The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.

Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, K

Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.

“There is nothing I can tell you that will prepare you for what you’re about to experience, I’m sorry, that’s just the reality of Zalindov. This place will test you to your limits and beyond. But it’s not impossible to survive it. I’m living proof of that.”

This was one incredibly dark yet intriguing book that I appreciate having the opportunity to read prior to its publication date.

Normally I cannot stomach a book with such dark themes however being a well crafted fantasy book, I was able to get through to the end. The book is well structured and very addictive, I found myself caring about the characters and wanting to know what happens to the characters right to the end – especially Tipp, whom we get to meet in the beginning of the book. I do have to advise of trigger warnings as this book is indeed a very dark tale with essence of war, abuse, torture and violence within the prison.

Kiva is a great character to follow. I felt she was strong, compassionate and I was able to connect with her emotions. Kiva does her best to navigate day to day inside the horrors of Zaindon – the Prison where this story takes place, a dark place where no one leaves unless in a box and really brings to mind a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Kiva is there from a very young age, so she virtually grows up in the prison however she finds a sense of purpose and strength as she becomes The Prison Healer. I admired how she interacts with the other characters we meet: Jaren, Tipp and Naari.

The story itself progressed at a brisk pace with things taking interesting turns as Kiva meets the characters along the way and The Rebel Queen who is brought in and Kiva is under instruction to keep her alive. I feel the story was more character driven than plot driven and the character development is what I feel to be a key strength of this book. When you feel the emotions of each character and really come to care for each of them, you know the author has done very well in constructing the characters.

One thing I want to mention is that major twist right at the end of the story – I will not disclose it but I will let you know, it does leave you on a cliffhanger which makes me grateful to see the sequel will be out later this year!

Again, I warn of the dark themes that can be trigger warnings. This book is unlike anything the wonderful Lynette has written before so please do not go into this book thinking you will see the Medoran Chronicles for example. This book sets itself apart from her previous works. I recommend this to dark fantasy readers and perhaps an older young adult audience. A solid start to a brand new series.
With special thanks to Penguin Random House for an advanced readers copy of this book.
-Annie

Footprints on the Moon by Lorraine Marwood

Humans are about to leave footprints on the moon, but what sort of mark can one girl make here on earth?

It’s 1969 and life is changing fast. Sharnie Burley is starting high school and finding it tough to make new friends. As the world waits to see if humans will land on the moon, the Vietnam War rages overseas. While her little cousin, Lewis, makes pretend moon boots, young men are being called up to fight, sometimes without having any choice in the matter. Sometimes without ever coming home.

Dad thinks serving your country in a war is honourable, but when Sharnie’s older sister, Cas, meets a returned soldier and starts getting involved in anti-war protests, a rift in their family begins to show. Sharnie would usually turn to her grandma for support, but lately Gran’s been forgetting things.

Can she find her own way in this brave new world?

This was a beautiful verse book I read in one sitting.

I really felt I was right there with Sharnie in 1969 as the world and her life is changing. I really felt for Sharnie as she’s only young but so much is happening around her and she is to make mature decisions like choosing who her real friends are and whether she sides with her sister who is Anti-Vietnam war whilst her father is pro-war otherwise you’re communist meanwhile, the world is holding its breath as America is about to win the space race against Russia by putting man on the moon first. In a world of constant change, the one constant was her Grandma and that is about to change too.. Sharnie’s response to these events and her emotions really came out of the page.

While reading this book, I was able to talk to my Dad so much about it as he too was there on July 1969 and remembers that time so vividly. He would have been about the same age as Sharnie, living in a rural area and even sitting in his classroom in watching the one small step for man but one huge step for mankind.. Though he was too young to fully understand the concept of war he does remember how our family felt towards it and the vibe of those days – if you challenged the status quo, you’re a communist.

A fantastic historical fiction that can be absorbed very quickly by readers young and old alike. I must warn you, this story is so touching, you may need tissues. Yes, there are a few tear jerker moments in this book.

Sharnie is a wonderful character, watching her develop throughout the story was great. I admire a character that really grows throughout the story and how she overcomes her current friend situation and develops her new friendship with Gail was truly admirable.

