Aurora Burning

may contain mild spoilers for Aurora Rising
Aurora Burning
Aurora Rising Book Two
Written by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Science Fiction, Adventure, Australian
512 Pages
Published April 2020
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia
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Our heroes are back. Kind of.

First, the bad news. An ancient evil, you know, your standard consume all life in the galaxy deal is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is standing by to save the day. They've just got to take care of a few small distractions first.

Like the clan of Gremps who'd like to rearrange their favourite faces. And the cadre of illegit GIA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be, who'll stop at nothing to get their hands on Auri. Then there's Kal's long lost sister, who's not exactly happy to see her baby brother, and has a Syldrathi army at her back. With half the known galaxy on their tails, Squad 312 has never felt so wanted.

When they learn the Hadfield has been found, it's time to come out of hiding. Two centuries ago the colony ship vanished, leaving Auri as its sole survivor. Now, its black box might be what saves them but time is short, and if Auri can't learn to master her powers as a Trigger, the squad and all their admirers are going to be deader than the Great Ultrasaur of Abraaxis IV.

Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts, inappropriately tight bodysuits and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion's most unforgettable heroes and maybe the rest of the galaxy as well.
The Ra’haam blooms are slumbering on their desolate planets, an ancient hivemind race threatening to consume the galaxy. The lost colony of Octavia III has been devoured by the Ra’haam, the adrift Hatfield vessel destined for the Octavia settlement before succumbing to the Fold. Aurora Jie Lin O'Malley has long since awakened and rescued by a gallant Tyler Jones, the unlikely company of a diplomat, scientist, warrior, engineer, navigator and Tyler are now felonious fugitives escaping the Global Intelligence Agency.

Delightfully creepy, wonderfully imaginative and superbly entertaining, Aurora Burning is an unpredictable adventure of sarcasm and wonderfully diverse characters. Aurora Burning introduces readers to the Syldrathi Unbroken, a warrior civilisation involved in an ages old conflict with human civilisation, their planet decimated, those who survived are now displaced. Kaliis found solace within the Aurora Academy, his squad of unlikely friends and the memory of his mother, a woman who instilled humility, compassion and peace within her children, their father a warmonger in contrast. Aurora Burning introduces audiences to the fierce Saedii, Kaliis' sister and Unbroken soldier that is entirely deserving of her own series.

With a substantial bounty offered for their capture and accusations of terrorism, the group of unlikely friends must evade the Global Intelligence Agency, the relentless Unbroken and Syldrathi forces. 

In Aurora Burning, the secondary characters are sensational and provide a reprieve from the intensity of the consuming romance. Zila possesses a quiet intensity, incredibly intelligent and possibly identifies as neurodiverse. Finian has impaired mobility and wears a specially designed suit to lessen the impact of gravity on his skeletal, nerve and muscle systems. He's quite possibly pansexual, appreciating the beauty of those around him regardless of gender. Finian is open about his sexuality, he's flirtatious and flamboyant and uses sarcasm as a coping mechanism. A stark contrast to Zila, who confides in Scarlett that she identifies as lesbian. It's a moment of inspiration and triumph, that Zila and Scarlett's friendship had blossomed and Zila felt comfortable confiding in her friend. It was an immense moment with little fanfare and endeared me to Zila's character. 

The intense romance between Aurora and Kaliis threatened to overwhelm the overall narrative, Aurora's newfound empowerment needed be at the expense of Kaliis' character. A romance where Aurora was content to allow Kaliis to become her protector, she begun losing her own identity in the process. In a narrative where characters are driven foremost by their relationship, it's inevitable that characters will feel isolated within their worlds and become dependant on one another. 

That ending.


Although the romance is entirely melodramatic, Kaliis being sacrificed to further Aurora's evolution is merciless. Heavens, it's unforgiving. Aurora is confronted with an impossible situation, the reality of her relationship and although the Aurora Burning narrative divided readers, I enjoyed the glimpses of ruthlessness, the often reckless decisions and the regret. It added a level of humanity to the storyline.  

Aurora Burning is a whirlwind adventure of beautifully illustrated worlds and diverse, vibrant characters. Immensely entertaining!

Rebel Gods

See my review for Monuments

Rebel Gods
Monuments Book Two
Written by Will Kostakis
Fantasy, Adventure, LGBT, Australian
256 Pages
Published August 27th 2019
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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Newbie gods Connor, Sally and Locky want to change the world, no biggie. But they're soon drawn into a centuries old conflict that just might destroy the world they're striving to make better. Book two in the Monuments fantasy duology from young adult superstar Will Kostakis.

With the Monuments gone, newbie gods Connor, Sally and Locky must stop the rebel gods from reducing the world to ruin. Trouble is, they don't know how.

While Sally searches for answers and Locky makes plans to change the world, Connor struggles to keep up appearances as an ordinary teenager. But when a rebel god offers them a deal to end the chaos, their lives are turned upside down and they're forced to reckon with the question: who should decide the fate of the world?

Coming to terms with their newfound Godly status, friends Sally, Connor and his totally dreamy boyfriend Locky are determined to find the estranged Rebel Gods before they wreak havoc upon the world. What's the point of being a God if you can't change the world for the better? When Locky decides to spread joy on the lawn of the local parish, turning their grass into the rainbow flag in opposition to their queerphobic agenda, he's suddenly thrust into the spotlight and making their task of keeping their Godly duties on the down low even harder. Sydney is awash with speculation, could the Gods really walk among the people? For Connor and Locky, it's no easy task dating a God but now with his newfound rockstar slash miracle status, Locky may have inadvertently placed their lives in even more danger, despite the threat of the two dangerous sisters living in the otherworld that threaten life as we know it.

Adventure is afoot my friends as Connor begins to accept the fate thrust upon him, a God that will never age, never able to stay in one place any longer than a few years or risk exposure and of course, telling his dear mother. The other light of his life. Although the Monuments duology is steeped in modern mythology and moments of hilarity, the heart of the narrative is friendship and finding our way into the world. Although generations of teens aren't supernatural godly beings, it's still entirely relatable. Teens invoking change and being the change they want to see within the world. 

Rebel Gods explores the deeply queerphobic aspects of religion, those condoning intolerance and prejudice under the guise of religious ideology. Locky challenges the local parish, exposing himself in the process and although the Monuments series explores the urban fantasy narrative of Sydney, the characters are exposed to societal and community issues. It provides a realism beyond world ending scenarios and one of my favourite aspects of the series, besides the brilliant and entirely likeable characters. 

A brilliant conclusion to the duology from one of Australia's most loved authors. 

A Tale of Magic Series

A Tale of Magic
A Tale of Magic Book One
Written by Chris Colfer
Middle Grade, Magic, Friendship, Adventure
Published August 11th 2020
448 Pages
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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When Brystal Evergreen stumbles across a secret section of the library, she discovers a book that introduces her to a world beyond her imagination and learns the impossible: she is a fairy capable of magic! But in the oppressive Southern Kingdom, women are forbidden from reading and magic is outlawed, so Brystal is swiftly convicted of her crimes and sent to the miserable Bootstrap Correctional Facility.

