Sword in the Stars (#2) by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Published: 7th April 2020 (print)/ 7th Apr 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Rock the Boat/Bolinda audio
Pages: 355/10 Hours 48 min
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

In this epic sequel to Once & Future, to save the future, Ari and her Rainbow knights pull off a heist…thousands of years in the past.

Ari Helix may have won her battle against the tyrannical Mercer corporation, but the larger war has just begun. Ari and her cursed wizard Merlin must travel back in time to the unenlightened Middle Ages and steal the King Arthur’s Grail—the very definition of impossible.

It’s imperative that the time travellers not skew the timeline and alter the course of history. Coming face-to-face with the original Arthurian legend could produce a ripple effect that changes everything. Somehow Merlin forgot that the past can be even more dangerous than the future…

After the first book I was expecting a lot from this sequel and a lot of answers and it certainly delivers. The old problems and new problems, as well as the world threatening and personal issues all coincide as each character makes their move through history and plays their roles.

Once again the creativity these authors show with creating a whole new, fantastically complex and stunning story but entwined seamlessly into the established Arthurian myth is something to marvel. These rich, flawed characters are in depth and unique and their complicated relationships with one another are never trivialised.

The diversity of the characters are highlighted further as they step into the past and I loved how the characters manage and reflect on their surroundings as a result. There’s conversations, so casual and important at the same time about identity. Coming from the future, even our future, it shows how far their society has come that this is such an everyday thing it isn’t even a big deal. Discussions about pronouns and having to be misgendered in the middle ages with the danger of hiding gender for protection – female and nonbinary knights are a hurdle but one that isn’t brushed over as a minor inconvenience. The characters talk openly about how it feels awful to be misgendered all day and how it wears them down. Capetta and McCarthy use the characters to remind us how whitewashed and male dominated this story has become over the centuries and how the middle ages were a lot more diverse than what has been told, even with the constraints of misogyny and sexism.

One of the things I loved, and it’s something that didn’t need to be included but I am so glad it did, was how the story breaks the fourth wall in a way with wonderful references to how the Arthurian legend has survived. Completely in narrative but the references are real with in jokes about the various versions of the legend told and retold throughout history in TV shows, movies, and other various books and retellings.

There’s so much contained within this story and it all works so well. There’s heart-warming romance, suspense and tension, action and drama all within a story of magic, time travel, space, and capitalism. I would love nothing more than to read more about this world and these characters but I also love that it’s confined to two books because those two books pack a punch I don’t know if I could handle another.

The conclusion is positively amazing. The way it fills in details and gaps, answers questions you didn’t even know were being asked and becomes a fabulous rich and complicated set of circumstances makes it the perfect story. This is the Arthurian retelling I didn’t know I needed but it one I will absolutely cherish.

You can purchase Sword in the Stars via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

I Think I am in Friend-Love With You by Yumi Sakugawa

Published: 6th December 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Adams Media
Pages: 128
Format: Graphic Novel
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

I have a confession to make.
I think I am in friend-love with you.

What’s friend-love? It’s that super-awesome bond you share with someone who makes you happy every time you text each other, or meet up for an epic outing. It’s not love-love. You don’t want to swap saliva; you want to swap favourite books. But it’s just as intense and just as amazing.

And it’s this search for that connection that comic-book artist Yumi Sakugawa captures in I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You. It’s perfect if you’ve ever fallen in friend-love and want to show that person how much you love them…in a platonic way, of course.

I really loved this book. It has a super sweet message about how important friendships are and how they can hold as much weight and importance as romantic relationships. The illustrations are both cute and a teeny bit horrifying but I liked the layout and how Sakugawa keeps it simple but profound. Emotions are portrayed sometimes without words and the figures in this book have no real shape or gender so it’s perfect for all friendships.

The narration is first person addressing another and with basic illustrations alongside the words their affections are described. From simple things like sharing a love of books, enjoying movies together, hanging out and sharing small thoughts about their day are all ways they love their friend. It also covers other things like wanting to be near them and have long conversations over tea and stay up late chatting online. What makes me love this is it shows how the smallest things can mean so much. Spending time together, sharing passions and small gestures are all miniature acts of love that make friendships so special.

