Defy The Stars

Defy The Stars
Constellation Book One
Written by Claudia Gray
Science Fiction, Space Opera
432 Pages
Published April 2017
Thank you to Allen & Unwin and Hot Key
RRP $19.95
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Noemi is a young and fearless soldier of Genesis, a colony planet of a dying Earth. But the citizens of Genesis are rising up, they know that Earth's settlers will only destroy this planet the way they destroyed their own. And so a terrible war has begun.

When Noemi meets Abel, one of Earth's robotic mech warriors, she realizes that Abel himself may provide the key to Genesis' salvation. Abel is bound by his programming to obey her, even though her plan could result in his destruction. But Abel is no ordinary mech. He's a unique prototype, one with greater intelligence, skill and strength than any other. More than that, he has begun to develop emotions, a personality and even dreams. Noemi begins to realise that if Abel is less than human, he is more than a machine. If she destroys him, is it murder? And can a cold blooded murder be redeemed by the protection of a world?

Stranded together in space, they go on a whirlwind adventure through Earth's various colony worlds, alongside the countless Vagabonds who have given up planetary life altogether and sail forever between the stars. Each step brings them closer, both to each other and to the terrible decision Noemi will have to make about her world's fate, and Abel's.
The Earth is dying. Countless generations of Earth residents have survived famine, contamination and the consumption of resources. Genesis is environmentally conscious and a sustainable civilisation, believed to be technologically inferior. The young inhabitants of Genesis have been conscripted for the Masada Run, a suicidal mission against the mechanised humanoid military technology, artificially intelligent beings sent to decimate Genesis assembly in order to recolonise the planet.

Noemi is a wonderful character, abrasive, determined and willing to self sacrifice for the preservation of Genesis. Seeking medical attention, Noemi embarks upon the Daedalus, the abandoned, aging and debilitated Earth spacecraft. Noemi is human, her Polynesian and Latin American ancestry the only remnants of her biological genealogy.

Abel has lived isolated on board the Daedalus for decades, his father and crew members having abandoned the vessel leaving Abel behind. Abel is a prototype of entrepreneur Burton Mansfield, creator of mechanised humanoid military technology. In isolation for thirty years has allowed Abel's technology to evolve, humanised emotions, to dream and through evolution, Noemi and Abel develop a tentative amnesty.

One aspect I really appreciated was the subtle discussion of religious spirituality and empirical science. Noemi follows the teachings of the Second Catholic Church of Genesis, her interactions with Abel were approached without intolerance. I enjoyed Noemi and Abel's comfortable companionship, a gentle progression as Abel discovers his own humanity. Delicate and captivating.

Greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of natural resources and increased population and pollution have led to the environmental decimation of Earth and Defy The Stars explores scientific, spiritualistic and environmental aspects of humanity. Defy The Stars is spectacularly atmospheric, captivating and breathtakingly celestial.
We are this world. Its next generation. If you’re not trying to save us, then what exactly are you trying to save?

This Side Of Home

This Side Of Home
Written by Renée Watson
Contemporary, Diverse, Realistic Fiction
352 Pages
Published April 1st 2017
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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Maya Younger and her identical twin sister, Nikki, have always agreed on the important things. Friends. Boys. School. They even plan to attend the same historically African American college. But nothing can always remain the same.

As their Portland neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up and coming, Maya feels her connection to Nikki and their community slipping away. Nikki spends more time at trendy coffee shops than backyard barbecues, and their new high school principal is more committed to erasing the neighborhood's ghetto reputation than honoring its history.

