YAhoo! It’s a YA Review!: Living on Hope Street…

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If you like your YA gritty and realistic, you’ve come to the right place because today’s book, Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren shines a light on the diversity of modern Australia and the changing face of the typical Aussie neighbourhood.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

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Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017. RRP: $19.99

We all love someone. We all fear something. Sometimes they live right next door – or even closer.

Kane will do everything he can to save his mother and his little brother Sam from the violence of his father, even if it means becoming a monster himself.

Mrs Aslan will protect the boys no matter what – even though her own family is in pieces.

Ada wants a family she can count on, while she faces new questions about herself.

Mr Bailey is afraid of the refugees next door, but his worst fear will take another form.

And Gugulethu is just trying to make a life away from terror.

On this street, everyone comes from different places, but to find peace they will have to discover what unites them.

A deeply moving, unflinching portrait of modern Australian suburban life.

There’s a certain grittiness wrapped in dry humour inherent in many Australian stories and Living on Hope Street is no exception.  The book opens on a shocking scene of family violence, that deftly introduces the protagonists, Kane, Sam and their mother Angie and sets the scene for further conflict later in the story.  Chapter by chapter, the reader is introduced to the other characters who live on Hope Street and the ways in which their stories are interconnected.

There’s Mr Bailey who has lived on Hope Street with his wife Judy since the distant past, and who struggles with the brown faces that seem to populate his space. No matter how hard he tries, he always seems to say the wrong thing to his Indian son-in-law. Mrs Aslan is Kane and Sam’s Turkish widower neighbour, who provides support to Angie, the boys’ mother, even as she mourns her own estrangement from her daughter and granddaughter.  Ada, Mrs Aslan’s granddaughter, comes to play a role in Kane’s life later in the book and we are also introduced to Gugu, a young girl from a family of African refugees, whose presence and friendship provides stability for Sam.  Along with these main players, Kane and Sam’s violent father is an ever-lurking presence, while the Tupu family across the road, a group of friendly Arab young men and Mrs Aslan’s daughter (and Ada’s mother) play bit parts to round out the experience.

The constantly changing narrators and the fact that some of these narrators, like Mrs Aslan and Sam, have idiosyncratic ways of “talking” in their particular chapters, might be off-putting to some, but I found it enhanced my experience of the story because each character contributed a new perspective to each situation.  The chapters aren’t overly long either, which means that you are never more than a few pages away from a fresh voice and a new take on what is going on.  I was impressed with the way the author managed to give each narrator an authentic voice and clear motivations and back story.

Overall, I found this to be one of those books that you can’t help but read one more chapter and one more chapter until you are thoroughly sucked in to the lives of the characters.  With a dramatic ending that hints at a renewal of hope for many residents of Hope Street, this book really has everything you could ever want in a realistic contemporary YA tale.

I can see this one being up for CBCA nominations next year, that’s for sure.  Living on Hope Street is flying the flag for an inclusive, diverse community and shows that this is possible, despite cultural differences.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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Stars Across The Ocean: Mums, History and Breaking the Rules…

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I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy today’s book as much as I did given that historical women’s fiction isn’t necessarily my go-to genre and I received this one from  Hachette Australia for review having requested completely different titles for this month.  To be brutally honest, I was expecting to flick through the first pages and decide to DNF, but instead found myself totally preoccupied with this story from the first chapter.  Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman is three stories in one, ranging from contemporary England to 19th century Colombo and beyond.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A story about love, motherhood, and learning whom you belong to in the world.

In 1874, wild and willful Agnes Resolute finally leaves the foundling home where she grew up on the bleak moors of northern England. On her departure, she discovers that she was abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button. Agnes had always believed her mother to be too poor to keep her, but Agnes has been working as a laundress at the foundling home and recognises the button as belonging to the imperious and beautiful Genevieve Breakby, daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had only seen her once, but has never forgotten her. She investigates and discovers Genevieve is now in London. Agnes follows, living hard in the poor end of London until she finds out Genevieve has moved to France.

This sets Agnes off on her own adventure: to Paris, Agnes follows her mother’s trail, and starts to see it is also a trail of destruction. Finally, in Sydney she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

A powerful story about women with indomitable spirits, about love and motherhood, and about learning whom you belong to in the world.

