We Are Blood and Thunder

We Are Blood and Thunder
Written by Kesia Lupo
Fantasy, Witches, Magic
448 Pages
Published June 6th 2019
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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In a sealed off city, it begins with a hunt. A young woman, Lena, running for her life, convicted of being a mage and sentenced to death. Her only way to survive is to trust those she has been brought up to fear, those with magic.

On the other side of the locked gates is a masked lady, Constance, determined to find a way back in. She knows only too well how the people of Duke's Forest loathe magic. Years ago she escaped before her powers were discovered. But now she won't hide who she is any longer.

A powerful and terrifying storm cloud unites them. It descends over the dukedom and devastates much in its wake. But this is more than a thunderstorm. This is a spell, and the truth behind why it has been cast is more sinister than anyone can imagine. Only Lena and Constance hold the key to destroying the spell. Though neither of them realise it, they need each other. They are the blood and they have the thunder within.
Lena Grey is a Cryptling, preparing the deceased for their resting place below the township of Dukes Forest, an isolated community shrouded in a menacing cloudscape of pestilence and destruction. Dukes Forest has been decimated by disease, the Ancestors resting below the township have begun to awaken and as Lena prepares the Duchess for burial, she is accused of being an enchantress and sentenced, her life shall be taken by the ferocious hounds of the Justice. Mages are dangerous and abhorrent, according to the Justice, the authority of Dukes Forest. Lena escapes into the surrounding woodlands and into the unknown.

Lena is a naive and sheltered young woman, an orphan and abandoned by her parents to the underground Cryptling community of the hearing or vision impaired, physically or visibly disabled. An apprentice who prepares the deceased for the afterlife, Lena's only companion is an elderly man who has nurtured the young woman since arriving in Dukes Forest. A Cryptling lives a simple existence without material possessions so when Lena discovers an extraordinary mechanical butterfly within the underground chambers, she begins to imagine a life beyond her veil of darkness.

In an incidental encounter in the forest, Constance discovers Lena escaping capture and guides her towards Emris, a Huntsman and self appointed educator of the the City of Kings. The City of Kings provides refuge to Rogue mages, to control their abilities and pledge their allegiance to one of nine temples throughout the city. Although Emris alludes to being a former lover of Constance, he's enchanted by Lena and abandons all reasoning and purpose to pursue an unknown young woman on her journey.

Constance Rathbone is returning to Dukes Forest, a young woman seeking the essence of the  cloudscape incantation threatening to consume her homeland. Upon returning home to reclaim her birthright as Duchess, Constance is confronted with her fathers ailing health and the oppression and cruelty of the Justice. Constance is a mysterious and alluring young woman who is returning home from exile, her father is no longer in governance, the township ravaged by disease and pestilence and her only allies are her brother Winton and childhood companion Lord Irvine, positioned within the guardsmen for the Justice respectfully. Constance is an unreliable narrator, unashamedly boasting of her untruths. Her unexplained absence raising suspicion among her kinfolk, unaware of her abilities and why she has chosen to claim her birthright as heir.

Lena and Constance appear as contrasting characters but their lives are irrevocably entwined as Lena's journey traces the pathway that Constance once paved. It was interesting to compare the similarities between the two morally grey characters. One of my favourite aspects was female independence as neither Lena or Constance depended on male characters as saviours or to define their characters. We Are Blood and Thunder is a wonderful instance of feminist fantasy literature, of independent female characters that celebrate imperfections.

As a standalone debut fantasy novel, We Are Blood and Thunder is beautifully written, intense and captivating.

The Man in the Water

The Man in the Water
Written by David Burton
Contemporary, Mystery, Mental Health
256 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to UQP
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When Shaun finds a dead body floating in the lake of a quiet mining town in outback Queensland, he immediately reports it to the police. But when he returns to the site with the constable, the body is gone.

