Slay by Brittney Morris: Blog Tour

“Separate is not equal… That doesn’t even come close to leveling the field…”

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

“What kind of noob gets lucky enough to draw the Michael Jordan card and the Michael Jackson card in a single duel?”

I was very excited about this book when I first heard about it at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, YA Con. Having it being pitched as “Black Panther” meets “Ready Player One” I was sold. I like to call this the “Urban Ready Player One” It was an interesting and fast paced read and I really enjoyed following Kiera’s story. I liked her as a character and how she developed the virtual world of “Slay” a place where people of colour could have their own space in an online world. Kiera’s virtual avatar is Emerald and for me it felt like Kiera was more comfortable being Emerald in Slay than Kiera in the real world so her challenge with identity was interesting to me. It always made me question how such talented people can develop an amazing virtual world or explode on stage yet off stage or in front of the screen, they are very reserved.

Keeping Slay under wraps was the thrilling part for me – the case of high stakes secrecy and the thrill of keeping your talent a secret was exhilarating through out the story especially when the secret is out after something sinister happened in real life which was connected to the game. The elements of mystery throughout the book: a case of ‘who done it’ and ‘who is the troll’ was good and the development of the online world was interesting.

The dialogue was very “teen” but what I liked about Kiera was how she would speak like a real teen, be vulnerable in decisions but also have a mature outlook on life. Her sister Steph is quite funny, I liked her too. It was interesting to see how Kiera dealt with her identity, sense of duty/responsibility to others as well as her relationships with family and her boyfriend Malcolm, her friends and change that stem from her own creation ‘Slay’.

A good story that draws parallels to real life: what it’s like to stand out in your own school or community, you just want to be yourself rather than the authority of your own race simply because your skin colour is different to others. I can really see this book hitting the mark within the YA readership.

Special thanks to Date a Book YA for sending me a copy of this book for review and to Aus YA Bloggers for having me on board once again as part of this “Slay” Blog Tour!!!
-Annie

The Astrid Notes by Taryn Bashford

A compelling contemporary YA in the vein of Sarah Dessen and Brigid Kemmerer about finding your true voice in a world of love, loss and lies. Astrid Bell is a dutiful daughter and classically trained singer who yearns to write pop songs and overcome her stage fright when she uncovers a shocking family secret. Jacob Skalicky might be a trust fund kid and talented performer, but after he loses everything, he refuses to sing again.
More than just a love story, Taryn Bashford weaves a narrative that provides a fascinating glimpse into the exclusive world of the professional teen, exploring themes and issues that gifted young adults face when dealing with the demands of pressure.

Having read “The Harper Effect”, Taryn’s debut novel, I have to say I liked this one better than the first. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the first book, it’s just that in this one I can see growth with the author and her writing. The storyline was interesting as it relates to a teenager who is subject to extremely high expectations on account of her mother’s musical talent. A story that rings true to many. However the way it was written was quite easy to follow and I found the connection between Astrid and Jacob beautiful and the underlying message of courage to be who you want to be in life. The characters were written pretty well and the storyline was engaging. It has a little bit of everything and of course like most if not all YA novels, there is the romance that can either make you snort in derision or laugh.

Overall an enjoyable book and recommended to YA readers from the ages of 14 years and up. Additionally recommended to those who love music as a theme to the YA novel.

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers Australia for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.

But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.

A nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family, and the surprising power of a good dumpling.

A late night decision to start this book and keep reading was probably one of the smartest decisions I made. This wonderful story really touched my heart. A book that explores cultural clashes in the western world, bullying, racism and mental illness – a concept that many still do not fully understand and still holds cultural stigmas today. Wai did a fantastic job in capturing this from different angles – a family member watching another family member suffer from it, a friend who is listening to another recovering from it and being subjected to ridicule and the person who is suffering from mental illness. This important concept was captured and weaved it into a touching YA story of unconditional love and real teen issues that made me cry, laugh and feel hope.

There were times I even found it frightening and confronting. This was written very well, it was very realistic and a story that will probably resonate with me for some time. I was able to connect with Anna, Lily and even little Michael. I could understand why each character behaved the way they did throughout the book and I was also able to relate to some of the cultural expectations Anna was subjected to like how do you say what you really feel to your parents and still be their loving, dutiful daughter?

No doubt on some level, everyone who reads this story will find a connection either with the themes explored or the characters we meet – side note – I love Rory..

This is such a great book, please read it when it’s out. Special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for providing me with a finished review copy of this book.
-Annie

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

“A tailor’s worth is not measured by his fame, but by the happiness he brings..”

