Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian

Published: 5th January 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Balzer + Bray
Illustrator: Mike Curato
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

You are cordially invited to celebrate the wedding of a worm . . . and a worm.

When a worm meets a special worm and they fall in love, you know what happens next: They get married! But their friends want to know—who will wear the dress? And who will wear the tux?

The answer is: It doesn’t matter. Because Worm loves Worm.

This story is beyond adorable and is the perfect book to show kids that love is love no matter what. There are no pronouns, so worm is worm and worm is worm and you don’t know how they identify. The worms are in love and just want to be married but with each new suggestion it becomes more and more complicated. Beetle says they need a best beetle, the bees want to be bride bees, and all of these come with the phrase “That’s how it’s always been done”.

As all the pieces come together and solutions are found for lack of feet for dancing, and no desire to eat cake, the worms can finally be married. This is where Austrian’s story shines and the worms start to change the things that have ‘always been done’. I love this because the innocence of the worms who just want to get married are happy to go along with all their friend’s suggestions, and will do whatever ‘has always been done’ as long as they can get married in the end.

Curato’s illustrations are adorable and simplistic. The animals are on plain white backgrounds which brings the focus back on them with no distractions like an environment around them. The text is simple but to the point, mainly consisting of dialogue between the animals. It is a great way to include information without explaining it as narrative and exploring ideas new and old though the conversations of the animals.

This is a beautifully sweet book about changing how things have always been done and getting to do what you want and how you want it. The amazement of the worms’ friends at their decisions demonstrated beautiful acceptance and the worms’ unfaltering desire to do what they like also shows admirable qualities.

You can purchase Worm Loves Worm via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

Fishpond | QBD

 

 

Loving Lakyn (#2) by Charlotte Reagan

Published: 20th November 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Inkitt
Pages: 206
Format: eBook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Lakyn James is sixteen years old and hating every second of it. He was supposed to be done, he’d tapped out. End of story, unsubscribe here. Suicide “attempt”, they said. His intentions had no “attempt” in them. 

Re-entering normal life after ‘trying’ to take his own is weird. Especially when the world keeps going like it never happened. He still has to eat breakfast, go to school, and somehow convince a cute boy that he’s too damaged to date. 

Scott White comes with his own problems, namely a habit of drinking too much and being indecisive about rather he wants in the closet, or out of it. Lakyn can’t stand him; he also can’t help smiling when Scott’s around. 

Unfortunately – or fortunately – for Lakyn, life has decided to give him a second chance. He’s not happy about it, but maybe, with a lot of hard work and a good therapist, he can learn to be. And maybe he can hold Scott’s hand at the same time. 

No promises though. 

It’s called Loving Lakyn and genuinely one sentence in I was in love with Lakyn. This is probably a biased opinion because I’d fallen in love with him reading Just Juliet so you can understand my absolute joy when I discovered there was another story about those characters and him in particular. This is a prequel/overlap kind of story from Just Juliet. It follows Lakyn’s story but we also see the backstories of Juliet and Scott which were only briefly touched on in the first book. Knowing how it all ends takes nothing away from how fascinating and brilliant this book is.

There are a few content warnings to be aware of, Reagan has a full list available here, A few obvious ones from the blurb and a few not. There are scenes of cutting, constant reference to suicide attempts and scars, and references to neglect. There are also sex scenes, nothing overly graphic, but there are details. I actually liked how these sex scenes are written actually, they are tasteful but honest and Reagan doesn’t make it anything other than what it is. I promise this isn’t all dark and depressing, Reagan balances out the heavy subjects alongside love and friendship and family. Lakyn is the central character and with the reader inside his head your understanding is unavoidable, and this is where you see how much he is trying to heal but doesn’t know how, he hasn’t got the emotional tools or the strength to do it on his own.

There are brilliant, powerful sentences that pack a punch straight to your heart as well as the story. It’s an emotional journey but it’s enthralling to see Lakyn go through it. Reagan doesn’t give us easy solutions and drives home that Lakyn’s is a complicated life to recover from. I saw parts of myself in him as well as read about things I’ll never be able to understand, but Reagan is brilliant at telling his story. You understand his struggle and it never feels fake, contrived, or dramatised. It felt real and your heart will break for him.

Reagan’s writing is addicting and I loved falling back into this world. I smiled every time I picked up this book and it was the hardest thing to draw myself away from. Every spare minute I had I read, even if it was only another couple of pages. I was drawn in by Lakyn’s story and whether it was the hard parts, or the mushy adorable romance parts it was fantastic. Lakyn and Scott together always made me smile before, and just seeing them together again brought back those memories but this time with greater understanding of their connection.

