The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

the last namsara.jpgTitle: The Last Namsara

Author: Kristen Ciccarelli

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 3rd October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A gripping YA crossover series from a spectacular new voice in the genre Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things

Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she’s sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the wicked deed she committed as a child – one that almost destroyed her city, and left her with a terrible scar.

But protecting her father’s kingdom is a lonely destiny: no matter how many dragons she kills, her people still think she’s wicked.

Even worse, to unite the fractured kingdom she must marry Jarek, the cruel commandant. As the wedding day approaches, Asha longs for freedom.

Just when it seems her fate is sealed, the king offers her a way out: her freedom in exchange for the head of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard.

And the only person standing in her way is a defiant slave boy . . .

THE LAST NAMSARA is an extraordinary story about courage, loyalty and star-crossed love, set in a kingdom that trembles on the edge of war.

~*~

Asha’s story begins on a dragon hunt, where the identity she has been given her whole life is made obvious from the beginning of the novel. The Old Stories that have been outlawed draw the dragons to her, and, following the name she has ben given, Iskari, she kills them in an attempt to atone for a crime she committed as a child. Asha’s scars tell her story, and cause the people of her city to fear her. Asha has been the stories of her destiny and what killed her mother for years and believed them – without anyone to tell her otherwise, she believes them. Until the day a young dragon prevents her from killing the First Dragon, Kozu, and awakens questions within that will lead her to do wicked and dangerous things to prevent more tragedy from befalling her family, and to prevent events that she has been desperately trying to avoid with the help of someone she never thought she would become close to. As what I hope is the beginning of an intriguing series, it has a little bit of everything, including a touch of romance that does not overtake the rest of the story and overshadow what Asha and those who gather around her eventually to help uncover the truth will have to do.

First and foremost, this fantasy novel is about Asha finding her identity, and uncovering secrets that have been kept from her so that those who wish to harm her can control her and ensure she does what they want, when they want it, and without question. Along the way, Asha’s worldview is shattered, and she befriends a slave, a skral, and learns his name: Torwin, going against centuries of tradition, and connecting with him in a way that puts them both at risk, and that mirrors the Old Stories, told in between sections of the first half of the novel, showing how they have shaped the world and how people like Asha’s father and Jarek, the man her father wants her to wed, fear what does not need to be feared – including the dragons that Asha has been made to hunt and must now protect.

The Last Namsara explores trust, family and identity, and illustrates how those we least expect can become the only ones we can trust. Asha is scarred – and has a paralysed arm from the events at the beginning of the novel, but she does not let this stop her, especially when everything comes to a head and she does what she never thought she would do, and puts herself in danger. It is these dangerous events that lead to the final events of the novel, and presents the reader with more questions than answers during the final chapters, that will hopefully be answered in a future novel, to wrap up the strands that felt they had more of a story to be told.

It is a gripping story that didn’t take me long to read, as it had a decent pace, not too fast or too slow, and intrigue that had me wanting to know what was going to happen next. A great read for fans of Young Adult, and Fantasy Literature.

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Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

moonriseTitle: Moonrise

Author: Sarah Crossan

Genre: YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The astonishing new novel from Carnegie Medal, CliPPA Poetry Award, YA Book Prize and CBI Book of the Year Award winning author Sarah Crossan.

They think I hurt someone.
But I didn’t. You hear?
Cos people are gonna be telling you
all kinds of lies.
I need you to know the truth.

Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years, and it’s for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row.

But now Ed’s execution date has been set, and Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with him, no matter what other people think …

From one-time winner and two-time Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this poignant, stirring, huge-hearted novel asks big questions. What value do you place on life? What can you forgive? And just how do you say goodbye?

~*~

Moonrise is the latest extraordinary offering from Sarah Crossan. Another novel told in verse, something Sarah pulls off extremely well, it tackles another story of the underdogs, the ones who are disadvantaged by a justice system, and other systems skewed in the favour of others and those who hold the fate of innocent people in their hands. Through the eyes of Joe, in poems that occasionally flashback to a childhood before his brother went to jail, and the years in between his journey to Texas to save his brother, Joe tells the story of what it was like growing up with a mother who didn’t care, a brother and sister who did, and who did everything they could to keep him safe, and an aunt who, after his mother left, refused to help his brother, Ed. It is a story that has few rays of hope and happiness within it, showing the gritty reality of a broken justice system that shackles and condemns people without proper investigation, and that varies from state to state, as Joe says in one of the verses, that the crime his brother had committed in Texas and earned him the death penalty would have carried a life sentence in another state.

