The Traitor's Game

The Traitor's Game
The Traitor's Game Book One
Written by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
400 Pages
Published July 1st 2018
Thank you to Scholastic Australia
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Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won't stop her from being drawn back into her father's palace politics. He's the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip.

A group of rebels knows this all too well and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home. The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary.

As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what and who it is they're fighting for. Jennifer A. Nielsen introduces us to an unforgettable new heroine in this epic tale of treachery and intrigue, love and deceit.
Kestra Dallisor has been summoned home by her father, a garrison of soldiers ensuring her compliance. Upon her journey, Kestra is captured by the Corack, a rebellion alliance and escorted to her father's palatial residence in Highwyn as handmaiden and footsoldier. The Corack alliance are pursuing the Olden Blade, an artefact to subjugate the immortal Lord Endrick and his oppressive reign.
The Princess
Sixteen year old Kestra Dallisor is a formidable and coarsened young woman, ostracised by her father to the desolate Lava Fields. Henry Dallisor is a malevolent and treacherous persecutor, second in command and enforcer representing the immortal Lord Endrick. Kestra is summoned to Highwyn to be exploited as a commodity for political advantage, her betrothal will ensure the compliance of neighbouring regions under the reign of Lord Endrick, her father unconcerned of the freedom for his daughter. During her journey, Kestra is held captive by the rebellion, a group of unrelenting recruits tenacious in their pursuit for sovereignty, her handmaiden and footsoldier held as assurance for her cooperation and allegiance. 

Her Captor
Captain Grey Tenger, leader of the Coracks has assigned Simon Hatch to accompany the Princess, his objective to retain the Olden Blade. Simon is acquainted with the Dallisor lineage, as a young boy within the palace compound until accused and sentenced for theft.

Often in young adult literature, characters placed within precarious positions find solace within one another, consumed by the intensity of the narrative. Kestra and Simon are coincidental companions, physically attracted to one another. Their tentative companionship is disingenuous and mistrustful. Simon wasn't anticipating a young woman, tenacious and spirited to challenge his patriotism to the Corack revolution, creating a precarious alliance.
The Blade
The Olden Blade is believed to be buried beneath the dungeons of the Dallisor Highwyn residence, infused with Endrean alchemy by Lord Endrick. The mythology maintains that the blade was wielded during the War of Devastation by a young woman before her capture and sentence. Only those of Halderian lineage can wield the blade and the denouement of the Endrick reign. To ensure the survival of her Footman and Handmaiden, Kestra is coerced to find the blade, endangering the lives of the Corack if captured. She's placed in an inconceivable, treasonous position.

Tell Me More
I'm optimistic that the next installment will traverse the greater Antora kingdom and the politics between regions under Lord Endrick. The Traitor's game only touches upon the impoverished conditions beyond Highwyn. Is the desolate landscape and socioeconomic collapse consequences of conflict?

In Conclusion
While the overall young adult fantasy narrative was marginally repetitive and conventional, I really enjoyed the characterisation and the mythology infused narrative. Highly recommended for reluctant fantasy readers.

The Virginia Shreves Series

May contain minor spoilers throughout discussion

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things
The Virginia Shreves Series Book One
Written by Carolyn Mackler
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
251 Pages
Published April 2018
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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Fifteen year old Virginia Shreves has a larger than average body and a plus size inferiority complex. She lives on the Web, snarfs junk food, and follows the Fat Girl Code of Conduct. Her stuttering best friend has just moved to Walla Walla, of all places. Her new companion, Froggy Welsh the Fourth has just succeeded in getting his hand up her shirt, and she lives in fear that he'll look underneath. Then there are the other Shreves, Mom, the successful psychologist and exercise fiend, Dad, a top executive who ogles thin women on TV and older siblings Ana's and rugby god Byron, both of them slim and brilliant. Delete Virginia, and the Shreves would be a picture perfect family. Or so she's convinced. And then a shocking phone call changes everything.

With irreverent humor, insight, and surprising gravity, Carolyn Mackler creates an endearingly blunt heroine whose story will speak to every teen who struggles with family expectations and serve as a welcome reminder that the most impressive achievement is to be true to yourself.

Carolyn Mackler's acclaimed book has been updated for a new audience and is as relevant, funny and full of heart as it was when it was first published fifteen years ago.

The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I
The Virginia Shreves Series Book Two
Written by Carolyn Mackler
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance
Published October 1st 2018
288 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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Six months after Virginia decides to ignore the Fat Girl Code of Conduct and make her relationship with Froggy Welsh the Fourth official, things are getting complicated. She's not sure she still likes Froggy, her mum has betrayed her to the meanest girl in school, and her feelings about her brother Byron are still a mess since he was suspended from university for date rape.

