Exchange of Heart by Darren Groth

Darren Groth‘s new novel is Exchange of Heart (Penguin Random House Australia). This is the second of Darren’s wonderful YA novels I’ve read.

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

I live in Vancouver. My current role is husband, father, provider and fiction scribbler.

How involved are you in the YA community?

Not as much as I used to be when I was a teacher. My 16 year old twins keep me connected to today’s kids, though.

Could you tell us a little about your early books?

Well, they’ve all disappeared, sad to say. However, I’m proud of them and each one was notable in its own way. My first novel, The Procrastinator, got my first personal, positive rejection (still one of the very best feelings I’ve ever had in my career); my second novel, Most Valuable Potential, was shortlisted in the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards; my third novel, The Umbilical Word, secured my wonderful literary agent; and my fourth novel, Kindling, picked up my first contract with a major trade publishing house (Hachette).   

I reviewed your excellent previous novel, Are You Seeing Me? for the Weekend Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/misfits-and-misadventures-abound-in-latest-young-adult-fiction-books/news-story/12de0e5706bdc33fc03255e5660b2231. Could you briefly describe the two major characters and reveal who appears in your new novel?

Thank you for your kind words, Joy. The protagonists of AYSM are twins, Justine and Perry Richter. Justine is smart, well read, neurotypical and the sole carer of her brother. Perry is smart, sensitive, neurodiverse and hopeful of “freeing” his sister. Perry makes three appearances in the new novel, Exchange of Heart. It was a real treat to connect with him again.  

What is the significance of the clever title of your powerful new novel Exchange of Heart?

Exchange of Heart captures what this novel is all about, both literally and thematically. There’s a lot to unpack; it makes sense at a surface level then becomes deeper and richer the further you delve into the story.

Why is this book important?

Like all good fiction, I need to have told a good tale in order for the work to be assigned any importance. If readers feel I’ve told a good tale then there is some food-for-thought that can be discussed. PTSD in young adults, treatment of the intellectually disabled, use of the R-word, mental health of refugees, among others. In some ways, Exchange of Heart is a political YA novel. I embrace that label.   

Could you tell us about your complex major character, Munro Maddux?

I love Munro. I think he’s the best character I’ve ever put down on the page. So many qualities about him that I admire – his honour, his tenacity, his nuance, his care. I love his wounded heart. Unlike many other characters I’ve written, he’s not an open book. He’s not ‘all the feels’. That’s very commendable in this day and age.

Who is the Coyote?

The Coyote is less a ‘who’ and more a ‘what’. It’s a voice in Munro’s head that’s constantly at him and it’s the most debilitating symptom of his PTSD-infused grief over the loss of his younger sister, Evie. Why Coyote? In North American First Nations/Aboriginal lore, Coyote represents ‘trickster’ medicine; it is a deceiver, not to be trusted. It was the perfect motif for Munro’s nemesis.     

What is the significance of the “-er” words?

I was actually looking to create something self help-ish that was a bit cheesy. And the students of Sussex High, Rowan in particular, see it that way. In Munro’s case, though, his ‘er’ word – ‘better’ – was right on the money.   

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the assisted-living community setting. Who most pulls at your heart and why?

It changes every day! Today, I’ll say Bernie because she seeks to protect her fellow Fair Go residents from discrimination and oppression. We need more Bernies in the world!    

What would you like to see change or improve for those in assisted-living communities in the near future?

The programs that served as inspiration for my fictional Fair Go – Youngcare in Australia and Bittersweet Farms in the US – are wonderful examples of what is possible with assisted living. If there is one thing I would like to see in all situations of supported care, it is residents having a say in their work, their play, their passion, their collaboration. Generally, having agency in their lives. 

Having lived and been flooded in Brisbane myself, your descriptions of place such as Walter Taylor Bridge and South Bank resonated strongly. Where is a significant place in Brisbane for you?

There’s a few. Mum and Dad’s house in Mitchelton. Milpera State High, where I taught for almost ten years. Lang Park (I still can’t call it Suncorp Stadium). My grandmother’s house in Hawthorne which, sadly, no longer exists.

Why the quote from Leo Tolstoy and why did you incorporate the novel Picnic at Hanging Rock into the novel?

The Tolstoy quote, I felt, summed up Exchange of Heart perfectly. The love of others is the catalyst for Munro to forgive himself and heal. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fascinating story for me, not the least of which for its commentary about the treatment of the intellectually disabled. 

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve got a number of books on the slow-go. Will Kostakis’ The Sidekicks (great guy, marvellous book), Strange Magic by Syd Moore, who just happens to be my quite brilliant sister-in-law; George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo; Justin Cronin’s City of Mirrors; and, as a nod to my recent trip back to Bris-Vegas after seven years, I just finished Three Crooked Kings by the mighty Matt Condon.

Thanks very much, Darren, and all the best with Exchange of Heart and your next book.

Thank you, Joy! 

Review: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA Books About Writers!

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


FANGIRL BY RAINBOW ROWELL

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

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

 

ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS BY FRANCESCA ZAPPIA

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

 

BEAUTIFUL MESS BY CLAIRE CHRISTIAN

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

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

 

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS BY JULIA WALTON

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

 

OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS BY KRYSTAL SUTHERLAND

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

Qld Literary Awards 2017

The 2017 Queensland Literary awards shortlists have recently been announced. They are a good reflection of the quality of current Australian writing.

The Qld Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance and The Courier-Mail 2017 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year show an exciting cross-section of Qld authors. The University of Queensland Fiction Book award category is also notable this year for its Qld authors such as Nick Earls with Vancouver, Ashley Hay with A Hundred Small Lessons and Melissa Ashley with The Birdman’s Wife.

My particular interests are literary fiction, children’s and YA so I’ve read all but 1 of the 15 books in these 3 categories. In the Fiction category, authors Heather Rose and Nick Earls have already been scooping awards in this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary awards. I’ve previously reviewed Hannah Kent’s The Good People for the blog.

Wendy Orr is shortlisted for the Griffith University Children’s Book Award and I learned at the Brisbane Writers Festival this weekend that she also lives in Qld. Dragonfly Song has already been awarded a CBCA Honour prize this year. And I believe that Richard Yaxley, whose YA novel This is My Song is shortlisted, is based in Qld.

In the Griffith University Young Adult Book category, two books in particular have been generating attention in other awards. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon was shortlisted for two international awards: the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize; and then it went even higher to win an Honour Book award in the CILIP Carnegie Medal. It has received Australian commendations as well, including an Honour prize in the CBCA awards. I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.  Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley won the Indies award and was also an Honour book for the CBCA. I also reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.

Australian literature for young readers in the past few years has been particularly strong in the YA novel and children’s picture book categories. The QLA Children’s shortlist shows a turnaround towards novels for younger readers. Hopefully this is the beginning of a renaissance in Australian children’s novels.

The 4 Children’s titles nominated are: A Different Dog by Paul Jennings, How to Bee by Bren MacDibble, Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr and The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan. The fifth book is a picture book, Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon.

There is a ‘sense of silence’ across these children’s titles, with a number featuring introspective and even mute protagonists. These shortlisted books could perhaps be summarised by quotes from two:

  • hold moments ‘like a small, quiet treasure’ (Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler) and
  • celebrate ‘small silent victories’ (Dragonfly Song

Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors and their publishers.

See the complete shortlist below and follow the links to read more about each book.

2017 Queensland Literary Awards Shortlists

The Queensland Literary Awards congratulates the authors and publishers of all shortlisted nominations for the 2017 Awards.

The winners of each category will be announced at the Award Ceremony on Wednesday 4 October 2017 at State Library of Queensland.

Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance

Matthew Condon Little Fish Are Sweet (UQP)

Mary-Rose MacColl For a Girl (Allen & Unwin)

Cathy McLennan Saltwater (UQP)

Bill Wilkie The Daintree Blockade: The Battle for Australia’s Tropical Rainforests (Four Mile Books)

Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards

Lech Blaine

Mindy Gill

Anna Jacobson

Emily O’Grady

Bonnie Stevens

The University of Queensland Fiction Book Award

Melissa Ashley The Birdman’s Wife (Affirm Press)

Nick Earls Vancouver (Inkerman & Blunt)

Ashley Hay A Hundred Small Lessons (Allen & Unwin)

Hannah Kent The Good People (Pan Macmillan)

Heather Rose The Museum of Modern Love (Allen & Unwin)

The University of Queensland Non-fiction Book Award

Deng Adut and Ben Mckelvey Songs of a War Boy (Hachette)

Richard Fidler Ghost Empire (HarperCollins)

Mary-Rose MacColl For a Girl (Allen & Unwin)

Kim Mahood Position Doubtful (Scribe)

Cathy McLennan Saltwater (UQP)

Griffith University Children’s Book Award

Gus Gordon Somewhere Else (Penguin Random House)

Paul Jennings A Different Dog (Allen & Unwin)

Bren MacDibble How to Bee (Allen & Unwin)

Wedy Orr Dragonfly Song (Allen & Unwin)

Lisa Shanahan The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler (Allen & Unwin)

Griffith University Young Adult Book Award

Simon Butters The Hounded (Wakefield Press)

Cath Crowley Words in Deep Blue (Pan Macmillan)

Zana Fraillon The Bone Sparrow (Hachette)

Mark Smith The Road to Winter (Text Publishing)

Richard Yaxley This is My Song (Scholastic)

University of Southern Queensland History Book Award

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Gabrielle Appleby, Andrew Lynch The Tim Carmody Affair: Australia’s Greatest Judicial Crisis(NewSouth Books)

Paul Irish Hidden in Plain View: The Aboriginal People of Coastal Sydney (NewSouth Books)

John Murphy Evatt: A Life (NewSouth Books)

Rebe Taylor Into the Heart of Tasmania (MUP)

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Michelle Cahill Letter to Pessoa (Giramondo)

Kyra Giorgi The Circle and the Equator (UWA Publishing)

Tara June Winch After the Carnage (Penguin)

State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection – Judith Wright Calanthe Award

Jordie Albiston Euclid’s Dog (GloriaSMH Press)

Carmen Leigh Keates Meteorites (Whitmore press)

Antigone Kefala Fragments (Giramondo)

Cassie Lewis The Blue Decodes (Grand Parade Poets)

Omar Sakr These Wild Houses (Cordite Books)

QUT Digital Literature Award

Mez Breeze Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads (Beta)

Pascalle Burton Generation Loss (after Alvin Lucier)

Jason Nelson Nine Billion Branches

David Thomas Henry Wright with Karen Lowry and Julia Lane Paige and Powe

Marianna Shek Limerence

Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award

Alicia Farmer Mai Stori

Lisa Fuller Mirrored Pieces

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

Anna Jacobson for How to Knit a Human

Janet Lee for The Killing of Louisa

Ben Marshall for The Fox

Siall Waterbright for The Coming

The Courier-Mail 2017 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year

Voting closes 5pm Friday 25 September 2017.

Melissa Ashley – The Birdman’s Wife
Nick Earls – Vancouver
Richard Fidler – Ghost Empire
Ashley Hay – A Hundred Small Lessons
Anita Heiss – Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms
Joan Katherine Isaacs – To Prey and To Silence
Mary-Rose MacColl – For a Girl
Cathy McLennan – Saltwater

Review: Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


STEELHEART BY BRANDON SANDERSON

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

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

 

V IS FOR VILLAIN BY PETER MOORE

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

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

 

ZEROES BY SCOTT WESTERFELD

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

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

MS MARVEL

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

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

Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein definitely caught my heart! It’s a gorgeous and lush 1930s frolic in Scotland and it was so atmospheric and intriguing with such winning characters that I couldn’t help but be obsessed by it! It’s also a prequel to Code Name Verity, although you don’t have to have read it in order to enjoy The Pearl Thief. While Code Name Veirty is about Julie Beaufort-Stuart’s life in the British army — The Pearl Thief follows her as a 15-year-old back home in Scotland trying to solve the mystery of a murdered man and missing pearls. It’s all castle ruins and rivers and kilts and ancient artefacts and a lot of delicious tea.

The story starts with Julie being involved in a nasty accident — that she can’t remember at all. She wakes up in hospital with amnesia over what happened and she’s trying to piece together who hit her on the head and left her to nearly die before she was rescued by kind travelling folk, Euan and Ellen. Since her family is selling their estate, Julie’s summer is turning out to be all about archiving the ancient artefacts of the old family manor and saying goodbye — but there’s been a murder. And she desperately wants to know who attacked her and if it’s connected to her grandfather’s missing pearls.

I actually listened to the audiobook and may I just say THE AUDIO IS ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. It’s all Scottish accents and the most beautiful narration ever. All the much recommend. I think I fell into love with Scotland and can’t get up.

 

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Honestly this is just a really well-written story. For me it was like revisiting an old friend! And it was just so perfect being around Julie Beaufort-Stuart again, particularly since her brother, the dashing and cheerful Jamie, is here too! Jamie is so sweet and basically an adorable dork. Yes, adorkable.

