Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley

Peta LyreTitle: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal

Author: Anna Whateley

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 248

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…

‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.

Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?

A moving and joyful own voices debut.

~*~

Rules help Peta navigate her life, and the social world around her. She is neurodivergent – ASD, SPD and ADHD – and these rules help her remind herself how to act around people who might not understand her neurodivergence, and the way she is, and how she might fit into society. Her friend Jeb, and Aunt Antonia have helped her with these rules and working out how to do things, and supporting her for who she is for many years. Ever since her parents gave up and quit, Peta has been living with Aunt Antonia – Ant, as she calls her, attending a local College for years eleven and twelve, and has had some success in keeping her routines and normal ratings steady.

When Sam starts school, and Peta’s careful routines that help her maintain her normal crack as they head on the school ski trip, Peta starts to find new confidence in romance, – can she have a normal life, or will her old rules matter when things fall apart?

AWW2020

This is a touching, evocative and honest own voices debut that can spark a conversation about what is normal. Is normal what society deems normal, or does everyone have their own normal that should be accepted. Or are both right? Can society have an expectation of appropriate behaviours and interactions that we learn through socialisation whilst we are able to maintain our own individual normal and individual routines at the same time? This is perhaps one of the most complicated things to unpack yet also, the simplest. For Peta, what she does is normal – her normal, Jeb’s normal, Ant’s normal. Normal in their lives – like in everyone’s lives – is what they know and experience.

Yet at the same time, there are societal ideations and expectations of what is normal, and all the characters must navigate this. To add another layer, the normal of the College Peta, Jeb and Sam attend is different again – every student is different, has a different normal and I think it is safe to say, nobody seems to fit into what society and others around them demand and expect is ‘normal’ – like Big Kat.

So what is normal? Normal is me, normal is you. Normal is Peta, and normal is the author, Anna Whateley. Normal is what we make of it, and our lives, our routines. We can change and adapt our normal as our confidence grows and as we find our place in the world as this book shows through Peta and her experiences at the snow, and how it helps her uncover and begin to talk about her feelings, what she wants to do, and how to let other people in.

Her character is authentic – and many of her experiences are based on Anna’s, which is what makes this book engaging, fresh and honest. It works on all levels.  I loved the support Peta’s friends and school gave her and I loved how she resolved things – it felt honest and fair, and made the book feel as much about friendship, family and coming of age as it did about the romance – and it was Peta’s rules and structure that helped shape how she approached things and that hopefully, gives readers an insight into what people who had ASD, SPD, ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions go through. This will differ from person to person, but hopefully this will resonate with people as well. The way Peta interacts might not be the same for everyone in her position – yet through this book, maybe readers can learn ways of helping – or how to ask what they can do to help – or just to listen and make an effort to understand.

Seeing how Peta grappled with being honest and blunt and how this wasn’t necessarily socially acceptable was an eye opener, and can open up conversations, I hope. How one person sees and understands the world is not the same as others – and throughout the novel, we see Peta trying to walk the tightrope of how to interact socially and act according to her normal. In a sense, trying to find what some might call a happy medium to please everyone, and herself.

It deals with themes of family, friendship, LGTBQIA relationships, and invisible disabilities in a way not often seen – in a positive way, where for sure, bad things happen but it is resolved and understandings are reached, and a normal way of life is forged for everyone involved. A great read for teens who want to see themselves represented and also for those who wish to understand these issues.

The God Child by Nana Oforiatta Ayim

the god childTitle: The God Child

Author: Nana Oforiatta Ayim

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 4th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $26.99

Synopsis: Maya grows up in Germany knowing that her parents are different: from one another, and from the rest of the world. Her reserved, studious father is distant; and her beautiful, volatile mother is a whirlwind, with a penchant for lavish shopping sprees and a mesmerising power for spinning stories of the family’s former glory – of what was had, and what was lost.

And then Kojo arrives one Christmas, like an annunciation: Maya’s cousin, and her mother’s godson. Kojo has a way with words – a way of talking about Ghana, and empire, and what happens when a country’s treasures are spirited away by colonialists. For the first time, Maya has someone who can help her understand why exile has made her parents the way they are. But then Maya and Kojo are separated, shuttled off to school in England, where they come face to face with the maddening rituals of Empire.

