Friday, 31 July 2015

FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar

Fuzzy Mud
Tamaya is on a scholarship to the prestigious Woodridge Academy and every day she and seventh-grader Marshall walk to school together. They never go through the woods. And when they arrive at school they stop talking to each other – because Marshall can't be seen to be friends with a little kid like Tamaya. Especially not with Chad around. Chad-the-bully, who makes Marshall's life utterly miserable. But today, hoping to avoid Chad, Marshall and Tamaya decide to go through the woods ... And what is waiting there for them is strange, sinister and entirely unexpected.
 
The next day, Chad doesn't turn up at school – no one knows where he is, not even his family. And Tamaya's arm is covered in a horribly, burning, itchy wound. As two unlikely heroes set out to rescue their bully, the town is about to be turned upside down by the mysterious Fuzzy Mud...


Let me start by saying how awesome this book looks! It's a shiny green hardback cover, and I absolutely love the WARNING sign attached to the front and back. Seriously, check it out:

 

Tamaya is a fifth grader and Marshall is a seventh grader. They both attend Woodridge Academy, and also walk to and from school together because Tamaya's mother doesn't want her to walk to school on her own. They don't talk during school hours so no one knows they're friends. The afternoon Marshall drags her into the woods because he claims he knows a shortcut, something awful happens.
 
The real reason Marshall wants to avoid their usual route home is because Chad the bully wants to beat him up. Cutting through the woods doesn't keep Chad away. He actually ambushes them. But Tamaya gets them both out of the ordeal by rubbing some gross-looking mud in Chad's face. The two friends escape the bully, but Tamaya develops a really bad rash on her hand.
 
The next day, Chad isn't at school. He's gone missing. Tamaya's skin irritation is getting worse. And Marshall is enjoying a breather from being bullied. Still, Tamaya can't ignore the fact she knows where Chad is and makes her way into the woods once again. But the kids find a whole lot more than they expected...
 
I already mentioned how nice this book looks on the outside, but the inside is just as cool. At the start of every chapter, the tiny culprits responsible for a super dangerous outbreak keep spreading along the page. It really is a cool effect and foreshadows how serious things are getting. There are also official documents outlining several enquiries into microorganisms. 
 
Fuzzy Mud turned out to be such a fun and fast read that also tackles serious issues like bullying and the world's growing population problem. The two main characters are very likeable and are just two average kids trying to get on with their lives when they stumble on something out of the ordinary. I read it in one day and couldn't wait to see how things turned out. I have to admit I was really surprised at just how serious things got. It's a clever story that shows just how easily science experiments can get out of hand, no matter what the intentions of the scientist.
 
I loved the writing style and how on one hand this book can be referred to as light-hearted, while at the same time presenting a very scary (dark) situation.

Fuzzy Mud, August 2015, ISBN 9781408864746, Bloomsbury Childrens

Thursday, 30 July 2015

WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE by Trish Doller

Where the Stars Still Shine
Stolen as a child from a large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has no idea what normal life might be like. She's never had a home or gone to school, and she gets most of her meals from vending machines.
 
Then Callie's mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie's real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life in small-town Florida. Now she must find a way to leave the past behind and learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love-even with someone who seems an improbable choice-is more than just a possibility.
 
This searing story of love and betrayal will resonate with readers who want stories that are gritty and utterly true.


I recently read THE DEVIL YOU KNOW and loved it, so I was eager to read another book by the same author.
 
Callie was stolen away from her father when she was a kid and actually doesn't even remember him. Her mother took her and they were continually on the run, moving from one place to another. She filled her head with lies and encouraged her to become so attached she pretty much made excuses for her mother's bad behaviour. Callie hardly attended school, did what she wanted when she wanted, and continually found herself in meaningless encounters with guys. She's also haunted by a secret childhood trauma that still affects her every single day.
 
The day her mother is stopped by the police for a broken taillight and they find out who she is, she's incarcerated and Callie is shipped off to Florida. At Tarpon Springs she moves in with her father and his family, where Callie gets her own living space but not much breathing room. Her father comes from a large Greek family and everyone wants to celebrate her return, but she doesn't know how to act around them.
 
Callie is overwhelmed and feels like everyone wants too much from her. She can't get used to her father's rules. And winds up finding comfort in the arms of bad boy Alex. She has a hard time adjusting to this new life and finds that some of the habits her mother instilled in her are too hard to break...

