Review: Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

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Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli is a complex story featuring messy teens facing the end of highschool and their worlds changing (for the good or bad). It’s a follow-up to the absolutely famous Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda! And you get to be back with the old Simon gang in Creekwood high (although now we know who the infamous “Blue” is that Simon was in love with in the first book). It was bittersweet reading this because this is the end of this little universe Albertalli created. And I’m going to miss this epic friend squad so much.

The story is narrated by Leah this time, and she’s a really introverted and sarcastic girl who keeps everyone at a distance because she’s scared to love too deeply. Simon is her ultimate BFF, but lately things haven’t been the same in their friendship group. Leah hasn’t told anyone she’s bisexual. She’s not ashamed, she just…doesn’t know how to say it. And she has (and has always) a mega crush on one of the girls in their friend group, who’s dating a guy…so that seems doomed. Leah doesn’t want to say goodbye when highschool ends. She doesn’t want her mum to remarry. She doesn’t want to risk putting her self out there, like with her art, or drumming, or emotions. And she always feels on the outside since she’s fat (and loves her body) and isn’t rich like all her friends. As her friend group tenses up with some fights and breakups and secrets, Leah has to figure out whether to fight them — or fight for them.

While it’s super cute and lovely, it’s not a “sweet” book! Leah is a pretty brash person and isn’t afraid to be herself. And she has people take or leave her: unforgiving and hard (totally Slytherin) and it takes a lot to win her trust. She’s pretty relatable though, because moving on is very hard, especially after high school. She’s also super arty and I loved seeing her explore her interests there.

The storyline also explores sexuality and coming out, which is a common theme in Albertalli’s books. Leah’s coming out is very different to Simon’s, which I think is great because it shows there’s no “one way” to be part of the LGBTQIA community, whether you’re closeted (for your choosing or for safety or because you’re not ready) or whether you’re out and how you choose to display that. I think these storylines are super important and can be really empowering! Leah, however, definitely does mess up with how she treats other members of the queer community. It’s sad and hard to read that part, but this book isn’t about perfect characters. It’s flawed and Leah is flawed (although I do firmly think the story needed to have her apologise more than she did).

Leah On The Offbeat is part coming-of-age, part coming-out, and part the end-of-an-era. It’s very character driven with a soft-toned plot, and there are so many moments to absolutely crack up laughing over. It features flawed characters and tough decisions and that terrifying in-between time of finishing high school and looking toward college and wondering if it’s the right time to chase the person you love.

Review: Running With Lions by Julian Winters

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Running With Lions by Julian Winters is a super cute romance that celebrates diversity and gay identities. It’s also super sporty which isn’t something I come across a lot in YA, so it was cool reading about a team learning how to be close and work together like a family, but also still working out how they fit together and relate. The team is about acceptance: no matter how you are or who you love. And it was so nice to read about! There’s tension and there’s mistakes and there’s devastation…but it’s ultimately an actual happy book with plenty of cute moments and some great messages.

The story follows Sebastian Hughes as he sets off for soccer camp and discovers he’s been lumped with his once-childhood-best-friend, Emir Shah. Trouble is, they’re not friends anymore. Emir is cold and indifferent and Sebastian doesn’t really know what went wrong between them. All he knows is that this is his last year of highschool to try and make the Lions team great, possibly land the captain position, and also figure out what comes next for him after he graduations. Pressure is building as everyone expects him to be the “good kid”, the one who keeps them all together and in line. No one even knows Sebastian is bi and he has trouble saying out loud to himself. Sebastian is left to try and fit Emir into the team, make him a better soccer player, and also try to patch things between them…except maybe he doesn’t just want to be friends with Emir this time. Maybe Sebastian wants a lot more.

One of the biggest themes in this book is: acceptance and respect. I love how it talks about both, not just wanting people to approve of your relationship with whoever you love, but also respecting you no matter what. It’s pretty cool that the coach of the Lions built the team to be, almost, a refuge for kids who struggled to fit in other places because of their identities. The team also features teens of different nationalities and religions. Emir, the love interest, is English-Pakistani and religious. (He also seems to have a bit of social anxiety.) Everyone comes from different backgrounds, with different hurdles to face, and they definitely don’t always get along — but they try.

