The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

**Content warnings: Racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers.**

“…Your people, my people, our people, they’re everyone. They’re Malaysians. It’s not Malays killing Chinese or Chinese killing Malays. It’s stupid people killing stupid people.”

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

“How do you expect unity to grow from seeds of self-interest? Look at the riots in Penang last year….”

This book was an incredibly powerful historical fiction that really brings the bloody history of Malaysia in 1969 to life. I was able to relate to it from a cultural and religious perspective as I am part Indonesian and Muslim so the cultural values, language, religious referencing places, food, even the civil unrest is something I was very familiar with. I was engrossed from the first page as the writing was very easy to follow but I agree the story may be difficult for some readers to stomach and as I recommend this book, please note my recommendation comes with a warning. The content in this book is definitely not for a younger audience – it’s definitely an older YA novel.

Our protagonist is Melati Ahmad’s torment and journey really came to life in my mind and it was heart wrenching to read about innocent people trapped in a war zone but aren’t just fighting for survival – they are battling their own demons as well, in this case, the djinn that keeps controlling Melati’s mind in horrific ways. Yes this book is quite confronting and very detailed in bringing out the violence and Melati’s torment. Personally, I was able to handle it as I felt the author really nailed it with her writing and explored these themes very well. I really kept turning the page yearning to know what happens next. I shed tears as I read the epilogue – it was so touching and final. I was convinced to pick this book up sooner than I planned and I wondered why I took so long to read this.

I highly recommend this book to readers who love historical fiction with an element of ‘urban fantasy’ (which I believe is a metaphor in this story) and strong cultural representation. Please note, again, my recommendation comes with a trigger warning. This book contains graphic details and violence, death, racism, war and mental illness and I believe this to be more suited to older readers. Please do not read this book if you feel it may be harmful to you in any way.

Happy to say this is another book love for 2019. Just amazingly written, very insightful, a book I won’t forget anytime soon.

Publisher: Salaam Reads – subsidiary of Simon and Schuster
-Annie

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Kidz Korner School Holiday Special Round Up of Recommendations

Easter is here which means the kids are on school holidays!! We really enjoyed these children’s books so we hope you have fun with these titles over the break!!


It’s a Book by Lane Smith

Playful and lighthearted with a subversive twist that is signature Lane Smith, It’s a Book is a delightful manifesto on behalf of print in the digital age. This satisfying, perfectly executed picture book has something to say to readers of all stripes and all ages. This title has Common Core connections.

Interesting way to introduce someone to a real life book. Where you don’t need to recharge, scroll internet or even click the mouse. Within “It’s a Book” we get to see one fall in love with reading.

Recommended to younger readers from aged 4 years and up.
-Meredith

Little Green Donkey by Anuska Allepuz
Little Donkey loves to eat grass. And only grass. Nothing else. He has grass for breakfast, lunch and dinner. YUM. Will his mum ever persuade him to try some new food?

This was such a cute picture book very suitable to reading to young kids as young as 2-3 years old. Its a story that teaches a valuable lesson – when too much of something may have its ramifications. In this case, when the little donkey eats too much grass, he turns green! Not a lot of sentences on the page which holds a toddler’s attention. Cute artwork featuring fruits, vegetables, donkeys and other animals! It was fun and highly recommended as a good kids read.

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


Imagine a City by Elise Hurst

Imagine a world without edges . . . where bunnies and bears ride bicycles, lions read books, and buses are fish that fly through the clouds. In the city of imagination, anything is possible, and an outing with their mother brings a world of adventure to two lucky children.

The illustrations are beautiful and the words only enhance the illustrations.

With each new page, I was wishing that I was in the world. Where fish were buses or having gargoyles having tea next to you. Or even rabbits reading the newspapers.
-Meredith

Moonwalkers by Mark Greenwood and Terry Denton
Dream astronaut dreams, and celebrate Australia’s role in one of humanity’s greatest achievements, the moon landing of 1969. Moonwalkers is a joyous story of imagination and play – the greatest bedtime story ever told. When Apollo 11 blasts off for the moon, the whole world is watching. On the other side of the planet, Billy, Mickey and Buzz decide to be astronauts too.

