Dark Blade

Dark Blade
Whispers of the Gods Book One
Written by Steve Feasey
Fantasy, Mythology, Magic
352 Pages
Published August 5th 2019
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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★★★★☆
A sweeping epic fantasy perfect for fans of the summoner trilogy by Taran Matharu and shadow and bone by Leigh Bardugo.

When gods fail, who will keep the darkness out?

Lann knows nothing of his mysterious past, but by his fifteenth birthday he will come face to face with destiny. For Lann must wield the Dreadblade, an ancient sword forged to defeat terrible monsters.

Across the mountains a king has been murdered. His daughter, Astrid, is a warrior with no desire to bear the crown. Only she can uncover her father's killer before her brother is framed for the crime.

Evil is stirring. Lann and Astrid are the kingdom's last defence. Together, they must face the greatest darkness their world has ever known.
The Dreadblade speaks the language of the old Gods, a weapon forged to eradicate monsters and evil from the world. Once wielded to destroy the darkness brought upon the world, a warrior consumed by the power of the black sword attempted to kill the gods, drowned for his bloodthirst and greed.

Lannigon Fetlanger is a farm boy but rather than working the land, Lannigon immerses himself in books, knowledge instilled in him by his late mother. Since her passing, Lannigon's father has becoming increasingly volatile, a drunkard who mourns his wife after she passed giving birth to his stillborn son. When his father is slaughtered by a monster, Lannigon barely escaped with his life, losing his sight during the attack as he lay crumpled on the forest floor.

Lannigon is taken in by Fleya, a witch versed in old magik and craft, teaching the now vision impaired boy about botany. Lannigon seeking solace in the rich earth tending to his seedlings. As Fleya is needed in a neighbouring town, Lannigon is awoken by a man offering to restore his sight if he chooses to wield the blade drenched in blood, a weapon as fierce as it is frightening and Lannigon agrees to the offer.

Lannigon Fetlanger is an intriguing young man, gentle and considerate, still grieving the loss of his mother. Escaping the monster who slain his father, Lannigon falls and a sharp blow to the head results in his vision impairment, engulfed by darkness as he finds himself alone. Fleya is a witch and healer, tending to the local community with her homegrown medicinal elixirs. She offers to take Lanningon in while farmhands manage the family farm, teaching him about botany and how to care and grow ingredients within her small garden. Seeking solace in the rich soil, Lannigon feels at ease within the her presence and although Fleya appears to be a youthful and beautiful woman, it isn't until he takes possession of the Dreadblade that he sees the world for what it truly is, Fleya included.

The Dreadblade itself has a long, sorrowful history. Forged and last wielded by a man who had planned to kill the Gods, Lannigon unaware of the blade's history upon accepting the position of sword keeper, the Dreadblade is bloodthirsty and acts of its own accord. A war is brewing, a thin veil separating Lannigon's world and a world of hideous monsters unleashed by a mere boy, a young man determined to make the world suffer for his own grief and the hand he's been dealt. Dabbling in necromancy and dark magik.

Across the Kingdom, the King has been slain. Astrid Rivengeld is the daughter of the slain King, her brother ascending the throne until he is held captive, assumed responsible for the death of their father. Astrid has no desire to attend court as a Princess, she's a Shield Maiden and the first royal of her kind. Sharing the same goal as Lannigon and along with Fleya, the three set off across the Kingdom to save the throne and stop the rift into the netherworld from opening. I loved Astrid, such a formidable young lady and although her character is a stark contrast to Lannigon, the two compliment each other wonderfully and forge a tentative friendship.

Dark Blade draws upon the Viking civilisations and mythology, fictional Nordic Gods and monsters crossing a divide between worlds. The world was beautifully imagined and wonderfully portrayed. Absolutely loved it!

Only Mostly Devastated

Only Mostly Devastated
Written by Sophie Gonzales
Contemporary, Romance, LGBT
368 Pages
Published March 10th 2020
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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★★★★★
When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country, Will’s school, where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted and to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts coincidentally popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right?

Right.
Californian local Ollie has just spent the summer of his life in North Carolina, his parents caring for his Aunt Linda as she battles cancer while Ollie could quite possibly be the best babysitter to ever have babysat. With his two young cousins nipping at his heels, Ollie spent the warm summer days on the beach and it was there he met Will, total dreamboat, music novice and basketball god. Over the course of the summer, Ollie and Will fell in love, though neither were brave enough to admit it and swore that when Ollie returned to California, the two smitten boys would certainly, most definitely keep in touch. Now the summer is over and Will is totally ghosting Ollie, ignoring text messages as Ollie becomes increasingly more heartbroken.