And do you know what I’m really impressed with? It’s how delightfully feminist this book is. Julie is a powerful character. She’s totally flawed and privileged and often doesn’t even know it and makes mistakes because of it…but she wants to learn and be better. Plus she is all about femininity and being empowered. She doesn’t ask permission — she does things. And I also loved how she was queer but never once saw herself as “broken” because of it, which was so refreshing to read in a historical fiction. Basically I just left this book feeling so happy because Julie was witty and could shoot a gun and wasn’t afraid to get mucky and was terrified of ghosts and LOVED BEING PRETTY and kissed whoever she wanted. And Julie’s surrounded by equally fabulous and powerful female role models, like her mother and grandmother, and they take 0% shenanigans too. I’m just so in awe. Usually I avoid historical fiction because of having to wade through pits of feeling inferior — but nooooot so here. There are sexist characters and the world isn’t sugar-coated into an “ideal land”, but it’s just NICE SEEING WOMEN BE PROUD OF THEMSELVES.

I also loved how the book handled the travellers! Although it made me so furious at how horribly they were treated. They’re called “tinkers” by the locals, (basically Scottish gypsies) and they’re abused and railed against at every turn. I love how Julie becomes friends with Euan and Ellen. And quite frankly Euan is the sweetest of ever and Ellen was a piece of frosty ice and absolutely amazing.

I enjoyed the lazy summery pace of the plot. Although quite frankly it was the setting I was monstrously in love with! All old castles and manors and beautifully described rivers of pearls. The writing is just SO GOOD that every scene somehow was lush and delicious and I felt like I was there, taking my summer in Scotland.

If you like historical fiction, mysteries, and feminists — The Pearl Thief is calling to you! It’ll take you on a beautiful adventure through Scotland until you feel like you just dropped into the 1930s! There is hilarious banter and an ending you absolutely will never guess.

Homeless in Australia: ‘Because of You’ by Pip Harry

Pip Harry is the author of three Australian YA novels, I’ll Tell You Mine; Head of the River, an unflinching look at elite school rowing, and now, Because of You which gives insight into people living on the streets.

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

Currently I am based in steamy Singapore, where my family has been living for the past 18 months on an expat adventure. I had an earlier stint here when I was six years old … it’s changed a bit since then! I love the warm weather, the proximity to Asia for quick trips to exotic destinations and the food is so good. Satay, noodles, chilli crab, dumplings, I could go on!

How involved are you in Australia’s YA community?

I’m actively and passionately involved in Australia’s YA community, even from my Singapore outpost! Through the #LoveOzYA movement – which aims to promote local content to local readers – I’ve been swept up in support and love for Aussie YA. Wherever possible I review or promote other #LoveOzYA releases. We are one big YA family.

Could you tell us about your earlier books?

In 2012, I released my debut novel, I’ll Tell You Mine, about a goth teenager sent to a strict girl’s boarding school. In 2014, I followed up with Head of the River, about siblings competing in the high stakes annual school rowing race and putting it all on the line to win. 

Why is your new novel Because of You (UQP) important?

It’s important because it offers younger readers the opportunity to understand and emphasise with the daily struggles of street people. Many teenagers have little or no contact with the homeless community, except perhaps walking past them on the street, but this book tells their stories, reminds readers that it could happen to any one of us, and offers hope for change.

Could you tell us about your major characters, Tiny and Nola?

Tiny, 18, is sleeping rough and has fled her rural town for the city. Nola, 17, is drifting through her final year at school, unsure of her path in life or her friendships. When Nola is assigned to do 20 days of mandatory community service at a homeless shelter’s creative writing program, the girls meet and form a friendship that will change both their lives.

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the community setting. Who most pulls at your heart and why?

One of the things I loved most about writing Because of You was the supporting cast of characters. The one who captured my heart was Meredith, who runs the Street Library. I love her belief that “books can save anyone, if they’re the right ones,” and her passion to bring stories to the streets.

My son cooks burgers for the homeless in Sydney. What would you suggest ordinary Australians do for the homeless?

Does he? That’s so fantastic! There is so much ordinary Australian’s can do to lend a hand in the homeless community, from serving food in soup kitchens to supporting creative workshops or offering your time and skills in other ways. Check out govolunteer.com.au for opportunities in your area.

What hope do you see for Australia’s homeless in the near future?

It’s easy to get discouraged about the homeless crisis when tent cities are being dismantled and figures for homelessness are rising. But my hope is that we can take national action to end homelessness in this country through supporting our homeless organisations and investing in affordable, stable and permanent public housing.

Why have you incorporated Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon into Because of You?

Those books are incredible and they’re written by Australian authors I admire, so I wanted my characters to read and adore them too!

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve been reading the chilling, ghostly Ballad for a Mad Girl by the brilliant Vikki Wakefield and I’m in awe of the backwards narrative in Everything is Changed by Nova Weetman. I really liked the passion and rawness of Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. 

Thanks very much, Pip, and all the best with Because of You.

Thanks for having me!

South Asian Inspired YA Epic Fantasy Books

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


REBEL OF THE SANDS BY ALWYN HAMILTON

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

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

 

POISON’S KISS BY BREEANA SHIELDS

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

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

 

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN BY ROSHANI CHOKSHI

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

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

 

 

THE WRATH AND THE DAWN BY RENEE AHDIEH

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BUY HERE

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

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

Review: Vicarious by Paula Stokes

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Vicarious by Paula Stokes is definitely a wild ride with dark undertones! It’s a high-stakes thriller where 18-year-old Winter has to find out who murdered her older sister. And, why. It’s not graphic at all, but it definitely stays in the “dark side” and deals with topics more suited for older Young Adults. It keeps up quite the action pace and packs a lot into a 320-page story! You won’t be pausing much for breath for this one, while you see what Winter, with her badass fighting skills and brutal past, will do to find her sister’s killer.

Basically Winter works for a company that specialises in this technology that allows people to have stimulated thrills from the comfort of their own home. Things like diving with sharks, skydiving, or having sex with movie stars. People like Winter will go out and actually do the thrills, recording on their special ViSE headsets. While that’s the premise of the story, the actual stunts Winter pulls for her job don’t feature all that much. She’s mostly trying to figure out what happened to her sister and unravel the mysteries that start building up around her past, especially in the blocks of time she doesn’t remember. Someone is definitely after the tech and may do anything to get it.

Now the book isn’t graphic or explicit, but it is set against a backdrop of clubs and drugs. Winter was a child prostitute, stolen from Korea. She’s been rescued by Gideon who acts as her boss and older brother, while she and her sister Rose work as stunt girls. That’s just the backdrop though, and it doesn’t go into details. But you definitely see and feel the PTSD Winter has from her brutal and terrifying past.

Winter was such an interesting character! She holds onto a lot of her Korean roots, but is very eager to also fully immerse herself in America. She’s taken a new name (her Korean one being buried along with her terrifying memories of the past) and the book discusses a lot of mental health issues. Winter’s PTSD plays a huge part in the story too.

I also loved her relationship with her co-worker, Jesse! Winter isn’t sure she’ll ever be ready for a boyfriend, and Jesse doesn’t push, but he definitely likes her and their friendship grows into something strong and dependable. Jesse is super sweet! And also super badass. Although Winter doesn’t exactly need any saving (she’s epic with knives and martial arts), it’s epic to see them work together to solve the murder mystery.

The thriller aspect is really quite full on. I spent most of the book suspecting everyone of being a shady killer, and when Winter has black-outs in her memory, it just thickens the plot. I looove it when books turn into high-stake guessing games, so this was a solid win here! We get to piece together clues and suspect the worst as Winter unravels the story.

It also features a super diverse cast, which is amazing. Winter and Rose are obviously Korean. And Jesse is biracial and Mexican. It’s amazing having a full cast of featuring diverse characters were their culture is part of them and interestingly explored.

Vicarious is definitely a good thriller to pick up if you don’t mind the dark side. It’s an interesting story that’s easy to stay engaged with. I personally preferred the fighting scenes to their forays into clubs and technology experiences, but it was full of plot twists and sci-fi elements and lots of very sharp knives.

The Best YA Duologies

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

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

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


THIS SAVAGE SONG & OUR DARK DUET

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

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

 

SIX OF CROWS & CROOKED KINGDOM

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

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

 

THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE & THE SHIP BEYOND TIME

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

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

 

THE CROWN’S GAME & THE CROWN’S FATE

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

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

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

Steph Bowe’s latest YA novel is Night Swimming.

Thanks for being interviewed by Boomerang Books Blog, Steph. Where are you based and what is your current role?

I’m based on the Gold Coast, but I was born and raised in Melbourne. I write Young Adult novels and visit schools to give talks and run writing workshops.

How involved are you in Australia’s YA community?

I read more Australian YA that probably any other category! And I recommend it heartily to everyone, every chance I get. Australian YA is wonderful both to read and as a community to be part of – I have always found YA writers and readers incredibly supportive and welcoming.

Could you tell us about your earlier books?

My debut novel, Girl Saves Boy, is about a girl saving a boy from drowning, the secrets they both keep and all of the events that ensue, including garden gnome theft and lobster emancipation.

My second novel, All This Could End, is about Nina, a girl who robs banks with her psychopathic parents and younger brother – and accidentally takes hostage a boy she knows in a bank robbery that goes horribly awry.

Why is your new novel Night Swimming (Text Publishing) important?

It’s the first time I’ve really felt comfortable writing about a lot of things that are very close to my heart – I drew on my own life a lot writing this novel, and wrote about things that I think are important to represent in fiction for young people.

I was inspired to write Kirby dealing with her grandfather’s dementia after someone in my own life was diagnosed with dementia, which is something that so many people deal with. And even though the novel covers a lot of heavier things – including mental illness and being estranged from a parent – there’s still a lot of humour and lightness. It’s a novel that’s hopeful.

Kirby is gay but the focus of the novel is not on her coming out; that’s just one aspect of her life and who she is, and is normal and accepted, as it should be. The country town where she lives is not a homogenous place, because Australia is diverse, and I wanted to represent that – so characters some from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. I aspired to write individuals; no real person is defined by one aspect of themselves, and people rarely fit clichés, so I wanted my characters to reflect that.

I wrote Night Swimming as the novel that would have been a comfort to me as a young person, who often felt anxious and out of place and awkward, and who struggled with my sexuality and my race and so many other things. And I hope that other young people will find the novel uplifting. I hope that it resonates.

Who are the major human (and animal) characters?

Kirby, our awkward/adorable protagonist, who has a pet goat, is a carpentry apprentice and loves her family and her town more than anything. She wants nothing to change in her life, and – unfortunately for her – suddenly everything does.

Clancy, her best friend, who is obsessed with musical theatre and longs to leave town, move to Sydney, and become a star. Instead he’s stuck working in his parents’ restaurant. He continually comes up with ridiculous money-making schemes and insists on Kirby being his partner-in-crime.

Iris, new girl in town and the love interest of both Kirby and Clancy. Her parents open a restaurant across the road from the restaurant belonging to Clancy’s parents, sparking a bit of a rivalry. She plays the mandolin, is the most brightly dressed person Kirby has ever met, and makes a lot of puns.

Stanley, Kirby’s pet goat, son of her first pet goat, Gary. Likeable, charming, sophisticated. Not a regular goat, a cool goat. Best character in the book.

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the community setting. Who is your favourite and why?

Kirby’s cousin Nathan is my favourite of the secondary characters – he’s a bogan and a bit of a dag, but he’s a very affable, endearing character. (And he, and Kirby’s friend/Nathan’s girlfriend Claire, were the same age as me when I wrote this – about 21. So if I lived in the town, I would be friends with them – that’s probably why I wrote them to be so likeable.)

I really enjoyed the humour in the story. Could you share a little?

Thank you! Clancy is the biggest source of humour in the story – probably because he is so unapologetically and ridiculously himself, and Kirby is willing to be a sidekick and go along with his absurd plans. His Cane Toad Removal Specialists scheme is one of my favourites.

Why crop circles?

I love The X-Files. I love conspiracy theories around aliens, though I don’t believe them – they’re entertaining. And I love the idea of bored teenage kids in country towns making crop circles.

I also wanted to explore the way that things that are pretty uneventful (i.e. some crops getting flattened) can explode into a huge source of gossip and intrigue when there’s not much else going on (i.e. in a small town).

Why have you mentioned George Orwell books?

I really enjoyed 1984 and Animal Farm as a teenager, and so many young people study George Orwell books at school. And because they’re classics, older people have read them, too. So a love of George Orwell books is something that Kirby has in common with her mum – who she’s very different from, in a lot of ways.

Were you talking to Gabrielle Tozer while you both were writing your new books? You’ve both mentioned The Very Hungry Caterpillar! What were some of your favourite books as a child?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is such a timeless classic – I adored it as a kid, and I think anyone who read it as a child loved it. I remember wanting to create stories way back when I was reading picture books – probably before I actually understood the words. I loved Where The Wild Things Are, and the Charlie and Lola series, and The Lighthouse Keepers’ Lunch.