It was such a joy to see children enjoy this insightful story of one of history’s greatest moments!! The story and the illustrations kept their attention and it is highly recommended as a family read to children as young as 3 years and up.

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Why I Love Summer by Michael Wagner and Tom Jellett
There are four seasons in a year, and they’re all awesome, but only one of them gets to be summer!
Sunny days, weekends at the pool, games in the backyard, daylight until late and long, lovely holidays . . . that’s summer, the best season ever.

“Why I Love Summer” goes through the joys of Summer that children see and go through. We get to see the beach, the pool and games such as backyard cricket.

Oh! the joys of summer holidays!!!

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Meredith

Extraordinary Life of Michelle Obama – The Extraordinary Lives Puffin Series
A bold new non-fiction series that focuses on the lives of inspirational historical and modern figures. This one in particular focuses on the extraordinary life of a lawyer, writer, activist and First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama. It explores how she has become a role model and modern icon all over the world. From her childhood in Chicago, to her role as an advocate for women and diversity, via her incredibly influential time in the White House, be inspired by her determination, her voice and her story.

“As ever, there were people who criticised Michelle for her work. No matter how much she did or didn’t do, there was always someone out there who had an opinion.”

Although a book written for a younger audience that is definitely recommended to young readers from ages 7 years and up, this book can be read and enjoyed by an older audience who have an interest in getting to know Michelle Obama’s life without having to invest in extensive reading or research. This book is a snapshot or summary of the former U.S First Lady’s life, achievements and passions. She is one remarkable and inspirational woman, I have always liked the Obamas but since reading this book and gaining a little more insight into Michelle’s life, I have an even greater respect for her. I love her strength, her courage, her passion for education and equality, her love for family and her determination in life. I loved her resilience as she herself experienced racism at a young age – she didn’t let that get her down, it was always on wards and upwards with her. I found it was very interesting to see how hard she worked to become who she is and to see her status was not simply given to her on a platter – she earned it. How she met her husband Barack Obama for the first time was a sweet and funny story. I highly recommend this to young readers as Michelle Obama is an inspiration and I also recommend this to older readers who do have an interest in her life and would like a quicker insight.

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

“Absolute power can corrupt even the purest of hearts. Such is the folly of men…”

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

With an army of demons and the unlikeliest of allies,  secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself….

“The tiniest pebble, when dropped into a pond, will leave ripples that will grow and spread in ways we cannot comprehend” 

I really enjoyed the read along I experienced with 2 dear friends. This book got me hooked from the first page, so much happened virtually straight away. I loved how the story line explored the Japanese culture and legend and I would recommend this to readers who loved Kylie Chan’s “Dark Heavens” series. It was captivating, action packed and really intriguing.

The only flaw was the confusing switching of perspectives throughout the book. Normally it’s quite clear whose voice we are reading but this one took me a moment or 2 in the next chapter before I realised who we were following. But other than that, it was a great book! A great story with strong Asian cultural representation, so much action particularly from the first chapter that really caught my attention and maintained the pace throughout the book. I particularly loved the ending and I will be investing in the next book.

With special thanks to Book Depository for sending me this book as a thank you for when I engaged in their mini Blogstars project. It’s really worth the read!
-Annie

The Secret Runners of New York by Matthew Reilly

THE COMING END

When Skye Rogers and her twin brother Red move to Manhattan, rumours of a coming global apocalypse are building. But this does not stop the young elite of New York from partying without a care.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

And then suddenly Skye is invited to join an exclusive gang known as the Secret Runners of New York.
But this is no ordinary clique – they have access to an underground portal that can transport them into the future. And what Skye discovers in the future is horrifying: the rumours about the coming apocalypse are true . . .

RUN! AS FAST AS YOU CAN!

As society crumbles and Skye and Red race to figure out how to use their knowledge to survive the impending annihilation, they soon discover that the chaotic end of the world is a fine time for revenge .

