What I Like About Me

What I Like About Me
Written by Jenna Guillaume
Contemporary, Coming Of Age, #LoveOZYA
256 Pages
Published February 26th 2019
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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★★★★★
You know all those movies where teenagers have the summer of their lives?

This summer is probably not going to be that.

Here lies Maisie Martin, dead from embarrassment, aged sixteen.

The last thing sixteen year old Maisie Martin thought she'd be doing this summer is entering a beauty pageant.

Not when she's spent most of her life hiding her body from everyone.

Not when her Dad is AWOL for Christmas and her gorgeous older sister has returned to rock Maisie's shaky confidence. And her best friend starts going out with the boy she's always loved.

But Maisie's got something to prove.

As she writes down all the ways this summer is going from bad to worse in her school assignment journal, what starts as a homework torture device might just end up being an account of how Maisie didn't let anything, or anyone, hold her back.
Good day to you Discovery Journal.

Unlike Maisie Martin, I am writing this journal entry entirely of my own free will. Maisie on the other hand is being forced under extreme parental duress to write in her school appointed, fire breathing teacher approved journal each day. That's what happens when your mother is also a teacher, you can never escape school.

Now I'm sure Maisie will tell you that even though her father is staying in the city, working, this summer promises to be epic as she's allowed to invite totally gorgeous best friend Anna along for company. More like a buffer against her overbearing mother and her almost but not quite estranged yet perfect sister who is bringing her new and probably equally as perfect girlfriend to Cobbers Bay. Not that Maisie plans on spending time with either of them, it's summer which means sun, sand, dodgy barbecues watching others swim like a totally non perverted creeper and summer crushes. For the last few years Maisie has been making serious heart eyes at smoking hot, resting dreamy faced Sebastian Lee. If only his annoyingly flatulent best friend Beamer wasn't always around. That and if Maisie could work up the courage to take a chance.

Discovery Journal, I feel that. At sixteen and convinced I was the ugly friend, you know the one. She's the funny but less attractive sidekick and she most certainly never gets the boy. Even as a married adult who's reasonably confident and no longer the ugly friend, you still convince yourself that people only like you in small doses. Which is bullshit. Sometimes you just need to pull up your Maisie pants and realise that is people don't like you then that's their own damn fault for not spending the time getting to know you. The difference between us at sixteen is that Maisie is about to have the summer of her life.

I think most of us have had a friend like Anna. She's beautiful, popular and although you don't spend much time together any more since she started dating, you'll always be there for her. Especially during the breakup with her dickhead boyfriend when she's utterly miserable. Because that's just what friends do, only Anna seems to be spending more time with resting dreamy face Sebastian than she is Maisie. Maisie is so not okay with this recent development because you should be happy when your hot heartbroken friend starts hooking up with your hot forever crush. Best friends, the reason why we can't have nice things.

Maisie is hitching up those britches and making new friends, proving that you can't keep a good woman down. Leila is a local, a fashion designer and just bloody fabulous. Discovery Journal, this is why you you need friends that empower you and at the risk of breaking into a rendition of Wing Beneath My Wings, friends that help you soar. They don't suck face with your crush fully knowing how so not over him that you are.

Don't get me wrong Discovery Journal, Sebastian is a stand up guy but what happens when all the things Maisie thinks she loves about him, he isn't actually worthy of... Unexpected shit happens with delightful results. Now the real sucking face begins. Like an Italian chef, I am kissing my fingers to show you how delicious these developments are. Have at it girl.

Maisie is the heroine. She's me at sixteen, she's probably you at sixteen, she's the girl that lives next door or the girl that sits in front of you in social studies while you draw genitals in your text book. She's the girl with moxie and doesn't know it, the girl who is constantly evolving and finding herself. She's the girl who'll set the world ablaze, who deserves more than the assholes trying to extinguish her fire. She's the fat, funny and beautiful girl. She's us.

What I Like About Me is a feel great, utterly charming read about friendship, finding love and finding yourself along the way. It's about loving yourself and stuff what anyone else thinks. It's confidence building, it's empowering and it's embracing your inner Maisie and unleashing her on the world.

It's everything.
Love, Kelly.

Blog Tour: Enchantée

Enchantée
Enchantée Book One
Written by Gita Trelease
Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
464 Pages
Published February 26th 2019
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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★★★☆
Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries and magicians...

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic, la magie ordinaire, Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won't hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family's savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark, the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist, who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she's playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose, love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic, before Paris burns.
In eighteenth century Paris, the streets whisper with discontent. The wealthy aristocratic community collecting taxation payments from the lower socioeconomic castes, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette holding lavish parties for the affluent society. Camille Durbonne provides for her sister Sophie, recovering from the small pox virus that their parents succumbed, her brother Alain an alcoholic indebted to the dazzling lights of the royal casino.

Camille relies upon magie ordinaire and her ability to manipulate metal into currency, using sorrow as motivation for the transformation. Once celebrated for their abilities, magicians were revered by royalty and aristocrats to transform the Palace of Versailles into a glittering showcase of wealth, beauty and privilege. For a lowly printers daughter, Camille needs money for Sophie's medication and to keep the roof over their heads, brother Alain is unable to hold down a job and has sold anything of value within their crumbling, rented rooms. On a drunken rampage, Alain ransacks their home, assaults Camille and flees to Versailles with their overdue rent money.

Camille is a resilient young woman, using whatever means are at her disposal to earn money to care for her younger sister Sophie. Sophie is recovering from small pox, a disease which had taken both their parents lives and left the siblings for fend for themselves. And one another. While Camille and Sophie have been a means of support for one another, Alain begun gambling, seduced by the bright lights of Versailles and the careless life of an aristocrat.

