift, sit on my shelf unread for so long. From the moment I began reading I was immediately caught up in Esther's story, I could feel her fear - at the thought of doing a task incorrectly or of receiving her renewal notice. Her guilt over recruiting a new member was also apparent, yet she has to obey or risk her own life. I could feel her loneliness and longing, and I could sense the watcher, making sure his toys were all behaving as expected, and it sent chills through me.

The descriptions of her daily life were so vivid it was easy to picture the old house, the period clothing, and the manual tasks Esther and the others undertake each day. I found myself curious about how The Special Ones initially began, who was behind it, and why.

There is a point in the story when something changes and at first that left me a little disorientated, but I imagine that mimicked what Esther would have been feeling at the time too. The pacing picks up at this point, and the fear and urgency of her situation increased, culminating in a gripping ending.

The Special Ones is a creepy, compelling look at the mind of a psychopath, and how his game impacts the lives of his chosen participants.

Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for my review copy.

Friday, 20 May 2016

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard
Published February 1, 2016 by Allen & Unwin
Source: purchased
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Alice Nightingale writes about how it is to have perfect thoughts that come out in slow, slurred speech. She imagines herself stepping into clear midair with wings made of words and feathers.Manny james runs at night, trying to escape memories of his past. He sees Alice on the roof of her river-house, looking like a figurehead on a ship sailing through the stars. He has a poem in his pocket and he knows the words by heart. He is sure that girl has written them.Alice longs to be everything a fifteen-year-old girl can be. And when she sees the running boy she is anchored to the earth by her desire to see him again.

Fifteen year old Alice Nightingale lives with her younger brother, Joey, and grandmother. Her mother left them, her father is dead, and her grandfather is in jail. A horrific event occurred when Alice was twelve, and sometimes she thinks she'll forever be stuck as the girl she was then, but she knows she's ready to become more than what people expect of her. She stays home now, something the family has to hide from the town, because school is too noisy and she finds it hard to speak, though she has no trouble writing. When a new boy in town notices her, Alice finds the first person outside the family that she feels she can trust.

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard is a beautifully written and captivating story of a young girl, but also her family, and the life of an adopted refugee. Getting to know Alice was slow going for me, at first I found her words hard to follow, I had to get used to the cadence of her writing, often re-reading sentences. But soon her words put me into a trance and I was completely mesmerised by her life - and when I say trance I mean it, I was reading on the train and normally I look up at each station, but this time I was so absorbed I almost missed my stop, and when I got off and took my first step up the staircase, I fell because I was still thinking about Alice, and not about making my feet move.

Despite the misfortune scattered throughout Alice's life, she is a kind, caring, loyal girl. She worries over her grandmother's health and dotes on Joey, who is a wonderful and protective brother. She escapes into her writing, often taking inspiration from the books she has at home, or the nature that surrounds their hideaway house.

Manny's story was just as heartbreaking and moving as Alice's. He's come to Australia from Sierra Leone and is haunted by the war that took his family, an event he was forced to witness. He's been taken in by Laura and Bull, and he couldn't have ended up with better adoptive parents. He finds himself smitten with Alice's poems that he finds around town, they give him something beautiful to think about, instead of his past.

The mystery of what happened to Alice is woven into this story, slowly revealed as the plot progresses, finally coming to a head with a powerful scene that I wasn't expecting but that moved me to tears. I haven't cried that hard while reading since Code Name Verity.

I know that some readers will be put off by knowing this is a sad story but I urge them to read it anyway, because it's also a beautiful story, and sometimes you can't have one without the other.

I love the design of this beautiful cover and it was good inspiration for some nail art.

I started with Orly La Playa and used acrylic paint for the rest.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis

Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis
Published: April 2015 by Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: It already lies dormant within you: the ability to move within time.In 2084, three teenagers discover the secret to time travel. At first their jumps cover only a few seconds, but soon they master the technique and combat their fear of jumping into the unknown. It's dangerous. It's illegal. And it's utterly worth it for the full-body bliss of each return. As their ability to time jump grows into days and weeks, the group begins to push beyond their limits, with terrifying consequences. Could they travel as far as ten years, to escape the authorities? They are desperate enough to find out. But before they jump they must be sure, because it only works in one direction. Once you trip forwards, there's no coming back.

Lifespan of Starlight is the first book in a trilogy by Australian author Thalia Kalkipsakis. Set in the future, Australia is a very different place. Citizens are now microchipped and this chip allows them to move freely in society and gives them access to basic necessities like food and water, which are now rationed. Anyone who chose not to be chipped are now Illegals, these people are often turned in by citizens.

