degoldi-10pm questionTwelve-year-old Frankie is the youngest child in his family. He’s also the one who holds all of the pieces of it together. His anxiety makes him worry about the flat batteries in the fire-alarm, the lack of change for bus money, and the dwindling food supplies in the house. When the stress becomes too much – which is often – he consults his mother about the things that keep him up at night.

Every evening at 10pm, she is ready for the questions about his rash (is it cancer?), about the cat (might he give the family worms?) and about the health of the kids at school (could Frankie catch something off them?). Ma is the only comfort Frankie knows when life becomes too frightening.

But he is growing up and with Sydney, the new girl at school, asking all sorts of uncomfortable questions about Frankie’s family – and about his mother in particular – it might just be time for Frankie to face up to the reality of his family life. No matter how terrifying it might be.

The 10pm Question is a sweet novel that is aimed at middle grade students, but is relevant to a much wider age-group. Exploring themes of friendship, family and the uncertainty of growing up, this novel delves into difficult issues with warmth and care.

With anxiety being a huge problem for children – and for their parents – it’s good to see a novel acknowledge the matter in an engaging way that takes into account the complexities of the issue. This isn’t a social problem novel by any means. All of the characters in 10pm Question are multifaceted with their own thoughts and goals and ways of dealing with things. Frankie suffers from sometimes debilitating anxiety, but is no less human for that. He’s not a vehicle for a story about anxiety. He’s an intelligent child with a range of interests that include birds, drawing, language and sport. He has friends and can socialise with ease. He is also prone to blocking out things that he doesn’t want to see.

Frankie’s friends and family are just as well-rounded as he is. They have their own ways of dealing with the abnormalities in their families and lives – not all of them healthy. It’s in seeing how these flawed and complex characters interact with each other that 10pm Question really shines. By exploring the relationships Frankie has with the other characters, De Goldi emphasises that a person suffering anxiety is no more or less flawed than anyone else.

10pm Question is one of those books that is a good read for a myriad of reasons. It’s funny, has some amazing characters, and it follows the kinds of characters that chose their own path. Aside from that though, it’s the kind of book that will be a delight for readers who empathise with Frankie’s worries. It doesn’t promise miracle cures – but explores some valid issues in an understanding and positive way.

 

10pm Question – Kate De Goldi

Longacre Child (2008)

ISBN: 9781877460203



osterlund-Academy 7Aerin Renning has been alone since her father died. Without him, her only chance of survival was to learn to fight and to be of more use than the people around her. When the chance to escape arises, it’s not even a question. She takes it knowing that if she’s caught, the penalty is death.

Dane Madousin was born to privilege. With it comes freedom, safety, and education. But not love.

When Academy 7 – the exacting but prestigious school that was built to train leaders – offers each of them a place, they accept. Aerin has nowhere else to go, and Dane would do anything to anger his distant father.

I’ve had Academy 7 sitting on my shelves for several years now. After having it pop up under Amazon recommendations and having book bloggers speak highly of it, I ordered and bought a copy. Then proceeded not to read it for several years. Having noticed it again after a recent clean, I decided to give it a go. I regret not having done so sooner.

Academy 7 is just as good as all of those bloggers kept saying. The characters are strong and sympathetic. Their struggles are affecting without being melodramatic. Despite being a futuristic sci-fi, Osterlund doesn’t get caught up in dazzling us with the world, preferring to tell a compelling story.

On the other side of that, readers who are sci-fi lovers may find Academy 7 too bland for their tastes. The story is good, but it’s a story that could as easily be set in modern times or in the past with a few tweaks.

Much of the story revolves around the two main characters and if they were less compelling than Aerin and Dane, this story would have fallen flat. Both Aerin and Dane are amazing characters in their own rights, though. They have enough similarities that their friendship makes perfect sense, but on the surface they’re very different. Dane is over-confident and tends to make light of things while Aerin is constantly anxious and is very serious about issues that she’s passionate about.

They strike sparks off each other because Aerin wants Dane to care about issues but he’s too scared to care about anything. And he wants her to open up, when staying closed keeps her safe. In some ways they’re both self-made. Aerin had to teach herself everything after her father died, and Dane may as well have not had a father so he had to figure most of it out for himself too.

The only issue that I had with Academy 7 is the backstory. While Aerin and Dane’s relationship is painstakingly honest – rarely falling back on convention, but forging its own path – the backstory is stereotypical and overdramatic. It serves its purpose, but Osterlund did such a good job of injecting real humanity into the relationship between Aerin and Dane that I sort of wish she had pushed their parents’ stories to the same level.

Academy 7 is a genuinely fantastic read. The characters are amazing, and while it is romantic, the focus is more on being a wonderful story than a love story.

