Review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

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The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli is so epically captivating that I’m mad at myself for not reading it sooner! It was deliciously good. It promised dragons and wicked magic and outcast princesses turned into hunters to redeem themselves. And it not only delivered, it excited me with the complex world and characters you can’t help but love despite their prickly disposition to stabbing things.

The story follows Asha, a scorned daughter of the king, turned into a dragon slayer to protect her people — since she’s the reason dragons attacked and killed so many of them so long ago. She wears the weight of her terrible sins, and does everything she can to please her father. But this also means she’s about to be married to a boy who’s grown into a cruel soldier. Her father does offer her a way out of the arrangement though: find the First Dragon, Kozu, and kill him and bring his head and heart to the king to pay the price for Asha’s wickedness. But in order to lure him out, she’ll have to tell stories. And telling stories is not only forbidden — it’s what threw Asha into this terrifying doom in the first place.

I am just so here for dragon stories. I always get worried they won’t live up to expectations, but this does so splendidly! Asha is a dragon slayer to start with, hunting dragons because they’re represent the Old Ways (which her father is outlawing) and they’re also dangerous to the people. Asha has a complicated relationship with dragons, because as a child she used to tell them stories and that’s what started this horror, when they turned and attacked her. She’s horribly scarred and wears armour made from their skin — but they used to be her friends. I loved how this was explored and the twists in the relationships. (So don’t fear! It’s not all dragon slaying. We love on some dragons too.)

The cast is quite varied, complex, and excellent. Asha is the sole narrator, but we also get very close to her brother (Dax) and her illegitimate slave cousin (Safire)…and of course met her horrible cruel hearted betrothed (Jarek). It would’ve been nice to have gotten to know Safire better, but Dax was loveable with his anxious inability to be a “proper” dark hearted dragon king. And I HATED Jarek.

And of course we can’t forget the one who steals Asha’s cold, fierce heart: Torwin. I absolutely adored their relationship. If you’re looking for an incredible slowburn romance = this is it! They’re so tentative at first, with Asha so locked in her shell of being hated and despised, that she can’t even fathom someone truly loving her. And Torwin is also a slave, forbidden to touch Asha, but he’s not scared to risk everything. They have a relationship of saving each other, seeing each other’s lives horribly risk, mending each other’s lash wounds or dragon wounds. It’s tentative and sweet, and your heart will melt with Asha’s as she realises maybe she can love. But not only that: maybe she deserves to love and be loved.

It’s easy to be captivated by the world too! It has a dust and desert vibe, with lots of lore woven through the book in the form of quick stories of their past. It made the world seem vast, to have the backstory legends too, and I loved the details in their clothing and customs. They also have stories that have power. If you tell a story, you can summon a dragon, and it’s outlawed, along with all the Old Ways. There’s a great deal of magic here, but not magical-wielding people. The plot is definitely on the slower side, and the book is hefty, but the characters are so entrancing it’s hard to look away.

This is definitely a book about defying society’s expectations. I loved that about it, because it’s such an important message! It’s fiercely about love and hate, how they can be powerful and destroy…or powerful and rebuild you. Asha is the badass and terrifying dragon queen we have all been longing to hear about.

YA November Releases To Make Your Heart Beat Faster

It’s amazing how the year can be winding down, but our TBR can be winding up. It’s probably winding up to smack us in the face, too, for all the books we’re collecting but frantically have no time to read. Yet, though. The holidays are coming! So as we amble into the last month of the year, let me hinder help you out by reminding you of these fanatic YA new releases.

It’s ok to buy yourself a Christmas present. I am just saying.


GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE by Natasha Ngan

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Oh if this isn’t one of my most highly anticipated books this year! And it’s already been met with rave reviews and hit the NYT bestseller list too! It’s the story of a girl with golden eyes who is forced to be the king’s concubine…but she’s in love with another girl. It promises love! revenge! power! And honestly we are just here for #ownvoices authors, with diverse settings and lgbtqia lead characters. This one’s already in my possession and I can’t wait to dive in!

BRIDGE OF CLAY by Markus Zusak

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It’s definitely probable that you’ve heard of The Book Thief right? Well here’s Zusak’s latest book! This time it’s about the Dunbar brothers, who are a tumbled group of tragedy and trouble. Honestly the blurb doesn’t give us too much of an idea what this book is going to present, but I am excited, because the author has such a unique and beautiful way of telling stories. They never just stay on the page. They stay with you and make you ponder for months.

 

A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA by Tahereh Mafi

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Another from a famous and incredible author (who also brought us the infamous Shatter Me series!), except this one veers away from the magical and instead tells a contemporary story of a Shirin, who is 16 and loves music and break dancing and is very much over being stereotyped and hated for being a Muslim. The story is set a year after 9/11, so you can imagine the upheaval America is still in. Shirin is the kind of person who keeps her guard up, until she meets someone called Ocean, and things begin to change. I’m super excited for this because Mafi’s prose is always gorgeously magical, and this story promises to be personal and very poignant.

BENEATH THE CITADEL by Soria Destiny

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This entire cover speaks to my soul. It’s an epic fantasy that promises prophecies and magic, rebellions and rage, impossible odds and unlikely friendships.  We get a motley cast of four (Cassa, Alys, Evander and Newt). Cassa has sorted of inherited the rebellion from her parents, and is struggling to keep it going, while their world is ruled by an infallible prophecy that Cassa and her crew have to uncover. I am so excited to start this one! It also gloriously promises a cast of diverse ethnicities with asexual and bisexual characters, and I’ve heard it called similar to Six of Crows. So hey, I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.

YA Books That Feature Brothers

There’s nothing quite like books about brothers who’ll die for each other or kill each other (depends on the day really)! And when it comes to books, I have a very soft place in my heart for stories that focus on sibling relations. Since I’ve done some some posts on YA Sister Books, it’s time to focus on the brotherly side.


INK AND BONE

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This is set an alternate reality where books are illegal and the Great Library rules everything. If knowledge is controlled, then freedom is gone, right?! It also follows a group of book lovers off to try the difficult entrance exams to work for the library…and Jess is joining in as a double-agent. His family are smugglers and although Jess kind of hates them and their cruelty, he’s loyal to his family. Also he freaking loves books. He wants to work at the library with them, even if the library is corrupt and evil. Anyway! He has a very tumultuous relationship with his twin brother Brendan, who is cunning to the core. They are the kind who will die for each other if they don’t murder each other first.

THESE GENTLE WOUNDS

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Here’s one to break your heart! This follows the story of Jordie who is slowly trying to piece his life back together after a horrific childhood that ended with him nearly dead. His anchor and soul is his half-brother Kevin and separated them would just about kill Jordie. And then his real father walks onto the scene and demands his son back. It’s the kind of story that unwinds soft characters and heartbreaking backstories along with the process of healing and learning to build yourself up as a person again. There are plenty of frustrated but loving brotherly moments and your cold dead heart will melt for this one.

 

TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE

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This is such a powerful and gutwrenching story about two brothers who don’t really get along, but they’re still family. And then Tyler goes missing. It’s a horrible moment when things aren’t quite right in your relationship with a sibling when you should be close and you don’t even know what’s driving you apart. But then they’re gone. It’s an #ownvoices and #blacklivesmatter tale too and features complex characters, soft boys, and a plot that will have you clutching the pages and whispering, “wait wait no“. Also that cover?! It is everything.

 

WHITE CAT

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If you’re looking for double-crossing, backstabby brothers with magical powers and a crime family past? Look no further! This book is literally everything you want in life. Even if you didn’t know it yet, shh. It’s narrated by Cassel who’s at boarding school trying to be “normal” but considering he has a magical crime family, his best friend who he apparently murdered when he was a child, and his mother is in jail?? He’s not doing a great job of remaking himself as a “normal” person. And he’s also about to learn a very dark family secret which is going to screw up everything. Also Holly Black’s characters are just a pure delight. I can’t even explain how much I adore this series! It is beyond perfect!

YA Little Mermaid Retellings

If there’s something that never loses its delight, it has to be retellings of old classic stories! It’s quite a YA trend too (one I’m personally very pleased with) and it’s great to see how the old fairy tales can be twisted and reimagined and fit into new settings. Today I want to list some Little Mermaid retellings! It’s a popular tale to redo but the variations are so diverse and exciting. We are living for this.


THE SURFACE BREAKS by Louise O’Neill

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I adore this author’s works for her feminist messages told with beautiful and ethereal writing. Her version of the Little Mermaid follows a more traditional route, keeping to what Hans Christian Anderson invented, but she uses it as a vehicle to talk about the patriarchy and how poisonous it can be too. It follows the story of Gaia who dreams of going to the surface like her mother did before her and finding that boy she saved. There are little differences (her name isn’t Ariel! the boy isn’t a prince!) and it is a society critique, but it’s also a tragic and heartbreaking tale. And let’s face it, that cover is divine.

 

SEA WITCH by Sarah Henning

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Instead of focusing on the “Ariel” character…let’s talk about the “Ursula” character! The SEA WITCH. This version is fascinating because it’s the “backstory” to the Little Mermaid Tale we all know and love, although it doesn’t feature dark antiheroes. It features a kingdom where a fisherman’s daughter is best friends with a prince and their relationship sis getting strained as he need to attend to princely duties and she is crushing on his princely cousin (who’s not very trustworthy) and it’s not “proper” for a prince and a peasant to be close friends anyway. But Evie’s best friend Anna drowns and then, years later, a mermaid who looks just like her appears and needs to win the prince’s heart or she’ll die forever. Evie is desperate to rescue Anna, even if it’s not her old friend, but at what cost?! The twists in this book are epic and mind blowing! Whatever you think will happen…pfft, it’s still going to surprise you.

 

TO KILL A KINGDOM by Alexandra Christo

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This is actually a very vague retelling, more focusing on sirens (who like to eat princes) and princes (who don’t like to sit on thrones but would rather be a pirate). It’s absolutely hilarious and full of quests and sailing. Lira does lose her fins like the original Little Mermaid, but for her its a punishment from her octopi-looking mother until she kills Prince Elian, a notorious siren slayer. This is a much looser retelling but that just makes it more exciting because you have no idea where it’s headed. Lira and Elian are the perfect hate-to-love romance and her viciousness with his kindness makes for such a good read! It balances dark and bloody sirens with the quips and banter of a pirate crew so well, and the pace is just perfect. It’s the kind of book you don’t want to put down and then secretly wish there was a sequel for it.

Review: Satellite by Nick Lake

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Satellite by Nick Lake reads like a quietly soft contemporary…but set in space. I just loved this combination, and how unique it felt. It’s the perfect collision of sci-fi vs contemporary with a little dystopian dashed in as well. You probably have to suspend a bit of disbelief with the technical aspects of raising a baby in 0 gravity (but hey it is in the future!) but as someone who doesn’t know a lot about space anyway, it didn’t bother me. And I was totally entranced by the characters and the conspiracy theories! It’s speculative fiction at its greatest!

The story follows Leo who was born on Moon 2, a space station that orbits the earth every ninety minutes. He’s lived up here forever with twins, Libra and Orion, and they can’t go down to earth until they’re strong enough to endure the change (considering they’ve grown up in 0 gravity all their lives). Chances of surviving the descent are actually dubious since these three teens are living what no one has ever experienced: a life where they’ve never touched earth. But getting down to earth isn’t the only struggle they’ll face, with bodies ill equipped to handle gravity, and some darker secrets about their existence that they never guessed and Leo is finding hard to face.

