A Trio of Sophies by Eileen Merriman

SophieI think Eileen Merriman is one of the cream of the crop of writers for young people right now. She writes stories that are immediately engaging, that are the perfect pitch for the audience of young adult readers. Her books have depth and breadth and tackle issues which are current and curly. I think this book is one of her best.

There have always been three Sophies, each different but all good friends. They are in the same class, they have known each other since they were little and their lives are intricately linked. Now in their final year at school, one of the Sophies has gone missing. Despite the efforts of the police, she cannot be found anywhere. This leaves two Sophies and the novel is told by one of them. The swot, the quiet one, the one determined to rise out of her humble life. The story is told in journal form beginning on the 64th day that Sophie has been missing and counting backwards to the day of her disappearance. It is an interesting structure and it works really well. You feel the tension rise, leading up to the day it all went horribly wrong.

Tied up to the disappearance of Sophie A is the story of Sophie M and the English Teacher. A guy who should have known better, a man who shouldn’t be in a room alone with teenage girls. I really liked the way that this aspect of the story was written, the way James Bacon, the English Teacher, draws Sophie in and entangles her in a web of deceit.

This is great writing for teenagers, gritty and real, using language which feels right. A brilliant book for all schools to have in their library collection.

Thanks so much to Penguin NZ for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Please can we have heaps more NZ books like this.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Doesn’t this blurb just sound awesome, a little bit of geeky sciency stuff, a dollop of social mgravityedia savvy, a great big romantic sky, two young men, completely different, NASA, astronauts and themes of loneliness and isolation, first love and space. Come on, this book appears that it has it all. But, and it’s a big one, it is really hard to connect with these characters. I really wanted to but it just didn’t happen. Now that I’ve been finished it for a week or so I find it hard to remember the characters names or to rekindle feelings for them. I wanted more. I wanted it to be a little bit more gritty, for people to get a bit more messed up by the bad things that happened in the story. People die in here, I’m not telling you who, but that is big, but the reactions of those affected just didn’t seem to hit the mark.
I loved all the social media stuff, loved the villian of the piece, it is all totally unrealistic but I was in there hoping that this would carry me off and give me a great big case of the feels.

It is ok, I know of students who will love it, I’ll buy it and promote it and encourage people to read it, but it could have had a heap more depth.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me access.

The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith

If I was to sum this up in one word, that word would have to be the word stunning. A gloriously atmospheric, melancholic dive into a world we never see portrayed, the world of the women who cared for and loved the Japanese pilots as they set off to sacrifice themselves in war. This is the story of a pilot and a young high school student, their lives disrupted by a war not of their making, and their gradual realisation that small kindnesses have a lasting effect. That their short lives are to be sacrificed for a cause is one thing, but the depravations of war are another, food is short, suspicions run rife in the towns and even though there are small pleasures to be found in simple things, it is difficult.

Hana our heroine is a lovely sensitive young woman, dutiful and dedicated. Juro our hero is a gifted musician and his violin plays a pivotal role in this story. These two characters come from very different lives but they meet due to the war and through tragedy blooms something beautiful.

I’ve always loved books set in Japan. This is due to the fact that I’ve lived there twice in my life when I was young and loved it. I was totally engrossed in this novel and shed a tear in the end. I love the fact that it is different to anything else out there for young adults at the moment. I’ve ordered copies for our library because I’m sure there is an audience for those who want to read something different, something based on real historical events.

Thanks so much to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me access to this glorious book.

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry

I was so thrilled to be approved for this book by Netgalley, I completely loved Days Without End and was very excited to read the follow up, especially as it was Winona’s story. Winona was saved from certain death by the wonderful Thomas McNulty and John Cole. They have raised her as their own at a time when two men raising a child, especially a native American child, is totally extraordinary. John and Thomas love each other but their love for Winona and their dedication to her is beautiful. Together with several other wonderful characters, they live on Lige Magan’s very poor farm, scratching out a living and working so hard to make ends meet and feed themselves. Eventually Winona acquires a job, working for the lawyer in town, her preference is to wear men’s clothing and not everyone realises she is a young woman. There are dangers everywhere including rampaging drunks, night riders who terrorise people and men who cannot be trusted anywhere near a young girl. She is courted by a local young man who swears his love for her and who wants to marry her. Her innocence and lack of world experience give her mean that she is naive but suspicious and frightened.

Winona is attacked, brutally. Raped and beaten, but has no idea who did it. Her confidence is shattered, her protectors are trapped by doing something about this terrible thing, they can’t put themselves in danger, her in more danger and put the livelihood of Lige Mangan and the others in jeopardy. Circumstances continue to be dire, with lightness being the love that ties this unusual family together with their workmates and the unlikely support of the lawyer. The unrelenting sadness and misery of their situation is dire.

