Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of Cages by Robin Roe is an incredibly heartfelt and raw story. The writing was beautiful and emotional, and the characters just sneaked off the page until they became incredibly real and relatable people. I was so invested!

I’m also endlessly impressed at how this is a debut book! This author is already on my auto-buy list and I can’t wait for whatever she writes next. A List of Cages was my first five-star read of the year!

Basically this is a story about friendship and abuse. I will warn you: it’s not easy to read. It heavily features child abuse and emotional and mental manipulation. It was thoroughly heartbreaking, also for the fact that these things happen when they shouldn’t. It had me near to tears several times.9781484763803

The story is dual narrated by Adam, a highschool senior with ADHD, and 14 year old Julian, who is a foster kid living with an abusive uncle. Back when Julian first lost his parents, he lived with Adam’s family for a while and they become like brothers. Then Julian vanished when his abusive uncle got custody of him and no one knows what’s going on. As the two attend the same school again, Adam tries to rekindle friendship with Julian and figure out what happened to the bright bubbly kid he once knew.

I loved the emphasis on friendship! Also how it was “unconventional” friendship because the boys aren’t the same age. And I think this is really important to represent in fiction. Not only does it show us that (A) it is awesome and great to be friends with people who aren’t necessarily your same age, and (B) Adam and Julian had an “adopted big brother / little brother” relationship which was absolutely adorable and precious. I love how Adam just stepped up to protect Julian and look out for him.

Even though it was dual narrated it was so easy to tell between the boys’ chapters because they had such different voices! This is just such excellent writing. Adam’s chapters were bouncy and bright and energetic, while Julian’s were reserved and laced with fear.

I also appreciated the representation of disability here! Although it is hard to read at times, because both boys face hurtful treatment due to people dismissing their disabilities. This is actually a sad and realistic truth about “invisible disabilities” like ADHD and Dyslexia. They both got into a lot of trouble at school and it’s heartbreaking. But what I loved was the support network amongst their family and friends and how the boys weren’t portrayed as broken or in need of curing. So encouraging! So wonderful!

The book is actually quite small, so I flew through it in just a few hours! Although sometimes the shortness did work against the novel, in that a few things were glossed over or rushed. Adam’s romance with Emerald didn’t feel nearly explored enough, nor Emerald really fleshed out. And I would’ve liked to know more about Adam’s personal life and have some other facts cleared up that I can’t talk about because of spoilers. But I still appreciated that the book was to the point and absolutely addictive. I just wanted to know if everyone would be okay!

I definitely recommend this book! It gave me so many emotions and absolutely caught me in the feels (a term here which basically says I’m mildly HEARTBROKEN but also filled with hope at the ending). I think it was realistic, relatable, and poignant. The power of friendship is important and knows no bounds!

[purchase here]

Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton is a debut YA novel — and wow is it an incredible first book from this author! I anticipated it so very extraordinarily highly that I was slightly nervous going in. Did it live up to my expectations? DEFINITELY YES. It was a glorious conglomeration of Persian fantasy, magic horses, sass, and guns…and I absolutely loved it.9780571325252

The story is about Amani, who is a sharpshooter living with extended family who despise her. She dreams of an adventurous life. So when a strange foreigner comes into town (and they companionably shoot each other and all that) she ends up joining in his adventure. Also there’s magic and guns and a volley of plot twists. Glorious plot twists.

It’s basically set in a dusty fantasy world with Middle Eastern influences. I was actually surprised because I rarely find modern fantasy. (It reminded me a bit of Blood Red Road actually, which I also abso-freaking-lutely love.) There are weapons factories and guns and shoot-outs — but there are also spirits and ghouls and terrible things lurking in the desert that like to rip your face off. Also sand. MUCH SAND. It actually had a cowboy western feel to it!

Amani is downright awesome. She’s the “tough heroine” who is a wicked good shot and dreams of running away from her abusive relatives to FIND HER DESTINY OF AWESOME. She’s really sassy. And she makes mistakes. Oh so. many. mistakes. But she had amazing character development too.