One things that I really enjoyed was: the unique formatting! It took a bit to get used to, but then I got into the flow and it worked. It has very few capital letters (barring names) and it reads like text-speech, so basically: “i c u spinning around in 0 g in space.” At first I was like “grit teeth and bear this” but it actually leant a very specific voice to the story and makes you feel close to the characters.

Leo is the narrator and he is the softest boy, kind of a genius, and also quiet and intense. I mean, the kid’s grown up in a space shuttle, so he’s definitely different. He’s never never felt gravity. He adores science and he wants to be an astronaut…like his mother and also grandfather. although he has a super strained relationship with his mother. She’s colder than a refrozen ice cube, while his grandfather (an ex-astronaut and now farmer) is loving and can’t wait to meet him for the first time. His relationship with the twins is super sweet too! Orion and Libra are very close and they all function basically as siblings since they’re all each other has ever known — barring the people who’ve raised them and their occasional visits from their parents. (Most people can’t live in 0 gravity for long! So their parents hardly visit.) I also loved the fact that Leo was gay and it was just there. I wish more books would include diversity like this and stop acting like straight is the default! The story actually has very little romance in it though, since Leo was…well…distracted by not dying.

The plot is rife with conspiracy theories and questions. And the chapter ends like to throw you lines like “I thought everything was going to be fine…it wasn’t.” (Paraphrased, ha.) Which is, wow, thank you for that added STRESS. It’s quite a thick book, but you really whip through it fast just to find out the whys and hows of these kids born in space. And though it reads like a contemporary, there are quite a lot of science sections which were intense but very interesting.

Overall? I really enjoyed Satellite! I’d had it on my wishlist forever so finally reading it and having it live up to expectations was amazing! It is all teens and space and conspiracy theories and broken families and lies and secrets and stress! Such an inventive, heart-wrenching, and clever story too!

Setting the Scene with Rachel Nightingale

Rachel Le Rossignol, aka Rachel Nightingale, is the debut novelist of young adult fantasy fiction series, Tales of Tarya, including the first two in the trilogy – Harlequin’s Riddle and Columbine’s Tale. She also happens to be an award-winning playwright, with a musical she wrote set for the stage next year. Rachel has a background in theatre as well, which, when you bring all these creative elements together, you have the perfect blend for a magical series underpinning the gifts of artistry and storytelling and their boundless possibilities. The Tarya Trilogy is about the power of creativity and where it can take you, exploring the states of being within two different realms of another time. Rachel states, ‘it was inspired by a quote by Broadway actor Alan Cumming about that in-between place you discover just before you step onstage and enter a different world – a place where anything is possible…’ 

Rachel is here to discuss her writing journey and the culmination of her passions for the arts and storytelling in her books. Thanks Rachel!

How did you come to be a writer?

Little eight-year-old Rachel decided for me. Sometimes I want to go back in time and talk her out of it and other times I want to pick her up, swing her round and go ‘wheeeee!’. It’s a fun job but it has its tough moments. Of course, it took many years, lots of writing, two creative writing degrees and a lot of persistence to actually get to the point of being published.

Please tell us a bit about your fascinating background in performance, and how you feel this helps with your storytelling abilities.

I did my first theatre show when I was 17. I was in the chorus of Cinderella, and I was hooked. Over the years I’ve done just about everything possible, from acting to lighting, sound, direction and stage management. It all feeds into being about to create the atmosphere and reality of theatre in my books. Working for a number of years on the improvised ‘Murder on the Puffing Billy Express’ show was really important for bringing the players to life on the page, because the Commedia dell’Arte, the travelling players I’m writing about, do improvised shows. Understanding how improv works, and what it feels like to perform something and make it up on the spot, was really important. Plus improv stretches the creativity muscles, which is really helpful.

What kinds of books do you naturally draw inspiration from? Has your series been influenced by any of these titles or their authors?

I love all sorts of books, but if I’m particularly looking for inspiration I go back to Ray Bradbury’s short stories. He is a master of language, he understands the human condition so well, and the ideas in his stories are fascinating. I dream of being able to write like him. I think the book out there that is most like mine is The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, since it’s about performers and magic, with a dash of romance, but Harlequin’s Riddle was written a long time before it was published so it wasn’t a source of inspiration.

Columbine’s Tale follows the gripping first title, Harlequin’s Riddle. What was your process in developing each title and subsequent series? Did you have your plots consciously mapped out beforehand?

The books have changed so much from my original conception, but I think by the time I’d finished Harlequin’s Riddle I was pretty clear on the overall story. After that it was just fine-tuning the details. Aside from Mina’s quest to find her brother, there’s a very strong element of mystery related to the travelling players that Mina has to solve, and to do that properly I needed to be able to put some things in the first book that would only make sense in the third book. So plotting rather than pantsing (flying by the seat of my pants) was definitely the way to go. It means readers can look for clues early on, which is something I always love in a book.

What does the artisan life, costumes and drama mean to you personally?

I would love nothing more than to have a gypsy caravan and travel around, visiting many different places and offering up my stories. I used to pretend I was a gypsy when I was a teenager to make the walk home from school more interesting. I’d picture what I was wearing, and how I would cook over an open fire when I got home. I wish I could spend all my time creating, not doing the shopping or the other mundane tasks of life.

What has your publishing experience with Odyssey Books been like for you? How have they supported you throughout the process?

It’s been a sharp learning curve – being a writer and being an author are two different things. The main difference is learning about marketing and social media. But Odyssey have been great – there are company manuals that are super-helpful for knowing how to approach that side of things. And my publisher has a brilliant strategy, which is that she puts new authors in touch with the Odyssey author community, so you suddenly have an amazingly supportive network who can help you negotiate the whole ‘being published’ thing.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

I’m pretty excited at the moment that a musical I wrote is going to be debuted in Auckland next year. It’s a re-telling of Aristophane’s classical Greek play, The Birds but with funky Spanish rhythms and a lot of comedy. Bach Musica are going to stage a concert version, with a full orchestra, soloists and forty-person choir. I will be travelling over to New Zealand to see it. I can’t wait, but I’m terrified at the same time – such a public performance of my work!

Thank you so much for your time, Rachel! It’s been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your books.

Rachel and the Tarya Tales can be found at her website, and her book blog tour is taking place here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

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Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman is the kind of apocalyptic tale that will leave your throat dry and heart beating fast. Because it’s literally about what would happen if there was NO water. And I can’t even say how very terrifying that is and how I genuinely felt so thirsty reading this book I drank about a hundred gallons of water. (Bonus points to the authors for encouraging us to stay hydrated.)

Welcome to a world in the not-so-distant future where suddenly the taps stop working. People get worried but this quickly turns to panic, because there’s no way to survive without water. The world is in severe drought and how far would you go and what would you do to get the water you need to so survive? The story starts out on a simple suburban street where Alyssa and her little brother Garret are facing the water crisis, while their neighbours are super Preppers for this kind of thing and have a fortress style kingdom with provisions intact. The neighbours teen son, Kelton, definitely has a crush on Alyssa though, and they team up when the world starts spinning down a dark path. As their parents go missing and they struggle to survive, the end up on a roadtrip and looped in with Jacqui (who’s totally terrifying and carrying a gun) and Henry (who is very snaky and will con everyone out of their wallets) and the five have to get to a safe place and get water…before it’s too late.

I was particularly excited for this book because I adore Neal Shusterman, and knowing he collabed with his son made the book even more special. Their styles worked seamlessly together, although we get the good trademarked Neal plot of: stressful circumstances and terrifying finales.

Trust me, this book is STRESSFUL. I think what makes it even more vivid is the fact that it starts off in a normal ol’ neighbourhood. You could imagine this happening to your street. And the world so quickly dissolves into chaos in the face of having no water. You can only go 3 days without it, after all, and what do you do when there’s literally none to be had? Weapons come out. Friendships are lost. New bonds are forged.

The plot takes us on a whirlwind roadtrip too, as the teens try to reach Kelton’s family’s safehouse. Which, unfortunately, is no amble down the road. So you know they’re in for a rough time! I loved how the plot never lagged and gave us a ton of new situations and interesting people to meet along the way — all dogged by the ticking time-bomb of get water get water get water.

The amount of characters narrating took me by surprise at first, but I appreciate how this showed the entire scope of how the country was suffering. There’s lots of excerpts from strangers while the main chapters are mostly split between Kelton and Alyssa, but gradually adding in Jacqui and Henry.

Alyssa was a really honest and brave sort of person, very dedicated to keeping her little brother safe, but also keen to keep things fair and help others. Kelton was such a dork and doing his best to have some real friends for the first time. His family is obsessed with the apocalypse so he’s kind of the Survival Guy and saves their lives time and again with his knowledge. Jacqui is terrifying, aka the best thing ever, because she yells at things and has a gun and has been living on her own well before this tragedy started. Henry is who they pick up towards the end, and he’s a sly snake who is using the crisis as a way to gain money. His introduction to the group made everything so fraught with tension that it was epic to read!

I definitely recommend DRY if you want to (a) be really really thirsty while you read, and (b) read a knuckle-whitening social commentary on climate change and humans turning into monsters. It is actually super stressful! (In the best way!) And totally captivating!

YA Books About Shy Introverts!

If you’re a bookworm, there is a very very high chance you also are an introvert. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it seems to be common, right?! And while introvert means being around people drain you, not that you’re always shy, today’s collecting of books are going to focus on the shy introvert types! The awkwardly awesome and quiet world-changers (who also just want a nap).

 


FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

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Probably the most commonly recommended book for the shy introvert types! Cath is incredibly reserved and would much rather write fanfic and hide from humanity #relatable.

The story follows her starting college, her sister ditching her, and the terrifying yet tentative forming of new friendships that might just change everything…although she keeps her reserved personality and this I love!

 

WHAT IF IT’S US by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

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One of the newest famous books to hit the YA shelves (it’s also a bestseller now!) this is the super cute story of two boys falling in love in New York.

While Arthur is like an Extrovert Spectacular, let’s take a moment to appreciate Ben: whose idea of a good time is playing Sims and working on his epic fantasy self-insert novel. He has plenty of friends and doesn’t mind going out for a good time, but he is the softest quietest thing and so relatable!

 

LAMENT by Maggie Stiefvater

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While this is quite an old one, it is still most glorious and features faeries! Murder! Disaster! Music! And delightful teen angst as a musical prodigy, Dee, realises the faeries have their hearts set on her…partially because she’s an incredible alluring musician, and also because maaaybe she might threaten the Queen’s place someday. But her assassin falls in love with her. (As you do.) And Dee is a very very quiet person who has terrible performance anxiety and needs SO much recharge time after nearly being murdered by supernatural assassins. (As you do.)

 

BLACK BIRD OF THE GALLOWS by Meg Kassel

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Another tale that is rife with the paranormal: This time featuring Angie Dovage who’s just trying to live a lowkey life after her mother died of an overdose and she’s living with her estranged father. She’s very quiet and reserved at school, but her secret? She’s a very popular and anonymous DJ after hours. This is quite enough on its own, buuuut add in a town where harbingers arrive foretelling death and a supernatural beekeeper turns up to sow madness and discord, and you have an introvert who is in a bit of a panic.

 

THE DANGEROUS ART OF BLENDING IN by Angelo Surmelis

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And lastly a moment for Evan Panos, who is here to break your heart as he’s caught in a horrible environment where his strict Greek mother thinks he’s evil…and he has to do everything he can to hide that he’s gay. He’s an artist and loves being lost in his own mind and imagination as an escape. But sometimes that’s not enough when your own family threatens to tear you apart. There is a way out though, and this story will just totally make your heart beat with hope as well as sadness!

