The Liars

contains alcoholism, death, abuse and drug abuse
The Liars
Written by Jennifer Mathieu
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Family
336 Pages
Published 10th September 2019
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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★★★★
How can one family have so many secrets?

It's the summer of 1986. Joaquin and Elena, two teenage siblings live in a toxic environment with their alcoholic mother on an island off the Texas Gulf Coast.

Elena falls for a new boy who has just arrived from California. Joaquin must wrestle with his decision to stay on Mariposa Island to protect his sister or flee from his mother's abuse.

As both teenagers struggle to figure out who they are and want to be, they are caught in a web of family dysfunction and secrets from their mother's past.

Can fierce love save them, or will their truth tear them apart?
During the nineteen eighties, Mariposa Island is a summer playground for the wealthy and frivolous, for siblings Joaquin and Elena Finney, it's home. Under the vigilant and suspicious scrutiny of their mother, Joaquin is allowed to socialise with friends without a curfew, Elena is only given permission to leave the house accompanied by Joaquin and to work minding children for a wealthy family on the island that visits during summer each year. Her Mami warning Elena of menacing boys who will leave her in ruins. Elena is expected to tend to their small, ramshackle home while her alcoholic mother seethes about her own life, the breakdown of her marriage and her life as a pampered debutante in Havana during the rise of the Communist Party and Fidel Castro.

Caridad de la Guardia was the only child of attentive parents, wealthy socialites of Havana, cherished by her parents, treasured by her housemaid and revered by her island community. As a young woman, Caridad was removed from her home and sent to the United States under the guise of an education during the Cuban Revolution. Fostered by an American family, Caridad despised being abandoned by her parents and learning to communicate in English. Her only means of escapism was to fall in love with an American boy and create a life similar to her opulent lifestyle in Havana. Now living on the Island, Caridad seeks companionship in alcohol and reminding her children of their own father's abandonment.

Mariposa Island thrives on secrets and untruths, of tangled lives and manipulation. Told from the perspectives of Caridad as a child living in Havana and siblings Elena and Joaquin, presently residents of the island, the narrative explores family and tangled lives of deception.

Now a parent with two children on the pinnacle of adulthood, Caridad's nonlinear narrative fluctuates between carefree child and the hostile, vitriolic woman she's become. An alcoholic and an abuser. Her children are a reminder of the life she believes she was cruelly denied, her parents sending her to the United States to escape the Cuban Revolution and unbeknown to Caridad, saving her life. She's hostile towards her foster parents, an American family who care for Caridad despite her growing resentment.

Joaquin and Elena have never known their father, only the distant memory of the man their mother continuously reiterates that abandoned his young family. Elena is a sheltered young woman, suffocating under the judgemental scrutiny of her mother and a peacekeeper, simmering arguments between Joaquin and their mother while yearning for her mother's approval. Joaquin is independent and often challenges their mother, confronting her about her alcoholism and the animosity she holds for her children. Although siblings, Elena and Joaquin live parallel lives. Joaquin is employed in a local family restaurant and Elena is a casual nanny for the Callahan family each summer and her only means of escape from her mother's tyranny. Joaquin is the preferable Finney sibling and although he despises his mother, he's fond of Elena and encourages her to defend herself.

Elena begins sneaking out during her mother's drunken unconsciousness to see her boyfriend, a nineteen year old staying in town for the summer. Manipulated and exploited by an older, experienced man, Elena has become reckless and abandons her best friend. When Elena's and Caridad's lies begin to unravel, it becomes apparent that Joaquin's survival depends on escaping the island. No longer able to live with the lies and deception. He's suffocating.

I was captivated by the intensity of the narrative and their tangled deception. Elena was an unreliable narrator, her untruths had become her reality and I was swept along by her dishonesty. I believed her. Caridad's alcoholism to escape her reality is distressing, disregarding her own children while reminiscing about her life in Havana and regretting the life she's been saddled with. Lies layered upon untruths and manipulation, it was a toxic and vicious cycle that was destroying Elena's, Caridad's and Joaquin's lives.

Jennifer Mathieu is a remarkable storyteller, I was captivated by the Finney family and their entwined deception and betrayal. To put it bluntly, they're fucked, they'll fuck you up and you'll enjoy every fucking moment. 

