The Mercies

The Mercies
Written by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance
256 Pages
Published January 28th 2020
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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On Christmas Eve, 1617, the sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø is thrown into a reckless storm. As Maren Magnusdatter watches, forty fishermen, including her father and brother, are lost to the waves, the menfolk of Vardø wiped out in an instant.

Now the women must fend for themselves.

Eighteen months later, a sinister figure arrives. Summoned from Scotland to take control of a place at the edge of the civilised world, Absalom Cornet knows what he needs to do to bring the women of Vardø to heel. With him travels his young wife, Ursa. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa finds something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty and terrible evil, one he must root out at all costs.

Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1621 witch trials, Kiran Millwood Hargrave's The Mercies is a story about how suspicion can twist its way through a community, and a love that may prove as dangerous as it is powerful.
Throughout the island fishing village of Vardø, the women grieve for their husbands, their sons and their fathers as the weather churned the ocean, the fishermen losing their lives. The women of Vardø gathered their deceased loved ones, waiting until the season thawed the hardest terrain and farewelled those captured by the ocean as a man arrives on the Norwegian island. A man of the church to guide the female community spiritually and morally.

Maren Magnusdatter has lost her father, her betrothed and her brother, a newlywed young man expecting his first child. To survive, the women must become self reliant and although the newly appointed Christian Pastor believes it to be improper, food is scarce and the women, more than capable, embrace the role of hunters and gatherers.

The Mercies is based on an event that occurred during the early seventeenth century. A storm decimated Finnmark, forty men lost their lives in Vardø where it is said that the sky and sea merged to drown ten fishing vessels, resulting in the now infamous Vardøhus witch trials and genocide of Indigenous Sámi communities.

Maren is a formidable young woman, intelligent and resilient. Since the storm claimed the lives of the men of Vardø, including her father, brother and her betrothed, the atmosphere within the small coastal village is precarious, women who place their faith in Christianity and those who are tenaciously pursuing their independence. Neither mutually exclusive. The Christian women of Vardø are relying upon the Pastor and Lensmann Absolom Cornet, a Scotsman on behalf of the Monarchy instilled to ensure Christian values are being adhered and practised. The brutality and violence against women is confrontational, women are expected to marry and bear children, serve their community and attend church services. The Lensmann appointment has reverberated throughout the village, creating fissures within the community. On his journey to the small fishing village, Lensmann Cornet married Ursula, a dispirited young woman who reluctantly abandoned her family, her once privileged life and stately home for a small homestead on the island.

The tentative companionship of Maren and Ursula is tender and beautiful, Ursula enlisting the guidance of Maren to learn the customs of the Vardø community and tending to her home. As the Lensmann travelled under his appointment of the monarch, Ursula and Maren begun to depend on one another. Although Maren was betrothed to the young son of a village fishermen, she is attracted to women, preferring their company. Especially Ursula.

Maren's mother is becoming increasingly volatile, choosing the company of the Christian townswomen and isolating Diina and her grandson. Diina's shamanic faith victimising the young mother still grieving for her husband. The courage and fortitude of the women of  Vardø is inspirational, especially Kirsten Sorensdatter, trouser wearer and reindeer caretaker. Kirsten's independence reverberates in whispers throughout the village, those who disobey the Lensmann and refuse to follow the teachings of Christianity are branded as witches, held responsible for the storm. The women guided by Kirsten didn't survive, they thrived until the Lensmann arrived.

The Mercies is a narrative of quiet feminism and the fortitude of woman. The women of Vardø refusing to yield as they are sentenced to death by those shielding behind their faith. Women who refuse to adhere to Christianity and traditional female roles of caregivers, wives and homemakers are branded and sentenced. A remarkable story and beautifully told, The Mercies is unequivocally breathtaking.

Dark Blade

Dark Blade
Whispers of the Gods Book One
Written by Steve Feasey
Fantasy, Mythology, Magic
352 Pages
Published August 5th 2019
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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A sweeping epic fantasy perfect for fans of the summoner trilogy by Taran Matharu and shadow and bone by Leigh Bardugo.