As a slightly older kid, I loved massive series – The Saddle Club, Babysitter’s Club, Enid Blyton’s books, just anything with a whole lot of books I could collect and obsess over. My favourite Australian books as a kid was Deborah Abela’s Max Remy Superspy series. I always wanted to be a spy.

I started reading YA when I was about eleven – my first favourite YA novel was On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, and it’s still one of my favourites now (I could not possibly name a single favourite novel these days – I would have to give you a top ten).

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve been reading lots of Australian YA, including:

Vikki Wakefield’s Ballad For A Mad Girl which is an incredibly creepy novel about a girl being haunted by a ghost – that’s still very authentic and magnificently written (like everything by Wakefield).

Paula Weston’s The Undercurrent which combines sci-fi and action in a future, dystopian Australia and manages to be both enjoyable escapism and politically relevant and thought-provoking, which is quite a feat.

Mark Smith’s The Road To Winter which is a really haunting dystopian novel that’s ultimately hopeful. It’s reminiscent of Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy but with a deadly virus as the apocalyptic event rather than nuclear winter. I’m excited for the sequel.

And I just finished Begin, End, Begin, the #LoveOzYA anthology, which was all kinds of wonderful. My favourite story is the one by Jaclyn Moriarty, because it features a time travel agency and a hilarious protagonist.

Thanks very much, Steph, and all the best with Night Swimming.

Thank you for interviewing me! Always a pleasure to ramble about books!

Review: Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Life as a Hashtag, interview with Gabrielle Williams

I was very disappointed to miss hearing you at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Gabrielle. What did you talk about and what did you particularly enjoy about your sessions?

 I’m disappointed I missed out on meeting you too, Joy. It was a crazy-busy week, and we obviously both had full dance-cards! As for my Festival talk: I have a theory about teenage audiences –10% of them love writing, and really want to be there. 20% are readers, so they’re happy to be there as well – that means 30% of the room are ‘interested’. 40% are pleased to be missing out on classwork, and if they enjoy the talk that’s a bonus. I put them in the ‘open’ category. That leaves 30% of the room at various degrees of active resistance to listening to what I have to say. I figure I’ve already got the ‘interested’ top 30%. The ‘open’ 40% can be persuaded. But it’s those tough nuts in the bottom 30% – the ones who don’t want to be there – who I want to crack. So my talk is directed at them. I talk about what I was like when I was at school (bad), and I read out extracts of my year 11 report (very bad), which generally sends a gasp through the room. I then explain that I’m a professional liar these days because I’m paid to make up stories, but I add that they shouldn’t judge me too harshly because actually, everyone lies. The fun part is when I ask them to put their hand up if they’ve told a lie that morning, and most of the room puts up their hand (including teachers). I then explain that lying isn’t always bad, because it utilises a particular type of thinking called ‘divergent thinking’ which is important for creativity. I take them through a technique I use called Nine Squares – which is divergent thinking made easy – and explain how they can use it for good (coming up with ideas), instead of evil (telling lies). One of the things that I particularly loved about my sessions at the Festival was when teachers came up to me afterwards and said they’re now going to incorporate Nine Squares into their classroom lessons. And when a group of boys walked up to me and said they thought writing sucked, but they’d each bought a copy of my book for me to sign anyway. Well, that right there felt like success to me.

What a great turn around with those students, Gabrielle! Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

I’m a Melbourne girl, and work a couple of days a week at Readings books in Malvern. I’m lucky enough to have made a fantastic group of friends in the Melbourne YA writing community who I’ve met through talking at Festivals and school visits  – Fiona Wood, Cath Crowley, Emily Gale, Nova Weetman, Kim Kane, Bec Lim, Chrissie Keighery, and Simmone Howell are all people I catch up with regularly. I’ve also become great friends with some Sydney writers (again through Festivals) and catch up with Kirsty Eagar, Melina Marchetta, and Will Kostakis whenever I’m in their neck of the woods.

I’ve really enjoyed the originality of your novels, Gabrielle. Could you give our readers a brief overview of each?

That’s gorgeous of you to say so, Joy. Thanks. My first YA book was ‘Beatle Meets Destiny’ which was about a superstitious boy called Beatle, who meets a girl called Destiny in unusual circumstances, and wonders whether she’s ‘the one’ – only problem being that Beatle already has a girlfriend. My next book was, ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’, a crazy road-trip type adventure between a group of 5 teenagers who have never met each other, but who have to drive (unlicensed) from Melbourne to Sydney in order to deliver the body of Jesus Christ to his next ‘safe house’. Some people were put off reading it because they thought it would be thrusting religion down their throat – it wasn’t. It wasn’t about religion at all (despite the fact that Jesus Christ Himself featured as one of the characters). In fact, it was an exploration of the themes of trust and selflessness, and I loved writing it because I felt like it was such an original concept. My third book was called ‘The Guy The Girl The Artist and His EX’. It follows four characters (again, who don’t know each other) who are all impacted on by the real-life theft of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ from the National Gallery of Victoria by the Australian Cultural Terrorists in 1986. My newest book is called, ‘My Life as a Hashtag’. It centres on a girl called MC who feels like everything is going wrong in her world, so she vents anonymously against one of her best friends on-line, only to watch, powerless, as her rant goes world-wide viral a few weeks later.

As with your other titles, I greatly admire My life as a hashtag (Allen & Unwin). How does this differ from your other books?  

‘My Life as a Hashtag’ is a much more linear novel. It’s ‘straighter’. It’s told from the perspective of looking back over the past year, running straight through from beginning to end, whereas with all my other books I’ve always liked playing with structure. I wanted to have a more tried-and-true structure for MLAAH, because there were a number of important issues I wanted to explore, and I felt like a linear structure would help give clarity to the concepts I was wanting to examine.

What issues did you raise in the novel?

There are a number of themes I wanted to look at: the issue of social media and how teens negotiate it; family break-ups; the identity of self; the politics of boys in female friendships; on-line trolling; the fact that once you post something on-line, you have no control over what people do with it; sibling relationships; ‘blocking’ and being ‘blocked’; and watching a party unfold on social media, when you’re not invited.

How did you create such a strong feeling of dread?

Creating a strong sense of dread was one of the ‘balances’ we worked hard to get right. I say ‘we’ because my editor and publisher were instrumental in pushing me to go further, and pulling me back when I went too far. I wanted there to be a sense of dread, but I also wanted a lightness throughout the book, otherwise the story would have been too grim. The sense of dread is created partly by telling the story from the perspective of the narrator looking back over the past year, which gives the reader the sense that something momentous has happened which the narrator is now reflecting back over.

This novel is very current, especially about social media. How do you know what teens are saying/doing?

The irony of me writing a book where social media is one of the major focuses, is that I’m not on Facebook, I’ve only recently started getting the hang of Twitter, and I’m still nervous about posting photos on Instagram. So technically, I don’t know what I’m talking about! However, as it turned out, my lack of knowledge ended up being to my advantage, because I didn’t make any assumptions about how teenagers use social media. Instead, I interviewed a number of them about how they approach it, the politics of posting, and how they deal with it emotionally. One of the things that I found interesting was the fact that they engage with it differently from even twenty somethings, creating something of a ‘generation gap’ between teens and people who are only a few years older. With respect to the teenagers I interviewed, I was astonished by some of the things they revealed to me (to the point where some them didn’t want to be thanked in the Acknowledgements – they’d rather remain anonymous). Through my research, I learnt about a thing called the secret Tumblr diary, which parents definitely don’t know about, and even friends aren’t privy to. If a teenager has a secret Tumblr diary, it’s the place they go to find a safe (and secret) community with others who are struggling with, say, their sexuality, body image, gender or friendship issues. I found the concept of the secret Tumblr diary both alarming and comforting. Alarming, because if, for example, they’re anorexic or bulimic, there are girls (overwhelming this is a girl issue) called Ana (pro-anorexia) or Mia (pro-bulimia) who give tips on how to purge (vomit) effectively. But comforting because this is where they go to speak to likeminded individuals if they aren’t sure if they’re gay, or trans, or are trying to reconcile other confusing feelings or issues inside their head.

What tips have you learned about successfully using social media while researching and writing this novel?

I learnt that if you want to get the optimum ‘likes’ on Instagram, you have to time your posts for when everyone is most likely to be on-line. Generally a Sunday afternoon is a good time. Definitely NOT a Saturday night.

Have you ever started any trending posts?

No. I think a trending post would be quite difficult to manufacture, and the stuff that goes viral is so random, it’s almost impossible to pick.

What does the cover represent? 

I adore the cover and think Debra Billson did an outstanding job. It’s a photo from an Instagram post, taken the night MC and one of her best friends Anouk have a massive falling out over a boy called Jed. The title and my name are written in a font which has graduated colouring, mirroring the logo of Instagram. It’s so funny to watch adults pick up my book and ask me what the cover represents, whereas teenagers pick it up and instantly recognise it as Instagram.

MC and her friends are studying Jasper Jones and Harvest in English. Why did you choose these two books?

‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey is a current school text that has as one of its themes the idea of rumour and innuendo and assumption of guilt. ‘Harvest’ by Jim Crace is set back in the middle ages when stocks in the village square were a form of punishment. Both books – even though they’re both set in an earlier time – have parallels with today’s internet culture: the public shaming, innuendo and rumour, where society makes judgments on people without having the full facts – often without even caring what the real facts are. So long as someone can be the scapegoat, everyone’s happy.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?

I’m one of the judges for the Readings Prize for Adult Literature, so I’ve been reading plenty of new Australian fiction lately. Some of the ones I’ve personally loved (which may or may not make it onto the long or short list) are, ‘Skylarking’ by Kate Mildenhall, ‘The Lost Pages’ by Marija Pericic, ‘To the Sea’ by Christine Dibley, ‘From the Wreck’ by Jane Rawson and ‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent. So much great Australian fiction at the moment – we’re really experiencing a heyday. The other book I really want to read is, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders which I’ve heard amazing things about.

I loved Skylarking and The Good People but you’ve given me even more books I must read, Gabrielle.

Thank you for your very generous answers, Gabrielle, and wishing you great success with My life as a hashtag and your other books.

Review: Song Of The Current by Sarah Tolcser

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Song Of The Current by Sarah Tolcser absolutely caught my heart with its levels of epic swashbuckling. I’m always on the look out for delicious pirate books, and this doesn’t disappoint! Also add in a dash of love/hate romance, smuggling, dark power that does not sleep, badass female captains, personified water gods, a small mention of a water drakon, and delicious amounts of fried fishfingers — and you have ourself a most spectacular novel. I can’t love this one enough!

The story centres around Caro Oresteia who is-first mate to her father, a wherry captain. They sail the rivers (and have a small side-business of smuggling) and they get called upon to deliver a secret box. When Caro’s dad gets thrown in jail, she has to sail her ship alone and deliver the box. Except a pirate attack drives her to check out this sinister cargo — and the contents change everything.

I will also emphatically rave over the world building. Most of the book takes place on rivers, and I could just feel the murky depths and the jungles and the wherries catching the right tides as they slink up and down jungle infested rivers. I could see it all! It was perfect and brilliant. #aesthetic Plus it actually had a unique and interesting magic system and an intoxicatingly vicious political aspect going on. I didn’t get confused or overwhelmed. Details were sparse but pointed.

Caro was an AMAZING protagonist! She’s stubborn and feisty and loyal and brave. She’s in love with the water and her boat, and when her dad gets thrown into jail for not smuggling something super top secret and suspicious for the royalty? CARO DOES IT. She gets a letter of the marque and becomes a privateer. Also she will stab you in the eye if you insult her ship.

The romance was just the best, with the love-to-hate trope done to perfection. Caro getting entangled with an important and stuffily vain boy who needs her help. Their banter is exceptional. Mostly because they hate each other. I ship these two. Markos is forever my favourite. He dresses nicely, he has no idea what anything does on a ship (#relatable), and he is badass when he’s finished being vain.

The plot was engaging the whole time! Although all the sea/ship explanations lost me. However it did make the book feel real. There as plenty of sailing and gunshots and sneaking around like skulking pirates.

My only dislikes? Not much! I was just disappointed I guessed all the plot twists and the stakes never felt really high enough for me to be worried for the characters.

This is a completely murky and beautiful tale of rivers and pirates, of smugglers and guns, of sea gods and monsters. It was beautifully and engagingly written with characters I fell totally in love with! I adored how much it empowered women and gave us the badass female pirates we’ve all been longing for. There’s explosions and deathly sword fights and stolen ships and an engaging plot. What more could we want?!

YA Wintery Reads To Curl Up With

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

Winter is coming. Be prepared. Stockpile books.


SHIVER BY MAGGIE STEIFVATER

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

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THE IMPOSTOR QUEEN BY SARAH FINE

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

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THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING BY JEFF GILES

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

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

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

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SNOW LIKE ASHES BY SARA

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

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Review: Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

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Night Swimming by Steph Bowe was a piece of adorkable cuteness! It’s such a good example why Aussie YA is absolutely the best and so entirely special. I’ve loved Steph Bowe’s previous books (Girl Saves Boy and All This Could End) and I’m so glad she’s back writing again with this one! It has goat puns, quirky humour, dry wit, book lover appreciation, and features a super cute gay romance. Plus it’s set in a small dusty Australian town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Oh. And there’s crop circles. Because of course.

