The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Jean Perdu is indeed lost as his French surname suggests. Twenty one years ago the love of his life left and the only way he can assuage his pain is by running a ‘literary apothecary’, a bookshop where Jean diagnoses customers’ emotional states and prescribes the best book for easing the symptoms and pain each customer is suffering. But the only person he can’t heal with literature is himself.
There is another reason this is no ordinary bookshop - it is housed in Lulu, a beautiful barge moored on the River Seine in Paris. Jean lives in an apartment building on the Rue Montagnard which is also home to a successful young novelist with writer’s block, a weeping woman and a terrific concierge.
In order to find himself again, Jean realises that he has to make a journey back to where his lover came from so, in a dramatic moment, he unmoors the boat and sets off an a magical tour down the rivers and canals towards Provence. Along the way he collects an assortment of characters each contributing to Jean’s journey of discovery and their own pathways.
This novel is a delightful melange of interrogating one’s purpose in life and the mistakes made along the way, of using books to enlighten the journey and learning many of life’s lessons from the people Jean encounters along the pilgrimage he makes through the French canal system. And one of the stars of this story is Provence itself. Nina George celebrates this part of France through the medieval hill towns, the waterways, the smells, the food and above all the people – fellow travellers, local farmers, winemakers, cooks……
Translated from the German The Little Paris Bookshop is written in lyrical prose with deep observations about life and death, fear and sorrow, friends and friendship and above all love. The love of literature and the life lessons it provides is supplemented by a literary “first-aid kit” at the end of the book where the author lists important titles, the ailments they can cure and some possible side effects.
A superb read.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
When Helen Macdonald’s father died, she felt a pull towards the wild. Having romanticised falconry since a child, she decided to finally buy and train her own goshawk, a bird notorious amongst centuries of falconers for being sulky and unpredictable. Helen has a very different experience with her goshawk, Mabel, and discovers that far from being the ‘hysterical, irrational’ bird depicted in falconry books, Mabel hunts with a blood-lusty vigour, but also likes to play catch with a small paper ball, and responds to patient, gentle human interaction.
Woven between fragments of Helen’s memoir is the story of T.H. White (author of The Sword in the Stone) and his failed attempts to train his own goshawk in the 1930s. Part critical reading, part biography of a man struggling to come to terms with his repressed homosexual desires, White’s story helps Helen, and her readers, understand the impulse behind wanting to capture and train a wild animal, and the exchange that takes place between human and bird, bird and human, in the process.
Macdonald is a poet and it shows in her prose. Her landscapes are smelly, brittle, and vivid. Her lyrical turn of phrase enables a deft navigation of grief without ever collapsing into self-indulgence.
H is for Hawk is the perfect book to snuggle up with when wild weather is lashing against your bedroom windows.
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
Cheryl is in her early forties and having a deluded fantasy about a relationship with an older man who is clearly a jerk. She is dangerously passive, lonely and has a simmering unhappiness, kept at bay with carefully devised systems to keep her small home neat and her life in order.
When her bosses (“old friends”) all but force her to accommodate their stunning but messy, selfish and physically aggressive 21-year old daughter Clee, she must find new ways to cope because her solitary life and carefully devised systems are over, probably forever.
Now that might sound depressing, but Miranda July’s dry humour (reminiscent of A.M Homes) and empathy toward her imperfect characters make this a very engaging and touching novel.
A wonderful telling of how sometimes life can barge in on us, wreck everything, but leave us glad it did.
My favourite book of the year so far.
Touch by Claire North
Kepler is a person without a body, or rather without its own constant body, existing as a consciousness that can jump into and wear any human body it wants with a mere touch, it could be anyone, children, celebrities, presidents, anyone.
Kepler just wants to live, and has done so for a very long time, existing through other’s bodies without doing harm or at least trying, but there are others like Kepler who aren’t so considerate, those who will jump into a person’s body to commit a terrible crime and then jump out again leaving the consequences to be borne by the body’s confused owner. It is because of these crimes that Kepler has now become hunted. A stealthy organisation wants to rid the world of Kepler’s kind, and won’t hesitate to kill as many innocent hosts as it takes.
North showed great skill constructing what could have been a confusing time travelling narrative in her first novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and here she’s done it again. The body swapping nature of this book mean this is a story that could only be told as a book and North clearly relished weaving the detail of this fantastic narrative, it’s not only believable but an extremely compelling thriller.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
In 2012 three academics stole Jon Ronson’s identity using a fake Twitter account for a social experiment. When they refused to stop, Ronson turned to his social media following for help, who in turn unleashed a tirade of awful abuse at the academics and the twitter account was quickly removed. Ronson admits to taking great pleasure in this humiliation and admiring this new phenomenon of internet justice, where news of wrongdoing such as racist behaviour spreads like wildfire on the web and the mass pile-on in response is swift and brutal.
However once Ronson started interviewing the recipients of such an internet shaming he realised they were having horrible and destructive long term consequences. Plagiaristic authors are hounded into hiding, ill-considered jokers are insulted and pursued until they are fired from their jobs. The collective schadenfreude at their downfalls is palpable and the worst part is that the Google search results will never forget their mistakes, making a new life nearly impossible.
Ronson’s self-deprecating humour and knack for finding interesting people and weird situations is as fascinating and entertaining as ever. If you’re a fan of Jon Ronson then this book will not disappoint, it’s funny, weird and pertinent to our times. If you don’t like Jon Ronson then I’m very disappointed in you.
A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
Ever wanted to know how to become a homesteader in the wilds of Indian country in turn of the century Canada? A Place Called Winter will tell you how. But it tells much more than that. It tells the tale of Harry Cane, a shy young man who understands little of his privileged world nor how it works until he comes a cropper via a misguided action and an illicit love affair. He has to leave his wife, young child and home to save their reputation and the possibility of a gaol term.
