Frankly In Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devil's Ballast

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Harp of Kings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Sounded Better in My Head

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

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

Nothing is going according to plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Posting With Corella Press

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


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

Week One. An Introduction To Independent Publishing

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

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

Weeks Two And Three. Finding A Story

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

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

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

Week Four And Five. The Acquisition Proposal

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

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

Week Six. Book Parts

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

Week Seven. Updating The Website

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

Week Eight Copyediting And Proofreading

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

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

Week Nine. Marketing

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

Week Ten. Book Design And Production

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

Week Eleven. Launch Plan

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

Week Twelve. Proofreading

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

Week Thirteen. It’s a wrap!

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

Queen Of Ruin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toffee

Toffee
Written by Sarah Crossan
Verse, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Published June 17th 2019
400 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆
I am not who I say I am.
Marla isn't who she thinks she is.
I am a girl trying to forget.
Marla is a woman trying to remember.

Allison has run away from home and with nowhere to live finds herself hiding out in the shed of what she thinks is an abandoned house. But the house isn't empty. An elderly woman named Marla, with dementia, lives there and she mistakes Allison for an old friend from her past called Toffee.

Allison is used to hiding who she really is, and trying to be what other people want her to be. And so, Toffee is who she becomes. After all, it means she has a place to stay. There are worse places she could be.

But as their bond grows, and Allison discovers how much Marla needs a real friend, she begins to ask herself, where is home? What is a family? And most importantly, who am I, really?
Allison Daniels is searching for a place to stay, discovering what she believes is a vacant outbuilding on an abandoned property to rest her weary body. Compelled to find her former stepmother and the only person who understands the abusive and adverse environment inflicted upon Allison, her meagre possessions are stolen and determined not to return to her abusive father, seeks shelter on the dilapidated property.

Allison is a family violence survivor, her father a neglectful and abusive man since the passing of his wife moments after delivering Allison. As a child, Allison learnt to become independent from a young age and through parental neglect, begun caring for her father and the household. In a series of revolving partners, it was Kelly Anne who befriended Allison while dating her father, soon becoming a companion and confidant for Allison. Unable to withstand the abuse and manipulation, Kelly Anne abandons the family home and Allison, who now endures the constant anger of her father. Her experience is profoundly resonating and I empathised with Allison and the anguish family violence inflicts upon victims.

Marla is an elderly woman with dementia and owns the neglected property. Lonely and confused, she mistakes Allison for her childhood friend Toffee and despite Allison insisting otherwise, she understands the fragility of Marla's condition and allows her to believe she's the childhood companion Marla desperately needs. Marla is representative of our elderly communities, the forgotten and often neglected members of society. Marla is a dementia patient and although she experiences moments of clarity, she regresses to a simpler time, reminiscent of her years as a sprightly young woman. I can imagine Marla as a confident and flirtatious young woman and in her moments of clarity, she's incredibly joyous and endearing. As the narrative progresses, we're introduced to her carer who is seemingly only interested in performing a elemental service, her son is abusive, degrading Marla and creating an environment where Marla is agitated and frightened.

Throughout the narrative, Allison and Marla become friends and although at times Marla is bewildered at the new living arrangements, they begin to care and cherish one another's company. My heart ached for Marla and I could sympathise with Allison's decision to allow Marla to believe she was her once childhood friend. Marla seemingly felt more at ease and it allowed her to become the spirited and adventurous young woman she once was. Toffee also encourages the discussion of themes rarely referenced in young adult literature, dementia, the negligent attitude towards the senior members of our communities, abuse, abandonment and impoverishment. 

Poignant, compelling and achingly beautiful, Toffee is a delicate and tender verse narrative of compassion and companionship. Essential reading.

Lizard's Tale

Lizard's Tale
Written by Weng Wai Chan
Historical, Adventure, Middle Grade
Published July 2nd 2019
320 Pages
Thank you to Text Publishing
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★★★★
A thief. A spy. A mysterious codebook. And a whole lot of trouble.

It’s 1940 and World War II is being fought in faraway Europe. Lizard doesn’t know much about that. He lives in Singapore’s Chinatown, surviving on odd jobs and petty theft.