While Lakyn is not the strongest emotionally, he is also someone who knows who he is. He is not ashamed of being gay, he doesn’t announce it to the world because for him it’s both not a big deal and none of anybody’s business, but he won’t let anybody make him feel ashamed of it either. I related in some way to Lakyn and Reagan expresses his thoughts and feelings in a believable and frankly unsettlingly familiar ways. It just goes to show how believable these characters are. They could be anybody, they could be people we know and that’s what make their stories so beautiful and heartbreaking because they felt real.

With the other characters, it was nice to see Juliet’s journey and understand who she is, especially since we didn’t explore that as much the first time around. I still felt that Rick and Mr James weren’t fleshed out as much as they could have been. I understand that the story focuses on the teenagers and their lives, but so often Rick and Mr James were a bundled deal and felt like a single character. Granted they are slightly more fleshed out this time since they are in this story a bit more, but Rick I think gets left behind.

Despite the big subjects there are also fun and heart-warming moments and the exploration of a new relationship. This story deals wonderfully with the complications of having a closeted relationship, where one person is not ready to be who they are publically. While this is Lakyn’s story, Reagan does a great job exploring Scott’s emotional journey and past. His struggle with accepting his identity and his conservative parents, and his social life at school which he is trying to protect. About halfway through I wanted a third book that focused on Scott’s back story, but by the end of the book it was so beautifully fleshed out alongside Lakyn’s that I felt I understood Scott a lot as well.

Teenage boys falling in love with each other is adorable because they’re both dags and they don’t know what they’re doing and seeing them flounder can be the best thing to read about. I was grinning and making ‘aww’ noises over these two, I was reading page after page with a smile on my face but I loved it. It’s not cheesy it’s adorable and I want more of it.

You can purchase Loving Lakyn via the following

 Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Book Depository

 Fishpond | B&N | Publisher | Book Bub

 

Just Juliet (#1) by Charlotte Reagan

Published: 17th September 2016 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Inkitt
Pages: 224
Format: eBook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Juliet represents the road less travelled. Will Lena take it? 

Lena Newman is 17, her best friend’s a cheerleader, her boyfriend’s a football player, and as far as everyone is concerned, her life is sorted. But that’s before she befriends the new girl. Juliet is confident, slightly damaged, drop-dead gorgeous and a lesbian. 

Lena realizes that her interest goes beyond just friendship. She sets off on a path of self-discovery where the loyalty of those closest to her will be tested. 

I am in love with this book. It’s not perfect but it makes you feel warm and fuzzy and as a person who doesn’t like super romancey stuff, this is a sweet and adorable romance and it makes you all squishy inside.

The story takes place over the final year of high school for Lena and her friends. From the first day of school through the weeks and months Reagan progresses the story through the year, often jumping time. It doesn’t feel rushed but it keeps a good pace, the whirlwind of new friends and a budding romance pulls you along comfortably.

I liked how Reagan uses Juliet and a focal point from the get go. She’s the thing that’s caught Lena’s eye and it starts the story with intrigue and interest. From there we enter Lena’s world and discover her friends and her family and her discovery about who she really is.

Lena’s exploration about her own attraction and sexuality is slow and believable, having gone through 17 years of thinking one way it’s a lot to process when you start thinking another. I enjoyed this slowness between Lena and Juliet, it’s a great progression from friend to girlfriend and with self discovery thrown in the mix it’s bound to take some time. I liked that Reagan allowed Lena time to be confused and to be uncertain, and having a confidant to explore her feelings.

There are some excellent characters to fall in love with. Lakyn, Scott and Juliet are great, complex characters and people who Lena feels a connection with, something with Reagan brings across in her writing. I often felt that Juliet, Lakyn and Scott were more developed characters than Lena’s existing friends. Even though I understand we focus on them a lot more and have time to develop their characters, having these other friends as a featured part of the story meant they had a role to play in Lena’s life. Best friend Lacey is a full enough character, her personality is a curious choice but Reagan makes it work. But there are side characters in Georgia and Kiki who get almost no personality or story. They are portrayed as being slightly disinterested in Lena’s life I think to save them having to be fleshed out, but Reagan gives us Georgia, who we get an almost throwaway sentence that she is a teen mum and I found myself wanting to know more about her, where is this baby boy? How is she coping and wouldn’t her friends be more interested in how her kid is? I wanted her story as well. I don’t need it in a new book, though I wouldn’t say no, but I just wanted her more fleshed out because Reagan gave her such a big story. Compared to Kiki who gets no real drawcard or any depth and so I wanted nothing from her but honestly, I often forgot about them both.

Characters I did love were Lakyn and Scott. I loved those boys so much and from the moment they’re introduced I felt connected to them. Their fun relationship is adorable to see and while Lena and Juliet were wonderful as well, there is a delightful charm about those boys that made me smile.

