Blog Tour: The Secret Science of Magic

The Secret Science of Magic
Written by Melissa Keil
Contemporary, Diverse, Romance
Published April 1st 2017
328 Pages
Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont
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The unsolvable problem. If Sophia is a genius, why can’t she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Fact. Sophia is smart. As in, certified child prodigy, breezing through uni subjects even though she's only in year twelve, smart. This terrifies her, because geniuses have a tendency to end up as recluses and weirdos,  and with her current social ineptness, she’s halfway there already.

Truth. Joshua is good at magic tricks, ignoring most things about year twelve, and not thinking at all about life after high school.

Fact. Sophia can’t even talk to her best friend Elsie about her anxieties, because Elsie is firmly focused on her own future, and on plans that will mean leaving Sophia behind.

Truth. Joshua has had a secret crush on Sophia since forever, but he doesn’t have forever to act on it.

Fact. There are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for... And the messiness of the real world is one of them.

Truth. Timing is everything.
Sophia is a quiet achiever. Intelligent and a highly decorated student, seventeen year old Sophie is facing an existential crisis, feeling fatigued, adrift and socially anxious. Joshua is an illusionist, deceptively disguised as an enigma and enamoured with shy and reserved Sophie. Living their lives parallel to one another, Joshua believes in the impossible while Sophie the probability of statistics. Until a Melbourne University open day brings Joshua and Sophie together, unexpectedly.

Magic happens.

My Thoughts

Australian with Sri Lankan heritage, Sophia is an intelligent young woman, a prodigy mathematician enduring debilitating social anxiety and becoming increasingly infatuated with Grigori Perelman, a recluse Russian mathematician. Sophia is a wonderful character, ingenious and accomplished which often leads to a lack of perception. Unlike Elsie who is leaving for the United States, Sophia isn't optimistic about university and consistently devalues her own intuition. The depiction of Sophia's social anxiety was wonderfully portrayed. As her narrative progressed, she begun to recognise how her anxiety manifested but also sought professional guidance. The tension between Sophia and her brother Toby furthered Sophia's anxiety, especially spending time with Elise and the effortless relationship with her siblings.

Joshua is enchanting. As an illusionist he believes in the impossible. Joshua doesn't place importance on his education and is ostracised by his peers. He's a modest young man who has been captivated by Sophia since the tender age of thirteen but as an introvert, feels intimidated by Sophia's presence. I loved the relationship Joshua shared with thirteen year old sibling Gillian, who has perfected teenage angst. Often a formidable presence, Joshua continues to persist to rebuild his relationship with Gillian despite her defiance.

The romance was captivating and a wonderful progression from a gentle, tentative friendship. Discounting the student body, Joshua has a wonderful company of friends who are accepting, supportive and encouraging. I appreciated how Joshua allowed Sophia to set the boundaries of their friendship, understanding that it was important for Sophia to remain in control of her societal environment due to her anxiety.

The Secret Science of Magic is magnificent. A charming coming of age narrative of existing within the moment. Phenomenally sublime. Magical.

Letters To The Lost

Letters To The Lost
Written by Brigid Kemmerer
Contemporary, Death, Romance
Publishing April 6th 2017
400 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia Digital
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Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate.

But neither of them knows that they're not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.
Juliet enjoys the tranquility of the cemetery as she sits beside her mother's final resting place, writing her thoughts on paper to her mother. Four months have passed since her life was taken, survived by her disconnected husband and seventeen year old Juliet, drowning in grief.

Declan is a young man with a reputation that proceeds him, a violent alcoholic with a criminal record. Underneath the facade Declan too is consumed by grief, the destruction leading to recklessness in which the eighteen year old now is sentenced to community service.

When Declan intrudes on a personal moment by anonymous Juliet, the two teens begin to communicate anonymously with one another. Forming a tentative friendship of support and shared understanding, two strangers seeking solace and comfort in words.

My Thoughts

Juliet was judgmental, abrasive and incredibly entitled. Characters experiencing emotional turmoil aren't often held to account in young adult and as a reader, it's often appreciated when a character is shown tolerance. Juliet's narrative begins with comparing herself to a photograph of a child in the Middle East conflict zone. I wasn't impressed.

