Defy The Worlds

May contain spoilers for Defy The Stars. Read my review here
Defy The Worlds
Constellation Book Two
Written by Claudia Gray
Science Fiction, Space Opera, Romance
432 Pages
Published April 2018
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia
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Noemi Vidal has returned to her planet, Genesis, as an outsider, ostracised for refusing to end the Liberty War by sacrificing Abel, the most advanced mechanical man ever made. She dreams of travelling through the stars again, and when a deadly plague arrives on Genesis, Noemi gets her chance. The only soldier to have ever left her planet, it will be up to her to save its people. If only she wasn't flying right into a trap.

Abel, now fully aware of his soul and captaining his own Vagabond ship, never dreamed he'd see Noemi again, not when the entire universe stands between them. But when his creator Burton Mansfield delivers news of Noemi's entrapment, Abel knows he must save her, even if it means risking his own life.

Danger lurks in the dark corners of the galaxy, and Abel and Noemi will discover a secret that could save Genesis and Earth... Or destroy them all.
Weaponised biological warfare has incapacitated the communities of Genesis, the small and unassuming planet sanctioned for colonisation by the wealthy, indulgent and elite residents of Earth. Noemi Vidal is a once revered soldier of Genesis, understanding that her refusal to destroy the Genesis portal by sacrificing the life of Abel is confronted with hostility and ostracisation. Through the intergalactic gateway, the stars begin to fall, unleashing biological genocide.

Abel Mansfield is a Vagabond upon the Persephone, the prototype of entrepreneur Burton Mansfield, creator of mechanised humanoid military technology, now liberated from isolation. Burton Mansfield continues to pursue his prototype creation, capturing Noemi to coerce Abel to surrender, his conscious and humanity eradicated to ensure the survival of his surrogate father, Directive One. Created as a prototype, Abel continuously evolves, revered for his humanity and perception.

Earth has revolutionised humanoid technology, Organically Mechanised Automation's developed to accommodate the human conscious achieving immortality for the wealthy and elite humans of Earth. Organic humanoid engineering poses deliberation for Abel, an unprecedented paradigm. As Abel discovered his identity, he increasingly experiences a sense of alienation. The new technology appeals to his sense of acceptance and understanding the desire for parentage.

The terrorist organisation Remedy are prevalent throughout the narration, formulating the assistance of medicinal intervention while simultaneously capturing the Osiris, an opulent vessel from Earth carrying the elite to a distant world, including and entrapped Noemi. The considerable characterisation of Noemi and Abel throughout the series is captivating, predominantly as individuals and potentially romantic companions. I enjoyed the secondary character inclusions, Virginia, Harriet, Zayan, Ephraim and the daughter of Burton Mansfield, the nefarious Gillian Shearer.

The narrative challenges the definition of humanity, technological advances and religious faith. Earth is a technologically advanced environment, entrepreneurs privately sponsoring the exploration of habitable planets, the Earth increasingly unable to sustain life. On Genesis, the population are environmentally sustainable and spiritual. Although they possess ancient technology, the civilisation is not dependant on technological advances, preferring sustainability and natural resources.

Defy The Worlds is spectacularly atmospheric and imaginative, eagerly awaiting the breathtaking final instalment. 

Ace of Shades

Ace of Shades
The Shadow Game Book One
Written by Amanda Foody
Fantasy, Magic, Romance
464 Pages
Published April 23rd 2018
Thank you to Harlequin Australia
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Welcome to the city of sin, where casino families reign, gangs infest the streets... And secrets hide in every shadow.

Enne Salta was raised as a proper young lady, and no lady would willingly visit New Reynes, the so called City of Sin. But when her mother goes missing, Enne must leave her finishing school and her reputation behind to follow her mother's trail to the city where no one survives uncorrupted.

Frightened and alone, Enne has only one lead, the name Levi Glaisyer. Unfortunately, Levi is not the gentleman she expected, he's a street lord and con man. Levi is also only one payment away from cleaning up a rapidly unravelling investment scam, so he doesn't have time to investigate a woman leading a dangerous double life. Enne's offer of compensation, however, could be the solution to all his problems.

Their search for clues leads them through glamorous casinos, illicit cabarets and into the clutches of a ruthless Mafia donna. As Enne unearths an impossible secret about her past, Levi's enemies catch up to them, ensnaring him in a vicious execution game where the players always lose. To save him, Enne will need to surrender herself to the city…

And she'll need to play.
New Reynes is notorious for the corruption of the innocent, a decrepit, polluted metropolis thriving on underworld corruption. Lourdes Alfero arrived in New Reynes on whispered secrets and a sheltered existence for adoptive daughter Erienne, attending a prestigious finishing school for young women. Sixteen year old Enne is a virtuous, aristocratic young woman pursuing her mother through the ostentatious streets of New Reynes, intoxicated by immorality, prohibition and inappropriate for modest young ladies of virtue.

