The Dog Runner

The Dog Runner
Written by Bren Macdibble
Middle Grade, Dystopian, Survival
248 Pages
Published February 2019
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia
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Ella and her brother Emery are alone in a city that's starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, upcountry, to find Emery's mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren, and dangerous landscape? Well, when you've got five big doggos and a dry land dogsled, the answer is you go mushing. But when Emery is injured, Ella must find a way to navigate them through rough terrain, and even rougher encounters with desperate people...
It begun with the fungus that spread across the expansive fields of Australia, fresh produce became a rare commodity as the pasture succumbed to infestation, animals starving, livestock perishing. The government delegated rations were barely enough to survive as friends and neighbours begin to abandon their homes. Organised syndicates roamed the neighbourhood in search for commodities, gold and precious metals traded for meagre allowances.

Siblings Ella and Emery share their small suburban apartment with their father and three canine companions, waiting for their mother to return home from the electricity station. It's been eight months since Ella has seen her mother, several weeks since the electricity blacked out and with no contact from her mother, Ella and Emery's father ventures to the station to find his wife with plans to leave the city with his family.

The city is dangerous, especially for two children and when their father doesn't return home, Ella and Emery decide to travel across the rough terrain to reach Emery's mother's farm. Along with their three dogs, two new recruits and a mushing sled, Ella and Emery will need to navigate the desolate countryside, avoiding armed offenders and learning to survive on the dying land.

The Dog Runner is harrowing and hopeful journey of two children surviving despite an environmental disaster, told from the perspective of a young lady pining for her mother. Ella is such a lovely character, intelligent but within the new world, she continues to see the best in others and in humanity. Besides her half brother Emery, Ella feels safest with her Malamute Maroochy, her loyal canine companion. From their small apartment window, Ella watches her world turning to ruin. The streets are no longer safe as a food shortage begins bringing out the worst in others. To survive, Ella and Emery are planning on sledding to Emery's mother's house, a small mushroom farm that she manages with her parents beyond the city. With communications wiped out and solar power panels being stolen, there's no way of knowing if the farm has been effected or how wide the infestation spread.

In a country reliant upon grain, a red fungus has spread throughout the city and native floral, grasslands have died, animals who normally feed off the land are starving. The narrative encourages discussion surrounding sustainable farming and sustainable living. All it takes is a bacteria or fungus introduced into our environment for our food source to completely overwhelmed. The government guaranteed rations would continue but ultimately left communities to ruin while those desperate for food begun to turn on one another. 

Novels like The Dog Runner are so incredibly important, especially given the environmental state of our world. It introduces middle grade readers to issues such as biodiversity, sustainability, erosion and drought using accessible and engaging language. Although one dog sustains an injury, each dog survives. Bren Macdibble is a phenomenal middle grade author, her debut children's novel How To Bee is a thought provoking narrative of environmental impact and human development, cementing herself as a wonderful author who is conscious of our environment and how education and awareness allows us to make better choices to sustain our planet. Simply beautiful.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Contains spoilers for book one Children of Blood and Bone
Children of Virtue and Vengeance
Legacy of Orïsha Book Two
Written by Tomi Adeyemi
Fantasy, Magic, Diversity
608 Pages
Published December 3rd 2019
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji but also some nobles with magic ancestry.

Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as strong and magical as they are. When Amari's mother forms an army of royals with newly awakened powers, Zélie fights to secure Amari's right to the throne and protect the new maji from the monarchy's wrath.

But with civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point. She must find a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.
The Kingdom of Orïsha has been decimated in a centuries long conflict between Divĩner communities and the monarchy of Orïsha. Zélie Adebola has empowered her community, her ashê laden blood igniting a revolution against the oppression and genocide of the monarchy who have ravaged her community, her country and Zélie resolves to end their reign.

Zélie is a remarkable character, compassionate and intelligent, although a reluctant revolutionary. In Children of Blood and Bone, Zélie resurrected the ashê of the Divĩners. Burners, Tiders and Reapers no longer defenceless against the monarchy. In Children of Virtue and Vengeance, Zélie is a warrior seeking retribution and although fiercely shielding her community, she's vulnerable and grieves for the life that has been taken from her. Zélie's distress is palpable, she's survived the genocide of her community, her friends and family and now Zélie has become the Soldier of Death, a symbol of resilience among the Orïshan. Amari Olúborí is heir to the Orïshan throne and although Zélie harbours an intense animosity towards the monarchy, she advocates for Amari's ascension..

