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  • Writer's pictureJulianne Negri

April Reading Roundup

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

A rollicking historical novel that sweeps you up and stays with you. The story is told by Washington Black, a slave boy who becomes the servant of the brother of the plantation owner, Titch. The brother is an eccentric, idealist scientist who sweeps Washington up in his plans, noting how he can employ the boy's brilliant sketching skills, teaching Washington to write without any thought to the repercussions. The novel examines the building of identity, connections to others, the foibles of fate and the concept of freedom through a narrative of twists and turns and revelations. It's brilliant.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

This short punchy book was not what I was expecting. It is about teens who have returned from fantasy worlds they loved and cannot adjust to our world - and nor can their families adjust to how they have changed (and don't believe their story). But there is a boarding school they can go to. There they get therapy and are with others coping with similar experiences and the school is run by an elderly lady who also went through a fantasy "doorway". However the world they went to are all different - some nonsense worlds, some fairy worlds, some underworlds - and they are all vastly different teens as a result.I wasn't expecting this book to be so creepy, weird, gory and gritty. Or to have such a body count. The book is being made into a Netflix series and it will be great I suspect. This is horror meets fantasy with a big dose of teen angst. There was a sense for me that this story could have been expanded - that all the information was too condensed. A sense that all the dialogue was either witty banter or exposition and no character development. But I think on screen it could go places and will look out for it!

The Wizard of Once by Cressida Cowell

Cressida Cowell is a bit of a genius really and this series is funny and intriguing and all sorts of brilliant and kids 8 - 12 will love it. Set in a world where magic is outlawed and it's about a wizard boy called Xar (who should have come into his magic by now, but hasn't)who captures a warrior girl called Wish. It is filled to the brim with whimsy and adventure, ecrazy illustrations, bit characters around a backbone of grand fantasy that will have readers hooked - which is good because it is the first book in a series.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This is a classic rock band narrative - the tensions, power struggles and of course, the girl who blows it all apart. This book has a lot of buzz about it. One reason is the novelty of the form - written as interspersed interviews, personal accounts, from those in the band, the family, the associates and the hanger-ons, all cut together to build a picture of contrasts, contradictions, truth and myth. This is compelling to read despite the fact it is all tell and no show. And the skill in creating this seventies rock band is impressive - right down to the lyrics of the song at the back. But? Well. For one, I could have done with more, well, sex and drugs and rock and roll. And some more real life seventies references. It was all a bit nice. Oh and once I started thinking it was loosely based on Fleetwood Mac I was less interested. I hate Fleetwood Mac. In the end it was compelling, well told, but overall, a bit superficial.

A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg

This is an Australian YA book and it's the first Barry Jonsberg book I have read (I will be reading others!)and the thing that stays with you is the warmth and the humour. It's told by Rob, a thirteen year old boy experiencing love for the first time. Destry Camberwick. The girl of his dreams. Problem is Rob is shy and has panic attacks. He seeks help from his grumpy foul mouthed Grandpa, who is suffering his own mental health issues as a war veteran. Then Rob starts receiving strange anonymous text messages issuing him challenges like "get on the front page of the newspaper" and Rob does just that. The book makes you laugh and cry and there is twist at the end that makes you look at the story just a little differently.

French Exit by Patrick DeWitt

I'm a huge fan of DeWitt's novel The Sisters Brothers. I didn't love this one as much but still just reveled in the novel's atmosphere and style. It's a Wes Anderson film scripted by Oscar Wilde. It's funny and sad and stylish, filled with strange dialogue, magical realism, pathos, grace and humour.

Lullaby by Leila Slimani

Hugely popular psychological thriller that exposes patriarchy's destructive repression and misguided middle class foibles. It is visceral and nasty and despite all this, I didn't love it. The crime is revealed at the start and the rest of the book builds up a why done it which brilliantly dissects relationships, society and sexism, highlighting elements that build a tension of ttragedy and violence.

Ned Kelly's Secret by Sophie Masson

I read this for research as I am writing a junior fiction novel that includes elements of Ned Kelly's story. This book is narrated by Hugo, a French boy traveling through the gold fields with his writer father. His father is interested in the bush ranger Harry Power and amidst the investigation, Hugo meets and befriends young Ned. Lots to like about this book but the voice of Hugo was a bit too goody two shoes for me. However Masson's cleverly examines the circumstances of Ned's life very well and the characters are well drawn.

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