Review: The Most Dangerous Place On Earth

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Tristan Bloch is an outcast – he’s the weird kid that no one else likes. The only people who seem to like him are his English teacher and his mum. Then comes the day that 13 year old Cally finds a letter from Tristan in her locker, professing his love for her.  Cally gives Tristan’s letter to her boyfriend Ryan, hoping he will look after this awkward situation for her. He does. Instigated by Ryan, a bunch of kids from their grade bully Tristan over Facebook, pointing out his flaws, some even urging him to kill himself. Eventually, he does.

Fast forward 4 years and Molly Nicoll is beginning at the school in her first role as an English teacher. She brings fresh eyes to the school and gets to know and comes to care about this group of teens. Little does she know the story of their past, or how it has affected each of them.


I’m not sure what I was expecting when I selected this from the Netgalley list, but I got a lot more than I bargained for. This is a stunning debut novel, raw and honest with some great characters. Lindsey Lee Johnson focuses her lens on rich kids allowed to run amok with little supervision from their parents and fewer consequences for their actions. We meet Dave, who desperately wants to succeed at school but has no idea how. We meet Calista (Cally), still nursing her guilt from her part in Tristan’s end, and trying to spend all of her time too high to notice. We meet Abigail, who is engaging in an illicit affair with one of her teachers in an effort to connect to someone

 The weight of the expectations placed on the teens, plus the lack of engagement  with their parents makes for some terrible decisions and awful outcomes.

High school is supposed to be a safe environment for young people to experiment with who they are and what they want from their lives … up to a point. The parents in this book were absent for a number of reasons – from being self obsessed, to a terrible illness, to being incapable of entering a two way dialogue with their teen no matter how hard they tried. Some of the kids felt so isolated, confused and despairing about their situations that they felt there was no one they could talk to, not even the adults that were trying to connect.

Johnson beautifully captures the loneliness, fear, despair and hope of being a teenager.

5 out of 5 reminders of why I’m glad I never have to be that age again.

Review: The Rules of Backyard Cricket

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Darren Keefe is not having a great day. When we meet him he is gagged, bound, has been shot in the knee and has been shoved in the boot of a car. Darren begins to reflect on his life and how he has ended up in this position.

Darren reminisces through the highs and lows of his life, his mum who sacrificed everything for her boys, his difficult relationship with his brother and their love of cricket, the high life he enjoyed while playing professionally and the trouble that his excesses landed him in much to his brother’s shame and embarrassment.

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This unassumingly titled book sure packs a whallop. Serong’s characters leap off the page. He beautifully captures the stress of the single parent family, and the life long friction between two brothers who both want to be the best. Darren and Wally are both great at cricket and the competition they feel with the other far outstrips what they feel against anyone else. Wally is the serious, up tight older brother. Darren is younger, wilder, more irresponsible. And so they journey together into the bright and shining world of professional cricket with all the distractions that entails.

While Wally is the picture of seriousness and responsibility, Darren is his polar opposite. Craigo, a mate since childhood, can get Darren whatever he wants – drinks, drugs, women, nothing is out of the question, despite how much his behaviour angers Wally.

This book is about family and the ties that bind, sacrifice and cricket. Serong’s writing is sharp, snappy and has that great Aussie sense of humour and self deprecation. Each chapter opens with Darren’s progress in the boot of the car before delivering you back to the past, keeping the tension levels high and drawing you in to the drama, of which there is plenty.

You don’t need to be a cricket fan to enjoy this book, but you may need and Aussie to English dictionary occasionally.

4 out of 5 Rolando’s fractures.

With thanks to Netgalley and Text Publishing for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: On the Run

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It’s the 1990s in California. Pablo is a young, wealthy Central American man leading the good life. Until one day  he witnesses and is blamed for a vicious crime which leaves him with both the police and drug lords after him.

His money gone and a bounty on his head, Pablo descends into crime himself in order to survive. He heads across the country to New York to seek out the only person he can think of with the knowledge and skills to assist him – Mad Dog, his best friend’s cousin who himself has been working in the drug trade for the last ten years. Pablo will face many challenges in his new life underground, but one of the biggest will be dealing with his new ally, whose way of seeing the world is very different to his own.

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This book is so much fun! Pablo is an interesting study of what a person will do when they are pushed to the limit to find out what they are capable of.  His own horror at his initial actions is realistic and he then rather than bottoming out he seems to equalise and find his new moral compass.

Mad Dog, however, is my favourite character. He is a hardened dug dealer who has seen bad things and had bad things happen to him. But he is not a bad guy. He’s not just interested, but invested in Pablo’s welfare and continually tries to expand Pablo’s thinking and encourage his self-development and self awareness. Mad Dog also has concern for his clients – he doesn’t see an addiction to cocaine as being any different to an addiction to sex, money or power (although is worse as it could kill you). All of these things indicate someone is trying to fill a hole inside them. Pablo gets really frustrated with Mad Dog’s “new age crap” but realises he has no choice but to suck it up because Mad Dog is literally saving his life. On the Run is essentially a journey to self for Pablo, with Mad Dog as his guide.

