adult fiction · contemporary · review

Fever Dream – Samanta Schweblin

“But it’s true, right? That I’m going to die.”

 

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Blurb: “A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family.

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

I first heard about Fever Dream because author and booktuber Jen Campbell mentioned it in one of her videos and even read out one of her favourite passages. Then I was sent the book myself and while it is a type of story I don’t normally read, I tried to remain open-minded as I want to push myself to read new, exciting things.

Fever Dream follows a woman named Amanda who is dying in a hospital and the boy called David sitting at her bedside is not her son. In fact he is a stranger she only met a few days ago. Through a creepy narrative, the reader learns about David’s mother who became terrified of her own son, Amanda’s “rescue distance” with her daughter and just how Amanda ended up in the hospital in the first place.

From the outset something feels off. As I progressed through the story I was hit more and more with this feeling of tension and unease. I had an increasing number of unanswered questions but I found it remarkable how the writer created that initial feeling of unfamiliarity and was able to keep that going throughout the story. I found myself waiting for the horrible moment when the pieces would fit into place and I’d have to look at the dark picture reflected in the puzzle. I felt very much like the character of Amanda who is in a state of delirium and doesn’t really know where she is or what’s happening, except that David is there.

The format is the use of italics of David’s interruptions and comments but for the most part it reads like a stream of consciousness.

I took a leap of faith with this book and didn’t enjoy it and it’s strange because I can’t place my finger on exactly what it is. I think I just expected more than I was given but that doesn’t discredit the craft and work in this story which I can very much appreciate.

Fever Dream is unsettling and dark with a well-written protagonist and bound to be a good read for those that enjoy stories where all is not what it seems.

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fairytale retelling · review · young adult

Golden – K.M.Robinson

“Betrayal is always bad, but betrayal by someone close is so much worse.”

 

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Blurb: “The stories say that Goldilocks was a naïve girl who wandered into a house one day. Those stories were wrong. She was never naïve. It was all a perfectly executed plan to get her into the Baers’ group to destroy them.
Trained by her cousin, Lowell, and handler, Shadoe, Auluria’s mission is to destroy the Baers by getting close to the youngest brother, Dov, his brother and sister-in-law and the leaders of the Baers’ group. When she realizes Dov isn’t as evil as her cousin led her to believe, she must figure out how to play both sides or her deception will cause everyone in her world to burn.”

This is an extra special blog post this week as the book in question, Golden, has been written by a dear, dear friend of mine. (Though I feel obligated to add that this doesn’t change my review)

The story is a goldilocks retelling and follows a girl called Auluria who wakes up in the home of the Baer family with no memory of how she got there. Thanks to help of Dov, she slowly starts to fill in the gaps. She was running from someone but she still can’t remember who. As her memories continue to surface she remembers her purpose of being in this house: to make Dov Baer fall in love with her, then destroy his family.

I am an absolute sucker for political elements of books, especially in a medieval/fairytale sort of setting and Golden really delivers that. On one side you have the government ruling with an iron fist and on the other you have The Society with the Baer family in the middle. All these aspects were explained so well and alongside with the world building there was the perfect framework for a story. It didn’t fall into “info dump” territory and instead felt like the process of learning and discovering this world was authentic.

Auluria proves to be a great but equally frustrating character at times as she doesn’t feel she should just sick back in a safe space when she’s more than capable of going out and fighting.

I only have a few issues and the main one is pace: it feels like Auluria’s memory returns too quickly and it would have been nice to spend more time with Auluria exploring her surroundings and forming an even more natural relationship with Dov; the love itself once her memory comes back feels too rushed as well. This is the first book in a trilogy and it felt like it was trying to get enough groundwork in that we can speed into the next one.

But that didn’t take away from my enjoyment. I find the complexities of this world so fascinating and can only wait with bated breath until I can get my hands on the next one.

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children's fiction · review

The Midnight Gang – David Walliams

“Midnight is the time when all the children are fast asleep, expect of course for… the Midnight Gang! That is the time when their adventures are just beginning.”

 

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Blurb: “When Tom gets hit on the head by a cricket ball, he finds himself at Lord Funt Hospital, and is greeted by a terrifying-looking porter. Things go from bad to worse when he meets the wicked matron in charge of the children’s ward… But Tom is about to embark on the most thrilling journey of a lifetime!”

David Walliams’ success when it comes to writing children’s books only seems to be getting bigger and bigger. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s topped the charts and made himself quite comfortable there, and during my brief period working at a book store, I saw first-hand just how well loved he is by the intended audience for his books. I had many children tell me that he’s their favourite and they love his books, along with many parents telling me he’s gotten their recent children into reading. On top of that, he’s often referred to as the “new Roald Dahl.” Though I hate these kinds of comparisons being used, it’s very easy once delving into his writing to see why those comparisons have been made.