There’s plenty of soccer scenes in the book, but it’s balanced with lots of dialogue and the good ol’ setting of a bunch of teens at summer camp. So wow yes do they get up to some mischief. If you’re not particularly sporty, you’d still enjoy this for the characters!

Sebastian was a bit of a “good guy” but he definitely isn’t bland! He’s struggling so much with wondering what the future holds and also internalised fear that coming out will change what people think of him. His relationship with Emir moves pretty quickly, but since they were childhood friends, you definitely feel the connection fast. I also loved that it explored Emir’s backstory too. How he’s working hard at soccer to please his dad but he isn’t sure this is him. The book has a lot to say on following your heart.

Running With Lions is a really fun, summery read with a powerful message and plenty of banter!

Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

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Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian is a tale of darkness, oppression, and princesses who won’t be beaten down. It’s more of a political fantasy than a swords-clashing-and-people-screaming one, and I found it very captivating and full of schemers and careful plots. It features a captured country, a princess humiliated and tortured every day by her enemies as a trophy, and the complexities of needing to make a statement by killing a prince…but unfortunately falling for that prince at the same time. And isn’t that cover just stunning?!

The story follows Theodosia, who’s been a captive in her own castle after enemies torn her country apart, killed her mother, and proceeded to being a vicious reign. Theo is mocked at court, whipped for her people’s transgressions if they dare try to rebel, and given a crown of ash during festivities so everyone remembers she’s worth nothing.  She’s now sixteen and desperate. And after they force her to kill the rebel who’s also her father…Theo is ready to plan ways to fight back. She is a pawn, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be a weapon in the dark — especially with the help of a childhood friend, pirates, and her downtrodden people.

The world building was the standout! It actually takes time to show us languages and cultures and built this complex world of oppression and lush beauty. I felt really drawn into the world after only a few chapters. Plus it had a lot of fantastic details so everything seemed super vivid!

The contrast of the opulent life vs the horror the conquerors deal out was so well written. Theo’s people are little more than slaves while she is a  trophy, tortured daily for the crimes of her people but kept alive despite the horror she has to go through. She’s like lavished in pretty dresses and wears pretty makeup and goes to banquets and has books. Her “best friend” is one the daughter of a very powerful dude and she’s all pretty and light and flippant. To the court, Theo pretends to be satisfied with her life as a caged bird. But then in the background, we see the horror and torment the conquerors throw at their enslaved people. There are murders and brutal labour and anyone who even looks like they might be plotting something is executed. The contrast was vicious and vivid.

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The magic is elemental style, but they channel it through gems which I thought was a nice deviation from the norm!

Theo herself was a character you quickly feel sorry for and root for her to get out. She’s scared to plot for her freedom, of course, but desperate to prove herself as still loyal to her people after having to fake being submissive to the enemy for 10 years. She wants to kill the evil king, but what if she has to take down people she cares about who are in the way? Like her flippant friend or the handsome prince who seems just as upset by his father’s horrific rule as Theo is? There’s lots of moral dilemmas and stretched loyalties which makes for a stressful (in a good way!) read.

It is dark, but not super so on page. The darkness is more in the backstory and eluded to, although it’s still powerful.

Ash Princess has such a stunning setting and a lot of potential as a series starter. The ending is loaded with threads to explore and questions to answer, so you’ll be desperate for book 2!

Review: The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

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The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green is a collision of plots and wars, princesses and thieves. It’s set in a complex world that takes it’s time to set the scene, build the countries, and totally immerse you in this world of Brigant and Calidor. It also features five narrators, all teens, who somehow end up with the fate of the world in their somewhat dubious control. I am a huge fan of Sally Green’s previous Half Bad books so I was wild with excitement to try these. Full warning: This is a very different style and tone, so don’t get in expecting it to be like Half Bad! We’ve left paranormal behind and journeyed into epic fantasy and complex politics. I do think the Half Bad books suited me better, but I can definitely say it’s exciting to see authors exploring and flexing their skills in new genres.

The Smoke Thieves follows 5 people: a princess, a traitor, a soldier, a hunter, and a thief. Their stories all complexly entwine at the end, but in the beginning we’re met with Princess Catherine who’s treated horribly by her father and forced to watch an execution before she’s shunted off to an arranged marriage. But she’s in love with her guard, Ambrose, who’s affection for her will end in his death. In the enemy’s country, a servant named March comes from a forgotten and annihilated country and wants revenge, so he helps kidnap the kleptomaniac Edyon who is also the king’s bastard and estranged son. Unfortunately Edyon is winsome and lovely and March can’t help falling for him. And lastly there is Tash: demon hunter who captures smoke out of demons and sells it on the black market. But is the smoke, supposedly a “cheap thrill”, all that it seems?