Okay. I was instantly into this book, but after Callie's life situation changes I slowly started losing interest. The more time I spent getting to know her, the harder it got to stick with her story. She was too sulky, refused to put herself in other people's shoes, lacked understanding, and was definitely unlikeable. I get that she didn't know these people who were now her family, but no matter how much support they offered, all she did was push them away. I also get that she was damaged because of her mother, but it didn't excuse her being so mean and bratty towards the people trying to help her.

So, yeah, I ended up having a love-hate thing with this story. I enjoyed some sections--Callie meeting her new family and how eager they all were to help and get to know her. And didn't like others--her attitude towards just about everyone and everything. In the end, I ended up skimming some of the last half of the book because I couldn't bear to read every page, though I wanted to know how the book was going to end.

Where The Stars Still Shine is a well-written book that starts out strong, but I gradually lost interest. The story grabbed me at the beginning, but just didn't keep me interested. Mostly because I just couldn't connect with Callie. She wasn't very nice, and that was enough for me to become disconnected from her ordeal. It's a shame because I was sure I would enjoy it. :/

Where the Stars Still Shine, August 2015, ISBN 9781619632981, Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Saturday, 25 July 2015

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by SJ Watson


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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The other day I said I was in a thriller-kinda mood... and then remembered that I've had this book in my Google Play app for a while.

As soon as I started, I was hooked.

Christine wakes up every morning without any memories. She doesn't know how old she is, who the man lying beside her is, or what she did the day before. Luckily, her husband Ben answers all her questions. Every. Single. Day.

But when Dr. Nash starts to help her and encourages her to start a journal, everything changes. She decides to hide it and writes everything down. Then reads it every day.

The more she reads, the less she trusts Ben and wonders why there are so many holes in the information he provides. But delving into her past could turn deadly...

Wow. What an addictive story! I raced through this book because I couldn't wait to find out where Christine's suspicions were going to lead. The conclusion is so messed up, but fascinating.

Loved this book, and enjoyed studying the clues as Christine uncovered them. It was also such a sad story. I can't imagine how awful it would be to forget your life every time you fall asleep. :(

Great book!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

I LET YOU GO by Clare Mackintosh

A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn't have prevented it. Could she?

In a split second, Jenna Gray's world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.
 
Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .


The other day I finished reading a Domestic Noir book that I really enjoyed, and I was still in the mood for a thriller. Since Hachette Australia was kind enough to send me a few, I decided to read this one. I'd already heard great things about it, so I couldn't wait to get stuck into it...
 
On a rainy afternoon as a mother and her child are heading home from school, the boy becomes the victim of a hit-and-run. The mother is left in the middle of the road, screaming for help and cradling her dying son while the driver responsible flees the scene. A tragic accident soon becomes an intense investigation without too many clues.
 
Detective Inspector Ray Stevens and his team are assigned the case, but soon find themselves having to abandon the investigation for other more important ones. Ray has a lot on his plate to keep him busy as his family life is suffering because of the amount of hours his job takes, but there's something about the little boy, Jacob Jordan, that keeps nagging at him. And it's not until the one year anniversary that they get a lead.
 
When Jenna Gray jumps on a bus eager to leave behind the nightmare her life has become, she ends up in a small coastal town in Wales. There she rents a cottage and slowly, slowly starts to live again. She can't escape the tragic circumstances that brought her here, but she starts to make a nice and comfortable life for herself making friends, finding a purpose, taking care of a companion, and even a relationship. But the past has a way of catching up with you, no matter how fast or far you go...
 
OMG. This book was... Wow. I enjoyed every minute of this awesome book. Yes, even when I realised that everything presented in front of me wasn't as it seemed. But it wasn't because the story didn't make sense. Oh no! It was because the author is an amazing storyteller and wrote it in a way that throughout the whole first part I was sure I knew who and what Jenna was. But as soon as I reached the second part I had to stop, take a breath and let everything really sink in.
 
Like I said, wow!
 
The story is told in the POV of Jenna and Ray. So you get to see how Jenna struggles to move on after tragedy strikes, as well as get a glimpse into the investigation. But what was really cool was that we were also invited to share the Detective Inspector's life, so every character was humanised. Well, except for one. But I can't say anything more without spoilers.
 