Levi Glaisyer is the Iron Lord of New Reynes. Throughout the narrative, Enne and Levi develop a subtle companionship and attraction.  A machiavellian luminary and an endearing young man, Levi is a disarmingly charismatic, professional charlatan and the surviving affiliation Enne has to her adoptive mother. 

Each resident is recognised by their bisected capabilities, their abilities manifest through their individual heritage, from entertainers to illusionists to alchemists. Electrical currents are used as monetary value, extricated from the vitality of unsuspecting patrons of New Reynes. The corruption and anarchy of a metropolis is founded upon the illegal gambling industry. Within the kingdom, the monarchy and sympathisers were eradicated during the revolution, corruption infiltrating as the Augustine and Torren families reigned the Scarhands, Doves and the Iron syndicates. Beneath the atmospheric metropolis, an amalgamation of anonymous journalists whisper the atrocities of the anarchic new world, including the notorious Séance, a monarchist sympathiser. 

Characters are eclectic and diversified. A bisexual protagonist of colour, gender fluidity and socioeconomic representation, a gentle reminder of the importance of inclusion within young adult narratives. Unfortunately an instance of implied paedophilia is present. Unbeknown to Enne, she is coerced into a abhorrent and vulnerable position with a paedophile, believing she is immensely younger than she appears. Although condemned during the narration, it's confronting, uncomfortable and unnecessary.

New Reynes is atmospheric and distinctly imagined, a city of debauchery and immorality. Wonderfully portrayed, vibrantly diversified and captivating until the final page.

Dark Dreams. Australian Refugee Stories

Dark Dreams
Australian Refugee Stories
Edited by Sonja Dechian, Eva Sallis and Heather Millar
Non Fiction, Young Adult
224 Pages
Published September 2012
Thank you to Wakefield Press
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Dark Dreams, Australian refugee stories is a unique anthology of essays, interviews, and stories written by children and young adults. The stories are the finest of hundreds collected through a nationwide schools competition in 2002. The essays and stories represent many different countries and themes. Some focus on survival, some on horrors, some on the experiences and alienation of a new world. This book will have a key role to play in schools across Australia.

Eva Sallis's first novel Hiam won The Australian Vogel and the Dobbie Literary Awards. She is cofounder of Australians Against Racism and is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide.
Australia has a tumultuous history. In seventeen seventy eight, Australia was colonised by Great Britain, destined to establish the first European settlement in Australia. The Australian indigenous communities were decimated by violence, displacement and diseases introduced as a consequence of colonisation.

Australia is a multicultural landscape of migration. Since the White Australia Policy was abolished after the Second World War, over seven million migrants have immigrated to Australia, our population of twenty four million people comprising over six million immigrants, speaking over two hundred languages. A multicultural, multilingual country, forcibly removed from Indigenous communities, now imprisoning refugees escaping persecution.

Their journey to freedom is tumultuous, emphasised in the incredible Journey to Freedom written by Hai Van Nguyen, the winning entrant and one of over thirty narratives included in Dark Dreams. Fourteen years after arriving in Australia, the trauma of their journey remains.

We had lived to tell a story some never could. But the battle was not over, in fact, it was just beginning. We had fought with the elements and the authorities, but the real battle started the day we arrived in Australia. My parents have since learned that language barriers can be as insurmountable as giant waves, that exclusions leave a void far greater than the size of any ocean and that numbers last long after they have been removed. 
There’s nothing like having to cling to every bare breath, to see life reduced to a scarce trickle, to walk the tightrope separating life and death, at times not knowing one from the other. Very rarely do we get to see human nature stripped of all that it depends on to learn that human nature is itself enough.

Throughout each unfathomable circumstance, we are confronted by our own privilege and the mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Dark Dreams is a collection literary memoirs from young, emerging authors chronicling the harrowing journey of immigrants and those escaping violent, ravaged communities from a multitude of destinations and circumstances. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Albania, Sudan and Germany. It is imperative for their stories to be recounted, to be heard. The human experience to be felt. Essential reading.