The world building is a stand-out of lusciousness and detail. There’s a ton of countries mentioned and everything is woven and connected and so it felt deep, a  world of luscious dimension! We don’t often get such detail in worlds in epic fantasy in YA, so this was a treat. I like how it had culture for the different countries too.

The narrators are often the downtrodden underdogs. Which did make them easy to root for! I struggled the most reading Catherine’s chapters, as her heinous father literally thinks women are commodities, and women in court are forced to learn sign-language to communicate because the men don’t like them speaking. But even so, Catherine had a beautiful character arc and ended up in a position of quietly taking power away from her enemies. Go Catherine! And Tash’s chapters of being a grubby demon-thieving orphan were particularly amazing too. I also love how we have everything from escaped soldiers to angry and rebellious slaves.

A quick look at the narrators?! In detail we have:

  • Catherine: She’s a princess, doomed to an arrange marriage and viewed as property. She’s demurely spicy and I did honest love seeing her arc.
  • Ambrose: He’s the guard in love with Catherine and very loyal/valiant.
  • March: He’s a slave to a prince in a different country and so hateful of his captors and jumps at the chance to side with the rebellion and kidnap his king’s lost bastard son.
  • Edoyn: An actual human wreck on legs, kleptomaniac and smooth little ratbag thing, that you kind of fall in love with even though he would probably hurt himself with a spoon. I loved his chapters and his voice and how he flirts so incessantly with March who has no idea what it is to be loved.
  • Tash: A 13-year-old demon hunter who is a piece of work and will stab anything and loves pretty shoes.

The Smoke Thieves is a methodical and detailed fantasy adventure that winds so many storylines together at the end. It’s not fast-paced but it is always interesting and I think all the characters being so complex and developed made it addictive to continue reading! Definitely a great read!

Review: An Enchantment Of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

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An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson is an absolutely delightful wild adventure of fae and scheming and art. I admit to being wholly in love with the scheming aspect of this plot and how you never quite know what’s coming. Add that to gorgeous writing, some laugh-out-loud banter, the whimsical and dangerous beauty of a fae world — and you have an incredible book.

The story follows Isobel, an artist hired by vain faeries to paint their portraits. In return, she gets paid in enchantments (like chickens who always lay eggs, or a house that can never be attacked) and her life is quite good with two little sisters and a loving guardian and some amicable, if not still dangerous, fae customers. Then the Autumn Prince turns up for his portrait and Isobel finds herself smitten and does the unthinkable: she paints the human emotion she sees in his eyes. For a fae, who are otherworldly and pride themselves on this, she’s committed and abomination and Rook angrily declares he’ll put her on trial. But as the two tumble headfirst into the fae world, they’re met with rotting magical creatures and courts of decrepit and deceitful beings, and hunters who just won’t stop — and maybe the two can help each other more than they think.

This particular fae world focuses on courts that are based on all the seasons! It was whimsical and gorgeous and we get to explore the Spring court mostly, but the Autumn Court and Summer Court are mentioned too. Isobel’s human world, the town of Whimsy, is caught up in an eternal summer and on her deathly adventure with Rook, she also visitsthe Spring Courts which were rotting from the inside out. I love how this gave us types of faeries who can’t feel human emotions. They’re so vapid and silly, but deeply miserable and complex.

Isobel was a winning narrator from the second she steps onto the page. She was realistic, with very relatable reactions to things! Not to mention the story actually took the time to give us a road-trip that wasn’t all daisies and flowers! Everyone ended up smelling and dirty and hungry, and the realism just made the book more heartwarming. Her love and addiction to art was also amazing to read and she has a knife-sharp sense of humour and refuses to let the faeries play their wily tricks on her.

Rook, the autumn prince, was also a thorough delight. He is actually the vainest thing, which was so hilarious. He’s a warrior, knight and prince and yet completely becomes undone with clothes he doesn’t like or the strange peculiarities of humans. (They need to sleep and eat??? He gets so confused.) Isobel totally messes with him at times too and it’s adorable. I also loved how earnest and sweet he was. Here is a prince who could be so wicked, but he was respectful and kind…and very full of himself. Ha!

