Reviews & Ramblings

Review & Ramblings: HeartStream by Tom Pollock

Firstly, I want to thank Walker Books Australia, for sending me an advanced reading copy of this title. It was just the book I needed to get out of a slump and I am eternally grateful for any opportunities I receive to work with publishers. Thank you!

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Heartstream by Tom Pollock

3/5 Stars.

Published September 1st 2019 by Walker Books

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Goodreads Review

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, when I started reading this book. I expected some psychological elements, a lot of technology and some drama, but what I got, was so much more.

I was immediately drawn to Amy’s character, her chapters were filled with loss, pain and technologies that we can only dream of. Her voice is one that I can hear in my life, as though she is a friend.

I found Cat to be a little on the annoying side, she was too eagre to please everyone else, she wanted people to like her, and in the end, that is what she criticises others for doing. Yes, I recognise that she was incredibly wronged and it is disgusting what happened to her, but she feels hypocritical. In the beginning, it was as though she wasn’t her own person, as though she would rather be the person that people expected her to be, than be herself for the fear that people wouldn’t like her. Which is sad in itself.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was reading, with this book. I couldn’t pick the path of where it was going. It did dawn on me that this book could be read as a precautionary tale about the dangers of the internet. As our lives are getting broadcasted more and more onto the internet, we are sharing more about our lives, our homes, our friends and family, the more ammunition we give people to tear us down. This book can be seen as a warning, most of what these women went through was a direct response from their lives in the public eye, having thousands and millions of followers on their social media accounts, for Cat it resulted in horrific physical damage to not only herself, but her family and home. I am not, by any means saying ‘stay off socials’, or ‘the internet is bad’, what I’m saying is, that you could read this book as a warning, that sometimes giving too much of yourself to your followers can result in losing yourself.

I also think that Cat is a creation of her generation. She was encouraged to believe that the more followers she had, the more likes and retweets or re-blogs she received, the more popular she was. The more important she was. Her whole selfworth was created by having millions of people think that she was special.

I wish that there was more about Heartstream, the app, in this book. It sounds like an incredible piece of technology, creepy, but incredible. The ability to share your feelings with others, not though telling them, but showing them. Allowing them to feel exactly as you are feeling in any given moment. I think there was room for more information on the topic. I would have loved some backstory maybe?

The way that these two women are connected is mind blowing, I have seen this situation play out in different ways before, but I didn’t see it coming in this book (No spoilers, don’t panic). From the beginning, it was obvious to me that they were going to be connected in some way, I guess it was poetic in the end.

Tom Pollock has created a dark and twisty novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Your head will twist in circles trying to work out the connections, what is important and what is put there to make you think you’re on the right track, but you aren’t. The pacing in this book is fantastic, it reads as the characters think, Cat’s chapters read erratically, they speed up to a pace that you can imagine her thoughts are travelling at. Whereas Amy’s chapters start out slow, her sadness saturating the flow of her thoughts and actions, then they increase as her situation escalates.

A great read, if you are looking for something to make you think. I did have a sense of unsatisfaction when I finished though. The ending felt a little open ended, wahich I can understand considering the intensity of the novel, but I wish there was a little more closure.

This title is intense from the first page and will keep you guessing until the very end.

Thanks for reading.

Julie.

Reviews & Ramblings

Review & Ramblings: The Astrid Notes by Taryn Bashford

Firstly, I want to say thank you to MacMillan Australia, for sending me a review copy of this title and inviting me to be a part of a release tour. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this title and am greatful for the opportunity!

This review is a little spoilery, if you haven’t read The Astrid Notes yet I reccommend popping over to my spoiler free, GoodReads review HERE.

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The Astrid Notes by Taryn Bashfordd

4/5 Stars

Published  July 23rd 2019 by Pan Australia

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Initially, I am blown away by the cover, it immediately draws you in, it is inviting yet full of mystery and intensity.

From the first page, you are thrown into the thick of it. I am enjoying the pacing and the way that Bashford is giving us all of the information we need, without dumping it all. I definitely fee, as though I am in the hotel room with the band.