Harry goes to Canada leaving his known world behind him forever en route meeting the man who, while being of great assistance, proves to be his nemesis. Gradually he learns about physical endurance and his place in this new world as he works as an apprentice learning the rudiments of isolated farming life until he takes over his own piece of land where he cements his new skills and discovers capacities for self-sufficiency and aloneness that he never knew he had. And he encounters a brother and sister who teach him more about farm life but above all about love and friendship. He also learns that madness is not far away.
This is a quiet novel, about a quiet gentle man who discovers himself through endurance and hardship and apparently is based on a real life family mystery.
RELEASE DATE LATE MARCH 2015
THE SNOW KIMONO by Mark Henshaw
Two old men, one a retired Parisian police inspector, the other a lawyer and Professor of Law at the Imperial University of Japan, meet at the inspector’s apartment. Inspector Jovert is a reluctant recipient of Professor’s Omura’s strange but fascinating story of an old friend Katsuo Ikeda, a celebrated Japanese author, and his doubtful relationships with women.
Thus unfolds a psychological mystery told in several layers each unpeeled slowly as Henshaw quietly yet forcefully describes the interrelationships between these three men and the women in their lives. One of these women owns the snow kimono which has been lovingly made by a textile manufacturer who is integral to the mystery.
The Snow Kimono is a loving tribute to the Japanese aesthetic woven together with the lies men tell and their effect on women. Henshaw’s first novel, Out of the Line of Fire was a critical success. The Snow Kimono appears 25 years after and is a triumph of incisive exposition, achingly crafted sentences and chapters and a captivating puzzle for the reader to dissect.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Richard Flanagan, 2014 Man Booker prize winner, has trumped Australian fiction with this mighty and lyrical evocation of war-time Australia and the hideously mournful treatment of prisoners of war on the Burma-Siam railway.
Dorrigo Evans, a young doctor, finds himself adrift in Adelaide on his way to fight in Singapore. He falls for his uncle’s young wife and they enter a passionate but furtive relationship while his betrothed stays in Sydney. But Singapore falls, Dorrigo has been captured and put to work looking after the starving, beaten soldiers who are brutalised daily by their captors and their already brutalised Korean helpers both groups in turn brutalising the local population.
But this is not just a story about the hapless soldiers. Flanagan has the courage to present the reader with deep insight into the Japanese mind, the unquestioning obeisance to the Emperor and empire, the pride that drives these captors to inhuman lengths to achieve the impossible orders from above. But he also recognises the Japanese aesthetic by quoting the haiku of the Japanese masters throughout.
Apart from his skills as a surgeon Dorrigo is lauded by the POWs as a man of honour who they know will look after them as best he can despite the woefully limited resources. He stands up to the Japanese pleading for clemency and consideration for the ill health of his men and their consequent inability to work. For this he is loved by the POWs and when he returns to Australia his reputation continues to grow until his death as an old man. But Dorrigo is a flawed hero, a womaniser, essentially unhappy and dissatisfied with his choices in life and Flanagan explores these dichotomies with sharp insight.
In searing, precise and lyrical language Flanagan evokes the sufferings of the prisoners, these ordinary Australians. In one tragic awful day on the railway we meet the larrikins, the brave, the frightened, the tortured and the heroic – the essence of humanity in all its forms. Flanagan forces us to be part of the horror and suffering of these human beings who seem barely human at all.
Although the latter part of the novel is not as resolved as the beginning promises, it still thralls and is supremely affecting using language which flows with rich imagination. Richard Flanagan has written an Australian classic which will be read by many generations to come.
Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Written from the point of view of Ajay – initially a young boy and later a man - Family Life follows a family leaving their home in Delhi to start a new life in New York.
Ajay’s father has big dreams for their future, particularly his children’s future, but when tragedy strikes one of them, and they must become caregivers, they move from being ambitious to just trying survive in an unforgiving new place.
The poverty of Delhi is artfully contrasted with the excess of the west through the eyes of Ajay, whose small observations highlight the advantages that we take for granted: "I had never seen hot water coming from a tap before” and “we received ads on coloured paper”.
It is heartbreaking to be in Ajay’s head as he assigns undue blame, guilt and responsibility on himself.
He grapples with the pressure to be successful, the paradox of feeling both lucky and unlucky, and having to be mature ahead of his years whilst his father is anything but, turning to drink and self-pity.
A short but very moving and at times surprisingly funny read. Recommended.
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
Cormoran Strike, the huge, one-legged, ex-military private detective is back along with his clever apprentice Robin. Despite being in debt he’s still taking on cases out of sympathy that might not pay a cent, and he’s still rubbing the Police the wrong way.
We are taken into the world of writers and publishers (a depiction that is less than generous, and that the author I assume knows well). Owen Quine, a struggling yet unlikeable and arrogant author, who hasn’t had a success in years, is found murdered in a truly gruesome manner. It quickly emerges that the killer has mimicked a murder from one of Quine’s books, but this one is still a manuscript, so who in the publishing world has read it, and who wants him dead?
I’ll avoid any more plot details as the fun of a good crime novel are in the surprises. Galbraith A.K.A Rowling is clearly relishing writing in the crime genre as both novels to date are well plotted, engaging and fun.
A very enjoyable read, possibly more so than the first.
A Good Place To Hide By Peter Grose
A Good Place To Hide: How one French Community Saved Thousands of Lives in World War II By Peter Grose
In an isolated plateau in the upper Loire Valley lived a strong community of Huguenots. Their dedication to living a simple and upright life combined with pacifist Protestant preachers led them to saving the lives of thousands of fleeing Jews, mainly children. Under the noses of Vichy France and the German invaders these simple farmers and shopkeepers gave refuge to Jews who would otherwise have been sent to concentration and death camps, as was already the fate of many of the parents of the children.
The basic premise for these people rested on their belief that if human beings were in need it was their duty to provide help regardless of religion. And thus the folk of Chambon-sur-Lignes and many other small towns not only provided housing and food, but also devised methods of hiding the children when raids were threatened. Amongst the people being protected were a couple of artists who were able to forge hundreds of passports and ID papers enabling escapes into other countries.
