Review: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman

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I Have Lost My Way is the latest book by the famed Gayle Forman and it definitely doesn’t disappoint! It features her typical “set in 1-day” timeline as well as packing an emotional punch full of angst, change and emotion. It’s the kind of book you chew through in one day but keep thinking about it for a long time after.

The book follows 3 narrators: Freya (a singer who’s lost her voice) and Harun (a closeted quiet boy who’s broken his boyfriend’s heart) and Nathaniel (neglected and disillusioned with the disappointing world after an accident). The book follows them as they all meet in New York City, actually…they meet because Freya tumbles off a foot-bridge and lands on Nathaniel’s head, gives him a concussion, and then ropes a nearby Haran into helping them to hospital. Harun recognises the famed-Freya-singer and wonders if hanging around with her will somehow get him his boyfriend (who loves her music) back. And Nathaniel feels all his paths in life have folded to a close…and then he meets these two strangers who help him and stick with him, even when they could’ve left.

I loved Forman’s previous books, If I Stay and Where She Went, so I was super excited for this new one. I Have Lost My Way tugged at those heart strings and also incorporated such a complex and interesting cast and plot into such a small amount of space!

I really liked how the “told over one day” plot was handled. It was short and powerful and I got so so attached to these characters after just seeing them over one day! However the romance in these 1-day stories always does feel a bit rushed…although I liked that Nathaniel and Freya weren’t spouting any “destiny” lines…they just liked each other and were keen to see where it would go. It was instalove but not cliche! And they were so cute!

It’s written so their backstory comes in 1st person chapters, but the bulk of the book (set in the present day) is written in 3rd. I liked this unique formatting and storytelling style and I think it worked well for the book. I thought Harun’s narrative didn’t slot so easily with the others, but he was still such a winning character and I was just as invested in his life.

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A quick glance at the characters?!

  • FREYA: She’s a rising-star singer who suddenly can’t sing. It could be medical?Or nerves? But she just stops being able to sing and she’s contracted by an austere man she can’t disappoint and she’s scared people will forget about her if she never sings again. Fame only lasts if you’re giving to your audience after all. She feels so lost with all of this and the pressure is crushing her.  She’s also biracial/Ethiopian and her culture plays into her music loves a lot.
  • HARUN: He’s very gay and very closeted being from a strict Muslim family that he loves dearly and doesn’t want to disappoint. A lot of his narrative is wrestling with what he knows to be good and true vs what he knows his parents would do if they found out. He has an amazing black boyfriend, James…but who doesn’t want to be Harun’s shameful secret anymore. Then Harun agrees to do something his family wants that is…not good for him. And things with him and James turn sideways really fast. When the book begins he’s just broken his boyfriend’s heart and is totally lost and alone.
  • NATHANIEL: He is the most mysterious of the bunch and grew up really secluded and neglected with a father who was very childish and never took proper care of him. As a kid, Nathaniel found that exciting…as an older teen? He feels overlooked, unwanted, and forgotten. He ends up in New York City after a tragic home event and he feels like his world is collapsing around him. He’s very depressed and finding Freya and Harun kick-starts him out of a downward spiral. He’s also so very soft and kind and also starving so they spend a lot of the book feeding him. As they should.

It’s definitely got the emotional edge I’ve come to expect from Forman books! I was super caught up in the story and just wanted to know if something (or anything!) would work out for these characters who were so lost and also stuck in their own mire of aloneness.

I Have Lost My Way is an amazing story that takes a lot of twists you won’t expect. It deals with grief and loneliness and isolation and how important it is to confide your struggles with people you love and trust.

Neverland by Margot McGovern

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Neverland by Margot McGovern is part homage to the famed Peter Pan tale and part a story of mental illness and learning when to let go and when to hold on. I’m a huge fan of Peter Pan, so I was excited to see the influences swetp through this (although it’s not so much a retelling as just lots of references). Kit calls her childhood-island-home “Neverland” and it’s been converted into a mental illness type hospital for kids at risk. The entire book is about mental health and it can get pretty dark at times, and it’s about facing your monsters.

The story follows Kit Learmonth has had a pretty tumultuous childhood. From parents who didn’t really take care of her, to struggles with health, to an overactive imagination which she often retreats into instead of facing her past. After a suicide attempt at her boarding school, she returns to her childhood island home, nicknamed “Neverland”, where her favourite uncle runs a lowkey psychiatrist hospital for kids who aren’t quite sick enough for a mental institution but who definitely aren’t coping in the real world. The island functions as part school, part hospital, and there’s plenty of chances for the teens to sneak around the laws and enjoy the wonders (and self-invited dangers) of the island. There are some definite illegal nighttime adventures, as well as the more above-board sailing, school, and close friendships. Then Kit meets a new resident: Rohan. He’s very quiet and charming and Kit falls to his friendship…except he might be more sinister than he seems. All the while her suppressed childhood memories are poisoning her inside and out, while she prefers to “play Peter Pan” where life will all turn out okay so long as you keep flying and don’t deal with your problems. That…isn’t going to work out, Kit.

I did so like the setting with the island vibes with a dash of mystery and adventure! Although I didn’t find the island completely believable because it seemed extremely well funded (who could afford to send their kids here?!) but at the same time extremely badly supervised! The amount of times the teens sneaked off to drink and do drugs was downright impressive. Welcome to fairyland as well. But I do think it’s nice to acknowledge that it’d be great of there were places like this for at-risk teens! They definitely needed help and support and the island did provide them with a chance to help themselves…if they chose.

It also explores different types of mental illnesses. I felt it did it quite well. Kit, the narrator, has depression and she severely self harms. Her friend (with benefits) is Alister and he’s a psychopath. Then Gypsy has a severe eating disorder and is recovering from a bad relationship. It doesn’t exactly diagnose Rohan but he had a lot of underlying issues going on. It also portrays therapy in a positive light! We get to read about therapy sessions and some coping mechanisms and some really gritty conversations etc. It definitely attempts to deal with diagnoses instead of just dishing them out.

Kit’s also really big on telling verbal stories too. This is definitely one of her coping mechanisms: tell a story and avoid the real world! Not…healthy, um, Kit. But I did like the magical feel it gave the book, which is definitely a solid contemporary, but with Kit talking about faeries and selkies and Peter Pan, it just added that layer of enchantment to the story.

Kit herself was an interesting character, who definitely spent a lot of the book growing. She makes a sheer bucket-ton of mistakes and a lot of the time she’s downright awful as she battles her own illness and the denial of how serious it is to cut herself. The psychology behind why she did what she did was very clear, even though it was difficult to feel for her when she was so mean to her loving uncle and caring friends. But it’s so important to explore this “unlikeable” part of mental health, because it DOES affect those with it so so much and it’s a topic that needs unpacking.

Neverland is definitely a story that is part fun and whimsy, part darkness and warnings. It’s not a light read by any means, although I think it does show sunshine through the darkness.

Review: White Night by Ellie Marney

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White Night by Ellie Marney is a slowly uncoiling tale of highschool and first-love and lowkey cults and the realisation that growing up is very out of your control. I will always and forever be in love with Marney’s writing, and her Sherlock Holmes retellings, Every Breath, Every Word, and Every Move, are some of my absolute favourite Aussie literature. White Night definitely doesn’t disappoint, with a good serving of Australian outback life and the complications of falling for a girl in a cult.

The story follows Bo Mitchell, who is just a typical boy, although slightly internally warring between wanting to please his dad and be a footie star and…well, he also loves to cook. His life consists of the drudge of highschool and farm chores, amongst a backdrop of his mates who love to mess around, and are currently on a fundraising rampage to save the local skate park. But then life shifts a little as a new girl comes to school: Rory Wild. She’s from a local self-sustained closed community that believes humans are ruining the world and they just want to live in peace in their gardens. Rory tiptoes into school searching for something more and while she’s met with hostile bullying for her wild clothing and weird mannerisms and beliefs, she does find Bo. And Bo falls a little bit in love with her free and unhindered way of living too…until he learns what sinister things are going on under the surface of this supposed “Eden”.

It was definitely a book I couldn’t look away from! The pace at the beginning is rather meandering and quiet (but always interesting) but by the end, you have this sick feeling rising and just keep flipping pages wondering if it’ll end in your worst nightmares.

Bo’s narration is a fantastic collision of contrasts. He’s torn between being super blokey to please his farmer dad, and his slang is very typically your outback Aussie, but he also likes taking care of people and he’s interested in food and organic things. He’s so open minded! And this was really refreshing to read?! WE get this 16-year-old boy who’s realistic and makes mistakes and has messy reactions to family strife…but underneath it all he’s the driving force of his own character development. SUCH good news.

Bo also meets this super nice girl called Rory who’s part of a local self-sustaining hippy community. Rory was homeschooled but she decides to try school and Bo becomes besotted with her. It’s slow and sweet and there’s so many “will they/won’t they” moments and I loved their relationship.

The community is called “Garden Of Eden” and it was really interesting. At first it seems such a harmonious and idealistic place, very calm and nice, and everyone was so welcoming…but the further the book progresses the more you see the cultish undertones. The community grows their own food. Uses solar. Makes pottery and weaves and makes anything they actually need. Rory is fantastic person who’s equal parts whimsical and free-spirited, but also realistic and full of deep and complex feelings. You can’t help but root for her to have a good life…even if that might not be the one she’s living now?

The book isn’t a raucous action/adventure, but I did love the quiet feel. There’s lots of school, pottery making, conversations, frolicking about in gardens, bike rides, etc. etc. Bo had family drama, but it wasn’t life-or-death so I wasn’t too strung up about it. I loved his bogan friends, particularly Sprog, who is presented first as a total clown and potential low-life…but he actually has ambitious and ends up picketing the council for a chance to keep the local teen hang-out of the skate park open. His character development was so good I really wish he got his own novel!

White Night is a fantastic story from a not-to-be-missed Aussie author! The ending is a slow build up of intense excruciating feelings and the writing is just delicious and so engaging.

Review: Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

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Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann is the kind of adorable and cute book you need to brighten your life. I’ll go ahead and call it the CUTEST thing, proved by the fact that the protagonist, Alice, actually rates things on a cute scale! I mean it doesn’t get better than that. (Also it could be accused of being adorkable too.) It’s all about growing up and striking out on your own in those last years of being a teen while  you tackle college. It’s about coming-out and discovery and not being ashamed of who  you are. So wholesome and heart-filling!

The story follows Alice who’s in college and completely unsure what to do with her life. For more than one reason. For starters, she’s asexual and her ex-girlfriend just dumped her with accusations that Alice couldn’t really feel love. (Alice is so enraged at this lie.) And also Alice is under huge pressure from her parents to be a lawyer but…she really doesn’t want that. Then to top off the stress, her best friends are getting married and slowly forgetting about her and she just met this super-cute-boy at the library but how can she tell him her feelings?! After what her ex said, isn’t it better if Alice doesn’t let anyone know she’s asexual and just skips the pain of rejection?

I love how  the book deeply tackled the topic of asexuality, which is hugely underrepresented in media. Alice doesn’t want sex, but she does love romance — the cute and cliche kind too! She wants cuddles and roses and romantic walks and kisses, but she knows for most people that isn’t enough. Her asexuality is something she’s hiding, something she has to own. I think the book did a good job of discussing the fears and complications of coming out and it also dismantled a lot of horrible stereotypes and untruths people have about asexuality meaning you have no interest in romance. For some people that might be true, but it wasn’t for Alice.

The romance is definitely a huge feature in the book! Alice meets Takumi while working at the library and her cute-meter immediately explodes. She’s  scared to take it past friendship though, but these two (!!) you will absolutely root for their slowburn romance. Yes, they start off with insta-attraction and sparks, but the actual growth of their relationship is lovely and slow. Takumi himself is a total gift to this universe with how sweet and kind he is. He’s practically perfect and he fits so well with Alice…except for the part where they don’t tell each other the full truths all the time.

Seeing the world from Alice’s perspective was an adorable cuteness explosion. She is such a real and relatable character. She loves Pinterest and watching TV shows, she says “squee” and mentions tumblr. Her anxiety has her blurt out regrettable things and she believes food will cure all heartache. There is literally ONLY things to love about her.

There’s also a huge emphasis on friendship. I’m all heart eyes for friendship too, and the bond of Alice + her two BFF’s, Feenie and Ryan, will make your heart sing. too. Although  there is strife amongst these three as Feenie and Ryan are preparing to marry and Alice feels pushed out. But when Alice starts spending extra time with Takumi…Feenie and Ryan feel she’s shutting them down. Their friendships are complex and intricately woven and the dynamics just leap off  the page and make you wish you could watch a TV series with them and eat Chinese late at night.

The plot itself is pretty quiet and calm. It’s not a high-racing heart-pounding book…and it’s quite mellow and focuses solely on the characters. I loved reading the day-to-day things and just being truly Alice for 300 pages.

Let’s Talk About Love is the cute-fest you’ve been waiting for. It’s light and fluffy, but still talks about relatable and more serious topics, like pleasing your family, heavy expectations, and being true to yourself.

Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

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Warcross by Marie Lu is the rainbow explosion of gaming, bounty hunting, and secret identities that you’ve all been waiting for. I’ve read a few Marie Lu books but I feel this is my new favourite! I picked it up on impulse and devoured it a day, so if that doesn’t say something, what does?!

The story follows Emika Chen, a bounty-hunter who’s absolutely broke and looking at eviction and a life of nothing since she’s been a convicted criminal. Oh joy. She lives in a world in the not-so-distant future where everyone is obsessed with this nation-wide phenomenon game called Warcross. It’s a virtual reality that you can tap into with just a pair of glasses and it changes lives and worlds. Plus it was created by a genius teenager, who also happens to be Emika’s idol. But all that is far away in her life, when just surviving day-to-day equals eating packaged noodles and hunting for criminals the cops can’t quite catch…except that all changes when Emika accidentally hacks into Warcross and draws the attention of the billionaire genius creator himself: Hideo Tanaka.

Hideo ends up hiring her to catch a rogue player in his virtual reality Warcross game, and she travels to Japan to compete in the championships. But the things she uncovers while poking about behind-the-scenes of the company and game…well, wow. That’s not what she expected.

The settings and the descriptions were really the stand-out highlights for this book for me! For starters, I loved getting to “see” Japan, and it was made a little more incredible by the sci-fi elements thrown in. When wearing the Warcross glasses, you can see another reality on top of this one, so it could just make everything a bit more surreal and special. Emika goes from being dirt poor to having anything she could want while working for Hideo and those rags-to-riches stories are always captivating.

