Review: Strange the Dreamer

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Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 28 March 2017
Pages: 544
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? 

Ughh, this was perfection and I don’t know why I waited so long to read this. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy like I have loved few books, and I am so pleased that Strange the Dreamer actually lived up to my expectations. It was gorgeous and odd and lyrical. In short, perfection. Although, also kind of weird.

I didn’t even know what to expect going in, I just saw ‘Laini Taylor’ and bought it. While I think it’s better to go into this book blind, for those who don’t know and are interested, the book opens on Lazlo Strange, a young librarian who was orphaned as a baby. He grew up obsessing over the Unseen City, whose true name was stolen from everybody’s mind and replaced with the word Weep. Lazlo knows he once knew Weep’s true name, but cannot remember it and devotes his life to uncovering the secrets of the city. When the Godslayer comes to select a delegation to visit Weep, Lazlo convinces him to let him join. I won’t elaborate anymore, just know that the journey he goes on is magical and filled with wonderful characters.

The characters are filled with shades of grey – the villains are sympathetic and the heroes are flawed. Even my least favourite characters still had redeemable qualities, and the smallest characters had intriguing back stories.

She asked in a hesitant whisper, “Do you still think I’m a… a singularly unhorrible demon?” “No,” he said, smiling. “I think you’re a fairy tale. I think you’re magical, and brave, and exquisite. And…” His voice grew bashful. Only in a dream could he be so bold and speak such words. “I hope you’ll let me be in your story.”

Taylor’s world-building has improved so much since Daughter of Smoke and Bone. While Dreams of Gods and Monsters had some fantastic world-building, this book just blew me away. It’s a well-conceived tale of gods and goddesses, and was tinged with elements of the beloved fairy tales of my youth. Lazlo strongly reminds me of Harry Potter (perhaps a lazy comparison), in that he is an orphaned young man who kind of has this great journey thrust upon him (admittedly, they also kind of seek it out). Sarai – oh my God, Sarai.  She is such a complicated and wonderful character.

The ending broke my heart into little pieces, and I was surprised I could get so invested in the story. I need The Muse of Nightmares, like right now. It was definitely a shock twist (and not a shitty, done for the sake of shock value twist like Allegiant), and I cannot wait to see where Taylor takes the story from here.

As always, Taylor’s prose is lyrical and wonderful, although it did feel a little forced in parts. The dialogue was on point, and the banter between Lazlo and Sarai felt so realistic. Taylor is one of the most talented writers publishing today, and this book is an absolute treat.

★★★★★

Review: All the Crooked Saints

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All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by Scholastic on 10 October 2017
Pages: 311
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Here is a thing everyone wants:
A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado, is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

I’m not really a huge magical realism fan, so I knew going into this that, despite being a diehard Maggie Stiefvater fan, this book may not be for me. Unfortunately, I was right.

All the Crooked Saints is a story about loss, love, saints and demons. Set in Bicho Raro, Colorado during the 1960s, it focuses on the Soria family and the pilgrims who have come to them for a miracle. It is full of Stiefvater’s signature lyrical prose, however the story itself was slow-moving and left me feeling bored. There was a really slow build-up for what was ultimately a rushed ending. The writing was absolutely phenomenal – there really is nothing that Stiefvater can’t make sound magical and gorgeous. The story had a fairy/folk tale vibe at times, a slight softness to what is ultimately a weird story.

There was a host of interesting characters, including the three Soria cousins – Daniel, the saint of Bicho Raro; Beatriz, a girl incapable of feeling emotions; and Joaquín, otherwise known as Diablo Diablo, who runs an illegal radio station. Marisita, a pilgrim who is constantly followed by heavy rain, was probably my favourite of the pilgrims, followed closely by Padre Jiminez, who had the head of a jackal and overall really just fascinated me. Unfortunately, at times it felt as if these characters were slightly tweaked versions of the characters in the Raven Cycle.

Ultimately, this book was just okay. I appreciated that Stiefvater was trying to do something new, and I loved that she took criticism of her lack of representation in previous novels on board.  I will definitely pick up Stiefvater’s future books, this one just wasn’t for me.

