The Shadow Hour

May contain spoilers. See my review for book one here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black... They're Coming

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

Everyone says Black Marshall is cursed.

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

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

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

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

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

Until the Pure Apostles see Ebony as a threat.

And come for her.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Sexy Sexy Nevernight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never flinch. Never fear. Never forget.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I Darken

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

#LoveOzYA Reads

The Road To Winter
Yet To Be Titled Series Book One
Written by Mark Smith
Apocalyptic, Survival, #LoveOzYA
Published June 27th 2016
240 Pages
Thanks to Text Publishing
Add to Goodreads
Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.

He has stayed alive for two winters, hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.

But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley, an asylum seeker, and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.
And Ramage wants the girls back, at any cost.
In the sleepy coastal town of Angowrie, they had thought the isolation would have protected the community from the virus that has spread throughout Australia. As the population diminishes, sixteen year old Finn and his companion Rowdy are surviving off the land while hiding in his small off road abode. In an act of defiance against the new world, Sam finds peace in the turbulent waves in between storm fronts crossing the coast and it's there where he discovers Rose, a girl on the run.

Rose is a Siley, an asylum seeker who arrived in Australia with her younger sister and was sent to work on the mainland. After society begun to break down, Rose and her sister are being hunted by the Wilders, a group of violent, rogue men. Females are scarce, the virus having effected mostly women and girls as it spread across the country which makes the liberated sisters a valuable commodity.

But when Rose falls ill it'll be left to Finn to find Kashmala, before the Wilders take her captive or find Rose first.

My Thoughts

The Road To Winter was a wonderful read that lured me in with it's premise and left me wanting more. Finn is a remarkable young man. Having lost his mother two years ago to the virus spreading across the country, his father passing as a result of a violent outbreak in town, Finn's only company is his canine companion Rowdy and the sound of the waves which beckon him. He's self sufficient, hunting, fishing and trading his fresh catches with a local farmer in exchange for fruit and vegetables. It's a meager existence and he's simply surviving rather than living. Until he meets Rose.

Rose's fear is palpable. She's on the run from the Wilders and escaped when she and sister Kashmala were separated and is desperate to find her before the viscous Ramage and his Wilders find them both. Although weary to share her story, Rose's life has been a traumatic struggle of imprisonment and ownership. Having arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker, the girls were given to a local family while adults were placed in detention centers. Siley's are owned by Australian families, used to work on the land and denied an education or a basic duty of care.

I loved the social messages woven throughout the storyline. It touches on the social injustice of basic human rights and the plight of refugees within Australia, gently and with care. The barren Australian coastline was vivid, a simple existence that captivated with so few words. But as much as I had enjoyed the storyline overall, the backstory felt lacking.

As a reader, I need to know how the portrayed world came to be, why does the virus effect more females than males? Before communication was left abandoned, how far did the virus spread? Finn himself also talks about how his town assumed there would be government intervention, a cure or precautions to help stem the deadly virus from spreading. Were capital cities effected? I can understand that a character of sixteen is unable to provide answers, apart from bigoted speculation that those seeking asylum had brought the virus to our shores. I hope that book two in the currently unnamed series is able to provide more information as the storyline progresses.

Overall, it was a quick, yet entertaining read. Although Finn's character is likable, I wanted to feel an emotional connection to his character but couldn't quite get there. It could be that I tend to find the female perspective more enjoyable as a narrative, but that's simply personal preference. Regardless, a wonderful debut and I look forward to reading the next series installment.

A Toaster on Mars
Written by Darrell Pitt
Middle Grade, Humour, Science Fiction, #LoveOzYA
Published 30th May 2016
Thank you to Text Publishing
Add to Goodreads
Teenagers on skateboards jumped off walkways, dropped a dozen floors and activated rockets to safely land walkways below. Blake took a deep breath, inhaling something that smelt like a cross between burnt plastic and toffee apple.

Neo City, 2509.

After a series of operational bungles, as well as the accidental death of his partner, special agent Blake Carter’s career at the Planetary Bureau of Investigation is in trouble. To make matters worse, he’s just been assigned a new partner, and the beautiful and brilliant Nicki Steel happens to be a cyborg.

When universe famous criminal Bartholomew Badde steals a weapon capable of destroying whole planets at a time, Blake and Nicki must work together to recover it, an investigation that takes them to all corners of the weird and wonderful galaxy. But things get serious when Badde kidnaps Blake’s teenage daughter, Lisa. Can Blake prove he’s still a first rate agent, not to mention father, and save Lisa in time?
Blake works as an agent for the Planetary Bureau of Investigation, solving temporal crimes that are beyond the realm for the local law enforcement. A recent divorcee, middle aged and balding, Blake works in the busy metropolis of Neo City where his career has been spent trying to capture notorious criminal Bartholomew Badde, who aspires to be history's greatest villain.

