Aces High

All Aces (Circus Hearts, #3)All Aces by Ellie Marney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my favourite in the Circus Hearts series so far. Contortionist Ren and card-sharp Zep are a great combination. Both trapped in some way by family ties, looking to make their own way, on their terms, in a hostile world that seems to put obstacles up at every turn. Zep is smart, sexy, sensitive, and – despite having the despicable Angus Deal for a father – a straight shooter. Ren is struggling to prove to her family that circus life is what she wants and is a worthwhile career option. She is also recovering from severe smoke inhalation from a fire; a fire Zep Deal saved her from.
Zep and Ren develop an unstoppable attraction and along the way they put themselves in danger to make sure Angus and the saboteurs from the past two novels, go to prison for a long time.
The beautiful, vulnerable, but resilient Ren and the savvy, handsome, and protective Zep are the best romance in this series yet.
More please!

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Three of a Kind

Take Three GirlsTake Three Girls by Cath Crowley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting book. There are three distinct voices telling the story, and we see events unfold from a number of perspectives that only enriches the experience. Clem, Ady and Kate are thrown together as part of a “wellness” program exercise and discover things about each other that ends up binding them together in deep, meaningful friendship. Each girl has her own baggage, and each commits herself to steadfast support of the other two.
Gender politics, sexual identity and finding one’s own path are the overriding themes here, with each girl having to make difficult and far-reaching choices about her life.
Not sure I personally would have given it CBCA Book of the Year (2018), but it certainly deserved a nomination, and it is a novel I would recommend highly for readers aged 13 and up.
There is power in this story, for everyone.

“To be heard”

Catching Teller CrowCatching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This glorious book. This lyrical, mystical, earthy book. I loved it. Ambelin and Ezekial Kwamullina have woven together two different narrative perspectives and made them seamless. Beth Teller, a ghost, is tethered to her grieving father after being taken too soon in a car accident. Her father, a police detective, has been sent to a town to investigate a suspicious fire and death. In the course of the investigation Beth and her Dad meet Isobel Catching, thought to be a witness to the fire. Catching, the second narrator, tells her story in a verse novel style and hers is a strange and compelling tale. As we read these stories side-by-side, we start to see connections in them. Other people in the town go missing, Beth’s Dad starts digging into the town’s past, and unravels a mystery that spans twenty years.
The imagery used in Catching’s story, with connections to animals and the landscape, along with Beth’s emotional attachment to her father, and a growing attachment to Catching, move this story along at a deceptive pace. This is an easy read, but the themes are raw and real and definitely not for a junior audience. I would suggest ages 13 and up would be the way to go here.
Highly recommended reading.

Voices from the ‘grave

Godsgrave (The Nevernight Chronicle, #2)Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second installment in the Nevernight Chronicle is breathtaking. Hot, bloody and raw, this is Jay Kristoff at his best. Mia Covere is back, on a secret mission for the Red Church, but she soon learns that things are not always what they seem. New betrayals, new allies and new love for Mia force her to examine all she believes and the purpose of her life (to avenge the death of her family) starts to become less sure. Godsgrave itself is a shady and underhanded character and those who inhabit it are its equal. Mia uncovers conspiracy on top on conspiracy and she must choose ultimately between her path of revenge and her loyalties, such as they are.
If you like your fantasy sweaty, sexy and fast-paced; this is for you!
Ages 15 and up.

Dem Bones….

All the Little Bones (Circus Hearts, #1)All the Little Bones by Ellie Marney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the start of a great new series by Ellie Marney. Colm and Sorsha are a hypnotic combination and the back story of being on the run was perfect to throw them together. As usual the first kiss between the two protagonists is HOT, which is an Ellie Marney speciality. Marney effectively paints a picture of circus life and show folk well, and I look forward to reading more about this cast of characters. Can’t wait for All Fall Down to drop into my Kindle!