Returning to Ghana as a young woman, Maya is reunited with her powerful but increasingly troubled cousin. Her homecoming will set off an exorcism of their family and country’s strangest, darkest demons. It is in this destruction’s wake that Maya realises her own purpose: to tell the story of her mother, her cousin, their land and their loss, on her own terms, in her own voice.

~*~

Moving between Ghana, England and Germany across five parts, and told through Maya’s eyes, The God Child is a debut novel from Ghanaian author, Nana Oforiatta Ayim. Maya has grown up in Germany. She knows her parents are different, on many levels. They make her aware of it, in their own ways, and society does. Her mother is a spinner of stories of former glory that those around them do not believe yet Maya lives with these stories and it would seem, doesn’t always actively question them, though she may want to, as I felt she was quite a practical character in some ways, but like her mother in other ways. She is still a child when her cousin, Kojo comes to live with them one Christmas. Soon, the family is split – it seems Maya’s parents separate, though like many things, this is not spelled out so readers have to infer and guess what happened, and Kojo and Maya are sent to school in England.

In England, Maya and Kojo attend school – until a turning point send the family back to Ghana, and years later, Maya returns – and this is the turning point – where everything changes and comes full circle to the opening chapter.

From the first few pages, we know that something big happens in Maya’s family – something that tears them apart and changes Maya forever. From there, she flicks back to her childhood, moving through it in what feels like a chronological way, and the story feels as though it is set in the eighties or nineties at least – based on the presence of cars but the lack of technology we are familiar with are not present, giving it a sense of class as well as race – and perhaps hints at ideas of what matters on a human level that we can recognise in many people – for a variety of reasons. Maya’s journey is interesting as she grapples with her three identities – Ghanaian, German and English – and how she navigates this between the expectations of her mother and her mother’s stories and traditions, as well as those of her Ghanaian family that come through in later parts, and who she is within the context of how she has grown up and what she has been exposed to. It shows that identity is complicated in a myriad of ways, and for some people, caught between two very different cultures and nations, can be fraught or confusing.

Categorising this for my tags and blog was difficult – it didn’t have a feel of any genre – other than what is called Literary Fiction – which is often seen as better than genre fiction, but can also be a lot more conceptual or character driven – so it’s not something I read a lot of. However, this one definitely had a clear plot, even though at times I felt like it jumped a bit or didn’t state things clearly – the inferring between the lines seems to be a characteristic of literary fiction.

What I did find interesting about this book was the way it dealt with diversity and navigating life across three different countries whilst discovering your identity. Maya was an intriguing character to follow, and I wanted to know more – about the gaps that weren’t always filled in but at the same time, I can see why some bits were left out and it will work for those who want to read this and enjoy literary fiction. It had some really good and insightful points, and I hope there are many out there who will enjoy it.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

deathless girls.jpgTitle: The Deathless Girls

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Genre: Historical, Gothic, Fantasy

Publisher: Bellatrix/Hachette

Published: 24th September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Gothic, intoxicating, feminist and romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

Gothic, intoxicating, feminist and romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

~*~

Kizzy and Lil are Travellers, whose lives change forever when they are enslaved by Boyar Valcar and taken from their community. Lil tells the story – so everything we see is shown through her eyes, and her understandings and feelings for her sister, and those she meets at the castle, like Mira, and her love for her brother and those she fears she will never see again.

In the castle, as they work, rumours swirl around about what happens to the girls who disappear – until Kizzy is taken, and this sets in motion a series of events that leads Mira, Fen and Lil to search for and save Kizzy and brother Kem from an unimaginable fate – but at what cost. and where will everything lead them all?

Set a few hundred years in the past, maybe three or four hundred years, The Deathless Girls follows Kizzy and Lil as they are ripped from a life they know and into one that they will ever escape from. It draws on the myths and stories of Dracula and his brides, and their untold story. The first half move slowly, as pieces of the puzzle are slowly revealed and as hints towards the fates of Kizzy and Lil are dropped for the reader to follow – and it is done quite cleverly, so whilst it is slowly, it doesn’t feel slow or meander too much.