The Midnight Gang follows a boy called Tom who is admitted to the Lord Funt hospital with a nasty lump on his head. He is placed on the children’s ward – looked after by a horrible child-hating matron- where he meets Robin who is recovering from an eye operation, Amber who has broken both arms and legs, George who’s had his tonsils taken out and Sally who is so ill she’s lost her hair and sleeps a lot. When night falls and midnight rolls around,  Tom catches the children leaving the ward and follows them which leads him to discover The Midnight Gang which was created by the first child who ever stayed at the hospital and has been passed down through every child patient. The aim of The Midnight Gang is simple: make every child’s dream come true.

At its core, The Midnight Gang is a fun, heart-warming tale of friendship and the power of simple good deeds. The humour accompanied by Tony Ross’ illustrations created hilarious scenes and witty moments for those readers who are a bit older.

By far my favourite character is the Porter who, at first glance, appears to be an adversary to the children and quite scary with his unconventional looks but once the pages start being peeled away the reader will be able to see just how much this character cares for the patients of the hospital. The porter is a fantastic testament to why you should do your best to never judge someone by how they look because you may be missing out on someone pretty great.

The Midnight Gang is a wonderful story that, despite being 478 pages long, feels as if it’s over far too soon.

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review · young adult

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

“You be as angry as you need to be,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not your Grandma, not your Dad, no one. And if you need to break things, then by God, you break them good and hard.”

 

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Blurb: “The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.”

A Monster Calls is an original idea from author Siobhan Dowd who sadly died before she got the chance to write it. Leaving behind some of the framework and a beginning, Patrick Ness took the project on board as a tribute to her, adding his own flare in the process. Accompanied by illustrations from Jim Kay (illustrator for the illustrated Harry Potter editions) any reader who picks up this book is in for an emotional rollercoaster.

The story follows a thirteen-year-old boy called Conor who is struggling to cope with his mother’s illness. One night, a monster shows up at his house and says that he will tell Conor three stories and, once he is finished, Conor must reveal a story of truth in return.

At its core, this is a story about grief, sorrow and denial. Conor floats through the story, isolated from his peers at school and having to endure constant sympathy from his teachers, all while having to deal with one fundamental fact that he can’t admit to himself: his mother isn’t getting better.

The contents of this novel will resonate with anyone who’s experienced losing a loved one and while some of the writing can feel simplistic at times given the subject matter, it really does pack a punch and the addition of the illustration feels like someone has reached into your chest and began twisting your heart. It’s impossible not to sympathise with, and understand, Conor’s intentions and his actions, especially when the only friend he has to turn to is a monster disguised as a tree in his garden.

A Monster Calls is a fundamentally heart-breaking, tender and complex book and by gosh it’s one you should read.

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contemporary · review · romance · young adult

Optimists Die First -Susin Nielsen

“Optimists believe things will always work out for the best. Optimists live in a rainbow-coloured, sugar-coated land of denial. Optimists miss warning signs.”

 

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Petula de Wilde is anything but wild. A former crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula shut herself off from the world after a family tragedy. She sees danger in all the ordinary things, like crossing the street, a bug bite, or a germy handshake. She knows: life is out to get you.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Optimists Die First centres on Petula who is struggling to cope with family tension and the death of her younger sister; of which she feels personally responsible for. Petula is terrified of doing anything that may result in a negative outcome, mainly death, and keeps a scrapbook of freak accidents to prove her point. She suffers from panic attacks, attends counselling, and a weekly Youth Art Class with other teens needing support.

Through this class she meets a variety of people, each with their own struggles, one of which is a new boy called Jacob who lost his arm in a car accident. Jacob and Petula are paired together to work on a class assignment in which they have to adapt a scene from Wuthering Heights into another format.  As is to be expected, they bond over their time together and learn about each other and what problems they’re trying to work through and they become quite close.

Oddly enough, it’s rare that I read books where the actual protagonist really sticks with me after finishing but Petula really surprised me. I’m not a big fan of YA contemporary as they always steer to romance (and this had its fair share) but Petula felt so real. The reasons for how she was, while unhealthy, felt justified given her backstory and the book being from her perspective really helped gain an understanding of trying to fit in and learn to live, even within the tight restrictions she’d placed on herself. Several times I found myself wanting nothing more than to climb into the book and give her a hug. As her relationship with Jacob develops she starts to take more risks, doing some things even though she’s analysed the dangerous outcomes several times and then there comes a point when she doesn’t even think about them anymore. And if that isn’t a beautiful progression of a character then I don’t know what is!

Another seemingly minor aspect I really enjoyed was the mention of birth control. When it comes to that stage of a relationship, especially in a novel about teenagers, I don’t think birth control is mentioned that much so it was wonderful to have a character like Petula who, not only decides to go on birth control but actually involves a parent in her decision. There’s even a segment where Petula recalls going to the doctors and getting the implant.

The Youth Art Class teens starting to talk to each other and spend time together reminded me of The Breakfast Club gang and it was just really nice to see these characters start to open up a little to each other.

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