And of course there’s the love interest: Jin. Whom I adored. It could be because of the sass. Or that he slinks into a shooting game in the local tavern and competes against Amani and they’re so stinkin’ cute together. Or, it could be because he gets shot right at the beginning of the story and I do love a good book where everyone is bleeding. Ahem.

 

Jin was at my side…”Did you just shoot someone?”
“I got us hired, if that’s what you’re asking. And I only shot his glass.”
Jin hooked one arm around my shoulder, leaning on me. “I knew I liked you, Bandit.”

Also the actual storyline did not disappoint at all! It’s fast paced, too, and the fact that it fits an entire complex world into 330-pages is immensely pleasing to me. I love small fantasy worlds that pack a punch of awesome and don’t waffle on. This has epic world building. Epic mythology. Epic settings. (Although it did have a tendency to info-dump in the form of folklore tales occasionally.)

The plot twists are intense and exciting! Although I did predict the biggest one. Not sure if I’m a genius or it was too obvious (let’s assume the first one, right?!) And at times I did get a bit lost with all the characters and why they were killing each other. I hope more is explained about the wars in the next book!

All in all: This book was AMAZING and I cannot recommend it enough. I’m really thrilled about the Persian culture influences, too, because there aren’t enough books out like this! Plus magic and shooting cowboy-esque characters and intense action scenes?! What could be better!?

 

“You’re going to get us both killed if you go off looking for this on your own, you know. And if I was going to die on account of you, I’d rather have done it weeks ago before I had to do all this walking.”

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

9780062380753The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig was a delicious book of ships and time travel and I THINK I AM IN LOVE. This is my first ever time travel book, and it was hugely successful.

But why did I adore this book so much? Oh oh, I’m glad you asked. I have a list of reasons.

All The Things You Need Know About This Book:

  • It is about time travel and pirate ships. According to the author’s note, the story was inspired by a pirate heist in the 1800s in Hawaii. The characters are somewhat modern, but the book is mostly set in the 1800s. (Although they do pop into modern New York at the beginning.) It’s basically about Captain Slate who is a time-travel-dude, and his daughter Nix, and their search to find the “right map” to take them back in time to save his wife from dying.
  • The maps are basically AMAZING. And since this book is built on maps (you have to have the “right map” to get you to a certain place)…I was destined to adore it.
  • Diversity. I love diversity and not only was Nix, the protagonist, half-Chinese…her best friend Kashmir was Persian, one of the crew members was African and lesbian, and there is an incredible variety of ethnic culture squished in here.
  • And let’s talk about the writing: Because it was decidedly delicious. Although I will confess it bordered on “saying too much” at times. I could tell the book was really enthusiastic about history. OF COURSE! It’s a time travel book! But sometimes with the pages of explaining a myth that didn’t really matter…I was a little bored.
  • Then there was Kash. Ahhhh, Kash. He is a little slippery fingered, silver tongued thief and basically my favourite character. So much sass. So much banter.

“You’re blocking the view.”
“I am the view, amira,” he said, framing himself with his hands.9781471405105

  • Which leads me to talk about the protagonist, Nix. I wasn’t enamoured with her because she didn’t have a lot of personality compared to the stunning secondary characters…but she was still strong and independent and keen to prove herself a capable time-traveller.
  • Which leads to the romance… You know what? This is NOT a very romantic book. It’s more about friendship, which I really loved! And although I rooted for Kash and Nix to get together, I more enjoyed their sassy and witty banter of friendship.
  • Overall? My expectations were more than met! For an intro into time-travelling, I’d say I’m officially hooked. (All the maps and ships helped, of course. Because MAPS.) It is definitely a highlight of the year so far and so exciting that it’s only a debut! I can’t wait for more by this author. If you want a story that involves ships and thieves and obsessions and diversity, then this is for you.

 

“The last thing we need is for you to go to jail.”
“For treason?” he said, running a comb through his touseled hair. “We wouldn’t go to jail.”
“Really?”
“We’d be shot.”
“You always know just what to say.”

