Diverse voices make for a brilliant read – ‘The Stars at Oktober Bend’

TSAOBThis was an unexpectedly extra-super-dooperly beautiful book. ‘The Stars at Oktober Bend‘ by Glenda Millard had been recommended to me, so I was prepared to thoroughly enjoy reading it.

I was even prepared to cry. Quite a lot.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the depth, the intensity of the characters, and the extent to which this book covers new and interesting perspectives.

I read the blurb and expected a love story with extras. It’s way more than that. The back calls it:

A beautiful, heartfelt novel about transcending past troubles and learning to live with trust and hope.

And it absolutely is. Like the ocean is water, or chocolate is yum.

3 things that were super-dooper

  • Diverse backgrounds and issues
  • Great use of POV
  • Poetry you really do want to leave around the place so people read it.

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Crafting a great story: deconstructing ‘These Broken Stars’

TheseBrokenStars.jpgHello beautiful cover. I think I’ll read you…

It started with the gorgeous cover, but this is a clever and crisp novel that followed through on expectations.  ‘These Broken Stars’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner was a fab accompaniment to a great holiday.

And it only got better on my second read, because it was so crafty I didn’t notice some of the cool things the authors were weaving into it until I started analysing.

‘These Broken Stars’ is the first in the successful The Starbound Trilogy. We have society girl, Lilac, and low-born army hero Tarver. Sparks fly, their spaceship fails to, and they find themselves stranded together on a planet with too many mysteries.

I loved the clues and suspense, and the gentle beauty that came from two people hiking and learning about themselves as they went. I also love hiking, but I don’t think that’s a prerequisite to enjoying this fab book.

So, what was great about it?

Let’s do some deconstruction… and beware the occasional (read: frequent) blatant spoiler… Here are three areas I’m going to focus on for this novel.

  1. Multiple plot themes = ongoing interest
  2. Characters and POV (I know, I sound like a broken record…)
  3. Subtle introduction of ideas so you don’t even notice you’re noticing them

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Superb book-hug: ‘Take Three Girls’

TakeThreeGirls.jpgWhen I finished reading this book, I hugged it. Arms. Book. Chest. Smile.

‘Take Three Girls’ by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood is a raw and sometimes confronting book that is also funny, heartfelt and inspiring.

The friendship is fab, the character arcs super, the characters themselves so realistic. I ache for them, I cheer for them, I worry for them.

The book is chock-full of positive ways for teens (especially girls) to learn to feel good about who they are, but without that terrible feeling you’re getting a super-side-serve of preaching with your fiction. It’s simply a beautifully masterful, exciting and enlightening book.

I find I don’t want to dissect ‘Take Three Girls’ like I normally would.

No. I want to hug it.


I think it’s because I’m now a teacher, and I’ve seen both ends of these character arcs, and that’s why this book hit me so deep. I’ve seen the terrible sadness and missed opportunity of kids who can only deal with hate by hating on others. A dreadful spiral.

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Twists and turns in an ace setting – ‘All Fall Down’

AllFallDownThe Embassy Row series seemed to be popping out at me from everywhere, and I was intrigued. So when Book 1 showed up at my library, I grabbed it.

‘All Fall Down’ by Ally Carter was an unexpected surprise for me. I had very little idea what the series was about, and what I did know had me thinking it was going to be something a bit Selection-y (perhaps because of the cover of Book 3). It’s not.

It’s got more grit and less glamour, with an ace setting and many twists and turns that will have you wishing you’d trailed string behind you in those dark underground tunnels so you could crawl out to safety.

And check out the cover. I love the fractured font above the soft image.

It is a bridging YA text, you could be confident giving it to middle-grade readers who are looking for something more, as well as more seasoned YA readers. The book combines adventure and mystery with the gaining, and losing, of friendships. As well as some harder issues around mental illness and grief.

So, what worked?

  • The inspired setting
  • The plot twists
  • The supporting cast

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A great brew of friendship and fun – ‘Ivy + Bean’

Ivy+BeanBook1I’m always on the look out for cute chapter books to read with my daughter, especially a series. I mean, what’s the one thing better than finding a fun book?

Finding out it’s only the first of many!

‘Ivy + Bean’ by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, just calls out to be read and enjoyed. Look at the cover! So cute! And the size is nice and wee, making it supremely approachable for kids starting out on chapter books.

