Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sea Change by Aimee Friedman

First published in 2009 by Point, an imprint of Scholastic Inc

Many are drawn to Selkie Island. Few know why. When Miranda Merchant goes there with her mother for the summer, she is sixteen, level-headed and interested in science and everything that can be logically explained. Stepping off the ferry, she is greeted with secrets, legend and lore. What is it about her history that makes her feel such a connection to the island, and, more importantly, to mysterious local boy Leo?
I wanted to read this book because of the mermaid factor. Was not really into reading another YA paranormal romance, but this did have a nice freshness to it, and I’ve certainly read worse. Sea Change was exactly what I expected: a cute, easy read with a love story imbued with an evocative summery charm.
Certain things bugged me: for instance, Miranda isn’t even on Selkie Island for two weeks (as far as I can tell), and yet she is so completely sure Leo is ‘the one’ after, um, four days, and prepared to give up her internship and education to stay with him. I don’t care how consuming the love is, that isn’t a good message to be sending to bright, capable teenage girls. Also, the conflict between Miranda and her Mum felt forced and put upon, with much over-reacting by both of them. I could see where it had its place in the story but I remained unconvinced. I also disliked Miranda’s make-over scene – after reading so many in other books I just can’t stomach them and I also don’t like the idea that teenage girls need to be physically made over by someone else to remind them that they are beautiful. All this makes me sound like a total hater, but for the most part I did enjoy this book and found it inoffensive.
The setting of Selkie Island is rather gorgeous and wonderful, and suits the tone of the love story between Miranda and Leo. I actually enjoyed all the periphery characters as well (Cee Cee, T.J, Mr Illingworth etc). I think Friedman uses them well – they do just enough to remain interesting and not become caricatures or flat. Leo was cute, but I wasn’t really into his relationship with Miranda, but I guess it hit all the marks for YA paranormal romance.
And lastly: there isn’t actually that much mermaid action in this book. It is more hints and mystery and speculation. But I think Sea Change is about a lot of things and Friedman mostly employs them well, so it was an enjoyable read nevertheless.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Lately on my Goodreads page I just keep adding and adding to the 'To-Read' list. All my blog trawling has got something to answer for! Here is a selection of books just recently released that I really can't wait to get stuck into:

Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres

Sea Change by Aimee Friedman

Well the mermaid revolution is on its way, as reports would have it, and although I have mixed feelings about this (I really don't want there to be a wash of sub-par mer YA fiction, but at the same time it's awesome that mermaids are getting shown some love), this is a book whose gorgeous cover keeps drawing my eye, and quite honestly it sounds like the best out of recent mermaid offerings.

Virals by Kathy Reichs

Yet another cover that I finally gave in to.

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

This book kind of came out of nowhere, I had not even heard of it but rave reviews and the creepiness factor has fully sucked me in. Looks terrific.

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

I'm hearing 'with tones of Harry Potter'; 'the new Septimus Heap'. This one looks like it might actually deliver.

And an update on my last 'I am So Excited For' post:

I am yet to read The Last Werewolf, or The Demon Collector, and Lost Voices STILL isn't out.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Forgotten by Cat Patrick

First published in 2011 by Hardie Grant Egmont

London Lane can remember the future but not the past. Her brain resets every night at 4.33am and each morning she is left to piece together her life from daily notes she leaves for herself and the gentle encouragement from her mother. Her best friend Jamie is the only other person who knows about her condition. London is doing the best she can and managing to live a fairly decent existence until two things happen: one, the very gorgeous Luke grin-dimples his ways into her life and two: she is haunted by a memory of the future that casts its shadow upon the present and London’s peace-of-mind.
Forgotten ticks all the boxes: it is cute, has a killer concept, the writing is fresh and there was a tonne of hype propelling it to ‘must-read’ lists everywhere. Things that normally bug me about this kind of book were thankfully absent (namely, really shoddily done teen romance). My face remained devoid of ‘oh god here we go again’ sniggers. But something about it just didn’t click for me. Maybe it is just because it was all a bit nice and lovely and inoffensive.
or maybe ...
Okay, I didn’t like how the book suddenly transformed into a kind of mystery whodunit in the last quarter. That felt uneven, and almost like a completely different book. And also – the epilogue. Oh my goodness. YA, please don’t. Avoid the epilogue wherever possible. This book lost half a star just from that epilogue – it wasn’t needed. It doesn’t add anything, and comes across all a bit ‘lesson learned, moral resolution, cutesy-wutesy bleh.’
Plot holes abound. Not even little ones that eat away at you, or inconsistencies, more just like a black hole of ‘ummmm?’  plot. In the back of my mind I was always going ‘but how can she’, ‘but what about’... I tried to give the cynic inside me a rest, because logic should never really get in the way of a good story, but then again I guess I really need to be swept away by the story to begin with.
London and Luke: they are cute, and I enjoyed the subtlety about their relationship, the naturalness of it and how it wasn’t, for the most part, written with over the top sentiment. But I really am sick of reading about how HOT the male love interest it. I GET it, maybe after the SECOND time it’s written. And why do they always have to be so hot anyway? Does that make the relationship more fulfilling?
Smooth prose and intriguing plot make Forgotten effortless reading. I didn’t really start to turn away from this book until the tacked on sub-plot at the end (or was it really the main plot?) There is a lot to like here and it certainly isn’t bad but I can’t say that I’ll be doing a London and remembering it into the future.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Friday Musings

"Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in the world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife. And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough."

