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Friday, March 17, 2017

'Silence Fallen' Mercy Thompson #10 by Patricia Briggs

Received via NetGalley 

From the BLURB:

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe...

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise...

‘Silence Fallen’ is the tenth book in Patricia Briggs’s ‘Mercy Thompson’ urban fantasy series, and it follows directly on from ‘Fire Touched’.

Right. So. Remember in my ‘Fire Touched’ review when I said that book felt like it was closing the door on further storylines on the Fae and Graylords, and Briggs would gift reader a rejuvenated story-arc to follow and a new trajectory for Mercy & Co.? Yep. I was wrong – or at least, ‘Silence Fallen’ is not the book to kick that rejuvenation off … rather it reads like the book before that book. Which is a nice way of saying; “filler.”

I’m sorry, I hate not liking a Mercy Thompson book – but this tenth instalment feels like a firm 2/5 me, which is a decided disappointment. And I don’t think it being a filler-book will actually be a huge surprise to many people, because it’s right there in the blurb … that this is a book in which Mercy is kidnapped, separated from Adam and the pack who are then working to get her back. So, 98% of the book has Adam and Mercy separated – and anyone who has persevered with a long-running series (from Stephanie Plum to Night Huntress and Vampire Academy) will know that a storyline like this which manufactures a separation for the (now) established HEA, is absolutely a filler-story – trying to recapture some of the tension that the will-they-or-won’t-they romance once helped fill.

‘Silence Fallen’ is also not a very good filler-story … it momentarily drags readers back into a complicated supernatural political network that I think many fans breathed a sigh of relief when they thought it was over and done with in ‘Fire Touched’. We’re dragged into European vampire and werewolf politicking, and there’s so much backstory, asides, and long paragraphs of info-dumping that takes us out of any immediate action we may have wanted to revel in. And it’s all for nought – because it’s pretty clear by story’s end that none of what we just read is going to really impact the Columbia Basin Pack once Mercy is home safe. Basically – this entire book and any of its ramifications can be kept in Europe, and not affect a single thing back home for Mercy and Adam. Which is another polite way of saying … you could skip this one, if you really wanted to.

And I say that, even as fan-favourite Stefan steps back on the scene for this vampire-heavy plot. Unfortunately he’s under-used and underwhelming, and I get the sense that Briggs was holding back from teasing fans with anything too Mercy/Stefan big, because that would leave an indelible mark on the series universe, and that’s not what this book is about.

The only thing that’s stopping me from giving this book an even lower score is the a light-bulb *wink-wink* reveal at the end, which is very cute and a bit of a delight … even as it’s also a cop-out, and is not establishing anything new in a certain relationship dynamic. It’s previously-trodden ground, not furthering any characterisations, but I still enjoyed it and I’m probably just grasping at straws for one of my fave series.

Honestly, after reading ‘Silence Fallen’ I’m mostly wondering where we go from here, and if Patricia Briggs really has any appetite to keep telling Mercy’s story…?

It’s interesting to note that ‘Silence’ is on Brigg’s new timeline of book-releases – where once we had a 2 or so year wait for Mercy, and an ‘Alpha & Omega’ release in-between, we’re now getting one Mercy book a year … and a longer wait for ‘Alpha & Omega’ (the last book for Charles and Anna released in 2015, the next instalment is coming 2018).

For me, personally, I think Briggs may be in a bit of a conundrum … I think lots of fans would like to see Mercy and Adam expand their family. And I’d be fine with that – whatever – but I know in past books Adam’s made clear that he doesn’t want more kids, and I don’t think Mercy feels like a baby would make her life “complete” in any way (and her step-daughter Jess is her daughter, they’re already a family). Anna from ‘Alpha & Omega’ meanwhile, has been teasing that possibility for a while now … and there are higher-stakes involved for her as a werewolf, and given what happened to Charles’s mother to make him the only born werewolf – that story is more intriguing to me, and all those possibilities.

But where does Mercy go from here, if the next chapter in her series isn’t revolving around becoming a mother, as many fans predict it will be? (which – to be clear – I reject the notion that a female protagonist will only “advance” and have a seemingly “happy life” in her own story, if she becomes a mother. Just – no.)


