June 2019 Reading

June, what a month! So many books!

As I’m starting uni in July, I knew I wanted to enjoy my free time as much as possible, which consisted of reading (a lot). This knowledge mixed with the cold weather meant perfect days for reading under blankets.

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles #1) by Melina Marchetta

Having owned and loved all of Melina Marchetta’s other books, I knew it was time to finally dive into the Lumatere Chronicles. A fantasy trilogy, opposed to Marchetta’s other novels being realistic Young Adult novels that I can reread a thousand times over.

I found this book difficult to get into, partly because the world is so intricate (involving war, royalty, families, cultures), and also because I haven’t read fantasy in a long time. I have in the past, but it’s not my go-to genre.

After 100 pages or so I found myself immersed in the story of Finnikin, our protagonist, as he journeys with numerous characters back to his homeland. This novel has all the classic elements; cynicism turning to hope, emotional family reunions, dark backstories, a surprise love story, people lying for the right reasons, people lying for the wrong reasons. There’s action and grime and death. There’s humour and the beautiful language Marchetta is known for.

I didn’t love this novel. I don’t think I could when her other novels of a different genre are some of my favourite books in the world. But I’m glad I’ve read this as I’ve been meaning to for a number of years. If the other two books in the trilogy are at the library I’ll read them, but I won’t buy them for myself.

My rating: 3/5 stars

The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex by Gabrielle Williams

Surrounding the events of the missing Picasso piece The Weeping Woman, this novel switches between four perspectives. From the start we know how two of them are connected (the artist, Luke, and his ex, Penny) but the others seem random.

I love how their stories all combine, but only toward the end. Most of the novel is filled with odd facts about a family member or the past, and it all clicks as you read the last few chapters. I thought it was well done in how intricate the plot was, but how hidden many aspects were as we get to know the characters individually before they’re thrown together.

This novel wasn’t what I was expecting (I think I say that in my reviews a lot), but it wasn’t as lighthearted or fluffy as I was expecting. I thought there would be more romance, or teen drama, but in reality there’s lots of depth as well as unpleasant characters. I appreciate this in a book; writing lovable characters is easy, but writing flawed people who want to be rooted for but just can’t cut it are gold.

Another detail I love is that it’s set in Australia. I’ve said this before, but I feel more drawn toward Australian characters, and relate to them almost immediately as opposed to American or British novels.

I immensely enjoyed this novel, though looking back perhaps enjoyed isn’t quite the right word.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Love & Gelato follows the story of Lina as she travels to Italy, uncovering mysteries of her mother’s past and living with the father she never knew. This book is pretty light and fairly predictable, but in the best possible way. It works well and has the right elements for an enjoyable YA; family mystery, a beautiful country to explore, and a romantic speech that leaves you hanging.

I know that YA can become cliché, but that’s part of the appeal, isn’t it? We want a neat ending; or, a satisfactory one in the least. We want growth and teen emotion and tense family situations. We want light humour to balance out the heaviness of almost-adulthood and we want the protagonist to learn a lesson. In this sense, Love & Gelato is gold.

My rating: 4/5 stars

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

This was pretty strange, but overall an interesting and vaguely enjoyable read.

I found the protagonist to be written in a way that wasn’t quite realistic to me, which is funny because the whole novel is about unrealistic things – which we’ll get to. But the main character felt too imagined, like the author was trying too hard to point out her ‘quirkiness’.

The actual story was bizarre, but didn’t feel like it was trying too hard. It worked well, especially when tying the past with the present. The plot is about a girl who grew up with a ‘cursed’ family. She believes that everyone in their family gets a phobia and that the phobia will eventually kill the individual. For instance, family members who have been afraid of the water ended up drowning.

Esther’s – the protagonist – father is agoraphobic so he doesn’t leave the basement of their house, her brother is afraid of the dark, and her mother bad luck. This creates a wacky house to accommodate all their needs (lighting candles every afternoon before it gets dark, having ‘good luck’ charms around the house, etc.) and means Esther doesn’t have many friends.

To keep herself from being ‘cursed’, Esther keeps a list of possible phobias and avoids them. Each time she feels mildly worried, she puts it on the list and avoids it forever. Snakes, cockroaches, heights, small spaces, etc.

Spoilers ahead, I’m about to ruin the ending in the next paragraph!

Long story short, Esther meets a boy who helps her face every fear on her list to prove the curse isn’t real. In the end, Esther realises they’re not cursed, but that her father has anxiety and her brother depression. She’s been using the ‘curse’ to avoid facing reality and to cope with her family’s situation.

As I said, pretty strange, vaguely enjoyable, but I don’t feel the need to read this again.

My rating: 3/5 stars

The Yearbook Committee by Sarah Ayoub

I liked this book much more than I thought I would. Originally I thought it was American, so to discover it was set in Sydney and parts of Melbourne was a pleasant surprise.

Each chapter is from one of five perspectives. Five high school students – strangers – thrown together to be on the Yearbook Committee. Every character is unique and has their own voice, and I sympathised with all their stories. I also disliked them all at one point or another; they all have tough home or school situations, but some of them are bullies, for instance. Seeing the narrators from other point of views was also interesting, and it resonated with me at how we see people differently.

