Good News, Bad News by Maggie Groff

Published: 1st March 2013 (print)/1st March 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Macmillan Australia/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 369 pages/7 dics
Narrator: Catherine Milte
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Intrepid investigative journalist Scout Davis has given herself a holiday, but when Hermione Longfellow floats towards her in the supermarket, wanting to engage her services, she stops to listen.

Most people in Byron Bay are aware of the eccentric Anemone sisters. Always dressed in black, they rarely leave their home nestled in the hills – but Scout is sure that the drinking of chicken blood is just idle gossip. When Hermione asks Scout to track down sister Nemony’s AWOL husband, believed to have died at sea thirty years ago, but recently popped up again on the Great Barrier Reef, Scout, checking there is no eye of newt in Hermione’s shopping trolley, jumps at the chance.

Another source of intrigue falls close to home when Scout’s sister Harper despairs over her husband’s odd behaviour. And if that weren’t enough, Scout’s journalist boyfriend is finally coming home from Afghanistan. Trouble is, Scout thinks she may be falling in love with irresistible local cop Rafe – who coincidentally is also Toby’s best friend…

Catherine Milte was a much better narrator than Parker was in book one. Once you get past the vast difference – Scout becoming a very proper sounding woman with a tinge of British in her – you settle into the story and forget how she sounded originally. One of the challenges of audio books that reading doesn’t have I suppose but you get used to the narration fairly quickly.

I originally thought the case wasn’t going to be as interesting as the first one. How does one compete with a cult? But it actually was rather interesting. Scout investigates a man who was presumed dead over thirty years ago and seeks to prove he is alive and living up in Queensland. There are quirky new characters and the same familiar characters we grew fond of in book. Scout’s sister Harper adds her own drama and flair to the story once more, another reason why this was an interesting read.

There are quite a few surprises which I enjoyed. Groff drops them in all the right places to give a nice burst of unexpectedness as the story goes on. There are also many secrets to uncover; not only for the case but for her friends and family around her. The elusive and secretive GKI makes another appearance and fits a little better into the story, it feels a bit more natural that it is in there, less like it was tacked on as a side story.

One of the things I liked about this second book was that Groff doesn’t focus as much on Scout’s condition. Her diabetes takes a backseat as it should, and only is mentioned when it is actually necessary. I actually forgot she had the disease at times which was something I couldn’t do in book one. The lack of constant diabetes talk is swapped, however, with a description of what everyone is wearing. Again, whether the audio book made this stand more or if it’s just me I’m not sure, but it felt unnecessary a lot of the time or at least a tad clunky.

Scout’s relationship with Rafe continues and comes to a resolution of sorts. I can’t say I like them being together any more than I did the first time, but Groff provides a weak excuse and justification that almost works. I still think Scout is a bit selfish and feels almost guiltless about it.

Overall this series is fun and enjoyable with more things that I liked than didn’t. Scout is a great investigative journalist and her approach to her stories and her method of tracking information down is always delightful and filled with adventure.

You can purchase Good News, Bad News via the following

Print

Pan Macmillan Aus | QBD

Angus & Robertson

Audio

Booktopia | Angus & Robertson

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

Published: 1901 (print)/1st April 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
William Blackwood & Sons/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 319 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Megan E Rees
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction/Classic
★   ★  – 2 Stars

“I am given to something which a man never pardons in a woman. You will draw away as though I were a snake when you hear.” With this warning, Sybylla confesses to her rich and handsome suitor that she is given to writing stories and bound, therefore, on a brilliant career. In this ironically titled and exuberant novel by Miles Franklin, originally published in 1901, Sybylla tells the story of growing up passionate and rebellious in rural New South Wales, where the most that girls could hope for was to marry or to teach. Sybylla will do neither, but that doesn’t stop her from falling in love, and it doesn’t make the choices any easier.

It feels so strange to write this review when I am currently taking part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge that celebrates the female writers of Australia specifically with challenges named after Stella Miles Franklin, but, having just finished My Brilliant Career I have to say I am wholly unimpressed and I can’t help feeling slightly guilty about it.

I experienced such a roller coast of emotions about this, at one moment I was cheering on Sybylla as she stood up against the men around her, and at other times I was rolling my eyes at her indecision and her constant back and forward and self-pity.

When I began I thought it was wonderful; Sybylla was headstrong, she didn’t want to marry, she seemed like a feminist, she yelled at men who dared to touch her without permission when they thought they had the right. She knew what she wanted and didn’t let anyone dictate who she was or what she thought.  However, as the book went on, it started to waver. You’d have moments where there’d be a spark and Sybylla would be fiery and independent again and you expected that her grand moment had arrived where she’d do something, but then it disappeared as soon as it had arrived. She goes on A LOT about her looks. A casual mention is all we’d need but it is filled with her lamenting her ugliness and while she says she can pity herself, she hates it when other people pity her. No one probably does but going on about herself as much as she does it looks like she wants someone to pity her.

