Call It What You Want

Contains mentions of abortion and suicide which may distress some readers
Call It What You Want
Written by Brigid Kemmerer
Contemporary, Friendship, Realistic Fiction
Published July 1st 2019
384 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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★★★★☆
When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.

Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.

When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they’re both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they’ve built. But when Maegan learns of Rob’s plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship.

This captivating, heartfelt novel asks the question. Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons?
Maegan Day is an intelligent and articulate young woman, overwhelmed by the immense expectations she places upon herself. The daughter of a police officer, Maegan understands the need for rules and regulations which is why nobody expected her to cheat on her standardised school testing causing countless students to resit their tests after being deemed invalid. Her older sister Sam is the golden child, a star lacrosse player on a scholarship, beautiful, academically gifted and an elite sportswoman. Over the years the Day siblings have shared a competitive relationship, not always seeing eye to eye but now Sam has returned home, fickle and pregnant, disappointing her parents while she's contemplating what to do about her pregnancy.

I loved their sibling relationship and seeing it morph into a genuine and caring friendship. Although Maegan has always been proud of Sam's achievements, it's not without resentment. Sam is their father's golden child and Maegan has always felt the weight of expectations which drove her to cheat. Unlike Rob, Maegan has the support of her long time best friend Rachel, pity about her boyfriend Drew who continuously makes snide comments about Maegan's mistake which Rachel never pulls him up about, allowing Drew to kick her best friend while she's down.

Rob Lachlan was popular, a champion lacrosse player and a hit with the ladies until his father, a financial adviser, mismanaged and stole funds from even the most vulnerable members of the community, leaving Rob a social pariah and accused of being a part of his father's con. He's lost his friends, the respect of his peers and now he's been saddled with the girl who cheated on the SAT exam for a school project.

High school can be so unforgiving and Rob is an example of being guilty merely by association. His father stealing investment funds from friends, family and the parents of Rob's school peers. Abandoned by his best friend Connor, who's father alerted the authorities, Rob is tormented and bullied, branded a liar and criminal. Rob's story is harrowing. He remembers the man who attended his lacrosse games, who taught him humility and to treasure each moment, he was an excellent father and a stark contrast to the criminal and villain of the wider community. Rob cannot escape. When it became too much for his father, Rob senior tried to take his own life which has left him unable to care for himself, brain damaged and immobile. Once living an opulent lifestyle, Rob's family now barely makes ends meet, his mother working long shifts to provide for their family while Rob cares for his father. 

The only aspect Maegan and Rob have in common is that they're both social pariahs but working together on their project allows them to connect with someone in a similar situation without the fear of being judged. Their tentative friendship isn't easy, Rob finds it difficult to trust after he's been abandoned by his peers but slowly he begins to explore their connection and finds solace in their quiet moments of peace and understanding. Rob also develops a friendship with Owen, a young man who's mother was also a victim of his fathers dealings. My heart ached for Owen as he sits alone each day with his school issued cheese sandwich, breaking it into pieces to fend off his growing hunger. He was still able to put aside his anger and befriend Rob, understanding that Rob isn't his father and shouldn't be treated as such. Owen deserves his own story and I hope Brigid Kemmerer revisits his character soon.

Touching on sensitive issues such as poverty, teen pregnancy, abortion and suicide, written with compassion, Call It What You Want is an honest and genuine portrayal of the pressure and complications of those adolescent years. Often you hear adults telling teens, to treasure those years in their life before adulthood as though being a teen was a simpler time. With kids forced to grow up too soon and the expectations adults place upon teens, often parents living vicariously through their teens, it's one of the hardest periods we go through. It's an aspect that Brigid Kemmerer captures so wonderfully and even if you've never cheated on an exam or heaven forbid your father has never stolen money from his investors, I think most teens will find both Rob and Maegan's journey relatable and find comfort in how fickle these years can be, especially when it comes to our peers and being judged. 

Beautifully written, edgy with authentic and flawed characters, Call It What You Want is Brigid Kemmerer's best contemporary to date. Thoroughly enjoyed it. 

All The Invisible Things

All The Invisible Things
Written by Orlagh Collins
Contemporary, LGBT, Mental Health
Published March 7th 2019
320 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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★★★☆
Vetty's family is moving back to London, and all she can think about is seeing Pez again. They were inseparable when they were small, roaming the city in the long summers, sharing everything. But everyone's telling her it'll be different now. After all, a boy and a girl can't really be friends without feelings getting in the way, can they?

Vetty thinks differently until Pez tells her she's not like other girls. But what does that even mean? Is it a good thing or not? Suddenly she's wondering whether she wants him to see her like the others, like the ultra glamorous March, who's worked some sort of spell on Pez, or the girls in the videos that Pez has hidden on his laptop.

How can she measure up to them? And who says that's what a girl is supposed to be like anyway?
Helvetica has never quite felt herself since her mother passed away after her cancer diagnosis and her father relocated his young family from London to Somerset, exchanging the vibrant city for a cottage retreat. Living in Somerset, the family are now returning to London to resume their lives, including seeing Peregrine once more. Helvetica and Peregrine were childhood friends, neighbours and adventurers but have since lost contact.

Since the loss of her mother, Helvetica has adapted into a mothering role for younger sister Arial, both sibling names a tribute to their mother's love of fonts. Their father now widowed, moving his young family to the country with his sister and her partner while he continued to work from their small cottage on the family property. Grieving and overwhelmed, Helvetica begun to reinvent herself to assimilate and suppress her sexuality.

Throughout the narrative, Helvetica identifies with an attraction towards males and females, realising she's bisexual and feeling a sense of ownership and belonging. It's a defining moment of her sexual identity and within young adult literature. Our adolescent years is when we are exploring our sense of identity which often includes our sexuality and experiencing Helvetica's feelings of confusion is palpable. Another aspect of Helvetica's sexuality is when she discusses her feelings with her Aunt who identifies as lesbian. When describing her attraction towards females on the eve of their same gender wedding, her Aunt assumes Helvetica is also a lesbian in which she later apologises. It would have been wonderful to have experienced her unconditional support for Helvetica during their conversation, rather than have an adult place labels upon her sexual identity. Although it's presumed to be a moment of compassion and understanding, even camaraderie could be interpreted as bisexual or pansexual erasure which some may find distressing.

Peregrine is an interesting character but incredibly abrasive and narcissistic. After Helvetica moved to Somerset, the phone calls became less frequent, messages left unanswered. A young girl grieving, navigating life without her mother and caring for a younger sibling, when returning to London and her small apartment across from the lavish home he shares with his parents, Peregrine was irritable, resentful and seemingly refusing to accept responsibility for his behaviour. Including his addiction to pornography. Peregrine describes his compulsion as an inadequacy and that he's unable to have a sexual relationship because he feels desensitised, impotent and defective. It's important to emphasise that relationships exist beyond a physical relationship, potentially insensitive to those who identify as asexual.

It was wonderful that female masturbation is explored and as a positive experience. Younger sister Arial is also approaching adolescence and is curious about her body and sexuality and with her father emotionally absent, Helvetica helps Arial to understand about body changes, her period and sexuality. It was a gentle and genuine moment between siblings. The friendship Helvetica and March share is beautiful. March is Peregrine's girlfriend, although he also treats her with an incredible amount of disdain. March confides in Helvetica about her relationship with Peregrine and it was lovely to see their friendship existing independently of Peregrine.

I thoroughly enjoyed Helvetica's journey but felt the narrative was sacrificed for Peregrine's issues that seemingly took precedence. All The Invisible Things is an entertaining and arresting contemporary novel and wonderful coming of age. 

