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: Daughter of The Burning City by Amanda Foody

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Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody was dark and murderous and magical. So basically everything a good book should be. I’m in absolute awe of the world building, the dynamic characters, and the finale plot twist that totally caught me off guard! This was just incredible and I highly recommend it!
Why aren’t all books full of murder and magic. I ask.

The story is set in a moving carnival called the Gomorrah Festival. It features Sorina who is an illusionist and “freak” because she was born with no eyes but instead has magical powers. Her illusions are so real that they can basically have lives of their own and she calls them her family. Then one gets murdered which, as you can imagine, shouldn’t be possible for a person who isn’t even real. Sorina teams up with the local charming but cocky gossip-worker named Luca to try and solve the mystery, that might be more deeply imbedded in the festival’s history than she originally thought.

The setting was so exquisitely described and detailed! I totally felt I could see and taste and smell Gomorrah. It explodes off the page with kettle corn and liquorice cherries and smoke from the permanently burning and walking city. It’s definitely the kind of setting I’d love to visit.

The plot was deliciously twisty and rich. There are conspiracy theories and murder mysteries! I loved the sort of genre mash-up of having an epic fantasy setting, but mixed with mysteries and whodunnit vibes, not to mention there’s religious tension in the background and people with wicked magical skills. And of course you have all the carnival and performance shenanigans and dramas. Exciting.

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But the characters absolutely stole the show. (Har har, excuse the pun.) I adored them all. Sorina was amazing! She’s an illusionist, adopted by the proprietor of the carnival, and she is so incredibly powerful. Imagine making people up and then having them come to life and actually function as people. She loved her little made up “freak” family so much. I also loved how relatable Sorina was with her dedication to her family, her want to please her father and become Gomorrah’s next master, and her panic attacks and tears that made her so human.

And Luca was equally magnificent. He was entirely snarky and wore horrendous waistcoats that Sorina never let him live down and he trades in gossip and mysteries. He also asexual which was so refreshing to see on page! I loved how devious and cunning he was, and their relationship was slow burn and fraught with uncertainty.

The writing was also a piece of marvel. I couldn’t put the book down! Plus it really utilised the five-senses to make visually stunning words and paragraphs.

Basically if you are looking for a deliciously wicked story of magic, mystery, and mayhem…Daughter Of The Burning City is for you. It’ll totally capture your heart and your imagination and probably make you crave popcorn, but where exactly is the downside in that.

YA Books That Feature Sisters

Books about sisters are absolutely fantastic things! Especially if they manage to capture the complexities of having a sister…AKA you love them and also sometimes want to strangle them. It’s all incredibly good times. I particularly like it when books dive into the complexities of family and siblings, so today I want to list a few YA books that feature sister relationships.


THREE DARK CROWNS

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This is a very twisty and dark story about three triplet sisters who have to fight for the throne. These aren’t the kind of sisters you should probably model your life on…but they are super interesting to read about! One is a poisoner, one is an elementalist, and one controls animals. The story follows their journey after their 16th birthday when the time comes to start the battle to claim the throne. Except maybe they’re not what each other expects.

 

SISTERS RED

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This story not only features two sisters, but it’s also a Little Red Riding Hood retelling! Except instead of little girls skipping through the woods to find Grandma’s house…these sisters are actually hunters of werewolves. So be prepared for axes and blood.

And some super loving girls who dearly adore each other but are so intent on protecting each other they end up causing some catastrophic riffs.

 

RAMONA BLUE

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Ramona feels pretty stifled by her small town and her life that seems way out of her control. She really loves her older sister who’s also pregnant with a dead-beat teen husband and…honestly Ramona struggles to support her sister. She feels she can’t leave to have her own life when her sister and the soon-to-be-born baby are going to need her. This is definitely a loving but messy sisterly-bond, but full of support and girls who are there for each other!

 

RUINED

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Now this one is a little different because Em’s little sister isn’t present for a lot of the book, BUT Em’s #1 goal in life is to get her sister out of prison! It’s set in a fantasy world were two warring people are trying to wipe each other out. Em disguises as one of the enemy in order to “marry” the enemy prince and sabotage them from the inside. This book is so so amazing, clever, plot twisty, and also downright hilarious. You know you’re going to love the “evil” prince when it turns out he only trusts people who love cheese bread as much as he does. #Relatable Also the sequel, Avenged, features sisters Em and Olivia in full catastrophic glory.

 

THINGS I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN

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This story features Chloe, who is a the local Popular And Perfect girl at school and who also has an autistic older sister named, Ivy. The girls are super close and lovely together and Chloe realises that Ivy is pretty lonely and would love a boyfriend but her disability leaves her unsure how to actually go about doing this. So Chloe decides to help out. She ends up setting Ivy up with another autistic boy from Ivy’s school…which means Chloe ends up spending a lot of time with the boy’s older brother — also Chloe’s enemy. Except he’s not so bad the more they hang out and maybe Chloe’s matchmaking is going to take a different turn.

Review: The Language Of Thorns By Leigh Barudgo

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The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo is a collection of reimagined fairy tales. And can I just say it’s the best fairy tale collection I’ve ever read?! It was beautiful beautiful and clever and feminist. This aren’t stories where the princess is just waiting for a prince! They’re full of plot twists but with a darkness that nods to traditional Grimm tales. You might recognise threads of traditional fairy tales (like the Nutcracker and The Little Mermaid) but they’re so different and unique I didn’t want it to end!

There are six tales! They do fit into the Grishaverse, which is a fantasy world created by Leigh Bardugo that began with the Shadow & Bone trilogy and continued in the spin-off duology Six of Crows. However if you haven’t ever read a Grisha book, you would still love these six fairy tales and they’d make perfect sense. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is why you haven’t read them yet. Come on now.

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

I honestly felt like I fell into the dark witch’s wood of magic! I am literally bursting with love and appreciation for the clever writing, the beautiful characters, and the magical depths. It feels like a midnight snack of fairy tales, the kind you can’t possibly put down. And often the characters in the stories also told stories, so the book-within-a-book feeling was strong here.

I did love picking out the threads of the traditional fairy tales amongst these reimagined ones! I could see Little Mermaid influences and the Nutcracker and Hansel and Gretel. But these are actually very different and quite dark. I really enjoyed the darker twists with monsters under castles and mermaids doing magic and evil men getting comeuppance for their horrible ways. And the best part? They were full of plot twists. No irritating or tedious fairy tale tropes here with damsels or falling for the first prince you meet or every step-mother being evil. Beauty isn’t everything. Princes suck. The beast is actually kind. Here is the sea witch’s origin story. The dark woods are not the only problem here. And on it goes!

It captivated me on every page with how amazing it was. The writing was detailed and clever too.

The actual physical book itself is also a pure delight to look at. The pages are illustrated and they add such depth to the story. There are some panels in the borders that change as the book goes on, so if you flip the pages really fast, it’s a stop-motion image of darkness covering a princess! Some of the double-page spreads were just so amazing and the style is simple but so emotional and lovely.

The Language of Thorns is full of fairy tales as they should be. They’re dark and feminist and empowering and filled with women who can be good or evil or morally grey or just seriously complex. There are monsters and wooden dolls with identity crises and queer girls and endless endless magic that just inspires me. You’ll fill so full of magic when you finish this!

Review: All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

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All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater is about magic, darkness, and fighting your inner demons. I’m a huge fan of all of Stiefvater’s work, so I went in with excited expectations and wasn’t disappointed! It’s incredibly heartfelt and written in such a whimsical style that you can’t help being addicted to every page.

The story follows three cousins who live on a ranch, Bicho Raro, in Colorado, where their family gives out miracles. The trouble with miracles is that you have to accept your darkness to deal with it, and it often comes out in strange ways. Their world is populated by the weird and wonderful and magical, on a backdrop of deserts in the 1960s. The three teens are: Beatriz, who claim she has no feelings. Then Daniel, who is the resident saint, at 19, and used to be a pure child brat. And then Joaquin is the youngest and he runs an illegal radio station under the name Diablo Diablo (um, don’t tell his family, he’ll be in super big trouble). They watch pilgrims get their miracles all the time, but what happens when Daniel, the only saint who can help them, goes missing?

I loved how magical it was! The miracles are portrayed so interestingly. The Sorias family saints give the miracle and the trick is you have to deal with it yourself. If they help — everything will get dark and worse. Often pilgrims get stuck and are just living on the ranch for months trying to put themselves back together. It’s just accepted that everyone is freaking weird and magical here. Like there are girls entwined with snakes, a giant, someone who gets rained on all the time etc. etc. And everyone is chill with that.

It is written in an omnipresent style, which isn’t typically my favourite, but I loved how it transformed this book into a mythological fairy tale sort of vibe! Weget dozens of POVs and perspectives, from the Sorias to the pilgrims.  I really loved how beautiful, whimsical, and melodic the writing was. It felt so rich and extravagantly magical and the extra perspectives actually made it feel juicy and deep. The story is about miracles, not just the Saints and not just the Pilgrims.

The setting was gorgeous too. I could totally see the ranch and the desert and the box truck. You could taste the dust and see the owls and tumbleweeds!

The characters are just so amazing and complex and different. They are odd little tumble weeds and I loved them. I adored the three Soria cousins and their illegal radio station and their inner darkness. I loved Beatriz who was very firmly convinced she had no feelings and Joaquin who loved his hair and Daniel, the childhood-devil-turned-saint. I loved Pete who loved to work (what the heck is wrong with him though) and was so earnest and pure. And I loved the dogs who wanted to eat everyone alive. #relatable

All The Crooked Saints the kind of story that definitely leaves you wanting more, which is amazing. It’s whimsical and bizarre and addictive. This book is a bit like being told wild dusty folklore stories with black roses and owls with strange eyes and strange box trucks and girls who like boys’ elbows. It’s unusual and it’s slow and it’s pretty and there are SAINTS. It’s every scoop of magic you need in your life.

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!

Young Adult Books About OCD

Raising awareness about mental health through books is an absolutely excellent thing! It gives you a personal perspective about conditions that are on a hugely varied spectrum. Plus you get a fantastic story that will probably make you feel all the things.

Today I’m going to list some books that are about characters on the OCD spectrum. OCD is different for a lot of people and it’s super interesting how these books portray it. So if you’re looking for book recommendations, just sit down a second and prepare yourself for incoming fantasticness.


TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN BY JOHN GREEN

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Of course John Green is super famous and you’ve probably heard of his latest novel (just released this October!). I really loved the portrayal of OCD because it came directly from John Green’s experiences, which I think gives it a super personal touch…and you also know it’s accurate. The label “OCD” isn’t mentioned in the book but John Green talks about it extensively in his vlogs (which you should 500% go check out. Immediately.)

The book follows the story of Aza Holmes who reunites with a long-lost best friend after his father goes missing. She’s battling though-spirals that control her life and the portrayal of anxiety is so spot on.

 

HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME BY ADAM SILVERA

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This is another #ownvoices portrayal of OCD and the story is equal parts beautiful and brutal. So basically, read it if you want to feel your heart being squished and also rebuilt.

