Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Everless by Sara Holland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu

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Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu is an intensely brutal story about the aftermath of being a kidnapping victim. This is not a light read by any means, but I appreciated the book tackling the topic with care and respect and aimed at a Young Adult audience. Epically done. And it is absolutely and definitely here to make your heart bleed a little. It also felt really true to teen voices and experiences and I was super impressed by that.

The story follows two narrators, Caroline and Ethan, and how their lives are accidentally entwined over a kidnapping. Ethan was stolen when he was just a little boy and then years latter, Caroline’s autistic little brother Dylan was taken as well. But it didn’t last long and both boys were rescued soon after. Yet Dylan is still completely traumatised and Ethan has years of abuse to work through. He and Caroline only meet because of their connection to Dylan…but something sparks between them. Caroline wants to know exactly what happened to Dylan and Ethan would love a friend who doesn’t treat him differently. They start playing music together as the look for healing and answers…or revenge.

It really delves into a lot of psychological aspects of trauma and recovery. I totally appreciated how it explored how the mind will work and respond to these things, with selective amnesia for instance. It made the book seem extremely real and the writing was perfect around it. We only get the barest few flashbacks of the time Ethan spent kidnapped, which packs a serious emotional punch. (And also keeps the book non-graphic, which I understand since it’s geared at a teen audience.)

The storyline focuses mostly on characters than actual plot. Ethan is extremely smothered by his newly-reunited loving family and he’s absolutely chaffing at it, but also feels so guilty for it. He wants to find out what normal means, but he has no idea how to even start. He feels so deeply broken by what happened to him too. The story was slow as they went to and from therapy sessions and Ethan worked at a froyo place, and Carolin and Ethan built a tentative friendship around playing music in the garage. But the emotional layer is what you’re here for.

It is dual narrated by both Ethan and Caroline. They both had fantastic and very different voices which was amazing! Caroline’s so complex and kind of the “bad girl” because her home life is pits. But she is secretly sweet and caring and the absolute loveliest to her little brother. She’s definitely the “bad girl with a heart of gold” trope and I couldn’t get enough. Ethan is completely sad and tragic and I ached for him and his conflicted emotions and feelings. He’s extremely traumatised and his character development is amazing, but painful. Caroline’s little brother, Dylan, doesn’t get as much page time but I loved that they represented his autism really well (although unfortunately there were undercurrents about calling Dylan “broken” because of his autism that was completely unnecessary.)  I loved how fiercely Carolyn loved and helped Dylan though!

The whole story was really addictive, kind of like watching a flaming plate spin out the sky and hit you. It’s a quite book, though, but there’s a constant undertone of sick dread that makes you desperate to know how these characters end up. I also loved the focus on friendship instead of romance, because wow, these characters all needed to heal.

Afterward was definitely an amazing, but quiet book. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking and realistic which made for a deeply amazing story, even with the horror of what happened to these kids.

Review: The Edge Of The Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

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The Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson is such a unique book and I couldn’t stop reading it! I want to say “couldn’t put it down” but I actually read the audiobook, and I thoroughly recommend that too because the narration was awesome. But it was so addictive because it spun so many questions with a hint of a sci-fi flavour. The whole time I had no idea if things were real or not and the book crafted and handled the story so well!

The story is centred around Ozzie who believes the universe is shrinking after his boyfriend disappeared. And not “ran away”…his boyfriend is 100% gone from the town, from everyone’s memories, and from Ozzie’s entire life. Even his journal entries are rewriting themselves to cut out Tommy’s entire existence. Obviously this is devastating for Ozzie because not only is he facing the heartbreak of his best friend and boyfriend disappearing — no one believes him. Plus he’s graduating school and stuck working on a project with the class’s most messed up kid, Calvin, who most definitely has deep problems going on. And Ozzie knows the universe is shrinking because as the galaxies disappear everyone denies they ever existed. The real question: what the heck is going on? And how can he get Tommy back?