When gods fail, who will keep the darkness out?

Lann knows nothing of his mysterious past, but by his fifteenth birthday he will come face to face with destiny. For Lann must wield the Dreadblade, an ancient sword forged to defeat terrible monsters.

Across the mountains a king has been murdered. His daughter, Astrid, is a warrior with no desire to bear the crown. Only she can uncover her father's killer before her brother is framed for the crime.

Evil is stirring. Lann and Astrid are the kingdom's last defence. Together, they must face the greatest darkness their world has ever known.
The Dreadblade speaks the language of the old Gods, a weapon forged to eradicate monsters and evil from the world. Once wielded to destroy the darkness brought upon the world, a warrior consumed by the power of the black sword attempted to kill the gods, drowned for his bloodthirst and greed.

Lannigon Fetlanger is a farm boy but rather than working the land, Lannigon immerses himself in books, knowledge instilled in him by his late mother. Since her passing, Lannigon's father has becoming increasingly volatile, a drunkard who mourns his wife after she passed giving birth to his stillborn son. When his father is slaughtered by a monster, Lannigon barely escaped with his life, losing his sight during the attack as he lay crumpled on the forest floor.

Lannigon is taken in by Fleya, a witch versed in old magik and craft, teaching the now vision impaired boy about botany. Lannigon seeking solace in the rich earth tending to his seedlings. As Fleya is needed in a neighbouring town, Lannigon is awoken by a man offering to restore his sight if he chooses to wield the blade drenched in blood, a weapon as fierce as it is frightening and Lannigon agrees to the offer.

Lannigon Fetlanger is an intriguing young man, gentle and considerate, still grieving the loss of his mother. Escaping the monster who slain his father, Lannigon falls and a sharp blow to the head results in his vision impairment, engulfed by darkness as he finds himself alone. Fleya is a witch and healer, tending to the local community with her homegrown medicinal elixirs. She offers to take Lanningon in while farmhands manage the family farm, teaching him about botany and how to care and grow ingredients within her small garden. Seeking solace in the rich soil, Lannigon feels at ease within the her presence and although Fleya appears to be a youthful and beautiful woman, it isn't until he takes possession of the Dreadblade that he sees the world for what it truly is, Fleya included.

The Dreadblade itself has a long, sorrowful history. Forged and last wielded by a man who had planned to kill the Gods, Lannigon unaware of the blade's history upon accepting the position of sword keeper, the Dreadblade is bloodthirsty and acts of its own accord. A war is brewing, a thin veil separating Lannigon's world and a world of hideous monsters unleashed by a mere boy, a young man determined to make the world suffer for his own grief and the hand he's been dealt. Dabbling in necromancy and dark magik.

Across the Kingdom, the King has been slain. Astrid Rivengeld is the daughter of the slain King, her brother ascending the throne until he is held captive, assumed responsible for the death of their father. Astrid has no desire to attend court as a Princess, she's a Shield Maiden and the first royal of her kind. Sharing the same goal as Lannigon and along with Fleya, the three set off across the Kingdom to save the throne and stop the rift into the netherworld from opening. I loved Astrid, such a formidable young lady and although her character is a stark contrast to Lannigon, the two compliment each other wonderfully and forge a tentative friendship.

Dark Blade draws upon the Viking civilisations and mythology, fictional Nordic Gods and monsters crossing a divide between worlds. The world was beautifully imagined and wonderfully portrayed. Absolutely loved it!

Only Mostly Devastated

Only Mostly Devastated
Written by Sophie Gonzales
Contemporary, Romance, LGBT
368 Pages
Published March 10th 2020
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country, Will’s school, where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted and to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts coincidentally popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.