Home doesn't feel like home anymore. As Maya struggles to hold on to her black heritage, she begins to wonder with whom, or where she belongs. Does growing up have to mean growing apart?
Senior Maya Younger is a remarkable young woman, articulate, intelligent and ambitious. Identical siblings Maya and Nikki aspire to attend Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts college for women. The Portland neighbourhood is evolving, a predominantly black community displaced by white residents and corporate franchise stores.
They've painted and planted and made beauty out of decaying dreams. Block after block, strangers kept coming to Jackson Avenue, kept coming and changing and remaking and adding on to and taking away from.
Best friend and neighbour Essence is forced from the rental property she shares with her alcohol dependant mother, the landlord an opportunistic man exploiting the real estate demand. Another white family are now residents within the Portland community while her suburban school begins to diversify.

Maya's frustration was palpable. Her community flourishing black family homes are being acquired and businesses financially constrained while residents acclimatise. Maya has inherited her parental legacy, her mother and father community activists while encouraging Maya to uphold her ideals. As Maya and Nikki form a tentative friendship with new neighbours, Nikki is thriving, exploring the contention of Caucasians encroaching on black communities.

As senior president, Maya will collaborate with the new principle who is determined to innovate and positively influence education for all students. As Richmond tradition, the school celebrates Black History Month but as the new diversification has been introduced, African American students will celebrate diversity. The principal seemed awfully misguided. While attempting to promote inclusion, he erased the cultural signification of black teens and as a black educator he was inconsiderate and dismissive.

Instinctive prejudice and stereotyping of the African American community is predominant within the Portland suburb and touches upon black residents campaigning for community safety, beautification and infrastructure. Landlords evicting tenants from debilitated homes, refurbishing to satisfy white families. The community seems reluctantly accepting of the suburb transformation, Nikki in particular and Maya begins to challenge her sister and her ideals, causing a fracture within their relationship.

A point of contention is the flourishing interracial relationship between Maya and new neighbour Tony, shortly after her dissolving relationship with Devin.
And women throughout our neighborhood pull me aside, saying things like, "I'm glad he's dating you and not one of them." And by them they either mean a white girl or hood girl.
Although Tony is attentive and considerate, Maya experiences a sense of expectations within the wider community. Her concern of being hypocritical, dating a Caucasian Tony in contrast to diversifying her Portland town with the influx of white families. While at Richmond, white and Hispanic students are instrumental in a new diversity inclusion policy, at the detriment of black students and Black History Month. It raises the discussion of marginalisation and the erasure of racial identities in favour of inclusion. Inclusion is paramount in creating safe spaces especially with adolescents but the cultural and historical significance of Black History Month in particular should be celebrated. Black teens should be celebrated. One month per year shouldn't be infringed upon.

This Side Of Home is an intelligent read, wonderfully diverse and encourages discussion about cultural significance and inclusion. Compelling, compassionate reading.

The Blue Cat

The Blue Cat
Written by Ursula Dubosarsky
Middle Grade, Historical, Magical Realism
180 Pages
Published April 2017
Thank you  to Allen & Unwin
RRP $19.99
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A boy stood in the playground under the big fig tree. 'He can't speak English,' the children whispered.

Sydney, 1942. The war is coming to Australia, not only with the threat of bombardment, but also the arrival of refugees from Europe. Dreamy Columba's world is growing larger. She is drawn to Ellery, the little boy from far away, and, together with her highly practical best friend Hilda, the three children embark on an adventure through the harbourside streets. A journey of discovery and terror, in pursuit of the mysterious blue cat...
The air raid siren wails throughout Sydney harbour while American Warships dapple across the horizon. The war has reached the Australian shoreline with the Japanese military threatening a hostile destruction of the land. For Columba this is simply how we survive, we live in each moment.

While the city of Paris falls to the Germanic forces, European refugees are migrating to Australia, fractured and displaced by conflict. Ellery is a Jewish boy, withdrawn and unable to verbally communicate. Children are remarkably resilient and Columba was a wonderfully compassionate young girl and curiously, approaches Ellery.
I had never heard Ellery laugh before, not out loud. I loved the sound, it filled me up. It tinkled like a magic bird.
Ellery and Columba engage in apprehensive smiles and amiable silences, a tentative companionship leading to adventure. Columba is influenced by friend Hilda, a young girl fond of telling tales and repeating rumours. I found Hilda's character quite manipulate and relentless, insisting Ellery has migrated from Germany where his mother had perished, a casualty of war. The narrative being told through the narration of a young girl although charming, is unreliable.

