Worthy Thoughts

Books, reading, life & other worthy thoughts

Author: AJ Betts

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

I am not quite sure why I decided to buy this book.  I liked Zac & Mia (AJ Betts most well-known novel), but it isn’t one of my favourite books, so I didn’t buy this book because I loved Zac & Mia.  I think I bought it because I had just come off from reading In The Dark Spaces by Cally Black and How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (who are actually the same person but that’s another blog post!) and I was drawn in by the idea of bees (through the cover) and a new world.

It took me quite some time to get my head around AJ Bett’s strange world in Hive. I often found myself re-reading sections because I thought I had missed a critical piece of information. I struggled to understand the world that AJ Betts had created, but I am happy that I kept reading because, by the last third of the book I couldn’t put it down, I was completely and utterly immersed in this unique world.

AJ Betts builds up this world, slowly and almost hypnotically. Her writing is mesmerising and you find yourself drawn into this strange, distinctive and closed world. I have read a lot of dystopian novels over the years, but this world is utterly original.

The protagonist of the book is a beekeeper named Hayley. At first, it would appear that Hayley is quite content in her small, inflexible and strict world. An underwater world ruled over by a mysterious, indistinct council.

I am not sure whether it is because I am watching The Handmaid’s Tale, but I felt myself making many comparisons. The world is much kinder in Hive – there are no sanctioned hangings or chopping off limbs for disobeying, but there is still this sense of foreboding in the world because everything is controlled by the “council”. Three hundred people live in this constructed hexagonal world. The world is set underwater, so day and night is created with phased artificial light. Zero population growth is carefully maintained and because there are so few citizens, this is a process that is methodically followed to safeguard genetic integrity. Within the world there is a shared sense of community and purpose – everybody does what is expected of them in their job and station. No one questions the council or the way the world operates. It feels very cult-like. There is no spontaneity in the world. Every day, every hour, every second is meticulously planned. This world doesn’t like surprises. Knowledge is confined and the citizens are given a limited vocabulary. The citizens cannot read or write. Books are non-existent for the citizens because as the judge’s son says, “Books never forgot.”

I love how AJ Betts subtly allows you to feel the cult-like world that Hayley lives in.

“Solitude wasn’t a sin, but to desire it was a cause for suspicion. It could be a symptom of sickness or melancholy – or worse, madness. Solitude was frowned upon and not to be trusted.”

Hayley enjoys her role as a beekeeper and it would appear that she is quite happy with her life, but she suffers from “head pains” (migraines).  In the world that Hayley lives head pains are seen as a sign of madness and Hayley has seen what happens to those who are deemed “mad”. Hayley finds that the one place that she seems to have relief from the head pains is the engineering room, so she breaks the rules and finds herself seeking solace in the engineering rooms on a regular basis.

During one such visit, Hayley finds a drip in the ceiling and it this drip in the ceiling and her interaction with the judge’s son that makes Hayley start to question everything she knows about her world. Hayley’s questioning takes her into a dangerous place because being inquisitive is not acceptable. The council likes their citizens ignorant and docile. The more Hayley questions her world and the council the further removed she is from her safe and predictable world. Hayley’s head pains lead her to seek relief through different avenues and at times she finds herself seeing the harsh reality of her world. The more Hayley sees, the more Hayley questions. Though Hayley finds all the questions “maddening” and she wishes for a simpler life – like her fellow citizens, but Hayley can no longer go back to living in her simple, ignorant world.

“I inhaled the sweet smoke of paperbark, hoping it would calm me as it calmed the bees. If only I could fall asleep while someone took apart my world, cleaned it up and put it back together in a neater version than before.”

Hive is a cleverly written dystopian novel that will appeal to fans of this genre. Hive, though, is much more than a dystopian read. AJ Betts has carved out an intimate, intriguing world and in this world, she has placed a tenacious protagonist who is questioning everything that she knows. Hive has captured my imagination and I am very much looking forward to reading the second and final volume in the series, next year.

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Author: Lily Anderson

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Undead Girl Gang is a hilarious and quirky novel. As we know, I am susceptible to a great book cover and I am also known not to read a book if I don’t like a cover. I didn’t like the cover of this book.  I know that many fans have swooned over the cover, but I can’t cope with the denim or the enamel pins. Luckily, for me, I received it in hard copy and was able to take the cover off to read it. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to feel about this book but I wanted something light and fun to read and the blurb suggested this may fit the bill and it did.

