Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: New Releases (page 1 of 35)

Infamous – Lex Croucher

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Lex Croucher’s latest, Infamous, is billed as “Bridgerton‘s wild little sister”. As I read it, though, I’d call it more a Gen Z rom-com take on Mary Shelley’s lost summer with Percy and Lord Byron. Either way, it sounds like fabulous fun, doesn’t it? Zaffre (via Allen & Unwin) were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Brazen Eddie has been BFFs with kind Rose since they were young girls. The first cracks don’t appear in their bosom friendship until they both come out to society. Rose expresses interest in actually marrying – much to Eddie’s horror.

Eddie has very little interest in society or men at all, preferring to stick her nose in a book than into the marriage business. That is, until Nash Nicholson comes along, the captivating and unorthodox poet. Eddie worships him, for both his writing and his bohemian lifestyle. Rose feels she has no choice but to tag along when Nash invites Eddie to his remote country house, to ensure her friend doesn’t lose herself in his wake.

Infamous is a delightfully diverse and queer rom-com. It’s got a historical setting with a contemporary sensibility that will really resonate with a lot of readers (myself included). Plus, it’s funny!

Is that why you were so fixated on kissing? You’re planning on kissing this… this dessicated prune of a man?

Infamous (Page 22)

Pick up Infamous if you’re in the mood for a young, fun read with corsets and covert desire.

Demon Copperhead – Barbara Kingsolver

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A boy born to harrowing circumstances, abused by his stepfather, orphaned, put to work while still a child, battling poverty and demons at every turn, with a wide cast of curious and captivating characters. Is this Dickens’s classic David Copperfield, or Barbara Kingsolver’s new epic, Demon Copperhead? Believe it or not, it’s both!

The wonderful team at Faber Books (via Allen & Unwin) sent me a copy of Demon Copperhead for review. It’s beautifully designed, with rich blues and shimmering gold, reflecting the ups and downs of the story itself. I will warn you, though, it’s deceptive.

It doesn’t look that long – certainly it doesn’t have the heft of its source material – but it’s a saga, and time consuming to read. It doesn’t drag, but it’s looooooong. Set aside as much time as you’d need to read Dickens, that’s my first tip!

Kingsolver does an incredible job, finding parallels between Dickens and a boy’s life in her homelands, the Southern Appalachian mountains of Virginia, that wouldn’t be obvious at a glance. She even manages to craft a Uriah Heep character every bit as smarmy and repellent as the original!

Demon Copperfield follows the (quasi) titular character through foster care, derelict schools, athletic success, opioid addiction, great love and devastating loss. The content of the story is a bummer (to say the least), but Damon’s scrappy determination and personable narration compensates, to stop it feeling like a misery parade.

Naturally, Demon Copperhead warrants quite a few trigger warnings: domestic abuse, childhood neglect, addiction (including overdose), poverty, and a devastating dog death towards the end.

All told, though, Demon Copperhead is a worthwhile undertaking, if you’ve got the time and stomach for it. It’s destined to become a contemporary classic, an essential component of the burgeoning canon of books about the generation of lost boys in 21st century America. Kingsolver has done it again!

Men I Trust – Tommi Parrish

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If you’re after a gorgeous graphic novel about millennial ennui and unlikely friendships in murky waters, Men I Trust is the book for you. It’s Montreal-based illustrator Tommi Parish’s second book, and the wonderful team at Scribe were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

A heads up if you’re ordering a copy of Men I Trust, sight unseen: it’s big. Like, nearly A3 size. I was flummoxed when I picked mine up from the post office! It’s a brilliant, beautiful book, but where the heck am I going to shelve it? It’s too tall for any of my Billy bookshelves! Ah well, that’s a problem for another day…

Anyway, like I said, Men I Trust is a beautiful book – the illustrations are rendered to perfection in full colour, making it feel more like an art book than a graphic novel. Reviewers who know more about art and graphic novels than I do have sung its praises. Kelsey Oldham at Books+Publishing said: “With the palette of Simon Hanselmann and the emotional heft of Adrian Tomine, Parrish paints a realistic and intimate portrait of queer friendship, the colourful, genderless characters avatars for anyone grappling with how to live a meaningful life under capitalism.”