Throughout her narrative, Juliet speaks of her mother fondly, a political photographer who has explored significant world events through her camera lens. Her mother was wonderfully accomplished but absent throughout her daughter's life, leaving Juliet's father to raise her. Once her mother passed, her father becomes distant and emotionally absent and Juliet refuses to engage with him. Juliet's emotional support was wonderful although she was passive aggressively describing Rowan's mother as a young mother and negated why Rowan hasn't rebelled. An amateur photographer herself, Juliet hasn't engaged since her mother's passing but negatively critiques the work of her fellow peers. Her interactions with Declan were judgmental and often incredibly cruel.

Declan is completing community service at the cemetery as a result of driving under the influence and endangering lives while behind the wheel. Declan is bravado, his facade ensures he is emotionally abandoned, allowed to be consumed by his loss. With his father imprisoned, Declan's mother has since remarried and he despises his stepfather. Declan's narrative is confrontational and touches on issues of alcoholism, domestic violence, child and juvenile abuse. Declan also engages in antisocial behaviour, he deliberately attempts to intimidate Juliet in an aggressive manner.

The interactions between Juliet and Declan anonymously were wonderful, sharing their lives through the art of the written word. As communication becomes frequent, Juliet begun to spend less hours sitting beside her mother's final resting place. The two teens begin to gravitate towards one another. Although they're attracted to one another, the romance is incredibly subtle.

It was wonderfully written and captivating but Juliet was incredibly entitled and self indulgent. Letters to the Lost was poignant exploration of the many facets of the grieving process. Unfortunately not without it's issues.

Stargazing For Beginners

Stargazing For Beginners
Written by Jenny McLachlan
Contemporary, Romance
Publishing June 1st 2017
352 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her.

And Mum's disappearance has come at the worst time. Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She'll need a miracle of cosmic proportions.
Just as the forty nine accomplished women have boldly gone, sixteen year old Meg Clark dreams of becoming an astronaut. A quiet achiever, Meg is attempting to revise her lecture for the upcoming competition that will see one student be awarded with an all expenses paid holiday to the NASA Space Center in Houston, an opportunity that Meg's mother couldn't otherwise afford.

Until her mother purchases a plane ticket to Myanmar on a whim and leaves Meg and one year old Elsa behind. Alone.

My Thoughts

Fifteen year old Megara is an aspiring astronaut and in the midst of preparing for her presentation, an opportunity for an all expenses paid vacation to NASA headquarters, when her free spirited mother leaves for Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country where she will aid underprivileged communities. Her mother also leaves behind Elsa, an infant who cannot comprehend where her mother is and expects her elderly father to shoulder the burden of two children.

Rather than place Elsa in the dangerous environment of her grandfathers home, Meg decides to become Elsa's primary caregiver while balancing school and preparation for her presentation. Meg's mother was infuriating and left me feeling irate. Free spirited is for those without obligations, her mother has two young children and an elderly father who excuses his daughter's behaviour. Although her grandfather is reluctantly accommodating, his home resembles an unhygienic menagerie and refuses to inconvenience himself for his young granddaughters. Her grandfather is lovely, but why would any responsible adult allow a fifteen year old girl to accept responsibility for an infant sibling. 

Being a preoccupied adolescent consumed by science, Meg and step sister Elsa are relatively strangers, sharing the same irresponsible mother and little else of significance. Through circumstances, the two sisters begin to care for one another. It was wonderful to see Meg being supported by new and unlikely friends in her mentoring program, especially sarcastic and resolute Annie who is a student with Autism. A friendly rivalry and gentle friendship were the foundation of an enchanting romance.

Although it was lovely and incredibly entertaining, the adult characters within Stargazing For Beginners were irresponsible. From their mother and grandfather, to the caregiver at Elsa's daycare center who suspected their mother may have been absent. How did the school facility not realise the change in her behaviour? The responsible and astute student now unpolished and exasperated has gone unnoticed.

Jenny McLachlan is a magnificent author, a wonderful storyteller and an absolute delight. Amusing, entertaining and incredibly charismatic. 

Hearting Steven Herrick

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair
Written by Steven Herrick
Contemporary, Verse
128 Pages
Special Edition Published January 3rd 2017
Thank you to UQP
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Jack is an everyday sixteen year old boy. He’s obsessed with Annabel, sport and nose hair. He’s also obsessed with a ghost...

