Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Published: 30th January 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin Random House Australia
Pages: 235
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does; her best friend has stopped talking to her; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.

Lawrinson has written an incredibly sweet story about love and mental health and about having a family member experience something that you will never understand completely but something that will affect you in so many ways. There are some really beautiful moments and Lawrinson does an excellent job expressing the confusion Amelia has about her dad. Her yearning for him to see her, to understand her and to her watch their connection come and go as she struggles to understand what he is going through and what she will do when he’s gone.

As a character Amelia was unique and I loved her curiosities. I love how she expresses herself with her art, it was a great way to explore her emotions and who she is. Her obsession with September 11 footage and videos was intriguing too and it shows a side of her character that was different and enlightening. Lawrinson provides great insight into why she watches and rewatches them and it was a fascinating and unexpected character trait but one that I think worked well.

The relationship between Amelia and Eleanor was a curious one, the teenager/adult friendship felt strange but I did understand, I think, why Amelia is drawn to her. What I definitely wanted though was more about Poppy. I loved her character and needed to see more of her. Lawrinson mentions that Amelia and Poppy become close friends and go to each other’s houses, but we know almost nothing about her. She is a side character, one that barely get any depth. We know more about her mother Eleanor than we do Poppy which was such a shame. It felt like she was meant to be a more fleshed out character, she is mentioned a lot, but the friendship with Amelia never comes across on the page.

The focus is on Amelia’s experiences so many characters get mentioned in passing but eventually the focus comes around and we get a bit more exploration of their characters but nothing overly substantial. The narrative covers a range of mental health issues, how they affect those around them as much as how they affect those suffering from them. Not only is Alzheimer’s a key plot point but so is anorexia and alcoholism. For a quick read is has a lot of heart to it. Some parts could have been fleshed out more but I enjoyed what story we had and found the sweetness and the emotion in what was on the page.

You can purchase Before You Forget via the following

BooktopiaDymocks | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Beverly, Right Here (#3) by Kate DiCamillo

Published: 24th September 2019 (print)/24th September 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Candlewick Press/Listening Library
Pages: 241/4 hrs and 8 mins
Narrator: Jorjeana Marie
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Beverly put her foot down on the gas. They went faster still.
This was what Beverly wanted — what she always wanted. To get away. To get away as fast as she could. To stay away.

Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away. It’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes. 

This is the third book in the Three Rancheros series but it isn’t crucial to have read them in any order, each story stands on its own. The main characters in this series all come from imperfect homes: their relatives are missing, have abandoned them, or have neglected them in some way. The central idea of going out and discovering who you are, where your place is in the world and your role within it can be found in each of these stories. This time we get to know Beverly, a girl whose friends are in different parts of the country and she is starting her own adventure. She is fourteen, on her own, and she is trying to work out who she is and what she wants to do.

Elmer and Beverly’s unorthodox friendship is a delight to read about. The runaway who doesn’t want help but still finds a way to accept it and have compassion for others is gorgeous. The way Elmer and Beverly use one another to improve each other’s lives while never quite admitting it to themselves is charming and adds humour to the story. I love the notion of found families and being surrounded by people who aren’t blood related but are family all the same. For Beverly to come to this town, stand on her own two feet and fight for herself is wonderful but DiCamillo never forgets that she is still a child who wants stability and support and is in need of love as well.

Marie does a great job at narrating. Her accents and voices for each character suit them and her voice keeps you in the timeless world of DiCamillo’s writing. Hearing the voices brings each fierce and proud statement from Beverly to life and the inflections and tones she gives to Elmer and other characters brings out their personalities and intentions really well. It is a quick listen, but with a full story packed into the short time.

Despite being set in the late 70s, the magical tone of DiCamillo’s writing makes the story feel timeless and there is a lovely southern charm that DiCamillo infuses this series with. Louisiana had it and now Beverly does too. The slow, profound stories are filled with heart and love and find your place in the wider world. You hear about their old lives but the new discovery they are on is the focus of the story. I’ve yet to read Raymie’s story that started this friendship but if it is anything like the other two I know I’m in for something special.

You can purchase Beverly, Right Here via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

 

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Published: 14th May 2019

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Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 421
Format: Paperback
Genre: New Adult
★ ★ ★ – 3 Stars

What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colours shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

This is the alternate reality we all wanted in 2016 and while it’s good to see what was possible in an ideal world, it also felt slightly over the top at times. It isn’t just the reimaging of the 2016 election, it’s also a complete rewrite of the British monarchy with a lot of perfect world mentalities that aren’t always refreshing and sometimes come across as plain unrealistic.