Alain is an abusive character. He cares little for the welfare of his sisters, rather his own lifestyle of drinking and gambling which has lead him debt with dangerous creditors. Not only does he attempt to manipulate Camille but also threatens to sell Camille and Sophie with the implication of selling their bodies to clear his debts. Sophie is awestruck by this lavish life Alain leads and idolises her brother, Alain filling her head with false promises of Sophie meeting a wealthy aristocrat and marrying. Sophie is frustrating. Although incredibly naive at only fifteen years of age, she's only beginning to realise the toll that magic takes on Camille and begins working for a local milliner creating hats for the wealthy women of Paris. Unfortunately it still isn't enough money to survive.

Using her mother's glamoire gown and the last of their savings, Camille uses magic to manipulate her appearance to join the aristocrats at Versailles, where she's taken into the fold as the young widow Baroness de la Fontaine. For Camille, it's impossible not to lose her sense of identity within the dazzling atmosphere of Versailles and the privileged aristocrat lifestyle. Although Camille is seduced by her new lifestyle, she returns home with her winnings each day to provide for sister Sophie.

Sophie's loyalties seem to lie with Alain, her brother convincing the fifteen year old that she will one day become an aristocrat with influence, marrying a wealthy man and living a life of affluence. She becomes increasingly jealous of Camille, even as magie ordinaire slowly begins to destroy her sister. I found Sophie incredibly self centred and it's not a term I use lightly. Understanding that she is only fifteen years of age and recovering from a life threatening illness, she showed such little compassion for Camille except for wanting her sister to pursue relationships for societal gain.

The subtle romance was lovely. Meeting in the most unconventional manner, the aeronautic Lazare is dashing, charming and oh so chivalrous. His wonderment at Camille is absolutely delightful and he cares not for her societal standing. Leading her double life, Camille meets the wealthy, mysterious Seguin, an acquaintance of her new friends. Seguin is incredibly forward with his intentions, he likes Camille as her alternative ego but Camille also suspects he is aware there is more to her than the wealthy, lonely widow she portrays. 

It was incredibly atmospheric. I was lured into the world of Versailles and the the lavish romanticism of the wealthy aristocrats. Gita Trelease has sprinkled words and phrases in French throughout the prose, creating such a lovely narrative and authenticity. An inclusion I really enjoyed.

My only complain is of the pacing. It's incredibly slow to begin. We follow Camille throughout the streets of Paris as she collects scrap metal to transform into coins and gambling to create a better life for her and Sophie. There was so much emphasis on the gambling and Camille stumbling home each night from exhaustion that there was little left for romance or developing Sophie's character. 

Overall, it was slow but incredibly lovely. I expected more from the brewing revolution subplot rather than glittering casinos but really enjoyed it despite the slow beginning. Fans of lavish historical romances will love this one and looking forward to the next installment. 

LET QUEENDOM REIGN!

As part of the Bloomsbury Australia blog tour, I'm celebrating the release of The Priory of the Orange Tree by celebrating the the magnificent females of acclaimed author Samantha Shannon's Queendom.

The Priory of the Orange Tree
Written by Samantha Shannon
Adult, Fantasy, Dragons
848 Pages
Gifted by Bloomsbury Australia
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A world divided.

A queendom without an heir.

An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady in waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

Eadaz Duryan

Eadaz is a young woman placed within a foreign kingdom to safeguard the Queen. Eadaz resides within the palatial compound, her forthright sincerity winning the favour of the Queen as she is elevated to a lady of the bedchamber and secretly safeguarding Sabran against cutthroats. Although committed to the mages of the Priory of The Orange Tree, Eadaz is conflicted by her affection for Sabran. Her close proximity to Sabran will endanger the Queendom and her life.

Queen Sabran Berethnet

The Nameless One, a dragon that brought upon the Grief of Ages that decimated Queendoms is rousing once more, the prophesy leading Sabran, a young Queen coerced into matrimony for political alliance to conceive a daughter. Sabran is an independent woman and although tenacious and resolute, her anxiety and affliction is palpable. Suitors for her affections are presented to the court, Sabran expected to choose a notable partner and conceive to protect her Queendom against the slumbering dragons. She is plagued by nightmares of children lost within the forest, of mages who practice forbidden magic.

Without a Berethnet heir, the Queendom will be overthrown.

Tané Miduchi

Tané Miduchi is a young woman born of a lowly caste and an aspiring dragonrider. On the eve the Choosing Day when riders will learn heir fate, she rescues a young man that emerges from the ocean and risking the Draconic Plague, arranges the stranger to be concealed illegally upon the island peninsula. In her position as student, Tané has experienced blatant socioeconomic and classist prejudice. Degraded and tormented as a successful young woman on the threshold of entering the prestigious Dragonriders.

Females Of The Queendom

The Donmata Marosa, Crown Princess of the Draconic Kingdom of Yscalin.
The Dowager Duchess of Zeedeur. Kalyba, the Lady of the Woods.
The Pirate Captain, sovereign of the Sundance Sea with forty thousand pirates under her command.
Mita Yedanya, The Prioress.
And, Dragon Nayimathun of the Deep Snows.

Who run the world

Of our matriarchal societies. Of women in authority. Women who aspire. Women who achieve. It's diverse women. It's women who love women. It's females who are vulnerable, resilient and determined. It's women at our finest. The heroine. The villainous. The Priory of the Orange Tree is a celebration of women. Let queendom reign!