 

Review: The Lady’s Guide To Petticoats And Piracy by Mackenzie Lee

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The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzie Lee contains such a delightful mixture of feminist rage and pastry appreciation. It’s the compantion novel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (which has to be one of my all time favourite books!) and I’m so glad we get a spin-off focused entirely on Monty’s little sister: Felicity Montague. She is a ferocious and determined want-to-be-doctor and will knock down the doors of the men-centric 1700s to get the chance to study medicine. It features fantastic female friendships, a wild and scattered romp over land and sea, and a good deal of pirates. As one should hope.

The story takes off with Felicity awkwardly bolting from a marriage proposal because what she wants to do is study medicine. She’s so beaten down trying to convince hospitals to train her, though, so when she gets the opportunity to meet her very favourite doctor hero, Alexander Platt, she snatches the opportunity and travels across Europe to hopefully be hired after his wedding. But it just so happens that he’s marrying her old childhood friend, Joanna…and this creates some awkwardness because they had a massive falling out years ago. But Felicity is so desperate for this dream that she teams up with a slightly sketchy girl named Sim (who possibly is a thief?! who can know) and as things turn out to be not what she expected, she gets tossed into a whirlwind journey and adventure of pirates and dragons, heroes and villains, naturalists and famous doctors, thievery and saving.

My very favourite thing was our trio of fantastic leading women. Felicity is all ornery and focused: get to be a doctor. She literally cares about nothing else, and her drive is admirable as well as sad sometimes, because she misses out on a lot of things. Like friendships. Then we have Sim! She’s Muslim and brown skinned and Felicity isn’t quite sure if she’s a thief or not, but the two get bundled together to go on this adventure to find Alexander Platt…which is where Joanna Hoffman comes in! She’s loves parties and lace and frills…and she’s also a naturalist. The dynamics of the trio were thrilling and diverse and complex. Every character felt so incredibly well written, I loved every second getting to know them.

I also liked how it tackled the you’re not like the other girls” trope. Felicity herself was the one perpetuating it, and seeing her called out on it and forced to think about why she scorned women who liked feminine things was so refreshing to read. Felicity thinks being sensible and intelligent means being as far from “girly” as possible and this so isn’t true. I love how she grew and her character arc was amazing.

It has a very travel-centric plot! They romp over a lot of Europe and then end up on the high seas (ooh pirates!). It also focuses a bit on naturalists too…and mapping and exploring. I so could handle a book from Mackenzie Lee about women explorers in history too!

The feministic rants were very therapeutic to read. At times it did feel a bit repetitious and I wanted Felicity to think and feel about more than her single-minded focus to be trained as a doctor and how the arrogant men of the world were blocking her way. It consumed her, which made sense, but it also veered into preachy territory sometimes. But these things were so so topical to talk about, especially today, when women still face horrible sexism as they try to forge new paths and fight for the right to be held equal to men.

Also all the scenes where Monty and Percy came in were perfection. This is the part where we get to crack up and fall into the old banter of Monty and Felicity who love each other…aaand fight all the time.  It was also amazing to have a bit of a “what’s happening to them now” peek at Monty and Percy’s lives. Also their conclusion? So so good.

In fact the book, on the whole, had just such a stunningly winning ending, that I feel very warm and satisfied! Which is a perfect way to finish off reading a fantastic duology about the Montague siblings. The friendships and discussions on being asexual and the pirate adventures and cleverness and huger to learn all made this book an exceptional treat to read.

YA Thrillers: ‘Found’ & ‘After the Lights Go Out’

Fleur Ferris has endorsed Lili Wilkinson’s latest novel After the Lights Go Out (Allen & Unwin) with the words, “A terrifying yet hope-filled story of disaster, deceit, love, sacrifice and survival.” These words could also apply to her new book Found (Penguin Random House Australia). Both Australian YA novels have intriguing titles and are classy examples of thrillers set outside country towns in hidden bunkers. They complement, and could be read alongside, each other.

After the Lights Go Out begins with an absolutely riveting scene where homeschooled Pru and her younger twin sisters Grace and Blythe have to escape from their house on an isolated property on the edge of the desert to a hidden underground bunker. Their father, a mining engineer, built it in secret and named it the Paddock after Winston Churchill’s WWII bunker. We learn quickly that he is paranoid, anticipates secret government conspiracies and that he is a doomsday prepper. This is a training drill.

Later, when the lights go out, the girls know that this is The Big One and they execute their exhaustive training and protocols such as Eat perishables and Exchange worthless currency for supplies. Tension ratchets because Pru is anaphylactic, there has been an explosion at the zinc mine and her father is missing, and the girls aren’t sure whether they should share their supplies with the townspeople of Jubilee.

Bear, Elizabeth’s father in Found is also highly protective and intimidating. He wouldn’t be happy about her kiss with Jonah but he doesn’t witness it – he’s been taken by unknown people in a white van. When her mother realises what has happened she whisks Beth out of town and through a cross-country route along channels across the paddocks to a bunker under a dry dam on their farm. This bunker is made from shipping containers and is as well-equipped as Pru’s. Their flight is also just as original and exciting.

The reason for Beth’s family’s dangerous plight is quickly revealed and the story then steams ahead with help from Jonah (who shares the narration) and Trent, a bad boy who may be trying to reform. The stakes are raised even higher when Beth’s mother is shot.

Both Fleur and Lili describe their very Australian rural settings with authenticity and care. Lili’s diverse characters range from a British Asian church minister to warm-skinned love interest Mateo who has two mums. Found is action-packed and heartbreaking and will be relished by all high school readers who love a fast-paced, filmic read.

Other highly recommended books by these authors include:

Fleur Ferris Risk, Black, Wreck

Lili Wilkinson Green Valentine, The Boundless Sublime, A Pocketful of Eyes

World Mental Health Day | YA Book Book Recs

With World Mental Health Day having come and gone on the 10th of October, I thought this would make a great opportunity to give some mental health YA reading recommendations! Books are both excellent sources of knowledge and can help you be more empathetic to circumstances you might not be familiar with. If there are two things we all need, they are definitely empathy and knowledge.


TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green — featuring OCD and anxiety

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Of course John Green is an extremely common YA name and well deserved! His latest book features Aza Holmes, who struggles with severe OCD (although it’s not labelled on the page, but John Green has confirmed he based Aza’s experiences off his own OCD journey). It’s so incredibly and poignantly well written, and of course features a dash of Green-esque humour and heartbreak.

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS by Julia Walton — featuring schizophrenia

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This is a journal from the view of Adam as he starts a trial of new medication to manage his schizophrenia and not only is it absolutely well written, you can’t help but be so caught up in Adam’s world as he fights to have a life he’s proud of and also not be terrified of his own illness. It also features a delicious amount of baking.

STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman — featuring social anxiety

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Hands down, this is one of the best social anxiety books I’ve read! Anxiety is such a complex beast and it’s amazing to find a book that both captures this and also tells a heartwrenching tale of a biracial girl with an abusive mother. Kiko will absolutely break your heart (and mend it a little) as she uses art to escape her terrible home life.

THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzie Lee — featuring depression and PTSD

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This is a historical fiction romp and a half! It is downright hysterically hilarious and you will fall in love with Monty as he tours the continent in the 1700s and breaks his heart over loving a boy his forbidden to have. The themes of depression and PTSD are so well woven through the tale it will do it’s best to reduce you to tears on several occasions. One of my all time favourite books!

THE WICKER KING by K. Ancrum — featuring depression and hallucination disorder

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Ohh if this isn’t a stunningly told story that uses mixed-media to completely captivate your imagination. It’s the story of two boys whose lives are intricately woven together in a co-dependant relationship that is part friendship, part love, as they fall deeper into the dark spirals of a hallucination disorder. Jack is losing himself and August will do anything to hide it so no one takes Jack away.

ANGER IS A GIFT by Mark Oshiro — featuring anxiety

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Just in case you wanted to have your heart punched out of your chest…definitely try this one! It’s a story of a boy with intense anxiety (so well written) who is also battling to be heard in a world that wants him silent…or not existing at all. It’s such a powerful #BlackLivesMatter story from an #ownvoices author and gives a detailed look into what black kids go through in schools who’ve decided they’ll never achieve anything. Perfect book is utterly perfect.

YA Books About Magical Creatures

One thing we bookworms get quite enthusiastic about when it comes to fantasy stories must definitely be: magical creatures. Oh we have our cats in real life, but what could be better than a little pocket dragon or a suitcase full of weird and wonderful monsters? (Looking at you, Newt, from Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find them.)

So! If you are secretly mourning the lack of magical creatures in your life, do allow me to show you a list of books where you can vicariously live your dreams of having a pet who is possibly a shapeshifting kraken. Obviously what everyone wants.


GRIM LOVELIES by Megan Shepherd

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Not only is this a brand new shiny release…it features beasts turned human! You know the old Disney stories where the fairy godmother turns the mice into coachmen? Here we have it! Except the witches are evil and the beasties are her slaves and very very desperate not to turn back into their animals skins. It’s also set in Paris and features Anouk, a demure and quiet servant for her witch overlord…until the witch is murdered and suddenly she has 3 days to figure out how not to turn back into an animal.

 

SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater

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Might as well thrown in a good oldie too…because werewolves are kind of adorable. Once you look past the part where they might eat you. but if you want a story about THE most sweet and soft werewolves in existence, please meet Grace and Sam. Grace is obsessed with the wolves that live in the woods and then she discovers one is a golden-eyed boy in the summer time. Come winter? He goes back into his wolf skin, but it’s getting hard and harder for him to shift. It is the worst luck that they just met when Sam is running out of time — and their sweet desperate romance drives them to look for a cure. Seriously, you have never read about a wolf who is sweeter than Sam Roth (he folds origami, I mean).

 

TEETH by Hannah Moskowitz

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This is set on a rainy miserable island where Rudy is trapped while his family try to get his little brother cured with the apparently “magical healing fish”. It appears to be doing zlich and Rudy is miserable and lonely…until he meets a boy in the water who is absolutely not just human. He appears to be part fish himself. He’s a tortured and nasty little biting thing, but Rudy can’t help being drawn to him. At night he listens to the fish boy’s screams. In the morning? He plans how to save him. All I’m saying is that if you can’t fall in love with a werewolf, the next option is a cute fish.

 

TESS OF THE ROAD by Rachael Hartman

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Look now we get to the real winner of the day: DRAGONS. If you’re going to take a fantasy roadtrip, you’re doing it wrong if you don’t bring your pet dragon. (Although if you want to be technical, this book features a quigutl, which is a sub-species of dragon and rather small and prone to too many opinions. However it is the best dragon companion. And Tess is a character you so easily feel for, after she escapes an abusive and oppressive life and dresses as a boy and heads off to find her fate on her own. It also deals with the oppression of women and the everyday abuse they suffer making it a very topical book, even with a setting of shapeshifting dragons and swords and very sharp cheese.

Review: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

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The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tcholke is an exquisitely atmospheric fantasy tale that’s part Beowulf and part witchy glory. It’s the kind of book that you soak in because the world is so large and sprawls well beyond the page. Everything seemed so carefully crafted, from the delicious food descriptions to the scenery and the culture. It’s about girls who kill out of mercy, and sometimes out of vengeance, and it’s about monsters and witches and gentle magic and saving those who can’t save themselves.

I’d only read Wink Poppy Midnight by this author before (which is a treacherous and enthralling magical realism story) and I was so excited to see what she’d do with epic fantasy!

