Nona and Me by Clare Atkins

Nona and Me
Written by Clare Atkins
Contemporary, Australian
Published September 24th 2014
304 Pages
Won. Thanks to Black Inc. Books 
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Rosie and Nona are sisters. Yapas.

They are also best friends. It doesn’t matter that Rosie is white and Nona is Aboriginal, their family connections tie them together for life.

Born just five days apart in a remote corner of the Northern Territory, the girls are inseperable, until Nona moves away at the age of nine. By the time she returns, they're in Year Ten and things have changed. Rosie has lost interest in the community, preferring to hang out in the nearby mining town, where she goes to school with the glamorous Selena, and Selena’s gorgeous older brother Nick.

When a political announcement highlights divisions between the Aboriginal community and the mining town, Rosie is put in a difficult position. Will she be forced to choose between her first love and her oldest friend?
Rosie lives in the remote mining community of Yirrkala, on the wrong side of the tracks according to her peers. Her single mother making ends meet on one wage and takes pride in stitching Rosie's outfits, often from the most unlikely of materials. They may not have a disposable income like her peers at school, but they live within a loving community where Rosie spent her childhood camping and playing with Nona. Born days apart, the two families became inseparable with Rosie and Nona becoming Yapas, or sisters.

It's been years since Nona moved away, but now she's back and Rosie has moved on with her life. She is no longer a part of the Indigenous community, and as Nona attempts to return to school, Rosie feels little more inconvenience towards the girl who she once shared a sisterly bond with. But Rosie is on the cusp of her first love, a boy she's only dreamed about. Nick is as popular as he is attractive and Rosie will do anything to keep him interested, including pretending Nona is simply another face in the crowd and renouncing her ties to the tight knit Indigenous community. But Nick isn't as he seems. In a town where so many fear what they don't understand, Rosie starts to see the blatant racism towards the community that she's, although reluctantly, apart of. But what side of the tracks do her loyalties lie?

Kelly's Thoughts

Nona and Me was an incredibly deep and emotional story of two childhood friends who reconnect again as almost adults. Uniquely Australian, I loved being transported to the small community where the saying 'it takes a village to raise a child', no truer words have been spoken. Rosie's parents are separated, but keep in contact. Both are strong in their beliefs of supporting their local communities and have raised Rosie to be accepting, respectful and treat others with dignity. But once Nona, her childhood friend moved away, Rosie lost her way and became another small minded girl who just wanted to fit in with the crowd. Old habits die hard and when Nona returns, Rosie goes as far as to hide her association with her, for fear of being the center of gossip among her friends and losing the keen eye of Nick. My heart broke for Nona, Rosie cared far more about others impressions of her than wanting to reconnect with her sister.

Nona was a lovely character, free spirited and as beautiful as she was quick witted. I would have loved to have seen her point of view and learnt more about where she'd been and how her life was growing up away from Yirrkala. The storyline is set in an era where an 'intervention' was introduced into the Northern Territory, restricting the choices of Native Australians and all based on the misinformation of the government in power at the time. Nona and Me addresses the issues within the community, the lack of job opportunities within the fictional town, leading to depression and suicide. It was incredibly raw and moving, and highlighted the injustice and many forms of racism that run rampant within the fictional town and the wider society as a whole.

Nick's character is one example of a boy who has formed his own opinions from that of his parents, his wealthy father seeing the Indigenous community as second class, not worth his time or patience and passing the same bigoted beliefs onto his son. It isn't long until Nick shows his true, misguided opinions, seeking his father's approval at the expense of others. Sadly, Rosie stood idly by and excused his behavior. In one particular chapter, where Nick was introduced to Rosie's father, where like the government at the time, Nick's opinions were based on misinformation and preconceived notions of the community. Rosie's father is a phenomenal character. Sensitive, educated and opinionated.
We're all fundamentally human. We all feel, bleed, hurt, love.
I loved it. It was moving, emotional and gave me a sense of righteousness that Rosie was able to make her own independent decisions, while learning a tough life lesson. Beautifully bittersweet.

The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner

The Hush
Written by Skye Melki - Wegner
Fantasy, Musical
Expected Publication March 2nd 2015
448 Pages
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Chester is on the road, searching every town for clues about his father and why he disappeared.

