Upside Down by N. R. Walker

Published: 21st March 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Blueheart Press
Pages: 258
Format: ebook
Genre: Contemporary romance
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But when he realises adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.

Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.

A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.

There is a certain delightful charm about this book. It is slightly rough around the edges in terms of style and story but it has heart. There are unique and diverse characters and Walker has managed to show the joy of friendship groups and the adventures of people in their mid-twenties: able to enjoy the freedom of being an adult while allowed to still be young and not have any major responsibilities.

Walker has captured the two differences voices perfectly. Jordon is very excitable but this has its charm at times. You can see Jordan’s mind working a mile a minute and his talkative nature is juxtaposed against Hennessy’s subdued, calmer nature. This may not be the full asexual story that people are looking for, but it does show the actions and mindset of a man trying to work out where he fits in the world. It is also a great introduction to this type of relationship and life that people may be unfamiliar with.

Jordon is definitely someone I think is an acquired taste. He swears a lot, he rambles and is very talkative but this is the character choice Walker has made and it brings some uniqueness to the character. One that also helps understand why he is so reluctant for this added development. Hennessy is the opposite and seeing the two of them together can be quite sweet because Hennessy doesn’t see Jordon’s personality as a flaw.

There are a few dialogue bumps and it isn’t always the most perfect writing but the story comes from a strong start and seeing the boys get to know one another and grow is actually quite endearing. Seeing them get flustered around each other in their own way is joyful and there are many adorable moments of the boys being adorable together. If you know the Surry Hills area there are great Australian references and locations as well.

Sometimes in an effort to cover the fact there is no offer of sex or sexual attraction there are a few misunderstandings that aren’t actual misunderstandings which I think Walker is trying to add some drama where communication would have solved all of the problems. There is admittedly a cheesiness to the story but it is sweet and if you don’t mind slightly sappy, daggy boys and their enthusiastic friends.

The things I loved though was the complexity of the relationship and identity. Seeing Jordon trying to work out who he is and where he fits is wonderful once you get further into the story. There are light hearted moments, cringy moments, but there are also complicated moments that show that trying to find out who you are can be tough and something that takes time and a lot of support.

You can purchase Upside Down via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

It’s a Long Way to the Shop by Heidi McKinnon

Published: 1st November 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Australia
Illustrator: Heidi McKinnon
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

They cant run, swim, fly or jump… so how will these two little rocks get to the shop? 
Find out in this hilarious tale of adventure and persistence, to reach a snack thats totally worth it.

There’s so much to love about this book. Not only are the two characters simply called Rock, but they are optimistic, hilarious, and practical.

McKinnon uses dialogue for the entire story but instead of using quotations and padding it out, she uses differentiating colours to show who is speaking. Pink rock and green rock work out the issues they have in trying to get to the shop and seeing their deliberations is an absolute delight. Pink rock is definitely the more optimistic, while green is the practical one of the two, but even so they manage to climb and float and fly their way to the shop.

There are puns and the simple humour is divine. McKinnon uses a washed out tone for the backgrounds but sticks with the green, grey colouring which makes the bright pink and green of the two rocks stand out.

I love the ending of this because it was exactly what I wanted and I had an absolute blast getting there. What is even better though is McKinnon takes it one extra step further and it becomes even more hilarious.

You can purchase It’s A Long Way to the Shop via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Amazon Aust

Blossom Possum by Gina Newton

Published: March 2007 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Press
Illustrator: Kilmeny Niland
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Early one morning, Blossom Possum gets such a fright she thinks the sky is falling down! She has to tell someone, so she sets off with her news. On the way she meets her bush mates. But she also runs into trouble. This retelling of a favourite folktale has a delightful Aussie twist and a refreshingly positive ending.

I found this for a storytime at work and was actually genuinely in love with this by the end. I was curious how the story of Chicken Little would go being adapted for Australian context but Newton did a great job.

There is great pacing and the use of repetition is great as you fall into a natural rhythm as the story progresses. The story is filled with fun characters with great tongue twisters and rhymes for characters like Rocky Cocky and Toey Joey. It works well for most of them, some are a slight stretch but are in the spirit of the fun tone of the story. With the repetition the kids know what to expect and each page is left hanging as to who Blossom will find next which allows anticipation and gives them a chance to guess who will be on the next page.

There are some familiar Aussie phrases like beyond the black stump and round the back of beyond and it was the little details that made me smile. It wasn’t a giant flashing banner that tried to be Too Australian because that is cringey and it is tiring to read, but the inclusion of the Australian landscape and wildlife was nice.