At the essence of the narration is a stray Blue Cat, suspected to have escaped from the Warships dappled throughout the harbour. The role of the feline is of little significance, temporarily residing at an elderly neighbours residence when it disappears into the night. Is the Blue Cat mere symbolism for a greater relevance? Bringing communities together? The infusion of magical realism felt incoherent and as though an integral aspect of the storyline was absent, creating an incredibly abrupt ending. 

The Blue Cat is beautifully written, lyrical and delicate, within the nineteen forties atmospheric Sydney harbour. Although the narrative required direction, author Ursula Dubosarsky has created a wonderfully Australian ambiance, breathing life into our historical city landscapes.

Swoony C. J. Duggan

See my review for book one Paradise City

Paradise Road
Paradise Book Two
Written by C. J. Duggan
New Adult, Contemporary, Romance
306 Pages
Published November 22nd 2015
Thank you to Hachette Australia
The Road to Paradise is never easy
After a year on the coast, Lexie Atkinson can't settle back into country life. She’s missing the glitzy, gritty nightlife of the big city and the group of misfit friends she’d loved to hate. She knows to move forward she has to go back, back to face the guy who stole her heart.

But when Lexie arrives in Paradise City to work out if her future includes bad boy surfer, Luke Ballantine, he is nowhere to be found.

With no home, no money and no Luke, Lexie gets a job slinging drinks at the wild Wipe Out Bar. Soon her heartache is eased when broody bar owner, Dean Saville, starts taking an interest and stirs more than just her drinks. But nothing is ever as it seems in Paradise City and when Luke barrels back into town, Lexie has a choice to make. But who will end up with the broken heart. Luke, Dean... Or Lexie?
Lexie Atkinson is back in her sleepy home town of Red Hill for the summer, grieving for the relationship what could have been. With the bright lights of Paradise City in her sights, Lexie plans to return to the city. I adored Paradise City. A small town, home schooled Lexie Atkinson was a breath of fresh air as she navigated her new life in the city. In Paradise Road, unfortunately Lexie now is under the illusion that with her aunt and uncle unable to offer her accommodation, she'll be able to find work, complete her education and become independent. The one condition that will allow her to stay.

Conveniently, the Wipe Out Bar is looking for employees and with a small room available for lodgings, Lexie is now reluctantly employed by Dean Saville. Lexie is determined and begins to assert her dominance, believing she has the authority to transform the bar into a family friendly atmosphere. Her vision was innovative but ultimately, she is a young woman who knows nothing about small business management and infringed on her employment boundaries. While Lexie is coming to terms with her relationship falling apart, Luke is consistently in her thoughts even while beginning to pursue Dean as a romantic interest.

I found the romance between Lexie and Dean improbable unfortunately due to Lexie's demeanor, interchanging one brother for another. The pleasant, country charm is replaced by a determined and arrogant young woman, naive and frustrating. Although wonderfully written, Lexie was incredibly unpleasant and hindered my enjoyment of the duology finale.

Paris Lights
Heart Of The City Book One
Written by C. J. Duggan
Adult, Contemporary, Romance
251 Pages
Published November 2016
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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Twenty five year old Claire Shorten had looked forward to spending a romantic weekend in Paris for as long as she could remember, and now it was here, three blissful days of strolling through cobbled streets arm in arm with her beloved, eating copious amounts of baked goods and soaking up the culture through each and every pore of her body. Well, at least, that was how she'd pictured it.

Even after her boyfriend dumps her rather unceremoniously in the most romantic place on earth, Claire is determined not to give up on her dream altogether, with or without a boyfriend. She finds herself a job in the kitchen of a small hotel. Michelin starred it most certainly is not, but somehow Claire makes a place for herself amidst the dirty dishes and the foreign misfits who run the place.