Is it okay to be crying for characters you have only just met. Page 5, I am looking at you. What an abrupt, shocking thing, I feel for Jacob, this is going to have a lasting impression and I only hope he makes it through.

I am loving that this book is set in Australia. I knew that the author Taryn Bashford, was Australian, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting the book to be set in Australia too. It was an awesome surprise! I am loving all of the amazing Aussie titles being released lately!

I can’t help but to feel sorry for Astrid. All she wants is answers about her mum and to be seen as her own person. To be able to step out from behind her mothers shadow, for her dad to see her as Astrid, not Veronika. I can’t imagine what that must be like, but I’d say it would be exhausting, pretending to love something for the benefit of someone else.

Astrid gave up everything so that her father could teach her to sing. She is home-schooled, has no friends and no desire to sing opera anymore. I truly hope that she gets her truth and can finally break free of her cage.

I am loving the almost lyrical way that this book is written, it flows from one scene to the next with such fluidity. The characters interact so genuinely, they feel like people you know, not characters in a book. That human quality is what makes this book so much more amazing.

Astrid and Jacob complement each other so perfectly. Not just in their lives, both having experienced tremendous loss, but also in their home lives and musical aspirations. There is a gorgeous symmetry to their differences.

Musically I can only imagine the perfection that they would sound like together, I wish there were recordings I could listen to as I read, but my imagination is doing a pretty good job so far.

The writing style in this book is incredible. It has a way of captivating you, making you emotionally invest in it’s characters, it takes hold and refuses to let go.

I am hoping for a happy ending for them both, I don’t think either one can take another loss or heartbreak, each is sitting on the edge of their breaking point.

What a life changing revelation. Poor Astrid’s life is about to turn upside down. Everything that she thought she knew is wrong. Her father has been lying to her, her entire life, letting her believe that she killed her mother. I don’t know how Astrid is going to come back from this one.

I  admire the strength that Jacob gives to Astrid. Astrid is already so full of courage and honesty, but she lacks the bravery to speak up, this is where Jacob influences her, gives her the courage that she needs to be able to voice her opinion, worries and desires.

 

The Astrid Notes is a book that comes along every so often, a book that takes you by the hand and makes its way into your heart. It pairs beautifully broken characters with a writing style that will have you head over heels in an instant. Bashford has created a setting, so perfectly matched for these characters, it is so easy for the reader to be transported into the world of opera singing, training, short drives to the beach and studio-come-apartments.

Bashford writes with such honesty, her characters feel real and sincere. As though they have lain their truths bare on the page for us to feel with them. This title focuses on so many issues, some more common, other not, but there will be something in here that each and every reader can relate to.

 

Have you read The Astrid Notes? Thoughts?

Sincerely,

Julie

Reviews & Ramblings

Review & Ramblings: I am Change by Suzy Zail

Firstly, I want to say a HUGE Thank-You to Walker Books for sending me a review copy of this fantastic title. As soon as I saw it in the catalogue of titles to be released, I knew I needed to read it.  I knew it was going to be important, not only for cultural awareness, but also for women, for girls to realise just how important and special they really are. I wasn’t let down. I so, so appreciate the opportunity to spread awareness for this novel. I want to shout it from the rooftops, if you haven’t read this book, you need to.

This review only contains one spoiler, about a graphic scene towards the end of the book, if you don’t want to be spoiled, may I suggest clicking HERE to read my spoiler free review on GoodReads.

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Photo taken by @bookish.intoxication

I Am Change by Suzy Zail

5/5 Stars

Published August 1st 2019 by Black Dog

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From the minute you open the cover of this book, you will be hooked, mesmerised by the sheer different world that Lilian and her family live in. Zail has written a masterpiece, inspired by women who have lived through similar situations and have found their own voices to share their stories with the world.

Suzy Zail is a master story teller, one that will have you so entranced in this tale of change that you won’t know what day or time it is, when you finish reading. Zail has a way of writing with such honesty and sincerity, that you believe every word Lilian says or writes, that you feel her emotion leaping from the page, that you live through her horrors with her. The pacing is perfect throughout the title, it flows with the soft cadence of a stream, it allows you to indulge in the lilt of the language used and fully process it as you read.