Zélie and Amari are grieving. Amari for the loss of her father and Brother, Inan the Crown Prince. Isolated and resented for her privileged heritage, Amari is determined to represent all Orïshans and bring to fruition her brother's legacy. Rebels have infiltrated the royal palatial home and Queen Nehanda is gathering a legion of Tîtáns, the sacred ritual igniting nobility abilities.

In Children of Virtue and Vengeance, Winders, Connectors, Burners, Grounders, Lighters and Healers have ignited to join the resistance, cooperating as the Lyika rebellion. The Lyika are striving to eradicate the monarchy and the disconnection of caste divisions before the nation is ravaged by conflict. Beneath the conflict both Zélie and Amari feel the tension and ache of a fractured friendship and although both young women have developed into respective leaders, they've lost the capacity to communicate with one another.

Zélie's brother Tzain is a wonderfully gentle character and although he's enamoured by Amari, is unwavering in support of his sister. Roën is as bewildering as he is delightful and a significant character in Children of Virtue and Vengeance. Although he seemingly cares for Zélie, Roën's allegiance still remains with his mercenary crewmen. Throughout the narrative, we're introduced to the Lyika rebellion, characters in which Zélie forms an attachment. Zélie adopts a motivational and motherly role towards the younger, inexperienced members of the Lyika, creating tenderhearted and gentle relationships with those she pledges to protect.

The kingdom of Orïsha ignites discussion of segregation, displacement, discrimination, racism and genocide, parallel to our own world. Nobility and the monarch are affluent, swathed within the city of Lagos. Communities blessed by the Sky Mother are historically oppressed and persecuted by the Orïshan monarchy, living within impoverished communities. The Raid decimated families, many still enduring intergenerational trauma.

The mysticism and mythology of the Legacy of Orïsha series is breathtaking. Transcendent and exhilarating, Children of Virtue and Vengeance is ethereal and beautifully written. 

We Are Blood and Thunder

We Are Blood and Thunder
Written by Kesia Lupo
Fantasy, Witches, Magic
448 Pages
Published June 6th 2019
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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In a sealed off city, it begins with a hunt. A young woman, Lena, running for her life, convicted of being a mage and sentenced to death. Her only way to survive is to trust those she has been brought up to fear, those with magic.

On the other side of the locked gates is a masked lady, Constance, determined to find a way back in. She knows only too well how the people of Duke's Forest loathe magic. Years ago she escaped before her powers were discovered. But now she won't hide who she is any longer.

A powerful and terrifying storm cloud unites them. It descends over the dukedom and devastates much in its wake. But this is more than a thunderstorm. This is a spell, and the truth behind why it has been cast is more sinister than anyone can imagine. Only Lena and Constance hold the key to destroying the spell. Though neither of them realise it, they need each other. They are the blood and they have the thunder within.
Lena Grey is a Cryptling, preparing the deceased for their resting place below the township of Dukes Forest, an isolated community shrouded in a menacing cloudscape of pestilence and destruction. Dukes Forest has been decimated by disease, the Ancestors resting below the township have begun to awaken and as Lena prepares the Duchess for burial, she is accused of being an enchantress and sentenced, her life shall be taken by the ferocious hounds of the Justice. Mages are dangerous and abhorrent, according to the Justice, the authority of Dukes Forest. Lena escapes into the surrounding woodlands and into the unknown.

Lena is a naive and sheltered young woman, an orphan and abandoned by her parents to the underground Cryptling community of the hearing or vision impaired, physically or visibly disabled. An apprentice who prepares the deceased for the afterlife, Lena's only companion is an elderly man who has nurtured the young woman since arriving in Dukes Forest. A Cryptling lives a simple existence without material possessions so when Lena discovers an extraordinary mechanical butterfly within the underground chambers, she begins to imagine a life beyond her veil of darkness.

In an incidental encounter in the forest, Constance discovers Lena escaping capture and guides her towards Emris, a Huntsman and self appointed educator of the the City of Kings. The City of Kings provides refuge to Rogue mages, to control their abilities and pledge their allegiance to one of nine temples throughout the city. Although Emris alludes to being a former lover of Constance, he's enchanted by Lena and abandons all reasoning and purpose to pursue an unknown young woman on her journey.