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Surviving the dark

After the Lights Go OutAfter the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Doomsday preppers…riiiight….I was not sure if I would enjoy this as much as Lili’s other novels. Sure, I knew it would be well-researched, and the writing would be impeccable, but preppers? I shouldn’t have worried. From the first page I was drawn in and couldn’t wait to know more. Pru and her sisters, twins Grace and Blythe, live with their Dad in the remote town of Jubilee. In the first pages of the book we see the girls dodging intruders and threats, but eventually learn it’s a drill their father makes them do on a regular basis. Already the reader is made to feel uneasy because Pru is a doomsday prepper, or at least the child of one, and they are not necessarily known for their rational view of the world. Having a possibly unreliable narrator just serves to make the story more interesting. Then, the unthinkable (except for preppers) happens. There is a massive disastrous event and all of a sudden nothing that relies on electricity, or that has circuitry, works. No cars, no phones, no radio, no TV. No electric cooking, etc. To make matters worse, there’s been an explosion at the mine where Rick, the girls’ Dad, works and only a few have survived. The girls are on their own, in their bunker, with only each other to rely on. “Family comes first” their father has drilled into them since their mother left, and the girls are determined to survive, even if it means denying the other people in town much-needed assistance. When someone tells the other townsfolk of the girls’ secret, things take a turn. I will not spoil the rest of the story, but this book is an absolute page-turner. Survival, romance, betrayal, violence, death, redemption – it’s all there and Wilkinson writes her narrative with admirable restraint. There would be a tendancy for someone less experienced to pump up the hyperbole and drama, but Lili Wilkinson allows the drama to develop from small things- things that become huge in remarkable and terrifying circumstances. If you like gritty and realist fiction with a dytopian edge, this is for you.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.

This one has heart

Tin HeartTin Heart by Shivaun Plozza

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marlowe, the central character in Shivaun Plozza’s accomplished second novel is a fantastic protagonist. Flawed, fragile, but ultimately stronger than she realises, Marlowe is finding her way back into the world after having a life-saving heart transplant. Obsessed with connecting with the family of her donor, Marlowe is frustrating, but also highly likeable. Her mum is a “vegan warrior” who only wants the best for Marlowe, but she also tries to be her friend a little too much. I didn’t enjoy this character as much as I hoped to, but Pip, her wonderfully eccentric and self-confident little brother is an absolute delight. I kind of wish younger kids could get to read Pip too, because he is such a positive character. As such, Pip is a great reflection of Marlowe, who is often down on herself and others much of the time. No matter what, Pip can find the good in almost everything. As Marlowe’s relationship with the sister of her dead donor develops, the reader can see there is disaster looming, and when Marlowe starts falling for Leo, son of the local butcher, there is conflict of epic proportions brewing. No more story elements for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say Marlowe has to confront more than a few personal demons and work on mending lots of fences before the story ends.
Plozza’s writing is heartfelt and her dialogue, as in her debut novel Frankie, is absolutely on point. Leo is a laconic smart arse, but has a heart of gold. Marlowe is trying to break away from her family, but ultimately loves them more than anything. The realities of an adolescent trying to find her place, and settle into it comfortably are familiar, and handled here with aplomb. Highly recommended for ages 14 and up.

A Great Find

FoundFound by Fleur Ferris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beth (Elizabeth) Miller lives in a small town, Deni, and has just started a relationship with local boy, Jonah. When we first meet them, Beth is trying to work up the courage to tell her father, “Bear” – a local teacher and karate instructor – about her boyfriend. Beth’s Dad disappears after the appearance of a nondescript white van and from that moment on, her entire life is turned upside down and inside out. Everything Beth thought she could be sure of in her life becomes shaky as she discovers her family has been in hiding from a dangerous, vengeful criminal who has now found out where they live.
I love how Fleur Ferris throws the reader immediately into the middle of the action in this novel. We have barely met Beth and Jonah when things begin to go pear-shaped, and the pace does not let up for the rest of the 300 pages. Beth turns out to be a highly capable and resourceful girl, because her parents have always been secretly preparing in case they were found out; but she is also incredibly fragile, trying to make sense of everything that is going on AND trying to keep herself and her family alive.
Jonah is interesting too – especially because he learns things about his own behaviour (he’s a bit of a selfish prick for a while), and he has great mates like the fantastic Warra to help pull him back into line. Willow, Beth’s best friend, is also well-drawn and the conversation between the two girls feels natural and easy.
I won’t give any more plot points away, but I CAN say that just when you think you know everything, there is another surprise or shock over the next page!
Fleur has found her stride here – a great mix of excellent scene-setting, and well-paced action – and has cemented her place as a premium writer of YA thrillers.
Highly recommended.