Ollie's Aunt Linda isn't doing too great and with two small children, Ollie's parents decide to stay in Collinswood and help while Linda recovers. Despite Ollie putting in a protest. The likelihood of running into Will again is pretty slim to none, it was summer and he's likely moved on with his memories and now someone else's dreamboat. Grumbling aside, Ollie loves his family, his super supportive parents and although he's leaving his life behind in California, his band that's most certainly on the cusp of greatness and his friends, he agrees and enrols at Collinswood High School.

Of all the schools in all the world, Will just happens to be at Collinswood High. Well, it's not that unlikely but it makes getting over him a smidge more difficult. Before Ollie sinks into a post summer sulk, he's swept up by a group of girls all sporting rose gold rose necklaces in some sort of misguided non couples dressing. Turns out Ollie is just what they need to complete their group and suddenly the year isn't looking so bad after all if he can avoid Will everyday for the rest of the year. Or when hell freezes over, whichever comes first.

Will isn't the same guy that Ollie fell in love with. He's the star basketballer, he laughs at homophobic jokes and ignores the fact that he spent an amazing summer with Ollie and unlike Danny Zuko, doesn't tell all his friends about the boy he met at the beach. Most definitely not with a musical number and interpretive dance. Unaware that his new circle of necklace clad friends know Will, Ollie accidentally outs him and in the small North Carolina town where apparently no one is gay, Will has never felt comfortable coming out to his boof head mates.

Throughout the storyline, we're treated to flashbacks of the perfect summer. Playing with the kids on the beach, not quite naked swimming in the middle of the night and all with a dose of kissing someone's face off. Ollie's summer was perfect. You know when you meet that person that's your person? Will could possibly be Ollie's person but the summer is over and with it, Ollie and Will's relationship.

Although Only Mostly Devastated is utterly joyous, it tackles serious issues such as grief and seeing a loved one battling illness, queerphobia and being outed, blended with a beautiful story of summer flings, heartbroken boys and figuring out your place in the world.

I loved Ollie's character. He's wonderfully compassionate although sarcastic and internally, hilariously bitchy. I loved his kindness and sense of who he was and his own self worth. He isn't without his faults but he's just so inherently good. Although we see flashbacks of Will during the summer, within his circle of friends, he comes across as arrogant and willing to laugh at others expenses. Underneath the cocky facade lies a young man who's scared to be outed. Throughout the narrative, we see Ollie incredibly hurt that Will wants their friendship to remain a secret, worried about the reactions of his friends and family. Both boys are justified in their feelings and it was wonderful to see Ollie addressing his error by outing Will, realising how potentially dangerous and damaging his actions were and although he's entitled to feeling hurt, that Will shouldn't feel pressured to label his sexuality until he's ready. If he's ready.

The secondary characters are as diverse as they are wonderful. Lara is exploring her sexuality and identifies as bisexual as does Will. Niamh is a young woman of colour and has aspirations of becoming a plus size model. It also explores casual fat shaming by suggesting Niamh could only be successful as a model by losing weight. Niamh has also been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, only the second time I've encountered the condition in young adult, the other being the incredible It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood. 

It was ahhhmaaaaazing. Big, big love for books that explore positive queer experiences for teens, helping reading audiences relate and to feel not so alone. It's about living your life, learning from your mistakes and shaping up because you need a man.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Butterfly Yellow

Butterfly Yellow
Written by Thanhhà Lai
Historical Fiction, Cultural, Diverse, Friendship
296 Pages
Published March 3rd 2020
Thank you to UQP
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★★★★★
Hằng doesn’t believe in adventures.

There are steps that must be done, and once done, another step awaits. The last step, after six years of minute planning by her grandmother, is a bus ride away. In Amarillo her baby brother has to be waiting. In her imaginings, he is always waiting.

National Book Award and Newbery Honor winning author Thanhhà Lại makes her young adult debut in this deeply moving story of courage, redemption, friendship, family and new beginnings.
The conflict in Việt Nam created impoverished conditions, families malnourished, communities decimated as the communist government occupied Southern Việt Nam. Hằng has escaped Việt Nam, her journey as an asylum seeker harrowing as she is resettled with her uncle Chú Quốc and her cousins in the American South. As the conflict in Việt Nam concluded, authorities begun evacuating orphans from Saigon. Hằng and her brother Linh prepared for evacuation among the children experiencing the devastation of losing their families. Their mother and grandmother sacrificing to provide the children with safe passage amidst the conflict.