Honestly I’ve never read a book or premise like this! I was captured from the very first page because I wanted to know if the universe was shrinking, or was Ozzie having a mental breakdown? Did Tommy ever exist or did Ozzie make him up to deal with the stress of his parents’ divorce, his brother entering the army, and his best friend Lua leaving town to carve a life without Ozzie in it. Ozzie ended up going to a ton of therapists and, since no one believed him about the universe shrinking or his missing boyfriend, I am a bit surprised he wasn’t being diagnosed as delusional. But he managed to keep his life together by a few threads while trying to figure out what was going on.

I loved the secondary character cast too!! Calvin is a complex and absolutely adorable darling, who has some seriously dark secrets about abuse in his life and is very wary to let anyone in. His and Ozzie’s friendship isn’t smooth and isn’t always healthy, but I thought it was super realistic.

I also loved Lua, Ozzie’s genderfluid BFF, who’s an amazing rock singer looking to make it big after highschool. Lua was seriously dynamic and I liked how the story showed their insecurities as well as highs.

Also shout out to how diverse it was! This is an #ownvoices book for Ozzie’s lgbt narration, and there’s also genderfluid and asexual and people of different races making up the strong supporting cast. It’s always so refreshing when books acknowledge the whole world and give minorities a voice!

There is also a lot of serious topics dealt with in this book. So don’t go in expecting a light fluffy read. It’s pretty confronting and at times devastating, but I think all the series issues were handled with care and respect.

I did like the style too! The writing was simple and clear and I did wish it had a bit more emotion, but Ozzie was a fabulous narrator to share the journey with. He was super selfish at times, but I loved his arc and how he grew over the course of the book.

The Edge of the Universe is such an interesting story, stuffed with questions and theories. I’m so here for this contemporary / sci-fi mashup and I’d love to read more books like this! Calvin was the light of the book, honestly, and I loved how Ozzie matured. And the ending?! I will say no more: but it was pretty satisfying.

2018 YA Releases You Must Watch Out For!

One of the best parts of a new year is all the delicious new book releases it brings! Who needs to save money anyway, pfft, you’d rather fill your house with books and never see the floor. Of course sometimes it’s hard to keep up with what’s new and what’s coming up, so I have an extremely handy list for you today on some super exciting books that are nearly upon us or have just arrived!

I’m featuring Young Adult books and a ton of magic and probably you adding to that infamous To Be Read pile that’s getting to the size of Mount Everest. And yes! You’re most welcome.


YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE

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This one is about twin sisters, Adina and Tovah, with big ambitions: Adina is a violist and plans to be a famous soloist, and Tovah wants to start a career as a surgeon. Then they learn that their family has Huntington’s disease and one of the twins tests positive…and that totally puts their friendship under fire. I think this one is going to be super feelsy and heartbreaking! Also it’s nice to see music featured!

 

THE HAZEL WOOD

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Alice’s grandmother is a writer of a seriously dark fairy tale series and when she dies, Alice and her mother head off to her estate. then Alice’s mother disappears and life starts getting a little too supernatural — like maybe the fairy tales aren’t stories and the mythical Hazel Wood is more real than Alice would like to think. I absolutely love dark stories mixed with fairy tales and I think this one has the potential to be super magical!

LOVE, HATE, AND OTHER FILTERS

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This is an #ownvoices story about a Muslim Indian-American teen who dreams of being a filmmaker…except her parents definitely have other ideas. Maya’s also in love with the wrong boy and has the wrong dream, and when a terrorist attack brings hate crimes on her innocent and peaceful family — she’s facing the reality that she may never achieve any of her passions in life. This one is such a poignant and topical story, written with a lot of heart.

REIGN OF THE FALLEN

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This is an epic fantasy adventure about a kingdom where when a noble dies, necromancers can just bring them back. Odessa is one such necromancer who fights monsters in the death realms and brings back the king whenever he dies. But when monster attacks start getting weirdly structured and terrifyingly dangerous, Odessa realises someone is controlling them. The dead aren’t exactly doing what they’re told anymore. This one is so exciting and super diverse, set in a world were straight and white aren’t the normal. It’s so refreshing!

