Monday, 26 June 2017

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King
Published May 29, 2017 by Text Publishing
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Sixteen-year-old Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has ‘done the art.’ She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia.
Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together ‘for the kids’ and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage.
As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original—and yet it still hurts.Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of abuse, survival, resurgence that will linger with readers long after the last page.
Sarah, age sixteen, is having an existensial crisis. It starts at school, in art class. She's always loved art but one day she realises she can no longer draw, not even a pear. She realises that nothing is original. She quits school. She begins to ride the buss each day and wander around Philadelphia instead. It's on these solo adventures she starts meeting versons of herself; there's ten-year-old Sarah, twenty-three-year-old Sarah, and also forty-year-old Sarah. Slowly Sarah's memories of a family trip start to resurface and she has to face the problems her parents have been trying to hide for years.

A new book by A.S.King is always something I look forward to. Her writing is captivating, her topics compelling, her characters real and easy to relate to. These qualities are all present in her latest novel, Still Life with Tornado.

I was immediately drawn in by Sarah's dry, matter-of-fact manner. Her new attitude towards life; that nothing is original, that nothing really matters, is something I'm sure a lot of us think on a daily basis (it's not just me, right?) It's also clear there is a lot more going on in Sarah's life - some of it she's willfully ignoring, some of it she's forgotten, and some of it has been kept from her. I felt intrigued but also sympathetic and protective of her.

Helen, Sarah's mum, is an ER nurse who works night shifts. She's clever, sharp, and no-nonsense. The inclusion of Helen's perspective added a lot to the story, including an understanding of what had been hidden from Sarah. Her point of view balanced out Sarah's well, providing insight into their family history.

This is a book about a girl in crisis and a family living with domestic violence, but the violence itself is never the main focus of the story. It's a sensitive subject but I didn't feel as sickened or disturbed as I have done while reading books that includes graphic descriptions of violence. Sometimes that needs to be shown in detail, but this story managed to make the aftermath feel just as tense. The atmosphere of Sarah's home was palpable, and the volatility increased as the story went on.

Ableist language: crazy, insane, schizo, psycho, dumb.

Still Life with Tornado is the perfect blend of magic, mystery, and real life. It's clever, heartbreaking, and hopeful. And, despite what Sarah might think, it's most definitely original.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.

Cover design: Samira Iravani

This is an eye-catching and memorable cover, and I love that the design carried through into the pages of the book.

I videoed a tutorial of me painting this manicure, you can watch it below or on my YouTube channel.

Friday, 23 June 2017

New to Booktube Tag/Booktube Newbie Tag

My latest video is an introduction to BookTube - I talk favourite authors (lots of Aussies!), books I remember reading when I was younger, my current TBR, and what I hope to get out of BookTube.

The original New to BookTube Tag was created by Trina of Between Chapters. The BookTube Newbie Tag was created by Brenda.

1. Where are you joining us from?
2. How old are you?
3. Why did you join booktube?
4. What is the meaning behind your channel name?
5. What types of books do you read / want to talk about here?
6. Who are some of your favourite authors?
7. What’s the last book you read?
8. What are you currently reading?
9. What do you use for bookmarks?
10. Show us your current TBR pile!
11. Which do you prefer: Hard cover or paperback? Ebooks or physical books? Owning or borrowing books?
12. What book or series got you into reading?
13. How did you discover booktube?
14. What challenges do you think you’ll face with your own channel?
15. Where else can we find you?

If you have a YouTube channel you'd like me to check out, leave me a comment below!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield
Published May 29, 2017 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Everyone knows seventeen-year-old Grace Foley is a bit mad. She’s a prankster and a risk-taker, and she’s not afraid of anything—except losing. As part of the long-running feud between two local schools in Swanston, Grace accepts a challenge to walk the pipe. That night she experiences something she can’t explain.
The funny girl isn’t laughing anymore. She’s haunted by voices and visions—but nobody believes a girl who cries wolf.
As she’s drawn deeper into a twenty-year-old mystery surrounding missing girl Hannah Holt, the thin veil between this world and the next begins to slip. She can no longer tell what’s real or imagined—all she knows is the ghosts of Swanston, including that of her own mother, are restless. It seems one of them has granted her an extraordinary gift at a terrible price.
Everything about her is changing—her body, her thoughts, even her actions seem to belong to a stranger. Grace is losing herself, and her friends don’t understand. Is she moving closer to the truth? Or is she heading for madness?

