Noah’s Song by Jaclyn Osborn

Published: 28th February 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Encompass Ink
Pages: 266
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Noah Derwin knows what it’s like to be different. Being a seventeen-year-old kid in high school with blue hair, piercings, a mostly all black wardrobe, and an obsession with zombies and video games, he doesn’t exactly blend in. But he never wanted to. His two dads raised him to always stay true to himself.

Bastian Hunter prefers structure and predictability. Suffering from a rare disease, every day is a challenge for him, and he prepares for the future by excelling academically and denying who he really is. Everything changes when he meets Noah, the unpredictable variable in the equation he’s built his life around, and feelings he’s hid for so long begin to surface.

Being gay in high school isn’t exactly rainbows and butterflies, and Noah has definitely faced his fair share of bullies. Moving to Port Haven, Oregon opens up new possibilities for him, and he starts falling for the quiet, brown-eyed boy from his English class. Too bad the attraction is one-sided… or is it?

I found this book by chance and gave it a go because it sounded interesting and I’m glad I did because I found myself quite invested and attached to these adorable teenagers and their love story. There are certainly some flaws in Osborn’s story, both in structure and plot, but I still found myself enjoying it all the same. It is a good heartfelt story about being who you are and discovering who you are. It’s cliché at times and a bit unrealistic in some aspects but it a wholesome story that still makes you feel warm inside.

Getting the problems out of the way first, the writing can be clunky occasionally and the dialogue balances between realistic and cheesy, but the intent is there and if you look past the imperfections in the writing, there are some wonderful moments and it is a good story underneath.

On the positive side, there is a good exploration of disability and LGBT issues which was great to see explored in a story and yet not be the Focus of the story or the Point of the story. Osborn has managed to make it just part of who these character are, something that Noah highlights himself. That isn’t to say they don’t contribute to the issues in the story, but there is more going on than Noah being gay, instead it’s like any other young love YA where there’s a crush and general teenage angst and trepidation.

Osborn has clearly tried to break down stereotypes and perceived perceptions, even if she does so by literally pointing it out to the reader. Some of the characters are sweethearts and are good unique and complicated characters but I felt there could have been some better development in terms of some characters, or maybe that’s something that could be improved with an adjustment and naturalisation of the dialogue.

I think what Osborn has tried to do is include too many supportive moments and tried to be too on message. As much as I understood what she was trying to achieve it felt too perfect, too much like everyone was a good person, and for those that weren’t, it didn’t take long and not too many words to change their minds.

I really enjoyed watch Noah find his feet and I will admit I got my own cheesy grin on my face watching him falter and try to act natural around the boy he likes. It was all kinds of adorable and it was one of those nice moments when you could see an outcome long before it happened so you got to enjoy Noah’s confusion and uncertainty around Bas, all the while you just waited for the moment when it all came to a head.

Watching Noah and Bas together was absolutely adorable and I loved Noah’s reaction and interaction with him. Noah himself is a complicated character, there is a lot going on with him that I felt Osborn could have focused more on, again, tied into a stronger writing style, but nevertheless it was an interesting route she chose to take with him because while simple and idealistic characters can be one dimensional, Noah knows who he is and while he still struggles with some things, he is also a little self-assured too. Something which suits Osborn’s expression of him.

Like I say, it’s idealistic but it’s heart-warming. It’s a feel good story that tries to have a nice little message in there even if there are a few flaws in the story and the structure. I still enjoyed it and I was surprised how invested I got in the characters and even more so finding myself with my own cheesy grin on my face at these teenagers which sometimes were just too adorable.

You can purchase Noah’s Song via the following

Audible | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Published: 28th February 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Walker Books
Pages: 348
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.

I’d seen a lot of posts and read a lot of things in regards to the social situation with the police in America and the #BlackLivesMatter movement prior to reading this so I had a background for this story and could understand a bit more than going in blind. For that I was grateful because Thomas doesn’t hold back and having that knowledge meant I had a context for her words, but it also wasn’t as much of a shock, even though it remained a tension filled story and one filled with surprises. I am glad this story exists because while it’s a tough subject and a hard one to read, it is one that Thomas explores extremely well and has the ability to open people’s eyes into a world and a movement they may know little or nothing about.

This is a very important book because it reflects real life in so many ways and shows one person’s story about how living in this current world can be a hard and troublesome experience. Seeing both sides through Starr’s eyes even in the smallest ways can have big impacts as you read because you realise that love for one’s neighbourhood comes at a price of it not always being the safest. Starr’s story is so far removed from my own but Thomas drags you in and makes you feel Starr’s pain and anguish, her trepidation and her unease. You want to fight with her and help her, you are disenchanted by the situation she is in and you fear for those around her.

I really liked how Thomas explored Starr’s conflict about her home neighbourhood and the school world she was trying to survive in. Her inner conflict and the comparisons between her two groups of friends shows the differences that still exist and the prejudices that remain whether conscious of them or not in society. Her desire to keep her world separate are valid but also heartbreaking that she can’t be herself.