This whole community undertook to protect lives and saw it as a simple part of being human – a riveting tale, simply told, of courage and belief in the word of God despite danger to their own lives. True heroism with no frills.
US: A Novel by David Nicholls
Douglas, Connie and Albie, their 16 year old son are a classic British middle class dysfunctional family about to embark on a trip across Europe – a last ditch stand to save a stale marriage and reignite the flagging relationship between Douglas and his son. As ever, Douglas the scientist, has planned the trip meticulously only to find that life gets in the way such as the enticing sounding Parisian that looks and smells more like a brothel. He finds it hard to navigate the curve balls thrown his way by his grumpy hormone riddled unfocussed son who just really wants to be left to his own devices and finds his role as patcher-upper of his parents’ flailing marriage at minimum boring if not at time excruciating. He’d much rather be busking and bonking on the streets of Barcelona with inappropriate older Aussie females.
Douglas has a penchant for chronic foot in mouth disease and while he’s a well-meaning husband and father he really doesn’t get it as he flounders through the vicissitudes of travel and marriage. When Albie throws in the towel Douglas goes on a heroic cross-Europe journey to bring his errant son back to his mother who, although concerned, wants Albie to experiment and have a go. But Douglas, obtuse as ever, forges ahead, lands in jail, finds himself penniless and generally continues to be the loveable idiot that he always as.
And then there’s Connie. Uncertain of where her life is going, decidedly disenchanted with a stable but dreary marriage and looking for some excitement in the years ahead her acerbic approach to life and Douglas ensure that this marriage is heading in the wrong direction.
Despite this glum prediction, however, along the way we are treated to some truly comic writing, “what could possible happen next” page –turning and a jolly romp through some of the most glorious cities of Europe. Yes, there are serious moments, and one does feel some empathy for Douglas but he is a constant supply of humour and groaning. Highly recommended.
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
Fourth of July Creek is a brilliant debut, with Smith Henderson sparking comparisons to the likes of Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner. Pete Snow is a social worker whose life is on the verge of crumbling. After separating from his wife and daughter, he moves to the remote town of Tenmile, where he comes across a young boy and his father roughing it in the brutal wilderness of rural Montana. The father, Jeremiah Pearl, is a devout conspiracy theorist, and paranoia has pushed him and his family to feral reclusion. As the two men begin to form a relationship, we discover more about Pearl’s tumultuous past, we are met with great tragedy, and questions about freedom and sacrifice are pushed to the fore.
Yes, it’s bleak. But well worth a read. Who wants rainbows and puppies all the time, anyway?
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Book one of the Neapolitan trilogy. The story of two childhood friends from an impoverished Nepalese village who are desperate to move beyond their home town and to experience life on a grand scale.
Ferrante is a devastating writer, her description of intense female friendships ring true. I could feel the passion between these friends, Luna & Lila, feelings which oscillate between a loving obsession and true venom. Two lives entwined with a competing edge.
There are many characters in this book but they all have a vital role, something that can only be accomplished by a truly gifted writer. Prepare to be amazed by Elena Ferrante.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Like many of Gaiman’s books (see the wonderful Coraline and The Graveyard Book) the narrator is a resourceful and determined child who discovers something fantastic, terrifying and dangerous, and has his innocence challenged.
When exploring the "dark water spotted with duckweed and lily pads" of a duck pond at the end of the lane (AKA The Ocean) our protagonist unwittingly unleashes a dark magical force which sneaks into his home disguised as a beautiful housekeeper named Ursula Monkton, whom his family embrace despite his warnings (his father a little too intimately). Upon fleeing he comes to meet the Hempstock’s, three generations of women who themselves are magical but also warm, sweet and protective.
I am reluctant to define this as an adult’s book or a children’s book, it floats gracefully between the two, mixing real life tragedies and fear with nightmares and magic. According to Gaiman’s own comments much of the places and characters are inspired by his own childhood, and this may explain the warmth and nostalgia in the writing.
A delightful ode to the wonder of childhood.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
KIDS & TEENS
The Flywheel by Erin Gough
Far more than a love story this is a classic coming of age novel, which is honest and enthralling and filled with ‘just-one-more’ chapters.
Delilah is familiar with the consequences of misplaced crushes. After falling for the classic popular girl she has become the punch line in an array of homophobic jokes. Not only that but she is barley able to keep her family café afloat now that the manager took off and her dad went international.
And now she has fallen again, this time for a stunning flamenco dancer across the road- Rosa. Her best friend Charlie understands, he is always off doing outrageous acts to win the hearts of women.
But now Charlie’s in jail, she might have to break the law and Rosa is full of mixed signals. How can you tell another girl you love her without it ending in heartbreak and humiliation? And even more, when everything is falling into chaos is it possible to keep the beat?
The true triumph of this novel is that it addresses the love felt by LGBT teens with equal importance, messiness and passion as any other. It is captivating, uplifting, real and funny and filled with authentic voices and interesting dynamics.
It is not a book people should just want to read. It's a book people need to.
Reviewed by Katie McGregor
Stay With Me by Maureen McCarthy
Wonderfully written, absorbing, thrilling, tragic and touching. What more can you want?
Tess is married to Jay, a charismatic, generous and attractive man who says he loves her. Four years later his love has turned to violent physical abuse.
To save her child’s life Tess makes a desperate escape. Through the assistance of a stranger Tess embarks on a road trip back to her family. But in four years more a lot has changed. And the question remains- will Jay find her?
A poignant story with a remarkably relatable character which will ensure you never ask questions like- ‘why didn't you just leave when the abuse started?’
The terror created by Jay stimulates the book and allows you to gain insight and empathy for those affected by abuse. In this way it explores family violence and mental illness without lessening or simplifying the issues.