But then police come to their apartment and arrest Byron. As Virginia tries to figure it all out, she meets Sebastian, a guy with his own private drama. They make a pact not to talk about their troubles, but then a terrible secret comes out that could ruin everything.
Fifteen year old Virginia Shreves believes she's an imperfection within her wealthy, flourishing family. Her father a womaniser within his monogamous marriage, her mother a former overweight adolescent, overcompensating. Existing within the shadow of sister Anaïs, presently volunteering in a remote village in Burkina Faso, Africa and brother Byron, the Shreves family paragon and Columbia University honour student, Virginia experiences moments of body negativity based on her weight. Her mother Phyllis Shreves is an adolescent psychologist and overweight as an adolescent, reprimands her youngest daughter on the importance of young women maintaining an attractive appearance.

At Brewster Academy, the prestigious New York Private college, Virginia is ostracised and tormented, her childhood and only friend Shannon studying abroad this year and her Monday rendezvous with Froggy Welsh the Forth in her family penthouse apartment, an often mortifying experience. Her mother again counting calories, Virginia attempting another diet regime under duress and Byron has been suspended from Columbia University pending an investigation.

Body Negativity
Adolescent young women, women and bodies identifying as women are measured by our appearance. From a young age, we're conditioned to believe femininity as pliable and lithe, luminescent skin. Females existing in traditional positions as the caregiver, for male objectification. Humiliated and ridiculed at the Academy, Virginia has created a Fat Girl Code of Conduct. A series of guidelines to ensure she remains unnoticed.
There is an unspoken rule that if you're not on the popular side of things, you shouldn't take up too much space. 
At home, Virginia is coerced into healthier eating options, her father continues to reiterate that only slenderised bodies are attractive, commentating unnecessarily on Virginia's weight and body. Virginia experiences abdominal discomfort from starvation, confronting and a controversial aspect of the narration as she is praised for depriving her body.

No Such Thing As Perfection
The Virginia Shreves Series illiterates the importance of perception. How we perceive ourselves and others. How we continuously reprimand ourselves and place others on infeasible pedestals, unable to meet our unrealistic expectations and our behaviour attracting consequences. Throughout the narrative, Virginia realises that acceptance begins with confidence, that she is deserving of love and acceptance.

Curvaceous Chicks Deserve Pleasure
Cognitive, physical and emotional stimulation. Although Virginia is conscious of her body, she allows herself to enjoy intimacy without being sexually active. Her relationship with Froggy Welsh the Forth in particular. It is a positive experience, ensuring she is comfortable and consenting. A wonderful precedent for physical adolescent relationships and learning about your partner.

Although the narrative is chronicled from Virginia's perspective, Byron Shreves is a character of significance. A  Columbia University student, acclaimed sportsman and exemplification. After an intoxicated incident, Byron is accused of sexual assault and suspended from University pending an investigation. Virginia is disgusted although her parents are only concerned for Byron and his future, how his actions will leave lasting consequences on his family. It's Virginia who is concerned for his victim, a young woman attempting to reclaim empowerment after the terrifying incident.

In The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, the narrative explores the consequences for Byron, Virginia's frustration is palpable as her parents remain deliberately ignorant. During The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I, we experience the trauma of sexual assault from a survivor standpoint.

The Virginia Shreves Series is a wonderful, conversational and often confrontational read that I cannot emphasise enough the significance of reading both novels consecutively. Thoroughly enjoyed it. 

All The Little Bones

All The Little Bones
Circus Hearts Book One
Written by Ellie Marney
Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Published September 1st 2018
179 Pages
Thank you to Ellie Marney
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A teenage trapeze artist and an apprentice strongman on the run from a terrible crime…

Seventeen year old Sorsha Neary’s life is changed in one night when she defends herself behind the vans of her family circus troupe. Now Sorsha and apprentice strongman Colm Mackay are travelling south, to evade the fallout and escape the long arm of the law. All they have in their favour is talent, an old promise, and slim acquaintance with the crew members and performers of their new home, Klatsch’s Karnival. But the question for Sorsha and Colm isn’t if the police will catch up with them, but when…

Dark YA romance, with a criminal twist. Circus Hearts. Step. Right. Up.
Saoirse Neary is evading the authorities. Defending herself against a sexual assault, the seventeen year old trapeze performer is escaping persecution accompanied by strongman, nineteen year old Colm Mackay.