Overall a touching story I recommend to readers from age 11+.

With special thanks to Aus YA Bloggers and Readers + UQP for having me on board the blog tour and for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.

-Annie

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.

Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own.

The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…

None like anything I have read before.. So complex, it made my head spin! I can understand why this book may have mixed reviews because it will depend on how the reader receives the story and where they believe the author was going with it.. So here is my personal take on it..

I felt the author put a lot of thought and research into writing this book with the clever use of STEM intertwined with fantasy then drawing a parallel to the real world with the exploration of racism, sexism, homophobia, abuse and crime existed in the alternate universes our protagonists shifts between. I felt the protagonist; Ash, wasn’t the centre of the story to be a hero or to fix what was wrong with each world. In fact, I believe he was cursed with the ability to shift between the alternate worlds. I found he was almost always like a fish out of water in each setting – trying to understand himself and his purpose as well as having his way of thinking challenged each time then trying to workout whether he can control the game to make the world a better place for everyone or whether he is the change the world needs. Whilst it’s easy to point out what’s wrong with the world – it’s not always an easy fix as we may think it to be.

“I’d rather live in a world where hope’s alive but sick, than a world where it’s already in the morgue..”

The pacing was pretty good – always a twist and turn at every corner, I felt connected with Ash as he shared his story with us, I felt I was on a journey with him from start to finish. I felt emotions as I read this book but again, it was the creative way the author drew a parallel to our world and demonstrating the injustice that happens around us – injustice we may not always feel due to our privilege.

“The most peaceful versions of Earth are the ones where intelligent life never developed..”

I quite enjoyed this book and I’d like others to read it to be their own judge and respond on their own accord – I believe this book will spark critical thinking with a lot of readers.

With special thanks to Walker Book Publishers for sending me an advanced copy of this book.

Annie

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood

Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.

When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man–a school-wide academic championship–it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her…the more he learns from her…the more he cooks for her…the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.

“Whether the Book is general or whether it is specific, the quality of the life we are given, I think, may not depend on how long it is or how rich we are in it as much as it depends on how much laughter is given to us…”

I really enjoyed this rom-com. Personally it’s rare to find a male protagonist in a rom-com so a male perspective was interesting. Overall it was entertaining, addictive, funny and relatable to an extent. As a Muslim reader, I always find it interesting how various angles or perspectives of Muslim characters are portrayed within an Islamic community where the clash among faith, expectation and culture is prominent. I felt the author really illustrated these characters well and provided a critical analysis on the different ‘schools of thought’ that exist within the Islamic community. Furthermore, the insight on Churchill and the way history has been written in the past and how it will be written today was very intriguing as that sparked very critical thinking…

“The psyche of the conqueror had never before been persistently challenged by the narratives of the conquered in real time. It is an entirely new phenomena in human history, made possible of course, by the Internet…”

Danyal was a funny yet irritating character to follow but even with his not so bright moments, his character felt so real. I admired how his character developed from beginning to end when not just faced with challenging high school assessments such as the Renaissance Man contest but how he handled high expectations from his own family whom did not appear to give him a sense of approval to strained and life decisions. I admired the relationships Danyal had in this story – particularly how he handles Bisma and her past. It was interesting how Danyal’s life lessons came from the most random places and people which draws a parallel to real life.

“There are things you can’t compromise, things that were part of you that made up who you were and had to be appreciated by the people who claimed to love you otherwise they were just trying to make you what they were – that’s not love, that’s colonialism”

Thoroughly entertaining and more than just a rom-com, I really enjoyed the pacing, the plot and character development and I felt connected to the characters and the story and yes right at the end I had a cheesy grin on my face – the ending was so satisfying. So if you’re looking for a contemporary read which is fast paced, entertaining with pockets of romance and isn’t simply mindless trash, I recommend this to you.

With special thanks to Date a Book YA: Hachette Publishers Australia for sending me a copy of this book.
-Annie

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B Alston

Release Date: 20 January 2021

“People tend to fear what they don’t understand and fear can far too easily become hatred…”

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal? Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.