When the restaurant attracts the attention of the enigmatic, if not slightly terrifying, tycoon Louis Delarue and Claire manages to survive his high powered business luncheon from hell, she knows that she can survive anything, surely. But all bets are off when Louis makes a game changing decision, he's coming back for a second course...
Delicacies, Parisian art galleries and boutique hotels but for Claire Shorten, Paris is an experience. Compromising her itinerary to placate Liam, Claire is astonished when her partner declares they should see other people. Claire is devastated and upon returning to the Hotel Trocadero will determine whether to return to London and the apartment she shares with Liam or Melbourne. Stricken and collapsing in the hotel foyer, the hotel personnel places Claire in a new suite at the Trocadero where the twenty five tear old Australian continues to despair. The once grand Hotel Trocadero is a commotion of anxiety and elation as they've been chosen to partake in Renovation or Detonation. Impressing the merciless Louis Delarue is paramount to the Hotel Trocadero's application and with a background in event organising, Claire will guide and motivate hotel personnel as compensation for her accommodation.

Louis Delarue is infuriating and arrogant as he is handsome, wielding wealth and influence as his weapon. Confident, capable and determined, Claire will not become a casualty to anguish, she is tenacious and will reclaim Paris and she most definitely will not succumb to the charm and sex appeal of Louis Delarue.

My Thoughts

Claire is a passive, passionate girl who departed her home town of Melbourne for London to ensure her partner Liam achieved his aspirations. As their relationship evolved, Claire relinquished her sense of identity and Liam isn't manipulative or abusive, despite the circumstances surrounding their relationship seperation. On their final day sightseeing, Liam returns to London as a bachelor while Claire remains in Paris, grieving from the loss of her disproportional relationship.

Single. In Paris. Hello Pierre.

Rather than embrace the singleton lifestyle, Claire finds herself fantasising about Louis, sexy, domineering and sexy. Yes, I mentioned sexy twice. Rather than the typical male protagonist, Louis is mature, greying temples and although described as lean, Louis is an intellect. Passionate and ambitious. Claire offered very little resistance against Louis and his charismatic innuendo and I felt slightly disappointed by the relationship between Claire and Louis as it felt purely sexual.

Sexual tension y'all.

Paris Lights is mischievous, enticing and one young woman who is determined to embrace life. A brisk, pleasant read for an afternoon on the couch. 

Remind Me How This Ends

Remind Me How This Ends
Written by Gabrielle Tozer
Contemporary, Romance, #LoveOzYA
352 Pages
Published March 27th 2017
Thank you to Harper Collins Australia
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It's the summer after high school ends and everyone is moving on. Winning scholarships. Heading to uni. Travelling the world. Everyone except Milo Dark. Milo feels his life is stuck on pause. His girlfriend is 200 kilometres away, his mates have bailed for bigger things and he is convinced he's missed the memo reminding him to plan the rest of his life. Then Layla Montgomery barrels back into his world after five years without so much as a text message.

As kids, Milo and Layla were family friends who shared everything, hiding out in her tree house, secrets made at midnight, and sunny afternoons at the river. But they haven't spoken since her mum's funeral. Layla's fallen apart since that day. She pushed away her dad, dropped out of school and recently followed her on again off again boyfriend back to town because she has nowhere else to go. Not that she's letting on how tough things have been.

What begins as innocent banter between Milo and Layla soon draws them into a tangled mess with a guarantee that someone will get hurt. While it's a summer they'll never forget, is it one they want to remember?