Recommended for fans of: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

★★★☆☆

Review: Turtles All the Way Down

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Published by Puffin on 10 October 2017

Pages: 286

Format: Hardcover

Source: Purchased

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Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

I haven’t really read a lot this year, but this book changed that. I received it last Thursday (I pre-ordered it on Amazon because signed copy), and read it in one three hour sitting.

The first thing I want to address is this book’s depiction of mental illness. It is honest and feels genuine. I have clinical depression and generalised anxiety disorder, and Aza’s thought spirals are all too familiar. It was a relief to see some of my flaws and ‘quirks’ in a character, so I can only imagine how much it must mean to a teenager suffering with a mental illness. Green has OCD, so it is easy to see why Aza’s OCD feels genuine. In some ways, Aza’s thought spirals were discomforting – and occasionally horrifying – to read, but you eventually come to terms with being inside a mind that is at war with itself.

“There’s no self to hate. It’s like, when I look into myself, there’s no actual me—just a bunch of thoughts and behaviors and circumstances. And a lot of them just don’t feel like they’re mine. They’re not things I want to think or do or whatever. And when I do look for the, like, Real Me, I never find it.”

In the Tumblr generation, mental illness is almost romanticised, but Green doesn’t do that. You get the shitty part of dealing with mental illness: how frustrating it can be for family and friends. Your world view can become incredibly myopic and all you see is how your mental illness affects you. You don’t always pay attention to the people around you, and you can’t always articulate what you want from them. I appreciated this being explored in Daisy and Aza’s relationship.

Like any John Green book, you can expect some fantastic characterisation. Davis with his fear of nobody liking the real him, Daisy and her Chewbacca x Rey romantic fan fiction, Mychal and his art, Aza and her …everything (she’s a bit like mustard). They feel realistic and they’re memorable. You really come to care for them, and when Daisy and Aza were fighting, my heart was breaking (their friendship is the true love story of this book).

I found the B story of Davis’ missing father to be a little clumsily handled, and felt that it kind of took away from the main story. It was wrapped up hurriedly towards the end of the book, and to be honest I had forgotten that that plot point had been dropped halfway through the book until it resurfaced again. However, the ending itself was realistic, but still optimistic.

I really appreciated the message that life goes on. Maybe you’re not in the best spot right now, but you will get through it. Life is not set in stone. Green never dumbs his books down for his audience, and that is why he is one of the most celebrated YA authors today.

★★★★☆

Review: And I Darken

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And I Darken by Kiersten White 

Narrated by Fiona Hardingham

Published by the Listening Library on 28 June 2016

Length: 13 hours and 26 minutes

Format: Audiobook

Source: Free download via Audible

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NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken. 

I’m a bit late to the audiobook party. Admittedly, I started because I found juggling an actual book (along with all my other bits and bobs) while standing on the train to/from work difficult. A friend recommended I try Audible, because they have a 30 day free trial and you get one free book a month. And I Darken was my pick for September. I went into it not knowing anything about it, apart from the fact that it was incredibly polarising on Goodreads. I really loved it!

“On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”

It’s a dark, gritty story with a savage, unapologetic heroine. A lot of people have classified it as fantasy, but it’s really an alternate history. Set in Transylvania at the height of the Ottoman Empire, it reimagines Vlad the Impaler, who’s probably best known as the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as a girl. A very aggressive, very ambitious girl. It’s refreshing to see a heroine who is advertised as being cruel and savage as, well…. cruel and savage. Celaena Sardothien,   Ladislav Dragwlya is not. Lada is disdainful towards women and spends a fair chunk of the book navigating her femininity. The book explores different types of power and how they are wielded. I think a really powerful moment was Lada realising how some women use their sexuality as a means to an end, and that it was used to greater effect than fear.

Lada is also disdainful of her brother, who she sees as weak. Lada and Radu have been handed over as political prisoners to assure their father’s continued reign. Their relationship is tempestuous, filled with jealousy, frustration, and miscommunication. They also recognise that they are all they have in the world, and care for one another immensely. Radu is as charming and gentle as Lada is savage and cruel. Working together, they are unstoppable. I really appreciated the realistic depiction of their relationship and the complexity to it.