When Boss Man Beng asks him to steal a teak box from a suite in the glamorous Raffles Hotel, Lizard knows the job is important. But can he know just how dangerous it is?

A sinister man appears in the shadows, and Lizard’s best friend, Lili, shows up with unexpected fighting skills and her eye on what’s in the box.

And Lizard finds himself on an exciting, action packed adventure in a world of coded secrets, Japanese invasion plans and undercover spies.
Sebastian Whitford Jones checked into the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, within his room a code book hidden from the Japanese military. The British Empire now occupy Singapore, the colonisation of a country affluent in tradition but for twelve year old Lizard, he's just looking to survive.

Since his Uncle Archie left for the city two years ago and never returned, Lizard has been living in a small cubicle above the local tailors store in little Chinatown, owned by the family of best friend Lili. With his English and Chinese ancestry and ability to speak and write in English, Lizard earns his meagre wages from letter writing, illegal should he be caught. Working for Boss Man is proving more lucrative when Lizard is promised a large payment to steal a secret teak box from the Raffles Hotel, what Lizard didn't count on was Georgina Whitford Jones being in the hotel suite and catching him red handed. Suddenly Lizard is stuck with the stolen box, a girl who threatens to expose his thievery and a best friend living a secret life as an operative in training for the British Empire.

Lizard's Tale is a delightfully entertaining, historical story set within Singapore shortly before WWII. The narrative follows twelve year old biracial Lizard, living alone without a guardian since his uncle disappeared two years ago. With his blue eyes and British accent, Lizard is seen as a lowly caste among the Chinese population and unable to associate with his best friend Lili, seen as being beneath her. Although his money is good enough for Lili's family, Lizard renting a small makeshift cubicle above the family's tailor store in Chinatown, along with several other renters sharing the partitioned space. What begun as a faceless crime to secure his short term future turns deadly, the teak box Lizard steals from the hotel is at the centre of the conflict between the British and Japanese and their fight to occupy Singapore, in the wrong hands could spell disaster.

The one constant in Lizard's life is best friend Lili, she cares for Lizard despite her family's prejudice towards those who are biracial but as close as Lili and Lizard are, Lili hides a secret that may endanger them both. In a Singapore where women are underestimated by society and simply blend into their surroundings, the British Empire train young women in espionage. I love narratives with young women thriving in what are considered make dominated positions and Lili is a wonderful character.

It was incredibly atmospheric, the oppressive humidity of Singapore, the heavenly scent of Chinese and Indian inspired cooking throughout the alleyways, the British accented dialogue drifting from the doorways of international hotels.

Adventurous and enchanting, exploring colonisation, wartime and the changing multiculturalism of Singapore during the forties, Lizard's Tale is spirited and utterly delightful.

Songbird

Songbird
Written by Ingrid Laguna
Contemporary, Diverse, #LoveOZMG
Published May 7th 2019
176 Pages
Thank you to Text Publishing
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★★★★★
Jamila has left her friends, her school and her home in Iraq, and now she has a new home. It’s safe in Australia, but Jamila is finding it hard to settle in. She misses her best friend and worries for her dad’s safety back in Iraq. It’s hard to speak and write in English all day. And Jamila has a secret she wants to keep hidden.

When she joins the choir, Jamila begins to feel happy. Singing helps take her worries away. And singing will help her find her place in her new life, a place where she can shine.

Songbird is a tender story about belonging, about the importance of friendship and asking for help, and about the parts of our lives we keep concealed.
Jamila has migrated to Australia from Baghdad Iraq, a country ravaged by conflict. In their quiet and humble Melbourne home, Jamila and her mother await the arrival of their father and husband from Baghdad, an investigative journalist taking shelter from the authorities. Feeling displaced and missing her homeland, Jamila attends school, translates English for her mother and helps care for her brother, often at the expense of attending school.