All That Impossible Space

All That Impossible Space
Written by Anna Morgan
Contemporary, Mystery, #LoveOZYA
Published June 25th 2019
278 Pages
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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★★★★☆
Fifteen year old Lara Laylor feels like supporting character in her own life. She's Ashley's best friend, she's Hannah's sister, she's never just Lara.

When new history teacher Mr. Grant gives her an unusual assignment, investigating the mystery of the Somerton Man. Found dead in on an Adelaide beach in 1948, a half smoked cigarette still in his mouth and the labels cut out of his clothes, the Somerton Man has intrigued people for years. Was he a spy? A criminal? Year 10 has plenty of mysteries of its own: boys, drama queen friends, and enigmatic new students. When they seem just as unsolvable as a 60 year old cold case, Lara finds herself spending more and more time on the assignment. But Mr Grant himself may be the biggest mystery of all.

Interspersed with fictionalised snapshots of the Somerton Man investigation, All That Impossible Space is a coming of age novel exploring toxic friendships and the balance of power between teacher and student, perfect for fans of Cath Crowley and Fiona Wood.
Lara Laylor has always been an afterthought, living in the shadow of her popular and enigmatic sister Hannah or best friend Ash, an aspiring Broadway actress. With Hannah travelling through Europe trying to find herself, Ash convinces Lara to join the annual Saint Margaret's College musical in conjunction with the local boys school. Lara's real passion is athletics, the freedom of running her own race in the crisp morning air and to perform in the school's production of Cinderella, she'll put her own needs aside for Ash. Again.

Ash and Lara have been friends since primary school, Ash coming to her rescue while Lara was having an asthma attack. Over the years, their friendship has bloomed but now becoming increasingly toxic. Ash is often fuelled by jealousy which results in her abrasive behaviour towards teachers, Lara and new student Kate, who has befriended Lara. Ash will often make decisions for both herself and Lara and lacking in confidence, Lara continuously looks to Ash for validation and approval.

When young history teacher David Grant begins at Saint Margaret's with his fondness for rule breaking and exchanges of ideas as equals, Lara feels she may have found a kindred spirit and throws herself into the group assignment, the mystery of the Somerton Man. The case of the Somerton Man has captivated Australia since the late forties, a deceased man found on the beach in South Australia. No identification. No possessions. A cigarette hanging out of his mouth and the labels removed from his clothing. His cause of death was undetermined and the mystery deepens as they found a small piece of paper in his pocket torn from a Persian novel, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The case still remains unsolved.

While Lara is navigating new friendships, a new crush and a demanding best friend, her new history teacher suddenly becomes his own mystery and disappears. The school refuses to provide Lara with any information. Frustrated and seeking answers, Lara begins to delve deeper into the Somerton Man mystery, believing the Somerton Man case may be why David Grant disappeared. Naturally Lara wants to know what happened to the new teacher despite those around her unable to understand the connection she felt towards David Grant. It wasn't a romantic relationship by any means but rather made Lara feel valued as an individual and not as Hannah's sister or Ash's friend. 

The writing is spectacular, blending a contemporary narrative of friendship and finding your individuality with a decades old unsolved mystery entwined. It's incredibly genuine. I think we've all known an Ash growing up and experienced the varying levels of a toxic and codependent friendship, from backhanded compliments to outright hostility. I really enjoyed Lara's budding romance Jos, both Jos and Kate were wonderful supporting characters and I appreciated that they were able to become friends and that friendship existed independently from their friendships with Lara. It was a lovely touch. The writing itself was captivating and honest, it held an authenticity that Australian authors create so incredibly, without needing to dramatise the teen experience.

I absolutely loved it and now obsessed with the Somerton Man myself. Tamám Shud.

Check out Wikipedia to learn more about the Somerton Man mystery.

Extraordinary Birds

Extraordinary Birds
Written by Sandy Stark McGinnis
Middle Grade, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Published June 3rd 2019
224 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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★★★★★
Eleven year old December knows everything about birds and everything about getting kicked out of foster homes. All she has of her biological mum is the book she left behind, The Complete Guide to Birds, Volume One and a photo with a message, in flight is where you'll find me. December knows she's truly a bird, just waiting for the day she transforms and flies away to reunite with her mum. The scar on her back must be where her wings have started to blossom, she just needs to practise and to find the right tree. She has no choice, it's the only story that makes sense.

When she's placed with Eleanor, a new foster mum who runs a taxidermy business and volunteers at a wildlife rescue, December begins to see herself and what home means in a new light. But the story she tells herself about her past is what's kept December going this long, and she doesn't know if she can let go of it. Even if changing her story might mean that she can finally find a place where she belongs.
Someday December will spread her wings and take flight, feeling the aching scar between her shoulder blades where her wings will bloom as she escapes her human life. Vaguely remembering her biological mother, December is reminded of  her abandonment by a kindergarten photograph of her mother inscribed with in flight is where you'll find me and a reference guide to birds. December endures the ache of being displaced within the foster system until she can learn to fly, searching on her journey to find an old and gnarled tree where she will launch her maiden flight.

My heart ached for young December. Abandoned by her biological mother with a photograph and reference guide, December finds solace in her feathered friends, believing one day she will transform into a bird. Placed in a foster home with Eleanor Thomas, she's just biding her time until she transforms. Eleanor is a wildlife rescuer, taxidermist and shares December's love of birds and although finding common ground, December knows the only person she can rely upon is herself.

On her journey, December has never experienced a sense of belonging, manifesting as a compulsion that she will transform and escape. December is a gentle young lady, compassionate and emphatic especially towards her feathered friends. She's intelligent and wonderfully knowledgeable about birds. December is representative of children displaced by the loss of a parent and placed within the system, weary and detached. Eleanor patiently allows December to interact with her environment, introducing her to responsibility by caring for an injured Red Tailed Hawk as December coerces Henrietta to rehabilitate and take to the skies once more.

Cheryllynn is a wonderful inclusion, charismatic and inclusive as she befriends December. As a young transgirl, Cheryllynn endures abusive behaviour which may distress readers. Her resilience and confidence is inspirational, I'm exactly who I'm supposed to be. She is instrumental in anchoring December as their tentative friendship blossomed.

Extraordinary Birds is achingly beautiful, wonderfully diverse and a remarkable debut novel.

Serious Moonlight

Serious Moonlight
Written by Jenn Bennett
Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Published June 2019
432 Pages
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia
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★★★★☆
Raised in isolation and home schooled by her strict grandparents, the only experience Birdie has had of the outside world is through her favourite crime books. But everything changes when she takes a summer job working the night shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

There she meets Daniel Aoki, the hotel’s charismatic driver, and together they stumble upon a real life mystery. A famous reclusive writer, never before seen in public, is secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell, and in doing so, realise that the most confounding mystery of all may just be her growing feelings for Daniel.
When Birdie Lindberg lost her young mother to congenital heart disease, she wasn't prepared for the isolation of her grandparents home on Bainbridge Island, educated by her retired grandmother, a former teacher before her recent passing. With her grandfather's encouragement and support from her nonbiological Aunt and mother's best friend Mona Rivera, Birdie spreads her wings and begins work on the mainland at the historical Cascadia Hotel in downtown Seattle Washington.

Birdie Lindberg is a charismatic and inquisitive young woman, immersing herself in her late grandmother's garden and mystery novels. Birdie lives with her grandfather, sharing a wonderful relationship with the recently widowed man after the passing of her grandmother to heart disease, a heredity condition. Although undiagnosed, Birdie experiences narcolepsy and cataplexy, a condition identifiable by muscle weakness triggered by emotional responses accompanied by full conscious awareness. With her newfound independence and position at the Cascadia Hotel, dashing coworker and hotel chauffeur Daniel Aoki approaches Birdie with an intriguing mystery. Recluse crime author Raymond Darke allegedly frequents the hotel each week, Daniel proposes a tentative partnership and the two amateur detectives embark on an adventure to uncover Raymond Darke's identity.

