Book Review: The Midnight Lie

The Midnight Lie – Marie Rutkoski – The Midnight Lie #1 – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Published 3 March 2020

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Synopsis

Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.

Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.

But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.

My thoughts

As a fan of Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Curse series, I was really looking forward to The Midnight Lie, which is based in the same world as the Winner’s series. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. Intrigue and romance (LGBT) drive the plot and the world feels a little like being in a Hunger Games novel – the High Kith world is very reminiscent of the Capitol, while behind the Wall is a little like District 11. The Midnight Lie is a compelling book and will leave readers desperate to get their hands on the next book in the series.

Nirrim lives in a world controlled by what she can’t have or do. She can’t go beyond the wall. She can’t eat sweets or wear colours. She and her fellow Half-Kith only work to produce the goods and food that those above them, the Middlings and the High Kith, can eat, wear or sell. But when an accident leaves her in prison she encounters a traveller from far away who challenges Nirrim to see beyond the restrictions that control her life and seek the magic that is rumoured to originate in her land.

Dystopian, fantasy – The Midnight Lie feels like a little of both. There is magic and a unique world, but the themes of control, segregation, restriction of knowledge and history, and the separate class structures will appeal to fans of dystopian novels.

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Book Review: Heart of Flames

Heart of Flames – Nicki Pau Preto – Crown of Feathers #2 – Simon Pulse – Published 11 February 2020

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Synopsis

Veronyka, Tristan, and Sev must stop the advancing empire from destroying the Phoenix Riders in this fiery sequel to Crown of Feathers, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Kendare Blake calls “absolutely unforgettable!”

You are a daughter of queens.

The world is balanced on the edge of a knife, and war is almost certain between the empire and the Phoenix Riders.

Like Nefyra before you, your life will be a trial by fire.

Veronyka finally got her wish to join the Riders, but while she’s supposed to be in training, all she really wants to do is fly out to defend the villages of Pyra from the advancing empire. Tristan has been promoted to Master Rider, but he has very different ideas about the best way to protect their people than his father, the commander. Sev has been sent to spy on the empire, but maintaining his cover may force him to fight on the wrong side of the war. And Veronyka’s sister, Val, is determined to regain the empire she lost—even if it means inciting the war herself.

Such is your inheritance. A name. A legacy. An empire in ruin.

As tensions reach a boiling point, the characters all find themselves drawn together into a fight that will shape the course of the empire—and determine the future of the Phoenix Riders. Each must decide how far they’re willing to go—and what they’re willing to lose in the process.

My thoughts

Heart of Flames is the second book in the Crown of Feathers series. This is an amazing fantasy series, with phoenixes (which are even cooler than dragons, if you can imagine that), and a cast of heart-strong and determined characters who must fight for the freedom to be themselves. I loved the second book even more than the first book – we get far more insight into the phoenixes, the complex world Nicki Pau Preto has created, and more romance – though with that ending I am now desperate for the third book.

Veronyka has been revealed as the girl she is, bonded with a phoenix and proved herself in the battle between Phoenix Riders and the advancing Golden Empire that was just the first step toward the promised war. Her sister, Val, who is actually Avalkyra reincarnated and determined to reclaim the throne no matter the cost, wants to use Veronyka to achieve her goal. Tristan is now a Master Rider but no closer to convincing his father Commander Cassian to use his Phoenix Riders to actively defend again the Empire. And Sev has returned to the Empire’s armed forces, this time as a spy reporting directly to Cassian. War looms but there are big secrets that, revealed, will change everything.

The world in which Heart of Flames is based is rich with details of a glorious and horrendous past. It’s all messy and complex. This doesn’t feel like a wonderful magical world that is only slightly out of balanced and in which the actions of just one or two people might be able to put it right again. In fact, it honestly all feels a little hopeless. But that’s what makes this book so epic and the roles of all the characters so important. Veronyka might be special in ways she is only just discovering but she alone could not even dream of creating a secure future, if one can be achieved at all. It will take the work of many and even then, the future of their world, much like our own, will be tainted by the war, destruction and mistakes of the past. There are many characters in this book and over 5 of them share the chapters in this book, but each one is vital to the story. I do admit to being a little confused about the complex history of the lands and ruling forces of each, but the little segments from history books that are spaced between each chapter help to reveal important details.