As a long time, die hard fan of Matthew Reilly, I was naturally keen to read his new stand alone novel- the secret runners of New York. Although Matthew doesn’t regard it as a young adult novel himself, it does come across as a Young adult read. Having taken that on board, it is a well written, fast paced novel. Whilst his Jack West Jr. and Scarecrow enthusiast fans may find it disappointing – (no maghooks ), I can assure you there are plenty of gruesome deaths, nasty characters and a new female protagonist in Skye Rogers who gives as good as she gets. And, it is still a heart stopping read that will have your pulse racing with all the trademark Matthew Reilly twists and mayhem. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this, it is definitely an interesting read that will have you turning pages rapidly. This is classic Matthew Reilly, scaled down so readers of all ages can enjoy it. Loved it!
-Kay

Having never tapped into Matthew Reilly before, this was my introduction to his work. For me the book was easy to follow and very fast paced but the characters annoyed me although the dynamic between the siblings was interesting. I guess I find spoilt rich kids eye roll worthy (lol) the mystery of missing kids in an elite school, the time travel aspect and societal breakdown in New York was what held my attention to the end. This book took me on an adventure I didn’t expect. Overall I enjoyed it and I would like to hear from other Matthew Reilly fans to compare to this book to his previous works. I’m interested in reading more.
-Annie

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending us a review copy of this book.

You Must be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

“I am Layla, I am loud, I’m weird, random, funny, smart……. I’m my own person and I’ll always be Layla. Don’t you forget it.”

Layla’s mind goes a million miles a minute, so does her mouth – unfortunately her better judgement can take a while to catch up! Although she believes she was justified for doing what she did, a suspension certainly isn’t the way she would have wished to begin her time at her fancy new high school. Despite the setback, Layla’s determined to show everyone that she does deserve her scholarship and sets her sights on winning a big invention competition. But where to begin?

“With her long skirt and headscarf Layla certainly stands out at her new high school. Everyone thinks they know her, just from a glance. But do they? And does Layla really know herself?”

Looking outside and in, Layla will need to come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be if she has any chance of succeeding.

Layla’s story is a very important story and it was told in a very fun and engaging way. Layla’s flaws were what made her human and humans can only take so much in different situations – especially at such a young age of 12-13 in year 8. This story was important as it showed no bounds in exploring the social injustices that exist in our time from racism to Islamaphobia – how it can go from derogatory comments to violence even in the school yard.

This story was so engaging – although there was a time I wanted to throw this book at the wall because of the injustice Layla was facing, a lot of the story was vibrant and fun and a story you would read to cheer you up when you’re not having the best day.

I loved following Layla and how she deals with her own cultural identity being of Sudanese heritage practicing Islamic faith living in Australia to changing from a comfortable school environment to a prestigious school where she is different. The friendships she had previously and the new ones she makes were particularly fun to read – she is living proof that true friendship is unconditional.. and of course how could we forget her cute yet amazing invention!

As an adult reading this I enjoyed it so much so I recommend this to all readers even as young as 9-10 years. It brought back memories of junior high school for me though dialogue has changed a little from my generation – even the social media tech!

“Forgiveness liberates the soul and removes fear..” -Nelson Mandela

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book – please visit our Instagram Page: @read3rz_revu for the top ten ‘this or that’ video with author Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

-Annie

Echantee by Gita Trelease: Blog Tour and Exclusive Q&A

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns.

Although a detailed beginning, this is a debut that really engrosses you and builds to a fast paced ending.. Perfect for readers who enjoy magically infused historical fiction. I believe if you liked “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, you will enjoy this.


Exclusive Q&A with author Gita Trelease

Congratulations on your debut novel “Enchantee”!! 1789 – France: this is a very interesting time and place setting. What moved you to write a story that was based here?
Thank you! I’m drawn to moments in history that I think of as “threshold” moments, and the French Revolution is one of those. The decadent world of the French aristocracy is dying and a new world, shaped by new and sometimes terrifying ideas, is struggling to come into being. It’s a time of great turmoil and change, and that’s very appealing to me as a writer. The French Revolution is also a time when what seems to be right might not actually be right, and I wanted the opportunity to explore complexity.

The family dynamic in this story: Camille, Sophie and Alain (the family we meet in the beginning) is quite interesting, were these characters inspired by a family you knew? Who or what was your inspiration for your characters, particularly Camille and her personality?
There wasn’t any direct inspiration, but like Camille’s Maman, my own mother died when I was fairly young. I think it forced me to become independent very quickly and to assume more responsibility for myself than I was ready for, though for me it was nothing like the pressure her parents’ deaths puts on Camille. Because of that enormous pressure, Camille makes a lot of mistakes—I think that can happen to all of us. I didn’t want to write a “perfect” heroine. She’s a bit like me in other ways, too, though I didn’t realize that when I was writing the book: resourceful but also a bit impetuous. Which is a better trait for a character in a novel than in real life! As for Camille’s siblings, Sophie and Alain, they’re probably a mix of all sorts of experiences I’ve had and people that I’ve met. My only sibling is my younger brother and thankfully he is nothing like Alain!