The story follows Griffin whose ex-boyfriend and ex-best-friend just died in a tragic accident. Despite being separated, this rocks Griffin completely and he ends up following a journey of healing with his ex’s new boyfriend. It dives back through their history to see how things went wrong and it was completely heartbreaking and just perfectly written.

 

THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B BY TERESA TOTEN

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I was completely caught up by this incredibly written book about Adam who’s going to therapy for his OCD. He meets a girl called Robyn and immediately decides he needs to get to know her better (is this love?!) and even though his home life is complicated and messy and his mum has habits that worry him, he’s determined to help himself and find a way to fall in love.

It’s so heartwarming and sweet, featuring a 14-year-old protagonist which was really nice as YA usually focuses on the older teens. It’s told with a lovely voice and it’s equal parts bittersweet and fantastic.

 

SAY WHAT YOU WILL BY CAMMIE MCGOVERN

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This follows the story of a boy with OCD and a girl with cerebral palsy as he ends up being an aid assistant to her during school. They both feel like misfits and they struggle with things that hold them back. Amy can’t walk or talk without a voice box and she feels alienated and overlooked by people she desperately wants to befriend. Matthew is caught up in so many rituals he can feel it crushing his world. When the two decide to help each other, their friendship turns to more and it’s super sweet.

 

 

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler & Lisa Shanahan

Thank you for speaking to Boomerang Blog, Lisa and congratulations on your recent win for The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler at the Queensland Literary Awards. We’ll talk more about that soon.

Thank you, Joy! And many thanks for having me on the blog.

But first, where are you based and what is your background?

I live in Sydney, with my husband and our three sons, not far from where I grew up as a kid. I initially studied Communications straight out of high school at UTS, where I majored in writing and media theory, before then going on to train as an actor at Theatre Nepean, UWS. Towards the end of my acting training, I taught drama to a group of kids out at Mount Pleasant and I wrote them a play. It was then that it finally dawned on me that I didn’t want to be an actor after all, that in fact I wanted to be a writer but for young people, rather than adults. So not long after, I enrolled in a writing course with the acclaimed children’s author Libby Gleeson. That course felt both like a complete revelation and a homecoming. It was there that I workshopped a picture text I had written on my honeymoon of all places, about a little boy and his ice cream van driving dad. Libby Gleeson was a wonderful teacher and she instinctively knew how to draw out the possibilities of both a writer and a text and because of that early encouragement, here I am sixteen books later.

Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting?  Have there been any particularly memorable responses?

I’ve spoken to thousands of kids over the years, presenting talks and writing workshops. In my general talks, I’ll often share funny stories about my life, what kind of kid I was growing up and especially some of the funny stories about bringing up my boys. There’s lots of acting and hilarity, especially when I share the inspiration behind stories like Sleep Tight, My Honey or My Mum Tarzan. I always bring along some of my writing journals and I usually explore the growth of at least one book in detail, from first seed to final story. I’m keen for kids to hear about the writing process but I’m also especially passionate for them to grasp how curiosity about ordinary moments can lead to the creation of juicy stories.

Funnily enough, some of the loveliest moments happen when I’m not speaking at all, when little clusters of kids sidle up at the end of a session to confide about a book they’ve been writing, or how they’re going to go out and buy their own writing journal that very afternoon, so they can write about the idea they have for a funny story about their own crazy mum, grandpa or dog. Because just as much as I want kids to love my books, at the end of the day, I want to inspire them even more so to discover the beauty and worth of their own stories.

I adore your laugh-out-loud YA novel My Big Birkett (it’s one of my all-time favourites) and love reciting parts about the animals that mate for life, The Tempest and gorgeous Raven and the meals he makes using mince; as well as your wonderful picture books. Could you tell us about some of these books?

Thanks Joy! It makes me especially happy to know that you are a Raven fan!

I’m often asked what I prefer to write most and I always say I love writing both picture books and novels and that I couldn’t choose between them. The best part of writing picture books for me is the absolute thrill of collaboration. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with so many brilliant illustrators over the years and each one has taught me so much about the power of the visual text. Some of my picture books that have been especially well-received include the Bear and Chook books, illustrated by Emma Quay, Gordon’s got a Snookie, illustrated by Wayne Harris and Big Pet Day, illustrated by Gus Gordon, who was also on the QLA shortlist too, for his gorgeous picture book, Somewhere Else. My most recent picture book is  Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! illustrated by Binny Talib. This was such a tough text to illustrate, mainly because of the fairly swift juxtaposition of the scenes of school life, with Ruby Lee’s fervent imagination. I’m just so delighted at what a marvellously beautiful job Binny has done.

I will say that one of the unforeseen joys of my writing life has been the steady, heartfelt emails I have received over the years from teen readers regarding My Big Birkett. These emails about Gemma and Raven and the De Head family have been incredibly sincere and poignant and they have often left me with a huge lump in my throat.

I know this is a tricky question but how do you incorporate humour into your writing?

This is a tricky question! As a kid, I looked into books like they were real windows. The books that spoke to me most were always the ones that captured acutely the laugh-out-loud jumbly nature of life, alongside the bittersweet ache. In terms of writing humour, I always keep an ear out for those little things that will make kids laugh. Not so long ago, my sister told me a story about how her four-year old son crept into her bed in the middle of the night and snuggled up tight to her, saying, ‘I love you so much Mummy, I want to shoot you out of a cannon!’ When I tell that story to kids, they roll around on the floor, laughing their heads off. But at the same time I know they recognise the vehemence of that kind of love, because they’ve felt it rocketing around in their own chests. I think humour has this remarkable capacity to encourage true connection and I’m always keen to incorporate it in my work, because it radically paves the way for readers to engage more fully and tenderly not only with a character’s dreams, fears, hopes and sorrows but also perhaps, with their own.

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler (A&U) has just won the QLA Griffith University Children’s Book award. The judge report says:

“The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is structured as a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday but the exceptional storytelling soars to welcome the reader into both the setting and young Henry Hoobler’s rites of passage. We are given a heart-warming insight into introspective Henry. He is a genius at noticing things, surprising his fellow campers with his success in board and card games. He is also ‘Mr Worst-Case Scenario’, dreading the bugs, stingers and sharks of the beach but, most of all, dreading learning to ride his new silver bike. The bike is a symbol of fear, but its significance changes as Henry discovers courage and freedom. Courage can be found when friends are ‘straight-up and true’, embodied by free-spirit Cassie. This tale reminds us that everyone is different and everyone has gifts. Some, like Henry, prefer to learn quietly but even extroverts can be fearful.

The writing is literary and metaphorical, encompassing a vast emotional range whilst being utterly engaging for children. It is rare to encounter a novel for mid-primary children characterised by such perception and cadence.”

What was your reaction when you realised you had won? 

Lisa Shanahan, second from right, with judges

I was astonished and delighted. It took quite a few days for it to truly sink in. Then I was just overcome with immense gratitude that the judges had seen something special in Henry.

It was wonderful to meet your young son, Rohan, at the awards presentation in Brisbane (and others there loved seeing him reading The Hobbit as the night wore on). Why was he there and what was your dual experience of the awards evening?

One of the initial nudges for writing Henry Hoobler was watching Rohie develop as a reader. After a slow start, he had a very sudden and rapid acceleration over a single year and I knew he was in this slippery in-between stage, where the books he was capable of reading were still quite a huge stretch for him emotionally. I began to wonder if I could write something that would speak directly to his life. As I wrote Henry, I read chapter after chapter out loud to Rohie. When I had finished the book and before it had been published, he persuaded his class teacher that I should come to school and read some chapters to his whole class as well. I dedicated the novel to Rohan because I wanted to acknowledge just what an incredible gift it was to have his enthusiastic encouragement along the way.

Rohie is an avid bookworm and so hanging out at the QLA awards ceremony for him was suddenly like meeting all of his people, all at once. He was especially touched that I mentioned him in my speech and I was especially touched when Rebe Taylor, the winner of the QLA History Book Award asked him to sign her copy of Henry. I can safely say that if Rohie’s class teacher had seen that handwriting, he would have been granted his official pen licence on the spot!

What is the significance of the title The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler?

Early in the novel, Henry discovers that his rather unique talent for noticing things, makes him almost unbeatable when it comes to playing cards and board games. After Henry convincingly and unexpectedly smashes all the men and the older boys at games, Patch, his rather begrudging older brother finally acknowledges that Henry might be bit of a grand genius. It’s the beginning of a radical shift in the way Henry sees himself. Although Henry has replayed every worst case scenario in vivid detail regarding his camping holiday, what he has never considered is all the ways this summer might turn out to be the best one yet, the grand, genius summer of all summers.

Could you tell us about your protagonist Henry and some other characters?

Henry is a sensitive, imaginative and thoughtful nine-year old boy. He is the middle child, slotted right in between his athletically gifted, funny, know-it-all fifteen-year old brother Patch and his rambunctious, My Little Pony obsessed younger sister Lulu. Both Henry and his mum share some anxious traits and tend towards self-reflection and to feeling things deeply. Henry is very keen to please his exuberant dad, who is a real enthusiast for life. But Henry is filled with dread at the idea of learning how to ride his new bike without training wheels, especially in front of prickly Reed Barone, another boy who is close to Henry’s age and who is prone to sneering. Eventually, Henry meets ten-year old Cassie, who lives onsite in a caravan with her Pop. Cassie is a free spirit and alive to the world in ways that astonish Henry. Finally, Cassie’s straight up and true courage rubs off and with an unexpected Lulu intervention, Henry learns how to summon up his own courage and to do a whole series of adventurous things that he never imagined.

For what age-group is this novel intended?

Henry is intended for 7-11 year olds. I’ve been really pleased though by the numbers of reviewers that have also recommended it as a read-aloud for the whole family or the school classroom too.

How did you balance fine literary writing with the other elements of the narrative?

I was keen to write in a way that was hospitable to all kinds of middle grade readers, those that were confidently independent and those newly finding their feet. As a result, the story contains lots of snappy dialogue, which helps to give the text an easy, engaging flow. In terms of metaphoric imagery, I kept in mind some feedback given to me around another novel, regarding the importance of restraint. I was conscious that any poetic moment really had to serve the story and forward the action. At the same time, I wanted the novel to contain a certain richness of vocabulary because something the American writer Madeleine L’Engle once said has stayed with me for years, ‘We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually.’ So balancing all of these elements was challenging, a little like prancing across a highwire tightrope.

As well as being good fun to read, Henry Hoobler has some important underpinning themes. Could you share some of these?

I’m always a little cautious when discussing themes because I know the writer is sometimes the least insightful person on that subject! With Henry though, I was keen to explore the nature of courage, the way one young boy discovers how to be brave over the summer, by learning how to make a tiny bit of room for the worry in his life, without giving it the whole house. The novel examines the transformative nature of unexpected friendship, the contagiousness of courage, the way we need one another in order to learn how to become brave and the way courage always arrives through the actual taking of considered risks. The novel celebrates the importance of family and community and the value of perseverance, forgiveness and kindness. I was keen to write about the beauty of the natural world and how to recognise and treasure the true significance of small ordinary moments.