A young girl only twelve years of age, Hằng was denied passage, Linh forcibly removed from his sister and taken onboard for evacuation. Hằng returning to their small Việt Nam village devastated and grieving for her brother. In his absence, his grandmother became inflicted with illness, his father passing, believing his son was abducted. Hằng has endured famine and conflict as a young woman evading the attention of soldiers settled within the community.

Tens of millions of communities around the world are displaced, seeking asylum from persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations within their native countries. In Australia, where many refugees from Việt Nam were brought, our human rights violations are deplorable, denying those seeking asylum refuge. Hằng and her mother boarded a small, crowded fishing vessel en voyage to find Linh. Their journey is fraught with uncertainty, dangerous conditions on a small ramshackle vessel unable to elude pirates on the open waters. Passengers slain, women and girls captured, Hằng disguised as a young boy, surviving as a nonthreatening figure and disregarded.

Arriving in Dallas, Hằng is homed with her uncle Chú Quốc and his family, Vietnamese Americans living affluent lives. The contrast between Hằng and her cousin, both of Vietnamese descent is immense. Hằng isn't consumed by material possessions, she's fixated with finding Linh and although her uncle suggests seeking legal advice, Hằng journeys alone to retrieve her brother.

Leeroy is an aspiring cowboy, modelling himself on a local legendary rodeo champion and travelling the infamous Panhandle in search of the American dream despite his parents insistence on attending college. Ambushed by an Christian couple on Southern hospitality, Leeroy is coerced to accompany a destitute Hằng to her brothers last known address. An unlikely and tentative companionship begins as the two young adults find employment as ranch hands on a sprawling homestead neighbouring Linh and his adoptive mother, his horse lodging at the ranch. It's a precarious situation, Linh or David as he's now known, is twelve years old and seemingly remembers little from Việt Nam, including Hằng. Hằng's intensity is balanced by Leeroy's humour and carefree attitude, David and Leeroy developing an easy rapport while Hằng observes from a distance.

Hằng's narrative is heartachingly tender. Her journey unravels to reveal her ordeal, the traumatic circumstances of leaving Việt Nam, losing her family, losing her brother, the traumatisation she endures in silence. Hằng's character is based on a photograph Thanhhà Lai encountered of a young girl at a Buddhist temple she visited, photographs of lives lost. Her journey is distressing and confronting, encouraging readers to examine our privileges. Although Butterfly Yellow is a fictional narrative of the refugee experience, it represents the precarious and volatile conditions in which those seeking asylum are escaping. Encouraging compassion and understanding throughout the western world. A remarkable and thought provoking read that will ignite discussion.

Achingly beautiful.

Reverie

Reverie
Written by Ryan La Sala
Fantasy, Magic, LGBT
384 Pages
Published December 2019
Thank you to New South Books
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★★★★★
All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialise out of nowhere, the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery, Kane realises that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.
Kane Montgomery was found on the embankment in the Cobalt Complex among the scorched remains, an abandoned industrial estate and landmark in the small town of East Amity. The local authorities are questioning Kane. Why was he trespassing on private property and why did he set the landmark ablaze? Unable to remember the incident or the months preceding, Kane is appointed a counsellor, assigned a journal and coerced into providing information in exchange for his freedom from incarceration. It's an impossible situation. Kane believes he's ostracised by his peers and Doctor Posey offers a sense of belonging and kinship, seemingly understanding of his precarious situation. What Doctor Posey lacks in subtlety, they more than compensate in cryptic information, knowing all too well how Kane has lost his memories.

Investigating the scene of the incident, Kane is no closer to discovering his memories, the town believing the ostracised young man many have attempted suicide. Did he? Boisterous and opinionated sibling Sophie doesn't agree. Doctor Posey is fabulously sinister, an extravagant drag queen sorceress who may hold the key to unlocking Kane's memories. Quite literally. Posey sees the injustice of the world and wants to fashion a new version of the sleepy Connecticut town. Everyone shall live within the new reality of a Reverie, their narratives controlled and forever trapped within their world of elaborate trinkets and fabulous coiffed hair while living their best life. The Others must put an end to Posey's madness, who would want to live in such a world? I ask as the entire reading audience raises their hand.