Daniel Aoki is a wonderful young man and amateur magician. Daniel is also hearing impaired and has been diagnosed with depression. The tentative friendship is incredibly awkward and mortifying, especially for Birdie. Birdie and Daniel have met before, at the Moonlight Diner where Birdie is a frequent customer, her mother a former waitress at the establishment before her passing. Sharing a conversation and attraction, Birdie and Daniel have spontaneous and consensual sex before Birdie flees into the night. What ensues is an attempt at a totally awkward conversation between coworkers about casual sex while trying to solve one of the mysteries plaguing modern popular culture.

Sexually positive young adult books are so incredibly important. During adolescence is often when we explore our sexuality and it was wonderful to an open and honest dialogue between Birdie and Mona about using protection and sex being a positive and feel great experience and placing the emphasis on consent. Whether you choose to have sex, uninterested in a physical relationship or identify as asexual, it's important to encourage discussion and acceptance.

Japanese American biracial, Daniel lives with his extended family in a cohousing community. His grandparents are a wonderful support for both Daniel and Cherry, his mother and former performer. Many families now share their homes with multigenerational family members and it was lovely to see extended families represented. Daniel is incredibly charming and charismatic and allows Birdie to guide their relationship ensuring she's comfortable and consenting.

Jenn Bennett is a remarkable author creating charismatic and introspective characters that resonate with audiences. Atmospheric, adventurous and beautifully captivating.

Malamander

Malamander
Malamander Book One
Written by Thomas Taylor
Middle Grade, Adventure, Mystery, Fantasy
Published May 1st 2019
304 Pages
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★★★★★
Nobody visits Eerie On Sea in the winter. Especially not when darkness falls and the wind howls around Maw Rocks and the wreck of the battleship Leviathan, where even now some swear they have seen the unctuous Malamander creep.

Herbert Lemon, Lost and Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, knows that returning lost things to their rightful owners is not easy, especially when the lost thing is not a thing at all, but a girl. No one knows what happened to Violet Parma’s parents twelve years ago, and when she engages Herbie to help her find them, the pair discover that their disappearance might have something to do with the legendary sea monster, the Malamander. Eerie On Sea has always been a mysteriously chilling place, where strange stories seem to wash up. And it just got stranger...
As winter approaches the seaside town of Cheerie On Sea, the summer warmth begins to evaporate, the bustle of tourists has disappeared and the first two letters on the welcome sign disintegrate and the harbour side town becomes Eerie On Sea, a township thriving on folklore and intrigue. Herbert Lemon is the lost and founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, a centuries old tradition of returning lost items to their owners and finding objects that have been lost. When a wild eyed young girl stumbles into Herbert's cellar of lost treasures, adventure awaits.

Violet Parma has returned to the Grand Nautilus Hotel to uncover the mystery of the disappearance of her parents, infant Violet found in the family hotel suite while all that remained of her parents were their shoes left upon the beach for the tide to claim. Technically Violet is a lost child searching for her parents and if anyone could solve the decade long disappearance, it's Herbert Lemon, lost and founder extraordinaire.

Herbert Lemon is a fantastically entertaining, endearing young man and prestigious lost and founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. Herbert Lemon arrived at the hotel as a child under the care of Lady Kracken and hotel manager, the petulant Mister Mollusc, found washed upon the sandy shore with no knowledge of his name. Residing in the hotel cellar, Herbert is surrounded by centuries of hotel memorabilia including clues which will perhaps provide answers for young Violet.

Violet Parma has returned to Eerie On Sea to discover the final moments of her parents. Although raised by her aunt, Violet has travelled alone with only the clothes she's currently wearing and a tattered postcard around her neck that was found in her abandoned bassinet. Violet is a sprightly girl and daring adventurer but under her inquisitive facade is a young girl grieving and searching for the parents she barely knew. She may not remember the community of Eerie On Sea but her reputation proceeds her. Following in the footsteps of her parents, visiting the Eerie Book Depository where books choose their reader, the fish and chippery at the end of the pier where the lonely man awaits the song of the siren or the local physician who has a museum of artefacts and curios but those of Eerie On Sea will tell you they were taken by the Malamander, a mythical creature from the ocean depths.

Malamander is outrageously entertaining and wildly imaginative. Thomas Taylor has created a fantastically atmospheric narrative of unforgettable and beautifully written characters, of adventure and shenanigans. Simply brilliant. 

Catch A Falling Star

Catch a Falling Star
Written by Meg McKinlay
Middle Grade, Historical, Contemporary, #LoveOZMG
Published March 1st 2019
256 Pages
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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★★★★☆
It’s 1979 and the sky is falling. Skylab, that is. Somewhere high above Frankie Avery, one of the world’s first space stations is tumbling to Earth. And rushing back with it are old memories. Things twelve year old Frankie thought she’d forgotten. Things her mum won’t talk about, and which her little brother Newt never knew. Only did he? Does he? Because as Skylab circles closer, Newt starts acting strangely. And while the world watches the sky, Frankie keeps her own eyes on Newt. Because if anyone’s going to keep him safe, it’s her. It always has been. But maybe this is something bigger than splinters and spiders and sleepwalking. Maybe a space station isn’t the only thing heading straight for calamity.
Frankie Avery is watching the skies high above her small town in Western Australia where six years prior, revolutionary space station Skylab was launched into orbit. NASA estimates that Skylab will fall to earth within the next few months, reigniting memories of six year old Frankie, two year old brother Newt and their father in their makeshift star observatory, teaching his children about the limitless depths of space before he disappeared from their lives.

The ramshackle observatory sits derelict, high on the hill holding secrets lost to time. Secrets of a father who is no longer of this world. Of a grieving family, an absent mother and a space station that is falling to Earth on the anniversary of her father's disappearance.

Frankie Avery is a wonderful young lady and narrator of Catch A Falling Star. She's mature beyond her years and currently cares for her brother, the namesake of scientific revolutionary Sir Issac Newton. Caring for Newt is a full time position and while Frankie juggles school, her homework and Newt's endless scientific experiments, she feels the frustration of friend Kat who adores Newt but would like to spend time with her best friend without her little brother tagging along. Frankie's mother works long hours, a nurse at the local hospital who is often late home and asks Frankie to prepare dinner and take responsibility for Newt.

Twelve year old Frankie just wants to please others, her mother, best friend Kat and keep Newt safe from harm, usually of his own doing but as the coverage of Skylab saturates the media, Newt begins tracking the falling space station, collecting information, articles and media reports to piece together when Skylab will fall to Earth. As an infant, Newt was always destined for the stars and although he can't remember, would sit upon his father's knee and watch the skies from their wooden observatory. With their mother working long into the night, Frankie and Newt only have one another and a dusty photo album that contains their father's life.

My heart ached for all Frankie endured, the loss of her father, the responsibility placed upon her young shoulders and the grief she suppresses to maintain the balance at home. I loved the nostalgic Australiana of the late seventies, the feeling of warm summer nights, freshly cut grass and walking to the local milk bar barefooted. Meg McKinlay has created a wonderfully gentle narrative, beautifully tender and an exploration of the many facets of grief and how is reshapes families. Absolutely loved it to the moon and back. 

The Little Wave

The Little Wave
Written by Pip Harry
Middle Grade, Contemporary, Verse, #LoveOZMG
30th April 2019
234 Pages
Thank you to UQP
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★★★★★
When a Manly school sets out to bring a country class to the city for a beach visit, three very different kids find each other and themselves.

Noah is fearless in the surf. Being at the beach makes him feel free. So where does his courage go when his best mate pushes him around?