Lily Anderson has written a well-crafted and unique tale but what I loved most was the characters, particularly the main character Mila Flores. Mila is snarky, sarcastic and witty and I fell in love with her immediately. We meet Mila at her best friend’s funeral. According to the local police, Riley committed suicide. The third suicide in less than a week at Cross Creek. Mila doesn’t believe that Riley would commit suicide and feels there is foul play at large. Mila is at Riley’s funeral and she’s annoyed. She’s annoyed that Riley isn’t there, she’s annoyed that everyone believes that Riley committed suicide and she’s annoyed that Aniyah Dorsey wrote a poem for Riley and that the Fairmont Show Choir is going to perform.

“Your poem fucking sucks,” I growl at her.

I was enjoying Mila’s internal dialogue while at the funeral, but when she utters those words to Aniyah Dorsey I was hooked and so I began chapter two.

Mila is Mexican-American, overweight and Wiccan. Before Riley died, Mila and Riley would dabble in spells and so Mila decides that she needs to bring Riley back from the dead to prove that she didn’t kill herself and was instead murdered.

In bringing back Riley, Mila also unwittingly brings back June and Dayton – the two other girls who had committed suicide. Bringing back June and Dayton wasn’t part of the plan. June and Dayton were popular girls and as such had little to do with Mila and Riley who were seen as Fairmont Academy outcasts.

Suddenly Mila has three undead girls and all the girls have issues that need to be resolved. None of the girls can remember what happened to them leading up to their deaths, but all three are adamant that they didn’t commit suicide and so begins a hilarious chain of events that eventually brings the unravelling of what happened to all three girls.

Though it wasn’t the mystery that kept me reading until the end, it was the characters. I enjoyed getting to know Mila, Riley, Dayton and June. All four girls were smart, sassy and funny. The four girls get to know each other and realise that they actually like each other.

It was the character of Mila that I relished the most.  I enjoyed her snark. She was a character that I would love to see in a television show. Lily Anderson did a great job with her.

“People are assholes,” I say.

He laughs quietly. “That should be your catchphrase.”

Undead Girl Gang is a well-paced page-turner that will make you laugh out loud. Yes, the book does lack suspense but it is much more than a mystery and the snarky, witty narration definitely makes up for any weakness in the plot. A book that is highly quotable and completely relatable – particularly if you find people incredibly annoying. This is a joyful and hilarious book about friendship. So if you like books with quirky, funny, snarky, sarcastic and witty characters that will make you laugh out loud, this book is perfect for you.

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Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Publisher: Freeform Books

I had wanted to read this book for a long time, so I deliberately didn’t learn much about it.  I do know that I loved the cover – beautiful and eye-catching. But as we all know, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!

The Belles is beautifully written, almost to the point where you can visually see the descriptions come off the page. Dhonielle Clayton doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Though personally,  I did love this about the book. Clayton’s words and descriptions are scrumptious. Almost every page has a description exquisite to read.

Glass canisters hold colourful liquids. Golden pins poke out of a pink velvet cushion. Carts hold tiers of pastries frosted in rose-petal pinks and pearly whites and apple reds, flutes overflow with jewel-tone liquids and sugar-dusted strawberries and pomegranates sit in glass bowls. Vases spill over with flowers in a rainbow of colours.

Though, I love the decadent and gorgeous descriptions I am not sure they will be for everyone. I can imagine after awhile that they become tedious for many readers and readers will find themselves skimming over the rich descriptions to get on with the story.

The story revolves around a land called Orleans, where everybody is born ugly – skin is grey and eyes are red. This is the natural state of the citizens of Orleans. And this is where the Belles come into play. It is their role to transform the citizens of Orleans – to keep them beautiful.

Belles are kept in seclusion until their sixteenth birthday when they are delivered to Orleans in a grand ceremony.

Descendants of the Goddess of Beauty, blessed with the arcana to enhance the world and rescue the people of Orleans.

Of course, like everything that is sought after, beauty in Orleans comes at a price – changing one’s appearance is a painful process.  The citizens of Orleans are obsessed and are willing to pay whatever price is needed to keep themselves beautiful and relevant.

Within the book, we have our flawed heroines and we have our villains. The villains in this story are cruel, twisted and dark and have an insatiable appetite to destroy and mock. The villains appear to have no redeeming features and tend to get darker and more ruthless as the book progresses.

I did find the book hard to get into and though I found the writing gorgeous, at times, though,  it did hinder the story. The book does start to get its rhythm about a third of the way through and everything starts to fall into place and you understand where Clayton is going with the story.