And I feel this even more after reading her 'Frequently Asked Questions' page - because Briggs has addressed some big questions, with infuriatingly non-committal answers. To the topic of 'how many more Mercy and Alpha & Omega books will there be?' The answer is: "Patty has said that as long as she's having fun writing them, can keep them fresh and exciting, and they're selling well, she'll continue to write them indefinitely!" That scares me ... as someone who has had to give up on Anita Blake and the Blackdagger Brotherhood books for that very reason. As to; 'Will Mercy/Anna have babies?' her answer is; "They would have to play it safe and avoid adventures, which - face it - is boring!" Ok. Fair enough. And finally; 'When will Leah/Christy die a horrible and painful death?' - to which the response is; "These are ladies we just love to hate! If they were gone, we'd have to find another character to hate on, and that would be very frustrating, so it's just easier to keep them around, don't you think?" ... that's sucky to me that she even addressed this, because it means she's nixing any idea of ever writing a Bran book for one, and is basically saying that these contingents of Bran and Adam's packs are just going to be forever stagnant. Sigh. 

I need to remember that it’s been hinted at in a few books now (and also in ‘Silence Fallen’) that a lot of Mercy being in sticky situations may come down to Coyote wanting her to be there … to act as a conduit for Coyote … like she has a “higher-purpose”, so to speak. That could be interesting. But I think letting Mercy act on behalf of Coyote, while also juggling being happy and content in a pack-family is more interesting and I hope Briggs explores those conflicts in future, instead of giving us this isolationist Mercy story, that ultimately has little impact on her life or the series' universe.

2/5

_________________

P.S. – I read this book (and wrote my review) in November 2016, before announcement of the tragic and sudden death of Mike Briggs … and it did give me a pang of guilt and further disappointment that I didn’t love ‘Silence Fallen’ more. But this is just one book, and I'm only one reader, and I’ll always be a fan - regardless of a bump in the bookish road. Also as a fan, I’ll always be patient and understanding of whatever decision an author makes with regards to the continuation of their series, especially when personal circumstances such as these may be informing that future.

Friday, March 3, 2017

'Under the Love Umbrella' by Allison Colpoys and Davina Francesca Bell

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Whatever you fear, come close my dear
You’re tucked in safe for always here
And I will never not be near
Because of our love umbrella

From this award-winning creative duo comes a stunning celebration of the joy and comfort that love can bring – wherever we roam in the big, wild world.

‘Under the Love Umbrella’ is the new picture book written by Davina Francesca Bell, with illustrations by Allison Colpoys. It’s the second picture book from the duo, the first being ‘The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ of 2016.

I don’t often review picture books – but clearly last year when I made my first exception for 'Australia to Z' by Armin Greder on the blog, I kicked off a new tradition for myself. It’s also probably that since joining Jacinta DiMase Management (which specialises in picture-book authors and illustrators) I’ve been introduced and given a bit more background to this art form in Australia. And as such – I’ve become serious appreciative, and find myself buying the books I really can’t seem to turn away from … and ‘Under the Love Umbrella’ is one such. 

This new story from Bell and Colpoys is basically a giant hug in picture-book form, which is also why I’d recommend it for young and old. The story is more of Bell’s tenderness that was on display in ‘Fancy-Dress Parade’, as ‘Under the Love Umbrella’ gives an ode to the metaphor of safety, love and acceptance. It’s a beautifully subtle and tender message she communicates most effectively with rhythm and rhyme – and it’s one that will prompt the question from young readers at the end; “who is under my love umbrella?”

Allison Colpoys – perhaps the most in-demand artist in the Australian books world (and for good reason) – brings more of her magic to Bell’s words. She uses mostly fluro colours to great effect, nevermore than when they’re presented against a darker background (as on the cover, with fireworks). There’s something here that feels a little cool retro in her illustrations too, like they could be something out of the Little Golden Book series – it’s a sweet nostalgia. Honestly, the book is so intensely lovely I really just want to hang it on my wall for all to admire.

I will also make a note here that the children and families depicted within are from diverse backgrounds – Joe, Brian, Izzy and Grace are racially diverse, and there’s no fine point put on whether or not they have “traditional” “nuclear” families. Albeit from my limited knowledge, I at least know this is still rare in children’s picture books – though it shouldn’t be. Davina Bell even commented on it in the press release I was sent with the book, saying;
 We love how people have responded to the diversity in the book. But while it was a conscious choice to include a range of backgrounds and family constellations, the situations we represented sprang from the characters as they came to life in our minds, rather than from a deliberate strategy or design.
 That said, the timing of this book feels fortuitous. There has never been a more important moment to tie love and diversity together in the minds of children, and one of the privileges of being a picture-book creator is the chance to speak into their hearts through story.