The story centres around Kirby, who is one of the only two teens in the town. Her best-friend-by-default is Clancy Lee, son of the local Chinese restaurant owners. They have the most hilarious witty dialogue of ever and I can’t get enough of it! Kirby is working as a carpenter apprentice and fast approaching the doomed decision of What Do I Do With My Life.

Kirby is also such a fabulously relatable protagonist! She has a great sense of humour and she is very obsessed with books. Although she claims she has a “book buying problem” which is obviously nonsense because when is buying books a problem? It’s a lifestyle, Kirby, you’re fine. When the new girl Iris comes into town, Kirby can’t work up the courage to admit she likes her. The adorkable awkwardness is equal parts hilarious and definitely relatable. Plus Kirby is a huge fan of chips and I mean…who isn’t.

The plot isn’t super faced paced, but it’s full of interesting happenings. Someone’s making plot circles in the local fields (aliens?!) and Clancy is putting on a musical for the sole reason to impress the new girl, Iris. There’s flood warnings coming and goats eating everyone’s shoes and is Kirby’s mum secretly dating the local Greek grocery store assistant?!

There is a love triangle, but it’s not a super angsty one. When Iris arrives, both Kirby and Clancy immediately fall in love with her…but it’s Kirby who actually tries to befriend her while Clancy maintains a more dreamy idea of Iris’ imagined perfection. Iris is part New Zelander and part Indian and is the daughter of a new restaurant owner, bound to give Clancy’s family a bit of friendly competition. She’s also definitely hiding the reason they moved out and Kirby is definitely curious about that. But I appreciated how the romance was “Friendship to Lovers” because I think it makes it so much stronger and sweeter!

OTHER THINGS TO LOVE

  • beautiful but horrible puns
  • small dusty country Aussie town
  • Kirby was fat and while she fretted over it occasionally she was also okay wiher her body and sent great messages of self-love
  • the romance was basically ADORKABLE with Kirby spending 5 hours sending a text that says “sure”
  • bookworm appreciation
  • a pet goat named Stanley who will eat your shoes and soul
  • Aussie slang which is my favourite
  • Kirby’s grandpa features in the story
  • excellent diversity representation

I fully adored this book! I laughed out loud and ate it faster than a goat with a tasty stolen slipper. Steph Bowe is a master storyteller and I was engaged the entire time with the quirky and fabulous writing style. It summarises the awkward and awesome that is the life of a teenager and the tale is poignant as well as downright fun.

5 YA Books On My To-Be-Read Pile (And Why You Want Them Too!)

Buying new shiny books is obviously one of the greatest delights a bookworm can have. Because first of all, we bookworms have voracious appetites and need to be fed regularly. And who doesn’t like receiving parcels in the mail!? Particularly when it’s books?! I highly suggest skipping a few coffees and putting aside some money to buy yourself a delightful new Young Adult book. But what should you get? Ah, the golden question. Here, sit tight, get some popcorn, and I’ll list 5 books I’ve bought this year that should definitely be on your To-Be-Read Pile too.


CARAVAL BY STEPHANIE GRABER

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This book is not only absolutely gorgeous, but it also comes in two editions that are nearly impossible to choose between. I ended up with the one on the left, but I tell you: it was a hard choice.

The story is about a magical circus and stars Scarlett who wants to see the circus preform before she’s forced into an unwanted arranged marriage. She gets caught up in the mystery and intrigue when her friend gets kidnapped, only be assured it’s all a performance and a game. Or is it? (Cue ominous music.)

It sounds lush and fantastical and definitely the kind of story I need in my life.

 

CARVE THE MARK BY VERONICA ROTH

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Finally we have a new book from the NYT bestselling author of the Divergent trilogy! I am definitely keen to see her take on a new genre of hardcore sci-fi and build a new world with this gorgeous looking novel.

It’s set in a galaxy where people have gifts and powers that dictate how they’re treated and who they can control. Two teens have to reset the power balance in the world which sounds just about as easy as using froot loops as a hat. So GOOD LUCK TO THEM. And I’m really excited by the idea of superpowers and other galaxies and a sharp, stabby girl, and a peaceful, quiet boy duo.

 

A QUIET KIND OF THUNDER BY SARA BARNARD

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This is a change from my usual hardcore fantasy tastes, but I’m a huge lover of diverse fiction and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this new book that features a girl with Selective Mutism and a Deaf boy! I’ve heard many people say it’s super sweet and informative and tells a story that’s going to wrap around your heart until you fall in love with it. Here, here! I’m ready for that! Plus it’s always nice to have a chance from all these stabby fantasy novels, right?

 

ALLEGEDLY BY TIFFANY D. JACKSON

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This is another contemporary (mixed with crime thriller) about a 9-year-old girl who allegedly murdered a baby. What happened to her after she got out of jail? That’s where the story picks up and it promises a mind twisting and gut wrenching story of a girl who says she’s been falsely accused.

Mary is also pregnant from a boy she loves but has to keep a secret because she’s under strict surveillance at her foster home. but she’s terrified she wont’ be able to keep her own baby, with what she went to prison for and all. So the book is about her trying to clear her name!

 

HEARTSTONE BY ELLE KATHARINE WHITE

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All we need to know about this one is: DRAGONS. Who doesn’t love dragons?!? And I’m always excited to see an epic looking edition coming out! This one is also rumoured to be a Pride and Prejudice retelling in a world of magical creatures like gryphons, direwolves, banshees and…of course, dragons.

When the blurb says “They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay-and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters” I know I am going to need this kind of novel in my life. Battles! Action! Intrigue! Quests! Swords! And a handsome and sassy dragonrider love interest to top it all off? I’m sure this is going to be a dragonishly good time. I can’t wait to get started!

Review: Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

9780385755924I was so incredibly excited to read Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven! One of my most favourite books in the world is her YA Debut, All The Bright Places, which managed to reduce me to a howling mess of adoration, feels, and awareness about mental health matters. I was a bit nervous that Holding Up The Universe would destroy me or not live up to All The Bright Places. And you know what? It was different. And that’s okay! There was still feels, epic dialogue, and some sweet moments that absolutely melted my heart. It featured two teens who were struggling with life, who weren’t perfect, who had a lot to learn, and yet were so relatable I just wanted to squish them with hugs. I am 100% of the opinion that a good book makes you feel things. All stars of approval for Holding Up the Universe!

I feel like a big message of the book was about “being seen”. It’s equal parts about Libby (who was once known as the “fattest teen in America”) and Jack (who has prosopagnosia which is a disability that renders you unable to recognise facial features). I loved the storyline! It was so poignant and beautifully written. Here’s these two teens who have a very rocky meeting (aka they nearly get each other expelled) but slowly learn to stop making assumptions about people and listen. And give second chances. It impressed me so much honestly! I also adored all the messages of self worth and love and acceptance that were woven through the book!

Brief List Of Other Things I Loved:

  • There are so many references to the TV show of Supernatural! Of which I am a ginormous fan so thank you for all that nerdom!
  • There is a lot of dancing. Dancing everywhere! Dancing whether people think you’re good at it or not! Dancing because it makes you happy!
  • There is diverse representation of size and skin colour and disabilities.
  • Jack has a gorgeous afro and has an epic love for it that made my day.
  • There is self-love for one’s body, no matter what the size.

 

And the characters?! I loved them! Jack was my absolutely favourite, but it took me longer to warm up to Libby, as she speaks and thinks all the right things, but when it comes down to it…she body shames herself. She’s still overweight but not dangerously so like she was when they had to lift her out of her house in a crane. She also has a bit of a self-righteous attitude. But you know what?? She’s been through a lot! She lost her mother, she nearly died, and now she’s doing her best to show the world you should love yourself. THE END. No exceptions.

I just felt Jack was a pure and precious cinnamon roll. And yes his decisions in the book often absolutely sucked. He hadn’t been diagnosed with prosopagnosia so he basically felt he was falling apart, that he was crazy or broken. Since he’s “face blind” it really freaks him out that he can’t tell people apart. In a room full of kids, he can’t even pick out his own brother. I could feel his fright and anxiety on every page and I just rooted for him to discover having a disability is not shameful and doesn’t make him broken. The book handled it all so well! I can only applaud!

This is definitely a powerful story with really important themes and messages. I also couldn’t stop reading! The chapters are short and punchy and the characters are relatable and precious. What more can one want?!

[PURCHASE HERE]

YA Books About Amnesia

In my enthusiastic career as a devourer of all things YA, I’ve discovered amnesia is a very popular theme in a lot of books! It can add so many elements of mystery to a novel, since you can’t tell if what the unreliable narrator is thinking is true or false. It also gets one’s heart beating tenderly to think of these people who have huge holes in their lives due to memory loss. Will they get their memories back? Will there be epic plot twists? What is it like to live with this disability?

Today I have a list of YA books that feature characters with anmesia!


9781760111069WE WERE LIARS

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This is definitely one of the most small but brilliant books I’ve ever read. It’s the kind you go into with the “knowing less is best” motto. The plot twist at the end is the most devastating and yet brilliant thing ever and I think I sat like a shocked turtle for 9 years after I finished reading it.

It also features rich kids on an island and a disturbing summer and secrets that you’ll never possibly guess the answers to.


9781908435132THE MAZE RUNNER

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This is of course an exceptionally famous series! It features Thomas, who has been forced into a dystopian maze for…well, who knows? He has no memories except this metal box he arrives in the maze in. It’s a confusing story, full of plot twists and intrigue. It also features a group of boys fighting for their lives in a monstrous maze that sends monsters and other horrors out at them. Chances of everyone surviving? BASICALLY NO.


9780141368511THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS

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This book has only just been released so it is still a small baby book just out in the world! It’s about Flora who has short-term-memory problems (basically like being a teen with dementia) after an operation to remove a tumour from her brain. She remembers nothing consistently until she’s kissed by a boy…and then begins her journey to find him again when he disappears into the Arctic. The prose sometimes goes in circles to represent Flora’s confused thinking patterns and I thought it was a realistic and excellent way to represent what Flora was going through.


9781408877807THE LEAVING

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This one is about a group of teens who were kidnapped when they were small children. Years later they’ve returned, now as teens but with no memory of where they went or what happened to them. At first it’s joy that people get to put their families back together…and then it’s mistrust because who knows if these kids are telling the truth? It’s a rather heartbreaking book as kids have to learn who they were again and solve the mystery of their amnesia.


9780062231185THE HALF LIFE OF MOLLY PIERCE

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This is by an extremely excellent and talented and underrated author, and I suggest checking out all her books ASAP. This book features Molly Pierce (surprise!) who keeps blacking out and waking up in places she has no idea how she got there. She feels like her life is unravelling and she’s freaking out over how and why she has these random bursts of amnesia. Then a boy appears and claims they know each other and Molly discovers her life is absolutely not what it seems.

The Best YA Fictional Families

There comes a time in every bookworm’s life where they secretly would like to be adopted by an amazing fictional family. No shame! Sometimes we just want to dissolve into a book with a quirky or magical or epic family whose lives are 78% more exciting than our own.

Today I’m listing some of my top favourite fictional families that appear in Young Adult books across a variety of genres. And hopefully I’ll find a wish-granting factory to let me turn into a book for day and visit them. Because that would be awesome, yes please and thank you.


9780575096721WHITE CAT

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This is one of my all-time favourite fictional families because they’re like the magical Mafia! This is set in a world were you can curse someone with a simple touch. And obviously not everyone is using this talent for good. Cassel’s family is a bunch of con-artists who definitely make use of their skills — with crime. It’s exciting, sassy, and devious and there are plot twists that will fairly knock you over. Plus who doesn’t want to read about a family of conartists and sociopaths?!


9780525428688ROCKS FALL, EVERYONE DIES

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Aspen’s family are also most definitely magical. They have to constantly preform rituals to keep the cliff above the town from breaking apart and falling and crushing everyone flat. How do they do this? They have this magical ability to “pull” things out of people. Like your over-achieving tendencies. Or your hope. Or your pain. Or your ability to see. Things are a little morally grey around here. This is a perfectly amazing magical realism story and you’ll be wondering just how far Aspen’s family will go.


9781408845646HARRY POTTER

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Of course I can’t help but mention the Weasley family! They basically act as Harry’s adopted family during the holidays and I adore how supportive and kind and loving the parents are. (An actual rare thing in books it seems…) Also the big family dynamics are hilarious and perfect, because when there’s a dozen kids running around, things are going to get hectic. Whenever Harry spent Christmas or his holidays with Ron’s family, I always got all the warm squishy feelings. The Weasleys are perfection.