But with the help of the mysterious Madame Weatherberry, Brystal is whisked away and enrolled in an academy of magic! Adventure comes with a price, however, and when Madame Weatherberry is called away to attend to an important problem, she doesn't return.

Do Brystal and her classmates have what it takes to stop a sinister plot that risks the fate of the world, and magic forever?

In the Southern Kingdom, young girls are educated to become housewives, mothers and caregivers, good girls by honouring their fathers, brothers and husbands as silent, neglected members of society. Thirteen year old Brystal Evergreen is determined to journey across the kingdoms, seeking adventure and freedom but for the time being, Brystal is content to read. For women and girls within the oppressive kingdom, reading is illegal so when Brystal stumbles across a banned magic book while covertly cleaning her local library, she's caught not only reading but practicing magic and sentenced to the horrific Bootstrap Correctional Facility. 

Ohh Brystal, what a darling girl you are with your big dreams and immense feelings. I was so incredibly smitten by this spirited young lady. She's courageous and determined to push against societal boundaries. Brystal's father is a leader among their community and although paid handsomely for his work, the family live with the bare necessities, handmedown clothing while Brystal and her mother work tirelessly to keep house. After all, the Southern Kingdom tells women that's all their good for. Grown men scared of the superiority of women and Brystal's father is without a doubt, a misogynist. As a Justice, along with both Brystal's brothers, they're responsible for keeping women in line, uneducated and sentencing those suspected of magic to death. 

Girls from across the kingdom have been accused of practicing magic, outlawed after hordes of magical creatures were purged from the kingdoms into the inbetween, a dangerous and unruly place where ogres, goblins and club thumping trolls dwell and fight for resources. The inbetween is incredibly atmospheric and foreboding, an ancient forest and ungovernable land separating the northern and southern kingdoms and where Madame Weatherberry has stationed her new school. 

A reprieve arrives in the form of Madame Weatherberry, a delightful Mary Poppins type woman who has Presidential approval to open a school for Fairies, Under the guidance of Madame Weatherberry, students Brystal and her new friends Xanthous, Emerelda, Tangerina, Skylene and travelling showbusiness performer extraordinaire Lucy, will learn to control their abilities and become the faces of the magical community to promote acceptance and understanding. Madame Weatherberry has an ulterior motive, the children must learn to defeat the Snow Queen, an enchantress wreaking havoc on the northern kingdom, decimating villages and homes. 

Although the injustice and inequality of the kingdom are fictional, young readers will draw parallel's within the world and the prejudice communities endure. Communities of colour, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexualities, persecuted rather than celebrated. 

A Tale of Magic is a whimsical series debut that will delight and enchant readers. Simply magical.

A Tale of Witchcraft
A Tale of Magic Book Two
Written by Chris Colfer
Middle Grade, Magic, Friendship, Adventure
Published September 29th 2020
528 Pages
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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Brystal Evergreen changed the world, but the journey is just beginning.

Brystal Evergreen and her friends have saved the world from the evil Snow Queen and secured worldwide acceptance for the magical community.

However, when a mysterious new witch named Mistress Mara arrives at the Academy, the celebrations are cut short. As Mistress Mara begins recruiting faeries into her rival school of Witchcraft, it becomes clear she has dark intentions. And soon Brystal's friend Lucy becomes embroiled in an ominous plot against mankind.

Elsewhere, the fragile peace is on the brink of shattering. Outrage has spread throughout the kingdoms in opposition to the legalisation of magic. And a dangerous and centuries old clan known as the Righteous Brotherhood has resurfaced, with one goal in mind: to exterminate all magical life for ever. Starting with Brystal.

As the kingdom celebrates the once isolated and persecuted magical community, Brystal is now academy administrator and along with Xanthous, Emerelda, Tangerina, Skylene and Lucy, the academy welcomes the wider community seeking solace within the sanctuary grounds. The northern conflict has been resolved, the land thawed and the Snow Queen has been banished under the northern lights but a new threat has emerged. 

The Righteous Brotherhood is a patriarchal organisation opposing the magical community. While the community was isolated by the kingdom, the Brotherhood remained dormant and with Brystal's new found popularity, they have awoken to destroy the alliance the kingdom and fairy community has aligned. Brystal has found an unlikely but wonderfully charismatic ally in Prince Gallivant, affectionately known as Seven due to his lineage to the royal throne. The Brotherhood will stop at nothing to see their leader on the throne, including the decimation of the royal family and Brystal will risk her life to ensure the safety of the academy and community. 

One of my favourite aspects of the A Tale of Magic series is the societal and political undertones. How society often devalues the lives of minority communities and legislates, discriminates and excludes based on ethnicity, gender and sexualities. Brystal has matured into a wonderful young lady, confident and fiercely vigilant, protecting the community she embraces. A Tale of Witchcraft is very much Brystal's journey of acceptance and growth, learning who she is and her place within the world. 

Beautifully written and lovingly told, The Tale of Magic series is a wonderful exploration of adventure and found family, of wanting to belong and finding your place within the everchanging world. An absolute delight. 


See my reviews for Nevermoor and Wundersmith

Hollowpox. The Hunt for Morrigan Crow
Nevermoor Book Three
Written by Jessica Townsend
Middle Grade, Adventure, Magic, Australian
Published September 29th 2020
518 Pages
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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Strange things are happening in Nevermoor...

Morrigan Crow and her friends have survived their first year as proud scholars of the elite Wundrous Society, helped bring down the nefarious Ghastly Market, and proven themselves loyal to Unit 919. Now Morrigan faces a new, exciting challenge. To master the mysterious Wretched Arts of the Accomplished Wundersmith, and control the power that threatens to consume her.

But a strange and frightening illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning infected Wunimals into mindless, vicious unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. And with the city she loves in a state of fear, Morrigan quickly realises it's up to her to find a cure for the Hollowpox, even if it will put her and everyone in Nevermoor, in more danger than she ever imagined.

A pandemic is sweeping the streets of Nevermoor metropolis, infecting Wunimals and carrying the illness amongst the community. Wunimals losing their inhibitions and humanity. The Wunderous Society is determined to manufacture a cure as the community falls into disarray, Nevermoorians protesting the removal of Wunimals. Morrigan Crow has returned to the Wunderous Society, beginning her education as a Wundersmith in an underground facility. Stepping through moments preserved by the historical society, Morrigan can observe lessons from centuries past amongst long deceased Wundersmiths and a young, spirited Ezra Squall. 

Morrigan is beginning to master her abilities, attempting to find a balance between friendship and her education as she is consumed by the Wundersmith archives, yearning for knowledge. Since The infamous Ezra Squall was banished from Nevermoor, Wundersmiths have been feared and revered but the survival of the Wunimals community rests upon the shoulders of thirteen year old Morrigan Crow as Nevermoor learns a Wundersmith now walks amongst them. 