It was an enjoyable narrative, I wasn’t head over heels about it but I liked the characters, they were interesting and had complexities and their own issues to overcome. This is a modern story with the realisation that not everyone is a white male and seeing such a diverse group of characters come together in one book and administration was great. The romance between Henry and Alex is sweet, I liked the secrecy and their slow but fast relationship, and while I understood the risks, I wasn’t obsessed with this romance. You spend a lot of time waiting for the secrets to be exposed, but it was interesting to see the build-up and the anticipation kept me engaged because I wanted to see how it would play out.

The guise of international relations and meetings helps push this relationship along with plane travel and secret meetings. It’s a cruel reminder that not everyone has a 24 hour flight to the UK or America and you can duck over for clandestine romantic meetings. One thing I kept thinking about was bodyguards and paparazzi. The amount of secret meetings these two got was amazing, there only seemed to be one personal guard for each of them that let them do whatever they wanted. It was hard to imagine that actually happening.

The ages of the characters brings this firmly into the New Adult category and not YA because most of the main characters are in their early 20s and the consenting, vigorous sexual encounters Alex and Henry both enjoy is also a bit much for your younger teen. It isn’t overly graphic, but there is a lot of lust between Alex and Henry and McQuiston isn’t shy in the writing. The text and email exchanges between Henry and Alex are some of the best bits. It alternates between fun and flirty, to serious and deep, to drunk and sexual.

Whether it’s because Alex was the main voice we got to see more of his personality shine but I never quite got more of Henry’s. We’re told he’s shy and nervous about coming out, plus his public persona versus his private is naturally different, but while we are given facts about his interests and hobbies they felt like a one dimensional addition. I don’t think I noticed at the time, but as I thought more about it I couldn’t see Henry as having quite as much explored depth as Alex, even with all the information about him. Some characters I forgot existed entirely until they turned up again which was fine they weren’t always part of the story, but Alex felt the most developed out of all of them.

It’s a curious experience to not truly connect with a main character until the final 100 pages but it wasn’t until the very end did I actually become invested in Alex. I loved how McQuiston explores the aftermath and Alex’s reaction to it because that was when I felt a connection to him. His coping mechanism resonated with me and I adored how McQuiston put us in the moment as Alex experiences emotions and events around him, it felt like a completely different way than he’d been presented previously.

This is a book for those in the US who know and understand their political system. It’s for a specific group and for those outside the US it is possible to still understand what is going so we know what is at stake, and to McQuiston’s credit enough is explained that I understood without needing to know the full ins and out of the political system. Having a main character the son of the president there’s going to be a lot of inescapable politics in the story and their life. McQuiston alternates between barely a mention to suddenly flooding the pages and back again. There are a few jabs to the US and UK political environment I quite enjoyed, though it’s also a “wink, wink” kind of moment in some places that rely on you knowing about the political system and past events. Even as a non-American I know more than I care too about the US political system simple because you can’t really ignore it, but even things I didn’t completely understand I understood was a Thing and meant Something but not understanding didn’t mean I was lost on the story. McQuiston uses characters and the plot well to discuss the political world.

In terms of story it is predictable, but people seem to not mind that when it’s a romance. It is an idealised, utopian world where even the few issues there were never felt like actual issues, but people don’t seem to mind that either. I didn’t hate it, I think understanding though that the utopian world that’s created here can actually go beyond normalcy and possible and into unrealistic events and situations.

What I found curious is that looking at it, the book doesn’t seem long, but reading it, it is long. I felt like it was never going to end, and as I say, I didn’t hate it, but waiting and waiting for The Thing to happen so we could move on from it took most of the book. The consequences are over and done with relatively simply. Both the UK and US press never would have let half of this stuff happen, and while you can become focused on the romance and the group of twenty somethings making friends and having fun, you can’t really ignore the fake, idealistic world they are existing in. McQuiston is trying too hard to make it perfect and it doesn’t always come across as a good thing when you do it this poorly.

You can purchase Red, White, and Royal Blue via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Intern (#1) by Gabrielle Tozer

Published: 1st February 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harper Collins AU
Pages: 327
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Josie Browning dreams of having it all.

A stellar academic record, an amazing career in journalism – and for her current crush to realise she actually exists. The only problem? Josie can’t get through twenty-four hours without embarrassing her sister Kat or her best friend Angel, let alone herself.

Josie’s luck changes though when she lands an internship at the glossy fashion magazine Sash. A coveted columnist job is up for grabs, but Josie’s got some tough competition in the form of two other interns. Battle lines are drawn and Josie quickly learns that the magazine industry is far from easy, especially under the reign of powerful editor, Rae Swanson.