The Performers
Sorsha Neary is a beautiful young woman. Orphaned as a child, Sorsha lives with caregiver, aunt Morrighan. Fostered by the stoic woman, also a fortune teller within the northern travelling circus. Frightened for the repercussions after the attempted assault, Sorsha flees. Escaping the intimate northern family troupe, Sorsha and Colm travel south.

Colm Mackay is a gentle, compassionate young man, protective of Sorsha although the two performers are virtual strangers. Colm joined the intimate northern troupe several years prior, his mother an abusive, exploitative woman. Sharing the small confined space of Colm's car is an intimate experience, establishing a tentative friendship encompassed by their shared experience.

Swoony Sexy Times
A tentative friendship, a smouldering attraction creating an intense, sensual romance. As her protector, Colm is gentle and understanding and relies upon verbal consent before touching affectionately or intimately, apprehensive and compassionately the gentleman. Moments of intimacy are beautifully written with fragility and vulnerability. Considering the possibility of being captured, while Sorsha performs, Colm is employed within the mechanics yard, the troupe unable to provide a position for the former performer. Colm embraces his new position, his priority is to ensure Sorsha is protected.

Step Right Up
Klatsch’s Karnival is a company of distinguished characters and performers. Unbeknown to the troupe performers, the significance of the attempted sexual assault induces anxiety and trepidation for Sorsha. Immersing herself within the atmosphere of the carnival and despite expressed caution from Morrighan, Sorsha is unwilling to appease Fleur Klatsch, daughter of the Ringmaster and traipse performer. Fleur is a hostile and antagonistic young woman and expeditiously, is suspicious of Sorsha and her capacity within the troupe. Fleur embraces her notoriety intensely and is determined to ostracise Sorsha.

Atmospherically exhilarative, All The Broken Bones embraces the essence of anticipation amid the performance, awakening the decadent and historical carnivals of yesteryear through intrigue and romanticism.

Ellie Marney, you are exceptional.

Out now from Amazon US  Amazon AU  iTunes  Kobo and other great retailers

Contemporary Quickies

Open Road Summer
Written by Emery Lord
Contemporary, Road Trip, Romance
368 Pages
Edition Publishing September 1st 2018
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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After breaking up with her bad news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s twenty four city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls only summer of break up ballads and healing hearts.

But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy next door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama free existence.

This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.
Seventeen year old Reagan O'Neill is embarking on a summer of tour buses, plush hotel suites and watching from the wings as best friend and America's country music darling Lilah Montgomery completes the leg of her Southern tour. Behind the stage presence, Dee is heartbroken and nursing the breakup of her teenage sweetheart. Although the narrative follows Reagan's journey, best friend and superstar Dee is a wonderful secondary character, reminiscent of Taylor Swift's beginnings as a country music darling. 

For Reagan, the summer long tour is an opportunity to mend, having escaped an abusive relationship, her alcoholism and underage drink driving charges. Her once single, now remarried father is repairing their parental relationship while maintaining his sobriety with the support of his new wife. When vicious rumours begin to surface surrounding Dee's private life and wholesome image, long time friend and fellow musician Matt Finch joins the tour creating a media distraction. With his boyish good looks and southern charm, the last thing Reagan needs is another distraction.

Reagan portrays a tough girl image, confident and often shallow. Beneath the surface lies an insecure young woman who is beginning to piece her life back together for her father she feels abandoned by, for her friend Dee but most importantly, for herself. The issue I found with Reagan is her assumptions and judgement of other females around her, especially in regards to Matt, after joining the tour.

Matt is lovely and clearly attracted to Reagan, she challenges him, frustrates him and the two share wonderful banter and chemistry. As a performer, Matt is also a heartthrob for teens and the young female audience, to which Reagan takes issue. Wearing slim, short, revealing clothing or heavy makeup does not equate to being sexually promiscuous. Even if a character chose to engage in sex with multiple partners, that's great as long as they're being safe and the sex is consensual.

Apart from the slut shaming not being addressed, it was a fun, wonderfully written, summer read with a loving friendship, swoony romance and beautiful moments of imperfections that make life perfect.

Written by Karen Gregory
Contemporary, Activism, LGBT, Romance
320 Pages
Published July 1st 2018
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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We watch the bird as it flies high above us, singing like it's the only thing in the world that matters.

And I feel it, that life can be beautiful. That there are possibilities.

Keep your head down and don't borrow trouble is the motto Joni lives by, and so far it's seen her family through some tough times. It's not as if she has the power to change anything important anyway. Like Dad's bad back, or the threat of losing their house.

So when Annabel breezes into her life, Joni's sure they're destined to clash. Pretty, poised, privileged, the daughter of the richest family in town must have it easy.