The turning point, where Kizzy is taken, is where it picks up. More questions arise but these foreshadow what is to come and what the rest of the book had been heading towards. Whilst not the ending I had hoped for, it was perhaps what I had expected from the title and the hints that had been dropped throughout the novel – especially when it came to some of the characters.

This book is aimed at a young adult audience – and I don’t think you need to know the Dracula myths or stories to enjoy it – it can stand alone as its own story, but can also be read alongside a reading of the Dracula stories and myths that people do know. Either would make for an interesting discussion and reading, as each explore different themes. Here, the power of the women involved and their choices and lives, and what leads them to their fate are highlighted. They have agency and personhood, rather than just being a passive victim.

Whilst a vampire novel in a way, the vampire element, and Dracula element only becomes clear towards the latter half. For the first half or so, the divining by Cook and the other things that are hinted at could have led to anything, which is perhaps what makes it powerful and different to what usually constitutes a vampire novel. I’m sure there will be a very keen audience for this book, I I hope future readers enjoy it.

Pre-release review: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson

What-Lies-Beneath-Us-Cover-sample-copy-197x300.jpgTitle: What Lies Beneath Us

Author: Kirsty Ferguson

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Elephant Tree Publishing

Published: 22nd February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 286

Price: $20.00

Synopsis: Jessica James had the perfect life. She had a good job, supportive friends, and her husband Geoff and her son Jack both adored her. Everything changed the moment she found out she was having another child.

Now she’s a stay-at-home mum, they have barely enough money coming in, Jack is a troubled ten-year-old and she feels there’s an insurmountable divide between her and her husband. Worse still, her feelings towards her youngest son are just wrong. Does her recent diagnosis of post-partum depression explain those feelings or is something more sinister going on?

The unthinkable occurs when baby Jason is found dead in his cot. At the time of his death, Geoff is away on a camping trip. Now Jessica finds herself accused of murder and is vilified by all those who once claimed to love her. As the evidence mounts against her, Jessica must come to terms with the fact that she may well have had something to do with her baby’s death.

When a second tragedy rocks the James family, Jessica’s world quickly unravels, and she spirals into darkness. Meanwhile, Victorian Detectives Hunter and Cooper investigate the infant’s homicide, but are quickly left with more questions than answers.

By the time they get to the bottom of this mystery, will there be anyone left of the James family to save?

~*~

This is one of the books I copy-edited for Elephant Tree Publishing, and it was a real pleasure to see how my editing has helped the story and been considered. When I started reading this, I had to switch off my editor’s brain, and switch on my reading and reviewing brain, and focus on the story itself rather than the technicalities that mould it into what is a thrilling and compelling mystery.

2019 Badge

The author contacted me after I edited it, to ask me to review it as well, and the publisher sent me an ARC copy – the copies that are the final stage prior to publishing, where final touches are put on it, and gave me permission to post this review prior to review date for the paperback to generate a buzz for it.

What Lies Beneath Us is a tightly plotted mystery, revolving around a family touched by tragedy in a most unspeakable way. First, her youngest son, Jason is found dead in his cot. This incident begins a mystery that feels like it won’t ever be solved, and the hints dropped in the chapters that lead up to the crucial events and climax of the novel are subversive and cleverly written to make the reader think twice about what has really happened, and question what they know about Jessica and her family.

The detectives – Hunter and Cooper – fulfil the investigative roles wonderfully, and I liked the divide between the two of them in terms of Jessica’s guilt. Hunter is convinced there is more to the situation than what they, Jessica’s family and friends, and everyone else who knows about the case can see. He’s the character convinced these cases aren’t always straightforward and that there are shades of grey in some areas. In comparison, his partner, Cooper, is very black and white, and convinced that nobody else could be involved – until some of the things Jessica says, and some things he hears don’t quite fit with his preconceptions. It is these aspects that make the novel engrossing and intriguing, and lead to events and a conclusion that I never saw coming.