Scars Like Wings

Contains potentially triggering mentions of the loss of a parent, fire, death and suicide
Scars Like Wings
Written by Erin Stewart
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Disability
384 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia
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★★★★
Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see.

Sixteen year old Ava Gardener is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all. Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn't?

When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle for survival and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the glass, or the people by her side.
Ava Gardener is the sole survivor of a house fire that took the lives of her parents and cousin Sara. Ava lives with the scars that serve as a reminder of her sorrow, for the lives lost that fateful day and the life that she's been so cruelly denied. Once an outgoing and popular girl, Ava has become a recluse, completing her education through correspondence and reluctantly attending group counselling appointments for adolescents who have survived tragedy and trauma.

Enduring invasive reconstructive surgery and grafts, Ava is restricted to compression bandages to ensure her skin remains taut during the heeling process, her aunt and uncle working tirelessly to afford Ava's ongoing medical expenses. Cared for by her aunt and uncle, Sara's parents who are mourning the loss of their only child, Ava understands the financial burden she's become. Championing her recovery, Cora is enthusiastic when Ava's counsellor suggests Ava return to school, no longer challenged by her online studies and needing to gain a sense of normalcy so to appease Cora, Ava agrees to a two week trial.

Ava Gardener is a wonderful young woman who has endured devastating tragedy, losing her parents and cousin in traumatic circumstances and although heavily scarred, Ava survived. The intensity of the fire burnt over sixty percent of Ava's skin and although she's endured multiple grafting procedures, Ava's facial scarring has become a barrier in regaining her independence. Through counselling Ava befriends Piper, the two young women both survivors. Piper was involved in a car accident and now physically disabled as a result, never allowing herself to become a victim or survivor but rather a girl who is thriving. Neither Ava or Piper serve as an inspiration to others, they simply want to experience adolescence.

Ava and Piper are characters of contrast, Ava wants to remain as inconspicuous as possible, Piper is self deprecating and uses humour to make antagonisers and detractors feel uncomfortable. Ava is a kindred spirit filling the void of loneliness for Piper, Piper encourages Ava to broaden her horizons and although both Piper and Ava continue to navigate their tentative friendship, Ava's confidence begins to blossom.

Scars Like Wings is a gentle and healing narrative, to not merely survive but to endure, to exist and to live again. Diverse young adult literature is almost exclusively sexually diverse, multicultural, multigender or hearing and vision impaired and Scars Like Wings is an incredibly important narrative. Physical scarring can often be debilitating, not only effecting confidence but the discomfort and pain associated with skin trauma. Ava's experience in finding her sense of normalcy is a personal journey, she experiences isolation, undiagnosed depression, acute pain and her movements restricted due to her compression bandages. Her recovery is ongoing, with Cora massaging ointment into her skin nightly. Psychologically, Ava also experiences vivid reminders of her loss which some readers may find confronting.

Erin Stewart has authored a tender, captivating narrative and an unflinching account of the scars we carry. Some not always visible. A beautifully compassionate debut novel and essential reading. 

Under The Stars - Q & A With Lisa Harvey Smith

A Masters Degree in Physics with Honours in Astronomy Astrophysics, author Lisa Harvey Smith is the Australian Government's Ambassador for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Astronomer, Author and Broadcaster and has just released her illustrated middle grade novel, Under the Stars, Bedtime Astrophysics. Transporting curious kids and inquisitive adults on an incredible journey through the night sky.

Explore our solar system from the comfort of your cosy bedroom. Find out why the sky is blue. Fly around a black hole and peer inside! Learn why Jupiter has stripes. When astrophysicist Lisa Harvey Smith isn't looking skyward, she is answering the smart questions of school kids. Her engaging storytelling in this colourfully illustrated book brings the night sky to life, giving amazing new perspectives to young explorers who are always asking, why?
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Visit Lisa Harvey Smith on her website
What was your motivation for writing Under the Stars, Astrophysics for Bedtime?
I have always had a fascination with the night sky, which blossomed into a wonderful career in astronomy. Aside from my research though, one of the most energising parts of my job has always been visiting schools and talking to kids about space. They are always so excited and enthusiastic and the questions they ask are so creative! I knew that I needed to create a book just for them.
When you were a kid, what interested you about space?
When I was a child, it was really the beauty of the stars that first captured my imagination. My Dad and I used to go out somewhere really dark and just take it all in. After a while though, I had questions running though my head like, how many stars are there? How big is the universe? Is there other life out there? And the list goes on. So, I began reading books about astronomy and I was enthralled by this amazing new window on our universe.
What are five things about space that still make you go wow!
Astronauts age more slowly in space than they do on Earth, ever so slightly! That's because the Earth's gravity bends our universe and makes time pass more slowly. It's called time dilation. Weird or what!