Constance Rathbone is returning to Dukes Forest, a young woman seeking the essence of the  cloudscape incantation threatening to consume her homeland. Upon returning home to reclaim her birthright as Duchess, Constance is confronted with her fathers ailing health and the oppression and cruelty of the Justice. Constance is a mysterious and alluring young woman who is returning home from exile, her father is no longer in governance, the township ravaged by disease and pestilence and her only allies are her brother Winton and childhood companion Lord Irvine, positioned within the guardsmen for the Justice respectfully. Constance is an unreliable narrator, unashamedly boasting of her untruths. Her unexplained absence raising suspicion among her kinfolk, unaware of her abilities and why she has chosen to claim her birthright as heir.

Lena and Constance appear as contrasting characters but their lives are irrevocably entwined as Lena's journey traces the pathway that Constance once paved. It was interesting to compare the similarities between the two morally grey characters. One of my favourite aspects was female independence as neither Lena or Constance depended on male characters as saviours or to define their characters. We Are Blood and Thunder is a wonderful instance of feminist fantasy literature, of independent female characters that celebrate imperfections.

As a standalone debut fantasy novel, We Are Blood and Thunder is beautifully written, intense and captivating.

The Man in the Water

The Man in the Water
Written by David Burton
Contemporary, Mystery, Mental Health
256 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to UQP
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When Shaun finds a dead body floating in the lake of a quiet mining town in outback Queensland, he immediately reports it to the police. But when he returns to the site with the constable, the body is gone.

Determined to reveal the truth, Shaun and his best friend, Will, open their own investigation. But what they discover is far more sinister than a mining mishap or a murder, and reveals a darkness below the surface of their small town.
In the small regional town in Queensland, drought and land erosion is prevalent, nonetheless the coal industry continues to thrive. Fourteen year old Shaun relocated from Brisbane with his parents, his dad begun employment in the local mining industry, a prosperous position until his mental health deteriorated, suffering a chronic injury and takes his own life. Shaun refuses counselling despite the insistence of his mother, his unresolved grief begins to resurface when Shaun finds a deceased body washed on the banks of the local reservoir. The nondescript man removing his workboots before having entered the water. Despite his truancy, Shaun reports the body to the local police who are sceptical, so when he accompanies a young officer to the crime scene and the deceased is missing, Shaun is branded a troubled young man and the investigation concluded before it has begun.

His mother believes Shaun harbours the residual effects of the suicide of his father so Shaun enlists the cooperation of best friend Will, a young man who thrives on adventure and together they investigate the death of a young man and their small town that deserves answers.

Shaun is a sensitive and intelligent young man, a friend and the son of a man who took his own life. In the small mining community, Shaun understands the anguish of mental illness and the repercussions of a large corporation financing the local economy. Shaun's single mother is employed at the local supermarket and although she's concerned for Shaun's mental health, she has no alternative means of financial support. Shaun is understandably enraged at the treatment of employees at the Rosewood Mine, treacherous conditions, inadequate support and mismanagement contributing to the suicide of his father.

The investigation is fraught with danger. Shaun and Will believe the young man is a casualty of the Rosewood Mine and begin the search for evidence of negligence.

Woven throughout The Man in the Water is the reoccurring theme of mental health, community responsibility and removing mental illness discrimination, especially in traditionally male dominated workplaces. While Australia strides towards inclusion and equality, toxic masculinity is an issue rarely acknowledged or discussed. Young men are expected to appear stoic and detached and to appear otherwise is often seen as weakness. This is especially prevalent in male dominated workplaces where employees are essentially discouraged from expressing concerns and mental health issues. In the incidents of the Rosewood Mine, employees are separated from their families, exposed to unsafe conditions, unsupported by their employer and intimidated by union delegates.

The Man in the Water encourages discussions surrounding mental health, suicide and neglect within our small town communities. Communities often without mental health professionals and counselling services. The uniquely Australian narrative is authentic and superbly written, the epitome of compassionate and conscientious young adult literature.

Ghost Bird & Interview With Lisa Fuller

Ghost Bird
Written by Lisa Fuller
Indigenous, Suspense, #loveozya
280 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to UPQ
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Remember daughter, the world is a lot bigger than anyone knows. There are things that science may never explain. Maybe some things that shouldn’t be explained.

Stacey and Laney are twins, mirror images of each other and yet they’re as different as the sun and the moon. Stacey works hard at school, determined to get out of their small town. Laney skips school and sneaks out of the house to meet her boyfriend. But when Laney disappears one night, Stacey can’t believe she’s just run off without telling her.