We all know the times Bell is alluding to, and I couldn’t agree more that a book with this level of illustrated representation, and a message about bringing those you love into safety under your love umbrella … well, it’s safe to say we could all use this book. Which is why I’d highly recommend it for everyone – age be damned.

This was my first favourite book of 2017, and it feels fitting that it’s one with such a message.

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5/5

Friday, February 24, 2017

New Posters! #ReadAsianOz and #ReadMuslimOz


Hello Darling Readers!

It's been a little while since we've done one of these posters - and now we're bringing you two! 

The request for a #ReadAsianOz poster came from writer, reader, and blogger Wendy Chen ('Written in Wonder') who also offered us a brilliant list of recommended titles for the poster. It's not strictly YA titles (because we really wanted to include the likes of Shaun Tan and Anh Do, who can be read up and down) and it's certainly not all there is - but we hope it's a good start. 

A #ReadMuslimOz poster was thought up in response to truly heinous world events of late, and incredible acts of discrimination and xenophobia. Even today, there are still news stories that make my blood boil - like what Yassmin Abdel-Magied has been subjected to. 

These posters were designed to put a little positivity into the world, and encourage people to read widely and diversely. 

Both posters were designed by the wonderful Jessica Harvie, and are in the DropBox available now for download - and from the LoveOzYA website: 



NOTE: Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren (Allen & Unwin) is available from JUNE 2017 - add it to your Goodreads list here

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'The River of No Return' by Bee Ridgway


From the BLURB:
In Bee Ridgway’s wonderfully imaginative debut novel, a man and a woman travel through time in a quest to bring down a secret society that controls the past and, thus, the future.​
“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.”
Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Lord Nicholas Falcott wakes up in a hospital bed in twenty-first century London. The Guild, a secretive organization that controls time travel, helps him make a new life in the modern world.

But Nick yearns for home and for one beautiful woman in particular, now lost to history.

Back in 1815, that very woman, Julia Percy, finds herself the guardian of a family secret inherited from her enigmatic grandfather... how to manipulate time. But there are those who seek to possess Julia’s power and she begins to realize she is in the gravest peril.
The Guild’s rules are made to be broken, and Nick discovers how to travel back to the nineteenth century and his ancestral home. Fate and the fraying fabric of time draw Nick and Julia together once again . . . soon enough, they are caught up in an adventure that puts the future of the world into their hands.
Love endures the gulf of centuries . . . and so does danger.  As gripping as it is evocative, The River of No Return is a sweeping story of lovers who match wits and gamble their hearts against the rules of time itself.

‘The River of No Return’ was the 2013 historical-fantasy novel by Bee Ridgway.

It’s that time of year again when I remember I haven’t read a new Diana Gabaldon book since 2014 (Holy. Hell!) so I start doing Google searches for “Time Travel. Romance. Historical.” and taking a gamble on whatever comes up. This time around it was Ridgway’s ‘The River of No Return’, which I very vaguely remembered got some good praise from my Goodreads friends at the time of release way back in 2013.

This book started out really promising – with intricate and eclectic set-up of the time-travel parameters. First we’re introduced to a 19th century British Lord, living in the 21st – and then we meet a young woman in 1815 whose grandfather is on his deathbed, and able to “speed up” the process by accelerating time. All very, very cool. And then Ridgway starts honing in on these characters. Lord Nicholas Falcott jumps in time to escape a Napoleonic battlefield, and is then he’s introduced to this affluent society of time travellers in the 21st century, who use time-leaps like currency and completely control and profiteer from the industry surrounding it.

Julia Percy is the girl Nick left behind in his own time – but we switch to her story in 1815, and discover that like The Guild that Nick has just encountered, Julia is able to control and manipulate time (a gift seemingly inherited from her grandfather).

I started out really enjoying this novel, and thinking that I’d hit on a winner for its perfect overlap of historical/time-travel/romance … but once we got out of the woods of anticipating Nick and Julia meeting up again in a shared timeline, the romance started to fall flat – mostly because it’s very timidly written by Ridgway, but also probably because I came into the book craving ‘Outlander’ and set my heat-levels too high. I mean; they were fine and we got some hot n’ heavy scenes, but given that so much is riding on their romance I just didn’t feel their story was epic enough to warrant it.