Determined to reveal the truth, Shaun and his best friend, Will, open their own investigation. But what they discover is far more sinister than a mining mishap or a murder, and reveals a darkness below the surface of their small town.
In the small regional town in Queensland, drought and land erosion is prevalent, nonetheless the coal industry continues to thrive. Fourteen year old Shaun relocated from Brisbane with his parents, his dad begun employment in the local mining industry, a prosperous position until his mental health deteriorated, suffering a chronic injury and takes his own life. Shaun refuses counselling despite the insistence of his mother, his unresolved grief begins to resurface when Shaun finds a deceased body washed on the banks of the local reservoir. The nondescript man removing his workboots before having entered the water. Despite his truancy, Shaun reports the body to the local police who are sceptical, so when he accompanies a young officer to the crime scene and the deceased is missing, Shaun is branded a troubled young man and the investigation concluded before it has begun.

His mother believes Shaun harbours the residual effects of the suicide of his father so Shaun enlists the cooperation of best friend Will, a young man who thrives on adventure and together they investigate the death of a young man and their small town that deserves answers.

Shaun is a sensitive and intelligent young man, a friend and the son of a man who took his own life. In the small mining community, Shaun understands the anguish of mental illness and the repercussions of a large corporation financing the local economy. Shaun's single mother is employed at the local supermarket and although she's concerned for Shaun's mental health, she has no alternative means of financial support. Shaun is understandably enraged at the treatment of employees at the Rosewood Mine, treacherous conditions, inadequate support and mismanagement contributing to the suicide of his father.

The investigation is fraught with danger. Shaun and Will believe the young man is a casualty of the Rosewood Mine and begin the search for evidence of negligence.

Woven throughout The Man in the Water is the reoccurring theme of mental health, community responsibility and removing mental illness discrimination, especially in traditionally male dominated workplaces. While Australia strides towards inclusion and equality, toxic masculinity is an issue rarely acknowledged or discussed. Young men are expected to appear stoic and detached and to appear otherwise is often seen as weakness. This is especially prevalent in male dominated workplaces where employees are essentially discouraged from expressing concerns and mental health issues. In the incidents of the Rosewood Mine, employees are separated from their families, exposed to unsafe conditions, unsupported by their employer and intimidated by union delegates.

The Man in the Water encourages discussions surrounding mental health, suicide and neglect within our small town communities. Communities often without mental health professionals and counselling services. The uniquely Australian narrative is authentic and superbly written, the epitome of compassionate and conscientious young adult literature.

Ghost Bird & Interview With Lisa Fuller

Ghost Bird
Written by Lisa Fuller
Indigenous, Suspense, #loveozya
280 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to UPQ
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Remember daughter, the world is a lot bigger than anyone knows. There are things that science may never explain. Maybe some things that shouldn’t be explained.

Stacey and Laney are twins, mirror images of each other and yet they’re as different as the sun and the moon. Stacey works hard at school, determined to get out of their small town. Laney skips school and sneaks out of the house to meet her boyfriend. But when Laney disappears one night, Stacey can’t believe she’s just run off without telling her.

As the days pass and Laney doesn’t return, Stacey starts dreaming of her twin. The dreams are dark and terrifying, difficult to understand and hard to shake, but at least they tell Stacey one key thing, Laney is alive. It’s hard for Stacey to know what’s real and what’s imagined and even harder to know who to trust. All she knows for sure is that Laney needs her help.

Stacey is the only one who can find her sister. Will she find her in time?
Stacey and Laney Thompson are reflections of one another, identical sisters, companions and everlasting friends. In their small rural town of Eidsvold in Queenland, the Indigenous and white communities are segregated, white farmers claiming stolen land as their own and ravishing the natural resources. Since her grandmother passed away and her mother working long hours as an assistant nurse, Stacey and Laney would care for one another, until Laney begins her nightly rendezvous with Troy, a local boy who Stacey resents for monopolising Laney's time.

Stacey remembers her grandmother and her campfire stories, stories that will be passed through generations of the Thompson family, of monsters who lurk in the shadows. Stacey begins dreaming of a young woman captured, isolated and terrified and although frightened by the vivid dreaming, Stacey ignores her instincts. Until Laney goes missing.

Stacey is an intelligent and considerate young lady, she has the utmost respect for her elders, her mother and her large, fiercely protective family. Laney pushed boundaries, defying their mother and the educational system that favours white students, Indigenous students ignored and their education seen as secondary and an indication of how the white Eidsvold community thrive on racism and ignorance.