Badde plans on using a device to wipe out all technology and electrical devices on Earth, plunging the planet into a Dark Age unless his demands are met. But after his last investigation resulted in a near death experience, Blake will be forced to take on a partner and none other than Special Agent Nikki Steel.

Nikki is no ordinary agent, she's a cyborg, with golden skin and a thirst for fighting crime and it isn't long before the two agents discover that Badde wants more than monetary gain when he takes Blake's daughter Lisa captive. To secure her release, Blake and Nikki must break into a secure underground facility where they are to steal a computer super virus simply known as Maria.

Along with the help of his former wife, Blake and Nikki have but only days to pull off the impossible heist or risk losing Lisa forever.

My Thoughts

A Toaster on Mars was a satirical and fun space adventure that will appeal to lovers of slapstick comedy. Set in the year 2509, it follows the storyline of Blake Carter, middle aged gruff agent who investigates universal temporal crimes and those beyond the capabilities of local law enforcement. Seeing Blake isn't all that likable as a character, thank goodness for his new partner, cyborg Nikki Steel. Nikki is a tough, no nonsense agent who plays by the rules. Thrown together, the two must hunt down the galaxy's most notorious criminal who plans to annihilate Earth through destroying all technological advances. But when Badde kidnaps Blake's daughter, they must work together with wanted villain or his daughter faces a life of torture.
'That's right', Badde said.
'I have an entire box set of The Brady Bunch and I'm prepared to use them.'
Although written as a middle grade slash early teen adventure, the main character is a middle aged, gruff man and his cyborg sidekick and unfortunately I tended to lose interest throughout. The reader experiences brief glimpses of Lisa's point of view as she's being held captive, but the main focus was placed on Blake's interstellar adventure. Like most readers, children and teens also enjoy being able to place themselves within a storyline and I feel as though that probably isn't the case here.

The humour is silly slapstick, groan worthy dad jokes and eye rolling cliches but if the intended middle grade audience can forgive the abundance of adult characters, it's still an enjoyable read. With the only likable character being the villainous Badde, the humour didn't work for me unfortunately. I did enjoy the simplistic world building, especially Elvisworld, where Elvis impersonators have been imprisoned.

But strictly for the intended audience though I'm afraid.

When Michael Met Mina

When Michael Met Mina
Written by Randa Abdel - Fattah
Contemporary, Social / Political, #LoveOzYA
Published June 28th 2016
360 Pages
Before Mina, my life was like a completed jigsaw puzzle but Mina has pushed the puzzle onto the floor. I have to start all over again, figuring out where the pieces go.

When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees , standing on opposite sides.

Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre. Michael's parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.

They want to stop the boats. Mina wants to stop the hate.

When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael's private school, their lives crash together blindingly.

A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.
Life for Mina and her mother has been harrowing. A young child and a single mother forced to leave war torn Afghanistan for the inhumane conditions of a refugee camp. Desperate to reach asylum, they seek refuge in Australia only to be detained and begin their new life behind the fence of a detention centre. But now Mina has just been granted a scholarship at one of the most prestigious schools in Sydney, and is moving to the leafy and affluent suburbs to begin her new life in what is seemingly a sterile environment where ethnicity determines your status as a member of the community.

Michael's family believe in an Australia that preaches white, anglo saxon values and assimilation for those who immigrate to our shores. Michael's father is on the cusp of forming a new political party in Aussie Values, spreading the message of selective immigration and the misguided notion that Islam funds terrorism. Michael believes what his parents are campaigning for from their safe and affluent leafy suburb, until he meets new girl Mina who leaves him questioning his beliefs.

Mina is unlike anyone Michael has ever met. She's passionate, beautiful and isn't afraid to stand against casual racism among our multicultural communities. Through Mina's eyes, Michael starts to learn that perhaps his parents values aren't that of his own and forges his own path. But when Mina's family is made a target of his father's Aussie Values campaign, can Michael stand against injustice?

My Thoughts

When Michael Met Mina was an emotionally and politically charged read that ignites passionate debate between Australians. Told from dual points of view, Michael is a quiet young man who has been raised in a household with strong social beliefs. His father is head of the Aussie Values political group who support policies of stopping the refugee boats and denying those seeking asylum and scaremongering amongst supporters to believe Australia will be overrun, making our lives poorer for the intake in new citizens. There's a misconception within the media and our nation's political parties that those seeking asylum aren't genuine refugees, because they choose to seek refuge in Australia, often arriving via Indonesian people smugglers. It's these media reports in which the Aussie Values campaign is based and almost identical to the Reclaim Australia movement. Parents tend to instill their own morals and beliefs on their children, so Michael's character has always been surrounded by those with strong, misguided opinions. But that is about to change when rather than having opinions based on familial morals and the media, he discovers what is means to seek asylum from Mina, a girl who has lived through the ordeal.