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Book Review: Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute – Emma Lord – Wednesday Books- Published 21 January 2020

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Synopsis

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

My thoughts

Tweet Cute is seriously cute. But not in a cringey, saccharine way. It is one of the most genuine, adorable but realistic and heartfelt and, yes, cute books I’ve read in ages-maybe ever. It’s a story about social media, a story about family and the ways in which we fight for them. A story about growing up and trying to decide what to do with your life. It’s a story about the most incredible baking and comfort food. Seriously. Pack snacks. And it’s a story about falling in love, and YA contemporary readers are sure to fall in love with this delightful book.

Pepper is in control of her life. Swim team captain, top grades, and a place amongst the genius students of her fancy New York high school. So what if she feels like she doesn’t really belong, would rather have her family whole again and be living in Nashville, and maybe even have some genuine friends. When her mother insists that she take over their company’s Twitter feed as they launch new stores around the country, Pepper doesn’t expect to have one of her tweets directly challenge a local family-owned deli or for her to have to go head to head with a fellow classmate as he seeks to defend his family’s deli. As Pepper and Jack wage war on Twitter, their paths keep crossing in real life.

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Book Review: The Finder

The Finder – Kate Hendrick – Text Publishing – Published 1 August 2018

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Synopsis

When Lindsay meets Elias the signs aren’t promising. She’s a grungy introvert who doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He’s a teen fashionista who can’t shut the hell up.

But since Lindsay tracked down a runaway kid, word’s got around that she knows how to find people. And Elias is looking for his birth mother. And he has money, and Lindsay’s perpetually broke… So that’s how this oddest of odd couples teams up.

But the thing is, Lindsay wasn’t actually trying to find the runaway. It’s just how she looks at the world. Not idly, like most people, but really looking. Scanning every house, every face, every car. That’s because someone is missing in Lindsay’s life: her identical twin Frankie, who disappeared when they were eight. Since then, her parents have kept themselves busy. And angry. And Lindsay has been…looking.

My thoughts

The Finder is a light mystery with plenty of heart. I recently read and loved Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card, so I was delighted when I discovered The Finder has a similar tone, with a very Aussie setting. Family, friendship and mystery combine in this book to provide a remarkably uplifting story about loss and the people left behind.

Lindsay has spent her life looking. It’s how she survived since her twin sister went missing when they were kids. Now with a family full of younger siblings, a busy mother and an absent father, Lindsay craves silence. She’s not surprised when she accidentally finds teen runaway, but she is surprised when it brings teen fashionista, Elias to her door asking for her help in locating his birth mother. She agrees, just as an excuse to get out of her crowded house. But even though Elias drives her crazy with his overly styled hair and non-stop chatter, Lindsay finds it comforting to finally have someone to look with.

The Finder brings such a delightful mix of humour and light-hearted joy combined with sorrow and grief. The themes touched upon in the story are quite deep. Lindsay’s discovery of Vogue and being asked to join in Elias’ search bring to the forefront the continued grief and guilt she carries from her twin sister’s disappearance. The trauma tore her family apart. Now her mother is busy with all Lindsay’s new siblings, her father is constantly at work and angry in those rare times he is home and Lindsay is forbidden from even mentioning her sister. This grief has been bottled up and Lindsay is ready to explode. The book captures the raw emotions Lindsay and her family are experiencing. There is also some mystery surrounding what transpired in Lindsay’s sister’s disappearance.

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Book Review: Spellhacker

Spellhacker – M.K. England – HarperTeen – Published 21 January 2020

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Synopsis

In Kyrkarta, magic—known as maz—was once a freely available natural resource. Then an earthquake released a magical plague, killing thousands and opening the door for a greedy corporation to make maz a commodity that’s tightly controlled—and, of course, outrageously expensive.

Which is why Diz and her three best friends run a highly lucrative, highly illegal maz siphoning gig on the side. Their next job is supposed to be their last heist ever.

But when their plan turns up a powerful new strain of maz that (literally) blows up in their faces, they’re driven to unravel a conspiracy at the very center of the spellplague—and possibly save the world.

No pressure.