9780142426043MY LIFE NEXT DOOR

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Just in case you didn’t want a magical family  (pfft, what’s wrong with you though?!) here is one of my favourite big-families in a contemporary novel! The Garretts have half a dozen kids in all ages and their life is happy, warm chaos. The book is about Sam who, in contrast, lives in a rather cold and very particular house with her politician mother who really has nothing to do with her daughter. The story is heartwarming with the cutest romance and some seriously tragic moments to make you sniffle into your popcorn as you read.


9781408870082WHEN WE COLLIDED

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This is Emery Lord’s latest book and it’s half narrated by Viv, who has bipolar, and half by Jonah, who is doing his best to keep his family together after their father died. Jonah has several little siblings he looks after and he’s also an insanely talented cook. So not only will you melt at the severe adorableness of a big brother babysitting, you’ll also get so hungry you’ll feel like devouring the book at dawn. Perhaps eat before you read. That should help.

Review: The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

9780143309031After reading Will Kostakis’ book The First Third and being a gargantuan fan, I knew I had to try his latest novel, The Sidekicks. And it was brilliant! (Although I confess to loving The First Third more.) This is mostly because the format in The Sidekicks threw me off a bit, but if I’d known to start with it was going to be from three points-of-view, I would’ve been a lot more prepared. As is, I was so emotional by the end I could feel my glacial heart melting. And that’s the kind of reaction I want in a book!

The story is basically about the death of Isaac and how it leaves his three friends (Ryan, Harley and Miles) all to piece together their lives without him. The twist? Ryan, Harley and Miles aren’t friends. They barely even know each other. Isaac was their link. The death affects them all very differently and they have to (A) own up to knowing darker things about Isaac’s past, and (B) accidentally start working together, and (C) learn to let go.

At first I was dubious that I might not care enough because I didn’t “know” Isaac…but I definitely did end up caring! You get to know Isaac a bit more through some flashbacks. And I loved how the three boys started to depend on each other and help each other out…like they were filling the holes Isaac left. The #SquadGoals were immensely awesome.

Like I said, there’s 3 POVs, one from each of the boys. It’s a short book (under 300-pages) so it doesn’t leave us a lot of room to get to know each boy, but I think the story still did an admirable job of pulling us into Ryan, Harley, and Miles’ worlds.

So a brief run down on the three parts of the story:

  • It starts off with Ryan who is a dedicated swimmer and is also gay but so deep in the closet he’s having tea with Mr. Tumnus. Ryan’s mum is a teacher, so he’s pretty much the goody-goody of the squad. But he also harbours a lot of fears and anxieties about who he is and what it would mean to come out.
  • Then we have Harley. The writing changes styles drastically here and goes rather stilted and jagged to represent how Harley is not very studious at all…and is known to drink and perhaps pass along drugs. But he still has one of those “mildly bad boy golden hearts” which was winning! He had such a good soul.
  • Lastly there’s Miles. I really loved Miles who is a socially-inept nerd and incredibly smart and also runs some black-market operations. He is the one who doubts if he even meant anything to Isaac, who was his only friend…until Miles gets caught up with Ryan and Harley. Miles was really blunt, but still a squishable gem who I really felt for! His ache over losing Isaac was the most palpable.

 

I think the strengths of the story definitley lie in the character development! If only it had been a bit longer, because I would’ve loved to get to know each boy just a bit more deeper than the short chapters allowed. But the plot was amazing, with a little bit of mystery, and a whole lot of heartache, and a good dash of hope. I’m endlessly in love with how these characters’ stories unravelled and I loved the diversity representation and how it wasn’t cliche or stereotyped! The book was, naturally, amazing.

[buy now]

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

If you’re looking for a deadly brutal YA historical fiction retelling…And I Darken by Kiersten White is calling your name. Practically screaming it in a bloodthirsty way, let’s be honest. This book is incredible. It’s dark and accurately portrays how vicious the world was back in the 1400s. It’s also a9780552573740 gender-bent retelling of Vlad the Impaler! So instead of “Vlad” we have “Lada” (which is actually the feminine equivalent) who is terrifying and admirable. This book is totally the definition of EPIC.

The story follows the life of Lada. It starts off, literally, with her birth and then follows her briefly through childhood to the viciously terrifying teenager she becomes. She’s a wild girl who desperately wants the approval of her terrible father, Prince of Wallachia. Except her father ends up abandoning her to the Ottomans, as hostages basically, and she grows up estranged from her homeland and lost and alone. Except, of course, for her little brother: Radu. Radu is as thoughtful and kind and soft as Lada is tough and violent and raging. They clash like nothing else. Except they also care fiercely for each other. #siblings And they both perhaps fall in love with the young Sultan, Mehmed. Which is awkward considering Mehmed is Lada and Radu’s sworn enemy.

The story has a lot of political elements. It almost reminded me of Game of Thrones in that respect. Basically it is 90% about who is at war with who and who wants to stab and impale who (spoiler: EVERYONE WANTS TO STAB EVERYONE) and alliances and broken alliances and who gets the throne and etc. It was very interesting, although boarded on info-dumping several times. But it made me care about the characters at first, so the political and historical aspects (while a bit dry) didn’t get overly tedious.

It definitely features historical elements! Although, since it is historical fiction, some timelines have been moved and rearranged to create a faster-moving story. But I loved learning about the Ottoman culture and I didn’t know much about Vlad the Impaler before….and now I do! Huzzah!9780553522310

The characters were definitely the highlight. Often I read books where the book promises dark/vicious characters…but then all the character does is sneezes on a puppy and doesn’t apologise and it’s all very anti-climatic. Not so here! Lada is downright cruel. She stabs and bites and she’s feral and wild and basically amazing. Nothing gets her down. Although as the book goes on she does mature and develop as a character. Sometimes she even talks to people before immediately smacking them in the head. #progress Radu dual-narrates and he’s equally amazing to read about. Despite being labelled the “weak” one and constantly underestimated, he’s very clever and intelligent and collects information and uses it for blackmail. These two siblings were just so contrasted and intriguing that I couldn’t put the book down!

There is a love triangle, although it’s a muted one. Considering Radu refuses to admit his feelings for Mehmed and Lada would rather stab puppies than admit her feelings for Mehmed. The romance definitely features in the plot, but it doesn’t overwhelm things.

It is quite a long book, at 500-pages. I felt it could’ve been shorter and condensed some of the intense load of politics and focused more on the characters than the world. My favourite scenes were all the conversations between the trio: Lada, Radu, and Mehmed. They were all three so awesome and complex!

And though the book is quite dark, it’s not super graphic. So if you’re squeamish, you’ll be fine! (Mostly.) Of course there is impaling and stabbing and assassination attempts and Lada kindly (not) tortures the kids she grows up with all through her childhood…oh and there’s plenty of WAR and BATTLES.

ALL IN ALL: I have such fond feelings for this book! It was intense and exciting and intriguing. The writing was engaging, although a little dry at times, and the characters were winning despite being entirely horrible to each other. I am desperate for the next instillment!

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: The Things I Didn’t Say by Kylie Fornasier

I was excited and nervous to dive into The Things I Didn’t Say by Kylie FornaiserHer debut novel, Masquerade (an Italian-based historical fiction!) was absolutely stupendous. And I was entirely curious to see how she’d go writing a contemporary dealing with social anxiety disorders. But this book is practically flawless. Honestly I’m so pleased with it! It features the cutest characters of ever, incredible writing, and a careful and honouring portrayal of Social Anxiety and Selective Mutism. All I can do is applaud!9780143573630

Actually, I can totally do more than applaud. TIME FOR AN ENTHUSIASTIC REVIEW AS WELL.

The story is about Piper who has Selective Mutism. Before reading this book I knew basically 2% about Selective Mutism and I’d never read a book on it. Piper hasn’t stopped speaking because of a traumatic event — she has Social Anxiety and she’s had it most of her life. She can talk. And she does around her family and with any friends she’s super close to. But she never talks in public due to her astronomically high levels of anxiety. And you know what?!? It was just so well written. I appreciated the accurate and thoughtful representation and the detailed though process of Piper’s reactions to stressful situations.

The story follows Piper as she’s starting a new school. Which is always hard because she can’t talk and people rarely understand and force her into situations that make it worse. She left her old school because of a Big Bad Thing that we readers are basically desperate to find out whyyyyy. I could basically feel the tension and anxiety and hopelessness leaking off the pages as Piper navigates the world. But yet she still keeps up a fairly good humour despite it! Plus she does make some friends. It’s so adorably encouraging to see some of the school kids taking her under their wing.

The romance is entirely adorable! Although I’m not the biggest romantic of ever….oh gosh, I was definitely shipping this. There’s a slow-burn and super sweet relationship between Piper and a boy she meets at school: West. They start off passing notes and then merging to tutoring and it’s just downright adorable. West does push at at Piper several times, questioning why she won’t speak to him when she clearly likes him. It’s complicated, okay?!? But whenever he does something sucky he actually apologies. Like, dude. This is unbelievably good. Plus on top of West’s manners and charm, his passion is cooking! He gets excited about the thought of truffles and opening a restaurant (!!) and what is not to like about this boy?!

I immensely enjoyed reading about Piper’s epic family too. She has 3 siblings and 2 fantastically loving, joking, supportive parents! Sometimes they don’t truly understand her mutism, but they try. Her parents will put her into expensive therapies if it’ll help, and they are there for her, and they don’t force her into doing anything that will freak her out. Plus they have family game nights and excuse me but I love them all.

Of course there’s plenty of DRAMA, too. The ending was nearly cheesy with plenty of feel-good moments and a few convenient plot twists, but it was still done super sweetly. The story just has so many fabulous elements! Cooking! Emailing trees! Mutism! Glorious happy family dynamics! Disney’s Frozen references! Photography! I can overlook the drama llama tendencies.

All in all: The Things I Didn’t Say was beautifully written and incredible to read. It had frank and meaningful and accurate discussions and portrayals about anxiety disorders. Plus it had a bit of fluff, some quirky moments, jokes, and several people singing Let It Go when the need arose. Piper is definitely a protagonist you get attached to and become very proud of. I’m so super pleased this book exists!

 

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Review: The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

If you’re looking for an incredible YA fantasy that features delicious things like spooky destroyed countries, medieval vigilantes, princesses-in-disguise, and various sharp knives — then The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows is calling to you. Practically screaming your name. You want it, just trust me on this, yes?

 

WHAT’S IT ABOUT:

18081228An epic fantasy filled with adventure, intrigue, and romance from Incarnate series author Jodi Meadows. This duology is perfect for fans of Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. When Princess Wilhelmina was a child, the Indigo Kingdom invaded her homeland. Ten years later, Wil and the other noble children who escaped are ready to fight back and reclaim Wil’s throne. To do so, Wil and her best friend, Melanie, infiltrate the Indigo Kingdom palace with hopes of gathering information that will help them succeed. But Wil has a secret-one that could change everything. Although magic has been illegal for a century, she knows her ability could help her save her kingdom. But magic creates wraith, and the deadly stuff is moving closer and destroying the land. And if the vigilante Black Knife catches her using magic, she may disappear like all the others…

 

I will warn you that it ends with a dreadfully glorious cliffhanger! So do the smart thing and order both The Orphan Queen and the sequel, The Mirror King, simultaneously. You’ll thank me, I swear. Also it’s simply a duo! So no need to freak out waiting for a third book!

As a huge fan of YA fantasy, I’m really glad this lived up to my expectations! I wouldn’t say it’s the most original book out there, but it was well told and had unique elements. AKA = it basically had a medieval vigilante Batman. I cannot even contain my excitement over that! It felt really new and different to me.

Plus add in destroyed kingdoms, spies expeditions, and the occasional murder…what is not to love here?

The plot chuffs along on a fairly steady pace. Probably more on the slow side. Wil, the lost princess of a destroyed kingdom, is going undercover in the enemy’s castle. So while she spends the evenings jumping around with knives and disguises, the days are filled with polite small talk and pretty ballgowns. At least it’s a nice mix! Wil was seriously badass. It was endlessly amusing reading her acting the part of an air-headed Duchess and then turn around and be plotting cunningly.

Wil was a really awesome protagonist. She didn’t seem particularly different to Every Other Hidden Princess Ever. But the trope is one of my favourites, so I don’t mind! She has a slow-burn romance with the vigilante, Black Knife. Basically that was my favourite thing of ever. Plus Wil has a really epic best-friend and their relationship is goals.

Plus there is magic! Magic is illegal in this world (fun stuff always is, dangit). Wil’s power is to animate things. She says “wake up” to a wall and it’ll eat a person. (Why can’t I have this superpower??? I could make the sink do the dishes for me and life would be perfect.) I thought this was a really clever and unusual twist on magical abilities!

The world building = very very good. It actually felt like a fully complex and rounded world.

And then we have that freakishly awesomely horrible cliffhanger. AH! If you want a book that will literally have you shrieking and clawing for the sequel: this is it. The finale was so exciting and action-packed and emotional.

Obviously, I’m a fan of this story! This is also my first Jodi Meadows books and clearly I need to read her other series. I’m very invested and want to see Wil get her throne back!

