Swallow's Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emergency Contact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broken Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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