Overall, it was an original and enthralling listen. Fiona Hardingham really captured the atmosphere, and it really felt like she was performing the story rather than just reading it. It’s a lot more politically focused than many young adult/new adult fiction, and White expertly weaves religion, politics and sexuality throughout the story. Religion, politics and sexuality drive not only the plot, but the characters themselves, and it was incredible to listen to everything come together. I really enjoyed that this was a story set in Eastern Europe, because most historical//fantasy young adult fiction is inspired by Western Europe.

From the sounds of things, White really did her research, and it shows. I can’t wait to see what’s next in this saga.

Recommended if you like: The Winner’s Trilogy

★★★★☆

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
Published by HarperCollins Australia on the 1st June 2017
Pages:
400
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life. Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

I didn’t really know anything about this book going into it. I picked it up on a whim, and am so thankful I did! It is easily one of my favourite releases of the year.  Eleanor Oliphant is the kind of character who stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.

On the surface, this book is a very funny novel about a socially inept 29 year-old woman. Eleanor Oliphant truly is socially inept, in a way that puts my socially awkward self to shame. It is painful to watch Eleanor interact with those around her, if only because of the resulting scorn and her absolute cluelessness to it.

“I purchased it in a charity shop some years ago, and it has a photograph of a moon-faced man. He is wearing a brown leather blouson. Along the top, in strange yellow font, it says ‘Top Gear’. I don’t profess to understand this mug. It holds the perfect amount of vodka, however, thereby obviating the need for frequent refills.”

Honeyman deftly handles the difficult task of making sure that the reader is never laughing at Eleanor’s social ineptness itself, but the situations that she finds herself because of it. One of my favourite moments was Eleanor getting a bikini wax and then berating the poor beautician because Eleanor didn’t realise just how much was going to be waxed (or how painful it would be). I truly felt for Eleanor – whether it was overhearing her work colleagues speculating on her private life, watching her fall in love with the idea of a person, or her dealing with those moments with Mummy. Her relationship with her mother is really one of the most interesting parts of the book – the dynamics of the relationship are off from the start (I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, so won’t go into much detail), but you really get the feeling that it is an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship, with Mummy holding all the power.

I think anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will identify with Eleanor. Eleanor may do some reprehensible things, she may (unintentionally) make others feel uncomfortable, but she is never an unsympathetic character. Even as she grows throughout the novel, her characterisation is always consistent. While this book is definitely Eleanor’s story, there are are a host of other characters who are wonderfully drawn, and just feel like people. The fantastic characterisation is really what drew me into this story.

I took a star off for the ending – I felt like it really came out of nowhere and was kind of a plot twist for the sake of a plot twist. However, this is a really assured debut novel, and I cannot wait to see what Honeyman does next.

Recommended if you like: The Rosie Project, Wonder

★☆

Review: The Upside of Unrequited

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The Upside of Unrequited
by Becky Albertalli
Published by Penguin Australia on 18th April 2017
Page count: 300
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love-she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful. Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness-except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny, flirtatious, and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

I really loved Becky Albertalli’s debut, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and The Upside of Unrequited was one of my most anticipated releases of 2017. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this as much as I thought I would. I struggled to connect to the characters, and ultimately didn’t find it as charming as Albertalli’s previous novel.

While characters were diverse on page (a variety of sexual orientations, including pansexual, bisexual, and homosexual; characters of colour; mental illnesses were also brought up), it felt forced and unnatural. Diversity is important, but if it’s just for the sake of checking a box, is it genuinely contributing to a more diverse literary landscape? I think part of the problem was that Albertalli spent so much time creating a diverse cast of characters, she forgot to add strong characterisation (which is something that she did so well in Simon), and characters ended up being defined by their marginalisation, instead. Molly doesn’t seem to have any interests outside of developing 27 crushes over the course of her lifetime. What does she do, aside from obsess over boys and hate herself for being overweight (and drink alcohol, even though she’s not supposed to because she is on ZOLOFT)? I do not know. Reid is described as ‘nerdy,’ but it feels like mainstream nerdy things were picked – Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, World of Warcraft – and only ever really mentioned in passing.