Mina is intelligent, articulate, passionate and not afraid to speak out against injustice. She's been through a harrowing journey, leaving the only life she had ever known to travel to Australia with her mother to seek refuge, only to be detained. It's a storyline pulled from the Australian headlines, asylum seekers being detained, often taking years before they are allowed to call Australia home or returned to their homeland, trading security for living a meager existence in limbo.

I grew up in a time where Aussie Values were the basis in so many homes. We watched series like Kingswood Country, where Aussie larrikin Ted Bullpit told his son in law to leave your money on the fridge wog and casual racism was part of our dialect. Australia has since grown as a nation and Michael's character reflects our need for compassion both socially and politically. Michael was a product of his environment as was Mina, but both on either end of the spectrum.

Michael blindly believes what his parents have instilled in him and hasn't yet formed his own opinions. He soon realises how discriminatory his opinion is after seeing Mina hurt by his misguided accusations, although Mina's passion could easily be mistaken for anger. I loved how fierce her opinions were but her character often felt abrasive. But through a shared compassion, both Mina and Michael were able to grow as characters. The slow burning romance was absolutely lovely. Mina was able to see that Michael was more than his father's organisation and in turn, Michael begun to form his own opinions through Mina's experiences.

When Michael Met Mina is the book that young adult has been desperately deprived of. Confident,  relevant, beautifully written and intensely passionate with a strong moral compass. 

Girl Out Of Water

Girl Out Of Water
Written by Nat Luurtsema
Contemporary, Coming Of Age
Expected Publication August 1st 2016
320 Pages
Thanks to Walker Books Australia
Add to Goodreads
Lou Brown's life is going down the pan. Best friend Hannah sailed through the Olympic time trials and is off to her fancy pants new swim training school, while Lou's own failure to qualify leaves her without a hobby, or a friend. As Lou tries to navigate her post swim world, a chance encounter with three boys with stars in their eyes takes her life in a surprising new direction. One that leads to a crazy world of underwater somersaults, talent show auditions, bitchy girls and one great big load of awkward boy chat.
Swimming has been all fifteen year old Lou Brown has ever known since the tender age of four years old, but her olympic aspirations have just been dealt a severe blow. While her best friend Hannah is about to depart for the Performance Training Camp, Lou is left behind to contemplate what may have been, coming last in her heat. Lou and Hannah have always had one another, so now Lou is determined to make new friends. But when she's recruited to train a new swim team, she may have gotten more than she bargained for.

Pete, Roman and his younger brother Gabriel devise a plan to enter Britain's Hidden Talent, recruiting Lou to choreograph their underwater routine. While Lou begins to learn to live without competitive swimming, she realises that she's uniquely Lou and it's time to sink or swim.

My Thoughts

Girl Out Of Water was an absolute delight. Following the storyline of Lou, awkward, lumbering and clumsy. As she treads water, Lou is a vision of grace but after coming in last to qualify for the Performance Training Camp, she now faces the prospect of life beyond the water. Lou is by far one of my favourite fictional characters, she's intelligent, hilarious and incredibly entertaining. Her inner monologue often refers to how awkward she feels as a young woman with an athletic body, she's not particularly self conscious, but aware that she's towering and muscular. But Lou also uses humour in awkward situations, which only endeared me to her character further.
It's fine. If I ever get a boyfriend, I can carry him around when he's tired.
She wobbles away on her monstrous shoes. She looks like a baby gazelle. I can't imagine how dumb I look when I clump along behind her. Gazelle and the mammoth, off on their adventures.
With older sister Laverne, the Brown household is an usual family situation. After losing his job, her father has moved back into the family home, while her mother is experimenting with dating often with disastrous results. In what is an unusual role reversal for young adult novels, it's their father who is the homemaker, while her mother's specialty dish is food poisoning. Lou's parents are incredibly supportive, they understand her devastation but encourage the fifteen year old to spread her wings and concentrate on her studies. The only problem Lou faces now is a life without swimming and discovering who she is without best friend Hannah, a girl who Lou has always been content to stand in her shadow.

Pete, Roman and Gabe have been practicing as an amateur dance troupe, but having already filled their quota, are refused entry into the Britain's Hidden Talent competition and need to find a niche to enter with a new routine and employ Lou's assistance.