There is a shift towards the end where it becomes a bit more perilous and a minor threat of being eaten, but the animals all escape with a small bit of animal violence and a boxing of the ears. I wasn’t expecting this and it alters the story a bit as it changes direction. Newton brings is full circle though in the best way and it makes for a delightful surprise ending.

The illustrations are both adorable and admittedly strange but I enjoyed how Niland has portrayed the Australian animals and has incorporated their environment in beautiful scenery. She also matches the illustrations to the mood: when there is danger the scene becomes black and when all is well there are stunning landscapes the animals traipse across.

There are surprises and it’s a cute story that brings the well-known story to a new audience with a wonderful Australian twist. It’s funny and a delightful tale that I really enjoyed.

You can purchase Blossom Possum via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

And All The Stars by Andrea K. Höst

Published: 30th September 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Self-Published
Pages: 204
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Come for the apocalypse. Stay for cupcakes. Die for love. Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings. None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind. Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.

This is an amazing story about friendship, aliens, and Australians. I loved it from start to finish; I read it in one sitting and I couldn’t put it down. From the start I was engaged as I, alongside Madeleine, try to work out what has happened. One reason why I loved this story was because I easily recognised these places and that I could visualise where the story takes place which was a great experience. The other was because I was genuinely enthralled by this story; there were surprises, there was mystery, there was a brilliantly executed story that was unlike anything I had read before filled with characters I instantly liked and connected with.

I loved the concept Höst has conveyed because it’s grand but simple at the same time. Don’t let the sci fi nature deter you if that isn’t your thing, there is a lot more focus on people and their situation that anything outlandishly science fiction. This was also a great dystopian story without it being a complete dystopia. The fact there was the Spires, the mystery dust and their consequences and not a full on apocalypse meant that things like the internet and television still operated. I was a bit confused about how television and internet was working originally before I realised that the Event doesn’t take out any technology and that the aftermath only affects the human population. Without giving too much away, I loved how the aftermath played out. It was engrossing and thrilling and there were wonderful moments of downtime where you got to intricately know the characters and see them unite.

Madeleine is a great character. I loved her determination for winning the Archibald Prize and she is a strong person but still has vulnerabilities. She isn’t quite a leader, but she isn’t a follower either. She is bright and determined and with all the strange and fearful things around her she remains strong and compassionate. Each of the characters felt unique and I could picture them easily as the story plays out. You become attached and invested and Höst uses that to her advantage with all her secrets and surprises.

The resulting mystery was so satisfactory. It was a unique answer to why what was happening was happening and I loved that sometimes the answer doesn’t need to be overly complicated or extreme. I loved the action and the unexpected but despite all that was happening it never escaped feeling plausible, grounded and real. I would certainly recommend giving this a read if you want a fresh story not only set in Australia, but a great take on the apocalypse.

You can purchase And All the Stars via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black

Published: 29th October 29th 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin Books
Illustrator: Sara Acton
Pages: 192
Format: Hardback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Introducing Mr Walker – a hotel dog with a nose for adventure!

On a brilliant autumn’s day, Mr Walker arrives at the grandest hotel in town. While things get off to a wobbly start, this charming labrador is determined to put his best paw forward. And it’s just as well because the most unexpected adventures await…

There are four tales included in this omnibus and it explores the adventures of Mr Walker and his life at the Park Hyatt. Black makes Mr Walker act and behave like a dog, but he also has his own thoughts and understanding about what is happening around him. The story is entirely through his perspective and it was heart-warming to see how he loves and adores the people he works with and lives with.

Having these tales be based on the real Mr Walker who has been living and working at the Park Hyatt in Melbourne since 2017 is even better. As a failed guide dog he is a wonderful ambassador and Black includes a bio at the back of the book so you can get to know the real Mr Walker.

The four tales included are filled with mystery and drama, Mr Walker gets to investigate and solve problems, help out and help people by being himself. There is real heart in the stories and having Mr Walker be at the centre of it you get to see all these stories and see people interact with a dog they may not with another human.

There are wonderful dog moments like seeing Mr Walker manoeuvre on marble floors, seeing him play in the park with his dog friends, as well as a great representation of how he uses his nose and tracking to understand the world around him and using that to find things.

Acton’s illustrations are adorable. The simple water colour drawings are scattered throughout and depict Mr Walker in many delightful and humorous ways. They are mini inclusions amongst the text and it gives off a great storybook feel.

There are many more tales of Mr Walker but having four in this first book gets you invested in his story and I’m certainly looking forward to reading about more of his adventures.

You can purchase The Tales of Mr Walker via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Audible

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