This was one of the most anticipated reads of 2019 (for me). This unique story is told by Maia Tamarin, a young girl who strives to her restore her family’s honour through her skill as a tailor.

“Don’t work so hard you become the kite that never flies..”

In a world where only males can be imperial tailors, Maia takes her brother’s place by disguising herself as a boy to embark on a challenge to become A’landi’s master tailor.
With a touch of Mulan and a hint of Aladdin, complimented with action, betrayals, forbidden romance, intensity, demons and adventure, this was one exciting book that kept me turning the page from beginning to end.

“Magic is a wild, untamed energy that exists all around us”

I was engrossed in this book, I loved Maia’s determination to succeed not for glory but for her family, to restore their honour and be their provider. I enjoyed the competitive jealousy among the participants during the initial challenges for the imperial tailor selection process as it really brought out true nature of those who resort to vile acts when they’re so insecure about themselves. As the story progressed, I grew to love the connection Maia had with the Lord Enchanter and the ending has left me invested and yearning for the sequel.

Well written, fun to read and enchanting.

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

It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

“Anything you feel after 10pm is suspect, anything after midnight should be discounted altogether”

Debut YA that is tender, funny, and compulsively readable novel about first love and its confusions, and all of the awkwardness of teen romance.

When her parents announce their impending divorce, Natalie can’t understand why no one is fighting, or at least mildly upset. Then Zach and Lucy, her two best friends, hook up, leaving her feeling slightly miffed and decidedly awkward. She’d always imagined she would end up with Zach one day―in the version of her life that played out like a TV show, with just the right amount of banter, pining, and meaningful looks. Now everything has changed, and nothing is quite making sense. Until an unexpected romance comes along and shakes things up even further.

A fun and quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed. What I found most interesting about this book was just how dramatically times have changed. To see how youth today interact compared to the days I was in senior high school was quite eye opening – significant contrast! This book is a charming contemporary YA that explores issues teenage girls face such as body image and being self-conscious of your appearance – friendships, romance and significant changes to family dynamics that do impact the youth.

As an adult reading this book, I can see adolescence is a sensitive time, it can be difficult – one moment you’re expected to be mature, next you’re a child or you’re deemed incapable by others who try to protect you. I can see a lot of YA readers relating to this book as well as enjoy the entertainment that came with the story.

I found Natalie to be a likeable character – she wasn’t a spoilt, whiny teenager, she is a smart teen who is trying to find her place in the world when she feels like she’s floating in orbit following changes within her own family and friendship group. Change isn’t always easy.

I enjoyed the referencing (particularly with Harry Potter and the 80’s-90’s movies lol) It was easy to read, a lot of fun and insightful. Recommended to those who enjoy contemporary YA – with some of the themes covered in this book I would advise an age rating of 16 years and up.

Special thanks to Text Publishing for an Advanced Review Copy of this book.
-Annie

***MEET NINA KENWOOD!!!***
Annie will be hosting a Q&A with Nina Kenwood to launch “It Sounded Better in my Head” at Dymocks, Sydney on Saturday 17 August 2019 from 11am – come join the fun!!!

Shauna’s Great Expectations by Kathleen Loughnan

An important coming of age YA novel with an indigenous lead character that is written by an indigenous author

A fresh and compelling novel about an Aboriginal scholarship student and her surprising final year of school.

Shauna is in her final year at an elite private school and has great expectations. She holds an Indigenous scholarship and is determined to be the first member of her family to go to university, no matter what. The year is off to an excellent start and she and her friends are dreaming big about life after school and planning a trip to Paris. But suddenly she finds she must make a choice that threatens to throw all her plans into disarray. As pressure builds from every corner of her world, Shauna wonders what she’ll have to sacrifice to keep hold of her dreams… Can she fulfil her own promise and still keep her promises to others? Will all her expectations be ripped away?

An insightful and important coming of age story with a strong indigenous female protagonist who sends a powerful message to those of marginalised backgrounds. This brought back memories of “Looking for Alibrandi” whereby Shauna is the indigenous minority who is on a scholarship in an elite school having to deal with racism and discrimination due to her background. Her determination in life was what I found to be her strength. Whilst Shauna is subjected to having to deal with negativity around her and live with a life choice that can influence her next life decisions, it was interesting to see how Shauna went about her choices and how she tries to be true to herself. A compelling indigenous voice, a great book and very eye opening!!!

About the Author:
Kathleen is an Australian lawyer and writer. She was born in rural Victoria and now lives between Australia and Europe with her husband and their four children.

Special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers + Aus YA Bloggers for having us on board for the Instagram Tour.
-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