Which awards have had particular significance for you? 

Whenever a book of mine is either shortlisted or receives an award, I’m always extraordinarily surprised and grateful. I know it’s such a hard job to make those kinds of choices, especially when there are so many equally deserving and beautiful books out in the world. Writing a book does take a significant investment of energy and time and winning an award always means that a book will have a much greater chance of being widely read. I was particularly thrilled in 2010 when Bear and Chook by the Sea won the CBCA’s Book of the Year for Early Childhood, not just because it was a moment I got to share with my good friend the illustrator Emma Quay but also because as a kid, I drew a poster every single year for Oatley Library’s celebrations of the Children’s Book Council’s Book of the Year Awards. I was desperate to win a book prize in that poster competition, never dreaming that I would one day write a book that would win an award from such a long-established and hallowed institution.

What are you writing next?

I’ve been writing a series of picture book texts and I’m just returning now to a novel for teenagers that has been patiently waiting it’s turn.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

I’ve loved Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible, Karen Foxlee’s A Most Magical Girl, James Rebanks The Shepherd’s Life, Brian Doyle’s collection of essays Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies and the picture books Oi, Frog by Kez Gray and Jim Field and Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge.

Do you have a website?

www.lisashanahan.com

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks so much for having me on the blog and for asking such astonishingly good, stretching questions. It was lovely to take the time to reflect and ponder.

Thanks for your very thoughtful and insightful responses, Lisa and all the very best with your excellent novel, The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, and your other works. We greatly look forward to what your imaginative mind will bring us next.

Review: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green is such a highly anticipated novel of 2017 and it absolutely astounds with it’s incredible story. It’s so John Green-esque with the metaphors, quirky characters, and copious amounts of existential crises. I also appreciated the raw and personal approach to OCD that definitely makes this book a standout.  Turtles All The Way Down is about mental health and missing persons and sad rich boys and friendship. I couldn’t be happier with it!

 

The plot was really amazing! I found it on the slow side, but still thoroughly excellent. I loved that it wasn’t rife with cliches or annoying tropes, which was refreshing and just made the book more heartfelt. It was real and that makes all the difference. It’s not really a “detective” story as such, but Aza is curious about the mission millionaire because she used to know his son, Davis. She does a bit of digging…although to be honest most of her “investigative work” is on Davis. How adorable.

Aza was an amazing protagonist! She is extremely quiet. She hardly ever talks and she’s very much locked in her own head. I appreciated that spoke little and listened a lot, and the diving into her complex and messy thought process that’s coloured by her mental illness was interesting and so respectfully portrayed.  She’s obviously extremely intelligent. All John Green’s characters always are?! I love how “pretentious” they are because I was like that as a kid…hello #relatable. Let’s talk about the stars and metaphors and what poetry means and the infinite possibilities of death and life. The sheer amount of knowledge these kids spew out is just refreshing and perfect to me.

The anxiety/OCD was really brutally and honestly talked about. I do wish the term “OCD” had been used because labels aren’t things to be scared of and it would’ve honestly helped smash more stereotypes. A lot of people won’t know that Aza has OCD because it’s not on page (but John Green talks about it a lot in his vlogs and such). This isn’t the cliche portrayal of OCD either. It’s more about the anxiety of thought-spirals, the repetition to the point of endangering yourself, and the fixation on things you know aren’t a problem but you can’t stop thinking they are. You are not watching someone with OCD, you are experiencing what it’s like to have OCD while reading this book. And that’s so important.

The romance was absolutely super adorable! I loved Davis immediately. He’s rich and always thinks everyone pays attention to him solely because of his money. He’s not good at small talk either and will dive straight into complex conversation (he’s amazing) and he is the sweetest big brother. His dad is missing and so his life is tangled and sad and complicated. I loved how he and Aza slowly rekindled their childhood friendship. It’s the cutest romance, but slow and cautious and fraught with indecision and the complications of Aza’s OCD and Davis’s grief.

I loved how deep the story was too. It just wants to talk about huge matters, and some of the metaphors were extremely intense. The book feels layered and I think you could get more out of it each time you reread.

And since it is, in fact, a John Green novel…I was gut-punched with severe emotions at the end! I hated (in the best way!) and loved it simultaneously and think it was written perfectly.

I think Turtles All the Way Down is an absolutely deep and existential book that really discusses minds and who we are. It’s sad and it’s not sugar coated. There’s no messages that you need to be fixed to have a good life. Your mental illness isn’t ALL of you, but it is some of you. I really appreciated this book and its messages and its beautiful prose.

Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you do.

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.

YA Books About Writers!

Stories about characters who write are a special sort of bookish-inception. And we love it, c’mon just admit it. So today I’ll be listing some delicious Young Adult books that have characters who write in them! They might inspire you to keep working on your own novel and also give encouragement that all writers, whether real or fictional, spend most of the time staring out the window and crying to ice cream. It’s normal. We’re doing great.


FANGIRL BY RAINBOW ROWELL

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Perhaps this is one of the most iconic stories about writers, because HELLO. It’s Rainbow Rowell! Author extraordinaire! Fangirl is about Cath who is newly at college and also a very enthusiastic and popular fan-fiction writer.

She has to struggle with the questions is fanfic “real writing” and defend her beloved fandom and keep up with her huge following for her book plus handle college plus try to cope with severe social anxiety.

 

ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS BY FRANCESCA ZAPPIA

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This is actually mostly about a comic book artist and writer named (surprise) Eliza! She’s actually very depressed and withdrawn and her life is all about drawing the next comic strip for her online book which has exploded into the most massive fandom ever. She’s so famous online, and yet in real life no one knows who she is. Then she meets a boy at school who is a selective mute and has severe anxiety. She discovers he writes fanfiction for her comics….but he has no idea who she is. Does she sacrifice her anonymity and tell him? Or just enjoy having a friend for the first time in forever?

 

BEAUTIFUL MESS BY CLAIRE CHRISTIAN

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This is a fantastic novel about anxiety and depression and follows the dual-POV of Ava and Gideon. They’re both struggling to stay afloat: Ava dealing with the death of her best friend, and Gideon with a life of sever anxiety that’s lead him down some dark paths. But Gideon is into slam-poetry and writes the most beautiful words and lyrics and preforms them.

He and Ava also begin writing letters to each other to build their friendship so the level of word-love in this book = MAXIMUM.

 

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS BY JULIA WALTON

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This book is written as a diary by Adam, a 16 year old boy with schizophrenia who’s trialling a new drug. He refuses to talk to his therapist so he writes his daily experiences instead. The journal is raw and beautiful and painful as he tries to fit into a new school without revealing his heavily-stigmatised illness. He’s desperate to have a “normal” life as he falls for a girl and makes friends. But the trail of hallucinations never seems to leave. Are they growing again? This book is absolutely excellent and definitely with break a few heartstrings.

 

OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS BY KRYSTAL SUTHERLAND

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This is a super bittersweet tale of Henry, who is an absolute hilarious dork, and finally gets his dream to run the school newspaper. He’s avidly into writing although gets hugely distracted by his co-editor, a very mysterious girl who walks with a cane and seems 0% interested in being friends with anyone. He gradually coaxes her into friendship and discovers some demons you can’t fight for your friends or lovers. It’s a very poignant story with some dark, messy themes, but parts are also hysterically laugh out loud! The balance is very well done.

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: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber was an absolute magical ride through a carnival where nothing was as it seemed. I was totally sucked in by the mind twisty plot and the luscious setting and the huge potential that everything was going to to up and flames and end in stabbing. Because it’s just that kind of book, okay!? Exciting.

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It follows the story of Scarlett who escapes with her sister from her abusive father to participate in the infamous Game hosted by Legend, the master of Carnival. The game consists of many clues and ends in Legend granting you a magical wish. Scarlett doesn’t intend to stay long, but quickly gets absorbed with a roguish sailor who seems to know a little too much about the magical and eerily twisted rules and also because her sister goes missing. Scarlett has to find her. Because the game is a lot more sinister than it seems.

+ The world was incredible.
It’s set on an island that’s an entire mysterious carnival. So think: gondolas and weird tunnels of madness and magical shops and rooms that grow and shrink with your emotions. It felt like Alice in Wonderland with a Venice-type-vibe that’s all gorgeous…but with sinister undertones.  I adored it!

+ The writing was exceptionally beautiful too.
It was full of luscious prose that totally swept you up with the sugary spun magic of this circus-type town. The descriptions were vivd but not overly-purple or flowery. And the way it sucked you in…you could totally see the amazing ballgowns Scarlett wore and the crazy buildings and murky dark tunnels under the city.

+ It was also deliciously mind twisty!
They start off the book saying “NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS” and Scarlett promptly forgets that 2 seconds later and freaks out over everything. It was really really well done and I got so swept up in the game. I had so many questions and it tangled me a lot…and I basically decided everyone was secretly evil by page three. So I had a lot of fun. I love worlds that are somorally grey and all “IT’S A GAME AND EVERYONE’S GONNA GET STABBED!” Wow, Monopoly was so yesterday.

+ It features sisters.
Scarlett was a very loving and loyal older sister, while Tella was a wild and self-involved younger sister…but their bond and dedication was still marvellous.

+ The romance was had a hate-to-love vibe which is such a fantastic trope.
Let’s have some salt and vinegar on those chips, my friends, because Scarlett was so not falling for Julian, the slightly roguish sailor who is far too wild and mysterious. But as they become accidental partners in the game and rely on each other — they form a really close bond. And even though Scarlett suspects Julian might not be who he seems, they can’t help but get tangled as they try to protect each other when the game goes wrong.

Carival is basically an excellent story if you want magical worlds in a theatre-type setting, with romance, knives, madness, and conspiracy theories. I am sitting here impatiently waiting for the sequel.

Every person gets on impossible wish, if the person wants something more than anything, and they can find a bit of magic to help them a long.

Review: Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor

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Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor was a real hidden gem for me! I was not expecting to fall so in love with this book, but I totally did! It was absolutely emotional, feelsy, hilarious, relatable, and so so beautifully written and concluded. The characters were complex and I laughed so hard I actually had to stop reading for a moment and collect myself.

The story follows Reggie, who has depression and is struggling really hard and keeping herself safe from feeling too much by layers of loneliness and sarcasm. Then she meets Snake Eliot while they’re both getting depression meds at the chemist. Snake is charming and incorrigible and they mutually hate each other in way that also means love. However their relationship, tentative and budding as it might be, is complicated when Reggie learns that Snake is about to be a 17-year-old father. He’s not in love with the girl he accidentally got pregnant — but what’s the point of Reggie investing in him if he’s going to be swept up by his soon to be kid? Or is refusing to feel, to act, to be anyone the way she wants to live her life?