What Lies Beneath Us is the kind of novel that makes us question what we know and who we know, and what people are capable of. It shows that we are all human and infallible. It shows that what we see on the surface isn’t necessarily what is happening underneath – that assumptions will be made on the visible, and the invisible will be ignored. It is the unseen that Hunter makes more of an effort to understand, and this is what makes him a really good character. It is also what makes the novel powerful – recognising that the visible isn’t a person’s entire character – that it is what lies beneath us that contributes to who we are in many different ways.

I hope to read more from Kirsty soon, and hopefully there will be more to this story as well.

The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan

*Read in 2017, published review in 2018*
sisters songTitle: The Sister’s Song

Author: Louise Allan

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set in rural Tasmania from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Sisters’ Song traces the lives of two very different sisters. One for whom giving and loving are her most natural qualities and the other who cannot forgive and forget.

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1926, everything changes. The two young girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited when Nora’s life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida longs passionately for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida’s eyes, it seems that Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Set in rural Tasmania over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters. The Sisters’ Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-rose
Most of the time when a novel contains love, it is the romantic kind, between two unrelated people, crossing paths and finding themselves tumbling head-first into a relationship, and its ups and downs, creating a much-loved genre amongst many readers. However, as someone who is not an avid fan of such novels, I always love it when I come across a novel where if there is romance, it is a subplot, or an element of the novel, and the main story shifts the important focus to something else, like family – a kind of love that is not often seen in many novels, but one that I have begun to see as creeping into books by Australian women writers, sometimes alongside a historical backdrop and some romantic love. It is this familial love that drives and instigates the plot of the debut novel by Louise Allan, The Sister’s Song.

 

Beginning in 1926 and set in Tasmania, and spanning the next seventy years, The Sister’s Song follows the lives of Ida and Nora Parker after their father dies, and their mother withdraws into herself. Nora is a gifted singer and piano player, and dedicated to faith, aww2017-badgeguided by the loving hand of her grandmother. Ida is the opposite, unsure of her place in the world, only knowing there are things she is not good at. When they grow up, their paths separate and Nora goes to the mainland to study music, against all her mother’s wishes, and Ida stays behind, becomes a nanny, weds, hoping to start a family. Their mother tries to keep Nora in Tasmania in the rural town they live in with their grandmother, pushing realism, not dreams, into their heads as the way to go. For Ida, this advice sticks with her but so does a feeling of wanting to be a better mother, a better sister. When Nora falls pregnant, she is sent home and married off to another man, and from here, the sister’s lives take a new turn, with Nora bearing the children Ida wishes she could, and each sister turning into what they never thought they would become.

Where Nora becomes more like their mother, Ida becomes more like their mother’s mother, and a supportive Aunt whose nephews and niece turn to in times of strife. Throughout the years, these sisters fight and come together, and ultimately, show the power of sisterly love through hard times. Spanning across seventy years, The Sister’s Song hints at the historical events Ida and Nora live through, but these moments are almost like passing ships as the reader becomes invested in the characters. I found that the love between the sisters, and Nora’s children was stronger, and had more depth in them than some romance novels I have read – deeper, more meaningful relationships always make a book more relatable and readable for me.

Louise Allan has created characters with flaws, that are not perfect and who make mistakes, and she allows them to make mistakes. She allows them to act and live within their time and frame of understanding as well, ensuring that their attitudes suit what they know, even if there are characters who find these attitudes shocking. Through Ida and Nora, various ways of living and thinking are explored, and understood over the years. It is a beautifully crafted story that shows everyone is human, and that everyone has the capability to follow their dreams, to fall, and to find their way back to who they once were, and the changing dynamics of family throughout time.

Ideal for readers looking for a new reader and a new author, and a refreshing take on the relationships that women have in literature and fiction. It’s always lovely to see one that doesn’t focus on falling in love, as it gives some variety and spice to female characters and their stories.

Booktopia

Angus & Robertson – Up to 25% off all Fiction titles in our Santa’s Little Helpers Showcase