The hard thing in this book is they way that Winona thinks and speaks, I didn’t love the unusual way she speaks and couldn’t really see the point of that.

While I didn’t love this book as much as I loved Years Without End, it moved me deeply, it made me cry and reminded me again why I love Sebastian Barry’s work so much.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

This book is a happy little bundle of froth. A story of an unlikely romance with a nice play on the social media obsession and a bunch of lovely little twists. Pepper and Jack come from different backgrounds and have different family lives. Pepper lives in an uptown apartment with her mum, her sister is away at college and does not get on with her mother. Pepper runs the social media account for the family business a national burger chain. She is a high achieving control freak. Jack works in the family business, a deli on the other side of town. He is a twin and has a close and loving extended family living with him. Jack has invented an app for the kids at school to chat on and this is how these two connect, but they don’t know who they are on the app as it anonymises them. These two are good at water sports and are at the pool all the time. Opposites attract and you can see what is going to happen. Young love will bloom but it will take time and be fraught with difficulties.

I really enjoyed this book, it is full of quick one liners and witty banter. A winning book for the school library and one that will have lots of appeal. There is a lot going on and the pace is really good to keep you turning the pages. A great choice for romance fans.

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty

Weird, atmospheric and unlike anything you’ve read before, this is a strange novel. It is from the point of view of a ghost, someone you know nothing about at the beginning, but revealed over the course of the novel. We discover first how she died, then we gradually are told the reasons why she is confined to Peterborough station, until she isn’t anymore. While she waits at the station she observes the comings and goings of the staff and the commuters as they go about their business. There is something odd about platform number severn though, something isn’t quite right, something there seems to draw the lonely and the sad.

Our ghost is kind of in love with one of the workers at the station, she follows him and suddenly is able to leave the station, after so much time of being trapped within station confines it is weird that she is able to waft out. This is the beginning of our ghost, who turns out to be Lisa Evans, discovering who she is and why she is there.

It is all so strange, the story is wafty just like our ghost, everything is opaque and vague. I found it was a little bit slow in the middle but it is certainly clever and something completely different to a standard crime novel. It’s melancholic feel is disturbing.  Thanks Netgalley and the Publishers for giving me access to this interesting novel.

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr

I’m reposting this, not only because it comes out in paperback today, but also because I want lots and lots of people to read it. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it. I’ve recommended it to heaps of people and I have just lent my copy to someone on pain of death that they return it to me. Go and buy a copy. You will be glad you did. And just look at this beautiful cover!

I had no idea that concentration camps existed during the Boer Wars in South Africa, I had no idea that so many people had been mistreated and ruined at that time, people who were just living their lives and struggling in a harsh environment. In the first section of the book we meet Sarah, struggling to cope as she is interred with her young son into a concentration camp run by the British, her husband is off fighting and their farm has been razed to the ground as part of the scorched earth policy. Sarah is the first link in the chain of this story which travels through time in South Africa from then to 2015. The characters are all linked by family lines and their stories all show something of how the history of a country forms attitudes and social norms all the way through to now. Sarah’s diary of her time in Bloemfontein Camp is horrific, so much so that I wandered off to search for confirmation of the conditions and discovered the most ghastly photographs.

Many years later we meet Rayna and Irma and Willem, Sarah’s descendants in a new South Africa, where the laws have changed, where violence is increasing and where social order has been disrupted. Not everyone is comfortable with the new ways, the abolition of Apartheid and the changing expectations of how the black people are to be treated. The uncomfortable transition to equality is hard to read. The author has done a wonderful job of making you feel every side of the situation. He drew me into the characters world and made me understand their points of view, although it is uncomfortable reading at times, it is hard to deal with such views from this corner of the world. The creeping menace of the ever growing walls to keep the bad guys out, at the same time as keeping the world and your connection to it out.

Willem is so beautifully written, his fragility and sensitivity juxtaposed against his mother’s partner the awful Jans. Willem’s mother Irma, torn between the new bloke in her life and her son who she doesn’t really understand and whom to her mind seems to be lacking something. Thank goodness for Rayna, the grandmother who loves this sensitive boy sincerely, and who ultimately is his saviour. “Know, she didn’t know. No, she didn’t know. Know, if only she’d known.”

This book is a lot! There is so much depth, it has the most beautiful moments amongst the heartbreak and terror. Along the reading journey with this book, not only the terrible history of torture and struggle, I’ve thought about Willem and the others like him, struggling in a harsh society, the terror of their lives, the fear and the trying not to be noticed. The pain of knowing you don’t quite fit with everyone else and trying to disappear. All of this is written so beautifully. I’ll be thinking about this novel for a long time, my poor heart will need to recover.

Bravo Damian, you’ve written a gem of a book and I am so delighted about that as a reader and as a cheerleader.