Not all doom and gloom the story also describes the incredible difference that a stranger’s kindness can have on a family. Leaving you with the sense that there is underlying hope in even the most horrific of situations.
- Katie McGregor
Embassy Row #1: All Fall Down by Ally Carter
Kickass kids. Government conspiracies. And of course…. Romance.
Similarly to Carter’s Gallagher Girls All Fall Down is written with flair, constant anticipation and plenty of action.
Grace Blackley’s mother was murdered, sanity is questioned and plot to kill the killer a go. Having just returned to Embassy Row she is surrounded by leaders with conflicting agendas including her powerful ambassador grandfather, her scattered friends with questioning intentions and he mysteriously helpful Russian boy-next-door Alexei. Grace is starting to realize that to get justice she may just need help.
But whom do you trust when you are so wrecked with grief, you yourself may not be trustworthy?
While as with many of Carter’s books a bit of going-with-the-flow is required, due to its simplified nature, her ability to create such strong characters and enthralling plots makes the read is both easy and enjoyable. The setting was vivid and intriguing, stemming huge amounts of tension and drama. As the blurb so beautifully puts, ‘Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes and one wrong move can make them all fall down.’
Filled with twists and turns you’ll never see coming.
Reviewed by Katie McGregor
RELEASE DATE FEB 2015
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Suspense. Intrigue. Danger. Secrets. The fabulously wealthy. And lies upon lies upon lies. What could go wrong?
The Sinclair’s are the perfect family, no criminals, no addicts, no failures. Who cares if it’s a façade, a lie, everyone can see they are perfect? So are all the people who rest on the private island off the coast of Massachusetts. So are the Liars- a group of four friends. Until their relationships unravel. Soon everyone is scrambling to bury their secrets and then they begin to drown in their own lies. The brilliant, damaged girl and the passionate, political boy, all liars.
Who will drown next?
This modern suspense is gripping and a dangerous read. E. Lockhart has a unique writing style that is poignantly simple and utterly effective in creating anticipation. The plot line spirals and grows like the lies and the characters are dangerously and worryingly realistic. They could be anyone of us.
Read it. And if anyone asks how it ends, just LIE.
Reviewed by Katie McGregor
The First Third by Will Kostakis
This book is bright, uplifting, genuine and real. Will Kostakis has a unique and engaging writing style that fills the story with vivid, lovable characters and relationships. This light read is inspiration, moving and completely enjoyable.
Bill’s grandmother gave him one final message. Life if made up of three parts: in the first third, you're embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you've made. Oh and a bucket list and the responsibility to fix his broken family.
No pressure or anything.
But with the help of his hilarious, insecure best friend Lucas and amazing but mysteriously absent girlfriend he may just complete it. He has to, because the first third has to end some time. And then what?
I recommend this read to anyone who wants to laugh and smile and think poignantly for a bit before laughing again. For a great story about the endearing nature of friendship and resilience of family look to the First Third.
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher
Secrets. Murder. Love. Lies.
Zoe Collins has a terrible secret. So horrific and dangerous that she dare confess to no one. Until she hears of a criminal on death row in Texas. Stuart is dark and twisted, a murderer and in this way they are similar. Desperate to tell the truth Zoe begins to write letters, filled with her secrets, her betrayals and her dark hopes. Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich, and begins.
This novel is gripping and heart-wrenching. It contrasts the innocence of Zoe at the beginning to the horror of her later crimes to build a climax filled with absolute intensity. Oh how the heart can betray you. This book so realistically portrays how small simple actions, feelings can turn and change into something uncontrollable, and dangerous. It is beautifully written from the perspective of a teenager, displaying their raw emotion. And the ending is shocking, heartbreaking and very true.
Rating; 9 ½ / 10
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Similar to Rowell’s other masterpiece of Eleanor & Park, Fangirl wonderfully portrays the excitement, nerves and thrills of a first love. This novel is adorable, sweet, touching and utterly real.
Cath is a Simon Snow fan. It’s who she is. Cath and Wren are identical twins who bonded through the fandom, the fanfiction ever since they were kids, it got them through their mother leaving and their father becoming fragile. But now things are different. They’re going to college and Wren wants her own room. Wants her own life. Without Simon Snow. Without Cath. For the first time Cath’s on her own. Except for her new surly roommate with a charming boyfriend, an I-hate-fandom writing professor and a handsome classmate who only wants to write. And then there’s her dad, who’s probably lost now that he’s alone.
Cath wants to want to move on. But can she? And at what cost?
Fangirl takes a new and refreshing spin on the idea of growing up as a part of a fandom. It's writing is a sweet and relaxing ride, filled with angst, joy, love and a fabulous appreciation for what it really means to be a Fangirl.
Filled with SO TRUE moments for all fangirls out there.
Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail
Suzy Zail has followed up her previous young adult Holocaust novel “The Wrong Boy” with new YA story, this time centred on a 14 year old boy from the Czech countryside who has been sent to Auschwitz. Alexander cuts himself off from human contact thinking that the only way to survive is to stay strong, alone, and not depend on anyone else. But he doesn’t expect to change this approach through the selfless help of a fellow inmate Isidor. Even more importantly he is allocated a job – a job he was empowered to do through his background growing up on a farm and learning and loving horses. His new job is to look after the SS horses, a relatively easy task until he comes across Midnight, a glorious stallion who has been emotionally damaged Alexander’s job is to tame him sufficiently to become the Commandant’s horse.
Throughout this story, Alexander slowly learns that humans can be altruistically kind and that survival, above all the losses, hunger and pain, is supreme. This novel is based on a real life character, Fred Steiner, who guides at the Holocaust Centre in Melbourne. Suzy Zail manages to achieve just the right level of complexity for her targeted audience without sugar coating the harsh realities of life in concentration camps.
