Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

NightI like Gemma Woodstock. She is nicely flawed, has the potential to get herself thoroughly into trouble in her personal life as well as in her police work. She pines for her little boy who is living with his Dad. Gemma has moved to Melbourne to live, to continue to climb the career ladder after the events of her first book The Dark Lake. She is a troubled soul. She has a new police partner who isn’t entirely easy to get along with, who tries a bit too hard and she has befriended the homeless woman down the street from her flat. It is a good set up for a story about a murdered homeless man and Gemma is keen to get the lead investigator role. Next minute there is another murder, a young star has been killed on the set of a zombie movie. Two cases which seem so different both complicated investigations and Gemma has too many suspects!

Sarah Bailey writes Australian landscape really well, her descriptions of small town life is so evocative far more successful than her Melbourne descriptions I think. This is one of those crime novels where you have to suspend your disbelief and just read it for the story, if you do that, you’ll have a great time with these very contemporary crime novels. I’m keen for the next one.

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The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

cabinThis wasn’t really what I expected. One of those horror books which starts with a golden scene, a lovely little girl collecting grasshoppers in front of the cabin where her family have gone on holiday. A man arrives, you start to hear the sinister music soundtrack in your head that the characters never seem to hear and you know it is to turn to custard.

I loved the men in this story, I loved reading a story where the gay men were just ordinary nice men, where the family was always referred to as a family and not stereotyped or cookie cutter. They were so nicely written, I loved their moments of affection in the midst of terrible troubles. I loved their relationship with their daughter.

This is a nicely written story, one which gave me lots to think about and it preyed on my mind a lot while I was reading it, I was rushing to get back to it. I really enjoyed the structure, the way that the author gradually revealed the nature of the interlopers. It made me think about the way that you could construe an apocalypse and use the media to help you create a myth. It made me think about the nature of online groups, how those people who feel isolated can find others to share their weirdnesses, for both good and evil. How sometimes even the nicest people can become caught up in plots which turn their heads.

I did not love the rushed explanation at the end of the book, I needed more of a drawn out moment of revelation. Even thought it was ultimately a satisfying ending, it could have been better handled. All in all this is great.

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

WhatYou can see the Netflix series playing out in your mind as you read this rather lovely book.

Arthur is working for his mum in her law office in New York, the family have moved there for the summer and Arthur has an internship doing the filing. He has cool gossipy workmates who are incredibly entertaining, they look out for him and make the job interesting and fun.

Ben is stuck in summer school, not his ideal way to spend the summer. He has broken up with his boyfriend, it is hard, he is a bit broken. Worse the ex is also attending summer school so he has to see him all the time and that is sad and hard.

Arthur meets Ben at the Post Office in the midst of a flash mob, it is the cutest thing. Love at first sight but then they spend the next while trying to find each other. They don’t have many clues, but this is love, they need to find each other. So investigations take place, they get everyone involved in the search and of course, when all seems lost they find each other. Ohhhh my poor wee heart just went all gooey! Now we have them working through all the stuff of the past, thinking about the future and dealing with life as it plays out for them. This is the summer of dreams but sometimes it is the summer of angst. There are heaps of lovely references to gay culture, musicals, coffee shops that are amazing – though I’ve had plenty of coffee in New York and I’m skeptical about these – this is a New York story with a thoroughly New York state of mind.

I feel a bit bad for the 3 stars, it is really a firm 3.5. I felt that it was just a bit wordy. It took a tiny bit too long for things to happen and while the chat in the book is so brilliant and witty and on point, there is just too much of it. The cuteness is just so lovely, the banter excellent, the families of the boys are so nice, so accepting of their interesting and complicated gay kids. I loved it when the two families had dinner together. Seriously, this is so nice! Like a romantic froth of powder blue tulle! Like puppies and kittens. Like my dog on Insta! It just needed a bit of substance.

I think this will be a huge hit. And I’m so pleased that books like this are becoming mainstream. Here are the authors talking about it.

Can You Tolerate This?: Essays by Ashleigh Young

tolerateIt is a long time since I read a book of essays, reading this made me realise that I have been missing out and that I should do far more reading of shorter forms of writing. Ashleigh Young writes the most beautiful sentences, they are deceptively simple. She draws you in and had me reading story after story, although they aren’t really stories they are musings and wonderings and reflections. She examines her family and her past. Musings on her childhood anxieties and siblings are so personal and thoughtful that I became very invested in her life, I think because there was a lot of familiarity there. I recognised places but also the feelings she has as life in her household is described.

My favourite though was her musing on yoga. Her descriptions of the feelings of examining the feelings of the stretches and the introspection that yoga brings. Bikram yoga is extreme, I think. The idea of choosing to exercise in unbelievable heat is something I just couldn’t contemplate yet to have Ashleigh Young describe it and almost meditate upon it, makes it close to appealing.

I’ve been trying to describe this book to friends and I have difficulty putting my finger on what exactly it is about it that I loved so much. I think it is connection. I was right in there with her throughout all the situations she describes. I was cheering her on in times of insecurity as she worried about her hairy arms and while her family was being terrified flying over my hometown in a storm. I adored the story of her mum learning to glide with it’s really terrible ending.

This is a treasure of a book. Ashleigh Young I’ll read all your books in the future.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishers for giving me access to this book.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

ghostThe beginning of this book is so thoroughly creepy I was hooked from the first lines. A young girl tied to a stake about to be burned to death, everyone is watching and nobody is helping her. The tone changes immediately and you realise that you have been reading the ending and now you spend your time wondering how those horrific scenes will come about. Creeping menace, lots and lots of it, abound in this book!