The story follows four girls who are known as Boneless Mercies: Frey, Ovie, Juniper and Runa. Their trade is death: they do mercy killings for those who are dying or sick, and sometimes they kill to save a vulnerable girl trapped in an abusive situation. But that’s rarer. The girls stick to their code and care their dark, dark burden that men won’t even touch. Frey narrates and as the story begins she’s so tired of this life, of being surrounded and permeated with death. So when there’s news of a monster that no one can kill and whoever conquers it will receive an immeasurable reward? She wants in. But she’ll have to travel through witch clans and dark magic to get there…and she’ll have to convince her close Mercies friends to help her. Because she can’t do it alone. Or will she have to?

The setting is very Norse-inspired and I loved this! There are jarls and snowy viking villages, all mixed with the magic of this new created world. We have witch clans and cut-queens and marshes and far off seas. I could feel the snow and the chill seeping from the pages. It’s easy to get absorbed in the setting, harsh and beautiful as it was.

The concept of Mercy Killers was so interesting too. They literally get hired to do this by people who just can’t keep going on. It’s really sad and very dark, and they often cut throats too, so it’s bloody and messy work. But the girls don’t revel in it. And they might be good at it, but they want another life too. Frey in particularly hates the idea of her life not being big enough.

We also get to meet this tight-knit group of five and travel the snowy worlds iwth them. I usually get a bit nervous by big casts and it took them a while to feel fully like individuals, but I loved them all by the end! Frey is our narrator, and a total selfless girl who wants to save all the things and wants to leap into danger. Then there’s Runa, who’s the feisty snarly one, and dreams of running through the forests with the Quicks (who felt like Robin Hood’s merry men!). Ovie is the solid and quiet one, the backbone of the group. Juniper is the actual sweetest of ever. She’s small and does the prayers and cares for the earth and is also a witch. And lastly we have the groups tagalong: Trigve. He’s the sole boy, who they basically scooped off the side of the road before he died. He follows them around loyally although he can never truly be one of them.

The story feels like a peek through a window into a world you only catch the corners of! It makes you desperate for more books, more sequels, to follow what happens next. And I love it when worlds do that. It also weaves in plenty of very apt storylines about women being dismissed and oppressed and how they’re not going to sit back and take it. It’s an empowering story about girls who save people that don’t even trust them. The Boneless Mercies is a heartfelt and strong and deeply magical tale.

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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It’s hard to find the words to describe how exquisitely special and gorgeous Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor truly is. It’s so so well written that a mere review doesn’t seem even nearly able to capture the pure beauty of this tale! The marvellously detailed storytelling and the incredible world building will totally entrance you. It’s all gods and monsters and librarians and the most lush and gorgeous dreamscapes. I got to this point reading it and was just like “I never want this book to end thanks.”

The story begins by following Lazlo Strange, a foundling from an orphanage with no name and no future…until he finds himself working for an incredible library and falling in love with the mystical legends of a lost city named: Weep. Lazlo’s life is dedicated to serving, but also to uncovering the mysteries of this city. And when strangers cross the desert to bring news of not only the city’s true existence, but of a magical problem they need solving to save them — Lazlo would do anything to be picked for the journey. But the “problem” is like nothing he could’ve imagined. It turns out the legends of the gods and monsters aren’t fairy tales. They’re real and, even though they’re slain now, they’ve left behind the terror of their past-reign and something unforgivable: their blue skinned children with powers that could ruin the world. Or save it.

Lazlo is such a sweet and pure narrator that you can’t help but love him from page one. I love how his nose got broken by a fairy tale book and that he’ll walk into a wall because he’s reading so much and how his whole life is about fantastical lost cities and how he dreams the most beautiful and gorgeous dreams the world has ever known. He is the perfect embodiment of a bookworm! The world doesn’t deserve the wholesome preciousness of Lazlo Strange.

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It’s also dual-narrated by Sarai, a blue-skinned goddess from the fallen tyrantical gods who used to rule Weep. She’s hiding from the world that wants her dead because of her horrifically cruel goddess mother. But she is so sweet and pure too. I just want to give her a cake. She hasn’t had a cake in years and wow, after all she’s been through? She deserves that. She’s also surrounded by 4 other godspawn: Feral, Ruby, Sparrow, and the vicious Minya. They’re so amazing and I loved them all, even Minya who is permanently trapped as a 6 year old and so caught up on wanting vengeance for the massacres that she’s bitter and cruel.  But all she wants is to protect her family!

What really caught me is the writing. The flowery prose is absolutely breathtaking. It swallows you and totally tosses you into the story so all you know is Weep and magic and fairytales and impossible dreams. I just couldn’t stop thinking “I want to live in this book.” Every word was so perfectly chosen that I was devoured by the story. I’ve never seen a city so clearly as I see Weep.

This is all about magic and gods and monsters which is utterly my kind of story. Also there is: death and destruction and psychotic little girls who catch ghosts and legends inside legends and great monsters and beasts and cruel pasts and terrified warriors and god slayers and quiet librarian boys and falling girls with flowers in their hair and blue skin and despair.

It’s truly the kind of story that you don’t just read, but you fully experience. I want to read more books with sweet boys and nightmare girls. This is the story tha twill melt your soul with the most fantastically marvellous writing in the world. Strange the Dreamer is a book that inspires you to dream.

Review: Blackbird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel

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Blackbird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel is a riveting and entrancing story about harbingers, beekeepers, DJing and the kind of romance that’s forbidden because one half might possibly be a mystical monster. This was just addictive, entrancing, and utterly beautifully written, which is all I ask for in a book! The characters manage to win your heart while the folklore of these shapeshifting crow harbingers is as fascinating as it is different. Move over typical paranormal vampires and werewolves…we gotcha death predictors and your heroines who are very anxious and also into EDM.

Angie Dovage is a pretty anxious and quiet kind of girl, just getting through highschool and keeping to herself since her mother died…except her new neighbours might also be harbingers of death who appear just before a monumental tragedy is about to occur in a town. This is bad news because: hello, catastrophe. But also Angie is developing feelings for Reece, who not only won’t be staying after the catastrophe, but who is definitely part monster. And as much as he tries not to be drawn to her…it doesn’t work. But he’s surrounded by chaos, including beekeepers who bring havoc with a single sting and could destroy Angie and her friends’ lives, and not to mention whatever is brewing is going to take out a lot of people. But who’s going to listen to Angie when she tries to warn them? And trusting Reece might be the best thing she can do or the absolute worst and she could doom them all.

I was instantly swept into this world of harbingers in a modern highschool setting. Of course it has a ton of the old paranormal tropes: hot mystery guy arrives in town, has a bit of a weird family, is probably immortal, shapeshifts into something feathery, has otherworldly eyes…etc. etc. But this just took them all from a new angle. Reece was respectful and kind of adorable and he feels the burden of his curse. He’s always tired, always carrying the weight of what horrors he’s seen. His harbinger family is dogged by beekeepers who quite literally sew madness and it’s so hard for him to meet people and not have them end up dead. Reece managed to be a sweetie and mysterious which was a combination I quite enjoyed. Not to mention say goodbye to any whingey paperdoll heroines. We have one who’s not only distrustful of random guys, but totally her own unique person.

Hello Angie Dovage! She was so relatable and just the kind of character you can enjoy spending a few hundred pages with. She doesn’t immediately fall into instalust with Reece (although she knows he’s hot; ok she ain’t blind) and she keeps her friends close. I love her epic friendships and how they were totally involved in the plot! Also Angie is a secret DJ and revels in her “other life” where people respect her and her music, while at school she’s the shy and quiet overlooked girl with a dubious past (her mother is dead but also was an addict) and pretty average in most opinions. Also Angie’s relationship with her dad?! SO nice! It’s great to see really wholesome and loving parent-kid relationships in YA and we sorely need more.

Also having the book feature harbingers and murders of crows was not only new to me, it was really interesting! I loved the lore and backstory of Reece’s family and got totally lost in this reshaped myth. The harbingers are immortal beings who turn into crows and follow around death and destruction. They arrive in town —> a tragedy goes down —> they feed off the energy. It’s a curse though and they hate it.

The book also features plenty of tragedy and catastrophe, grief and loss. It has so much heart with dealing with these topics and also paints its “villains” as more morally grey people. Sometimes they’re just propelled by their curse, other times it’s a choice to choose right vs wrong.

Should you read Blackbird of the Gallows?! ABSOLUTELY. Even if you’re tired of paranormal, this one will freshen up your world. And the heartfelt messages and relatable characters made it such a winning story. Not to mention that sidedish of utter death and destruction. What can I say?! This book has it all.

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

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Release by Patrick Ness is a masterpiece and also a gut-wrenching tale that spreads over just one day. It only takes one day to change your life that’s for sure: for the reader and for our protagonist, Adam Thorn. I’m such a fan of Patrick Ness’ works…everything from The Knife Of Never Letting Go, to The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, and his latest book And The Ocean Was Our Sky. His books are always diverse and so unique and varied. Although I have such a soft spot for Release as it has more of a contemporary setting, which is my favourite!

The story is about Adam Thorn’s single Saturday in summer…and how his world just starts crumbling with one massive piece of life changing news after the next. He’s tired of living in this tiny town with an overbearing preacher father, of hiding the fact that he’s gay (this would not be accepted in his house) to the going-away party tonight for his ex-boyfriend (who horribly broken his heart). Everything awful seems to happen in the middle until Adam has no idea where to turn, what he believes, and if he can ever truly be worthy of being loved.

The writing and storyline are truly addictive. And since it’s set over such a short period of time (plus it’s under 300 pages) you kind of just want to keep reading! The characters leapt off the page and I felt for Adam so much.

I was a little confused with the magical realism aspect. There’s a girl who was murdered and her storyline is just a few paragraphs between Adam’s chapters — and it all ties together at the end, but I was never quite sure what was going on for hers. There are fauns and wildness and ghosts in those segments. Definitely didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story though.

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Adam is TRULY having the worst day. This poor guy. He needs to just go to bed (human version of “let’s just turn it off and then on again”) and start over.

Adam is very lost and he feels like he isn’t loved. Worse: he feels like he doesn’t deserve to be loved. Your heart will definitely break for him. And, no, he doesn’t have the worst life ever, but his religious family won’t truly accept him and they believe he’s inherently sinning from just existing. It’s exhausting trying to please them and also being himself. Add onto that heartbreak with the boy, Enzo, who he always loved the most, Adam is just cracking around the edges even though he keeps trying to deal with it alone.

It does explore religion a bit, and it goes from the angle of how oftentimes the church can be exclusive and hypocritical. I read an author’s note that says he based this story off his own life and strict religious family upbringing while also being gay. You can feel the authenticity of Adam’s emotions because of this.

There’s also an epic friendship between Adam and Angela! And a really adorable newly blossoming romance between Adam and his new boyfriend, Linus. I like how it developed the secondary characters and really truly left us with the message of: you can choose your own family too.

Release is one to make you think and also draw you in with its amazing writing. It’s a raw book and full of vulnerable moments, of relationships breaking and also mending and building. With a message of “yes you deserved to be loved” this book will catch your heart.

