Our Chemical Hearts

Henry – at 17 has never had a real girlfriend. Lola – had a fling with Henry, but then moved on to a relationship with Georgie. Murray – comical crazy over-the-top Aussie friend is thrown into the mix. (Maybe he’s a good drawcard for Australian YA readers?)

Then, the elusive Grace turns up in their senior years of high school. Lola thinks Grace is competition for Henry. Muz (Murray) thinks she may be a zombie, werewolf or worse. But Henry is enamoured – he thinks.

When they are teamed as editors of the school newspaper, Henry and Grace have to spend more time together and things evolve. But Grace has an unexplained past – one she seems unwilling to reveal to Henry.

In ‘Our Chemical Hearts’ Henry is a somewhat gentle teenager – up till now, not too worried about what others think of him – until he meets Grace. Then, as he tries to understand a little bit about her, he finds himself in the throes of his ‘first love’. Grace, hurt by recent losses, is hot and cold in the relationship which confuses him and he digs deeper.

“I fell asleep… thinking of Grace Town and how, if people really were assembled from pieces of the universe, her soul was made of stardust and chaos.” (Is this Henry experiencing true love?)

Krystal Sutherland has a great story in this debut novel. There are moments of laughter and tears (I did both) as Henry and Grace search to understand each other, find their hearts and ultimately, themselves. Cute vignettes are exchanged between Henry and Grace (in texts, notes and letters) and funny (maybe over-the-top) quips from Murray and Lola add a friendly flavour to this touching and relatable tale.

# ‘Our Chemical Hearts’ is due for movie release sometime in 2020 – why not get to know the characters and read it before then?

## Why are there fish on the cover? (Maybe Ricky Martin Knupps II knows?)

The Tell

“A tell is a sign a person gives out, accidentally, when they are trying really hard to keep something a secret, and I just happen to be an expert…

I don’t know why or how exactly, but I seem to have a gift for reading the tells.” Rey Tanic, 14 year old. (p.11-12, the Tell)

Rey (Raze to his friends) has a few other instincts which he can’t really explain – although he thinks it may have something to do with his family heritage as the son of mafia boss. He has something to tell his father when he next visits him in prison – but what is it?

When he gets an (unscheduled) visit sooner than he expected, Raze is unsettled by his father’s behaviour – even after he raises his issue.

Rey struggles with the wealth and trappings which are the proceeds of the family business (fine possessions, mansion home and attendance at a private school), and does NOT want to follow in his father’s dark footsteps. While a lot has been hidden to him in the past, Rey uncovers many grim details as he gets older.

‘The Tell’ raises questions about family heritage – are we destined to repeat the actions of our parents? Is it in Rey’s genes to follow the violent family business, like his older brother, Solo? At times, his moods and actions make him think so. And what can a kid do to make a difference?

I see my face in deep shadow, eyes glittering like diamonds, the resemblance to my father never stronger. (Rey angered by abuse Candy has faced.)

Candy. Ids. The best part of Rey’s existence is spent with these friends, making street art in the inner city of Sydney – friends with their own struggles. Each of them is somewhat alone with these, but will they share and find support together? Have a peek at this trailer to get a feel for ‘The Tell’:

In ‘The Tell’, Martin Chatterton tosses Rey around in some wild and threatening situations – in jail, followed by criminal thugs, and even hiding in a police officer’s attic (unknown to him). It is action-packed, exposing the dark underworld Rey hopes to escape. The reflections of his father Rey finds within himself make us ponder how it will all end – like father like son? or can he break the mould?

Recommended 13+

There Was Still Love

This story oozes feelings and emotions; even in the little things. As you read, you can taste the meals Lucek has with his grandmother. They are deliciously described, even though they may be simple fare. You can also sense the atmosphere of their humble accommodation – a small apartment in Prague.

Told from two main perspectives – that of Lucek in Czechoslovakia under Communist rule, and his cousin, Liska living in Melbourne, it flicks between locations and periods of time as the family links are revealed. Relatives through their grandmothers (twins separated at 17), Lucek and Liska share a precious culture, though they too are separated by half a world.

Many of Lucek’s observations are innocent, but perceptive. His fondness of his grandmother, Babi and his great uncle is strong, even when they behave like grumpy old people. Beautiful moments break through in the story, which makes you want to hug Parrett’s characters. You laugh and cry at their playful antics, and feel their sorrow when things go awry.

Similarly, though Liska lives in a free country, her family lives simply. They save from her grandfather’s meagre wage so they can visit their homeland. Though they live in a relatively free country, they are not always treated well, and in 1980 suffer from prejudice and homesickness.