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

9780141356099Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is basically the definition of endless cuteness, teenage angst, growing up, and finding love. Did I mention cute? THIS BOOK = CUTE. By the end I was basically grinning like a deluded mushroom while I read! I was recommended this book copiously and I can 100% assure it it’s worth it. It’s perfect.

It’s basically about Simon who is not-so-openly-gay and his internet friendship with the anonymous “Blue”. It’s about Simon’s life, his drama class, his best friends, and it’s about growing up — changing. It’s written SO realistically and beautifully.

 

Let’s just have a list of all the reasons this book is so good:

  • First of all Simon is awesome. He has a more jovial, joking, lighter personality. He hugs people and jokes and is easy to get along with and very, very relatable. He overthinks and he’s angsty — but he’s not suffocatingly intense. I felt he was refreshing and enjoyable to read!

 

  • This book has food. Don’t underestimate the power of writing about good food and luring in readers that way! Although, I confess: Simon has an intense love of Oreos and I have never eaten one. But after this book — I want to.

 

  • The romance is so squishily adorable. Simon’s slow building friendship, and then romance, with “Blue” is just glorious to read. It’s cute and fun and I loved the mystery of “who IS Blue”. Their friendship is exclusively emails. Blue doesn’t want to meet up in real life. I absolutely related to the ease of online friendships (though of course these two didn’t stay friends…eeep. So adorable!) I did get frustrated at Blue at times for some of his more selfish actions, but humans can be selfish. So he’s flawed! That’s a good thing!

 

  • Which leads me to say: I love how the characters were flawed but likeable. They felt like “real” people!

 

  • Trying to figure out who “Blue” was (since Blue goes to Simon’s school) was one of my favourite parts! IT WAS SO FRUSTRATING. (Obviously that’s a good thing.) I didn’t once guess right either, so the mystery, clues, and reveal are all impeccably done.

 

  • The book also focuses very heavily on friendships. Simon has a tight-knit group of friends: Nick, Abby, and Leah. I really loved Abby (she was just so bubbly and fresh and compassionate) and I thought Nick was about as interesting as a paper fork. I did struggle with Leah’s character, but again…even if she was insufferable, she was still realistic.

 

  • The writing was really crisp and to the point. Even if sometimes the scenes did cut off a little too abruptly? Knowing this is a debut, though, makes me 10000% sure that this author’s next book will be FLAWLESS.

 

-~-

I can’t sing my praises for this book loud enough! It was part mystery, part coming-of-age, and part love story. And it flowed so seamlessly and definitely will be a book I want to revisit. Plus it was funny and managed to be lighthearted AND balance the darker topics. This book is an oreo of perfection dunked in addictiveness with a good helping of hilarity and perfectly wonderful characters on top.

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

2015 YA Debuts You Should Catch Up On

It’s nearly 2016 (sheesh, how did that happen?!?) and, if you’re anything like me, there’s no WAY you’ve read all the 2015 releases that you wanted to. And pretty soon there’ll be an onslaught of NEW books that will demand your attention and your soul and other minor things.

But there are several Young Adult debut authors you really cannot miss. Especially when most of them have new books coming out in 2016! Debut books can be tricky beasts, because often you can tell the author isn’t a pro yet. But this list? Ohhhh, my friends, these authors are already so stunningly talented, I can barely WAIT to see what their next novels will hold!

 

2 0 1 5     Y A    D E B U T S

673d5ab0-7ffd-0133-0c58-0e76e5725d9d 9781460750780 9780141356099

  • MADE YOU UP: This is such an important book because it’s about a girl with schizophrenia, but it’s not about her schizophrenia. Her illness doesn’t solely define her, and I think that’s a really important message. Plus it’s gorgeously written.
  • THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY: Okay but WOW, this book is creepy! It’s about cults and murders and juvie — and the protagonist has no hands.
  • SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA: This is probably the most adorable LGBT book of the year. All the characters are entirely relatable and realistic. Don’t get me wrong — I do love a contemporary where the characters wax poetic with soliloquies of love and meaning. But I also love books that are awkward and realistic. Plus there are Oreos in here. So. many. Oreos.