I Am Change, is the book that we needed, the book we knew we needed, but weren’t really sure when it was going to come. It is passionate, honest, raw and gritty. It will make you cry and make you laugh, make you sigh and shout in frustration. It is a conversation starter, it will make you want to talk about women’s rights, about the things that women in Western worlds take for granted and what you can do to help those who don’t have the opportunity or chances to make a better life for themselves.

I can’t imagine the pain that Lilian must suffer through for the sake of her mothers’ traditional beliefs. I don’t want to go into too much detail, as the scene itself is heart-wrenchingly graphic. But In Lilian’s mother’s clan, the Sabiny, it is common practice, for the girls to be ‘cut’ when they reach a certain age. The cutting isn’t the labia, as most people are aware of, but of the clitoris. What makes this procedure so much more horrific is that most girls have no idea what is about to happen to them or why, just that it is something that they are expected to live through silently. For Lilian, it was worse again, because she knew about the process, about that part of her and she knew that she should have had a choice. That it was her body and she should have been able to have some say over it. It shows us that we are incredibly lucky to live the way that we do, with choice over our bodies and the right to say no.

“It was only the kintir. It is a stubborn thing and only gets you in trouble. It is my job to tame you” p277

But all through the pain and the psychological anguish, Lillian kept bargaining for her right to go to school. She knew it was the only way that she would ever get out of this place, away from the traditions, to stop the next generation of girls from going through what she, herself, went through.

I am so proud of Lillian for standing up for herself, especially in a culture where women are expected to do whatever their husband, father, brother, or any other male, says. She wasn’t ready to lose her virginity, to lose all of her freedom, to lose her voice, and she spoke up, unafraid of what it would cost her, because she knew, the knew that she was worth more than that.

“It was her body and she;d decide what to do with it” p292

 

I am Change, has me experiencing all the feminist feels, in a way that I didn’t expect. It really drives home the importance of girls and young women being educated about their bodies, how they work and why they change. About their self worth, about why it is so important to speak up if you are uncomfortable. This book is going to start so many conversations that need to be started, that needed to be started years ago.

It is one heart break after another, to be a girl, growing up in Uganda. You can’t love a boy, because love leads to kissing and kissing alone can give you a bad reputation so you aren’t worth much when you are sold for marriage. You can’t get a full education after the age of 16 because then you are too old to be worth much, when you are sold to be married. Are you picking up a common theme here? I am devastated for Lillian, again she is being ripped away from the one thing that is giving her purpose, that makes her soul sing. I am so angry that this is how girls are treated, yes I am aware that this is a work of fiction, but this fiction is inspired by real tales from girls growing up in this way. I wish those souls hadn’t had to suffer.

With each chapter, I am prouder of Lilian, she is sparking so much change in the women around her, just by being herself, by sharing her dreams of having a better life, of women being equal to men. I knew something had sparked in Amara, something that would come to help Lilian in some way, and it has. Women helping, inspiring and saving other women is something that we don’t see enough of, in todays society, we are all about being better than, having more followers than, being more popular than, and it is horrible. Ladies, build each other up, not tear each other down!

 

I Am Change is such a thought provoking and eye-opening book. One that will have you on the edge of your seat, laughing and crying along side these amazingly multi-faceted characters. I think what makes this book so much more relatable, shocking and intense, is that Zail, as she mentions in her Author Notes and Acknowledgements, travelled to Uganda and met thirty girls all living a life like Lilian. Zail, went to their villages, their homes, their schools, experienced the lives that they lived. Saw what it was like to be a woman, living like a second-rate citizen, because men are valued more than women. The fact that this author felt like she needed to do something for these women, to get their stories out there, is inspiring.

I think at the heart of this book, the message is that women hold more value than we realise. That we are so used to competing with each other, to trying to be what magazines tell us we should be, to pleasing and being what men want us to be, that we forget, we are people too. People who deserve to have rights, to be seen, to have an education and to have dreams. I think this book is going to unite people, to spark conversations and to be the change that women around the world need.

This is an amazing read, if you get the opportunity to read it, you definitely need to pick it up.