How They Met by David Levithan
How They Met is wonderful story about love and about all kinds of love. Levithan has created eighteen separate but equally varied and magical tales that may not overlap by characters or places but intertwine amazingly together. There’s everything from the completely infatuating adoration of a first love, to the utter terror and paralyzing fear that comes from the transition of friend to lover, or to the struggle to stand up for your yourself and for the ones you love, eloquently and beautifully captured in this incredible novel. With this marvelous and original story collection Levithan shows that love is a varied, complicated, addictive, challenging and a wonderful thing. This novel is light and lovely so reading it was pure pleasure.
Age: 12+ Rating: 9/10
Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
Zac and Mia, follows the journey of two teenage cancer patients as they struggle with the challenges both in and out of a cancer ward. Written from both children’s’ perspective it is an engaging, unbelievably realistic read with such raw, genuine protagonists. Zac is calm and kind while Mia is perpetually angry and feisty, in the outside world they would never be friends. But in hospital there are different rules – especially when everyone else there is your grandparent’s age. Set in and out of the hospital Zac and Mia is a powerful (not too depressing) novel, perfect for fans of John Green’s the Fault in Our Stars. The base of the novel is friendship- often tentative, ignored and depended upon. Unlike in many novels things don't ‘magically’ fall into place at every turn, both of the characters are humanely flawed and this makes their friendship both believable and enthralling.
The novel isn’t really about cancer. Cancer is how they meet and the battle they face but it isn’t the focus or the point of it. Zac and Mia is about friendship, love, struggle and finding ones strength in others. Beautifully written, it is easily one of the best books that I have read this year.
For ages 12+ (but enjoyable for all)
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
I love Leonard Peacock. Occasionally a character comes along that tugs at your heart so hard you wish you could physically, magically enter the pages of the book to rescue them. On the day of his 18th birthday Leonard plans to kill his former best friend and himself. First there are four important people he wishes to see and leave with a gift. The book charts the day that may be Leonard's final. Left to raise himself while his fashion designer mother lives the high life in New York, his closest confident is an elderly next door neighbour he watches old Hollywood movies with and most of their conversations are direct dialogue from Bogart movies. Being a teenager can be nightmarish, particularly if there are so few people around that love you. Leonard is a sensitive bright soul that exists in the heart of every teenager and if that hunger for love is not tended to the fear and sadness can overwhelm us. This book will be made into a movie, read the book and remember the good people at O&F told you about Leonard first. This book may be classified as Young Adult fiction but it's for readers of any age.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
WARNING: This book will break your heart. This novel is classified as Young Adult but a good story is a good story and an author of this calibre deserves to be read by all.
Though written by Patrick Ness, the original idea for this story is by Siobhan Dawd, who died before she could write this book. I almost feel like her grief is written among the words on every page of this novel. I sobbed with pain as if the characters were people I truly knew. This is 13 year old Connor's story and that of his terminally ill mother and his recurring nightmare. At 7 minutes pass Midnight the monster calls. The monster insists he can help Connor by the sharing of three stories. This novel is harrowing and beautiful and will be with me always.
The Diviners by Libba Bray
The Diviners is a gripping, sensational read that presents a completely new story, a historical fiction with about 1 000, 000, 000 twists and constant thrills. A young adult fiction unlike any other I’ve read! Awesome! Fabulous! Frightening!
Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City and she couldn’t be happier about it. New York is the city of shopping, fame, actress and movie palaces! Evie has found her place with the glamorous Ziegfield girls and loves the thrills of the rakish pickpockets. However she has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."
Although maybe Will isn’t as crazy as everyone thought, maybe just maybe he’s right. When a series of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. But Evie has a secret, a mysterious power that could save her if it doesn’t get her killed first.
A brilliant book of peril, romance, exploration, mystery and horror, that will keep you clued to the coach.
Recommended for 12+
- Katie McGregor
Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil
Hilarious. Romantic. Geeky. Moving. Beautiful. Life in Outer Space is utterly ravishing. This is geeky at its greatest. Keil has created a life so believable but incredibly captivating.
Sam Kinnison is an intelligent boy, an obsessive-war craft player, a fan of horror movies and generally a geek. However he is perfectly happy being so. He has his few fine friends, the computer room for lunchtime and a life free from the trouble of girls, well at least until Princess Lea turns up.
In comes the Camilla Carter. She is beautiful, popular, caring and for some absurd and unexplainable reason she wants to befriend him. Obviously this leaves Sam shell shocked and distracted, which was not part of his plan.
A fabulous novel about a movie geek and the dream girl he refuses to fall in love with.
For ages: 10+
Rated: 9 ½ / 10
- Katie McGregor
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S King
This dark, humorous, stunning novel shows the effects of bullying and a child’s way of dealing with the pain. A brave endeavor brilliantly pulled off. It is a jaw-dropping combination of both realism and imagination.
Lucky Linderman is sick of the pain, is sick of the torment, is sick of how no one notices or at least pretends not to, he is sick of his turtle mother and his non-existent father. If it weren’t for his secret he wouldn’t be here. Constantly under attack from Nader McMillan’s relentless bullying Lucky needs an escape. This is his secret… in his dreams he escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Lao with his Grandfather. Here Lucky is a hero, a brave warrior. But dreams don’t last forever and there comes a time when every person must face their demons.
This powerful novel about taking a stand will grip your heart and never let go.
Rating: 9/10 - Recommended: 10+
- Katie McGregor
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Part coming-of-age tale, part mystery, “Liar & Spy” takes place in contemporary Brooklyn and revolves around a seventh-grade loner and misfit named Georges. Georges and his family have to move from their home after his father loses his job as an architect and the family sells their house to make ends meet. His mother is working night shifts as a nurse and Georges finds himself living in a new apartment building with a cast of eccentric neighbours.
He is struggling at school as his best friend drops him in favour of the popular clique but he finds a new friend in the apartment building when he joins the Spy Club. This book is funny and heart warming and thought provoking.
Recommended for boys and girls 9-12 years.