The romance was an interesting exploration of lust vs love. When Isobel meets Rook to paint his portrait, she “falls in love with him”. But she doesn’t really. She has a fluttering crush on this otherworldly gorgeous boy…and she realises this. Obviously after they’re thrown into a whirlwind journey together of monsters and the Wild Hunt and rotting castles and evil kings, and they save each other and get to know each other — they do truly fall in love. And they were so winning together, with their snarky banter but inability to let the other suffer.

The artist flair of the book also made the writing just exquisite. Isobel’s love for her craft bleeds from the page. And her perspective of the world turns everything into a gorgeous huge canvas.  The writing is so visual and dimensional, you don’t just read faerieland, you fall face-first into it and get entranced by the magic.

An Enchantment Of Ravens is a whimsically gorgeous tale, with vicious undertones and schemes to twist your senses upside down. It’s not to be missed.

Review: To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

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To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is the swashbuckly and deliciously dark pirate adventure we’ve all been waiting for. It’s got hints of a Little Mermaid retelling, with more nods to the original Hans Christian Anderson tale than Disney ever did. This is full of sirens who eat princes’ hearts and enchantments and runaway royalty and enough snark and banter to have you smirking in your seat.

The story follows two narrators: Lira, a siren who eats princes’ hearts and whose wicked mother is getting between her and the throne. And also Elian, who’s very opposed to his royal heritage and wants to be a pirate, riding the world of the murderous sirens that claim so many innocent lives each year. Their stories entwine when Lira is cursed to wear human legs until she can prove her loyalty to her people…and the perfect way to do that would be to kill Elian. Except Elian is on a quest to find a way to stop the siren queen forever and when he rescues a “mysterious” girl lost at sea — he has no idea who he’s truly making alliances with.

The characters just stole the seawater for this one! The dual narration is perfect balanced, with each character stealing the show as soon as they’re on page. He’s hunting her and she’s hunting him, which is obviously the recipe for a perfect romance. This is enemies-to-lovers at its finest! It wasn’t rushed or awkward. It was seriously such perfect fun to see them go from distrust to distant admiration to snarking at each other to “accidentally” “saving” each other’s lives. Lira’s denial of having feelings for him (hey, she’s a wretched evil siren, remember?!) was completely adorable. I also loved how they both had soft sides, even though they’re warriors here to fight in the seas. Lira is super sweet and protective of her little siren cousin. Elian is quite soft and kind to his crew, despite being a “pirate”. And his sass and banter levels were off the charts.

I also loved how it portrayed the sea! It fully makes you fall in love with it. I mean, yes the sea in this book is full of murderous dangers, like sirens and mermaids and monsters, but the vivid and lust descriptions made me understand why Elian couldn’t leave the sea to claim his birthright of the throne. The lure was there! I could see the gorgeous settings, taste the salty sea, and absolutely lose myself in the world. There’s actually quite a lot of world to explore, and even though the book is small, it takes you a variety of places with excellent world building. There are kingdoms and mountains and palaces with cursed queens. I found the description was perfectly balanced — not info dumps, but enough information to set you up in this diverse and intriguing world.

I particularly appreciated the amount of banter! It kept me smiling the whole time as Elian and Lira sparred words and gradually fell for each other. The secondary characters also had their quips too!

“If the necklace is that precious,” I say, “we should have just killed Tallis to get it.”
“You can’t just kill everyone you don’t like.”
“I know that. Otherwise you’d be dead already.”

To Kill A Kingdom is a lush and vicious book that will lose you in its winsome adventures of death and curses, love and magic. It was perfectly written and exquisitely told, face-paced and entrancing!

Review: Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

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Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody was a delightfully twisty tale of murder, magic and mayhem and I couldn’t put it down! I feel like I’ve definitely found a new all-time favourite! This book is an ode to schemes and cons, full of street lords and mysteries and the addictive love of playing a game where the stakes are: win or die. You won’t be able to stop yourself falling in love with these characters or not accidentally toppling into the City of Sin to stay.