Fourteen year old Scout is an Illegal, she was never chipped. Her mum has managed to keep her a secret, they share her rations, and Scout has spent a lot of her life indoors or sneaking around. Thanks to a kind neighbour, she's great at hacking and uses her mum's compad to view and change things on the government's system. When she comes across the opportunity to steal a chip, she jumps at the chance, but this leads to her being followed by two boys, Mason and Boc. They think she's someone she's not and assume she can help them time travel.

I had no idea what I was in for when I began Lifespan of Starlight, I only knew that I usually avoid books about time travel as I find it hard to wrap my mind around the concept. But this was a really unique and clever way of looking at the topic. The futuristic setting was bleak, it's a world where the population is fully controlled and even your choice of employment or to give birth is made for you.

Scout is a clever and kind girl, she feels guilty for sharing her mother's rations, and all she wants to do is make it up to her one day. When the chip gives her a way of doing this she immediately sets about paying her mother back and wanting to give her things she's missed out on. She also revels in the chance to move among society legally, never having been able to even access cafes, stores, or trains. Befriending Mason makes up for what has been a very lonely life up until that point.

I really liked that the way to jump forward in time is via meditation, I don't think I've ever seen it referred to in a YA book, and if it has it's been with all the usual negativity. Using meditation as a way to skip time was also a good way of moving the story forward.

Though the story did move forward, I found it a little slow in parts, but the ending really picked up momentum and leads nicely into the sequel, which is out this month.

Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for my ARC.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Adrift by Paul Griffith

Adrift by Paul Griffith
Published July 2015 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Best friends Matt and John are spending the summer working: Matt to save money for college, John to kill time before trade school. On the beach, the beautiful Driana stops Matt in his tracks. Dri, Stef and JoJo invite the boys to a party at Dri’s Hamptons mansion, and Matt drags John along.When Stef decides it’s a beautiful night to go windsurfing, the others race out on the water to make sure she’s safe. But with no land in sight and a broken boat engine, it’s not just Stef they have to worry about. And as the hours turn into days, the prospect of rescue seems further and further away…

Adrift is an intense survival story that I found hard to put down, even when I wanted to stop reading because it was overwhelming. It's the sort of story that makes you wonder about the clues you'd leave behind if you went missing, and what story would be constructed by those uncovering the clues. What would they assume about your disappearance - would they think you'd done something wrong or would they think you were in danger? If your life is at stake, there's a huge difference.

The story starts by introducing us to seventeen year olds Matt Halloway and John Costello. Though they've been friends since childhood, they have drifted apart since Matt started attending a selective public school in New York, and John stayed at the public school in their working class neighbourhood. They've reunited for the summer to earn money working jobs in Montauk, and John is determined not to talk about his father's murder, something both boys witnessed three years ago. While selling refreshments on the beach, the boys meet three teens, Dri, Stef, and Jojo. They're from Brazil, though Dri lives in Manhattan. The boys are invited to join them at party and they attend, even though they know they'll stand out compared to the rich kids.

Adrift takes a look at quite a few different topics from falling in love, to class, to friendship and mental health and manages to do so well. From the moment these five teens come together, the differences between them are apparent, but once they find themselves lost at sea, they have to try and see beyond this.

If author Paul Griffith didn't spend a couple of weeks at sea on a boat, then he has an amazing imagination because this felt vividly real. It was intense, chilling, and really depicted what it might be like to be lost at sea. Each character handled the situation differently and we got to know more about them from their reactions.

Adrift is a thought-provoking story that examines relationships, human nature, and what it means to survive. It's a story that will stay with you, long after you've finished.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my review copy.

Friday, 29 April 2016

All Fall Down and See How They Run by Ally Carter

All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1) by Ally Carter
Published February 2015 by Scholastic
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three certain things:1. She is not crazy2. Her mother was murdered3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him payThe thing is, nobody else believes her and there's no-one she can trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.Grace's past has come back to haunt her... and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

I'd never read anything by Ally Carter before, but I'd heard good things about her previous books, so I decided to give her latest series a go, starting with All Fall Down, which I received for review a year ago. It's a book that I probably would have given up on, if the sequel hadn't also arrived for review, and I was a little surprised at what I found by finishing the book.

Grace Blakely is sixteen years old. Her mother died three years ago in what was deemed an accident, but Gracie was there and swears a man with a scarred face shot her. She's received some treatment for this as no one believed her and eventually she was hospitalised. Her father is in the army and her older brother is in training. Grace gets sent to the fictional European country of Adria, and joins her grandfather there where he is the US Ambassador, in the city of Valencia.

I wanted to stop reading because of Grace, I judged her for being irrational, erratic, and for putting herself in danger time and time again. But eventually I softened towards her as she really had been through a lot. There's quite a lot of detail about her PTSD and I think this was well done. Her panic attacks and flashbacks are traumatic and it can't help when everyone thinks she's lying or trying to get attention.