I liked this book and the character development; seeing them all grow, become better people, and accept each other is beautiful. But I gave it 3 of 5 stars because of the ending. It is a tragic ending, which isn’t the problem; the problem was it ended abruptly. I found the pacing of the novel well balanced until the last few chapters, which sped by without reason. I don’t mind when a book doesn’t answer all questions and has an open ending, but I found this left the main conflict of the book until the end. This meant it was all suddenly over and I was left wondering ‘what on earth just happened?’

Regardless, I did enjoy this novel and found the characters to be refreshing.

My rating: 3/5 stars

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I enjoyed this much more than Everything, Everything (also by Nicola Yoon). I connected easier with these characters and empathised more with their situations.

This novel has the potential to drag on too long, as it is set in one day in which Natasha and Daniel meet and get to know each other. One believes in fate while the other believes in science, giving ammunition for arguments, friendly banter, and the possibility of love.

I thought the pacing of their friendship was fairly realistic, though I’m not too keen on the instant-love. I think the book could have been just as powerful as a friendship or a one-sided love instead of the cynical girl coming full circle (in a day!) and realising she loves Daniel. Over time, definitely possible, but to go from not believing in love to saying it to a boy she literally met that morning felt too orchestrated.

But also, as a reader I knew to expect that, and a lot of readers want a world where love is so magical you can ‘know’ in a matter of hours.

I did love how the day was broken up with chapters about random side characters in the book, and how we get snippets of family history. That helped me keep going instead of only reading about the unrealistic love story of Natasha and Daniel.

As far as characters goes, Natasha and Daniel are delights to read about. Fresh, funny, flawed, they made it easy to read about their relationship.

My rating: 4/5 stars

My life as a Hashtag by Gabrielle Williams

This book really impacted me.

The novel focuses on MC, our protagonist, and what happens when she is blocked on social media by a best friend and isn’t invited to a party that everyone else attends. What follows is an exploration of friendships in this society and how a small choice can change everything.

I found the protagonist realistic; flawed but redeemable. I simultaneously sympathised with her and disliked her based on decisions she made. Despite her mistakes, she captures that teenage-girl naivity. Caught up in her own world and injustices, she reacts without thinking of the consequences. This is what made the novel true to real life and what resonated with me. Even though I haven’t experienced what the protagonist did, I still felt personally connected to the story and the characters.

A book with a lesson for the reader to understand.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Miss Nobody by Tamsin Winter

Another book that’s a bit young for me but didn’t detract from wanting to finish the story.

Our protagonist, Rosalind, has selective mutism, making it difficult to talk outside of family. She’s beginning high school, and her younger brother has cancer. After being bullied at school for not speaking, and seeing others getting bullied by the same people, Rosalind decides to start a blog to call them out.

Having a blog myself, this is what drew me into the story despite it being for a younger audience. I was disappointed when Rosalind – or her blog name, Miss Nobody – ended up using her blog to bully others instead of writing, well, anything else. The point of the story is about Rosalind finding her voice and realising there is a wrong and right way to speak up; in calling out the bullies on her blog, they end up getting bullied too. As with younger novels, there is an obvious moral to the story.

I thought the author did a good job of blending the different story lines together and giving us a full picture of Rosalind’s life and experiences. Definitely an interesting read.

My rating: 3/5 stars

The Whole of my World by Nicole Hayes

This is a funny book to review because I’ve never had any real interest in sport but that’s the focus of this novel.

Shelley’s mother and brother died two years ago, and this story focuses on her as she starts a new school and finds her way. This book is filled with self-discovery, with the help of afl and unlikely friends. Our protagonist is naive, looking for peace, and in over her head.

This is a typical YA novel; conflict, small triumphs, an ending filled with hope. I definitely enjoyed it, though struggled to connect with all the characters. In some ways it was realistic, but I did find some of the characters and their behaviour stilted. Aspects of the novel felt relateable, but others lacked a bit.

Still glad I’ve read it, and not a bad way to spend the day.

My rating: 3/5 stars

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

This is one of those impactful books, filled with important themes that you could read numerous times and still get something from.

The beauty is in the language, in the way life is described, in how relationships are portrayed. This novel may be about a physical journey that many, many people have taken in reality, but also tells the journey of a relationship so broken but depended upon in order to survive the physical journey.

From the beginning we know our husband and wife make it to London, but this doesn’t detract from the tale of tragedy and action as we learn of what they went through to get there. If anything, I believe it to be more powerful as the backstory unfolds, as we discover more about their home, their family, their desperation to reach a safe place whilst simultaneously mourning their country.

I won’t give anything away, but there are numerous twists and turns that, instead of being there for the sake of shocking the reader, exist to reiterate the seriousness and complexity of what it took for them to survive.

My rating: 5/5 stars

This is what I’d call a happy reading month, so I will.

Happy ‘Happy Reading Month’ campers!

Sarah xx

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