Plus of course we know there’s going to be a little something between Emika and Hideo. He’s been her idol forever, but now she’s met him, she can see the stressed teen side that he has to hide from the media. His life isn’t as golden as it seems and I loved these dimensions of Hideo that we got to find out! The romance is also sweet and light and doesn’t draw away from Emika’s struggle to find an attacker hidden inside a computer game while not giving herself away.

However the gaming aspect didn’t really light up my world...which, I mean, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book?! But I’m not a gamer! And I also struggled to believe that, in this future, 90% of the world would be playing a virtual reality game…I feel like there’d be more people who wouldn’t be interested in it? But maybe that’s just me who’s always had my nose in a book instead of gaming! Still I think this’ll really excite gamer-bookworms.

Emika was also a hopeless do-gooder with a badass side and rainbow dyed hair. I mean how awesome is that all together?! She was definitely the smart and capable heroine you want to root for, and with Hideo’s complex and interesting backstory and actions, the two make a plot you don’t want to look away from.

Basically Warcross is the kind of book that should definitely be on your radar! It’s clever and fast-paced, with a futuristic Tokyo of gorgeous colours, technology and the dark side that comes with a world that’s mostly online.

Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

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The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis was equal parts heartbreaking, hopeful, and brutal. I knew it was going to be an emotional one from the start, but it really has you feeling all of the things from the very first page. It’s so heartfelt that I couldn’t even put it down while I watched Evan’s complicated and ruined life unfold. This isn’t easy or lighthearted YA, but it’s so so needful. It’s full of art and abuse and the agony of hiding your true self from the world after people who should love you prove they don’t. Get yourself some chocolate before reading this, trust me.

The story centres around Evan Panos: son of Greek parents, artist, anxious and shy nerd, and very gay. Which is completely unacceptable to his family. He can’t even show them his art, let alone tell them he likes boys, and his life is a maze of trying to avoid confrontation with his abusive mother and his father who won’t step in. It’s all Evan can do to stay afloat, even though the boy he’s always loved could help him. Or ruin him if things got out. Either Evan loses the truest and best parts of himself in an effort to appease his terrible mother, or he finds a way to fight back.

The domestic violence parts are so heartbreaking, but very well written. Evan’s mother engages in a lot of psychological abuse too, leaving Evan feeling worthless as she calls him “wicked and sinful” for doing anything from not being the perfect Greek son, to doing art, to having his hair wrong. He truly does believe he’s unworthy and ugly and evil…until he gets a friend who refuses to let Evan think like that. Which I think is really important! The book steered away from any “love cures and saves” tropes, but it did underline the importance of being told again and again that you are worth something and that’s crucial for Evan believing in himself enough to fight back.

Evan is honestly the sweetest boy too. He’s an artist, but has a very low opinion of his work, and he always draws back from attention. But he’s just so unfailingly sweet and kind and the way he lights up when people are nice to him is beyond heartbreaking. I told you. Prepare to have your feels ruined. Also it’s really important that the book also showed the effects of a lifetime of abuse for Evan. He’s anxious and depressed and has PTSD and the book really highlights those aspects.

Evan’s relationship with Henry is also super sweet. Slow at first! And then tumbling into something faster. I do wish Henry had just had a little more deepness as a character, because we’re introduced to him as Evan’s childhood BFF, so they have history and we don’t “learn” as much about Henry as I’d have liked. But they were supportive and great together. Bless.

Also I appreciated the delving into Greek culture. The author is Greek and you can really tell as the writing covers Greek food and religion and family dynamics.

The pacing isn’t super fast, but in a good way! You can get see Evan’s life and it makes you feel like you’re in the story — from visiting his school to getting donuts with his dad, to the heart-in-the-mouth feeling of watching Evan try to avoid a run in with his unstable and horrible mother.

Basically The Dangerous Art of Blending In is an excellent story you really need to get your clammy paws on. It takes a very personal and #ownvoices look at what it’s like to be a closeted gay Greek teenager and it’s full of brittle agony and fragile hope.

Review: Everless by Sara Holland

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Everless by Sara Holland is a gorgeous fantasy where time is, literally, money. And you know what really captivated me?! The plot twists! Holy wow they did not stop coming and I was constantly surprised, which is exactly what I want from a novel. The imagination behind this book is superb and I will definitely keep my eye on this author in the future!

The story centres around Jules Ember, who lives in Sempera where you can draw blood and turn it into coins that count as money. Ergo the rich can live forever and the poor die so young. (It’s such a fascinating world!) Jules father is one of the unlucky ones caught deep in debt and poverty, his life nearly drained just trying to stay alive, so Jules decides to go work in the Everless estate, which is run by the infamous and filthy rich Gerling family. Fun part? She used to work there as a child but she and her father were forced to run away after an accident no one can know about. But if Jules goes back, hopefully no one will recognise her and she can earn enough to keep her father alive. But Jules ends up discovering her family is more entwined with the Gerlings than she knew, plus she stumbles over her childhood crush…now betrothed to a princess. But even putting her feelings aside, Jules knows there’s more to herself, this princess, and the gnarly old queen then meets the eye. And she’s running out of time to find out why.

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I totally loved the premise, with time-turning-to-money! It’s clever (although I have seen it in the movie In Time) and interesting to read about people who can measure their life spans and what they choose to do with that information. I also loved how the world building was really caught up around this, with lots of the language translating to time-references, and society functioning more on blood coins. It was super impressive how beautifully the world was crafted.

Jules was a very admirable heroine. She wasn’t my favourite person ever just because she was very very GOOD. But I still loved her curious streak and how she wouldn’t let other people tell her “what was best”. Jules took charge of her own fate and THAT is what I love to read about in YA!

The plot twists at the end just came so thick and fast. The villain reveals were so very good. It’s brimming with morally grey characters and mind twisters and I love ending a book feeling betrayed and elated at being successfully tricked!

It actually had a marvellous focus on female friendship too. Which is something that I’m sorely in need of. Jules befriends a ton of the other servants at Everless, and ends up working for the queen-to-be, who treats her so well and they actually end up being epic friends, despite the class difference. Seeing complex females on every page just made my day.

The romance is very very slight, too, in case you enjoy books that focus on mysteries over romance. I think it was well done, but Jules was not here to be distracted by a boy. (Go her.) Her childhood sweetheart was charismatic but clueless and Jules was also shadowed by his older brother, Liam, who her father’s always told her to steer clear of. And Jules has an excellent reason to hate him, as you’ll find out.

Basically Everless is definitely the fantasy you don’t want to let slip through your fingers! It’s built on an interesting and wonderfully crafted world and full of characters you’ll definitely root for. Some of the tropes are a little overdone in there, but it still brings epicness to the table.

Review: Love, Hate And Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Love, Hate And Other Filters by Samira Ahmed is combination of a cute fluffy romance and a very personal look at racism and hate crimes. The book really discusses a lot of issues going on in today’s world, especially the blind aggression and hate immigrants and Muslims can receive when they’re just trying to live their lives! It’s also an #ownvoices story, which means you can really feel the author pouring their heart and experiences into the story. It definitely pays off!

The story follows Maya Aziz who is a Muslim Indian-American teen who loves documentaries and film and deeply wants to study it in college. Only problem: her parents have other plans. Most of which include finding a good Indian husband and studying law or to be a doctor. Maya’s dreams keep conflicting with their plans and, to make matters more tense in the family, she also has a very deep and secret crush on a boy at school — who’s decidedly not one her parents would ever approve of. She gets caught up going on an approved date with Kareem, who honestly is really nice…but, her heart is still with Phil. And when their causal hangouts turn into him really caring about her and her dreams…which side is she supposed to pick?

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A big part of Maya’s life, and also the plot, is a discussion on the repercussions on terrorist attacks. When a really terrible attack happens in a nearby city, Maya’s Muslim family receives a ton of hate and it’s super scary and really makes you think as you read. And while the plot is absolutely tackling heavy topics, it does balance it out with Maya’s romantic indecision and her movie and film references as she pursues her passion.

I’m not a huge movie buff, so admittedly a lot of the references were lost on me. But I loved that Maya HAD a goal and was definitely going to pursue it! It made her a really driven character and totally admirable. Also I haven’t read many books with characters who love being behind a camera, so this was new!

Maya herself was complex and interesting! She was definitely very torn between wishing her parents were happy with her, but hating the life they’d planned out. (She can’t handle tons of jewellery and high heels and the idea of being a lawyer. Nooo. Leave her with her movies please.) There’s a lot of tension and problems between her and her parents too.

The peek into Indian-American culture was amazing!  I love how the writing utilised the 5-senes to make the scenes really pop off the page. The food was so good I practically wanted to eat my copy.

The story itself is also pretty short and sweet. Like a cupcake! It has some brief scenes from the terrorist’s perspective too, which keeps you guessing and also keeps an ominous presence in the background.

Love Hate And Other Filters is definitely an important and topical discussion that’s really good to read and think about! It’s cute and mushy at times and also discusses the ripple effect of hate crimes and how deeply it can change and shake innocent people’s lives.

Review: The Falconer by Elizabeth May

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THE FALCONER by Elizabeth May was a pure delight to read, full of stabbing, dark faeries and murderous girls and the occasional explosion. I was absolutely in love the whole time and totally infatuated with this steampunk Scottish series. I definitely want more books ASAP. It also featured sass and engineering inventions and beautiful and dangerous faerie powers that were so intriguing.

The story follows Aileana who is part time lord’s daughter and part time faerie slayer. She has to keep both lives seperate and it’s exhausting, but she’ll do anything to avenge her mother who was slain by a horrifying faerie. Aileana teams up with a rogue fey boy, Kiaran, and together they train and hunt to avenge Aileana’s mother…but complications are thrown in when strange faeries start crawling out of the ground and Kiaran reveals he has more secrets than Aileana could ever have imagined.

Although I have to admit the ending really got me!! It was the wildest and worst cliffhanger in the world and I immediately want book 2.

I really loved Aileana, our badass faerie killer. I loved how Aileana chaffed at her “proper” life as a lord’s daughter and doing the balls and dresses etc etc…but she didn’t diss them. Makes such a difference. And she was elegant and also badass and she was an engineer with all these murderous inventions to kill faeries. I mean, can she get any more awesome?! This is the kind of female heroine I love reading about!

Also I appreciated how heavily this book features PTSD. I often find with fantasy we like skip over the “effects” and just focus on the battle. But this goes into the actual mental health side!! Aileana’s mother was murdered in front of her (when she was little) and that absolutely messes with her all the time and the book really delves into the “cause and effect” reactions fo war.

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Dark feral faeries are also my favourite. Kiaran was very mysterious and also extremely powerful, but he and Aileana train to kill faeries. Aka Kairan is killing his own kind. But why? He has so many dark secrets and we only catch snippets and honestly it just makes the book ridiculously hard to put down.

I just really like how dangerous and wild all the faeries are. Everyone gets stabbed and bitten and poisoned. It’s exciting and exhilarating to read a book that so grabs you!

I also loved the writing! It was really detailed and the added layer of describing all the smells made it really leap off the page. I thought the pacing was excellent and it interspersed things like balls and tea with lords and earls with huge action scenes, sassy faerie quips, and inventions of explosions and unravellings of mysteries that could end with the whole world in trouble.

THE FALCONER is a fantastic surprise and one I’ll not be forgetting. It’s full of dark faeries in a steampunk Scottish setting with a badass, engineering, and emotional heroine I absolutely want to read more about. It totally captured my imagination!

Review: Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl

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Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl is a gorgeous story set in France about bookworms, French bakeries, and autism. There was so much to love while reading it and it was super easy to be immersed in the detailed setting, so it wasn’t like reading a book — more like living in it. Plus the narrator, Martin, is an utter book lover and how relatable is that?!

The story is about Martin who’s living abroad in France for a while as his mother directs a film. He’s supposed to go to school and just enjoy the culture and life there, but things are complicated since change is very hard for him. Martin’s on the autism spectrum and his greatest focus in life is a super old book that he’s obsessed with. Even when he attends the local high school, he meets a girl who he thinks is straight out of his novel…although of course she isn’t so this is a bit of a problem. It’s a story of accepting differences and realising there’s no “one way” to exist and lead a good life.

I really enjoyed the French setting! I’ve always wanted to see France (Paris specifically) for no really good reason, just shh, I’d like to go. The book totally captures the magic of a small French town, with bakeries and gardens and little cottages. I also believe the author has lived in France, so you could really see the authenticity shining through in the writing. Plus it actually delved into talking about the differences in learning to speak “classroom French” to actually being out and about with local people and discovering the slang and mannerisms.

Martin is a fantastically admirable and relatable character. He’s adorable and winning and extremely thoughtful, and, bonus! He loves to cook! He enjoyed preparing complex meals with lots of different ingredients and one of his top favourite things was staring into the bakery windows at the delicately made madeleine cakes. So so with you there, Martin. I would like 1 or 9 of them too. And the foodie descriptions?! There was all this rhubarb jam and croissants! Actually I take it all back. This is a huge problem. I ended the book so hungry!

I did love his infatuation with this old French book, In Search of Lost Time, although when he started to make references to it, I got a bit lost since I hadn’t read the book. But the bookworm love really shines through, and what’s more relatable to us readers, right?!

I also appreciated the autism representation! It was really accurately written and lovingly done. Stereotypes weren’t misused and Martin was complex and deep and really leapt off the page. Plus I loved the inclusion of echolalia, which is a common autism trait but not one I’ve ever seen in books until now. This book wasn’t interested in writing a caricature or making fun of any aspects of autism — it was so respectfully done.

Kids Like Us is a fantastic and beautifully told story that explores autism and what it is to accept yourself. Definite must read!

 

Review: Words On Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

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Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton is a beautiful and heartbreaking story about schizophrenia. It’s brutally honest and so so good. It does hesitate to show you a realistic portrayal of mental illness, and skips romanticising it at all. An absolute emotional roller coaster too! Plus there’s a lot of baking in here, so I suggest settling down to read with a packet of biscuits. You’ve been warned.

It follows the story of Adam who’s just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He’s participating in a drug trial to try and help him and he’s writing his experiences in a journal for his therapist. He knows his delusions aren’t real, but they still follow him everywhere — everything from weird mob bosses and naked guys to a beautiful and timid girl. They seem real to him and they’re nearly his friends. But now he’s starting a new school where no one knows about his illness and he’s desperate to make it work, especially when he meets a very fierce and smart girl that he likes. But it’ll only work out if the trial drug doesn’t fail.