Throughout the novel, which is solely seen through the eyes of Joe, we catch glimpses into his family members and how he responds to them. He is closest to Ed and his sister, Angela, whilst his mother has gone off. His aunt cares but in a harsh way – in a way that at the time, Joe sees as repressive and cold. She brings religion and a strict nature into the house, ensuring Joe and Angela will not end up in the same place as Ed, but as Joe relates through his poetry, people still associate what Ed has supposedly done with them, and they become isolated.

It is a poignant novel about the injustice of a justice system that serves to punish based on circumstance and misfortune of a casual link to a person, without evidence, leading to an inevitable conclusion that the reader hopes won’t happen. The grim reality that the Moon family face is something that many families face in America, and Sarah Crossan has done a sensitive job taking on a challenging topic that may not be understood by those not affected. Through the eyes of a teenager, she has shown how something like this can not only change the life of the accused, but the life of a family, and those who come to know them and who try to help them.

It is a powerful story that does have an effect on the reader, making your mind tick over about the issues dealt with in the book. To date, I have read two of Sarah’s books told in verse, and in both she has taken characters who are not fully accepted by society and not properly seen, and has told their story, opening up a world beyond what many readers might know, and evoking empathy and sympathy for those less fortunate, and those whose lives are affected by events that not everyone will experience. Telling it in verse makes it all the more powerful, and though it is a quick read, you still get the gist of the story, and the emotions that drive it.

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Sky by Ondine Sherman

SKY-final-257PX-194x300.pngTitle: Sky

Author: Ondine Sherman

Genre: YA

Publisher: The Author People

Published: 28th June, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 166

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: Sometimes you have to lose everything to find yourself.

After her mother’s death, Sky leaves her city life to move in with her aunt and uncle in a small Australian town. But the city isn’t all that she leaves behind. Trying to fit in with her new friends means doing things she never dreamt she’d do.

Just as she thinks everything is starting to feel normal, Sky stumbles on a case of animal cruelty that forces her to make some tough decisions.

Will Sky risk everything to stand up for what she believes in?

~*~

After the death of her mother, and removal to a small country town from the city, Sky is left with an empty, desolate feeling, a sense of disconnect from everyone and everything, including her aunt and uncle who have taken her in as guardians, and the sensation that she is losing her identity, and who she is, as well as her convictions about animal rights, and being vegan. Terrified of the isolation that comes with being a teenager and the new girl in school, Sky hides what she is passionate about in an attempt to fit in, and get in with the popular crowd – something that many teenagers feel during the turbulent years where they can sacrifice any part of themselves – interests, convictions, beliefs – in an attempt to fit in. Sky is torn between doing the right thing – staying true to herself and befriending Lucy, a less popular girl, but one who shares Sky’s passions – and joining in with the popular crowd, which means becoming a hypocrite.

aww2017-badgeAs well as this, Sky has been interacting online with a fellow vegan, and a boy at school who is also a devoted animal lover – could they be the same? This love story evolves as the story goes on, and does not dominate Sky’s thoughts – she is in mourning and the evolution of the story reflects this, and the reader’s ability to pause and think about these issues, but also, gives them the freedom to make their own choices as well.

Ondine Sherman has written a novel that reflects her beliefs but also reflects the nature of humans and the contradictions and challenges they face after death and in new places, and within themselves. Whilst Sky does speak a lot about being vegan and animal cruelty, rather than trying to convert the reader, Sherman shows one aspect of the fight for animal rights, and she does it well. With an open ending, leaving much to the imagination of the reader, I found that this worked for Sky and her story, and left off in a place where, like many people, she was left in a state of indecision.

Starting this novel, I wasn’t sure if I would connect with it or enjoy it, but found that like any novel, it had good points and bad points, and it is a powerful story about finding out who you are, and staying true to yourself, finding a family and finding friends who will always stand by you. At times I did find Sky annoying, but the popular girls were more annoying, and I did like that Sky stood up for what she believed in but at the same time, I also felt that she accepted that not everyone would agree with her all the time.

The power of this novel lies in its ability to communicate a message about what the author believes but also, a general message about being who you are. It may not be one I will revisit right away, but it was an unexpected and interesting read that had a story behind the story, and that fits in with the philosophy of The Author People and Lou Johnson.