This was the perfect book until it got to the end. I was disappointed only because I felt it altered the intention of the book and the story that was being expressed and it changed the dynamics slightly. It didn’t ruin the story, it was still conveying the same overall message, but that changed made it slightly less perfect for me.

What made it fabulous was I could see so much of my own friendships in this story and seeing it as a universal experience, as well as one treated with affection, sincerity and a small amount of humour was really wonderful. It’s heart-warming and sweet and I love that this kind of book exists; it put everything I have ever wanted to say to my friends into words and it was so refreshing to see such an honest, loving and genuine book about love and friendship.

You can purchase I Think I am in Friend-Love With You via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Bad Seed (#1) by Jory John

Published: 29th August 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harper Collins
Illustrator: Pete Oswald
Pages: 34
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

This is a book about a bad seed. A baaaaaaaaaad seed. How bad? Do you really want to know?

He has a bad temper, bad manners, and a bad attitude. He’s been bad since he can remember! This seed cuts in line every time, stares at everybody and never listens. But what happens when one mischievous little seed changes his mind about himself, and decides that he wants to be—happy?

With Jory John’s charming and endearing text and bold expressive illustrations by Pete Oswald, here is The Bad Seed: a funny yet touching tale that reminds us of the remarkably transformative power of will, acceptance, and just being you. Perfect for readers young and old, The Bad Seed proves that positive change is possible for each and every one of us.

What I liked about the Bad Seed is we’re shown his little life story and we understand how he came to be bad. His misfortune and harsh life meant he has been altered from the happy seed he once was. I think this was incredibly clever of John because it shows no one is born bad, and even though they can do bad things, deep down there may be a reason.

John shows us that being bad doesn’t have to be forever, and that it’s ok to change your mind. I liked there wasn’t a specific event or outside influence that impacted on Bad Seed and his decision, it’s clever to make it his own choice to improve himself.

The story is funny and clever, I liked the different moments we got to see with the Bad Seed and how he lives his life. The sentences are short and there are not a lot of words on the page but each line is reflected in an illustration. Oswald has done a great job with the depiction of the character and reflecting the story around him. I loved the changes of colours and the look at the tiny world Bad Seed lives in. Also, the interactions he has with other characters show off a diverse and curious world of other food.

I am fascinated by the sentient foods in this story because there is a clear and present danger of being eaten and yet the personified foods go about their lives normally. This works fine if you have a society of sentient food, but John has shown there are humans in their world who will eat them which raises a few questions.

You can purchase The Bad Seed via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Long Lost Review: Strange the Dreamer (#1) by Laini Taylor

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 28th March 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 532
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

I picked this up back in 2017 because someone I followed on Twitter was completely obsessed with book and her excitement got me to read it and I will admit it was quite good. It was interesting and I loved this new world I was exploring and how the rules worked. The story is beautifully written, it is eloquent and poetic at times, Taylor creating wonderful and vivid descriptions that bring the story to life in your mind.

Lazlo is a genuinely good person. His simple upbringing means he cherishes what he has got and when more is offered to him he still reveres it as a humble and restrained pleasure. I loved learning about things through his eyes and Taylor does a great job weaving his obsession with the story around him that helps drive the story as well as inform the reader.

It is a generous 500+ page book, but by the time you’ve gotten to that last page, every part of it is as important as the last. There is a sequel which I have yet to read. It’s curious because I was amazed by this world and this story so much, and yet I’ve yet to find the impulse to read the second book and see where it was all heading. Maybe soon when I have a spare moment I can revisit this world with another journey through the beautiful narrative Taylor has created.

You can purchase Strange the Dreamer via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Book Launch: The Boy from the Mish by Gary Lonesborough

Last week I attended the virtual book launch for Gary Lonesborough’s debut YA The Boy from the Mish. The event was hosted by Better Read than Dead bookshop with fellow YA author Will Kostakis as moderator. The interview was fun and friendly and having seen Will interview a range of authors he has a wonderful mix in his interviewing style that makes it both fun and informative.