I loved the open discussions about mental health and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia (like any mental health condition) is a huge spectrum and I really enjoyed reading about this portrayal. Adam was very brutally honest about his condition. He’s also scared of it, but is doing his best not to be. And his hallucinations were really varied and he knew they weren’t real but he wasn’t always convinced. There was a lot of singing and some mafia guys with guns and a naked man, and Adam’s really fond of his hallucination named Rebecca who is quiet and sweet and warns him of danger.

Adams thinking isn’t always correct or good. He often calls himself “crazy”. But I think it was realistic…he’s 16 and just wants to handle school and make things work with his mother and stepdad and also maybe get a girlfriend. He’s honest, but his view of the world can be problematic. You’re with him on this roller coaster of a drug trial and falling in love for the first time and growing up.

It’s told in letter-format. It reminded me a bit of Perks of Being a Wallflower and Adam’s voice is so clear and strong. I did wish there’d been more description instead of Adam just relaying what had happened, but I still thought the format was very fitting for the book.

Maya and Dwight are two of the friends Adam makes and they are amazing. Definitely secondary-characters that shine! Maya is like logical and not squishy and will eat your cookies and study hard and be a very cute and friendly robot. I LOVED HER. (She’s also Filipino.) And Dwight was like this intense super-nerd who was super-pale and super-talkative and basically adorable. I also loved the inclusion of supportive and epic parents, particularly for Adam.

This is the kind of story that will definitely play with your emotions and leave you thinking. Adam’s viewpoint is so raw and obviously life is not going to go perfectly and the drug might not be the miracle they’re all counting on. You’re heart will probably be thundering at times and it might rain on your face.

 

Review: Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

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UNEARTHED by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner is a completely fun space adventure, featuring codes, puzzles, aliens, ancient tombs, and some epic gun fights! I’ve heard it pitched as “Indiana Jones in space” and you know what? That is not wrong. It could also be called a YA book version of the iPhone game Temple Run. So that’s exciting. It’s such a fun story, not super deep or scary but with plenty of twists and booby traps and the occasional burst of witty snark.

The story follows two dual narrators, Jules and Amelia, who end up stuck together on a wild adventure to find an alien temple even though they kind of hate each other. They have very very different goals. Amelia needs to steal some alien tech to sell so she can rescue her sister. And Jules is a studious genius scholar child who needs to prove his father wasn’t wrong about the aliens and get him out of prison. They’re such opposites, but after running for their lives from bloodthirsty raiders, they end up tangled in the complex puzzles of the alien temple. Are the puzzles here to save them or kill them?

I loved the raiders and scavengers in space story line! It was really different for me, ergo exciting. We totally have that moment where the geeks are like: “OH AN ANCIENT AMAZING TEMPLE.” And the raiders follow up with: “wow sorry ok but I just blew it up.” This is so true to the heart of Indiana Jones. See something precious and archeological? Ruin it. Such a human thing to do.

There was also that “learning how to survive” curve since Jules is a nerdy academic and tries to go on an action adventure and bring everything (including the kitchen stove) and also probably irons his pants. Amelia has a lot to sort out with him.

Both our narrators were super winning. It was really easy to root for them, even though their goals clashed so much. There’s a lot of lies and sneaking about as each tries to manipulate the other. I particularly loved Jules who was the kind of guy who knew how to spice up boring ration food because, yes, he brought spices with him. He kept his clothes neat and was forever scribbling in his notebook while trying to solve alien puzzles. He’s a super genius and super dork.

Amelia was hilarious and clever. She was kickass but also had emotion and wry humour and even though we never meet the little sister she’s trying to save in this volume, I really cared about both these sisters and the fact that Amelia will literally go to a strange planet with dubious amounts of air to breathe to get money to save her family?! Amelia is best.

The dialogue and banter were fantastic! I do wish there’d been more because there was quite a lot of monologuing and description, but it was still great to get into both characters’ thought processes.

The entire plot was pretty wild. We get everything from gun battles to running-for-your-life-through-an-uncharted-temple to booby trapped rooms where if you don’t think fast, you’ll end up dead. Not to mention add in spaceships and forgotten civilisations. I loved that old musty vibe of the tomb-like temple. The plot was forever pushed forward too by the enemy raiders who would almost definitely not hesitate to dump a couple of kids down a ravine. It’s a highstakes adrenaline race!

UNEARTHED is a really fantastic start to a new sci-fi series that’ll make you foam at the mouth a little in anticipation for the sequel. It’s from the same duo who gave us the These Broken Stars duology too!

Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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American Street by Ibi Zoboi was so good and also a little bit like running face-first into a brick wall of emotions. I’n not even sure what to do with myself right now. It’s a really powerful story of immigration and poverty and family. It’s brutal and messy and the ending left me reeling.

It follows the story of Fabiola who’s immigrated from Haiti to be with her cousins in America. Her mother gets detained at customs and then sent to a detention centre while Fabiola, born in America, is allowed to proceed. She’s absolutely freaked out for her mother, but slowly has to make a life for herself with her extended family. She attends school and ends up caught up with a boy who truly wants to make her happy. However the street they live on isn’t the clean and safe haven Fabiola always imagined. She quickly gets caught up in drug rings and loan sharks and maybe will have to compromise her own safety to work with the police so they’ll help get her mother back. But if that means betraying people she loves, would she do it?

The emphasis on family was the best. This is not a “nice” family particularly, but I loved how complex they all were! Fabiola is basically just THROWN into American culture and I felt for her so much. Her three cousins are all around her age, and they immediately just adopt her as their 4th sister. But they do live in a poor part of town and they’re mixed up in a lot of stuff. Donna’s boyfriend is like Such Bad News and hits her and Pri is closet queer and Chantal has stuff going on and like their aunt is usually “sick” or hidden away in her room. Fabiola is attending school and trying to figure out how the American life works, plus find a way to help get her mother free.

Fabiola is also really precious and sweet! I was worried she’d be a passive character because of that but she’s not. I also loved how she really wanted to make America her home, But she didn’t give up her Haitian heritage. There’s a bit of magic in the book, because she firmly believes in Vodou and her culture is woven into everything she does. It’s so good!! (Also the author’s note says this is all out of her own experiences too! It makes a book so special and true when you know the experiences behind it are woven with an #ownvoices narrative.) I really loved that Fabiola wasn’t going to be pushed around, but at the same time voiced her insecurities and definitely didn’t always make good decisions.

I basically couldn’t stop reading! And the story just got more brutal and twisted as it went along. Like the plot is really tight and I loved how it woven things together at the end. It’s definitely the kind of book you’re going to want to put aside a full afternoon to just devour…constantly. Until it’s done and you’re a bit of a wide-eyed mess.

American Street is purely excellent #ownvoices story that doesn’t shy away from showing how complicated and brutal life can be. It’s not an “easy” read (although it is quite fast!) and there were so many times I was raging with Fabiola. Her situation is often a trainwreck but I loved her character arc and also her love of her culture. Definite recommend!

Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

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Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a poignant pocket of powerful writing that tackles racism and coming-of-age in a way that’s so needed! It’s a brutal narrative and it’s written with such care and love and emotion — you can feel the emotion so deeply on every page of the narrative it’s just incredible. This is both a #BlackLivesMatter and #OwnVoices novel, so you know you’re going into a story told by the viewpoint of someone who knows. It’s also a really small book, so it’s a powerpacket of strong words and feeling and plot twists.

The story follows Justyce McAllister who’s a straight A student at a prestigious school and he’s on his way to Yale and life of achieving what he sets out to achieve. His single-mother has sacrificed a lot to get him into the good school, and he hardly ever sees her, so he often feels really alone. His best-friend Manny is his only black friend in the school and while they get on famously, Manny’s choice of friends all dish out microagressive racism and challenge Justyce for being too “sensitive” if he has had enough of it. When he tries to help his girlfriend get home one night because she’s super drunk yet trying to drive, he’s attacked by police officers and put in cuffs without explanation. Justyce writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about his life and confusions and wanting to be a great person, but how in a world that’s so set against you?

I love the quote in the author’s note says the book is“…an attempt to examine current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings.” Which is such a good summary.

The story also is told in an interesting style, feature letters to Martin (of course! Title reference!) and the normal book-style-prose you’d expect, and also script-style scenes so you just get the meat of the dialogue without distractions. I liked how it switched things up constantly because it kept the attention riveted and also made the book really unique on the page!

Justyce was such an amazing protagonist! He’s super smart and facing a lot of struggles most teens can relate to: including what to do about his on-again-off-again girlfriend, grades, school bullies, and what his future holds. On top of that, after his arrest, he has PTSD from the experience and feels really lost. He’s on the brink of graduating highschool but he feels like his world is coming apart. He also has a crush on his long-time debate partner, SJ, but their racial differences are an obstacle.

The book, of course, is not an “easy” story. It’s meant to be eye-opening and make you think, and it tackles difficulties head on. As an Australian, some of the culture and slang was lost on me and while racism is prevalent in all countries, it looks a little different from place to place. (Australia doesn’t have shootings, for starters.) So it was good, confronting, and important to learn about what it’s like to be black in America.

I also loved how intelligent the writing and plot are! There’s a court scene that just had me go WOW WOAH WAIT while the dialogue turned you on your head. And the story is very complexly weaved in a way you don’t even realise until that scene! So full applause to the author for her writing style! It’s such an intelligent book with a lot of heart.

Dear Martin is an important narrative that can’t be talked about enough. This is powerful and full of emotion and also weaves messages of strength and hope.

“You ever consider that maybe you not supposed to ‘fit’? People who make history rarely do.”

Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman is a beautiful book about art and anxiety and dealing with poisonous people in your life. I found it equal parts brutal and brilliant, so packed with emotion and heart that I couldn’t help falling in love by the end. It also has an incredible ending that just filled my heart so much (you know…right after it finished smashing my heart into little pieces). Definitely all signs of an incredible book!

The story follows Kiko who is an artist with severe social anxiety. She’s trapped in a home where her mother is openly racist and basically psychologically torments her, all under the guise of just being a “caring parent”. Kiko feels like she doesn’t and will never belong as a biracial Japanese-American. All she can dream about is getting into a specific art school after graduation, where she get away from her mother’s torment and start a new life for herself. But what if she doesn’t get in?

It had the simple best and most brutally accurate representation of social anxiety I’ve ever read. It made my heart ache for Kiko as she battled the deeply rooted feelings of being a burden, being unwanted, being a problem to everyone. She couldn’t just “go an hang out” at a party. The anxiety levels were so intense she sometimes couldn’t even leave her car. It’s also uplifting to see her journey through it. This isn’t a story that uses mental illness as just a tragedy. It shows the dark cruel side, of course, but it also talks about recovery and finding yourself and learning to feel loved. (But there’s also no messages of “love cures all” which is refreshing!)

Kiko’s family life breaks my heart. Her mother was an utter psychopath and it was unbelievable how racist she was towards her own kids. Kiko never felt loved, pretty, validated, or cared about. Reading about it made me burn with righteous fury. Kiko just wanted her mother to acknowledge her art but her mother refused unless it gained her power. I rooted for Kiko to get her dream of being an artist and get out so so bad.

I loved the super sweet friendship between her and Jamie. They’re childhood friends who lost each other when they were 11 and now he’s back! Their lack of communication really grated on me, but they’re teens and this is just realistic. I love how slowly and tentatively they explored their feelings. And it was literally the sweetest thing how Jamie was there for her.

I loved the discussions about being biracial from an #ownvoices author. The author wrote her perspective so fluently and beautifully that it was an amazing insight to read. I felt so connected to Kiko and I loved watching her start to feel empowered by here Japanese roots, not ashamed.

The art aspect was also glorious! Every chapter ended with a little snippet of what Kiko was drawing that day and the imagination was stunning. My only wish was that the book had included some sketches! (I need fan art for this wow.) And the book really reminded me of I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson. Total recommend for them both obviously. It explores a bit of the tortured-artist feelings, but also the empowerment of releasing your emotions through visual displays and turning something ugly into something beautiful.

Starfish was a beautiful and poignant story that really digs into your heart! It’s seriously sad and hard to read at times as you watch Kiko’s life spin out of control. But the point is, she wants to get the control back. She is an anxious character, but not a passive one. I thought this book was brilliant!

Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

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RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy is a heartfelt and beautiful coming-of-age story. It’s about growing up, discovering your sexuality, and swimming and eating a lot of delicious food. (Particularly different ways to eat your eggs, which is quality content.) I think it touched on a lot of applicable and poignant themes that a lot of teens will struggle with or relate to. And the character cast was so excellent it just took the story from being on a flat 2D page to exploding into real life.

The story follows Ramona Laroux, who is quite poor and quite unusual. She has blue hair and is super tall and she lives in a trailer park and she honestly can’t see her life ever going anywhere. Her older teen sister is pregnant and Ramona has no money for college. She wants to leave town but…she doesn’t. She has some great friends here and she honestly is too scared to want more. Then her old childhood friend, Freddie, returns to town. Ramona is still exploring a label for her sexuality, unsure if she’s lesbian or bi or pan, and as chemistry sparks between her and Freddie it opens up a lot of discussions about the fluidity of sexuality. But ultimately: is Ramona going to take charge of her own life or just let it take her?

The characters are definitely the shining glory of the book! It’s very very character driven and has quite a huge cast that all leap off the page with diversity and personality. Most of the secondary characters are queer too and the love interest, Freddie, is black. At first I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of secondary characters but they quickly became real and solid people in my mind and I enjoyed the banter and the escapades. (They literally steal into someone’s backyard to swim at some stage.) I must admit I love Saul who’s favourite audience to his shenanigans was….himself.

I think the discussion on sexuality was very important! Ramona identifies as queer but not quite sure what label she has. She kisses and loves girls but she also is fiercely attracted to Freddie. I loved their romance and also the fact that Ramona isn’t going to stop loving girls or “straighten out” because of Freddie. I think it’s an important thing to discuss fluidity and I feel the book does it respectfully.

I also highly appreciated all the food in the book since wow do these characters have excellent taste buds and enjoy their delicious snacks.

The book also takes us to a large variety of settings which was exciting and fun! Ramona and Freddie start swimming at the local pool and there’s plenty of visiting houses and cities and delicious diners. I think it’s important in contemporaries to showcase a variety of settings to keep the plot moving. And the pacing was a bit on the slow side, but still captivating, with how strongly the characters lead the plot.

RAMONA BLUE is a summery story that deals with a lot of deep issues. It has real and honest conversations and it’s poignant and well written with characters you can root for and no black-and-white answers to all of life’s questions. You have to discover them for yourself!

Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

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Now I Rise by Kiersten White was a brilliant, dark, and brutal sequel to And I Darken. I always get a bit nervous that a sequel won’t live up to the first book: but this one slayed. Literally and figuratively.  Lada has never had any chill, but in Now I Rise, she basically has less than none. The book is a complex twist of wars and sieges, of triumph and loss, and it has so much character development that it just shines.

The story picks up where And I Darken left off: With Lada charging back to claim the Wallachian throne and become Prince, and Radu is still with Mehmed, pining for a love he will never be given until he ends up in the midst of the siege of Constantinople where he could very well die for his loyalty to Mehmed. It’s full of wars and battle and follows the siblings as they grow apart but severely miss each other, and also realise that Mehmed isn’t the golden perfect boy they always believed.

The characters are really the stand-out for this series! They are both clever and cunning, and Radu goes about it in an intellectual way while Lada uses force and brutality. Lada will cut her way to the throne and she empowers women and refuses to be underestimated, although she has to fight for every grain of respect.

Meanwhile Radu is just over here being small and perfect and pure. I absolutely adore him. He’s the kind of character who is so fiercely loyal and determined, but also hopelessly used by people he trusts — and it breaks your heart! I wanted more for Radu. He deserves better. But also his planning, cunning, and ability to never fail is absolutely astounding. I also thought his character development was stunning and well crafted.

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The book features a lot of the terrors of war and the price you pay to succeed. Either by capturing a city (for Mehmed’s forces) or getting a throne (for Lada and her rogue men). I love how it contrasted two types of battles! It’s not graphic with the gore, but it definitely makes sure you know this isn’t a pretty picnic. I also liked how it contrasted the two religions of Christianity vs Muslim. There’s no “good vs bad” here, as both religions are going to war for their Gods and thinking they’re doing the “right” thing…no matter how many innocents get slain in the way. I think religion is important to talk about in YA, so I’m glad the book focuses so much on them!

One of my favourite things too is how Radu and Lada thought of each other. They’re like half worlds away and they’re so DIFFERENT as people…but the spend a lot of time going: “Oh I miss [insert sibling here] but they don’t need me.” Both of them. Thinking this. They are silly little goats and I wish they’d work together!

I also appreciated the history of the settings! It’s not a 100% accurate historical retelling, but it is about Mehmed II and the fall of Constantinople. There are plenty of actual historical figures in the book, even if a lot of them have had some creative-license changes! So you can go in expecting to learn a bit, but also know this is a loose retelling. (Especially since Vlad the Impaler is actually a gender-swapped Lada.) And the details of the sieges and clothes and the first canons ever made were all stunning and just made the book so lush with details.

Overall, Now I Rise is a stunning sequel of stabbing and the darkness of humankind, all wrapped up in brilliant writing and winning characters! It has the kind of ending that leaves you screaming for the next book (um, how do we wait for next year…) and I’m desperate to see how it’ll all turn out. It’s fantastic and captivating and full of political and emotional intrigue.

Review: The Art Of Feeling by Laura Tims

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The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims must be one of my new favourite contemporaries ever! It perfectly balances humour, heartbreak, and teenagers with disabilities and I couldn’t be more fond of this entire (but totally too small!) excellent little book. I laughed! I wanted to cry! I got entirely invested and think it deserves all the love an recognition. I will also write a review to convince you, because I am kind like that.

The story follows Sam, who was in a devastating car accident that killed her mother and left her with a severely damaged leg. She now walks on crutches and is in constant pain. Her family is falling apart around her: with a brother who’s constantly high, a very depressed father, and a sister who’s trying to throw everything out that reminds them of her mother. But then Sam accidentally saves a boy at school — Eliot, who is a pretentious and adorable intellect who feels absolutely no pain. Unfortunately this is more dangerous than a “super power” as people initially think. And he constantly gets into problems where he’s bullied or accidentally hurts himself and never knows. He’s not an “easy” person to befriend, but he and Sam click instantly. They’re both smart, quick-witted, and prone to covering up their heartache. If only Eliot doesn’t do something that gets him killed before senior year is out.

I loved the contrast of feeling-too-much-pain versus feeling-none-at-all. Both are disabilities and definitely under-represented in YA! And the disabilities aren’t background noise. Sam constantly walks with crutches and clearly states that this is part of her. It doesn’t define her, but it still is her and it’s not to be ignored. It did show the ableism of the world reacting to her, but it was a really powerful and uplifting disability representation and I’m pleased!

The book was also downright hilarious. The humour was on point, I tell you! I laughed only about 50 x million times.

“That is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” says Eliot. “When did you take it out of the dryer?”
“It’s my dog,” I grumble.

It also featured the Meyer-Briggs personality types! If you have no clue what they are, it wouldn’t hinder your enjoyment of the story. But basically Eliot likes to “type” people and he gets it so eerily right that he can literally predict their movements. It also gets him into a lot of trouble. But it was just so different and interesting to include these and I loved the analyses of personalities!

The romance was absolutely the best. It’s no insta-love. These two fight quite a lot and I’d honestly guess (though it’s not explicitly stated) that Eliot is asexual. They’re both awkward around the idea of feelings, but still have them most definitely and assuredly. I loved Eliot’s attempts to be romantic and yet he has like 2% social skills so it always goes hilariously. He is a cinnamon. I definitely shipped these two and rooted for them to get over their insecurities and commit to telling each other their feelings!

Sam was such an admirable and relatable protagonist. Like her inner-monologue and snarky banter were the best alone, as well as she’s just doing her best to be a remarkable person when her friends literally say she is a piece of bread. (Hey they meant it well…but yet.) The dry wit and Sam’s practical but often sad view of the world made the book so enjoyable to read.

The story also has really high stakes. There’s a mini-high-school drug ring and a super complex bully and then there’s Eliot who could like accidentally direly hurt himself any moment. The themes of manipulation and bullying are very strong. And also Sam’s mother was killed in a hit-and-run and she desperately wants to know who did it…but is blocking the memories due to the trauma.

The writing is super clever. It wraps foreshadowing and plot points together in such incredible little bows. I just bow to the set up.

If you are a fan of contemporaries, cute dogs, intelligent characters, and FEELINGS = then The Art of Feeling is for you. The characters and clever writing won me over and absolutely stole my heart. It’s complex, deep, and well written. I also love the trope of the girl protecting her delicate boy and I am here for anything this author ever writes.

Review: Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian

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I was completely swept away with the gorgeous novel that is Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian. It’s about mental health, grief, and growing — and it’s woven with self-depreciating humour and an Australian backdrop. An absolutely stellar novel that will pull heartstring and also probably punch your feels too. As a good book should.

The story centres around two narrators, Gideon and Ava. Both are struggling with anxiety and depression. Ava’s stems from the death of her best friend and Gideon was severely bullied in his old school. They meet while working at a kebab shop. Gideon is too anxious and shy to achieve his dreams, lost in poetry and avoiding being online. Ava’s grief is turning her life upside down with school expulsions and bad coping mechanisms that are leaving her dissatisfied and hollow. But maybe they could be good for each other. As friends. Or more?

The story is excellent and I can see why it won the Text Publishing Prize of 2016. It’s a stellar example of teen voice and experiences. It focuses on themes of mental health, which is so so important to talk about and I’m glad this book talked about it. It isn’t fluffy and it isn’t always fun, but it’s a story that feels like real life. I loved how it handled sensitive topics and really encouraged people to reach out and talk. I really felt like this book UNDERSTOOD what life is like with depression / anxiety. It’s so refreshing not to have it (a) romanticised, (b) cured by falling in love, or (c) belittled.

The book also has a refreshingly healthy outlook on getting help! Therapists are not evil! Medication can help! Talk to your parents! Romance will not save you!! Also it underlines that having mental health issues does NOT equal that you are a broken object. I can’t stress how important that is. Mental illness sufferers need help, support, and management to live life the best they can, but it doesn’t have to equate to “broken”. This is such a powerful and important message for readers everywhere.

The characters were winning little gems. Gideon is a soft squish and quite self-depreciatingly funny. He makes fun of himself, but the book didn’t make fun of his mental health issues. Which is an important distinction. He’s super anxious but working hard to rebuild himself after a really rough 4 years. Gideon and Ava end up writing letters because Gideon is offline and I loved that! Ava was really spiky and hurting, and I loved how complex she was! She and Gideon became friends first and then it spirals into more.

I also loved their amazing parents. Ava has a single father who’s super lovely and Gideon has two mums who are 100% there for him and fantastic.

The writing is super engaging and I didn’t want to put it down. I loved their voices! Ava is anti-nonsense and prickly and Gideon absolutely freaks out like a happy puppy dog when he kisses a girl. He’s so adorkable! He’s also into poetry which added a nice touch. And I loved how he wrote lists!

Beautiful Mess is definitely a beautiful (okay I couldn’t help myself) novel with important and powerful messages. It was bittersweet and funny and absolutely totally cute. The slow-burn romance was my favourite. Gideon made me laugh/cry simultaneously which is a feat so well done, sir. I am so pleased that this book exists!

Review: Wonder Woman Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

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Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Barudgo was a definite pocketful of feministic glory. I hadn’t actually ever seen the Wonder Woman movie or read any WW comics, but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment AT ALL. Leigh Bardugo is masterful! It was a bit slower than I expected, on a whole, but still so fun and full of empowerment to minorities and EXPLOSIONS. Which obviously every good superhero action sequence needs.

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The story starts off on a mysterious secluded island of Amazons where Diana, daughter of the queen, is the only occupant who was born there and not earned her place through bravery and war. She’s desperate to prove herself as strong as everyone else — but during a race to do just that, she gets caught up rescuing a girl from a shipwreck. Helping a human on the island can equal banishment, but Diana takes the risk anyway to get Alia back home safely. But after consulting the Oracle, Diana learns that Alia is a warbringer and will insight wars and destruction forever unless she’s killed. Or cured. And Diana’s going to help find that cure.

I’m absolutely so impressed by how it features strong female friendships! This is so rare to read, especially in YA, and I can’t even remember the last time I read a good solid female friendship that didn’t dissolve into jealousy or cattiness over a boy. But Wonder Woman gives us not one but two solidly epic, uplifting and empowering female friendships. I adored Alia and Diana’s bond. They were sisters of war by the end, even if Alia was a small breakable human nerd and Diana is like AMAZON EPIC. And then Alia has her very close friend, Nim, who is feisty and funny and passionate. I’m so so impressed. Feminism for the win.

I also adored all the mythology of course! I didn’t realise how steeped in Greek mythology this would be, so that was a pleasant surprise. Think Percy Jackson = but with epic girls.

It’s also super diverse, with almost all the characters being people of colour. How awesome is that?! Here is an action adventure story featuring diversity in race and skin and sexuality in all the leading roles.

I’m also a huge fan of witty dialogue and banter and this book delivered that so well.  The dialogue and banter was laugh out loud worthy and there was even a small Easter egg reference to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows series that had me very impressed. Also Diana experiencing the mortal world was hilarious. That will never get old omg I laughed so much.

The characters are all terrific and so winning. I rooted for them the whole time! Diana and Alia take turns narrating, with distinct and complex and emotional voices. Then, of course, there’s Nim — who is a designer and bisexual and very protective of Alia. We also have Theo who is a gangly dork and hilarious and super annoying. Also of course Jason, Alia’s older brother, who is Mister Bossy Pants but loves his sister so much and just wants her safe.

I won’t even hesitate to say that Wonder Woman: Warbringer was thoroughly….wonderful. (Har har I couldn’t resist.) It was exciting with stunning and feels-smashing plot twists, with delightful feminism woven all through. Definitely an empowering and masterful tale.

Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein definitely caught my heart! It’s a gorgeous and lush 1930s frolic in Scotland and it was so atmospheric and intriguing with such winning characters that I couldn’t help but be obsessed by it! It’s also a prequel to Code Name Verity, although you don’t have to have read it in order to enjoy The Pearl Thief. While Code Name Veirty is about Julie Beaufort-Stuart’s life in the British army — The Pearl Thief follows her as a 15-year-old back home in Scotland trying to solve the mystery of a murdered man and missing pearls. It’s all castle ruins and rivers and kilts and ancient artefacts and a lot of delicious tea.

The story starts with Julie being involved in a nasty accident — that she can’t remember at all. She wakes up in hospital with amnesia over what happened and she’s trying to piece together who hit her on the head and left her to nearly die before she was rescued by kind travelling folk, Euan and Ellen. Since her family is selling their estate, Julie’s summer is turning out to be all about archiving the ancient artefacts of the old family manor and saying goodbye — but there’s been a murder. And she desperately wants to know who attacked her and if it’s connected to her grandfather’s missing pearls.

I actually listened to the audiobook and may I just say THE AUDIO IS ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. It’s all Scottish accents and the most beautiful narration ever. All the much recommend. I think I fell into love with Scotland and can’t get up.

 

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Honestly this is just a really well-written story. For me it was like revisiting an old friend! And it was just so perfect being around Julie Beaufort-Stuart again, particularly since her brother, the dashing and cheerful Jamie, is here too! Jamie is so sweet and basically an adorable dork. Yes, adorkable.

And do you know what I’m really impressed with? It’s how delightfully feminist this book is. Julie is a powerful character. She’s totally flawed and privileged and often doesn’t even know it and makes mistakes because of it…but she wants to learn and be better. Plus she is all about femininity and being empowered. She doesn’t ask permission — she does things. And I also loved how she was queer but never once saw herself as “broken” because of it, which was so refreshing to read in a historical fiction. Basically I just left this book feeling so happy because Julie was witty and could shoot a gun and wasn’t afraid to get mucky and was terrified of ghosts and LOVED BEING PRETTY and kissed whoever she wanted. And Julie’s surrounded by equally fabulous and powerful female role models, like her mother and grandmother, and they take 0% shenanigans too. I’m just so in awe. Usually I avoid historical fiction because of having to wade through pits of feeling inferior — but nooooot so here. There are sexist characters and the world isn’t sugar-coated into an “ideal land”, but it’s just NICE SEEING WOMEN BE PROUD OF THEMSELVES.

I also loved how the book handled the travellers! Although it made me so furious at how horribly they were treated. They’re called “tinkers” by the locals, (basically Scottish gypsies) and they’re abused and railed against at every turn. I love how Julie becomes friends with Euan and Ellen. And quite frankly Euan is the sweetest of ever and Ellen was a piece of frosty ice and absolutely amazing.