It follows the journey of Enne Salta, who’s enter the City of Sin to find her missing mother. She’s a prim girl from a proper finishing school and tumbles head-first into this tumultuous world of casinos and street lords and backalley fights and the kind of magic where you can bet your soul in a card game and play to win or die. She meets a very young street lord named Levi Glaisyer, who’s in deep trouble from a con scheme gone wrong, and together their lives entwine as they look to find Enne’s mother and Levi hopes the reward payout will stop him dying. Except Levi’s enemies are tightening his noose fast, and despite his flashy smile and smooth card skills, they’re not playing around anymore.

It mixes magic and con artists to perfection. I see a lot of comparisons with this to Six of Crows, and yes! It works! But also this isn’t a heist book. It’s about con schemes and card games.

The world building was so detailed and exquisite, utterly flawless. It’s set in city with a 1920s vibe, so it’s all gangsters and casinos and grubby crime kids running around. But with MAGIC. Now it took me a while to get the hang of what the orbs/volts were, but I caught up. But everyone basically has talents, or two, and it’s just super cool how it’s a whole world of magicked people and how they use that. And how it affects everything. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the City of Sin and I couldn’t look away. Plus the writing is so visual and delicious that you can really see the whole thing.

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The characters totally stole the show too, with their fantastic and complex personalities, plus detailed and heart-wrenching character arcs. I’m absolutely smitten with both Levi and Enne. Usually with dual-narrating books I have a favourite: but not this time. They were both a fantastically stunning mix of conniving and softhearted sweethearts. Their stories entwine so beautifully, with them using each other but then needing each other…and then a longing for more sparking between them. The book’s set over 10 days and romance is definitely not the focus, and I really loved how their relationship played out.

Levi was an absolutely precious masterpiece, a crime lord who’s gang is failing because he’s neck-deep in debt for a scheme he didn’t even want to run. He’s cursed to work for one of the biggest crime families, but what does he want? He wants to get to the top of his own game. He’s a card dealer and super smooth…but also absolutely adores his gang and is very loyal and sweet.

Enne Salta was also a fantastic delight, and her character development just swept me off my feet. She starts off as a “proper lady” but quickly develops into someone who’s witty, ruthless, and quite cunning (while still being gloriously polite!) and basically, by a few chapters in, she was an accidental badass.

I also just loved the writing and pacing. The writing just sweeps you up and the pacing of the book was also amazing, always luring you in deeper to the complicated plot that unwinds disasters for our favourite narrators. The plot is full of twists and turns, the foreshadowing is excellent, and it sets the scenes so well: murder card games, con schemes gone wrong, cabarets, magic and mayhem and murder, casinos and card games and gangsta hats and cherries and lush hotels and absolutely disastrous curses.

I can’t recommend Ace of Shades enough! It was everything I wanted and more, plus it included mountains of respectful and lovely diversity rep, and balanced characters you can’t help but fall in love with, plus a plot that will turn you inside out. High stakes. Magic. Wicked city schemes. Villains who never stop. And antiheroes leading the way. A fantastic adventure not to be missed!

Review: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis

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TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW by Dana L. Davis is an incredible book that’s absolutely ladened with complex emotions and a story so filled with tension that it’s impossible to put down. This book made me very angry at times, but also I’m intensely impressed with it. I absolutely loved Tiffany like nothing else!! I raged at the bad and cheered for the good.

The story follows Tiffany Sly who’s going to live with her estranged dad after her mum died. She’s never met him in all her 16 years and, worse, didn’t even know he existed. But to complicate things, a man turns up at her front door also claiming to be her dad…and Tiffany is terribly confused. This other guy seems super nice and he definitely was dating her mum at the right time, but she’s on her way to live with the Stones and change is really eating her up inside. She has 7 days before it all collides. And when her new family turns out to be super strict and somewhat awful, she wonders if maybe the option of a different dad is a good thing?

When Tiffany moves in with the Stones, she doesn’t actually know she also has four new sisters. So it’s like, boom, she gets hit with an instant family. Her dad is an absolute jerk though, hiding in this “holier than thou” attitude but he’s controlling and terrible. He makes me so angry! He’s borderline abusive under the guise of being a “good strict parent” and will definitely have you raging. He hasn’t even met Tiffany for 5 minutes before he’s throwing rules at her and Tiffany is so not having this. My levels of frustration were extremely high and I will say trigger warning for abuse to an autistic toddler under the guise of disciplining her. It was pretty awful but just there to underline how poisonous it can be when you don’t listen or care.