But when he's caught accidentally, and illegally, connecting with the Song as he plays his beloved fiddle, Chester is sentenced to death. Only a licensed Songshaper can bend music to their will. The axe is about to fall...

But there is someone else watching Chester. Someone who needs his special talents. Who can use him for their own ends. And who knows the secrets of The Hush, where there is no music, only deadly Echoes who will steal your soul.

Susannah is that someone. The young captain of the infamous Nightfall Gang, Susannah has plans for Chester. Finally, she will have her revenge.
Chester Hays has been on the road for months, using his fiddle in exchange for a warm meal, playing to raucous crowds in the small country towns. Playing itself isn't illegal, but it's only official Songshapers that have studied at the prestigious Conservatoruim who are permitted to connect to The Song. Music is a form of sorcery in Chester's world, and without training it now makes Chester and target and puts his life in danger.

Susannah is the leader of the notorious Nightfall Gang, known across the land for their thievery. Stealing from wealthy barons to give to the poor, the gang have been searching for an unregistered Songshaper to carry out their latest mission, to infiltrate the Conservatoruim. So when they Chester is captured and sentenced to death, Susannah's right hand man Sam saves Chester, leaving the young man in their debt.

But Chester is on a mission of his own after his father disappeared, and Chester has been searching for him ever since. In exchange for his service, the gang promises to share the secrets of The Hush, and alternative world where stray magic looms and monsters called Echoes lay in wait.

Susannah knows all too well what awaits Chester at the Conservatoruim, a suicide mission in order to reap revenge against those who have left her damaged. But as the two grow closer, can she hold the information Chester seeks to ransom, knowing he may never return?

Kelly's Thoughts

The Hush is a imaginative, engaging and enthralling fantasy, with elements of suspense and science fiction. Skye is one of my favourite authors, she creates vivid worlds in which readers can fully immerse themselves, likable characters and is an advocate for creating strong, but flawed heroines. She makes reading effortless and simply entertaining.

Told as a third person narrative, it follows both Chester and the Nightfall Gang, Susannah, Sam, Dot and the fabulous Travis. They know all too well what the Conservatoruim is hiding, and plan on exposing their secrets and recruiting Chester for their cause. The world building is so incredibly vivid, switching from the realism of our world to The Hush, where sorcery creates a dark and dangerous landscape of rain and Echoes. A cross between middle grade and young adult, I was hooked from the very first page and was torn between flying through the pages and trying to savior the storyline.

I simply loved it. Fabulously written, Skye is the ultimate Australian fantasy fusion author for the young and young at heart. Although the storyline delivers the reader with a satisfied finale, I would love to see The Hush continued in what would no doubt be an epic adventure series. At this point, I'd read this girl's shopping list. She's just that incredible.

A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell

Please note, this review contains spoilers. It's a sensitive subject, so please read at your own peril. I have chosen not to rate A Small Madness, due to the emotional content and how this book effected me personally.
A Small Madness
Written by Dianne Touchell
Contemporary, Mature Young Adult
Published February 1st 2015
240 Pages
Thank you to Allen & Unwin
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Rose didn't tell anyone about it. She wondered if it showed. She looked at herself in the mirror and turned this way and then that way. She stood as close to the mirror as she could, leaning over the bathroom basin, looking into her own eyes until they disappeared behind the fog of her breath. Looking for something. Some evidence that she was different now. Something had shifted inside her, a gear being ratcheted over a clunky cog, gaining torque, starting her up. But it didn't show. How could all of these feelings not show? She was a woman now but it didn't show and she couldn't tell anyone.
Rose and Michael are in love, the two teens in their final year of school deciding to take their relationship to the next level, and in the heat of the moment, have unprotected sex. Not once, but twice. Rose misses her period and with the support of her best friend, finds herself testing positive after an at home pregnancy test. Suddenly Michael pulls away, his strict and religious father pushing both his sons into being upstanding citizens and never questioning his authority. Rose still dreams of attending drama school, and refuses to acknowledge she's pregnant. Instead, cutting ties with her former friend, she begins smoking and living a destructive life of taking painkillers and living in filth.