The Others are a small alliance of local adolescents who guide the Reverie, appearing as characters within the dreamscape and remaining lucid throughout. Although Kane cannot remember, he is responsible for guiding the Reverie narrative to completion. It isn't until he overhears a ragtag group of students talking about strange new worlds that he learns who he truly is and he's not alone, he has friends, although somewhat peculiar and slightly terrifying for a multitude of reasons. Kane's sexuality has always been the target of ignorant and homophobic peers so to find out he has friends is a delight. Gosh I felt for the poor confused boy, Kane is so lovely and kindhearted and deserves to be surrounded by people who care deeply for him. Ursula was that person. An old friend who suddenly feels like a new friend who is passionate and athletic and makes absolutely no excuses for herself.

Ursula understands what it feels like to be labelled, being a tall young woman with an athletic build, she's labelled a lesbian as though it's an insult. She's incredibly kind and patient with Kane and their friendship seemed to ease Kane's anxiety. Each member of The Others holds a special power, Ursula has speed and strength on her side, cheerleader and aloof Adeline can wipe your memories and Elliot can cast illusions, which comes in handy when you're sneaking around trying to thwart the plans of a villainous drag queen. Regardless of how fabulous her wigs are.

A Reverie is a vividly imagined narrative that manifests as a dreamscape, depicting our wildest desires, aspirations or turmoil. Worlds created from our sprawling imagination. of romance, betrayal and heroism. The Others remain lucid throughout the experience, assisting the Reverie to conclusion without interfering regardless of the dreamscape. The premise is breathtaking and beautifully imagined.

Reverie also touches on queer communities and the queerphobia they endure. Kane was isolated by his peers for being gay. At a young age, Kane was outed due to his eccentricities and avoided by other boys in elementary school, no longer invited to sleepovers as if being gay was contagious, causing Kane to withdraw from his peers. Ursula understands. Why does society feel the need to label athletic women as lesbians? It happens in all aspects of women's sport. Regardless of their sexual orientation, females have every right to play sport without being labelled or objectified. If society and in particular men, learnt to respect women and shut their damn mouths, I dare say more females would feel comfortable being active. Adeline isn't without her detractors. Being a cheerleader, she's assumed to be unintelligent or even dimwitted when in fact, it's quite the opposite. She's feisty, fierce and someone you need on your team when battling Posey in all her evil fabulousness.

Posey may be the villain but she's absolutely fabulous! At first Posey describes herself as a man in mascara but throughout the narration, Posey is referred to as she or her. I'm not certain if Posey is a drag queen or transgender but she's a phenomenal character who struts onto the page to her own theme music, tinkling in trinkets on her wrist and coiffed wigs to the nines. I adored her.

Reverie is a fantastical journey of adventure, breaking stereotypes and coiffed hair with a side dish of jazz hands. Outrageously fabulous!

A Guide to the This Mortal Coil Trilogy

This Mortal Coil
This Mortal Coil Book One
Written by Emily Suvada
Science Fiction, Dystopian
448 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Teen Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
When a lone soldier, Cole, arrives with news of Lachlan Agatta's death, all hope seems lost for Catarina. Her father was the world's leading geneticist, and humanity's best hope of beating a devastating virus.

Then, hidden beneath Cole's genehacked enhancements she finds a message of hope.

Lachlan created a vaccine.

Only she can find and decrypt it, if she can unravel the clues he left for her. The closer she gets, the more she finds herself at risk from Cartaxus, a shadowy organization with a stranglehold on the world's genetic tech. But it's too late to turn back.

There are three billion lives at stake, two people who can save them, and one final secret that Cat must unlock. A secret that will change everything.
To celebrate the release of This Vicious Cure, the conclusion to the This Mortal Coil Trilogy by Emily Suvada, I'll take you on a journey to explore the desolate wasteland, the plague decimating the population and the technology and characters who are entrusted to salvage humanity.

The Characters
Protagionist Catarina Agatta is an intelligent and resourceful young woman evading Cartaxus capture. Catarina is the seventeen year old daughter of the renowned geneticist Lachlan Agatta, a former Cartaxus programmer and genetic engineer, now recaptured along with his assistant to manufacture an antidote for the contagion decimating the country. Surviving within the isolated Black Hills and diagnosed with Hypergenesis, Catarina remains genetically unenhanced, relying upon her intellect and perception to survive.