No woman should be made to fear that she was not enough.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

A Curse So Dark and Lonely
A Curse So Dark and Lonely Book One
Written by Brigid Kemmerer
Retelling, Fantasy, Romance
496 Pages
Published February 2nd 2019
Thank you to Bloomsury Australia
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★★★★
Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she's instead somehow sucked into Rhen's cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall... And it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.
Harper is a formidable character, determined and resourceful. Growing up with cerebral palsy has shaped her into a fierce young woman, capable and never to be underestimated. Since her father left his family with debt they couldn't repay, Harper's brother Jake was forced into a life of thuggery, working as a shakedown man for their local debt collector while their mother battles cancer. Harper is tagging along on Jake's latest job as a lookout when she witnesses a young, unconscious woman being taken from the streets of Washington. Harper intervenes, saving the young woman's life but is taken herself and transported to Emberfall.

Prince Rhen hasn't been seen by the good folk of Emberfall since the curse was placed upon him, most believing the royal family had fled the castle due to the monster roaming the lands. For Rhen, his life is on constant replay each season of his eighteenth birthday. To break the curse, he must find a young woman to fall in love with him. He may be a Prince but the ladies of Emberfall aren't so easily impressed, the ones who've survived the monster, so he's been sending his trusted footman Grey to the earthly plane to find a woman to break the curse. They didn't bargain for the streetwise, ballsy Harper though.

Prince Rhen is dashing and handsome, clearly intended as the love interest for Harper and readers alike. I wasn't shipping it folks. He's nice enough, when not in monster form but he was too busy trying to woo Harper rather than treating her as an intellectual and his equal. It was Grey that realised Harper's potential and because she begun to feel comfortable in his presence, they soon became friends. Apart from stealing Harper from the streets of Washington, Grey is a gentleman. He refers to Harper as my lady and I can imagine the intense hat tipping as a result. He reminded me of Chaol earlier in the Throne of Glass series, with the difference being that Grey is incredibly polite rather than gruff.

I was shipping Grey and Harper. Hard. They shared a chemistry that just wasn't present between Harper and Rhen, whether or not that's due to the pressure of Rhen's curse and Harper feeling overwhelmed or even obligated but I could help but ship the wrong couple. Let me live in ignorant bliss. Being taken and the age old discussion of Stockholm Syndrome will always be raised with kidnapping narratives and rightly so. Often the captor manipulates the person being held captive into believing they need their captor to survive, they're a nice person who's misunderstood and soon enough, feelings are skewed. Harper isn't being manipulated and herein lies the difference, throughout the narrative she isn't forced into a romantic relationship and although she's aware of the curse, she isn't under any obligation to fall in love with Rhen. In fact, he soon releases Harper's independence and tenacity as a strong, independent young woman are the qualities he most admires within her personality.

Harper is a character with a disability. Her cerebral palsy is never romanticised nor seen as a weakness, quite the opposite. Those of Emberfall believe her limp is a result of an injury, something she fiercely defends and embraces. Within the narrative, she mentions the multiple operations she experiences as a child to make her the woman she is today. She realises her limitations but also knows she can work around them. It's wonderful to see a character with a disability simply be and their disability not used as a device to further the storyline.

From the opulent palatial grounds to the humble merchant towns, the Essence of A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a beautiful retelling of a quiet resistance. A modern fairytale, a tenacious young woman and a ship you can sail into the sunset. Cannot wait for the next installment!

We Are Okay

We Are Okay
Written by Nina LaCour
Contemporary, LGBT, Realistic Fiction
240 Pages
Publishing in Australia March 5th 2019
Thank you to UQP
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★★★★★
Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even far away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

An intimate whisper that packs an indelible punch, We Are Okay is Nina LaCour at her finest. This gorgeously crafted and achingly honest portrayal of grief will leave you urgent to reach across any distance to reconnect with the people you love.
The snow continues to fall in New York City, washing the landscape in flutters while students prepare to journey home for the holiday season. Except Marin Delaney, a permanent dormitory resident since the death of her grandfather, the man who raised her after the passing of her mother. Marin has escaped her hometown in San Francisco for the anonymity of New York, her immeasurable sorrow isolating her from her hometown and her best friend Mabel. Mabel is now travelling to New York and after months of avoidance, Marin will need to confront her past, her isolation and the revelations of the death of her grandfather.

Marin's anguish is palpable as she grieves not only for her grandfather but for the life she has left behind. After her mother passed in a tragic drowning accident, Marin has lived with her grandfather in their small, San Francisco beachside home. Marin's relationship with her grandfather was wonderfully gentle and considerate and although residing within the same home, both lived separate lives. Her grandfather enjoyed using moments throughout their day as teaching moments, instilling important wisdom upon Marin, preparing her for the challenges of attending university and becoming an independent young woman.

Marin and her grandfather shared an unspoken agreement as not to encroach on the others personal space, Marin not entering his study or bedroom and her grandfather, allowing Marin the privacy of her bedroom. As Marin gained her independence, her grandfather became increasingly isolated within his study and Marin, grief stricken long before her grandfather passed. The once sprightly elderly gentleman is sustained by his correspondence with the mysterious Birdie, a woman that has captivated his attention and as Marin matures, she observes his health deteriorating.

We observe as Marin and Mabel's friendship transformed from friends to tentative lovers, exploring their sexuality and the new parameters of their relationship. As Mabel visits New York, Marin is confronted as to why she left San Francisco behind. The tenderness between the two young women is beautiful and although they've been separated from one another, Mabel is a wonderful friend who is determined to remain a part of Marin's life.