The home visits to Prague are joyful occasions for sisters, Eva and Mana (Babi), while Lucek ponders why he and Babi don’t have the same freedom to make a visit to Melbourne. He is also puzzled why his mother, Alena, continues to travel outside Czechoslovakia with the Prague Black Theatre troupe, leaving him in his grandmother’s care.

In an interview last year, author Favell Parrett revealed her book was inspired by a jar of gherkins! One she found in a Melbourne deli, which was the exact brand of gherkins her grandmother used to buy. The memories it sparked sent her on a journey to delve into her past to honour her immigrant family, and especially grandmothers. (Part of this novel was originally published as a short story – giving the flavour of the story here.)

Parrett encourages anyone with grandparents or older relatives to talk to them. “Because when they’re gone, those stories are just dust. And that’s what makes up a life really – what did you want to be when you were young, when did your heart first break, who was your first love.” From: An ode to the women who carry our world on their shoulders

‘There Was Still Love’ moves between different times as the family story evolves, and between Lucek and Liska as storytellers, so while I have read this story as an audiobook, I am keen to do a re-read with a physical book. (It’s so much easier to follow the changes in a physical book, don’t you think?) Also, I am late to discover the writing of Favell Parrett but ‘Past the Shallows’ will definitely be my next read.

# Can you describe your grandparents’ home? What does it feel like? 

## What is your favourite family memory?

### How often are you able to chat with the older generations of your family or neighbours? 

The Last Days of Us

Some stories touch your heart – is that why you like them?

For me, there are so many touchpoints in this novel – identifying with loss of a sibling, road-tripping and typical working out ‘who you are’ as a teenager.

All this comes about as Zoey’s life crashes into oblivion following the tragic death of her brother. Unable to cope, she spirals away from her friends as they try to help her, and away from parents dealing with their own grief. Fortunately, a wakeup call (finding herself passed out at the wheel of her car) and an invitation to join her ex-boyfriend on a road-trip pulls her back into reality – a little.

Her plan is to get back with Finn, her ex, even though Cassie, her best friend is also coming on the trip.

As they travel from Adelaide to Melbourne with Finn’s cousins, Zoey works through memories and actions of the past. This is mainly generated by the questions and taunts of Finn’s super attractive but sullen cousin, Luc – Mr Grumpy she calls him.

Drawn together by the road-trip, it seems they have a little more in common as time progresses and they learn about each other. The trip itself is buoyed along by Luc’s effervescent younger sister, Jolie. It seems no-one else is too bothered to plan, so she guides their itinerary.

Along the way, Zoey begins to see things differently, and events lead to an exploration of friendships and family relationships – her old friends, her new friends and different family dynamics around her. It’s an emotional story (tissues please).

‘Losing a loved one is the hardest thing, and I think it changes a person forever.’ Author ,Beck Nicholas, in Acknowledgements, p.333.

It certainly changed Zoey. Now is she ready to change again?

Will she win Finn back? Can she do that to her best friend, Cass?

And how long can she put up with Luc’s brooding behaviour? Will she just do that to appease her newfound friend, his sister, Jolie?

More importantly, can past mistakes finally be forgiven?

# NOTE: The copy I read was a ‘dyslexic friendly’ book, which I personally found difficult. From what I have read, I can see that the font used could help somewhat. However, why hasn’t the publisher used left alignment for the text?  since justification of text removes prompts required for a dyslexic friendly style.

the Honeyman and the Hunter

With a beautiful but intriguing cover, ‘the Honeyman and the Hunter’ presents a story combining two cultural lives lived out by a teen with both Indian and Australian heritage.

Beginning on the Central Coast of NSW, we see Rudra’s days of summer surfing are scarred by local bullies, and his early mornings are controlled by his father’s demands.

With his friend Maggs, he tries to deal with the bullies, while at home his mother tries to deflect his father’s harsh treatment. Not an idyllic summer break, as he questions his own identity and future. Is he simply destined to be a fisherman alongside his father?

In the past, his mother (once a determined science graduate, now a waitress) has endeavoured to teach him about his Indian heritage. However, it is the sudden arrival of his didima – grandmother – from India that really sparks a chain of events which results in a journey to India and a journey of self-discovery.

Neil Grant has backpacked, bussed and blundered through India, Yugoslavia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka. Thus, his travels have provided rich research for his books – and his love of the ocean calls from the pages of the Honeyman. Elements of Indian mythology are woven through the tale also, as Rudra learns about his mother’s heritage through various people as he travels to fulfil Didima’s dying wishes.