Blue by Pat Grant
Pat Grant brings us a beautifully illustrated tale centred around localism and xenophobia. Set in the small beach side town of Bolton, Blue follows three kids who wag school to go surfing and check out a dead body. They're not a particularly nice gang of kids but Pat Grant gives just enough insight into their lives for the reader to see part of themselves. As the story develops we learn of the arrival of blue skinned aliens and their struggle to assimilate against the will of the unwelcoming locals.
The illustrations are bold, filled with fluid lines and visual metaphors.
Inspired partly by the Cronulla riots Pat Grant explores Australian nationalism and immigration while weaving an adventurous story of adolescence.
Blue is a playful comic with a very serious core. Recommended reading and viewing!
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
What if you only had one day to live? Would you change something? Fix any regrets? Fall in love?
Samantha Kingston has it all and she knows it. So what if she has hurt a few people in her time, everybody does. So what if she is occasionally selfish, it’s that or be a loser. There is nothing else she could want and her future is bright. That was until she died. Forced to that one day for eternity, she realizes that maybe there was something she had been missing.
This heartbreaking debut novel will leave you speechless, soaking in its magnitude. Lauren Oliver is a god of young adult literature. Before I Fall will stay in your mind long after you read the final page. You will never forget.
Recommended for 10+
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
‘Love, the deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.’
The future world is one of prosperity, where you are safe from the deadly disease. Lena is thrilled in this new world, counting down the days to her immunity. She longs to be free from such evil, free from love.
In a world where love is despised, where children are no more than a responsibility and marriage is just a mutual agreement between two parities, everything is perfect. Really, is it? Lena is waiting for the day when she is cured, but then she does the unthinkable. She falls in love.
Delirium is an incredible dystopian fiction and a heart-wrenching love story.
Recommended for 9+
- Katie McGregor
The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George
Becca knows what you’re thinking and until now she was using it against you. She is on the run from her abusive stepfather and she has taken sanctuary on Whidbey Island. Things were spacing out and she was finding her place, but when a boy was found next to dead heads begin to turn.
This action-packed novel will leave you thirsty for more. Although it takes a while to get into it, once you do you won’t look back. Wonderfully written and contains incredible description. The Edge of Nowhere is a mesmerizing novel!
Recommended for 12+
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kandare Blake
Dangerous. Breathtaking. Brutal. Merciless. Spectacular. This book is all that and more. Kendra has woven her characters into a magnificent, ghostly web. Her words so picturesque that they feel real.
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat, hunting for the dead.
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into her deserted Victorian home. When Cas enters her home, she, spares his life.
The story is a gut-wrenching, gorgeous, heart-breaking, tortured love story. Basically it is just your average-boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story.
- Katie McGregor
Someone Else's Life by Katie Dale
BRILLIANT! This book is a roller-coaster ride! With so many ever-changing surprises and discoveries you are in for the ride of your life. This book only gets better as it goes along. If you aren’t immediately interested from reading the blurb, take my advice and read it anyway! You will be pleasantly surprised!
Rosie Kenning’s mother (Trudie) is dying, slowly losing contact to her daughter due to Huntington’s disease, leaving Rosie orphaned. Alone and lost, with the prospect of inheriting that fatal disease herself, Rosie is searching for answers on how to continue. When she discovers that Trudie wasn’t even her mother to begin with. Filled with the pain of losing her mother, but also finding a new one she begins to track down her biological mother, changing her life forever.
When faced the dilemma of finding a new home but destroying the lives of others or remaining alone, what will Rosie chose? Selfish and happy or selfless and alone? Only one thing is certain:
One Secret Can Change Everything!
- Katie McGregor
The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne
Another standout book for 2012 is marketed at children but I refuse to let them have all the fun, this book is stupendous and deserves to be read by a very wide audience. Barnaby is born into the very normal, very dull nondescript Brocket family. From the moment he is born it is obvious Barnaby is quite different. He defies the law of gravity, shoots out the birth canal and floats immediately to the hospital ceiling! His parents are mortified and ashamed and they attempt to keep him away from the prying eyes of the public as much as they can. One day Barnaby's mother decides the family would be better off without him and punctures a hole in his heavy backpack that allows him to float away. Barnaby has the most amazing adventure, meeting people just as unique as him on the way. Reminiscent of the great Roald Dahl this is a book to be treasured.
Silhouette by Thalia Kalkipsakis
This book is a whirlwind of dancing, passion, ambition, sex, drugs and celebrity. This is unlike any dancing book you have ever read. It’s shows the tough world behind the incredible performances you go to see at theatres. Scarlett Stirling has put every last drop of her energy into her training and is going to be the next dancing superstar. But then she begins to play a dark game.
When the competition is everyone around you and temptation risks all you have, you must stick to the rulebook, but can you? But in a world when one mistake can destroy everything, how do you stay on top? This book is full of raw emotion and was an absolutely beautiful to read. It is wonderfully written and absolutely stunning for dancers and non-dancers alike.
Recommended for 13+
9 ½ /10
- Katie McGregor
Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks
By Ellie Phillips
Sadie Nathanson spends her life trying to survive the excruciating embarrassment of simply existing. It’s hard enough being a bit of a shrinking violet within a loud and outspoken extended family, but the unexpected card from ‘Dad’ on her 15th birthday is the last straw. As ‘Dad’ was an internet sperm-donor, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is a bad joke, probably set up by her ex-best-friend Shonna. But it starts Sadie wondering – just who was her father? Is he the cause of her worry crinkle? What would happen if she tracked him down? So she decides to do just that. With help from her nerd cousin Billy, his friend Nodding Tony and a regular dose of ‘Haironomics’ (Sadie’s own hairstyle-related philosophy system), they uncover a lot more than they bargain for...
Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks is an insightful, hilarious and purely awesome novel. It is filled with action and is surprisingly gripping. Recommended for people ages 10+.