What more got me through this book was the time-travel aspect, and how intricate and fascinating that was;
 “Human emotion. Millions of souls, together they make the mood of a certain time. It doesn’t matter that they disagree, that they hate, that they fight. All together they create it, this thing. This epoch. Times of war. Times of famine. Times of wealth and happiness. The mood of an era. What is stronger than that?”

It’s basically exploring time-travel as this conglomerate, and maybe it’s because I’ve really gotten into ‘Timeless’ on NBC, but this aspect provided such fascinating thinking for me – and it’s the one aspect of the book that I’m still thinking about, long after I finished reading.

So all in all – this was a nice distracting read, helping me cope with my Outlander-withdrawals. But it didn’t really hit on the romance aspect hard enough, though the time-travel parameters and set-up was wildly intriguing enough for me to hope that there’s some sort of sequel coming out to keep digging at this (perhaps focused on Leo next time?!)

3/5

Friday, February 3, 2017

'Against the Wall' by Jill Sorenson


From the BLURB:

The RITA-nominated author of The Edge of Night returns with another seductive novel, hailed by M. O’Keefe as “a dirty, gritty gem of a book.” As teens, Eric and Meghan fell for each other despite the odds—but now that they’re all grown up, they’re reunited by dangerous secrets.

Eric Hernandez is the bad boy of every schoolgirl’s fantasies—and every mother’s nightmares. But after serving time for manslaughter, he’s ready to turn his life around. He just needs a chance to prove himself as a professional tattoo artist. The one thing that keeps him going is the memory of the innocent beauty he loved and left behind.

Meghan Young’s world isn’t as perfect as it looks. The preacher’s daughter is living a lie, especially now that Eric is back. Tougher, harder, and sexier than ever, he might be the only person she can trust. But there’s no telling what he’ll do to protect her if he learns the truth, and that’s a risk Meghan won’t let him take. And yet, back in the arms of the troubled boy with the artist’s soul, Meghan can’t help surrendering to the man he’s become.

‘Against the Wall’ is the long-awaited sequel to Jill Sorenson’s 2011 romance book, ‘The Edge of Night’.

Okay. I hate that I didn’t love this book. Because I really liked ‘Edge of Night’ when I read it waaaaaay back in 2011, and in my review of that book I plucked out my enthusiasm for the secondary romance of Meghan and Eric, as much of that book’s saving grace. So much so that I actually reached out to Sorenson to see when their book would be coming … at the time I think she alluded to a possible next-year release – but for various reasons that kept getting pushed back and back, and it’s by the grace of the reading gods that I kept checking in every couple of years to see if that sequel status had changed (seriously – the waiting was getting up there with Lisa Valdez’s ‘Passion Quartet’ third book…) So imagine my happy surprise when I did my annual end-of-year check-in and saw that the sequel dropped in February of this year!

I delved into the novel full of expectations and enthusiasm, and things started out okay? … but then it got wonky.

When we met Meghan and Eric in 2011 as a secondary teen romance in ‘Edge of Night’, their story was reminiscent of ‘Perfect Chemistry’ by Simone Elkeles … if Brittany and Alex’s happy ending had been totally flipped on its head, and Alex had ended up in jail for manslaughter (because witnesses to the crime mislead investigators). So when ‘Against the Wall’ begins, its been three years and Eric is getting out of prison to discover Meghan has moved on with an abusive college beau. Thus begins the book’s many false-starts and dead-ends … because ‘Against the Wall’ almost reads like a “Choose Your Own Adventure Novel” for how many different pathways Sorenson sets up for the plot, but lets fall away one-by-one.

For one thing – I don’t know why it’s only been three years since Eric’s imprisonment? Why not build on the momentum of the anticipation for this novel and make it five?! This would have also seriously raised the stakes – if Meghan hadn’t just been in her first serious relationship with a college dude-bro, and instead was maybe engaged to someone and in the middle of building her career when a convicted felon jeopardizes her “good standing” in work or something? I don’t know. I felt Sorenson’s insistence to keep this kinda college-based and New Adult was for the sake of it, and it’s where opportunities were missed early on.

