The Break by Phillip Gwynne

From the author of the literary hit, Deadly Unna?, comes a fast-paced rite-of-passage set amidst the mythical surf and island culture of Bali, and up to its neck in the madness of its politics and the terrifying consequences of breaking the rules…

Growing up with the famous Bali surf at his backdoor, Taj had a perfect childhood – until 10 years ago when three robed judges sentenced his father to death. But Kimbo didn’t die – he’s been on death row ever since, leaving Taj in a weird limbo, unable to look to his own future. When the election of a new President leads to a date being set for Kimbo’s execution, Taj realises there is only one course of action left to him- bust his dad out of jail. What follows is the whirlwind ride of father and son on the run through Indonesia, authorities hot on their tail. As events unravel, Taj uncovers some startling truths about his family, his girlfriend, and the girl he is rapidly falling for.

I firstly want to thank the author and his editor for trusting me to read this as a sensitivity reader whilst the story was still in its manuscript form.

Disclaimer: This review is based on manuscript I read which is subject to change.

THIS STORY IS BRILLIANT!!! I devoured the manuscript in just over 2 days and this really had me on the edge of my seat. So intense – such high stakes, this story is such a gripping tale of a young boy who is adamant to save his father from the hells of Kerobakan Prison no matter what the cost. Full of suspense, as the story goes on, you start to see who Taj’s true friends and allies are. Although written for a YA readership, this book can be enjoyed by an adult audience too.

I was brought in as a sensitivity reader for the use of the Bahasa Indonesian language, Indonesian setting and Indonesian characters that feature in this story. As an Indonesian-Australian reader myself, I was very touched to see the author take so much time to study Indonesian and have this book set there as it’s not everyday we see a book set in our neighbouring country! I truly felt the author showed a lot of empathy and effort with the work he produced in this story and I could really feel the author has spent a fair bit of time in Indonesia – I feel it through the protagonist Taj – he is not just a tourist who writes about his adventures later, he truly lived there for a long time, learns the local lingo and social conventions and understands how Indonesia works. The cultural, political and environmental references noted in this book are spot on especially through my experience in visiting and spending time with family in Indonesia. It was a pleasure to provide feedback and assist in the Bahasa/cultural aspects of Indonesia.

I cannot wait for this book to hit the shelves, I really hope readers will enjoy this as much as I did.

Fair warning: features course language and strong themes such as kidnapping, prison, execution and grief. My personal recommendation is for an older YA audience maybe 16 years and older.

With special thanks again to Penguin Random House Australia for giving me first access in the capacity of a sensitivity reader to this amazing story.
-Annie

Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz

“Be the Sun in the Dark.”

A fantasy, set in an alternate contemporary world, in which dragons and their riders compete in an international sports tournament…

Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.

But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport. 

Going into this book I was thinking Olympics with dragons yet more to the story is an intriguing political agenda and overarching issue that is clashing with one girl’s dream to be a Blazewrath Games champion.

“Of course, but the thing about people is they tend to love us their way, not the way we’d want them to love us.”

The plot was interesting, the twists held my attention to the end however I found I enjoyed the supporting characters more than I did the protagonist which is new for me. Whilst Lana was good to follow, I enjoyed the side characters like Samira more. Andrew is an interesting character and I would enjoy seeing like a companion novella following his story a little more closely. There were times I felt like smacking Lana and telling her there is bigger fish to fry but I did enjoy how she develops in the story. What I loved most about this book was how diverse the characters were (cultural, LGBT and disability) Representation means a lot to me and I always get very excited to see such diverse characters so this was a huge plus for this book.

“Don’t burn yourself away but dabble in the fire long enough to stay hot”

Each chapter begins with excerpts from texts/history books that helps build the world we are in and I quite enjoyed that. It helped me learn the backstory of this world without getting too deep and distracting from the actual plot. I also really enjoyed learning the Puerto Rico language and food that pops up quite a bit in this own voice story.

It didn’t have the ‘wow pizazz” effect like some books did but I did enjoy the story overall. You do get dragons but there is more focus on the political agenda rather than the game itself.

