Holding Up The Universe

Holding Up The Universe
Written by Jennifer Niven
Contemporary, Social Issues
Expected Publication October 4th 2016
368 Pages
★★★★☆
Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed America's Fattest Teen. But no one's taken the time to look past her weight to get to see who she really is. Since her mum's death, she's been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby's ready. For high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin too. Yes, he's got swagger, but he's also mastered the art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a secret. He can't recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He's the guy who can reengineer and rebuild anything, but he can't understand what's going on with the inner workings of his own brain. So he tells himself to play it cool. Be charming. Be hilarious. Don't get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game which lands them in group counseling, Libby and Jack are both angry, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.
Tomorrow is Libby Strout's first day of school since the fifth grade and she plans on dancing her way into the new life she desperately deserves. Once labelled as America's Fattest Teen, Libby has spent the last three years surviving after needing to be rescued from her home, filmed as a spectacle for the American public. After her mother passed away suddenly, Libby turned to eating to fill the gnawing loss in her life. Libby is determined to live her life beyond her bedroom walls and after choosing to take control of her health, will make the most of her opportunity at Martin Van Buren High School.

Jack Masselin is the handsome, popular ladies man. He's currently single but will no doubt rekindle his treacherous relationship with the fickle Caroline, because that's what is expected of him. But living his life as a stereotype is taking it's toll on Jack. He has undiagnosed Prosopagnosia, a cognitive disorder of face perception where he lacks the ability to recognise familiar faces. In a school bountiful in stereotypes, Jack uses physical Identifiers to recognise those around him, including new girl Libby.

A cruel game of Fat Girl Rodeo will bring both Jack and Libby together in more ways than one. Both Jack and Libby will begin to understand the anguish of being an outcast, something neither need to go through alone.

My Thoughts

Holding Up The Universe was a candid and often confronting storyline of those who have been labelled and ostracised from their peers. It was beautifully written with compassion and conviction for those who aren't what society accepts as perfect, rather than to celebrate our differences.

Libby isn't an overweight girl, she's larger than life. A girl whose health had declined after the death of her mother at the tender age of eleven. She lived a meagre existence by being restricted to the confines of her bedroom, home schooled due to her weight gain and relying on imaginary friendships with the neighbourhood children. Until a health scare sees Libby labelled as America's Fattest Teen and made into a spectacle. Now three years later, Libby has taken control of her health and is determined to enjoy the adolescent experience. Attending school. Meeting new friends. Even falling in love.

Libby Strout is a force to be reckoned with. She's still considered overweight by her peers but she's healthy, she's happy and taken control of her life again. Most importantly, Libby won't allow others to diminish her self confidence, especially not Jack.

Jack is living the ultimate adolescent experience. Although popular and attractive, Jack's life is a facade. Behind the charismatic personality lies a condition in which Jack has self diagnosed a cognitive disorder, where he lacks the ability to recognise familiar faces. Prosopagnosia is a debilitating condition, where sufferers use Identifiers to recognise family and friends such as sounds, physical cues and body shape. So naturally he identifies Libby as the large girl.

Jack can see Libby. He can see her impeccably long eyelashes, her warm, welcoming smile and soon he begins to see Libby beyond her weight. Although I enjoyed the tentative friendship Jack and Libby shared, I was conflicted when it came to the degrading incident that had brought the two together. Jack appeared to be little more than a coward who gave into the cruel game to protect his own reputation. There is absolutely no excuse for cruelty towards others or degradation and I can't imagine that in a non fictional circumstance, the lovely Libby would have been so forgiving.

Most readers will struggle with Jack's character, which I assume is exactly as intended. Jack represents teen pressure and the need to be accepted by our peers. He isn't a malicious person but may be painted as the villain especially for those who have faced the same torment, projecting their own teen oppressors onto that of Jack. Even as an adult, most women still suffer from insecurities and we carry the scars of our teen years that weren't particularly kind. But Jack's character seeks redemption, not willing to excuse his behaviour on his condition but to seek an understanding and acceptance of our differences. Jack isn't perfect and I applaud Jennifer Niven for creating a flawed character among young adult literature which tends to focus on the pursuit of perfection.