If it was written today I would be interested to see the response because reading it now she seems like such a complainer and it drags on with her indecision. She is the typical teenager trope, she is selfish and complains about having to do anything, and from the ages of 17 to 19 acts the same and thinks the world is out to get her and everything anyone does is to upset her life intentionally. She hasn’t got the sense to see what is right in front of her, she plays the ‘poor me’ card far too often for it to retain any sympathy in the reader, and the fact that she can’t see the best choice for her is infuriating. I’m surprised those around her don’t do more to stop her moaning. Of course it’s evident her parents aren’t the best, her mother can be unfair and harsh, but Sybylla doesn’t help herself either.

I did enjoy all the other characters though, Harold Beechum was enjoyable, he is nice and a little odd but likable. He puts up with Sybylla’s nonsense much longer than I certainly would have. I’m surprised he didn’t walk away from her given all the trouble she caused him with her indecision and changing her mind constantly about what she wanted.

The lack of clear conclusion in the novel makes it worse, Franklin makes the reader put up with all of Sybylla’s moping and carrying on but there’s no clear indication whether anything ever happened at the end. Surely a strong ending could have made up for the middle part where you wanted to yell at the girl and tell her to stop being such a whiner. Because I listened to the book as an audio I wasn’t sure how much longer it had to go and when it ended I actually said out loud, ‘is that it?’. I sat through all of that and wasn’t even granted a clear conclusion and instead given an unsatisfactory ending that is beyond tragic and just terrible.

For a classic of Australian literature that is so idolised, I am trying to see what all the fuss is about, considering it didn’t seem to have much in it. Is the fact that she didn’t want to marry? Or that she was headstrong and independent? Is that what it’s revered for, because she is a unique character of her time that goes against the grain of what everyone thinks she should do? Because she doesn’t do it very well, and it’s all very well being independent and headstrong, but if you don’t do anything with that, what’s the point? And if you do that you end up having a pretty unsatisfactory life and I’m pretty sure that’s where Sybylla has ended up.

You can purchase My Brilliant Career via the following

Physical

Amazon 

Dymocks | Booktopia

Bookworld | Book Depository

Audio

Booktopia

Bookworld | Book Depository


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Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle

Published: 1st June 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Allen & Unwin
Pages: 290
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Lucy’s life was going as smoothly as any teenager’s could. She was in the local swimming club, and loved it; she lived with her parents and her brother, Cam, in the small coastal town she’d known all her life. She had friends, she had goals – she had a life. Now Cam is dead, her parents might as well be – and Lucy can’t bear to get back in the pool. All she has to look forward to now is a big pile of going-nowhere.

Drawn to Steffi, her wild ex-best-friend who reminds Lucy of her mysterious, unpredictable brother, and music-obsessed Evan, the new boy in town, Lucy starts asking questions. Why did Cam die? Was it an accident or suicide? But as Lucy hunts for answers she discovers much more than she expects. About Cam. About her family. About herself.

This is an incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking story. Doyle has told a captivating tale about loss and discovery and trying to find your place in the world through Lucy and her journey through grief in the aftermath of her brother’s death.

Doyle’s language is wonderful and descriptive; it is sensitive and forgiving but also rough when it needs to be. The imagery is lovely and her words describe the pain felt by everyone and the darkness that has seeped into them all. My favourite line was early on where she writes “She looks up at me and I wonder if she’ll look at me like that for the rest of her life: all hollow like she’s been dug out by a spoon.” Despite being Lucy’s story, Doyle also makes it everybody else’s as well; we feel their pain and torment, their refusal to acknowledge and their struggle to accept.

This is still very much Lucy’s story and her investigation into what really happened to her brother, but it’s also a moving story about how loss can affect families and those who are left behind. Lucy is trying to be strong for her family and keeping to a routine helps her as much as anybody else, but when that’s disturbed by her aunt moving in you realise Lucy’s been distracting herself from her grief as much as everybody else has been too.

Doyle explores the numerous reactions and symptoms of grief, those who succumb to it, those who try and find distraction, those who run, and those who feel unstable and never settle, wildly going through emotional extremes. Lucy is definitely someone who is unable to settle. She doesn’t have the answers she wants and there are new mysteries that keep coming up which send her further from any definitives. So much is happening around her and you really do understand why she wants answers, and why she doesn’t want to share her secrets.

Part of my love for this story was the characters. They really bring this story to life because every one of them is their own unique person with their own history and background. Even simple remarks and observations can tell you so much about who these people are and let you know that they may be hiding something, or not as fine as they claim to be. They feel like real characters, people who could be in your life who have problems of their own and different life experiences to your own.