But sometimes you find a matching spirit where you least expect it. Sometimes love can defy difference. And sometimes life asks you to be bigger and braver...
Karen Gregory creates such wonderfully realistic narratives about life and human struggles. The honest, working class family on the verge of financial ruin due to big corporation purchasing their small, low income housing estate with plans to raise the rent beyond the means of residents. Working parents with young families, single parents on pensions and the elderly that call Cherry Tree estate home. Including the Cooper family.

To help make ends meet, Joni Cooper works at her local library over the summer holidays alongside Annabel Huntington, a girl from the wealthy side of the tracks. I loved their tentative friendship as they begin to understand one another, those uncertain moments of whether their friendship is venturing into romantic love. It was so lovely and gentle, one of my favourite aspects of the storyline.

While it's often easier to deny the inevitable for Joni's parents, older brother Jamie is determined to fight against the injustice of eviction. The central focus is on the socioeconomic repercussions of the small estate takeover will potentially leave hundreds of families homeless, it's a David verses Goliath battle that begins to unite the community. I enjoyed the political activism and grass roots campaign that Joni involved herself with, although it placed further strain on her family, relationship and also employment.

Overall, it was a quick yet satisfying read. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Grace And Fury

Grace And Fury
Grace And Fury Book One
Written by Tracy Banghart
Fantasy, Dystopian, Survival
Published July 31st 2018
320 Pages
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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In a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other on an island prison where women must fight to survive.

Serina has spent her whole life preparing to become a Grace, selected to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining example of the perfect woman.

But her headstrong and rebellious younger sister has a dangerous secret and one wrong move could cost both sisters everything.

Can Serina fight? And will Nomi win?
In the Kingdom of Viridia, young women compete for the prestige of Grace, chosen to reign without influence or authority. Gender inequality is prevalent throughout Viridia. Attractive young women are cultivated to become subservient, representing the throne and Kingdom respectfully. Women are refused an education, disciplined as concubines or handmaidens, both subservient positions.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves
Serina Tessaro is a Grace, a young woman of impeccable benevolence and revered for her physique and sensuality. Nomi Tessaro is a young lady of servitude in her position as handmaiden, ensuring Serina is overindulged. To be chosen as concubine to their heir of Viridia is an accomplishment, families are reimbursed monetarily, surviving poverty and low socioeconomic conditions, incentive for labour weary families. Nomi advocates for gender equality, the freedom to be educated, to be literate, to eradicate concubines and the female voice to be acknowledged and celebrated. Rebelliously, Nomi has learnt to read, a crime punishable by life imprisonment, her defiance capturing the heir, Prince Malachi and brother Asa, as Nomi is chosen to become a Grace in Serina's place.

And Though She Be But Little, She Is Fierce
The essence of Grace and Fury is liberation against the patriarchy and oppression of women. Although a Grace, Serina is a resilient young woman accused of concealing forbidden literature and removed as the appointed handmaiden, incarcerated on Mount Ruin, an island prison for women ostracised from society. Nomi is reluctantly navigating her new position as Grace, determined to pursue the disappearance of Serina as revolution within the palace begins to rouse. 

Serina's awakening is remarkable. Viridian women are sentenced to the island penitentiary, patrolled by armed and opportunistic male wardens. Estranged women are segregated, contending for meagre rations to survive. Girls are competitively conditioned throughout their lives, prevalent on the island where violence reigns. Afflicted by an insurmountable loss, Serina invokes change inspired by Nomi and her own defiance.

The Tale Of Two Princes And An Extra Guy
Prince Malachi is heir to the Viridian throne, a restrained, commanding presence. Asa is tender young man, unequivocally determined to revolutionise society, challenging inequality. His ideals captivate Nomi, sharing his fear for a tyrannical reign as the health of his father deteriorates. Supposedly, Nomi is an elementary challenge for Malachi to conquer as heir as the young Grace is manipulated and exploited.

On the island, Serina finds companionship in Valentino, a young soldier under the command of the Viridian monarch. Entrusting Valentino, Serina is desperate to escape the island, fearing persecution for inciting revolutionary conflict. The imprisoned female population of Mount Ruin is uprising.

Misogynist Bastards
Deception and betrayal reign within the kingdom, the patriarchy have ensured women remain docile and ignorant. Viridia hides an abhorrent history of misogyny, women in positions of authority were eradicated and now viewed as subordinate, deserving of servitude or to be aesthetically pleasing. Nae feckin' way. Rise up ladies.

Author Tracy Banghart has created a scintillating narrative, young women non conforming, demolishing the confines of traditional societal positions. Empowering, captivating and inciting until the final page.
For every woman who has been told to sit down and be quiet... And who stood up anyway.
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