Lieutenant Cole Franklin is an enhanced Cartaxus agent, the organisation who is holding her father captive in addition to his programming assistant. Cole has deflected and been assigned by Lachlan Agatta to protect Catarina and although she's malnourished, isolated and her only companion an elderly neighbour, is determined to become her own saviour. Cole is an interesting character and although he remains an agent of Cartaxus, he was raised within the confines of a laboratory and endured invasive experimentation under the guise of genetic manipulation.

The children, now adolescents of the genetic program have escaped the Cartaxus corporation, the remainder enlisted as soldiers. Leoben, Ziana, Cole, Anna and Jun Bei, children who endured torture and experimentation of consumer technology and programming under the guidance of Lachlan Agatta. Each character is tangible, created distinctly and introduced throughout the series.

World Building
The series is created within a desolate and American dystopian. The virus has ravaged the land and communities are living underground within Cartaxus bunkers. Those who remain on the surface live in isolation or in communities established with fortresses to protect the living from those effected by the virus. Throughout the series, several characters are collaborating on the coding that may inoculate the population, currently the only method of protection is to consume the flesh of the effected before they detonate vaporising into a mist and infecting those in the vicinity.

Entropia is an independent genehacker community, those living above ground protesting the invasiveness of the Cartaxus corporation and their militant methods. Throughout the series, Entropia becomes an important aspect of the narrative, introducing influential characters and emerging confrontations.

The Technology
Our lives are consumed by programming. Through a panel located on your forearm, applications are downloaded to change your appearance, regenerate our bodies, our senses, programming to create superior beings. The essence of This Mortal Coil is genetic manipulation and biotechnology, developed by Lachlan Agatta and administered to infants as nanotechnology. It allows programmers to create applications that download directly into the body, collaborating with our human genetics. Cartaxus monopolises the genetic applications, with the ability to deny survivors essential health enhancements.

Why You Need This Series in Your Life
Emily Suvada has studied mathematics and astrophysics, she's created a world where females are thriving as programmers, as soldiers and survivalists. Strong, remarkable women as heroines, villains and the morally ambiguous surviving against all odds. An airborne virus morphing formerly healthy individuals into bloodthirsty monsters and an all encompassing corporation determined to regulate and manipulate the civilian population as opposed by a community of genehackers. A science fiction thriller blending friendship, romance and a revolution of mammoth proportions. 

The This Mortal Coil Trilogy is an intelligent, captivating and atmospheric science fiction dystopian. Absolutely phenomenal.



This Cruel Design
This Mortal Coil Book Two
Written by Emily Suvada
Science Fiction, Dystopian, Survival
448 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Teen Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Catarina thought they'd stopped the Hydra virus. She was wrong.

After laying everything on the line to decrypt the vaccine, Cat realises that Lachlan's daemon code is in the panel of every person on the planet's surface. With it, he can reprogram humanity.

She, Cole and Leoben set out to stop him, but they're on a timer. Cartaxus, the shadowy corporation that's both helped and hindered them, has a deadly end game in play. The virus is evolving, the vaccine is dying, and if Cat can't find Lachlan in three days, they'll use lethal code to wipe out every person on the planet.

Their path takes them to Entropia, an underground city deep in the desert and home to the most extreme gene hackers, run by the queen of coding, Regina.

Struggling with the revelations about her past, and plagued by strange visions, what Cat finds in Entropia is more than just a trail to Lachlan. Because in the vaulted chambers of Regina's kingdom, Cat is forced to question everything she knows and everyone she trusts, and discovers that the biggest threat of all may be buried in her own mind.

This Vicious Cure
This Mortal Coil Book Three
Written by Emily Suvada
Science Fiction, Dystopian, Survival
400 Pages
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Two factions at war.

A plague that can't be stopped. A cure that could destroy them all.

Cat's hacking skills weren't enough to keep her from losing everything, her identity, her past, and now her freedom.

Meanwhile, the person who's stolen everything from her is close to realising a hacker's dream, the solution to humanity's problems in gene form. Or so she thinks.

But now a new threat has emerged, a threat that could bring the world to the brink of a devastating war.

Both sides will stop at nothing to seize control of humanity's future, and that the centre of this war is Cat, and a race against the clock save millions of lives.

Don't Read The Comments

Don't Read The Comments
Written by Eric Smith
Contemporary, Gaming, Friendship, Online Safety
284 Pages
Published January 20th 2020
Thank you to Harlequin Teen Australia
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★★★★★
Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya regularly leads her #angstarmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mum pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer Divya.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new world and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line.