Ballad for a Mad Girl is Vikki Wakefield's fourth YA novel. Set in the small, rural town of Swanston (nicknamed Swamp Town), we meet seventeen-year-old Grace Foley. Grace grew up on the family farm but after the death of her mother, her father moved Grace and her older brother to a house in town. Since then they just coexist. Grace feels suffocated by her father's rules, and breaks free by entertaining her friends with pranks and stunts, many involving the local gorge.

Grace's personality is so clear, right from the first page. She's mad, she's hurt, she's fed up with the life her father is trying to make them live. She doesn't want to live in a small house, she wants her life to go back to the way it was. Back when her mother was alive. To take her mind off things, Grace spends as much time with her friends as possible, but even then, things are changing. Her best friend Kenzie is dating Mitch and Grace won't accept being third wheel. She feels rejected, left out, left behind.

There is a horror element to this story, but it's just the right amount for someone like me who doesn't really do horror (unless it's reading a Stephen King novel during daylight hours.) The opening scene gave a subtle nod to King's novel, Carrie, and from then Vikki Wakefield wove the atmosphere in a way only she can do. There was a growing sense of unease and suspicion. There was a touch of unreliability, mystery, and an ominous history. All of this building to a climax I could not predict. The story was so intriguing I found it easy to immerse myself in Grace's life, to go along on her journey for the truth.

Vikki Wakefield excels at writing about loneliness and small towns, two things that are a major component of this new book. She also tackles grief in a sensitive way, showing how much Grace hurts and the lengths she'll go to to avoid her feelings.

Beautifully written, chilling and atmospheric, Ballad for a Mad Girl is a story with heart, horror, and hope.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A Visit to Beachside Bookshop

One of my favourite places to visit is Beachside Bookshop in Avalon. Beachside Bookshop is a store dedicated to children's and YA literature, with a strong focus on promoting #LoveOzYA books! Libby and Dani are experienced and knowledgeable booksellers and they'll be able to help you pick out your next great read. I know I always leave with at least one book, as well as a list of a dozen more I want to go back for!

Here's a video tour of the beautiful shop, I hope if you're in Sydney, you'll make the trip to Avalon Beach to visit them!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Published January 2015
Source: library
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it's unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the 'natural wonders' of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It's only with Violet that Finch can be himself - a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink. 

All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven's debut novel and it's one I've known about since before it's release, yet it took me until this year to read it. Perhaps I knew how it would make me feel and had to wait until the right time.

Told via dual narrative, the story revolves around two teens: Finch and Violet. They are bought together by the idea of death, but become friends because they both want to protect the other. They bond during a school project and slowly get to know one another, even though there are secrets being kept.

All the Bright Places will tap straight into your emotions and leave you feeling overwhelmed. I was sure I knew what was coming and still I cried and felt heartbroken. It was beautifully told, sensitively explored, and all the more real knowing that Niven wrote it based on her own teenage years.

Hand-lettering and illustrations: Sarah Watts 
Jacket photographs: Neil Fletcher and Matthew Ward/Getty Images

This is such a lovely cover and one that is really memorable. I knew I wanted to paint a set as a gift for Jennifer and I was able to give them to her when she was in Australia for the Sydney Writer's Festival.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Bookish Nail Art Tutorial - Begin End Begin

I've been wanting to film a nail art tutorial for a while now and I've finally done it! I get lots of comments on my work and I wanted to show how I do it because it's something others can do as well. All you need it some nail polish and/or paint, and some paint brushes.

In this tutorial I paint nails to match the new LoveOzYA Anthology: Begin End Begin, edited by Danielle Binks. I was able to meet Danielle yesterday at high tea at Better Read Than Dead. It was wonderful to meet her after knowing her as a book blogger for so many years.