The Thompson and Miller families are adversaries, a continuing hostility which neither family is willing to concede. Stacey defies her family and enlists the assistance of Sam Miller in the search for her sister Laney, despite her better judgement. The rumour around town is that Laney, Troy and a group of local boys trespassed onto the property of local family the Potters. The Potter name is synonymous with violence against Indigenous youth, their claim as one of the founding families of the small town, cattle farmers and white supremacists not above using violence against the black members of the community. While Troy escaped, his are friends incarcerated and Laney is still missing. Still, no one is talking.

Ghost Bird also explores themes of racism and abuse towards Indigenous communities. Laney's disappearance is reported to the local police who are disinterested and apathetic, the disappearance of a young black woman being no cause for concern. The local historical society share the history of white settlement, neglecting the brutal colonisation of Indigenous land and communities. The inequality and blatant racism of small town Australia is confronting and indicative of the experience of many Indigenous Australians.

Ghost Bird is an exceptional read. A spiritual and remarkable journey of family, culture, identity and small town prejudices through the narrative of sixteen year old Stacey Thompson, a young Indigenous woman. Beautiful and breathtaking.

Today on the blog, I'm chatting with Lisa Fuller about Ghost Bird, representation and growing up in small town Australia. Please welcome wonderful debut author Lisa Fuller.

One of the loveliest aspects of Ghost Bird is the infusion of your culture with a strong emphasis on family. How important is it for young Aboriginal readers to see themselves and their cultures between the pages?
Growing up I was constantly looking for people in books that looked like me and were dealing with the same things. It’s why I ended up such a huge fan of speculative fiction because they deal with othering, racial issues, all the things I was going through. I think it’s so important to be able to see yourself represented in any media, especially when you’re younger. When I was writing Ghost Bird, I was wanting to give that representation to my nieces, nephews and cousins. And I hope they can see themselves in it.

Ghost Bird takes place in Eidsvold in South East Queensland. Growing up in a small country town, did you use your own experiences inspire the creation the small town narrative?
I cherry-picked a lot of elements, absolutely. It’s partly why it’s set in the 90s, because things like mobile phone coverage happened after I left for uni in 2002. I thought I was being unique with the characters, but my family tell me that I’ve written myself, my big sister and mother into the story… I can’t really argue with them about that lol. Luckily, they both think it’s hilarious.

I was intrigued by Stacey and Laney being identical reflections of one another who shared a sixth sense. Can you tell us about what inspired you to create their characters?
Twins randomly pop up in my family, and when I was younger I always wished for a twin. I also used to read ‘freaky but true’ books a lot (I still own some), and almost all of them had a section on twin connections. I think it also gave me that opportunity to explore two very different personalities, their own perspectives and ways of dealing with the same things.

Ghost Bird also gently explores themes of colonisation, racism and the erasure of Indigenous history. Are those issues you were conscious of including and how important are they to acknowledge especially for Indigenous youth?
Including these elements wasn’t a choice so much as it was about being true to life, then and now. My community already know these things, but having it acknowledged in such a way is really important, particular for our younger people, so know they aren’t alone. But it’s only part of the story. Yes, bad things have and are happening, but we always have each other and lots of laughter. We’re strong, and we’re still here.

Ghost Bird is your debut novel. Can you tell us about what attracted you to writing and writing for teens in particular?
Honestly, I thought it wouldn’t fly as YA, given the swearing and mature content. My publisher talked to me about it and gave me the choice. I chose YA because I realised I was writing this for that lonely kid back in high school who could never see herself in popular culture. I love the idea of being able to ensure my younger family and community can find themselves out there in the world. Watching all the amazing First Nations writers coming up now is just so exciting!

And lastly, can you share with us what's next for Lisa Fuller?
I just finished editing my middle grade fantasy, Washpool, with the amazing ladies at black&write. I’m so sad it’s over, but it goes off to Hachette soon, so fingers crossed! I’m writing a novel for my PhD that’s shaping up to be YA at this point. And I’ve got a picture book contracted with Magabala. I’ve also started toying with ideas for a sequel to Ghost Bird, because I’m missing the characters… is that nuts?

