Call Me Evie by J.P. Pomare

I’m so pleased this lived up to the hype. I was hooked from the first page, gripping stuff! You are immediately caught up in Evie/Kate’s story. It is told in sections, what is happening now and in flashbacks to her life in Melbourne and the story leading up to her current situation. Evie is being looked after by her uncle Jim, she has only limited recollections of what happened. She has been removed from Melbourne to a small town in the Hawkes Bay of New Zealand, she isn’t sure how she got there. Jim is controlling everything, what she eats, when she can leave the house, he keeps her drugged and she is in hiding. Gradually, through the fog of the drugs she begins to put things together, the events of a night where a young man died, where she was drunk behind the wheel of a car and where Jim turned up holding something. 

The mystery of what happened is at the core of this book. It is cleverly and slowly revealed to the reader as the book goes along. I honestly didn’t pick the twist. 

This is contemporary, it is interesting and the action just hums along. I was totally hooked on this, read it in two days and am still thinking about it now. Highly recommended if you like a contemporary thriller.


Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

Machines Like Me

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was delighted to win a hardback copy of this book from the publishers. It is a lovely looking book and with a cover which feels expensively smooth and waxy, it has been a pleasure to hold in my hands as I’ve worked my way through it. I do feel it was work at times! Ian McEwan is an author I almost always enjoy reading, I like his cleverness and the way he places his characters in conflicts of the heart and the mind. This is exactly what he does in this book, lots of moral complexity and a real commentary on the purpose of AI and our decision making in our conscious human way versus the logic of machine learning. Having read Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari I got the distinct impression that that book had made quite the impression on Ian McEwan, there is a quote from the book in this novel and a feel that the conclusions that eventually the machines will overtake us humans is clear in this novel.

Charlie purchases an Adam, a robot who looks and feels and acts human, it is a vast expense, he could have bought a house! Charlie shares a house with Miranda. She is young and gorgeous and Charlie fancies her enormously. He asks her to help form Adam’s personality, they will each be responsible for half of the different facets of his personality, she agrees and this the beginning of their relationship. Adam falls for Miranda but not before warning Charlie that Miranda harbours dark secrets and is not to be entirely trusted. This is the beginning of the story which will twist and turn throughout the early 1980s where the author has altered political history, bought Alan Turing back to life and generally messed around with the past to make it fit his story.

I found sections of the story totally engaging, Charlie and Miranda’s relationship, the arrival of Mark a young boy they decide to adopt, the relationship between Miranda and her unfortunate best friend. The novel tackles so many big issues and yet somehow seems to do so in a slightly distant and removed fashion. Of course there are amazingly clever passages, there are eminently quotable sentences, some of the comments that the characters make to each other are brilliant, but it was missing a heart, a little like Adam.

It is enjoyable but not amazing and that is a bit disappointing.

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The End of Time by Gavin Extence

You’ll feel your heart being tugged when you read this. The plight of two teenage boys, fleeing the war in Syria is bound to be a heart breaker. I am a fan of this author having read two of his previous books and loved them. He has a way of writing about big issues with a gentle hand which is endearing and completely engaging and that is what he has done here. Through the eyes of his main character Zain, he takes through the myriad issues that face refugees. The fact that they are leaving their homes and loved ones and setting off on a journey to an unknown place with a completely unknown future, lack of money, it is dangerous and with what at times seem like insurmountable difficulties.

Zain and Mohammad wash up on a beach in Greece and then swim from there to Turkey at what is just the beginning of their long journey hoping to get to the U.K. it seems such an unlikely goal but they are gritty kids. On the beach they meet an elderly man called Jesus, he rescues them but in turn they rescue him and he becomes their travelling companion. He is difficult and worst of all is a very bad alcoholic but Zain feels a responsibility for him even if Mohammad is less keen, but then Mohammad is 14 and very self absorbed, understandable in one so young who has been wrenched from everything he knows and loves. Zain is sensible, he manages Mohammad so well, he promised his mum as they left that he would always look after his little brother and this is a promise he is determined to keep. These three will travel through country after country on their quest but on the way they will find strength and love and discover who they are along the way. The boys will discover that Jesus has a secret, they will cope with his alcoholism, they will become separated and there will be danger and sadness galore. The scenes at the end of the book are totally stunning and incredibly moving, tears were shed. 

I only have a tiny criticism of this book, it is just slightly too long and could have been tighter in places but really it is one of those treasures of a story that we need in our lives right now. It is moving and topical. I was cheering for these boys from the start. 

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

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

This book is fabulous. Fabulous! 

I’ve been talking about it to anybody who will listen since I started it. Then I was eking it out so that it lasted longer. And now I don’t even know where to start to write about it. It is being marketed as being YA, but I’d argue that it is for anybody. 

The girls of the County are sent away for a year, into a fenced area in the wilderness. On their return, bedraggled, broken, injured and unable to talk of their experiences, they never speak of their time away on The Grace Year. Before they even head away they are chosen as brides by the eligible men of the village. This includes those who have found an excuse to get rid of their loyal wives on feeble excuses to get at one of the new crop of eligible new brides. It is the beginning of the horror of this story. It is going to get way more uncomfortable! 