And she isn’t going down without a fight.
Reclaim The Sun is a popular online multiplayer game, players from all over the world board their ships ready to explore the universe, colonise planets and mine for resources. For gamer and streamer Divya Sharma, it's how she earns a living. Through sponsorship and revenue to help her single mother make ends meet while she puts herself through college.

Being a female gamer is hard enough, avoiding trolls and online abuse from arrogant males laying claim to online spaces. Divya has tried to protect her personal information. She doesn't use her real name, location or allow people past the virtual walls she's built around herself, she knows all too well how unsafe the world can be for females after her best friend, gaming buddy and streaming producer Rebekah was attacked in an elevator on her college campus. But when Divya is attacked and ambushed in game by a group of dudebros calling themselves the Vox Populi, the online trolling spills into her real life, comprising her safety.

Any girl gamer who's ever played an online multiplayer can attest to Divya's story. I'm no stranger to online gaming. In my younger years playing Call of Duty online and the amount of assholes who try to intimidate and target females is infuriating. Often console support will suggest you block other users or turn off the in game chat, sure, that solves the issue. I would have thought of that myself but my simple female brain is too occupied with flower arranging and darning socks. The issue is that for so long, they've allowed male gamers to create a toxic environment online where these losers living in their mother's basement get together and drive female gamers from the community. Back then, girls would meet online at a specific time and have female only sessions of online games. Safety in numbers is instilled in us because of men and allowing them to become faceless behind a keyboard only perpetuates their male fragility.

Aaron Jericho is a part time online gamer, his real interest lies in creating games and storyboarding, working for an independent developer who is trying to dodge paying wages for his staff. With no wage and an overbearing mother who refuses to support his dream of becoming a game developer, he's built himself a Frankenstein computer made from dumpster spare parts and pieces found in the neighbours trash. It works and is good enough to run Reclaim The Sun where Divya and her armada has just been attacked.

Aaron is a kindhearted young man and while he's never experienced trolling as Divya is now experiencing, he wholeheartedly supports her and her need for privacy while still checking in to make sure she's doing okay. Aaron's narrative explores the issue of creators not being paid appropriately for their work, taking advantage of because they're afforded experience. Experience doesn't pay the bills. Aaron's blossoming friendship with Divya allows him to escape and seek solace online and although he'd like to meet her, he respects Divya's need for privacy and allows her to set boundaries within their friendship. Never pushing her to meet offline or for her phone number.

The focus of the story is how unsafe online spaces can be for females in particular and like Divya, we can protect ourselves and our personal, sensitive information but online communities whether it be social media or gamer communities, it allows others to have access to us. Streaming her gaming attracts large audiences and although it's wonderful for Divya who can earn money from sponsorship, being a public figure shouldn't mean that her life should be for public consumption. Her private life is her own. These online trolls who are aggressively targeting Divya, her friends and family are dangerous. As soon as your safety is compromised, these faceless assholes become a danger and more needs to be done to be able to persecute those who engage in online targeted harassment and doxxing.

Don't Read The Comments is an incredible narrative of girls fighting back against those who attempt to silence us. Eric Smith is an impeccable author, creating discussion surrounding creating safe online spaces for females and supporting young creators. There's a saying, the standard you walk past, is the standard you accept and we need to be more mindful of one another online. If you see targeted harassment, report harassers. If a young woman is being abused, speak out and if you're a male gamer who doesn't believe in females occupying online spaces, then fuck off. 

The M Word

contains sensitivities such as self harm, suicide and depression
The M Word
Written by Brian Conaghan
Contemporary, Mental Health, Mature Themes
Published October 15th 2019
320 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Maggie Yates talks to her best friend Moya every day.

She tells her about Maggie's mum losing her job. She tells her that Mum's taken to not opening the curtains and crying in secret. And she tells her about how she plans to cheer Mum up, find her a fella with a bit of cash to splash.

Moya is with her every step of the way. You're surfing a rainbow if you think someone like that exists round here, she smiles. But I'll help.

But at the back of her mind Maggie knows that Mum's crying is more than sadness. That there are no easy fixes. And that Moya's not really there. Because though she talks to her every day, Moya died months ago.
Maggie has never had much, she isn't wealthy, her single mother yells at her at every opportunity and she's never snogged anyone. The one thing she's always had is Moya Burns, her best friend. While Moya lives a carefree life, she's not all that interested in school and prefers a good old snog and shag, she's always relied on Maggie. Until she doesn't. Now Moya talks to Maggie through a manky old bear, dishing out advice on finding her mum a bloke or to stop being a tosser.