About Lisa Fuller
Lisa Fuller is a Wuilli Wuilli woman from Eidsvold, Queensland, and is also descended from Gooreng Gooreng and Wakka Wakka peoples. She won a 2019 black&write! Writing Fellowship, the 2017 David Unaipon Award for an Unpublished Indigenous Writer, the 2018 Varuna Eleanor Dark Flagship Fellowship, and was a joint winner of the 2018 Copyright Agency Fellowships for First Nations Writers. She has previously published poetry, blogs and short fiction. Lisa is an editor and publishing consultant, and is passionate about culturally appropriate writing and publishing.

You can find Lisa via her Blog  Twitter  Facebook and Goodreads.

Invisible Boys

Contains sensitivities such as homophobia, suicide, violence and mature themes
Invisible Boys
Written by Holden Sheppard
Contemporary, LGBT, Mental Health, Australian
344 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to Fremantle Press
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In a small town, everyone thinks they know you. Charlie is a hardcore rocker, who's not as tough as he looks. Hammer is a footy jock with big AFL dreams, and an even bigger ego. Zeke is a shy over-achiever, never macho enough for his family. But all three boys hide who they really are. When the truth is revealed, will it set them free or blow them apart?

Invisible Boys is a raw, confronting YA novel, tackling homosexuality, masculinity, anger and suicide with a nuanced and unique perspective. Set in regional Western Australia, the novel follows three sixteen year old boys in the throes of coming to terms with their homosexuality in a town where it is invisible and so are they. Invisible Boys depicts the complexities and trauma of rural gay identity with painful honesty, devastating consequence and, ultimately, hope.
In the small rural town of Geraldton in Western Australia, boys are raised on toxic masculinity with a stoic and emotional detachment. Whether you're the alluring and mysterious musician, the overachiever or attractive athlete, your worth is valued by your achievements and success. There is no room for tolerance within the draconian Catholic School community, boys are manipulated and forged by their faith, threatened by authority for daring to push societal boundaries.

Musician Charlie Roth has been ostracised by his friends and community after being caught in a compromising position with a married man, unbeknown to Charlie. Geralton is a small town thriving on intolerance and for Charlie Roth, home offers no respite with his neglectful mother and her layabout boyfriend resorting to insults and verbal abuse of the vulnerable adolescent. Beneath Charlie's lackadaisical facade, is a young man who is still mourning the death of his father and a community determined to label Charlie as less than human.

Zeke Calogero is an overachiever, from a traditional Sicilian family and devout Catholics. Zeke hides his sexuality, identifying as gay and covertly watching gay pornography to relieve tension and suppress feelings he could never discuss with his parents. When he is caught masturbating, his parents insist he is merely curious and that Charlie Roth is responsible for these impure thoughts. Although Zeke doesn't want to disappoint his parents, he also can't rely upon his waning faith which promotes abstinence and that homosexuality is immoral.

Kade Hammersmith is an athlete and the epitome of toxic masculinity, following the path his father blazed and determined to be drafted into the Australian Football League. Young men revere him, young women adore him and with the encouragement of his father, his sexual prowess is only secondary to his sporting career. Kade's life is a facade. Although he appears to be the straight, masculine young man who's sexuality active and applauded for being promiscuous, he finds men attractive and struggles with his sexuality. Kade knows that being gay in his community is seen as being less than male, he's seen what happened to Charlie Roth and surely this is only a phase. Surely.

The brighter you shine on the outside, the darker you burn within.

Three young men, bound by their bigoted and homophobic community and finding solace within one another. Invisible Boys is monumental. Young men who endure in silence, who suffer at the hands of religious zealots and toxic masculinity, pressured to hide their sexuality for fear of being ostracised or labelled as less than. These boys represent our brothers, friends, neighbours and young men without a voice. Young men who are raised to appear void of emotion and anything less is a weakness. Small town prejudice confines young men to silence, often low socioeconomic communities offer no means to escape which can lead to mental illness and thoughts of suicide. Suicide remaining the leading cause of death for young Australians with many more who attempt to end their lives. Invisible Boys will ignite discussion of how toxic masculinity effects young men and how Australia as a community need to stop accepting the boys will be boys mentality.