~From Tinkers, by Paul Harding

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tantony, by Ananda Braxton-Smith

First published in 2011 by Black Dog Books

Fermion Quirk and her brother Boson are twins, living in the remote coastal world of Carrick. When Boson sickens and dies ‘face down in a bog of stars’, Fermion is the one to find him. Now she must find a way to adjust to life without him, and help her family function again as a unit. To do so she must take a sea-journey, out to ‘The Other Island’ that is only there according to its whim, as local legend would have it. While she is there she discovers a world of secrets and answers and things unexplained, and above all how to become a whole person now that her brother is gone.
What an entirely strange, weird and wonderful book Tantony is. It is hard to describe and explain; it is something you can only appreciate through experience. I really don’t think there is anything like this in the Aussie YA market, and I absolutely love Black Dog Books for publishing something that is really quite a literary oddity – in an amazing way. Tantony isn’t perfect but its flaws are easy to love, and there is the same mix of gorgeous, unconventional language, quirky endearing characters and immersive word and place-building that made me love Braxton Smith’s first novel, Merrow, so much. This is an author who genuinely leaves me hanging out for her next book, just to see what else she’s got up her sleeve. GORGEOUS!

The harshness of life on the Carrick coast shapes the people who inhabit it – Braxton-Smith shows us this through the attitudes and mindsets of her characters. In Tantony we learn of those ‘afflicted’ – bearing some outward mark of the evil that inhabits them (this is a very simplified description – Braxton-Smith just about creates a whole mythology out of it).  Fermion bears the burden of having an ‘afflicted’ brother, although his is much more a capacity for mental strangeness that has got the people of Carrick so up-in-arms. What I love about the characters in Tantony is that no matter how much page time they get, we always understand something of their complexity, something of all that might be sitting just under the surface. But this is really Fermion’s story and she is a real little fire-cracker, stubborn and strong but oh-so-very vulnerable. In particular I enjoyed the relationship between her and her father – and what an exquisite emotional moment when her father comes looking for her at the end. You will rarely find a more motley, odd-ball collection of characters than in this book.

I am a little bit in love with the way Braxton-Smith writes – some passages are just like a revelation with all the beauty and ache they hold. Carrick is a world of spirits and legends and you can feel it haunting every page. The way the characters express themselves is a delight to decipher, and the word-building here is some of the best I’ve read in YA. The characters are compelling, the tension is high, and the language weaves a gentle rhythm through the stark raw world of Carrick. Braxton-Smith also artfully employs two narratives – life with Boson and life after Boson, that enrich and feed off the other.

Tantony is the second book in the Secrets of Carrick series, which links together different stories through landscape and mythology. It can definitely be enjoyed without having read Merrow (although I recommend that you do, just because it is brilliant). It won’t be for everyone, and it might not be an easy read, but it truly is a breath of fresh air in the Aussie YA market.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Past the Shallows, by Favel Parrett

First published by Hachette in 2011

Parrett’s debut novel is as beautiful and as raw as the wild coast of Tasmania’s south. It is very simple but in this simplicity there is great power, where what is not said wreaks its quiet devastation on both the reader and the two little boys who we follow through the pages. These two boys, Miles and Harry, are what carry the book, and Parrett explores their bond with writing that is affectionate and touching and ultimately heartbreaking by the novel’s conclusion.

Three brothers, Joe, Miles and Harry, are growing up in one of the isolated coastal towns Tasmania does so well. Joe, almost out of his teens and old enough to move out of home, is restless and want to move away, to get on with his life, to find something more. Miles feels the stirrings of similar feelings but is stuck looking after the youngest brother Harry, a slightly odd but endearing little boy who everyone seems to love – everyone except his own father. Their father, an abalone diver, is a bitter man, warped by devastating secrets and the death of his wife years earlier. The boys must learn to watch out for his cruel tempers but above all, watch out for each other.

This is basically what Past the Shallows is about – the day to day lives of these boys, the frustration of small-town life, the joy of small treasures – good surf; warm Milo; the cold, loving nose of a kelpie pup pressed into your palm. Finding twenty dollars at the Show and spending it all on lollies. Snuggling under the doona right next to a warm fire. Having a big brother who you love and adore and who you feel safe with. The childhood of these two boys is told with great understanding and warmth and so when we cast our adult eye upon their world and see all the harsh, stark realities of it, and of this fractured family unit, we cannot help but feel and fear for them.

I appreciated Parrett's gentle descriptions of the Tasmanian landscape and weather and her distinctive writing style - it is unassuming and lacks trickery but is still an absolute pleasure to read. This is a book that will sink into your skin and sweep you away. It has great emotional pull and a distinctive voice. It broke my heart a little bit. You will not forget Miles, Joe and Harry.

*This review also originally published at CAE Book Groups in a shortened format