Attending her counselling sessions isn't any better, Maggie scoffing at the new age mediation and loved up approach of Anna, her grief counsellor. Maggie's coping, barely. So when her tuck shop lady mum loses her job and sole income, Maggie watches her mum deteriorate much in the same way as Moya did. She chain smokes, has boarded herself inside and pitches a fit when the curtains are drawn, willing to clobber Maggie at the mere suggestion of opening a window. Maggie's mum has depression and the bad days are outweighing the good lately, which is driving Maggie deeper into a pit of grief and self harm.

Maggie's narrative is harrowing, she's trying to gather her life together after the death of her best friend. She hears Moya speaking though and old tattered teddy bear she carries as a protective shield. It's always been Maggie and Moya against the world but while Moya cycled through skint, tracksuit clad boyfriends, Maggie knew the only way to escape their suburban shithole was to make something of her life.

As Maggie is accepted into art school, Moya continues her snarky commentary by invading Maggie's thoughts. When she's placed in a group assignment with Plum, her boyfriend and Davis, who Maggie begins crushing on, Moya is there, egging her on, giving her useless advice but she helps Maggie to feel not so alone. The night that Moya died, Maggie begun to self harm as a distraction from the pain of losing her friend. As her mum loses her job and with little welfare to make ends meet, Maggie's mum locks herself away in a house of stale cigarette smoke and trashy reality television. When the ache becomes too much, Maggie cuts. 

Although we only see Moya through Maggie's perception, her character is larger than life. She's rough around the edges and wouldn't hesitate to knock you into next week but she loves Maggie, hiding her feelings between crass jokes and snarky comments. Fractures start to form in Moya's character as Maggie considers applying to art school. Moya felt as though she's being left behind, picking up with another tracksuit clad tosser who treats her like shit. Moya wants to be loved, deserved to be loved and assholes seemingly used and abused her, her casual boyfriend posting photos on Instagram without her consent, the comments and abuse coming thick and fast. Moya tried shaking it off, pretending she didn't care. She did. Maggie blames herself, if only she'd been there, if only she said something, if only Moya had still relied on her.

The storyline is confronting and packs an emotional punch. Poverty, suicide, depression, grief, toxic relationships, abuse and self harm. Many of these issues go hand in hand and Brian Conaghan has skilfully layered them throughout the storyline to create genuine characters who endure and survive what are ultimately shit circumstances, illness and hardship. They're flawed, genuine and most importantly, relatable. I loved the bright moments in Maggie's life, when she remembers Moya, sitting in the bath together removing their public hair, Moya's politically incorrect commentary, meeting Davis, her new and very unassuming friend Plum wanting to call their band The Flaps, Maggie and Davis setting her mum up with a man without her knowledge and while of course I don't condone catfishing, the misguided experience brought Maggie and Davis together.

This is by no means a love cures all storyline, actually love just makes Maggie's life more complicated, it drove home the message of how important emotional support can be. I loved grief counsellor Anna. Even as often as Maggie scoffed at her methods and lashed out at her, she was patient and showed an incredible amount of kindness. She also wasn't afraid to tell Maggie a few home truths when push came to shove. 

It was bloody brilliant. I'm always a little sceptical when it comes to male authors writing about the teen girl experience, yes, yes, sexism and that but it felt incredibly authentic. Maggie could be a girl that lived next door, sat behind me in class, she's a girl I would have been friends with, I even see parts of myself reflected in Maggie. 

Borrow a copy, buy a copy and ditch that tracksuit clad boyfriend and read it. While you're in the bath removing your pubic hair if that's you're thing. This is what young adult is about. 

Ember Queen

See my reviews for Ash Princess and Lady Smoke
Ember Queen
Ash Princess Trilogy Book Three
Written by Laura Sebastian
Fantasy, Political, Romance
480 Pages
Published February 11th 2020
Thank you to Pan Macmillan
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Smoke clears
And flames die,
But one burning ember
Can ignite a revolution.

Princess Theodosia was a prisoner in her own country for a decade. Renamed the Ash Princess, she endured relentless abuse and ridicule from the Kaiser and his court. But though she wore a crown of ashes, there is fire in Theo's blood. As the rightful heir to the Astrean crown, it runs in her veins. And if she learned nothing else from her mother, she learned that a Queen never cowers.

