The Witch who Courted Death by Maria Lewis

“It’s a blessing to be able to live how you really are in this life and one that not everyone gets..”

For some, death is a way of life . . . Considering her status as the world’s most powerful medium, Corvossier ‘Casper’ von Klitzing and her twin brother Barastin had a pretty normal life. Her unrivalled ability to speak with and control the dead had made her a living, made her notorious … and made her a target.

After a horrific incident in her home city of Berlin, Casper’s life is forever changed. The sole survivor, she is consumed with vengeance towards an enemy she doesn’t understand. The only other person ever to escape the legendary Oct was a witch – so Casper is soon on her trail.

But this witch does not want to be found.

Diving headfirst into the supernaturally secretive world of spells, charms and covens, it’s not long before Casper is crossing much more than just the line between the living and the dead . . .

The book took me on an adventure I did not quite expect and I had a lot of fun talking to Maria Lewis when running her panel at Oz Comic Con about her writing process, research and the mechanics of putting this book together. I thought the setting in Berlin (one of Maria’s fav. cities) was an interesting place, particularly Boscastle – a place that I have never heard of before, now put on the map. I enjoyed the sibling dynamic between “Creeper and Casper” and “Opal and Sprinkle” characters you come to know in this book . I was most impressed with the characterisation, how we get to know the characters as we read the book rather than through an info dump in the beginning. I felt the characters growing as I was reading. I also liked the witty and humorous dialogue between the characters that made me chuckle along the way. Maria did such a great job in constructing a story full of diverse characters not just from the human world but all manner of creatures and drawing a parallel between the worlds.

It was very entertaining and insightful with travel and historical reference throughout the book. Recommended to readers who enjoy diverse urban fantasy reads.

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

Monuments by Will Kostakis

“Crafting something, seeing that creation flourish, that is what satiates us, not the size of our followings.” 

All 16-year-old Connor is trying to do is avoid his ex-best friend when he stumbles upon a trapdoor to a secret chamber under his school. But when Sally Rodgers breaks into the same secret chamber looking for an ancient being, things take an unexpected turn . . . and Connor’s life will never be the same again.

Along with the mysterious Sally and, later on, his new friend Locky, Connor discovers the Monuments – gods who have been buried for generations – who created the world and hid themselves away from humanity to keep everyone safe. But now they’re exposed and vulnerable, and Connor isn’t sure who, himself included, can be trusted with the knowledge and the power these gods have.

“Life is not some static thing that is made and left alone, it constantly remakes itself. Life requires attention, nurturing..”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Having read all of Will’s work to date, I can see how much he has grown as a writer and he’s done so well with this book. From setting the scene and developing the story that started in a school and embarked into a whole new world. Will did really well in bringing out important teen issues that include friendships and fall outs, change, sexuality and coming to terms with your own identity.

The story is full of fast paced, exhilarating adventure that is set in Sydney and intertwined with mythology and suspense. I love mythology so having this as a strong element in the story was awesome. I felt the way the gods are portrayed in this story was clever and different. Will also did very well capturing most of Sydney in this book, particularly western Sydney as it’s an area most often overlooked in literature (GO BLACKTOWN!)

I enjoyed following this story from the protagonist, Con’s perspective but I have to say my favourite character is Locky. I loved his chilled nature and his intellect. I was able to relate to him as he really reminded me of me when I was in high school (wanting to study international relations and politics to work for the Australian public service)

Fast paced and easy to be engrossed in. I highly recommend to YA readers ages 14 years and up who enjoy fast paced adventure with contemporary friendships and romance and strong presence of mythology.

“A life spent running is not one lived…”

Special thanks to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers for sending me an advanced review copy of this book.
Due for release: August/September 2019
-Annie

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

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

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

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

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

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

“But even in difficult situations, especially in difficult situations, you can’t lose hope. Things change”

FANTASTIC BOOK!!! A story that had me hooked from the first page and I read it in a day..

Life is pretty ordinary for Amal and her village in Pakistan.. Amal is one of the select few girls who can read and write and has a love for poetry and she is busy pursuing her dream to be a teacher however her dreams are momentarily crushed when she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings as it is her duty as the eldest daughter. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope then the unthinkable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Although written for a middle grade audience, I thoroughly enjoyed this as an adult and believe other readers who dive into YA or MG would enjoy it just the same. With themes that cover gender equality, education and social justice, I truly believe this to be an important book for all readers. I love and adore our protagonist Amal and there were times I wished I could just hug her and commend her courage and strength. I really felt her pain and realised my own problems were so small compared to girls/women like Amal. Amal’s character, her journey and her story was so real, raw and honest. I felt her emotion, her confusion, her outrage even her tears whether happy or sad, she’s a character I really love. What resonated with me was the book’s underlying message – to never give up hope..

Honestly, this author Aisha is a true inspiration to me and I intend to continue to follow this path: “We don’t have to make headlines to help change the world for the better. Everything we do in our communities and beyond to impart good is important and matters.”

Special thanks to Text Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book – definitely one of my 2018 favourites!!
-Annie

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Nothing can prepare you for The Gauntlet…

A board game – made of wood, etched with exquisite images – a palace with domes and turrets, lattice-work windows that cast eerie shadows, a large spider—and at the very centre of its cover, in broad letters, is written: The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.

Who remembers the classic Jumanji?? Well.. if you are like me and LOVE that movie (original and remake) then this is a book for you!!! The Gauntlet follows a trio of friends from New York City who find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children. It is more than just a game though. It is the most ancient, the most dangerous kind of magic as it holds worlds inside worlds and captures players to be prisoners. It is a race against the sands in the hour glass for this trio escape.

I thoroughly enjoyed this culturally infused fantasy story that may have been inspired by Jumanji and pitched as a Jumanji retelling but is definitely a unique story in its own right. Although the characters are children, I personally found the writing structure and language devices to be better suited to an older audience, say 12 years and up rather than 8 years and up. A fast paced, action packed story line that is a real page turner and full of adventure!!! It was great to see multiculturally diverse characters who become even better friends as they team up when having to face “The Gauntlet”. The Islamic representation was so accurate and it was fun to see a lead character was a hijabi girl!! Very easy to read and well written, I really enjoyed this and recommend it to anyone who wishes to roll the dice and seek a way to temporarily leave their world behind!!!

Publisher: Simon and Schuster – Salam Reads Subsidiary

-Annie