From having your first idea to first draft, edits to publication – how long did it take for you to get to this point? Was this book always going to be called “Enchantee”?
From the first glimmerings of the idea in the summer of 2014—when the story revolved around the rescue of Marie Antoinette by balloon!—the working title has always been Enchantée. I assumed it would change if I sold the book, because I worried about a French title, but my team all liked it. I started writing the book in January of 2015, and after at least seven drafts, I queried a handful of agents on Bastille Day, July 14, 2017. After that, everything went very quickly: I got several offers of representation in the following weeks and after a whirlwind revision at the
end of September, the book sold at auction in October.

Some authors go to a writer’s retreat to focus on their writing, did you have a special place you retreated to whilst writing “Enchantee”? (Perhaps Paris for inspiration?)
I wish I could have written all of it in Paris! I was lucky enough, though, to visit in the summer of 2015, and the time I spent researching at the Musée Carnavalet (the collection contains artefacts from the French Revolution), strolling through Paris, and wandering the halls and gardens of the Palace of Versailles was incredibly inspiring. I wrote a lot of Enchantée in our apartment in a boys’ dormitory at a boarding school where my husband is a teacher—not a particularly quiet place! We own an old farm house on the coast of Maine that we’ve been fixing up and a little shed I have there is my favorite place to write. It’s very peaceful and I do a lot of absolutely necessary daydreaming there.

When you are not writing or reading, what would you be doing?
I love to be outdoors, especially by the ocean, and I love to take photographs, but if I could do anything, I’d be traveling and exploring new places.

Quick Questions

Ultimate Holiday Destination: Morocco
Guilty pleasure dessert: Pomegranate Pavlova
When I was a child, I wanted to be a ____spy_____ when I grew up.
Famous last words: “I think I know a shortcut we can try…”

With special thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia Publishers for having Read3r’z Re-Vu on board as part of the Echantee Blog Tour, for co-ordinating the interview and for sending a review copy of this book.
-Annie

 

Underdog: #LoveOzYA Short Stories edited by Tobias Madden

Short tales from the Australian writers of tomorrow.

Featuring stories by Tobias Madden, Sofia Casanova, Cassi Dorian, Michael Earp, Jes Layton, Sophie L. McDonald, Stacey Malacari, Kaneana May, K.M Stamer-Squair, Sarah Taviani, Vivian Wei and Felicity Martin

#LoveOzYA celebrates the best of new Australian writing for teenage readers. It has grown from a humble hashtag into a movement, reflecting the important role young-adult fiction plays in shaping our current generation of readers. This anthology collects, for the first time, some of the tremendous work from the #LoveOzYA community.

Featuring a foreword by award-winning Australian novelist Fleur Ferris (Risk, Wreck, Black and Found), Underdog celebrates the diverse, dynamic and ever-changing nature of our nation’s culture. From queer teen romance to dystopian comedy, from hard-hitting realism to gritty allegory, this brilliant, engrossing and inspiring collection of short stories will resonate with any teen reader, proving, yet again, why there is just so much to love about #LoveOzYA

I was just so incredibly impressed by all the short stories debuted in this anthology!! Each were written so incredibly well, all of them so exciting and insightful to read and what really impressed me was how diverse this anthology is – no two stories are the same and you can really hear the voice and the passion speaking up through the pages by each contributing author. It was very difficult to choose a favourite as each was so unique I loved each story equally but for different reasons. I believe this book really needs to have a shining light on it and all Aussie readers need to pick this up. Huge congrats to all contributing authors in this book for making a debut with your short story! I’m so excited for this to hit the shelves soon! I really hope there are many more to come!

Special thanks to Tobias Madden (editor) and Underdog Books for sending me an advance review copy of this book and for having me on board to launch this book in March 2019.
-Annie