With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

“The next step, then, is not to project our own prejudices onto the mystery, but rather to allow the  mystery to reveal itself to us in its own time…”

This is a fantastic middle grade adventure story that I highly recommend. Pitched as Harry Potter or Nevermoor meets Men In Black, this book was a lot of fun, clever and included very important messaging to dispel stereotypes, judgement and endorse acceptance and hope. The underlying messages throughout the book are what I truly admire in addition to the intriguing plot and unique balance of fantasy and contemporary world building. A clever story about a young black girl from the projects whom, despite constant ridicule due to her lower socio-economic background, retains strength and determination to find her missing brother. Amari has been subject to oppression and prejudice her entire life being from the projects and attending an elite school on a scholarship however she does not let these challenges define her. Amari is quick to jump to any opportunity that will help her find her brother and lead to bigger and better things – even if the journey spins her off into another supernatural world where the challenges she faces are very similar to what she has already endured back home: dealing with judgement, ridicule and prejudice simply because she is different from others.

“People assume stuff about you based on things you can’t change about yourself…”

Amari is a great character. Truly likeable, someone I could imagine being friends with and to an extent, I was able to relate to her in how she overcomes prejudice and stereotypes. I admired her strength and determination in not just finding her brother but to overcome obstacles that others through in front of her – she was not about to let others put her down. There were times Amari doubted herself and her lack confidence was a little frustrating but it drew a parallel to real life and demonstrated that no matter how strong and focused we are in life, we are human and have weak moments too. Amari demonstrated what it can be like for those who have had to be strong for too long. The supporting characters we meet along the way are also very interesting and a lot fun. Each character had a clear purpose for being in the story and part of the world (or bureau) we read. What I also liked about the characters was how unreliable they were. I had no idea who Amari should trust even when they presented themselves as an ally! I was left guessing right to the very end and I even remember thinking at one stage ‘well played, BB Alston… well played…’

The world had a fine balance between contemporary America and the truly imaginative Supernatural world. The Bureau is one place I’d like to explore from afar! I particularly liked the elevators (leaving that right there to avoid spoilers).


Right to the end, I developed theories as I went along with this book and thought I was able to predict the plot or even the characters only to be blindsided. Amari and the Night Brothers really sent me on a beloved and exciting adventure and I highly recommend this to young and older readers who are looking for an action packed adventure. I truly believe this book, whilst entertaining, has very important messaging the world needs to hear. Whilst the book ties up neatly at the end, there is enough open to move into a sequel which I am very excited for. I believe this book is a great way to start the new year and is a book our world needs. This book evoked my own sense of wonder and made me realise that regardless of who we are – how different we may be – we need to accept ourselves and love ourselves for who we are.

Amari and the Night Brothers: The Movie!!!

Coming out on top of a bidding war, Universal Pictures has optioned the rights to “Amari and the Night Brothers” Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman of Mandeville Films (Beauty and the Beast, Wonder) will produce the adaptation alongside star Marsai Martin and Josh Martin via Genius Productions. Don Cheadle will also produce the film – watch this space!!

Special thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for a copy of this book.
-Annie

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K Ali, Illustrated by Hatem Aly

A powerful, vibrantly illustrated story about the first day of school–and two sisters on one’s first day of hijab… With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confu3sing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.

This beautifully illustrated picture book that tells an uplifting, beautiful and important story. As a Muslim woman living in the western world, I almost cried when I received a copy of this book on my doorstep and I wondered where had such a book been all my life!? This wonderful book tells the story of a young girl who wears hijab to school and her little sister who adores her. It demonstrates what it is like for girls to wear hijab in a world where we are a minority. It demonstrates courage in faith and also shows that just because a Muslim girl follows her faith and wears hijab doesn’t mean she can’t have fun and be friends with a diverse range of people. I cannot thank the authors and illustrators enough for creating this book. Highly recommended to the younger audience – suitable for ages 4 and up.

Special thanks to Walker Books Publishers Australia for sending a copy of this book out for review.
-Annie

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…

“I think you have so much power within you that it scares you and that you make yourself small on purpose because you don’t know what you’ll become if you ever stop”


There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster. 

