How It Feels to Float

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aurora Rising

Aurora Rising
The Aurora Cycle
Written by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Science Fiction, Adventure #LoveOZYA
480 Pages
Published May 2019
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia
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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

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.
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