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: This Savage Song by VE Schwab

This Savage Song by VE Schwab was a monstrously pleasing read. I’m beginning to think VE Schwab can do no wrong with her other incredible books like A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, and Vicious. This was my first try of a YA book by her and it was absolute perfection! Dark and deadly and stabby and filled with emotion.

What’s It About?9781785652745

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city, a grisly metropolis where the violence has begun to create real and deadly monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the inhabitants pay for his protection. August just wants to be human, as good-hearted as his own father-but his curse is to be what the humans fear. The thin truce that keeps the Harker and Flynn families at peace is crumbling, and an assassination attempt forces Kate and August into a tenuous alliance. But how long will they survive in a city where no one is safe and monsters are real.

I love that it’s about monsters! It’s set in this sort of Gotham inspired world, where two forces are waring against each other, and monsters are eating everyone in between. It’s mostly human vs monster, but also a fair bit of human vs human. And, naturally, I loved the comparison of the humans being more monstrous than the actual monsters. It make syou think.

I do confess to finding the first 20% rather confusing. I felt rather dumped into the world and had to re-read the blurb to figure out where it was heading. But after that? It made perfect sense.

The writing was entirely amazingly phenomenonal. It’s just addictive and divine! VE Schwab has this intensely flawless way of sucking me into the story. I can honestly lose time reading her stories. The characters leap off the page, so complex and dimensional and tragic.

The characters were perfect little beasts. I say that with much love, of course. We have two alternate narrators: Kate (a nasty girl who is daughter of a crime-lord and a human) and August (who is a soul-eating monster and adopted-son of the rebels). August ends up sort of “spying” on Kate at her school and then they get thrown into a run-for-your-life adventure.

  • KATE: She was so snarky and bitter and cruel…but you could tell it was a persona she was trying to wear, to impress her cutthroat father. It wasn’t really her but she was determined to make it be her. I felt so sad for her and really rooted for her as she grew and developed over the course of the story.
  • AUGUST: He was definitley my favourite of the two, though, because of his intense levels of adorableness. Sure he’s a soul-eating monster, but he wishes he wasn’t. He was so polite! And nice! And he plays violin! (Which coincidentally is how he eats souls, but never mind that.) He was tragically beautiful and marvellous.

There is…surprisingly…no romance between them. August and Kate end up depending on each other but romantic thoughts? Nope. That might come in sequels, but so far it’s just a forbidden friendship. I found that very refreshing!

This Savage Song is an amazing book! It was violent and gritty and full of blood. I’m slightly disappointed in the simplicity of the plot but the complex and heart-winning characters made up for that. oh and the ending of this book? It will leave you desperate for the sequel. I’m so curious as to what’ll happen next!

Monsters, monsters, big and small,
they’re gonna come and eat you all…

[purchase here]

YA 2016 June And July Releases To Watch Out For

Keeping on top of the new releases is always hard when it comes to Young Adult books. Why? Because there are so many! And they all seem so epic! How does one even know what to choose?! Luckily for you, I am here to point you in the direction of upcoming epicness and keep your to-be-read piles taller than the Eiffel Tower. I know you’re so relieved. You are most welcome, my bookworm friends.

 

J U NE   &   J U L Y    2 0 1  6    R E L E A S E S


9781785652745This Savage Song

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This story is set in a dark Gothom-style city were monsters rule the world. You can pay the mafia to keep you safe — or you can get your soul eaten. Good times. It’s dual narrated by Kate, who’s the stabby daughter of one of the crime lords, and by August, who is a very sweet kind…monster. I love how it contrasts humans vs monsters and asks what truly makes you a monster. It also has a Romeo and Juliet style story line but with actually no romance! It’s stunningly written. Definite must-read!


9780702253942 (1)One Would Think The Deep

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This is by the wonderful Australian author, Claire Zorn, who writes astoundingly gorgeous novels like The Protected and The Sky So Heavy. This time, the novel is set in 1997 and features Sam who’s suffering from the grief of losing his mother. It also promises surfing (I mean look at that fantastically trippy cover) and strange relatives and a boy learning to live again.


29753111When Michael Met Mina

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This is another glorious Aussie author creation! It’s about refugees and the “boat people”, which is a very apt topic for today and I can’t wait to read this book and see how the author handles things! It features two kids from opposite sides: Mina, who came from Afghanistan on a boat, and Michael, whose parents adamantly protest the refugees. It promises love and injustice!


9780544805095With Malice

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This is a YA thriller pitched as for fans of We Were Liars and The Girl On the Train. So, woah, you know you’re in for a wild time! It features Jill who was supposed to have a nice holiday in Italy…but she wakes up in a hospital with her body damaged and a 6 week memory gap. What happened? What was the accident? Was it even an accident?


Forgetting Foster | REVISED FINAL COVER x 2 (18 April 2016)Forgetting Foster

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I was absolutely captivated by Aussie author, Diane Touchell’s first book A Small Madness, so I’m super excited to try Forgetting Foster! It sounds like it’ll be another heartbreaking tale, this time about a little boy who’s father is forgetting things…more and more things until eventually Foster is the one being neglected and overlooked. I have so many questions! I can’t wait to read this!


9780552573740And I Darken

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This is an epic fantasy that features a dark and brutal princess. She is a pawn in a power game for empires and thrones and she’s planning revenge on the people who stole her birthright. The blurb promises battles and wits and a toxic and deadly love triangle. Which all sounds very exciting and dramatic. I can’t wait!

YA Books About The Afterlife

Death and the afterlife are huge questions most humans ponder upon. So naturally there are YA books that ask the same questions! Which leads these books to be about (excuse me while I aptly quote The Princess Bride) characters who seem only mostly dead. Life ain’t over for these folks! And the afterlife speculations vary from Egyptian folklore to comedy to second-chance situations.

So let’s have a “mostly dead” list of YA books about the afterlife.

 


9780141334479The Catastrophic History of You and Me

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Brie is 16 and very decidedly dead. But she’s also still watching her world play out in the aftermath of her departure. Brie has to pass through the stages of grief before she can move on — with help from Patrick (ooooh, cue romance!). The book balances humour and pizza and dark themes super well and is written in an addictive quirky way. Totally recommend if you like death and pizza.


9781634501736It’s a Wonderful Death

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This is about RJ who is…kind of horrible? And also dead. But she swears it was a mistake and is petitioning angels to review her case and send her back. It’s full of comedy and gallows humour as RJ navigates the many “waiting areas” of heaven and hangs out with the Saints and angels and meets Death who wears a Hawaiian shirt. AS YOU DO. She also has  gooey moment of learning to be a better person…because, well, the heat downstairs is a bit real now.


9781760373580Firstlife

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It’s set in a paranormal world where your life (as we know it) is only the “first” part. When you die, you choose between two warring afterlife cities and start your second life which is infinitely more amazing apparently. But Ten, the protagonist, doesn’t want to make the decision and ends up in an asylum to be tortured into a choice. Everyone wants to recruit Ten (because of SECRET SPECIAL REASONS) and she doesn’t want anything to do with it. But she has to choose eventually…OR ELSE.


9781743315101Afterworld

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This one is written by an Aussie author (cue cheering!) and takes a look at the more mythological side of potential afterlives. It’s heavily based on Egyptian mythology which is super interesting! The plot follows Dom who is dead (surprise) and in a waiting area. This place is full of super creepy Nephilim who force people to play in gladiator style games. So basically Dom has to complete trials and then a maze in order to get to the next level of death…but the universe is against him and apparently there are worse things than dying.


9781406350487More Than This

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This is a super hard book to summarise because it’s incredibly unique! AND GLORIOUS. (Of course it is…it’s by the literary YA genius author, Patrick Ness!) It’s about Seth who drowns himself…and comes-to in a strange world. Was everything in his previous life a stimulation? His neighbourhood looks the same except it’s entirely apocalyptically empty and dusty. He needs answers. He teams up with two unlikely companions and purses the truth of his life, or afterlife.

YA Books With Super Long Titles

Giving books titles is really hard. We can’t all have short punchy ones like “Power” and “Blood”, I suppose, so it makes sense that some titles get…lengthy. Super lengthy. Some titles end up as entire sentences, honestly. And while it takes us half an hour to recall and spit out the book’s title, at least we know it’s original and unique!

So here is a list of YA books with seriously incredibly ridiculously long titles.

 


9781782953463The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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This is about an Autistic boy who discovers his neighbours dog murdered and embarks on a mission to find out who. And why. It’s an excellent story, honestly, and gives you a great inside look at what it’s like to live with Autism.

 


9781408309513I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You

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This is about a school for girl spies, masquerading as just an average boarding school — because OF COURSE. It features Cammie and the calamities she gets into. Because hey it’s hard falling in love for the first time when your boyfriend can’t know anything about you.

 


 

9781780339818The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

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Yes you will need about half an hour to say this title, but at least it’s beautiful?! I haven’t read this one yet, but it apparently features a girl named September and her journey through fairy land. Also there are keys and dragons, so what more could you want really?


9781471124594Me Being Me Is Exactly As insane As You Being You

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This story is told entirely in lists. Yes. LISTS. It might be 600+ pages, but it actually goes by very fast because of the list-factor. It’s about Darren’s painful life, where his parents are divorced, he doesn’t have a girlfriend, he doesn’t have a life basically, and growing up is just all round difficult.


9781442408937Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe

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This is the kind of book where you just want to devour the beautiful lyrical writing. It’s incredible! It’s a coming-of-age story about Ari, a Mexican boy, who’s trying to figure out who he is and what he wants in life and if he’s in love with his best friend, Dante.


9780553497786The Smell of Other People’s Houses

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This is a story of 4 teenagers in the 1970s and what it was like to grow up in Alaska. The writing is absolutely gorgeous and sensory, so you really feel like you’re in the story. There are runaways, a teenage pregnancy, a ballerina trapped in the fishing life, and an abused girl who just won a lot of money. There is also delicious pie, so clearly this book is a winner.


9781406331165The Rest of Us Just Live Here

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This is a story about the superhero kids that save the world…no wait, it’s actually about the OTHER kids who no one talks about while those superhero kids are saving the world. It’s such a unique story! It features Mikey (who has an anxiety disorder) and his coming-of-age story while the world is being smashed about by those powerful kids. And the writing is just phenomenal. Highly recommend!

YA, NA and MG Fiction Defined With Recommendations

Most readers will be familiar with the genre of books referred to as YA, but what about NA and MG?

Young Adult (YA)Eleanor & Park
YA fiction generally contains novels written for readers aged in their teens, or more specifically between the ages of 13 and 20. The stories feature teenage protagonists and often explore themes of identity and coming-of-age. Having said that, YA novels can be from any genre, science fiction, contemporary, fantasy, romance, paranormal etc. Some popular YA novels include the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games series, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Middle Grade (MG)
MG novels are generally written for readers aged between 8-12 years, with main characters less than 13 years of age. Themes can include: school, parents, relationship with siblings and friends, being good or misbehaving. Just like every genre, some MG books can have an underlying message (e.g. be kind to animals).

Some examples of popular MG novels include: Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

New Adult (NA)A Court of Thorns and Roses
NA fiction is a relatively new genre in publishing, and in my opinion grew from the popularity of adult audiences reading and enjoying YA novels (Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars). The genre is situated between YA and adult fiction and protagonists are generally between 18-30 years of age. Themes include leaving home, starting university, choosing a career, sex and sexuality.

Some popular NA novels include: Slammed by Colleen Hoover (called CoHo by her fans), The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and The Elephant Tree by R.D. Ronald.

On my TBR ListInheritance
I have a number of books on my to-be-read pile from the genres mentioned above, including: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition by Jacob Grimm, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes and 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson. What’s on your list?

Whether you enjoy MG, YA or NA fiction, the most important thing is that you don’t allow yourself to become pigeon-holed. Enjoy your reading, keep an open mind and explore new authors. You never know where your next favourite book might come from.

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo promises thieves, assassins, heists, and antiheroes. And I am such a fan! Move over heroes…this story is about the dubiously motivated villains who are on a quest for money. And Six of Crows is actually quite dark! I love it when books promise to be dark and actually follow through.9781780622286

Now this is set in the same universe as Leigh Bardugo’s original Grisha trilogy. Can you read Six of Crows without reading Shadow and Bone? YES YOU CAN. The world will make more sense and be deeper, more rich, if you read the other trilogy first. But it won’t affect your enjoyment of Six of Crows!

Six of Crows puts the EPIC in epic fantasy. It’s about a group of thieves off to get the “Big Impossible Haul of Their Life”. They’re all misfits and tortured souls and they spill blood but also have consciences. They pretend not to care about each other, but they so totally do. There are six of them and we read from at least five point-of-views.

 

“I worry about everything, merchling. That’s why I’m still alive.”