Hearing about Gary’s story and his journey to becoming an author was interesting. Originally from Bega Gary told us that he went to film school and loves to write and loves to be creative. The Boy from the Mish came about because Gary saw a gap in the market for queer Aboriginal protagonists written by an Aboriginal author. It was a story he began writing when he was 23 but he had been thinking about what would have helped him when he was a teenager. Gary told us that as a teenager he struggled a lot and a lot of his experiences and struggles are in the book through the character of Jackson.

Will mentioned that so often first books are steeped in lived experience and asked Gary how much of himself is in Jackson and what he goes through. Gary replied that roughly 40-50% of himself is in Jackson. All of the things that Jackson felt he’s felt, and things like the experience of being racially profiled more than once, and Jackson’s inner monologue comes from a train of thought but Gary also made clear that everything is still a fictional story and hasn’t happened to Gary exactly.

When discussing the subject of queer identity and its role in both the book and Gary’s life, Will asked how the experience of writing Jackson’s story was, especially the aforementioned struggles. Gary revealed he started writing not long after he came out and it felt incredibly vulnerable writing down the story, sitting by himself at a desk but also with no intention of showing the story to anyone. He also admitted that the experience was also pretty freeing – he had the power to put in scenes that are nice and portray the romantic side and express himself that way, not to mention the excitement to write an Aboriginal character who was gay.

In fact Gary told us that through the entire writing process the love story was the whole focus. Before subplots and side stories and anything else there was the love story. From early drafts when the story was told through Thomas’ perspective, the love story was the continual drive and motivation to finish. Built upon an idea from a short film script Gary wrote about two Aboriginal boys in love the story evolved and one month, a change of narrator, and 65 thousand words later Gary had his first draft.

What was interesting to hear was that US author David Levithan heard of the book and the book is now in the process of being released for US audiences. I will admit when I heard this I was wary, confirmed instantly when Will spoke to Gary about how while the US market is a big deal, they often edit out the “Australianness” of it which takes out a lot of nuance and the voice by changing all the words. The pair spoke about US audiences often love the Australian language and are intrigued by words like ‘ute’ and how some Aussie authors now are putting glossaries in the backs of their books which is a fantastic idea.

Will gave Gary some excellent advice in how to approach being edited for the US while still keeping his text unique and not Americanised which was amazing. I am so glad Aussie authors are getting to push back against changing our stories to suit their audiences. If I have to spend my life never knowing the difference between a sophomore, a junior, and a freshman or have a reference for any of their food then they can learn what a ute is.

Back on the writing process, Will asked what the most challenging part of the process was to which Gary replied adding all the extra things like subplots, but also to stop himself self-editing and allowing himself to write intimate scenes.

When asked about his own reading influencing the writing Gary admitted he has a love/hate relationship with reading and has always come in and out of it. But The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian drew him back in when he was 17 or 18 and after reading it he thought he could write his own story about Aboriginal kids growing up.

Being a zoom event the audience questions were scattered throughout and people asked general questions about the writing and editing process, but there were some great ones from people like fellow YA author Holden Sheppard who asked Gary about considerations made when writing regarding harder topics and subjects. Gary said it was absolutely something he considered when he was writing. He wanted to approach the sexual scenes with feeling rather than making them graphic. He treaded carefully with drafting and worried about the sexual scenes, but not much was edited in the revision, it was mainly the amount of smoking scenes that were cut down.

Will asked Gary about whether he had a second book and Gary revealed he had a manuscript underway, and even has a few more stories up his sleeve. Since Gary wrote to fill a gap, Will asked him whether he was worried he would be pigeonholed. Gary admitted he was worried but that there was a lot more ground to be explored. Will added that being pigeonholed is not always a bad thing because readers love it as do publishers.

Gary admitted trying to write the second book is hard because he’s not writing something as good as The Boy from the Mish but that he needs to get through the doubt. Will advised Gary that as queer writers they write from the margins anyway and not to listen to what reviewers say on Goodreads or the people on the back of the book because it’s not important. The idea is to compare first drafts to first drafts, not first drafts to finished copies, it’s instincts that created the first book.

After an absolutely rewarding hour the interview wrapped up with a crucial question left till last – what was Gary’s favourite Kylie Minogue song (a question with several wrong answers according to Will) but Gary seemed to pass with his answer of the album edit Disco Needs You.

You can purchase The Boy from the Mish via the following

Better Read Than Dead | QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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