It was incredibly charming, not to mention laugh out loud funny. It also touched on series issues such as realistic body image and the pressure teens face often from parental influences. While Lou's family is incredibly supportive, her best friend Hannah is the daughter of two parents who push the young teen to her limits. She's spent, suffering from low self esteem and yet her voice isn't heard until another adult speaks for her. Between both Lou and Hannah's characters, teens will find a relatable medium they can champion.

I absolutely loved it. Never a dull moment, Lou's character hooked me from he very first page and reduced me to big, honking, incredibly unattractive laughing. A brilliantly entertaining read and a feel great experience!

The Last Good Day of The Year

The Last Good Day Of The Year
Written by Jessica Warman
Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller
Published July 1st 2016
288 Pages
Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia
Add to Goodreads
Ten years ago, in the early hours of New Year's Day, seven year old Samantha and her next door neighbor, Remy, watched as a man broke into Sam's home and took her younger sister, Turtle, from her sleeping bag. Remy and Sam, too afraid to intervene at the time, later identified the man as Sam's sister Gretchen’s much older exboyfriend, Steven, who was sent to prison for Turtle's murder.

Now, Sam's shattered family is returning to her childhood home in an effort to heal. As long buried memories begin to surface, Sam wonders if she and Remy accurately registered everything they saw. The more they reexamine the events of that fateful night, the more questions they discover about what really happened to Turtle.
Neighbours Samantha and Remy were only seven years old when their world irrevocably changed. It was New Year's Eve and while the adults were upstairs partying long into the night, a man in a Santa suit smelling of alcohol slipped through the sliding basement door and took Samantha's younger sister Tabitha, sleeping between the two children. A manhunt was in place, but the child affectionately known as Turtle was never found.

Ten years later, and Sam and her family have returned to the house in which Turtle was taken, with a new sister who is now the light of her mother's life. Her father is unemployed, her mother is resentful and as Sam and Remy rekindle their friendship, they start to revisit the night Turtle was taken. As a man fights for his innocence on Death Row, they start to realise that the man convicted may not have been the one who had taken Turtle.

So if he isn't guilty, then who is?

My Thoughts

The Last Good Day Of The Year was an incredibly compelling read. The storyline begins on New Year's Eve ten years prior, when a man in a Santa costume lifted then four year old Turtle from her sleeping bag, lying between Sam and next door neighbour Remy while their parents celebrated the new year. By the time her parents understood what had happened through their drunken stupor, Turtle had vanished along with the man who had taken her. Ten years later, and the family are once again faced with the distress of Turtle's disappearance as they move back into their former home due to financial hardship. With a new family member, five year old Hannah who is seen as Turtle's replacement.

Sam's mother harbours resentment for older sister Gretchen, now married but experiencing marital issues. Although back living at home, Gretchen spends most of her time with neighbour and best friend Abby as she cares for her ill father. Her former boyfriend was convicted of Turtle's disappearance but remains absolute in his innocence. Even though the storyline follows Sam's before and after perspective, her family unit is a pivotal part of the storyline. Relationships are broken as Sam's parents attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives ten years later, resuming their friendship with the neighbours, Remy's parents who were present on that fateful night. But it's Sam's friendship with Remy that she wants to rebuild. Torn from one another as seven year olds and having not stayed in touch. Remy has moved on and now has a girlfriend, but it isn't long until their shared experience drives the two now seventeen year olds back together.

The storyline was incredibly unnerving. A child brazenly taken but no body was ever found. The family still live in hope that Turtle may still be alive, the man having been committed still pleading his innocence even days before he is to be sentenced to death.

I couldn't tear myself away. The storyline left me feeling both restless and anxious, the emotion of Turtle's disappearance and both Sam and Remy reliving that night having taken a toll on my nerves. Among the main storyline, we also see glimpses of the unsolved case from crime author David Gordon, who published a book about the trauma of the four year old's disappearance. It adds an extra element of emotion as the reader can see how others have perceived the case, rather than just from the family that remains behind.

More mystery than thriller, the storyline was completely engrossing. I really enjoyed the switch from before to after the event as it added to the tension throughout the storyline. But unfortunately it was the crescendo of the storyline which left me feeling disappointed. Although disturbing, it was anticlimactic and confusing. Turtle deserved justice and as a reader, I don't feel as though it was achieved. Those who knew what happened to the then four year old, not one person had spoken up and lacked the action slash reaction growth and learning curve. The epilogue was unexpected and I still don't know why it was truly needed, as it raised more questions than answers.