I disliked Cassie with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, so I guess that counts for something. As Cassie is a Very Terrible Person and Molly… is unable to define herself outside of other people, Cassie frequently uses her sister as a means to an end. Por ejemplo: she publicly embarasses Molly by telling the story of Molly vomiting (in public) during their bat mitzvah (while wearing a microphone) to charm Mina, the girl she likes. She decides to force Molly into a relationship with Will, Mina’s best friend, so she doesn’t have to sacrifice spending time with her girlfriend to hang out with her sister. She seems to begin every sentence to Molly with, ‘no offence, but…’ To quote Todd Jacobsen, offence taken, Cassie. OFFENCE. TAKEN (you know what was offensive? Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi on a list of terrible noughties tunes).

There was also no compelling plot – it was legitimately just Molly’s quest for a boyfriend. In fact, it felt like Twilight without the vampires. The story follows Molly gaining self-confidence, but that only happens when she gets a boyfriend. It kind of insinuated that a person isn’t complete without a partner, or adds some kind of self-worth. I get that this book was supposed to empowering for the overweight teenage girls, but as someone who was an overweight teen (and is an overweight adult), I can promise I would’ve taken the wrong message away had I read this as a teenager.

I would’ve liked to see some tighter editing (it’s kimchi folks, not kimchee). An extra star added for a brief cameo from Simon, because I really do love that book. Despite this book not being for me, I will definitely check out Albertalli’s future work (because Simon, guys).

★★★☆☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

Review: Something to Say

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Something to Say by Frankie Magazine
Published by Morrison Media on the 7th November 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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A collection of funny, rude, clever, cute (and sometimes sad and sweary) stories from the first 12 years of frankie magazines. With witty words from some of our favourite frankie writers, including Benjamin Law, Helen Razer, Marieke Hardy, Eleanor Robertson, Rowena Grant-Frost and Mia Timpano.

My thoughts: Either I’m very bad with money, or frankie is very good at marketing. Regardless of which way you look at it, I spent $25 on an anthology of pieces previously published in a magazine I’ve been reading for the last eight years. This didn’t stop me from enjoying this book very much – I read frankie because the writing is razor-sharp and bitingly funny, and this book is pretty much a ‘greatest hits’ collection.

Anyone who has read this blog before knows that I’m a sucker for good book design, and this case is no different. The book features gorgeous illustrations by Ashley Ronning (whose work I had been following previously, and I was BLOWN AWAY to realise that she had contributed to this book), and is beautifully presented.

The pieces are clever, well-written, and quintessentially Australian. They vary in length, covering a variety of topics including (but not limited to) cats, depression, periods, and even the school principal who objected to the lyrics ‘kookaburra, gay your life must be.’ I frequently found myself laughing out loud (awkwardly, and in public, as promised on the cover) and tearing up (also awkwardly, and in public, and that was not promised on the cover). My personal favourites were Sam Prendergast’s ‘A Sorry Tale,’ and ‘Say Hello to my Little Friend’ by Jo Walker, although it should also be noted that my suspicions that Rowena Grant-Frost is a kindred spirit have grown since reading this collection. Despite having 20+ authors contributing to this anthology, there is a uniform feel to the pieces – something that I can only describe as ‘frankie’ (I’m sure fellow long-time readers of the magazine will agree). It’s quirky, kind of daggy, and a little bit sassy. Simultaneously, each contributor seems to have an original voice, talking about whatever happens to take their fancy. It’s a fine line to walk, and frankie does it so well.

I would recommend this to a frankie super-fan, or someone looking for a light read. Should you wish to own your very own copy of Something to Say, you can purchase it via the frankie shop or Readings.