Libby is magnificent. I loved her character fiercely for her tenacity and moxie, for her dancing without abandon and her ability to stand up for the injustice in our world, although she's defiant not to become a poster child for fat girls. Although Libby was vulnerable to ridicule, her confidence was inspiring and may empower teens and promote greater self confidence despite our inhibitions and critical natures.

Jennifer Niven is a wonderfully accomplished author, able to invoke emotional responses in readers through realistically flawed characters. Although subjective, Libby's story is not uncommon sadly. Society places a great emphasis on the female body image and often we ourselves are our greatest critics and tend to equate happiness within ourselves with how we are perceived by others.
Life is too short to judge others. It is not our job to tell someone what they feel or who they are. Why not spend some time on yourself instead?
No truer words have been spoken.

The #LoveOzYA Hippity Hop


I love Australian young adult fiction. I love that it's relevant, it's realistic and Australian authors write with confidence and conviction. We're not afraid of an invasion because John Marsden taught us how to survive, Melina Marchetta welcomed us into her loud and loving Italian Australian family and Bryce Courtney showed us that there's a little bit of Peekay in us all.

But in the last few years, a new breed of Aussie young adult author has emerged. The author who empowers women, the author who is environmentally conscious and the author who isn't afraid to call us out on social injustice. Aussie young adult authors are no bullshit, kick ass advocates for what makes Australia unique. Our people.

Favourite Aussie YA authors

Spark Series
My Review
The Every Series
My Review
One Would Think The Deep
My Review

The Aussie YA book you grew up with

The Tomorrow Series
My Review
Blueback
My Review
Looking For Alibrandi
My Review

Favourite Aussie YA book released in 2016

Black
My Review

Frankie
My Review
Breathing Under Water
My Review

Aussie YA Debut you are looking forward to

Shield
Add to Goodreads
Our Chemical Hearts
Add to Goodreads
The Book of Whispers
Add to Goodreads

Favourite Aussie YA series


Chasing The Valley
My Review

Boarderlands
My Review

Skyfire
My Review

Unexpected Aussie YA surprise

Bro
My Review
YTKOGIWSA
My Review
Lullaby
My Review

Aussie YA Book you always recommend to others

Summer Skin
My Review
Shadows
My Review
Burn Bright
My Review

An Aussie YA book on your TBR

Gemina
Add to Goodreads
A Corner Of White
Add to Goodreads
Finnikin of the Rock
Add to Goodreads

Join the blog hop

Thanks to our hosts the #AusYABloggers and Jeann, Emily, Genie, Joy and Aimee.
Join our Twitter chat on Sunday 14th August at 6:00pm using the hashtag #AusYABlogChat.
Check out Happy Indulgence to follow the blog hop.

Need more #LoveOzYA recommendations?

Check out my Instagram account at Diva Booknerd

Breathing Under Water

Breathing Under Water
Written by Sophie Hardcastle
Conteporary, Coming of Age, #LoveOzYA
Published July 12th 2016
320 Pages
Thanks to Hachette Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Nineteen minutes and eleven seconds separated us at birth. On the official documentation, he is older... Although it really has nothing to do with age. What it really means is that I am, and have always been, second.

Ben and Grace Walker are twins. Growing up in a sleepy coastal town it was inevitable they'd surf. Always close, they hung out more than most brothers and sisters, surfing together for hours as the sun melted into the sea. At seventeen, Ben is a rising surf star, the golden son and the boy all the girls fall in love with. Beside him, Grace feels like she is a mere reflection of his light. In their last year of school, the world beckons, full of possibility. For Grace, finishing exams and kissing Harley Matthews is just the beginning.

Then, one day, the unthinkable. The sun sets at noon and suddenly everything that was safe and predictable is lost. And everything unravels.
For Ben and Grace, the water has always been their first love and secondly, the bond the twins share with one another. Both born to the waves in the sleepy seaside town, it's Ben who shines brightly with Grace basking in the sunshine of her brother's achievements, a free spirit who is upheld by the community, his peers and Grace and Ben's parents.

Until her world falls apart.

Grace finds herself in a downward spiral of alcohol and drug abuse, numbing the darkness that threatens to overwhelm her now meager existence. The waves no longer call to her, the sunshine no longer warms her skin and for Grace Walker, it's easier to sink than swim.