Lottie loves collecting facts about bugs, but she wishes her dad would stop filling their lonely house with junk. She doesn’t know what to do about it.

Jack wants to be a cricket star, but first he has to get to school and look after his little sister. Especially if he wants to go on the class trip and see the ocean for the first time.
The students of the Sydney beachside suburb of Manly are fundraising for an excursion to Manly Beach for the students in the rural town of Mullin New South Wales. The children of Mullin haven't been afforded the opportunity to visit the city of Sydney, the warm sandy beaches and crashing waves only seen on television or in photos including student Jack, amateur cricketer and Mullin resident. Noah and Lottie are given the responsibility of organising the fundraiser and the three children become unlikely friends.

Lottie lives with her single father after losing her mother, immersing herself within her entomology studies, passionate about insects and the local native flora. At home, Lottie's father continues to grieve the loss of his wife through his hoarding disorder. His collections of items spilling out of the house into the garden and causing the neighbours to complain to the local council. Noah is an enthusiastic surfer, under the vigilant watch of his parents since he was rescued from drowning. His best friend Harley is becoming increasingly aggressive towards Noah and with support from new friend Lottie and Jack's letters, gains the confidence to stand up for himself against his bully.

Jack and sister Kirra live with their mother in Mullin and although his mother words endlessly, he and Kirra have cousin Alby for company. The fridge and pantry and typically empty and their mother unaware of the absences Jack has from school, pressured by Alby who has finished school. When Jack's mother decides to seek support for her alcoholism, Kirra and Jack are sent to live with their aunt. Sleeping on the floor until a teacher intervenes.

Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, exposed to neglect, alcoholism and depression, expected to care for younger siblings and themselves. The expectations placed upon children and the mental anguish they endure, Jack in particular feeling a sense of isolation. His mother was consistently working or tired, which likely may have been hungover. Lottie grieving for her mother while her father becomes depressive and her only support is the solace she finds in her tentative friendship with Noah, her insects and her letters from Mullin teacher Miss Waites.

Pip Harry has created a beautiful narrative. Told in verse, The Little Wave is a wonderfully gentle story that will resonate with children and early adolescents, the feeling of wanting to belong. Simply lovely.

Watch Us Rise

Watch Us Rise
Written by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan
Contemporary, Feminism, Poetry
Published March 4th 2019
368 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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★★★☆
Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends on a mission. Sick of the way that young women are treated even at their progressive New York City high school, they decide to start a Women's Rights Club. One problem, no one shows up. That hardly stops them. They start posting everything from videos of Chelsea performing her poetry to Jasmine's response to being reduced to a racist and sexist stereotype in the school's theatre department. And soon, they've gone viral, creating a platform they never could've predicted.

With such positive support, the Women's Rights Club is also targeted by trolls. But Jasmine and Chelsea won't let their voices or those of the other young women in their city be silenced. They'll risk everything to be heard and effect change. But at what cost?
Amsterdam Heights High School is considered a liberal arts college, a progressive institution that encourages students to experience the world through artistic activism. Students Jasmine and Chelsea are tired of female students being reduced to stereotypes, forbidden to create conversations around the patriarchy, experiencing prejudice, racism and body shaming.

Jasmine Grey is an artivist and a black young woman raised in Harlem, using her stage presence to create and inspire. Chelsea Spencer creates poetry to raise awareness of the expectations placed on women, how they are perceived and often regarded as fragile and vulnerable members of a patriarchal society. Jasmine and Chelsea are founders of Write Like A Girl, a women's rights movement that encourages female students to share their experiences through solidarity and challenge Amsterdam Heights High School in creating an impartial, tolerant and inclusive environment for all students, especially female students and through an online blog, their artivism begins to inspire and empower a feminist movement.

Jasmine is passionate about black women being heard. As a voluptuous young black woman, she's aware of her body, aware of how society views those who aren't white and slender, our bodies dismissed and degraded. Within the August Wilson Acting Ensemble, Jasmine is typecast as the loud, sassy character who is considering weight loss, despite protesting her aversion of occupying roles that the industry has stereotyped for black women and women who are plus sized. I applauded Jasmine's character for her bravery and fortitude to challenge the authority of the Amsterdam Heights High School faculty, especially considering her personal circumstances.

Chelsea unfortunately was incredibly superficial and although she attempts to advocate through her poetry, her character needed guidance, especially as to not appear judgemental of females who do not conform to her feminist ideals. Choosing traditional roles such as the homemaker or primary caregiver of children as an example. As women, we're often instinctively the peacemakers, we guide others and educate, we're nurturers and caregivers. We liberate, we're scientists and mathematicians, we're women supporting all women but now with accessible online resources and spaces for women to openly discuss equality, without the concern of conversations being derailed or diminished. 

Within the dialogue, Chelsea also uses the term womyn and as she describes, so I don't have to include the word man which is harmful as it excludes transwomen and  also often uses the term womanist. Previously feminism movements have excluded black women and therefore womanist was representative of black women. Unfortunately it was introduced into the narrative and used exclusively by Chelsea who is a young white woman.

Unfortunately it didn't discuss intersectionality and the marginalisation of queer women, women with disabilities or transwomen. Characters Jasmine and Chelsea are beginning their journey as activists, fuelled by inspirational women who forged pathways for the next generation of feminists. Watch Us Rise is a great resource for young women as an introduction to feminism.

Buddy read with the wonderful Little Miss Star. Please check out her review here

How It Feels to Float

How It Feels to Float
Written by Helena Fox
Contemporary, Mental Illness, Friendship, #LoveOZYA
Published April 23rd 2019
384 Pages
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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★★★★★
Biz knows how to float. She has her posse, her mum and the twins. She has Grace. And she has her dad, who tells her about the little kid she was, and who shouldn't be here, because he died when she was seven, but is. So she doesn't tell anyone her dark thoughts. She knows how to float, right there on the surface, normal okay regular fine.

But when the tethers that hold Biz steady come undone, when her dad disappears along with all comfort, might it be easier, better, sweeter to float away?

This is a mesmerising, radiant debut. It's a story about love, grief, family and friendship, about intergenerational mental illness, and about how living with it is both a bridge and a chasm to the ones we've lost. Helena Fox explores the hard, bewildering and beautiful places loss can take us, and honours those who hold us tightly when the current wants to tug us out to sea.
Elizabeth Martin Grey lost her father as a young girl, her single mother moving to the former industrial town of Wollongong, nestled among the coastal escarpment south west of Sydney. Since her father passed away, her mother has been blessed with two more children with the twins father now estranged. Elizabeth or simply Biz to her family and friends, is surrounded by a group of close knit friends and none more so than Grace. But things with Grace have been a little awkward of late, after Biz kissed Grace and although Biz isn't sure if she likes girls exclusively, Grace isn't interested in a romantic relationship and only wants to remain friends.

I thought it was wonderful how Grace and Biz were able to openly discuss the kiss. Grace acknowledged that the moment the two friends had shared was nice but gently explained that she wasn't interested in a relationship with another female. She was open with her own feelings and encouraged Biz to talk about her own sexuality although it's unclear whether Biz is bisexual, pansexual or questioning. When Grace begins a sexual relationship with a new boyfriend, Biz begins to feel a deep sense of loneliness, drunkenly suggesting to a male friend that they have sex but changes her mind. 

Her close knit friendship circle turn their back on her, spreading rumours of her promiscuity. Including friend Grace. I was incredibly disappointed in Grace, rather than stand up for Biz against those aggressively spreading rumours, she allowed her new boyfriend to dictate the terms of her friendship with Biz, Grace forbidden to reach out to Biz as were their circle of friends. Biz begins displaying signs of depression, isolating herself, refusing to attend school and physically unable to get out of bed. Grace tries to make amends but isn't long before she's sent off to live with her father ceasing contact with Biz entirely, reestablishing feelings of abandonment first felt after her father's death. 