The Last Good Day of The Year is an engrossing read, a pacified mystery that will leave readers feeling uncomfortable and unnerved. Although the ending felt rushed and lacked the shock factor that most readers will expect, it's the emotional journey of The Last Good Day Of The Year, rather than the destination.

Hold Me Like A Breath

Contains very mild spoilers

Hold Me Like A Breath
Once Upon A Crime Family Book One
Written by Tiffany Schmidt
Contemporary, Romance, Mystery
Published in Australia July 1st 2016
416 Pages
Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia
Add to Goodreads
In Penelope Landlow's world, almost anything can be bought or sold. She's the daughter of one of the three crime families controlling the black market for organ transplants. Because of an autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise easily, Penny is considered too delicate to handle the family business, or even to step foot outside their estate.

All Penelope has ever wanted is independence, until she's suddenly thrust into the dangerous world all alone, forced to stay one step ahead of her family's enemies. As she struggles to survive the power plays of rival crime families, she learns dreams come with casualties, betrayal hurts worse than bruises, and there's nothing she won't risk for the people she loves.
Penelope has always been the darling of her family, born with a rare autoimmune illness that leaves bruises upon her skin when touched. Her family own a cartel of illegal underworld organ donation clinics, saving lives of the wealthy. Penelope spends her days drinking tea, visiting her very own house physician and pining for a glimpse of her brother's long time best friend in Garrett. Penny is a paper princess locked in her tower, dreaming of fairy tales and a life beyond the estate grounds. Until the only world she's ever known is destroyed and Penelope is forced out into the streets of New York.

Determined to not only survive but thrive, it isn't long until Penelope is immersing herself within the bustling city streets and it's there where she meets Charlie. Keeping her identity a secret, Penelope and Charlie explore the city while beginning to fall in love. But Penelope is about to discover that her past cannot be outrun.

My Thoughts

Hold Me Like A Breath is a difficult read. Despite the poor reviews and multiple cautions, but seeing reading is subjective and there are so few book in young adult that feature organised crime and in this instance, illegal organ trafficking. But even having lowered my expectations, I was mildly entertained. Hold Me Like A Breath promises an enthralling read and delivered little more than a thinly veiled mystery and instant romance.

Penelope suffers from a rare autoimmune disease known as idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, where her body destroys its own Platelets. She is kept within the secure estate due to the nature of her condition and is never to be touched. But lately she's been restless and although her health fluctuates, she dreams of a life outside of the estate which she now sees as a compound. Although I couldn't connect to Penelope as a character, I understood her frustration at those around her being overly protective and the freedom she longs to experience. But it's how she's perceived on an intellectual level in which I took issue. Physically she's unwell, but she's an intelligent girl who is simply brushed aside when she attempts to ask questions, wanting to understand what the family business entails. It doesn't aid her that she's referred to as Princess.

The storyline doesn't delve into the family business beyond Penelope's understanding, with the focus is placed upon the attraction between she and her brother's best friend Garrett. They share a flirtatious friendship, stolen moments of almost kisses and it's then when Penelope's brother discovers their connection. But before they can explore the new boundaries of their tentative relationship, Penelope is forced to flee the compound for New York City, with her life barely intact.

This is where the storyline took an unexpected and unwelcomed twist. Up until that moment, I was enjoying the storyline for the most part and had expected Penelope to develop self confidence and begin to be treated as an equal. But as she explored the city, she meets Charlie who is also seeing the city as a tourist. Charlie is secretive, but latches onto Penelope to the point of waiting outside of her apartment for a glimpse of the girl he's already falling in love with.

The romance was terrible, not to mention predictable. While pining away for Garrett, she's falling in love with Charlie despite having only known him for days. As a reader, I found it painfully obvious what Charlie was hiding and although she had lead a very sheltered life, Penelope seemed to have forgotten her family and spent her time making the most of her time in the city.

Indeed. That's when the storyline had lost my attention. For a girl so frail she wasn't allowed to leave her estate, her health is failing and yet she strangely has time for a whirlwind romance. She barely gave a second thought to her family. Although Penelope has very little experience with affairs of the heart, being able to trust Charlie so easily was dubious at best considering her family's illegal business. The romance was a deal breaker. It was obvious, predictable and lacked chemistry or any genuine connection between Charlie and Penelope.

Writing a less than positive review gives me no joy, because as many issues as I had with Hold Me Like A Breath, the writing wasn't one of them. I found the overall storyline engaging with an incredible amount of promise, but I just couldn't move beyond the romance. I felt cheated out of what could have been an epic read from a genre in young adult that seems lacking. 
© Diva Booknerd. Design by Fearne.