THE TAXONOMY OF LOVE

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Spencer’s life isn’t completely easy, with a big brother who constantly outdoes him and his Tourette’s syndrome complicating things. Then his relationship with Hope, his ultimate best childhood friend, starts getting messy and growing up fairly sucks. Spencer’s goal ends up being to neatly map out life with his trusty system of taxonomy … but life is rarely that predictable. This one looks like a really poignant tale with plenty of complex sibling relationships and heartbreak and disability representation!

Review: Batman Nightwalker (DC Icons #2) by Marie Lu

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Batman Nightwalker by Marie Lu is the second in the DC Icon superhero series! I really love what these authors are doing with this books…they’re all famous and amazing YA authors who are each taking a turn writing a teenage-centric story about our favourite DC superheroes origins stories. And since Batman is one of my favourite ever heroes, I was really excited to see what Marie Lu would do! I was a bit surprised it wasn’t more focused on Batman himself, but this is about the world’s most famous teenage billionaire: Bruce Wayne.

The story basically begins with Bruce accidentally getting involved in a highspeed car chase to catch a criminal. Only problem is: he’s a civilian and absolutely not supposed to do that. He’s charged with preventing justice and has to serve community service. Bruce is a little disenchanted with life at the moment, feeling lost now that he’s officially 18 and has come into his fortune and misses his parents a lot. He wants the world they envisioned but he doesn’t know how to get there. (Basically he has a total heart of gold.) Then he gets stuffed into Arkham Asylum to serve his community service…as a janitor. But it’s there that he meets Madeline, member of the infamous Nightwalker murderer gang. They target billionaires and Bruce could very well be next on their list.

The story is definitely pre-Batman, so it wasn’t a nod to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy — but more a story woven all it’s own. It has references to everyone you love from the originals, of course, but it’s also a very sold standalone.

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It also features a bit of a mystery plot, with Bruce trying to figure out what the Nightwalker gang are up to. Madeline, refusing to talk and constantly locked in a cell in the asylum, gradually warms up to Bruce and they begin having a conversation. She was a stunning antihero, full of complex values and a good dash of danger. You can’t tell if she’s manipulating Bruce or she really cares about him. He ends up caring quite fiercely about her, despite knowing she’s part of a murder-gang. Because is she everything she appears to be?

Bruce himself was was a winning character that you definitely want to root for. Although, I’ll be honest, he’s basically a textbook Gryffindor, full of reckless bravery and a hunger for justice and fairness. He’s completely in love with the idea that the world can be better, but he goes about doing it in usually the wrong way. Which is great! Because that’s the teenage life! He like sees a person and he just gotta save ’em. He’s obviously extremely privileged and rich but he also was keen to not let that have him lead a spoiled or blinded life.

I liked seeing familiar names appear. Like Harvey Dent is in there and Gorden is mentioned. And then there’s Alfred, the light of the world. He’s the perfect mix of father, butler, and teacher with a side-dish of tea and British disapproval. He tells Bruce to slow down while driving and makes him breakfast and says he has 0% sympathy when Bruce does something stupid. Alfred is amazing!

Batman Nightwalker is definitely a fun addition to this DC Icon series! It’s not super dark, but it has a lot of twists and it’s great seeing how Bruce would grow up to be the man bat he is today.

Review: The Falconer by Elizabeth May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA Books That Are Becoming Movies In 2018

2018 is looking to be an extremely exciting year for YA book-to-movie adaptions! Of course these adaptions always come with their fair share of nail biting and high expectations, because how can a film properly capture our favourite books?! But we can live in hope, right?!

Here are some YA books that are being adapted for 2018 and I’m pretty excited for these! The important thing to do is to remember the word: adaption. They’re never scene-for-scene recounts, but as long as they capture the heart of the book, then they’re on the right track!


SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA BY BECKY ALBERTALLI

in cinemas March 2018

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This one is actually being changed to the title of “Love, Simon” which is super cute and really captures the essence of the book, which is full of a boy’s emails to his secret lover. Except he gets busted for it at school and a fellow classmate blackmails him with the email info. Why? Because Simon is gay but not out yet and not ready to be out and now that power has been taken from him.

One reason I’m super excited for this movie is how much the author seems happy with the adaption! And also for the fact it stars a gay protagonist in a mainstream movie. About time!