As to that “Choose Your Own Adventure” vibe. Phew. Okay. First there’s the fact that Meghan has an abusive boyfriend … but it seems that Eric’s reappearance in her life is what really pushes him over the edge, and everything prior was heavy emotional abuse and isolation – but clearly leading into something dire. Again though, the stakes weren’t’ quite there – because Meghan repeatedly admits to not being in love with him, and between her Psychology major and having a brother who is a police officer, we get Meghan’s inner-thoughts which reveal an acute understanding of what Chip is doing, and her recognition that it is indeed abusive and she needs to leave him eventually. Also: this storyline ends up going absolutely nowhere.

Then there’s the fact that Meghan and her best friend Kelsea work at a college campus women’s centre, where they do things like organize a SlutWalk and field vile online abuse that comes via their website and call-centre. In the lead-up and following the successful SlutWalk, the centre receives even more abuse that seems targeted at Kelsea directly and becomes increasingly scary … again, the storyline goes nowhere in this book, as it’s really more about setting up a future story for Kelsea and a tattoo artist called Tank.

Then there’s everything that Eric is dealing with – among them, sleeping with the girlfriend and baby-mama of the man he killed and was sent to jail for manslaughter over. This was an interesting turn early on, and I was intrigued to see it explored, weirdly. For one thing, we got to see but a glimpse of what it’s like for women within California gangs and there was serious emotional high-stakes … but again, it peters out.

There’s also stuff with Eric feeling sucked back into his old gang life because of his best friend, Junior – but this was also lacking emotional punch because Eric is so determined not to get drawn back into that life, and his interior thoughts tell readers that’s never at risk of happening anyway. This also feels oddly unresolved and half-assed.

What I really found interesting and wish Sorenson had focused on, was how freakin’ hard it is for Eric to get back to life after prison – because if you don’t already know, the American prison system is fucked (seriously, watch the documentary ‘13th’) and Eric alludes to this quite a few times;

I didn’t have any trouble getting my GED in Chino, though. I’m not a dumbass like some criminals. I was born here and I learned English right off the bat. I can read and write better than most inmates. As a convicted felon, I’m not eligible for government programs like housing assistance or financial aid, but I could save money to pay my own way. I could continue my education. Get an art degree. 
I glance around the library guiltily, as if someone might guess my thoughts and rat me out for overstepping my place. Guys like me don’t become college students. We beat up college students.
 
But he falls on his feet kinda quickly. Between having a place to crash at with family who love and support him, and nabbing a pretty sweet job working at a tattoo parlor, plus finding outlets for his artwork … there were never any stakes here either.

And as for Meghan and Eric – the romance that made me check back in for FIVE FREAKIN’ YEARS to see if it was written yet … meh. The sex scenes were great, but I feel like because the plot was all over the place, they were too. I never really knew how they felt about each other; also because their thoughts belied their actions and whatever hurdles Sorenson was trying to construct for them, they just seemed to jump over easily because they had great sexual attraction and that cured all manner of doubts? I mean … even Eric stupidly sleeping with the baby-mama of the man he killed who’s also affiliated with a rival gang when he says he doesn’t want anything to do with that violence anymore – Meghan is momentarily horrified at his stupidity, but because that storyline for Eric didn’t go anywhere, it likewise didn’t carry much weight when Meghan found out.

I just … I feel like ‘Against the Wall’ didn’t actually have an editor? Because I think any beta readers would have come in and said “You’ve already set up emotional high-stakes in ‘Edge of Night’ for these two, they already have a story – you just need to pick a lane for the plot to be in, and stick with it!”

Yeah, this was disappointing. It just had so much potential, and as a reader I was totally there for Sorenson, Meghan and Eric – I was rooting for them and this book for so, so long. But this was a mess … a hot mess, to be sure for those sex scenes (which is the only reason this isn’t get a 1-star) … but a hot mess nonetheless. Sorry.

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2/5

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

'This Adventure Ends' by Emma Mills


From the BLURB:

Sloane isn't expecting to fall in with a group of friends when she moves from New York to Florida—especially not a group of friends so intense, so in love, so all-consuming. Yet that's exactly what happens.

Sloane becomes closest to Vera, a social-media star who lights up any room, and Gabe, Vera's twin brother and the most serious person Sloane's ever met. When a beloved painting by the twins' late mother goes missing, Sloane takes on the responsibility of tracking it down, a journey that takes her across state lines—and ever deeper into the twins' lives.