Morrigan Crow is a delightful young lady, rescued from the Wintersea Republic where our young heroine was mistreated and brought illegally to Nevermoor by Juniper North, an eccentric hotel entrepreneur. The Hotel Deucalion is magnificent with an eclectic assortment of employees who manage the hotel and care for Morrigan whilst Juniper is absent on official and often secretive Wunderous Society business, including the capture of infectious Wunimals. Fenestra the Magnificat is irritable, sarcastic and fabulous, soprano Dame Chanda Kali is delightful and friends Hawthorne and Cadence are wonderfully supportive, Hawthorne provides endless entertainment and light hearted moments throughout the series. 

One of the most striking aspects of Hollowpox, The Hunt for Morrigan Crow is the relevance of the storyline during the pandemic. How society has fractured and through ignorance, communities have become segregated and isolated. Children will recognise the similarities between our current pandemic and Nevermoor, encouraging discussion and understanding. The Nevermoor series is absolutely wunderous, a fantastical, breathtaking adventure that transcends middle grade literature. Atmospheric and categorically enchanting.

A Dance With Fate

See my review for A Harp of Kings
A Dance with Fate
Warrior Bards Book Two
Written by Juliet Marillier
Fantasy, Folklore, Celtic
Published July 2020
420 Pages
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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An accident. A forfeit of freedom. A descent into danger.

Liobhan, the young warrior and bard, has lost her brother to the Otherworld. Even more determined to gain a place as an elite fighter, she returns to Swan Island to continue her training. But Liobhan is devastated when her comrade Dau is injured and loses his sight in their final display bout. Blamed by Dau's family for the accident, she agrees to go to his home, Oakhill, as a bond servant for one year.

But Oakhill is a place of dark secrets. The menacing and enigmatic Crow Folk still threaten both worlds and while Brocc battles them in the Otherworld, Dau must battle his own demon, despair.

When Liobhan and Dau begin to expose the evil at the core of Oakhill, they place themselves in mortal danger. For their enemy wields great power and will stop at nothing to get his way. It will take all the skills of a Swan Island warrior and a touch of the uncanny to give them any hope of survival...

Returning from her maiden assignment in the Kingdom of Breifne, Liobhan is disheartened at the loss of her brother, choosing to remain with Eirne in the forest realm of the Fair Folk. Continuing their warrior apprenticeship, Liobhan and Swan Island comrade Dau enter the arena for their friendly, noncombative competition, Liobhan discarding her protective clothing as Dau falls heavily, concussed, scarcely unresponsive and visually impaired. Healers of the island cannot guarantee the return of his vision and as a warrior who relies on his senses, Dau is questioning his position within the company of elite soldiers. 

Dau is returning home to Oakhill Estate, his father and his advisors demanding compensation for the accident and to evade questioning about the mysterious Swan Island, Dau reluctantly agrees to return home. Liobhan is held accountable for the accident and volunteers to serve as a bond servant at the family estate, protecting Dau from the cruelty and maltreatment he endured as a boy. Seanan has assumed the position of Master of Oakhill while their father is ailing, a mysterious illness causing confusion and an inability to manage the family estate. Seanan is tyrannical and vindictive, a sociopath who derives pleasure from tormenting his younger brother Dau, using his humanity and gentleness as a weapon. Dau requires treatment but is isolated and his injuries festering, he experiences depression, anger and resentment.

Dau is a Swan Island warrior and without his vision, the feeling of hopelessness is palpable as he contemplates suicide as an alternative. A Dance with Fate explores the trauma of mental health and a diagnosed disability. Visually impaired, Dau is overwhelmed by his remaining heightened senses and begrudgingly accepts assistance. 

As the mysteries of the Oakhill Estate emerge, Brocc remains in the forest realm with Eirne and her fair folk community as he discovers the torture and slain Crow Folk mutilated within the surrounding forest. Brocc is a humanitarian, he cares deeply for his community of small folk and his wife, who is becoming apathetic and distant. Their relationship is entirely superficial. Brocc sacrificed his family, community and position on Swan Island to join the otherwordly community and although Eirne cares for her community, Brocc is their protector, using his voice to protect the Fair Folk from the ferocious Crow Folk attacks. In one particular instance, a messenger reveals that Liobhan may be endangered and rather than forewarn her husband, Eirne chooses to conceal the information, creating a further divide. One of my favourite characters of the otherworld is True, the unassuming and philosophical protector and along with True, the fair folk are beginning to welcome Brocc into their community as a valued family member.

As Brocc and Eirne's relationship begins to fracture, the tentative attraction between Liobhan and Dau is beginning to blossom into a beautiful and delicate intensity. We see Liobhan's compassion and vulnerability, encouraging Dau to remain positive despite the circumstances and guiding a young stable hand in caring for Dau's injuries. Corb is a wonderful character, gentle, patient and although Dau resents not being able to tend to his own injuries and his bruised ego, he and Liobhan come to care for the young man.

The striking aspect of the Warrior Bards series is the atmospheric, whimsical narration infused with Celtic folklore. A Dance with Fate is an engaging and delightfully whimsical installment that explores disability, mental wellness and traumatic disorders. Beautifully lyrical and a remarkable read by one of Australia and New Zealand's finest authors. Juliet Marillier is a national treasure. 

Harrow Lake

Harrow Lake
Written by Kat Ellis
Contemporary, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Published August 18th 2020
320 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Teen Australia
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Welcome to Harrow Lake. Someone's expecting you.

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker, she thinks nothing can scare her.

But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she's swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she's never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father's most iconic horror movie was shot.

The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there's someone - or something - stalking her every move.

The more Lola discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola's got secrets of her own. And if she can't find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her.

Soirees, premières and receptions celebrate acclaimed filmmaker Nolan Nox. Behind the abrasive façade is an overbearing father, placing his professional livelihood above the wellbeing of his daughter. Apart from the occasional industry gathering, Lola Nox is a recluse, forbidden to leave their New York City apartment. Nolan reminding Lola of how her mother abandoned their family. Lola is looking for adventure and against Nolan's wishes, leaves the apartment only to return home to a horrifying crime scene. Nolan has been brutally wounded and while his life hangs in the balance, Lola is sent to live with her estranged grandmother in Harrow Lake, where Nolan produced his infamous cult film Nightjar.

Lola is an interesting character. She's likeable but it becomes apparent that she's a product of her environment, living her life according to Nolan's rules. Rules which aren't necessarily to keep her safe but to control her. As Nolan recovers in hospital from his injuries, Lola has been sent by her father's friend and assistant to her estranged grandmother's house in Harrow Lake. It just happens to be the twentieth anniversary of the Nightjar film release, with the community celebrating each year with a festival.

Lola's estranged grandmother's property is surrounded by a gnarly forest and under the thick canopy, residents whisper the urban legend of Mister Jitters roaming the forest searching for a Little Bird, the community offering teeth to an ancient tree in the forest to keep their families safe. Much weird indeed. Although Harrow Lake is eerily atmospheric, there's an overwhelming sense of wrongness. It's no wonder Lola's mother Lorelei was so eager to escape when she met Nolan and played the role of Little Bird in the original film. 