Tierney our heroine is plucky and sharp. The other girls don’t like her, they are suspicious of her for many reasons but partly because she is friends with Michael, who chooses her in the betrothal ceremony and also because her father has set her up by teaching her practical skills, these are skills none of the other girls have. They have been trained to serve and kowtow to the men, not Tierney, she’s a fighter. As they head into the awfulness of the Grace Year she is going to need every tiny scrap of her feistiness. 

There is so much in this book. It requires a certain amount of grit to cope with its horror. Tierney is so awesome. There are so many favourite moments in this book, she finds seeds sewn lovingly into her cloak, the love scene, the fearsome way she deals with the psychological persecution of the awful mean girls and their terrible leader. 

If you like a dystopian fiction this is going to make you very very happy. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this great novel.

Land of Fences by Mark Smith

I’ve been very invested in the survival of Finn, Rowdy, Kas and Ray. I’ve been rooting for them since the very beginning of The Road to Winter, the first book in this series. This book is what I call a hook book, a book that gets young men reading, I have a bunch of Yr 11 boys at school who are hanging out to get their hands on this one, I was really pleased to get an advance copy from Netgalley, thanks to Text Publishing for approving me for this. 

The story picks up with a marvellous opening scene of Finn and Kas swimming in the rockpools and surf of the bay, there is a great sense of happiness and calm and the love between these two is so beautiful to read. Then this is shattered immediately as they become aware of the advance of troops to their town who declare it uninhabitable and out of bounds. The team are on the run again but get caught almost immediately and transported to a processing centre where they are tagged with trackers. Of course nothing is as simple as that. Finn’s mortal enemies Ramsay and Tusker are still causing him trouble and this time they mean to take him out completely. They are now in positions of power and have the backing of the new regional powers. This is disastrous for Finn and Kas.

Like both of the other books the action is full on in this, there is a lot going on, daring escapes through dangerous ground, terrible hunger and thirst and constant fear. Through all this we have the wonderful love of Finn and Kas, their protectiveness for those they become involved with along the way and lots of scary moments as they fight to regain their land and home.

I’ve so enjoyed this series. I’ll continue to recommend it to students and keep buying copies, we currently have 5 of each of the previous books and they are hardly ever on the shelves.  Below is a video of the author speaking about the first book in the series.

Invisibly Breathing by Eileen Merriman

I’ve struggled with this book. I have been heavily invested in this authors work and have read her previous two novels with delight and joy. She has nailed teenage voice and the trials and tribulations of teenage life, its conflicts and challenges. She does that again in this one. Yet still I struggled with it, it has taken me an age to read. The characters of Felix and Bailey were great and I loved their romance and the challenges they faced to be together. I thought the anger and abuse were very well written, the struggle of Bailey’s family to cope was very moving. And yet I struggled.

There was a lot going on, a great local setting, a bunch of issues to drive the story. It was fabulous to read a local book for teens with characters with sexuality stuff going on, the gradual awakening of Felix to his sexuality was great. And yet I struggled.

It felt a little unfinished, that it could have been just slightly more tightly plotted. I think it possibly tried to cover too many issues and while that is admirable and Eileen Merriman can be trusted to handle issues sensitively and in ways that appeal to the teenage audience, this one slightly misses the mark. 

Having said all this I will be pushing it at my students, some have already read it and enjoyed it, but for me I’ll push the other two books just a tiny bit harder.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

This engrossing book had me hooked from the very beginning. Everything about it made me happy. The tone is light, from Tikka’s point of view as she reflects on the disappearance of her best friends and neighbours, The Van Apfel Girls, when she was a child. Tikka is home from Baltimore for a visit after hearing that her beloved sister Laura has cancer.

Ruth, Hannah and Cordelia and Tikka’s sister Laura, were inseparable, spending time walking together to school, playing made up games, sweltering in the heat together and cooling off in the pool. Their good times however are always overshadowed by the harsh nature of the father of the Van Apfels. He is bad tempered, ultra religious and believes in punishing harshly for even the smallest misdemeanour, minor infractions earn the sisters a beating and wrath. It is uncomfortable and it isn’t spoken of but Tikka and Laura know that their own happy home life is very different to that happening down the street.

It is 1992, Azaria Chamberlain was taken by a dingo and Lindy Chamberlain has just been exonerated, it is hot, so hot. The school is working up to the Summer Showstopper, a talent show at the end of the year, Tikka is writing a show based on the Azaria story. Meanwhile the older Van Apfel Girls plan to run away with Laura’s help while everyone is watching the Showstopper.

The story loops around and around as Tikka reflects back on the events leading up to the girls disappearance. There is a wonderful cast of characters, a creepy teacher, the sinister Mr Van Apfel, nosy neighbour, Tikka’s mum and dad who watch the activities of the neighbours.

I loved everything about this book, the point of view is fabulously written, Tikka’s voice is so authentic. As we circle around to the girls disappearance the tension is palpable, Seen through the eyes of a child we get a different perspective of the time after the disappearance than we would have if the book was narrated by an adult. Tikka the adult has so many unresolved emotions and the pain she felt as a child, the emptiness and loss she felt are with us from the beginning of the book and remain the whole way through. I loved her voice.

This is right up there for me in my picks of the year.
Thanks so much to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me access to this book.