Review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

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I had a suspicion I’d love Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry before I even started and…I was not wrong. It’s such an excellent story, equal parts funny and heartwarming and also a deep exploration of a lot of the double-standards of religious schools. It also features enough gruesome facts about Catholic Saints to remind me of my childhood days reading all the Horrible History books. Good times. What a throwback

The story starts with Michael, a definite atheist, being sent to a Catholic school and woah does he think he’s in for a terrible time. He’s already mad at his parents for constantly moving (his dad keeps taking work promotions and is never home anyway) and Michael is sick of trying to make new friends and go to new schools. A devout Catholic school might be the worst yet…until he meets Lucy, the girl who wants to be a priest, and her tight-knit friend group of religious misfits like Avi who is Jewish and gay and Eden, a Wiccan. Turns out they run a secret club called Heretics Anonymous where they mostly complain about the injustices of the school, the ridiculous uniform regulations, the unfair sexism, and how acceptance should be spread more freely. But what if they didn’t just complain? What if they acted subtly and anonymously on their outrage? It starts small but the Heretics Anonymous club is here to shake up the school. Unless they take it too far…

The book is definitely heavily religious. It’s set in a Catholic school and talks a lot about what Catholics believe, but I didn’t feel it ever went preachy or dry. The book isn’t trying to convert anyone to anything (not Catholicism or atheistic beliefs). It’s simply showing a vast variety of beliefs and calling for acceptance. I liked how this one pointed out hypocrisy within the church rules, but it never condemned or showed any side as being “in the wrong”. The balance was great. I loved all these perspectives.

The characters were a definite highlight too! Even though I picked up the book because the plot sounded good, it was the characters that totally won my heart over. Michael is an easily relatable and wining character. He makes several very bad decisions, but you still understand where he’s coming from. His dad is overly hard and dismissive to him, Michael’s sick of being lonely, and being uprooted and taken all over the country isn’t easy on anyone.

The secondary characters all felt dynamic and complex within just a few chapters! I adored getting to know Lucy, Avi, Eden and Max. The diversity levels were on point and so respectfully done with Lucy being Colombian, Avi being Jewish, and I suspect Max may have been autistic although it’s not stated on the page. Lucy is such an intense Catholic, but not blind to their failings, and it really pains her that she can never really help her church because she’s not allowed to as a girl. Her relationship with Michael is definitely slowburn and adorable. And the friend-group’s banter and loyalty (and also betrayals) were so addictive to read!

It does get intense when it goes into talking about theology a few times, and we get loaded up on religious facts. But I felt I also learned a lot about what people believe.

Overall? Heretics Anonymous excellent story you don’t want to miss out on. It’s full of funny and endearing characters, lines that had me snorting, and a super cute romance that didn’t take over the plot. All the hot-headed moments that ended in dubious decisions had me unable to put the book down, desperate to know what would happen. For like, um, 2hrs. You just have to keep reading!

Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

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SADIE by Courtney Summers is a book that will leave you feeling utterly shaken. It’s intense and really dark and the ending kind of had me like, “mY KINDLE IS BROKEN I NEED ANOTHER CHAPTER.” Which I both love and hate. (Curse you, book.) Seriously though, it’s the kind of book you end up forgetting how to breathe while you read it and it is so so well written.

It feels weird saying “I enjoyed this!” because it’s NOT an enjoyable story. It’s raw and emotional and shows such a darkly vicious side of the world. It’s addictive because you want to unravel this mystery of a missing girl and her murdered sister, but you also, as you keep reading, get this absolute sick feeling about what’s really going on.

I do believe it’s best to go in knowing only a little about it! It’s a mystery and like those are best served without too many details up front. But basically it’s half told as a podcast series by a middle-age man — and also half told in a really raw and aching 1st person narrative by Sadie herself. You get to see this podcaster unravelling the mystery of who Sadie talked to as she went searching for this man named “Darren”. And you get to flip over and see Sadie following her journey towards to take down darkness with a switchblade.

It is a really heavy story (upper YA for sure) and reminded me of Girl in Pieces too. Also it’s very much about being poor, about people risking everything, about this intensely tight love for your sister, about neglect and abuse and trauma. It’s a really important story too. You wish it was fiction, but it’s a story you could also hear on the news. Missing girls and murdered girls and someone who isn’t willing to let it just lie at that.

Sadie was an exceptional heroine, who was hard and sharp around the edges, but also makes you absolutely feel for her and root for her immediately. You don’t know right up front why she’s hunting Darren. She buys a car and goes on this long trail of following up leads and talking to people, all to find this man who used to be her mum’s boyfriend. Sadie is also so so deeply loyal and loving to her little sister, Mattie. She basically raises her and even though Mattie sees Sadie as an annoying overbearing “parent figure”…I LOVE that Sadie never once gave up on her and just kept loving her. The story starts with Mattie’s murder and we see how deeply it’s unravelled Sadie. It’s heartbreaking. She’s a character who’s well crafted and super complex and she draws you into the story instantly with her incredible voice.

Basically? READ THIS. I still feel thrown by all the things Sadie uncovered on her dark and lonely roadtrip to find justice for her little sister. This book is intense and heartbreaking and leaves you with so many furiously buzzing questions at the end. It’s a story you’re not going to stop thinking about for a while.

Review: The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X. R. Pan

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The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X. R. Pan is an emotional and gorgeously written story of grief and healing. I’m still reeling at just how beautiful the writing was! It’s a visual feast and it uses colours to complete paint the story and world around you. It’s also really important to have narratives like this from authors who’ve put part of their own journeys onto the page. This book is a privilege to read as we get to see the life of a biracial Taiwanese girl who is discovering who she is, what she needs, and how to heal in the wake of her mother’s suicide.

Leigh is sixteen when she discovers her mother’s suicide and her life is completely dismantled. She feels lost and alone and with no way to process this…and then she starts seeing a red bird that’s leaving her messages and nudges: go find your estranged Taiwanese grandparents. Leigh believes the bird is her mum and she has to go find answers. Like why her mum cut ties with her grandparents in the first place.

Leigh is an artist so the story is told with vivid and colourful descriptions. It’s like you’re reading a painting at times. The writing draws you in immediately and you just have to savour it too. I’d definitely pick up more by this author in an instant just on the strength of her prose!

The story is also told with plenty of flash backs to Leigh’s childhood. Including her best friend (and boy she has a total crush on) Axel. He was super sweet and watching them grow up together and then clash was heartbreaking and also buoying as the story progressed.

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It’s also very much about being biracial, connecting with your roots, and discussing mental illness. Emotion bleeds on every page and after reading the author’s note and knowing she wrote this to process a suicide within her relations? I’m so thankful she shared this story. It is SO SAD. It also doesn’t demonise or romanticise mental illness, but chooses to discuss it bluntly but with hope too. It is obviously a very dark portrayal and Leigh blames her mother, not the illness, a bit. But overall it talks about how mental illness isn’t a choice and it deserves to be recognised and treated seriously.

I also appreciated that the story was about healing too. For Leigh and her father, but also for her grandparents and even Axel. It will probably make you cry, but it will also give you light.

It’s partially set in Taiwan too, and the descriptions are vivid and gorgeous, so it’s like getting to travel just by reading! There’s the hint of magical realism with Leigh being convinced her mother has changed into a bird, but has she really? I love how the book doesn’t really say.

I definitely recommend THE ASTONISHING COLOUR OF AFTER and will rave forever about how beautiful and important the story is. It’s emotional and poignant and deserves all the hype.

Review: White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

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White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig was such an intensely stressful story that I felt myself tensing up while reading! Which is exactly what I want from a YA thriller, ok?! It scores all the points. It’s a twisty story of complicated families, messy broken hearts, drug gangs, arson, and (of course) murder. It’s definitely one you need to carve out a block of time to just go ahead and read and read because it’s fast paced and every time you think there’s an answer? BOOM. It takes you on another twist.

The story follows Rufus Holt who receives a strange call for help from his half-sister. He goes, wary of a prank…but instead he finds his sister drugged, covered in blood, holding a knife, and next to her is her murdered boyfriend. So that’s not how Rufus thought his night would go. Between panicking and soliciting begrudging help from his ex-boyfriend (who absolutely broke his heart) he gets pulled into trying to solve the mystery. His sister swears she didn’t do it, but the evidence is grim. They know they can’t put off calling the cops forever, but they have one night and 6 suspects and surely they can piece together this mess. Except it’s complicated by hallucinogenic drugs (called White Rabbits) and kids with guns and no one is telling the full truth….and Sebastian, Rufus’ ex, needs to tell him something important. This night couldn’t get any more intense.

The whole story is set over just ONE NIGHT. Which makes it absolutely super intense and face-paced! There was such a lot to pack in but I thought the pacing caught it all perfectly. And we get to learn so so much about Rufus, our narrator, and his ex-boyfriend Sebastian even in such a short time period. I was very impressed! The secondary-characters are a little more hazy but that’s to be expected, and I think we were left purposefully with gaps to fill in their character sand personalities so we wouldn’t solve the mystery too fast!

Rufus Holt was a complex and heartbroken angry boy. He’s unintentionally good at puzzles, which is why his half-sister begs for his help. But he has a bad record himself, and he’s super scared of getting mixed up in this grisly scene full of drugs, lies and murder. He also has an anger disorder which he takes medication and has therapy for, and I thought it was great the book discussed this! Anger, for some people, can be inevitable, but it’s never and excuse or something that can’t be dealt with. It’s such a good contrast with how Rufus manages his anger issues vs how so many of the other “rich spoiled brat” teens in the book display theirs with super unhealthy behaviours. And look where it’s got them.

Of course, Rufus is also dealing with heartbreak from his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian. They both end up trying to solve this mystery together but Rufus is convinced he will NEVER forgive Sebastian. But maybe there’s more to what happened between them than Rufus is willing to admit? I loved how they unpacked so many heartfelt moments and I honestly was torn between being furious at Sebastian and feeling really really bad for him. He and Rufus had a lot of chemistry, anger, hurt, and intense feelings still. It showed so so well.

White Rabbit is a murder mystery of lies, passion and shames. And it keeps you glued to the page and guessing the WHOLE way through. I devoured it in just one day and couldn’t stop till I had answers. I also am a fan of the author’s debut, Last Seen Leaving, so be sure to check that out too!

YA Books That Feature Birds And Feathers On The Covers

It’s time for another round of delightfully admitting that we secretly love to analyse covers. And why not talk about our feathery adorations this time? Birds are both symbolic and also often a huge part of YA novels and I find they feature on the covers quite a lot! Ravens and crows usually do represent dark omens, while soft feathers often signify a story of heartbreak and sorrow. Not to mention that covers with birds on them are usually just do well designed, we can’t help but fall in love and “accidentally” “read” “and buy” “all of them”. Whoops.

You can also catch my other posts in his series: Covers Featuring Crowns and Covers Featuring Swords!


THE RAVEN BOYS BY MAGGIE STIEFVATER

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Possibly the most famous YA book centring around birds?! And definitely well deserved. This has got to be one of my all-time favourite books and features a motley friendship squad of rich boarding-school boys out to find a missing dead Welsh King and collect a wish…and a sense of purpose. They collide with Blue, the psychic’s daughter, who is tragically unmagical herself but she’s been lumped with a pretty heavy prophecy — if she kisses her true love, she’ll kill him. And suddenly she’s met a boy she can’t stop thinking about and his daring and magical quest.

AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS BY MARGARET ROGERSON

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This features an artist set in an ancient world named Isobel…her job? To paint faerie portraitist since they’re forbidden to do artistry or craft themselves. But she makes the mistake of painting a human emotion on the face of the Autumn Prince, Rook, and in a rage he kidnaps her to take her to his court and stand trial. Except exactly nothing goes as it should and his rage at her lasts barely a few minutes because he’s really just scared of being human. He can shapeshift into a bird, too, hence his name of Rook and the gorgeously stunning cover in all its earthy shades.

THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS BY ANNA MARIE MCLEMORE

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This one is just exquisite because it’s a soft and mellow magical realism book with a Romeo and Juliet sort of vibe. It’s about two alternating circus performer families who are absolutely worst enemies…but a girl falls in love with a boy and will they destroy their families in order to stay together? Cluck has feathers in his hair and Lace has scales. Maybe they can never truly be compatible. Or maybe they could be everything together.

 

DELICATE MONSTERS BY STEPHANIE KEUHN

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This is a bit of a change of pace from the last ones, because here we have a thriller-contemporary. It’s about three teens whose lives are inexplicably woven together — Sadie, an incorrigible and snarling mess who’s been thrown out of countless schools. Emerson, her childhood friend and they know more of each other’s dark secrets than they should. And Miles, Emerson’s little brother, who’s always sick and troubled and has terrifying dark visions. The book unwinds their past hauntingly and you can’t look away as you spiral down into the darkness with these teens and their secrets.

Review: Bright We Burn (Conqueror’s Saga #3) by Keirsten White

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Bright We Burn by Keirsten White is the finale of the Conqueror’s Saga and it was was brutal and bloody and so perfectly and epically satisfying. I completely fell in love with this series when we’re introduced to the vicious Lada and soft Radu in the first book, And I Darken. And then we watch them grow into schemers and warriors in Now I Rise. There’s a lot of weight on a finale to both honour the first books and also raise the stakes and develop the characters magnificently and I’m so glad it was handled with such care and cleverness! Definitely a finale not to be missed!

As always the story is told by both siblings, Lada and Radu. They’re still worlds away from each other, with Radu being back at Mehmed’s side (although his childhood unrequited crush has withered now that he’s seen the bitter darkness of Mehmed) and he’s terrified that his fake wife and the boy he secretly is in love with are gone forever. And Lada is back in Wallachia, finally living her dream of ruling her people. Her rule is iron-fisted and terrifying, but she stops at nothing to keep her people safe. But ruling? That’s not going so well for her. It’s possible she’s picking bigger fights than she needs to, scorning help, and pushing herself slowly into a bloody pool of darkness that not even her closest friends can help her with. But Mehmed still loves her…so would he go to battle with her now?

It’s a story of rulers, really, and of what the people in power will do and sacrifice to get where they want to go. It’s such a bloody and vicious look at war, what it does and what it costs and I love that it didn’t shy away from how dark it is. There’s no sugar-coating here, so it felt realistic and terrifying the whole way through. Lada is using her famous impaling and Mehmed would sacrifice thousands of men without a blink. Radu is the only one who seems to realise that this war has to stop before they all destroy themselves.

The battles are grim, the aftermaths are horrifying. It’s very well written and portrayed and it makes you, as the reader, feel both horror and admiration for all the main characters.

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The pacing and plot were were definitely superb. I liked that it was a bit shorter than the first books, because it keep the speed so tight and that’s needed for such a high-action ending! There are wars and betrayals, kidnapping plots and horror, and there are the softest quietest moments that just make my heart so so full. And it balances it with some really quiet and soft chapters, which honestly were some of my favourites.

The characters continue to develop and flourish in this book. Radu definitely has the most incredible and well written arc. He’s gone from whimpering little boy, to strong and capable and loving 18-year-old man and he’s also stopped spending all his time crying over Mehmed. It was such a relief to see him move on and realise he should fall for someone who loves him and not just uses him and his feelings, like Mehmed constantly did. Lada is also just as terrifying and ruthless as ever. But you also get to see her softer side, how often she’s unsure of what she’s doing. She makes some horrible mistakes and people suffer for it, but she also doesn’t let her people be beaten down by the enemy. Lada also bites people still, so like…she’s matured a lot since she was 3 but some things remain the same. I also just love how the author writes Lada being a harsh women, and that’s fine. And Radu being a soft boy, and that’s acceptable. It’s such a love letter at times to the fact that not everyone fits in a gender-stereotyped box.

It balanced the action vs the sweet moments vs the heart shredding moments so well! It’s a different writing style to a typical YA novel, but I just found that refreshing. The story is also set over quite a long period of time, but it keeps the pacing taunt.

And as a series finale?! YES it was both satisfying, gut-punching, twisty and intense. Everything I could possibly have hoped for!

Bright We Burn is a bloody, brutal, and clever end to this epic trilogy! It’s different and it’s full of heart and soul…and also wars and history!

Review: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

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What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera is basically the ultimate contemporary collaboration I’ve been waiting for! Being a huge fan of both these author’s previous books meant I absolutely couldn’t wait to read their combined project. Albertalli’s Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah On The Offbeat are hilarious and super cute, while Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me and They Both Die At The End were meaningful and emotional. So what would What If It’s Us bring!? I’m definitely pleased to say that it was full of hope and laughter, devastation and awkwardness, and the kind of banter that has you smiling for days.

The story is about Arthur and Ben who have an unlikely meeting in a post office and…probably will never see each other again, right? They connected, but they’re in New York, so it’s not exactly a place you’ll run into a stranger twice. But they both can’t stop thinking about the interaction and it leads them to seek each other out. After a ton of near-misses while balancing their own hectic lives (Ben is suffering through a lonely summer school after his ex cheated on him and somehow managed to get all their combined friends. While Arthur is doing an internship while thinking his parents might split up). And then — they connect again thanks to a coffee shop, a sign, and a lot of desperate hope. Their dates are super cute and super awkward and nothing about their relationship is going smoothly at all…so does this mean they’re not meant to be? Or are they going to be each other’s everything?

One thing I quite enjoyed was how it explored New York from a touristy perspective because I, as an Aussie, was really interested in “seeing” the sites! Arthur was an adorable tourist and I loved how excited he was about being in this city for the summer.

The boys were definitely the highlight of the book! They both take turns narrating (and if you know the authors, it’s pretty easy to guess who is writing which character). They contrasted in so many ways: Arthur being rich and headed for a fancy college vs Ben being poor and failing school. Arthur being outgoing and bubbly vs Ben being reserved and cautious. Arthur being nervous about his first romance vs Ben being skeptical after just having his heart broken. The combination of them was so fantastic and heartwarming, seeing them open up for each other and learn to love the other’s differences.

It is a bit of a quirky “find a needle in a haystack” story as they meet briefly in a postoffice and then have to refind each other again. I loved all the “near misses” because, as a reader, we’re screaming for them to no no! Wait! Two more seconds and you would’ve met again! It’s definitely a book that keeps you glued to the pages wondering if this is going to work between them.

I also loved the levels of diversity in the story! Obviously it’s a gay teen romance, but also Ben is Puerto Rican and Arthur has ADHD. Ben’s discussions about his family and what it truly means to be Puerto Rican were great and very important.

There are plenty of amazing things to be said about friendship too. About how friendships change and grow over the years and how hard that is. It’s absolutely devastating to lose friends, and I think it’s something that needs to be addressed in YA because most teens go through this!

It’s also so funny! I loved the subtle references from the authors to their older books, and I snorted over the quick-fire banter and the ridiculous dorkiness. The writing is also super addictive and easy to devour. I found myself completely unable to put it down.

WHAT IF IT’S US is such a cute and fun book! It’s the perfect summery read, full of awkward moments and absolutely golden magical moments while two boys fall in love through endless mishaps, mistakes, and messy moments. It’s the kind of story you can’t help but root for and turn every page desperate to find out what happens to Ben and Arthur and their summer in New York.

Review: More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer

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More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer is such an emotional and heartfelt read! It’s a companion story to Letters To The Lost, but this one spins out about the protagonist in that book’s best friend: Rev Fletcher. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy this one either! But I highly recommend it because it’s also incredible and possibly one of my all time favourites. I was so excited to dive into this companion book. Expectations were high and I ended up totally emotionally engaged with my heart beating so fast from that wild ending.

The story follows Rev and Emma as their lives are slowly crumbling to pieces around them. Rev was rescued from his abusive father 10 years ago and adopted by loving parents (who also foster other at-risk children still). But he’s getting letters from his abusive father…and he doesn’t know how to deal. He’s ashamed for being scared and for wanting to possibly meet his father again. But keeping the secret is destroying him and giving him violently terrifying flashbacks. And when his parents foster another vulnerable and wild young teen — it just amps up Rev’s memories of being in such a terrifying place 10 years ago. Then we have Emma, who’s a gamer with parents who pay no attention to her and she’s getting harassed online. She wants to take care of it herself, because her mother doesn’t care and her father (also a game designer) hasn’t got the time of day for her although he pretends to. Then as things between her parents start to get precarious and the cyber-bullying reaches a more terrifying level, Emma meets Rev behind a church and they start to talk. But their lives and friendships are in heartbreaking positions if they refuse to tell what’s really going on.

I loved being back in this world and so enjoyed Rev’s narration! (Finding out his true name was amazing.) Rev’s life is HUGELY stressful and he’s ashamed of how scared he is. AKA, he hides it. It’s heartbreaking that he did this, even when surrounded by people who love and support him unconditionally…but he’s been trained from his abusive father to expect hurt, and hate, and punishment. And even 10 years free of that, he hasn’t shaken the affects. The book really explores and addresses his PTSD and anxiety. I absolutely love how his adoptive-parents were so loving and involved in his life. Even when Rev cut them out, they made sure he knew they were there, ready and waiting and loving, to talk when he was ready. He does a lot of growth in this book too, remembering that he’s loved. Gaining control over himself again. Letting people in and not being ashamed.

Emma’s narration is focused a lot on how girls are treated in the gamer world. She gets harassed and attacked just for her gender and it’s so horrible what she has to go through alone. She also feels she’s probably being “weak” for being so upset about it, so she doesn’t tell anyone. It was hard seeing her lash out irrationally and horribly to her friends, even the ones who were undyingly supportive of her and there when she needed them. But it was also understandable seeing how much she craved positive interaction but her parents gave her none and continually put their needs before hers. My heart definitely ached for her!

Rev’s parents also start fostering a new boy, Matthew, who is pretty messed up and refuses to open up to anyone. He triggers a lot of flashbacks for Rev, which will definitely make you tear up, but discovering Matthew’s backstory and then watching him grow as a character too was amazing.

The book really delves into themes of being wanted, trying to control who you turn out to be and to change it if you don’t like it, and how accepting help is not weakness. All such important things to cover!

More Than We Can Tell is definitely a heartfelt book full of raw emotion and aching themes. It’s very emotional and the ending is so stressful and will leave you clutching the pages and turning so fast to see how it all plays out.

Review: Your Destination Is On The Left by Laura Spieller

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Your Destination Is On The Left by Laura Spieller was a pretty heartwarming story about artists and the fear of failure. Which I think is SO relatable to any teen (or older!) artist who’s struggling to know if they’re good enough or faking it. I really loved that aspect, especially all the “starving artist woe” storylines were are, let’s be real…big mood at all times.

The story follows Dessa who’s family is part of a nomadic caravan crew and they’re constantly travelling the USA in search of experiences and the chance to feel alive. They hate the idea of being tied down and it’s taboo to talk about…which makes life super awkward for Dessa who absolutely dreams of going to college for art. And staying put. She loves her family and she’s (secretly) madly in love with Cy, a boy in their caravan crew. But she can’t just give up her dream…can she? Then she lands an internship with a successful artist and the nomad crew agree to spend a few weeks in one place while she completes it. And while it’s the opposite of smooth sailing, with Dessa getting super stuck with her work because all the colleges rejected her and now she’s scared she’s a terrible artist, she begins to realise that life is full of cross roads. And she’s going to have to make some huge decisions.

