Aurora Rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once & Future

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

Now I'm done hiding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Tour: Sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the Sky Review Tour here.

The Boy Who Steals Houses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be prepared to fall in love.

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

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

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

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

Quiet #LoveOZYA Contemporaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Come Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindred with Michael Earp

Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories
Edited by Michael Earp
Written by Jax Jacki Brown, Claire G Coleman, Michael Earp, Alison Evans, Erin Gough, Benjamin Law, Omar Sakr, Christos Tsiolkas, Ellen van Neerven, Marlee Jane Ward, Jen Wilde and Nevo Zisin
Publishing June 2019
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Twelve of Australia’s best writers from the queer community are brought together in this groundbreaking collection of YA short stories.

What does it mean to be queer?

What does it mean to be human?

In this powerful #LoveOzYA collection, twelve of Australia’s finest queer writers explore the stories of family, friends, lovers and strangers. The connections that form us. This inclusive and intersectional #OwnVoices anthology for teen readers features work from writers of diverse genders, sexualities and identities, including writers who identify as First Nations, people of colour or disabled.

Includes a foreword by anthology editor Michael Earp, resources for queer teens, contributor bios and information about the #LoveOZYA movement.

He's a champion for Australian young adult literature, a bookseller extraordinaire, an author, an editor and he can rock a pair of overalls like nobodies business. I had the pleasure of talking to the always wonderful Michael Earp about the upcoming release of Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOZYA Stories.

Interview


I wanted to begin by asking how the concept of Kindred begun and how you were able to curate what is a landmark release for young adult literature in Australia.
The idea for Kindred was spawned at the launch of Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology. Danielle Binks had previously been the Chair of the #LoveOZYA committee and at that time, I was the Chair and so I had lots of people asking me if I would be editing the next anthology. This is not at all how it works. Being Chair did not mean we automatically edited an anthology, Danielle had worked tirelessly outside of her role as Chair to usher Begin, End, Begin into the world. And so while there wasn’t a justifiable correlation, I started to think, maybe I could edit an anthology. But, if I did, I’d want it to be a dedicated queer anthology. Because, let’s face it, I spend most of my time daydreaming about how to make my own world a little bit gayer… It’s only natural.

Then the work begun.

However, Kindred isn’t the first dedicated queer anthology for young adults published in Australia. There were actually two published in the nineties, Hide and Seek edited by Jenny Pausacker, and Ready or Not edited by Mark Macleod which, unfortunately, are out of print. I was privileged to be able to read Hide and Seek and it holds some wonderful stories in it. But to be able to work on this project has been an amazing experience and I’m so thrilled I’m able to offer contemporary readers something. Because I really do feel like it’s time that such a celebration of queer authors and queer Australian YA be out there in the world.

Could you tell us a little about the story you contributed to the anthology?
My own story in the anthology is a fantasy called Bitter Draught. I don’t want to say too much about it, other than I knew I wanted to write a gender non-binary witch, and I was going through a rough patch personally when I wrote it. Don’t at me.

The anthology features various genders, identities and sexualities and also includes Indigenous authors, authors of colour or disability. How important is it for adolescents to see themselves reflected on the pages of Kindred?
When I was working out who to approach to write for Kindred with my editor, Nicola Santilli, we knew we wanted it to reflect the diversity of the Australian people. After all, it’s supposed to be a snapshot of who we are and what we’re thinking about at this point in time, having as many identities represented as possible was incredibly important to us. When you’re dealing with a minority that is as broad as the queer community, intersectionality is bound to come into play. And try as we did, there are still many identities that aren’t represented. (we only had twelve places!) But I’d love to hear from Aro / Ace and Intersex authors next time! I believe that whether we were conscious of it or not, we all look for ourselves when we read, especially as teenagers. And what a happy thing to discover a reflection of yourself in the pages of a book!

What messages do you hope readers take away from Kindred?
Above all else, I hope that Kindred is just a thoroughly enjoyable read. As for other takeaways? That there is hope, regardless of what you’re currently facing. I don’t want to sound too schmaltzy, but I’m still learning that now. What’s going on right now is not for always, and there’s always joy to chase around the corner, and hold onto while you can. But you have to turn the page to find out.

Calling Australian and New Zealand Queer Reviewers

Walker Books Australia, together with Michael Earp and the #AusYABloggers are celebrating the release of the Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories anthology. This is an own voices tour and open to bloggers, reviewers, Instagrammers and Youtubers from Australia and New Zealand and will begin on the 1st of June and run until the 10th June 2019.

Simply fill out the form found here.

About Michael

Michael Earp is a book obsessed author with a love of children’s and young literature. He's read it, sold it, blogged about it, studied it and written it. He's the editor of Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories which will be released in June 2019 by Walker Books Australia. He is also a contributor to Underdog: #LoveOzYA Short Stories which is out now through Black Inc Books.

You can find Michael on his Blog  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram and Goodreads

What I Like About Me

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

This summer is probably not going to be that.

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

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

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

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

But Maisie's got something to prove.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's everything.
Love, Kelly.

Blog Tour: Enchantée

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LET QUEENDOM REIGN!

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

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

A queendom without an heir.

An ancient enemy awakens.

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

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

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

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

Eadaz Duryan

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

Queen Sabran Berethnet

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

Without a Berethnet heir, the Queendom will be overthrown.

Tané Miduchi

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

Females Of The Queendom

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

Who run the world

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

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

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

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

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

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

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are Okay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highway Bodies

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

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

Members of a band wield weapons instead of instruments.

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

And a couple find depth among the chaos.

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

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

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

These three narratives sharing a common ambition, to survive. 

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

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

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

Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts)

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

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

And then it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wicker King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Princess and The Fangirl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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