Murderous Reflections

Mirror MeMirror Me by Rachel Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A review copy was provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Rachel Sanderson’s last book, The Space Between was a well-constructed thriller and Mirror Me is too. Sanderson Shows a surer hand here – the characters are more clearly realised, and the tension is tighter, and more nuanced.
Central character Abbie moves to the rural community of Derrington with her mother, Mum’s partner Stacey, and little brother, Tom. Mum is a doctor who is taking over the local practice for a year after the sudden departure of Dr O’Brien. Abbie has left her school, her BFF and everything she knows and feels safe with to come and live in the back of beyond. Initially she feels a bit our of her depth, but she makes some new friends and all seems to be going okay until she discovers she is the spitting image of another girl, Rebecca (Becky) O’Brien, who was murdered a year ago. Weird things start to happen. Abbie has dreams about Becky’s murder, she feels drawn to the house where it happened, and begins to obsess about the details.
Abbie also has to cope with a bully named Dave, a blossoming romance with a guy named Zeke, and a deepening friendship with the local handyman, Andy. Little by little coincidences start to stack up and Abbie is convinced the dead girl is trying to communicate with her.
Sanderson builds the growing tension well in this novel. The pace is just right. In The Space Between the ending felt a little rushed, but she takes her time here, giving the characters time to breathe and explore their own stories. The result is a really great, suspenseful story that had me gripped to the very last page.
Highly recommended.

Top Gear

Changing GearChanging Gear by Scot Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I see you, Scot Gardner. I see the vagabond in you; the rough and tumble philosopher; the man-boy trying to make sense of the world, even after living in it for years; the raconteur; and someone whose love of this land we call home runs as deep as the roots the trees he walks amongst. I see you because it is all here in this life-affirming, totally disarming novel. Until I finished this book today my favourite Scot Gardner book was The Way We Roll, but now it is this gem. Changing Gear is a triumph of noticing small things and showing how important they are.
Merrick Hilton is eighteen and on the verge of final exams. He exists between two houses, but is loved in both. Grieving the death of his much-beloved grandfather and feeling hemmed in by expectation (his own and those of the people around him), Merrick takes off on his trusty postie motorbike and heads into the landscape.
This is a road trip of self-discovery, and of self-affirmation. As Merrick travels he meets Victor, a long-time wanderer and finds himself drawn to his life of walking and camping as the landscape dictates. Victor and Merrick settle into laconic patter with ease and Merrick finds himself letting go of things he had thought to be important, and learning to value simpler things like a decent cup of tea, succulent sun-warmed strawberries and the companionship of someone with no expectations of him at all.
The questions Merrick asks himself are timeless: am I enough? Am I gay? Will I ever get laid? What comes after school? How do I recover from the loss of a loved one/best friend? His journey (ugh, hate that word, but it applies here) brings him some answers and gives him the courage and tenacity needed to find the rest.
No spoilers here, but I urge you to read this book – if you are a teenage boy, are raising teenage boys, know a teenage boy, or wondered what it is like to be one. My Aussie YA of the year so far, no doubt. Thank you, Scot Gardner, for giving us yourself in Merrick – and Victor – and showing how good writing and compelling characters can help shape confused boys into decent, caring young men.
For ages 13 and up.