I enjoyed the lazy summery pace of the plot. Although quite frankly it was the setting I was monstrously in love with! All old castles and manors and beautifully described rivers of pearls. The writing is just SO GOOD that every scene somehow was lush and delicious and I felt like I was there, taking my summer in Scotland.

If you like historical fiction, mysteries, and feminists — The Pearl Thief is calling to you! It’ll take you on a beautiful adventure through Scotland until you feel like you just dropped into the 1930s! There is hilarious banter and an ending you absolutely will never guess.

Review: Ultimatum by K.M. Walton

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Ultimatum by K.M. Walton is the kind of story that’s going to tug at your heartstrings! I totally admit that I’m really fond of books that feature brothers, especially cantankerous ones that have to learn to work together and support each other. It always gets me in the feels! And I immediately loved Vance and Oscar, who are basically vinegar and sugar, and their character development is the best. They totally tried to glare each other to death the whole book, but okay they were going through a lot! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it definitely has slotted onto my shelf of “Underrated Awesome.”

The story follows Vance and Oscar who are waiting in a hospice over the bed of their dying father. He’s dying from liver failure due to drinking himself to death…so that’s super hard. And the relationship between him = his children = very very complicated. Honestly, it’s a messy story with messy characters and that’s a huge reason why I liked it! It flips back and forth in time between Vance in the past watching the dark spiral events that lead them to the present, which is narrated by Oscar, in the hospice. Even though we spend a fair bit of time in one setting, the emotional tension is always ramped up. The boys are trying to hold in their emotions while waiting desperately to see if their father will wake up or die in his coma. And each of the boys is silently hoping for the opposite outcome.

Definitely time to talk about the characters, amirite?! Oscar is the absolute sweetest. He’s musical and shy and very smart and wears his feelings on his sleeve…which absolutely backfires because his father and older brother, Vance, are both loud aggressive people who think having a good time involves alcohol and a wild party. The contrast between soft Oscar and wild Vance was really well written without being too dramatic. Vance is completely unlikeable for most of the book, being a jock and super snarky and always picking on Oscar or ignoring him for being too “sensitive”. But you can see Vance struggling with trying to impress his father, a constant claw towards being wanted and loved by doing his best to be “wild”. Vance and Oscar have a 100% history of not getting on…but they both hate that this is how it is so much.

I also really liked the psychology behind the book. Vance is here, emulating his horrible alcoholic father (who he worships) by drinking and getting into trouble and just trying to be “cool”…and Oscar is in the other corner, being as far away from all that stuff as he can. Seeing them both trying to get attention in opposite ways, and equally failing, is heart-breaking. Vance did just want to be loved and supported, but he was so blind to what he was doing that he was willing to burn down his life to achieve that. I loved how the book delved deep into actions vs reactions and consequences, and it perfectly captured different responses to devastating situations. So well done!

I loved the brother’s voices too: each being separate and distinct. It’s always hard with two dual-narrators both told in 1st person, but I do think the book pulled it off!

It’s also set over such a short period of time that the scenes, pacing, and writing were all really snappy and well-paced. IMPRESSED. I didn’t want to put it down, wondering what would happen at the end with their father’s coma and whether the brothers would fix the lifelong wounds in their relationship. Or, you know, murder each other. It was definitely impossible to put down, that’s for sure.

Altogether, Ultimatum was such a fantastic book. It was full of grittiness and sadness and it didn’t sugar-coat any edges. It also had a lot of “cause and effect” plots going on, which I appreciated! It shows decline, but also recovery. And, I mean, it’s super sad…I can’t even imagine watching a parent in a coma and about to die and yet these two boys had to do it all alone because they had no other family. If you need to see whether you have a heart, pick this one up. It’ll melt your cold bones for sure.

Review: The Crown’s Fate #2 by Evelyn Skye

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The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye was an amazing duology finale that was absolutely exquisite. It was everything I was hoping for to wrap up The Crown’s Game series! Is it possible to flail enough?! This duology is rich in Russian mythology and culture and magic and a definite recommend. It’s magical and dark and beautiful and perfection.

You can check out my review for The Crown’s Game, book 1, here!

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The story takes off where book 1 left off: with our magicians caught in the aftermath of their war together. Nikolai is trapped in another realm and Vika is now the Imperial Enchanter — but it’s more dangerous and complicated than she could ever have imagined. Rebels are rising and Pasha, the young new Tsar, is struggling to keep control of the throne. Nikolai is desperate to escape the shadow realm he’s created to save himself, but at what cost? When dark forces offer him a way of escape, he has to choose whether he’ll take them and continue the fight with Vika — or help save his friends.

I lowkey, I didn’t want it to be the finale! If there are more books in Vika, Pasha, and Nikolai’s world I would be totally on board for that. I might even pass bribes of cake, let’s be real here. You know a book is excellent when the world so so captivates you with its breathtaking descriptions and complexities that you want infinitely more of it. I love how it mixes historical-Russia with a dash of magic that just makes everything all the more special. Because every book should have magic in it.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this sequel is that it’s a lot darker than the first book. We have shadow realms and darker magic and DEATH, with the return of sinister powers and with Nikolai frolicking in the dark side. I love him 5000% more now.

LIST OF OTHER THINGS TO LOVE

  • Plenty of character development. Like they’re all reeling from the heart-wrenching finale of book one, and the effects are so palpable.
  • Deepens the magic system. We get to see more of what the magicians can do, and since they were pretty dang spectacular the first time round, this is the best.
  • There is food. Vika makes an edible Christmas tree and I think this is why I love her.
  • Higher stakes. Which means you’re going to experience pain.
  • Girl power. Like serious girl power. Vika is #Fabulousness personified, and Yuliana (Pasha’s sister) just slays with her ability to run a kingdom because Pasha is adorable and I love him but he’s also as useful as a grape.
  • Better than the first! And I loved the first a lot, so this is saying something. All the AND ADORATION.

    And excuse me while I take another moment for foodie appreciation. Look, I’m not try to tell you how to live your life, but if your epic fantasy doesn’t have gobs and gobs of delicious foodie descriptions — then it’s wrong. The Crown’s Fate rules for delicious Russian food descriptions.

    And while it is about love, it’s also about friendship and family.
    Which is my favourite thing in books. I can’t be more happy with how it all worked out. I loved getting to see Pasha and Nikolai interact as brothers now. Although, let’s be real: they took sibling rivalry to the next level.

    The Crown’s Fate perfectly balanced gorgeous writing, a rich and imaginative Russia, with characters it’s impossible not to love. The plot was fast-paced and rich with intrigue and twists. It’s definitely a highlight of my year so far.

Review: Vicarious by Paula Stokes

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Vicarious by Paula Stokes is definitely a wild ride with dark undertones! It’s a high-stakes thriller where 18-year-old Winter has to find out who murdered her older sister. And, why. It’s not graphic at all, but it definitely stays in the “dark side” and deals with topics more suited for older Young Adults. It keeps up quite the action pace and packs a lot into a 320-page story! You won’t be pausing much for breath for this one, while you see what Winter, with her badass fighting skills and brutal past, will do to find her sister’s killer.

Basically Winter works for a company that specialises in this technology that allows people to have stimulated thrills from the comfort of their own home. Things like diving with sharks, skydiving, or having sex with movie stars. People like Winter will go out and actually do the thrills, recording on their special ViSE headsets. While that’s the premise of the story, the actual stunts Winter pulls for her job don’t feature all that much. She’s mostly trying to figure out what happened to her sister and unravel the mysteries that start building up around her past, especially in the blocks of time she doesn’t remember. Someone is definitely after the tech and may do anything to get it.

Now the book isn’t graphic or explicit, but it is set against a backdrop of clubs and drugs. Winter was a child prostitute, stolen from Korea. She’s been rescued by Gideon who acts as her boss and older brother, while she and her sister Rose work as stunt girls. That’s just the backdrop though, and it doesn’t go into details. But you definitely see and feel the PTSD Winter has from her brutal and terrifying past.

Winter was such an interesting character! She holds onto a lot of her Korean roots, but is very eager to also fully immerse herself in America. She’s taken a new name (her Korean one being buried along with her terrifying memories of the past) and the book discusses a lot of mental health issues. Winter’s PTSD plays a huge part in the story too.

I also loved her relationship with her co-worker, Jesse! Winter isn’t sure she’ll ever be ready for a boyfriend, and Jesse doesn’t push, but he definitely likes her and their friendship grows into something strong and dependable. Jesse is super sweet! And also super badass. Although Winter doesn’t exactly need any saving (she’s epic with knives and martial arts), it’s epic to see them work together to solve the murder mystery.

The thriller aspect is really quite full on. I spent most of the book suspecting everyone of being a shady killer, and when Winter has black-outs in her memory, it just thickens the plot. I looove it when books turn into high-stake guessing games, so this was a solid win here! We get to piece together clues and suspect the worst as Winter unravels the story.

It also features a super diverse cast, which is amazing. Winter and Rose are obviously Korean. And Jesse is biracial and Mexican. It’s amazing having a full cast of featuring diverse characters were their culture is part of them and interestingly explored.

Vicarious is definitely a good thriller to pick up if you don’t mind the dark side. It’s an interesting story that’s easy to stay engaged with. I personally preferred the fighting scenes to their forays into clubs and technology experiences, but it was full of plot twists and sci-fi elements and lots of very sharp knives.

Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

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Made You Up by Francesca Zappia is an amazing novel about schizophrenia, school, and making friends with a boy who may or may not be real. The whole story caught me by surprise with how much I loved it! It felt so realistic and relatable with how it is to be a teen, and it was also amazing have the perspective of someone who deals with delusions. I was so caught up, the 400-pages rushed by in a flash! And the ending is the kind that will definitely turn you on your head. Such excellence.

The story follows Alex who’s just trying to get through her last year of highschool so she can get into college — while keep control of her delusions and schizophrenia. There are a few mysteries going on at school which she is trying to solve. And on top of that, she meets a boy named Miles who she’s sure she’s met before…or has she?

I thought the representation of schizophrenia was extremely interesting. I’ve read other books on this topic, such as Challenger Deep and Alice and the Fly, which both summarised the vivid and devastating delusions from a completely different angle. Alex seems to maintain a “normal” life. She’s witty and has some great dialogue lines and she has many hopes and plans for the future. She has hobbies (she loves photography) and she has a job and is a history nerd. But her paranoid schizophrenia is still there. I actually really liked this representation because it shows that (a) mental health issues are a spectrum, and (b) often times someone on the outside can’t “see”…which really can underline the fact you shouldn’t judge people without knowing the whole story. But I liked how Alex had mental health struggles, but she wasn’t just those struggles. I definitely connected and rooted for Alex!

The secondary characters are also excellently written and well developed. Alex is going to this new school (she got kicked out of her last) and so she meets a motley crew, but notably: Tucker and Miles. Tucker is a really cool, sweet dude and I liked his easy-going friendship with Alex. It was really especially nice to see platonic boy-and-girl friendships featuring!

Miles is extremely interesting and complex. He’s German and skinny and a genius and often horrible and unempathetic. I loved him a lot, basically instantly, because you can tell there’s more to him than meets the eye. I think he’s also on the autism spectrum and this definitely shows in his personality and how he relates to people. I thought he was so well written and represented! I loved how he’s just this a fountain of extreme intelligence, and his character development and relationship with Alex is amazing.

I so appreciate how this book tackled so many complex topics and treated them well and with total respect.

My only negatives were I guessed the biggest plot twist at the end! However that might be just me who reads, let’s face it, an awful lot.

I definitely think Made You Up is the kind of book you want to experience. It’s so so well written and a phenomenal debut. It made me instantly realise I’ll need to read everything by this author of ever. It’s full of feels and emotions and important messages and definitely will get you thinking.

Review: Eliza And Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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Eliza And Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia is the ultimate book for those of us who hiss at sunlight and live on the internet. It’s brimming with internet, geek, and nerdom appreciation! And on top of that, the writing is absolutely amazing and it features protagonists’ struggling with anxiety and depression and their entirely relatable journeys. This book just felt so applicable to this day! I can do naught but appreciate it’s perfection.

The story follows Eliza who is the anonymous creator of an internet-famous webcomic series called Monstrous Sea. Online she is a mysterious and powerful creator and is loved and adored by so many. She’s made quite the profit off her business and fans adore every chapter update. Her closest friends are online and she can talk to them about anything. But in the physical life? Eliza hates leaving her room. She barely talks and has severe anxiety and depression and every day is just about getting through school so she can finish and go to college to study art. Until she meets a fanfic writer at her very school: Wallace. The two form a deep friendship based on their loves of the Monstrous Sea fandom and their connection over anxiety (Wallace has selective mutism). But Wallace doesn’t know who Eliza truly is. And she’s not sure if telling him will ruin everything.

I was already a big fan of the author’s debut, Made You Up, so I went into this story know it’d be amazing. I maybe liked the debut better, but this one just hit home with the levels of sheer geekdom over the comicseries. I think anyone who’s anxious, introverted, or loves to get lost in literature — will definitely relate to Eliza and feel understood.

 

“Eliza, your worth as a person is not dependant on the art you create or what other people think of it.”

 

I also loved the emphasis on internet friendships! Most of Eliza’s life is online and her parents are of the opinion that online-friends-aren’t-real-friends. Which is obviously ridiculous and stresses Eliza out a lot. She loves the freedom of the internet, the chance to think before she has to talk. I also couldn’t get over how awesome Max and Emmy, Eliza’s chat buddies, were. We only “met” them through internet dialogue, but they were so complex, interesting, and relatable! I also loved that there was quite an age gap between the three friends (Eliza was 17, Emmy 14, and Max in his early twenties). It just goes to show and prove that internet friendship can and will transcend barriers. The whole thing was sweet and lovely! The book totally did highlight how the internet can suck, but mostly it was positive which was such a refreshing change.

And of course I must mention how wonderful the featuring characters of Eliza and Wallace were! It was amazing to read how they both struggled with anxiety, but it displayed in different forms (with Eliza retreating from life, and Wallace not speaking in public). It goes to show what a spectrum mental health issues are. I also loved Eliza’s family, who were sweet and kind…if totally clueless about her love and dedication to her webcomic. They really did try to connect with her, even though they often made things worse. And Wallace was complex and interesting. Their relationship starts as tentative friends and then progresses so sweetly. I loved it!

Also anytime someone says “exercise” Eliza runs away. This is relatable and perfect.

It also was great that the book featured people who weren’t good at talking, but still communicated through art, writing, and notes. There’s still plenty of dialogue in the book, but the balance was perfect.