As an Aussie Indian, Rudra is ‘caught-between’ and bumbles along, indecisive, at times. Once he has made up his mind to commit to his grandmother’s wishes, however, there is little that can stand in his way. But what are the sad consequences of some of his actions? or are the events actually out of his control? what is his destiny?

The Indian mythology in this story is intriguing; as is the mystery which slowly unravels as Rudra uncovers his family secrets. I do wish there was a glossary of some of the terms and characters used (even though they are mainly explained along the way), just so that I could follow the text more intimately.

‘The Honeyman and the Hunter’ raises many questions about family expectations, the significance of cultural differences and the impact of decisions we make on our journeys in life. A great story for the appreciation of rich cultural diversity you could well find in your Aussie neighbourhood.

Recommended 13+

# Included on the CBCA Notables List for 2020 

Hear me – Being Jazmine

‘Being Jazmine’ is the third book featuring Jazmine Crawford – part of the Invisible series by Cecily Paterson. That said, it was also a good read as a stand-alone title.

This story challenges readers to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, as Jazmine struggles with the demands of high school. She is finding it increasingly hard and very, very tiring.

Alongside the usual teenage angst, she faces a change to her family life as her mother remarries and they plan to move out of her old family home. Even though it’s been five years since her father died, and even though her mother’s boyfriend is really nice, it’s a hard and unfathomable adjustment for Jazmine.

Even with good support from her school friends, certain school teachers and her grandmother, Jazmine still finds it all a bit too much. Why is she so tired all the time? How is she meant to accept this new phase of her life? With the added complication of being deaf, she feels caught between different worlds and the expectations of family and friends.

This story is one to make you think about the things we often take for granted, and things we don’t really see clearly. It highlights the importance of having understanding adults – parents, teachers and grandparents in particular. A book about belonging (or not), and seeing things from the perspective of others.

Recommended 12+

# Other titles in this series are Invisible and Invincible

Free YA Audiobooks

Have you tried audiobooks yet? With school and local libraries closed for a while, it might be a good time to trial one or two… for free. Here is one option…

SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+. Returning April 30th and continuing 13 weeks until July 29, it provides access to a selection of paired YA titles to give you a taster.

Simply register your interest at the SYNC site, set up email alerts and then you can download and listen to any of the titles you choose. And once downloaded, they are yours to keep! (You will need to download the Sora reading app here to whichever device you plan to use for listening.)

You can already browse through the expected titles and listen to a small excerpt to see which ones appeal (clicking through the blue numbered dots on this page ). And you will see there is a range of quite diverse titles, with both new and old authors in the mix (even Shakespeare is there).

A selection of the titles on offer – the range for the first month – more detail at https://www.audiobooksync.com/

Why not give it a whirl? What have you got to lose?

# Note, these are mainly American titles.

Night Country (the Hazel Wood series)

How easy is it to dip into a series where you haven’t read the first book?

That’s what I had to attempt when I began reading ‘Night Country’ by Melissa Albert. Fortunately, there were prompts and explanations about the main characters and settings early in the story which didn’t seem out of place – more like recollections, which helped a lot without seeming out of place.

(Of course, I also had a look at online summaries of ‘the Hazel Wood’ to get a clearer picture of what preceded this tale.)

Thus, Alice’s adventures (no, not that one) and struggles made sense – caught between 2 worlds – Hinterland and the human world. But restless, she feels she doesn’t belong in either world, and has many unanswered questions.

It seems when Alice previously escaped the bleak world of the Hinterland (a world of dark and tragic fairytales in ‘the Hazel Wood’) she also made it possible for many others to escape as ex-Stories. Beacause of this, in the real world, there is an unease.  Murders of Hinterland escapees occur around her.  Macabre murders. With body parts removed. And one of which she is actually blamed.

This leads to Alice’s battle with Hinterland. She tries to unravel what is happening around her; things which are not allowing her to live a normal life in the real world.

It seems she can never escape Hinterland because she IS Hinterland. 

Back in Hinterland, her rescuer and past love interest, Ellery Finch, attempts to get back to her in the real world of New York.  A strange traveller guides him through many shadowy locations as the Hinterland world crumbles. It seems the traveller is interested in the many objects he had saved from the crumbling buildings of Hinterland. Some of these prove valuable to Finch.

I love that Finch communicates with Alice through letters in a book. After all, she occasionally works and refuges in a bookshop. And he is able to use a magical pen to write a love letter to her in the inside cover of ‘I Capture the Castle’ – the only book he’d taken from Hinterland. However, the intricate ways these letters are delivered to Alice are dependent on where she is.