My Thoughts

Breathing Under Water was immaculate. An emotional journey of teen grief, familial despair and those left behind. Grace has always lived within twin Ben's shadow, content in the role of Ben's sister, while Ben is on the verge of a professional surfing career. Ben and Grace share a tender and loving sibling connection and although Ben is popular and free spirited, he ensures Grace is never left behind. But the time has come for Grace to forge her own path into the world and when Harley Matthews returns to town, this may be the opportunity Grace needs to begin her life in the sunshine, rather than being protected by Ben's shadow.

But before Grace's life can begin, tragedy strikes and threatens to tear her family apart.

The aftermath of bereavement and loss is always confronting, especially within young adult reads as characters are often still forging their own paths in life. My heart ached for the Walker family. While Grace's mother becomes a shadow of her former self, her father throws himself into his work to avoid spending time with his family. Harley begins to isolate himself from Grace, leaving Grace to rely on emotionally absent parents, the ever growing divide between herself and best friend Mia and Jake, Ben's best friend who is content to ride a downward spiral into alcohol and drug abuse, taking Grace along for the ride.

I found Grace's method of coping confronting, but entirely realistic. She's enabled by Jake who is content to drown his sorrows in a cocktail of alcohol and recreational drugs. She feels that no one other than Jake understands the sorrow in her life and cannot see past her own grief as she spirals out of control. As the Walker family unit begins to break down, it's Grace's best friend Mia who is isolated, abused by Grace herself when lashing out all whilst dealing with a drunken sexual assault in which her perpetrator was never held to account. It also highlighted how females who have been sexually assaulted or victims of rape, fail to report the assault to the authorities. I had hoped the friends in Mia's life would have addressed the issue, beyond Ben defending her honour with a show of male dominance. Seeing Mia's light extinguished, her once vibrant persona now withdrawn and I desperately wanted justice for her.

Set within a quintessential Australian coastal town, Sophie Hardcastle weaves a beautifully poignant story of loss, losing your way and how tragedy threatens to drown those left behind. The writing was delicate and lyrical, captivating from the very first page. Sophie Hardcastle is a phenomenal author who will no doubt become an Australian favourite with teens for many generations to come. 
Gazing at the splinters of a life once lived, I finally come to see life for all that it is. We breathe, for a while, and then we come to rest. We become the earth, the clouds and the deep sea currents, the summer swells and the winter tides.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Book One
Written by Ransom Riggs
Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery
Film Edition Published August 15th 2016
384 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Random House Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen year old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow, impossible though it seems, they may still be alive.
Growing up, sixteen year old Jacob was always fascinated by his grandfathers fantastical stories. A man who escaped Poland before the approaching second world war, his parents sending him alone on a train to Britain only to have perished, leaving his grandfather orphaned and taken in by Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in Wales. This is no ordinary children's home as Jacob is about to discover.

Along with his father on a bird watching expedition, Jacob now stands among the ruins of the once loved children's home. In the hope of rekindling his wondrous childhood, Jacob believes his fate is wrapped up in the derelict home where his grandfather was once young and free spirited. Armed with a collection of vintage photographs and his grandfathers stories, Jacob will discover a world parallel to his own. A world of wonder, enchantment and a world on the verge of destruction.

My Thoughts

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was fantastical, a wonderfully rich and picturesque world that enchants and delights. Sixteen year old Jacob stands among the ruins of the once stately Wales manor, formerly an orphanage for children during the second world war including Jacob's grandfather. As a young boy, Jacob was raised on the tales of mythical children who were extraordinary. Invisibility, levitation, creating, shaping and enchanting the children's home where taught by Miss Peregrine herself.

As the modern realm advances, the children are protected by a time loop and live each day with endless possibilities knowing that the sun will rise again. While Jacob's grandfather enlisted in the war effort, returned, married and begun a family of his own, the children of Miss Peregrine's haven't aged. Perpetual children who are loved, cared for and given refuge against a cruel world.

So incredibly whimsical, the children were lovingly created and their world vividly painted. I was captivated. Throughout the first installment, the reader is treated to a collection of images of the children under Miss Peregrine's care. It was incredibly atmospheric and immersive.

  

Told through Jacob's point of view, Jacob is teen lashing out after tragedy befalls the Portman family. He's antisocial and insists on retracing his grandfathers childhood tales with his unemployed father in tow. His father has never understood the connection his own father shared with Jacob, but under the guise of a bird watching expedition and advice from Jacob's therapist, the duo adventure to the small Welsh island.