Cover design: Kate Pullen, The Letterettes

Here's the video:

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

May Book Haul + new YouTube channel!

It's been a while since I did a book haul post and even longer since I filmed a vlog. If you followed me back on my first book blog, the Vegan YA Nerds, you might remember a time when I participated in Stacking the Shelves with weekly vlogs.

Recently I decided to start a new YouTube channel, a place to combine my three main interests: reading, vegan food, and nail art. It's called Cook Read Create. My first video is my May Book Haul - I received some amazing books, including lots of new AussieYA!

Are any of these books on your to be read list? What books have you received recently? If you're on YouTube let me know in the comments, I'd love to check out your channel!

Monday, 5 June 2017

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Published March 1, 2017 by Bloomsbury
Source: ARC from the publisher, purchased a finished copy
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Nicu has emigrated from Romania and is struggling to find his place in his new home. Meanwhile, Jess's home life is overshadowed by violence. When Nicu and Jess meet, what starts out as friendship grows into romance as the two bond over their painful pasts and hopeful futures. But will they be able to save each other, let alone themselves?

Sarah Crossan recently visited Australia for the Sydney Writer's Festival and I was lucky enough to hear her speak at two events. She is an energetic, engaging, and entertaining speaker and she has great insight into the writing process. Sarah said the idea for We Come Apart started when Brian Conaghan contacted her and suggested they write a verse novel together. They began by exchanging chapters via email, moved onto editing via Skype, and the result is a powerful novel. They've also developed a new creative partnership, become good friends, and learned to balance their different writing styles.

We Come Apart is set in North London. Nicu and his parents have moved from Romania to earn some money before returning home where Nicu will marry a bride of their choosing. They come from a small village community of Roma gypsies.

Jess lives with her mum and step-dad. Her father left a long time ago and her older brother moved out recently. Now she's left on her own, a lonely witness to the beatings her mother receives. Jess copes by shoplifting and after her third offence she's forced into doing community service.

Verse is the sort of medium that allows the reader to instantly feel part of the story, the format strongly connects you to the characters. Jess' chapters left me feeling sickened, scared, and chilled. These feelings increased the more her step-father started paying attention to her and I could feel the sinister atmosphere seeping through the pages.

Nicu's story evoked feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and frustration. He is trying his best: speaking English, helping his father, attending school, doing community service, but still he feels as though he's on the outside and will never fit in. People only see his skin colour and hear his accent.

The friendship that develops is bittersweet. Jess has so many walls up because of the abuse she's witnessed. Nicu is desperate for a friend, for someone to talk to, and they both find security in each other.

We Come Apart is a beautiful verse novel with captivating, realistic characters, and a compelling story that is so relevant to our world right now.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for the ARC.

Cover illustration: Ben Tallon

Sarah's books always have amazing covers and that includes her latest, We Come Apart. I love the illustration by Ben Tallon so I painted a set of nails to match and gave them to Sarah as a gift.

Sonia from Bloomsbury sent me this lovely photo of Sarah and my nails:

Monday, 29 May 2017

My Life as a Hashtag by Gabrielle Williams

My Life as a Hashtag by Gabrielle Williams
Published May 24, 2017 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: What’s a girl to do when her parents have split up; her mum’s trawling Tinder; and one of her best friends has decided not to invite her to the biggest party of the year, which she then has to watch unfold on everyone else’s social media?
If you’re a girl called MC, you get mad as hell, that’s what you do.
But what begins as one girl’s private, no-holds-barred rant soon snowballs in the most public way possible.

For most of April and the beginning of March I was in a reading slump. It's not something that occurs often for me, but I completely lost interest in reading. Books didn't hold my attention, I felt restless whenever I tried to read, so I gave up (with the exception of audio books while driving, but these are usually non-fiction so very different to my standard fare of YA). Then I picked up My Life as a Hashtag by Gabrielle Williams, her fourth YA novel, and I could not put it down! I can't describe how good it felt to be reading again and to find myself completely immersed in the story.