If you got too close to a black hole, your entire body would be stretched by the enormous gravitational forces and you'd become human spaghetti.

Ever wondered why the sky is blue? It's because the light from the Sun is made up of all the colours of the rainbow. As the sunlight hits our atmosphere, it is scattered across the sky by tiny particles of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide that make up the air. These particles act as millions of tiny mirrors. Blue light is scattered from these particles more easily than red light, so that is why the sky appears blue.

Shooting stars are not stars at all. They are actually tiny specks of space dust that crash through our atmosphere as we orbit the Sun. The bits of space dust rub against the air and heat up, reaching a temperature of 1000 degrees and burn up, creating bright streaks of light in the sky.

Our Sun is a gigantic ball of gas. Tiny particles crash together in its middle, creating a nuclear furnace that burns at a temperature of 15 million degrees. Four million tonnes of the Sun's gas is burned into heat and light every single second!
What has been your career highlight so far?
I would have to say that seeing the first pictures from the gigantic telescope I helped to build in remote Western Australia was a real highlight for me. It's part of a global mega science project involving more than 10 countries and I had worked on the project for seven years before we got any results. After all that time, seeing those first images of distant galaxies was a real highlight for me. Also, on a personal note, touring Australia with Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo 11 astronaut who first set foot on the Moon with Neil Armstrong in 1969 was a real highlight for me. Talking with someone who has explored another world and sharing their experiences, it's just such an incredible feeling.
If you could travel into space, where would you want to go and why?
Since I was about 15, I have dreamed of being the first Woman to go to the Moon. It won't be me, but I'm very excited that NASA has pledged to send the first woman to the moon by 2024.
What do you think still needs to be discovered about space, the galaxies or the night sky?
The great thing about our universe is that there is so much still to discover! For example, we only understand what 4% of space is made from. The other 96% is completely out of our grasp. We don't know how the universe will end, or if it will ever end at all. We are yet to learn how life began on Earth and whether we are alone in the universe. So many mysteries are yet to explore.
Please describe a day in the life of an astrophysicist.
Astrophysics is a wonderful pursuit. On a typical day I might work with a team of scientists on a scientific problem or make pictures of the sky from information I have gathered from telescopes. I'd read the latest astronomy research and see what other people are discovering, to get new ideas. I might travel to a conference or a telescope in a far flung region of the world or share my results by writing a scientific report or speaking to fellow scientists about my latest discovery. Then I might work with students and help the next generation of scientists learn and grow in their discoveries.
What do you think kids will get most out of reading your new book?
Under the Stars, Astrophysics for Bedtime is all about cultivating a sense of wonder and exploration in young children. The illustrations are designed so that every child can see a role model who looks like them. It is so important for girls and boys to engage enthusiastically in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects so that we can build a future designed by everyone that serves the needs of society.
What do you think parents will get most out of reading your new book?
Parents get an opportunity to read fascinating stories about space to their children and help stimulate their curiosity at the same time. As kids get older, they will get a bit of peace and quiet as children get engrossed in reading the book themselves! Older primary aged kids will love reading the stories again and again, each time learning something new. And don't tell the kids but this book is also for the grown ups too! You can have a sneaky read once the littlies have gone to sleep. Learning is a lifelong joy after all.
Please feel free to share any amazing stories or anecdotes about writing the book.
Writing Under the Stars was a labour of love. Since I work full time, I did my writing at night, dreaming up stories and crafting the book from my bed. I think that writing at night helped create the dreamy astrophysics for bedtime vibe of the book.

Want to win a copy of Under the Stars, Astrophysics for Bedtime? 
Head over to my Twitter page and retweet to enter here.

Greta's Story

Greta's Story
The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet
Written by Valentina Camerini
Translated by Moreno Giovannoni
Illustrated by Veronica Carratelli
Non Fiction, Environmental, Middle Grade
129 Pages
Published August 19th 2019
Thank you to Black Inc Books
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Greta's Story is about hope, courage and determination. You are never too young to make a difference.