Doyle’s expression of Lucy’s family is certainly admirable for their intensity and emotional complexity, but a lot of focus must be on the others as well. Lucy’s friends Steffi and Evan bring some relief to both Lucy and the reader, but its clear Doyle hasn’t made these two any less complicated or real. Steffi is a girl doing her own thing, never caring about what others thought, but you know there is something beneath the surface. Evan is much the same, he is cheeky and clever, you do fall a little bit in love with him, but he is also lost and feels neglected, whether he’ll admit it outright or not. As much as Cam’s death propelled this story, in a way it is also the characters themselves that is pulling you through it. You get caught up in following their lives and interactions, becoming invested in who they are and the lives they live, even if many of these interactions are as a result of Cam’s death. Which possibly makes no sense, but it’s kind of true I think.

The reason why I think this story feels so real is because the uncertainty of general teenage life is mixed together with the grief. Lucy looked up to her brother, he taught her things and included her in his life, hence her understandable sorrow. But between her sadness a budding romance wedges in, as well as a resurfacing friendship and struggling to discover where she fits in the world. All of this pushes its way through demanding attention and Doyle shows Lucy’s inability to cope remarkable well, you see her being pulled in so many directions and she doesn’t feel she has anyone to turn to for help. But what makes her so admirable is that she often perseveres regardless, she finds a way to enjoy herself and keep going.

It also feels so real because Doyle’s writing places you in a scene. You are on the pool block, you’re riding through a coastal town, walking through the city streets. Her words include you in the lives of her characters and you may as well be a fly on the wall, experiencing alongside them. Landscapes and locations are woven into the narrative and through Lucy’s eyes we hear her story but also see her world as well.

There really is so much to adore from this book, from the vivid descriptions to the wonderful familiar feeling it produces from reading about places you know and recognise. There are secrets to uncover and shocking suspicions, combined with fantastic characters this is a story that will keep you immersed from the first page until the last.

You can purchase Pieces of Sky via the following

Booktopia | Amazon Aust

Book Depository | QBD

AmazonDymocks

Readings | Publisher

A&R Bookworld| Boomerang Books

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Risk by Fleur Ferris

Published: 30th June 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Random House Australia
Pages: 279
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

24973955Taylor and Sierra have been best friends for their whole lives. But Taylor’s fed up. Why does Sierra always get what – and who – she wants? From kissing Taylor’s crush to stealing the guy they both met online for herself, Sierra doesn’t seem to notice when she hurts her friends.
So when Sierra says Jacob Jones is the one and asks her friends to cover for her while she goes to meet him for the first time, Taylor rolls her eyes. 
But Sierra doesn’t come back when she said she would.
One day. Two days. Three . . .
What if Taylor’s worrying for nothing? What if Sierra’s just being Sierra, forgetting about everyone else to spend time with her new guy? 
When Taylor finally tells Sierra’s mum that her daughter is missing, Taylor and her friends are thrown into a dark world they never even knew existed.
Can Taylor find Sierra’s abductor in time? Or should she be looking for a killer?

I did not stop this book once I picked it up and for those who saw me tweeting into the early hours about this book, you understand the emotions I experienced.

What Ferris has done is told a gripping story that is real and could easily be a report on the news. This is an incredible message about the people on the internet and the possible dangers they pose. It’s about mistakes, friendships, evil, and the modern world. The parallels with reality are evident and there is a strong message woven through it, but it isn’t overbearing. What makes this not a report on the news is that Ferris includes all the elements to make this story feel real and truthful, but at the same time she also makes it a compelling novel, with all the great novel components. It is a beautiful story that is told with such heart.

Like all wonderful stories there are characters you love and Callum is someone I fell in love with pretty quickly. He is adorable and a sweetheart and he tries to be the best friend to Taylor that he can be. The personality of each character shines on the page and you love them because they’re real and they’re different, and Ferris makes you feel like they are standing right beside you as they speak.

As you read there’s a pounding in your chest that never fades, the story takes hold of your soul and pulls you through this gripping tale. So much happens before you are even half way and Ferris keeps up the intensity incredibly well. It’s easy to say the story is broken in two stages, but there are so many overlapping moments of mystery and various aftermaths there are mini moments and events throughout which stop it being placed in a simple before and after style story.

A wonderful moment is realising Taylor is still such a kid. She gets excited about things and let’s her mind wander with possibilities and having dreams that don’t come to fruition. Because of this I think it’s also easier to see how simple and blameless she is in everything that happens. As you read you pick up the red flags but at the same time you understand why Taylor doesn’t.

What I loved about this book was just how real it seemed. What Taylor experiences is not unheard of, nor is there a simple solution. Ferris uses Taylor as a great tool in telling a beautiful story while also spreading a message. She never preaches, nor does Taylor, and Ferris seamlessly explores the dangers of the modern world while also entertaining (and providing feels).