The story ends on a cliffhanger and it does leave you wanting more, mainly since the book’s pace develops quite quickly at the end and you are taken on quite a ride.

I do worry that Clayton will alienate a lot of readers with her rather elaborate prose (mainly male readers). I find that most males will read a book with strong female characters, but I am not entirely sure that male readers will persevere with this story. I found the cover quite beautiful and it drew me in but will it alienate male readers? Clayton wrote this book after eavesdropping on a conversation that a group of males were having, so isn’t part of the point of this book to make men understand those unrealistic standards of beauty are destructive and dangerous? How can this be achieved if men do not read this story? I don’t like to stereotype men but working in an all boys school tells me that this book will be a hard sell to young male readers.

 

 

Author: Susan Nielsen

Publisher: Andersen Press

Well, when you consider yourself a cynic and your boyfriend gives you a book called Optimists Die First you are hooked without even reading the title or the blurb. I didn’t read the blurb at all; I just started reading. I enjoyed this book. I wouldn’t say that it is the best- written book that I have read, but it is an enjoyable read with great characters.

The main character Petula is eccentric, likeable and funny. Petula is still reeling from the death of her little sister, Maxine. Sixteen old Petula blames herself for her sister’s death and as a result now realises that freak accidents can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Petula now lives her life on high-alert and is always fearful of bad things happening and as a result, she has developed a wide range of fears (though, to be perfectly honest I thought some of her worries were quite rational).

Petula even has a list of lessons that she learnt from her sister’s death.

Life is not fair. Tragedy can strike when you least expect it. Always expect the worst. That way, you might stand a chance of protecting yourself and the ones you love.

You would think from that list that this was going to a book with no light or humour but even when Petula is at her most cynical Nielsen writes her with warmth and humour. I also think that if you are an introvert, you will be drawn to Petula and her eccentric ways. Who hasn’t felt this way (as an introvert) when the teacher announces that the assignment will be completed in pairs.

My skin felt clammy. My heart started pounding. Pairs were for the socially adept. I would have to talk to Mr Watley. Get an exemption, for medical reasons. He could write me a note. No longer plays well with others.

It is the characters that make this book. Susin Nielsen writes flawed, loveable characters very well. Petula is forced to attend a group art-therapy course for emotionally, disturbed teens and this is where we are introduced to a supporting cast of characters. What I love the most about this book (at the beginning) is that the kids who attend group therapy aren’t being helped by therapy. They are resentful and are raging against the system. Of course, it the friendships that they form that helps them to heal.

In the beginning, the group show a lot of anger and disinterest towards each other, then enters Jacob. Jacob is charismatic and optimistic and he somehow manages to draw this group of misfits together and make them a group of friends. Jacob takes a particular interest in Petula and he becomes determined to make her live life because he feels that she has stopped living.

There are a lot of heavy themes in this book – death of a child, drink-driving, car accidents, drug use and alcoholism but despite these heavy themes, the book remains light-hearted with a cast of endearing characters.

Another aspect of the book that I loved was all the pop culture references. There are lots of book, movie and music references.  Nielsen weaves these references into the story in quite a simple and easy way.

Good God. ‘Harriet the Spy is only the best kids’ book ever written. Louise Fitzhugh gave the world a whole new type of female protagonist. One that was feisty and opinionated and sometimes quite mean.’

Even though I do feel that the book is quite averagely written. I was drawn to Petula. I saw a lot of myself in Petula and this is why I liked the book because I was so connected to the character of Petula.

‘Loads of reasons. For one thing, he doesn’t read. This speaks of poor moral fibre and probably poor intellect.’

Optimists Die First is heart-warming, empathetic and often hilarious – a delightful read.

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Author: Sarah Epstein

Publisher: Walker Books

As a ten-year-old child, Tash Carmody witnessed the kidnapping of six-year-old Mallory Fisher or did she? When Tash tells the police and her family that she believes Mallory was taken by Sparrow – her imaginary friend, she loses all credibility but is Sparrow imaginary or real?

Sarah Epstein does a brilliant job of having the reader wondering if Sparrow is real or a figment of Tash’s imagination throughout the whole book.

Tash is slowly getting on with her life after years of therapy. She is learning to control the panic attacks and her fear of small spaces, but just as Tash feels that she has a grip on life, the Fisher family arrive back in town with a traumatised and mute Mallory who remembers little of her kidnapping. Tash’s world becomes consumed again by her imaginary friend Sparrow. But once again is he real or a figment of her imagination? Is Sparrow a manifestation of her childhood fears or is he an actual person capable of despicable acts? Will Tash figure it out or will she lose her grip on reality?