Grace leaving, the rumours at school and feelings of depression have been simmering under the surface for quite some time. Biz mentions how after the death of her father, her mother often suggested counselling but it was soon forgotten and Biz never sought help. She describes her mental health as a darkness that allows her to detach from her surroundings and float. Another coping mechanism is her father appearing to share stories about moments throughout her life while he was alive. It helps anchor Biz to her sense of self and her physical being, also helping her feel loved. At first it's unclear what happened to her father, Biz is unable to speak about the events leading to his death but as the narrative intensifies, we learn that Biz's father was also unwell and it explores intergenerational mental health and the impact it has on families. 

I loved Biz's friendship with new boy Jasper, who saved her from the ocean on the night of the drunken incident on the beach. Jasper is a wonderful support for Biz, he allows her to be and never pressures her to label her illness. He becomes an anchor of sorts in her presence and often physically and emotionally supports her during her moments of dissociation and helping define reality. Sylvia is magnificent and I instantly loved her. She's a sweet elderly lady who Biz meets partaking in a local community photography class and the two become wonderful friends. I loved seeing the grandmotherly role Sylvia took in Biz's life, such a beautiful relationship that enriched both their lives.

The most striking aspect of How It Feels to Float is the mental illness portrayal. It's unflinching, courageous, it's a journey and experience that will captivate readers. I felt tangled within the moments of panic, the moments of feeling helpless and how those around her were convinced seeking help was a path to wellness, Biz continued to dissociate. It explores the role of seeking professional help and medication and although it can often help, there isn't a lifelong solution for mental health. Treatment is ongoing, it's a series of trial and error and building relationships with trusted professionals. Biz seeks psychiatric and psychological help, put on medication and asked how she's feeling and then turned back out into the world. Eventually she finds a psychiatrist who she feels comfortable with and that makes a huge difference in Biz being able to open up about her feelings, although she's still not able to speak about her father, the trigger point of her illness.

I can't even begin to describe my love for this book. Although I've never personally experienced mental illness, I've been touched by mental illness and I've seen the effects intergenerational mental illness has on families. Helena Fox has created such a prolific and confrontational narrative, a beautiful prose and unflinching account of mental illness and the lifelong journey of mental health. It's wistfully whimsical with an achingly beautiful hopefulness that reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. It's simply phenomenal and a book that has captivated me until the final page. Absolutely remarkable. 

Finale

See my reviews for Caraval and Legendary
Finale
Caraval Book Three
Written by Stephanie Garber
Fantasy, Magic, Romance
Published May 7th 2019
400 Pages
Thank you to Hachette Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆
Welcome, welcome to Caraval... All games must come to an end.

It’s been two months since the last Caraval concluded, two months since the Fates have been freed from an enchanted deck of cards, two months since Tella has seen Legend, and two months since Legend claimed the empire’s throne as his own. Now, Legend is preparing for his official coronation and Tella is determined to stop it. She believes her own mother, who still remains in an enchanted sleep, is the rightful heir to the throne.

Meanwhile, Scarlett has started a game of her own. She’s challenged Julian and her former fiancé, Count Nicolas d’Arcy, to a competition where the winner will receive her hand in marriage. Finaly, Scarlett feels as if she is in complete control over her life and future. She is unaware that her mother’s past has put her in the greatest danger of all.

Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun, with lives, empires, and hearts all at stake. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win and those who will lose everything.
On the Isle of Trisda, siblings Scarlett and Donatella lived under the oppressive rule of their father until liberation arrives from Master Legend, an invitation to attend the Caraval festivities on his private island. Accompanied by debonair scoundrel Julian, Scarlett and Donatella are immersed in a game of illusion and intrigue, of performers and breathtaking adventure. The Caraval festivities have come to a closure and while Paradise slumbers, the city continues to mourn Empress Elantine as Legend prepares for his official coronation. The Fates are on the cusp of awakening from imprisonment within the Deck of Destiny and creating destruction throughout the city.

What Actually Happens In Finale?
Where Caraval and Legendary both surround the game of Caraval, Finale takes place beyond the confines of illusion and manipulation. Basically The Fates are escaping their enchanted Deck and while some appear to be allies, we see a villain emerge in the Fallen Star who really isn't all that villainous, just a little misunderstood. He's also murderous. His ultimate goal is to storm the city with The Fates under his control and become the next emperor.

Sisters Doing It For Themselves
Scarlett and Donatella Dragna have survived the whimsical Caraval, unveiled the illusions Master Legend has created and now forging their own destiny as two young women liberated from patriarchal oppression, who have matured and grown as individuals victorious of challenging the game and winning. Scarlett is practical and empathetic, fiercely protective and passionate. Scarlett feeling the ache of loneliness that brought her to Caraval, begins writing letters to her former fiancee Nicolas in Julian's absence. Oh my. She may be challenging Nicholas and Julian for her affections but her heart belongs to Julian, although the rivalry has certainly made him more attentive. It was cruel to allow Nicolas to believe she was romantically interested in pursuing him and he seemed like a decent chap.

Triangles, as far as the eye can see
Donatella is a young woman of determination and bravado, in love with a man who as an immortal, will never experience love only possession. After the revelations of Legendary, Donatella is no longer a courageous and assured young woman, the anguish her character carries is palpable and although Jacks is a Fate with sinister intentions, she seeks companionship and understanding, Legend unable to provide her with affection to fulfil her needs. In Jacks company, we see Donatella for the young woman she had become. Jacks challenges her ideals and decisions, a tentative truce that has allowed their friendship to blossom without the pressure of expectations.

Is This A Kissing Book?
Yes. Much kissing. With lots of people.

One of my favourite characters of the series is Jacks, the Jack of Hearts of the fated Deck of Destiny. He's conniving but also seemingly cares deeply for Donatella. He also asks for consent on multiple occasions before touching. I thought there was little difference between Jacks and Legend. Both created the illusion of romance although as immortals, neither can love a human. This small act of humanity leaves them vulnerable to then becoming human.

Julian may be human but he seemed to be oblivious to Scarlett's needs. Two men, seemingly experienced yet still can't figure out the basic needs of their significant others. Sounds about right. It also raises issues for both Scarlett and Donatella of their futures beyond Caraval and I loved that neither were willing to settle for less than what they wanted or deserved.

Read It
The Caraval series is absolutely lovely, beautifully written and incredibly opulent. The world Stephanie Garber has created is luscious and darkly imaginative, from the flirtatious and tantalising romances to the the magical illusions and dreamscapes, the series celebrates two young women who have grown into fierce competitors. They've always been capable of winning but I loved their journey towards confidence and strength. 

I couldn't have asked for more from Finale as a finale, utter perfection. 

Aurora Rising

Aurora Rising
The Aurora Cycle
Written by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Science Fiction, Adventure #LoveOZYA
480 Pages
Published May 2019
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆
The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch.

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart ass tech whiz with the galaxy's biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who's totally not into him, in case you were wondering.

And Ty's squad isn't even his biggest problem, that'd be Aurora Jie Lin O'Malley, the girl he's just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryosleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler's squad of losers, discipline cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

Nobody Panic.
Tyler Jones is an elite student at the Aurora Academy. After five years of intense training as a squadron leader and earning the name of Goldenboy, Tyler is on the eve of the Draft where he is determined to amass a squadron of the best and brightest the academy have to offer. Nervous about the Draft and wanting to expel pent up energy, Tyler is approved for a late night cruise around the stars when he enters the Fold and discovers the Hadfield, a long abandoned, lost vessel with thousands of dead colonisers encased in frozen cryogel.