Marie-Claude, better known as MC, lives with her mum and older brother. Her dad moved out when her parents separated and neither parent is dealing with this as well as they could. Her brother, Harley, is barely talking, and one of her friends, Anouk, has baggsed the boy MC likes. MC rediscovers her old tumblr account, something she started when she changed schools and felt like an outsider. Unfortunately, the account gets discovered and her life changes in a major way.

I was captivated by MC's personality right from the start. First we're shown a snapshot of her life, she and Harley have grown up with Yumi and Wilder, all of them are close. Then we jump forward seven months and while MC and Yumi are still besties, Harley and Wilder no longer hang out. MC is trying to deal with her home life as best she can, but deep down she wishes her parents were still together, especially as her relationship with her father has changed since the split.

I loved the exploration of female friendships and think teens will find this something easy to relate to, but it also made me nostalgic for my high school years so parents will be just as likely to relate. While  the core group of five girls get along well together, there are pairs and trios that tend to spend more time together, and within the group there is tension and rivalry that only MC seems to notice. Kids are now growing up with social media in a way no other generation has experienced. It's easier for them to keep in touch, but it's also a way for them to see what they're missing out on, as well as being another alternative way to carry out bullying.

The way the events spiral in this story were both captivating and scary. This is what happens these days, but I'm sure most people think it could never happen to them. And while this was a perfect example of what might get someone in trouble online, the story never felt preachy. It was realistic, both in the process and the outcome, and I think teens will appreciate that.

My Life as a Hashtag is extremely timely and relevant, the perfect read for teens and adults.

Cover design: Debra Billson

Gabrielle Williams was part of the Sydney Writer's Festival School Days program this year and contacted me to get her nails done for her week here. It was an absolute treat to meet one of my favourite authors and paint her nails!

Prior to painting Gab's nails, I'd had a play at home, attempting a gradient, then covering that up with more of an abstract look, before finally settling on the gradient when doing Gab's nails.

I gave Gab the set I'd painted and she put them on display her Kinokuniya launch night, where she was interviewed by Kirsty Eager. It was a fun and entertaining night and so wonderful to see authors supporting each other.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde
Published March 1, 2017 by Swoon Reads
Source: Pan Macmillan AU
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.
Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.
While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.
Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

I am always keen to read new Aussie YA and was excited to read Jen Wilde's debut novel, Queens of Geek. Typically I like to read a book within 1-3 days. 5-8 days is a long time for me to spend on a book. But this book has taken me 3 weeks. I don't blame the book entirely as I seem to be in a bit of a reading slump, something I haven't experienced in a while. But, at the same time, I just haven't wanted to pick up this book and continue the story. I have carried it in my bag, sat it on my bedside table, and still I ignored it.

I think the premise is wonderful, three best friends, all heavily involved in fandom life and social media, travel to a convention in America. They are supportive, loyal, caring, and sweet. There's plenty of diversity when it comes to race, sexuality, and mental health, and it's all dealt with really well.

But, there's not a lot going on in the story and I didn't fully connect with the characters. There's a bit of drama, nothing too over the top, but also plenty of communication and resolution.

I think this book will be perfect for a lot of readers, so many people will see themselves in the main characters and fall in love with their story. So I still recommend this to all fans of YA books.

Ableist language: fool, idiot.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for the ARC.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil
Published April 1, 2017 by Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Fact: Sophia is smart. As in, certified-child-prodigy, breezing-through-uni-subjects-even-though-she’s-only-in-year-twelve smart. This terrifies her, because geniuses have a tendency to end up as recluses and weirdos – and with her current social ineptness, she’s halfway there already.
Truth: Joshua is good at magic tricks, ignoring most things about year twelve, and not thinking at all about life after high school.
Fact: Sophia can’t even talk to her best friend Elsie about her anxieties, because Elsie is firmly focused on her own future – and on plans that will mean leaving Sophia behind.
Truth: Joshua has had a secret crush on Sophia since forever, but he doesn’t have forever to act on it.
Fact: There are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for … and the messiness of the real world is one of them.
Truth: Timing is everything. 