It’s about depression — a really honest and brutal view of it. Depression is different for everyone, it’s a spectrum just like literally every mental health issue out there. But I really felt this book GOT IT. It’s also really gut-punching, because it features people who don’t believe depression is real. Reggie’s mum says out right that Reggie’s depression is “her being selfish” and that’s something a lot of mentally ill people struggle with: not being believed. The book incorporated that beautifully and brutally. And yet it’s also hopeful! This book actually underlined things that help depression are: medication, therapy, strong reliable friendships, finding you’re not alone, taking care of yourself, and time.

Reggie is an unlikeable person and I loved her. She’s so caustic and witty, and even though her depression cut her off from feeling, I loved how she was slowly melting her brittle shell to have feelings for Snake. I can’t even with how much I adore Snake. He’s this completely vainly grungy beautiful boy, an indie budding film-maker, and someone who wants to know how the best way to live is and what’s the point and how to feel. He completely stole my heart!

It’s actually a love triangle, which I normally hate — but this proves any trope can be done amazingly. Snake and Carla got pregnant in a one-night-fling and they aren’t in love…and then Snake meets Reggie and he loves her so much and so hard but she knows he’s going to be unavailable eventually because he’s about to have a kid. So much pain. At least 9 buckets of angst. The difference is: this triangle is right out in the open and no one is intentionally manipulating other people’s feelings. Plus everyone was complex and interesting. Carla and Reggie’s slowly growing friendship was AMAZING. I just want to cheer for girls in books who are complex, interesting, relatable, struggle, make mistakes, are witty, powerful, and suffering.

Definitions of Indefinable Things is a roller coaster with one of the most real, gritty, and honest examples of depression. It’s full of tears and acidic wit and tentative kisses and teenagers just trying to find their place and meaning in the world. It perfectly capture mental health, growing up, falling in love, and trying to move forward even when it hurts. An exquisite work of literature that I can’t love enough.

YA Superhero Books To Read While You’re Waiting For Wonder Woman: Warbringer

It’s turning out to be the year of the most glorious Wonder Woman and no one’s complaining! In honour of Leigh Bardugo’s upcoming book Wonder Woman: Warbringer (which is just released and it’s so exciting!) I’m putting together a list of other superpowered YA novels that you can gnaw on while you get your hands on the famed Wonder Woman novel.

There’s nothing quite like reading about superheroes to make you realise what your future career goals should be. Now just go fall in a vat of toxic waste or get bitten by a very special spider. You’ll be good to go.


STEELHEART BY BRANDON SANDERSON

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This trilogy centres around a fallen USA, where those with superpowers are rather evil and like to conquer and destroy the humans. David is just your average regular nerd, who’s also good with a gun, and would like to stop the evil superhero (villain?) who murdered his father. David teams up with the mysterious Reckoner superpower-killing team — even though they pretty much do not want him around. His next step is to try not to get killed from (a) his team, and (b) all the psychotic superpowers blazing around.

I really adore this book, particularly because it’s funny! David is witty and dorky and the plot moves at a cracking pace with plenty of action. And the superpowers are really unique and doubly interesting.

 

V IS FOR VILLAIN BY PETER MOORE

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Superheroes are pretty cool and all that, but what about villain origin stories?! This stars Brad, who’s just a puny little worm in the shadow of his superpowered older brother. Brad is pretty smart, but since he can’t throw cars around or save screaming civilians, he’s pretty much a nobody. He ends up being caught in an undercurrent of criminal activity and has to decide which who are really the “good guys” and who is truly corrupt.

C’mon! Villains! And this is such a classic super villain vs hero story line that it was a real pleasure to devour. Also quite fun with lots of dialogue quips and fantastic explosions.

 

ZEROES BY SCOTT WESTERFELD

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This is a collaboration project by three authors, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. And it follows the point-of-views of 6 kids with powers in a world where they have to hide them. The team of six has recently been busted apart but are now slowly clawing back together at the insistence of Scam, who hears voices that tell him what to say to make people happy. Which is a handy power but also gets him into a lot of trouble.

The exciting part about this series is definitely how interesting and creative the super powers are! From controlling crowds, to seeing through other people’s eyes, to being forgotten instantly — the book is so creative!

MS MARVEL

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Okay so these are actual comics and not novels of prose, but I had to include them since they’re some of my favourite comics ever! Ms. Marvel is all about Kamala Khan who has extraordinary skills (like shrinking and growing at will) who’s also just a teenager trying to do well in school, please her family, and also save the world. They’re fantastic because they’re so funny and relatable + superpowers. Of course.

I’m holding out hope for someone like Leigh Bardugo to write a novel-formatted story for Kamala or for her to get her own movie! It’s high time we had more diverse teens saving the world between homework and teaming up with the famous Avengers we all know and love.

YA Books About Mermaids For All Your Fishy Needs

Whoever said mermaids were pretty creatures who sing on rocks and comb their hair with forks has clearly not read the mythology. Mermaids can be freaking creepy! And that’s why we actually adore them. (The darker and weirder the mythology, the better, right?!) And if you’re a fan of young adult books and mythological creatures — chances are you’ve kept your eyeballs peeled to the deep blue for some mermaid flavoured novels.

That’s why I’m here for you, to support you in your mermaid finding endeavours.

Here’s a list of YA books that feature our half-fish friends! Less sweetness, and more like hair-raising adventures swim here.


TEETH BY HANNAH MOSKOWITZ

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This follows the tail of a human boy named Rudy who gets dragged by his family to live on an island that supposedly has waters populated by magical fish that can cure anything. And Rudy’s little brother is dying of a lung disease — so his parents will do anything to help. But the island is bleak and barren and Rudy is so lonely…until he discovers a mysterious girl who never leaves her house and a boy in the ocean who appears to be half a fish.

Rudy is enchanted by this fishboy, known as Teeth, who is equal parts brutal and sarcastic, but also tortured and lonely. He’s abused by the local fisherman for trying to free the magical-fish, who Teeth sees as his family. Rudy wants to help save Teeth from this horrible life, but does Teeth even want to be saved? And if Rudy has to choose between his growing love for this fishboy or his little brother’s life — who will he pick?

 

OF POSEIDON BY ANNA BANKS

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BUY HERE

This is a trilogy that stars Emma, who thinks she’s a pretty average girl living by the sea and just trying to get through highschool…except she’s actually a mermaid and of a royal lineage. (Thanks for not letting her know that, mother.) And it all becomes rapidly apparent that her life is not as dull as it seems when a god-like merman named Galen appears from the ocean deep to find her and seek her help since she has the gift of Poseidon — which is to summon fish and can possibly save all the mermaids.

He ends up gallantly posing as a student at her school and failing spectacularly (some people are better with fins then legs ok) between showing Emma that the ocean is nothing to be feared of. Except it kind of is, because the war for Emma and her gift is just beginning.

 

THE SEAFARER’S KISS BY JULIA EMBER

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Or how about a retelling of the Little Mermaid…except what if it was from the point of view of the seawitch Ursula?!

This story follows Ersel, who’s in love with her shield-maiden when she’s supposed to be marrying her suitor. When faced with the choice of picking her love or going before the evil king, Ersel goes for help from the god of mischief, Loki. This can’t possibly go wrong, obviously. So in fact it goes hugely wrong and Ersel ends up exiled and forever separated from the human she loves the most. So exactly what will she do to get out of this mess?

 

Review: Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz

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Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz is a story about suffering, healing, loneliness and magical gay fish. Which is not a combination you find very often…or any time really. As a bookworm who devours hundreds of books every year, finding something unique and original is absolutely exciting! And on top of that, Teeth was so heart-wrenching and raw that I simply couldn’t put it down. This is the kind of book written with so much soul and heart you can feel the emotions on every page. Even if (like me) you have a rather cold dead heart. This book is 10/10 guaranteed to melt it.

The story basically follows Rudy who’s moved to a bitter cold and grey island with his family because the local fish are rumoured to cure illness. Rudy’s 5-year-old little brother, Dylan, is dying of a lung disease and his parents are desperate for these fish to be the cure they long for. But for Rudy it means isolation and loneliness as his parents are consumed with his brother and Rudy’s left his entire life behind. He’s not even sure who he is anymore, since he was a rather bad friend to his schoolmates and no one even misses him. Instead he finds a girl in a mansion on the hill who never leaves her house, but seems to be full of secrets. And he finds a boy who’s half fish, half human, swimming in the sea. The boy is tortured by the local fisherman and begs everyone to stop eating the fish which are his family. Rudy’s torn: the fish are saving his brother, but this fishboy is stealing his heart. If he can’t have both, who is he going to leave to suffer?

I don’t find a lot of mermaid books, so this was particularly special! Although technically Teeth is a fish, not a merman. But it was still exciting to find an incredibly well-written book staring someone who is part of the sea like this. #MermaidAppreciation The book also features Teeth’s extreme hate of humans and his struggle to even accept he’s part human. He claims he’s a fish at every opportunity, but being around Rudy maybe is starting to make him realise not all humans are evil.

The setting was so absolutely vivid. They all live on this cold and damp and barren island, and it was grey and bitter and I just felt that in all the descriptions! The fish are luring people there, with their promise of a cure, but everyone still seems sick and worried and miserable on the island. The fisherman are cruel and the locals are silent and secretive. The detail is sparse but so very vivid. I also loved the contrast of having a book featuring a place so depressing, but that offered hope of survival. It was very well done!

The writing was so brilliantly raw. Rudy narrates in 1st person and feeling his loneliness and angst and fears on the page was so vivid. He’s terrified that he doesn’t love his little brother enough and he feels like he’s becoming a nothing in the wake of everyone forgetting about him. The story is also fairly violent and gritty and brutal, featuring the abuse Teeth reaps from the local evil fisherman (since Teeth frees all the fish he can from their nets and they punish him for it) and the secret darkness of the locals. The book basically rips out your heart with fishhooks. It’s nice like that.

I absolutely fell in love with Teeth and Rudy! These two characters totally stole my heart, although I wouldn’t call either of them totally likeable. But they felt real! And complex! And that’s what I want wen reading a book. I particularly adored Teeth, the bruised and damaged merman. He is absolutely sarcastic and snarky and bitter…but also quite naive and desperate for a friend. He has severe PTSD and some warped hero-complexes going on, and while we didn’t explore his psychology in too much depth because it’s not his narration — I still appreciated the brutal and realistic look at the effects of living a tortured life. The book doesn’t brush over anything. It also freaking breaks my heart!

If you are looking for a story of darkness and magic and small miracles and tears and breaking: read TeethIt gets all the stars from me for being so amazingly written!

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.

South Asian Inspired YA Epic Fantasy Books

One of the best parts of reading is disappearing into other countries and cultures — preferably with a little magic on top. So what could be better than epic fantasy that’s inspired by South Asian cultures?!? Today we are going to peruse some delicious young adult novels that take a detour from the repetitious medieval British settings!