In the present, Victoria rushes to England from Australia to confront her mum’s diagnosis of dementia.  Her mother, a prominent history professor at the local university, found herself in hospital after inexplicably walking out into traffic and Victoria is shocked at her, usually formidable, mother’s mental degeneration.   In the distant past, Agnes breaks all the rules of society to search for the mother that abandoned her as a baby, even as those she meets recount memories of her mother that are far from complimentary.

These two stories, along with one more told in letter form, intertwine in unexpected ways in this epic tale that never loses the thread of the plot and delivers female characters who break the mould at every turn.  The book opens on Victoria’s mad dash to her mother’s bedside and although this plotline bookends the others, it isn’t the main focus of the story.  Instead, Victoria’s story provides the link between Agnes and the present, as Victoria’s mother is fixated on finding a letter that she has “lost” due to her deteriorating memory – a letter that tells the tale of a young mother forced to give up her illegitimate child.  I loved the way in which Agnes’s long adventure was broken up with Victoria’s story. The similarities of the two stories focused on the relationship between mother and daughter worked beautifully set against the juxtaposition of past and present.

Agnes’s epic travels are rife with danger, action and the unexpected, moving from life in the foundling home to squalor in London, from safety and friendship working as a lady’s companion to fear and captivity in a French bordello, and beyond to two separate sea voyages, a meeting with an old friend and a connection with another woman who isn’t afraid to throw off the shackles of expectation of female norms. Does Agnes finally find her mother in the end?

I’m not telling!

But the neatly dovetailed ending of all three plotlines was perfectly satisfying and uplifting, leaving the story on a note of hopefulness and expectation for a bright future.

Even though I initially had doubts about how much I would enjoy this story, I am pleased to relate that I was thoroughly impressed with the control that the author held over the three separate storylines and the excellent pacing with which these alternated.  If you are looking for an absorbing read with memorable and authentic female characters and a fantastic balance of loss and hope then you should definitely give Stars Across the Ocean a look.

I am submitting this book for the PopSugar Reading Challenge in category #33 (although it could have fit into a number of different categories): a book that takes place in two time periods.  I’m also submitting it for the Epistolary Reading Challenge, because one of the major plotlines in the book revolves around a letter.

You can check out my progress for all of my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Fishbowl…

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imageToday’s book is one that drew me with promises of weirdness and hilarity and therefore I had it pegged as a submission for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge before I even had my grubby paws on it.

Upon finishing it, I was slightly underwhelmed with the levels of both weirdness and hilarity, but I do admit to having ever higher standards in these areas for new books. It is a result of reviewing obsessively and chewing through more than one hundred books a year; after a while you feel like you’ve seen it all and it takes something pretty special to impress.

Hmm. I’ve just re-read that introduction and it might give the impression that this book isn’t up to much. Stay with me though – it’s worth it just for the explanation of inexplicable incidents of fish falling from the sky. And the ending. What a great ending!

I received a copy of Fishbowl by Bradley Somers from the publisher via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He’s longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents.

There’s the handsome grad student, his girlfriend, and his mistress; the construction worker who feels trapped by a secret; the building’s super who feels invisible and alone; the pregnant woman on bed rest who craves a forbidden ice cream sandwich; the shut-in for whom dirty talk, and quiche, are a way of life; and home-schooled Herman, a boy who thinks he can travel through time.

Though they share time and space, they have something even more important in common: each faces a decision that will affect the course of their lives. Within the walls of the Seville are stories of love, new life, and death, of facing the ugly truth of who one has been and the beautiful truth of who one can become. Sometimes taking a risk is the only way to move forward with our lives. As Ian the goldfish knows, “An entire life devoted to a fishbowl will make one die an old fish with not one adventure had.”

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So I’m submitting this one to the Odyssey in the category of “odd character” given that the main character is a flying (plummeting) goldfish. On reading the blurb on this one, I got the impression that Ian (the fish) would be the narrator and for that reason alone, I wanted to read this book. It turns out that Ian, while having significant input into the story, is not actually the narrator and the story is told from the alternating perspectives of Ian, Katie (the downtrodden girlfriend), Connor (the villainous boyfriend), Faye (the unassuming homewrecker), Petunia Delilah (the pregnant homebirther), Jiminez (the building superintendent), Garth (the labourer with a hidden hobby), Herman (a time-travelling homeschooler) and Clare (an agoraphobic sex-line telephonist). I may have missed someone there, but those are the main ones I remember.