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The Dream Walker by Victoria Carless

the dream walker.jpg

Title: The Dream Walker

Author: Victoria Carless

Genre: YA Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Lothian

Published: 27th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 265

Price: $19.99Synopsis: The weight of a secret can drag you under . . .

A tender coming-of-age young-adult novel for fans of Gary Crew, Vikki Wakefield and Craig Silvey.

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Hart has been counting the days till she can get the hell out of Digger’s Landing – a small Queensland fishing hamlet home to fifteen families, a posse of mongrel dogs, and Parkers Corner Store (no apostrophe and nowhere near a corner).

But just like the tides Lucy’s luck is on the turn, and as graduation nears her escape plans begin to falter; her best friend, Polly, is dropping out of school to help pay the bills, and Tom has been shipped off to boarding school, away from the flotsam of this place. And then there’s Lucy’s nightlife, which is filled with dreams that just don’t seem to belong to her at all . . .

When the fish stop biting, like they did when her mum was still around, Lucy realises she isn’t the only one with a secret.

~*~

aww2017-badgeVictoria Carless’s debut novel out this June, The Dream Walker, is Lucy Hart’s story in the year following her mother’s death, beginning with a fishing trip that results in a lack of fish, and ongoing accusations hurled at Lucy and her father, usually by the bully of Digger’s Landing, Gavin Lawler, whose bullying extends beyond the school bus, to his youngest sister and anyone else he perceives as weak. Lucy’s coping with the loss of her mother, driven to her death by a myriad of things, secrets that Lucy has been trying to uncover, the departure of her good friend Tom to boarding school in the city, and the ongoing bullying the Lawlers, led by Gavin, haul at her any time they can. She is counting the days until she can leave, and find her own place, away from the whispering and the stares, away from the accusations that her and her father are taking more than their share of fish during a time the fish aren’t biting and the fishing economy of Digger’s Landing is flopping around like a fish out of water, gasping for breath. In all of this, Lucy’s only friend is her dog, Glen, who knows her secrets, and who never leaves her side. At school, at least at the start of the year, she has her best friend Polly, the first friend she made when she moved with her parents to Digger’s Landing, who shares her Islander heritage (it is not specified which nation) and food with Lucy, until her father sends her off to work, forcing her to drop out of school to help the family make ends meet. After this, Lucy’s world begins to unravel. She is targeted and bullied by Gavin, and is dealing with her own grief, and her father’s, following her mother’s death. Her only distraction, helping alcoholic Syd Lawler, Gavin’s father, learn to read is short lived, and she is plagued by dreams that aren’t hers – dreams that belong to the people of Digger’s Landing. At first, Lucy is surprised that her dreaming has led her to dream about Mrs Parker, and the bus driver, Mr Sheriff, and a drowning boy, who keeps appearing. Is it Tom, her friend who has run away to the city, harbouring his own secrets about where he wants to go, and who he really is? His secrets that he has to hide from his parents, from everyone at Digger’s Landing, because they might not accept him for who he is are ones he’s too scared to share with Lucy, the one person who would have accepted him for who he is. Or is it someone else who is lost, with the water so far over their head, they can’t cope. Or is it more literal, and a dark omen of events that are yet to happen? Lucy is determined to find out, but with everyone keeping secrets, including her, will it be too late to do anything? Or will her own secret be revealed, and used against her?

At the beginning of the novel, all the Lawler siblings are shown as bullies, who think they own Digger’s Landing and who think they can always get their way, and not get caught out. It soon transpires that little Sadie is mistreated and bullied, and she runs away, to the safety of Glen and Lucy, and when Gavin and older sister Talia are bullying Lucy, she stands by her side, refusing to leave and go home where she is no doubt bullied further. Sadie ends up helping Lucy towards the end, and I like to think that little Sadie got a happy ending of sorts, away from a mother and siblings who didn’t notice when she ran away or wore the same clothes for a week.

The Dream Walker is heart breaking but at the same time, hopeful, yet realistic. Whilst the instances of bullying are not graphic, they are enough to grab your attention and they are well written, and hopefully, it will start a conversation about the themes explored in this literary fiction for young adults aged fourteen and older about alcohol, suicide, bullying and grief to help them deal with bullying or grief throughout their lives.