Michael is watching Rose wither away, torn between his own feelings of anger and wanting nothing more to do with the girl who has no ruined his life. But as Rose pretends the baby is nothing more than a virus, Michael begins to develop a conscious and puts his own well being aside to reconnect with Rose. Rose wavers between denying the pregnancy and determined to cause a miscarriage, neither teen having told anyone about the pregnancy. Rose is mentally ill, but is it too late for Michael to repent and save both Rose and their unborn child?

Kelly's Thoughts

If you've recently given birth, miscarried or trying to start a family, then look away now. This book needs to come with a warning. It's horrific, it's disturbing and sadly, also realistic. Told as a narrative, it follows the lives of Rose and Michael, two teens in love who have decided to have sex for the first time, unprotected despite warnings and given protection from a sibling and peers. The cycle continues until Rose finds she's missed her period, relying on her best friend to purchase a pregnancy test and discovers she's now pregnant. She's told by the same friend that she's ruined Michael's life, he was going places and that she's better off not telling him and to consider an abortion. But rather than deal with the pregnancy, Rose is in denial. Telling Michael, he pulls away, angry that she's put him in this position and his first thought is disappointing his father.

Their relationship is virtually non existent, as Rose slowly starts to break down. The once intelligent girl with the bright future is on a destructive path to self harm and illness. This is where I became emotional. The two teens refused to use protection. If you're emotionally mature enough to begin a sexual relationship, then you're also old enough to deal with the consequences. Being a teen parent is life changing, but in no means will not ruin your life. So Rose simply sees the pregnancy as a virus her body needs to expel, and this is where the storyline began to enrage me. 

Her mother could see the changes in her daughter, but refused to acknowledge that it was beyond the stress of exams that was causing the illness. Michael also became aggressive, retreating from family discussions around the table and began skipping classes. He was angry, and rather than delve into what was troubling him, his father baited him to assert his own authority. By this point, I'm fuming. Both families clearly as delusional as the other and failing both their children. They're both scared and angry, but none more so than Rose. She never saw her pregnancy as a child, but something she needed to rid her body of.

She went as far as to research how miscarriages occurred, began smoking to stop blood flow and stunt the baby's growth, refusing to eat as not to gain weight and taking large amounts of ibuprofen medication in the hopes to destroy the fetus. This is where I lost any respect I had for her or her situation. It's never clear that Rose is suffering from a mental illness, and I can understand how fear can cause destruction, but I couldn't see her as anything less than monstrous.

Her pregnancy was almost at full term when she finally miscarried. She seemed relieved that she'd finally overcome what she was determined to achieve. At home, she could have bled out and called Michael, the almost full term still born child was buried by both teens.

I was determined to see this storyline through, and continued to read through my tears. As a woman on the verge of starting my own family, this read left me an emotional mess. Never have I read anything so confronting, disturbing and unable to tear myself away. One small comfort is that justice is somewhat served, but this isn't a book I'm likely to ever forget. And I'm not sure it's for entirely the right reasons. It's raw, powerful and will knock you out of your comfort zone. It'll rip your heart out and leave you emotionally distraught.

All Fall Down by Ally Carter

All Fall DownEmbassy Row Book One
Written by Ally Carter
Contemporary, Mystery
Published February 1st 2015
306 Pages
Thank you to Scholastic Australia
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Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three certain things.
She is not crazy.
Her mother was murdered.
Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

The thing is, nobody else believes her and there's no one she can trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.

Grace's past has come back to haunt her... And if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes and one wrong move can make them all fall down.
With her father now serving, Grace finds herself back in Adria at Embassy Row, where she'll now be under the care of her Grandfather, the United States Ambassador. She hasn't seen her grandfather in three years, since her mother died in what is being called a tragic accident. But Grace knows her mother was murdered, she remembers the man with the scar on his face and the gunshot that ended her mothers life. She's spent the past three years in therapy, with even her grandfather declaring the death was merely an accident and Grace is not the credible witness she believes she is.

Now at sixteen, Grace finds herself in trouble once again. Alexei is the son of the Russian Prime Minister who lives next door at his homeland Embassy. He's suave, slick and has an unhealthy need to keep Grace out of trouble at the request of her other brother. But when the scarred man surfaces at Embassy Row working for the Russian Prime Minister, Grace will need to convince those around her that he poses a threat, to her and to international relations.