 

A WRINKLE IN TIME BY MADELEINE L’ENGLE

in cinemas January 2018

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A Wrinkle In Time has been adapted before, but this latest version looks absolutely phenomenal with an all-star cast that includes Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling! The trailers are so stunning the visual effects look amazing. Plus it’s nice to see the older cult-classic books coming back to hit a new generation with their amazingness, right!?

Sci-fi and magic collide when Meg’s father goes missing and she bends time to find him and bring him home.

 

THE DEATH CURE (#3) BY JAMES DASHNER

in cinemas January 2018

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This is the final movie in the Maze Runner trilogy! There was a bit of a wait between movies #2 and #3 due to an accident and injury of the star (which is pretty sad, but seems to have worked alright!?) so we finally are going to see how the books conclude this absolutely epic YA dystopian trilogy. The trailers look really epic and include huge cities and lots of shootouts and high-tech weapons and that feared zombie virus.

Although this trilogy has deviated quite a bit from the books, it’s still super exciting to see how they’ve interpreted it. And of course cast is freaking awesome with Dylan O’Brien starring, with Kayla Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

 

OTHERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

These ones don’t have trailers yet, but they’re reportedly coming out in 2018 and we are EXCITED for this line up! All The Bright Places promises to be an emotional roller coaster and The Darkest Minds (starring Amandla Stenberg) will be a superpower / dystopian action film that’s definitely going to awe us! And also Every Day by bestselling author David Leviathan, which features a teen who wakes up every day in a different body!

Review: Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore is the most magical and richly lush story ever! The gorgeousness of the cover does not lie I tell you, absolutely not. This book is aesthetically stunning inside and out and it’s a story of magical gardens and families of women with curses and a dirt and dark secrets and missing people. I was absolutely swallowed whole by the magical and ethereal tones and honestly it’s the kind of book you do not want to miss.

The story is about the Nomeolvides women who live in a garden they can never leave. Or basically they’ll hack up a lung. It’s not great. The five girl cousins are all in love with the unattainable granddaughter of the estate, but they try to be careful about showing it because there seems to be a curse that whoever a Nomeolvides women loves — they’ll go missing. Sure enough, the girls’ beloved Bee disappears and in her place, they dig a mysterious boy out of the soil. He has no memory and no idea what’s going on. The gardens are under threat, dark secrets are rising, and they need to solve the mystery of this strange boy’s past and what it means. It might be their saving or their tragedy.

I can’t even sum up all the things I loved about this tale! It’s complicated and interesting, the plot never letting you down for a second. There are secrets fairly popping up like daisies. It features a cast of completely complex and strong women who you just admire from the first page. The gardens are MAGICAL and, I mean, they dug a boy out of the soil. What more do you want from a book?

Honestly the writing is what absolutely captured my heart. It really hones in on the details. It’s not going to say “she grew a flower”. It will say “she grew a midnight blue rose” or similar, and it just absolutely captivated me with luscious description and carefully designed details. Everything leapt off the pages. I felt like I fell into this magical fairy tale garden of mystery and sadness and utter beauty. The style is thick and luscious. This isn’t the kind of book you skim because it’s like a very rich chocolate cake.

Actually speaking of food: the food descriptions in here are fantastic. Plus the boy they pull out of the garden sees all the women are sad so he cooks food for them. Quality lad.

It’s absolutely FULL of complex and interesting women! The Nomeolvides women all live in this garden that the can never leave (or they die; super fun times) and they grow flowers and tend it etc. etc. Most people think they are witches. 3 generations of women live in the house, 5 grandmas, 5 mothers, and 5 daughters. The 5 cousins basically function as sisters and this pleases me so so much! The girls all love pretty things and they love being feminine, whcih was so refreshing. I loved the Latina culture and how most of the characters fit onto the lgbtqia+ spectrum too.

The book is mainly from the pov of Estrella and Fel. Fel is the boy they dig out of the garden who is quiet and tragic and somewhat confused at everything. Estrella falls in love with him. They are so beautiful, both of them.

Ultimately? Wild Beauty is, in a word: GORGEOUS. It is a celebration of magic and flowers and how beautiful things can often cover up deep suffering.

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!