It’s quite a fast book but still manages to touch on deeper things. The family’s aren’t particularly wealthy, which I appreciated since a lot of books feature people with no issues with money. And I liked how it definitely talked about how artists are often super underpaid.

I loved the epic multiple female friendships that were just on point the whole book! Dessa totally connects to her artist mentor who she’s doing the internship with and I love how they go from “prickly” to “valuing each other”. SO good. Also Dessa randomly meets a girl named Taryn on a bus, and after a sneaky night out (which Dessa was so not supposed to go on), they become such solid and epic friends who keep in contact. I love how they clicked and their chemistry was a lot of fun!

The romance is a bumpy ride, with Dessa having a total crush on Cy…but knowing he loves travelling and she hates it. There’s a lot of tension there with two people who feel so deeply for each other, but ultimately have very different goals. Should one of them give up everything?

The art factor was also gorgeous! I LOVED all the visuals and it totally reminded me of Starfish and I’ll Give You The Sun. It was a visual feast.

The book also encouraged artists to work from the heart. To stop panicking about how it’s scary to be vulnerable on page and stay safe. Take risks. Don’t let your fear block you. This is such an important and motivating message and it was brought across so well!

Your Destination Is On The Left is definitely a story about crossroads. It’s about fear of failure and the joy of creating and following your dreams, even though the repercussions might be steep.

Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

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Mirage by Somaiya Daud is a gorgeously lush story of rebels and body-doubles, inspired by the author’s Moroccan heritage and set amongst the stars. I actually didn’t realise it was sci-fi when I picked it up, but I was so excited and enthralled when I realised we were not only getting Moroccan-based culture and traditions — but also droids and tech and spaceships! I definitely hope this is the first of many books like this!

The story is told by Amani, who is a dreamer and poet on a small moon in a smaller village. She’s just turned eighteen and is receiving her special tattoo that marks her as an adult, when horror strikes. The traditional ceremony is interrupted by droids who scan all the girls’ faces but only take one: Amani. She’s whisked away into space, kidnapped by the brutal Vathek regime, and brought before their cruel and nasty princess…whose face has a startling resemblance to Amani’s. It turns out Amani is going to be used as a body-double. If there’s some place too dangerous for the princess to be, Amani will step in. Her life will be at constant risk, but failure to comply means her family’s death. She feels hopeless and trapped, tortured by Princess Maram, and lonely so far away from home. But her new life is full of glittering privileged and Amani learns to walk like a queen, be around the gorgeous prince she’s “supposed” to marry, and also accidental stumble on the hint of a rebellion and she could, quite possibly, stoke those flames…

What really stood out to me was the incredible world-building! It was perfect in every way, rich and luscious, weaving in myths and customs along with descriptions of their clothes and food! I loved the brief beginning chapters in Amani’s home village, where she’s preparing for her ceremony. And her respect and admiration for her family, plus her love of all things magical and poetic, was so sweet.

The contrast of going to the viciously lavish imperial courts was also so well done! When Amani gets there, and learns to live as Princess Maram, she has so much change and development. I did want a little more from the girls’ relationship, but it ended up being sparse as Amani would get whisked off to play body-double and didn’t actually spend much time with Maram. The two are such contrast though! Maram is snarky vinegar and Amani has such a sugar soul…although she’s determined, clever, and not about to be walked over. It’s nice to see soft, feminine protagonists, who are still strong and complex!

The plot follows a lot of being whisked around the courts and deception and quiet scheming. I did think there’d be more assassin attempts?! But the ones that were in there were chilling! There’s plenty of politics and pain and betrayal.

Mirage is definitely a story to look out for! It’s absolutely gorgeous world building will sweep you right off your feet, and you’ll soon become entranced in this world of gorgeous gowns and royal balls, while wars and conquering rage in the background, and a girl just tries to stay alive and decide if what she’s willing to risk for her people.

Review: The Art Of Escaping by Erin Callahan

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The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan is a captivating and actually super stressful story about a teenage girl who’s obsessed with escapology. Bring out references to Houdini! It’s actually a topic I’ve never read about in YA before, so I was extra keen to try this one out and loved how it wove in everyday highschool angst, friendship group complications, secret keeping, and (of course) a hobby that requires you to be straightjacketed and handcuffed and thrown in a pool.

Lovely hobby.

The story follows Mattie who is determined to find the daughter of a late escape artist and be taught the art of escapology. This is a little complicated by her new mentor being super cranky and barely leaving the house…and also Mattie’s desperate need for no one she knows to EVER see her performing. Until a boy from school comes to one of her shows. Cue horror. But when they talk, the boy, Will, swears he won’t tell and offers a secret to Mattie so they can be sure neither will break. Will, school jock and sweetheart of one of the most popular girls ever…is gay. Will and Mattie soon fall into an easy friendship, where Will helps Mattie with her act, and also discovers things that he loves doing (like costume design) while Mattie thinks of ways to kickstart her brother out of his stalled life. They both want to find ways to be more than just boring and lifeless numbers in the world. And maybe death-defying act will help them escape their troubles — until those troubles catch up.

I did love the strong emphasis on friendship here! The two main characters aren’t a couple and while they both crush on other people irregularly through the book, it’s such a small part of the story. So nearly romance-free. It also ends up with an epic friendship group of a bunch of misfits from Mattie (who literally nearly drowns in chains and lockpicks for fun) and Will (closeted and anxious and lying to his girlfriend and unsure how to fix the messes he’s made) and Stella (super nerd girl who’s an ex-homeschooler) and Frankie (child genius who skipped two grades and literally no one talks to him). They were a great and dynamic group! Plus there were plenty of secondary characters who all felt fleshed out and interesting.

The scenes where Mattie’s learning how to pick locks are definitely amazing. There’s a twist on the “old cranky mentor” trope, with it being a young cranky (possibly agoraphobic) Japanese mentor, whose mother was the famous escape artist, but died in an unrelated accident many years ago. She unwillingly trains Mattie, but I did love their friendship, with the banter and insults flung around. I did not learn how to pick a lock though. Sad for me.

The story itself isn’t long, so the pace is pretty great! We follow Mattie (and the few chapters narrated by Will) as they manage school and college applications and also try to figure out how to keep their messy secrets from their families.

The Art of Escaping is definitely one to look out for! It really focuses on finding your passion and interests in life, trusting your friends, and picking death-defying careers because what’s a little adrenaline rush now and then, hmm?

Review: Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

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Fawkes by Nadine Brandes was one of my highly anticipated release for this! I was absolutely not disappointed! It was full of darkness, magic, assassination plots, and really creative and unique twists on the infamous Guy Fawkes. Because yes! This is a historical retelling. But with magic. I also didn’t know much about the origin of Guy Fawkes, but I know the author did a lot of research (um, except the magic part didn’t happen in London at that time…well, I mean, maybe it did. Who can say for sure). This was such a lusciously detailed reimagining of London and I could wait to see how the story would unfold.

Thomas Fawkes lives in 17th century London, where the world is ruled by two opposing forces of magicians, and if he doesn’t get his mask and join one side…he’ll have no way to cure the plague turning his face to stone. His father, Guy Fawkes, was supposed to turn up to his school’s ceremony and gift his sone a mask, but the man (who Thomas barely knows anyway) never shows up. Thomas isn’t interested in dying of this illness, so he goes in search of his father. And then he discovers Guy Fawkes deep in the midst of organising the assassination of King James. The two opposing magician clans, the Keepers versus the Igniters, are destroying this world with their war, but it’s said if the Keepers kill the Igniters — it’ll stop the plague. Thomas has no choice but to help…right? They need 36 barrels of gunpowder and no betrayals.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King adn the Parliment;
Threescore barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow.
By God’s providence he was catch’d,
With a dark lantern and a burning match.

The story is narrated by 16 year old Thomas Fawkes, who is hopelessly honourable. He is like the ultimate beautiful “I shall do my duty!” son and I loved him. All the gentlemanly pledges and goodness! He’s literally dying of the plague, blind in one eye, but he’s still very particular about honour and his sword and being treated like a true man. He’s completely ostracised because of his plague infection, and he does his best to hide it. I liked how it twisted the London Black Plague by making it this magic-infected-illness that slowly turned you to stone.

really felt for Thomas and his confusion about whether to join his father or oppose murder. It was definitely a tug of loyalties and you really feel it as Thomas tries to decide!

The magic system was also awesome! It’s based on masks and colours! Basically you’re either a Keeper (controlling one magic at a time) or an Igniter (balancing multiple and lead by the voice of the White Light) and everyone wears a mask which helps link them to controlling the colours in things. So if your power is Brown, then you’ll control dirt and earth easily. I thought it was pretty clever and original!

There are also plenty of father and son drama issues. But of course. There’s nothing like an assassination plot that’s complicated by awkward fathers and sons who hate not being taken seriously.

I also really enjoyed the secondary cast, but particularly Emma! She’s a badass girl from Thomas’ school who constantly hides behind a mask (why?! Most everyone else takes theirs off sometimes!) and in the end she and Thomas accidentally end up working together — him trying to get information from the lord she’s staying with to use against the king, and her having Thomas as a servant guiding her through London while she tries to get hired as an artist. Their relationship is NOT smooth, which is always a lot of fun! Bring on the slowburn.

I loved the intense array of elements in the story too. From gunpowder and conspiracies, to disguises and miracles and plagues. There’s discussions on race and I felt the opposing magicians were a bit of a twist on the religious unrest in England at that time. Ultimately Fawkes is one you want to be looking out for! It’s available for preorder now and out in August!

Review: The Unpredictability Of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen

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The Unpredictability Of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen is beautiful tale told in forthright prose about an undiagnosed autistic girl living in Norway and realising her “normal” family is actually hiding a lot of upside-down secrets. It’s such a bittersweet book that’s definitely here to tug on your heartstrings. The unique perspective of Malin is so heartwarming as it is heartbreaking as she just tries to fit in and…fails. This is definitely the kind of book you want to pick up, as it’s full of heart, complex characters, and some twists that will leave your heart aching.

Malin is 14 years old when the story takes off, and tells her perspective in diary format. She also starts off doing an assignment that asks what she would do if she were God for the day. She chooses fixing the perfect bag of popcorn, because if God hasn’t fixed the world already, then maybe she’s not supposed to either? Her life is pretty normal, in her opinion, with a mum who drinks a lot (but it’s good for her heart) and a dad who never stops yelling and her older brother who ignores her or is super mean. But also probably hiding something, as she soon finds out. And after her mother goes way for a while on a mysterious “business trip”, Malin’s world starts to fall apart. she can’t seem to keep friends at school without making unforgivable social blunders, she keeps getting physically hurt, and her beloved cousin Magnus isn’t always  there to point her in the right direction. And the boy she likes? Well it’s possible she’s done something to make him hate her too. Why is life so utterly and unfathomably impossible?

Malin’s narration was definitely my favourite part of the book! She’s sweet and endearing and narrates in a really straight forward way. She’s so meticulous about the time and in love with her super advanced watch. While it’s not mentioned she’s autistic on the page (although confirmed by sources), she has so many accurate habits of an autistic individual and it’s refreshing to see her exist outside of stereotypes and be dimensional and complex. She’s surrounded by people, but so lonely, and always falls in with the weird kids at school…until they leave her too. Trying to keep up with the popular (probably evil) girl, Frida, is hard enough, but Malin keeps being lured into doing regrettable things while the girls laugh at her. You really ache for Malin and then cheer when she finds people who do care about her: like her amazing cousin Magnus.