- Katie McGregor
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Why We Broke Up is a young adult book about the complicated nature of teenage relationships. With its quirky illustrations and thick glossy pages Daniel Handler's book is unconventional for many reasons. One is its telling by a male from a female's point of view, something done surprisingly well. In a letter from Min to Ed the book details why they broke up and all the complicated reasons that contributed. The characters of Why We Broke Up are unorthodox and for this reason the reader is drawn to both. Min and her mental rambling and movie references and Ed with his bravado and humour make for enticing reading. Their relationship and lives are filled with passion and flaws making this book very accessible to teenagers and anybody who has had to love and let go.
Age recommendation: 13+
When We Were Two by Robert Newton
When We Were Two is a heartwarming adventure about two children who search for their Mother. The journey they make and bravery of the oldest child in leading his brother though the unknown will create a sense of incredible awe. The pain and the weight of guilt the oldest child feels opens your heart and makes you wish you could comfort the boy. The innocence and simplicity of the youngest will make you cry and cry and fall in love. Journeys like these don’t come around every day! This book tells the dark side of the world from a child’s point of view and will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.
Rating: 8 ½ out of 10
- Katie McGregor
The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda
For those of you who love the Hunger Games and for those aliens out there who don’t this is the perfect book for you. Only a few of us humans remain, all of us surrounded by vampires longing to stick their teeth into our flesh and we are kept hidden in a glass dome, barley alive. But Gene, a human, has managed to survive capture, pretending to be one of them. Things start to go wrong when he is chosen to kill humans in a live hunt and then drink their blood. Action, drama, blood and a little romance make this a book you will devour, every last sentence, every last drop. Age: 11+ Rating: 9 ½ out of 10
- Katie McGregor
Changeling by Philippa Gregory
Magic, witchcraft, innocence, guilt, good and evil. In the year 1453 whispers are running wild about the end of the world. Lady Abbess is trapped in a nunnery when her sisters begin to have strange visions and bleeding wounds. She is believed to be responsible, a witch. When Luca comes to investigate, things start to get VERY interesting. This historical fiction is a whirlwind of adventure, injustice, magic and excitement.
- Katie Mcgregor
The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
Written by a T.V personality from the well-known program, Glee, The Land of Stories is a twist on the fairy tales that we have all grown up reading. When Alex and Connor’s father passes away their life fills with sorrow, also as their mother has to increase her work hours to support her family. When their grandma visits for their birthday she gives them a spectacular present, a large book called ‘The Land Of Stories’ that contains the fairy tales that have been read out to the twins throughout their life. Discovering that the book acts as a portal, Alex and Connor find themselves in an alternate world where they encounter witches, wolves, princesses and evil queens. Wanting to come back home, the twins race against the clock to find the ingredients to the wishing spell, the spell that has the ability to return them to their home. As they uncover the secrets of this enchanting land they discover even more about themselves. The Land Of Stories is an enthralling book that keeps you wanting more. I recommend this book for children age 9+.
Wonder by R.J Palacio
August Pullman is an ordinary kid. The only problem is he does not have an ordinary face. Since he was born he had severe facial abnormalities and had been treated differently to normal kids. He has been subjected to numerous surgeries and has been home-schooled to avoid the cruelty of others. August has remained sheltered by his parents until they decide to make him do the hardest thing someone like him could do. Attend middle school. Even though his father says it will be “Like a lamb to the slaughter”, August finds friends in the unlikeliest of places. This book is amazingly written and is narrated by different characters with certain links to August. This book is solely about belonging and unfair judgment. I strongly recommend Wonder for children between the ages of 10-12.
Punchlines by Oliver Phommavanh
I strongly suggest that you read this book as soon as you can. It’s very good and very funny. Johnny Khamka is a seriously weird boy who discovers that he could be a VERY good comedian. But as Johnny draws closer to the State final his jokes get lame and unfunny. Will Johnny win the State final or will the other comedians overpower him? I liked the way Johnny narrates the story because he makes it so entertaining and uses funny language.
- Jager (aged 9)
Blood Brothers by Carole Wilkinson
This book is brilliant. Tao a monk of the Yinmi monastery finds himself confronted one night with a glowing green dragon. Tao reluctantly allows himself to be pulled with the green dragon Kai into the dangerous world of bloodthirsty barbarians, deadly dragons and sacred treasures. This book has made the Dragonkeeper series even more renowned for its cleverness, exciting adventures and its creative ideas. I think the author Carole Wilkinson has created a true masterpiece. You can enjoy this marvelous book even if you have not read the others.
- Eli (aged 11)
Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness
A phenomenal dystopian series set in a world where human colonists have settled on a distant planet, Chaos Walking follows Todd's journey as his world starts to collapse and he learns everything he thought was true was a lie. Viola, his counterpart, is a newly arrived settler who discovers the atrocities first hand and must adjust to this incredibly harsh environment while navigating her relationship with Todd and the people of this world. Along their path Todd and Viola are faced with increasingly difficult choices and their decision will often come back to haunt them.
This is a wonderful set of books that deal with many philosophical questions of race, slavery, oppression and at its heart, good and evil. Ness deals with good and evil in a very mature way making it as confusing in the books as in real life. Often the heroes and villains will show traits of both while committing heinous atrocities or acts of compassion and this humanises each character in a remarkable way. As the story unfolds you begin to see how hatred and desire for power has warped each characters perception and how much the settlers have strayed from their original goals.
Chaos Walking is a powerful series that creates an overwhelming desire to page turn into the wee hours. If you haven't picked this up yet, do yourself a favour and buy all three at once!
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
The first thing that comes to mind about "Midwinterblood" is that reading it was a pleasant surprise. With a seemingly cardboard set up the author manages to innovate in strange and original ways, one being the use of a technological device called the ”OneDegree bumper”. This idea seriously impressed me even separated from the book. The main premise of "Midwinterblood" focuses on the boundaries of a love that lasts forever. It explores this through the main character of Eric Seven who has lived many lives and in each one has loved the same woman. In a twist of fate they are not always born as lovers but as mother and son or brother and sister. An original slant to the story line. Told in reverse from June 2073 until a “time unknown” slowly through the course of the novel you uncover the events that have plagued these two ‘immortal souls’. "Midwinterblood" is an eerie story, dark and full of sinister suspense. Brimming with tension this short novel devours you from the first page drawing you in with its unorthodox take on “love re-born”.