I also loved the friendships that were slowly formed. Grace is slow to trust and she's not good at communicating, but Noah, Megan, and Rosie were wonderful additions to her life. I like that the story poked fun at the spy genre, with Noah reminding them that they're only capable of so much as they're just teens, but also found it realistic that these children, who have spent a lot of time around their important parents, would have picked up some of their talents when it comes to spying and hacking.

While this is not a book I would have chosen to read, I'm glad I finished it and discovered what I would have missed out on if I'd quit when I originally wanted to. It's an interesting exploration of PTSD and how that effects an entire family, as well as the person suffering from it.

Thank you to Scholastic for my review copy.

See How They Run (Embassy Row #2) by Ally Carter
Published February 2016 by Scholastic Press
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: Some secrets are better left unfound . . . For the past three years, Grace Blakely has been desperate to find out the truth about her mother's murder. She thought it would bring her peace. She thought it would lead her to answers. She thought she could put the past to rest. But the truth has only made her a target. And the past? The only way to put the past to rest is for Grace to kill it once and for all. On Embassy Row, power can make you a victor or a victim, love can turn you into a fool or a fugitive, and family can lead you forward or bury you deep. Trust is a luxury. Death is a very real threat. And a girl like Grace must be very careful about which secrets she brings to light. 

See How They Run is the second book in the Embassy Row trilogy by Ally Carter. Grace is still reeling from discovering the truth about her mother's death, and the attempt on her own life. Her brother, Jamie, arrives to check in on her, and brings along his friend, Spence. When another murder occurs, putting her friends in danger, Grace sets out to find the truth.

As I mentioned in my review of All Fall Down, I find Grace to be a trying character. Despite all the danger and the attempted murder, Grace still manages to act recklessly and continues to keep secrets from those that love her. Part of me can't blame her, she is a teenager, but often in the story Grace's thoughts will show that she knows what she is doing is wrong, but she goes ahead and does it anyway. At least this is realistic, I know people often do things we know we shouldn't, and that's frustrating. But also the people looking after her, her grandfather (mostly absent during the sequel), and Ms Chancellor, don't seem too concerned about her safety, often encouraging her to go outside the embassy, despite the angry protesters and rowdy festival-goers.

I feel like with both books, there's a lot of moving about but not a lot really happens, or is revealed, until the very end. There are some clues planted along the way that had me guessing in sort of the right direction, but the final reveal was a surprise.

Thank you to Scholastic for my review copy.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

To celebrate the release of The Raven King, I'm celebrating with a series of manicures to match The Raven Cycle series. You can see the previous posts here: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue.

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4) by Maggie Stiefvater
Published April 26, 2016
Source: purchased
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love's death. She doesn't believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore.

“He was a book, and he was holding his final pages, and he wanted to get to the end to find out how it went, and he didn’t want it to be over.”

The Raven King, the final instalment in The Raven Cycle series, is finally here. I can remember finishing The Raven Boys, which I absolutely loved, and wondering where on this series would go, and what would happen when Gansey woke the sleeping Welsh king, Owen Glendower. Despite not feeling as much love for The Dream Thieves or Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I was keen to see how this series would end.

It’s been a week since the events of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and Gansey, his merry men, and Blue, are still searching for Glendower. But all is not well in Cabeswater, and the group must act quickly if they are to protect it.

I am always happy to return to Henrietta. The small town, and the surrounding rural area, is always such a vivid setting, and it’s always a joy revisiting 300 Fox Way, a location that is just as much a part of the story as the characters.

I missed Blue, her family, and the boys, too. As readers, we’ve been with them for almost a year while on their quest, and time is now speeding up for them. The future weighs heavily on them all, for different reasons; Gansey is facing his predicted death, Ronan wants to quit school, Adam is still contemplating graduating and going far away, and Blue also wants to leave, but her guilt at leaving her family is crushing her need to travel the world.

As well as the regular group, there are other characters playing bigger roles: Gwenllian, Artemus, and my favourite newer addition, Henry Cheng.

Even though The Raven King is the final book, the story never felt rushed, though the momentum did start to pick up towards the end, and I found my heart starting to race. There was a lot trying to happen in this story, and I feel like some of it was left unresolved. There were also two aspects to the ending that felt very anti-climatic after everything the group has been through, one was a surprise, the other more predictable. Despite this, it was, for the most part, a satisfying end to the series.

The Raven Cycle series is clever, imaginative, and magical. It’s a story you’ll want to be a part of because you’ll get to hang out with a great set of characters, join them on their journey, and experience their loyal and true friendship.

I think this is my favourite cover, after The Raven Boys cover, and I enjoyed painting it, too. 