It's 20 August 2018, late summer in Stockholm, and it feels incredibly hot in the city. The TV news is reporting rising temperatures, and there have been numerous fires throughout Sweden. Fifteen year old Greta Thunberg decides she can't wait any longer: politicians have to do something to save the environment. Instead of returning to school, Greta takes a placard and goes on strike in front of Sweden's parliament building.

Greta's protest began the Friday's for Future or School Strike 4 Climate movement, which millions have now joined around the world. Greta has spoken at COP24, the UN summit on climate change, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is her story, but also that of many other girls and boys around the world willing to fight against the indifference of the powerful for a better future.
Greta Thunberg is fifteen years of age, an accomplished speaker addressing Climate Change symposiums, United Nations assemblies and has amassed millions of children, young adults and adults from around the world to reduce our damaging ecological footprints, to demand more from our governments and actively collaborate within our communities for a greener future. An inspiring young woman who is changing our world. This is environmental activist Greta Thunberg and this is her journey.

During an unseasonably warm summer in Stockholm Sweden, Greta created a simple placard and rather than attending school, begun her peaceful protests outside the government chambers in Stockholm with the support of her parents, understanding Greta's passion for the environment and her concerns that our leaders were ignoring the climate change crisis. Each Friday, Greta would sit alone, a young girl within a busy metropolis hoping to draw attention to the environmental cause. Our planet is dying and humanity is to blame. Animals face extinction, water is a precious commodity, plastic is destroying our oceans and marine life and the earth breathes pollution while our governments remain silent.

Recently throughout the world, our youth marched towards a common belief, adults, politicians and leaders have failed our future generations with inaction, the crisis of climate continues to worsen and while countries have pledged to reduce omissions, drastic action needs to be taken. And now.

Greta has lead an extraordinary life in her fifteen years. Diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and depression, Greta has become a beacon for change and has inspired an environmental movement that reaches communities in the most distant corners of the world. She poses the question, what are you doing to help our environment?

Written in simple and accessible language and sprinkled with charming illustrations, Greta's Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet is a wonderful introduction for children and middle grade readers to learn about climate change and the ways in which we can take responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint, through the eyes of a fifteen year old environmental warrior. Compelling reading. 

Impossible Music

Impossible Music
Written by Sean Williams
Contemporary, Music, Loveozya
320 Pages
Published July 2019
Thanks to Allen & Unwin
RRP $19.99 AU
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★★★☆
When the song is over, what remains? A novel about rediscovering yourself when everything you once took for granted is gone.

Music is Simon's life, which is why he is devastated when a ministroke obliterates his hearing. He resists attempts to help him adjust to his new state, refusing to be counselled, refusing to learn sign language, refusing to have anything to do with Deaf culture. Refusing, that is, until he meets G, a tough as nails girl dealing with her own newly experienced hearing loss.

In an emotionally compelling tale crackling with originality, Simon's quest to create an entirely new form of music forces him into a deeper understanding of his relationship to the hearing world, of himself, and of the girl he meets along the way.
The last thing Simon Rain can remember hearing is the music blaring through his earphones as he fell asleep. That was nine months ago and after suffering from a stroke in the middle of the night while he slept, eighteen year old Simon hasn't heard a thing since. Coming to terms with his diagnosis has been a difficult journey for Simon. As a musician, music has been his life and an outlet to express himself creatively. Now angry and isolated, Simon refuses to learn Auslan, Australian Sign Language and prefers to communicate through screens and text messages.

Simon is profoundly deaf and after months of testing, doctors have determined his diagnosis as a rare form of sensorineural hearing loss, often caused by damage to the nerve that carries the signals to the brain or in Simon's case, a stroke. At a loss and grieving, Simon is determined to find new methods of creating music and being accepted into a prestigious university course. Music isn't only heard, it's felt and along with an abrupt, no nonsense music professor, devises a method to allow everyone to experience music. The musical aspect was fascinating, creating music as a sensory experience. Simon was so incredibly passionate about making his concept a reality, it consumed him and his determination was palpable. Unfortunately the technical aspects and musical terminology were lost on me, especially the emails Simon and the music professor exchanged.