From the lows of coffee-fetching and working 10-hour days, to the highs of mingling with celebrities, scoring endless free beauty products (plus falling for her cousin’s seriously gorgeous flatmate James) this is one year Josie will never forget.

Totally fresh and funny, this debut novel from industry insider Gabrielle Tozer reveals just what is behind the seeming glamour and sparkle of the magazine industry.

This is a light, fun story that is good but doesn’t really have a lot of substance. It was new for me to have a YA where the character was solely at a job and not in high school, Josie is at university for some parts but even that is something different.

I have mixed feelings about this story, I enjoyed it but things were annoying as well. Perfect coincidences, unrealistic situations, and I couldn’t connect with the main character. I never felt that fond of Josie, she was nice, but I never clicked with her. I really had to remind myself that she was only 17 because it made me not excuse, but understand her behaviour a little better. Her impulsiveness, her complaints, even her behaviour didn’t fit in with the good student she was meant to be and it was jarring to see contrasts in her portrayal.

I can see how Josie is meant to be a reflection on real life; good grades, great opportunity but the strange and daft moments of being human and human behaviour can still get in the way. Josie’s flaws are there to have her be flawed but they were annoying after a while.

All the characters have stories and complexities, whether they all get explored in detail is another thing. There were stereotypical characters and different personality types but even if there was a reason for their actions the characters weren’t given enough depth for me to understand who these people were and why they do what they do.

Tozer captures the chaos of working for a magazine and the behind the scenes of what goes on for photoshoots and getting articles out. Josie is thrown into this world with her internship and after a rocky start starts having opportunities conveniently thrown at her which is a win for her but is slightly unbelievable for the reader.

I wanted to enjoy this more, and I think I did reading it, but reviewing it has made me think more about the problems I saw. While there are entertaining moments and funny parts, you have to suspend some parts of believability to really enjoy the story. Overall it was a nice story that has a bit of drama, romance, and humour but nothing too serious either.

You can purchase The Intern via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery 

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Goodwood by Holly Throsby

Published: 1st October 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Allen & Unwin
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

It wasn’t just one person who went missing, it was two people. Two very different people. They were there, and then they were gone, as if through a crack in the sky. After that, in a small town like Goodwood, where we had what Nan called ‘a high density of acquaintanceship’, everything stopped. Or at least it felt that way. The normal feeling of things stopped.

Goodwood is a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s a place where it’s impossible to keep a secret.

In 1992, when Jean Brown is seventeen, a terrible thing happens. Two terrible things. Rosie White, the coolest girl in town, vanishes overnight. One week later, Goodwood’s most popular resident, Bart McDonald, sets off on a fishing trip and never comes home.

People die in Goodwood, of course, but never like this. They don’t just disappear.

As the intensity of speculation about the fates of Rosie and Bart heightens, Jean, who is keeping secrets of her own, and the rest of Goodwood are left reeling.

Rich in character and complexity, its humour both droll and tender, Goodwood is a compelling ride into a small community, torn apart by dark rumours and mystery.

This doesn’t feel like a mystery per se, there is a mystery, two mysteries, but a lot of the surrounding story covers the nature of the small town and the day to day lives of those in it. There are moments where there’re clues and accusations, and you do wonder what happened to the missing people, are they connected, is it innocent or is it foul play? Throsby does a good job having a mystery woven into the day to day lives of this small town community. She manages to depict small town life in a way that feels like a welcoming place, but is also one where everybody knows everyone’s business and there are secrets hidden for a good reason.

This is a slow story that draws you into the characters and the town, establishing the scenes and the players while the mystery happens around it. There are a lot of names and connections to keep track of but while it feels busy, it does give a sense of how involved in everybody’s lives the town is and how everybody is known to one another. The characters help create the setting as much as the descriptions of the surroundings do.

Throsby has spread out the timeline and the mystery is satisfactory without feeling obvious. There are surprises and clues throughout and what seems innocent could become more crucial later on. I enjoyed how Throsby makes the missing people first and foremost, while also making the reader wait and find out what happens. Town life carries on afterwards and it brings a sense of reality to the story. Certain people will be affect more than others, the businesses must keep running, lives go on, even if deep down everyone has been affected in some way by what has happened.

The 90s setting was fun. It isn’t obvious or over the top but it is there enough to know when the events are happening with casual references to Nirvana, overalls and other minor references giving a 90s feel to the story naturally. Overall it was an enjoyable read and one where the few surprises and revelations add to the small town dynamics where things are not always as it seems.

You can purchase Goodwood via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

DymocksFishpond  Amazon | Amazon Aust

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