All except seventeen year old Aurora Jie Lin O'Malley, frozen for over two hundred years. 

The Characters
Without a doubt my favourite aspect of Aurora Rising is the characters, a ragtag and diverse group amassed from the academy leftovers and Aurora, a two hundred year old teenager from Earth. 

Cat is the Squad 312 Ace, a toughened mohawked pilot with an inclination for tattoo's and sarcasm. She also has a thing for her Alpha and childhood friend Tyler, after the two spent the off season being inked and physically acquainted. Tyler's twin sister Scar is the Face of the squad, a beautiful diplomat who can defuse any situation. When she turns on the charm, this leggy redhead could ask for the world and you'll hand it to her on a platter. It comes as no surprise that half the squad are in love or lust with her.

Zila is a girl of few words but immense intelligence. Possibly unlike anything the world has ever seen. She's shy and awkward around her squad mates and although she's withdrawn, no one seemed to take the time to understand who Zila is. I initially assumed she may have been neurodiverse but she is quietly hostile, the complete opposite of Kal, the muscle of Squad 312. Born into a civilisation of warfare, Kal cuts a striking and muscular figure with his long silver braided hair and violet eyes like some sort of elfin viking god. He also might have a thing for the two hundred year old human. Much in the same effect that Scar has on others, most characters wouldn't kick Kal out of bed if he farted. Including Fin.

Fin is the resident clown and I say that affectionately. He provided much needed lighthearted moments. The others crew members, apart from Scar were mostly a very serious bunch and Fin didn't mind flirting with anything that moved. Whether he's bisexual or pansexual, Fin loves pretty people but it's Scar that seems to capture his attention more so than others. Fin also has impaired mobility and wears a specially designed suit to lessen the impact of gravity on his skeletal, nerve and muscle systems. He's a great multitasker, fixing ships and trying to talk your pants off.

The there's Aurora, who prefers Auri, a two hundred year old biracial young woman rescued from a colonist vessel once lost within the Fold. She looks pretty good for her age. She was on board the Hatfield and destined for the Octavia settlement, although records indicate the settlement was in fact Lei Gong. Auri is not only needing to adjust to a new world but is being lied to by the authorities, the very same authorities that are looking to silence her.

Hold Onto Your Undies Kids!
Adventure awaits! I'll be the first to admit, I was comparing Aurora Rising to Illuminae. Both set in space, both adventurous, character driven and packed of sarcastic humour and sass but that's where the comparisons end. Although each character has been trained and confident in their own field of study, put them together and it's awkward. I loved how very little they know about one another and not only develop a bond but learn how to work as part of a unit towards a common goal. Why Auri has become a stowaway on board their ship and why harbouring her has made them wanted criminals.

The Verdict?
Delightfully creepy, wonderfully imaginative and superbly entertaining. I loved it. What surprised me most was the unpredictability. I was so enamoured by the characters, lovable misfits taking on the man and getting shit done. Make room for one more, I'm joining Squad 312.

Once & Future

Once & Future
Written by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy
Space Opera, Fantasy, Retelling, LGBT
368 Pages
Publishing June 3rd 2019
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★☆
I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I'm done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back.

Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.
Since her rescue in the cold, infinite depths of space at seven years of age, Ari Helix has been considered an illegal young woman and a Ketchan native denied refuge. Her adoptive mother's have been arrested for harbouring a criminal and sentenced for their crime by the Mercer Corporation, a company of vast consumerism, commercialism and the monopoly throughout the galaxy since the environmental destruction of Old Earth. Now Ari and her adoptive brother Kay are fleeing the Mercer Corporation authorities, planing to take cover on the abandoned Old Earth planet until Ari realises that not only are Mercer conducting deforestation but she finds an old sword, saving it from an ancient gnarled tree.

Meet Ari Helix
Each new cycle, the infamous King Arthur is reincarnated yet with the same overwhelming quest, save the world and unite humanity. Like the forty one Arthur's that have gone before her, Ari is the latest reincarnated Arthur destined for greatness and the first female Arthur. I loved Ari, she's essentially an illegal refugee from a Middle Eastern society on a planet that was isolated from the galaxy and civilisation. A planet where Dragons haunt the nightmares of children. Ari remembers little of her young life before being rescued by now adoptive brother Kay and his mothers, now her mothers. Kay's family have hidden her from Mercer authorities until the point of their capture, now Kay and Ari are on the run with a prayer and a promise to keep his sister safe, despite her brash determination and dangerous bravery.

Kickass Sidekicks
The side characters are bloody magnificent. Kay fluctuated between loving brother and a bit of a prick at times, which only added to the authenticity between the brother and sister relationship. Ari's futuristic Knights are all brilliantly developed. Siblings Lam and Val are wonderful. Lam is fluid using them and they pronouns while Val is gay and very much into Merlin. Merlin has been Arthur's sidekick and adviser for over forty cycles and although he begun the journey as an old, grumpy wizard, with each cycle failed, Merlin has been ageing in reverse. Now at seventeen, this is his last attempt to help the latest Arthur succeed before tapping out. On the plus side, Merlin will no longer be cursed but after decades of pining away for friendship and finding love, I'm stanning Merlin and Val.

Representation Y'all
If I had limited characters to describe Once & Future, it would be girl King Arthur and queers in space. That right there is enough to lure most readers in. In Ari's universe, love knows no bounds. People love who they choose, live as they choose and express their sexuality however they choose. Ari is pansexual. We have characters who are gay, bisexual, fluid, asexual and using them and they pronouns. Straight is no longer the default in a world without gender assumptions and it's bloody brilliant! Ari herself is an illegal refugee from the planet Ketch, founded by Arab settlement that has been isolated and segregated from the rest of humanity. I love authors that weave in a little salt throwing at western governments who treat asylum seekers like shit.

Once & Future is also an own voices novel. Amy Rose Capetta identifies as a queer demigirl and Cori McCarthy uses they and them pronouns, identifying as an Irish Lebanese American as well as a pansexual demi enby. While it's wonderful to promote diverse reads with main characters from marginalised backgrounds, supporting own voice authors is incredibly important.

It Was Really Good... But
The first half was adventurous, mysterious and sassy. Lots of character banter disguising the sexual tension between characters. Merlin and Ari begin to form a wonderful bond before they're again separated and then the storyline begun to feel disconnected. It did allow Ari to mature as a character during the time lapse chapters but overall, the second half felt a little lacklustre.

So What's The Verdict?
Give it a read. After a frantic beginning, Once & Future is shaping up to become a pretty epic series. Wonderfully diverse and character driven, it follows the original tale of King Arthur and Merlin but rather set in space, fighting against big corporation oppression and greed. There's mention of historical genocide, so tread carefully friends but overall, a sassy and spunky retelling of the legend that is King Arthur. 

Blog Tour: Sky

Sky
Animal Allies Series Book One
Written by Ondine Sherman
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, #LoveOZYA
252 Pages
Published April 15th 2019
Thank you to Pantera Press
Add to Goodreads
★★★★
Friendship can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

After her mother's death, Sky leaves her city life to move in with her aunt and uncle in a small Australian town. Life in a new place isn’t easy, and Sky finds comfort in the friendship of a stray dog she meets along the way.

But her new friends at school are another story, and as Sky struggles to fit in, she finds herself doing things that go against everything she believes in.

When Sky stumbles on a case of animal cruelty, she is forced to question what’s really important to her and who she wants to be.
Fifteen year old Sky Lawson is grieving the loss of her mother, moving to the country town of West Creek with the estranged sister of her mother and husband. Sky is an impassioned vegan and patron for animal protection, using her Instagram account as an extension of herself and her advocacy. Isolated and alone within the small farming community, Sky is overwhelmed by her new environment including West Creek Public School, willing to compromise her integrity for inclusion. Navigating friendships, relationships, insecurity and separation.