As the days pass and Laney doesn’t return, Stacey starts dreaming of her twin. The dreams are dark and terrifying, difficult to understand and hard to shake, but at least they tell Stacey one key thing, Laney is alive. It’s hard for Stacey to know what’s real and what’s imagined and even harder to know who to trust. All she knows for sure is that Laney needs her help.

Stacey is the only one who can find her sister. Will she find her in time?
Stacey and Laney Thompson are reflections of one another, identical sisters, companions and everlasting friends. In their small rural town of Eidsvold in Queenland, the Indigenous and white communities are segregated, white farmers claiming stolen land as their own and ravishing the natural resources. Since her grandmother passed away and her mother working long hours as an assistant nurse, Stacey and Laney would care for one another, until Laney begins her nightly rendezvous with Troy, a local boy who Stacey resents for monopolising Laney's time.

Stacey remembers her grandmother and her campfire stories, stories that will be passed through generations of the Thompson family, of monsters who lurk in the shadows. Stacey begins dreaming of a young woman captured, isolated and terrified and although frightened by the vivid dreaming, Stacey ignores her instincts. Until Laney goes missing.

Stacey is an intelligent and considerate young lady, she has the utmost respect for her elders, her mother and her large, fiercely protective family. Laney pushed boundaries, defying their mother and the educational system that favours white students, Indigenous students ignored and their education seen as secondary and an indication of how the white Eidsvold community thrive on racism and ignorance.

The Thompson and Miller families are adversaries, a continuing hostility which neither family is willing to concede. Stacey defies her family and enlists the assistance of Sam Miller in the search for her sister Laney, despite her better judgement. The rumour around town is that Laney, Troy and a group of local boys trespassed onto the property of local family the Potters. The Potter name is synonymous with violence against Indigenous youth, their claim as one of the founding families of the small town, cattle farmers and white supremacists not above using violence against the black members of the community. While Troy escaped, his are friends incarcerated and Laney is still missing. Still, no one is talking.

Ghost Bird also explores themes of racism and abuse towards Indigenous communities. Laney's disappearance is reported to the local police who are disinterested and apathetic, the disappearance of a young black woman being no cause for concern. The local historical society share the history of white settlement, neglecting the brutal colonisation of Indigenous land and communities. The inequality and blatant racism of small town Australia is confronting and indicative of the experience of many Indigenous Australians.

Ghost Bird is an exceptional read. A spiritual and remarkable journey of family, culture, identity and small town prejudices through the narrative of sixteen year old Stacey Thompson, a young Indigenous woman. Beautiful and breathtaking.

Today on the blog, I'm chatting with Lisa Fuller about Ghost Bird, representation and growing up in small town Australia. Please welcome wonderful debut author Lisa Fuller.

One of the loveliest aspects of Ghost Bird is the infusion of your culture with a strong emphasis on family. How important is it for young Aboriginal readers to see themselves and their cultures between the pages?
Growing up I was constantly looking for people in books that looked like me and were dealing with the same things. It’s why I ended up such a huge fan of speculative fiction because they deal with othering, racial issues, all the things I was going through. I think it’s so important to be able to see yourself represented in any media, especially when you’re younger. When I was writing Ghost Bird, I was wanting to give that representation to my nieces, nephews and cousins. And I hope they can see themselves in it.

Ghost Bird takes place in Eidsvold in South East Queensland. Growing up in a small country town, did you use your own experiences inspire the creation the small town narrative?
I cherry-picked a lot of elements, absolutely. It’s partly why it’s set in the 90s, because things like mobile phone coverage happened after I left for uni in 2002. I thought I was being unique with the characters, but my family tell me that I’ve written myself, my big sister and mother into the story… I can’t really argue with them about that lol. Luckily, they both think it’s hilarious.

I was intrigued by Stacey and Laney being identical reflections of one another who shared a sixth sense. Can you tell us about what inspired you to create their characters?
Twins randomly pop up in my family, and when I was younger I always wished for a twin. I also used to read ‘freaky but true’ books a lot (I still own some), and almost all of them had a section on twin connections. I think it also gave me that opportunity to explore two very different personalities, their own perspectives and ways of dealing with the same things.