There’s a ghost in our house
in a red evening dress,
black stockings
and Mum’s slingback shoes.
Her hair whispers
over white shoulders
as she dances through the rooms.
Sixteen year old Jack muses about his life, the compulsion to become an author, living with his father who works long hours as a print journalist and his nineteen year old sister Desiree and her hint of lip hair. Since their mother passed away from breast cancer, Desiree self examines her breasts each night, while Jack watches his father in the back garden, playing cricket at midnight. All fundamentally flawed and impacted by death of their wife and mother.

A Place Like This
Written by Steven Herrick
Contemporary, Road Trip, Verse
144 Pages
Special Edition Published January 3rd 2017
Thank you to UQP
Jack and Annabel have been dating for two years. With high school over they’re about to start university, until Jack decides to chuck it all in.

I think you and Annabel should get out of here
as fast as possible. Have a year doing anything
you want. My going away present is enough money
to buy a car. A cheap old one, okay? You’ll have to
work somewhere to buy the petrol, and to keep going.

But go.

No destination in mind, Jack and Annabel leave town and discover themselves in a place they never knew existed.
The freedom of the open road beckons Jack and Annabel, leaving behind their families and art degrees in favour for adventure wherever the wind will blow, their bank manager brown seventies vehicle having reached the unexpected destination of an apple orchard. With meager wages and a barnyard bed of hay, working the orchard during daylight and making love all night. Pregnant after a sexual assault she cannot remember, sixteen year old Emma is waiting for her unborn child, wanting to leave the orchard and her father behind. George, mourning the loss of his wife while providing for his children. Intersecting and inspiring, life blossoms through a series of journeys, rather than the destination.

My Thoughts

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair and A Place Like This are a lovely exploration of family, free spirit and the love that unites us. Jack is a quiet and thoughtful young man, still grieving the loss of his mother while struggling to find his place in the world. Throughout the poetic narrative, the reader experiences aspects of the lives of others as glimpses of Australia through our communities. While I felt disconnected to Jack initially, I adored A Place Like This and the varying aspects and stages of our lives. The freedom of being young with no obligations, to a teenage mother struggling with the identity of her unborn child's father.

I found George and Emma's narratives honest and enchanting. Emma is only sixteen years old with the weight of motherhood baring down on her slight shoulders, the pregnancy a result of an assault at a party she has no recollection of. Surprisingly, her father George wants to support his young daughter while providing for her siblings, his wife and the mother of his children walking out of their lives years prior.

Steven Herrick is a masterful storyteller, sharing snippets of our Australian communities through verse.

We Come Apart

We Come Apart
Written by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Contemporary, Romance
Published February 9th 2017
336 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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Jess would never have looked twice at Nicu if her friends hadn't left her in the lurch. Nicu is all big eyes and ill fitting clothes, eager as a puppy, even when they're picking up litter in the park for community service. He's so not her type. Appearances matter to Jess. She's got a lot to hide.

Nicu thinks Jess is beautiful. His dad brought Nicu and his mum here for a better life, but now all they talk about is going back home to find Nicu a wife. The last thing Nicu wants is to get married. He wants to get educated, do better, stay here in England. But his dad's fists are the most powerful force in Nicu's life, and in the end, he'll have to do what his dad wants.

As Nicu and Jess get closer, their secrets come to the surface like bruises. The only safe place they have is with each other. But they can't be together, forever, and stay safe, can they?
Jessica is a tormented teen. Living with her mother and step father in a violent home environment, Jessica has been sentenced to participate in a Reparation Scheme, her third offense landing her in police custody after a shoplifting incident. Jessica's behaviour is a reflection on her fragile mother, beaten and abused by a man who is dominant and malicious.

Nicu is living in England temporarily, his father having migrated from Romania to England in order to earn money as a dowry to obtain Nicu a wife. Fifteen year old Nicu labors for his father but when he's caught thieving and sentenced to the Reparation Scheme, he's forced to enroll in school.

Through the Reparation Scheme, Jessica and Nicu begin a tentative friendship. A language barrier. An unlikely connection and two teens finding solace in one another.