Sky Lawson is mourning the loss of her mother to an aggressive cancer, her father unbeknown and her only immediate family is Paula, the estranged sister of her mother and her husband David who live in the pastoral town of West Creek. Sky is abrasive, she's aware she's treating her aunt with disdain but unfortunately cannot see past her own grief to realise her aunt is also mourning the loss of her sister. Sky has been displaced and while Paula and David have created a safe and loving environment, Sky is anxious and her concern lies within her ability to connect and create new friendships, including impressing popular, obnoxious girl Marissa, overlooking quiet achiever Lucy.

Behaving irrationally, Sky has lost her sense of awareness and compassion, choosing to abandon her veganism in favour of popularity. Throughout the narration, Sky begins to mature and realises how her behaviour has effected those around her, specifically Paula, David and friend Lucy. The tentative friendship Sky and Lucy shared was lovely, the girls are very similar in their advocacy and collaborate on the animal welfare investigation. Her online friendship with Wild Rider was wonderful, as he provided Sky with companionship and compassion, lessening the feelings of isolation. Potential love interest Oliver, although considered popular, was also a conservationist and animal advocate. His friendship with Marissa was peculiar and superficial, creating unnecessary tension.

The themes of animal protection and advocacy were gentle and wonderfully informative. Sky begins to investigate animal cruelty at local poultry business, coinciding with a school assignment. Sky discovers malnourished and malformed chickens, diagnosed with issues such as heart disease, osteoporosis and tibial dyschondplasia in inhumane conditions. Although it advocates for animal protection, it doesn't lecture or attempt to coerce readers into vegetarian or veganism, only the ethical treatment of animals.

Ondine Sherman has created a narrative that encourages discussion surrounding animal welfare and performative activism, gently encouraging readers to consciously choose to purchase and consume products that are sustainable, ethically sourced and certifiably organic. Thoroughly enjoyed it and anticipating the next Animal Allies installment.

Follow the Sky Review Tour here.

The Boy Who Steals Houses

The Boy Who Steals Houses
Written by C.G. Drews
Contemporary, Romance, Own Voices, #LoveOZYA
347 Pages
Published April 9th 2019
Thank you to Hachette Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Can two broken boys find their perfect home? By turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, this is a gorgeously told, powerful story.

Sam is only fifteen but he and his autistic older brother, Avery, have been abandoned by every relative he's ever known. Now Sam's trying to build a new life for them. He survives by breaking into empty houses when their owners are away, until one day he's caught out when a family returns home. To his amazement this large, chaotic family takes him under their wing, each teenager assuming Sam is a friend of another sibling. Sam finds himself inextricably caught up in their life, and falling for the beautiful Moxie.

But Sam has a secret, and his past is about to catch up with him.
Sammy and Avery Lou are all one another has to rely upon, since their mother walked out and left her only sons in the care of their violent father. Unable to care for Avery who is autistic. Their father never seemingly cared for his sons and dumped them on his sister's doorstep to be raised by their Aunt Karen, who is unsympathetic, neglectful and often cruel. Sammy and Avery Lou ran away from home a little over a year ago and with hungry bellies and no fixed address, the dream of having their own house one day seems further and further out of reach.

The Lou Boys
Fifteen year old Sammy Lou has always been Avery's protector. Against their violent father, schoolyard bullies and those who are ignorant of Avery's needs. Avery is Autistic and requires stability in his life, which isn't something his Aunt Karen is capable of since their father abandoned the boys at his sister's house, their mother also estranged and leaving her two children in the care of their abusive father. If only people took the time to learn about Avery's needs and about the seventeen year old young man who loves to fix cars, who thinks boys are also pretty and who feels fiercely, then Sammy wouldn't need to use his fists.

Now on the run from Aunt Karen and the authorities, Sam wants nothing more than to provide Avery with the stable home he deserves, so while Avery begins work as an apprentice mechanic, often sleeping in the workshop office, Sam breaks into empty and abandoned homes while residents are on holidays, taking items of value to sell in the hopes of one day being able to afford a home of their own. Sam's only possessions of value are the hundreds of keys jangling around in his backpack, souvenirs to remind the fifteen year old what's important, family and home. Desperately clinging onto the dream of one day being worthy of both.

My heart absolutely ached for Sam and Avery. Born into a cycle of abandonment, the boys are victims of family violence, a cycle of which Sam is now trapped. He himself has turned to violence to protect Avery from bullying and ignorance due to being neglected and unheard by the adults who have failed two boys now homeless and stealing to survive. These boys aren't petty criminals, they're simply products of a traumatic environment, of neglect and impoverishment.

The De Lainey Bunch
We're first introduced to the De Lainey family by accident. Sam breaks into their home while they're on holidays but only to discover they've arrived home early. The De Lainey family with their loud booming voices, unabashed laughter and house built from unconditional love. Sam is swept up into their lives and given a plate at their table, assumed to be a friend of one of the De Lainey kids. Except he isn't.

Be prepared to fall in love.

As Sam promises himself just one more day with the De Lainey family before he leaves for his next abandoned home, he finds himself smitten with the brilliantly opinionated and girl power advocate Moxie De Lainey, a whirlwind of bright colours and sunshine. Beneath her tough, take no prisoners exterior lies a girl who just wants to be appreciated and yearns for her mother who was taken by cancer. While her father has enlisted the help of Moxie's brothers on his construction sites during the holidays, the family is barely keeping afloat with a single parent income and medical bills still owing, a painful reminder of their mother taken too soon.

Is This A Kissing Book?
The transition from friendship to tentative romance was lovely. This isn't a romance of dependency or that love will conquer all, Sam and Moxie care for one another and that genuine support and belief allows them to both to face their own issues and grow as individuals. There are no magical wands but real consequences for their actions, such as Sam's criminal history. Too often young adult books tend to gloss over such issues in favour of a happy ending, The Boy Who Steals Houses only proves that a great author can provide readers with both.

It explores societal issues such as poverty, homelessness, bullying, ableism, neglect, abuse and family violence with a careful hand, genuinely and without romanticism. The Boy Who Steals Houses also feels like a very personal and intimate story, especially with an anxiety and autism own voices inclusion. The humour and heartwarming moments were reminiscent of old school John Green, before he tore out your heart or decided to write fifty versions of the same book. The banter and laugh out loud moments are a brilliant inclusion and help unburden the heaviness of the storyline. The De Lainey family reminded me of My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick and I loved the ongoing joke of Jack always being the one overheard swearing, fighting, complaining and being mildly punished by their father while the others laughed at his misfortune. I'm a sucker for a narrative with a reoccurring theme.

Vibrant and genuine characters, a warmth and humour that's become a signature of C. G. Drews, it was utterly beautiful. Now excuse me while I pick up my shattered heart she attempted to tape back together while manically laughing. Again. 

Quiet #LoveOZYA Contemporaries

Review may contain mild spoilers
Girl Running, Boy Falling
Written by Kate Gordon
Contemporary, Suicide, #LoveOZYA
238 Pages
Published October 15th 2019
Thank you to Rhiza Edge
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★★★★★
Do you ever look at the sky and think that’s where we belong? Like maybe the world is the wrong way around and we’re meant to be up there, floating?

Sixteen year old Therese lives in a small town on a small island. Her Aunt Kath calls her Tiger. Her friends call her Resey. The boy she loves calls her Champ. She’s a lot of different things for a lot of different people.

Therese has always had her feet on the ground. She’s running through high school, but someone in her life is about to fall...

And when he does, her perfect world falls with him. For the first time in her life, Therese can’t stand being on the ground.