And the book is also illustrated! Many sections and pages have snippets of Eliza’s comic. And it includes emails and web-chats too, to make a very entirely pleasing and uniquely formatted novel.

 

“Do you ever have an idea for a story, a character, or even a line of dialogue or something, and suddenly it seems like the whole world is brighter? Like everything opens up, and everything makes sense?”

Eliza And Her Monsters is definitely the kind of book you need in your life! The sheer amount of GEEK AND INTERNET LOVE makes it so worth it. I love how I felt understood by it and I love how it really explained and delved into the reasons why fandoms and art and writing are so important to some people!

Review: Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

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Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee is a fantastic tale of internet fame,  summer holidays, and friendship! After totally adoring the author’s other book, Lucky Few, I was really keen to try this one.  Plus, you know, I might’ve wanted to see if I could glean tips on how to get half a million followers over night on social media. As you do when reading these kind of books.  That might not have happened, but I still absolutely adored this hilarious, sweet, and addictive story! I was also really keen to finally read a book with an asexual protagonist, because asexuality seems woefully underrepresented in Young Adult books. And, of course, this book features a lot of appreciation for Russian literature. (Hey, Tolstoy on the front cover!)

The story basically follows Tash who runs a web-vlog series that’s a modern adaption of Anna Karenina that suddenly goes viral. It’s acted out by her friends and classmates and they take filming very seriously. Tash directs and writes scripts with her best-friend, Jack, and they’re a bit of a salt and vinegar mix, but truly do love each other. Jack and her brother Paul are like Tash’s “siblings from another mother” and they’re all super close. Although Tash might have a small crush on Paul, something she thinks she can never act on because she’s asexual and doesn’t think Paul would want a relationship without sex. Life turns even more complicated when the sudden fame also brings slews of haters and trolls out. Tash has to figure out how to balance this without being paralysed from creating and without pushing her friends away in an attempt to keep everything afloat.

The book also has such a nice summer-vibe, with plenty of banter amongst friends as well as work in their web-series. It was just so pleasurable to read! I loved the character dynamics the most. You end up just wanting to faceplant yourself into the book so you can hang out with Tash, Paul, and Jack and basically never leave. It takes an excellent book to bring the characters off the page so well!

Now don’t fear if you don’t know much about Russian literature! I still found the book entirely awesome despite (a) never having read Anna Katerina, or (b) not actually being a youtuber myself! There was still so much to be engaged with and connect to.

Plus I really appreciated the fact that it was so internet-focused. I mean, I’m a blogger and tweeter, so just reading about teens who share the same internet-centric interests as me was really refreshing and fun!

I also liked how it did show the darker side of “fame”, especially on the internet. Things can get quite snide and snarky very fast online, and the story didn’t paint a purely rosy picture of what was going on. It was realistic and also super interesting!

Shout out to the friendships for being the absolute best! Tash’s dynamics with her neighbours were so much fun. And I enjoyed getting to know (although slowly) the rest of the cast of her vlog-crew. There are a LOT of characters here, though, which took a bit of getting used to. But I have such a weakness for childhood-friends growing up together, and it’s stinkin’ adorable.

The writing style features lots of banter and wit, which was super engaging to read. Plus it was easy to just keep flipping pages! I’d devoured half the book before I even noticed.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy is definitely the kind of book you need in your life. It’s funny and bittersweet, with some occasional sadder undercurrents and some very meaty food-for-thought. I loved the sibling/friendship dynamics and the internet focus! It was just the most pleasant book to read and definitely one to recommend!

Review: Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill

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Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill is an absolutely amazing and mind-twisting book about a young con artist who steals a missing boy’s identity. It was so well written that I didn’t want to put it down. Also it had only small chapter breaks instead of actual finished-chapters…so the entire book was a conspiracy to NOT let itself be put down. And it was so so worth it. It was equal parts con artistry and thriller and mystery as you wonder (a) what happened to the real Daniel Tate, and (b) what the fake Daniel Tate will sacrifice or do to keep this pretend life he’s building for himself.

I’m honestly such a fan! I love books that mess with my mind and the narrator beings the book by telling you he’s going to lie. He is a professional liar. So what are you going to believe? #MindTwisting

It’s narrated in 1st person by the protagonist who is never truly named, except for this identity he stole: Daniel Tate. You know he has a bad home life and is living by conning his way into halfway houses by acting like a traumatised younger boy. He steals. He’s constantly on the move. He cons people into helping him. Then he settles on the idea of taking the identity of the infamous Daniel Tate who disappeared when he was 10 years old. The narrator figures if he can pull it off, he can be looked after for a week or so and catch a break. But he accidentally ends up loving the Tate family and feels desperate to keep hold of what he’s stolen. But can he truly trick this family for long enough to stay? And what really happened to the true Daniel Tate?

The book is a mind field of interesting and complicated questions. I also adore how it answers questions by asking more and you just keep flicking pages with your heart somewhat escaping because WHAT IS GOING ON. The book was simply superb!

So I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed the protagonist’s narration. He’s definitely clever and good at faking it, possibly a sociopath…but at the same time he really longs for a family and safety. It was really easy to feel for him. He never intended to get too deep into this con, but the Tate family are really desperate not to let him go. The Tates are also super rich and super messed up. You can practically smell their dark family secrets. And even though they seem to love and care for this fake-Danny with few questions, you can tell things are a little darker and twisted than all that. I really wanted good things to happen to the narrator! He was precious and just needed to be loved. Imagine spending your whole life pretending to be someone else? He was at the point where, if he wasn’t faking being Daniel Tate, he didn’t even know how to act because he didn’t know who he was.

It was also very suspenseful. To the point where you can just wave goodbye to doing anything else because, no, friend, you’re going to sit here and just READ because you want answers. You get emotionally tangled up in hoping Danny’s life works out but having a SICK DREAD FEELING the whole time.

I also loved how complex and dimensional all the characters were. The Tate family were vastly complicated, with secrets being slung around and everyone having different agendas. I loved the soft, sweet, caring Lex and the solid and authoritative Patrick — both Danny’s older siblings who’ll do anything to keep him safe and well now that they have “him back”. Then there’s a younger sister who adores her newly-found “brother” and a slightly older brother, Nicholas who seems to be the only one who doesn’t accept the fake-Danny is truly is brother. (Well, mate, you’re not wrong.)

Then the ending is just designed to BLOW YOUR MIND and leave you screaming faintly in the corner.

Basically Here Lies Daniel Tate is the kind of book you need in your life. It’s a thriller with heartwarming family elements and the most precious of con artist protagonists. It’s full of lies and twists and it’ll captivate you to the very last page.

Review: Willful Machines by Tim Floreen

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I was so surprised and delighted by Willful Machines by Tim Floreen! I saw a friend recommend it and say it was underrated — and they were 100% right. It’s so emotional, complex, and relatable and entirely underrated! Although it does have an ending that is rather destined to set you biting your nails and crying desperately for a sequel. But that’s the kind of reaction a good book should give, right?!?

The story is set in the not-so-distant future and centres around the president’s son who goes to an elite boarding school. And he’s not doing very well at all. His mental health is declining with the grief and anxiety of losing his mother, and the effort of keeping his sexuality hidden from his very conservative father. He throws himself into building robots — even though robots are the reason his mother is dead and the world is in an uproar. There’s a robot computer virus, named Charlotte, who seems intent on destroying people. And it’s possible that her next target is the president’s own son, Lee.

I love how it was set in a world that is very similar to ours, but just with a little more tech. Like really clever robots. Dude, I need a clever robot to go search for my continually missing left socks. There are cleaning droids and mechanical creatures that just may or may not be manipulated into evil. #exciting

The topic of “choices” comes up a lot, and I really appreciated this discussion. Lee firmly believed you can’t choose aspects of yourself, which is so true and so important to say! You can’t choose your sexuality. You can’t choose to be depressed or not. There are a lot of misconceived notions that those are choices, so I loved how the book delved into the matter. It was also intensely interesting how it talked about being predisposed to make a choice. (Like if your culture likes a certain type of food, won’t you? And if your parents have a certain belief system, won’t you be more likely to adopt it?) And doesn’t that make humans similar to programmed machines at times? It was an interesting discussion and I appreciated how the book made me think.

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The characters were also adorable and tragic creatures. Lee was amazing! I adored him! Being the son of the president is hard enough (with constant bodyguards eliminating craved-for privacy) but he’s also antisocial, a complete nerd, and very very anxious. He’s also very firmly in denial of being gay, in case his father finds out. I loved his character development and how relatable and dorky he was!

The romance is equally adorable. When Lee meets Nico, he’s captivated by this loud-laughing, Shakespeare-quoting, Chilean, perfectly handsome boy who eats anything and everything and will sneak out at midnight to throw sparklers down a cave in a mountain. I can’t even with how cute they were together.

The writing is excellent and I flew through the book in a few hours! It keeps you rooted to the page, perfectly weaving together Lee’s personal life at school and the robot crises of the world, and the conspiracy theories against the president and his son. It’s more of a boarding-school-story than a hair-raising action adventure, and I think that’s why I loved it so much. It focuses on emotional writing and character development. And then it leaves you clutching your paperback and breathing fast at the end as everything goes perfectly dreadfully wrong.

Willful Machines is splendidly cute, heartfelt, and bittersweet. It has characters to root for, mysteries to solve, and an open ending that’ll leave you thinking. It didn’t shy away from tough topics and I felt the diversity was excellent and perfectly represented. I loved the creepy old-fashioned school setting and the slightly sinister robot undertone.

Review: Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

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Night Swimming by Steph Bowe was a piece of adorkable cuteness! It’s such a good example why Aussie YA is absolutely the best and so entirely special. I’ve loved Steph Bowe’s previous books (Girl Saves Boy and All This Could End) and I’m so glad she’s back writing again with this one! It has goat puns, quirky humour, dry wit, book lover appreciation, and features a super cute gay romance. Plus it’s set in a small dusty Australian town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Oh. And there’s crop circles. Because of course.

The story centres around Kirby, who is one of the only two teens in the town. Her best-friend-by-default is Clancy Lee, son of the local Chinese restaurant owners. They have the most hilarious witty dialogue of ever and I can’t get enough of it! Kirby is working as a carpenter apprentice and fast approaching the doomed decision of What Do I Do With My Life.

Kirby is also such a fabulously relatable protagonist! She has a great sense of humour and she is very obsessed with books. Although she claims she has a “book buying problem” which is obviously nonsense because when is buying books a problem? It’s a lifestyle, Kirby, you’re fine. When the new girl Iris comes into town, Kirby can’t work up the courage to admit she likes her. The adorkable awkwardness is equal parts hilarious and definitely relatable. Plus Kirby is a huge fan of chips and I mean…who isn’t.

The plot isn’t super faced paced, but it’s full of interesting happenings. Someone’s making plot circles in the local fields (aliens?!) and Clancy is putting on a musical for the sole reason to impress the new girl, Iris. There’s flood warnings coming and goats eating everyone’s shoes and is Kirby’s mum secretly dating the local Greek grocery store assistant?!

There is a love triangle, but it’s not a super angsty one. When Iris arrives, both Kirby and Clancy immediately fall in love with her…but it’s Kirby who actually tries to befriend her while Clancy maintains a more dreamy idea of Iris’ imagined perfection. Iris is part New Zelander and part Indian and is the daughter of a new restaurant owner, bound to give Clancy’s family a bit of friendly competition. She’s also definitely hiding the reason they moved out and Kirby is definitely curious about that. But I appreciated how the romance was “Friendship to Lovers” because I think it makes it so much stronger and sweeter!

OTHER THINGS TO LOVE

  • beautiful but horrible puns
  • small dusty country Aussie town
  • Kirby was fat and while she fretted over it occasionally she was also okay wiher her body and sent great messages of self-love
  • the romance was basically ADORKABLE with Kirby spending 5 hours sending a text that says “sure”
  • bookworm appreciation
  • a pet goat named Stanley who will eat your shoes and soul
  • Aussie slang which is my favourite
  • Kirby’s grandpa features in the story
  • excellent diversity representation

I fully adored this book! I laughed out loud and ate it faster than a goat with a tasty stolen slipper. Steph Bowe is a master storyteller and I was engaged the entire time with the quirky and fabulous writing style. It summarises the awkward and awesome that is the life of a teenager and the tale is poignant as well as downright fun.

Review: Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee

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Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee was such an adorable and pleasant surprise! I picked it up when I heard it was about homeschoolers, and since I spent most of my school life doing just that…I was super keen to see how homeschooling would be portrayed in this book. It can be a controversial topic, with people only seeing the negatives. But what school system isn’t flawed?? If homeschooling works for you = it’s excellent! I absolutely appreciated how beautiful this book was in its representation of homeschooling. It was funny and nerdy and completely dorky at times and managed to be heart-wrenchingly poignant on top of that. Because, you know…all the good books like to hurt you.

The story centres around the perspective of Stevie who discovers a “dead” boy in her neighbours yard. Except he’s not dead, just faking it. They slowly become friends and Stevie joins in Max’s quest to fake his death 23 times. For him, it’s closure after he had a near fatal accident. Although there might be more to his story than he’s letting on. Together with Stevie’s BFF, Sanger, the three get into hair-raising schemes that often end in near true tragedy.

I really loved the representation of diversity in this book! Not only does Stevie homeschool, but she also has Type 1 Diabetes which affects her life all the time, including a near death experience in her childhood that haunts her. Sanger also has two mothers and there’s diversity of skin colour as well. I also love how the minority aspects fit into the story and weren’t just fluttering around in the background. They affected their lives and were beautifully represented.

The characters were absolutely my favourite part! They seemed utterly real. And maybe it was a homeschooler aspect helping me to relate, but I also just adored the intelligent, nerdy, sassy, and deep thinking that went down in this novel. I think any teen could relate to these three fantastic friends! Their banter is absolutely on point and I found myself cracking up multiple times. Plus any book that features a strong female friendship gets the thumbs up from me. Stevie and Sanger do not let silly things come between their deep bond. “Sisters before misters” as they say.

The romance between Stevie and Max was absolutely adorable. I also appreciated the fact that the romance was only a small aspect of the story. It was firstly about (a) friendship, (b) Stevie sticking up for her activist believes; (c) talking very brutally honestly and openly about death, fears, and phobias; and (d) discussions on judging others and how that affects everyone. But still absolutely shipped Max and Stevie though! They were so cute and awkward and their romance was slow-burn and winning.