Simon attends doctors appointments, counselling and a program for hearing impaired students but refuses to participate, after all he's still grieving the loss of his hearing and no one seems to understand how isolating the loss of noise is. All except George. George or G as she's affectionately known was diagnosed with tinnitus after a secondary roller derby accident. G's mental health begins to deteriorate, her recently diagnosed tinnitus has worsened, leaving her with constant noise that no one else can hear.

Simon and G begin to depend on one another as their relationship develops and although they seek solace in one another over their shared hearing impairment, they also enable one another. Communicating through text messaging while in each others company, neither using Auslan. I never really felt a sense of who G was aside from her illness. We see G through Simon's thoughts as the troubled, brooding love interest but apart from their diagnosis, seemingly have nothing in common. I would have preferred to have seen Simon and G as friends rather than the tentative romance.

The main focus of the storyline is music and the many ways in which we listen. I found the concept fascinating and thought provoking but there was just so much theory and technical terminology. Simon seemed to be eighteen years old going on forty and his extensive knowledge of musical composition felt at odds with his character, even with the influence of his one hit wonder, music producer father.

Despite the long passages of musical terminology, I enjoyed it. It was a little too clever at times and could have been far more engaging with less of the descriptive and more character development, especially concerning G. Despite not being an own voices novel, the deaf experience was so authentically written. The grief, the anger and the isolation of being a hearing impaired person in a world brimming with song, it was incredibly and intricately written.

Frankly In Love

Frankly In Love
Written by David Yoon
Contemporary, Romance, Diverse
432 Pages
Published September 17th 2019
Thanks to Penguin Australia
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★★★★
Frank loves Joy. Joy loves Frank. At least, that's what they tell their parents.

Frank Li is a high school senior living in Southern California. Frank's parents emigrated from Korea, and have pretty much one big rule for Frank, he must only date Korean girls. But he's got strong feelings for a girl in his class, Brit and she's not Korean. His friend Joy Song is in the same boat and knows her parents will never accept her boyfriend, so they make a pact. They'll pretend to date each other in order to gain their freedom. Frank thinks fake dating is the perfect plan, but it leaves him wondering if he ever really understood love or himself at all.

David Yoon's debut novel is a quirky, authentic, heartbreaking romantic comedy and a refreshingly different take on race, immigrant communities, friendship and family.
In accordance with his parents, Frank Li is destined for greatness. Frank will be accepted into the college. Frank will date a lovely Korean girl from an honoured family. Frank will be wealthy and successful. Frank will also marry Korean girl and have Korean children and thus the Korean circle of life continues. Frank knows very little about the lives of his parents before they immigrated to America, his mother and father are peaceful, humble people who have worked tirelessly to provide for their children, Frank and older sister Hanna.

Self confessed nerd Frank barely speaks Korean, born in America and wavering between identifying as Korean and American but never quite fitting in. Each week Korean families congregate for The gathering, each family hosting a Korean banquet and allocating time to socialise and catch up with other Korean Americans who have created a new life for their families, small business owners basking in their own success. While the adults gather, their American born offspring talk about colleges, video games and dating. All except Hanna. Hanna who was once the perfect Korean daughter until she started dating Miles, an African American young man she met at college.

So when Frank starts dating Brit, he knows he can never tell his parents. Brit is white and doesn't fit into Frank's Korean world and after seeing his sister Hanna ostracised for her relationship with Miles, Frank knows Brit wouldn't be welcome within his family.

Frank isn't the most likeable of characters but he's incredibly genuine and authentic. He's keenly aware that his parents hold a deep prejudice towards other Asian identities, African Americans and those of Mexican decent. They stereotype, use terms like ching chong when describing those with a Chinese background, make assumptions about African Americans and Mexican identities as being single mothers or felons and fought endlessly with Hanna who continued to challenge their racism until she was ostracised for not dating a Korean man. Frank on the other hand is too scared to make waves. He calls them out on their racism but halfheartedly. It's easier for him to ignore their prejudice than to challenge them. So when he starts dating Brit, he doesn't give his parents the opportunity to surprise him but instead hides her like a dirty secret and she deserved so much more.