 

Academy 7 – Anne Osterlund

Speak (May 2009)

ISBN: 9780142414378



ockler_delilahBel:

Cover

Torn yellow paper dolls being held together with sticky tape, held by hands with chipped nail varnish. I feel like the symbolism is accurate for the story.

Characters

Delilah doesn’t know why her mother’s relationship with her family is so strained, and as we read on it is difficult not to fall in love with each and every character.

Favourite

Patrick, (I think we’ll probably all choose him). He’s just *sigh* so nice.

Least Favourite

Finn. Looooooooser.

Beginning

Delilah and her Mum spend the summer closing up her Grandmother’s house.

Storyline

The family secrets come to light and each character has to face their own personal demons.

Ending

Satisfying to say the least.

Thoughts

I loved this book so much.

Claire, Delilah’s Mum, begins the story with her head firmly up her butt. Sure she knew things weren’t going well, but by the end she had become someone I wouldn’t mind having a coffee with.

It’s important for us to realise our parents don’t have all the answers, and they get things wrong sometimes as well.

Themes of grief, mental illness, and self respect are wonderfully prevalent throughout.

Quote

“Claire? It’s Rachel. I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

 

ockler_mermaidsJoelene:

Cover

A paper-doll chain with one doll torn and patched with sticky-tape. It suits the nostalgic aspect of this novel and the idea of a family that has forgotten how to function.

Characters

The novel is from the perspective of Delilah Hannaford. Other major characters are her mother, her aunt Rachel, and Patrick, the guy she was friends with as kids but hasn’t seen for years. While Delilah’s grandmother, grandfather and other aunt, Stephanie, are all dead, they almost seem like characters in their own right.

Favourite

Delilah. She had her flaws, but her voice is really strong in the writing.

Least Favourite

Patrick. He wasn’t terrible, but I didn’t feel like he added anything to the story. Every time he was in it, I wanted to go back and figure out what was happening with Delilah, her mum and her aunt. He was also a little too unforgiving. When Delilah had just found out that the person she most trusted had been lying to her her whole life, it’s no wonder that she doubted him.

Beginning

Delilah has been getting in trouble a lot lately; getting caught shop-lifting, sneaking out with a boy – and her grades are dropping. When her mother gets a call saying that her grandmother has died, the last remaining Hannaford women head for Vermont to tie up loose ends.

Storyline

Leaving the past behind is more difficult than it would seem, as the Hannafords soon find. Delilah’s determined to uncover the reason for the rift that split the family eight years before. Her mother is equally determined to keep those secrets buried.

Ending

The ending here is satisfying and sweet without being cheesy.

Thoughts

I really liked this one, which is odd because it’s not a genre I’d choose. It’s well written and the characters are easy to understand though they have complex emotions.

Quote

“…if things were different between us, more like they used to be, I’d want to go…because nothing would be as important as helping my mother and aunt through this tragedy and tying up its many loose ends – the three remaining Hannaford women united and strong as an unsinkable ship.

But things aren’t different. She’s her and I’m me and surrounding us is an ocean of mess and misunderstanding…”

 

ockler_twitter2011Krista:

Cover

I think the cover with the cut out paper dolls is cute. It represents there is a crack in the chain and represents the story well with Delilah stuck in the middle.


Characters

The story focuses on Delilah, her relationship with her mother and love interest Paul.

Favourite

I would have to tie my favorites with Paul and Delilah’s aunt Rachel. They both seemed to bring the most stability to this rocky situation they find themselves in.

Least Favourite

I can’t say that any of the characters were the least favourite.

Beginning

After her grandmother’s death. Delilah, her mother and aunt all stay for the summer getting the house ready for sale. A friend from a long time ago comes to give Delilah some help and company.

Storyline

While preparing her deceased grandmother’s house for sale, Delilah and her family have to face their past head-on and confront what has come between them, one secret at a time.

Ending

I guess a part of me was really hoping for a big dramatic ending with Delilah and Paul running off into the sunset and the happily ever after. But we get a very down to earth and heart warming story of this family, finally learning how to communicate and opening new doors to their futures.

Thoughts

I don’t read realistic contemporary very often. But joining the book club was exactly for reasons like this book. Opening my eyes to something outside my usual style. This book especially spoke to me because it focused on a dysfunctional family and how they learn to communicate better with each other. Every single character in this story grew, learned from each other and in became closer to each other by doing so.

Quote

“It‘s complicated. I think when bad things happen—whether someone dies or people argue or split up—you get to a point where it‘s just too hard to go back. There‘s so much lost. So many versions of the truth. So many versions of how things might‘ve turned out differently. We all long for what could have been. For some people, it‘s just easier to move forward and try to forget.”

“Doesn’t matter how many people are in the crowd anymore, Delilah. Ten or ten thousand, I’m still only singing for one.”