The Secret Science of Magic is the much-anticipated third book from Melissa Keil. Seventeen year old Sophia Reyhart is in Year 12 at a Catholic high school in Melbourne. She's incredibly smart, especially when it comes to maths and science. But she's started experiencing panic attacks, especially when she thinks about her future. Sophia finds herself obsessively interested in a former maths prodigy, Gregori Perelman, who now lives as a recluse in Russia. Joshua Bailey is in Sophia's year at school, but despite his massive crush on her, she's barely noticed him. Josh excels at magic tricks and is also unsure about his future. He's smart but lately he hasn't been trying very hard when it comes to homework or studying, which he fears is a bad example for his younger sister, Gillian.

Keil excels at writing about realistic characters that readers will be able to relate to, and both Sophia and Joshua embody experiences that teens will understand. Sophia in particular struggles with making friends, not understanding jokes, feeling insecure and embarrassed. But she's also proud of her intelligence. Josh feels similar things but is able to be himself a lot more and not care what classmates think of his hobbies.

I adored the friendships in this story. Josh's friends include some characters from Keil's previous books so fans will get a kick out of that, I know I did! And Sophia's best friend, Elsie Nayer, was supportive and understanding, while at the same time struggling with similar worries about the future.

It was also wonderful to read a story about a diverse set of characters. Sophia and her family are Sri Lankan, Elsie and her family are Indian. But while we're introduced to Sophia's older brother, Toby, we don't meet her parents (I read an ARC, so maybe this changed in the final version, or perhaps I'm mistaken) and the absence of her parents was something that stood out to me. Josh's family are more present, as are Elsie's, and I think a lot of teens will relate to the pressure Josh feels from his father to pick a uni course.

A really sweet element of the story was Josh's love for magic and all the little tricks he created for Sophia. He's loved her for years and it was nice to see Sophia to open herself up to the idea of love and relationships, without having her fall in love instantly. I liked how cautious she was because I'm sure there will be teens who share her feelings.

I recently read another book about a science-loving girl, Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan, so if you like stories about smart girls, I recommend that once you've read TSSoM.

Ableist language: crazy, dumb, insane, lame, idiot, demented.

The Secret Science of Magic is a story filled with heart, hope, and possibilities. You'll feel for Sophia, you'll be enchanted by Josh, and you'll be inspired to just be yourself.

Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for my copy.

Cover design: Evi O.

Isn't this a fantastic cover? It's eye-catching, it's unique, it suits the story perfectly. I love it.

Blue is often a colour I struggle to match and in the end I had to go with Barry M Damson, which is a couple of shades darker, but is close enough!

Monday, 27 March 2017

The House of Secrets by Sarra Manning

The House of Secrets by Sarra Manning
Published January 10, 2017 by Sphere
Source: Hachette Australia
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: An ordinary house on an ordinary street, built in 1936 and never lived in. Its rooms might be empty, but this house is full of secrets.
When Zoe and Win, raw and reeling from a recent tragedy, move into their new home it's meant to be a fresh start and a way to mend the holes in their relationship.
But pushed to the back of a cupboard is a suitcase that's been gathering dust for eighty years. Inside is a wedding dress, letters and a diary all belonging to a woman called Libby. And there's something else in the suitcase, something that echoes Zoe's own pain.
Zoe follows Libby's trail from Paris to Spain on the brink of Civil War to secret trysts in London, and as Libby finds the courage to live and love again, Zoe begins to let go of her own grief.
But when Libby's story takes a darker turn, Zoe becomes increasingly obsessed with discovering what really happened all those years ago. Because if Libby managed to get her happy ever after then maybe Zoe and Win can too . .

Sarra Manning is an author who can write for both YA and adult readers, and I'm always eager to read her latest book. The House of Secrets, her new adult release, follows the lives of two women living in London: Zoe in the present day, and Libby in 1936. This style of intertwined stories reminded me of Manning's previous adult release, After the Last Dance, and it's a style I really enjoy.

In January 1936 King George has just died. Libby, an actor and dancer, has moved in with her mother-in-law after her husband of only five months left her. She's healing after a painful incident and is need of a new job. She agrees to help out a married man in need of proof to allow his wife to divorce him, leading her to spend a weekend away with an older man, Hugo.

