Book Review – ‘Contender’ by Taran Matharu

Title: Contender
Author: Taran Matharu
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Word/Page Count: 345 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Hachette Australia on June 11th, 2019
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

Introducing an epic new trilogy from Taran Matharu, author of the New York Times–bestselling Summoner series. 

Throughout history, people have vanished with no explanation. A group of teenagers are about to discover why.

Cade is settling into a new boarding school, contemplating his future, when he finds himself transported to another realm. He soon discovers their new world is populated with lost remnants from the past: prehistoric creatures, ancient relics, and stranger still — people. Overwhelmed by his new surroundings, Cade has little time to adjust, for soon he and his fellow classmates are forced to become contenders in a brutal game, controlled by mysterious overlords.

But who are these beings and why did they choose these teens? Cade must prepare for battle . . . because hiding is not an option.

The saying goes not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case, what you see is what you get! The immediate impression upon seeing a depiction of the protagonist wielding a sword against dinosaurs is that this is an action-packed heart-pounding roller-coaster ride of a read and that is certainly the case right from page 1.

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ARC Review – ‘Call It What You Want’ by Brigid Kemmerer

Title: Call It What You Want
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Word/Page Count: 384 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Bloomsbury Australia on July 1st, 2019
RRP: $16.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.

Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.

When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they’re both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they’ve built. But when Maegan learns of Rob’s plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship…

This captivating, heartfelt novel asks the question: Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons?

I adored Brigid Kemmerer’s YA fantasy novel, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, so I was happy to receive an early copy of her new contemporary for review. I had a bit of anxiety hoping that I would enjoy this genre from her as much as I had with fantasy, but that concern turned out to be completely unwarranted, this was a fabulous read!

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ARC Review – ‘The Eyes of Tamburah’ by Maria V. Snyder

Title: The Eyes of Tamburah
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Word/Page Count: 512 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by HQ Young Adult (subsidiary of Harper Collins) on June 17th, 2019
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

Treasure hunting has never been more dangerous… Tomb Raider meets Poison Study!

New York Times bestselling author Maria Snyder begins an action-packed new fantasy series.

‘He thinks you are the thief…’

Shyla is a researcher who resides in the underground desert city of Zirdai, which is ruled by the wealthy Water Prince and brutal Heliacal Priestess. Even though Shyla is sun-kissed – an outcast, considered cursed by the Sun Goddess – she is still renowned for uncovering innumerable archaic facts, lost artefacts, ancient maps, and obscure historical documents. Her quiet life is about to change when Banqui, an archaeologist, enlists her services to find The Eyes of Tamburah: legendary gemstones that bestows great magic to its wielder. These ancient objects can tip the balance of power and give whoever possesses them complete control of the city.

But chaos erupts when The Eyes are stolen soon after they’re found – and Shyla is blamed for the theft. Forced to flee, with the Prince’s soldiers and the Priestess’ deacons on her trail, Shyla must recover the jewels and clear her name. A quest that will unearth secrets even more valuable than The Eyes of Tamburah themselves…

The last book I read by Maria V. Snyder was a sci-fi romp starting a new series set in the future where humanity has migrated out into the stars and is uncovering the meaning behind alien artifacts. And now here is the start of a brand new fantasy series filled with intricate world-building, non-stop action and a refreshingly unique premise! I’m in awe of authors who can swap genres effortlessly like this. ❤

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Book Review – ‘The Red Labyrinth’ by Meredith Tate

Title: The Red Labyrinth
Author: Meredith Tate
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publication Date: June 4th, 2019
Word/Page Count: 352 pages (paperback)

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

The massive labyrinth was built to protect Zadie Kalver’s isolated desert town. Unfortunately, living in the maze’s shadow makes her feel anything but safe. Even without its enchanted deathtraps and illusions, a mysterious killer named Dex lurks in its corridors, terrorizing anyone in his path.

But when Zadie’s best friend vanishes into the labyrinth-and everyone mysteriously forgets he exists- completing the maze becomes her only hope of saving him. In desperation, Zadie bribes the only person who knows the safe path through-Dex-into forming a tenuous alliance.

Navigating a deadly garden, a lethal blood-filled hourglass, and other traps-with an untrustworthy murderer for her guide-Zadie’s one wrong step from certain death. But with time running out before her friend (and secret crush) is lost forever, Zadie must reach the exit and find him. If Dex and the labyrinth don’t kill her first.

The blurb won me over with the similarities to David Bowie’s Labyrinth (I totally self-inserted as Sarah and swooned over the Goblin King as a teen!) and aside from that, I am a sucker for enemies-to-lovers plotlines, so I was super keen to read this. But unfortunately the book failed to hook me. It seems to have been popular with other readers so I hate to say that it missed the mark for me, but I’m going to be honest, I really struggled reading this.