REBEL OF THE SANDS BY ALWYN HAMILTON

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This is a swashbuckling, sharpshooting, magical adventure set in a world that rings of the Arabian Nights folklore! It fits an interesting combination of guns and magic and deserts together that feels super unique. Plus there is sass. So much sass. Amani is an excellent marksman who wants adventure and decides to escape across the deserts with a mysterious foreigner.

It contains rebellion, deserts, djinn, and other monsters that lurk beneath the sands.  Not to mention a shoot out on a moving train because this is like THE WILD WEST meets ARABIAN NIGHTS and it’s exciting.

 

POISON’S KISS BY BREEANA SHIELDS

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Set in a mythical fantasy kingdom that resembles India, this story is about a girl who is a visha kanya — her kiss is death. Marinda obviously it not doing well in the love life factor, but she’s doing anything and everything to keep her sickly little brother alive. Which means working for a cruel boss who uses her as a weapon. But then she meets a boy in a bookshop and starts to wonder if she can get out of her brutal and murderous career path.

The world is pretty lush and vivid, with gorgeous descriptions, and has basis in Indian folklore.

 

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN BY ROSHANI CHOKSHI

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This features a fantasy-inspired Indian society where a girl, Maya, is cursed to fulfil a marriage of death and doom. Which is kind of a turn off for a lot of guys, it seems. However she ends up in a political marriage with a strange boy who rules a kingdom that is magical and definitely not what it seems. We’re taking on a whirlwind journey where myth becomes life. Roll out the demon talking horses, magic trees, and worlds controlled by a single thread!

This book’s definite strength is its lush and melodic writing style. It spins the story with beautiful prose and a slower pace to match the carefully unfurling magic.

 

 

THE WRATH AND THE DAWN BY RENEE AHDIEH

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BUY HERE

This is an absolutely gorgeous retelling of the tales of Shahrzad who told the 1001 Nights stories to the Sultan to stop him killing all his wives. The book takes a magical twist to the tale and there are monsters and curses here that lurk in the shadows. Shazi is the most epic of protagonists who is here to stop the boy-Sultan’s rampage…except things are definitely more than they seem and he’s harbouring secrets that change everything.

I also will totally admit that the food descriptions in this book?? They slay. They are so darn delicious that I just wanted to eat the book.

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.

Breathtaking Fantasy Adventures for Middle Grade and Young Adults

It’s not often I get the opportunity to delve into the depths of fantasy-adventure novels, so the change has been an interesting welcome. If you’re a thrill-seeker, a supernatural-hunting-wannabe, a mission-impossible-style adrenalin junkie or courageous-fugitive aspirant, then these following books are for you!

Fenn Halflin and the Seaborn by Francesca Armour-Chelu, July 2017.

Following its predecessor, Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero, this final futuristic fantasy takes the resourceful and brave Fenn Halflin to new depths of heroism. With fantastic, fast-paced action, Fenn and his loyal mongoose Tikki are at the forefront of saving themselves and the Seaborn people from the grips of the merciless Terra Firma and their evil leader, Chilstone. Haunted by his past and his pain, Chilstone literally drowns in his own hatred in response to the inner strength of our protagonist, Fenn. Uncomplicated but enough visualisation to get lost in, the dystopian Fenn Halflin and the Seaborn will sweep its middle grade readers into a spunky science fiction odyssey.

The City of Secret Rivers by Jacob Sager Weinstein, June 2017.

Twelve-year-old Hyacinth gains a lot more than she bargained for when moving from America to London; the place of her ancestry. Drawing on a wonderful mix of real life and an underground magical alternate reality, author Jacob Sager Weinstein literally sweeps us through a series upon romping series of adventure into tunnels, pipes and mazes in the secret sewer systems of London. When something as simple as washing her hands sets off a complicated chain of dangerous events, Hyacinth is thrust into a world of outlandish characters, including muddy Saltpetre Men, toshers and a bather-wearing pig, facing tests of trust, bravery and the acceptance of a whole new identity. All this to save her kidnapped Mom, oh, and the entire city from the Great Fire – plot by the conniving Lady Roslyn. With elements of suspense, humour, excitement and pure terror, The City of Secret Rivers combines the kind of complexity and ingenuity to that of Lewis Carroll and J.K. Rowling all rolled into a fantastical adventure for mid to upper primary-aged children.

William Wenton and the Luridium Thief by Bobbie Peers, April 2017.

First in this exciting new series is William Wenton; an extraordinarily talented codebreaker which lands him in all sorts of strife. Kidnapped by the Institute for Post-Human Research for his code-cracking skills, what follows is a series of mystery, adventure and secret discoveries. Wenton not only discovers the powerful substance, luridium whilst held captive, but also forges a path of self-discovery and identity, as most youngsters do on their journey into adulthood. With cryptic puzzles and fiendish mechanical inventions, the Luridium Thief is a captivating and enigmatic fantasy novel that will immediately hook those upper-primary readers.

The Traitor and the Thief by Gareth Ward, August 2017.

More secrets, spies and being hunted. Another thrilling steampunk story for older readers, The Traitor and the Thief is essentially about fourteen-year-old petty thief Sin, on his own mission of soul-searching, relationship-building, and becoming a saviour. Caught and recruited into the Covert Operations Group (COG), Sin is trained to be an agile spy with mastery in weaponry and technology in order to uncover truths and conquer dangerous adventures. With quirkiness and elements of imaginative realities, as well as a touch of budding young romance and navigating teenagehood, this fantasy novel suits those readers out for a good mystery mixed with adventure.

Alex Rider: Never Say Die (Book 11) by Anthony Horowitz, June 2017.

From the bestselling series here is a new mission for Alex Rider, a fifteen-year-old adopted into a writerly family, and recruited by the M16 agents. Intensely terrifying adventure leads to clues as to the whereabouts of his female guardian, Jack – ultimately held for ransom by a terrorist organisation. Set in Cairo, and packed with plot twists and turns, Never Say Die is an exciting and absolutely gripping explosion of action and adrenalin that will have its readers on tender hooks until the end.

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, including authors Cassandra Clare, Sarah Ress Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman, May 2017.

To fully immerse oneself in this latest volume of the ‘Shadowhunters’ series, background knowledge and loyalty to best-selling YA author, Cassandra Clare would be ideal. In essence of the Harry Potter-style ideology of mixing realms between the normal and the magical variety, these tales confront protecting the ‘mundane’ world from the dangers of the supernatural beings. With ten short stories written by four authors and varying in complexity, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy fans will, I’m sure, relish learning of every new skill, memory and life discovery of its central character, human / vampire / Shadowhunter Simon Lewis.

Walker Books Australia

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!

The Best YA Duologies

When it comes to starting a new book series, sometimes we bookworms scare ourselves with how many we start but don’t finish. There can be a lot of books, okay?! A series that stretches over four books can be quite daunting. Which is why some authors are lovely and kind and have given us the beautiful gift that are: duologies.

Duologies contain two books, which is great because (a) less commitment, (b) less time spent waiting for more sequels, and (c) no middle-book-series-blues! They’re concise and get the entire story told over two volumes, and we love them.

In case you want to try a simple duology but don’t know where to start: HERE! I will help by listing some absolutely amazing ones.


THIS SAVAGE SONG & OUR DARK DUET

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This duology by VE Schwab must be one of my favourites in all the world. It centres around a Gotham-like world (sans Batman) where monsters and violence reign supreme, and two factions within the city war for rulership and safety. A monster-boy, August Flynn, who plays the violin ends up going to school with the opposition’s sharp and cutting daughter, Kate Harker. They develop and unlikely friendship before they end up on the run for their lives.

The story is all about monsters vs humans, and asks questions like “what truly makes a monster”. It talks about acts of violence and consequences and it’s just altogether fascinating. Definite 5-star reads!

 

SIX OF CROWS & CROOKED KINGDOM

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This two are a follow up from Leigh Bardugo’s famous Grisha trilogy. You can read this by themselves though! The are set in the lush world of the Grisha and Ravka, where a young mastermind con artist named Kaz Brekker is putting together a crew to take on an enormous heist. They have to break into an high security ice palace and steal back a boy and a magical formula. Kaz is ruthless and clever, and his crew is a knot of complex and terrifying teens.

The beauty in this series is firstly the complexity of the plots (heists!) and then secondly in the gorgeous characters and how dynamic and interesting they are. You can’t help but become invested after just a few pages!

 

THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE & THE SHIP BEYOND TIME

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This is about a time travelling ex-pirate ship that contains a father and his daughter who can manipulate time. They have to find the perfect map, however, and the father is on the constant look out for one that might take them back to his dead wife. They get caught up in Hawaii in the 19th century in a heist!

Nix is such a fabulous and winning heroine and you can’t help but root for her and feel her worry and pain as her father tries to change history…because if he does that, will Nix cease to exist?

 

THE CROWN’S GAME & THE CROWN’S FATE

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This is a fantasy duology set in Russia, in a world were the tsar has magicians who work for him. But there can only be one and two teens, Vika and Nikolai must compete for the place to work for the royalty. It’s a really amazingly beautiful and visual series, with not so much “duels of magic to the death” but inventive magical creations to show who’s the most powerful. The two’s rivalry relationship is compromised by growing affections towards each other and also to their mutual best friend, Pasha. Who also just happens to be the next tsar.

It features high stakes, marvellous writing, and plot twists at the end that will leave you reeling!

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.

The Most Highly Anticipated YA Sequels Of 2017

Apparently 2017 is crowning itself the queen of the young adult sequels. There are so many epic additions to series coming out this year, it’s just impossible not to try and eat them all at once! And if you’re a little behind on release dates and figuring out which series you should be caught up on…sit down and relax, my friend. I am here to help.

Here are some highly anticipated YA sequels that are either newly on the shelves or just around the corner!


 

OUR DARK DUET (published June)

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This is the sequel and finally to the incredible This Savage Song! It follows the story of Kate Harker, child of a cruel mafi overlord, and August Flynn, a violinist monster who wishes he was human and their fight to save their depraved and dying city of Verity.

It’s like Batman’s Gotham but with violins and heartbreakingly good writing. Definitely a must read!

 

 

NOW I RISE (publishing July)

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This is the sequel to And I Darken, which is a gender-bent Vlad the Impaler retelling. It follows siblings, Lada and Radu, as they’re ripped from their home and given as gifts to secure a piece to their father’s enemy. They grow up far away from home, unloved, and unwanted, until they meet the future boy sultan and both fall hopelessly in love with him. It’s full of politics and intrigue and the most terrifying bloody heroine of ever. Do not mess with Lada. Like…ever.

 

 

LORD OF SHADOWS (published May)

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This is the sequel to Lady Midnight, another addition to the ever-expanding Shadowhunter world by Cassandra Clare! If you haven’t caught up on her other books, don’t fear! This trilogy is actually possibly to read on its own. It’s a tangled mess of necromancers and dark faeries and war, and it focuses on Emma Carstairs who’s trying to solve the mystery of who murdered her parents. It also follows her parabati, Julian Blackthorn’s life as he tries to raise his siblings and keep them safe in a world that’s not kind to damaged people.