This is a tricky book to review because there are so many things I want to point out and chat about, but they're all spoilers. So, this is going to have to be it. ;)
 
I Let You Go is a chilling, addictive and fascinating story that will leave you breathless. This book hooks you in and then keeps you wondering what's going to happen next, because you know something bad is hiding in the shadows. But it takes a while for you to figure out just what it is, and when you do: your mind is blown! Seriously. There are several HUGE twists in this book and the first one took me by surprise. I worked out the second, but by the time the next twist was revealed, I couldn't believe how well crafted this story was. It's tense, clever, and delves so deeply into the emotions of the characters that you become invested in them. Totally invested. 
 
This is such an awesome book, and the reason why I enjoy thrillers so much!


I Let You Go, May 2015, ISBN 9780751554151, Sphere

Monday, 20 July 2015

TARNISHED by Julia Crouch

Peg always felt a little blurred, a little lacking in definition. Her mother died when she was six, her father simply disappeared, and she was brought up by her grandparents and her obese, bedridden aunt. But, despite all this, she never developed the habit of asking questions.

At least, not until she met Loz, her straight-talking, psychotherapeutically literate girlfriend, who urges her to confront her demons.

But as the skeletons come tumbling out of the family closet and the full horror of the past begins to reveal itself, Peg starts to wonder whether her youthful lack of curiosity might not have been a good thing. A very good thing indeed...
 
 
I love reading a good thriller. So when Hachette offered to send a few Domestic Noir books my way, I was really looking forward to getting stuck into them. Unfortunately, the first one I tried didn't work for me, but this one certainly did! 
 
Peg is a quiet library assistant who doesn't cause any friction. She's been seeing her girlfriend, Loz, for a year now, and they've been living together for a while. They have a good relationship, and although they are very different--Loz is outspoken, stubborn, ambitious and determined--they're crazy about each other. But everything gets threatened the day Peg decides she wants to know more about her childhood.
 
She's never bothered to contact her absent father, although she has tried to track him down. The women who raised her--her grandmother Doll and aunty Jean--don't like to talk about the past. But after a brief and very uncomfortable visit to Spain to visit her father, Peg starts to remember things. She's writing memories down in her journal (or as her Nan called it, a Commonplace Book) and is starting to fill in some of the gaps missing from the time she was a kid.
 
However, chasing these revelations leads her down a very dangerous road that will not only reveal a bunch of awful truths she tried so hard to forget, but might end up putting both her and Loz in the path of a killer. Not to mention that the missing memories might also provide the answers to several unsolved crimes...
 
Yikes! This book is one super heavy and involved read. It totally hooked me into Peg's world and kept me there every step of the way. I have to admit that she was a little frustrating sometimes because she was indecisive and totally in the clutches of her dysfunctional family, but the personal growth she goes through as each new layer of the mystery she's chasing is revealed really impacts the reader. I also really liked Loz. She was fun and witty, kept Peg on her toes, wasn't afraid to say what she thought, and was determined to chase the truth. Her obsession with true crime was also a nice addition, as she finds herself in the middle of one. O.o
 
Tarnished is a well written, addictive story with a very twisted core. It's one woman's search for the truth years after she's forgotten it. A way for her to fill in the blanks, to reconnect with her father, and understand what really happened to her mother. While slowly discovering that everything she thinks she knows about her family is a lie. And everyone she thought she knew lied and controlled her for their own sick purpose. It's a powerful book. A page turner.
 
I'm a sucker for a screwed-up mystery with a good dose of family secrets on the side, so I really (really) enjoyed this book!
 
This is the second Julia Crouch book I've read, and it certainly won't be the last.  
 
 
Tarnished, November 2013, ISBN 9780755378050, Headline

Thursday, 16 July 2015

ONE by Sarah Crossan


One
Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins.
 
And their lives are about to change.
 
No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love?
 
But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined…
 
From Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this moving and beautifully crafted novel about identity, sisterhood and love ultimately asks one question: what does it mean to want and have a soulmate?


I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this book from Bloomsbury last week, and couldn't wait to read it.
 
Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins who have been homeschooled all of their lives, but when their parents can no longer afford to keep doing that, they start attending school. Something that both excites and concerns the twins because they've spent their whole lives being stared at, pitied, or labelled as freaks by other people. They don't end up attending the same school as their younger sister, but go to a private school.
 