There are a few tough topics briefly discussed such as drug use, and a brief discussion about suicide, but it isn’t the focus of the story and instead helps to expand on characters and their lives. Reagan is also clear on how talking is important and seeking professional help has changed things for the better so nothing is glorified but neither is it dismissed.

A small thing I loved was the chapter headings. They are done in the wonderful style of phrases and sentences which not only relate to the chapter events, but are also said by characters. It was a clever change from an overall title, or basic numerals. Another things Reagan did really well was the ending. In an epilogue but not an epilogue way she manages to wrap up all these characters lives in a lovely way that feels true to the people we’ve come to know.

I’m really glad I picked this book up because not only does it have wonderfully real characters, but it has diversity and challenges that are relatable to everyone, even if they aren’t teenagers.

You can purchase Just Juliet via the following

 Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery | Book Bub

Angus & Robertson | Book Depository

 Fishpond | B&N | Publisher | Audible

Rodney Loses It! by Michael Gerard Bauer

Published: 1st September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Australia
Illustrator: Chrissie Krebs
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Rodney was a rabbit who loved nothing more than drawing. He never found it tiresome, tedious or boring. But then one day, disaster struck, the one thing Rodney feared, while working at his drawing desk his pen just…DISAPPEARED! 

I loved this book. The rhymes were clever and I easily got into the rhythm, and the story is excellent and funny. This is a book where the illustrations match perfectly to the story, it a story that relies on the pictures and the keen eye of the reader. This book can easily be enjoyed by adults and children; the children love it because it’s funny and Rodney is silly, the adults because it reflects situations they have probably had themselves which makes it even funnier.

Krebs’ illustrations are colourful and stand out either on a page to themselves or placed next to the text which is a format which works well to enhance Bauer’s story. Krebs brings Rodney’s world to life showing off his drawings and his love for his pen Penny, and his humorous distress when she goes missing.

This was on the CBCA 2018 Shortlist and ended up winning the Early Childhood category which is well deserved. The title works on two separate levels which is a joy, and Krebs’ illustrations are comedic and as I say, match perfectly with the words. You see Rodney’s frustrations and kids will delight in seeing his manic expressions and chaotic desk while he tries to find his missing things.

You can purchase Rodney Loses It! via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond

QBD | Amazon Aust

A Boy, a Bear, a Balloon by Brittany Rubiano

Published: 3rd July 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Disney Press
Illustrator: Mike Wall
Pages: 40
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Retelling touching scenes from the upcoming Walt Disney Studios’ upcoming Christopher Robin film, this charming picture book finds Christopher reuniting with Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and the rest of his old friends when he returns to the Hundred Acre Wood for the first time since childhood. As he returns to the life he once new, Christopher sees the world through new eyes and discovers that even as everything around us seems to change, the most important things remain constant.

I have an intense love for Winnie the Pooh so of course I was eager to read this new picture book featuring my favourite bear. Rubiano does a good job mixing the old and the new, even putting in the dedication a quote from one of the best Winnie the Pooh films: Pooh’s Grand Adventure.

My heart did a small leap of joy as I recognised many of Milne’s quotes from the original books, reworked into this story which only brought the woods back to life and reminded me how much I adore these characters. The story also casually revisits some of the original Pooh adventures, seen now through the eyes of the older Christopher Robin which reminds us how much he has changed. He visits his old friends and they fail to see the young boy they knew in this man who has entered their woods.

Rubiano doesn’t quite catch the tone of Milne’s writing, it is very close, and you can see where it’s drawing from, but at the same time I don’t think it’s meant to mimic it exactly. This is her own story that is reflecting part of the upcoming film. With that in mind it is unfair to make it live up to the previous Winnie the Pooh books. Coming at these beloved characters from the mind of an adult like Christopher Robin, but still telling the story to children (or even those who left the woods a long time ago), it has a suitable tone and one that still manages to reignite that love and affection.

The illustrations are a beautiful mixture between Shepherds and the ever familiar Disney. I loved how Wall has brought his style to the characters while still keeping them familiar. The colours are beautiful and his designs are simplistic and elegant, showing just enough detail.

There is a lot of responsibility to writing and illustrating for Winnie the Pooh (in my view anyway), but this book does a beautiful job in presenting a story for those of us who are a little but more grown up and find ourselves wandering back to the Hundred Acre Woods.

Because of the popularity and endearing nature of Winnie the Pooh there is always going to be reminders about other adaptations and in those final pages. On that final page I found my mind immediately going to a quote from the masterpiece 1977 film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh:

“Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in their enchanted place on top of the forest, a little bear will always be waiting”.

*cue Amy sobbing*

You can purchase A Boy, A Bear, A Balloon via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository |

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

 Fishpond | QBD

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