 

 

THE CROWN’S FATE (published May)

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This is the sequel and finale to The Crown’s Game, which is about two magicians vying for the spot as the Tsar’s right hand. There can only be one, however, hence a fight to the death with magical tricks, games, duels, and manipulation. The only problem is Vika and Nikolai are also falling in love, and their future Tsar is their best friend…which makes the whole “fight to the death” thing super hard. It’s also set in Russia and has a luscious backdrop of Russian culture and food. The levels of magical imagination are absolutely breathtaking!

 

ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN (published May)

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This is the 3rd book in the Lara Jean series that starts with To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and then PS. I Still Love You. The story is about Lara Jean (surprise!) who is a Korean-American teenager who used to write letters to her crushes. She never mailed them of course…until one day they accidentally get mailed. It’s a really super sweet and adorable story about family, sisters, first love, and baking. There is so much baking in it, you’ll probably eat your copy of the book. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

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Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner is a super emotional book about grief and guilt. I expected my heart to be beaten about since last year I read Zentner’s debut, The Serpent King, and wow was that emotionally devastating and incredible. Goodbye Days has the same level of intensity! It’s like being left out in the rain with a bucket to catch your tears…and honestly it can be hard to read at times because it was so raw. But a book that really makes you feel things?! You know that is an excellent story!

The book follows the tragic story of Carver whose 3 friends have just died instantly in a horrific car accident. And the last thing the driver was doing? Reading a text that Carver had just sent. The guilt is heavy on Carver, resulting in severe anxiety attacks and devastation. He’s absolutely hated by most of his friends’ families. But the grandmother of one of his dead friends asks Carver to help her have a “goodbye day” for closure, and he agrees…and it unravels more to the story.

The heartbreak levels for the reader are EXTREMELY HIGH HERE. The writing is so incredible that you not only ache for Carver, you ache with Carver. Just the knowledge that his text “could” have been the reason his friends died is a crippling fact lodged in your mind and you can’t help but see all sides to the story. The writing is so strong though, and I felt such righteous indignation that Carver was going through this and suffering so much when he’s not the only one to blame. (C’mon, his friend picked up the phone too.) Plus I think the book really perfectly balanced adding in jokes and quips and lighter scenes, without severing the heaviness of the storyline, but not making the book one huge bucket of depressing tales.

I really felt for all the characters. Sometimes it’s hard to care when a book starts off with a large portion of the cast already dead. You don’t really get a chance to know them, right?! But there are tons of flash-backs that help you really connect to Carver’s friends. And it’s so hard to read these happy memories, knowing what goes down. I did find the flashbacks a little unsatisfying when they didn’t focus equally on all the boys, though. It would’ve been nice to have equal backstory for them!

SMALL LIST OF OTHER THINGS TO LOVE:

  • Carver’s big sister, Georgia, is the best and SO loving and supportive! I always adore epic sibling relationships in books.
  • It has a REALLY positive portrayal of therapy and mental health plans, and actually goes into detail about anxiety therapy.
  • It doesn’t cure anything with romance.
  • The representation of anxiety is stunningly accurate and well crafted.
  • Honestly it was just so so well written I couldn’t put it down.
  • It was full of tension, as well as fun and lighter scenes!
  • There was so much food I nearly ate my book.

 

Goodbye Days is definitely a heartbreaking and beautiful book! It balances darkness with hope and it was thoroughly heart-wrenching. Definitely a book to read if you’re not sure if you have a heart, because this will find it for you. It’s a story that deals with unfairness and rage and the complexities of grief. It was quite unsettling and upsetting for me, and I couldn’t wait to see the outcome. Carver was a fantastic narrator who was totally easy to relate to and root for. I definitely think Jeff Zentner is a master storyteller and I can’t wait to read basically everything he ever writes of ever.

Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology

I interviewed Danielle Binks, editor of Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology of Australian YA short stories (HarperCollins)

Where are you based and what is your current role, Danielle?

I live in Melbourne, and currently I wear many hats … I’m a young adult and middle grade literary agent with Jacinta di Mase Management. I’m a writer, editor and book blogger – and most recently I edited and contributed to the HarperCollins book Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology.

How did something you’ve done in the past help you get this position?

From about the ages of 14–21 I wrote a lot of FanFiction. “FanFic”, if you don’t know, is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator.

I wrote a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and Twilight fanfic – just because I loved it, and imagining worlds beyond the end of a television season or the last page in a book got my creative synapses firing.

And actually, when I applied for the university course that set me on this path of books – RMIT’s Creative Writing and Editing program – I didn’t have any of my own creative writing to submit for consideration, so I sent through one of my Buffy fanfic pieces. And I got in.

I honestly don’t know that I’d be here today if I hadn’t found a sustaining creative-outlet in FanFiction.

Gabrielle Tozer

How involved are you in Australia’s enthusiastic YA community?

Very. I’ve had my own personal book review blog – Alpha Reader – since 2009 that I still contribute to today. When I started my book blog, I called it “my solo book club” and I just read the books that I wanted to – which just so happened to be a lot of what I’ve always read and gravitated towards – romance and YA. I’d always write these long, rambling and impassioned reviews of YA books, and eventually that led to me being invited to write about youth literature for the Kill Your Darlings online journal, for about 2 years. I always tried to give YA, and Aussie YA especially, the respect and consideration I didn’t think it was getting from mainstream arts media.

Then in 2015 the #LoveOzYA grassroots movement kicked of and I became a proud supporter of that conversation – until I was eventually elected to help form the inaugural and official #LoveOzYA committee, championing Australian YA.

Ellie Marnie

It’s fantastic that females are writing brilliant Oz YA. Even in the recent past there were outcries about lack of female writers being shortlisted for the Older Reader (YA) category in the CBCA, for example, but this year all 6 shortlisted books are by women. I know there are a few around, and you’ve included two in your book, but where have the males gone?

I think it’s all pretty subjective, really – and balances out in the end.

If you look at younger children’s books in Australia (junior fiction and the 8-12 middle grade readership), that category has mostly been male-dominated, and for a long time. The likes of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman, Shaun Tan, Jack Heath, Tristan Bancks, John Flanagan, Andy Griffiths, Oliver Phommavanh…

Michael Pryor

Australia and international YA also has no problem spotlighting fine male authors – Markus Zusak, Jay Kristoff, John Marsden, Patrick Ness, John Green, James Dashner, Rick Riordan, David Levithan, Ransom Riggs, Jay Asher … I think the guys are doing okay.

The fact that the #LoveOzYA Anthology doesn’t have more male writers came down to availability – we did query others, but timelines and deadlines didn’t match up, in the end … but we got two of the finest writers – period! – in Will Kostakis and Michael Pryor.

Will Kostakis

And what we prioritised more was a diversification of story and genres, as opposed to genders.

Could you tell us about Begin, End, Begin, the anthology of Australian YA short stories you’ve edited?

#LoveOzYA was a hashtag that sparked a conversation that created a movement that led to this book … the #LoveOzYA hashtag was created in response to the onslaught of American blockbuster YA that was dominating our bookshelves. And the idea to create an Anthology riffing on that hashtag and grassroots movement was just about showing people all there is to love about Australian YA – and giving us a way to crack open the conversation about supporting local stories and authors.

At the end of the day I think the hashtag, movement and book are all about encouraging Aussie teens to read Australian stories – so they grow into adults who seek out their national literature, and keep our books community alive and thriving.

How was this title selected?

The theme we gave each of the authors to write to was “firsts”. But writing about “firsts” inevitably leads the mind to think about “lasts”. And we found that this second recurring theme emerged in just about all the stories being written – every beginning was an ending too – and we loved that, we wanted to pay tribute to that.

Jaclyn Moriarty

What genres have you included? Was this deliberate, or an outcome of what the authors wrote?

We wanted a big enough theme that all of these eclectic authors could write across multiple genres and really showcase the fact that “Australian stories” are not just set in the outback or small coastal towns …but that Australian stories are ghost stories. And space stories. And anything-else we want them to be! It was very deliberate.

How did you select which authors to invite to contribute to Begin, End, Begin – or did they twist your arm?

Well, when I started approaching authors it was all a very hush-hush secret and embargoed project … but myself and Harper Collins publisher, Chren Byng, started by writing separate lists of – maybe? – 30 authors we’d love to work with. Then we came together and picked out where we had crossovers in our wish-list, and from there it was a matter of going down the line and asking everyone if they were available and would they like to be apart of this amazing project?

I will say that since the Anthology came out, I’ve had a few Aussie YA authors approach me and let it be known that *if* there’s a second, they’d love to be involved.

So. Watch this space.

What brief/guidelines did you give the contributors?

The theme of “Firsts” and a ten thousand-word limit. And that the story had to be original. Then it was a matter of letting their imaginations run wild …

Was there any author you wanted and couldn’t get – and could maybe include in another book? Or an author you want for the future? 

Lili Wilkinson

Yes. And yes. But I won’t say who, because they may be someone I’d like to approach for Anthology No. 2 and I’d quite like any future line-up to be a surprise. But I’ve been asking readers which Aussie authors they’d like to see appear in any future Anthology … and writing down those suggestions too.

There’s definitely a list I’m holding onto.

What have you learned about any of these authors?

I’ve learned that I was absolutely right to have been fans of all of them before embarking on this project … because every single one just astounded me with their generosity and story.

My advice is; don’t just meet your idols – but work with them. See what magic happens.

Who wrote the most unexpected story? Why? 

Danielle Binks

Oh my gosh, – me! I was the unexpected emerging voice in the Anthology, with my story ‘Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory’ and there were times when I thought I would be too crippled by self-doubt and imposter syndrome to get it done … but I did and I’m proud of it. And a bit surprised, to be honest.

Mine is a story about a little sister, saying goodbye to her Deaf big brother on his last night in their small town. It’s inspired by my own family, partly – and when I initially spoke about it with our Harper Collins editor, she told me that she loved the idea because she’s CODA (a child of Deaf adults). So we both spent a lot of time getting it right and focusing especially on the rhythms, beauty and rapidity AusLan (Australian sign-language). So I’m proud and surprised by what I accomplished.

Amie Kaufman

Did anyone surprise you by submitting their work early?

I don’t think so? … Amie Kaufman surprised me by being a day late, only because she was getting her friend (who works at NASA!) to read over her story and give some feedback on the logistics and feasibility of her outer-space setting.

I wasn’t upset in the least; I thought it was SO COOL!

And I’d still quite like to get a “NASA-certified” sticker on the front cover because of it. HA!

How did you sequence the stories?

My publisher, Chren, put is so perfectly when she said choosing the sequence would be like putting together the perfect mix-tape. I took that advice and made sure there was a balance of genres (so sci-fi, followed by contemporary, followed by surrealism, followed by contemporary) just to hit those different peaks. And also that long and short stories were side-by-side, so readers wouldn’t get two 10K stories in a row, and become a little weary with lengths.

Was much editing involved throughout? If so, what type of edits?