Jamila is gentle soul, her character is representative of Australia's diverse multiculturalism and the overwhelming feeling of being displaced. She wears a hijab, a traditional head covering that attracts questions from her peers and unfortunately, incidents of casual racism. Her heart aches for a real friend, someone she can talk to and share her fears about her father without judgement but attending a school that's predominately caucasian and born in Australia, she longs for her best friend Mina who she left behind in Iraq. Jamila seeks solace in the power of song, reminding her of her time in Iraq where she was affectionately known as the songbird. It's through her love of music where Jamila meets her first friend and new student Eva.

While Eva eases the ache of being in a new, unfamiliar country, Jamila still fears for her father and with no word on his arrival, fears the worst. I adored the friendship between Jamila and Eve, Eve is an Australian girl from Sydney who lives with her Aunt while her father works and befriends Jamila through their love of song. She's supportive and ensures Jamila feels comfortable and encourages her to share her experiences as a young girl in a new country. Although on a lesser scale, Eva understands Jamila's feelings of trying to fit in and with a predominant birthmark on her face, knows all too well the cruelty of other children.

Songbird is a beautiful narrative and exploration of the refugee experience through the eyes of a young girl aching to belong. In a country that preaches acceptance but rarely accepts migrants or those who are different, Jamila's mother felt this very deeply. With a small amount of English, she needed help navigating tasks like supermarket shopping and speaking to government departments, often calling the school during the day to pick Jamila up to assist her. I was so relieved for both her mother and Jamila when the Migrant Resource Centre reached out and she was able to connect to a support officer who not only understood but was also originally from Iraq. These services are so incredibly important to help refugees settle within Australia, a sector that needs more government funding to support our multicultural communities.

Songbird is absolutely lovely, a gentle narrative about acceptance, friendship and family. Achingly beautiful.

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. 

Beautiful: Audiobook Review

Beautiful
Written by Juliet Marillier
Narrated by Gemma Dawson
Fantasy, Retelling, Fairy Tale
Published May 30th 2019
7 Hours 18 Minutes
Gifted
Find on Audible
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★★★★
Hulde is a queen's daughter and lives in a palace. But her life is lonely. Growing up atop the glass mountain, she knows only her violent and autocratic mother and a household of terrified servants.

Then a white bear named Rune comes to visit, and Hulde learns what kindness is.

But the queen has a plan for Hulde. When she turns 16, she will wed the most beautiful man in all the world. Hulde has never met her intended husband, and her mother refuses to explain the arrangement. Hulde becomes desperate to find out more, and seeks the help of a magic mirror. Perhaps someone is coming to her rescue.

On her wedding day, Hulde's existence is turned upside down. For the first time she leaves the glass mountain behind, setting out to be as brave as the heroines in her beloved storybook.

The journey will test Hulde to the limit. Can she overcome her fears and take control of her own life?
Hulde aches with loneliness, a kindness her mother considers her undeserving, isolated in their castle upon the mountain. Hulde will be forced to marry on her sixteenth birthday to a man who has been cursed. Her only companion is Rune, a bear that visits each third summer, teaching Hulde kindness through their friendship. Her only solace from her wicked mother, the Troll Queen. Hulde is the Troll Princess and while her human servants fear those who are different, Hulde is a gentle, intelligent young woman who, despite outwardly appearances, is the epitome of beautiful.

Under her oppressive rein, her mother instilled in Hulde the importance of beauty, obsessed with humans while ensuring her daughter remained obedient. On her sixteenth birthday and as Hulde learns of her mother's deception, she decides that she no longer cares for her stories of adventure and heroic young women, she wants to become one and journeys alone to find her place in the world and new friends to discover.

Inspired by the Norwegian fairytale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the original story follows the journey of an impoverished young woman and her family, who are invited to live in a castle by a white bear in exchange for the devotion of their youngest daughter but her beloved is cursed and will now unwillingly marry the princess, the daughter of his miserable stepmother. Beautiful is the narrative of the princess who will marry the cursed white bear on her sixteenth birthday, except Hulde is determined to forge her own path into the world.

Hulde is a quiet and unassuming young woman, a princess and daughter of the Troll Queen who is consumed with human beauty. Hulde's journey is an extraordinary and lyrically beautiful narrative, following the journey of a courageous and captivating young woman on a journey to discover the world. Simply exquisite. 
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