What makes Jacob extraordinary himself is the children of the orphanage. Dapper Horace who has premonitions of the future, Hugh who is seemingly made of bees, Enoch who can animate the dead, the invisible Millard and Emma Bloom who is the homes resident pyrokinetic, able to create and control fire. Emma and Jacob are attracted to one another especially given her connection to his grandfather, but their attraction is a gentle companionship rather than a passionate teen romance.

It was nothing short of breathtaking. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children's whimsically eerie storyline of the curious and wonderful. Lyrically beautiful and immersive, I absolutely adored it.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
will be released in Australian cinemas on September 29th 2016.

The Shadow Hour

May contain spoilers. See my review for book one here

The Shadow Hour
The Girl at Midnight Book Two
Written by Melissa Grey
Fantasy, Magic, Paranormal
Published July 12th 2016
368 Pages
Thank you to Hachette Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★
Everything in Echo's life changed in a blinding flash when she learned the startling truth. She is the firebird, the creature of light that is said to bring peace.

The firebird has come into the world, but it has not come alone. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and Echo can feel a great and terrible darkness rising in the distance. Cosmic forces threaten to tear the world apart.

Echo has already lost her home, her family, and her boyfriend. Now, as the firebird, her path is filled with even greater dangers than the ones she's already overcome.

She knows the Dragon Prince will not fall without a fight.

Echo must decide. Can she wield the power of her true nature, or will it prove too strong for her and burn what's left of her world to the ground?
Since that moment in the Black Forest, Echo will now spend her life on the run. A weapon in a centuries long conflict that threatens to destroy the world. The group are now living in an industrial warehouse in London, while nightmares continue to plague Echo's dreams. Villages burning, volcanic eruptions and the earth engulfed in ashes, coinciding with the release of the Firebird, a light that attracts darkness and carries the whispers of the dead.

The Avicen have always provided Echo with a sense of family, cared for and loved by the Ala who Echo would give her life to protect. When the Avicen community is infiltrated and decimated by Shadows, the Avicen believe the Drakharin are responsible, the new Dragon Prince as brutal as she is bloodthirsty.

Echo is being hunted by a silent killer that threatens to consume her light, generations of Firebirds falling victim to the little known, ancient fable. With New York City in ruin and the Avicen grieving for all they have lost, it will fall upon Echo to become their saviour. But first she must learn to walk in the dark.

My Thoughts

The Girl At Midnight was a lyrically beautiful, atmospheric and likened to the beloved Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Although I enjoyed The Shadow Hour, it didn't hold me captive as the first book in the series had. The mystery surrounding the Firebird is now know to both Avicen and Drakharin alike. Seen as a weapon in a centuries long war, Echo has the power to decimate and destroy, making her a valuable commodity. One aspect I was delighted to explore was the tentative bond shared between Dorian, an Drakharin and Jasper, who is Avicen. I was tiring of the romance between Echo and Caius along with Echo's sweetheart, Avicen Rowan. It was agonising as a reader to experience Echo's indecision between the boy who changed her life, to the young man who has the potential to chance the world. It was refreshing to follow the budding romance between Dorian and Jasper, which is not without it's drama but held such a charming innocence.

Dorian is still coming to terms with the heartbreak over the man who will never return his love, he has spent his time since the Black Forest beside Jasper as he battles an infection that refuses to heal. Dorian is a no nonsense character, while Jasper is skilled in the form of flirtation and innuendo. Together they are simply lovely.

The romance between Echo and Caius, Echo and Rowan, Jasper and Dorian and now Jasper and  his former flame, warlock Quinn. Romantically, the storyline has the potential to alienate readers. Even though Jasper's only interest is in Dorian, former flame Quinn aggressively pursues Jasper by wanting to rekindle their relationship. Meanwhile, while the romance between Echo and Caius has reached a stalemate. Echo's history with Rowan was never revealed and the latter still believes he and Echo are in a relationship. It's not only messy, but it seems Echo begun a relationship with Caius when she was supposedly involved with Rowan. Confused?


I'm absolutely thrilled that the lovely feathered Ivy may have found herself a potential partner. She's a charming and charismatic character who has undergone a tremendous amount of growth.

One aspect I really enjoyed is how the conflict between the Avicen and Drakharin effected the mortal world. New York City lies above the Avicen nest and is decimated by the attack and left in ruins. It could have been the perfect opportunity to explore the worlds colliding scenario, but unfortunately it's never realised. 