I look forward to trying arroz guisado and piraguas! 
-Annie

Keep an eye out for Book 2: Dragonblood Ring – out in a couple of months…



Anything but Fine by Tobias Madden

Luca is ready to audition for the Australian Ballet School. All it takes to crush his dreams is one missed step . . . and a broken foot.

Jordan is the gorgeous rowing star and school captain of Luca’s new school. Everyone says he’s straight – but Luca’s not so sure . . .

As their unlikely bond grows stronger, Luca starts to wonder: who is he without ballet? And is he setting himself up for another heartbreak?

Firstly I wish to send my special thanks to the author, my friend Tobias Madden and to Penguin Random House Australia for bringing me on board as a sensitivity reader for this manuscript. It truly was an honour to be one of the first readers and to have the opportunity to provide thoughts on the loveable Indonesian-Muslim character who is featured in the story: Amina Ahmed. I was so chuffed to see Tobias include an Indonesian-Muslim character in this fantastic story – it brought me so much joy.

Please note: my review is spoiler free and based on what I have read in the manuscript which is an uncorrected proof and there will probably be changes by the time the finished copy hits the shelves.

From what I have read, I can say Y’ALL MUST READ THIS! and I am not just saying that. I devoured the manuscript in 2 days, staying up until 1:30am to finish reading it – if I didn’t have to work, I would have finished it a lot sooner as I really could not put this down.

The story drew me in from the very beginning and held me in suspense throughout. When I say suspense: I became so invested in the characters and Luca’s story that I simply needed to know what happened next. I also experienced emotional reactions from laughter to cringing to gasping to even tears and when I have a reaction like that to a work of fiction, I know it is a fantastic read.

The friendships, drama, romance and the life-changing incident that affects Luca psychologically, felt all very genuine and very real. The characters are well defined the moment I met each of them, which made it easy for me to identify the good characters from the ‘villains’. Each character had such distinct voices and the dialogue was very witty, humorous and written very well that I felt like I was right there beside Luca each time he interacted with someone throughout the story. Every scene I read as we went along felt important as it showed character development as well as gave us an understanding to how each character behaved the way they did and even covered important themes teens need to be aware of.

As a Muslim reader, I was elated to see a character I truly identified with and represented so positively. I feel the author showed a lot of empathy and did so well in constructing Amina’s character. I am truly happy with how she is represented in the story. I also related to Amina on such a personal level and honestly Luca and Amina’s first meeting reminded me of how Tobias and I first met and became friends all those years ago! (lol) I admire how Amina demonstrates friendships between Muslims and Non-Muslims actually exist in the real world and the respect, kindness and acceptance Amina shows towards Luca without question is really how it should be. The author also did very well in describing Amina from her hijab to his first insight into her Indonesian culture, family and the Islamic faith. I found it interesting to see Amina through Luca’s lens as he did not stereotype her at all.

Luca is a loveable character, to see him deal with his life changing incident to then seeing him grow throughout the back was truly admirable. I also enjoyed seeing how Luca dealt with challenges that came with the transition in school, friends and the like. I also adored his relationship with his father – that really got me in the feels!

Such a great book, wonderful diverse characters, real life issues and incidents that really took me back to high school! The story is so addictive from the start and I cannot express how much I love it. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

Once again, with special thanks to the author Tobias Madden and Penguin Random House Australia for bringing me in as a sensitivity reader for Amina’s character.
-Annie

City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda

An adventure based on ancient Mesopotamian mythology written by Sarwat Chadda, author of the Ash Mistry series. Characters from the Epic of Gilgamesh populate this high-stakes contemporary adventure in which all of Manhattan is threatened by the ancient god of plagues.

Thirteen-year-old Sik wants a simple life going to school and helping at his parents’ deli in the evenings. But all that is blown to smithereens when Nergal comes looking for him, thinking that Sik holds the secret to eternal life.Turns out Sik is immortal but doesn’t know it, and that’s about to get him and the entire city into deep, deep trouble.

Sik’s not in this alone. He’s got Belet, the adopted daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, on his side, and a former hero named Gilgamesh, who has taken up gardening in Central Park. Now all they have to do is retrieve the Flower of Immortality to save Manhattan from being wiped out by disease. To succeed, they’ll have to conquer sly demons, treacherous gods, and their own darkest nightmares.