The fairground is home to the carnival created for the Nightjar film, built amongst the landslide caused the mountain to collapse and bury the historical church in a sinkhole. Urban legend tells the story of Mr Jitters, a centuries old man who was said to have been buried alive and survived by cannibalism. The local folklore warns children of venturing into the forest or risk being captured by Mister Jitters. Mister Jitter's is the stuff of nightmares and even though the residents of Harrow Lake laugh it off as being superstitious, most of them believe something is lurking around the town. 

Strange happenings are afoot friends. Lola's suitcase disappears and she's forced to wear her mother's Little Bird costumes. The likeness is uncanny to the point where even her elderly grandmother believes Lola is Lorelei. Lola is staying in her mother's room where jitterbugs line the shelves and tremble sporadically. It's creepy as hell and made my skin crawl. Lola is determined to unravel the mysteries of her mother, why she was adamant in leaving Harrow Lake and why did she return before abandoning her only child? 

The most striking aspect of Harrow Lake is how the story unravels, a nonlinear narrative shared amongst the community as the history of Lorelei and their town is revealed. Unreliable narrators, those with alterative motives and those who are determined to safekeep the secrets of their strange, foreboding town. Kat Ellis has created a superb vintage horror that will enthral readers until the final page.

Before the Beginning

Before the Beginning
Written by Anna Morgan
Contemporary, LGBT, Mystery, Romance
Published September 29th 2020
240 Pages
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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Schoolies week, that strange in between time when teenagers move from school into the adult world. It's a week when anything is possible, and everything can change.

Grace is questioning everything she thought about herself, and has opted not to join her clique of judgemental friends for schoolies, instead tagging along with her brother Casper and his friends. Casper, an artist, is trying to create the perfect artwork for his uni application folio. Overachieving, anxiety ridden Noah is reeling from a catastrophe that might have ruined his ATAR result. And Elsie is just trying to figure out how to hold their friendship group together.

On the first night of the trip, they meet Sierra, a mysterious girl with silver grey hair and a magnetic personality. All of them are drawn to her for different reasons, and she persuades them to abandon the cliched schoolies experience in favour of camping with her on a remote, uninhabited island. On that island, each of them will find answers to their questions. But what does Sierra want from them?

Grace is an attentive daughter, admired among her congregation and an intelligent scholarship recipient. While awaiting her results, Grace is contemplating an apprenticeship with her congregation, reluctantly deciding to spend her postschool celebrations with her brother Casper and his friends in the seaside town of their childhood vacations. Casper hopes to complete his artists portfolio for university applications and along with best friends Elsie and Noah, spending a few days to celebrate, commiserate and ponder their futures.

Although narrated by several characters, Casper, Elise and Noah, Grace is the interloper. Grace and Casper shared a wonderful sibling relationship as children, while Casper pursues his artistry, Grace continued her involvement within the church, creating tension and alienating the young siblings. Grace is a likeable young woman, her faith has caused her to feel isolated from her friends and family as she often appears as being judgemental, culminating in being confronted by Elise. Elise barely tolerates Grace, although not by virtue of her religious beliefs but because every conversation with Grace is about her faith, while she pays little attention to anyone not sharing her own principals. 

Soon after arriving at the seaside cottage, the group of four unlikely travel companions meet Sierra, a spirited young woman who convinces them to spend the the next few days illegally camping on the abandoned Shearwater Island. On the island, the serene and tranquil atmosphere allows friendships to blossom, tentative romances to begin, declarations of unrequited love and conceding that life isn't always ideal but our mistakes allow us to mature as individuals. 

The characters are wonderfully contrasted. Noah was awarded with a scholarship to a prestigious private school, his mother's expectations only secondary to his own. As a result, he's incredibly anxious and overwhelmed. Elise and Casper share a codependent friendship and although Casper is seemingly unaware, Elise harbors immense feelings for her friend. The friendship blossoming between Elise and Grace was beautiful and although they both found aspects of one another's personality irritating, like Grace learning to listen to others without judgement and Elise learning patience, they found middle ground and a mutual respect for one another. Sierra was never a looming presence over their friendship group but she brought out the best in some characters, Grace especially and the worst in others, namely Casper. I wasn't fond of Casper. He's flighty and only concerned about himself, the attention others are giving him and is verging on tantrum throwing when he doesn't get his own way. Namely Sierra.

The romance between Grace and Sierra was unexpected but really lovely for the most part. Rather than Sierra encouraging Grace to explore her identity, it seemed to be the island itself and their surroundings that allowed Grace's spirit to soar and it was beautiful. Although she doesn't talk about her sexuality, I can imagine it wasn't something she was able to discuss with her friends from church, incredibly judgemental girls who felt the need to issue an announcement body shaming girls who want to wear bikinis, very much implying that the female body is a distraction for men and to cover up with a modest bathing suit. It's no wonder Grace took her chances camping with Casper and his friends, her friends, what little we hear about them, are horrible and use their faith as a reason to exclude and shame others. That seemed to be Grace's turning point.

The writing itself is magical, as Anna Morgan has creates a narrative that slowly unravels on each page. Who is Sierra? I loved the Australian summer atmosphere of Shearwater Island, the mystery, intrigue but most of all, the character development. Anna Morgan is a masterful storyteller, creating journey's of discovery, of acceptance and finding your way into the world, placing importance on the journey rather than the destination. 

Kingdom of the Wicked

Kingdom of the Wicked
Kingdom of the Wicked Book One
Written by Kerri Maniscalco
Historical Fiction, Mystery, Witches, Romance
Published October 27th 2020
448 Pages
Thank you to Jimmy Patterson Books
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Two sisters.

One brutal murder.

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance.

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe, witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin... Desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost, even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked princes of Hell she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems...

As children, Emilia and Vittoria listened intently to the stories of their grandmother and the Dicarlo family grimoire, monsters, demons and the stregheria, the matriarchal families of the Sicilian town of Palermo. As the ocean gathers the changing winds, the demon world becomes restless, it's been an age since demons were banished into the netherworld and with a solemn prophecy from their grandmother, the underworld has arisen. 

Emilia and Vittoria are contrasting characters, Vittoria is spirited whilst Emilia is passionate about literature and culinary delights, a kitchenhand in their family owned restaurant Sea & Vine. As children, Emilia and Vittoria confided in one another but are now distant, Vittoria secretively indulging in parties and tumultuous love affairs until her body is found within the local monastery, her heart removed in a ritualistic killing. Emilia's sorrow is palpable and although the sisters have grown distant in recent years, she is determined to avenge her sister.

Throughout the narrative, Emilia discovers that Vittoria harboured a dangerous grimoire as she summons a demon from the underworld, the unsuspecting war general, the demonic prince of Wrath. Capturing the devastatingly handsome general for information. Wrath is one of seven demonic princes, each representing the seven houses of immortality. To freed the brothers, a willing bride must be chosen to break the binding spell placed upon the underworld. These princes are deliciously sinful and almost impossible to resist. Yes, they're evil but so incredibly handsome that you almost forget they're in the business of stealing souls. Because handsome. 