 

A Brief Look At The Characters:

  • Kaz: He’s the cold hearted mastermind genius who has a plan for everything…he also has a tortured past which makes it very easy to feel for him.
  • Inej: She’s the “spider”, acrobat, and hears and sees everything.
  • Nina: She’s a Grisha, which is another word for a magician. She’s also a bit saucy and definitely sassy and EPIC.
  • Matthias: He is like a bulldozer and hates everything.
  • Jesper: He is dorky comic relief and likes to shoot stuff.
  • Waylan: He’s that secondary character you mostly forget is there, but I’m sure there’s a point to him.

I loved how complex and interesting all the characters were. They all had huge backstories and venerabilities and yet they were icy and coldblooded at times. They worked together and betrayed and they were dorky sometimes. I particularly loved Kaz because of his genius tendencies (because who doesn’t like the mastermind?!) Also Kaz walks with a cane! I read  in the author’s note in the back of the book that this is a reflection of her…because Leigh Bardugo has osteonecrosis. So I felt that was really special that she was sharing her experiences with a) we readers, and b) her main character.

The book is very long, and nearly enters into tedious territory. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, I felt if it could’ve been more concise. Particularly with how much information we’re given on all the characters. It made them all super complex and fleshed-out…but also slowed the plot pace.

I’m in awe of the heist though! I do have a mild weakness for books that involve clever planning and stealing impossible things. There’s a lot of travelling and roadtripping in this book, too, to get to the destination. But plenty of action scenes and gun fire and evil magic. The characters go through a lot and there’s blood and disaster and betrayal. And of course it ends with a cliffhanger. OF COURSE. Authors do like to torture us. We shall wait impatiently for the sequel (also finale) that will be Crooked Kingdom.

All in all, I loved it this epic action adventure! Even though it lacked tightness in the plot (which I crave) I still enjoyed the storyline and the Russian influenced culture. It also had guns and explosions, something that’s not as usual in epic fantasy! I loved the witty banter and the nail biting finale. If you’re a fan of fantasy, this is definitely for you.

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

YA Roadtrip Books

There’s nothing like reading Young Adult books about roadtrips to remind you of good ol’ adventurous times. Or remind you why you don’t take roadtrips? Because everything honestly seems to go wrong and sometimes monsters try to eat your face. So that’s also a downside.

In case you want the roadtrip experience, sans squashing yourself in a car for days, I have a list of glorious YA roadtrip books you should try immediately. And bonus points if you read them while on a roadtrip.


9780008141233DEMON ROAD BY DEREK LANDY ~ PURCHASE HERE

This is one of my most favourite roadtrip stories because it’s also a paranormal adventure. Amber is on the run from her demon-parents who also want to eat her. (Stop complaining about your parents.) She teams up with an old dude who has a man-eating car and they drive across the good old US of A.

There are plenty of creeptastic moments. And creeptastic monsters. Vampires. Demons. Ghouls. Serial killers. Creepy trees. It’s glorious. Also deadly.


9780732289003PAPER TOWNS BY JOHN GREEN

If you’re looking for a roadtrip that isn’t quite so demonic as the one above….then Paper Towns might suit you better! It’s a contemporary about Q who is quietly in love with a girl who then disappears. So, logically, he has to find her — which ends up in an interstate roadtrip in a minivan with a bunch of rowdy teenagers. I think they nearly hit a cow at one point.

This one definitely features hilarious conversations and poignant messages about not putting people on pedestals because that’s unhealthy for everyone involved.


9780571308293DEAD ENDS BY ERIN LANGE ~ PURCHASE HERE

Another excellent contemporary roadtrip! Although this one is about 50% school life and 50% spontaneous roadtrip at the end between Dane, who is a bully, and Billy, who has Downs Syndrome. It’s a really heartwarming story, especially since Dane (who’s known for being awful) is really protective of Billy. They take to the road and the car to find Billy’s estranged father.

It’s also a really fast read and definitely entertaining.


9781442429987BLOOD RED ROAD BY MOIRA YOUNG ~ PURCHASE HERE

I’m going to call this a “roadtrip book” even though there are no cars…because there’s a road. A dusty one. And as the title suggests, fraught with peril and blood, basically. This is a dystopian story about Saba who’s off to find her kidnapped brother. Unfortunately her universe is basically dust and evil people who want to stab you, so this does complicate the mission.

It features horse riding, cage fights, unlikely friendships forged, and a good dose of sass. It’s also written phonetically and in slang, which takes some getting used to, but also just makes the whole experience fantastic.


9780857984739ARE YOU SEEING ME BY DARREN GROTH ~ PURCHASE HERE

This is one of my favourite Australian books! Despite the fact that it’s actually set in…Canada. But whatever. 18-year-old twins, Justine and Perry, are on the Last Holiday of Ever before Justine goes to university and Perry goes to a home that will cater to his needs as a person with Autism. It’s a really sweet holiday and I loved that we also got chapters by Perry’s point-of-view.

While there is car-tripping about, it’s also just a travelling adventure. It features the twins looking for their estranged mother, too, and that hugely stressful part of a teen’s life when they have to decide what their future will hold. Much fun. This is an undoubtedly excellent book!

Review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson is the second book in the Reckoners trilogy — and even better than the first. Which doesn’t often happen right?! But no sequel-blues here, folks. This book was just an explosion of PURE AWESOME. It was so exciting and fantastic I couldn’t help but flail and get thoroughly emotionally invested. I am so ridiculously addicted to this series. Steelheart w9780575104495as amazing; but Firefight just took it up to the next level. I suspect this is because it’s about superheroes and has excellent writing and the best protagonist of ever.

“My name is David Charleston. I kill people with super powers.”

So where do I start?!? The plot was perfect. It’s set in a different city, Babylon Restored, which is all water and apartment buildings filled with trees and jungles. There’s glowing spraypaint and magical fruit and it was all written so visually I could basically see the city. I’m in awe of the aesthetics here!

We also have a new set of villains with different, complex powers to fight and destroy. There is not even a second of rest here.

The characters are permanently spectacular. OF COURSE. Although I did mess Cody and Abraham. Only Tia, Proff, and David go on this little escapade. And, unfortunately, Proff is still my least favourite character. He’s complex, alright, and after the staggering reveal of his secrets at the end of book 1, I do understand why he’s so gruff and cold at times. But he definitely abused his position of authority and it got me so riled up and angry. ARGH.

9780385743587I still adore David — and he’s possible he’s gotten even more awesome. He’s one of my new favourite protagonists! He’s funny and brave and flawed and stupid and he’s SUCH A DORK. His metaphors are worse. (He romantically yells “YOU’RE LIKE A POTATO” and that made me laugh for only 9 hours.)

And let’s not forget how INTENSE the plot is. There’s a lot of mystery elements since the supervillain in control — Regalia — has basically lured Proff and his small team of Reckoners to the city. Is she looking for a fight or is there a deeper plot at hand? The story keeps you guessing the entire time and I loved this! I couldn’t put it down!

Plus it barely lets the action rest — and when it does we get treated to pages of hilarious banter and David’s self-depreciating commentary on the world.

There is much shooting, but also a lot of stretching people to their limits. And pain. And death. And explosions. I love how David is continually pushing the boundaries and getting everyone to think and plan. He’s underestimated so much, but basically nothing stops him. Plus the plot twists in this one live up to the amazing ones we got in the first book.

I cannot get enough of this series! And I’m eternally grateful that the final book, Calamity, is already out and I’ll be able to devour it soon. Because — hello — cliffhanger? I’m in mild pain needing answers here.

 

[purchase here]

Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson basically flawed me with its intense, indiluted awesome. Until now I hadn’t read a superhero book that lived up to the films. But this?!? This is everything. If you’re a superhero geek, TRUST ME — you need this book in your life. The plot twists! The adorkable narrator! The guns! The action! The car chases! The explosions! It had everything.9780385743563

The story is about David, whose father was killed by the infamous super-villain Steelheart, and David’s life is basically: revenge revenge revenge. He joins up with a small rebel force, called the Reckoners, and they make a plot to take down Steelheart.

It’s about superheroes and villains. In fact, super “hero” doesn’t so much enter the story, because the premise is those with powers are all EVIL.  It’s like “what if Superman appeared and was a jerk and liked to kill people and be terrifying?” But it turns tropes on its head and impressed me a million percent.

I absolutely adored the protagonist: David. He’s such a DORK. And a NERD. He is absolutely the worst at metaphors and he has the BIGGEST dorky crush on one of his team mates. He tries so hard. He’s a shaker and a stirrer — a visionary. And while he’s totally hellbent on revenge on Steelheart, it doesn’t turn him into a bitter mushroom. Which was a pleasant surprise to read!

A quick run down on the Reckoner team?! (They go from city to city in the destroyed American states and kill supervillains).

  • Proff: He’s the “leader” so the gruff, commanding, type who is full of secrets and probably a tragic mysterious backstory. He honestly was not my favourite, but he did lead his team well.
  • Tia: She’s the hacker and the behind-the-scenes intelligence.
  • Abraham: He’s French/Canadian and seriously AWESOME. He’s like soft spoken but carries this HUGE MACHINE GUN and I believes in the Faith.
  • Cody: He’s the comic relief and is like American, but also Scottish. Um, it works. Somehow. He’s always talking about devils and pixies and cracking everyone (aka me) up.
  • Megan: She’s the seriously coldhearted, better-than-thou girl on the team (that of course David crushes on) who is just AMAZING at everything she does but really hard to make friends with.

9780575104044I thought all the characters were really well written and complex. Which is amazing considering it was quite a large cast!

Also the superheroes were admirable because they had unique powers. It wasn’t all just “he can fly and is invisible” blah blah. They had ones who could turn the sky dark, or controlled with shadows, or made illusions, or could predict attacks or could regenerate or etc etc. It was so interesting and I loved that.

Also another thing that stood out to me was that: I appreciated how the adults were running the show. I mean, David might’ve been a bit of a suppressed genius there, with his plans on how to take down Steelheart, but the ADULTS were the ones with the big weapons and getting things done. And it felt super realistic. It’s still YA and David was still doing so much cool stuff. But I appreciated the realism.

Also the whole mystery aspect of “what is Steelheart’s weakness??!” drove me CRAZY wanting answers. And you don’t get to know until the end!

Also I cannot recommend the audiobook enough. (Which you can purchase here!) The narrator captures David’s personality perfectly and is just extremely pleasant to listen to! He also captures the accents of the rest of the team and makes the whole experience like a movie in your head.

If you’re looking for a superhero/villain book that’s unique and exciting and complex — this is for you. It’s realistic and talks science and gun mechanisms and sets up clever masterminded traps. It’ll make you laugh! And then have you clutching the pages hyperventilating over the plot twists. Oh and the cliffhanger? Let’s just say you’ll want Firefight on hand.

[PURCHASE HERE]

YA Books About Schizophrenia

Lately there’s been a rise of books that deal with important topics: such as mental health. I’m so in favour of this because it a) breaks down stigmas that we might have from not understanding the mental illness, and b) shows us that people are never just “labels” and c) helps us to walk in these characters’ shoes and learn more about how they live.

I’ve read several books recently that deal with Schizophrenia, which is definitely something I didn’t know much about before reading these books. And they are such endlessly good books that I MUST SHARE. I also highly recommend them, of course.


 

22864841Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

This book is absolutely entirely fantastic. It is about Alex who is a highschool senior and struggles to tell the difference between real vs made up. She’s solving a mystery at her school and also has met a very confusing and intense boy, Miles, whom she doesn’t quite know what to do with. I particularly adored this book because it presented Alex as a pretty normal person. YES, she has delusions. But she also has hobbies and dreams and habits. There’s witty banter and relatable high school experiences. It’ll definitely break your heart just a little though at the end there.

 

9781444799514Alice and the Fly by James Rice

This one definitely gave me the shivers. It introduces us to Greg who is a very unreliable narrator and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. It really affects his life and he’s basically undiagnosed and has zero support from his family. They ignore anything “weird” he does. There’s lots of stalking in this one, but we’re so deep in Greg’s thought-process that it’s easy to understand why he does what he does. Honestly it’s a chilling book and it keeps you gripping and flipping pages. Also amazingly writing. Also slightly traumatising.

 

9780061134111Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

So clearly, after reading this, I am of the opinion that Neal Shusterman is a word GENIUS. I cannot believe how creatively and artistically he wrote this story! Apparently it’s also based upon his own son, who suffers from similar symptoms to the schizophrenic protagonist: Caden. Half of the book is real-life-narrative about Caden. And half the book is his delusions about being on a ship and the weird and nonsensical things that happen. Honestly? It takes a bit of getting used to. But once you’ve conquered those initial confusing first chapters, the book just opens up into this amazingly poignant story about failure and recovery.


OTHER SCHIZOPHRENIC BOOKS

I haven’t read these ones (that to-be-read pile truly is endless) but they look incredibly interesting and I’m keen to try them someday!

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I Will Save You follows the story of a boy with no family who works at a beach and is haunted by a best-friend/worst-enemy. Schizo is about a boy’s downward spiral into mental illness and an obsession with his brother and a girlfriend who might not exist. A Blue So Dark is about a girl who’s keeping her artistic mother’s schizophrenia a secret and therefore is her sole carer, all the while denying her own artistic urges because she believes it’ll make her end up like her mother.