Considering the current social media call out culture and microaggressions, I think it's an important aspect of discussion that Frank didn't push back against his parents. Racism exists and it can be deeply ingrained into families of any background or culture. What happens when you're the teen of racist parents? If you listen to most adults on social media such as Twitter, they expect you to rage against the injustice of the world but what they don't often realise that you can only push back so much against parents or authoritarian figures. Twitter doesn't care if you suddenly find yourself out on your ass with no where to go. I found Frank's situation completely reasonable and although I wish he'd given his parents the benefit of the doubt regarding Brit, I can understand why it was easier for him to simply ignore their casual racism and stereotyping. Ignoring racism for your own self preservation is not the same as condoning the actions of those who are being racist.

I love a fake romance narrative and Joy Song was such a lovely character. She was brutally honest, hilariously funny and in much the same situation as Frank, only wealthier. Joy is Korean American and dating Wu, a tall, dark and handsome Chinese American athlete and has kept their relationship hidden from her parents for the past two years. As a workaround, Joy and Frank pretend to begin dating to keep their parents happy and as an alibi to date Wu and Brit respectively. Pretending to date Joy is easy. She's a hard working, intelligent young woman from a good Korean family and fake dating Joy allows Frank a freedom he's never known before.

The secondary characters were fabulous, especially Frank's banter with best friend Q. Q is African American, a nerd, highly intelligent and speaks as though he's an extra on Downtown Abbey. Unfortunately as Frank explores his new relationship, Q is the one who ultimately suffers. He needed more from Frank and allowed his friend to take advantage of his kindness.

The ending is bittersweet and reiterates the importance of family. Frank learns that the easier path isn't always the happiest and perhaps anything worth having is worth the fight. Frankly In Love is an incredibly important read, besides being engaging and entertaining, it highlights how we're all capable of racism, microaggressions and stereotyping regardless of our backgrounds, culture or the colour of our skin. Brilliant debut!

Devil's Ballast

Devil's Ballast
Written by Meg Caddy
Historical, Pirates, #LoveOZYA
320 Pages
Published May 7th 2019
Thanks to Text Publishing
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★★★★★
Anne Bonny was eighteen when she ran away from her violent husband, James, into the arms of pirate captain Calico Jack Rackham. Now she’s ensconced aboard Jack’s ship Ranger, passing as a cabin boy and playing her ruthless part in a crew that is raining down mayhem and murder on the ships of the Caribbean. But James Bonny is willing to pay to get his property back. And pirate hunter Captain Barnet is happy to take his money. The Ranger’s a fast ship, Anne might just be able to outrun Barnet. But can she outrun the consequences of her relationship with Calico Jack?

Devil’s Ballast is action packed yet nuanced, culturally relevant and sharp as a cutlass. Based on the true story of Anne Bonny, this new novel by the remarkable Meg Caddy brings to life one of history’s most fascinating anti heroines.
As the dawn rises, Anne Bonny binds her breasts with bandages, pulls on her britches and prepares for another journey on board the Ranger, a pirate ship bound for the Carribbean. The crew believes Anne is a young man, small, intelligent and arrogant. The ocean doesn't welcome young women and women on board are abused, disgraced and often degraded. After escaping her violent husband, Anne is labelled an adulterer by the lawmakers of Nassau, a bounty offered for her capture by her volatile husband, furious that Anne was stolen away by infamous pirate Calico Jack, Jack Rackham.

Anne Bonny is remarkable. As a young woman, defying her father and marrying James Bonny, living in a small, ramshackle hut on the Nassau coast. Her husband begun to abuse her, stumbling home in a drunken, violent rage until Anne was presented with a lifeline, the handsome Calico Jack and despite the crew of the Ranger believing Anne was a slight boy of no more than fourteen, Anne and Jack became lovers on the open seas, pillaging merchant vessels and gaining notoriety.

Although her life can only be speculated upon, Anne Bonny is an incredible historical figure. Anne is portrayed as a young woman of incredible strength and conviction, exchanging an oppressive marriage for life as a marauder throughout the Caribbean. She's accused of adultery, a suspected sex worker and if she escapes execution, then she'll be returned to her violent husband who has employed a pirate hunter to capture his wife.

It was highly suspected that Anne Bonny was bisexual, involved in a romantic relationship with Mary Read, also known as Mark Read. Women were often abused during the Golden Age of Piracy, only valued as wives and caregivers by honourable men. Anne bound her breasts in bandages to conceal her gender with only Calico Jack enlightened that Andrew Bonny is female. When Anne is captured and kept prisoner, she befriends a passive, unassuming pirate, Read. Read suspects Anne is female and under the cover of darkness, they both escape. Read is a transgender man, binding his chest and in Devil's Ballast, identifies as male. Their friendship was beautiful, the two pirates are kindred spirits and sought solace in each others company. Although Anne is in a relationship with Calico Jack, she has infinitely greater chemistry and compatibility with Read.