Throughout the narration, Marin's sorrow becomes a tangible element and arbours resentment towards the man who raised her, perpetuated by the isolating, wintry landscape. We Are Okay is a gentle narrative of bereavement and isolation, of solidarity that's encompassed by a quiet artistry that's rarely seen in young adult literature. Simply exquisite. 

Highway Bodies

Highway Bodies
Written by Alison Evans
Apocalyptic, Survival, Diverse, #LoveOZYA
367 Pages
Published February 2nd 2019
Thank you to Echo Publishing
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★★★★★
Who will you rely on in the zombie apocalypse?

Bodies on the TV, explosions, barriers, and people fleeing. No access to social media. And a dad who’ll suddenly bite your head off , literally. These teens have to learn a new resilience…

Members of a band wield weapons instead of instruments.

A pair of siblings find there’s only so much you can joke about, when the menace is this strong.

And a couple find depth among the chaos.

Highway Bodies is a unique zombie apocalypse story featuring a range of queer and gender non conforming teens who have lost their families and friends and can only rely upon each other.
Highway Bodies centres on three groups of adolescents throughout Melbourne during an apocalyptic outbreak, our humanity and resistance. Fraternal siblings Rhea and Jojo are awaiting information from their mother, a first responder and emergency nurse during the initial epidemic onslaught. Social media websites are being censored by government officials and journalists are reporting of a factory explosion in a neighbouring suburb.

Imagine rendered defenceless as your father decimates his family. Your only solace is nestled within the large topiaries masquerading as sentinels in your garden. The deceased faltering throughout the streets as you hear a young woman, a survivor needing assistance.

Poppy, Jack, Zufan and Dee are enjoying their freedom, composing and performing among the cicadas of their ramshackle cottage as communications go down. Venturing into the nearest town, the roads are abandoned, blood congealing on pavements.

These three narratives sharing a common ambition, to survive. 

The narrative is experienced through three perspectives and although taking place throughout a terrifying outbreak, it centres upon the survivors. Resilient adolescents that are adapting to their new environment. It's survival against humanity. Throughout their journey, the adolescents are consistently challenged by morality and the debris of human life, dangerous adults recruiting survivors and demanding idolisation under the guise of protection. It soon becomes apparent that it's the living that should be feared. 

The diversity of characters is wonderful, various identities, cultural backgrounds, genders and pronouns, all wonderfully representative of a multicultural and diverse Melbourne landscape. Genderqueer, bisexual, transgender, lesbian, Ethiopian, Pakistani she and they pronouns, facial scarring and amputated fingers. As each character introduces themselves, they also offer their pronouns. A wonderful and inclusive gesture, being that pronouns are also our own individual identities.

The prose is striking. The discourse and interactions allow readers to empathise with characters, their terror and sorrow is palpable. As a debut, Alison's IDA was brilliant and a wonderful precedent of how authors can write diversely. Alison Evans' writing has matured and flourished, their vibrancy shining throughout the narrative by enthralling and captivating readers until the final page.

Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts)

Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts)
Written by L. C. Rosen
Contemporary, LGBT, Diverse, Mystery
352 Pages
Publishing February 19th 2019
Thank you to Penguin Teen Australia
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★★★★★
My first time getting it in the butt was kind of weird. I think it's going to be weird for everyone's first time, though.

Jack Rothman is seventeen. A solid student with a talent for art, he likes partying, makeup and boys. Sometimes all at the same time. His active, unashamed sex life makes him a red hot topic for the high school gossip machine, but Jack doesn't really care too much about what the crowd is saying about him. His mantra is, it could be worse.

And then it is.

When Jack starts writing a teen sex advice column for his best friend's website, he begins to receive creepy and threatening love letters. His admirer is obsessed with Jack, they know who he's hanging out with, who he's sleeping with, who his mum is dating. And while they say they love Jack, they don't love his lifestyle. They want him to curb his sexuality and personality. And if he won't, they will force him.
As his stalker starts to ratchet up the pressure, it's up to Jack and his friends to uncover their identity, before their love becomes genuinely dangerous.
His reputation proceeds him. He's non conforming, open about his sexuality and his eyeliner game is on point. He's seventeen year old Jack Rothman, high school student and now online sex advice columnist, Jack of Hearts and Other Parts with the encouragement of friends Jemma and Ben. Jack makes no secret of his sexual exploits, he's comfortable with his body, his sexuality and is an advocate for safe, fun sex. He no longer listens to the gossip of his sexual prowess, the private schools halls echoing with rumours of casual sex and a trail of broken hearted boys.

The column is anonymous, encouraging students at the elite school to ask questions about relationships, sexuality and how to navigate life as a teen but it seems Jack has a mysterious admirer as a series of notes are found in his school locker. Each one increasingly more disturbing. What appears to be misguided love letters soon becomes threatening, they know where he lives, who Jack is sleeping with and details about the lives of those around him, including his single mother.

I absolutely loved Jack. In a world of Mary Sue characters, Jack's frank and openness is refreshing. He's factual, doesn't sugar coat his words and has a confidence and swagger that most of us strive for. Jack identifies as gay, he's sexually active and a safe sex advocate. Identifying as male, Jack doesn't conform to gender standards, he loves ladies fashion, eyeliner and is widely accepted by his peers. His single mother is a renowned doctor who used a sperm donor to conceive Jack and although Jack has never had a father figure in his life, his mother has ensured Jack has never needed to go without. All except her company, working long, strenuous hours at the hospital. Being open about his sexuality has somehow become the topic of Monday morning discussion within the hallowed school halls, Jack listening to the whispers from the girls bathroom of his sexual exploits, the next more outlandish than the last.