Ghost Bird also gently explores themes of colonisation, racism and the erasure of Indigenous history. Are those issues you were conscious of including and how important are they to acknowledge especially for Indigenous youth?
Including these elements wasn’t a choice so much as it was about being true to life, then and now. My community already know these things, but having it acknowledged in such a way is really important, particular for our younger people, so know they aren’t alone. But it’s only part of the story. Yes, bad things have and are happening, but we always have each other and lots of laughter. We’re strong, and we’re still here.

Ghost Bird is your debut novel. Can you tell us about what attracted you to writing and writing for teens in particular?
Honestly, I thought it wouldn’t fly as YA, given the swearing and mature content. My publisher talked to me about it and gave me the choice. I chose YA because I realised I was writing this for that lonely kid back in high school who could never see herself in popular culture. I love the idea of being able to ensure my younger family and community can find themselves out there in the world. Watching all the amazing First Nations writers coming up now is just so exciting!

And lastly, can you share with us what's next for Lisa Fuller?
I just finished editing my middle grade fantasy, Washpool, with the amazing ladies at black&write. I’m so sad it’s over, but it goes off to Hachette soon, so fingers crossed! I’m writing a novel for my PhD that’s shaping up to be YA at this point. And I’ve got a picture book contracted with Magabala. I’ve also started toying with ideas for a sequel to Ghost Bird, because I’m missing the characters… is that nuts?

About Lisa Fuller
Lisa Fuller is a Wuilli Wuilli woman from Eidsvold, Queensland, and is also descended from Gooreng Gooreng and Wakka Wakka peoples. She won a 2019 black&write! Writing Fellowship, the 2017 David Unaipon Award for an Unpublished Indigenous Writer, the 2018 Varuna Eleanor Dark Flagship Fellowship, and was a joint winner of the 2018 Copyright Agency Fellowships for First Nations Writers. She has previously published poetry, blogs and short fiction. Lisa is an editor and publishing consultant, and is passionate about culturally appropriate writing and publishing.

You can find Lisa via her Blog  Twitter  Facebook and Goodreads.

Invisible Boys

Contains sensitivities such as homophobia, suicide, violence and mature themes
Invisible Boys
Written by Holden Sheppard
Contemporary, LGBT, Mental Health, Australian
344 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to Fremantle Press
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In a small town, everyone thinks they know you. Charlie is a hardcore rocker, who's not as tough as he looks. Hammer is a footy jock with big AFL dreams, and an even bigger ego. Zeke is a shy over-achiever, never macho enough for his family. But all three boys hide who they really are. When the truth is revealed, will it set them free or blow them apart?

Invisible Boys is a raw, confronting YA novel, tackling homosexuality, masculinity, anger and suicide with a nuanced and unique perspective. Set in regional Western Australia, the novel follows three sixteen year old boys in the throes of coming to terms with their homosexuality in a town where it is invisible and so are they. Invisible Boys depicts the complexities and trauma of rural gay identity with painful honesty, devastating consequence and, ultimately, hope.
In the small rural town of Geraldton in Western Australia, boys are raised on toxic masculinity with a stoic and emotional detachment. Whether you're the alluring and mysterious musician, the overachiever or attractive athlete, your worth is valued by your achievements and success. There is no room for tolerance within the draconian Catholic School community, boys are manipulated and forged by their faith, threatened by authority for daring to push societal boundaries.

Musician Charlie Roth has been ostracised by his friends and community after being caught in a compromising position with a married man, unbeknown to Charlie. Geralton is a small town thriving on intolerance and for Charlie Roth, home offers no respite with his neglectful mother and her layabout boyfriend resorting to insults and verbal abuse of the vulnerable adolescent. Beneath Charlie's lackadaisical facade, is a young man who is still mourning the death of his father and a community determined to label Charlie as less than human.

Zeke Calogero is an overachiever, from a traditional Sicilian family and devout Catholics. Zeke hides his sexuality, identifying as gay and covertly watching gay pornography to relieve tension and suppress feelings he could never discuss with his parents. When he is caught masturbating, his parents insist he is merely curious and that Charlie Roth is responsible for these impure thoughts. Although Zeke doesn't want to disappoint his parents, he also can't rely upon his waning faith which promotes abstinence and that homosexuality is immoral.