With her mother dying so tragically and not the first time Grace has pointed the finger at an innocent man, her grandfather refuses to believe her. But faith comes in the form of new friends Noah, Rosie and Megan, the three aiding Grace in her search for answers. But when Grace finds herself a little too close to the truth, she'll need to stop the scarred man from taking another life. Little does she realise, the next one may just be hers.

Kelly's Thoughts

I knew I'd enjoy All Fall Down, but I didn't expect to love it as much as I did. I adored it. It follows the story of Grace, who is still grieving her mother's death three years prior and vows it wasn't the accident those around her claim it to be. Grace has spent the last three years trying to hunt her mother's killer, until she discovers him at Embassy Row and working for the Russian Prime Minister no less. What ensues is a thrilling chase for answers, new friends along for the ride and a revelation that left me questioning Grace's mental health.

Grace is a angry young lady, rude and antisocial. Her own family disbelieves that she seen her mother being killed, so she's angry at the world and rightly so. As much as I liked Grace, her irritation became tedious and I wish she had of taken time out to be a regular teen. Apart from challenging authority and a few sassy quips, she seemed to have only one emotion, suspicion. She was difficult to relate to. But the real draw card is the actual storyline.

I love the setting, a united nations embassy in a foreign country where children usually join family members and officials for the summer holidays. International relations can be a minefield to navigate, and now Gracie is expected to fill her mother's role by her grandfather's side. The diversity was present, but not explored and I'm hoping in further books in the series, the reader will see the rich culture and history of the other nations part of Embassy Row.

My first Ally Carter novel was a complete success. Well written with a touch of humour and mystery, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back
Written by John Corey Whaley
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Expected Publication March 2015
272 Pages
Thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia
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In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart wrenching summer before Cullen Witter's senior year of high school, everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town vanishes. His cousin overdoses, his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker, and most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen year old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.

As Cullen navigates a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young, disillusioned missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. And when those two stories collide, a surprising and harrowing climax emerges that is tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, and above all, hope.

HUGE Aussie Only Giveaway - Hooray, I'm a Year Younger!

It's that time of year again, my birthday. When you get to my age, it's more about trying not to age rather than celebrating. So this is where you come in. For my fellow Aussie readers, our lovely Australian publishers have donated presents for you to win. That way, I won't turn thirty five. Pretty sure that's how it works.

Salt & Stone Excerpt and International Giveaway

Salt & Stone
Written by Victoria Scott
Preorder from Amazon
Check out my review for Fire & Flood
Add Fire & Flood to Goodreads
Add Salt & Stone to Goodreads
What would you do to save someone you love?

In Fire & Flood, Tella Holloway faced a dangerous trek through the jungle and across the desert, all to remain a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed for a chance at obtaining the Cure for her brother. She can't quit, she has to win the race, save Cody, and then fight to make sure the race stops before it can claim any more lives. In the next legs of the race, across the ocean and over mountains, Tella will face frostbite, sharks, avalanche, and twisted new rules in the race.

But what if the danger is deeper than that? How do you know who to trust when everyone's keeping secrets? What do you do when the person you'd relied on most suddenly isn't there for support? How do you weigh one life against another?

The race is coming to an end, and Tella is running out of time, resources, and strength. At the start of the race there were one hundred twenty two Contenders. As Tella and her remaining friends start the final part of the race, just forty-one are left, and only one can win.

Anthology: Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean Mini Review

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean
Edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy
Dystopian, Short Stories
Published January 2015
240 Pages
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia
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A ground breaking intercontinental collection of speculative stories, in both prose and graphic novel form, with contributors from India and Australia including Isobelle Carmody, Margo Lanagan, Nicki Greenberg and others of similar calibre.

Be transported into dystopian cities and other worldly societies. Be amazed and beguiled by a nursery story with a reverse twist, a futuristic take on TV cooking shows, a playscript with tentacles, and more, much more. Plunge in and enjoy!