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FYI, our heroine Zadie doesn’t enter the titular labyrinth until ‘Part 2’, which was 32% on my e-ARC. So if you’re impatient for the adventure that was promised, be prepared to settle in for the long haul as it doesn’t happen until a third of the way in, which I think is the definition of problematic pacing. I don’t need thrills and chills if there is solid world-building or strong characterization to latch onto instead, but The Red Labyrinth was a letdown on both fronts for me.

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Book Review – ‘Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution’ by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Title: Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution
Author: e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Word/Page Count: 352 pages (hardcover)
Publication Details: by Walker Books Australia on May 1st, 2019
RRP: $19.99 AUD (hardcover)

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

More trouble at school and at home — and the discovery of a missive from her late soldier sister — send Angie and a long-ago friend on an RV road trip across Ohio.

Sophomore year has just begun, and Angie is miserable. Her girlfriend, KC, has moved away; her good friend, Jake, is keeping his distance; and the resident bully has ramped up an increasingly vicious and targeted campaign to humiliate her. An over-the-top statue dedication planned for her sister, who died in Iraq, is almost too much to bear, and it doesn’t help that her mother has placed a symbolic empty urn on their mantel. At the ceremony, a soldier hands Angie a final letter from her sister, including a list of places she wanted the two of them to visit when she got home from the war. With her mother threatening to send Angie to a “treatment center” and the situation at school becoming violent, Angie enlists the help of her estranged childhood friend, Jamboree. Along with a few other outsiders, they pack into an RV and head across the state on the road trip Angie’s sister did not live to take. It might be just what Angie needs to find a way to let her sister go, and find herself in the process.

Note: I haven’t read the first book and thought this functioned fine as a standalone

I knew from the synopsis that this was going to be a tough confronting read. I took a chance on this anyway because I desperately crave representation for queer girls and because this promised a road trip with friends so I figured there would be light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how difficult the first few chapters may be.

The good part was that the road trip portion of the book was excellent, a much-needed relief from the angst and suffering of Angie’s everyday life. The down side was that this road trip actually didn’t happen til close to half way through the book! I struggled to make it that far because the first half of ‘Fat Angie’ was so heartbreaking and made me waver between despair and fury.

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ARC Review – ‘Keep This To Yourself’ by Tom Ryan

Title: Keep This To Yourself
Author: Tom Ryan
Genre: Young Adult, Thriller
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Word/Page Count: 320 pages (hardcover)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace.

Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac’s best friend Connor was the murderer’s final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he’s drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.

I had such a good time reading this! I found it really engaging and raced through it, completely hooked by the twists and turns, and legitimately shocked and impressed by the end. YA mysteries can be hit-and-miss, but I thought this was very satisfying and tightly plotted.

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Book Review – ‘We Are Blood And Thunder’ by Kesia Lupo

Title: We Are Blood And Thunder
Author: Kesia Lupo
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Word/Page Count: 448 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Bloomsbury Australia on May 6th, 2019
RRP: $16.99 AUD (paperback)

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

In a sealed-off city, it begins with a hunt. A young woman, Lena, running for her life, convicted of being a mage and sentenced to death. Her only way to survive is to trust those she has been brought up to fear – those with magic.

On the other side of the locked gates is a masked lady, Constance, determined to find a way back in. She knows only too well how the people of Duke’s Forest loathe magic. Years ago she escaped before her powers were discovered. But now she won’t hide who she is any longer.

A powerful and terrifying storm cloud unites them. It descends over the dukedom and devastates much in its wake. But this is more than a thunderstorm. This is a spell, and the truth behind why it has been cast is more sinister than anyone can imagine … Only Lena and Constance hold the key to destroying the spell. Though neither of them realise it, they need each other. They are the blood and they have the thunder within.

What a riveting fast-paced fantasy debut this is! I’m so impressed with the author for crafting two compelling female protagonists and a well-written standalone story for her first outing in this genre.

I’m a little over those long drawn-out series that end on cliffhangers in every installment, so it’s a blessed relief to experience a fully self-contained story in this book! I really appreciate the compact storytelling with clear plot arcs that are built on and paid off by the end of the book, complicated character dynamics that continuously evolve throughout plus fantastic world-building, all conveyed in beautifully flowing easy-to-read prose. There was a ton of detail communicated effortlessly without the reader being bogged down in exposition, and I could visualize everything so vividly.