As one might expect, at the beginning of the tale, the characters mostly know each other from brief nods in the stairwell or lift (or in some cases, not even that) and by the end of the tale, also as one might expect, their lives have intersected in unexpected ways. As is often the way in multi-perspective tales, there were some characters that interested me far more than others. I quickly grew bored with the Katie/Connor/Faye debacle, following as it did the general scorned lover storyline. I experienced a sense of satisfaction with Garth’s narrative arc and the eventual happiness that he discovers after revealing his secret. Clare provided a good laugh in places, but for me the hero of the tale was Petunia Delilah and the live-action homebirth that we are treated to toward the end of the book.

I also enjoyed Ian’s interjections and the big reveal that finally explains those strange occurrences in which fish have been reported falling from the sky.  You thought it was tornadoes lifting the fish from lakes and depositing them over land in unexpected places, didn’t you? Please.  You’ll forgive me for mentioning how naïve you must be if you believe that “scientific” explanation. I won’t shatter your simple assumptions here though.  If you truly wish to see the light, you’ll have to read the book.

Given that I didn’t absolutely love all of the characters’ tales, my interest peaked and troughed. Overall though, I think this is an appealing story with enough humour to lighten things up, enough twists to keep the reader guessing (oh, that ending!), and enough diversity in the cast of characters to produce a hero for every reader. The tone is generally light and conversational and as such, I think this would be a great pick for a holiday read.

Provided, of course, you like your holidays to include a bit of weirdness and hilarity.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 12/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A YA Read-it-if Review: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead…

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It’s back to some YA (well, closer to NA actually), teen drama goodness for today’s Read-it-if Review, with the cheerily titled Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James (Australian! Woot!).  I was kindly provided a copy of this intriguing tale of mystery and romance by Allen and Unwin in exchange for review.

The body of Cooper Bartholomew is found at the base of a cliff and all who knew him are shocked and devastated at Cooper’s tragic end, presumed to be suicide.  But what could possibly have caused good looking, charismatic, newly-in-love Cooper to end his life in such a way?  Told from multiple points of view and jumping between the weeks before Cooper’s death and the weeks after, the story of Cooper, his new girlfriend Libby, and old friends Claire and Sebastian unfolds to reveal some long-held secrets that might shed light on why Cooper died…and whether anything could have been done to prevent it.

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Read it if:

*you like a mystery that slowly unravels, leaving suspicion, doubts and a little bit of tangled yarn at the end

* you like your YA characters to be believable, rather than two-dimensional or stereotypical (or both)

*you’ve been waiting and waiting for a YA novel to feature the fates and fortunes of the post-high-school set in small town Australia

Straight off the bat, let me say how impressed I was with the overall experience of reading this book.  The plot is tight, the narrative style is interesting and well constructed and the characters – oh the characters! – are so believable it’s almost painful.  James has done an incredible job, in my opinion, of creating characters that represent pitch perfectly the range of vices and virtues that appear in all of us once school is over and done and we have to figure out who we’re going to be in this strange real world.  This was the greatest strength of the story for me and ultimately what kept me interested through the mushy romance bits between Cooper and Libby.  Well done Rebecca James *insert sound of stone paws clapping heartily here*

Another great bit about this reading experience is the narrative style that features multiple points of view and multiple timeframes.  Regular readers of this blog should know that I just love this writing style and once again it drew me into the story with short, engaging chapters introducing the characters and their relationships in a highly readable way.  In fact, the book opens with Cooper in his final moments pre-death and his surprisingly lucid musings are a great launching point to plunge (sorry, horrid pun in the circumstances) right into the tangled web of secrecy that has led to this point.

Regarding the plot and the elements of mystery surrounding Cooper’s seemingly happy life and strange and unexpected death, clues are thrown out fairly early for the keen-eyed reader but the whole situation is not revealed until the final few chapters, keeping the suspense high throughout.  I admit that I did have my suspicions about halfway through the book, and these turned out to be kinda right and kinda wrong, so in the end I was satisfied with both my level of sleuthery and the author’s level of tricksiness.

This book is going to appeal to a whole range of YA/NA fans – fans of standard contemporary romance, fans of mystery, fans of friendship dramas – and even if you aren’t a big YA fan, the writing and characterisation is strong enough to draw you in anyway, despite the age of the cast.  I expected that I would be fairly interested in this book, but it has far exceeded my expectations and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for James’ other work from now on.

Cooper Bartholomew is Dead is released in October.

Until next time,

Bruce

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