Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Published: 26th February 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic
Pages: 372
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

The last thing she needs is a prince. The first thing she needs is some magic.

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land—and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

This is a fairytale through and through. There are talking dogs, princesses and a kingdom to defend and it has so many fabulous and magical moments it is pure delight. I loved how Nix causally throws in comments and lines as if they are perfectly normal sentences when they are not. It is makes reading a lot of fun and adds another layer of humour to enjoy. It is part of the fairytale trope or style I suppose that these things just happen but it was also great having this matter of fact, ‘what are you going to do about it?’ approach as well.

Anya is a great kid, she is thirteen which is hard to remember at times because of the things she achieves, but it is also a great reminder when she is doing these great deeds that she is only a child. There are moments where Anya realises how sheltered her life has been and you see her grow as she comes to understand the imbalance in the world and learn about kindness and the danger of too much power. It is a nice message that works well in the narrative and put in a way kids can appreciate without it being too heavy handed.

The story is filled with small moments and epic Quest moments which balance wonderfully. The individual characters are unique and help make this story feel like a classic fairy tale as well as a new type of story that brings the whole world to life. It is fun and filled with magic, friendships and Nix has established a vivid world that feels new while still cementing itself as a clear fairytale story with a villain, a goal, and a hero.

This is easily an adult or kid book and I think both audiences will have different things to take away from it. Even young kids will love this, it is filled with adventure and Quests, it’s funny but not silly, and Nix knows all the right moves to pull to make a great fairytale story new and exciting whilst also relying on the old and beloved.

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Growing Up Queer in Australia edited by Benjamin Law

Published: 6th August 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Black Inc
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Compiled by celebrated author and journalist Benjamin Law, Growing Up Queer in Australia assembles voices from across the spectrum of LGBTIQA+ identity. Spanning diverse places, eras, genders, ethnicities and experiences, these are the stories of growing up queer in Australia.

For better or worse, sooner or later, life conspires to reveal you to yourself, and this is growing up.

With contributions from David Marr, Fiona Wright, Nayuka Gorrie, Steve Dow, Holly Throsby, Sally Rugg, Tony Ayres, Nic Holas, Rebecca Shaw, Kerryn Phelps and many more.

Growing Up Queer is filled with voices of all aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community with stories about gay relationships, being intersex, having first loves, lost loves, and those who were important to the lives of all these authors, demonstrating the crucial roles some of them had to play in them finding who they are. The introduction is a good place to start because it includes the content warnings and apologies if the content upsets anyone. The stories are filled with discrimination, family rejection, suicide mention and violence. It is important to warn readers but these are crucial moments because these are stories about growing up queer in Australia, these are real stories and real experiences and knowing that these are hardships that these authors have had to deal with is part of the understanding.

There are stories that show the complex relationships with parents around cultural boundaries, about religion, as well as the struggles and the wins about coming out to family and friends. It isn’t only recent coming out stories either, many previous decades are covered from the 70s to the 90s and 2000s. There is even a story from the 50s that covers hiding your true self until an older age. I wasn’t keeping a real record about when each story was set, nor do all the stories really identify when they take place, but it felt like there were a lot more from the last thirty years than earlier. Not that the last thirty years isn’t a large amount of time for society to change it’s opinions, but I would have loved to hear more stories about the earlier years a well.

There were a lot of stories connected to the marriage equality survey and how the results affected people and their families. Some stories were wonderful, while others were a little heartbreaking. The authors talk about the impact it had on their relationships, their feeling of inclusion, not to mention their anger that it was being debated at all and how it changed how they saw some of their friends and family. Obviously this was a huge change to people’s lives and it was interesting to see their opinions and perspectives.

The “growing up” aspect of the title I was expecting their childhood or young adult experience, and many stories explore that time with recollections from moments in time that were important or crucial to them understanding or embracing . But there were also stories of being older, in their twenties, or an older adult. One author wrote that the growing up part of their queer life was when they were more comfortable in their queerness, not necessarily when they were young which I thought was an interesting approach.

I found myself writing down some brilliant insights and quotes that I think encapsulate what it means to be queer, what society thinks they should be and say, and how those critical and offensive towards them feel they are privileged to say and do. These essays are written by people who are masters with words and I found it helps explain just how different their experiences are from other people and how they are also not the alien figures people think they are. These are just some of my favourites:

“Try as they might, our subversive bodies will always tell us the truth…What censorship is really designed to achieve is the sort of silence that turns what our bodies tell us into shame. This calls for more than censorship of books and films. It also needs the censorship of learning.” – David Marr

“If you can’t be yourself in your own way then god help you when you die with a wallet full of fake IDs.” – Tim Sinclair

“All identities, queer or not, are fictional stories. The important of queer storytellers is not in how they prove their truth, but in how they prove it is necessary to tell our stories in a way that makes us comfortable.” – Oliver Reeson

The anthology is made of essays, but some were more essay like, some were memoirs that told of a certain moment, and some felt like wonderful fictional stories they were so beautifully told. I found myself getting quite caught up in some of these tales, drawn in by their way with words and their fascinating lives about being part of the LGBTQIA+ community and the experiences they had had. While there were stories of trauma and trouble, there isn’t a huge focus on it. Many contributors wrote about how amazing it is nowadays that sexuality is spoken about more openly than ever before, but it’s acknowledged that fear is still there.