In 2016 Zoe and Win have just purchased an old house in Highgate. They had to jump through hoops to get it, but Zoe was determined to make it theirs and to fix it up themselves. Zoe and Win's relationship has been strained since it was discovered Zoe had an ectopic pregnancy, one that almost killed her. When they discover an old suitcase containing Libby's diary, Zoe becomes captivated by her life story.

Just as Zoe was captivated by Libby's story, I found this book captivating right from the start. Both women are in pain, physically and mentally, and it was easy to see why Zoe would pin her hopes on Libby's story. Their lives intertwined perfectly and it was easy to alternate between each point of view. Libby's story was intriguing as I just couldn't work out how her suitcase eventually ended up in the house. It was also fascinating to learn about the divorce laws of the time, and how that was reflected by King Edward's choice to abdicate so he could marry the woman he loved, despite the political backlash. Zoe's story was just as heartbreaking and I had my fingers crossed for her and Win the entire time.

The house in Highgate felt like another main character, it was so easy to picture due to the beautiful descriptions of each room. The progress of the renovations moved slowly, mirroring Zoe and Win's relationship as it began to rebuild. As with so many of Manning's books, the city of London features heavily and I always feel as though it's described with love and attention to detail. I could feel how much research had been done and it was shown in the vivid descriptions of both the past and present city.

Manning has a knack for writing about real relationships and I could see this being a book that a lot of readers relate to in one way or another. I found myself crying at different points because it was so sensitively written, especially when it came to dealing with the pregnancy difficulties both women experienced.

The House of Secrets is a compelling, heartfelt story of two women in different times, but with similar lives. It's beautifully written, well researched, and filled with unforgettable characters.

Thank you to Hachette for my copy.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly by Robin Klein

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly by Robin Klein
Published Feb 27, 2017 by Text Publishing (first published 1989)
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Seymour is bored and lonely, and running from a gang of kids when he opens a back-lane gate. And there is Angie. She is older than Seymour, confident, cool and alluring, and she treats him with the affection of an older sister. Seymour is captivated—through Angie he is awakened to the fun and adventure in life. But Angie has a dark side—a secret that threatens to destroy her. And as Seymour begins to understand that all is not well he knows he has to help her.

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly by Robin Klein is an iconic Australian classic. But, as I mentioned in my review of the Melling sister series, it's a book I missed out on reading as a child. I am thrilled that Text Publishing have released this beautiful new edition so that I could finally read this story.

Eleven year old Seymour Kerley has been sent to stay with a friend of the family, while his parents separate. It's the school holidays and there are plenty of things he'd rather be doing, but Thelma tells him he must stay in the house while she's out at work because Seymour's mother is afraid his father will try to kidnap him. Seymour knows his mother is being dramatic to garner attention and pity and eventually he leaves the safety of Thelma's property by jumping the back fence. After a chance meeting with twenty year old Angie Easterbrook, he beings exploring the city in her company.

Seymour is such a good kid. He tries his best to behave because his mother has bought him up to mind his manners and do as he's told. But, he's troubled by his parents' separation and doesn't think his father is being treated fairly. Watching him grow in confidence was wonderful. At the beginning of the book he's frightened of other children, but by the end of the book he's able to fend for himself.

Seymour's interactions with Angie are bittersweet. Adult readers will have an idea of the trouble Angie is in, but younger readers might be in Seymour's shoes, easily believing the stories she tells. It's clear Seymour is enamoured with Angie, she appears confident, in control, and so wordly to him.

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly is a story of friendship, loyalty, and compassion. It's simply told but perfectly captures the difficulty families face when dealing with addiction.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Things We Promise by J.C. Burke

The Things We Promise by J.C. Burke
Published March 2017 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: It's the early 1990s and all Gemma can think about is looking perfect for her first school formal. Gemma's brother Billy - New York's up and coming hair and make-up artist - has made her the ultimate promise: he's returning home especially to 'create magic' on her and two friends for their end-of-year formal. Gemma's best friend, Andrea, is convinced it'll be their moment to shine; Gemma hopes it's the night Ralph will finally notice her.
But when Billy arrives home from New York, Gemma's life becomes complicated. Her family's been keeping secrets; friendships are forged and broken; and suddenly the length of her formal dress is the least of her worries.