My Thoughts

Jessica is a character who has endured torment and abuse, her stepfather a domineering and violent man. Although I've also experienced domestic violence as a child, I couldn't relate to Jessica and her often merciless attitude. Having committed her third offense and Nicu caught thieving, the two teens are both sentenced to the Reparation Program, an initiative to rehabilitate adolescents rather than facing prison.

Nicu's narrative was captivating. Having migrated with his parents to the United Kingdom, Nicu and his father are self employed in order to earn an adequate dowry to obtain a wife home in Romania. Although his parents are insistent, Nicu refuses to marry and wants to begin his life in the United Kingdom rather than return home. Nicu is absolutely endearing. His character explored the social injustice of racism and race profiling. It was interesting to see the comparison between both parents, Jessica had been arrested due to her third offense and they were treated with respect. Although it was insinuated that her behavior was a result of defective parenting. 

I appreciate narratives told in verse, with so few words authors are able to captivate readers and Sarah Crossan is a wonderful storyteller who breathes life into her characters. We Come Apart touches on social issues such as domestic violence, racial profiling and racism. Nicu wants to be accepted and I felt Jessica had taken advantage of his affection, often choosing the cruelty of her unreliable friends and choosing not to asset herself and defend Nicu against their racist remarks.

I'm fascinated by stories of immigration and seeking asylum, which is the foundation for many Australians in particular. We Come Apart touches on those same foundations and as Nicu explores thoughts of his new surroundings and learning a new language, I'm dubious as to the validity of the representation.

We Come Apart is a touching exploration of friendship and transcending barriers of language and stereotypes. Although I became increasingly frustrated with Jessica's character, the narrative was captivating, immersive and representative of our broken societies. 

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give
Written by Angie Thomas
Contemporary, Diverse, Social Issues
Published March 1st 2017
448 Pages
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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Sixteen year old Starr Carter moves between two worlds, the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr's neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is, what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
Keep your hands visible. No sudden moves. Only speak when spoken to.

Sixteen year old Starr Carter lives in Garden Heights, a neighbourhood with a strong black community, thriving among the Kings and Queens of the streets. Starr now kneels beside Khail's lifeless body, blood staining her hands from the police offer that fired three bullets into her childhood friend, racially profiled for being a black teen confronted by a white police officer, his weapon now aimed at the young teen as she grieves for her friend.

Garden Heights erupts, the injustice of another young black man slain on the street at the hands of a white police officer and the frustration of community voices being ignored. While the media portrays the police officer as a family man protecting the community, Khalil is depicted as a criminal. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil was innocent. His death cannot be justified.

While the community calls for justice, the police begin enforced Marshall Law, placing a curfew on the black community as gunshots sound across the night and protesters ensure their voices heard. The cries of justice, of equality and to ensure black citizens are being protected by a country often separated by race.

My Thoughts

Starr is a beautiful young woman, passionate, intelligent with a wonderful sense of community. Born into the public housing system and at ten years of age, Starr witnessed a child's life stolen while playing in the street, her parents insisting Starr attend a predominately Caucasian school along with step brother Seven in order to ensure their daughters safety. Starr's parents are wonderful. her father a local business owner after spending time in prison, a former King of Garden Heights in the gang community. Starr's mother is a local nurse, wonderfully maternal and both parents pillars of the community and a rarity in young adult. 

The Hate U Give is a compelling narrative that explores firearm legislation, racism, police brutality, racial profiling, homicide, organised protesting and rioting. I found the narrative confronting, not as a Caucasian reader but as an Australian. A mother who grieves her only child who's life was stolen by gun violence isn't a Hollywood narrative, The Hate U Give will provide readers with perspective and the harm of perpetuating stereotypes.
I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.

Now I am that person, and I'm too afraid to speak.
An interesting aspect is the concept that African Americans are pressured by white society to conform both directly and indirectly. As Starr attends a school where the majority of the student body is Caucasian and as only one of two students within her peers who is African American, feels the need to conceal her cultural identity, perhaps a result of the white lens viewing African Americans as being inferior. In that regard, I felt as though the narrative was also inclusive of white readers, to connect to a fictional character in order to place the onus on white society for being exclusive.