Here they meet Yasmeen--a girl with her own medical condition--and Jon--a scholarship kid from the wrong part of town--and quickly become friends. Most of the other kids stay as far away from them as they can, but Yasmeen and Jon are always there to help watch over them. They also introduce them to other teenage activities they've never being exposed to. Grace likes spending time with her friends, especially when she starts to develop feelings for Jon.
 
Life at home is tough. Their father is desperately looking for a job and drowns his sorrows with alcohol. Their mother is always working. Their sister is a ballet dancer who seems to be getting skinnier by the day without anyone noticing. And when things hit rock bottom, it's Grace and Tippi who do something drastic to get the family out of financial trouble. Something they've tried to escape all of their lives.
 
But when their health fails them, the twins have to face the hardest decision of their lives. One that will change them forever, and probably won't have a happy ending...
 
OMG. This is such an amazing and powerful book! Not only is the story unique because it's written in verse, but I've also never read a book from the POV of a conjoined twin. This story challenges everything you think you know about conjoined twins. It dares you to stop pitying and before long you start to see the twins just like you see everyone else. Which is how it should be.
 
One is a beautiful, lyrical book with so much emotion and honesty on each page that the words affect the reader just as deeply. They change you. It's unique, interesting, engrossing, sad, uplifting, lovely, and I couldn't put it down. This is definitely a book that will make you empathise with the characters, give a deeper understanding of their lives, and stop you pitying them because of their strength and bravery. It will also make you smile, and laugh, but will definitely make you cry.
 
The love and bond that Grace and Tippi share is stronger than anything else in their world, and will stay with you even after you reach the last page. Seriously, this book is such an emotional rollercoaster ride, but you won't want to get off.
 
On a side note: in the Author's Note, Sarah mentions Abby and Brittany Hensel, which is really cool because I've actually watched--and really enjoyed--several of their documentaries.
 
Anyway, I think everyone should read this book. I highly recommend it!
 
Check out how lovely the ARC is:
 
 
 
One, September 2015, ISBN 9781408872345, Bloomsbury Childrens

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS by Cat Winters


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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished reading this book this afternoon and absolutely loved it!

Mary Shelley Black (love that name!) lives in America during 1918. She's originally from Portland but moves to San Diego to stay with her aunt because her father's been arrested.

1918 is a terrifying time to be alive. WWI is killing the boys and men. Women are working hard back home, but still not taken seriously. And the Spanish influenza is killing the population. Between the war and the flu, everyone is living in constant fear of dying. They wear gauze masks everywhere and try just about any home remedy they can think of--mostly involving onions.

Mary Shelley is an intelligent, strong, stubborn, and amazing sixteen year old who tinkers with contraptions and loves a boy called Stephen. She also doesn't believe in ghosts and hates how desperate mourners are obsessed with séances and spirit photographers. But when a death affects her profoundly and she actually connects with the spirit, she sets out on a mission to help this spirit move on.

Wow. I loved this book!

It's a brilliant story, which is also very bleak and sad, but so intriguing that it hooked me instantly. The revelation was devastating. Everything Mary Shelley goes through is astounding. Stephen was a tormented sweetheart. The setting is super scary--and creepy--because death surrounds everything. I loved how the author was able to make every detail so vivid that it really did feel like the end of the world.

I also liked the actual photography, and even the Author's Note was interesting.

Yep, loved it.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

MAGONIA by Maria Dahvana Headley


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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd been hearing a lot of good things about this book when I found out the local library had a copy. So I borrowed it, and my daughter read it first. Well, she actually called it a DNF. She just couldn't get into it.

Yet, I was hooked as soon as I started reading.

Aza's voice sucked me in. Aza's struggle kept me turning the page. Jason gave me hope when Aza's body was falling apart. And the wondrous story made me fall in love with everything about Magonia.

Aza is a girl who is days away from her sixteenth birthday. She's always been sick because there's something wrong with her lungs. And doctors can't do anything to cure her. They just keep her inevitable death at bay for a little longer.

The day they discover a feather in her lungs, everything human slips away from Aza. She's spirited away to a mysterious world in the sky where ships sail through the clouds and whales make storms. A place where birds aren't just birds and sharks are as much a danger as pirates.

For the first time in her life she can breathe. Aza has finally found her place in the world, but trusting her obsessive real mother is a lot more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. And she's haunted by the memory of Jason...