Kade Hammersmith is an athlete and the epitome of toxic masculinity, following the path his father blazed and determined to be drafted into the Australian Football League. Young men revere him, young women adore him and with the encouragement of his father, his sexual prowess is only secondary to his sporting career. Kade's life is a facade. Although he appears to be the straight, masculine young man who's sexuality active and applauded for being promiscuous, he finds men attractive and struggles with his sexuality. Kade knows that being gay in his community is seen as being less than male, he's seen what happened to Charlie Roth and surely this is only a phase. Surely.

The brighter you shine on the outside, the darker you burn within.

Three young men, bound by their bigoted and homophobic community and finding solace within one another. Invisible Boys is monumental. Young men who endure in silence, who suffer at the hands of religious zealots and toxic masculinity, pressured to hide their sexuality for fear of being ostracised or labelled as less than. These boys represent our brothers, friends, neighbours and young men without a voice. Young men who are raised to appear void of emotion and anything less is a weakness. Small town prejudice confines young men to silence, often low socioeconomic communities offer no means to escape which can lead to mental illness and thoughts of suicide. Suicide remaining the leading cause of death for young Australians with many more who attempt to end their lives. Invisible Boys will ignite discussion of how toxic masculinity effects young men and how Australia as a community need to stop accepting the boys will be boys mentality.

The narrative is confrontational and incredibly important for young queer men to recognise themselves within the pages, their lives and experiences. It's written with authenticity and sincerity, unflinching and unabashed Australian young adult literature at its finest. Simply brilliant.

Rules For Vanishing

Rules for Vanishing
Written by Kate Alice Marshall
Mystery, Paranormal, Horror
400 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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Once a year, a road appears in the forest. And at the end of it, the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons. Lucy’s game isn’t for the faint of heart. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose...

Sara’s sister disappeared one year ago and only Sara knows where she is. Becca went to find the ghost of Lucy Gallows and is trapped on her road. In the sleepy town of Briar Glen, Lucy’s road is nothing more than local lore. But Sara knows it’s real, and she’s going to find it. When Sara and her skeptical friends meet in the forest to search for Becca, the mysterious road unfurls before them. All they have to do is walk down it. But the path to Lucy is not of this world, and it has its own rules. Every mistake summons new horrors. Vengeful spirits and broken, angry creatures are waiting for them to slip, and no one is guaranteed safe passage. The only certainty is this: the road has a toll and it will be paid. Sara knows that if she steps onto the road, she might not come back. But Becca needs her. And Lucy is waiting.
Briar Glen is synonymous with the the name Lucy Gallows, a young woman that wandered into the forest and never returned. Her last known whereabouts was on a road to nowhere, being lead by an unknown male assailant. Throughout the years the fable may have interchanged but the instructions remain the same, find a partner, find a key, find the road.

On the eve of the anniversary of Lucy Gallow's disappearance, Sara Donoghue's adoptive sister Rebecca was lured into the fated fable, whispered conversations and a notebook left behind, evidence she planned to find fifteen year old Lucy. Sara has maintained hope that Sara is still alive, the police labelling the adolescent as a difficult young woman who disappeared with Zachary Kent, a young man she barely knew.

Although Rebecca was adopted as an infant, Sara Donoghue and sister Rebecca shared an everlasting friendship. Rebecca was the center of their universe, a group of friends who dissolved shortly after her disappearance, Sara has endured depression and isolation. Her journey to find her sister is harrowing, captivating and a breathtaking paranormal thriller that will captivate the imagination of readers until the final page.

Find a partner. Find a key. Find the road.

Atmospheric and haunting, Rules for Vanishing is told from the perspective of Sara Donoghue through a series of interviews, transcripts, eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence while Sara recollects her journey upon the once believed to be mythological road. The legend of Lucy Gallows has been idolised by the teens of Briar Glen since her disappearance, speculation that her brother killed her and left her to ruin on the forest floor the logical conclusion. What happened to Lucy has always been a mystery but those who believe in Lucy's story can hear the young woman calling for help, including Becca, according to her sister Sara. Sara refuses to accept that she ran away with her new boyfriend when Becca and Sara's best friend were clearly attracted to one another, only Anthony didn't believe in the local legend which left Becca to find someone who was willing to follow her onto the road.

Although Sara's self isolated after Becca's disappearance, her former group of mutual friends have come along for the ride. Disbelieving in the supernatural, I don't think anyone expected to have stumbled upon the road, now finding themselves in a strange and eerie purgatory between worlds, where darkness is no friend of the weary traveller and you must follow the rules to survive. Take a partner, hold their hand and under no circumstances should you leave the road. What ensues is a creepy as hell storyline that left me jumping at shadows and reading long into the night. Despite my better judgement and skyrocketing anxiety.