Discussion Topics

Mental illness is a key theme in Fixing Delilah. While it’s good to see these issues in literature, was Ockler’s handling of it astute – or kind – considering the fates of the two characters who suffered from this affliction?

Do you think that honesty is the best policy?

 



harris_midnight crossroadWhen Manfred Bernardo decides to move, Midnight, Texas seems like an ideal location. A town so small it’s almost a case of blink and you’ll miss it, Manfred figures that it will be the perfect place to lie low while getting his Internet business on track.

Soon after he arrives he realises that he’s not the only one in town with secrets. Though his new neighbours are few, they’re not the kind to over-share and run on a policy of not asking others about their pasts.

This policy suits Manfred fine until members of a white supremacist bikie gang start showing up in town, determined to extract someone’s secrets from them. And until Bobo Winthrop’s missing girlfriend shows up dead.

Midnight Crossroad is one of those books that you ultimately wish offered a little bit more. Some aspects of it are really interesting. The setting, for instance, is full of possibility. Midnight is tiny – a place with just enough traffic from people on road-trips to make it feasible. Because of the size, the community is a close-knit one. Yet, in spite of how much the townspeople support each other, seemingly every member of the community is running from something or keeping secrets. So the people of Midnight live in the present, not pushing into their neighbour’s pasts.

Aside from having a distinctive setting and enticing mystery with a lot of other mysteries broiling under the surface, quite a few things don’t hold together in Midnight Crossroad. The murder, first and foremost. Why would anyone believe that a woman had run away when she took nothing with her and at no point gave anyone the impression that she wanted to leave – or had anywhere to go?

Also, what is the social setting of this novel? I mean, obviously it’s American, but is this a world like that in Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series where everyone knows that supernatural beings exist – or is the paranormal deeply buried from regular people in this world? Bobo and Manfred appear in other books by Harris. It’s possible that I’d understand the setting more if I had read those novels, but getting into Midnight Crossroad without any background context is a little baffling.

Midnight Crossroad has a lot of promise. The characters – with all their secrets – are intriguing enough to draw readers back; as is the setting. Hopefully Day Shift, the second book in the series settles some of the questions that this one raised.

 

**For older readers

Midnight Crossroad – Charlaine Harris

Gollancz (May 6, 2014)

ISBN: 9780575092853



Marney_Every BreathLife hasn’t been the same since Rachel Watts moved to Melbourne. Having spent her whole life working her family’s property in Five Mile, the city is a loud and unwelcoming stranger. The one saving grace is James Mycroft, her neighbour. He is at home in the city that she hates, but he can also see a different side to it than most people can. While most people are caught up in the busyness of the city, Mycroft befriends the tram drivers and homeless.

When Watts and Mycroft find their homeless friend, Dave’s, body with the throat slit open, they are thrown into a mystery that may well be their last.

A lot of people have touted Every Breath as a modern Sherlock Holmes with teenage protagonists and a female Watson. This is not the best mindset to have when delving into this novel. There are some nods to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, and it’s fun to see how many you can pick out. Even Mycroft and Watts allude to the similarities; but that’s all it is. Mycroft is no Sherlock and Watts is no Watson.

The mystery doesn’t have the same feel as a Sherlock Holmes novel either. It’s more involved, with Watts and Mycroft risking themselves to hunt down clues rather than drawing conclusions from the minute pieces information available. This approach is more suited to the YA market, leaving more room for action.

The characters in Every Breath are largely well drawn. Though it occurred years before, Mycroft is still reeling from the car accident that caused his parents’ deaths. He puts on a good show, but has trouble coping with stressful situations. He lives with an aunt who provides the physical things he needs, without emotional attachment. Watts is similarly lost. While she has the support of a loving family, the move to the city has unsettled her. Going back to the country isn’t optional, but she doesn’t want to accept the city as her new home.

Some parts of the relationships in Every Breath work well, while others leave me baffled. It’s weird that Watts’s parents basically force her to kill their dogs but they’re so strict that they won’t let her spend the night with Mycroft. It might just be me, but if she’s old enough to do one then she’s old enough to do the other – and, of the two, the former would scar me for life.

On the other side of that, Watts’s family are loving. They’re often tired from long shifts at work, but they all pull together to get the house-work and cooking done, and they take the time at the end of their day to see how everyone is. Mycroft and his aunt are evidently not close, but there are enough hints there to show that the strain in their relationship might be due to the unexpectedness of his parents’ deaths and of the sudden responsibility that has fallen on the aunt.

Every Breath is a good start to a new series. While it could stand on its own, there are a lot of characters arcs here that are nowhere near finished, and I’m looking forward to revisiting Watts and Mycroft in the next instalment.

 

Every Breath – Ellie Marney

Allen & Unwin (September 1, 2013)

ISBN: 9781743316429



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