Wrath is ridiculously attractive. He and Emilia share a vested interest in finding who killed Vittoria, reluctantly agreeing to work together. Over the course of the narrative, Wrath begins to care for Emilia and although she's more than capable of fending for herself, he is a wonderful yet alluring support for Emilia. Remember when you first discovered Twilight and couldn't get enough of the sexual tension? This

Emilia is a vengeful witch, Wrath is a demonic prince and the mortal enemies to maybe lovers, smouldering attraction and very much wanting to get it on romance is slow and simmering and how I'm here for it. Chef kisses all round friends. If you've read the Stalking Jack the Ripper series with Audrey Rose and Thomas then you'll be well aware of the smouldering, agonising Kerri Maniscalco romances and this was painful in the most delicious meaning of the word. 

Kerri Maniscalco writes incredible narratives, mysteries with dangerous undercurrents and passionate romances and Kingdom of the Wicked was intensely brilliant. So much so that I've run out of words. It's sexy. Damn sexy and hot as hell. Literally. 

In summary, this is one of those reads you'll sell your mother for. 

Watch Over Me

Watch Over Me
Written by Nina Lacour
Contemporary, Paranormal, Mental Health
Publishing September 29th 2020
272 Pages
Thank you to Text Publishing
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Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes. Yes to a second chance in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below. But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster-care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to live on an isolated part of the Californian coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home, a real home. The farm is a refuge, but it’s also haunted by the past. And Mila’s own memories are starting to rise to the surface

Eighteen year old Mila is transitioning from an adolescent in foster care to a homestead estate in Mendocino California, an isolated coastal community and an internship educating children. At the homestead, everyone contributes, the chores, the weekend farmers market and maintaining the property and accommodation. The farming community are welcoming although cautious of Mila and beyond the fields of flowers, the dreamlike mist that settles upon the land and the pebbled beach, the ghosts dance upon the fields under the moonlit sky.

Mila is an interesting character, enigmatic and a fragmented version of herself. The community is her opportunity to alleviate her anxiety and find solace, escaping her early adolescent years and the tragedy that had befallen her family. Harbouring secrets, Mila is tormented by her former stepfather, a man who manipulated her single mother and kept Mila captive, figuratively and literally. 

Mila is responsible for the education of nine year old Lee, anxious and afraid of ghostly apparitions. Lee is an intelligent boy, my heart ached for what he continued to endure, his anxiety was often overwhelming and the adults within the property settlement seemingly believed that a nine year old child was able to manage his own anxiety. Mila is unqualified and a few of her interactions with Lee seemed inappropriate. Using storytelling as a means to share and provide a feeling of solidarity, Mila tells the story of a wolf, ripping a young woman's heart from her chest, representative of the situation of Mila herself and her stepfather. She goes on to share the story about how she was conceived and how her mother had decided her father wouldn't be given the opportunity to become a parent. I understand that Mila is young but with seemingly no experience with children, I'm not entirely certain she understood the sensitive nature of Lee's anxiety or working with children. A small annoyance that didn't impact my overall enjoyment but I found Mila's actions concerning.

On the farm, Mila is befriended by Liz and Billy, who are seemingly in a sexual relationship. Mila is experiencing ongoing traumatic stress from her adolescence and begins sleeping between the young couple each night as a comfort mechanism, the two young women also bathing together. Their relationship isn't defined but I suspect Mila may be attracted to the young couple, pleasuring herself after overhearing them being intimate. The property community appeared as a humanism, unstructured environment, a commune of spirited and likeminded people. Perhaps I'm cynical but the community is similar to a congregation but rather than preaching religion, they promote togetherness, your personal journey to wellness and although it appears to be a positive environment, I couldn't shake the sinister undercurrent and expected there may have been something awful happening at the farm.

Nina Lacour is an incredible author, her themes of sadness, mental wellness and loss are told beautifully, artistically and poetically. Watch Over Me is an engaging read but not particularly immersive. The liberation of healing through symbolism was quite exquisite but the narrative, characters and community were too peculiar and underdeveloped unfortunately.

The Secret Life of Stars

The Secret Life of Stars: Astrophysics for Everyone
Written by Lisa Harvey - Smith
Illustrated by Eirian Chapman
Non Fiction, Science
Thank you to Thames & Hudson Australia
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We all know the Sun, the powerhouse of our solar system, but what about Luyten’s Flare, the Rosino - Zwicky Object or Chanal’s variable star? For those whose curiosity takes them far beyond Earth’s atmosphere, The Secret Life of Stars offers a personal and readily understood introduction to some of the Galaxy’s most remarkable stars.

Each chapter connects us to the various different and unusual stars and their amazing characteristics and attributes, from pulsars, blue stragglers and white dwarfs to cannibal stars and explosive supernovae. With chapter illustrations by Eirian Chapman, this book brings to life the remarkable personalities of these stars, reminding readers what a diverse and unpredictable universe we live in and how fortunate we are to live around a stable star, our Sun.

Stars are born, they age before slowing succumbing to the inevitable, their ashes returned to the cosmos. Anaximander and Aristotle, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton and Neil Degrasse Tyson, composers and artists, our universe captivates humankind, our sense of wonder and curiosity has inspired generations of scientists and amateur astronomers. Written in engaging and accessible language, The Secret Life of Stars, Astrophysics for Everyone is fascinating and entertaining, a wonderful reference infused with humour, wonder and whimsy. 

Lisa Harvey - Smith is a decorated astrophysicist, an engaging and inspirational ambassador, an Astronomer, Author and Broadcaster. I had the privilege of asking Lisa about our universe, our Australian space agency, advances in astrophysics and her advocacy of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Please welcome Lisa Harvey - Smith.

Why do you suppose humans are captivated by our universe and in particular, the night sky?

Human beings have wondered at the night sky for tens of thousands of years. It's a work of art, a thing of beauty and a rich scientific playground for people like me. 

Do you remember the moment you chose to pursue astrophysics as a career and the inspiration behind your decision?

I fell in love with the night sky after spotting the planet Mars with my Dad in the garden. I was 12 years' old and I never looked back. I knew that astronomy was my passion and I had to make it a career. Aged 15 I was already determined to become a researcher and find out more about our incredible universe. I'm glad I did!

The Australian Government established the Australian Space Agency and are investing in the Moon to Mars mission, how will this impact the astrophysics and research community now and in the future?

The Moon to Mars program, led by NASA and including many international partners, will be a science and technology extravaganza. The aim is to land people, including the first woman - finally, on the Moon in 2024 then to build bases and infrastructure towards a crewed landing on Mars around 2030. It is tremendously exciting for Australia to be part of the technology development towards these missions. Scientifically, it will bring a greater understanding of the history of our solar system but more importantly it will galvanise a new generation of scientific and technological discovery that will hopefully bring benefits to us here on Earth.  