Amelia Westlake

Amelia Westlake
Written by Erin Gough
Contemporary, LGBT, Social Issues, Romance, #LoveOzYA
352 Pages
Published April 1st 2018
Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont
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Harriet Price has the perfect life, she’s a prefect at Rosemead Grammar, she lives in a mansion, and her gorgeous girlfriend is a future prime minister. So when she decides to risk it all by helping bad girl Will Everhart expose the school’s many ongoing issues, Harriet tells herself it’s because she too is seeking justice. And definitely not because she finds Will oddly fascinating. Will Everhart can’t stand posh people like Harriet, but even she has to admit Harriet's ideas are good and they’ll keep Will from being expelled.

That’s why she teams up with Harriet to create Amelia Westlake, a fake student who can take the credit for a series of provocative pranks at their school. But the further Will and Harriet’s hoax goes, the harder it is for the girls to remember they’re sworn enemies and to keep Amelia Westlake’s true identity hidden. As tensions burn throughout the school, how far will they go to keep Amelia Westlake and their feelings for each other a secret?
Rosemead Grammar is a prestigious girls college in the affluent lower north shore of Sydney, achieving academic excellence for young women of the wealthy and elite community. It is imperative of students to preserve the sanctity of the Academy and Harriet Price is the epitome of exemplary students. Harriet is an achiever, an enterprising young woman immersed within the community, a virtuous prefect representative of the academy. Wilhelmina Everhart is a social and political activist, challenging the archaic, nepotism of the administration of the Rosemead Grammar. Conspirators responsible for Amelia Westlake.

Amelia Westlake is a pseudonym, conceived to emphasise the predatory behaviour of a member of the teaching facility, a former Olympian and esteemed member of the community. The sexualised and indecent commentary of student bodies, innuendo and suggestive expression are disparaged, Rosemead Grammar absolved of their responsibility as the student concerns are disregarded.

The allegations of sexual intimidation and predatory behaviour are a significant component of the narration and encourages conversations surrounding boundaries, consent and abuse. The girls of Rosemead Grammar are conditioned to tolerate the behaviour, including Harriet Price. Harriet's awakening is admirable. Superficially, Harriet is a sheltered, wilfully ignorant young woman of wealth. Beneath the naive, effervescent facade is a compassionate, intelligent woman, exploited for her appetite for gratification. Their unequivocal attraction engenders an incident of unintentional unfaithfulness, each young woman is in a respective, female relationship, each concealing their alliance from partners.

Amelia Westlake is representative of young women who remain unheard, casualties of a patriarchal dominated society. A rudimentary and fundamental introduction to feminism, challenging socioeconism, elitism, chauvinism, institutional homophobia and ineptly, racism on several occasions towards a character of Asian appearance that was challenged belatedly within the narration.

Reiterating the importance of the overwhelming necessity to create inclusive, affirming environments, Amelia Westlake encourages dialogue and camaraderie, sharing ideologies and empowering young women.

Erin Gough, you are magnificent.

The Price Guide to the Occult

Contains sensitivities such as abuse, post traumatic stress disorder and self harm
The Price Guide to the Occult
Written by Leslye Walton
Magical Realism, Witches, Romance
288 Pages
Published April 1st 2018
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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From the author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender comes a haunting maelstrom of magic and murder in the lush, moody Pacific Northwest.

When Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island more than a century ago, her otherworldly skills might have benefited friendlier neighbours. Guilt and fear instead led the island’s original eight settlers to burn the witch out of her home. So Rona cursed them. Fast forward one hundred some years, all Nor Blackburn wants is to live an unremarkable teenage life. She has reason to hope. First, her supernatural powers, if they can be called that, are unexceptional. Second, her love life is nonexistent, which means she might escape the other perverse side effect of the matriarch’s backfiring curse too. But then a mysterious book comes out, promising to cast any spell for the right price.

Nor senses a storm coming and is pretty sure she’ll be smack in the eye of it. In her second novel, Leslye Walton spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl stumbling along the path toward self acceptance and first love, even as the Price Guide’s malevolent author, Nor’s own mother, looms and threatens to strangle any hope for happiness.
Flames consumed Anathema Island as the Blackburn matriarch retaliated against the patriarchal society, men who colonised the small north western island. Accusations of witchcraft coincide with eight generations of Blackburn women, blighted abominations including the estranged Fern Blackburn.

Abandoned by her neglectful and abusive mother, Nor Blackburn is a wonderful young woman, friend and granddaughter, her grandmother and her partner creating a nurturing and environment. Although Nor is supported within a fostering environment, she continues to endure the torment and violence of her mother, comforted upon the harm she inflicts upon her body. Her anxiety is palpable and as the youngest Blackburn daughter, she was a causality of abuse and family violence.