Californian local Ollie has just spent the summer of his life in North Carolina, his parents caring for his Aunt Linda as she battles cancer while Ollie could quite possibly be the best babysitter to ever have babysat. With his two young cousins nipping at his heels, Ollie spent the warm summer days on the beach and it was there he met Will, total dreamboat, music novice and basketball god. Over the course of the summer, Ollie and Will fell in love, though neither were brave enough to admit it and swore that when Ollie returned to California, the two smitten boys would certainly, most definitely keep in touch. Now the summer is over and Will is totally ghosting Ollie, ignoring text messages as Ollie becomes increasingly more heartbroken.

Ollie's Aunt Linda isn't doing too great and with two small children, Ollie's parents decide to stay in Collinswood and help while Linda recovers. Despite Ollie putting in a protest. The likelihood of running into Will again is pretty slim to none, it was summer and he's likely moved on with his memories and now someone else's dreamboat. Grumbling aside, Ollie loves his family, his super supportive parents and although he's leaving his life behind in California, his band that's most certainly on the cusp of greatness and his friends, he agrees and enrols at Collinswood High School.

Of all the schools in all the world, Will just happens to be at Collinswood High. Well, it's not that unlikely but it makes getting over him a smidge more difficult. Before Ollie sinks into a post summer sulk, he's swept up by a group of girls all sporting rose gold rose necklaces in some sort of misguided non couples dressing. Turns out Ollie is just what they need to complete their group and suddenly the year isn't looking so bad after all if he can avoid Will everyday for the rest of the year. Or when hell freezes over, whichever comes first.

Will isn't the same guy that Ollie fell in love with. He's the star basketballer, he laughs at homophobic jokes and ignores the fact that he spent an amazing summer with Ollie and unlike Danny Zuko, doesn't tell all his friends about the boy he met at the beach. Most definitely not with a musical number and interpretive dance. Unaware that his new circle of necklace clad friends know Will, Ollie accidentally outs him and in the small North Carolina town where apparently no one is gay, Will has never felt comfortable coming out to his boof head mates.

Throughout the storyline, we're treated to flashbacks of the perfect summer. Playing with the kids on the beach, not quite naked swimming in the middle of the night and all with a dose of kissing someone's face off. Ollie's summer was perfect. You know when you meet that person that's your person? Will could possibly be Ollie's person but the summer is over and with it, Ollie and Will's relationship.

Although Only Mostly Devastated is utterly joyous, it tackles serious issues such as grief and seeing a loved one battling illness, queerphobia and being outed, blended with a beautiful story of summer flings, heartbroken boys and figuring out your place in the world.

I loved Ollie's character. He's wonderfully compassionate although sarcastic and internally, hilariously bitchy. I loved his kindness and sense of who he was and his own self worth. He isn't without his faults but he's just so inherently good. Although we see flashbacks of Will during the summer, within his circle of friends, he comes across as arrogant and willing to laugh at others expenses. Underneath the cocky facade lies a young man who's scared to be outed. Throughout the narrative, we see Ollie incredibly hurt that Will wants their friendship to remain a secret, worried about the reactions of his friends and family. Both boys are justified in their feelings and it was wonderful to see Ollie addressing his error by outing Will, realising how potentially dangerous and damaging his actions were and although he's entitled to feeling hurt, that Will shouldn't feel pressured to label his sexuality until he's ready. If he's ready.

The secondary characters are as diverse as they are wonderful. Lara is exploring her sexuality and identifies as bisexual as does Will. Niamh is a young woman of colour and has aspirations of becoming a plus size model. It also explores casual fat shaming by suggesting Niamh could only be successful as a model by losing weight. Niamh has also been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, only the second time I've encountered the condition in young adult, the other being the incredible It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood. 

It was ahhhmaaaaazing. Big, big love for books that explore positive queer experiences for teens, helping reading audiences relate and to feel not so alone. It's about living your life, learning from your mistakes and shaping up because you need a man.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Butterfly Yellow

Butterfly Yellow
Written by Thanhhà Lai
Historical Fiction, Cultural, Diverse, Friendship
296 Pages
Published March 3rd 2020
Thank you to UQP
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Hằng doesn’t believe in adventures.