“Do you have any martial arts training?” … “I watched Kung Fu Panda like a hundred times does that count?”

I thoroughly enjoyed this. I am a huge fan of fantasy that is inspired or represents cultural myths and legends and this is the first time I read anything from Mesopotamian mythology! Although the target audience is middle grade, this book can certainly be enjoyed by an adult audience. Whilst covering a whole range of themes from family secrets to ancient prophecies, this book was a lot of fun to read. The dialogue is quite witty, the characters are a lot of fun and the link to Mesopotamian legends and mythology is quite exciting.

I enjoyed the characters we meet along the way and admire how clearly defined each of them are. I especially enjoyed Ishtar – a goddess of love and war in Mesopotamian legends. I also enjoyed Skiander, our hero who is a Muslim kid born to Iraq parents whom settled in New York City as refugees. I love his faith and loyalty to his family especially his brother. I also admired that Sikander, although just a kid, already understands the world and Islamophobia – how he deals with them is incredible. His friendship with Belet is interesting – reminds me of a situation where a wimpy kid meets a badass ninja. Their unlikely friendship really comes alive on the page – one of my favourite parts of the story.

Unlike anything I have read before, this comes highly recommended. There is always something happening as the pages turn and overall just so much fun! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

-Annie

Pawcasso by Remy Lai

Middle grade graphic novel. Pawcasso is a basket-toting dog who does his family’s grocery shopping on his own. When 11-year-old Jo is mistaken as his owner by a group of kids, she goes along with the lie in the hopes of making new friends. Soon the town becomes divided over whether Pawcasso should be allowed to roam free, and Jo worries that her lies will be exposed—and endanger Pawcasso and her new friendships.

This was such an adorable graphic novel that can be enjoyed by younger and older readers alike. Forgive the pun but it was so PAWSOME!! Who doesn’t like a dog that has the ability to go shopping with basket, shopping list and cash? Wonderful illustrations, a quick and fun read and an unlikely friendship between “hooman” and dog that captures your heart. It really is a cute read that will take you away from the pressure of the world for a few moments.

With special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me a review copy of this wonderful book.
-Annie

Huda and Me by Huda Hayek

Huda’s sitting in the airport lounge, fiddling with our tickets. I can tell she’s excited because she has a little smile on her face and she keeps glancing at her pink digital watch. I can’t believe we’re doing this. I can’t believe we’re running away from home. Well, we’re not really running away. We’ll come back. We’re running to our parents. On the other side of the world.

When their parents have to travel to Beirut unexpectedly, twelve-year-old Akeal and his six siblings are horrified to be left behind in Melbourne with the dreaded Aunt Amel as their babysitter. Things do not go well, and Akeal’s naughty little sister, Huda, hatches a bold plan to escape. After stealing Aunt Amel’s credit card to buy plane tickets to Lebanon, Huda persuades her reluctant favourite brother to come with her. So begins Huda and Akeal’s hair-raising and action-packed journey to reunite with their parents half a world away, in a city they’ve grown up dreaming about but have never seen.

Such an adventurous and wonderfully written own voices middle grade debut from a Lebanese-Australian, Muslim perspective that is insightful, humorous and a lot of fun. I read it so quickly I enjoyed every moment of this book particularly the dynamic between Huda and Akeal – brother and sister: an adventure we don’t always see in books. I hope everyone gets to read this and enjoy it as much as I did.

A fresh and funny story of sibling love, adventure and courage, Huda and Me is one of a kind.

With special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Wings of Ebony by J.Elle

“Moms raised a diamond…”

BOOK LOVE 2021!

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighbourhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

This book can be best described as ‘The Hate U Give’ meets ‘Black Panther’. Rue’s originally from East Row, Houston that is subject to looting, high school drug trafficking and shootings but she has a connection to the hidden magical world of Ghizon where she only half belongs as her mother is from East Row and her father whom she barely knows is a man with magical abilities from Ghizon. What does one do when both worlds collide?