P.S.

If you are inspired, like I am after reading this book and want to do something, follow the links below for more information. Any tiny donation can make a world of difference.

Help Girls Learn: Uganda:  https://www.mycause.com.au/page/106767/help-girls-learn-uganda

One Girl: https://donate.onegirl.org.au/Donate/MakeADonation

Girl Child Network: http://gcnuganda.org.

 

Thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

Julie

 

Reviews & Ramblings

Review & Ramblings: The Runaways by Ulf Stark

I requested this book from the amazing team at Walker books, because it sounded heart-warming and emotionally charged. I have been loving middle-grade fiction lately. I love the way that it broaches tough and controversial subjects with a gentleness that younger readers can appreciate, to be able to understand and process. I am also enjoying the change from the hustle and bustle of Young Adult (YA) fiction. Although, I do sense this book has an underlying sadness, we don’t yet know why Grandpa is in hospital, I sense some tears in my future.

As always, here is your disclaimer, this review may contain spoilers, if you haven’t read this book and are planning to, please head to my spoiler-free, GoodReads review HERE.

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The Runaways by Ulf Stark. Illustrated by Kitty Crowther

4/5 Stars.

Published  April 2nd 2019 by Gecko Press

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The illustrations are gorgeous, the colours are so emotive, the scenes jump out at you, off the page. I am ready to dive in!

Gottfried Junior, the boy in this story, is a fire cracker! I love his enthusiasm and his devotion to his grandpa, especially his attitude towards his grandpa’s grumpiness. Gottfried Junior believes it makes his grandpa interesting, while everyone else thinks it is horrible.

Gottfried Junior has this whole town wrapped around his little finger! But hit enthusiasm is infectious, so it is no wonder everyone wants to help him. Just a boy, with so much love for his grandpa, it makes you want to join his cause.

Grandpa is hilarious, he reminds me of my pop in so many ways, the sense of humour mostly. He represents the whole group of people born in his era, represents all of the grandpas. He is honest and a little rude, but that is okay when you’re a grandpa. I am sensing some underlying sadness though.

Poor grandpa, he misses his wife. This book is hitting me a little too close to home, having a similar thing happen to my family recently. My heart is breaking as I read about this strong old man, wanting to make a jar of jam last the rest of his life because his late wife made it. When we think of loved ones were lost it is funny the little things that you hold on to.

I am so glad that they made it back to Grandpa’s house. But I hate to think of the trouble that they will be in when they return and when Gottfried’s parents learn of his trickery!

The Runaways, is a short and sweet tale of a boy and his grandpa. It shows the power of love, of belief and the importance of family. It is written in such a light-hearted style that really allows the reader to lose themselves in the innocence of the tale. It is fast paced and touching.

The sad element I was sensing, didn’t really come. It was written gently, how grandma was waiting for Grandpa at their house, it was more of a joyous coming home, rather than a sad death, which I think is so important for young readers to see. It may help them with their own loss or losing of a grandparent.

The Runaways was a fast read, the pacing kept pages flipping through my fingers, but not before I had the chance to admire the stunning illustrations. It is written innocently, in such a way that people from all ages will appreciate it.

 

Do you like Middle-Grade fiction? If so, tell me your favourite MG read in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Julie.

 

 

Reviews & Ramblings

Review & Ramblings: Ursa by Tina Shaw

Firstly, I want to say thank-you to Walker Books Australia, for sending me a review copy, in exchange for an honest review. I truly appreciate the opportunity!

As always, here is your disclaimer that this review may contain spoilers, If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend avoiding the spoilers by reading my spoiler-free review on GoodReads HERE.

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Ursa – Tina Shaw

Published April 1st 2019 by Walker Books Australia

3-Stars

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This book is slow to start, I’m about 60 pages in and finding the language to be quite stiff and the pacing, on the slow side. That being said, I am interested to see what happens and where the story Is heading. It does feel familiar, typical dystopian, ‘us’ being ruled by ‘them’, but I’m sensing a twist may be starting to take place.