Although Jack doesn't care what his peers believe, the narrative explores how straight females often fetishise gay men by sexually objectifying them for their own sexual fantasies and as Jack is open about his prowess, believing they have the right to assert themselves into his life. Friends Jenna and Ben are a wonderful means of support. Jenna, a bisexual Latinx and Ben, a black young man identifying as gay. Ben is a budding fashion designer while Jenna hosts a website of investigative journalism, asking Jack to contribute to the site with his advice column. Jack is reluctant but wants to make a difference and perhaps clear up the misconceptions about his own life along the way. The anonymous letters allow Jack to talk about his own experiences, from casual sex, consent, how to give a successful blow job or what happens when both of you want to be on the bottom. It's brutally honest and utterly charming, I loved seeing a character in young adult so open about sex and not ashamed to admit to enjoying it. Of course not all adolescents are sexually active. Some choose not to be or identify as asexual. Through Jack's column, he is incredibly sex positive, asexual positive and reiterates the importance of safe, fun and consensual sex by choice. It's a little crass, a little cringe but so incredibly entertaining. Fabulously so.

Jack's openness attracts a secret admirer who now believes they have the right to demand access to the seventeen year old. It begins as letters confessing how they admire Jack but soon turn disturbing as the letters become more frequent and possessive, threatening Jack, his mother and friends unless he conforms to their demands. No casual sex and to stop writing his column. I found Jack incredibly realistic. At seventeen, he's all about having a great time. He drinks, is usually the life of the party and doesn't mind a dirty grind on the dance floor with the next hot guy that catches his eye. The threats leave Jack feeling flat, rather than sparkle he begins to conform into someone unrecognisable in the hope this will keep his friends safe.

It also touches upon the lack of acceptance from others, in particular Jack's principal who insinuates that Jack should try to blend in, be someone he's not and stop drawing attention to himself. That somehow, he is to blame for the threatening letters. It doesn't sugar coat how ignorant and in this case, homophobic adults and adults in positions of power can be. It also explores casual homophobic slurs that Jack experiences through anonymous emails addressed to the column and also the stereotypes placed upon queer community members by straight women in particular. On the surface Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) is a hilarious and easygoing contemporary narrative but explores deep societal issues that will invoke discussion among the teen audience about prejudice and how to create more inclusive environments for their peers without judgement.

It was glorious. I can't stress enough how much we need these narratives in young adult. Yes it's sexually explicit, yes it's eyebrow raising but it also normalises the sexual spectrum in a category of literature which favours scenes that fade to black. Recommended for the mature young adult reader, Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) is a funny, laugh out loud, heartwarming contemporary about life, love and getting laid. 

The Wicker King

The Wicker King
Written by K. Ancrum
Contemporary, Mental Health, LGBT
336 Pages
Published October 30th 2018
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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★★★★★
Jack once saved August's life, now can August save him?

August is a misfit with a pyro streak and Jack is a golden boy on the varsity rugby team but their intense friendship goes way back. Jack begins to see increasingly vivid hallucinations that take the form of an elaborate fantasy kingdom creeping into the edges of the real world. With their parents' unreliable behaviour, August decides to help Jack the way he always has, on his own. He accepts the visions as reality, even when Jack leads them on a quest to fulfil a dark prophecy.

August and Jack alienate everyone around them as they struggle with their sanity, free falling into the surreal fantasy world that feels made for them. In the end, each one must choose his own truth.

Written in vivid microfiction with a stream of consciousness feel and multimedia elements, K. Ancrum's The Wicker King touches on themes of mental health and explores a codependent relationship fraught with tension, madness and love.
Following the nonlinear narrative of seventeen year old August Bateman, August is incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital, keening and desperate to find Jack Rossi. Jack and August are unlikely friends, Jack the popular, athletic student while August is an introvert, hiding behind fashion labels in the hope no one will discover his low socioeconomic status. Beyond the confines of school, August and Jack and inseparable. Throughout the narration, we experience the codependent and often disturbing friendship between the two young men, the possessiveness, toxicity and domination. It's frightening, fascinating and will captivate readers until the final page.

August is a young man who feels like an impostor in his own skin. After his parents separated, August's mother developed a deep depression and retreated to her basement where she spends her days watching game shows. From a young age, August had learned to fend for himself by becoming self dependant and taking care of his mother. Unable to work and with only meagre support cheques from his father, August sells drugs to make ends meet, his side project well known throughout the wealthy student community. It's his friendship with Jack that sustains August, caring for his friend in a world that was created for them and them alone.

We get to know Jack through the eyes of August, who often views his friend with rose coloured glasses. Jack is popular, attractive and athletic, not to mention not even remotely in the same orbit as August. But somehow, their friendship works. Growing up, the boys liked to explore their surroundings, from the surrounding forest to abandoned buildings, Jack with his crown made of sticks and makeshift sword, August his loyal champion by his side. But Jack's childhood games have become increasingly disturbing, his imagination existing between two separate worlds sharing the one space. He sees people and objects within his vision from another time, no longer a game and claims the residents of this historical plane need his help to find an object. An object that will save their world. It begins to blur the lines between fantasy and mental illness as Jack experiences delusions, luring August into a world he can only experience through Jack's illness.

August and Jack's friendship takes an intense turn while playing in the forest, August slips into the river only to be rescued by Jack. An act of bravery leads August to believe that he now owes Jack, his life, his spirit and whatever Jack will now ask of him. Jack begins to feed upon that toxic devotion and begins to lay claim over August, often resorting to physical intimidation and abuse that August has become dependant on. Similar to being in an abusive relationship where the victim may believe they are deserving of abuse or that toxic possession is a way of expressing love by their abuser.