Set in Sydney during the AIDS epidemic, The Things We Promise by J.C.Burke tells the story of Gemma Longrigg and her family. Gemma's in Year 11 and is counting down the months until the formal. Her older brother, Billy, has promised to do her hair and makeup and will make the trip home from NYC where he currently lives and works with his partner, Saul.

Gemma loves fashion and music. She's already begun planning her formal look, despite it being months away. Gemma's an overthinker, but she's fully of aware of this fact. She worries a lot, and slowly starts to realise that secrets are being kept from her. She and her mother get along well, but her father treated Billy abhorrently, before and after he came out, and eventually left to work on an oil rig.

The Things We Promise explores a time in history that a lot of teenagers are probably unaware of. I only have a vague memory of the Grim Reaper ads. The discrimination and abuse that gay men faced is absolutely shameful. Friends and family would shun them, some medical professionals wouldn't even see them as patients let alone operate on them. It's definitely a period in time that needs to be remembered, and the message of tolerance and compassion is universal and timeless.

Gemma struggles with keeping Billy's diagnosis a secret from her friends, often resorting to lying, understandably. Her friend Andrea reacts in a negative way, but she's clearly influenced by her parents' fear, and their friendship suffers because of it. Louise, Ralph, and Vanessa were bright spots in that Gemma's friendship group grew and she found there were people willing to support her.

I think what let the story down was how obvious all the secrets were, and how long it took Gemma to work things out. The reader is treated to a lot of her inner monologue and question-talking which slowed down the story.

Ableist language: idiot, mental, psycho, insane, schizo, lame, dimwitted, dumb, spack.

Problematic language: Gemma uses the term transvestite in a derogatory manner.

The Things We Promise is a moving and heartbreaking story of a family battling HIV and AIDS, at a time when there was a lack of support and understanding. It's a reminder to never forget and to work towards education and tolerance every day.

Thank you to Allen and Unwin for my copy.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1) by Laini Taylor
Published March 28, 2017 by Hachette Australia
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around— and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he's been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?
The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?
In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.
Welcome to Weep.

Lazlo Strange would put his age at around twenty years old, but he can't be sure because he's an orphan, and like all foundlings in the Kingdom of Zosma, he was given the surname Strange. He was raised by the monks of Zemonan Abbey. As a child he loved to listen to stories told by one of the older brothers, and he enjoyed playing outside in the woods, despite the beatings he would receive afterwards. At age thirteen he was sent to the Great Library and there he remained. He was taken on as a librarian and soon began to write his own books about his favourite topic, the Unseen City, said to be on the continent of Namaa. Fifteen years ago the name of the city was known, but something caused it to disappear and from then on the city was only known as Weep.

A new book by Laini Taylor is definitely cause for celebration and I was very excited to read the first book in her new duology.

Strange the Dreamer is unique, heartbreaking, captivating, and magical. But, the beginning threw me a little, starting with the epilogue. I couldn't get the scene out of my mind, and it acted as a distraction as I kept waiting for that scene to happen in the story. I also found the pace to be quite slow as there was a great deal of backstory to get through. It was interesting and intriguing, but I couldn't help wondering when something was going to happen.

I shouldn't have worried so much because of course things did eventually happen, and about 200 pages into the book I was finally hooked. It mostly had to do with two of the main characters meeting, well sort-of meeting, and their relationship absolutely won me over.

The prose is beautiful, as to be expected. Heavily descriptive, it felt as though I was wading through words and imagery. I really couldn't read this book quickly, the writing forced me to slow down and savour it.

Strange the Dreamer is a slow burn sort of a story. There is a lot of scene setting and character backstory to begin with, but once the story picks up momentum, the mystery and romance will ensnare you completely.

Thank you to Hachette for my copy.

Cover design: Jantine Zandbergen

The UK/Aussie definitely got the better cover version for Strange the Dreamer, the intricate gold pattern on royal blue is just perfect.

For nails to match Strange the Dreamer, I started with a base of blue, sponged on a lighter blue, and then used gold for the detailing.