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Favourites of 2016

I’ll be posted my favourites out of the DA-reviewed books over there and my favourite audiobooks reviewed at AudioGals will be going up over there – but this is where I mention the books I read and loved and reviewed here. Most of my favourites this year were reviewed at Dear Author or AudioGals as it happens but there were two books which I reviewed only here and which stood out to me so much that they deserved to get a special mention.

hot pink cover with author's name and title appearing as cutouts showing a girl's face laughing (I think - she could be screaming but I think she's laughing).

red/orange/yellow space explosions, with "excerpts" from files for title, author names and blurb by Marie Lu

Completely different books but both brilliant – and also: Australian for extra bonus points. You can read my review of Summer Skin here and of Illuminae here.

I wish you all the joy of the festive season. However you celebrate, if you celebrate, stay safe and stay strong. Catch you in 2017.

~ Kaetrin ~

 

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

hot pink cover with author's name and title appearaing as cutouts showing a girl's face laughing (I think - she could be screaming but I think she's laughing).Why I read it:  I have been waiting for ages for my library hold of this book to come in because books are too expensive in Australia.

Summer Skin is not available to US readers unless they get the paperback from the Book Depository but the good news is that Ms. Eagar has recently announced it will be published in the US so that will change – but not until 2018 unfortunately.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Jess Gordon is out for revenge. Last year the jocks from Knights College tried to shame her best friend. This year she and a hand-picked college girl gang are going to get even.

The lesson: don’t mess with Unity girls.

The target: Blondie, a typical Knights stud, arrogant, cold . . . and smart enough to keep up with Jess.

A neo-riot grrl with a penchant for fanning the flames meets a rugby-playing sexist pig – sworn enemies or two people who happen to find each other when they’re at their most vulnerable?

It’s all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy’s stuff. Just your typical love story.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Summer Skin is a book which worked for me on a visceral level. There was something about the… vibe of it which bypassed my brain in some ways and got me straight in the feels. That’s not to say this is an entirely id vortex book. I don’t think it is. I’m just saying that if I were to examine the text and pull it apart, I could come up with all these things to say about how there wasn’t much to the relationship between Jess and Mitch. Summer Skin evokes that suffocating feeling of desperate want overlaid with the scary uncertainty of navigating a relationship where the ground under your feet is liable to shift at any time. It’s all there in between the words (h/t CS Pacat). So much of it was subtext and feel. I’m a reader who often doesn’t get subtle so I guess Kirsty Eagar is able to tap into the part of me which does.

Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar

raw blueWhy I read it: Brie from Romance Around the Corner mentioned this one to me on Twitter when we were talking about some New Adult books we were loving.  She wanted to get hold of the book but as the author is Australian, it was geo restricted for her. as an ebook and at the time, not available in print either.  Myself, I ended up waiting for the UK publication as it was less than half the price to buy it from The Book Depository than to get it here – even in an ebook version.  Brie tells me this one is now lined up next in her queue.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Carly has dropped out of uni to spend her days surfing and her nights working as a cook in a Manly café. Surfing is the one thing she loves doing … and the only thing that helps her stop thinking about what happened two years ago at schoolies week.And then Carly meets Ryan, a local at the break, fresh out of jail. When Ryan learns the truth, Carly has to decide. Will she let the past bury her? Or can she let go of her anger and shame, and find the courage to be happy?
Warning:  If you have rape triggers, this is not a book for you.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): This is kind of a hard one for me to grade.  On the one hand, I devoured this book in 1 day, staying up way too late to make sure Carly got a happy/hopeful ending.  The writing was clean and engaging, even though I probably didn’t understand more than half of the surfing language. (It will be interesting to see what Brie thinks of the Australianisms in the book – there’s a lot of “mate” and other Aussie terms.  It felt authentic to me even while I was sometimes cringing at the way some of my brethren can be… less than articulate).