There are steps that must be done, and once done, another step awaits. The last step, after six years of minute planning by her grandmother, is a bus ride away. In Amarillo her baby brother has to be waiting. In her imaginings, he is always waiting.

National Book Award and Newbery Honor winning author Thanhhà Lại makes her young adult debut in this deeply moving story of courage, redemption, friendship, family and new beginnings.
The conflict in Việt Nam created impoverished conditions, families malnourished, communities decimated as the communist government occupied Southern Việt Nam. Hằng has escaped Việt Nam, her journey as an asylum seeker harrowing as she is resettled with her uncle Chú Quốc and her cousins in the American South. As the conflict in Việt Nam concluded, authorities begun evacuating orphans from Saigon. Hằng and her brother Linh prepared for evacuation among the children experiencing the devastation of losing their families. Their mother and grandmother sacrificing to provide the children with safe passage amidst the conflict.

A young girl only twelve years of age, Hằng was denied passage, Linh forcibly removed from his sister and taken onboard for evacuation. Hằng returning to their small Việt Nam village devastated and grieving for her brother. In his absence, his grandmother became inflicted with illness, his father passing, believing his son was abducted. Hằng has endured famine and conflict as a young woman evading the attention of soldiers settled within the community.

Tens of millions of communities around the world are displaced, seeking asylum from persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations within their native countries. In Australia, where many refugees from Việt Nam were brought, our human rights violations are deplorable, denying those seeking asylum refuge. Hằng and her mother boarded a small, crowded fishing vessel en voyage to find Linh. Their journey is fraught with uncertainty, dangerous conditions on a small ramshackle vessel unable to elude pirates on the open waters. Passengers slain, women and girls captured, Hằng disguised as a young boy, surviving as a nonthreatening figure and disregarded.

Arriving in Dallas, Hằng is homed with her uncle Chú Quốc and his family, Vietnamese Americans living affluent lives. The contrast between Hằng and her cousin, both of Vietnamese descent is immense. Hằng isn't consumed by material possessions, she's fixated with finding Linh and although her uncle suggests seeking legal advice, Hằng journeys alone to retrieve her brother.

Leeroy is an aspiring cowboy, modelling himself on a local legendary rodeo champion and travelling the infamous Panhandle in search of the American dream despite his parents insistence on attending college. Ambushed by an Christian couple on Southern hospitality, Leeroy is coerced to accompany a destitute Hằng to her brothers last known address. An unlikely and tentative companionship begins as the two young adults find employment as ranch hands on a sprawling homestead neighbouring Linh and his adoptive mother, his horse lodging at the ranch. It's a precarious situation, Linh or David as he's now known, is twelve years old and seemingly remembers little from Việt Nam, including Hằng. Hằng's intensity is balanced by Leeroy's humour and carefree attitude, David and Leeroy developing an easy rapport while Hằng observes from a distance.

Hằng's narrative is heartachingly tender. Her journey unravels to reveal her ordeal, the traumatic circumstances of leaving Việt Nam, losing her family, losing her brother, the traumatisation she endures in silence. Hằng's character is based on a photograph Thanhhà Lai encountered of a young girl at a Buddhist temple she visited, photographs of lives lost. Her journey is distressing and confronting, encouraging readers to examine our privileges. Although Butterfly Yellow is a fictional narrative of the refugee experience, it represents the precarious and volatile conditions in which those seeking asylum are escaping. Encouraging compassion and understanding throughout the western world. A remarkable and thought provoking read that will ignite discussion.

Achingly beautiful.


