Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Jazz & Friendship: Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lovestam

Posted May 15, 2017 by Hannah in Reviews, Young Adult / 0 Comments

Jazz & Friendship: Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara LovestamWonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lovestam
Published by Allen & Unwin on 29th March 2017
Pages: 318
Format: Paperback, Finished Review Copy
Source: Publisher
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A celebration of being a little bit odd, finding your people and the power of music to connect us.

For Steffi, going to school everyday is an exercise in survival. She's never fit in with any of the groups at school, and she's viciously teased by the other girls in her class. The only way she escapes is through her music--especially jazz music.

When Steffi hears her favourite jazz song playing through an open window of a retirement home on her walk home from school, she decides to go in and introduce herself. The old man playing her favorite song is Alvar. When Alvar was a teenager in World War II Sweden, he dreamed of being in a real jazz band. Then and now, Alvar's escape is music--especially jazz music.

Through their unconventional friendship, Steffi comes to realise that she won't always feel alone. She can go to music school in Stockholm. She can be a real musician. She can be a jitterbug, just like Alvar.

But how can Steffi convince her parents to let her go to Stockholm to audition? And how is it that Steffi's school, the retirement home, the music and even Steffi's worst bully are somehow all connected to Alvar? Can it be that the people least like us are the ones we need to help us tell our own stories?

Wonderful Feels Like This was a beautiful coming of age story, and something completely different from what I’ve been reading recently, and turned out to be a refreshing contemporary about an unlikely friendship between retiree Alvar and schoolgirl Steffi after they discover their mutual love for all things jazz.

Steffi Herrera is a fifteen year old who loves jazz – especially Pavel Romel and wants to be a great musician one day too. Her quiet demeanour doesn’t fit in with the other kids at school, who torment her relentlessly with name calling, slut shaming and more. It’s in her music that she finds solace, and the power of words and lyrics that gives her strength day in and day out. On the way home from school one day, she hears her favourite piece of jazz, and meets Alvar, a resident in a retirement home in her small town of Bjorke. The pair quickly bond over their shared love for Pavel Romel, and Alvar delights Steffi with tales of his adventures growing up in neutral Sweden during World War Two.

The dual narration in this story was one of my favourite parts. Learning about a country I know little about – both historically and in general, was completely refreshing in a spate of generic reads over the past couple of weeks. It was interesting to see and recognise the parallels between both Steffi’s and Alvar’s life growing up – albeit at two very different periods of time. Alvar’s story of a young, nervous country boy moving to the big city of Stockholm at the age of seventeen at the height of World War Two was adorable and heartwarming all the way through, and really touching.  From Alvar’s stories, we get to see Steffi shine as she comes into herself. His stories give her the hope she needs to continue with her music, and to stand up against her bullies. Despite the doubts that every teenager gets, Steffi was able to persevere, knowing that there was something more for her than small town life and that knowledge she carried with her throughout the whole novel.

A surprising (but completely commendable and lovely aspect) was the understated message of diversity throughout the novel. I love reading about different cultures, and don’t do it nearly enough. Steffi might be a Swede, but her father – or Pappita – is Spanish, and it was interesting to see his cultural influence on his family and in Steffi’s life, especially from a non-English speaking perspective. I need to read more novels like this!! Another theme of the novel was identity. Steffi’s bullies often used lesbian as a slur, and this was something Steffi struggled with throughout the book. Because she didn’t find any of her classmates attractive, does this make her a lesbian? And what’s so wrong about that? The way Steffi draws her own conclusions was empowering to say the least.

As much as enjoyed this novel, I found aspects of it lacking at times. I felt like was on the outside looking in – never really connecting with the story. I wish there’d been a bit more depth and exploration between the characters – most of it seemed surface level, never really getting any deeper. I just liked it – I didn’t love it. I wanted so much more – more from the relationship between Alvar and Steffi. I felt that the ending was a little bit too quick, and then it was over. But in saying that, Wonderful Feels Like This was a heartwarming story that all ages will be able to enjoy.

Wonderful Like This by Sara Lovestam is published by Allen & Unwin and is now available from all good bookstores (support your local!) for RRP$29.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life, Amongst Other Things: Girl in Between by Anna Daniels

Posted May 13, 2017 by Hannah in Adult, Reviews / 2 Comments

Life, Amongst Other Things: Girl in Between by Anna DanielsGirl in Between by Anna Daniels
Published by Allen & Unwin on 1st May 2017
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher, Finished Review Copy
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Lucy Crighton has just moved in with some gregarious housemates called Brian and Denise . . . who are her parents. She's also the proud mother of Glenda, her beloved 10-year-old . . . kelpie. And she has absolutely no interest in the dashing son of her parents' new next-door neighbour . . . well, maybe just a little.

When you're the girl in between relationships, careers and cities, you sometimes have to face some uncomfortable truths . . . like your Mum's obsession with Cher, your father's unsolicited advice, and the fact there's probably more cash on the floor of your parents' car than in your own bank account.

Thank goodness Lucy's crazy but wonderful best friend, Rosie, is around to cushion reality, with wild nights at the local Whipcrack hotel, escapades in Japanese mud baths, and double dating under the Christmas lights in London.

But will Lucy work out what she really wants to do in life and who she wants to share it with?