Noting much is happening. You can tell that there is going to be some kind of a revolt and that Jorzy, is going to be involved somehow, but I wish it would speed up a little bit.                     I’m assuming the friendship with Emee, is going to have an important part to play at some point? I am intrigued and will definitely keep reading, but it really feels like something is missing, like something isn’t quite gelling together.

I feel like we need to know more about Leho’s mum. That would be an interesting story! Why is she so hates? Why are the people she talks to suddenly assaulted brutally in the street? What did she plan that was so bad, she got blinded then locked herself away? I need answers!

Woah, hang on, on top of being starving, living in ghettos and treated as a lesser people (hello Holocaust connotations), there is also a rape. I was not prepared for there to be rape and quite frankly it doesn’t really fit with the story. I understand it is there to show the brutality of the Travestors, to show how the Cerels are the lesser people and that they can be treated as though they aren’t people. But I also feel it was pointless in this case. I don’t think it needed to be Leho’s sister, it could have been a rumour, heard by the kids, not someone so close to Leho, unless there is a plot line for it. I just hope it wasn’t rape, for the sake of rape, it didn’t really have a big ‘wow’ or shock-factor, so I am interested to see where this line goes.

I have under 100 pages left and still, very little has happened. This is going to be one of those books, where everything happens in the last 50 pages, and although I am looking forward to the action finally happening, I am also tired of nothing happening.

I think it was way too easy for Leho to get a job, working in the directors’ garden. Firstly, he lied to get the job, there were no checks, people just accepted that he was there and who he said he was. It felt too easy, too convenient.

I am slowly losing patience with this book. I am eagre to lean what Leho will do, how far he will go to impress his brother, or will he choose to try to save his family. I just hope, whatever he does, he does it soon.

I think I have just hit the turning point. Emee’s world is starting to turn. Of course, the Travestors had no idea that Cerel men were being forced against their will, into work camps. I wonder what Emee does with this new information, or if she will ignore it.

It is hard not to compare this book to the Holocaust. The Cerels are the ‘lesser’ peoples, forced to live in ghettos, not having access to enough food, or any health care. They are excluded from entering certain shops, with signs plastered to walls telling them where they can and can’t shop. The Black Masks, showing such random brutality towards any Cerel on the street and the most similar is the removal of all men and their placement into work camps. I’m not sure if it was the intent of the author for the similarities, but I can’t un-notice them.

Okay, allow me to get back on the Marina and her rape, rant train. As I mentioned above, I completely understand the reason that Shaw wrote in a rape, the brutality of the Black Masks, had to be shown to be completely brutal and horrific, but there was no real plot for this horror. As it happened to a pretty significant character, I expected there to be something more. We know that Cerels are banned from having children, which leads to Marina having to leave to hide her pregnancy, but that is all we got, following up the horror. I am crabby about the use of rape when it didn’t add to the story line and it didn’t have any follow ups. I think it could have been hinted at in different ways.

All of the action took place within the last 20 pages. Yet, I still am questioning Leho’s motives. It really feels like he just wanted to impress his brother, not make a change to the horrific world that he lives in.                                                                                                              This book was written well, in a style that kept the pages turning. It was interesting to see this world, two classes of people, one of poverty and one of privilege.  Can’t help but draw similarities to the Holocaust, to the horror that people had to face. Yes, Ursa is a horrific place to live if you are a Cerel, but it feels a little like something was missing, like we weren’t given enough information.

The book finishes on a revolution and a funeral, yet nothing is truly resolved, and I don’t think there is another book coming. It all feels rather pointless.  Leho’s character felt very naïve, I realise that he is quite young, but he has to live through such horrors and to literally fight to put food on the table. But he throws good things away to impress his brother, not because he, himself wants change.

This was a 3-star read for me. It had its moments of wonderful writing and snippets of information that really lifted the plot, but I just think that there were too many things missing for it to be truly enjoyable. I think we needed more back story, more information on the Government and on Leho’s parents. If there had been more information provided, instead of following Leho around the countryside (for most of the book), I think it would have taken this book to another level. A good read, just something was missing for me.

 

If you are still here, thanks’ for sticking around!

Have you read Ursa? What did you think?

 

Julie.