The narrative is confrontational and incredibly important for young queer men to recognise themselves within the pages, their lives and experiences. It's written with authenticity and sincerity, unflinching and unabashed Australian young adult literature at its finest. Simply brilliant.

Rules For Vanishing

Rules for Vanishing
Written by Kate Alice Marshall
Mystery, Paranormal, Horror
400 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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Once a year, a road appears in the forest. And at the end of it, the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons. Lucy’s game isn’t for the faint of heart. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose...

Sara’s sister disappeared one year ago and only Sara knows where she is. Becca went to find the ghost of Lucy Gallows and is trapped on her road. In the sleepy town of Briar Glen, Lucy’s road is nothing more than local lore. But Sara knows it’s real, and she’s going to find it. When Sara and her skeptical friends meet in the forest to search for Becca, the mysterious road unfurls before them. All they have to do is walk down it. But the path to Lucy is not of this world, and it has its own rules. Every mistake summons new horrors. Vengeful spirits and broken, angry creatures are waiting for them to slip, and no one is guaranteed safe passage. The only certainty is this: the road has a toll and it will be paid. Sara knows that if she steps onto the road, she might not come back. But Becca needs her. And Lucy is waiting.
Briar Glen is synonymous with the the name Lucy Gallows, a young woman that wandered into the forest and never returned. Her last known whereabouts was on a road to nowhere, being lead by an unknown male assailant. Throughout the years the fable may have interchanged but the instructions remain the same, find a partner, find a key, find the road.

On the eve of the anniversary of Lucy Gallow's disappearance, Sara Donoghue's adoptive sister Rebecca was lured into the fated fable, whispered conversations and a notebook left behind, evidence she planned to find fifteen year old Lucy. Sara has maintained hope that Sara is still alive, the police labelling the adolescent as a difficult young woman who disappeared with Zachary Kent, a young man she barely knew.

Although Rebecca was adopted as an infant, Sara Donoghue and sister Rebecca shared an everlasting friendship. Rebecca was the center of their universe, a group of friends who dissolved shortly after her disappearance, Sara has endured depression and isolation. Her journey to find her sister is harrowing, captivating and a breathtaking paranormal thriller that will captivate the imagination of readers until the final page.

Find a partner. Find a key. Find the road.

Atmospheric and haunting, Rules for Vanishing is told from the perspective of Sara Donoghue through a series of interviews, transcripts, eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence while Sara recollects her journey upon the once believed to be mythological road. The legend of Lucy Gallows has been idolised by the teens of Briar Glen since her disappearance, speculation that her brother killed her and left her to ruin on the forest floor the logical conclusion. What happened to Lucy has always been a mystery but those who believe in Lucy's story can hear the young woman calling for help, including Becca, according to her sister Sara. Sara refuses to accept that she ran away with her new boyfriend when Becca and Sara's best friend were clearly attracted to one another, only Anthony didn't believe in the local legend which left Becca to find someone who was willing to follow her onto the road.

Although Sara's self isolated after Becca's disappearance, her former group of mutual friends have come along for the ride. Disbelieving in the supernatural, I don't think anyone expected to have stumbled upon the road, now finding themselves in a strange and eerie purgatory between worlds, where darkness is no friend of the weary traveller and you must follow the rules to survive. Take a partner, hold their hand and under no circumstances should you leave the road. What ensues is a creepy as hell storyline that left me jumping at shadows and reading long into the night. Despite my better judgement and skyrocketing anxiety.

The travellers are a motley crew of characters, all varying degrees of unreliable so as a reader it's difficult to establish what's real and what has been created by the trauma of the situation or outright untruths. Regardless, it makes for a fascinating narrative that blends a contemporary storyline with urban legend, infused with paranormal elements and everything in between. Reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project and Small Spaces by Australian author Sarah Epstein.

