Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: New Releases (page 3 of 48)

The Night Parade – Jami Nakamura Lin

The Night Parade - Jami Nakamura Lin - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Night Parade here
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The easiest way to get me to pick up a new release is to liken it to one of my favourite books. That’s why, when my friends at Scribe promised me that The Night Parade was like Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a copy for review.

The blurb goes on to explain that The Night Parade combines fable, culture, memory, art, legacy, and legend to tell Jami Nakamura Lin’s story, of mental illness and grief after the loss of her father. Before you even get to the first chapter, you’ll be stunned by the beauty of this hardback, and the illustrations by the author’s sister, Cori Nakamura Lin.

I found The Night Parade less familiar than Machado’s work, because Lin is writing to very different cultural reference points and touchstones. She draws from her heritage as a Japanese Taiwanese American woman, using the folklore of the yokai (supernatural creatures) to describe her experience of bipolar disorder and anticipatory grief. So, reading it landed somewhere between Machado and Sayaka Murata for me, with shades of Maggie Nelson and Susanna Cahalan.

Lin offers remarkable insight, her academic understanding of both illness and narrative informing an unusually keen self-awareness. Her experience of mental illness defies the story we’re comfortable with (“things were bad, then they got better, now I am healed and strong”), and she doesn’t shy away from that. Using the traditional Japanese narrative structure (four acts), she tells a different story, one that’s perhaps more true and realistic, but challenging to read at times.

Buy The Night Parade on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

The Italian Marriage – Jenna Lo Bianco

A fake marriage to secure a family inheritance – sounds like an Austen novel, doesn’t it? But actually, it’s The Italian Marriage, the new contemporary romance by Jenna Lo Bianco. The wonderful team at Macmillan Aus were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

The Italian Marriage has an absolutely preposterous premise, more like a reality show than a family estate plan. Workaholic Matthew D’Adamo comes from a long line of wealthy Italians, and a centuries-old clause in the family trust requires that the male heir be married in order to inherit. Enter Sarah, a free-spirited events manager, willing to marry him (with an iron-clad prenuptial agreement) and hang out in Italy for a year, in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.

It’s the Florentine setting that really sells The Italian Marriage, and it will have you longing for a year-long Italian getaway of your very own. The chemistry between the leads is also undeniable. It’s almost enough to make up for the fact that the characters are cartoonish and two-dimensional. The leads are too-good-to-be-true, “my biggest flaw is that I work too hard” types, and the villains are snobbish smokers with evil laughs and expensive shoes. There are also odd perspective shifts between and around them at times, which can feel momentarily confusing for the reader.

If you’re looking to escape with an easy read, The Italian Marriage will certainly do the job. It would also be the perfect pick for readers trying to learn Italian, as you’ll frequently have to look up phrases from the dialogue. A lot of the nuance (and the comedy of the side character, Petunia) will be lost if you don’t dutifully punch all of the Italian lines into Google Translate.

Buy The Italian Marriage on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

Love, Just In – Natalie Murray

Love Just In - Natalie Murray - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Love, Just In here.
(affiliate link)

This just in: a new summer rom-com has hit the shelves! Love, Just In is Natalie Murray’s debut adult romance novel, published by Allen And Unwin (who were kind enough to send me a copy for review).

In case you couldn’t tell from the styling and cover art, Love, Just In is aimed squarely at the Emily Henry crowd. It’s Australia’s answer to You and Me on Vacation and other BookTok best-sellers. The story follows Josie, a big-city TV reporter forced to move to a regional bureau after a panic attack live on air, and her semi-estranged paramedic bestie who underwent a tree change after an unthinkable tragedy.

Josie’s new job is going to bring them back together, and maybe they’re meant to be more than friends after all.

Yes, Love, Just In is a friends-to-lovers romance, with a little bit of heat, a peek behind-the-scenes in a TV newsroom, and a few well-timed public health messages. As a dyed-in-the-wool Sydneysider, who wouldn’t move to Newcastle no matter how hot the paramedic boyfriend is, I felt a bit slighted by all the city slander and country life propaganda… but besides that, Love, Just In is a fun read with a resonant message about health anxiety.

Buy Love, Just In on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Get Love, Just In on audiobook via Libro.fm here. (affiliate link)

The Professor – Lauren Nossett

The Professor - Lauren Nossett - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Professor here.
(affiliate link)

When I opened the package from my friends at Macmillan Australia, the blurb of The Professor intrigued me immediately. A university student is found dead in his apartment, an apparent suicide, and his German professor is questioned about a suspected teacher-student relationship turned sour. A disgraced former detective receives a call from her mother, a university professor, begging her to clear a colleagues’ name.

What’s so intriguing about that? Well, firstly, the gender of the titular professor isn’t immediately revealed. I thought we could be in for some fun with some evil gays. And secondly, the author bio inside the cover says that Nossett has a PhD in German literature, and we all know a ring of authenticity can make a big difference in a mystery-thriller.

The Professor makes good on the blurb about 50% of the time. The titular professor is a woman, so the story doesn’t really lend itself to a queer reading, but it definitely feels a lot more realistic than most dark academia novels I’ve read. As Nossett says in her Acknowledgements: “This story is as much a mystery as it is a novel about campus life, professor burnout, and student-professor relationships.”

I didn’t realise until a few chapters in that The Professor is actually a follow-up novel to last year’s The Resemblance. I feel like Nossett gives enough context and background to follow along, but I know most readers would prefer to start at the beginning – so there’s your heads up.

I loved the Athens, Georgia setting – an unconventional choice for dark academia mystery-thrillers – and the carefully crafted prose. I got strong Tana French vibes, so it would be the perfect pick for fans of her novels. There are plenty of twists and turns, and the last 50 pages absolutely bulldozed my expectations. The Professor is a great read, and I’ll be on the lookout for more by Nessott.

Buy The Professor on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

The Heart Is A Star – Megan Rogers

The lead-up to Christmas is kind of the perfect time to read The Heart Is A Star, so author Megan Rogers has my endless gratitude for sending through a review copy a couple of weeks ago. Coincidentally, it arrived the day after I heard the hosts of Chat 10 Looks 3 recommend it on a recent episode, so I was extra-keen to dive in.

The main character, Layla, is going through somewhat of a midlife crisis – only instead of buying a sports car and marrying a younger woman, she’s about to lose her job as an anesthetist, and wondering how her dad really died, and travelling across the country to make sure her mother doesn’t take her own life. So, yeah. She’s got a lot going on.

Layla’s mother is a “bottomless pit parent”, histrionically unstable and prone to threatening self-harm when she’s feeling lonely or hitting the bottle a bit too hard. Layla just knows, though, that this time it’s different. Waiting the two days until Christmas could be the difference between life and death, so she changes her flight and heads home early.

The Heart Is A Star combines rich and evocative nature writing with a family drama about “the messiness of midlife”. Rogers examines the inter-generational impacts of inherited trauma, ultimately revealing that discovering the truth doesn’t necessarily mean a happy ending. You’ll likely find reading it, as I did, that The Heart Is A Star follows a familiar trajectory, the outcome feeling sadly inevitable, with themes and motifs that are recurrent throughout #MeToo literature.

Buy The Heart Is A Star on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Get The Heart Is A Star audiobook from Libro.fm here. (affiliate link)

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