The legacy of each Blackburn child is her ability, each generation fostering aptitudes from their matriarch. The village smouldered as the lineage is condemned to isolation, each Blackburn woman enchanting a lover for three days of passion to produce an heir. Fern Blackburn was consumed by her unwilling suitor, using incantations and her daughter as a blood sacrifice as entrapment. Fern has returned from isolation with The Price Guide to the Occult, monetising the Blackburn legacy, amassing a congregation of loyal disciples and darkness is descending upon Anathema Island. 

The mysticism is captivating, predestined to isolation through the legacy of their matriarch. The Blackburn name continues to be a formidable presence throughout the Pacific Northwest Islands. Unfortunately the narrative is incomplete. Characters are introduced without significance to the narration and despite the compelling compensation, the characterisation is rudimentary and the narration becomes monotonous. 

Although I enjoyed aspects of the narration, The Price Guide to the Occult is an exasperating novel. Unfortunately not for me.

The Astonishing Colour of After

The Astonishing Colour of After
Written by Emily X.R. Pan
Contemporary, Magical Realism, Own Voices
480 Pages
Published March 27th 2018
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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Leigh Chen Sanders is sixteen when her mother dies by suicide, leaving only a scribbled note, 'I want you to remember'. Leigh doesn't know what it means, but when a red bird appears with a message, she finds herself travelling to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time.

Leigh is far away from home and far away from Axel, her best friend, who she stupidly kissed on the night her mother died, leaving her with a swell of guilt that she wasn't home, and a heavy heart, thinking she may have destroyed the one good thing left in her life.

Overwhelmed by grief, Leigh retreats into her art and into her memories, where colours collide and the rules of reality are broken. The only thing Leigh is certain about is that she must find out the truth. She must remember.

With lyrical prose and magical elements, Emily X.R. Pan's stunning debut novel alternates between past and present, romance and despair, as one girl attempts to find herself through family history, art, friendship, and love.
Identifying her environment with colours, Leigh Chen Sanders reminisces the brightness of laughter, the gentle caressing of keys as the house is bathed in music, the hues of romance muted, the darkness slowly pulling her mother into depression.

Leigh is a biracial, a Taiwanese Irish American young woman, an artist of smudging and hues. Once a house awash with the melodious sound of her mother is now enveloped by despair, returning home to find her mother unresponsive, her life taken by clinical depression.

I try to think of a colour to match it, but all that comes to mind is the blackness of dried blood. I can only hope that in becoming a bird my mother has shed her suffering.

The nonlinear narrative accompanies Leigh in the moments after discovering her mother, despair reverberating throughout the family home. Dorothy Chen Sanders was diagnosed with depression, characterised compassionately and reiterating that mental illness is an incurable, continual and indiscriminate diagnosis.

Here is my mother, with wings instead of hands, and feathers instead of hair. Here is my mother, the reddest of brilliant reds, the colour of my love and my fear, all of my fiercest feelings trailing after her in the sky like the tail of a comet.

With a discarded note and a promise to remember, Leigh is doused in shades of sterile white, her colours now depleted. Leigh will journey to Taipei to uncover a life shrouded in whispers, perusing the elusive crimson feathers her mother has adorned after passing. The infusion of Taiwanese mythology is ethereal. As Leigh immerses herself in the Taiwanese landscape, she experiences moments of dissociation carried on the whispers of foreigner by curious bystanders, raised without the influence of her Taiwanese parentage.

The journey to Taipei is cathartic and although abandoned by her father on arrival, her grandparents Waipo and Waigong are welcoming and affectionate towards their granddaughter despite the language barrier. Her father is a contentious aspect of the narrative. A sinologist and scholar fluent in Mandarin, her father prioritised his career preferably to the deteriorating mental health of his wife. As her father increasingly travelled abroad, Leigh assumed the responsibility of primary caregiver and upon his return, he remained inaccessible and isolated. He continuously chastised Leigh for her creative medium, creating tension and frustration.

The racially and sexually diverse characters are wonderful. The narrative also pertains to the American Asian identity and the sense of acceptance towards biracial, multiracial and migrant communities.

My mother's hands have turned to wings. Her hair, to feathers. Her pale complexion now red as blood, red as wine, every shade of every red in the universe.

The Astonishing Colour of After is exquisite. The Mandarin Chinese dialect complements the affluent and atmospheric tapestry of Taipei and Taiwanese elegance. Debut author Emily X.R. Pan is extraordinary, a lyricist captivating readers. An impeccable read.

Contains sensitivities such as mental illness and suicide
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