Carly gutted me.  After being sexually assaulted during “schoolies week” (I think in the US many teens go to Florida to celebrate the end of school – here they go to the Gold Coast in Queensland) after she finished high school, she withdrew from her family and friends, dropped out of university, moved from the Central Coast of New South Wales to Manly and lived only to surf.  Her only happiness was in surfing, where she could get away from herself and not feel empty or awful anymore. She is frightened of men, intimacy, sex.  She feels rage and emptiness and overwhelming shame.  What bothered me, both in terms of the book and for Carly, is that she didn’t talk to anyone about it.  Even by the end of the book, there is really only a fairly brief discussion with Ryan (and, while he loves and accepts her, he possibly did not articulate what she needed to hear – but then, what do I know, I’ve not been sexually assaulted).  Carly got no treatment, no counselling – it seems she wasn’t even tested for STD’s. She didn’t tell anyone, until Ryan.  She has very interesting reasoning for not telling anyone and for not reporting it, which felt authentic but at the same time, it left her dealing (or not dealing as the case may be) with an horrendous trauma completely alone.
By the end of the book, Carly was essentially doing the same things she had been doing at the beginning, albeit she had now opened herself to love with Ryan.  But she had made no decisions about possibly going back to uni (to pursue perhaps a different form of study given that she clearly hated the business communication course she had been doing) or possibly pursuing further education/an apprenticeship as a chef/cook.  She had not reconciled at all with her family.  She had not been to a counsellor.  After the big reveal to Ryan, which was heartwrenching – gritty and raw rather than especially graphic in my opinion (and I DARE YOU to stop reading after that), she burrows away for a long time and eventually finds solace again in the surf.  There is a happy/hopeful romantic ending, never fear, but I wasn’t convinced, in terms of Carly’s mental health, that she had really processed anything or was in a better place.
The story is told from Carly’s first person POV and Ryan isn’t a big talker, so I did feel that I didn’t get enough of him.   However, there was one wonderful scene (involving a discussion about tattoos) which showed he was absolutely gone over Carly. And, when push comes to shove, he chooses Carly over everyone else.  Ryan is a fairly unusual hero.  When we meet him, he’s just got out of jail.  While it wasn’t a violent crime he was put away for, I wonder if some readers may find his criminal past makes it difficult to warm to him.  But, I liked that he turned his life around and it was clear he wasn’t going back to jail.  (He got a job and he moved on – that’s why I particularly noticed that Carly (with the exception of her relationship with Ryan) didn’t.) Considering that for most of the book he was clueless about what made Carly so skittish (and, while he wasn’t a bully or pushy, he wasn’t what I’d call sensitive either – at least in terms of sex) he was certainly very patient with her emotions – to the extent that on one of their first dates she spends a lot of it sobbing in his arms. Ryan is also unusual in that he’s not drop dead gorgeous.  He has a good body – he’s a surfer: of course he has a good body, but he has freckles everywhere and “sandy lank hair” and ears that stick out.  I liked that he wasn’t an Adonis.  Not a lot was made of his looks really (or hers for that matter – there was little physical description of Carly in the book) and it put me in mind of the recent post by Kate Elliott regarding the male gaze – I felt this book was written very much with Carly’s gaze – it wasn’t terribly sexual – which makes sense given what happened to her.  She sees bodies more as functional, particularly in relation to surfing.  Or, at least, that was my impression.
I would have liked a few more chapters, or maybe an epilogue a little bit down the track to give me some comfort that Carly was truly going to be okay. My heart broke for her.  As much as Ryan loves her, I didn’t think his love alone could “heal” her and I really wasn’t convinced she could do it on her own.  While I understood her reluctance to get help, I wondered if the book was perhaps sending an unhealthy message to younger/vulnerable readers? (my inner parent showing).
What else?  Carly is 19 and Ryan 26,  so I’d say this book is definitely “New Adult” rather than YA.  One other thing I’ll add is that it is told in present tense – that might put some people off, but I found in this book, it kept the tension strong – I was finding out what was happening just as Carly was, and I wasn’t ever sure just what would happen.  While I’m not a huge fan of 1st person present tense, I think it worked well in this book.
Carly strikes up a friendship with a fellow surfer, 15 year old Danny.  He has synaesthesia – he sees things in terms of colour.  For example, Wednesday is green.   The title of the book is actually a reference to a way Carly describes the ocean toward the end of the story:

When I come over the top of the dune I see the ocean and I feel like I’m seeing it for the first time.  

Today it’s blue, straight and simple.  Raw blue.
But, it also relates to Carly herself.  Danny sees Carly as blue – when she is particularly troubled, it is a dark, sickly, blue from which Danny flinches and when she is better the colour is somehow easier on his eyes.  And Carly was certainly “raw” in very many important ways.
While I devoured the book and the main character gutted me (my concern for Carly ran well beyond the end of the book), there were some things I felt were missing or light on, in terms of an excellent story.  Hence, my grade.  I’d recommend it but it may leave you  feeling on the melancholy side rather than with warm and fuzzy with satisfaction and triumph.

Grade:  B-  ETAThis book has stayed with me. The more I thought about it… well, now it’s a B.

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