My favourite element of Rules for Vanishing was the ability to surprise readers. By now we've all read enough paranormal to fill a warehouse, this is one book that needs to be celebrated for being unique and creating the mystery and intrigue to captivate even the toughest of readers, not to mention creep us the hell out.

You know what, just read it. The element of surprise is all in the discovery of the urban legend and those who seek answers. Just a word of warning to leave the light on, Lucy seems to dwell in the dark.

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill
Written by Emma Smith - Barton
Contemporary, Mental Health, Diverse
320 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Teen Australia
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How can I hold myself together, when everything around me is falling apart?

Neena's always been a good girl, great grades, parent approved friends and absolutely no boyfriends. But ever since her brother Akash left her, she's been slowly falling apart and uncovering a new version of herself who is altogether more dangerous.

As her wild behaviour spirals more and more out of control, Neena's grip on her sanity begins to weaken too. And when her parents announce not one but two life changing bombshells, including that they want her to have an arranged marriage, she finally reaches breaking point. But as Neena is about to discover, when your life falls apart, only love can piece you back together.
Be happy. That was the last words Akash Gill told his sister Neena before disappearing that night, asking her to sneak out to a party with him. It's been seven months since he left, seven months since Neena's mother has left the house, seven months since their lives were irrevocably changed. Neena has always been a model student and loyal friend, navigating the world with Akash at her side. Since he disappeared, Neena's life is no longer her own. She sneaks out to meet his former girlfriend Fiona, hoping to find information on why he left, drinking to numb the pain and follow Akash's path, living life according to where the winds blow. Not how their parents dictate.

Neena Gill is an interesting character, her grief is palpable as we discover the impact Akash's disappearance had on the quiet and reserved young woman. Neena increasingly isolated herself from her best friend Raheela and although as a result of her unimaginable longing, Neena meets Josh at a party through Fiona, her brother's former girlfriend and the two instantly hit it off. Neena is quite the unreliable narrator, shaking off her so called good girl status in the pursuit of information. At first. She becomes a fixture in Akash's social scene, soon realising there was more to her brother than the artist, the covert party boy, a son, a boyfriend and the spark that set the world ablaze.

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill explores the turbulent and often confronting themes of grief, alcoholism, mental illness and substance abuse, issues that were beautifully written with incredible care and consideration. It also portrays the expectations placed upon the offspring of immigrant parents and I really enjoyed the interactions between Neena and her Pakistani born parents once they found common ground.

Although the reader is introduced to Akash through brief snippets and Neena's memories of their childhood, his character is larger than life. The storyline slowly navigates around his character as the central focus and how the disappearance of a loved one leaves a gaping hole in the lives of friends and loved ones. It also explores the many facets of grief, denial, isolation, destructive behaviour, self sabotage, depression and anxiety. Neena's mother developed agoraphobia and was unable to leave the house, the couple's friends coming over each night to banquets Neena's mother would spend the day preparing, Neena's father spending long hours at work to avoid the confrontation of home while seeking solace in his local church to pray for his wayward daughter.

The romance plays a very small role throughout the narrative, which I appreciated tremendously. Neena's life is complex enough and although her relationship with Josh brought her joy, it was a bandaid for a much larger issue. Josh's character was lovely, gentle with Neena and genuinely cares for her. Her brother's former girlfriend Fiona appears to be unlikeable and not only enabled Neena's behaviour but manipulated Neena and used her to her advantage. Neena often perceived her world and the interactions with others entirely different to how they were portrayed, Fi is still questionably sketchy as she's strongly disliked by Neena's parents and her former best friend Raheela but also struggled with life without Akash.

One of my favourite aspects of The Million Pieces of Neena Gill was the writing. It was beautiful and well considered. A story of hope, healing and learning to live in the moment. A deeply moving, poignant and quietly stunning prose from an brilliant debut author in Emma Smith - Barton.

The Darkest Bloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daughter of Lies and Ruin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simply magical. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is How We Change The Ending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Liars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scars Like Wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under The Stars - Q & A With Lisa Harvey Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greta's Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impossible Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankly In Love

Frankly In Love
Written by David Yoon
Contemporary, Romance, Diverse
432 Pages
Published September 17th 2019
Thanks to Penguin Australia
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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!
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