★★★★☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

Review: Foreign Soil

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Foreign Soil
by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Published by Hachette Australia on the 29th April 2014
Pages: 285
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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In Melbourne’s western suburbs, in a dilapidated block of flats overhanging the rattling Footscray train-lines, a young black mother is working on a collection of stories. The book is called Foreign Soil. Inside its covers, a desperate asylum seeker is pacing the hallways of Sydney’s notorious Villawood detention centre, a seven-year-old Sudanese boy has found solace in a patchwork bike, an enraged black militant is on the war-path through the rebel squats of 1960s’ Brixton, a Mississippi housewife decides to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her son from small-town ignorance, a young woman leaves rural Jamaica in search of her destiny, and a Sydney schoolgirl loses her way. The young mother keeps writing, the rejection letters keep arriving…

I don’t often read collections of short stories – I like to get really invested in a story, and I find it easier to do so with a full-length novel – but I really loved Beneba Clarke’s memoir, The Hate Race, and thought I’d check out this collection. I’m glad I did, because this book is an absolute gem. The stories are character-driven and well-paced.

You’ll forgive me if my review seems unbalanced – I know I should focus on the collection as a whole (as you would a volume of poetry), but there are some stories that stick out in my mind more than others, and I do want to gush about them because I walked away from them with a heavy heart (in the best way possible). I think great literature is literature that makes you think, and Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil has definitely done that.

Australian media isn’t exactly known for its diversity and inclusiveness – Beneba Clarke has mentioned before that winning the Victorian Premiere’s Unpublished Manuscript Award was instrumental in her securing a publisher, if that’s any indication (given the quality of the short stories, I can only imagine the reason why it got rejected so many times was a fear that audiences wouldn’t connect to characters of colour) – so I appreciated that Beneba Clarke gave a voice to people who aren’t often heard.

One thing that is obvious is Beneba Clarke’s abilities (and experience) as a slam poet. She relies on cadences of the voice to tell her stories, and this comes across more effectively in some stories than others (as to be expected). For instance, I struggled quite a bit with the story Big Islan, which was written entirely in Jamaican patois. I struggled to connect with the stories that were accent-heavy, and I didn’t feel that narrating in an accent added to the story (Big Islan, David), given that Beneba Clarke has such a knack for dialogue that that alone gave me such a strong sense of place. Given that the stories followed characters living in London, Sydney, Melbourne, Mississippi, Jamaica and the Sudan (to name a few), this was no easy feat. Nevertheless, I appreciated what Beneba Clarke was trying to do with this device.

My favourite stories were Shu Yi, The Stilt Fishermen of Kathaluwa, and Aviation (which, I understand, is a new addition to the edition I purchased), although Beneba Clarke has an ability to create stories around characters you seemingly have nothing in common with, and make you care about them desperately (and given that the longest story in this collection is around 50 pages… again, no easy feat). The only story in the collection that is even remotely autobiographical is The Sukiyaki Book Club, which references earlier stories in the collection and seemed to document Beneba Clarke’s own struggles in getting published.

Much like The Hate Race, it will be impossible to walk away unaffected by Foreign Soil. With a voice unlike any other, Beneba Clarke is an author who makes me excited for the future of Australian publishing.

★★★★☆

Review: Carve the Mark

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Carve the Mark
by Veronica Roth
Published by HarperCollins Australia on the 18th January 2017
Pages: 468
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power — something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is the son of a farmer and an oracle from the frozen nation-planet of Thuvhe. Protected by his unusual currentgift, Akos is generous in spirit, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get this brother out alive — no matter what the cost.
The Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, and the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. Will they help each other to survive, or will they destroy one another?

Please note that this review contains spoilers.

I was hesitant to read Carve the Mark, if only because I’m still mad about Allegiant. I took Divergent at face-value and liked it for what it was: a book that was born out of the dystopian craze, that didn’t demand much of me, and that was based around a society that wasn’t really structured logically (even within its world), but was nevertheless entertaining. The next two books kind of devolved and became nonsensical, but Allegiant was really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

But this review isn’t about the Divergent series, it’s about Carve the Mark. Let’s move on, shall we? It’s set on a distant planet called Thuve, which is inhabited by the Thuvhesit and Shotet people. They are at war with one another (well, kind of – that wasn’t entirely made clear…) and seem to enjoy kidnapping one another’s children.