Recommended: ages 14 and up Rating: 8.2/10
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
It is always interesting to read a novel that has received so much hype and generated such wildly opposite responses. Readers fall into either the Lovers or Haters camp. After finishing "Imaginary Girls" I can safely place myself on the side of those who loved it. Fair warning, this book is not for everyone. It is confusing and riddled with many chilling and frightening elements. And while this might be a turn off for some people, Nova Ren Sum presents it in a way that mesmerizes and captures the audience all the way through. The intention of this book is not to tuck you in at night with a warm cup of milk bidding you sleep. It is to shock you and it is to scare you. Told from the perspective of Chloe the novel focuses on the relationship between her and her older enigmatic and wild sister Ruby. It starts off one dark night at a party where, after a dare from Ruby, Chloe swims across a reservoir of water and, in its murky depths, comes across the cold body of a dead classmate. After this Chloe is sent from her home town - to the unhappiness of Ruby who will do anything to get her sister back. And when she returns home two years later things are certainly not as they were, the truth, an illusive object, now shrouded in death. Dark and twisted "Imaginary Girls" is a revolutionary book about the complicated and dangerous bonds of sisterhood.
Recommended: ages 15 and up - although depending on taste could be suitable for younger audiences.
Switched: BK.1- Trylle Trilogy by Amanda Hocking
Switched is a magical, superb book. It features magic (obviously), magical creatures and trolls (which due to this book are coming into fashion, watch out vampires!). Switch will captivate you and ensure its pages keep turning. It’s a mystical novel of romance and lies. The main character, an awkward, strange female teenager (no, not all teenagers are like that), with a dark past, becomes an acquaintance of a mysterious, young adult who has a habit of appearing in her bedroom at night. Soon she’s off with him, traveling to find the truth of her past. Hurry up and read this book before everyone else does, because Switched has true awesomeness and is going to be big!
For ages 10+ Rating: 8/10
- Katie McGregor
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Romance, ladies or men for that matter, has arrived. When strong, protective, superhuman and plainly gorgeous Gale (sounds good already right) falls for Emma, who thinks she’s human, a forbidden romance unfolds and this time it isn’t because the boring human might be murdered, bitten by her vampire lover (thank god), no this is much more serious. Generations of people are relying on them not being together. If you’re ready (which you should be) to fall in love, cry and then fall in love some more then this book is perfect for you!
Suited for people aged, anything, okay fine, 10+ 9/10
- Katie McGregor
10 Futures by Michael Pryor
If you love a book with drama, action, comedy and suspense. A book that makes you think and ponder then this is the book for you. I was so engrossed that I stayed up many nights just thinking about some possible futures. The main two characters are kind, daring, interesting and very believable. This book points out some of the problems with today’s society and how it could change. 10 Futures is a book with just that, 10 possible futures in which two consistent characters remain. So how would you go if artificial intelligence ruled our lives, there was extreme rationing due to overpopulation or a massive plague that wipes out most of humanity? Read up to find out 10 Futures will leave you speechless!
- Katie McGregor
Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter
This book is phenomenal; I was gobsmacked with not only the brilliance of the series but also how action-packed, thrilling and emotional this book in particular was. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, for real this time. The use of spies, humour, action, emotion, boy-drama (vital) and mind-blowingness blends together into the young adult girl fiction of the year (well so far). So if you are thinking (or even not thinking) about reading this book, well screw your head on, rush out to the store/library and have a mental fit until you have this book in your hands, because it really book changing. But make sure you have tissues right next to you and are NOT in a extremely public place, cause you will be crying, laughing, smiling, crying hysterically again and then really tired the next day, when you haven’t had any sleep from reading this book. Recommended for people (girls mainly) 8-100000000000 years old. Rating: 9.5/10
- Katie McGregor
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
Is it too early to declare BOOK OF THE YEAR??? Don't look at this book as a young adult fiction title, this is simply a superb book. Having read two previous brilliant books by John Green I was giddy with excitement when I unpacked this book.
Hazel is a 16 year old cancer patient, frustrated that her mother insists she attends a cancer survivors group for teenagers. Hazel rarely communicates within the group but to herself she describes her initial diagnosis with thyroid cancer at 13 (three months after her first period) as like: Congratulations! You're a woman. Now die. At group she meets Augustus who has lost a leg to cancer, and they forge a strong friendship as he tries to convince her they are destined to be together. Yes, this is a funny bookabout cancer but it is in very safe hands with this author.
WARNING: somebody may die and you may sob uncontrollably and you may never be able to forget these characters. This is a book you will want to reread and you will insist everyone you know reads it. This is truly a book we will be talking about for a long time.
Mini Bonus Review:
I agree with Natalie, this book is excellent, and heartbreaking. The central characters are teenagers, but I would be reluctant to call it teen fiction, it's themes of life, love and loss are universal and beautifully portrayed.
Apothecary by Maile Meloy
The Apothecary is a fantastic book told about the period after the end of World War II. Janie comes from Hollywood to London because of the U.S government. Almost immediately she becomes friends with the Apothecary’s son, Benjamin. Then the Russian spies arrive taking the Apothecary and leaving Janie and Benjamin to find and recue Benjamin’s dad and guard the mysterious book, the pharmacopoeia. Along the way they use some of the book’s magic potions, escape from their Latin teacher Mr. Danby and travel on a boat all the way to the waters of Russia to contain an atomic bomb, all with the powers of the Pharmacopoeia. I would recommend this novel to anyone over the age of 10. You will find it is one of the most clever and exciting books you have ever read.
-Eli (aged 11)