I recently watched The Planets documentary series with Professor Brian Cox, whom you worked with on Stargazing Live and you've toured Australia with Buzz Aldrin, is there anyone else within the scientific community you would love the opportunity to collaborate with?

I've been very fortunate to work with many exciting and accomplished people from the space industry, including three Apollo moon walkers with whom I toured the nation with live stage shows. I would love to work with more rockstar astronauts like Mae Jamieson or Samantha Christoforetti, to show young people that women are exploring the frontiers too. I would have loved to have met the late Sally Ride, the first female US astronaut. As a badass astronaut and a queer icon, she was a real role model of mine. 

Under the Stars and The Secret Life of Stars are both wonderful reads, what inspired you to write accessible and engaging reads about space and astrophysics? 

I get bored easily! No, truly I get frustrated at people who manage to make science boring, when it is absolutely the closest thing we have in this world to magic. I believe that astronomy is for everyone, and by writing fun and engaging books about the natural world I hope to open up the magic of science to everyone. 

I read that you worked on the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory in remote Western Australia, can you share how you were involved and how the observatory will influence the field of astronomy?

I was for several years the CSIRO Project Scientist for the Square Kilometre Array telescope and later for its Australian pathfinder in outback Western Australia. These telescopes are new, cutting edge radio antennas that enable us to study the past 10 billion years of cosmic history. I was involved in designing and commissioning the new telescopes and their vast computing and data centres. I also used the telescopes to conduct scientific research, weighing a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy to check it was working correctly. Exciting stuff!

You're a wonderful advocate of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics studies and careers, can you tell me about your role as an ambassador?

As the Australian Government's Women in STEM Ambassador my role is to increase the participation of women and girls in STEM study and careers. I advise government on policy, work with STEM peak bodies and organisations, conduct research and projects, create resources and run national campaigns to break down stereotypes about STEM. The end goal is to reduce barriers to women's participation in STEM careers and to make workplaces fairer and better for everyone. You can follow Australia's Women in STEM Ambassador on socials or visit to find out more. 

And lastly, what is your favourite fact about space that few people would know about?

Eight hundred and twenty-two light years away in the constellation of Cygnus lies a rocky planet called Kepler - 1652b. It sits in the solar system's habitable zone, which means there could potentially be liquid water on its surface. Oh, and did I mention that it has four Suns? Yep - if there is alien life on that planet, they would definitely need the factor 50 sunscreen. But with no night time, how would they sleep?

None Shall Sleep

None Shall Sleep
Written by Ellie Marney
Mature Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery
Published September 2020
400 Pages
Thank you to Allen & Unwin
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Interviewing convicted juvenile killers for the FBI leads Emma Lewis and Travis Bell on the hunt for a serial murderer who targets teenagers. A riveting young adult thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seat from start to finish.

It's 1982, and the innovative FBI Behavioural Science section is breaking new ground. Emma Lewis and Travis Bell, two teenagers with valuable skills, are recruited to interview convicted juvenile killers for information on cold cases.

When they're drawn into an active case targeting teenagers, everything starts to unravel. Over Travis's objections, Emma becomes the conduit between the FBI and an incarcerated serial killer, nineteen year old Simon Gutmunsson, who is a super intelligent sociopath. And although Simon seems to be giving them the information they need to save lives, he's also an expert manipulator playing a very long game.

Can Emma and Travis stop a serial killer on the loose or will they fall victim themselves?
Eighteen year old Emma Lewis continues to endure the psychological trauma of being held captive, the sole survivor of man who abducted young women as wives. Now studying forensic psychology at University, Emma is about to embark on a landmark venture with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, adolescents recruited to interview adolescent sociopaths to help understand the psychological motivation of their crimes. Emma is a determined and resolute young woman, intelligent, perceptive and resilient. She's reluctant to join the Federal Behavioural Science Unit, tempted by the prospect of accelerating her education. 

Travis Bell is the son of a decorated police offer, killed in the line of duty by a sociopath killer, now pursuing a career in law enforcement. Travis has been recruited by the FBI and alongside Emma, plans to make the most of the opportunity he's given to forge a career and honour his father's memory. Travis and Emma are strangers, brought together by circumstance but form a tentative and platonic friendship over their shared experience, Emma's abduction and Travis' father killed by Simon Gutmunsson. They share moments of attraction but their working relationship and budding friendship was lovely, seeing them trust one another without the complications of a romantic relationship. Both Travis and Emma are healing and given the circumstances of the investigation, I'm thankful their connection remained purely platonic.  

Simon Gutmunsson, he's charismatic and under any other circumstances, even endearing. Ellie Marney created a likeable sociopath and I'm equally parts delighted and horrified. Simon is known as The Artist, he doesn't consider himself in the same lowly league as a sociopathic killer, he artfully killed his victims as a calling card, proud of his extracurricular activities. Simon is highly intelligent and curious about Emma, alluding to the current murderous spree by the unknown assailant. The FBI hope by understanding juvenile killers like Simon, they'll be able to profile and catch the current serial killer, using Emma and Travis at bait to see what Simon knows.

The killings are brutal. We're given a glimpse into the mind of the killer as he strings up his victims and performs ritualistic killings. It's terrifying and creates an incredibly urgent storyline, using the cryptic innuendo provided by Simon and applying his insights to the current, open case before the killer strikes again. Holy shit. None Shall Sleep is creepy, downright terrifying but balanced with moments of tenderness and a gentle and tentative friendship. 

This is next level Marney, a little bit batshit, pee yourself while reading and jumping at shadows for the next three months. Outstanding!

Where We Begin

contains mild spoilers of sensitive issues such as family violence, abortion, alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse, colonisation, genocide, prejudice and racism
Where We Begin
Written by Christie Nieman
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Australian
Published August 28th 2020
368 Pages
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Seventeen year old Anna is running into the night. Fleeing her boyfriend, her mother, and everything she has known.

She is travelling into the country, to the land and the grandparents she has never met, looking for answers to questions that have never been asked.

For every family has secrets.

But some secrets, once laid bare, can never be forgiven.
Anna could see the ramshackle, debilitated home from the roadside as the coach drove into the night, the letter from her grandmother safely in her pocket. Anna departed Sydney for the small country town in Victoria, a life of uncertainty among the dry, desolate pastures, anxious and alone.

Anna's estranged grandparents hadn't expected their seventeen year old granddaughter to visit, considering their daughter abandoned the family home and her family before Anna was born. Anna is in turmoil, her mother is attending a business conference in New Zealand, her father visiting his dying father in Germany and Anna is pregnant, unbeknownst to her boyfriend Nassim.

Anna's narration is harrowing, she's anxious, alone and navigating a new relationship with her estranged grandparents. In her final year of school, Anna is intelligent and motivated, wanting to study medicine at university. Escaping to the small country town, Anna plans to abort her pregnancy. The nonlinear narration shifts between the present and the events leading to Anna's decision to leave, moments from her mother's adolescence as the past and present converge.