OMG. This book. It's amazing. So unique and unusual, but magical and beautiful. Aza's story is a sad one, but underlined with happiness. It's odd and written in an almost alien way, but it's wonderful.

I've heard comparisons to The Fault in Our Stars and Stardust, but like Jason, I'll throw in Peter Pan and ET. Plus, Treasure Planet and a few Doctor Who eps with the tenth Doctor! But overall, there's no other story quite like this one. :)

I loved this book, and will never look at a stormy sky quite the same way.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

WAY DOWN DARK by JP Smythe

There's one truth on Australia. You fight or you die. Usually both. Imagine a nightmare from which there is no escape. This is a hell where no one can hide. This is a ship of death, of murderers and cults and gangs. This is Australia.

Seventeen-year-old Chan's ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

The only life that Chan's ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness - a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery - a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.


As soon as I received this book--thank you Hachette Australia for sending me a copy--I was intrigued. I love the cover, and the blurb sounded even better. So, I was super excited about receiving a YA book that I hadn't heard about but sounded so interesting.
 
Chan lives inside a ship that's hurtling through space. It's called Australia and is filled with people of all ages. Everyone is trying to survive under the very restrictive conditions. There are many stories and myths on this ship, but the one that is always carried down is about its origin. Hundreds of years ago when planet Earth was dying, the humans sent a bunch of huge ships into space so they could find another place to live.
 
Australia has been travelling ever since, and the ancestors of those who escaped live inside a multi-level metal monstrosity with no windows and no real indication of where they are. The days are signalled by dimming lights. The oxygen is maintained by the arboretum--where they have trees, grass, fruit and water to keep them going. The top level is always pitch black and the bottom is a dark, endless Pit.
 
But survival within Australia is tough. There are a number of dangerous gangs, but none are as deadly as the Lows. Not even the creepy and mysterious Pale Women who live in the dark and try to spread their faith are as much of a threat. Survival is a daily struggle, and when Chan's mother dies it becomes even harder. Riadne kept their levels safe and the gangs stayed away, but with her gone there's no telling what will happen next. 
 
Chan now only has Agatha, her mother's friend, but in order to survive she needs to stand on her own. Otherwise she'll be seen as weak and the Lows will destroy her. And so, her mother's end brings about Chan's own story.
 
But the Lows have a new psycho leader with plans of her own. Now that Chan's mother is dead, the Lows run riot and their savage takeover begins. As much as Chan tries to keep her promise to her dying mother about being selfish and not dying, it becomes increasingly hard to stay true to her mother's last request. Because when the rebellion starts from below, no one's safe and unless Chan starts exerting her own brand of violence, everyone will die.
 
OMG. This book was amazing! I didn't know what to expect when I started reading, but I didn't expect to be so totally hooked that I didn't want to leave this very brutal world until I reached the end. And then, when I did reach The End, I wanted more. Seriously, that ending is a killer!
 
Chan is an awesome character who tries so hard to keep her promise, but can't when she realises that what she really wants to do is help others. Funny how her mother spent her adult life being feared while also helping others, but then expects Chan to do the opposite. But she can't ignore her strong instincts, and that leads to a lot of brutality, pain and heartbreak. I loved how she wanted so badly to help when people were being attacked but just couldn't save everyone.
 
This vicious world is brutal, but realistic. There are many awesome things about this book. The worldbuilding is so good and doesn't take long to understand. The twists and turns totally shock you when they're revealed. The secrets are deep and very dark. The truth is unbelievable. And the reason why the ship is called Australia is SO darn clever.

Seriously, this book is incredible.
 
Way Down Dark is an awesome, action-packed adrenaline ride that'll take your breath away. The action doesn't stop, the brutality is constant, and the fight for survival will keep you on the edge of your seat. It will also have you cheering for Chan, Agatha and Jonah as they struggle to live in an enclosed, hostile environment with nowhere to go. There's a bit of everything in this story, but one thing that never stops throughout is just how heart-stopping it is. As the layers are slowly revealed, you just can't help but realise how brilliant this book really is.
 
I LOVED this book SO MUCH. It's definitely one of those stories that'll stay with me for years!
 
Can't wait to find out what happens next.


Way Down Dark, July 2015, ISBN 9781444796322, Hodder & Stoughton

 
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