There were so many moments when my heart pounded or my stomach lurched because while I loved the story, I knew anything could happen, Thomas had shown that right from the start. I was nervous and excited, and I wanted so much to be able to know that things would work out, but I also knew that was making it into a fairy tale and not a real reflection on what doing the right thing could mean and what was possible in this world Thomas has created.

There is a reason why this book spent so many weeks at the top of the bestseller list. It’s an amazing story and one I think everyone should read.

You can purchase The Hate You Give via the following

Book Depository | Booktopia

Dymocks | QBD | Angus and Robertson

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Wordery | Fishpond

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Published: 14th March 2006 (print) / 15 June 2012 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Alfred A. Knopf / ABC Audio
Pages: 552 / 14 hours 22 minutes
Narrator: Dennis Olsen
Format:
 Audio
Genre: Historical YA
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

I’m glad I finally got a chance to read this, it has been on my list for a very long time and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. There were some adjustments to make with the audio format, it took a lot of getting used to, but at the heart of it, it’s a beautiful story.

Zusak’s approach to the story is quite unique. I loved the narrator and I loved how the story jumped around in time, always connecting back to things with a seamlessness. I actually kind of liked that some parts were spoiled early on, it made me think that if key spoilers were going to be announced in the first few chapters, whatever secrets that were kept must have been even bigger. Little did I know that Zusak’s plan was to ruin you in a completely different way with words that crush you and emotions that sneak up on you when you thought you were safe.

There are so many components that bring this book together: the characters work together with the history, and their environment brings it all together perfectly. Zusak’s blunt in some ways, but can weave a descriptive sentence in other ways as well. In a conflicting situation, I both loved and hate the side notes. I liked that they were like small information snippets or opinions from the narrator that provided more information to the reader and it gave it a nice aspect of being like footnotes while you read. The problem with them though is they didn’t translate to audio very well. Not that they couldn’t have, just that they weren’t done very well in this instance. Olsen does a fine job with the audio, but the sidenotes are told in hushed tones, something that is very hard to hear sometimes. It also made me realise I’m not a fan of accordion music.

Another thing I loved was that Zusak doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. He brings out the strain and the tension of Hitler’s Germany, as well as the pressure to conform and the consequences if you don’t. Zusak manages to explore a wide range of the social and political climates through his characters without it feeling like they are being forced into situations in order to explain things. There was no sense of Forrest Gump where all the important things happen to be connected to the characters, and yet with the structure Zusak has created, there is always a natural way to get all the information across and bring the main characters into the story.

I did think it was a bit long. I get that it is meant to be an ongoing story that builds up gradually over the course of the war, but my halfway I was a bit tired. I still enjoyed the story, but I was surprised that I was only half way. In a way it made sense not to rush it, there is a lot of power in a slow story that sinks its teeth into you and makes even the smallest action weigh heavy by the end of the book, especially over the course of a war. Of course I got my second wind and by the time I got to the end I’d gotten back into the swing of the story and Zusak brings this epic journey to a brilliant end. It’s poignant, heartbreaking, and for all the warning you get through the entire book, Zusak still manages to punch you in the heart.

You can purchase The Book Thief via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository | Wordery

QBD | Dymocks | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

 

Chasing Odysseus (#1) by S. D. Gentill

Published: 1st March 2011 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pantera Press
Pages: 353
Format: ebook
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Weak-eyed Hero is the beloved daughter of Agelaus, a Herdsman of Mount Ida, which looms over the fortified citadel of Troy. Hero, raised under the gentle hand of her father, in the protective company of her three wild, but noble, brothers, is ruled by a fierce piety, and tormented by her Amazon heritage. 

The Herdsmen of Ida hold a sacred trust. Throughout a 10-year Greek siege, they have been feeding the citizens of Troy using the secret tunnels that run beneath the fortress walls. Faithful and fearless, they traverse the ancient passages that only they know. Now Troy has fallen, and despite having led the survivors out of the carnage, the Herdsmen are falsely accused of betrayal. 

Agelaus is murdered by the anguished Trojans. The Herdsmen find themselves hated and hunted by both the Greeks and their friends, the people of Troy. They are forced into hiding, labelled cowards and traitors. Desperate to free their people from the stigma of treachery, young Hero and her brothers accept a magical ship from Pan, their beloved woodland god. They chase after Odysseus, the strategist of those who laid siege to Troy. Only he can explain how the Greeks entered the city, and in doing so cleanse the Herdsmen of the stain of treachery. 

I have wanted to read this book for ages and totally forgot I’d gotten a copy from NetGalley (bad reviewer!). What I found though when I did start reading it, was that it was quite underwhelming. I had been so intrigued by this book for ages and heard good things that I genuinely thought I would enjoy this more than I actually did. I like Greek mythology and I like The Odyssey but while this had familiar characters and references, it did not hold my interest. I found myself skimming just to get through faster.