The book is incredibly well researched and intricately detailed. There were times I had to remind myself that I was reading a work of fiction rather than a memoir. The story is well paced and will completely suck you in!

4 out of 5 offshore bank accounts.

With thanks to Netgalley and the author for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Review: Strangers Among Us

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Who are the strangers among us? The focus of this collection of short stories is the balance between mental health and mental illness, and the intense feelings of alienation that go along with this.

19 fantasy and science fiction authors have contributed stories to this amazing collection, exploring mental health and alienation through a great mix of worlds and characters.

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I don’t generally read short stories, but the premise of this collection drew me in. My biggest complaint about short stories (and this is all down to me, nothing to do with the writing or writers, if anything it shows their skill) is that they always leave me wanting more. Especially well written sci-fi or fantasy short stories like the ones that fill this collection.

I want to know more about the Dog, the one unaugmented human on his spaceship whose job it is to keep the ship safe while everyone else is unconscious during their jumps. I want to know more about the 70 year old rebel fighter. I want to know more about the society where the Culling takes place.

All the stories in this collection are excellent and I really enjoyed all the different angles that the authors approached the premise from. From schizophrenia to autism, to anxiety and depressive disorders, there is a wide range of mental health issues represented.  In most short story collections I find there are a couple of “fillers” – stories that aren’t great but are included to pad out the volume. There is no “filler” in this collection. The stories are wonderfully insightful, understanding and sympathetic. It is a great collection about a difficult topic.

4 out of 5 talking toasters.

Seriously, how are talking toasters not a thing yet?

 

With thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy for an honest review.

 

Review: The Birdman’s Wife

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The Birdman’s Wife is a beautiful piece of historical fiction which reimagines the life of Elizabeth Gould, wife of John Gould who is best known for his work documenting Australia’s birds.

The book follows Elizabeth into her marriage with John, through her early work, the loss of her two children and her trip with John to Australia to record Australia’s bird life. This was an unconventional decision for Elizabeth as it meant leaving three of her four children behind in England during the 2 year journey. But Elizabeth was clearly unconventional, working to produce over 600 lithographs while she was also bearing and raising children in an upper class family.

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This is a meticulously researched debut novel. The writing seems a little stilted at the opening of the relationship between John and Elizabeth, but then the author hits her stride and both Elizabeth and her subjects leap from the page. As the daughter of a lithographer, I enjoyed reading about the process used prior to the technology of the 20th century – incredibly difficult work which could be ruined by a fingerprint or a mistimed exhalation. I also enjoyed learning more about the research done by the Goulds and their journey through the fledgling colony. I wish there had been more mention of the Indigenous peoples, but on reflection this was probably outside of Elizabeth’s experience.

This book is a tribute both to an amazing woman and Australia’s bird life. I’m looking forward to reading more by Melissa Ashley.

 

4 out of 5  encounters with Prince Albert.

Review: The Light Fantastic by Sarah Combs

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It’s April 19 and the morning of  April’s 18th birthday. April’s hyperthymesia, a rare memory condition which means she can recall most of her personal experiences from her life, has her ruminating on all the tragedies of previous Aprils: from Lincoln’s assassination to shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech University.

This story occurs over a few hours on April 19, and is told by 7 voices. Lincoln went to school with April before he left Delware for Nebraska. For some reason he is drawn to think of her while he spends time with Laura, the Honors student he is infatuated with.Sandra Heslip has let the few stragglers that turned up to her English class on Senior Skip day go. She can’t stop think about what Adrian George said to her yesterday. Mastermind has a plan and a number of people who are ready to go out into the world and do his bidding.

April is the Cruelest Month, April is the Weirdest Girl.

I’m going to keep this review short and sweet, because I just loved this book and can’t think of much more to say other than “it was awesome, read it!”

This book is an intense meditation on what it is to be a teenager. My teenage years were a while back now, but I can still remember that particular flavour of powerlessness and shame that you carried around with you on a daily basis – well, maybe you didn’t, but I sure did.

Of course teens these days have different tools at their fingertips – skype, chatrooms, facebook and so forth. These don’t necessarily make life better, and can instead make things more intense by letting people be continuously connected, when disconnecting might be more beneficial for them.

Combs juggles a lot of balls in the crafting of this novel, but I think she has done a fantastic job. My only criticism is that the title phrase is used a couple of times too many in the book. The story is well-paced, and beautifully put together. Make sure you’ve got some tissues lying around for the end.

5 out of 5 #effingwins