It Sounded Better in My Head

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

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

Nothing is going according to plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Posting With Corella Press

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

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

Week One. An Introduction To Independent Publishing

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

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

Weeks Two And Three. Finding A Story

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

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

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

Week Four And Five. The Acquisition Proposal

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

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

Week Six. Book Parts

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

Week Seven. Updating The Website

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

Week Eight Copyediting And Proofreading

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

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

Week Nine. Marketing

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

Week Ten. Book Design And Production

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

Week Eleven. Launch Plan

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

Week Twelve. Proofreading

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

Week Thirteen. It’s a wrap!

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

Queen Of Ruin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lizard's Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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