I first picked this up because the premise reminded me of an episode of Grimm I once watched – a contemporary retelling of a young girl who was cursed to be poisonous to the touch.

I enjoyed this story and how it tied it so well with Persian legend, mythology and historical referencing. I particularly love stories and fairytales that are inspired or intertwined with cultural legends, myth and history and this one was beautifully constructed with a great balance of original storyline interwoven with cultural legend.

Soraya is a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch and as such, she is kept a secret to the outside world until one day, she meets a man who looks at her beyond the curse of her poisonous touch. Soraya believes this is the break she was finally waiting for – someone who truly accepts her for who she is and not what she is.. but is it truly the break she was seeking her entire life? Is he truly the key to breaking her curse?

An immersive and intense story about family, betrayal, redemption and love – the family bond between mother and daughter and siblings was very touching and something I don’t see very often in stories.

This book felt magical, so well written and so easy to immerse myself in. Out of the two books I have read by this author so far, I have to say this would be my favourite.

With special thanks to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers for sending a copy this book out for review.
-Annie

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor: 10 year anniversary

10 years ago this amazing series hit the shelves and to this day it’s still a favourite!!!

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

A funny start to a trilogy I grew to love. While the storyline was a steady pace that slowly brings you into this quirky world but it is such a great investment. It is different from other books I have read and I enjoyed the magical blend of fantasy world set in contemporary Prague. I also came to care about the characters – their development, their journey and what became of them to the end. A very creative world, a great series to immerse yourself in – although the third book “Dreams of Gods and Monsters” is like a whole new world – could even be read as a stand alone!! Overall very enjoyable – happy 10th anniversary to this wonderful series.

With special thanks to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers for sending out the series and also sponsoring the Read3r’z Re-Vu Giveaway to celebrate the 10th anniversary!

-Annie

A Song of Wraith and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

“The past devours those naive enough to forget it”

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

Brilliant and strong debut novel. I thought it was Badass.. I was first intrigued as it is inspired by West African folklore and it lived up to my expectations. I really enjoyed the complexity of the world it’s set in + the 2 storylines that we follow: Karina and Malik. Each character whether main character or supporting character were so well defined and each has a valuable contribution to the plot. I particularly like Malik’s sister Leila for her strong and caring nature. I also enjoyed how Karina’s determination – though in a position of power she is vulnerable but does not show any fear. The world building was well balanced and done very beautifully – enough for you to captivate you and really put yourself there.
I really look forward to the sequel (aka conclusion)

-Annie

The Secret Life of Stars Blog Tour

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.

Having always found astronomy fascinating, I thoroughly enjoyed this book where I was able to immerse myself into a non-fiction text that triggered my imagination and showed me just how much more there are to the twinkles we see in the night sky. Entertaining, simultaneously educational, this book is suitable for readers young and older. I could feel the passion the author has with astrophysics when reading this book and believe there should be more resources like this in libraries and schools. It’s a fun and easily accessible way to learn about the universe around us and honestly I probably would have paid more attention in science class if there were more books like this to read in school. Highly recommended. With special thanks to Thames & Hudson Australia and Aus. YA Bloggers for having me on board the blog tour and for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.

For more info…

Thames & Hudson Australia – https://thamesandhudson.com.au/product/the-secret-life-of-stars-astrophysics-for-everyone/Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54981178-the-secret-life-of-starsAustralian Bloggers – https://ausyabloggers.blogspot.com/2020/10/the-secret-life-of-stars-astrophysics.htmlThe Australian Bloggers post will be live closer to the tour commencement.


About The Author: Lisa Harvey-Smith is an award-winning astronomer and Professor at the University of New South Wales. In 2018 she was appointed as the Australian Government’s Ambassador for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She is the author of When Galaxies Collide and best-selling children’s book Under the Stars, both published by Melbourne University Press. Lisa is also a regular on national tv/radio/media, and has appeared in several TV series and documentaries as a guest scientist and is a presenter alongside Prof. Brian Cox on ABC TV’s Stargazing Live.