The story is an intense page turner, from beginning to end, I kept turning the page wanting to know what happened next not just in plot but to our protagonist Rue and her loved ones around her: Tasha, Bri even Ms Leola. Rue is a tough and fierce character, personally I would be too intimidated to meet her in real life. One may find her unlikeable in the beginning but I can understand the way she is with everything she had gone through in her life. She is badass but she has a heart of gold, she is fiercely protective of her family and friends and she questions everything she has been told, always seeking the truth. How she deals with each truth that opens up for her is very interesting.

Fantasy plot aside, this story also ignites critical thinking on real world issues such as Black Lives Matter. With it, it also demonstrates how people can be conditioned to live a lie their entire lives so what happens when the truth finally comes out – do you accept it or deny it? How do these situations affect family and friendships and is it enough for just one person to push for the right change?

“Grow stronger in the pain…”

We meet quite a few characters as the book progresses and one thing that really stood out for me was how distinct each voice is through the dialogue Rue has with other characters. Characterisation is strong in this book. As the world shifts, characters change and you can’t help but care about what happens with every one you meet.

“Ain’t nobody gonna do for you what you won’t do for yourself…”

So well thought out, this book is really intriguing and whilst the ending does give us a form of closure, there is still enough open to keep us hanging for the sequel which I am really hanging for now.

With special thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy of this book. 
-Annie

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Some stories refuse to stay bottled up…

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, a magical tiger straight out of her halmoni’s Korean folktales arrives, prompting Lily to unravel a secret family history. Long, long ago, Halmoni stole something from the tigers. Now, the tigers want it back. And when one of those tigers offers Lily a deal–return what Halmoni stole in exchange for Halmoni’s health–Lily is tempted to accept. But deals with tigers are never what they seem! With the help of her sister and her new friend Ricky, Lily must find her voice… and the courage to face a tiger.

This is what I call my spontaneous read: before lockdown when I was out browsing booskstores, I found this in the YA section (but I feel it really should have been shelved in MG) somehow decided to read the first couple of pages then I ended up glued to it for a day.

This is a wonderful story I wish I knew before. A contemporary story that cleverly intertwines fantasy and Korean lore. A story about family, heritage, bond and friendship. Lily was a wonderful character to follow, she was honest about herself – how she deals with situations and how they frustrate her because she can’t always speak her truth. I enjoyed how she developed as a character and how she bonds and forms an unlikely friendship with her new friend Ricky. Above all, I admired her love for her Halmoni (grandmother) regardless of what Halmoni was facing, Lily never gave up on her and her love for her grandmother truly reminded me of my love for my grandmother.

The collision of real world and cultural lore was intriguing and how Lily navigates through this story was insightful. An enjoyable and well rounded middle grade story.. it was worth distracting my reading flow!

Highly recommend!
-Annie

Love From A to Z by S.K Ali

marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

If you are seeking a Muslim contemporary with great representation, an entertaining storyline, great insights and a hint of romance – this is for you! I really enjoyed this book I wish I had read it sooner. I enjoyed both characters, their flaws, their strengths and what they brought to the table.

The Islamaphobia demonstrated in this book is very real and not stretched – having been on the receiving end of such behaviour myself there were parts of this story where my blood was about to boil – because it was so real. Overall it’s a great book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I adored Adam and Zayneb – they were both very genuine characters when they were separated and together. I loved their attitudes that showed both their strengths and flaws, they just became characters you truly care about as the story progresses and you want to see them together.

With special thanks to Salaam Reads: Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of this book.
-Annie

Lobizona by Romina Garber

Book 1 of the Wolves of No World Series

Some people ARE illegal.

Lobizonas do NOT exist.

Both of these statements are false.

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.

This is a fantastic book! As a fan of urban fantasy I felt this was really thought out and well written. I adored how the author really captured Argentine folk lore then cleverly intertwined it with current social issues and really shows a perspective of someone who has fled their home and lives undocumented in another country.

It’s easy for us to make comment about unlawful non citizens but your mind can shift once you see things from the other side of the coin. The story has a fine balance between the real world issue of being a minority/undocumented citizen to being an individual from a parallel world where you think you found where you belong only to find you’re still a minority or an illegal.. how do you navigate? How do you survive?

Such a great book. I also admire how the author retained the Spanish language with the dialogue so nothing was lost – a book accessible to the author’s own people and those outside the culture. One to my favourites I wished I picked it up sooner.
-Annie