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

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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

Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye

Work hard… Mischief harder…

From the writer of The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate comes an exciting new fantasy series full of magic, intrigue, betrayal and action!!!

Sora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied around his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.  As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging in the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark. So when the pair encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group. Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.

This was interesting book, definitely not what I expect or got used to with this amazing author from her previous books. If like me, you’ve read “The Crown’s Game” and “The Crown’s Fate” cast your mind away from that duology if you wish to tap into this new series. This is very different. It’s a whole new world, whole new playing field.. I enjoyed the cultural fusion in this book that reminded me of Asian and European legends and tales. Although the book did take some time to engage me in the beginning due to slow plot development and world building, the twists that popped up throughout the story and the interesting characters held my attention to the end. The friendship between our two main characters was something I adored so much and there were moments throughout the book that touched my heart. I found this book is something you need to read without any distraction. The world building is detailed and the multiple perspectives can confuse you if you’re not 100% focused on the story. I have faith in this series so I am definitely invested and looking forward to the sequel now.

Special thanks to Harper Collins publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-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

Jane Doe and the Cradle of all Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan

“Simple minds fear what is different…”

Indeed this is one unforgettable blockbuster adventure that is one of the best adventures I have read this year. I could really see this book being adapted to film!!!

Our protagonist is Jane Doe, a 14 year old girl who is burdened with a reputation she doesn’t understand, feared by residents of the island of Bluehaven for reasons she doesn’t know, denied basic right of education and was forced to live in a Basement and provide full time care for her ill father who appears to know more than he is letting on. One fateful day, a terrifying earthquake strikes the remote island of Bluehaven and Jane’s father disappears. Without warning or prep, Jane finds herself catapulted into a dangerous quest with the most unlikely of alliances – a pyromaniac, Violet and trickster, Hickory accompanying her to rescue her father who is lost and trapped between worlds – a space of shifting rooms, booby traps and secret gateways.

From the first page, right to the very end, this book was full of nothing but page turning, action packed adventure!! Something was always happening on every chapter – it was never a dull moment. What I also enjoyed were the mysteries that were within the underlying story. I also enjoyed the biggest mystery of all that did leave me gaping in the end who is Jane Doe? where did she come from? why is she here? why do people fear her? At only 14 years old how could all this happen to her? As a character, I admired that even though she was vulnerable, Jane still had the courage and determination to find the truth that will ultimately set her free during this life threatening quest. Throughout the book I read and loved how the plot had elements of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and to my delight, elements of my all time favourite TV show Grimm (yes Grimm – think keys).

I would recommend this readers from aged 10+ as some scenes may frighten younger readers. I would also recommend this book to those who, like me, read and loved Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend. The action pace, the mystery, the intrigue, the magic and the wonder that holds you captive right to the very end that will leave you gaping and wanting to know more.. Yes this book just came out and I need the sequel sooner rather than later!!

Special thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for sending me a review copy of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it!!!
-Annie

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

We return to the sinister place of Caraval and this time, the only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win, so Scarlett’s sister, Donatella (Tella) dives into the legendary competition once again and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets… including her own sister’s. Caraval was always just a game, try not to get too swept away.. A game that requires courage and a level head to win however this time, it’s demanding for more and if Tella can’t meet bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything.. maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval may be destroyed forever…

I really enjoyed this book and loved the different perspective we follow.. In Caraval it was Scarlett and like with Caraval, I really dived into Legendary following Donatella’s journey.. I found this to be such an interesting continuation of the series that kept the greatest mystery of all alive but takes a new path in following Tella’s new challenges and new mysteries that kept me guessing to the very end. Scarlett was a great character however I felt Tella brought something unique to the table and made this adventure a series I am so invested in that by the time I read the ending I am sure there will be something else coming..

Many thx to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book
-Annie

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

A dark tale you wont forget in a hurry

Princess Lira is a siren of royal blood and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. As punishment for this crime, The Sea Queen (Lira’s mother) transforms Lira into a human, robbed of her song and has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever. As for Prince Elian, the ocean is the only place he calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than a hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of the siren kind for good—But can he trust her?

This book felt like reading The Little Mermaid meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets Mr & Mrs Smith (yes please forgive me for doing that). This is definitely a dark fairytale retelling that is written very well and easy to follow even with the dual perspectives as you can easily differentiate between the characters as the story progresses.  It’s reasonably paced and what I enjoy the most is how steady relationships develop throughout the story among the characters. It keeps you engaged from the first chapter. I recommend this book to readers who, like me, enjoy fairytale retellings or love fantasy fiction stories set at sea.

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