A surreal story set in a real world, a town failing to make ends meet, where everyone is fighting for survival against each other, and a town where anyone who is different in any way is a target for harassment and bullying. Within this novel, Victoria Carless eloquently deals with themes of bullying and harassment, suicide, grief and alcoholism, showing how being bullied can impact you, and how isolation because you’re different and feel you might not be accepted can lead to tragedies or near tragedies, and the fracturing of families within a town, allowing readers to engage with these themes through the characters and learn about them and how they can impact and change lives. It is a story that has moments of hope and moments of darkness. It has small triumphs but not so small failures, and it has a realistic ending – where not everything works out in a happily ever after, but resolves what needs to be resolved, and allows the reader to imagine the rest for themselves.

#LoveOzYa #AWW2017

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Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

letters to the lost.jpg

Title: Letters to the Lost

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

~*~

When Declan Murphy finds a letter on a grave during community service in the graveyard, he is compelled by an invisible force to read it, and respond to the person who wrote the letter.

When Juliet Young finds Delcan’s response to the letter she placed on her mother’s grave, she s incensed that someone has dared to read the words and respond to them as if they know her, as though they had the right to intrude. To Juliet, her privacy has been violated.

And yet, Juliet and Declan find a connection through this anonymous communication. They tell each other things they’ve never told anyone else, and reveal their true selves and feelings throughout the letters and later anonymous emails and messages that they move to. As they grow fond of each other through this method of communication, real life begins to throw them together: at school, at Homecoming, one the dark road with a broken down car, and they begin to form a friendship separate from the letters, not knowing that they are corresponding anonymously online when they face off in person.

Soon, they are thrown together more and more as real life and the letters start to blur together, and a fateful discussion threatens to throw them apart, and secrets are uncovered that Juliet is fearful to share with anyone – except those who helped her find the courage to look at her mother’s cameras, and find out what really happened the day she died.

Letters to the Lost is more than a love story. It is a story of loss, and how everyone deals with it differently, and a story of how the most unlikely friendships can develop in unusual places and come from a similar place and understanding, and slowly, develops into something more. Declan and Juliet have people they can talk to, teachers, friends, but not parents, and those who do try are not always able to understand them the way they understand each other.

I enjoyed Declan and Juliet’s story. It was heartbreaking in many ways, and illustrated the frustrations people feel that come with grief and change, and the shock of truths that lead to what happened, and the burdens that children shouldn’t have to shoulder. They are two people from different walks of life who find a way to understand the world, and the letters and emails interspersed with the prose and the dual perspective – where Declan’s chapters are indicated by him reading Juliet’s letters, and vice versa for Juliet – works well and establishes the characters for the reader, giving them both sides to the story, not just one.

Another interesting read from Bloomsbury for the Young Adult audience.

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Royce Rolls by Margaret Stohl

royce rolls.jpg

 

Title: Royce Rolls
Author: Margaret Stohl
Genre: YA
Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia
Published: 1st May 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Price: $15.99
Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Bentley Royce is the wild-child of a super-glam reality TV dynasty. She has it all – designer clothes, a fancy school and an actual Bentley to drive around in. Her ambitious mom Mercedes has dragged the family from trailer park to Hollywood stardom. But Bentley wants out – she wants to go to college, escape her own storyline, be NORMAL – but Royces don’t do normal (or college).

Rolling with the Royces is running out of ways to keep viewers hooked and suddenly the show is threatened with cancellation. Bentley faces an impossible choice. Without the show, she could live the college dream – but her family will crumble (and is $20million in debt). Bentley Royce has a mission. She must use her brains to save the show; if she saves the show, she can save her family – and she’ll do whatever it takes …

Royce Rolls is a laugh-out-loud funny romp with a twist of mystery – a behind-the-scenes comedy with a brilliant voice, a hilarious and subversive antidote to the Kardashians and TOWIE (which will still work for fans of both!).

~*~

In Royce Rolls, the main character, Bentley Royce, is tired of playing the role of wild child in the reality television show, Rolling with the Royces. She’s tired of having her every waking minute filmed, and tired of being told how to act, and what to wear and humiliated by her sister, Porsche and her mother, Mercedes. After six seasons of the humiliation, Bentley’s only hope for a normal life and college – something that goes against everything Mercedes has instilled in her children and everything the show runners have encouraged for the Bentley character – is for the show to be cancelled. But when the threat of cancellation, her family will be faced with a large debt they’d have no chance of paying off. And so, Bentley must make a choice between family and a life that she has yearned for over many years.