Filled with intense and important friendships, a wonderful warts-and-all family, shiveringly good romantic developments, and sharp, witty dialogue, this story is about finding the people you never knew you needed.

‘This Adventure Ends’ was the 2016 contemporary young adult novel by Emma Mills.

This was a really interesting book … one of those books that while you’re reading you really want to know what happens next, but at the end you can’t really recall what the actual plot was, only that you enjoyed it while it lasted.

Ostensibly it’s about a young girl called Sloane whose father is a Nicholas Sparks-esque author of tragi-romance and currently going through a writing slump. To help spark her father’s creativity again, Sloane, her mother, and little sister all move with him from New York to Florida in the hopes it will get the creative juices flowing. The move is really neither here nor there for Sloane, who has never formed truly meaningful attachments to anyone outside her immediate family … but then she finds herself the reluctant attendant of a house party with her new classmates, and sticking up for one called Gabe when a bully boy jock gets in his face.

From there, Sloane becomes the new pet friendship project of Gabe’s twin Vera (a social media sensation) and their friends Aubrey, Remy and Frank. When Sloane discovers that the twins’ artist mother recently passed away and that their new (pregnant) stepmother accidentally sold Gabe’s favourite painting of hers to a local art gallery, Sloane sets off on a mission to retrieve it.

This is not the book to read if contemporary fiction bores you to tears. But if you love the in’s and out’s of daily life and putting your emotions and typical teen dramas under the microscope, you’ll love this.

And while I did indeed enjoy the unfolding, I can’t help but feel this book lacked some necessary oomph. A lot of it reminded me of ‘How to Say Goodbye in Robot’ by Natalie Standiford, a lot of which was this really lovely meandering through quirky and off-kilter teen lives, but that eventually ratcheted up to a reveal and heavy hearted finale. In that sense too, ‘This Adventure Ends’ is like the days before in John Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska’, where it starts off unfolding in this very charming but lackadaisical chronological order until the middle sparks an entirely new trajectory … likewise ‘The Perks Of Being A Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky which is also up there for being very astute contemporary teen fiction, until the denouement starts picking at different wounds. And all these books – contemporary teen fiction – are throwbacks to ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger, which to a certain point is also just a meandering stream of consciousness and encounters until it reaches a zenith of purpose and underlining meaning … and I think that’s what ‘This Adventure Ends’ was missing. A pack-a-punch denouement. True meaning.

There are even a few random threads of story established that go nowhere – like Sloane getting a job at a deli working with Gabe. There are pages establishing this, and then we never see her or Gabe at work again. Likewise, Vera’s social-media instagram fame is set-up as a somewhat crucial aspect of her character, but then it falls away. And I think these are two examples of a symptom of contemporary fiction that lacks real direction or message.

FanFiction also plays a role in this – as Sloane’s father gets hooked on a teen werewolf TV show and the fic that others writer for it. But – again – this doesn’t really go anywhere truly meaningful to entirely warrant its mention.

Still, I can’t deny that I did enjoy this book. Mills has a very true and candid way of writing. Her voice and dialogue work is particularly commendable;

“Everyone should have punched-in-the-face-for kinds of friends. Everyone should have … you know. Like the people you call when you need to hide the body.” 
“Why is there a body?” 
“If there was a body. Hypothetically.” 
“I’d like to avoid all forms of murder, including hypothetical.” 
He lets out a breath of laughter, and then: “I think everyone has it in them.” 
“Hypothetical murder?” 
“No. That kind of friendship. When they meet the right people. I think anyone can have that kind of friend or … be that kind of friend.” He looks off down the street. “Especially you. I think you’re a hide-the-body friend.”

… But I do look forward to reading a work of hers that has a real message. Something to say, when she’s so very capable of saying it so well.

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3/5

Sunday, January 15, 2017

'Fearless' by Fiona Higgins


From the BLURB:

What happens when six pampered Westerners on a spiritual retreat in Bali end up fighting for their lives?

Six strangers from across the world meet on the tropical island of Bali to attend a course designed to help them face their fears. Their backgrounds are as diverse as their fears - which range from flying, public speaking and heights, through to intimacy, failure and death.

Friendships and even romance blossom as the participants are put through a series of challenges which are unusual, confronting and sometimes hilarious. A week of fun in the sun suddenly turns into something far more serious, however, when the unthinkable happens - a tragic disaster that puts the group in deadly danger, testing the individual courage of every member.