Sil’s family are spending the summer in an experimental archeology exercise in Northumberland close to the moors and near to the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. They are living life as it was in the bronze age. Wearing tunics, living in a primitive tent together, cooking over a fire and foraging for everything they eat. It is not fun at all. Sil’s dad is a domineering, bully of a man. Her mum is meek and mouselike. She is beaten and submissive to her husband. Sil has become used to doing exactly what her dad requires because it is easier and she is less likely to end up with bruises. The way that Sarah Moss has written him is so good, you really feel his simmering anger! Along with Sil and her family, there are 3 university students and their professor who are living the ancient lifestyle with them as part of their studies. One of the students is a young woman who becomes close to Sil and who, partly inadvertently, leads Sil astray and into danger.

This is a small book with a great big story. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a book which would appeal to reluctant readers due to the instant entry into the action and the easy vocabulary. It is very well written and I’m going to be buying copies for school. I would recommend it for junior high school age students. Although it is set in Britain near the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall I think that young people anywhere would relate to it.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this book.

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

ladderOne of the things I think John Boyne gifts to the world with his books is that they are all so different in storyline, but one of the themes that holds the books together is injustice. The victims of the protagonist in this novel, the odious Maurice Swift are treated so unjustly that it is heartbreaking.

Maurice is without moral fibre, you could call him a cold fish, he has no concept that furthering his own life, feathering his next with the ill gotten gains of others is a bad thing. His attitude is one of self serving, graspyness. Maurice is a talentless writer, that is a problem, he has no ideas for stories and therefore must steal them from those he meets, beginning as a young man and carrying on until middle age. He is completely ruthless and leaves the bodies of those who get in the way behind him. Maurice desperately wants a son and when he gets one he is heartless towards him, this seems to be the thing with Maurice, he wants so badly but it is never enough when he gets what he wants.

The structure of this novel is interesting. It is told in part by Maurice’s poor wife, a woman so talented but having to deal with his petty jealousies, his social ineptitudes and the dreadful way he treats her and those people who are admiring of her. Maurice just cannot bear to be out of the limelight. He was shortlisted for The Prize, which we assume is code for the Man Booker, and that was his peak, but even this story is stolen because he is completely without original thought, other than finding crafty ways to steal stories from others. We travel the world with Maurice to Berlin, New York, the Amalfi Coast, various locations in England. Some of the scenes are written so well, I was blown away. The scenes on The Amalfi at Gore Videl’s house were just perfect.

It is hard to read characters so unlikeable yet at the same time you want them to fail, but Maurice is just so dastardly I was completely caught up waiting for his game to be up. The way he does eventually get his comeuppance, as indeed he must, is so well done I was blown away with the cleverness of it.

This is a big sprawley wonderful book, I wait anxiously for a John Boyne to come along and this was in no way disappointing.

Thanks so much to the publisher and to Netgalley for giving me access.

I Had Such Friends by Meg Gatland-Veness

friendsThis one is right up there for me. It is the kind of voice I love and I’d personally call this a cross-over novel, one that works for adults and YA. It is set in a small Australian town where people play footy, surf and the culture of bloke is at it’s peak. It is tough to stand out in this place. You fit or you don’t. If you don’t you’ll be picked on and persecuted and made to pay. Hamish is a poor, skinny kid who has nothing cool about him. The story takes place over Hamish’s last year of high school. His only friend, Martin, whom he really doesn’t like but you’ve got to talk to someone, is even more hideously uncool. Hamish has been stuck with him by default even though he can’t stand him.

At the start we are told that Charlie one of the schools most popular guys has been killed in a car crash which also involved the utterly gorgeous Annie, the school sweetheart, most beautiful creature who ever walked the earth. Annie has survived and emerged sad and lonely. Hamish has worshiped her from afar but always known that he has no chance with her. She and Charlie are the school elite, but now Charlie is dead and everything is different. Change is on the way, one day Peter the school bad kid, gives Hamish a ride home from school and everything starts to happen. Peter and Hamish become the kind of friends who don’t talk about anything but spend time together and gradually gradually they begin to build a relationship. At the same time Hamish and Annie are becoming girlfriend and boyfriend and Hamish has gone from untouchable to being in demand. But all is not what it seems.

This book is about relationships, attitudes, sexual tension and racism. You have so much in here! I loved Peter, I loved him so much more than Hamish and what happens to him is horrific. I loved so much about this book but I admit that it isn’t perfect. There are some problems with the writing in places. And I really had a problem with Annie, she seems to be almost unnecessary to the story other than a bit player. I loved the relationship with Hamish and his parents and could totally see that playing out. I thought the sex was really well written too. There are problems but overall I thoroughly loved the story and the way that the scenes felt so realistic. I loved Hamish struggling to keep up with Peter at the beach with the way he pondered lying to his parents.

I’d love to see this book in lots of small town libraries, it is shocking and I think quite realistic in the way the casual homophobia is visited upon teenagers. It is certainly not a hopeful book. The actions of the teenagers and their rage against Peter and Hamish is horrific to read. It makes you understand why country Australians race to the big cities to reinvent themselves as gay people. I know this happens in every country! I read this at the time that I watched Hannah Gadsby and her Nannette show and possibly that is why is resonated so strongly with me.

I’m going to be buying and recommending this book. Possibly with a tighter review than this, as I’ve got a bit statementy here!

If you are a fan of Jasper Jones and books by Scot Gardner then this book is going to work for you.

Thanks to Netgalley for access to this book.