August and Jack are very much a product of their individual environments. Although Jack is from a wealthy family, his parents are often travelling or simply absent. August feels a deep responsibility to care for Jack, understanding his feelings of abandonment and isolation. On the surface of what seems to be a friendship of codependency, is a dangerously toxic love story, an all consuming love that threatens to destroy them both. Written with a passionate intensity, I was swept away by the relationship and hopeful that these two abandoned beings would survive their ordeal.

It was messy, complicated and utterly brilliant. I was enamoured by August and Jack and consumed by their relationship. Beautifully written with a dark, brooding realism rarely seen within young adult fiction, The Wicker King is phenomenal.

The Princess and The Fangirl

See my review here for Geekerella
The Princess and the Fangirl
Once Upon A Con Book Two
Written by Ashley Poston
Contemporary, Romance, LGBT
320 Pages
Publishing April 2nd 2019
Thank you to Quirk Books
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★★★★★
The Prince and the Pauper gets a modern makeover in this adorable, witty, and heartwarming young adult novel set in the Geekerella universe by national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission, save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off from her favorite franchise, Starfield. The problem is, Jessica Stone, the actress who plays Princess Amara, wants nothing more than to leave the intense scrutiny of the fandom behind. If this year's ExcelsiCon isn't her last, she'll consider her career derailed.

When a case of mistaken identity throws lookalikes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. That's easier said than done when the girls step into each other's shoes and discover new romantic possibilities, as well as the other side of intense fandom. As these princesses race to find the script leaker, they must rescue themselves from their own expectations, and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.
Attending the popular culture event is an institution for Imogen Lovelace, Starfield enthusiast and creator of the online campaign to save Amara, the female heroine of the popular franchise. The online petition amassing thousands of signatures. Attending the convention with her brother Milo and parents Kathy and Minerva, Imogen intends to campaign for the Starfield sequel and intermingle with convention aficionados, including internet friend and artist Harper Hart.

Jessica Stone is an award winning actress reprising the role of Amara, the princess of Starfield. Darien Freeman has portrayed the immortalised Prince Carmindor to acclaim and Jessica, a target of internet abusers dissecting her credentials, her appearance and the comparison to the original Princess Amara. Jessica isn't interested in reprising her character in the Starfield sequel, despite the online campaign gathering momentum and in a moment of resentment, Jessica discards her script at the convention as the narrative is disclosed on social media.

The alternating narrative accompanies Imogen Lovelace and Jessica Stone, two dissimilar young women colliding through happenstance at the Excelsicon event. Aesthetically, Imogen and Jessica are interchangeable, Jessica is suffocating under the expectations of the Starfield fandom and Imogen is the creator of the Save Amara campaign. Imogen is answering questions on a Starfield character panel at the convention, successfully mistaken for Jessica and uses the opportunity to lend voice to her online campaign. Reluctantly, Jessica allows Imogen to covertly assume her convention appearances, chaperoned by manager Ethan Tanaka as Jessica investigates the saboteur who has obtained her script.

Excelsicon is atmospherically exhilarating, in particular the assiduous Artists Alley and African American artist Harper Hart, Starfield merchandise designer. Believing that Jessica is Imogen, Jessica and Harper are developing a gentle friendship and endearment and Imogen in her capacity as Jessica, despite her frustration, is developing an attraction to Ethan, Jessica's confidant and assistant. The Princess and The Fangirl is a celebration of diversity and friendship. Platonic love, attraction, same gender relationships, parental relationships and memorable acquaintances. American Asian, African American, gay and lesbian, vibrant, diverse and inclusive characters.

Popular culture enthusiasts can create a wonderfully inclusive environment as experienced at Excelsicon but also discloses the negative and antagonistic factions that engage in online abuse and harassment. Jessica Stone reprised the character of Amara in the successful Starfield franchise. On social media she is taunted, abused and degraded rather than being exposed to the inclusive environment. It also touches upon creators and unpaid labour, the acknowledgement of the prejudice against black women in film, sexual assault and also challenging the inequality of female actors within the industry as Jessica is harassed and Darien Freeman, celebrated.

The Princess and the Fangirl is categorically enchanting. A whirlwind of effervescent and charismatic characters, diversity and inclusiveness, challenging stereotypes and societal adversity. A gentle romance and tender friendship, creating one of the loveliest contemporaries you're likely to discover this year. Absolutely, positively recommended wholeheartedly. 

Swallow's Dance

Contains sacrificial animal and human death, death and slavery
Swallow's Dance
Written by Wendy Orr
Middle Grade, Survival, #LoveOZMG
288 Pages
Published July 2018
Thank you to Allen and Unwin Australia
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★★★★★
Leira's family flee to the island of Crete just before a huge volcanic eruption destroys their island and sends a tsunami to where they thought they had found safety. Another thrilling adventure by acclaimed author Wendy Orr.

I wonder if the first day of Learning is always like this, do the girls on the hill always feel the ground tremble under their feet? Leira is about to start her initiation as a priestess when her world is turned upside down. A violent earthquake leaves her home and her family in pieces. And the goddess hasn't finished with the island yet.