The writing was also totally addictive! I didn’t want to stop reading! Although it did move along a little slower than the average book I gnaw through, but perhaps this is because I was savouring every line and often had to stop and laugh my head off. As you do for excellent tomes.

Lucky Few is definitely a must read! It will appeal to homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike, with the dorky and relatable characters and the humour and the slightly dark death-pranks that forge strong bonds between the three and also cause them all to nearly really die on occasion. It was morbid and sassy and clever. It also shows that homeschoolers are “normal” people, who also fail tests and watch show reruns and eat tacos and fake their deaths. Absolutely normal.

Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde is an absolutely adorable story about the fangirl life and being happy being yourself. It’s absolutely adorkable and definitely not to be missed. I also didn’t realise it was by an Australian author when I picked it up, so that just entirely made my day! Although it is set in the USA, but the two protagonists are Australian. And what could be better than reading a cute fluffy story about two best friends off to a ComicCon type of event to live their dreams of nerdom and to find love?

This book calls to you, it does. Just look at it and all that calling.

The story centres around Charley who’s a sudden star from an Aussie indie film, and how she’s at SupaCon to do press. She brings her BFF’s Taylor (who has Autism) and Jamie (who is Latino) and together they go into 100% GEEK MODE and have the time of their lives. There are famous authors to meet, movie stars to flail over, competitions to enter, anxiety to be tackled, crushes to be confessed, and the realisation that you should be unapologetically yourself at all times. Which is such a beautiful message!

The book is really rather short, but manages to pack a lot of fun dialogue and relatable scenes in. I’m not generally one to rush after fluffy contemporaries, but this was definitely a light and one! It did border on making the characters so perfect, however, that they could’ve practically sprouted angel wings and frolicked about in halos. But I’ll forgive it because these were kids I looked up to! Even if they felt a bit idealistic in the way they were written.

If you’re a fangirl, also, you’re going to love all the fandom references! It mentions Marvel comics and the TV show Supernatural. They mention the Vampire Diaries and Felicia Day, too! And it’s so centred around youtube and tumblr, which Charlie and Taylor are updating constantly. Taylor is also heavily obsessed with a fantasy series, which was made up for the show, but it easily had an “insert fandom of choice here” feel to it which made it very relatable! They were doing cosplays and book signings and film previews and zombie mazes. Basically your little nerd heart will explode with wish to go to this magical SupaCon.

I loved the inclusion of diversity too! Taylor has Autism, and it was so refreshing to see love for ASD girls here because they are overlooked so much in literature. Taylor’s ASD traits (including severe anxiety, very intense obsession interests, and struggle with change) all felt completely realistic and well represented! Also Charley is bisexual and Asian and their other friend, Jamie, is Latino.

And of course there is romance…and it’s super cute! Charley has had a crush on a youtube star, Alyssa, forever….and finally gets her chance to see if it’ll work. But she’s also recovering from a messy public breakup with a costar so putting her emotions out there is NOT easy for her. And Taylor has had a crush on her best friend, Jamie, for years…but she hates the thought of their friendship dynamic changing. And she doesn’t know how to romance. How doth one romance. So her reluctance to act on her feelings is complicating things immensely. I thought the romance was a sweet and lovely touch, and didn’t drown out the rest of the plot.

Queens of Geek is, in summary, EXTREMELY GEEKY. It made me smile with all the fangirl appreciation and the cute dialogue and fantastically winning characters! I wish they’d been a little less “perfect”, however,  but the fun storyline over a quick 3-day period definitely made up for it. I also appreciated the Aussie references and how it represented minorities that definitely need their voices heard. If you’re looking for a fun story: HERE IT IS.

Review: Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

9780385755924I was so incredibly excited to read Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven! One of my most favourite books in the world is her YA Debut, All The Bright Places, which managed to reduce me to a howling mess of adoration, feels, and awareness about mental health matters. I was a bit nervous that Holding Up The Universe would destroy me or not live up to All The Bright Places. And you know what? It was different. And that’s okay! There was still feels, epic dialogue, and some sweet moments that absolutely melted my heart. It featured two teens who were struggling with life, who weren’t perfect, who had a lot to learn, and yet were so relatable I just wanted to squish them with hugs. I am 100% of the opinion that a good book makes you feel things. All stars of approval for Holding Up the Universe!

I feel like a big message of the book was about “being seen”. It’s equal parts about Libby (who was once known as the “fattest teen in America”) and Jack (who has prosopagnosia which is a disability that renders you unable to recognise facial features). I loved the storyline! It was so poignant and beautifully written. Here’s these two teens who have a very rocky meeting (aka they nearly get each other expelled) but slowly learn to stop making assumptions about people and listen. And give second chances. It impressed me so much honestly! I also adored all the messages of self worth and love and acceptance that were woven through the book!

Brief List Of Other Things I Loved:

  • There are so many references to the TV show of Supernatural! Of which I am a ginormous fan so thank you for all that nerdom!
  • There is a lot of dancing. Dancing everywhere! Dancing whether people think you’re good at it or not! Dancing because it makes you happy!
  • There is diverse representation of size and skin colour and disabilities.
  • Jack has a gorgeous afro and has an epic love for it that made my day.
  • There is self-love for one’s body, no matter what the size.

 

And the characters?! I loved them! Jack was my absolutely favourite, but it took me longer to warm up to Libby, as she speaks and thinks all the right things, but when it comes down to it…she body shames herself. She’s still overweight but not dangerously so like she was when they had to lift her out of her house in a crane. She also has a bit of a self-righteous attitude. But you know what?? She’s been through a lot! She lost her mother, she nearly died, and now she’s doing her best to show the world you should love yourself. THE END. No exceptions.

I just felt Jack was a pure and precious cinnamon roll. And yes his decisions in the book often absolutely sucked. He hadn’t been diagnosed with prosopagnosia so he basically felt he was falling apart, that he was crazy or broken. Since he’s “face blind” it really freaks him out that he can’t tell people apart. In a room full of kids, he can’t even pick out his own brother. I could feel his fright and anxiety on every page and I just rooted for him to discover having a disability is not shameful and doesn’t make him broken. The book handled it all so well! I can only applaud!

This is definitely a powerful story with really important themes and messages. I also couldn’t stop reading! The chapters are short and punchy and the characters are relatable and precious. What more can one want?!

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Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman was just an incredibly book that I fell absolutely in love with! But the entire story was so so relatable with its themes of teens not knowing what to do with their life, struggling with anxiety, being super stressed over school, and being total geeks and nerds of the internet. This book knows what it is to be a teen! And it sums everything up so beautiful and amazingly I can only clutch the novel and feel so very happy.

9780007559244The story is about Frances who has two interests: (1) be the best of her school and get into Cambridge University, and (2) be absolutely obsessed with a youtube podcast, called Radio Silence, and accidentally met and befriend its secretive creator: Aled. Frances and Aled used to know each other as kids but they drifted apart…and now Frances discovers she’s her ex-friend’s biggest fan?! The world is small. Teeny tiny, basically. The two have an amazing summer of creativity and the best friendship I’ve ever read. But obviously happiness can’t last and this book would rather have your heart broken. There is betrayal, emotional manipulation, missing people, accidents that ruin everything, and teens falling apart as the stresses of pre-uni-entrance mount up.

The characters were definitely a highlight for me. Everything from France’s dorkiness to Aled’s love of the internet. And plus they all wear the most fabulous clothes you have ever heard of. We’re talking about Monsters Inc leggings and unicorn shirts here. And the way the fandom life sneaked into all the pages just made my own fangirl heart continue the rabid flailing it’s been doing since the dawn of time. Plus I found all the characters so relatable and unique and complex!

I’m also a big fan of how the story focused on friendship first and foremost. A non-romantic relationship between a boy and a girl? YES PLEASE.

I’m also so pleased with the amount of diversity diversity representation here. Frances is biracial Ethiopian/caucasian. Aled has anxiety (probably also depression). And most of the characters are queer with bisexual, gay, and asexual characters featuring.

And shout out to Frances’ mum who was actually an awesome parent. Finding epic parents in YA books isn’t like…easy. So it was absolutely lovely to have France’s mum be (A) supporting, (B) geeky too, (C) wear a unicorn onesie, and (D) help out with the kids’ schemes when they needed it.

30628062The whole book was just so realistic. They stopped being characters and just became amazing people you could imagine meeting on the street.

At 500-pages I thought it might not have enough plot to keep me glued to the page. But I was wrong! (Obviously. Everything about this book is perfect.) It’s about being yourself and also discovering what it means to be yourself. It’s also about creating art and being an unapologetic fangirl. There’s also a mystery behind Aled’s disappearing sister (who used to be the crush of Frances’ life) and a subplot of Aled’s emotionally abusive mother. Then there’s like random sleepovers and discussions and midnight math sessions and SNACK BREAKS and everything an epic and beautiful friendship should include. I didn’t want the story to end.

This is a definitely the kind of book anyone facing highschool will relate to. And anyone who likes tumblr and fandom life. And anyone who’s ever felt alone and alienated. Basically: everyone should read it. Probably yesterday.

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Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Tiny Pretty Things by Charaipotra and Clayton was an amazingly and addictive story set in a cutthroat ballet school. There’s nothing like a school of backstabbing ballerinas to make me very grateful I’m an un-athletic potato. I was absolutely glued to the page, however, desperately wondering who was going to survive to the end while my nerves shattered.9780062342393

The story centres around three ballerinas all competing for top of a prestigious ballet school. There can only be one “star” of the show, of course. And they all want it. Gigi is a black dancer and has left everything she’s ever loved and known to attend this dance school. June is a Korean dancer with an eating disorder and a mother who doesn’t believe ballet is worthwhile since June can never land the leading roll. And Bette is living in her older sister’s shadow while trying to dance to the top even though she’s not like her sister. There’s bullying and mental health discussions and the whispered danger of someone taking a prank too far and ballerinas potentially losing the chance to dance. Forever.

loved the writing. The story line was so captivating! It also had a huge cast and yet still managed to flesh everyone out. That is amazing. Most of the characters were completely awful to some degree. But I liked them despite also hating them. I cared about them and I wanted them to succeed even though they were really…horrible to each other.

I loved the three narrators and how their stories were so different yet interwove throughout the plot perfectly.

  • GIGI: She is the best. She’s the “new girl” to the school and an absolutely flawless ballerina. She’s black and the only black ballerina in the older classes, so she often feels ostracized. All the girls are really horrible to her because she’s very very good at dancing and is instantly the teacher’s favourite. She’s also really sweet and nice and kind.
  • BETTE: She’s basically the mean girl. She’s absolutely nasty and vicious and gorgeous and she hates Gigi and woah: please no one leave these girls in a room with a knife, okay? I really didn’t like Bette, but she had such a bad home life I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
  • JUNE: Her point-of-view wasn’t so important to the plot, but I still enjoyed it! She’s half Korean and her father was a mystery dancer, and her mother doesn’t want June to dance because of this. She really struggles with her anorexia and wants to be more than an understudy.

I also have much love for the secondary characters! I suspect Henri is a total psychopath. I loved Alec (Gigi’s boyfriend and Bette’s ex) and he was so sweet but yet oblivious to the damage the girls are causing each other. Will is sweet and gay and never gets lead roles and I feel bad for him. Although I’m furious at about 98% of all the kids’ parents. They pushed their children terribly and no wonder everyone was having a breakdown (me included).

The romance is very complicated and never healthy. Gigi is a better dancer than Bette and then Bette’s boyfriend dumped her and went with Gigi. Cue drama and angst and a lot of girl-on-girl hate. There’s lots of “stealing boyfriends” and cheating amongst the other characters and also emotional manipulation and it’s basically a trainwreck and hard to look away from.

BRIEF LIST OF THINGS I LOVED:

  • set entirely in a ballet boarding school
  • it actually talks about the technical parts of ballet and, as someone who knows naught, I thought it was really interesting to learn
  • there’s so much diversity representation!
  • it addresses mental health issues, particularly eating disorders, and disabilities
  • it’s really suspenseful and darkly addictive
  • it leaves you with so many questions and a huge need for the sequel

 

Tiny Pretty Things is definitely the kind of enthralling story you want in your life! It has a huge mystery element of “who is behind the malicious bullying” and it’ll keep you guessing the whole time. The characters were complex, the writing amazing, and I am in such awe of the amazing ability and dedication it’d take to be a ballerina!

 

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Under the Christmas Tree Part 6 – Tis better to give than receive

It’s almost time to step away from the desk and wrap up the year. What a year it’s been, brimful of incredible stories and pictures, all of which have been a delight to share with you. It is, as they say; better to give than receive, so here are some final last minute helpful hints for something worth tucking under the Christmas tree.

was-not-me Was Not Me! by Shannon Horsfall

This fits the Naught but Nice list. Perfect for the school holidays, this picture book by talented newcomer, Shannon Horsfall will have kids swinging from the chandeliers and surging through the high seas with her calamitous Not Me character. He is cheeky and illusive and always hangs the blame for the mess on the carpet or the floods in the bathroom on his twin brother, Me. Mum suspects foul play and is not so easily fooled.

was-not-me-illos-spreadKids and mischief is a mix that portends all sorts of hilarious possibilities. Horsfall has managed to bottle that common go-to-get-out-of-jail card-catch-cry that kids so frequently use, ‘Was not me!’ with lightly rhyming humour and very likeable illustrations. Something fun for bored would-be house wreckers these holidays aged four to eight.

Harper Collins Children’s Books July 2016

twigTwig by Aura Parker

Another author illustrator production this time by Aura Parker whose unique organically inspired illustrations turn this gentle story about making friends and starting school into an obvious holiday choice for four to six-year-olds.

Heidi is a stick insect. She is tall and slender and blends in incredibly well with her surroundings so much so that she goes virtually unnoticed by all those around her. Such anonymity does not bode well for a creature as unassuming as Heidi and she fails to make an impact on her new classmates or even her energetic teacher, Mrs Orb. Dejected and miserable, it is not until Scarlett inadvertently unearths Heidi’s indignation that the rest see Heidi for who and what she is for the first time. From then on, the webs of friendship begin to spin.

twig-and-aura-parkerTwig is a sweet tale about finding the confidence to embark on new adventures. It is also a glorious detailed experience of visual discovery. Each of the end papers is crawling with critters and bugs of every description with prompts to seek them out. Twig is a marvellous way of getting real with bugs with a captivating nod to counting, species classification, biology, and colour. A picture book to truly pour over.

Scholastic Press November 2016

elephants-have-wingsElephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

We have reviewed this one before (read Julie Fison’s encounter with Susanne Gervay, here) but it’s worth special mention and a prime place under the Christmas tree.