There is a lot of fantastic and supernatural activity that happens in ‘Night Country’. Melissa Albert has not only built many different worlds but has created fantasy characters with their own stories to inhabit them. Creative supernatural inventions, connections, openings and ways to travel between the worlds are scattered throughout this story, along with poetry and grim fairy tales and endings*.

How will Alice and Finch reconnect?

Are they simply implements in a bigger story?

What happens when worlds collide?

Here’s a review of ‘the Hazel Wood’ to give you some details of the first book (which I should have seen before reading ‘Night Country’) which might compel you to read ‘the Hazel Wood’ first:

The Hazel Wood series is a dark modern-day tale with creepy fairytale creatures.

Recommended for lovers of intricate fantasy. 14+

* There is a short story collection set in the same world – eagerly anticipated by Hazel Wood fans – ‘the original stories of Althea Proserpine (Alice’s grandmother) called Tales from the Hinterland – due for publication in 2020/21.

## Some graphic violence & language throughout. 

‘Weeksy Reviews’, reviewed…

A change of look*, a change of thinking – and COVID-19.

As COVID-19 has shut many things down, people have been seeking ways to maintain contact and connection. With local and school libraries closed to public access, the need for reading options increases (we have more time in shut-down, don’t we?).

If you haven’t already checked out piles of books from your school and library shelves for your period of shutdown, now is the time to search for places to access the many books you now have time to read – uninterrupted.

How to buy the physical

Many local and online bookstores are offering free delivery services – too many to list here. Just give them a call, or access online stores if you don’t have a local.

How to gain free access

Local libraries, of course, offer free access to ebooks and audiobooks to members. (Hopefully, you have heeded previous advice to join a local library.)

How to buy ebooks, audiobooks

If you didn’t meet the closedown deadline to join local libraries (for which need you to physically verify your ID and address), then other options for you are:

  • Purchase ebooks online (e.g. via Amazon.com.au, Booktopia and other online bookstores)
  • Trial/join Audible.com.au (or similar) for audiobooks

Some of these may require apps to be downloaded, but in the case of public and school libraries, all the details are usually given.

Kindle, BorrowBox and RBDigital are among the common apps required and easily set up on your computer, iPad or other digital devices.

Don’t let COVID-19 prevent your access to great books! 

Reading suggestions from here…

By the way, if you search ‘ebook‘ or ‘audiobook‘ on this blog or click on these as tags, you will find lots of reading suggestions – which you will be able to access – free or at a small cost from the abovementioned locations, if you don’t have access to the physical book.

Happy reading!

* Changing the look of this blog – perhaps still a work in progress. I welcome any comments!! Do you like it? The change was made to be more mobile-friendly. Click on the post to make a comment.

More on Atticus… (Book 2) – Younger Readers

There was a clear indication at the end of the last book that there would be more adventures for Atticus – are you ready to follow?

In ‘The Map of Half Maps’ Atticus and his motley crew continue their journey in search of treasure – “with a new map and a new plan…” and lots of comradery along the way.

The misfit crew make you wonder how their ship could actually function, but there’s a lot of fun in that too. Let your mind drift away on the high seas as they sail about trying to find their way to treasure.

The dangers they face on the sea are unknown. The perils they may meet are scary – who should they fear most, the Vikings or the crew of Pegasis? What battles will they have to overcome?

Once again, there are many interesting additions to the story. These include inventions such as Atticus’ way to communicate to the crew (his version of morse code), and the illustrative skills of Buttface (which enables the capture of a map – from a deadman…).

Author & illustrator – Source: the inside cover of Book 2

Throughout, the comical illustrations of Stephen Michael King continue to boost the fun in the story – as do the adventures of Stowaway Puppy. (Have you been watching these? will he make an impact in the story?)

Also throughout the story are the developing relationships of the crew, as they come to know and appreciate one another’s talents and foibles. (What’s it like to have a twin sister? Does Wrong Way Warren actually have the right way of looking at things?)

There are also some fun introductions like the Viking group of Bjorn, Benny, Agnes and Anna-Firdi (ring a bell?). Will they be able to continue to sing together if Atticus defeats Bjorn Ironhead? And there are so many other questions to be answered:

  • Will Bjorn ever sing again?
  • What happens when pirates confront one another on the high seas?
  • Will they eventually find the missing treasure map?
  • Will there be another book in this series? (Yes, ‘the Treasure of Treasures’ follows soon!)
  • “How good is pirating”?

Once again, recommended sharing with the family. And readers 9+ (who will want to share with their family).