 

9780399176654 9781471124235 9781408862629

  • THE WRATH AND THE DAWN: Definitely one of my all time favourite fantasies!! And it’s only a debut?! So I can only imagine the talent this author is going to bring to the table over the years! It’s a Persian folklore retelling of A Thousand and One Nights and has a good dash of magic with a mountain of delicious food descriptions.
  • DENTON’S LITTLE DEATHDATE: This book is hilarious. It makes fun of death rather ridiculously…so make sure you’re okay with gallows humour before devouring this!
  • BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MET ME: This one is told in letters between two boys with unusual disabilities. One is allergic to electricity. One was born with no eyeballs and has a pacemaker. Ergo — they can never meet or they’d kill each other! But the character development is phenomenal and you’ll never guess the ending….

 

9781509805143 9780552571302 9780062367884

  • FANS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE: Another super realistically cute contemporary. Why is this one special?! It’s narrated by 3 characters in 1st, 3rd, and 2nd person! The characters basically burst off the page and one character has chronic-fatigue, which I hadn’t read in YA until now!
  • THE ACCIDENT SEASON: It’s beautiful. Absolutely mind-stunningly beautiful. It’s kind of an eerie book, set in October, so it’s all pumpkins and autumn and Halloween. And it’s magical and mysterious and — did I mention — the writing is gorgeous?!?!?
  • FALLING INTO PLACE: This is written by a 16 year old author. TALENT ALERT. It’s not the average contemporary either, because it’s narrated by a childhood imaginary friend. Unique, right?! It’s written in tiny chapters and it’s barely 300 pages so you can eat it in two bites, basically. The author has two books coming out in 2016, so her debut is a MUST read before they arrive!

 

Vanguard of Debut Children’s Authors

Tiger StoneA surge of debut novels by talented Australians for children and young adults may be on the way. Deryn Mansell’s Tiger Stone  (Black Dog Books), an original, intricate mystery set in fourteenth century Java for upper primary and junior secondary readers and Caro Was Here by Elizabeth Farrelly (Walker Books) are some forerunners.

Caro Was Here is also aimed at upper primary school children. Rather than a historical mystery, it is a cool, contemporary mystery adventure. It’s an addictive, pacey read and is today’s equivalent of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five but better written and with more depth of characterisation (not to detract from Blyton, whose books I, and practically everyone else, relished as a child).

Caro is a fascinating character – a bit over-confident, a bit opinionated and a rule-breaker. The novel begins just before the Easter break when twelve-year-old Caro inadvertently sticks up for ‘poached-egg glasses’-wearing nerd, Nigel Numbnuts on the bus. She’s not sure that it will help her chances of becoming Year Six Winter Captain but she has to do it. Her election speech is eclipsed by new American girl, Ellen Aurelia Dufresne, who later becomes part of the group who wag the last afternoon of term.

Ned, Caro’s younger half-brother, Nigel and Ellen, as well as one of her best friends, Tattie, follow Caro to Sydney Harbour. After Caro makes them put their phones in a locker at Circular Quay to enhance the adventure of their afternoon, they miss the ferry to Cockatoo Island and have to catch the boat to Goat Island instead. Some of the history of the island interests them but is convict Charles Anderson’s fate a foretaste of what might be lying in wait for them? Goat Island

When they miss the last ferry and have to spend the night on the dark island in the rain, they realise that they’re not alone. The author continues in the vein of contemporary adventure to create a deliberately uber-thrilling situation, while adding backstories and depth to the main characters.

The cover is perhaps the only downfall of the book. I assumed it signalled introspective realism because of the stylised images of a hand and matchstick, but these components do make sense when you read the story.

Overall, Caro Was Here, Tiger Stone, and other current works by debut writers, seem to be the vanguard in an exciting new era for children’s literature. And thanks also to the farsighted publishers who are delivering works by new authors.