At a time in our history when there should be no child that suffers comes this powerful picture book by the accomplished team of Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro. Based partly on the ancient parable the Blind Men and the Elephant, this outstanding work is suffused with elegance, immense spirit and a beauty that young children will recognise and draw from even if they are not able to comprehend the complexities that lie within each page.

My daughter was nine when she first read it and stated, ‘It is great out of the box thinking isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought that elephants could fly.’ Indeed, capturing the essence of the blind men and the elephant in a picture book is one thing. Exhibiting it with such exquisite heart and sensitivity as the team of Gervay and Pignataro do is higher than commendable.

The journey of discovery begins one night as two young siblings beg their father for a bedtime tale. This particular night he tells their grandfather’s story, thus spanning the generations. From his recount, we learn of a group of children from varying cultural backgrounds intent on going out one dark night in search of a secret. They each find part of something, each certain they are right in their assumption of what it is, each unwilling to accept that their interpretation of their discovery whilst subjectively correct in one instance could also be part some bigger picture. They ‘argued until everyone was angry’ – my favourite line in the book, also one of the most disparagingly accurate of observations. It is not until grandfather appears with his candlelight that the children discover that each of them ‘was right, but also wrong’ and the magnificent elephant is revealed.

But what of the secret? As brother and sister embark upon the elephant’s sturdy back and soar with him over the many glorious fabrics of their world, they come to appreciate not only the beauty that surrounds them but also the cracks that threaten that beauty, until finally they arrive home, conscious now of their differences and sameness.

elephants-have-wings-illos-spreadThe subtle nuances so intricately and delicately woven into this creation are numerous. Pignataro’s textured, collaged illustrations, lift and transport, defying gravity and borders. They convey a rich tapestry of multiculturalism, religion, and ultimately, Nirvana – a divine realisation of self and the ability to see past fear, a call to reach out for harmony. The use of the colours of the Chakra, of pages drained of any pigment and then restored, provide reasons to clutch tightly to life, ride out derision, to hope – to forge forward.

Gervay’s impossibly expressive narrative articulates confusion, disaccord, reconciliation, and understanding, prompting young readers to ponder and question all that which they see (and hear) around them. To paraphrase the words of George R R Martin ‘Just open your eyes… is all that is needing. The eyes see true…then comes the thinking and in that knowing the truth.’

Supremely brave, eloquent and masterful, Elephants Have Wings will initiate discussion over many shared readings; it is one to treasure and grow with.

Ford Street Publishing October 2014

Find your elephant within as soon as you possibly can.

Cherish your Christmas moments. Give a Book. Read lots!

See you in 2017!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Whisper To Me by Nick Lake

Whisper to Me by Nick Lake is an incredibly story about mental health, love and family. I CONFESS: I went into it with very low expectations because the cover didn’t grab me and I was left rather befuddled by the author’s previous book There Will Be Lies. But Whisper To Me was amazing and it’s totally underrated! I think it’s one of the best mental illness books I’ve ever read in a long time.

9781408853863The story is by Cass, who is a quiet reserved girl who’s reeling after losing her mother in an accident. She’s writing this book as a letter to a boy she hurt to try and explain what happened and why she broke his heart. The truth is she is hearing voices and is trying to cope and handle it, along with the anxiety, depression, and PTSD of witnessing her mother’s death. Not only that, but there’s a serial killer in town and Cass gets slightly caught up in finding out who it is.

Cass’ exact diagnosis isn’t given. It’s eluded that it could be bipolar or schizophrenia. But it felt so well written and so real. The author’s note says he briefly actually experienced hearing voices…and I think that really added a lot of relatability to the story because it felt honest, raw, and real.

Cass is also an incredible protagonist to read about. She’s quiet. She thinks a lot and says the wrong things. She’s really self-depreciating which I loved reading. Honestly, it’s quite hard to write about such heavy topics and still perfectly incorporate humour, but this book pulls it off with an A+. Cass does a lot of ridiculous things and you will probably get very frustrated with her at several points. But that made her realistic. The book was so brilliantly written that I felt like I understood Cass’ decisions, because we are so deep in her thought process, that even when I know they’re dumb things to do, I also understood why she made them. Cass was relatable and I so rooted for her.

It has an epic focus on relationships. Cass and her kinda-scary-ex-Navy-dad (who honestly has untreated PTSD) have to do a lot of work on their relationship. And later on Cass makes friends with Paris, a girl she met in hospital who has bipolar disorder. Paris was incredible. The book continually described her was “weird”, but she owned it and was kind and wasn’t afraid to be her wild self. I loved Cass and Paris’ friendship and how they were there for each other.

The romance is a bit of cuteness. There’s a boy (who actually is never named, because the book is written in the “to you” format)  renting the spare flat attached to Cass’ house and he was adorable. This is probably the most awkward romance ever. And to be honest it doesn’t have much chemistry. But I really wanted it to work out for them.

The letter format worked really well. It is quite the long email, honestly. This book is 500+ pages and written as an email to this boy Cass loves. It made me quite desperate to find out why she keeps saying she broke his heart. We know WHAT happened but we don’t know WHY it happened.

The ending isn’t “tidy.” I give this book all the points for being realistic. The ending is very open, be ye warned, but I felt like the story doesn’t end when the pages do and I like that!  Life is not a neat little box. Plus the writing is just a pleasure to devour. And even though the book was a small brick to read, I enjoyed every page.

It is a story that balances darkness and light. The things the Voice tells Cass to do can be brutal and horrifying and I wanted to cry with her several times. I love the character development and the message and the way it all felt so real. Definitely an excellent book about mental health.

 

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5 Reasons You Should Read Nevernight

9780008179991As a rather rabid fan of epic fantasy, I was very keen to try Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. It’s an adult fantasy that features teen characters and it promised to be dark, gritty, and sassy. It absolutely was. It was brilliant! And not only that, it’s by an Australian author, so obviously it has my pledge of intense fangirling for evermore. (No no, I’m not dramatic at all.)

Today I have a list of 5 reasons why YOU should try Nevernight! It’s a very sensible list and you’re going to want to listen to it. Trust me now.

 

1. IT’S ABOUT A SCHOOL FOR ASSASSINS.

Which I’m sure we’ve all read a lot of, because it’s a very popular trope. But this one just brought a whole new level of DANGER! ALERT! to the page. This school is actually vicious, cutthroat, and unforgiving. The tests the students go through are pretty creative — and also terrifying. There’s also a good helping of magic too. And poisons. And really creepy teachers who might kill you or train you. Either/or.

 

2. IT FEATURES A TOUGH AND SASSY PROTAGONIST.

Mia is 16, which originally made me think the book is YA…but it’s probably a little too dark and graphic with the violence and sex to be strictly considered YA. Still! Mia is a vicious little poppet who wants revenge on her father after he was wrongfully murdered by the most powerful men in the city. She travels across deserts and survives rigoursous initiation tests to get into the Red Church assassin school. And she still manages to find time to throw around some barbed quips that made me snicker.

 

3. SPEAKING OF SASS…THERE IS AN INCREDIBLE NON-CAT.

When I say “non-cat” I mean the cat is made entirely out of shadows. Because…SURPRISE. Mia can also manipulate shadows because she’s a Darkin. Not sure what this means? Be calm, my friend, neither does Mia. She really really wants to learn more about her powers which is another reason she’s at the Red Church. But she has an adorable animal companion, named Mister Kindly, (hey no judgment, she found him when she was only 10) who can talk and they have the most epic banter sessions. Mister Kindly is always there for Mia. Let’s just look past the fact he’s made of shadows. He is too precious, too pure.

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4. THE BOOK HAS UNIQUE FORMATTING.

I really love this because it helps keep my attention! It has 2 gorgeously designed maps that made my map-loving heart sing. And it also features footnotes! The book is told by an “unknown narrator” who has a little running commentary on Mia’s life, put on the page via footnotes. Sometimes the footnotes add in extra details to the world building, and sometimes they just snarkily make fun of how terrible Mia’s luck is.

 

5. IT HAS SO MANY PLOT TWISTS!

Obviously I won’t share what, because you want the surprises. TRUST ME. But I was so thrilled with the finale plot twists, where people aren’t who they seem and surprises leap out of every corner to stab the characters, and also stab my feels. But who needs calmness while reading epic fantasy?! Not I. The plot of Nevernight will keep you glued to the page and entirely alert!

 

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Review: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

I had no idea what to expect with The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis…but it was absolutely amazing. Although I’m a teeny tiny bit ruined afterwards. But that’s totally okay because everyone likes to finish a book and feel like their feels just got wrung and battered. That aside…this book was all kinds of excellent! I adored the author’s previous book, Not a Drop To Drink, so I should’ve known this would carry similar awesome.9780062320896

It’s one of the best contemporaries I’ve read in 2016! It effortlessly balances (A) complicated moral questions, (B) commentates on rape-culture and how disgusting the act of being apathetic towards it is, (C) it’s completely morally-grey, (D) there is stabbing, and (E) it has some of the most complex and amazing characters I’ve ever read. This book blew me away.

It’s narrated by 3 people — Alex, Jack, and Peekay. I’m not usually a fan of multiple narration, but this book pulled it off perfectly. All three protagonists were amazing, complex, and interesting.

  • ALEX: Her sister was raped and murdered a few years before the story begins, and she’s withdrawn from society. She’s a very intense person. She’s very logical and factual and willing to do wrong to do right. She could be downright cold, and yet she still loved puppies and was fiercely protective of her friends. And if a boy tried to pull any sexist nonsense around her? She would smack them down. She was the Vigilante Batman of Feminism. And completely morally grey with how she took justice into her own hands.
  • PEEKAY: She’s the preacher’s kid (ergo “PK”) and she’s suffering from a bad breakup. She’s also trying to distance herself from her father’s church and legacy. By drinking. I wish the story had explained WHY she wanted to get away from her family’s past, even though she happily goes by the title “Peekay”?? Hmm. But despite that, I loved her complex character and her development! She drew Alex out of her shell too and taught her what friendship truly is.
  • JACK: Admittedly he was completely idiot. He drank a lot and didn’t think logically very much. But he was still well written and his character development was A+. I didn’t like everything he did, or what he thought, or his decision making — but I think that was the point. His romance with Alex was also slow burn and adorable.

“Define success,” I say almost to myself.
“I didn’t kill anyone today,” Alex says.

I’m immensely impressed with the secondary characters too! They were all dimensional and intriguing. I particularly liked Branely, the cliche “mean girl” who for all the world seemed shallow and fake…but she wasn’t. I’m just awed with how the author managed to remind us that everyone is a person with a story even if you don’t get to see the whole thing.

The romance is beautiful. Although it’ll also punch your feels, so you’ve been warned. But I don’t really think the book is focused on romance. It does talk a lot and very openly about sex. It just smacks down the “boys will be boys” mantra and it discusses alcohol addictions and rape culture. It’s very gritty and realistic.

SMALL LIST OF OTHER THINGS I LOVED:

  • It’s set around a vet and animal shelter! Puppy appreciation!
  • The writing is so effortlessly beautiful, with poignant sentences and lyrical prose. It just knocked me flat continually.
  • The story is 100% captivating. Usually I get bored in contemporaries — but not this time. I couldn’t put it down!
  • There is blood.
  • And murder.
  • And situations that will make your brain start screaming.
  • It’s feministic.
  • It makes you think.

All I want to do is say “please read this book”! It’s poignant, it’s beautifully written, the characters are amazing, the writing will melt you. It commentates on society’s warped standards and it’s realistic and brutal and bloody. And there’s puppies, which is the real deal clincher right there.

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Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

9780765380548Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter is a completely magical and bizarre retelling of Russian folklore. Seriously, it was just about the weirdest thing ever. But in a good way! Just toss out your black-and-white-logical-brain because when it comes to fairy tales you need to be prepared for the weird and wacky. Especially for Russian folklore! We have houses on chicken legs and talking dolls and body-less-hands gallivanting around. It’s magical realism at its finest!

I’m a big fan of Russian folklore and I recently read Deathless which definitely prepared me for what Vassa in the Night would be like. Although this book isn’t actually set in Russia. It’s set in Brooklyn, USA, which was a teeny bit disappointing because I love being transported overseas. But the amazingness of the story definitely made up for this failed expectation.

Basically it’s the story of Vassa who is living with her step-sisters and feels very alone in the world. She lives in a city where people know there’s magic, but don’t always acknowledge it. The nights are getting longer (which means a minute might actually be…a day) and there is an insanely creepy stare run by Babs who beheads shoplifters. Vassa accidentally ends up being hired by the witchy Babs and must survive the next 3 days working in the store where body-less hands patrol and the money tries to run away — or else DEATH.

I quite enjoyed reading about Vassa! She was pretty snarky but still kind of adorable and venerable which is a winning combination and made it easy to root for her. Most of the time she just rolled with it when the world was going insane. She also has a magical talking doll that was gifted to her by her mother right before she died. The talking doll, Erg, eats and eats and eats and is also a kleptomaniac. But she’s the only true friend Vassa has.

The magical realism element is definitely my favourite. I love magic and I loved how it fit seamlessly into this world. I mean we have a shop that beheads shoplifters and people turning into swans and, oh, don’t let me forget that the Night got trapped inside a motorcyclist. And the crazy elements of the magic totally made my day. Particularly the stretching of time! And how people could appear covered in scales and everyone just went with it.

Chelsea snorts with disbelief, clamps an arm around my shoulders, and starts hustling me towards the street. “Tomorrow you can send the owner a note explaining everything. Say that you’re terribly sorry but your family refuses to let you work for a serial killer. Blame me if you want. Oh, my sister’s so overprotective! She just wouldn’t listen when I told her dismembering people doesn’t bother me!”

The Russian retelling element is definitely a big reason why I wanted to read it. It’s specifically a retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful who, in the original, gets stuck in the witch Baba Yaga’s home and must complete three impossible tasks (with the help of her magic doll) before she’s allowed to go free. I loved seeing how the original elements were woven into this. So clever! And so unique!

Plus the story also has some severely creeptastic moments, which should make your skin crawl. Truly delightful.

This is definitely an ethereal, bizarre specimen of a fairy tale retelling and I totally recommend it! I half wish had been a little darker all the way through, instead of piling the creepy moments up at the end. But it was beautifully written, exciting, and totally unique. Also you can take away the very important message that: SHOPPING KILLS. We should all just stay home and order things online, honestly. Less risk of being beheaded by a witch or turned into a swan.

 

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