My Thoughts

Ambivalent eighteen year old Milo Dark is adrift after choosing to remain in the small country town of Durnan. His girlfriend flourishing at university in Canberra while Milo endures the intermediate. Isolated, dubious and detached. Milo Dark is a wonderful young man who is tormented by adulthood. His peers have abandoned the small country town of Durnan for university while Milo remains working in the Dark family bookstore and navigating a long distance relationship. Most adolescents spend thirteen years within the educational system only to apply for university dependent on tertiary requirements, compromising and negotiating. Milo's narrative echoes those overwhelming sentiments and parental expectations. As his long distance relationship begins to dissolve, childhood friend Layla arrives in Durnan after a five year absence.

It's been five years since Layla Montgomery and her father disappeared, the emotional trauma of losing his wife unbearable as is the prospect of raising his daughter alone. Layla has now returned to Durnan and resides in share accommodation with her narcotic dealer partner, desperate to recapture her life once more. Layla's partner is manipulative and emotionally abusive, exploiting her insecurities and displacement while dealing narcotics despite Layla's plea.

An unconventional romance, two young adults seeking solace in one another while their lives transition into adulthood, a reconnection as friends exploring a physical relationship. It was a comfortable, consensual relationship in which Milo and Layla found strength. It was wonderfully refreshing considering often young adult novels only explore all encompassing or toxic relationships between characters. Often friendships and physical relationships can be comforting, offering stability and release, adding a further level of maturity throughout the storyline.

Layla shares an estranged relationship with her father. Having lost her mother at an incredibly tender age, her father immersed within his own grief was unable to offer Layla stability. Her father now has a wonderful long term partner who's supportive and nurturing and it was a moment of rejoice as Layla escaped her manipulative relationship. Milo's parents attempt to offer support which involves disappointment, misleading suggestions and ultimatums. They refuse to allow Milo to dwell within Durnan but in their attempt at motivation, it further highlights why adolescents need encouragement, not ultimatums.

Both Milo and Layla felt emotionally fragile to varying degrees and reminiscent of my own further education, I experienced similar feelings of resentment and depressive moods. Education is important but as Milo's narration demonstrates, it's important to forge your own pathways, experience life and to find who you are and your place within our ever changing world.

It was phenomenal.

Gabrielle Tozer is an exceptional author who creates vivid narratives and characters that are relatable and remarkable. Remind Me How This Ends is emotional, impactful and absolutely superb.

Blog Tour: Queens Of Geek

Queens Of Geek
Written by Jen Wilde
Contemporary, LGBT, Diverse, Romance
Published April 24th 2017
288 Pages
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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Charlie likes to stand out. She's a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she's over her public breakup with costar Reese Ryan. When internet famous cool girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie's long time crush on her isn't as one sided as she thought.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there's one thing in her life she knows will never change, her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie, no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favourite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.
Eighteen year old Charlie is an internet sensation and has been invited to attend the premier fan based pop culture convention to promote her debut independent film. Escorted by best friends Taylor and Jamie, the convention is an opportunity for Charlie to establish her career after her relationship dissolved with actor Ryan, who is also in attendance.

Taylor stands in line at her first convention, sharing her experience on her Tumblr page, a inspiration for societal anxiety and Autism Spectrum Disorder. While Chalie attends promotional panels to promote her independent film, Taylor and best friend Jamie are left to immerse themselves, the pinnacle is fictional Queen Fireheart, a heroine that fought alongside Taylor during her moments of need.

My Thoughts

Two vibrant, realistic and remarkable young women.

Positive friendships are quintessential in young adult literature and should be celebrated and encouraged. Charlie and Taylor are contrasting characters, both determined young women who share a quiet resilience to our ever changing societies. Jamie and Taylor have a wonderfully gentle friendship, encouraging, supportive and quite flirtatious. Jamie was tremendous support for Taylor and although has never experienced anxiety, is compassionate and considerate of Taylor's needs.