With her family, Leira flees across the sea to Crete, expecting sanctuary. But a volcanic eruption throws the entire world into darkness. After the resulting tsunami, society descends into chaos, the status and privilege of being noble born reduced to nothing. With her injured mother and elderly nurse, Leira has only the strength and resourcefulness within herself to find safety.
Each morning as the sun rises, the small island nation of the Swallow Clan sings the praises of their creator, The Goddess. Leira is preparing for her Learning ceremony, her transformation into womanhood after her first bleed where she will serve The Goddess guided by Our Lady, a woman and spiritual leader among the Swallow Clan community. As the chosen young women begin the pilgrimage upon Crocus Mountain to collect saffron for their ceremonial offering, the mountain begins to tremble. The Goddess has awoken.

The small, spiritual island is experiencing earth tremors as the volcanic activity increases. Residents return to their homes, their offerings and song to The Goddess remain unanswered as the sky clouds with ash, decimating the pastoral landscape. Awoken by the sound, the Swallow Clan community is in ruins. Homes have collapsed including Leira and her mother, her father and brother upon the waves as the island fractures, cursed. As Leira, her mother and elderly servant Nunu are rescued, the neighbouring families find solace within the vast landscape of farmland within the island nation, before sickness infects the community. The island is no longer a haven and reluctantly, families board vessels for the mainland.

Leira is a beautiful young woman, spiritual, whimsical with a quiet determination and wisdom. When her journey to become a woman is overshadowed by the trembling island, Leira believes The Goddess is awakening, the scent of sulphur from the active volcano lingers as a reminder of the sacrifices the community has blessed upon The Goddess. The island women are empowered as their daughters receive their first bleeding, signalling their journey to becoming women and serving The Goddess, a hereditary honour. The tremors become frequent, the crater sending ash across the landscape, smouldering until the island is suddenly decimated.

As her family finds refuge, it soon becomes apparent that her island is contending with starvation, illness and as her father departs for assistance abroad, Leira will be responsible for her mother and Nunu. Since Leira, Nunu and her mother escaped the devastation, her mother has recovered from her physical injuries but has regressed under the emotional anguish of seeking asylum. The narrative also centres upon Nunu and her capacity as a caregiver. Nunu is a servant and although now an elderly woman, was purchased as a child for the purpose of nursing children from the esteemed, privileged family. The displacement of families, vagrancy and slavery from the narrative of a young, privileged girl.

The island mythology is breathtaking and whimsical. Girls are considered women after their first bleeding and chosen for the Learning, serving the Goddess and creator as the community sings the sunrise, throughout ceremonies, illness and for the deceased. The narration cascades between prose and verse, reiterating the significance of Leira's internal monologue and how the young lady matures throughout her journey.

It was magnificent. I was so enamoured by Leira and her island community, the beautiful seaside landscape, the small and colourful dwellings and a community brimming with life and spirit. The research of the island civilisation is superb, recreating the stunning and atmospheric Mediterranean so wonderfully. A true storyteller. Swallow's Dance will be enjoyed for generations to come. Simply brilliant. 

Emergency Contact

Emergency Contact
Written by Mary H. K. Choi
Contemporary, Romance, College
400 Pages
Published January 2019
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia
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★★★★
For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch via text and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.
Penelope Lee has aspirations of becoming an author, sharing adventures with captivated audiences. Embarking on her first year of college, Penny is spreading her wings as a young, independent woman and her nonexistent social standing. Her mother Celeste is a vibrant woman, single parent and although Penny often begrudges her mother for her affectionate and effervescent personality, is concerned Celeste will succumb to opportunists of the male persuasion, a point of contention believing her mother encourages male suitors.

Penelope is a ambitious young woman although frustrating, intolerant and critical. Penny begins her journey on the threshold of her first year at college, reluctant to abandon her mother, anxious but determined to become an accomplished author. Penny believes her mother Celeste is irresponsible and effortlessly coerced, ridiculing her choice of attire and her demeanour as an affectionate, compassionate single woman. Her disregard for her mother was disappointing. A woman who raised her child to become an independent young woman, providing for her daughter and a wonderful encouragement. Once arriving at college, Penny ceases communication with Celeste. Penny is undoubtedly obnoxious but possesses a relatability that is confrontational and reflective.

Sharing a dormitory room with Penny, Jude is a vivacious girl, her wealthy and ignorant friend Mallory is abrasive, as Penny despises commercialism and material possessions. Despite the dissimilarities, Jude is determined not to exclude Penny and encourages her socialise. Jude is a wonderful character of compassion and enthusiasm and although privileged, is considerate and nurturing.

Sam Becker is despondent, his relationship fractured as he now resides in an intimate loft above his workplace, an Austin coffee house and patisserie. As a child, Sam endured a home of alcoholism and neglect, his mother a stern and resentful woman now estranged from her only child. Sam is a passionate, intense character yet wilfully ignorant, although his former girlfriend is unfaithful, Sam is prepared to absolve her of responsibility, a desperate young man moments from destruction. Uncharacteristic altruistic, Penny has volunteered to become the Emergency Contact and concerned by his behaviour, they begin messaging one another secretly, under the covers until the sun rises. Throughout their covert messages, Sam and Penny begin a tentative friendship, sharing their aspirations, thoughts and trepidation.

Sam and Penny are undoubtedly attracted to one another but I appreciated the platonic friendship and Sam allowing Penny to determine the parameters of their friendship. The narrative also touches upon casual racism, poverty, socioeconomic barriers, privilege, alcohol abuse, pregnancy and sexual assault through a Korean American own voices narrative. The essence of Emergency Contact is a narrative of companionship, acceptance, maturing as individuals and learning from our experiences. A gentle, mature and beautiful contemporary romance, thoroughly enjoyed it.

This review is part of the Simon and Schuster and Australian Young Adult Bloggers and readers group tour. You can follow the rest of the tour by clicking here.

The Rift

The Rift
Written by Rachael Craw
Fantasy, Magical Realism, #LoveNZYA
368 Pages
Published November 1st 2018
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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★★★★☆
When the Rift opens, death follows.

For generations, the Rangers of Black Water Island have guarded the Old Herd against horrors released by the Rift. Cal West, an apprentice Ranger with a rare scar and even rarer gifts, fights daily to prove he belongs within their ranks. After nine years away, Meg Archer returns to her childhood home only to find the Island is facing a new threat that not even the Rangers are prepared for. Meg and Cal can’t ignore their attraction, but can they face their darkest fears to save the Island from disaster?
Black Water Island is immersed in tradition, a millennia since The Rift emerged causing the mountain to fracture. The residents of Black Water are isolated from the mainland, without television or internet access to maintain the fragile ecosystem of the island. Every four years, hunters descent on the intimate pastoral community to participate in The Cull, the resident generational Rangers responsible for the Old Herd while young deer are harvested by Nutris Pharmaceuticals for their medicinal properties.

The narrative centralises upon the intimate, isolated Black Water Island and the community, the reluctant agreement with Nutris Pharmaceuticals, the Rangers and unscrupulous corporation. Fisherman's son Cal West is a Ranger, his appointed position a rarity among the Ranger ranks, the position considered hereditary and a right of passage among the generations of Black Water residents. Cal carries the Sight, an ability to sense distress among the Old Herd he is sworn to protect.

Meg Archer is returning to Black Water Island, nine years after moving to the mainland with her mother, a cancer survivor. Growing up on the island, Meg was determined to join the ranks of the prestigious Rangers, her father elevated to Sargent and carrying the honoured tradition from his predecessor. Meg and Cal were once childhood friends, inseparable as they explored their island home. After a tragic incident upon the mountain, Meg was removed from the island and assumed Cal had been taken by protective services, the young boy orphaned and alone. Having returned, Meg is now torn between her attraction towards Cal and her resentment, as he remained on the island and trained as a Ranger. Their tentative reconnection bound by the scars they share.

I really enjoyed the intense connection between Meg and Cal. Cal able to connect to the Old Herd through the ability of Sight comes with a hefty consequence, he can also sense death. Through touch, he feels the life force of those around him, especially within Meg's vicinity. 

The Black Water Island is majestic, separated by the Rift and ley lines that thrum with positive energy and spirituality. The premise is fascinating, a blend of fantasy and intricately woven magical realism. The Rift is a tear in the atmosphere to another dimension beyond the island, Rift Hounds appear as apparitions and materialising throughout the mountain as large, savage beasts. The Rangers entered into a reluctant agreement with Nutris Pharmaceuticals who farm the island for antlers from the low lying Herd to create a potent medicinal concoction known as Actaeon’s Bane. Like all large corporations, they have a stranglehold on the community in exchange for maintaining the island and providing an income for the residents. Corruption and underhandedness result in Nutris Pharmaceuticals demanding more than the island can provide, creating a deadly atmosphere and with The Rift only moments from opening, alliances will be fractured and secrets revealed.

What surprised me most was how beautifully atmospheric The Rift is. The writing holds a stillness and spiritual like quality rarely seen in fantasy young adult novels. That quiet intensity slowly lured me in and held me captive. The Rift is wildly imagined and beautifully portrayed, a new direction for Rachael Craw that will no doubt enchant international audiences. She's outdone herself. 

Broken Things

Broken Things
Written by Lauren Oliver
Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal
416 Pages
Published October 18th 2018
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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★★★★☆
It’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods.

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.
The only thing is, they didn’t do it.

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago, no matter how monstrous.
The nonlinear narrative accompanies Mia and Brynn, known as The Monsters of Brickhouse Lane, as they investigate potential suspects in the ritualistic death of their friend Summer. Summer Marks is a foster child, her mother a substance abuser, her only possession a novel acquired from her maternal mother. The Way Into Lovelorn is a fantasy novel written by Georgia Wells and despite being published, the novel is incomplete. A point of contention for Summer, inspired to create her own The Way Into Lovelorn sequel.

Although barely adolescent, Mia Ferguson, Brynn McNally and neighbour and suspect Owen Waldmann were ostracised by the community despite being acquitted of her death. Mia was unrolled from school and tutored privately, Owen migrated to Scotland to complete his education while Brynn endured the abuse and aggression of her peers, unafforded the privilege of a private education. Brynn escaped her torment by entering rehabilitation for substance abuse, providing positive samples to remain within the counsellors care, her relationship with her mother and sister fractured.

Mia is returning to Twin Lakes on the eve of the anniversary of Summer's death to help her mother, a hoarder since the tragic incident that finds solace within her abundance of possessions. As Mia's mother enters counselling, Brynn is released from rehabilitation and for the first time in five years, the two former friends reunite to investigate Summer's murder.

The narrative centres on Summer and her interaction with Mia and Brynn as teens, their adoration of The Way Into Lovelorn and the importance of the fictional sequel the three friends created. It explores the motives behind the killing, from her relationship with Owen at Mia's expense, her manipulation of Brynn and her feelings for Summer and her character development from child to a manipulative and often malicious young woman.

Although I've enjoyed Lauren Oliver's novels in the past, Broken Things is considerably her break out novel. The nonlinear narrative is well paced, a blend of mystery and suspense as the storyline adds upon layers of intrigue. Very much a classical whodunit novel that readers will thoroughly enjoy. 
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