Hailey was a character who used casual racism against her peers and in particular, friends Starr and Maya, who is of Chinese heritage. Her comments are deeply offensive and it touches on one particular scene in which Starr is speculating as to why her friend Hailey unfollowed her on social media after posting graphic images of a young black man who was slain. It is later revealed by mutual friend Maya as to why, but it highlights the nature of uncomfortable white communities when confronted by African American injustice. In particular, white America. 
The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone
The narrative also acknowledges African American societal references, such as musical influences, activists Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and the Black Panthers, a revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organisation who fought for black rights against society and the United States government.

The Hate U Give is a powerful and compelling narrative about the racism that divides communities and racial profiling that results in black lives being lost to police officers who have vowed to protect the community. Around the world, awareness spread. Not of the black teens and adults being murdered by white police officers but the white lens coverage focused on the riots that proceeded this horrific injustice. Television media being relayed from the streets were quick to condemn the angry and justified protests, but it was through various social media avenues is where the genuine and unbiased, unprejudiced reports were being shared. By those protesting. The Hate U Give allows readers an opportunity to delve into the lives behind the headlines and why the #blacklivesmatter movement demands attention.

Compelling. Confronting. Influential.

To my brilliant ladies TikaBrittni, Ari and Blessie who guide me, never tire of my white girl questions and place me in the box of shame.

Strange The Dreamer

Strange The Dreamer
Strange The Dreamer Book One
Written by Laini Taylor
Fantasy, Magic, Romance
Publishing March 28th 2017
544 Pages
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around, and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he's been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries, including the blue skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?
Lazlo is a lover of words and the dreamer of dreams. Abandoned as an infant, Lazlo spends his days as a junior librarian by immersing himself in the history of Weep, a mystical Unseen City that has borne legends and heroes. It's been fifteen years since the God's we're banished and now the Godslayer has arrived in Zosma, seeking alchemists, scholars and the great minds of the Pavilion of Thought. Lazlo has breathed Weep for seven long, illuminating years and is about to embark on a arduous journey across the country to solve the mysteries of The Unseen City.

Sarai is a survivor, only an infant when her world was decimated and left suspended within the Unseen City. Unlike her fellow surviving Godspawn, Sarai's gift allows her to explore the city and interact while Weep falls under the slumber of night. When the Muse of Nightmares eases into the unconscious mind of Lazlo Strange, what she encounters will leave her breathless.

My Thoughts

Abandoned Lazlo Strange was utterly delightful, a charmingly innocent and kind hearted young man who is consumed with the mystery of The Unseen City. Spending his days as a junior librarian, Lazlo breathes history, foregoing his adolescence for the inked pages of a land lost to time. Demure and intelligent, Lazlo is determined to accompany the scholars and alchemists to uncover the secrets of Weep, a half yearly journey and coming of age for the charismatic librarian. Surrounded by warrior escorts, Lazlo shares his journey with Thyon Nero, an entitled young man praised for his fraudulent alchemy. Lazlo and Thyon are rivals, while Lazlo has a warm and gentle disposition, Thyon is guarded and sees Lazlo as a nemesis, questioning the librarian's motives. As a secondary character, Thyon was wonderfully developed which allows readers to engage with his character beyond his bravado.

Sarai is a young woman trapped within the mausoleum anchored to the sky above Weep. Also orphaned as a child, the massacre that slain her family resulted in a world suspended in time. Sarai's character is enchanting. Each evening retiring to her room to explore the city, a silent scream releasing her vaporescent moths into the night to perch on the brows of sleeping residents. Sarai's slain mother is the Goddess of Despair, both young men and women of the Unseen City were taken and brought to the citadel, kept as companions against their will and creating a new generation of Godspawn. Sparrow who tends to nature, Feral who can control the weather, Ruby and the malevolent Minya, who captures the souls of the dead and uses them for her amusement. Minya was an interesting character. Although suspended in the body of a child, Minya is a militant leader who commands respect. Although she wants to protect the citadel, Minya is a warmonger and prepares her ghostly souls to slay the humans who threaten their existence. Including Lazlo. The connection between Sarai and Lazlo was lovely. The Muse of Nightmares and The Dreamer, Sarai has never experienced vivid visions of her city as seen through Lazlo's imagination and is enamoured. Their connection was gentle, tender yet incredibly passionate.

Strange The Dreamer is lyrical, consuming and atmospheric. Laini Taylor has transcended young adult fantasy. Beautifully. Immaculately. Ethereally. 
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