Girl in Between is a warm, upbeat and often hilarious story about life at the crossroads. Featuring an endearing and irrepressible cast of characters, it will have you chuckling from start to finish.

There’s something wonderful about connecting with a character and her story, and for me, that’s what Girl in Between was –  a novel of my own heart.

Lucy has just moved back home to her parent’s house in Rockhampton, one failed relationship and a career in journalism behind her. She’s at a crossroads in her life, and figuring out the next step is proving a lot harder than it looks. Throw in romance, friendships and family, Lucy is caught, almost quite literally, as new chapters of her life begin and end – she is the ‘girl in between.’

The Girl in Between was filled with great Aussie humour and witty charm. Lucy’s a country girl at heart, though having spent years in the big city developing her career in TV journalism. A failed attempted at following her ex boyfriend back to Queensland lands her at home with her Mum & Dad, two hilarious characters in their own right. Lucy’s unsure about her next move, or where her path is leading – something that resonates with any twenty or thirty something yet to find their place in the world. With that uncertainty brings a lot of different choices and highlight’s Lucy’s indecisive nature, as well as that worry about whether or not she’s choosing the right path. connected really well with Lucy; she’s the type of person I’d be friends with in real life. We also share the same fears and worries and a lot of her story resonated with me on a personal level.

The supporting cast as well are fantastic – as mentioned, Lucy’s parents are a barrel of laughs as they navigate retirement. I love how supportive of Lucy they are as well, but still encouraging her to find her feet. Lucy’s best friend, Rosie, was a character and bounded off Lucy beautifully. Then there’s the romance – it wasn’t over done, but rather subtle, and I loved that it didn’t eclipse Lucy’s self discovery. Oscar of course, was a dish, and I also enjoyed that the romance wasn’t straight forward, but they were still able to find their way back to each other.

From country Queensland to the bustle of London, Girl in Between was a charmingly funny novel about finding your place in the world – no matter how long it takes you to get there.

Girl in Between is published by Allen & Unwin and is now available from all good bookstores (support your local!) for RRP$29.99

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Book Chat: The Reluctant Jillaroo by Kaz Delaney

Posted March 29, 2016 by Hannah in Reviews, Young Adult / 3 Comments

Book Chat: The Reluctant Jillaroo by Kaz DelaneyThe Reluctant Jillaroo by Kaz Delaney
Published by Allen & Unwin on 4th January 2016
Pages: 348
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
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Surf-loving Heidi impersonates her horse-mad twin to help Harper get a scholarship to attend the much sought-after agricultural school in this rural romance from Australia's queen of teen, Kaz Delaney. Suitable for teen readers of Rachael Treasure.

Harper Gage has won the opportunity of a lifetime - ten days at Winmaroo Jillaroo and Jackaroo school. The camp could give her the recommendation she needs to go to the exclusive Agricoll for years 11 and 12. But when an accident leaves Harper hospitalised, her twin sister, Heidi, goes in her place. The only problem is that Heidi is not much of a country girl - not like her sister. And to make life even more complicated, her sister's biggest rival Trent is going to be there. Will she be able to fool him?

And then the reality of the school hits Heidi hard. It's all dust, snakes and heat - a million miles away from the surf she loves. When she meets the fun and handsome Chaz, life at the school suddenly doesn't seem so bad, although with Trent acting up and trouble brewing with the other students, Heidi's not sure how long she can keep her identity secret. And if her secret is revealed, will Chaz ever be able to trust her again?

The Reluctant Jillaroo was probably one of the cutest books I’ve read in a long time. Perfect because I’ve just moved to New South Wales, have always been a bit horsey (still mad my parents never let me do riding lessons as a child), and enjoy a good bit of whodunnit, The Reluctant Jillaroo had a bit of everything in it that made for a great light read.

Surf loving city girl Harper Gage inadvertently caused the accident that left her twin sister, Heidi, in hospital, and out of a placement in one of the the best jillaroo camps in Australia, thus ending her chances of getting into a prestigious agricultural school in New South Wales. So the twins come up with a plan – Harper will spend the ten days pretending to be Heidi, Heidi’ll get a reference and (fingers crossed) get into ag school, Harper will feel less guilty about injuring her twin and everything will be dandy.

Of course, as life goes, it’s not quite all sunshine and roses.

What I love about this book is that it’s quintessentially Australian without being stereotypical in the character’s behaviours and traits. It read like a rural romance for young teenagers (and as a “city” girl myself, I love rural romance). I felt like I was right there alongside Heidi – er, Harper – as she went on this crazy adventure pretending to be her sister. While it’s definitely aimed at younger teen readers, which means the language and tone of Harper was at times a bit grating (“Holy Batman”, one of Harper’s catch phrases, got old quickly), I think this has a great wider appeal to older teens and adults as well.

Of course, thrown in was a splash of romance – Chaz was adorable, and I loved the budding romance between him and Harper – which gave Harper the moral dilemma of was she doing the right thing. It was definitely a learning experience for her, and as a 15 year old she matured quite a lot through the course of the book too. The sub plot of items mysteriously disappearing was a great addition as well, and I thought rounded out the novel.

I would love young adult rural romance to become a thing here, it would definitely be right up my alley, and I hope Delaney explores the world she’s created (Harper and Trent’s adventures, maybe?) in forthcoming books!

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