The travellers are a motley crew of characters, all varying degrees of unreliable so as a reader it's difficult to establish what's real and what has been created by the trauma of the situation or outright untruths. Regardless, it makes for a fascinating narrative that blends a contemporary storyline with urban legend, infused with paranormal elements and everything in between. Reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project and Small Spaces by Australian author Sarah Epstein.

My favourite element of Rules for Vanishing was the ability to surprise readers. By now we've all read enough paranormal to fill a warehouse, this is one book that needs to be celebrated for being unique and creating the mystery and intrigue to captivate even the toughest of readers, not to mention creep us the hell out.

You know what, just read it. The element of surprise is all in the discovery of the urban legend and those who seek answers. Just a word of warning to leave the light on, Lucy seems to dwell in the dark.

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill
Written by Emma Smith - Barton
Contemporary, Mental Health, Diverse
320 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Teen Australia
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How can I hold myself together, when everything around me is falling apart?

Neena's always been a good girl, great grades, parent approved friends and absolutely no boyfriends. But ever since her brother Akash left her, she's been slowly falling apart and uncovering a new version of herself who is altogether more dangerous.

As her wild behaviour spirals more and more out of control, Neena's grip on her sanity begins to weaken too. And when her parents announce not one but two life changing bombshells, including that they want her to have an arranged marriage, she finally reaches breaking point. But as Neena is about to discover, when your life falls apart, only love can piece you back together.
Be happy. That was the last words Akash Gill told his sister Neena before disappearing that night, asking her to sneak out to a party with him. It's been seven months since he left, seven months since Neena's mother has left the house, seven months since their lives were irrevocably changed. Neena has always been a model student and loyal friend, navigating the world with Akash at her side. Since he disappeared, Neena's life is no longer her own. She sneaks out to meet his former girlfriend Fiona, hoping to find information on why he left, drinking to numb the pain and follow Akash's path, living life according to where the winds blow. Not how their parents dictate.

Neena Gill is an interesting character, her grief is palpable as we discover the impact Akash's disappearance had on the quiet and reserved young woman. Neena increasingly isolated herself from her best friend Raheela and although as a result of her unimaginable longing, Neena meets Josh at a party through Fiona, her brother's former girlfriend and the two instantly hit it off. Neena is quite the unreliable narrator, shaking off her so called good girl status in the pursuit of information. At first. She becomes a fixture in Akash's social scene, soon realising there was more to her brother than the artist, the covert party boy, a son, a boyfriend and the spark that set the world ablaze.

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill explores the turbulent and often confronting themes of grief, alcoholism, mental illness and substance abuse, issues that were beautifully written with incredible care and consideration. It also portrays the expectations placed upon the offspring of immigrant parents and I really enjoyed the interactions between Neena and her Pakistani born parents once they found common ground.

Although the reader is introduced to Akash through brief snippets and Neena's memories of their childhood, his character is larger than life. The storyline slowly navigates around his character as the central focus and how the disappearance of a loved one leaves a gaping hole in the lives of friends and loved ones. It also explores the many facets of grief, denial, isolation, destructive behaviour, self sabotage, depression and anxiety. Neena's mother developed agoraphobia and was unable to leave the house, the couple's friends coming over each night to banquets Neena's mother would spend the day preparing, Neena's father spending long hours at work to avoid the confrontation of home while seeking solace in his local church to pray for his wayward daughter.

The romance plays a very small role throughout the narrative, which I appreciated tremendously. Neena's life is complex enough and although her relationship with Josh brought her joy, it was a bandaid for a much larger issue. Josh's character was lovely, gentle with Neena and genuinely cares for her. Her brother's former girlfriend Fiona appears to be unlikeable and not only enabled Neena's behaviour but manipulated Neena and used her to her advantage. Neena often perceived her world and the interactions with others entirely different to how they were portrayed, Fi is still questionably sketchy as she's strongly disliked by Neena's parents and her former best friend Raheela but also struggled with life without Akash.

One of my favourite aspects of The Million Pieces of Neena Gill was the writing. It was beautiful and well considered. A story of hope, healing and learning to live in the moment. A deeply moving, poignant and quietly stunning prose from an brilliant debut author in Emma Smith - Barton.
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