The story follows Sasha, a directionless and depressed youth dabbling in sex work and desperate for connection, and Eliza, who’s five years sober and struggling to get a poetry career off the ground while caring for her young son. They stumble across and into each other in a search for intimacy and understanding that seems emblematic of These Modern Times(TM).

Men I Trust is a moving and intense story, one that might have you staring off into the distance in a while after you’ve finished. Trigger warnings, if you need them, for addiction, abuse, depression/suicidality, and a reference to violence against dogs on page 5 that made me cover my eyes.

A Not So Meet Cute – Meghan Quinn

Could a Pretty Woman-type scenario really work? Lottie is about to find out in A Not So Meet Cute, the latest contemporary romance from best-selling author Meghan Quinn. Penguin Books Australia was kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Get yourself ready for the mother of all romance trope mash-ups. A Not So Meet Cute is a enemies-to-lovers, fake-dating, billionaire romance, with chapters told from alternating points of view.

Lottie is half-jokingly looking for a rich husband to pull her out of the financial black hole she has found herself in, after being fired by her best frenemy. Chance throws her into Huxley’s path, just as he happens to be looking for a fake fiance to help him cinch a major real estate deal. Can you imagine what happens next?

It’s completely unrealistic, of course, and totally predictable, but so what? It’s a fun, spicy romance with the door wide open. Some readers will be put off by the commanding and domineering manner of the leading man, but others will swoon – to each their own, et cetera.

As for me, I had fun reading A Not So Meet Cute, and I’ve tee’d up a few of Meghan Quinn’s audiobooks to see what else she has to offer.

Double Lives – Kate McCaffrey

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The premise of Double Lives seemed super timely with the release of Adnan Syed and other developments relating to podcast-popular crime cases here in Australia. I thought this new release might be something along the lines of Sadie (another novel styled as a true crime podcast).

It begins with Amy, a radio journalist, angling for a sought-after slot on drive time. She decides to conduct real-time on-air investigation into the case of Jonah Scott, who confessed to the murder of his girlfriend Casey Williams. She encourages listeners to contribute tips and theories – “we allow consumers of media to be the producers of media”.

Important note: I think what I’m about to say could constitute a “spoiler”, but it’s essential in explaining my reaction to Double Lives and what I think others need to know when deciding whether to read it.

The first “big reveal” comes in Chapter 2. The identification of Casey’s body was delayed… because she was trans. Apparently the investigators, ignoring any other evidence, were trying to identify her by her genitals? Ick.

I really resented Casey’s gender being used as a “shock twist”, but I wanted to give Double Lives a fair shot, so I tried to put it from my mind.

Unfortunately, the icks kept coming. Deadnaming and misgendering went largely unchallenged in the narrative. The story focused almost entirely on the cis-woman’s career advancement and her feelings of guilt about how she reacted when her ex-lover came out as trans (don’t worry, she feels really bad about it). There was so much opportunity in Double Lives to explore how and why trans bodies are exploited for entertainment, but McCaffrey skipped over that aspect entirely.

This story – which uses the murder of a trans woman by her lover for shock and intrigue – wasn’t handled sensitively at all.

Double Lives fell short on other measures, too. The characters were one-dimensional. Their arcs required leaps of logic or empathy that eluded me (the murderer was expected to be absolved because… his family were religious bullies?). The writing was somehow both basic and overblown (e.g., a character being “overcome with a feeling of numbness” – what was wrong with “she felt numb”?). The plot was a series of hats on hats: a small town, a podcast investigation, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex work, religious cults… Between all those balls in the air, and the frenetic structure and pacing, Double Lives felt exhausting.

I really hate to shit on a new release. I seriously considered not writing this review at all, and I’m not here to yuck anyone’s yums. I hope (beyond hope) that McCaffrey’s intentions were good with Double Lives… but she missed the mark, as I see it, by a long shot. I recommend caution and a critical eye to anyone thinking of reading this one.

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