Melissa Grey is an achingly beautiful artist, she wields words like weapons but with such elegance and prose. 
Where all things begin, so must all things end. The cradle of life is a pyre come death.
He fell in love with those stories he same way he fell in love with her. A little grudgingly at first, but eventually with complete abandon.
In the acknowledgements, Melissa Grey herself mentions how second in a series installments are incredibly difficult and I think most readers would agree wholeheartedly. In comparison to The Girl At Midnight, it was slightly underwhelming and seems to have misplaced the enchanted quality that endeared and captivated readers. But nevertheless, an entertaining read that has certainly left me eager for the finale. 

Black... They're Coming

Black
Written by Fleur Ferris
Contemporary, Mystery, #LoveOzYA
Published July 22nd 2016
276 Pages
Thank you to Random House Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Ebony Marshall is in her final year of high school. Five months, two weeks and four days... She can't wait to leave the town where she's known only as Black. Because of her name, of course. But for another reason, too.

Everyone says Black Marshall is cursed.

Three of her best friends have died in tragic accidents. After Oscar, the whispers started. Now she's used to being on her own. It's easier that way.

But when her date for the formal ends up in intensive care, something in quiet little Dainsfield starts to stir. Old secrets are revealed and terrifying new dangers emerge.

If only Black could put all the pieces together, she could work out who her real enemies are. Should she run for her life, or stay and fight?
Seventeen year old Ebony Marshall, social pariah and simply known within her small country town as Black. In her final year of school, Ebony works part time at the local water treatment plant, her father's own enterprise that provides clean water for the region. But Black has always lived her life on the fringe, the girl for who tragedy defined her and left her ostracised by her community and peers who believed ebony is damned. All except new student Aiden.

Aiden has heard the rumours, but befriends ebony against despite the dire warnings of the curse of Black Marshall. As the teens form a tentative friendship against all odds, Aiden is hospitalized. Only this time, the curse of Black Marshall has taken a dangerous direction with deadly consequences.

The Pure Apostles fuel the fears of the Whispers, a devoted group community members who follow the teachings of Father Ratchet. Five months, two weeks, and four days is all that separates Black and freedom, freedom from the Whisperers and small town ideals.

Until the Pure Apostles see Ebony as a threat.

And come for her.

My Thoughts

Fleur Ferris is spectacular. Black was a brilliant blend of a contemporary, mystery and exploring small town prejudice and one girl's fight to live. Ebony Marshall's young life has experienced devastating grief, but yet the seventeen year old is still able to hold her head high despite now being a social pariah. Once affectionately known as Black, now it holds negative connotations after losing multiple friends in devastating accidents. Her only friend is her work colleague Ed, only a few years Ebony's senior and someone who has never judged her as others have, as a curse and plight on the small community of Dainsfield.

What endeared me to Ebony was her determination and resilience. She's been subjected to the taunts of her peers and given a wide birth by the community since losing her small group of friends at such a tender age, labelled as a curse and unable to grieve for all she had lost. Ebony refuses to be bullied or belittled, especially against those who the Pure Apostles have convinced Ebony is a threat to their children and community. It's after Ebony begins to develop a relationship with new student Aiden when the Whisperers begin an aggressive campaign against the teen, when an accident sees Aiden's life holding by a thread and the small town of Dainsfield begins to unravel.

The Pure Apostles are a religious cult, with a history devoted to exorcising demons. Ebony has been labelled as a threat since conception and as the secrets of Dainsfield threaten to erupt, Ebony will need to fight or risk becoming yet another urban legend. The Whisperers were undeniably alarming, following the teachings of Father Ratchet who is the driving force behind the curse of Black Marshall. Ebony is watched, monitored all by a group who remains anonymous, leaving the reader unaware of which characters belong to the unhinged congregation. Ebony's storyline may be fictional, but all too similar to cases all over the world where religious leaders have faith cleansed parishioners in similar circumstances, giving Black's storyline an eerie and unsettling emotive. 

Although Incredibly disturbing, Black was completely riveting. I was unable to tear myself away from Ebony's narrative and the town of Dainsfield brought to life. Fleur Ferris is a remarkable storyteller, sharp, accomplished and confident. I loved the unpredictability. It left me feeling unsettled and reading long into the night. Absolutely compelling and I loved every moment.