However there is intense levels of character development, and I was really impressed with how it was all handled by the end!

Can I say how much I loved Tiffany!? She has anxiety and OCD and I just so felt for her, and also thought the mental health was written excellently and respectfully. There’s so much heart on every page! Tiffany just bursts off the page with her love of rock ‘n’ roll (she also plays guitar) and her cleverness, complexities, and also wants and wishes. She’s grieving but also trying to make it work with this family that horrifies her a lot. But she also kind of likes her new sisters! Wants a nice dad! She doesn’t get crushed and crumpled by the superstrictness, but it definitely torments her the entire time.

It also discusses religion and beliefs very deeply. There’s a lot of discussion about Jehovah’s Witnesses and also the kind of belief system where you are your own god. Books are about expanding your horizons, so it was interesting.

The writing absolutely kept me captivated! Perfect pacing and I never wanted to look away. Plus it just kept the emotional tension up so high. I felt engaged the whole time.

TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW is definitely the kind of contemporary that’s going to stay with you! It’s an emotional explosion, always interesting, and with characters you want to know more about!

Review: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

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Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro is an incredibly powerful and needed book. It’s also so completely applicable for 2018, the kind of book everyone needs to read because these things are happening right now. And I think this book does an excellent job at bringing awareness to #BlackLivesMatter but also encouraging kids who are going through this. It’s also so well written with amazing characters and it just sucks you right in so you’re there, experiencing this horribly unfair and frightening world of police brutality and racism…and also strong friendships and love.

This is Moss’ story, about how his father was murdered by a police officer and Moss has had to live with the anxiety, the grief, and the life-changing fear that comes with that. There was no justice for his father and Moss is just struggling to stay afloat while he battles terrible panic attacks and also a school that’s (quite literally) falling apart around him due to terrible funding. When Moss and his friends decided to do something about their school — starting with a peaceful walk-out protest — things escalate wildly. The kids get hit with unspeakable brutality, like random and rough locker and body searches + a horrible metal detector + and police stalking on campus to intimidate them in the halls. It’s hard enough to get up in the morning let alone fight this, but Moss can’t sit back this time. And even when things turn nightmarish with friends and loved ones getting brutalised, Moss puts his anger to use and fights.

Moss was such an amazing narrator! It’s written from a super personal 3rd person perspective and you really get into Moss’ head for his journey. He starts off this super anxious kid with panic attacks and he shuts down if he sees a cop. He can’t imagine a life where he won’t be ruined like this, but he also has a super supportive mum and friends. He also meets a super-cute-boy on the subway who he might have some serious feelings for. If he can trust himself to express them. But things are spiralling at school and you just ache for Moss as he watches his friends’ brutalised and knows that he could very well be next.

Also just seeing the school falling apart around them was so devastating. These kids just want to learn and do their best, but how do they stand a chance when their textbooks are photocopied and colleges overlook them instantly for submissions. And the police violence on campus was insane and mindblowing.

This book is about horrible things happening to good people and it will make your heart pound with how unfair it is.

I particularly enjoyed the close-knit relationships this book featured! Moss and his mum are so so close! It’s the sweetest thing ever, plus she supports him through his anxiety and has no qualms at all about him being gay. She supports him and Javier immediately (and absolutely teases him too, like good family should when their son catches a cutie’s eye). Moss also has a huge expanse of friends at school, and I loved the diversity of their group. There was representation from nonbinary, immigrant, black and brown kids, and also disabilities and queer kids.

Moss and Javier are also just too cute for words! You’ll absolutely ship them in a matter of seconds. They fit so well together and want to understand each other, not change each other. Plus Javier is a dork and Moss is super anxious and this is the quality kind of couple you want to read about.

It doesn’t hold back from the heartbreak either. Because this book is nothing if not showing you the non-sugar-coated version of parts of the world people often want to overlook. It does balance uplifting hope with devastation and heartbreak, though, but ohhhh if my heart wasn’t in a puddle half the time.

Don’t miss Anger Is A Gift, alright!? It’s an excellently written masterpiece that should sit right alongside books like The Hate U Give and Dear Martin! I’m glad books like this exist and hope it is another spark that will help change the world.

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.