Written by Ryan La Sala
Fantasy, Magic, LGBT
384 Pages
Published December 2019
Thank you to New South Books
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All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialise out of nowhere, the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery, Kane realises that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.
Kane Montgomery was found on the embankment in the Cobalt Complex among the scorched remains, an abandoned industrial estate and landmark in the small town of East Amity. The local authorities are questioning Kane. Why was he trespassing on private property and why did he set the landmark ablaze? Unable to remember the incident or the months preceding, Kane is appointed a counsellor, assigned a journal and coerced into providing information in exchange for his freedom from incarceration. It's an impossible situation. Kane believes he's ostracised by his peers and Doctor Posey offers a sense of belonging and kinship, seemingly understanding of his precarious situation. What Doctor Posey lacks in subtlety, they more than compensate in cryptic information, knowing all too well how Kane has lost his memories.

Investigating the scene of the incident, Kane is no closer to discovering his memories, the town believing the ostracised young man many have attempted suicide. Did he? Boisterous and opinionated sibling Sophie doesn't agree. Doctor Posey is fabulously sinister, an extravagant drag queen sorceress who may hold the key to unlocking Kane's memories. Quite literally. Posey sees the injustice of the world and wants to fashion a new version of the sleepy Connecticut town. Everyone shall live within the new reality of a Reverie, their narratives controlled and forever trapped within their world of elaborate trinkets and fabulous coiffed hair while living their best life. The Others must put an end to Posey's madness, who would want to live in such a world? I ask as the entire reading audience raises their hand.

The Others are a small alliance of local adolescents who guide the Reverie, appearing as characters within the dreamscape and remaining lucid throughout. Although Kane cannot remember, he is responsible for guiding the Reverie narrative to completion. It isn't until he overhears a ragtag group of students talking about strange new worlds that he learns who he truly is and he's not alone, he has friends, although somewhat peculiar and slightly terrifying for a multitude of reasons. Kane's sexuality has always been the target of ignorant and homophobic peers so to find out he has friends is a delight. Gosh I felt for the poor confused boy, Kane is so lovely and kindhearted and deserves to be surrounded by people who care deeply for him. Ursula was that person. An old friend who suddenly feels like a new friend who is passionate and athletic and makes absolutely no excuses for herself.

Ursula understands what it feels like to be labelled, being a tall young woman with an athletic build, she's labelled a lesbian as though it's an insult. She's incredibly kind and patient with Kane and their friendship seemed to ease Kane's anxiety. Each member of The Others holds a special power, Ursula has speed and strength on her side, cheerleader and aloof Adeline can wipe your memories and Elliot can cast illusions, which comes in handy when you're sneaking around trying to thwart the plans of a villainous drag queen. Regardless of how fabulous her wigs are.

A Reverie is a vividly imagined narrative that manifests as a dreamscape, depicting our wildest desires, aspirations or turmoil. Worlds created from our sprawling imagination. of romance, betrayal and heroism. The Others remain lucid throughout the experience, assisting the Reverie to conclusion without interfering regardless of the dreamscape. The premise is breathtaking and beautifully imagined.

Reverie also touches on queer communities and the queerphobia they endure. Kane was isolated by his peers for being gay. At a young age, Kane was outed due to his eccentricities and avoided by other boys in elementary school, no longer invited to sleepovers as if being gay was contagious, causing Kane to withdraw from his peers. Ursula understands. Why does society feel the need to label athletic women as lesbians? It happens in all aspects of women's sport. Regardless of their sexual orientation, females have every right to play sport without being labelled or objectified. If society and in particular men, learnt to respect women and shut their damn mouths, I dare say more females would feel comfortable being active. Adeline isn't without her detractors. Being a cheerleader, she's assumed to be unintelligent or even dimwitted when in fact, it's quite the opposite. She's feisty, fierce and someone you need on your team when battling Posey in all her evil fabulousness.

Posey may be the villain but she's absolutely fabulous! At first Posey describes herself as a man in mascara but throughout the narration, Posey is referred to as she or her. I'm not certain if Posey is a drag queen or transgender but she's a phenomenal character who struts onto the page to her own theme music, tinkling in trinkets on her wrist and coiffed wigs to the nines. I adored her.

Reverie is a fantastical journey of adventure, breaking stereotypes and coiffed hair with a side dish of jazz hands. Outrageously fabulous!
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