The book is definitely about family over romance. Malin doesn’t pick up on the undercurrents happening inside her family, like how her older brother isn’t in school anymore or her mother’s drinking problem. But it affects her hugely and the uncertainty is really hard on her mental health. I did like the little hint of her crush on Reuben and she does a lot of googling about kissing…for “just in case”.

The narration is quite simplistic, but I think it captures the story and heart of it so well! It’s not flowery, so it just pulls you right in and since the book is so short, you end up devouring page after page.

The Unpredictability of Being Human is a fantastic book that will warm and break your heart in equal measures. It doesn’t have a wild plot, and it’s more a little peek through the window into Norway, where Malin is moving from child to teen and trying to understand things that will never make perfect sense: like the unfairness of suffering, of love, of betrayal and loss.

YA Books With Crowns On the Cover

Look we all secretly like to sing the Lion King lyrics, “Oh I just can’t wait to be kiiiing” when no one is listening. Because it would be very nice to wear a crown. Agreed? Agreed. Until we accidentally inherit one, however, we can make do by admiring gorgeous crowns on YA book covers. And also reading the books so we’re not just judging books by their covers. (Although that’s kind of fun, I’m not going to lie.)

You can also find my post of a list of YA books with Knives and Swords on the covers too!


ASH PRINCESS by Laura Sebastian

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Honestly this cover is super flawless, with it’s gorgeous dusky colour scheme and that crown that is so entrancing and yet is a symbol of oppression and devastation. Theo’s nation has been conquered by an evil tyrant, and now she’s a tortured captive princess in her own castle — and on special occasion she’s forced to wear this crown of ashes that makes a horrible mess over her face and clothes to remind everyone she’s worth nothing. But secretly? She’s planning assassinations and rebellions.

 

THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

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This is only one of my favourite reads of this year, but the faerie queen herself: author Holly Black! This is about backstabbing royals and cunning plots and a prince who is poisonous…and also a little bit tragic.

Our heroine, Jude, is a mere human in the vicious and gorgeously deadly faerie world…and the crown might be up for the taking.

 

FURYBORN by Claire Legrand

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This is about two women’s lives, but it’s set milleniums apart, which is a twist I hadn’t read before! It features one girl, an assassin who’s past might not be as boring as she imagined.

And a queen, who made a deal with an angel and has to prove herself through terrifying life-threatening trials to prove her powers are under her control. Or are they?

 

THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake

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And of course we can’t forget this one! The story of triplet sisters who have been raised differently and separately until they’re 16 and will make the fight for the crown. One is raised by a poisonous, cunning household of poisons and snakes. Another in the forests, who can control beasts and minds. And another who has the elements under her thumb with a simple wish. But what if they don’t all want to be enemies?

 

STARS ABOVE by Marissa Meyer

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A quick swap from the normal fantasies over to this sci-fi! It’s actually a short-story collection from the Lunar Chronicles world to give you that last taste of Cinder & Co before the series ends! And the cover is just gorgeous and gives us a hint of what’s going to happen to the now-returned Princess Selene and where the ex-Princess Winter will end up. Plus it just is such a fairy-tale cover! With the crown on a pillow, like a glass slipper waiting for it’s chosen one.

YA Books That Feature Sisters (Part 2)

Books featuring sisters are so important and totally winning! They can also remind you why you long for a sister or why, if you already have real-life sisters, that fictional siblings are usually way cooler. Or way more prone to starting the apocalypse. Who can say! It’s always exciting to find out.

A little while ago, I did a list of YA Books That Feature Sisters, but since there are so many epic ones, I’ve decided to add to it!


TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW by 

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Tiffany is reeling after the death of her mother when her estranged father agrees to take her in — and turns out he has 4 daughters already. This is pretty intense for Tiffany to firstly lose her mother who she loved so much and then suddenly become insta part of a very strictly religious and big family. Things are anything but smooth, with her new dad turning out to be super controlling and her sisters ranging from annoying to mean. Except the sister-bonds that form as the story progresses are so good! And I loved how this book focused on family.

 

CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

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This is one of the best books of ever, full of a magical game that you have to be careful not to be totally sucked in and entranced by. Scarlett escapes her abusive father and travels to play the game of Caraval…except she’s also looking for her lost little sister, Tella, who might’ve bet too much into this game and be in serious trouble. Not only does it feature sisters who’ll do anything for each other, the plot is so twisty. You can lose days of your life in exchange for a dress and the master of the game could be anyone…even the boy you might be falling for?

 

TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE by Jenny Han

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It’s always a good time to cheer over this old favourite because the finale came out last year and this year, we’re getting a Netflix movie adaption! Also this features the three Song sisters, narrated by Lara Jean, and she has a snarky little sister Kitty and a very rule-orientated strict older sister, Margot. They are all super close, but that doesn’t mean they all agree. And I love how the sisters are pivotal to the plot, while Lara Jean accidentally has all her (private, aka: no one can read these) letters sent to her childhood crushes.

 

THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

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Nothing like a fae and knights and sword story to get your heart beating faster! Jude and her twin sister are swept into the faeries realms after their parents are murdered by a fae, but he decides to take them in and raise them…which obviously is going to create a huge tension when your new dad is your old dad’s murderer. Plus the world is full of backstabbing and poisonous fey plots and intrigue and Jude is doing her best not just to keep up, but to succeed her. She wants to be a knight. And if that means teaming up with the nasty Prince Cardan…maybe she just might do it.

 

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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This is a pretty hard-hitting story about two sisters who are super close…until one of them dies in a car crash. Then Rumi is sent to Hawaii with her aunt while her mother spends some time grieving alone, which absolutely devastates Rumi as now is when she needs her mother the most. She really struggles in Hawaii, hating everything and scared she’ll lose the ability to create music like she did with her sister. It features the most adorkable boy next door, gorgeous scenery, pineapples and surfing, an ace-spec queer protagonist, friendship and healing.

Review: Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Running With Lions by Julian Winters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excellently Exciting New 2018 YA Releases!

One of my biggest bookworm weakness is, unsurprisingly, the lure of newly published books! I love seeing what’s just hit the shelves and reading the newbies as soon as I can. Plus when so many other people are devouring the new releases, it turns the world into one giant book club, which is downright awesome. So just in case you haven’t been keeping up with some of the new books to hit the shelves: here, let me help you.

(This doesn’t really help your to-be-read pile or your wallet, but pfft. Life is too short not to try and read all the books of ever.)


LEGENDARY (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Graber

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This is such a highly anticipated sequel and it’s finally in our hands! I’m pleased to say I’ve already devoured this one and it is magical and intoxicatingly beautifully written.

The sequel picks up minutes after Caraval ends and follows Tella’s point-of-view as she plays another (more dangerous, alluring, and vicious) game of Caraval in order to unmask the villain (or hero?) Legend and also save her missing mother from a fate worse than death.

 

THUNDERHEAD (Sycthe #2) by Neal Shusterman

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Although this has been out overseas for a while, Thunderhead is just gracing our shelves in Australia! So so excited for this sequel to the NYT selling Scythe story, which is about a dystopian world were there is no death unless you’re “gleaned” at random by a Scythe.

But corruption has stirred the ranks and two new apprentices, Citra and Rowan are about to be caught horribly in the middle.

 

 

A THOUSAND PERFECT NOTES by CG Drews

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Look I’m being a bit cheeky here, but this is actually my book! I can’t help but add it to the list though so forgive the deviousness here! But hey this is a #LoveOZYA novel about a boy forced to play piano by his mother whose own career failed…but his failure to find perfection ends in violence.

I mean, moving aside the fact that I am horribly biased here, it’s made a lovely little splash as it’s entered the book world and it will hopefully make you laugh and cry…or both.

 

SUMMER OF SALT by Katrina Leno

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This is one of my most favourite authors (!!) and her latest book is set on an aesthetically windswept isle where a family of (maybe) witches are facing some sinister changes. Georgina and her twin sister are about to leave for college, but the leaving is quite hard, especially when the family’s magic is under scrutiny and Georgina herself seems like she’ll never get powers of her own. Then something happens to her sister and the story takes a darker twist. It’s part contemporary and part adorable romance between Georgina and the amazing Prue, and it’s part commentary on some social issues that are so relevant to today.

 

LIFELIKE by Jay Kristoff

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Jay Kristoff is such a big name amongst Aussie authors and well deserved! His Illuminae and Nevernight books are amongst some of my top favourites and now we get a new rabid robotic dystopian adventure, that’s part Mad Max and part scientists playing god.

It has powerful and snarky female friendships, not to mention gorgeous but deadly robots, rogue hunter preachers, persnickety AIs and an adventure that goes from wild to wilder.

Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: An Enchantment Of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

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

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

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

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

BUY HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUY HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA Books With Knives And Swords On The Cover

Now we all know they say “don’t judge a book by its cover”…but honestly, who doesn’t!? Plus covers tend to give us a great idea of what the book is about, which is helpful if you’re looking for a swashbuckling pirate adventure or a cute fluffy romance with, preferably, plenty of ice cream and cuteness. So today we’re going to amiably judge some covers on YA books that feature knives and swords! It’s very popular and honestly makes for a stunning visual. And will these books deliver the tales of adventure and war that we’re longing for?! One must just read them all and find out. (Excellent life plan. Do please go for it.)


YA COVERS FEATURING SWORDS AND KNIVES

The Knife Of Never Letting Gobuy here

This is a fantastic YA staple, really, as it just celebrated it’s 10th anniversary! It’s a sci-fi story starring a boy who can’t kill and a girl not from this planet. It’s one of those heartbreaking ones so the knife is A+ of a visual for how your feels are going to be stabbed. I also love how it features a world where all your thoughts can be heard! Talk about freeeaky.

 

Markswomanbuy here

This is a very brand new book with a southeast Asian setting, featuring Kyra who’s a novice of a religious group who bring justice to the clans. Their knives are actually a bit sentient and tell them things, which is fascinating! Everything goes wrong for Kyra, though, when her leader is murdered, so she steals the knife and takes off to find justice.

 

To Kill A Kingdombuy here

This just came out this May (!) which is super exciting and I can attest to how stunning a book this is! Now I realise the squid thing is holding the sword at this point, but believe me: this contains pirates and princes, sirens and sea witches. It’s a fantastic dark Little Mermaid retelling about a prince who wants to kill a siren and a siren who accidentally falls for him. Hate-to-love at its finest!

 

Furybornbuy here

This is an epic fantasy about murderous angels and vicious queens. It’s told in two parts about two women, a hundred centuries apart, and how their lives not only connect but really rely on each other to tell the tale! A queen and an assassin! With unheard of powers and strengths.

 

Lady Midnightbuy here

Can’t help but mention a Cassandra Clare book in the infamous Shadowhunter world! Her latest series is a whirlwind of adventure and dark magic, featuring Emma who wants to find her parents’ murderer and Julian, sole carer of his younger siblings and desperate to keep them altogether when the Clave wants to rip them apart. As they dig into the murder mystery though, things get out of hand very fast with secrets coming out that no one should ever know. Also features a swoon-worthy forbidden romance!

 

Bring Me Their Heartsbuy here

A purely fantastic tale of a witch’s monster, called a “Heartless”, who has no choice but to serve her mistress. Zera longs for her freedom and will do anything to get it, even when her mistress sends her to kill the crown prince and take his heart, in order to control the upcoming war. Zera, part monster with a hunger for raw organs, has no qualms doing this…until she accidentally might be falling for the prince. It’s a fairy tale gone wrong and deliciously captivating!