The relationships were beautifully portrayed. Taylor's narrative explored her relationship with Jamie, the anxiety and hesitation. Charlie's relationship with her fellow actor Ryan has dissolved, celebrating the emergence of her independence. At the tender age of fourteen Charlie identified as bisexual, a positive and affirming realisation that she has embraced despite Ryan's biphobia. Internet sensation Alyssa Huntington is a wonderful character, tenacious and comfortable within her sexuality. A passionate intersectional feminist, the attraction between Alyssa and Charlie was captivating. I appreciate a relationship in which characters communicate and although Charlie is hesitant to embark on another public relationship, Alyssa is a wonderful support for Charlie.

It also addresses sexism, especially within the entertainment industry. Male actors are revered for their capability to perform whilst their female counterparts are distinguished by their appearance.

Queens Of Geek is magnificent and an own voices narrative. Author Jen Wilde also identifies as Autistic, Bisexual, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety. A resounding applause from readers for affirming and positive portrayals. Charlie, Taylor and Jamie are Australian and although the convention transpires in San Diego, the narrative is universal. Friendship, relationships and a sense of belonging.
For the first time in my life, I don't feel like I have to try to fit in, because I'm surrounded by people who are as passionate and excited about the same things I am. For the first time, I'm not totally alone in my weirdness. My weird is normal here. My weird is embraced, accepted, and expected. You guys, I'm starting to love my weird.
Bisexuality, Chinese Australian protagonist, sex positive, same sex female relationships, positive friendships, support networks. Queens Of Geek breaks down the barriers of body shaming, toxic relationships, slut shaming, Austism, mental illness, societal illnesses and the reality of expectations young adults place upon themselves.

When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi
Written by Sandhya Menon
Contemporary, Diverse, Romance
Expected Publication June 1st 2017
384 Pages
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the Ideal Indian Husband. Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers… Right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him, wherein he’ll have to woo her, he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this suggested arrangement so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.
When Dimple Met Rishi is one of the loveliest contemporary young adult novels I've had the privilege of reading and the epitome of young adult literature. Representative and diverse experiences with an affirming narration.

Dimple Shah is a spirited young woman who is determined to push patriarchal career boundaries. Before she attends Stanford University, Dimple plans to attend an internet development program for aspiring developers, much to the dismay of her traditional Indian mother who believes in the traditional roles of women. To marry and raise children.

Rishi Patel is a quiet and charming young man, a traditionalist that has abandoned his artistic passion to pursue an Engineering degree to placate his parents. Before attending University, Rishi will attend a development program to rendezvous with his intended, unbeknownst to Dimple who is accosted by the enthusiastic Rishi.

The romance was captivating.
And then he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to him, one hand moving up to cup her cheek, thumb just under her jaw while his fingers tangled in her hair. Rishi kissed her with purpose, with meaning, like he believed this was exactly where they were supposed to be in this moment. He kissed her till she believed it too.
Dimple and Rishi are wonderful individuals. Determined and enterprising but ultimately family orientated. Dimple is comfortable within her Indian American heritage but challenges her traditional parental ideals while Rishi is a traditionalist. Although Dimple opposes the perception of the Ideal Indian Husband she remains faithful to her culture. The eldest of two children, Rishi perceives his younger brother as carefree while abandoning his own aspirations of becoming a comic book illustrator, burdened by parental expectations. Rishi allows Dimple to establish the parameters of their tentative friendship, consistently the gentleman.

The narrative traverses a six week period of the development program and over the course of the duration, Dimple establishes a friendship with a girl who she shared an internet friendship with prior to arriving. It also explores casual racism and stereotypes associated with socioeconomically prestige. It was incredibly sex positive and touches upon the choice of sex before marriage and faith, something I've yet to find within young adult.

The infusion of Indian culture was magnificent. Arranged marriage is often viewed as negative and often oppressive by western societal ideals, ignorant perceptions of forced unions and the lovely Mishma addresses the wonderful representation of Indian culture within her review and the concept of positively depicting arranged marriage.

Debut author Sandhya Menon has woven an incredibly endearing narrative, an affluent and opulent diverse narration that is inspiring and delightful. 
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