I really enjoyed this story of two girls, who know they aren’t going to be friends until the day they each realise the other is more fun than they’d thought. As a mum it made me giggle to see how the more their mums told them to play with each other, the more they didn’t want to.  Continue reading

Suspense and a world of world-building – the epic ‘An Ember in the Ashes’

AnEmberInTheAshes.pngYet another book that I’d heard rave reviews about and was forced to wait until I had time to be devoured by it.

Once again, not disappointed.

‘An Ember in the Ashes’ by Sabaa Tahir is an epic book. It has its occasional flaw, but the strength of the characters and the poetry of the writing is so much I just pushed those issues to the side and kept reading.

The characters are older (19 and 20) and the readership should reflect this. There is torture and an uncomfortable rape culture. But if you can stomach that, then the book is a gem.

Totally awesome bits…

  • Narrator changes
  • Real, 3D characters
  • Intricate world-building
  • Diversity and inclusivity

Let’s go through in more detail…

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Recommended reading for all teen girls – ‘Risk’

Risk.jpgReviewing this top-notch read has been a long time coming. And when I say long, I mean years.

I first heard about ‘Risk’ by Fleur Ferris before it was published. Here in West Oz, SCBWI have an annual event where we basically invite a few publishers over and then maroon them on a small island with us for several days.

Back in 2015 the publisher was from Random House. And she was talking up this book. If we wanted our YA to be published, she told us, this book was our benchmark.

The tantalising first chapter on the web hauled me in, but the book wasn’t out at the time. And somehow it just stayed on my TBR…

Until now.

My library recently bought a brand-spanking shiny new copy that jumped out and grabbed me as I wandered past the shelf. And approximately seven hours after checking it out, I was reviewing it.

Because this brilliant book dragged me in and held me.

It frightened me.

It made me cry.

And it made me consider internet restrictions for the teenager my daughter will become in less than a decade. May it be a very long eight years.

So, what was so great about it?

  • The balance between fear and reaction
  • The background knowledge of the author
  • The characters

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Entertaining and heart-warming – ‘The Memory Shed’

thememoryshedI got drawn into this book by the awesome idea of a sinister garden shed. I admit, I don’t like delving into the depths of my rickety back shed (hello red-back spider, and <hooly dooly> what made that scuttling noise?) but I always love discovering long-forgotten things.

I wasn’t disappointed by the read. In fact, it pleasantly over-achieved! ‘The Memory Shed’ by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Craig Smith, was a delightful read. It is beautiful, well-written and give-yourself-a-hug warm.

The stats…

  • Junior Fiction
  • 5 chapters
  • 55 pages
  • About 2,500 words
  • Chapter 1 – intro to characters (including shed!) and inciting event (going to clean shed out)
  • Chapter 2 – trepidatious entry into shed to start clean
  • Chapters 3-4 – fun and memories
  • Chapter 5 – realisation and happy finish.

What did I love?

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A hug from the hope spreader – ‘Sorta like a rock star’

slarsI’d been crying for at least an hour. My husband peered at me over the ever-growing mountain of used tissues. ‘Why do you read books if they’re this bad?’

‘It’s not bad,’ I sobbed. ‘It’s really, really good.’

And it is. ‘Sorta like a rock star’ by Matthew Quick will give you a hug (because Amber loves hugs), tear your heart apart with anxious little doggy teeth while you’re looking the other way, and then knit it back together. But it won’t be quite the same.

I was recommended this book by an author friend. I was expecting hope and light. Sure, I got that, but I also got some unexpected, wrenching dark. There is depth and harshness and reality that make the hope that much more powerful.

Hence the tissues…

If you have trigger issues around depression, this might not be the book for you. Otherwise, read on…

So what makes this book so enthralling? Continue reading

A sequel that lived up to my ultra-excited expectations – ‘Gemina’

geminaI was jigging-foot excited to read ‘Gemina‘ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Nervous too. Because, seriously, ‘Illuminae‘ was so damn mindblowing I wasn’t sure anything could ever come up to standard.

Thankfully, ‘Gemina’ came through for me. There was something about picking it up and leaping back into the unconventional, characteristic setup that had my blood singing so much those lamina would have sensed me from half a universe away.


  • Characters of zing
  • World-building of awesome
  • Plot of intricate amaze-balls

Hooray, ‘Gemina’ happily thumbed its nose at the Seriously Sucky Sequel Syndrome. Want to know more? Brace yourselves and read on…

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