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.

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