Now free, with a misfit army of rebels to back her, Theo must liberate her enslaved people and face a terrifying new enemy: the new Kaiserin. Imbued with a magic no one understands, the Kaiserin is determined to burn down anyone and everything in her way.

With more at stake than ever, Theo must learn to embrace her own power if she has any hope of standing against the girl she once called her heart's sister.
Queen Theodosia Eirene Houzzara is reclaiming Astrea from the Kalovaxian Empire, her homeland, her birthright and the freedom for Astrea from oppression and servitude. Theodosia has returned from the Fire Mine, stoking her ability to bring forth the blaze she needs to defend Crescentia, her former friend and now Kaiserin. The Kaiser slain by his forced bride's hand. Queen Theodosia is amassing her army of guardians and warriors to storm and lay siege to the capital, liberating those taken into slavery at the mines along her journey.

Theodosia is formidable, able to call upon her ability to create and manipulate fire with ease and not unlike Blaise and his own ability, will need to nurture and develop self control to weaponise her gift into something tangible to defeat Crescentia. Underneath her fearsome facade, lies a girl who is terrified of letting her people down and compares herself to her mother's reign. While her mother was known as the Queen of Peace before the siege that decimated her lands and took her country hostage, Theodosia is the Queen of Flame and Fury and will stop at nothing to see her kingdom liberated. Above all else. For the good of Astrea.

Throughout the series we've seen Theodosia blossom, from young girl adorned in her crown of ashes awaiting rescue, to the woman she's become. Her experiences have shaped her character, she's resilient, formidable and can rescue herself. She's the heroine of her own story. Theodosia is leading her misfit army, created from communities of Miners that had been enslaved by the Kalovaxians, their homelands conquered and left to ruin before their oppressors moved to conquer the next colony. Theodosia and her close knit circle of friends and warriors are fighting for those decimated by colonisation, daring to hope that after the war is won, Kingdoms will be rebuilt and the Kalovaxians will no longer reign.

This battle is intensely personal for both Theodosia and Crescentia, the girl who once described her friend as her heart's sister. Growing up in the castle after she was captured as a young girl, Crescentia befriended the young Ash Princess, despite the fury of her father. Crescentia believes that Theodosia is dead so when the two former friends begin connecting through Theodosia's dreams, Crescentia believes she's haunting her from the grave, spilling her secrets and plans for her Empire. What's evident is Crescentia's loneliness.  Her father is dead, her husband is dead and her only friend wants her dead. In Theodosia's absence, Crescentia has been administering the poisoned elixir to ladies formerly of the Kalovaxian in the hope of creating a replacement.

The friendship between Artemisia, daughter of Dragonsbane and Theodosia was one of the highlights of Ember Queen. Artemisia was raised with a stern hand by her mother and in Dragonsbane's world, there was no room for weakness and comfort. Slowly Artemisia's icy facade begins to thaw, sharing with Theodosia her time in the Water Mine, growing up and her thoughts on love. Surprisingly. Heron continues to be the voice of reason while Theodosia begins to mend her friendship with Blaise. And Søren. I like Søren as a character despite the blood on his hands from when he was Prinz under his father's reign. He's atoning for his sins and although his relationship with Theodosia has been turbulent, he will fight for the freedom of Astrea. Sacrificing himself for the cause. Theodosia and Søren seem to work better as friends but having said that, the few intimate scenes between them were gentle and lovely, it brought a softness to the storyline and allowed Theodosia a few moments of peace and hope.

I really enjoyed seeing the discussions taking place in regards to how to rebuild society. With many Kingdoms left to ruin under the Kalovaxian reign and communities displaced, discussion turns to how to deal with Kalovaxian survivors. Continuing to plan the siege to take back her mother's throne, Theodosia will be faced with the prospect of killing Crescentia, unlikely that the now Kaiserin will allow herself to be taken alive. Crescentia may be a dangerous foe but she underestimates the strength of Theodosia and her resilience.

The Ash Princess Trilogy is innovative, imaginative and inspiring. It ignites discussion and explores themes of colonisation, displacement, asylum, gender violence, slavery and equality. It champions diversity. Throughout the Kingdoms are communities of varied languages and ethnicity. Characters of colour and sexualities, both male and female same sex relationships with one character possibly identifying as asexual, although not specifically expressed.

It was glorious. The series is phenomenal and although I'm disappointed to bid farewell to characters I've grown so incredibly fond of, I can't wait to see what Laura Sebastian is working on next. I can't recommend this series highly enough!
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