Sexy Sexy Nevernight

Nevernight
The Nevernight Chronicle Book One
Written by Jay Kristoff
Fantasy, Mature Themes, Sexy Sexy Times
July 25th 2016
496 Pages
Thank you to Harper Collins
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆
Destined to destroy empires, Mia Covere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Six years later, the child raised in shadows takes her first steps towards keeping the promise she made on the day that she lost everything.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, so if she is to have her revenge, Mia must become a weapon without equal. She must prove herself against the deadliest of friends and enemies, and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and demons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Red Church is no Hogwarts, but Mia is no ordinary student. The shadows love her. And they drink her fear.
Ten year old Mia Covere will never forget how her father was sent to death, an example of a rebellion at the mercy of the executioner's taunts. Her mother and brother ripped from her grasp, taken against their will while Mia awaited her own fate. Armed, Mia escapes with her life and the clothes on her back only to be found by a man who would train her in the fine art of revenge. And Mia wants to bring down an empire.

Six years of training have prepared her for The Red Church, a hidden institute that will sharpen her skills into that of a trained assassin. A Darkin cloaked in shadows for protection, Mia is but one of thirty students entering the fray, pledging their lives to Our Lady of Blessed Murder in the hopes of becoming a Blade. But within the cold, stone walls lies a killer among assassins, an Acolyte who is as bloodthirsty as they are merciless.

Only four Acolytes will become Blades, the remaining who survive will become Hands, destined to serve in silence. But Mia never expected to find allies within the walls of the covert church, or betrayal.

Never flinch. Never fear. Never forget.

My Thoughts

Nevernight is a phenomenal read. A mixture of fantasy, violence and lust through the eyes of sixteen year old Mia, a trained assassin seeking revenge. For the past six years, Mia has carried the pain of her father's death, sentenced as a revolutionary who turned his back on the empire. Her mother and infant brother, cruelly ripped from her life on the day in which Mia was no longer expected to live. But yet, she escaped. Mia's story is harrowing. Once having lived a life of wealth and nobility, at the tender age of only ten years old she is facing life on the streets. Rescued by a man who taught with a firm hand and soothed Mia's longing for the family she mourns. 

Mia is fierce but won't allow herself to be underestimated. Drawing comfort from the shadows, she refuses to become a victim and seeks the guidance of the secretive murder cult, The Red Church. I loved her character. Under her layers of bravado, she's also a sixteen year old girl who wants to feel a sense of belonging. She isn't afraid to die but of feeling more than disdain for others, refusing to form alliances and exposing her vulnerability.

The Red Church is a congregation steeped in history, a secret set beneath the mountains where they teach the fine art of butchery through stealth combat, potions and seduction. Thirty Acolytes will train as assassins, but only four will achieve the status of Blade. The rivalry between the Acolytes is viscous, most having been brought from esteemed families who also trained at the covert institute. The name Covere carries a disgrace which makes Mia a target and a threat.

The romance is an attraction and comradery, rather than the typical romantic relationship. Mia seeks out a no strings attached, sexual relationship with her ally and fellow Acolyte Tric. The sex scenes are descriptive but wonderfully written. They allow Mia's character not only a release but allow her power over her own sexual gratification. I love books that are sex positive and allow characters to want with abandon.

The footnotes included throughout the storyline were a brilliant concept, but I found the footnotes didn't work for me personally and neglecting to read them beyond the first few chapters never once impacted my reading experience as I still enjoyed it nevertheless. Although I struggled within the first few chapters, the storyline was intricately woven and truly stunning. The dialogue between the characters reminded me of a rich and luscious historical fiction. I loved the mixture of formal titles with colourful language and only proves how Australian authors continue to breathe realism into their teen characters, even assassins who are bloodthirsty and violent. 

I loved it. The ending left me breathless if not slightly bewildered and holy fuck, I loved every moment. Jay Kristoff, you're fucking awesome. 

And I Darken

And I Darken
The Conquerors Saga Book One
Written by Kiersten White
Historical, Alternative History, Young Adult
Published June 28th 2016
498 Pages
Thanks to Penguin Random House Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆
No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan's courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan's son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.
From the moment she entered the world, Lade Dragwyla was seen as little more than a disappointment. A girl who's only purpose would be to marry at a tender age to strengthen political ties. Born to a father who devalues women, Lada is determined to prove her worth as a female with a thirst for blood and cruelty. Lada is darkness to Radu's light, her younger brother charming leaders and aristocrats alike, a legitimate heir to The Dragon Prince's throne of Wallachia but without the thirst needed to command his nation.