Girl Running, Boy Falling is a raw read about a girl and boy, who are beautifully flawed.
Therese Geeves isn't golden, as Nicholas Wallace would have you believe. She's grieving for the promise of a life beyond her reach. A life of musicals, of obscure eighties references and of escaping to the chicken house on her grandmothers property where adventures are created from childhood imaginations. Her mother who sought adventure and her father who fell in love with a woman with a wanderlust penchant are distant memories, Therese is raised by her beloved Aunt and grandmother, continuing to write letters to her absent parents so one day they may know their estranged daughter. Her one constant is Nicholas Wally Wallace. Popular student, athlete and baked goods connoisseur.

Therese is a wonderful young woman and incredibly authentic. She's a daughter, granddaughter, beloved niece, peer, coworker and friend and although she's not considered popular by any means, Therese is well known around the small community as Wally's best friend, the young man destined for a lucrative sports career on the mainland and Therese is apprehensive about being abandoned, her unrequited love for Wally left unanswered.

I enjoy confrontational narratives, it encourages important discussions and often difficult conversations. A suicide results in many victims, family, friends and those touched by the traumatic loss of life and Therese seemingly prefers avoidance. Her Aunt is a wonderful means of support, allowing Therese to find solace and acceptance within her friends while gently suggesting counselling when ready. Old wounds begin to reemerge as the incident reminds Therese of her own abandonment. Her spirited mother appeared to be postnatally depressed and unable to care for her only child. Her father barely a presence in her life. To compensate, Therese collects thoughts and adventures to send to her absent parents.

The narrative was wonderfully gentle, captivating and beautifully composed. Girl Running, Boy Falling is a tender coming of age narrative of living after a suicide and the multitude of ways in which we grieve. 



Can't Beat The Chemistry
Written by Kat Colmer
Contemporary, Romance, #LoveOZYA
274 Pages
Published April 20th 2019
Thank you to Rhiza Edge
Add to Goodreads
★★★☆
Ionic and covalent bonds are a piece of cake for MJ. But human bonds are a little harder...

There are only two things MJ wants in her final year of high school, glowing grades and to convince uber smart, chiselled jaw Jason they’d be a winning team outside the science lab as well as in.

Tutoring deadbeat drummer, Luke, isn’t part of the plan. After all, he has average intelligence, takes disorganised notes and looks like a partied out zombie at their study sessions! Not even his taut biceps will win MJ over.

But MJ learns that she could be tutored in a few life lessons too. That sometimes there’s good reason to skip chemistry tutorials. That intelligence is so much more than a grade average.

And that sometimes you can’t beat the chemistry.
Mackenzie Olsen - Wang is an aspirational young woman and attentive student, revered for her intelligence. A quality held in high esteem in the Olsen - Wang home. Aspiring to become a medical professional, MJ attends Head Start University, a program for secondary school students where she's developed a fondness for fellow scholar Jason McNeil. MJ lives her life according to schedules, distinctions and her mother's preapproved assignment topics, she's assuming, judgemental and often appears condescending and patronising. She's aware of her intellect and believes intelligence is out most attractive attributes. Socially, MJ is unable to connect with others and her factual, no nonsense approach to others is abrasive and often insulting.

Luke Bains is wonderful. Although a musician, Luke wants to become a teacher and is studying Chemistry in the hope to become employable. And failing. He's a gentle young man and despite being accused of being the stereotypical musician, Luke spends his free time caring for his sister and her local special education school as a voluntary music teacher for adolescents with Down Syndrome.

What ensues is a beautiful and tentative friendship of acceptance, challenging stereotypes and following the path less travelled. Wonderfully written, Kat Colmer is an author creating diverse and realistic characters and Can't Beat The Chemistry is a feel great read.

On The Come Up

On The Come Up
Written by Angie Thomas
Contemporary, Fiction
448 Pages
Published February 5th 2019
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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★★★☆
Sixteen year old Brianna wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighbourhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it. She has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be and of the desperate realities of poor and working class black families.
On The Come Up follows the narrative of sixteen year old Brianna Jackson, the princess of Garden Heights. Brianna is the daughter of Lawless, slain at the pinnacle of his music career. Brianna creates lyrics from her experiences, the death of her father, her mother dependant on narcotics, Brianna and older brother Trey abandoned on the doorstep of their grandparents, their mother withdrawing from society to overcome her addiction and now facilitates group counselling for recovering addicts.

Tensions are high in Garden Heights since a young black man was killed by police officers, the subsequent rioting has resulted in a heavy police presence throughout the suburb, including Midtown School of the Arts where Brianna attends school. Her mother wants Brianna to concentrate on her education but for Brianna, since the tender age of only ten years old, she's wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father and rap her to a better life for her mother and brother.

Brianna is a tenacious young woman, proud of her African American heritage and culture, of who is she and where she's from. Garden Heights. Readers will remember the Garden Heights community from Angie Thomas' debut novel The Hate U Give and although the two narratives do not converge, we're reintroduced to the Disciples, the local gang and the Crowns, a rival gang on the east side and those responsible for taking the life of Lawless. Brianna and her family live below the poverty line, working is a necessity to make ends meet. We're introduced to Brianna as their gas has been shut off and her mother is struggling to pay their rent, the cupboards are all but bare and her college graduate brother has returned home and now works in a small pizzeria and yet, there's little money to afford food never mind to replace Brianna's shoes.

The hardship the Jackson family are experiencing is harrowing so when Brianna's mother Jay loses her job, she has no other option but to quit night school and seek welfare, handouts and food stamps to survive. With winter fast approaching, the chill in the air is a reminder of why so many young people of Garden Heights turn to gang life. The companionship of family and making money to survive despite the odds, including Brianna's Aunt Pooh who begun running with the Disciples shortly after her brother was murdered.

Rapping is in Brianna's blood. Affectionately known as Lil' Law, Brianna is about to make her debut at the Ring, a local club known for it's amateur rap battles and star making potential. Think Eminem's 8 Mile. Through her lyrics, Brianna tells the story of being a young black woman in a world created for white people, about the assumptions made upon black communities, stereotyping and racial profiling. She raps about real world problems facing her community, drugs, violence and being all about that life. Who you run with and who you run from. After her success in the Ring, when she's roughed up at school by security guards and thrown to the floor, something has to give. While students begin to protest against the racial profiling of black and latinx students, Brianna begins penning her breakout track, On The Come Up.

Brianna Jackson refuses to become a stereotype based on assumptions. She is determine to rap about her experiences, she's a contender not a pretender. She comes up against a sexist and opportunistic industry where young artists are taken advantage of. Their image no longer their own as they are shaped and modelled into a product for consumers, told to play their part and luring often underprivileged young adults with gifts and the promise of a easier life for their families, not necessarily better.

No doubt readers will compare On The Come Up to The Hate U Give but where Starr Carter was finding her voice in a hostile environment fulled by revolution, Brianna demands to be heard, a beacon of hope within her community and for young black women wanting to thrive in the male dominated rap industry. I enjoyed the narrative but not Brianna herself. I understand the animosity of your only parent unable to care for her children and choosing their drug dependency but Brianna showed very little respect for her mother who fought her way back from addiction for her children. Brianna calls her mother by her first name and held her at arms length. I felt an incredible amount of sadness for her mother who is an inspiring woman in her own right. Understandably the experience has hardened Brianna but I felt she often treated her mother with undeserving disrespect while holding her Aunt Pooh, a gang member and drug dealer on a pedestal.

On The Come Up is a quiet novel, challenging stereotypes and the prejudiced faced by young black men and women in particular. How young black women are spoken over, how they fight to create safe spaces for themselves and their voices. Although I didn't like Brianna, I loved what she represented. A strong, young black woman on the cusp of great things without compromising who she is and what she stands for. 
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