A fictional account of the journey of Anne Bonny, Devil's Ballast is superbly entertaining and swashbuckling fun. Meg Caddy has captured the romantic essence of a ferocious and passionate heroine that will be remembered as a famed and sensationalised young woman. Remarkable reading.

The Harp of Kings

The Harp of Kings
Warrior Bards Book One
Written by Juliet Marillier
Fantasy, Folklore, Celtic
400 Pages
Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia
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★★★★
Bard. Warrior. Rebel.

Eighteen year old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart and is a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan's burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. While she and her brother are competing for places in this band, they are asked to go undercover as travelling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission is to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship. If the harp is not played at the upcoming coronation, the heir will not be accepted and the kingdom will be thrown into turmoil. Faced with plotting courtiers, secretive druids, an insightful storyteller and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realises an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the realm. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and the consequences may break her heart.
On Swan Island, apprentices are disciplined in warfare and espionage in preparation to become elite soldiers, a distinguished position garnering the admiration of the communities of Erin. Siblings Liobhan and Brocc are revered for their proficiency, accomplished apprentices on the threshold of their inaugural assignment on the mainland. Accompanied by adversary Dau and the chieftains of Swan Island, their assignment is to retrieve the Harp of Kings, a traditional stringed instrument of considerable importance. The harp will be played at Breifne's coronation ceremony for the incoming kingship and without the traditional ceremony, the new king shall not be accepted by society.

Each apprentice has been provided with a new identity and persona for their assignment. Dau will be employed as a lowly stable hand and labourer, a young man with mutism. Liobhan and Brocc will be employed by the empire as travelling minstrels, selected for their musical capabilities much to the annoyance of Liobhan. The journey to the Kingdom of Breifne is fraught with danger. Legends speak of an otherworldly realm in which the fair folk reside, an elderly storyteller guarding a gateway to another world which is being decimated. Of a tempered, volatile King and the uncanny, what resides in the beyond.

Liobhan is an ambitious and intelligent young woman who challenges authority and an extraordinary musician. Entering the academy at Swan Island is among her greatest accomplishments, vying for a place as a permanent resident among the chosen warriors and accompanied by brother Brocc. Brocc is an accomplished young man and esteemed amongst the Swan Island community. Unlike Liobhan, Brocc prefers to create music, mesmerising crowds with his angelic melodies and although he's a capable combatant, he faces an internal conflict of identity. Dau is a stoic young man and Liobhan's main adversary. He segregates himself rather than establish friendships with his comrades. Beneath the surface lies a young man traumatised by his youth, tormented by older siblings and tortured by traumatic stress disorder.

In The Kingdom of Breifne, Druids live with a segregated community, men of spirituality who upon entering the brotherhood are deprived of their former identity. Their families forbidden to speak of their loved one. The Druids are the protectors of the Harp of Kings, essential for the incoming King's crowning ceremony. Brocc must garner the confidence of the Druids to investigate the disappearance of the harp and along with chieftain Archu, play nightly for the Breifne court under the guise of travelling minstrels.

Liobhan and Dau begin a tentative friendship, from adversaries to a gentle companionship while Brocc finds himself attracted to a mysterious women in which he finds a sense of solace. The romance is subtle and delicate, which will no doubt be explored in the next installment. Within the court, Liobhan befriends a neglected and frightened young girl, we see a tender side of the feminist warrior and I really enjoyed their interactions. Throughout the narrative, we see how difficult it is for women within the Kingdom. Women work within traditional roles, caring for children, sewing, cooking, washing and seen as inferior to men by often remarking, you're quite intelligent, for a woman. Given her place within the court as a mere minstrel, Liobhan is unable to challenge these sexist ideals publicly but secretly seethes with frustration. 

The Harp of Kings is extraordinarily exquisite, an enchanting fusion of fantasy and fictional Celtic folklore, a journey of resistance, resilience and realisation. Atmospheric and vividly imagined, Juliet Marillier is exceptional.
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