A collection of science fiction and fantasy writing, including six graphic stories, showcasing twenty stellar writers and artists from India and Australia: Isobelle Carmody, Penni Russon, Justine Larbalestier, Margo Lanagan, Lily Mae Martin, Kuzhali Manickavel, Prabha Mallya, Annie Zaidi, Kate Constable, Vandana Singh, Mandy Ord, Priya Kuriyan, Manjula Padmanabhan, Samhita Arni, Alyssa Brugman, Nicki Greenberg and Amruta Patil.
Eat The Sky, Drink The Ocean is a compilation of both whimsical and illustrated short stories from both Australian and Indian Authors that stemmed from the power of women all around the world. Each story is based on a dystopian alternate reality and range from the engaging and quirky, to the strange yet enthralling. From the Australian dystopian story by Justine Larbalestier, author of Razorhurst comes Little Red Suit. The storyline follows Poppy, a girl who lives underground after decades of drought. Now cities are nothing more than ruins, which Poppy will need to navigate to reach her grandmother's house. Taking inspiration from Little Red Riding Hood, it's unique and packs a real punch. I would love to see it developed into a full length novel.

Each story wavers between dystopian, fantasy and magic realism, And although each are written by a different author, compliment each other beautifully. I loved the inclusion of the illustrated stories, but none more so than Swallow The Moon which is written and illustrated by Kate Constable and Priya Kuriyan. It tells the story of a community who now calls the forest home, where the young women make the long journey to the ocean, where they participate in a naming ceremony in the waters above a submerged civilization. A strong environmental message, it's powerful and beautifully illustrated.

Cooking Time is a quirky take on the worldwide Masterchef. In a world where citizens are fed by nutrition packs, the show offers contestants the opportunity to travel back through time to locations all over the world, where fresh food was still available. Contestants are the envy of the nation.

With seventeen incredible stories, including six beautifully illustrated from authors such as Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar, Anita Roy, Samhita Arni, Alyssa Brugman, Isobelle Carmody, Kate Constable, Nicki Greenberg, Priya Kuriyan, Margo Lanagan, Justine Larbalestier and more. This compilation is the perfect gift for lovers of the written word. I loved it. Overall, it was incredibly engaging and charming and the transition from each story flowed beautifully from the selection of authors that complimented one another. One of the best young adult anthologies published.

Dead Of Winter by Kresley Cole

Dead Of Winter
The Arcana Chronicles: Book Three
Written by Kresley Cole
Dystopian, Paranormal
Published January 1st 2015
336 Pages
Thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia
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Heartbreaking decisions. Evie was almost seduced by the life of comfort that Death offered her, until Jack was threatened by two of the most horrific Arcana, the Lovers. She will do anything to save him, even escape Death’s uncanny prison, full of beautiful objects, material comfort... And stolen glances from a former love.

Uncertain victory. Despite leaving a part of her heart behind with Death, Evie sets out into a perilous post-apocalyptic wasteland to meet up with her allies and launch an attack on the Lovers. Such formidable enemies require a battle plan, and the only way to kill them may mean Evie, Jack, and Death allying. Evie doesn’t know what will prove more impossible. Surviving slavers, plague, Bagmen and other Arcana, or convincing Jack and Death to work together.

Two heroes returned. There’s a thin line between love and hate, and Evie just doesn’t know where she stands with either Jack or Death. Will this unlikely trio be able to defeat The Lovers without killing one another first?

Hubby's Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Golden Son
Red Rising Trilogy: Book Two
Written by Pierce Brown
Reviewed by the Hubby
Science Fiction, Dystopian
Published January 13th 3015
446 Pages
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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The astonishing, unforgettable sequel to Red Rising, which the Examiner called 'properly a-ma-zing, like an adrenalin shot for the imagination.' Ender's Game meets The Hunger Games in this, the second in an extraordinary trilogy from an incredible new voice.

'I'm still playing games. This is just the deadliest yet.'

Darrow is a rebel forged by tragedy. For years he and his fellow Reds worked the mines, toiling to make the surface of Mars inhabitable. They were, they believed, mankind's last hope. Until Darrow discovered that it was all a lie, and that the Red were nothing more than unwitting slaves to an elitist ruling class, the Golds, who had been living on Mars in luxury for generations.

In Red Rising, Darrow infiltrated Gold society, to fight in secret for a better future for his people. Now fully embedded amongst the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his dangerous work to bring them down from within. It's a journey that will take him further than he's ever been before, but is Darrow truly willing to pay the price that rebellion demands?

Hic sunt leones.

A life or death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart, Golden Son guarantees Pierce Brown's continuing status as one of fiction's most exciting new voices.
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