Within the opulent walls of the Dragon empire, her father has sent away Lada's only friend, Bogdan, the son of her nursemaid and constant companion. Lada finally sees the cold and calculating man her father is. A man who has lost the support of his trusted advisers while his cruel, first born son plans to conquer the Wallachia lands. To retain his power, Lada's father agrees to abandon his children under the guise of their education, held as ransom on the Ottoman Sultan's estate to ensure their father's compliance. The man she once idolised is unworthy of ruling Wallachia, preferring to surround himself with death and notoriety rather than his beloved children.

Lada has never known what it is to be seen as an equal, the only man worthy of her admiration had bestowed his children for his empire. Until Mehmed. The Sultan's heir is spirited and adventurous, seeing Lada as a challenge and an equal worthy of kindness. But as Radu and Lada befriend the young heir, the distant and tentative sibling relationship will be fuelled by resentment and hostility.

Lada refuses to comply. While Radu marvels in religious teachings, Lada is a fierce young woman who is determined to learn the fine artistry of bloodshed and warfare, before returning to her motherland where she intends to conquer. Leaving a trail of victims, and heartbreak in her wake.

My Thoughts

And I Darken is a brutal alternative history of the Prince of Wallachia, blending historical fiction with a cruel and calculating antihero that pushes gender roles, stereotypes and labels. Lada is without a doubt the most callous and savage character in modern young adult.
'I kill infidels!' the child snarled, brandishing a small kitchen knife.

I loved her. Immensely. Lada isn't a character who allows herself to indulge those around her, especially sensitive and gentle younger brother Radu. Showing affection is a weakness and Lada won't allow Radu to be used against her, a trait inherited from her father who rules with an iron fist. Lada's cold, calculating persona is an asset she's also developed through her environment. Her mother but one of a magnitude of wives taken by her father, eventually leaving her harem, abandoning her children and returning home. Raised by a nurse, Bogdan's mother, Lada's strength is nurtured, celebrated, while the young girl wants nothing more than to make her father proud while she forges her own path. But beyond her brutality, Lada is a character rarely seen within young adult. She unapologetically cruel. She isn't interested in affairs of the heart, nor does she want to be seen as a female used for entertainment or to produce an heir. She wants equality and is determined to be the leader among men that her father and brother cannot be.

Younger brother Radu isn't worthy of the title of heir to the Wallachia throne, he's sensitive and emotional, preferring to befriend others and avoid conflict. He's immediately cast aside by his father in favour of Lada, and struggles with his sexual identity. It isn't until Radu and Lada are both held within the Ottoman Empire, that he begins to realise that he will never truly love any woman, preferring the company of men. Radu also struggles with his Christianity and I loved exploring the teachings of Islam through his young eyes. From the prayer sessions to the Holy Month celebrated nightly by a fest and a sense of community.

The overall storyline is focused on Lada, and Radu as an extension, each being raised as children of the Dragon Prince until kept captive at the mercy of the Sultan. Both find a sense of kinship with Mehmed, the Sultans son. I must admit, I found him nauseating. He was a young man and future leader in a position of power, but often felt incompetent and unable to make decisions. Naturally he begins to fall for Lada, despite her maiming threats but it's Radu who falls in love with the young Sultan, unable to label why he feels an attraction towards men when society dictates he must marry or face ostracisation. Mehmed was frustrating. He felt unwilling to push boundaries and seemed oblivious to Radu's affections even though their relationship felt far more intimate than a heterosexual relationship between friends.

The writing was beautifully vivid, detailed and lovely, which added and eerie calm among the violence. The storyline is reasonably modest and it feels as though the brutality of the era has been toned down to allow for a character driven storyline. I was hoping for intense warfare and unfortunately, it barely delivered on that aspect.

I loved it. Lada is a brilliant, headstrong character that we rarely see in young adult novels. In an empire in which men hold the power, she's not afraid to question loyalties, decisions and sexist stereotypes within the era.
She breathes fire and pisses vinegar.
She's perfection.
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