‘Fearless’ is a new fiction novel from Australian author, Fiona Higgins.

I was really excited to read this novel, as I’d thoroughly enjoyed Higgins’ ‘Wife on the Run’ back in 2014, and everything about ‘Fearless’ was broadcasting being a “great summer read” to me. But what really pushed me into reading this one was my catching the 2012 movie ‘The Impossible’ on TV one night. It’s a great movie based on a true story, about a British family on holiday in Thailand, who are separated by the destruction and chaotic aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The blurb of ‘Fearless’ alludes to ‘an unspeakable act’ happening in Bali, that throws six strangers’ lives into mayhem – and of course that’s alluding to an event similar to the 2002 Bali Bombings – but ‘The Impossible’ reminded me of the power in such stories where an unfathomable disaster happens in the middle of “paradise” … so I delved into ‘Fearless’, and hated it. Absolutely hated it.

The premise of ‘Fearless’ is these six strangers from all corners of the globe come to Bali to attend a Fearless retreat where they intend to combat everything from a snake phobia, to fear of heights and flying, to general dissatisfaction with life. We get a chapter that follows each of the six strangers, to understand the deeper meanings behind their wish to combat fear. And straight away from meeting these characters, the story started to fall down for me because there’s so much cliché … there’s Annie, an older mid-Westerner who is (of course) an outspoken devout Christian and overweight American. Remy is a Frenchman who falls for Australian Janelle while she’s wearing a rash-vest and zinc on her nose (because of course he does – Frenchmen are so very romantic). Henry is a paunchy, British bird-watcher and quintessential geek (because he’s British?). Cara is a broken mother … and even her, who has one of the more compelling and believable backstories, I wish there’d be a decision to make a subversive gender-flip and have her be a father grieving the loss of his child, just so that not every character was so darn predictable. And then there’s Lorenzo – an Italian photographer who has experienced some Bill Henson-esque backlash in his home country, amid accusations that his artistic photographs of ingénue girls are inappropriate …  his introspective story takes a bizarrely sharp turn towards the end, and I couldn’t help but feel he got lugged with this exploration on the cliché that Italian men are sleazy and pervy or something?

It wasn’t just that these characters all felt built on the most typical of tourism clichés, it’s also that they’re all kind of unbearable. At one point, the Australian Janelle puts on a saccharine “presentation” to be filmed for her bulimic teenage niece, wherein she quotes bumper-sticker philosophy while stripping down to her underwear and Taylor Swift’s ‘Fifteen’ plays from her iPod in the background. I just … my eyes were so busy rolling, I could barely focus on the page during that scene (which is also when Frenchman Remy really falls in love with her, because … of course.)

‘Of course,’ said Remy, impressed by how much Janelle seemed to care. About the orangutans of Borneo, the world’s rainforests, the gamelan orchestras of Bali, teenagers with eating disorders and, naturally, her own family. He considered what he cared about. The last time he’d cried was after the defeat of Paris Saint-Germain to archrivals Montpellier in round 32 of the Ligue 1 football season. Janelle’s compassion is more than refreshing, he thought. It’s intoxicating.

But the book was also off-putting to me for the presentation of Bali, as seen through the eyes of these Westerners … it reminded me of a Kirkus book review I read once, of Heidi R. Kling’s YA book ‘Sea’ in which the reviewer accused the story of being; “Disaster tourism masquerading as romance…” and the last line of the review was also apt for Higgins’ ‘Fearless’; “Well-meaning, but ultimately about slumming in disaster zones for a summer’s recuperative fun.” Because Higgins does present Bali as a “disaster zone”, essentially. Everything from Annie’s observations of their abuse of street dogs, to Remy watching a woman defecate in the street and all six hearing locals bad-mouth the Javanese … none of this sat well with me.

So, nothing in this book was really working for me – why did I keep reading? Well, I wanted to get to the “unspeakable act” tagline on the cover … I thought everything at the Fearless retreat and getting to know these strangers was boring or infuriating, but maybe they’d rise to the occasion in the midst of a disaster? But this plot-turn doesn’t happen until around page 220 (of a 391-page book) and it did feel utterly disjointed from the rest of the story … it felt cheap, actually – as did the whole book for me, unfortunately and ultimately.

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1/5