It wasn’t the mystery that I felt was compelling about this book but the sub-stories within the book. Obviously, Tash has gone through something traumatic, but instead, she is accused of attention seeking – by her parents and her therapist.

Tash is given a cookie cutter diagnosis by her therapist and throughout the following years the therapist continues to fail Tash and understand what happened to her or what Tash actually needs to recover and move on with her life. Her parents brush her off because they are busy with a newborn and they assume she is acting out for attention and her relationship with her parents is never the same over the years. It is probably this part of the book that I found the most distressing. At times it feels like Tash’s parents don’t even like her, let alone trust or believe in her.

Small Spaces is a good read. I do think the mystery reveal falls a little flat and most readers will come to realise what is happening far before the actual reveal (mainly if they are paying attention) in the book. Though despite these shortcomings Small Spaces is an interesting and compelling read.

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Found

Author: Fleur Ferris

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Fleur Ferris fans will love this book because it has all of Ferris’ signature elements – tense, exciting, thrilling.

It is difficult to combine an action-packed book and to develop characters, but Ferris has done an admirable job of both, Yes, there is more action and drama than character development, but you still care for the main character Beth and her family & friends.

The story follows seventeen-year-old Beth, whose most significant problem is telling her parents she has been seeing local boy, Jonah, for the past few weeks. Beth’s parents are strict and her parents have a stringent set of rules in place that she must follow. Before Beth gets a chance to tell her parents about Jonah something happens which turns her world upside down and throws her life into confusion. Beth has lived an idyllic life with her parents and suddenly she learns that her parents have been keeping secrets from her and it those secrets that have Beth and her parents fighting for their lives.

Beth is a strong character – she’s smart, tough, funny and athletic. She goes through a gamut of emotions in this book. Beth’s roller-coaster of emotions is authentic and that’s what makes Beth feel so real. Her emotions are raw and it is hard not to feel for her when she is wrestling with these feelings.

Beth’s parents are great characters and Ferris does a great job of warming you to these two characters early in the novel. Not once did my support for her mum and dad waver.

I loved Beth’s dad, affectionately known as Bear. He’s a six-foot-four muscled shaved-head giant. Bear runs the local karate school and gun clubs. He often takes the local kids out bush for survival skills camps and all the young guys in town want to be him and are terrified of him.

The supporting characters add to the book and they also give that sense of community to the book. A small town that looks out for each other. If you could bottle that community spirit and protectiveness you’d be a millionaire and Ferris makes you as a reader understand this sense of community through her book.

Yes, the book is an action-packed thriller but it also has moments of great humour – mainly through Jonah and Beth’s interaction with the supporting characters. It is also a book about the richness of small town living and it is this that makes the book unique and not just another action-packed thriller.

Author: Dana Mele

Publisher: Putnam

People Like Us is one of those books that checks all the boxes.

Great cover ♥

Intriguing blurb ♥

Setting (private boarding school) ♥

So it was with great excitement I began reading this book, I was keen to immerse myself in the world of prep school drama, but this is a book that is lacking.  Don’t get me wrong it isn’t a bad book but nor is it a great book. It is an easy read, but I don’t think there was any time that I felt shocked or surprised. It is one of those books that you kind of see all the twists and turns coming. It is hard to give a proper review without giving away what happens in the book, but suffice to say that the book is predictable rather than unpredictable.

Yes, there is murder, backstabbing, revenge, alcohol and sex but somehow it is all a little contrived and a bit too polished. There is nothing authentic in this book. Mele does create a cast of razor-sharp and intelligent students and I do believe she handled the fluid sexuality of the characters well, but when I finished the book, I immediately forgot about the characters and didn’t think of them again. The characters are a little too ‘Gossip Girl’ and nothing is surprising, unusual or distinctive about any of them. You don’t feel drawn to any of the characters.

Though, maybe it is just me. Looking at the ‘Goodreads’ reviews, this was a popular and well-liked book. Personally, I like my books to be more raw and gripping rather than predictable and sophisticated. And that was another thing there was no humour. Yes, I know it is meant to be a creepy, disconcerting thriller but still all books need humour. There needs to be light and shade to balance out the dark and dense, but this book lacked the nuances needed to make it moving or gut-wrenching.

For me, this book lacked the creepiness that was needed to make it a genuine thriller. Not once was I on the edge of my seat with anticipation of what was to come next. I wanted edgy brilliance and instead, I was given a good but not excellent prep school drama.

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