My thoughts

Spellhacker is a fantastic mix of fantasy and science fiction. I can tell you right now it is going to be a pain deciding whether to put it in our YA fantasy or YA Sci-fi section but the pain will be worth it to share this adventure of a novel with our readers. Tech hackers, best friends, diverse romantic relationships, conspiracy theories, magic literally woven with technology and gadgets, explosions, heists and enough action to keep you glued to the pages, M.K England seriously delivers with this fabulous book.

Diz‘s world as she knows it is ending. Her best friends, who, aside from a cousin, are the only family she has since her parents died in the Spellplague that killed thousands, are moving away from their home to new jobs, new Universities. They have time for just one final job, siphoning maz from the tightly controlled supply MMC maintains. But when the job goes horribly wrong, the four friends have to run for their lives, especially when MMC look set to use their mini disaster to cover up the fact they have been secretly mining a new strand of very dangerous maz. To save themselves and clear their names they will have to save their city also.

Spellhacker is such a fun adventure. It’s a combination between a heist novel and fantasy quest, with a bunch of cool tech thrown in. The world in Spellhacker feels almost futuristic – almost dystopian as the destruction caused by maz and the spellplague could easily reflect the natural disasters and impacts of climate change in our own world. Magic, rather than replace or prevent technology, has been neatly intertwined and it makes so much sense. I know readers who frequently ask me for fantasy books that make sense and have scientific backings will love Spellhacker.

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Book Review: The Sky Weaver

The Sky Weaver – Kristen Ciccarelli – Iskari #3 – HarperTeen – Published 12 November 2019

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Synopsis

At the end of one world, there always lies another.

Safire, a soldier, knows her role in this world is to serve the King of Firgaard—helping to maintain the peace in her oft-troubled nation.

Eris, a deadly pirate, has no such conviction. Known as the Death Dancer for her ability to evade even the most determined of pursuers, she possesses a superhuman power to move between worlds.

When one can roam from dimension to dimension, can one ever be home? Can love and loyalty truly exist?

Now Safire and Eris—sworn enemies—find themselves on a common mission: to find Asha, the last Namsara. From the port city of Darmoor to the fabled faraway Star Isles, their search and their stories become woven ever more tightly together as they discover the uncertain fate they’re hurtling towards may just be a shared one. In this world—and the next.

My thoughts

And so concludes the Iskari series. I have loved this fantasy series. Three stories which interconnect but feature three sets of separate main characters set against a colourful magical world of dragons, old tales and fearsome gods.

The Sky Weaver is Safire’s story. Throughout books one and two we readers have learnt only a little about Safire. Cousin to the king but never treated as an equal due to her mother’s low standing. Now she is King Dax’s Commander. When a thief steals a precious gem intended to be sold to buy grain after a devastating famine, Safire vows to catch the thief. Eris would do anything to escape the control of pirate Jemsin, including steal precious gems, sneak her way into the palace and even capture the Namsara. As she and Safire go up against each they, they will discover that sometimes the sides are not so clear and the path of right and wrong not so easy to choose.

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Book Review: Just Lucky

Just Lucky – Melanie Florence – Second Story Press – Published 17 September 2019 

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Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Lucky loves her grandparents. True, her grandmother forgets things, like turning the stove off, or Lucky’s name, but her grandfather takes such good care of them that Lucky doesn’t realize how bad things are . . . until she loses her grandfather and is left caring for her grandmother on her own. When her grandma sets the kitchen on fire, Lucky can’t hide what’s happening any longer, and she is sent into foster care. She quickly learns that some families are okay, and some aren’t. And some really, really aren’t. None of them feel like home. And they’re certainly not family.

My thoughts

Just Lucky is a touching story about a girl’s journey through losing the only home and family she has ever known and a series of foster homes as she learns to embrace her new reality.

When Lucky’s grandfather suddenly dies, it’s not long before someone realises that her grandmother is unwell and unable to care for herself or Lucky. As her grandmother is taken to a care facility, Lucky is placed in one foster home after another. Finding somewhere to belong is hard when you’ve already lost your home.

What you see is what you get in Just Lucky. Lucky is a straightforward narrator. Short, sharp chapters divide this book into easy to read chunks. There is lots of dialogue, and minimal extra details. We don’t learn a lot about life for Lucky before the start of the book and events move quickly. It’s a short book and will be perfect and easy to read for reluctant readers.