As the story is set in space,  I went into this thinking it would be an Illuminae/ These Broken Stars-type book. Aside from a few references to the stars, spaceships, and looking at planets from a distance, this really could be set any where, any time. I would’ve liked to see the setting developed a little more, because there really are very few YA/NA novels that I’ve come across that are set in space (which I personally find to be a cool concept), and why bother setting it in space if you’re not going to make use of it? The world-building in general was underdeveloped, so it took me awhile to wrap my head around this world and how it worked.  There were multiple planets mentioned, but I couldn’t understand why they were inhabited by different groups of humans, and the planets were often name-dropped once and then never mentioned again. Humans are blessed with “currentgifts” – there is a current that runs through the galaxy – but it is never explained how the current came to be, how it gives people their gifts, or what the currently is, exactly.

If you liked the fast pace of Divergent, please be warned: this one is incredibly slow-moving. Good Lord, the pacing. The beginning is bogged down with back story – Akos’ chapters start when he is fourteen, Cyra’s when she is six – but the back story is something that could’ve cleverly been worked into the story, rather than being tacked on at the beginning. The action is quite sparse – just when you think the pace is picking up, it dies down again. Even at the climax of the story, I was still left feeling underwhelmed.

I would’ve liked to see a villain who is three-dimensional – and there were hints of it there: Ryzek is terrified of pain, he hates Cyra because she was responsible for their mother’s death, he was terrorised by his father – but it wasn’t developed enough. The end was result was a leader who was cruel and brutually violent because he could be. Akos and Cyra are compelling enough protagonists, but nothing to write home about. Of all the characters, I actually enjoyed Isae the most, and would’ve loved to see more of her (here’s hoping she’s a major player in the second book…). Yma, the double-crossing queen that she is, was also another favourite of mine.

This comes down to personal preference, but I also hated that Akos’ chapters were in third person, while Cyra’s were in first person. It pulled me out of the story, although it was one of the only ways in which Cyra and Akos’ voices differed. I just would’ve liked to see more uniformity across the board (all in third, or all in first person).

If you’re expecting something startlingly original or a book that has got a lot of depth to it, this book isn’t going to be the book for you. Is it a perfect book? Definitely not. It did, however, provide me with a few hours of light entertainment on a Saturday afternoon, for whatever that’s worth.

★★★☆☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

Review: The Hate Race

9780733632280

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Published by Hachette Australia on the 9th August 2016
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Against anything I had ever been told was possible, I was turning white. On the surface of my skin, a miracle was quietly brewing . . .’

Suburban Australia. Sweltering heat. Three bedroom blonde-brick. Family of five. Beat-up Ford Falcon. Vegemite on toast. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s life is just like all the other Aussie kids on her street.

Except for this one, glaring, inescapably obvious thing.

My thoughts: This was an enthralling, compelling, complex, heartbreaking read. I grew up a few suburbs away from where Maxine did, and I can honestly say that the level of casual racism she experienced still exists today. Beneba Clarke tries to explain how a lifetime of racial slurs and taunts can slowly accrue, wearing the person down (‘This is how it changes us. This is how we’re altered.’).

Beneba Clarke’s voice is clear and simple, reminiscent of a child’s voice. It fits, given that she primarily covers her school years. The voice drives the emotional punch that this memoir delivers, reminding the reader that childhood is a time of innocence, or rather, it’s supposed to be. ‘Maxine, you are a very, very nasty little black girl,’ the mother of Beneba Clarke’s childhood bully informs her when she tries to stand up for herself. This is balanced against the familiarity of childhood, little rituals and moments that all Australian children can relate to – picking out a birthday cake from The Australian Women’s Weekly cake book,  and gathering tadpoles in ice cream buckets at the local creek. I can remember doing all of those things at one point during my childhood, and it made Beneba Clarke’s childhood experiences all the more confronting.

I found the simple refrain of ‘this is how I tell it, or else what’s a story for’ (occasionally a variant of it) to be particularly powerful; simultaneously a reference to her Afro-Caribbean heritage, and a reminder that these anecdotes were chosen with a purpose: to tell a story about growing up as a person of colour in a white society.

This is a powerful memoir, and I would recommend it to everyone. Masterfully written, this is a book that reminds us who we should not be. You cannot read this book and not be affected by its writing. I walked away from it with a sense of shame, and an overwhelming desire to do better.

★★★★★

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.