I implore everyone to read this book, it is not just a gripping and suspense filled story, but it acts as an educator for teens and parents alike. Ferris has used her skills and her background to create a captivating and truly beautiful story that also offers guidance and explores some very real consequences of the online world.

You can purchase Risk via the following

Booktopia | Amazon Aust

Book Depository | QBD

AmazonDymocks

Publisher | A&R Bookworld

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The Yearbook Committee by Sarah Ayoub

Published: 1st March 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 HarperCollins Australia
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Five teenagers. Five lives. One final year.

The school captain: Ryan has it all … or at least he did, until an accident snatched his dreams away. How will he rebuild his life and what does the future hold for him now?

The newcomer: Charlie’s just moved interstate and she’s determined not to fit in. She’s just biding her time until Year 12 is over and she can head back to her real life and her real friends …

The loner: At school, nobody really notices Matty. But at home, Matty is everything. He’s been single-handedly holding things together since his mum’s breakdown, and he’s never felt so alone.

The popular girl: Well, the popular girl’s best friend … cool by association. Tammi’s always bowed to peer pressure, but when the expectations become too much to handle, will she finally stand up for herself?

The politician’s daughter: Gillian’s dad is one of the most recognisable people in the state and she’s learning the hard way that life in the spotlight comes at a very heavy price.

Five unlikely teammates thrust together against their will. Can they find a way to make their final year a memorable one or will their differences tear their world apart?

I knew a Melina Marchetta recommendation wouldn’t let me down and a reading binge until 4am proves me right. The Yearbook Committee is a beautiful story that encapsulates how people from different situations can come together (albeit unwilling), and can have their lives changed forever.

The story is told through five character perspectives, across nine months of the school year, and reveals the ups and down of teenage life and the experiences of living in contemporary Australia. The joy of reading Aussie books is recognising the locations and references, and Ayoub captures that Aussie feeling, our language and our culture, making this story feel natural and familiar.

The layout revolves around the monthly yearbook meetings and the school terms, and Ayoub’s creative in getting information without needing it to be told in detail. Using character’s traits and personalities to her advantage, Ayoub provides the ideal amount of information keeping it feeling natural with the story at hand. The focus is centred on the yearbook and character personal lives, and though things are mentioned within this space, Ayoub never makes us feel like we need to see them play out.

Being a book about modern teenagers, there’s naturally a lot of social media to include and Ayoub integrates technology and texting seamlessly and creatively. Each character shift is broken up with a Facebook style post and it sets the tone for not only the coming chapter, but it fits into the overall and arching story. Ayoub also ends each chapter with a hanging question, a moment, or thought that can be profound or concerning. Each character is contemplating or observing and it’s a great tactic; it finalises their chapter and can have such an impact on what has happened or what is going to happen.

There are characters you like immediately and certainly those you don’t like for the entire novel. Then there are the few that grow on you as you read. The more Ayoub reveals about them and the more you get to know them your feelings shift until you grow to respect each one for who they are. Again, not everyone, some of them you want to kick in the face, those feelings don’t change. There were times when I wanted to reach into the pages and hug these people, even now having finished it I still want to give them all a massive hug. One part that I loved was that so many characters connect with each other and overlap and they don’t always know it. Friends of friends and relatives of others know one another and when you notice you realise how connected everyone is.

Getting to see each committee member’s point of view is a powerful tool. You feel sorry for them all in varying degrees and certainly for various reasons. Their life outside of school is opened up and the different struggles and conflicts they face are laid bare, making you realise everyone has something to hide and problems of their own. The Tolstoy quote Gillian posts is a perfect example: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Each of these characters is unhappy in their own way and sometimes these unhappinesses can break your heart.

Ayoub doesn’t placate you with idealistic and fake endings; she offers you solutions and results, consequences and outcomes. And yet, there is also a delightful ambiguity remaining, taunting you with things left open and unanswered. Nothing that says there will be a happily ever after which is why, in those final emotional chapters when you can’t stand it anymore but have to keep reading, Ayoub delivers a realistic and perfect conclusion, one that suits these characters you’ve grown to love, one that feels real, one that crushes your heart and is feels just right, even when you’re trying not to cry.

My only criticism with this story (a minor personal desire), is that I wish that we could have seen the final yearbook layout. It would have been a bittersweet inclusion and if possible I would happily donate to a fund that gets this put into production. Until such time, I am content with this important, beautiful, and divine story that will open your eyes and move your soul.

You can purchase The Yearbook Committee via the following

Booktopia | Amazon Aust

Book Depository | QBD

AmazonDymocks

Readings | Publisher

A&R Bookworld| Boomerang Books

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