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Book Review: The How and the Why

The How and the Why – Cynthia Hand – HarperTeen – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Today Melly had us writing letters to our babies…

Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for. They’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—except maybe the one thing she wants. Like, to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.

But eighteen years ago, someone wrote Cass a series of letters. And they may just hold the answers Cass has been searching for.

My thoughts

The How and the Why is a touching, remarkable novel about family. Cynthia Hand delivers sad and funny moments that will have readers chuckling even as they wipe away tears. A story about adoption, belonging, acceptance and love.

Cass has always known she was adopted. It’s something her parents have shared with her, even if there were no details about her birth parents, their lives or why they gave her up for adoption. But as Cass’s mother waits for a heart transplant that seems increasingly unlikely, Cass is struck by a desire to find her birth mother.

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Book Review: The Athena Protocol

The Athena Protocol – Shamim Sarif – HarperTeen – Published 8 October 2019

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Synopsis

Jessie Archer is a member of the Athena Protocol, an elite organization of female spies who enact vigilante justice around the world.

Athena operatives are never supposed to shoot to kill—so when Jessie can’t stop herself from pulling the trigger, she gets kicked out of the organization, right before a huge mission to take down a human trafficker in Belgrade.

Jessie needs to right her wrong and prove herself, so she starts her own investigation into the trafficking. But going rogue means she has no one to watch her back as she delves into the horrors she uncovers. Meanwhile, her former teammates have been ordered to bring her down. Jessie must face danger from all sides if she’s to complete her mission—and survive.

My thoughts

The Athena Protocol is a fantastic YA action thriller with a whole cast of strong and diverse women who are unafraid to take risks to bring the bad guys down. High action scenes, surveillance with cool tech, hand-to-hand combat and sniper shootouts all with a positive message about working together, family, belonging and righting the wrongs of the world. I seriously loved this book and can’t wait to see where the next book in the series leads.

Jessie is part of the Athena Protocol, a secret group of three highly-trained female operatives led by a group of powerful women. Jessie may only be young, but she has been trained by the best of the best in surveillance, combat, research, weapons, coding, and hacking. Which is why she and her team are surprised when, on their most recent mission, Jessie breaks orders and shoots their target. Suspended from the team, Jessie knows they will need her help as they go after a human trafficker with extensive resources. So, Jessie does her own research and fieldwork, but going rouge means she is without the support of her teammates and when things get really dangerous, she will have to watch her back.

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Book Review: Now Entering Addamsville

Now Entering Addamsville – Francesca Zappia – Greenwillow Books – Published 1 October 2019

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Synopsis

Zora Novak has been framed.

When someone burns down the home of the school janitor and he dies in the blaze, everyone in Addamsville, Indiana, points a finger at Zora. Never mind that Zora has been on the straight and narrow since her father was thrown in jail. With everyone looking for evidence against her, her only choice is to uncover the identity of the real killer. There’s one big problem—Zora has no leads. No one does. Addamsville has a history of tragedy, and thirty years ago a similar string of fires left several townspeople dead. The arsonist was never caught.

Now, Zora must team up with her cousin Artemis—an annoying self-proclaimed Addamsville historian—to clear her name. But with a popular ghost-hunting television show riling up the townspeople, almost no support from her family and friends, and rumors spinning out of control, things aren’t looking good. Zora will have to read between the lines of Addamsville’s ghost stories before she becomes one herself.

My thoughts

I don’t read a lot of paranormal YA and even fewer ghosts stories, but I added this to my reading pile because it is written by Francesca Zappa. And I’m so glad I did. Take-no-prisoners female lead character (armed with an axe, seriously), a story of intrigue, murder, and mystery, and yes, ghosts, but with a complex storyline and plenty of layers of details about the rules for this paranormal version of a small town with plenty of secrets, all contribute to make Now Entering Addamsville an intense and compelling read.

When the school’s janitor is killed as his house burns down, the town of Addamsville blame Zora Novak. With her father in jail for a failed Ponzi scheme, her mother still missing after she disappeared five years ago and the fire incident that left a field burnt and Zora untouched save for two missing fingers, Zora is the easy target. But Zora knows the truth. She is being framed and the person framing her isn’t a person, it’s a firestarter, a demon-like creature who can inhabit people and set fires at will, and Zora, who inherited her ability to see ghosts from her mother, along with her ghost-sensing cousin, is the only one who can stop it.

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