The story begins up in the mountains that overlook Troy with the herdsman Agelaus and his four children; Hero and her three brothers, Machaon, Cadmus and Lychon. We are introduced to their lives as the Trojan War enters its tenth year and we’re shown what life has been like for those outside the city. We learn early on of Hero’s heritage as an Amazon and how she was rejected by them and left with Agelaus because of her poor eyesight and she is adopted into his family.

The main story kicks off with the fall of Troy and Agelaus is accused of being a traitor who helped the Greeks raiders get into the city. This of course sparks outrage and backlash and it falls on Hero and her brothers to clear the name of her father and discover how the Greeks breached the walls of Troy. This of course means chasing after Odysseus in an effort for him to reveal how he got into the city.

The premise of the story seems intriguing enough, but it is the characters that I feel let it down. I didn’t like Hero as a character. I kept waiting for her Amazonian heritage to come into play and have her be some mighty force, even with her poor eyesight. Instead she is subdued and focuses more on praying to the gods than doing much in terms of helping. Her brothers constantly mock her for her devotion to the gods, and I will say I did like the reminder that just like the present day, not everyone believed in the gods. Her brothers aren’t that interesting either. They all kind of mixed into one another and I didn’t feel connected to them at all.

As for the story, I was intrigued by the premise but it just seemed so strange and mediocre. Gentill does well to reference the original story of The Odyssey, following Odysseus after he ransacks Troy and all the places he visits, but aside from that familiarity I wasn’t that interested. Nothing seems to happen, following after Odysseus isn’t very captivating and even though Gentill tries to add danger and suspense, my lack of interest in the characters didn’t make me concerned for their safety or success and following an already established story didn’t add any real mystery as to what might happen next, probably not in the way Gentill expected it to.

There are heartfelt moments and sad moments which tries to give depth to the narrative, but not executed well enough to feel substantial in my opinion. This is only the first book in a trilogy so it is highly possible all the characters will get some kind of development and growth as the story progresses. The only problem with that though is my interest hasn’t been piqued enough in this book to want to keep going with the series.

You can purchase Chasing Odysseus via the following

Booktopia | Dymocks | Fishpond

QBD | Angus & Robinson

Amazon | Amazon Aust

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews

Published: 7th June 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Orchard Books
Pages: 282
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music – because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

Note: I received a copy from the publisher for review

Ugh, my heart!

My heart!

I don’t think you understand, my HEART IS ACHING!

What have you done to me Drews?!

So they were the notes I’d written down whilst I read this book. Not much changed by the end of it. I was astounded and moved and just in awe of Beck. I hugged this book when I finished. Actually hugged it. I’ve done that with maybe 2 or 3 other books ever.  Before that I spent the whole book wanting to hug Beck himself, I loved him from page one and by the end I was ready to fight for him come hell or high water.

With the anticipation and impatience I felt waiting for this book I’m so glad it was everything I thought it was going to be and so much more. I haven’t felt a love like this for a character for a while. A true character who is a victim of circumstance, a true sweetheart, and a lost soul unsure what to do. He is brave and strong and every time we get an insight into his thoughts my heart swelled and my love for him grew.

Despite being Beck’s story, there are really four people that are the focus of this novel: Beck, Maestro, Joey, and August. Drews balanced their stories really well, even through Beck’s eyes we get adequate focus on their lives and stories that give them depth as characters in their own right. Nothing feels rushed or glossed over. Information comes naturally and we discover little things about each character gradually, not through clunky exposition or info dumps. Their lives are also perfectly intertwined back into Beck’s that it all still feels about him and his experience.

I loved these other characters too in their own way. Joey was one who had my sympathies and broke my heart as well for different reasons. Drews balances the 5 year old mind very well; Joey has no tact, she’s excitable, impressionable, but she is also a loving sister. There are times as you read when you have forgotten her age and with skill and mastery Drews throws it in your face and reminds you just how young and fragile she can be.

Drews use of language is fantastic, there are wonderful sentences filled with beauty and pain that encapsulate Beck’s thoughts and feelings. August too has some brilliant insights that Drews perfects in a single sentence. I have many favourite moments from this book but the single sentence “marshmallow with burnt skin” is my all time favourite and it is Divine! I read that and just thought perfection.

There is so much I want to say about this book, the language, the story itself, the ending, the middle. All of it was perfection in my eyes from start to finish. I don’t want to give anything away because the pockets of surprises and the big surprises are what make reading this story so great. I will be rereading this book so many times because while it crushes my heart it also makes me so unequivocally happy and who wouldn’t want to relive that over and over again?

You can preorder A Thousand Perfect Notes via the following

Publisher | Amazon AUS

Book Depository | Greenhouse Agency

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble | Waterstones

Hachette Australia

 

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