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Book Review – ‘How It Feels To Float’ by Helena Fox

Title: How It Feels To Float
Authors: Helena Fox
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Word/Page Count: 384 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Pan Macmillan Australia on April 23rd, 2019
RRP: $9.99 AUD (ebook)$17.99 AUD (paperback)

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Biz knows how to float. She has her people, her posse, her mom and the twins. She has Grace. And she has her dad, who tells her about the little kid she was, who loves her so hard, and who shouldn’t be here but is. So Biz doesn’t tell anyone anything. Not about her dark, runaway thoughts, not about kissing Grace or noticing Jasper, the new boy. And she doesn’t tell anyone about her dad. Because her dad died when she was six. And Biz knows how to float, right there on the surface–normal okay regular fine.

But after what happens on the beach–first in the ocean, and then in the sand–the tethers that hold Biz steady come undone. Dad disappears, and with him, all comfort. It might be easier, better, sweeter to float all the way away? Or maybe stay a little longer, find her father, bring him back to her. Or maybe–maybe maybe maybe–there’s a third way Biz just can’t see yet.

This is a debut by an Australian author featuring an Australian teen in Wollongong – I don’t read as much #loveozya as I should, so I’m glad I was given a chance to read this. The book takes you on a journey through the fractured mindscape of our protagonist, Biz, as she teeters on the verge of a breakdown.

As someone who has lived with depression for over a decade, I’m drawn to books that deal with mental health issues. What I really appreciate is that this is an #ownvoices book so the themes of mental illness are handled sensitively and with a more realistic portrayal than I sometimes encounter. Biz is so believably portrayed and fleshed out that I choked up with tears on several occasions because her pain is so tangible, it leaps off the page and practically smothers you. I finished the book in a puddle of tears, but it was a cathartic reading experience that caused the good healing kind of crying jag.

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Book Review – ‘Watch Us Rise’ by Renee Watson & Ellen Hagan

Title: Watch Us Rise
Authors: Renee Watson, Ellen Hagan
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Word/Page Count: 368 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Bloomsbury Australia on March 4th, 2019
RRP: $15.99 AUD

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Jasmine and Chelsea are sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post everything online—poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial macroaggressions she experiences—and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by online trolls. When things escalate, the principal shuts the club down. Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices—and those of other young women—to be heard.

Watch Us Rise has two protagonists who narrate in alternating chapters – there’s Jasmine, a plus-size black girl who is an actress and writer, and her best friend Chelsea, who is an average-size Caucasian girl that writes poetry. Their other two best friends are Nadine, a Japanese Lebanese singer, and Isaac, a Puerto Rican artist.

First of all, massive props to this book for its commitment to diversity and representation, because this is more true to life than books that focus on predominantly white casts. I also really appreciate its dedication to female friendship and the way that Jasmine and Chelsea constantly support and raise each other up throughout the story. Sometimes this would be a set-up for them to have a falling out, followed by a period of bitterness before the reconciliation, but thankfully Watch Us Rise was more interested in the girls being there for each other, which was fantastic. Plus it was great to see Isaac as a feminist ally instead of excluding boys from the narrative altogether, and that he had interactions with both the main girls, instead of just his crush, which made the friendship dynamics more real and lived-in.

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Book Review – ‘Defy The Fates’ by Claudia Gray

Title: Defy The Fates
Author: Claudia Gray
Genre: YA, Sci-fi
Word/Page Count: 416 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Bonnier on April 1st, 2019
RRP: $19.99 AUD

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Hunted and desperate.

Abel only has one mission left that matters: save the life of Noemi Vidal. To do that, he not only has to escape the Genesis authorities, he also must face the one person in the galaxy who still has the means to destroy him. Burton Mansfield’s consciousness lives on, desperate for a home, and Abel’s own body is his last bargaining chip.

Alone in the universe.

Brought back from the brink of death, Noemi Vidal finds Abel has not only saved her life, but he’s made her into something else, something more. Not quite mech, yet not quite human any longer, Noemi must find her place in a universe where she is utterly unique, all while trying to create a world where anyone–even a mech–can be free.

The final battle between Earth and the colony planets is here, and there’s no lengths to which Earth won’t go to preserve its domination over all humanity. But together, the universe’s most advanced mech and its first human-mech hybrid might have the power to change the galaxy for good.

First things first, if you haven’t read Defy The Stars, you need to go treat yourself to it ASAP. I received the book in a subscription box and for some reason or other, I didn’t bother to read it for a year –  I finally decided I needed to actually read the books I got in boxes otherwise what was the point of buying them, and OHMYGOD, it was life-changing. It’s one of my favorite books of all time and most frequently recommended, mainly because I lament how underappreciated this series is. But if you haven’t come across it before, you’re in luck as you can now binge-read the whole trilogy in one hit instead of angsting for months til the sequel comes out like I have!

If you have read the previous books, then the main question would be – does the conclusion to the series wrap up well and do justice to our beloved characters? And my answer is a fervent whole-hearted YES.

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