There was a bit of editing … structural edits for each story, talking out things like character-development and whether or not the story was hitting the right marks at the right times (trickier to do when you have a shorter word-count, and not the length of a novel to ease into dramatic climaxes or subtle denouments). But everyone got there in the end. And there was certainly nobody who needed more editing than anyone else (myself included!)

Alice Pung RoselliPhotography

What do you hope for OZ YA in the near future?

I certainly don’t think that Australian YA is perfect. I think it needs to be more diverse and inclusive, to honestly portray Australia back to its teen readers.

But that being said – I don’t think the representation in Australian YA will get better by us ignoring our national youth literature. I think it will improve by us investing in it, and that’s certainly the route I’m taking.

I’m now a literary agent, and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m actively seeking and prioritising “Own Voices” stories (a term coined by American YA author Corinne Duyvis, to identify books about marginalised protagonists written by authors who share that same identity.)

And I’m really proud of the fact that the first YA manuscript I sold was a sci-fi, eco-thriller called ‘Borderland’ – written by a debut Indigenous writer and poet, Graham Akhurst (coming out with Hachette, in 2018).

Melissa Keil

I take it as a huge honour, opportunity and responsibility that I’m now in a position to have a say in the Aussie YA of the future … and for my little corner of the books world, I’m going to do all I can to make sure all Australian stories get told, and that as many Aussie teens as possible see themselves in those stories.

Because teenagers who fall in love with their national youth literature, will one day grow up to be adult readers who seek out Australian stories. And everyone has a story worth telling.

Thanks for answering these questions and for all your work in promoting Oz YA literature, Danielle, and all the best with Begin, End, Begin and your other endeavours.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

Review: Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

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Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts was one of my most anticipated reads for 2017 and it absolutely did not disappoint. It’s full to bursting with sassy dialogue, bloody action scenes, and the most complex and amazing characters of ever. There’s so much love-and-hate relationships that just kept me flipping pages as fast as my eyeballs could gobble the words. And when I finished? I sit in anxious anticipation for hopeful future sequels. Please. I beg. I have needs here.

It follows the story of Tilla, who’s a bastard of a great lord who may or may not be brewing a rebellion. Tilla’s more into sneaking about with her half-brother the stableboy, exploring tunnels, and getting into mischief, so war is not her concern. Until she eats dinner with the visiting crown princess and accidentally saves her life from a murder attempt. Then they’re on the run with a group of unlikely local bastards who don’t get along all that well. But they miiiight just need to change that if they want to survive.

Honestly, the sass levels were what won my heart. When a book starts with two siblings bantering amiably about the snobby royalty, I know I’m in for a winning story.

The cast was quite large, but everyone was interesting and complex. They all had personalities and backstories, complexities and fears and venerabilities. And we’re not introduced to them all in a heap, so that was helpful. I can barely even pick a favourite! I adored our narrator, Tilla, who is (quite frankly) badass. She’s equal parts awkward and fierce, and she’ll do anything for her friends. Her half-brother, Jax, is a big dork and I couldn’t help but fall in love with him too! Their sibling relationship is THE BOMB and they’re so there for each other (also there to make fun of each other, but ya know…sibling love). Miles is the nerdy bookworm who gets understimated when he really really shouldn’t be. Zell is a warrior from the clans and totally Closed Off And Emotionless™ but secretly a big squish. And lastly Lyriana is the wizard princess who will nuture plants to grow and also smite her enemies really viciously if they mess with those she loves.

I loved the plot with the threats of wars, the betraying parents, the teens growing into weapons and strengths while they traverse through the forest in order to save the princess. (Although let’s be real here: the princess saves herself in this one.) The book gets gritty, which I wholly appreciated, because what’s an epic fantasy without high stakes and wild action scenes of blood and stabbing?!? I LOVED THIS.

I also really loved the writing style, which was abnormally modern for an epic fantasy. It was consistently modern though (with the characters using phrases like “badass” and “sucks” etc) so it didn’t feel out of place or jarring. And it made me connect to the story far more, because the jokes were ones I’m familiar with.

Overall, it was fun and exciting and kept the sakes high! Do NOT think your favourites will be safe! I think Tilla is one of the best, most winning YA protagonists of 2017, with her badassery and her sassery. It combines stabbing with explosions and powerful magicians, and adds in characters who fairly leap off the page with their shenanigans. I’m such a fan.

CBCA Older Readers Short List: Waer, Yellow & Frankie

There were three debut authors shortlisted in the 2017 CBCA Older Readers category, signalling the new talent being unearthed in Australian YA. Unlike some short lists in the past, all the authors are female this year, representing the number of females writing YA.

Overview

Most of the novels are contemporary realism, although Waer is speculative fiction and Yellow has elements of spec fiction.

Many of the characters come from working class backgrounds and some are dealing with deep anger, particularly in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

Parents are missing, dead or substance-abusers in virtually all the books. Children are missing in Frankie, Yellow, Words in Deep Blue (where Cal drowned) and Waer (where Kemp is missing). Beach/water settings are prevalent and music features in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

The predominance of the colours blue and yellow on the covers reflect the colour schemes published in 2016, very different from the black dystopian and supernatural covers of the past.

In this post, I will focus on the three novels by debut authors because I’ve written about the other books previously.

Waer by Meg Caddy (Text Publishing)

Waer is a werewolf tale, told as an intricate fantasy.

There are three narrators: Kaebha, a torturer, Lycaea and Lowell, who takes his pagan religion seriously, lives in a valley and finds Lycaea almost drowned. When soldiers destroy the valley dwellings, Lowell and Lycaea escape with some others. Archetypes from fantasy such as the journey, battles and hidden identity surface.

War and the displacement of Lowell and others form some parallels with current refugees, ‘To them we’re not people’.

Readers who enjoy Waer should love Megan Whalen Turner’s exceptional series which begins with The Thief. She has a new one out, Thick as Thieves.

Yellow by Megan Jacobson (Penguin Random House Aust)

Yellow is a very well written story about 14-year-old Kirra. Her surfie father named her after Kirra Beach, but calls her ‘Yellow’ because of her yellow eyes. Yellow often suggests cowardice but this girl is brave.

The story is set near Byron Bay. Kirra’s father has left the family and her mother has become a drunk. In graphic scenes, Kirra forces her to detox. The words of the popular girls scratch her inside but she decides to fight back. ‘People only have the power to make you feel small if you let them.’ Her relationship with kind Noah seems promising but she wrecks it by getting drunk at his party.

Yellow becomes a ghost story when Kirra causes a dog to drown and then talks to a ghost boy in a disconnected phone box. She tries to catch his murderer, putting herself at risk.

Kirra’s English teacher and the local librarian recommend Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. All books worth pursuing…

Issues of forgiveness arise here and in Frankie.

Frankie by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House Aust)

Frankie is Italian and funny. She was abandoned by her mother and thinks she ‘deserve[s] to fail’. Her younger half-brother, Xavier, who seems to be a thief, finds her and gives her a longed-for Joy Division album. In this book, musician Ian Curtis killed himself like Jeff Buckley did in One Would Think the Deep, but both their music lives on.

Frankie is set around Smith St, Collingwood (where Robert Newton’s Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky and some of his historical novels were also set).

The dialogue in Frankie is smart, with a streetwise voice. The scene where Frankie follows Nate with his ‘blue gaze’ to a ‘fence’s’ house, is chillingly intimidating. When Xavier disappears, the contrast between the lack of energy put into his disappearance compared with that of rich boy Harrison Finnick-Hyde is explored.

There are numerous descriptions of graffiti throughout the novel. Readers could perhaps create their own ‘Small Street Interruptions’ based on Michael Pederson’s website ‘Outside’ http://miguelmarquezoutside.com/.

Pederson leaves quirky temporary artwork (such as roping off a dandelion with a sign, ‘do not touch’ like in an art gallery) in laneways, backstreets and buildings to surprise and encourage people to slow down, be in the moment and recognise surroundings. He attaches them with Blu-tak and removable tape.

The other three shortlisted books are:

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Aust) which recently won the Indie YA award.

Readers can explore a related Virtual Letter Library http://loveozya.com.au/love/the-letter-library/ .

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn (UQP) was recently shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Ethel Turner award.

Music helps but doesn’t heal protagonist Sam’s residual rage and grief. There is a playlist at the end of the book featuring Jeff Buckley’s Loser, So Real and Grace and Split Enz’s I Got You (which Jennifer Niven also uses in All the Bright Places).

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Aust) recently won the ABIA award for older children, was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Book award and is currently shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie medal.

Zana Fraillon’s next novel, The Ones That Disappeared, about child trafficking, will be published this month.

YA Books Told In Love Letters, Notes, and Emails

Books tell amazing stories in all sorts of formats. Sometimes they use prose or poetry, illustrations or photographs. And today? We need to talk about books told in love letters, notes, and emails! Because writing is arguably the best way to learn about someone. It’s often easier to confess a secret or be venerable on paper and these books underline that fact!

If you’re looking for a book featuring letters? LOOK NO FURTHER. I have you covered.


LETTERS TO THE LOST BY BRIGID KEMMERER

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This is an absolutely beautiful, but bittersweet, tale of two teens who are dealing with extreme levels of grief. They begin writing to each other on accident. Juliet leaves letters at her mother’s gravestone and one day Declan, who’s working in the graveyard on community service, picks one up and writes back. They begin first an angry communication and then develop friendship through grief and confessions. It’s a relief to both of them to talk anonymously to someone who understands. But as they realise they also know each other in real life, they are worried the other won’t like the “real” them. It’s an absolutely poignant story of heartbreak and being judgemental of people who’s stories you don’t know.

 

 

SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA BY BECKY ALBERTALLI

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Simon has met the most amazing boy online and lives for their frequent email exchanges. Except one day he forgets to log out of the school computer and a bully discovers his emails. He blackmails Simon — threatening to out Simon as being gay. And Simon isn’t ready for that yet.

It’s a super, super cute story featuring two boys emailing back and forth. The story isn’t wholly told in messages, though, so you get to follow Simon in his everyday life of friends, awkward first love, Harry Potter obsession, drama class, and Oreo appreciation. It’s about being true to yourself and it’s the most heartwarming and special story!

 

ILLUMINAE BY JAY KRISTOFF AND AMIE KAUFMAN

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This is a sci-fi action story told solely in emails, messages, reports, and photos! It’s absolutely brilliantly formatted and the visuals totally take the book to the next level of special. The story is basically about a rogue company destroying a planet and the survivors end up on a damaged ship floating through space. The enemy is closing in and they’re trying to get the ship’s Artificial Intelligence up and active to fight for them. Except there’s also a virus sweeping through the refugees. And the AI is possibly planning to wipe out all threats — which could very well be the people it’s supposed to protect.

You will most likely be clinging to your seat through reading this with heart pounding. The action doesn’t stop and the plot twists are phenomenal.