In the present day, Anna's mother Cathy is an absent parent, businesswoman, entrepreneur and alcoholic, Anna's father excusing her behaviour, encouraging Anna to practice understanding and forgiveness. Anna's relationship with her mother is irrevocably fractured when as she introduces her mother to Nassim, her boyfriend. Cathy overindulges and becomes verbally and physically abusive.

As the storyline unravels, we learn about Cathy's adolescence, her parents Bette and Hessel, a stoic and racist Danish man. The Krause family colonised the local Indigenous land, white farmers who decimated the landscape. As children, Cathy and Leonie shared a wonderful friendship, Leone an Indigenous girl who Cathy was forbidden to see. Leonie, a local nurse, remained in the small country town and raised a wonderful son in Basil. Cathy and Leonie are no longer in contact with one another.

First Nations communities continue to endure racism and prejudice and with the permission from the Dja Dja Wurrung community, Christie Nieman explores the Blood Hole Massacre, a horrific incident of genocide. Basil, Leonie's son, is a storyteller and a beautiful character. The life he's endured, carrying the stories of his community. Basil's enthusiasm and effervescence is infectious, his character is incredibly endearing and proudly Indigenous, although also recognising his colonist ancestry. 

Where We Begin raises awareness and encourages discussion of family violence, alcoholism, adolescent pregnancy, abortion and physical and emotional abuse. First nations, colonisation, Indigenous genocide, prejudice and racism. Although the narrative is harrowing and poignant, Where We Begin is written with compassion, delicately and an intricate tenderness. Often we choose novels without realising the impact they leave upon us and as readers, we experience our world through fictional characters. When We Begin is a remarkable read and I thank Christie Nieman for sharing her words.

The Omte Origins

The Lost City
The Omte Origins Book One
Written by Amanda Hocking
Fantasy, Magic, Paranormal, Romance
Published July 14th 2020
384 Pages
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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Can she unlock the secrets of her past?

Ulla Tulin was abandoned in an isolated Kanin town as a baby. Taken in by strangers and raised hidden away like many of her kind, she has never stopped searching for her parents, or wondering about them.

When Ulla hears of a project designed to help those like her, in the beautiful city of Merellä, she seizes the chance to discover her true heritage. She enlists the help of Pan Soriano, who is both handsome and resourceful, a half human with telekinesis powers. And she must also contend with Eliana, a mysterious girl who claims she's being pursued. Though Ulla suspects there's rather more to the story.

Ulla and Pan work to unravel the truth about themselves and Eliana. But in the process, they realize that someone or something, is determined to stop them. And they face a force that will do anything to keep certain secrets.
She arrived during a snowstorm, carrying a dagger befitting for a warrior and sought shelter at the Iskyla lodging. Before dawn, the Omte warrior had departed, leaving behind a newborn child with the elderly couple. Ullaakuut Tulin is an orphan living with her new adoptive family in Förening, the Trylle capital, assisting with their children and continuing the search for the woman who abandoned her as a child. Learning ancient Scandinavian languages has guided the eighteen year old to an apprenticeship in the illustrious Merellä metropolis, the Inhemsk Project reuniting trolls of mixed blood heritage with their families. The Mimirin is an abundant research facility, library and university and Ulla will spend the next several weeks researching her origins.

Ulla is such a beautiful young woman, she's gentle, compassionate and charismatic, assuming she was born of Omte parents according to her statuesque physique. The Omte society are rarely forthcoming with information and trolls of mixed blood heritage are often degraded and endure adversity. Her journey is wonderful, her relationships and eagerness to learn is admirable. Ulla is determined and tenacious but allows herself to be vulnerable, creating an endearing character.

On the way to Merellä, she reluctantly agrees to escort Hanna, a sullen teenager who will be staying with her grandparents while Ulla is away but Hanna has other plans and the two journey to Merellä until Hanna's parents can collect their stowaway. Hanna bakes up a storm while Ulla and Dagny, her roommate, are at work and a few pages may now be crinkly from drooling. Hanna is such a lovely and vibrant character, her enthusiasm for life is infectious and I hope she'll also play a part in future installments or perhaps her own series.

The secondary characters are wonderfully vibrant. Panuk was born to a human mother and unknown father from the Kanin, a researcher at the Mimirin and Peurojen by night, an Elk shepherd. Dagny is Ulla's new housemate, a candid and detached assistant troglecologist researching the biology of the troll kingdoms and communities. Dagny is brilliant, I loved her no nonsense approach to life, including Ulla's mission to find her identity. Eliana is an interesting character. She's also a troll but with chameleon like abilities, wildly acrobatic and has absolutely no idea who she is or why she's travelled to Merellä. Dagny was more interested in solving the mystery of Eliana than Ulla's and it added a mysterious element to the storyline that I really enjoyed unravelling.

The Morning Flower
Omte Origins Book Two
Written by Amanda Hocking
Fantasy, Magic, Paranormal, Romance
Published August 11th 2020
416 Pages
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Welcome to a world in the shadow of our own, a fairy tale land where the dangers are real. In this second book in the Omte Origins trilogy, Amanda Hocking creates a new adventure in her much loved Trylle universe.

Will she finally discover her true home?

In the beautiful city of Merellä, Ulla, Pan and Eliana made an incredible discovery. Determined to learn more, they embark on a quest that takes them across the world, to find an ancient city that may hold the key to Ulla's heritage. But powerful enemies are close behind and they're catching up fast.

While Ulla and Pan race to unlock the past, they discover an earth-shattering secret. This will challenge everything they thought they knew about the troll world. And Eliana must make a difficult choice, with far reaching consequences. As their enemies draw closer, even the strongest bonds of friendship will be tested. But will they break at last?
In the Omte Origins series, we hear more about the origins of the trolls and their Scandinavian heritage, their history tightly woven among the Viking folklore. The mythology and legends of children's fairytales coming to life was beautiful and I hope it might lead the way to future series' set within this magical world.

It's been quite a while since a series has captivated me so entirely and that's one of my favourite aspects of Amanda Hocking's writing. They're entertaining reads and I inhaled both books within days. Being back in the Trylle world was lovely and although the Omte Origins series features an entirely new community of troll, characters and storylines, it was comforting to be back in a world I was familiar with. The Morning Flower, the second Omte Origins instalment is wonderfully adventurous, a beautiful exploration of folklore and culture, of lost cities and found family.

The Unadoptables

The Unadoptables
Written by Hana Tooke
Illustrated by Ayesha L. Rudio
Middle Grade, Historical, Friendship, Adventure
Published July 2nd 2020
400 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Books Australia
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In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek has been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once have the Rules for Baby Abandonment been broken. Until the autumn of 1880, when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket.

Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou, and although Gassbeek might think they're unadoptable, they know their individuality is what makes them so special and so determined to stay together. Twelve years on the children still have each other, until a fateful night threatens to tear them apart. The gang decide to make a daring escape, beginning their adventure with only a scrap of a clue to guide them to their mysterious new home...
The Little Tulip Orphanage in Amsterdam is home to orphans Egbert, Lotta, Sem, Fenna, and Milou, children abandoned as infants under mysterious circumstances, the forgotten children shelved as unadoptable. With her journal of fantastical theories as to why she was found on the roof of the ophanage, in a coffin as a bassinet clutching a cat puppet, Milou knows it's only a matter of time before her parents, probably adventurous folk, return for her. They may have possibly dropped her basket on the roof while escaping a werewolf, as is probably customary for esteemed werewolf hunters. Nevertheless, she's certain they'll return before the horrible Matron's ultimatum, if the five children aren't adopted, they'll be left on the streets of Amsterdam to fend for themselves.

Matron Gassbeek is a horrendous woman, the children are impoverished and working until they're exhausted, a life of servitude and clasping onto what little possessions they have. It's no wonder when the ruthless and completely sinister Meneer Rotman arranges to purchase the children from Matron Gassbeek, the children gather their meagre possessions, the cat puppet and escape into the city.

What ensues is an adventure of resilience, mystery and a horrendously frightening villain who is determined to collect his purchases, the children. Meneer Rotman didn't count on the children being so inventive and resourceful, as they settle into their new life in an old abandoned windmill, once owned by Bram Poppenmaker, the maker of Milou's cat puppet.

The Unadoptables follows the narrative of Milou, resident storyteller, promising mystery solver and twelve year old miniature mother hen. Milou fiercely cares for her found brothers and sisters, often accepting responsibility for the wonderful childlike malarkey the children of Little Tulip Orphanage create, the Matron is a vile and malicious woman unfit to run a raffle, nevermind a children's orphanage. Milou has tried her damndest to be unadoptable, hanging onto the hope that her parents will return for her when safe to do so, clearly they're on an extremely dangerous adventure, hunting werewolves or hot air balloon aficionados and a catastrophe has befallen them and they'll return as soon as possible, how else would you explain an infant being left on the roof?

Milou's found siblings are absolutely delightful. Egbert is an artist, spending his days looking out over the city of Amsterdam, a budding cartographer with an impeccable eye for detail. Lotta is a tinkerer, a wildly imaginative inventor and handywoman. Sem is wonderfully creative, sewing, designing and repairing what little clothing the children own. Fenna loves to bake, she's gentle and compassionate and conveys her feelings by using body language and facial expressions, described as being mute. The children aren't officially related but they've chosen one another as their found family, despite the horrendous circumstances they find themselves in.

The Unadoptables is an endearing middle grade adventure, of perseverance, determination and resilience. Beautifully written and lovingly illustrated, an enchanting read for the young and young at heart.

Fin & Rye & Fireflies

Contains sensitive issues such as homophobia, transphobia and conversion therapy
Fin & Rye & Fireflies
Written by Harry Cook
Contemporary, Mental Health, Queer, Australian
Published August 2020
352 Pages
Thank you to New South Books
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A gloriously upbeat LGBTQI novel of love, hope and friendship, showing that although it's not always rainbows and fireflies, life's too short to be anyone but yourself...

It started with a kiss... As love stories often do. Jesse Andrews had the arms of a Greek god and he was on the track team. The night of our kiss fell on a Friday.

Then, only a few days later, Fin's world is turned upside down and not in a good head over heels in love way, when Jesse cruelly outs him. An event which ultimately leads to his family leaving town.

But a fresh start isn't going to change the truth of who Fin is. And it's not going to stop his sexuality causing everyone all sorts of problems. Everyone, that is, apart from his new best friend Poppy, her girlfriend in waiting June, and his latest crush Rye... So, while Fin and Rye are enjoying some seriously intimate moonlit moments together, Fin's parents decide to pack him off to the local therapy camp.

It's a nightmare and there's no easy way out. Can Fin's squad hatch a plan outrageous enough to spring him before the conversion acolytes force him onto the straight and narrow?
As far as the town of Lochport are concerned, Fin Whittle is a heterosexual son, his parents are conservative members of the community and there is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary here. His father certainly didn't evacuate his entire family because his son is gay and this fresh start, terribly disguised as a work promotion, is most certainly not a bigoted overreaction of the sexuality of your child. Most certainly not. They certainly aren't concerned about the welfare of their son after his sexuality became the hottest gossip in the small conservative and religious community, labelled as perverted with unnatural tenancies. Surely their new home in Lochport will set him straight. Insert fist shaking and extreme eye rolling here.

Fin is lovely and tenderhearted, he identifies as gay and although he's confided in a few close friends, isn't ready to tell the world just yet so when he was cruelly outed by his former crush, his confidence took quite the beating. His parents more concerned with how they're perceived rather than the mental and emotional wellness of their son, as though sexuality is a choice and his father can threaten the gay out of him. Fin's distress is palpable and confronting, especially for queer readers so please tread lightly friends. Fin's father isn't old school, as Fin's brother Elliot would describe him, he's a conservative asshole and a foreboding presence in Fin's life.

Lochport is a seaside town with a small and inclusive community of queer students representing gender, sexuality and straight allies. Poppy identifies as pansexual, she's totally in love with June, her former girlfriend, transgender and chairperson of the Queer Straight Alliance. June is a gentle soul, I loved her sense of justice and wanting to educate others to create an inclusive environment. Poppy is a firecracker, fiercely loyal to her friends, brutally honest and won't hesitate to knock anyone down a few pegs for being a dickhead. Everyone needs a Poppy in their life.

Rye, along with his trusty sidekick British Bulldog Thelma, is the perfect example of why we need more kind and compassionate male characters in young adult. He's wonderfully sensitive and wears his heart on his sleeve. Rye has anxiety and when it all becomes too much, escapes to his secret hideaway at Kettle Lake, chilling and watching the fireflies dance upon the water. At the lake under moonlit skies, Rye and Fin begin falling for one another, the coy smiles and gentle touches are beautiful and I treasured seeing them finding solace with one another.

I was absolutely horrified by Fin's father, his beliefs and straight up homophobia. His mother is slightly more understanding but allows Fin to be treated like shit to appease her husband. I wanted to slap them both into next week. Here you have a wonderful young man, smart, sensitive and compassionate, who just happens to be gay and he's stuck with these horrible shithead parents who send him to conversion therapy to brainwash the gay away. Thank goodness for Elliot, Fin's older brother who has returned home from travelling abroad. He recognised from an early age that Fin may have been gay and wants nothing more than to love, cherish and support his brother, standing up to their father so Fin isn't in this fight alone. I don't know what kind of Christian malarkey this is but I was fuming. Conversion therapy isn't something I know much about but how fucking dare anyone tell someone that falling in love, regardless of gender, is unnatural, that they're unnatural and these charlatan assholes should be imprisoned.

The heaviness surrounding queerphobia, conversion therapy and the issues the queer community face is balanced wonderfully with a hopeful and tender story of friendship, falling in love and the strength and resilience of queer teens. It's beautifully written and an incredible young adult debut from Harry Cook, who will no doubt become a force to be reckoned with. Just outstanding!
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