Starting with an incident that shocks the reader, and inevitably, the characters, the novel switches back to the events that led to the tragedy. Each chapter ends or begins with relevant articles that would probably be found on a celebrity gossip site that blow things out of proportion with sensationalist headlines and stories, these do little to reflect the reality Bentley and her family manage to live when the cameras aren’t rolling during hiatus, or those rare hours when they’re studying their characters and Mercedes is probing them to be a person that they aren’t.

Bentley’s only solace is a local library, where she meets fellow library patron, Venice, and for the first time, experiences a real friendship, outside of a scripted “reality” that has been coerced to bring in ratings. She manages to get away at a certain time of day for this time out, and realises through these meetings that there is more than life on the show, and she wants more. Venice is the only person she can be the real Bentley with, not the scripted wild child “Bad Bentley” that everyone expects on the show.

Royce Rolls takes the reality television format and makes a mockery of it, revealing that what viewers see in the shows that populate television screens claiming to be reality television, television of real life, is really scripted and carefully produced and created using real people – acting as characters who are projected as the true selves of those on the screen, as opposed to fictional characters played by actors in television shows that often have much more interesting story lines.

As a rather anti-reality television fan, or at least, a viewer of shows like Masterchef who looks at the way things are edited for story telling purposes, this was an amusing read, and I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it. It shed light on the fallacy of reality television and indicates the power of reality comes from who a person really is, not what the world sees. It establishes the flaws of celebrity as well, and shows that that world is not as perfect as it may seem.

An interesting read for the YA audience, fans of reality television and those who don’t enjoy it. It is an antidote to the saturation of this genre and it uses humour and satire to show what this world is really like in an accessible and fun way.

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The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky

the blue cat.jpg

Title: The Blue Cat

Author: Ursula Dubosarsky

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 176

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: From the multi-award-winning author of The Red Shoe comes a haunting story about a boy who can’t – or won’t – speak about his past in war-torn Europe, and his friendship with a young Australian girl.

A boy stood in the playground under the big fig tree. ‘He can’t speak English,’ the children whispered.

Sydney, 1942. The war is coming to Australia – not only with the threat of bombardment, but also the arrival of refugees from Europe. Dreamy Columba’s world is growing larger. She is drawn to Ellery, the little boy from far away, and, together with her highly practical best friend Hilda, the three children embark on an adventure through the harbour-side streets – a journey of discovery and terror, in pursuit of the mysterious blue cat …

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky is a glimpse into a world affected by war through the eyes of children. The main character, Columba, is a dreamy, curious child, who notices the strange boy, Ellery at school during the early part of 1942. A blue cat, sleek and mysterious, has appeared at her neighbour’s house. The arrival of Ellery and the cat spark a curiosity in Columba that has her asking more questions, wanting to know more about the world as she tries to become Ellery’s friend. Columba’s friend, Hilda, is the realist, the pushy one out collecting money for the war effort, and isn’t as dreamy as Columba.

Ellery’s arrival hints that war is closer to home than everyone thought. He is mysterious and quiet, and doesn’t speak English – through the eyes of a child, he is strange, a mystery and yet, someone that Columba sees is in need of a friend. Though they do not talk, they become friends, something Ellery’s father finds pleasing for his son, lost in a new world without a mother. The story culminates in a search for the mysterious blue cat, and events that bring the war and the realities of what that means closer to home for Columba.

The Blue Cat is dreamy, and has a fairy tale feeling about it – as though the blue cat is not quite real. This fits with the dreamy sense I got from Columba, and also the childlike ways of understanding the war – You-Rope for Europe, said phonetically perhaps, as a child might say it. I found there was a sense of magic about it – the threat is real, especially during the air raid siren practice when Columba and Ellery are out walking, and yet, it retains some of the innocence of childhood, though it is scarred by a war that is so far away yet in other ways, so close to the characters.

The Blue Cat combines history with a sense of dreaming, placing the characters in a world where sometimes their imaginations help to get them through the day, but at the same time, the reality of war will always be there. Prisoners of war, bombs and people like Ellery, hiding away, hoping for safety away from the dangers of a nation far away. Throughout the book, Ursula Dubosarsky incorporated primary sources from the time period, which added to the reading experience and gave Columba’s story an authentic feel, and added to the gravity of the situation and reality that the characters were living. An enjoyable novel showing war through the eyes of a child, and a good read for children aged ten and over.

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