 

WE ARE STILL TORNADOES BY MICHAEL KUN AND SUSAN MULLEN

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This is a story of two teens after high school: Cath has headed off to college and Scott is stuck working in his family story after he bombed his highschool finales. They’ve been best friends all their lives, so they write avidly to each other as they explore the world of just-becoming-adults. The letters are packed with so much complexity and meaning and even though the entire book is just told in epistolary format, you get to know the characters so well. And you can’t help rooting for them to stop living in denial of their feelings for each other and to follow their dreams and live the kind of life they hunger for.

Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

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Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare is a stunningly engaging starter for a new Shadowhunter series! It is a follow-up of Clare’s previous The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, but good news? You can actually read this without having read a single Clare book before! It’s a great intro into the world of nephilim, werewolves, faeries, vampires, and demons. And it did not disappoint at all!

The story follows Emma Carstairs, a training Shadowhunter who’s parents died in an unsolved murder mystery. While the Clave has ruled their deaths as just part of the war, Emma knows it was murder — and she’s determined to find answers and have revenge. Emma is also struggling with feelings for her best friend, her Parabati, whom she’s forbidden by Shadowhunter law to have a relationship with. And as if life isn’t complex enough, the murder mystery ends up involving faeries and it’s illegal for Emma to investigate with them. She has so many laws to try and sneak around if she’s going to get her revenge.

I absolutely adored how incredibly full and rich the story was. It has everything a book should have: humour, witty quips, a murder mystery case, magic, mayhem, pancakes, diverse characters, and an engaging plot that will leave you breathless by the end.

The writing just hooked me in from the first page. It manages to fill in any newbies to the series on Shadowhunter law and culture without giving tiresome info dumps. Plus it mixes levity with the darker storyline and the banter is just so spot on and perfect I couldn’t help but laugh.

“You’re too skinny,” she said as brightly as she could. “Too much coffee, not enough pancakes.”
“I hope they put that on my tombstone.”

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The characters stole my heart with their complexities and just how relatable they were. Emma and Julian are the stars of the story and their denial of their feelings for each other is so insufferably cute. So much angst. So much heartbreak. Emma is the main narrator, but I loved that we also got peeks into Julian’s conflicted mind. Emma has a “LET’S SMITE THE THING” attitude while Julian is more thoughtful and silently dangerous. And their banter and sass was perfect.

“Why did you pull the arrow out?” she demanded…
Jule’s breath was coming in harsh pants. “Because when someone — shoots you with an arrow –” he gasps, “your immediate response is not — ‘thanks for the arrow, I think I’ll keep it for a while’.”
“Good to know your sense of humour is still intact.”

It also has quite a large cast of characters since there are 5 Blackthorn children. Julian is only 17, but also a parent to his 4 younger siblings. I adored how each of the kids just leapt off the page with personality and I never got them confused. I’m particularly impressed at the inclusion of Ty, who is pretty clearly Autistic, and how the story incorporated themes of disability, accepting differences, and empowerment.

Lady Midnight is quite possibly my new favourite Shadowhunter book! (And that’s saying something, since I’m thoroughly obsessed with everything Cassandra Clare pens.) The plot was engaging and suspenseful, the banter kept me giggling through my pain as the tension and problems piled insurmountably high. I rooted for Emma’s revenge and Julian to keep his family together. And I absolutely hope these two get together, law or not. The book has such strong themes of family, friendship, and the meaning of actual true and real love. It’s stunning and clever and the sequel needs to be in my hands.

 

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon is definitely one of the cutest books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in 2017. It’s totally nerdy and full of adorkable socially awkward characters and so much delicious food. It features the absolute best romance that I couldn’t help but ship!

The story follows both Dimple and Rishi’s storylines as they head off to a program to develop an app — and discover their parents have set them up for an arranged marriage. Well, Rishi knew. And he assumed Dimple was on board. Their first meeting ends up with Dimple throwing an iced coffee in Rishi’s face and running away. #Awkward But the two end up becoming tentative friends (although future marriage is STRICTLY not on, in Dimple’s opinion) and team up to enter this app competition. It’s 6 weeks of design and discussion and development…with the two realising they maybe do have feelings for each other after all. Which is exactly the opposite of what Dimple wanted.

My favourite thing was how both Dimple and Rishi were huge nerds! Dimple is into coding and computers and Rishi is (in denial though) a huge comic book artist. Aren’t they the perfect pair!? And to top it off, they were written so complexly with so many dimensions that I couldn’t help but feel totally sucked in by the story and dissolved into their vibrant and emotional world. Their character arcs were just amazing and relatable! And the book isn’t just about two teens coding an app — they eat delicious food (like, so so much…you will get hungry reading this) and there is intense gelato appreciation; plus the end up dancing in a contest which is rather hysterical; and there may or may not be an adorable star-gazing scene.

I also really liked how it was a positive story about arranged marriage for Indian cultures! Generally I see it portrayed as very negative, so it’s nice to get this perspective. Plus both sets of parents were lovely, kind, and wanted the best for their children. It’s always refreshing to see parents in YA books not casted as the villains. Plus it was full of rich Indian culture, which I totally loved being immersed in. Dimple is pretty adamant about being a “normal American” but Rishi is fiercely proud of his Indian heritage and his comics feature Indian folklore. He’s proud of where he came from and he doesn’t want to lose touch with that, which was wonderful to read about.

I really loved their voices and the fact it was written in 3rd person! That’s my favourite perspective and it really connected me to the story instantly. I’m also glad it split up to tell both perspectives, because they really both were precious cinnamon rolls and I loved every chapter!

I thoroughly enjoyed When Dimple Met Rishi and it was full of squishy happiness and true appreciation for nerds of all kinds. The geek levels were intensely awesome, with a science-interested girl and an art-interested boy. The writing had me hooked on every chapter and I truly cared for the characters. All the praise for this adorable and sweet story!

YA Wintery Reads To Curl Up With

As Australia descends into the pit of despair wintertime, it’s a great excuse to curl up with a book and a delicious hot drink and lose oneself in a fictional world! And if you happen to like to coordinate the weather with your current read then I have good news for you! Today I’m listing some wintery-themed YA books that will be perfect for snuggling up with.

Winter is coming. Be prepared. Stockpile books.


SHIVER BY MAGGIE STEIFVATER

This is like my go-to winter series because it’s mostly set in a snowy foresty town in the USA and the weather is so palpable you genuinely feel cold reading it! It’s about werewolves who are human in summer and wolves in winter, which I think is a fabulous twist. It’s also for sure one of my favourite series!

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THE IMPOSTOR QUEEN BY SARAH FINE

This one is like the YA book dark and sinister version of Frozen! It features a queen who should have magical element wielding powers to protect her kingdom but yet…she doesn’t??? She ends up running away and finding a boy who controls ice and snow. The book has such a chilling setting and it’s all snowy mountains and traipsing through ice fields. Also it’s excellent.

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THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING BY JEFF GILES

It’s set in the aftermath of a huge blizzard that leaves a girl and her little brother rather trapped in a strange cabin with an even stranger boy who appears to be some sort of death reaper. It turns out that the boy, X, is here to fetch the souls of evil people and hate for them is destroying his life…even if he is actually a really soft and kind person. But vengeance must come…right? The whole book has a really cold vibe with all the snow and blizzards!

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THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPEL’S HOUSES BY BONNIE-SUE HITCHCOCK

This one is set in Alaska! So get ready for snow and months of darkness. It’s also a really emotional and poignant tale of 4 different teens’ lives and how they all interweave and join. From a boy running away from home to a girl stuck on a fishing ship when she wants to dance ballet. The writing is simple and really packs a punch. And there is pie. I don’t know about you, but I’m of the opinion that all books should include excellent mentions of delicious pie.

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SNOW LIKE ASHES BY SARA

Surprise! This one includes SNOW. (Which is stunningly new information that you didn’t guess from the tittle, I’m sure.) This is an epic fantasy set in a world were the seasons are actually countries! Meira is a refugee from the war-torn country of Winter and all she wants to do is protect her BFF, the future king, and restore the kingdom of Winter to its past glory. There’s lots of dark magic out to make everyone’s lives miserable and some completely stunning plot twists that might unhinge your jaw. Plus it’s perfectly and delicious cold to read about an entire country that’s known for its winter!  You’ll need a hot chocolate to get through this one for sure.

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Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli is a special squish of an adorable story. It just ticks all the right boxes for what YA contemporary is longing after. It’s cute and fun and manages to weave in the awkwardness of teenagerdom (shh that’s totally a word) with the epically beautiful and special parts about growing up and finding out who you are and, of course, falling in love.

The story centres around Molly who is a sufferer of many, many unrequited crushes. Then her twin sister, Cassie, meets the most amazing girl and Molly truly starts to realise what she’s missing. But she’s conscious that she’s not particularly “cool” and that she’s fat (which she worries people will judge her for), and that she doesn’t want to fall for someone who isn’t going to treat her well. Molly is all into Pinterest arts and baking and hanging out with her super cool friends. Then she meets two boys: Will, who is like the most adorable hipster boy who seems to really truly like her…maybe more than “like”, and then there’s also Reid, who Molly works with who’s a ginormous nerd and wears Lord of the Rings tee-shirts and is unconventional and dorky. But he’s not really Molly’s type. But is Will either?

It’s truly a story about falling in love for the first time, but also about growing up and feeling left behind by your peers if you’re not “keeping up” enough.

I adored how diverse it was, with at least 50%, if not more, of the cast stars queer characters of different ethnicities.

The writing is, of course, brilliant and totally addictive! Seriously I could never look away from the page. It’s just captivating and beautifully written and it felt so real and relatable with the tone and dialogue. Becky Albertalli just knows how to write books that make you feel like you’re living inside them.

The characters were definitely the best part! They were relatable and dorky at times and completely realistic. I did struggle to connect to Molly, though, with her 30+ unrequited crushes. That’s a lot of people to fall in love with, okay?! She doesn’t really ACT on them, though, so the book isn’t full of breakups and angst. I still loved Molly for her who she felt everyone was growing up around her and she was stagnating. The book puts forth the question of “am I keeping up?” and then slaps it down because there isn’t a timeline to do things! Molly can be 16 and not have kissed anyone and that doesn’t make her weird or broken. I think this book captured just how overwhelming growing up can be. Also it was super cute to see how into Pinterest arts and crafts Molly was! When she was planning her mothers’ weddings Pinterest-style?! OH YES AND YES.

There were so many beautiful messages too. I love how Molly’s mums talked about there not being “a specific age” to reach milestones and achieve things. And of course it underlined that love is love no matter what. And even though Molly had anxiety and was shy, she never was forced to become someone else.

Also the romance was freaking adorable. It had the potential to be an angsty love-triangle, but it wasn’t!

The Upside of Unrequited is a glorious, sweet, happy and feels-good book that will truly make you smile! The writing is captivating, the characters are relatable, and there are so many chocolate mini-eggs that you will find yourself having a serious craving and probably gnawing on your copy of the book. So be wise: read it + eat chocolate simultaneously. The story is full of poignant messages and sweet plot twists and is a definite must read!