Monday, 25 April 2016

Sunkissed and Star Struck by Jenny McLachlan

Sunkissed (The Ladybirds #3) by Jenny McLachlan
Published August 2015 by Bloomsbury
Source: purchased
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Kat can't believe her family are sending her to Sweden for the summer. But without her friends, or even a phone signal, can Kat make it on her own?In a land of saunas, nudity and summer sun, Kat soon realises she has nowhere to hide. It's time to embrace who she really is, underneath what she's been thinking people want her to be. Especially if she's going to win the heart of mega fit Swede Leo! Can Kat find her inner strength and prove she's got what it takes?Kat soon finds that when you're surrounded by phosphorescence and wonder it's easy to sparkle. Or maybe that's what happens when you fall in love . Or maybe you only shine when you're true to yourself. 

Fifteen year old Kat Knightely's parents have had enough with her attitude and always finding herself in trouble, while they head to the USA for a holiday, they're sending her to spend the summer with her Aunt Frida in Sweden. What Kat doesn't realise until she lands in Stockholm, is that she will be spending the summer on an island, Stråla. No phone, no friends, no shopping.

I loved both Flirty Dancing and Love Bomb, the previous two books in Jenny McLachlan's Ladybirds series, but I wasn't as keen to read Kat's book as she hadn't been the nicest girl to Bea and Betty in the past. I'm so glad I gave Sunkissed a chance because Kat's story ended up being one of my favourites.

Kat feels ignored and inferior, never as good as her older sister Britta. Her family enjoys races - triathlons, obstacles courses, you name it, but Kat prefers hanging out with her friends and shopping for clothes. She's absolutely devastated at the thought of not spending the summer with Bea, Betty, and Pearl, especially when she discovers there's no mobile phone service on the island.

Stråla, the fictional island, is based on the Swedish island of Grinda, and the descriptions of it sounded so beautiful. It was clear the author had been there and you can read about it on her blog. It sounded like an idyllic place to spend a summer and I couldn't stop thinking about what it would be like, I even dreamt about it the night I finished the book.

I enjoyed all the Swedish references, from the language, to the food, to the Little Frog Dance, and it was fun to google them all as I read.

Sunkissed is a beautiful summer story that will have you planning a trip to a Swedish island. Kat's summer turns out to be a chance for her to grow and find out who she is alone, as well as what role she plays in her family. It gives her a chance to make new friends, and discover a part of her heritage that she'd long forgotten. It was sweet, romantic, and most of all, fun.

Ableist language: lots and lots of use of the words dumb, dumber, dummy etc

Star Struck (The Ladybirds #4) by Jenny McLachlan
Published March 10, 2016 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: In a huge fantastic final hurrah to our lovable heroines - Bea, Betty, Kat and Pearl - Jenny McLachlan's latest book tells Pearl's story. Pearl is the 'bad girl' of the group - she drinks, she smokes, she swears - and she's mean to Bea and Betty. But she did fly halfway round the world to rescue Kat in Sunkissed. If there's one thing Pearl knows deep down, it is how to be a friend. And now, more than ever, she could really use a friend.There will be laughter, there will be tears and there will definitely be kissing. Most importantly, Pearl will be keeping it fierce!

Fifteen year old Pearl Harris lives with her mum, and older brother, Alfie. Her dad left and now has another family. Pearl loves musicals and has been taking in part in them at school since Year 7. When new girl, Hoshi, arrives and ruins her chance at a lead role, Pearl decides to ruin Hoshi's life in return.
Out of all the girls in Jenny McLachlan's Ladybird series, Pearl was the one I least liked. She's been horrible all the way through, until we got a glimpse of what a good friend she could be in Sunkissed. Star Stuck, the final book in the series, is our chance to see the real Pearl.

What we find out is that Pearl's home life is awful and only getting worse. Alfie has an explosive and unpredictable temper, sometimes he's joking around and within in instant, he turns violent. To make it worse, her mother often laughs it off, blames Pearl, or ignores what's going on altogether. The one solace she has at home, are her fish. She loves her tropical fish and takes a lot of pride and care with their environments. She has to keep her room locked just so Alfie can't come in and ruin her hideaway.

While none of that is an excuse for being a bully, it sheds light on why Pearl has treated the other girls poorly in the past, something she's trying to make up for now, by hanging out with Bea and Betty and trying her hardest not to tease them. Instead she sets her sights on Hoshi because of her jealousy.

Star Struck is a really beautiful story of friendship and forgiveness, and while the scenes in Pearl's home made me feel sad and scared for her, the friends she has made me hopeful and happy. This series has been a lot of fun and I can't wait to see what Jenny McLachlan writes next!

Ableist language: dumb, dumbass, midget, plus Pearl and Tiann seemed racist when discussing Hoshi, though later Pearl tells Tiann off.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my ARC via Netgalley.