YA Serious Finales I’m Looking Forward To In 2016

Apparently 2016 is the year of all the YA finales. It’s so exciting! And terrifying, honestly, because while I adore knowing how my favourite series ends….I also get thumped with nerves that it won’t be a satisfactory ending. Series finales need closure and tragedy and triumph. It’s such a hard blend!

But I shall be brave (huzzah!) and slowly devour these YA series that are finishing up in 2016.

(Also, helpfully, it’s a grand time to start these series if you haven’t already; since you won’t have to wait years for their completion!)


9781408858745The Winner’s Kiss ~ book 3 of the Winner’s Curse trilogy (March)

I’ve read this one already and am enormously pleased at how satisfying the ending was. The first two books were so full of emotional tension and angst as Kestrel and Arin played mind games and war against two countries bent on destroying each other. And ya know, wanting to kiss each other — but absolutely not doing it because forbidden love and all that. Perfect conclusion is PERFECT.

 

9780670017140Half Lost ~ book 3 of the Half Bad trilogy (March)

I full admit this book made me cry, and yet was still absolutely brilliant. The war between Black and White witches absolutely comes to a crashing climax. And it ain’t sweet tea parties and sugar cookies, let me tell you. Which surprises exactly no one after how brutal and violent the first two books were.

 

9781444759051Morning Star ~ book 3 of the Red Rising trilogy

This is technically a YA-Adult cross over series, because while Darrow was 16 in the first boo, he’s now 23 and leading a rebellion against the tyrannical upper-class: the Golds. This book is brilliant. It perfectly blends the high stakes with an enormous amount of humour. And the plot twists will blow your mind. And blow up planets. Basically everything explodes here and it’s glorious.

 

9781250091840Stars Above ~ book 4.5 of the Lunar Chronicles (February)

While the series technically finished with Winter, Marissa Meyer released a collection of novellas to help us say goodbye to this fantastical series. THANK YOU, DEAR AUTHOR. I haven’t read them yet, but it’s high on my to-do list. Apparently some are prequel tales (there’s a Thorn as a child story?!) and others are more epilogue tales. There have been teasers that someone has a wedding. Be still my shipping soul.

 

9780545424981The Raven King ~ book 4 of The Raven Cycle (July)

This is definitely my most highly anticipated book of, um, EVER. I’m so ridiculously excited! It concludes my most favourite series in the world and we get the reveal if the main character truly does die, as has been foretold on the very first page of book 1. Yes. That’s 3 books we’ve read in nervous anticipation. Maggie Stiefvater is a genius of words and reader torture. I cannot WAIT.

 

9780575104839Calamity ~ book 3 of The Reckoners Trilogy (February)

While I’m still only on book 2, I’m still monstrously excited for the finale! Evil superheroes and assassins out to bring them down? How is this all going to end?! I’m kind of hoping for a happy ending, but, ha. I doubt it.

 

9780062458421The Yellow Brick War ~ book 3 of Dorothy Must Die series (April)

This is the last book in the retelling of The Wizard of Oz, which is such a fabulous idea for a retelling by the way. I mean, imagine Oz…and now think of it super creepy. It’s deliciously wonderful! I want to know if sassy Amy takes down the evil Dorothy and whether she gets a happily-ever-after…or NOT. Mwhahaah. (I honestly have no idea how this is going to end. Do I have time for a re-read?!? Time to plot out some theories while I wait for the release!)

 

Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

I’m following up my recent review of The Winner’s Curse, with a review of the sequel: The Winner’s Crime. And trust me, peoples, you are going to need to devour this WHOLE trilogy. Preferably one book after another. But if you’re still dubious and need convincing: I am here. 9781408858691

Again I re-read this book just recently, and it just gets better the more you read it. The foreshadowing is impeccable! And genius! I just admire this author so much. (When I’m not gnashing my teeth at the torturous cliffhangers that is.)

The Winner’s Crime (book #2) takes off when Kestrel is in her home-country of Valoria, now betrothed to marry the Emperor’s son. She’s being groomed for rule but — she’s unhappy. She’s telling herself she doesn’t love Arin, but…um, #lies. Meanwhile Arin is furious at Kestrel’s continual rejection of him and he doesn’t understand she’s playing a precarious political game of life and death. He seeks dangerous allies. He makes terrible decisions. The romantic angst reaches Level Infinity. And it has a wicked cliffhanger ending. (Ergo, have book 3 on hand!)

Again, I was also super impressed at the amount of deducing going down. I didn’t notice it so much the first time? But Kestrel could look at someone and figure things out. (She is like the fantasy-Roman-Grecian Sherlock.) I loved how much political intrigue and conspiraces were happening. Plots unwound. Nasty backstabbing happened. Spies were bought. Lies everywhere.

I admit to really wishing Kestrel and Arin would work it out. They have problems, oh gosh, do they. But their chemistry is palpable and they spend all their alone time thinking about not thinking about each other. And then when they see each other? Kestrel is trying to make Arin hate her so she doesn’t get murdered for loving him. Her betrothed, the Emperor’s son Verox, is a soft, shy quiet boy and Kestrel definitely doesn’t love him. (I do, though, because he loves puppies!) I felt really bad for Verox, since even his own father doesn’t love him and fully intends for Kestrel to rule.

9781250073563Kestrel is still the intelligent heroine I came to love in the first book. I adore how she’s still firmly feminine, with pretty dresses and delicate piano pieces, but she is plotting the whole time. I also loved seeing some of Kestrel’s military strategies in play. Arin, on the other hand, is quite the knuckle head. Like I literally wanted to brain him with a teapot several times because he gets very blinded by his righteous love for his people and confusion that Kestrel would “betray” him and he doesn’t stop to get the whole picture. He makes stupid decisions, he’s rash, he doesn’t listen. Which honestly just makes me adore him…especially the torture he goes through in this book. Arin and Kestrel seriously need to sit down, with no one listening in, and TALK. But like that’s going to happen. (Ha ha, nope.)

Also the author doesn’t spare her characters. There’s torture and bleeding and stabbing and Arin gets fairly mangled and many of the favoured secondary characters are unfortunately caught up in it. There’s a torture scene at the beginning that had my skin crawling. I do applaud the author for getting all the characters dirty and bloody and being so very realistic.

The cliff hanger is a thing of torture. But also brilliant. I was on the edge of my seat in the last chapters! The build up is so well written and the way the plots came together (and fell apart) had me gasping and desperate for more. (I am mildly emotionally invested in this series…it’s so hard to tell.)

Basically I loved this book. It was everything a sequel should be and leaves me hungry for the next book and desperate to see how this will all end.

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

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

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

All The Things You Need Know About This Book:

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

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

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

 

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

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Okay WOW. Damage Done by Amanda Panitch was simultaneously glorious and terrifying. It’s a thriller about a school-shooting and the plot twists had me absolutely enthralled. I’m actually very hard to surprise…having read, like, a million and two books. (That’s a very accurate statistic of course.) But this one definitely hooked my attention and had me shrieking at the end.

 

9780857987730

What Is The Story About?

22 minutes separate Julia Vann’s before and after. Before: Julia had a twin brother, a boyfriend, and a best friend. After: She has a new identity, a new hometown, and a memory of those twenty-two minutes that refuses to come into focus. At least, that’s what she tells the police. Now that she’s Lucy Black, her fresh start has attracted the attention of one of the hottest guys in school. And someone much more dangerous. She thought her brother’s crimes were behind her. But now she’s being forced to confront the dark secrets she thought were safely left behind. How far will Julia go to keep her slate clean? One thing is clear: The damage done can never be erased. It’s only just beginning…

PURCHASE HERE

The story takes off when Julia and her parents are moving to a new town for a fresh start after her twin, Ryan, shot 11 people at their old school. So we basically get Julia’s feelings of fear of the future, denial of the past, missing-her-brother-even-though-he’s-a-monster, and trying to stay undercover. Which, totally doesn’t work out. Since it’s from the persepctive of the shooter’s sister, it reminded me of Hate List by Jennifer Brown (which I also highly recommend if you like a feelsy punch in the guts). Julia was surprisingly held together though and managed to keep up some wit and the semblance of trying to have a life despite all of these. Go Julia.

There were a few times where I had to “suspend disbelief” though. That’s literally my only negative. There are a lot of convenient plot developments and police fumbles that really wouldn’t happen in real life.

But other than that? The rest of the story was perfect and engaging and TERRIFYING. I loved the writing style! I adored Julia’s voice. She has this mixture of slightly self-deprecating humour meshed with intense traumatised meltdowns. She felt venerable but coping at the beginning. I also loved her obsession with hot chocolate. I MEAN WHO DOESN’T LIKE HOT CHOCOLATE?!?

Also I’ll take a moment to say Michael was the perfect love interest. He was adorable. He cooked for her (!!) and any guy who makes a girl an omelette or from-scratch lasagna is a winner. Also, Julia’s best friend, Alane, was pretty epic too. I was really impressed at how fleshed-out, dimensional and interesting all the secondary characters were. It made the world feel very real.

The plot twist will absolutely KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF. Obviously I can say no more because of spoilers but woah. I was sucked in. It was perfectly revealed (although there were a few info dumps at the end) and I was glued to the page.

This is a thriller that’s not to be missed! It totally twists your brain and it’s addictive to read. Don’t let the calm contemporary-feeling beginning lull you. At the beginning it’s a school story with a cute boy and cafes and a little bit of trauma — and then the ending just GETS YOU. This is positively wonderful.

Recently Released 2016 Aussie Books You Need To Read

So far, 2016 has already been an incredible year for new releases! And huzzah for Australian authors adding some fabulous titles for us to devour. I basically can’t read fast enough to keep up with all this genius, oh gosh.

Don’t know where to start? LUCKY FOR YOU — I AM HERE. I’m listing some recently published 2016 Australian home-grown YA novels that you need to get your clammy paws on. Like right now.

 

2 0 1 6     Y A   A U S S I E    R E L E A S E S   


 

my sister rosaMy Sister Rosa by Justine Larbelestier ~ purchase

This is a psychological thriller about Che who believes his 10-year-old sister, Rosa, is a psychopath. It’s absolutely brilliant. Like I-can’t-stop-reading-this-book-everyone-go-away-and-leave-me-to-shriek sort of brilliant.

It’s mostly set in New York, but Che and his family ARE Australian. Che is also a boxer, although he spends like 90% of his time freaking out over what evil Rosa is going to commit next. And the ending? OH YOU WON’T SEE IT COMING. But it will hurt.

 

9781743315897The Stars At Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard ~ purchase

Although this book wasn’t my favourite, I am definitely going to sit here and shriek “THIS BOOK IS BEAUTIFUL.” It’s partially written in verse, so if you’re a poetry lover? This book calls to you.

It’s basically about Alice, who’s suffered a brain injury and is trying to express herself through writing/poetry because her words don’t come out so well. It’s a very different book because we are seeing the world through an entirely new perspective. I can imagine it’d be absolutely gorgeous read out loud, too, by the way.

 

28798707The Family With Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor ~ purchase

Okay so this isn’t set in Australia, but it’s by an Aussie author who’s recounting stories inspired by her Jewish grandmother in the 1940s! It’s all about this huge Jewish family and their culture and lives and it’s absolutely endearing and adorable.

It’s best for a middle-grade audience, by the way. And it’s also best on a full stomach because you’re basically guaranteed to be hungry after reading pages of food-prep for the Sabbath.

 

25535What I Saw by Beck Nicholas ~ purchase

This is a slightly thriller-y contemporary about a girl who witnesses a Fatal Punch and has to decide whether she’s going to confess who did it.

It features an unlikely romance between straight-A-in-school-perfect-girl, Callie, and the bad-boy Rhett (who is actually just a big ol’ burnt marshmallow who loves puppies and his family and only acts like a tough dude).

 

 

9781925240795Iris And the Tiger by Leanne Hall ~ purchase

This is, again, more of a middle-grade story, but so adorable and full of magical whimsy that totally reminded me of Alice in Wonderland! It was fantastic! It’s also all about paintings and art and magical feet-shoes…oh and it’s set in Spain. Did I mention that? Add in a zany great-aunt and a very serious 12-year-old girl (Iris, obviously) who’s determined to solve mysteries and figure out WHAT IS GOING ON in this crazy house.

 

 

R E L E A S E S   O N   M Y   T O – B E – R E A D   P I L E


 

9781925266924 8d6c45bd0241cbcd9b73da8cc3d7e790

  • Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar ~ purchase ~ I haven’t read this one yet, but I super luckily won a copy and all I hear is good things! I AM EXCITED. Apparently this is on the upper side of YA, heading into New Adult territory.
  • Yellow by Megan Jacobson ~ purchase ~ This is about a 14-year-old girl who gets a ghost to promise to make her popular if she finds his killer. IT SOUNDS AMAZING AND I NEED IT IMMEDIATELY.

 

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian