The Darkest Bloom

The Darkest Bloom
Shadowscent Book One
Written by P. M. Freestone
Fantasy, #LoveOZYA
448 Pages
Thank you to Scholastic Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Across the Aramtesh Empire, scent is everything. Prayers only reach heaven on sacred incense, and perfumes are prized status symbols. Seventeen year old Rakel has an uncanny ability with fragrances, but her skills aren't enough to buy her dying father more time.

Ash bears the tattoos of an imperial bodyguard. When his prince, Nisai, insists on a diplomatic mission to an outer province, Ash is duty bound to join the caravan. It's a nightmare protecting Nisai on the road. But it's even harder for Ash to conceal a secret that could see him exiled or executed.

Rakel and Ash have nothing in common until smoke draws them to a field of the Empire's rarest flower. Nisai's been poisoned, flames devour the priceless blooms, and the pair have suspect clinging to them like a bad stench. Their futures depend on them working together to decipher clues, defy dangers and defeat their own demons in a race to source an antidote before the imperial army hunts them down.
Rakel Ana is an aspiring perfumer, currently selling her fragrances and scents on the black market to afford her fathers medication as the Affliction slowly claims his life. Since her mother passed away shortly after childbirth, Rakel and her father have struggled to make ends meet, moving out to the pastoral landscape outside of the city for a simpler life, growing up alongside childhood friend Barden who now is in the employ of the palace. Her father, once a decorated soldier for the Aphorain Province, survive on his meagre pension and barely scraping by. As his body is claimed by rotting flesh, Rakel has no other option but to use her skills as a Scent Maker and apply to become an apprentice perfumer of the capital, a position typically reserved for the children of the wealthy and prestigious families of the Aramtesh Empire.

Punished for insolence, Rakel is forced to serve under the prestigious Scent Keeper Sephine, a woman she blames for the death of her mother when she chose not to save her life. While Rakel worries about her ailing father, the palace becomes embroiled in a deadly scandal, the grounds have been set ablaze, Crown Prince Nisai has been poisoned and the only person who can cure the prince may have been the cause of his demise. When Rakel is found in the gardens with the Crown Prince's personal guard and an unconscious Crown Prince Nisai, she becomes a scapegoat. Together with personal guard Ash, Rakel is on the run to find a cure for the Prince and clear her name before it's too late.

The Darkest Bloom was a delightful surprise! Told in dual points of view from the perspective of Rakel and Ash, both with a vested interested in saving the life of the First Prince and heir to the Aramtesh Empire, Prince Nisai. I love narratives where strangers are thrown together for a common goal and although Rakel and Ash appear to be akin to chalk and cheese, they have more in common than first thought.

After a chance meeting on the streets of the capital, Ash was rescued by the First Prince who insisted on bringing the then young orphan to the palace in what was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Ash begun training as a Shield, a personal guard to Nisai while becoming his closest companion. Perhaps even a case of unrequited love as Ash hints at his bisexuality later in the narrative. Ash and Nisai share a secret that slowly unravels as Ash shares his story. Their secret only strengthens their bond as Nisai will do anything to protect his friend, Ash returning the sentiment in kind. Their bond was beautiful and although Nisai spends the majority of the narrative unconscious, we see how affectionate the two young men are through Ash's memories and point of view.

After Rakel is aided by a mysterious rescuer and upon fleeing the dungeons, Ash quickly tracks her down and with only a riddle from the Scent Keeper to go by, the two decide to venture to find a cure to wake the unconscious prince before time runs out. Along their journey, they must gather five ingredients from the vast corners of the empire, avoiding capture by the Rangers, captained by Nisai's half brother who is seeking justice for the poisoning of his sibling.

It was beautiful and so incredibly atmospheric. Using scent to guide readers throughout the narrative of adventure and a slow burning romance, reminiscent of the earlier Throne of Glass novels. Where The Darkest Bloom differentiates is that the narrative has a distinct feeling of sensuality. The romance is secondary to the storyline but I loved the intense attraction as Rakel and Ash learn more about one another. It ends n a cliffhanger that teases readers of what's to come in book two, I'm excited and can't wait! Captivating and beautifully written, enthralling and enchanting until the final page. 

Daughter of Lies and Ruin

See my review for A Curse of Ash and Embers here
Daughter of Lies and Ruin
The Witches of Blackbone Book Two
Written by Jo Spurrier
Paranormal, Witches, #LoveOZYA
352 Pages
Published September 24th 2019
Add to Goodreads
★★★★
If they didn't want to get turned into beasts and used to fuel a ritual, they shouldn't have attacked a witch. That's all there is to it.

There's something strange brewing in this tinder dry forest, a girl with a sword and a secret, a troupe of vicious bandits vanished without a trace, beasts that don't belong and a witch with a macabre plan.

Elodie hasn't been learning witchcraft for long, but she knows enough to be worried, and the fact that her mentor Aleida wants to pack up and leave in short order isn't helping to settle her nerves.

Elodie just hopes to get everyone out of this mess unharmed, but it's looking more unlikely with every passing hour. And when the strange witch's ire falls on her, Aleida's wrath sparks a fire that threatens to scorch the earth itself.
Elodie Blackbone is an apprentice sorceress, bygone is the young woman denied an education and labouring on her family farm, now disciplined in the artistry of witchcraft under the guidance of Aleida Blackbone. The two new companions have departed the Black Oak Cottage in Lilsfield and travelling the dusty, lonely roads when ambushed by a band of roadside bandits ransacking the wares and treasures of stagecoaches and travelling merchants.

Elodie is no longer the naive young woman summoned to the Black Oak Cottage and although she's wisened to the world of sorcery and alchemy, the young apprentice is continuously experimenting with her newfound abilities under Aleida's guidance. Elodie has the ability to inhabit the body of wildlife and birds, often soaring high about the landscape and observing their journey from the skies. Unlike Aleida, Elodie also has the ability to walk between worlds, opening a fissure and guided by an ethereal sprite.

Aleida slayed Gyssha Blackbone and the protege has now become the mentor, albeit cursed by her predecessor. Weakened by the fissure opening to the otherworld, Aleida and Elodie depart the cottage, along the journey they meet the stoic and resolute Kara, being held at the local abbey since her father disappeared. Armed with her sword, Kara has enlisted the aid of local bandits to escape and is searching for her father, an outlaw masquerading as a mercenary while throughout the arduous, backbreaking landscape, an otherworldly disturbance is gathering. Men have become monsters, manipulated by a mage taking shelter in the desolate mountains.

Kara is an interesting character, surly and unapologetically ambitious. Kara has been unwillingly taken into the care of the abbey, devising her escape to find her father as the arrival of Aleida and Elodie provides the opportunity to disappear under the cover of darkness. Although her father is an outlaw, Kara remembers her father for his kindness, a gentle father and loyal friend and after Elodie's insistence, Aleida reluctantly agrees to assist the young brusque woman. The conflict and intensity within Elodie and Aleida's tentative friendship emanates from Kara and their conflicting opinions. Elodie's humble beginnings have resurfaced as a humanitarian crusade, playing the role of saviour especially where Kara is concerned. She constantly undermines Aleida, questioning her judgement and expertise. It's frustrating but an important learning moment for Elodie, it also brought out a compassionate and gentleness from Aleida who masks her emotions.

The subtle attraction between Elodie and Kara is enchanting, although it seems to impair Elodie's judgement and her ability to make rational decisions. Given her interest in Kian in A Curse of Ash and Embers, Elodie may identify as being bisexual. Friendship and sisterhood are the central focus of the Witches of Blackbone series, independent women in an environment where women are chaperoned by men, often dominated by men and their significance determined by men. Capable women with the ability to slain grown men, those who share a quiet resilience, who encourage and endure. The sisterhood who are reclaiming their sovereignty.

Simply magical. 

Monuments

Monuments
Monument Duology Book One
Written by Will Kostakis
Fantasy, Adventure, LGBT, #loveozya
288 Pages
Published August 27th 2019
Thanks to Hachette Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
When Connor Giannopoulos discovers a Monument under his high school, he doesn't have any idea how much his life is going to change forever. It turns out that immortality and strength beyond his wildest dreams is a bit more responsibility than he bargained for.

All 16 year old Connor is trying to do is avoid his ex best friend when he stumbles upon a trapdoor to a secret chamber under his school. But when Sally Rodgers breaks into the same secret chamber looking for an ancient being, things take an unexpected turn. And Connor's life will never be the same again.

Along with the mysterious Sally and, later on, his new friend Locky, Connor discovers the Monuments, gods who have been buried for generations, who created the world and hid themselves away from humanity to keep everyone safe. But now they're exposed and vulnerable, and Connor isn't sure who, himself included, can be trusted with the knowledge and the power these gods have.
Connor Giannopoulos is boring according to his former best friend but when Connor skips class for the first time at his prestigious private school, he never expected to stumble upon a secret chamber at Charlton Grammar and if videogames have taught him anything, this is about to become the most excellent of quests and adventure is afoot. Connor just didn't count on random girl Sally Rodgers stumbling into his life, trespassing on school grounds and looking for her own adventure.

Hidden underground in four of Sydney's most prestigious and pretentious schools are the Monuments, Godly beings that resemble crumbling garden statues that have been in slumber for years and hidden underground to escape the Hounds.  Humans who have inherited the ability to sniff out the godly garden statues. New partner in crime Sally has an ulterior motive, awakening the Gods who believe they are facing a grave and terrible danger from a local Hound who just happens to be a confused pizza delivery boy who thinks the ethereal giants smell like eggs.

The Gods are beginning to raise suspicion and there aren't enough wigs in the world to allow Connor to look convincing as a teenage girl, but when he stumbles across the handsome and also very gay Locky, he begins to realise that his life will never be boring again.

Monuments is an adventurous, brilliantly entertaining and laugh out loud storyline of mischief and mythology, written by one of Australia's finest young adult authors. Connor isn't boring, he's just a stickler for rules but he's feeling pretty lonely of late after his best friend blew him off because he didn't go to a party, a party he wasn't even invited to. He'd rather stay home and watch trashy reality television with his mum. Up on the school roof while wagging class, Connor comes across an underground crypt, a bizarre girl and a far fetched prophecy, it'll be a massive up yours to the friend who didn't want him. Good riddance to the asshole.

I loved the dynamic between Connor and Sally, he's sceptical of her at first but reluctantly believes her expired library card that she is who she says she is and seeing he has nothing better to do, tags along. He's even considering interviewing her for the recently vacated best friend position she's adamant she doesn't actually want.

The awoken Monuments are a little like naive tourists, they're also not entirely sure what's happening but follow Connor and Sally around the suburbs of Sydney as they try to find the other Monuments. They're a packaged deal, you have to collect them all in the great migration known as the Movement. Although they're Gods, they're not indestructible and practically crumble to dust at the first signs of trouble brewing. Before they pass on, they choose an heir to inherit their powers. What ensues is a lighthearted and hilarious adventure throughout the suburbs of Sydney.

Upon meeting Locky when Connor and Sally sneak into a debutante ball in stolen wedding attire, the unconventional meet cute romance is super cute and super gay, in fact Connor blurting out how gay he is. Both Connor and Locky are lovable characters and their romance is endearing, you can tell it's an Australian novel by the characters being accepting of a giant garden statue God and going with the flow. It's very much a case of no worries mate, she'll be right and I loved each and every moment.

Gay, Greek and Indigenous Australian representation with themes of family, friendship and finding your way. It's perfection. I love a Will Kostakis novel, whether he's ripping your heart out or inviting you into his big Greek family, his writing is superb and one of Australia's finest authors. If you love a good dose of humour, boys kissing and a Rick Riordan style adventure, then have at it kids. It's absolutely brilliant!

This Is How We Change The Ending

This is How We Change the Ending
Written by Vikki Wakefield
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, #loveozya
320 Pages
Published September 3rd 2019
Thanks to Text Publishing
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
I have questions I’ve never asked. Worries I’ve never shared. Thoughts that circle and collide and die screaming because they never make it outside my head. Stuff like that, if you let it go, it's a survival risk.

Sixteen year old Nate McKee is doing his best to be invisible. He’s worried about a lot of things. How his dad treats Nance and his twin half brothers, the hydro crop in his bedroom, his reckless friend, Merrick.

Nate hangs out at the local youth centre and fills his notebooks with things he can’t say. But when some of his pages are stolen, and his words are graffitied at the centre, Nate realises he has allies.

He might be able to make a difference, change his life, and claim his future. Or can he?
For sixteen year old Nathaniel McKee, survival is learning to not to draw attention to yourself, to keep your head down and avoid confrontation. Living in their ramshackle government housing apartment is suffocating, Nate is reminded each day of the mother that abandoned him for her substance addiction, leaving him with his alcoholic, abusive father who uses toxic masculinity as a shield. Now with his new partner eight years his junior, Nance struggles to care for their two young boys Jake and Otis. Otis has developmental difficulties but has responding to cues from Nate of late, angering their father even further.

Nate McKee is a pacifist, sympathetic to the environment and sustainability. Avoiding confrontation with his father, Nate escapes to Youth Works, the local youth centre where the quietude and solace allow him to gather his thoughts in a series of notebooks, composing poems and anecdotes of the things he is too afraid to say aloud. Rowley Park is a low socioeconomic suburb where only the resilient survive and for adolescents like Nate and best friend Merrick, Youth Works provides a haven for those without a safe environment at home.

This is How We Change the Ending represents our low socioeconomic communities around Australia, public schooling, government housing and often areas with above average crime rates as residents are unemployed and unable to support their families financially. Our elected governments consider them as statistics, they're often our neighbours, our friends or our own families and Nate McKee is a vulnerable young man susceptible to becoming a stereotype.

Youth Works is a government funded local initiative for the youth of Rowley Park, providing security and a sense of belonging for those feeling misunderstood, displaced or lonely. The youth counsellors are supportive and encourage adolescents to become independent and motivated, including Nate and Merrick, friends and neighbours since childhood. Merrick is spontaneous, charismatic and a steadfast friend, although underappreciated. Nate is also challenged by English teacher Mister Reid, to think laterally and creatively. He instills a sense of confidence and ambition in his students. Mister Reid and counsellor Macy are important influences for Nate and through their interactions, he's determined to become more than a statistic.

This is How We Change the Ending is harrowing, traumatic and incredibly optimistic. Vikki Wakefield captures the voice of Australia's toughest and most vulnerable families throughout our working class and low socioeconomic suburbs. Authentic, compassionate and a remarkable narrative cementing Vikki Wakefield as an exceptional Australian young adult author. Sublime reading.

The Liars

contains alcoholism, death, abuse and drug abuse
The Liars
Written by Jennifer Mathieu
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Family
336 Pages
Published 10th September 2019
Thanks to Hachette Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★
How can one family have so many secrets?

It's the summer of 1986. Joaquin and Elena, two teenage siblings live in a toxic environment with their alcoholic mother on an island off the Texas Gulf Coast.

Elena falls for a new boy who has just arrived from California. Joaquin must wrestle with his decision to stay on Mariposa Island to protect his sister or flee from his mother's abuse.

As both teenagers struggle to figure out who they are and want to be, they are caught in a web of family dysfunction and secrets from their mother's past.

Can fierce love save them, or will their truth tear them apart?
During the nineteen eighties, Mariposa Island is a summer playground for the wealthy and frivolous, for siblings Joaquin and Elena Finney, it's home. Under the vigilant and suspicious scrutiny of their mother, Joaquin is allowed to socialise with friends without a curfew, Elena is only given permission to leave the house accompanied by Joaquin and to work minding children for a wealthy family on the island that visits during summer each year. Her Mami warning Elena of menacing boys who will leave her in ruins. Elena is expected to tend to their small, ramshackle home while her alcoholic mother seethes about her own life, the breakdown of her marriage and her life as a pampered debutante in Havana during the rise of the Communist Party and Fidel Castro.

Caridad de la Guardia was the only child of attentive parents, wealthy socialites of Havana, cherished by her parents, treasured by her housemaid and revered by her island community. As a young woman, Caridad was removed from her home and sent to the United States under the guise of an education during the Cuban Revolution. Fostered by an American family, Caridad despised being abandoned by her parents and learning to communicate in English. Her only means of escapism was to fall in love with an American boy and create a life similar to her opulent lifestyle in Havana. Now living on the Island, Caridad seeks companionship in alcohol and reminding her children of their own father's abandonment.

Mariposa Island thrives on secrets and untruths, of tangled lives and manipulation. Told from the perspectives of Caridad as a child living in Havana and siblings Elena and Joaquin, presently residents of the island, the narrative explores family and tangled lives of deception.

Now a parent with two children on the pinnacle of adulthood, Caridad's nonlinear narrative fluctuates between carefree child and the hostile, vitriolic woman she's become. An alcoholic and an abuser. Her children are a reminder of the life she believes she was cruelly denied, her parents sending her to the United States to escape the Cuban Revolution and unbeknown to Caridad, saving her life. She's hostile towards her foster parents, an American family who care for Caridad despite her growing resentment.

Joaquin and Elena have never known their father, only the distant memory of the man their mother continuously reiterates that abandoned his young family. Elena is a sheltered young woman, suffocating under the judgemental scrutiny of her mother and a peacekeeper, simmering arguments between Joaquin and their mother while yearning for her mother's approval. Joaquin is independent and often challenges their mother, confronting her about her alcoholism and the animosity she holds for her children. Although siblings, Elena and Joaquin live parallel lives. Joaquin is employed in a local family restaurant and Elena is a casual nanny for the Callahan family each summer and her only means of escape from her mother's tyranny. Joaquin is the preferable Finney sibling and although he despises his mother, he's fond of Elena and encourages her to defend herself.

Elena begins sneaking out during her mother's drunken unconsciousness to see her boyfriend, a nineteen year old staying in town for the summer. Manipulated and exploited by an older, experienced man, Elena has become reckless and abandons her best friend. When Elena's and Caridad's lies begin to unravel, it becomes apparent that Joaquin's survival depends on escaping the island. No longer able to live with the lies and deception. He's suffocating.

I was captivated by the intensity of the narrative and their tangled deception. Elena was an unreliable narrator, her untruths had become her reality and I was swept along by her dishonesty. I believed her. Caridad's alcoholism to escape her reality is distressing, disregarding her own children while reminiscing about her life in Havana and regretting the life she's been saddled with. Lies layered upon untruths and manipulation, it was a toxic and vicious cycle that was destroying Elena's, Caridad's and Joaquin's lives.

Jennifer Mathieu is a remarkable storyteller, I was captivated by the Finney family and their entwined deception and betrayal. To put it bluntly, they're fucked, they'll fuck you up and you'll enjoy every fucking moment. 

Scars Like Wings

Contains potentially triggering mentions of the loss of a parent, fire, death and suicide
Scars Like Wings
Written by Erin Stewart
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Disability
384 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★
Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see.

Sixteen year old Ava Gardener is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all. Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn't?

When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle for survival and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the glass, or the people by her side.
Ava Gardener is the sole survivor of a house fire that took the lives of her parents and cousin Sara. Ava lives with the scars that serve as a reminder of her sorrow, for the lives lost that fateful day and the life that she's been so cruelly denied. Once an outgoing and popular girl, Ava has become a recluse, completing her education through correspondence and reluctantly attending group counselling appointments for adolescents who have survived tragedy and trauma.

Enduring invasive reconstructive surgery and grafts, Ava is restricted to compression bandages to ensure her skin remains taut during the heeling process, her aunt and uncle working tirelessly to afford Ava's ongoing medical expenses. Cared for by her aunt and uncle, Sara's parents who are mourning the loss of their only child, Ava understands the financial burden she's become. Championing her recovery, Cora is enthusiastic when Ava's counsellor suggests Ava return to school, no longer challenged by her online studies and needing to gain a sense of normalcy so to appease Cora, Ava agrees to a two week trial.

Ava Gardener is a wonderful young woman who has endured devastating tragedy, losing her parents and cousin in traumatic circumstances and although heavily scarred, Ava survived. The intensity of the fire burnt over sixty percent of Ava's skin and although she's endured multiple grafting procedures, Ava's facial scarring has become a barrier in regaining her independence. Through counselling Ava befriends Piper, the two young women both survivors. Piper was involved in a car accident and now physically disabled as a result, never allowing herself to become a victim or survivor but rather a girl who is thriving. Neither Ava or Piper serve as an inspiration to others, they simply want to experience adolescence.

Ava and Piper are characters of contrast, Ava wants to remain as inconspicuous as possible, Piper is self deprecating and uses humour to make antagonisers and detractors feel uncomfortable. Ava is a kindred spirit filling the void of loneliness for Piper, Piper encourages Ava to broaden her horizons and although both Piper and Ava continue to navigate their tentative friendship, Ava's confidence begins to blossom.

Scars Like Wings is a gentle and healing narrative, to not merely survive but to endure, to exist and to live again. Diverse young adult literature is almost exclusively sexually diverse, multicultural, multigender or hearing and vision impaired and Scars Like Wings is an incredibly important narrative. Physical scarring can often be debilitating, not only effecting confidence but the discomfort and pain associated with skin trauma. Ava's experience in finding her sense of normalcy is a personal journey, she experiences isolation, undiagnosed depression, acute pain and her movements restricted due to her compression bandages. Her recovery is ongoing, with Cora massaging ointment into her skin nightly. Psychologically, Ava also experiences vivid reminders of her loss which some readers may find confronting.

Erin Stewart has authored a tender, captivating narrative and an unflinching account of the scars we carry. Some not always visible. A beautifully compassionate debut novel and essential reading. 

Under The Stars - Q & A With Lisa Harvey Smith

A Masters Degree in Physics with Honours in Astronomy Astrophysics, author Lisa Harvey Smith is the Australian Government's Ambassador for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Astronomer, Author and Broadcaster and has just released her illustrated middle grade novel, Under the Stars, Bedtime Astrophysics. Transporting curious kids and inquisitive adults on an incredible journey through the night sky.

Explore our solar system from the comfort of your cosy bedroom. Find out why the sky is blue. Fly around a black hole and peer inside! Learn why Jupiter has stripes. When astrophysicist Lisa Harvey Smith isn't looking skyward, she is answering the smart questions of school kids. Her engaging storytelling in this colourfully illustrated book brings the night sky to life, giving amazing new perspectives to young explorers who are always asking, why?
Add to Goodreads
Purchase from Melbourne University Press
Visit Lisa Harvey Smith on her website
What was your motivation for writing Under the Stars, Astrophysics for Bedtime?
I have always had a fascination with the night sky, which blossomed into a wonderful career in astronomy. Aside from my research though, one of the most energising parts of my job has always been visiting schools and talking to kids about space. They are always so excited and enthusiastic and the questions they ask are so creative! I knew that I needed to create a book just for them.
When you were a kid, what interested you about space?
When I was a child, it was really the beauty of the stars that first captured my imagination. My Dad and I used to go out somewhere really dark and just take it all in. After a while though, I had questions running though my head like, how many stars are there? How big is the universe? Is there other life out there? And the list goes on. So, I began reading books about astronomy and I was enthralled by this amazing new window on our universe.
What are five things about space that still make you go wow!
Astronauts age more slowly in space than they do on Earth, ever so slightly! That's because the Earth's gravity bends our universe and makes time pass more slowly. It's called time dilation. Weird or what!

If you got too close to a black hole, your entire body would be stretched by the enormous gravitational forces and you'd become human spaghetti.

Ever wondered why the sky is blue? It's because the light from the Sun is made up of all the colours of the rainbow. As the sunlight hits our atmosphere, it is scattered across the sky by tiny particles of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide that make up the air. These particles act as millions of tiny mirrors. Blue light is scattered from these particles more easily than red light, so that is why the sky appears blue.

Shooting stars are not stars at all. They are actually tiny specks of space dust that crash through our atmosphere as we orbit the Sun. The bits of space dust rub against the air and heat up, reaching a temperature of 1000 degrees and burn up, creating bright streaks of light in the sky.

Our Sun is a gigantic ball of gas. Tiny particles crash together in its middle, creating a nuclear furnace that burns at a temperature of 15 million degrees. Four million tonnes of the Sun's gas is burned into heat and light every single second!
What has been your career highlight so far?
I would have to say that seeing the first pictures from the gigantic telescope I helped to build in remote Western Australia was a real highlight for me. It's part of a global mega science project involving more than 10 countries and I had worked on the project for seven years before we got any results. After all that time, seeing those first images of distant galaxies was a real highlight for me. Also, on a personal note, touring Australia with Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo 11 astronaut who first set foot on the Moon with Neil Armstrong in 1969 was a real highlight for me. Talking with someone who has explored another world and sharing their experiences, it's just such an incredible feeling.
If you could travel into space, where would you want to go and why?
Since I was about 15, I have dreamed of being the first Woman to go to the Moon. It won't be me, but I'm very excited that NASA has pledged to send the first woman to the moon by 2024.
What do you think still needs to be discovered about space, the galaxies or the night sky?
The great thing about our universe is that there is so much still to discover! For example, we only understand what 4% of space is made from. The other 96% is completely out of our grasp. We don't know how the universe will end, or if it will ever end at all. We are yet to learn how life began on Earth and whether we are alone in the universe. So many mysteries are yet to explore.
Please describe a day in the life of an astrophysicist.
Astrophysics is a wonderful pursuit. On a typical day I might work with a team of scientists on a scientific problem or make pictures of the sky from information I have gathered from telescopes. I'd read the latest astronomy research and see what other people are discovering, to get new ideas. I might travel to a conference or a telescope in a far flung region of the world or share my results by writing a scientific report or speaking to fellow scientists about my latest discovery. Then I might work with students and help the next generation of scientists learn and grow in their discoveries.
What do you think kids will get most out of reading your new book?
Under the Stars, Astrophysics for Bedtime is all about cultivating a sense of wonder and exploration in young children. The illustrations are designed so that every child can see a role model who looks like them. It is so important for girls and boys to engage enthusiastically in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects so that we can build a future designed by everyone that serves the needs of society.
What do you think parents will get most out of reading your new book?
Parents get an opportunity to read fascinating stories about space to their children and help stimulate their curiosity at the same time. As kids get older, they will get a bit of peace and quiet as children get engrossed in reading the book themselves! Older primary aged kids will love reading the stories again and again, each time learning something new. And don't tell the kids but this book is also for the grown ups too! You can have a sneaky read once the littlies have gone to sleep. Learning is a lifelong joy after all.
Please feel free to share any amazing stories or anecdotes about writing the book.
Writing Under the Stars was a labour of love. Since I work full time, I did my writing at night, dreaming up stories and crafting the book from my bed. I think that writing at night helped create the dreamy astrophysics for bedtime vibe of the book.

Want to win a copy of Under the Stars, Astrophysics for Bedtime? 
Head over to my Twitter page and retweet to enter here.

Greta's Story

Greta's Story
The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet
Written by Valentina Camerini
Translated by Moreno Giovannoni
Illustrated by Veronica Carratelli
Non Fiction, Environmental, Middle Grade
129 Pages
Published August 19th 2019
Thank you to Black Inc Books
Add to Goodreads
Greta's Story is about hope, courage and determination. You are never too young to make a difference.

It's 20 August 2018, late summer in Stockholm, and it feels incredibly hot in the city. The TV news is reporting rising temperatures, and there have been numerous fires throughout Sweden. Fifteen year old Greta Thunberg decides she can't wait any longer: politicians have to do something to save the environment. Instead of returning to school, Greta takes a placard and goes on strike in front of Sweden's parliament building.

Greta's protest began the Friday's for Future or School Strike 4 Climate movement, which millions have now joined around the world. Greta has spoken at COP24, the UN summit on climate change, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is her story, but also that of many other girls and boys around the world willing to fight against the indifference of the powerful for a better future.
Greta Thunberg is fifteen years of age, an accomplished speaker addressing Climate Change symposiums, United Nations assemblies and has amassed millions of children, young adults and adults from around the world to reduce our damaging ecological footprints, to demand more from our governments and actively collaborate within our communities for a greener future. An inspiring young woman who is changing our world. This is environmental activist Greta Thunberg and this is her journey.

During an unseasonably warm summer in Stockholm Sweden, Greta created a simple placard and rather than attending school, begun her peaceful protests outside the government chambers in Stockholm with the support of her parents, understanding Greta's passion for the environment and her concerns that our leaders were ignoring the climate change crisis. Each Friday, Greta would sit alone, a young girl within a busy metropolis hoping to draw attention to the environmental cause. Our planet is dying and humanity is to blame. Animals face extinction, water is a precious commodity, plastic is destroying our oceans and marine life and the earth breathes pollution while our governments remain silent.

Recently throughout the world, our youth marched towards a common belief, adults, politicians and leaders have failed our future generations with inaction, the crisis of climate continues to worsen and while countries have pledged to reduce omissions, drastic action needs to be taken. And now.

Greta has lead an extraordinary life in her fifteen years. Diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and depression, Greta has become a beacon for change and has inspired an environmental movement that reaches communities in the most distant corners of the world. She poses the question, what are you doing to help our environment?

Written in simple and accessible language and sprinkled with charming illustrations, Greta's Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet is a wonderful introduction for children and middle grade readers to learn about climate change and the ways in which we can take responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint, through the eyes of a fifteen year old environmental warrior. Compelling reading. 

Impossible Music

Impossible Music
Written by Sean Williams
Contemporary, Music, Loveozya
320 Pages
Published July 2019
Thanks to Allen & Unwin
RRP $19.99 AU
Add to Goodreads
★★★☆
When the song is over, what remains? A novel about rediscovering yourself when everything you once took for granted is gone.

Music is Simon's life, which is why he is devastated when a ministroke obliterates his hearing. He resists attempts to help him adjust to his new state, refusing to be counselled, refusing to learn sign language, refusing to have anything to do with Deaf culture. Refusing, that is, until he meets G, a tough as nails girl dealing with her own newly experienced hearing loss.

In an emotionally compelling tale crackling with originality, Simon's quest to create an entirely new form of music forces him into a deeper understanding of his relationship to the hearing world, of himself, and of the girl he meets along the way.
The last thing Simon Rain can remember hearing is the music blaring through his earphones as he fell asleep. That was nine months ago and after suffering from a stroke in the middle of the night while he slept, eighteen year old Simon hasn't heard a thing since. Coming to terms with his diagnosis has been a difficult journey for Simon. As a musician, music has been his life and an outlet to express himself creatively. Now angry and isolated, Simon refuses to learn Auslan, Australian Sign Language and prefers to communicate through screens and text messages.

Simon is profoundly deaf and after months of testing, doctors have determined his diagnosis as a rare form of sensorineural hearing loss, often caused by damage to the nerve that carries the signals to the brain or in Simon's case, a stroke. At a loss and grieving, Simon is determined to find new methods of creating music and being accepted into a prestigious university course. Music isn't only heard, it's felt and along with an abrupt, no nonsense music professor, devises a method to allow everyone to experience music. The musical aspect was fascinating, creating music as a sensory experience. Simon was so incredibly passionate about making his concept a reality, it consumed him and his determination was palpable. Unfortunately the technical aspects and musical terminology were lost on me, especially the emails Simon and the music professor exchanged.

Simon attends doctors appointments, counselling and a program for hearing impaired students but refuses to participate, after all he's still grieving the loss of his hearing and no one seems to understand how isolating the loss of noise is. All except George. George or G as she's affectionately known was diagnosed with tinnitus after a secondary roller derby accident. G's mental health begins to deteriorate, her recently diagnosed tinnitus has worsened, leaving her with constant noise that no one else can hear.

Simon and G begin to depend on one another as their relationship develops and although they seek solace in one another over their shared hearing impairment, they also enable one another. Communicating through text messaging while in each others company, neither using Auslan. I never really felt a sense of who G was aside from her illness. We see G through Simon's thoughts as the troubled, brooding love interest but apart from their diagnosis, seemingly have nothing in common. I would have preferred to have seen Simon and G as friends rather than the tentative romance.

The main focus of the storyline is music and the many ways in which we listen. I found the concept fascinating and thought provoking but there was just so much theory and technical terminology. Simon seemed to be eighteen years old going on forty and his extensive knowledge of musical composition felt at odds with his character, even with the influence of his one hit wonder, music producer father.

Despite the long passages of musical terminology, I enjoyed it. It was a little too clever at times and could have been far more engaging with less of the descriptive and more character development, especially concerning G. Despite not being an own voices novel, the deaf experience was so authentically written. The grief, the anger and the isolation of being a hearing impaired person in a world brimming with song, it was incredibly and intricately written.

Frankly In Love

Frankly In Love
Written by David Yoon
Contemporary, Romance, Diverse
432 Pages
Published September 17th 2019
Thanks to Penguin Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★
Frank loves Joy. Joy loves Frank. At least, that's what they tell their parents.

Frank Li is a high school senior living in Southern California. Frank's parents emigrated from Korea, and have pretty much one big rule for Frank, he must only date Korean girls. But he's got strong feelings for a girl in his class, Brit and she's not Korean. His friend Joy Song is in the same boat and knows her parents will never accept her boyfriend, so they make a pact. They'll pretend to date each other in order to gain their freedom. Frank thinks fake dating is the perfect plan, but it leaves him wondering if he ever really understood love or himself at all.

David Yoon's debut novel is a quirky, authentic, heartbreaking romantic comedy and a refreshingly different take on race, immigrant communities, friendship and family.
In accordance with his parents, Frank Li is destined for greatness. Frank will be accepted into the college. Frank will date a lovely Korean girl from an honoured family. Frank will be wealthy and successful. Frank will also marry Korean girl and have Korean children and thus the Korean circle of life continues. Frank knows very little about the lives of his parents before they immigrated to America, his mother and father are peaceful, humble people who have worked tirelessly to provide for their children, Frank and older sister Hanna.

Self confessed nerd Frank barely speaks Korean, born in America and wavering between identifying as Korean and American but never quite fitting in. Each week Korean families congregate for The gathering, each family hosting a Korean banquet and allocating time to socialise and catch up with other Korean Americans who have created a new life for their families, small business owners basking in their own success. While the adults gather, their American born offspring talk about colleges, video games and dating. All except Hanna. Hanna who was once the perfect Korean daughter until she started dating Miles, an African American young man she met at college.

So when Frank starts dating Brit, he knows he can never tell his parents. Brit is white and doesn't fit into Frank's Korean world and after seeing his sister Hanna ostracised for her relationship with Miles, Frank knows Brit wouldn't be welcome within his family.

Frank isn't the most likeable of characters but he's incredibly genuine and authentic. He's keenly aware that his parents hold a deep prejudice towards other Asian identities, African Americans and those of Mexican decent. They stereotype, use terms like ching chong when describing those with a Chinese background, make assumptions about African Americans and Mexican identities as being single mothers or felons and fought endlessly with Hanna who continued to challenge their racism until she was ostracised for not dating a Korean man. Frank on the other hand is too scared to make waves. He calls them out on their racism but halfheartedly. It's easier for him to ignore their prejudice than to challenge them. So when he starts dating Brit, he doesn't give his parents the opportunity to surprise him but instead hides her like a dirty secret and she deserved so much more.

Considering the current social media call out culture and microaggressions, I think it's an important aspect of discussion that Frank didn't push back against his parents. Racism exists and it can be deeply ingrained into families of any background or culture. What happens when you're the teen of racist parents? If you listen to most adults on social media such as Twitter, they expect you to rage against the injustice of the world but what they don't often realise that you can only push back so much against parents or authoritarian figures. Twitter doesn't care if you suddenly find yourself out on your ass with no where to go. I found Frank's situation completely reasonable and although I wish he'd given his parents the benefit of the doubt regarding Brit, I can understand why it was easier for him to simply ignore their casual racism and stereotyping. Ignoring racism for your own self preservation is not the same as condoning the actions of those who are being racist.

I love a fake romance narrative and Joy Song was such a lovely character. She was brutally honest, hilariously funny and in much the same situation as Frank, only wealthier. Joy is Korean American and dating Wu, a tall, dark and handsome Chinese American athlete and has kept their relationship hidden from her parents for the past two years. As a workaround, Joy and Frank pretend to begin dating to keep their parents happy and as an alibi to date Wu and Brit respectively. Pretending to date Joy is easy. She's a hard working, intelligent young woman from a good Korean family and fake dating Joy allows Frank a freedom he's never known before.

The secondary characters were fabulous, especially Frank's banter with best friend Q. Q is African American, a nerd, highly intelligent and speaks as though he's an extra on Downtown Abbey. Unfortunately as Frank explores his new relationship, Q is the one who ultimately suffers. He needed more from Frank and allowed his friend to take advantage of his kindness.

The ending is bittersweet and reiterates the importance of family. Frank learns that the easier path isn't always the happiest and perhaps anything worth having is worth the fight. Frankly In Love is an incredibly important read, besides being engaging and entertaining, it highlights how we're all capable of racism, microaggressions and stereotyping regardless of our backgrounds, culture or the colour of our skin. Brilliant debut!

Devil's Ballast

Devil's Ballast
Written by Meg Caddy
Historical, Pirates, #LoveOZYA
320 Pages
Published May 7th 2019
Thanks to Text Publishing
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Anne Bonny was eighteen when she ran away from her violent husband, James, into the arms of pirate captain Calico Jack Rackham. Now she’s ensconced aboard Jack’s ship Ranger, passing as a cabin boy and playing her ruthless part in a crew that is raining down mayhem and murder on the ships of the Caribbean. But James Bonny is willing to pay to get his property back. And pirate hunter Captain Barnet is happy to take his money. The Ranger’s a fast ship, Anne might just be able to outrun Barnet. But can she outrun the consequences of her relationship with Calico Jack?

Devil’s Ballast is action packed yet nuanced, culturally relevant and sharp as a cutlass. Based on the true story of Anne Bonny, this new novel by the remarkable Meg Caddy brings to life one of history’s most fascinating anti heroines.
As the dawn rises, Anne Bonny binds her breasts with bandages, pulls on her britches and prepares for another journey on board the Ranger, a pirate ship bound for the Carribbean. The crew believes Anne is a young man, small, intelligent and arrogant. The ocean doesn't welcome young women and women on board are abused, disgraced and often degraded. After escaping her violent husband, Anne is labelled an adulterer by the lawmakers of Nassau, a bounty offered for her capture by her volatile husband, furious that Anne was stolen away by infamous pirate Calico Jack, Jack Rackham.

Anne Bonny is remarkable. As a young woman, defying her father and marrying James Bonny, living in a small, ramshackle hut on the Nassau coast. Her husband begun to abuse her, stumbling home in a drunken, violent rage until Anne was presented with a lifeline, the handsome Calico Jack and despite the crew of the Ranger believing Anne was a slight boy of no more than fourteen, Anne and Jack became lovers on the open seas, pillaging merchant vessels and gaining notoriety.

Although her life can only be speculated upon, Anne Bonny is an incredible historical figure. Anne is portrayed as a young woman of incredible strength and conviction, exchanging an oppressive marriage for life as a marauder throughout the Caribbean. She's accused of adultery, a suspected sex worker and if she escapes execution, then she'll be returned to her violent husband who has employed a pirate hunter to capture his wife.

It was highly suspected that Anne Bonny was bisexual, involved in a romantic relationship with Mary Read, also known as Mark Read. Women were often abused during the Golden Age of Piracy, only valued as wives and caregivers by honourable men. Anne bound her breasts in bandages to conceal her gender with only Calico Jack enlightened that Andrew Bonny is female. When Anne is captured and kept prisoner, she befriends a passive, unassuming pirate, Read. Read suspects Anne is female and under the cover of darkness, they both escape. Read is a transgender man, binding his chest and in Devil's Ballast, identifies as male. Their friendship was beautiful, the two pirates are kindred spirits and sought solace in each others company. Although Anne is in a relationship with Calico Jack, she has infinitely greater chemistry and compatibility with Read.

A fictional account of the journey of Anne Bonny, Devil's Ballast is superbly entertaining and swashbuckling fun. Meg Caddy has captured the romantic essence of a ferocious and passionate heroine that will be remembered as a famed and sensationalised young woman. Remarkable reading.

The Harp of Kings

The Harp of Kings
Warrior Bards Book One
Written by Juliet Marillier
Fantasy, Folklore, Celtic
400 Pages
Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★
Bard. Warrior. Rebel.

Eighteen year old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart and is a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan's burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. While she and her brother are competing for places in this band, they are asked to go undercover as travelling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission is to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship. If the harp is not played at the upcoming coronation, the heir will not be accepted and the kingdom will be thrown into turmoil. Faced with plotting courtiers, secretive druids, an insightful storyteller and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realises an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the realm. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and the consequences may break her heart.
On Swan Island, apprentices are disciplined in warfare and espionage in preparation to become elite soldiers, a distinguished position garnering the admiration of the communities of Erin. Siblings Liobhan and Brocc are revered for their proficiency, accomplished apprentices on the threshold of their inaugural assignment on the mainland. Accompanied by adversary Dau and the chieftains of Swan Island, their assignment is to retrieve the Harp of Kings, a traditional stringed instrument of considerable importance. The harp will be played at Breifne's coronation ceremony for the incoming kingship and without the traditional ceremony, the new king shall not be accepted by society.

Each apprentice has been provided with a new identity and persona for their assignment. Dau will be employed as a lowly stable hand and labourer, a young man with mutism. Liobhan and Brocc will be employed by the empire as travelling minstrels, selected for their musical capabilities much to the annoyance of Liobhan. The journey to the Kingdom of Breifne is fraught with danger. Legends speak of an otherworldly realm in which the fair folk reside, an elderly storyteller guarding a gateway to another world which is being decimated. Of a tempered, volatile King and the uncanny, what resides in the beyond.

Liobhan is an ambitious and intelligent young woman who challenges authority and an extraordinary musician. Entering the academy at Swan Island is among her greatest accomplishments, vying for a place as a permanent resident among the chosen warriors and accompanied by brother Brocc. Brocc is an accomplished young man and esteemed amongst the Swan Island community. Unlike Liobhan, Brocc prefers to create music, mesmerising crowds with his angelic melodies and although he's a capable combatant, he faces an internal conflict of identity. Dau is a stoic young man and Liobhan's main adversary. He segregates himself rather than establish friendships with his comrades. Beneath the surface lies a young man traumatised by his youth, tormented by older siblings and tortured by traumatic stress disorder.

In The Kingdom of Breifne, Druids live with a segregated community, men of spirituality who upon entering the brotherhood are deprived of their former identity. Their families forbidden to speak of their loved one. The Druids are the protectors of the Harp of Kings, essential for the incoming King's crowning ceremony. Brocc must garner the confidence of the Druids to investigate the disappearance of the harp and along with chieftain Archu, play nightly for the Breifne court under the guise of travelling minstrels.

Liobhan and Dau begin a tentative friendship, from adversaries to a gentle companionship while Brocc finds himself attracted to a mysterious women in which he finds a sense of solace. The romance is subtle and delicate, which will no doubt be explored in the next installment. Within the court, Liobhan befriends a neglected and frightened young girl, we see a tender side of the feminist warrior and I really enjoyed their interactions. Throughout the narrative, we see how difficult it is for women within the Kingdom. Women work within traditional roles, caring for children, sewing, cooking, washing and seen as inferior to men by often remarking, you're quite intelligent, for a woman. Given her place within the court as a mere minstrel, Liobhan is unable to challenge these sexist ideals publicly but secretly seethes with frustration. 

The Harp of Kings is extraordinarily exquisite, an enchanting fusion of fantasy and fictional Celtic folklore, a journey of resistance, resilience and realisation. Atmospheric and vividly imagined, Juliet Marillier is exceptional.

It Sounded Better in My Head

It Sounded Better in My Head
Written by Nina Kenwood
Contemporary, Coming Of Age, #LoveOZYA
Published August 6th 2019
304 Pages
Thank you to Text Publishing
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
When her parents announce their impending separation, Natalie can’t understand why no one is fighting or at least mildly upset. And now that Zach and Lucy, her two best friends, have fallen in love, she’s feeling slightly miffed and decidedly awkward.

Where does she fit in now? And what has happened to the version of her life that played out like a TV show, with just the right amount of banter, pining and meaningful looks?

Nothing is going according to plan.

But then an unexpected romance comes along and shakes things up even further.
Natalie has been blindsided by her parents separation, despite them having slept in separate bedrooms for the past ten months. Vowing to remain friends and speaking in calming tones, it's just another aspect of Natalie's life she no longer has control over.

Growing up, Natalie didn't have it easy, each day her body rallied against her, leaving her self esteem in a shambles and her confidence battered and bruised. Her painful acne outbreaks, heavy periods and wanting the world to open and swallow her whole and although her skin these days is a little clearer and she has friends she can turn to in her hours of need, Natalie still sees herself as the lonely girl who was so desperately in need of a friend.

I can't even begin to tell you how refreshing it is to see a young adult protagonist who's real. Natalie is the every girl, often painfully shy, an introvert who chooses to stay home as often as possible. Growing up, Natalie's confidence was non existent, especially with her painful acne breakouts. She would try to disappear behind the curtain of her hair and not draw attention to herself, it was easier to become invisible than to have people talking about your bad skin. But still, they did. When you're lacking in confidence and self esteem, any self perceived flaw makes you a target. Bad skin, weight and in my case, horrifically frizzy hair and outbreaks. If Natalie can talk about it, I can certain lay bare.

Fifteen was a difficult age for me. This was before the age of hair straighteners, when we would literally lay our head down on our mother's ironing board and iron our hair straight. If I had great hair then people wouldn't look too closely at my face, which was horrifically acne prone. Like Natalie, I was on medication twice daily to control my outbreaks but once I turned sixteen, it magically disappeared. Spoiler, my hair is still frizzy. Anyone who says being a teen are the best years of your life? They're either lying or too old to remember. Your teen years are some of the most difficult. 

Being a party person is completely overrated, just ask Natalie. She's content to hang with friends Lucy and Zach, both of who she met at a camp a few years ago. Natalie was the mutual friend until Zach and Lucy started hooking up, now they're in a relationship and although they include Natalie in most of their plans, it's a bit awkward when your two best friends are having sex and Natalie's sick of being the third wheel and wouldn't mind meeting her special someone. When Zach's super hot brother Alex and friend Owen invite Natalie to a party, her anxiety is sent into overdrive. Why are super hot people even talking to her, never mind inviting her to a party. It has to be a joke, right?

Oh the romance! Adorable. No doubt that Alex is hot but Natalie also assumes with his hotness comes arrogance and he's really quite a sweet boy who's just ridiculously good looking. He also thinks Natalie is beautiful. What I really liked about Alex was that he also allowed Natalie to set the parameters of their relationship and ensuring she was always comfortable. It was frustrating to see those around Natalie not so keen on their relationship, warning her that Alex would ultimately hurt her. Natalie seemingly felt as though they were insinuating that she was naive or Alex's interest would wander. Although their concerns came from a place of looking out for Natalie, it was disappointing that no one had faith in their ability to make it work.

Oh Natalie, I feel you. When you've been down on yourself for so long and watched enough eighties movies where the ordinary girl next door is invited on a date with the super hot random guy, it never ends well. If movies have taught me anything, we can't all be Drew Barrymore returning to high school, nabbing the hot unobtainable guy and the teacher. Especially as females, we convince ourselves that we're not worthy and when these moments of happiness present themselves, we're squinting and looking around for the asshole who's sniggering at our demise.

Natalie is the perfect example of pushing ourselves out of those pyjama wearing comfort zones, it's shit your pants scary but it's how we also grow as people. Through experiences. Natalie doesn't transform into the beautiful swan, she's beautiful as she is but she does start to realise her self worth and realise that not everyone is worthy of her. There's nothing sexier than a woman finding her confidence and Natalie is beginning to develop hers in spades.

It Sounded Better in My Head is a narrative that contains adolescent issues seldom mentioned in young adult literature, periods and the fear of bleeding through our underwear while in public, about polycystic ovary syndrome, painful acne, our confidence and worth. Even as adults, seeing a character like Natalie gracing our pages helps us to feel vindicated, that it's not just me who experienced this, Natalie is someone who understands the ache we carry through to our adult years, of our rattled confidence and the feeling of not being so alone.

I have never found a character more relatable than Natalie. She's you, she's the girl next door, she's your sister, your best friend. She's me. It's books like this that I needed as a teen, a friend, someone you can confide in. For the girl with breakouts and acne prone skin, the girl who made it through puberty with stretch marks, the girl who has no idea what to do with her pubic hair or the one who wears two pads and is still worried about a heavy period. Hands up who had at least one incident of bleeding through their pants in high school?

So embrace your weird bits because all women are beautiful. I've been there Natalie, hang in there girl. 

Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town

May contain mild spoilers for Gap Year in Ghost Town. See my review here
Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town
Ghost Town Book Two
Written by Michael Pryor
Paranormal, Ghosts, #LoveOZYA
Published July 2019
320 Pages
Thanks to Allen and Unwin Australia
$19.99
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆
So, how's my gap year going? Is it giving me a taste of the ghost hunting business or is it just dumping me into situations where I could end up dead, or worse?

Lingerers. Moaners. Thugs. Weepers. So many ghosts. Not enough graveyard shifts in a night.

When an extreme ghost plague descends on the city, Anton and Rani must work overtime to keep the city safe and to find the source of the new aggressive ghost outbreak. And it amps up to another level after ghost hunters become the hunted.

Anton and Rani will need all their wits and wiles about them if they are to manage the ghost influx, get to the truth about the Elsewhere and navigate the night with all their limbs intact.
When eighteen year old Anton Marin decided to spend the year contemplating whether or not to carry the Marin family legacy, meandering the streets of Melbourne at night in an age old tradition of easing the passage of spirits into Elsewhere with his new colleague and friend Rani Cross. A Former Londoner and member of the Company of The Righteous. Weepers, Moaners, Lingerers and ghosts who manifest as Ragers haunt the abandoned streets and landmarks of Melbourne but although of late, have become malevolent and menacing and soon the ghost hunting partnership is overwhelmed by their assignments.

Clearly something is amiss in old Melbourne town but thankfully Anton and Rani are on the case. Their friendship is so incredibly lovely, platonic and it's so refreshing to see a male female friendship with no prospect of romance within young adult literature. Incidentally, Rani and Anton's childhood friend Rebecca are in a relationship, now living together while Rebecca attends university and volunteering in the Marin family archives in her spare time. I loved the gentle female romance, the moments of tenderness were beautiful and although their group dynamic has now changed, they all remain steadfast friends.

As the ghosts become increasingly aggressive, we're introduced to Kirsten and Jamie, hailing from the Ghost Hunting Order of Scotland. With their brogue accents and appreciation for malarkey and mayhem, the sibling ghost hunters are always up for an adventure but what they didn't anticipate was the emergence of the Ragged Sisters, an archaic ritualistic faction capturing ghost hunters to sacrifice. What ensues is a headache of mammoth proportions as the veil between our world and Elsewhere begins to thin.

Darker than its predecessor, Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town amplifies the adventure and upheaval, blended with an intriguing mystery. Spirits are engulfing Melbourne in an epidemic, attaching themselves to their human host and draining their vitality, resulting in a spate of unexplained hospitalisations. The emergence of the Ragged Sisters is disturbing and a subtle warning of scenes that depict torture and death, as some readers may find these distressing.

I absolutely love the Ghost Town series, it's hilariously entertaining and written with an incredible wittiness and charisma. Michael Pryor's writing absolutely shines! From the suburbs to our historical buildings and lane ways of Melbourne, it's a wonderful celebration of Melbourne and all her glory. Simply magnificent.

Guest Posting With Corella Press

As readers and lovers of literature, we don't often have access to the process of publishing our favourite novels, editor Tina Higgins at teaching press Corella Press, an Australian teaching initiative at The University of Queensland Press, takes readers behind the scenes over an entire semester as they prepare for publication.


Corella Press is a small, not for profit teaching press that aims to recover lost nineteenth century crime and mystery stories and create beautiful trade publications. It gives students in the Master of Writing, Editing, and Publishing program at The University of Queensland a new opportunity to complete a publishing internship during their degree. Over the thirteen week teaching semester, the Corella Press publisher guides the interns as they work together to prepare a book for publication.

Week One. An Introduction To Independent Publishing

Nine of us gathered for our first editorial team meeting with Meg Vann, the Corella Press Publisher. Over thirteen weeks, we would prepare the second book in a four part series, the follow up to Bridget’s Locket and Other Stories by Waif Wander. We would find a suitable story, prepare and present an acquisitions proposal, compile the book’s front and end matter, update the Corella Press website to include our book, transcribe and copy edit the text, work with our designer to prepare the proof, check the final draft, and prepare the marketing and launch plans. Easy!

Our first task was to search online databases, Trove, The Australian Newspaper Fiction Database, and the Aust Lit website, to uncover find a suitable nineteenth century Australian crime or mystery story. We would be looking for a cracking good yarn that was relevant and interesting for a contemporary audience, had never been published as a book, and had been written by an author with an interesting life story and who died more than seventy five years ago, so that it was within copyright guidelines.

Weeks Two And Three. Finding A Story

We chose Jeannie Lockett’s The Millwood Mystery, an eighteen chapter story serialised in the Australian Town and Country Journal between November 1886 and March 1887. A story of suspicious death in an isolated community, complete with numerous suspects and a twist.

Debbie Lee from Ingram Sparkes also joined us to explain indie publishing and print on demand, which we will be using to create both the print and electronic versions of our book.

By week three we were copyediting, each reviewing our chapters with the lightest possible touch to preserve Jeannie Lockett’s voice.

Week Four And Five. The Acquisition Proposal

During week four, we worked on preparing our acquisitions proposal and in week five we presented it to Corella Press Acting Director, Dr Richard Newsome.

Richard noted that, at 120 pages, our book was short, but as the second book in a series of four, it could work, especially with reading notes. He reminded us to edit lightly, having the author speak from another century is part of the joy of such books. He added that parts of Jeannie Lockett’s biography have Sydney Morning Herald written all over them, including the grave with no name in Waverley Cemetery, a heritage listed cemetery in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and young relatives still attending the Sydney school where she taught. He said that period pieces are popular for serialisation on Stan or Netflix, for example, so pitching to the Queensland Writing Centre’s Adaptable initiative, might be an option, and he reminded us to look for marketing nuggets, anything we can do to make a journalist’s job easier as it will increase our chances of publicity.

Week Six. Book Parts

Week six we talked about the non story parts of the book such as title page, copyright page and introduction, table of contents, author bio, and acknowledgements.

Week Seven. Updating The Website

Dr Catriona Mills from Aust Lit joined us to show how to edit the Corella Press website and we updated the blurb for our book.

Week Eight Copyediting And Proofreading

This week, we brought our editing issues to the table, we discussed our edits, spending our meeting in robust discussion as we did our best to honour Jeannie Lockett’s intention for her story.

Meg suggested we approach Mirandi Riwoe, who writes crime as M.J. Tjia to provide the introduction to our book. Mirandi is from Brisbane and completed a PhD at The University of Queensland. Her books include Fish Girl, writing as Mirandi Riwoe and the Heloise Chancey mysteries, She be Damned and A Necessary Murder, writing as M.J.Tjia. Miranda has a new book coming out soon, and has had her novella accepted for Griffith Review 66: The Novella Project VII, due out in late November.

Week Nine. Marketing

Sally Matthews, from the marketing team at University of Queensland Press, talked to us about book marketing. She spoke about the challenges of working with an author in the marketing phase, especially those who are outspoken or controversial, and she talked about sites and organisations to target. She also outlined a typical social media plan leading up to and after the launch. I was interested to see that focused marketing ends within about a month to six weeks after the launch, there is always the next book to promote. And we had great news. Mirandi Riwoe agreed to provide our book introduction.

Week Ten. Book Design And Production

Dan Seed, our design maestro, spent several hours cutting and pasting our carefully edited text, page by page, into the Adobe InDesign document. The previous editorial team had made all the tough decisions about style, fonts, spacing, headings, so we only had minor decisions to make. Next step, proofreading.

Week Eleven. Launch Plan

We considered The University of Queensland and the Brisbane Writers Festival as possible launch venues but decided on Avid Reader, it has good parking, it’s a venue that is well known for book launches, and it has a loyal following. A quick email secured our launch date at the end of August.

Week Twelve. Proofreading

With only one week to do the final proof, it was time to start working on our social media presence, so we took a group photo and sent it out Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Week Thirteen. It’s a wrap!

In the final proofing phase with Dan, we revised the design layout page by page, tidying editing issues and checking formatting. Suddenly, the thirteen weeks were done. What a great semester. I had the opportunity to work with an inspiring group of publishing interns. I was able to improve my copyediting skills, learning to lighten my touch and work with the authorial voice, rather than impose my will and I helped produce the InDesign proof. I learned about the importance of contacts and networks in publishing and expanded my own through social media, and I wrote the reading notes, which I’m proud to add to my writing portfolio. I also had the opportunity to support and encourage my fellow interns and, as importantly, be supported and inspired by them. I immersed myself in the world of crime fiction, both nineteenth century and contemporary and I discovered how exciting research can be. Best of all, I had the most wonderful opportunity to participate in creating a beautiful
book.

Queen Of Ruin

Contains spoilers for book one. See my review for Grace & Fury
Queen of Ruin
Grace and Fury Book Two
Written by Tracey Banghart
Published July 9th 2019
340 Pages
Thanks to Hachette Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆
Nomi and Malachi find themselves powerless and headed towards their all but certain deaths. Now that Asa sits on the throne, he will stop at nothing to make sure Malachi never sets foot in the palace again.

Nomi's sister Serina, is far away on the prison island of Mount Ruin but it is in the grip of revolution and Serina leads. The women there have their sights set on revenge beyond the confines of their island prison. They will stop at nothing to gain freedom for the entire kingdom. But first they'll have to get rid of Asa, and only Nomi knows how.

Separated once again, this time by choice, Nomi and Serina must forge their own paths as they aim to tear down the world they know, to build something better in its place.
The women of Mount Ruin have revolutionised the brutal island prison, their oppressors imprisoned although continue to threaten the now united female community with violent consequences of their insolence. In protecting her sister, Serina Tessaro was sentenced and ostracised from the Kingdom of Viridia, a disgraced Grace accused of literacy in a society in which women are denied an education. Although Serina pleads her innocence, sister Nomi is a rebellious young woman refusing to adhere to the male patriarchal society and with the knowledge of the slain Superior and Prince Malachi, is sentenced to Mount Ruin.

Although Serina and Nomi are contrasting siblings, they care and support one another profoundly. As children, Serina often believed that Nomi holding her rebellious morals were little more than dissent towards her role as handmaiden, her furtive education culminating in the Tessaro sisters both convicted and sentenced to the island mountain so Prince Asa can rule unopposed. The abhorrent Asa clearly underestimating the power of women, an island where women have been forced to fight to the death is revolting against the male dominated society and with Nomi's newfound knowledge of Viridia's history, the sisters are determined to take back what is rightfully theirs. Freedom, respect and power.

Serina and Nomi are formidable characters who have undergone an incredible amount of growth since arriving in the Viridia capital. Serina was a Grace who's beauty and poise is ingrained within her from an early age while Nomi rebelled against the oppression women faced. Now reunited, the sisters are about to part ways again, this time Serina will commandeer the prison transport vessel and guide the women of Mount Ruin to safety while Nomi will accompany Prince Malachi back to the mainland, in the hopes of finding her brother, parents and ending Asa's rein.

The duology challenges stereotypes with its subtle themes of feminism within the patriarchal society. That women are homemakers, concubines and uneducated simply because men fear them and what women are capable of. Seeing the women of Mount Ruin rise as one to fight back against their oppressors was inspirational and ignites conversations about women and women's rights, our bodies and our right to the same freedoms that men overwhelmingly enjoy.

The romance throughout is incredibly subtle with the focus on friendships and female empowerment. The male love interests barely rate a mention, they're simply supporting characters who both support the equality of women. Women are the main focus and drive the narrative through their fierceness and determination, I loved each and every moment.

Although Grace and Fury is a duology, the ending left me wanting more. What happens to a society where males now become displaced? Their power stripped and women given equal rights? There's so much more of the story to tell and I hope Tracey Banghart will revisit this amazing world she's created again sometime soon. 

I live for books like the Grace and Fury duology, it's why I read young adult novels. Strong female characters within an oppressive world isn't too far from reality for so many teen girls, denied an education, denied the rights to their own bodies and denied the freedom that so many of us take for granted. It portrays women as fighters, the quiet rebellion of reading or a warriors call to arms to fight against the patriarchy, every female voice is important. It's entertaining, inspiration and just an incredible read. It's for every woman who has been told to sit down and be quiet... And who stood up anyway.
© Diva Booknerd. Design by Fearne.