I was expecting more stories that talked about the struggles of discrimination, especially in the earlier decades about fighting to decriminalise homosexuality or other discrimination. I completely understand though that hiding who you were was the best defence you could ever have and embracing your queerness by celebrating the good moments is better than focusing on the bad. Initially I thought these types of stories needed to be included because the history is important and acknowledging the past is important even if it hurts. But it is also important to tell stories of happiness and hope, and there are mentions of the violence some people experienced, it isn’t focused on a lot but it isn’t omitted either.

This is a wonderful collection that could help people understand who they are, and it is a wonderful way to understand he lives of others, the struggles they have faced and makes you realise that as wonderful as things have become, there is still a way to go.

You can purchase Growing Up Queer via the following

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Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Published: 30 September 2019 (print)/26 September 2017 (audio)

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Publisher: Allen & Unwin/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 472/15 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator: Kristin Atherton
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Epic Fantasy
★ ★ ★ – 3 Stars

More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.

Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.

But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfil her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else.

This story is an investment. It is slow and vast and while it takes a little while to wrap your head around it, once you are immersed into this fascinating world Nix has created it is quite interesting, especially when you realise how complex and simple the story itself is. I will admit it took me a couple of goes to start this but I made myself return and I’m glad because it was a different kind of story which made it interesting.

Once the explanation is established about how summoning angels works with icons and icon makers, seeing how society works is fascinating. Whether to sacrifice your own days, months, years for the use of Angel Magic is a great decision and the way Nix has created varying levels and rules and restrictions is a testament to his world building capabilities. The grander explanation is revealed gradually and with a few key scenes that explain how the use of magic works with character dialogue and inner thoughts to help you grasp it fairly quickly. The multiple character points of view allow great insight into this world and the history, as well as the rules and limitations that exist. Nix also skilfully uses these scenes to advance the plot so every part of this lengthy tale is used with purpose.

It is easy to see how this may be seen as slow. Initially I thought so too, especially as an audio, but if you immerse yourself in the world, with these characters and their various lives, overlapping and coming together it wraps itself around you and it plays out reasonably well. The time is justified, it doesn’t drag out, but a lot happens which is used to build up to the climax and the war, not to mention getting all of the many players in place. The inspiration for this story was the Three Musketeers and you can see this in how Nix has reimagined the Cardinal and her guards. I loved all the female representations, even though they are still called sir it was always a surprise to have everyone important and high up be female as well as many other characters. It was another great change on the well-known story and a great improvement.

To be fair there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but only a few end up being ones that keep coming back and you have the time in the narrative to get to know everyone and their roles. I enjoyed the characters of Agnez, Henri, Simeon, and Dorotea a lot. Each of their different lives are another fascinating look at the world, and seeing the events that bring them together is clever and full of creativity on Nix’s part. They are full of personal history and have great character depth and having listened to this as an audio I got a range of wonderful voices as well.

Atherton does a great job as narrator. Her reading is well paced, can be slow at times but it is also an addition to the grandeur of the story. Dealing with angels and magic, even if it is common occurrence, doesn’t stop the story from feeling epic. I really liked this different type of fantasy, it is a love story across time and magic, of musketeers and angels that was exciting as it was profound. I’m glad I persevered because I appreciate the world Nix has built, the drive behind Lilliath, and the diversity in his characters. Plus it was a really satisfying ending which is a great reward.

You can purchase Angel Mage via the following

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Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Published: 26th February 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Random House Australia
Pages: 224
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Let’s give a shout-out to 50 awesome Australian women with these easy-to-read biographies of their incredible achievements. From Cathy Freeman to Turia Pitt, Edith Cowan to Julia Gillard, Cate Blanchett to Olivia Newton-John, plus rally car drivers, molecular biologists, and more, this book is a celebration of women in all fields, from all walks of life, and from Australia’s past and present. Brought to life by colourful illustrations from female artists, Shout Out to the Girls is the ultimate inspirational read for young and old.

This really is an amazing book because it shows kids and adults alike the hard work Aussie women have put into doing what they love and changing the world for the better. There are different career paths and starting points, as well as cultural background to gain inspiration from and to show that anything is achievable with passion and determination and being true to yourself.

I learnt a lot too which was great. I discovered a woman and former convict named Mary Reibey founded Westpac (something which is not mentioned in their history or on their website by the way), I also discovered the amazing work our women have done in the past to help the poor, sick, and injured, and fight for rights and better conditions of those around them – people like Mum Shirl, Jessie Street, and Edith Cowan. There’s also pages filled with women who are doing what they love and breaking boundaries and glass ceilings, not to mention there are so many fabulous young women and girls changing the world today which is incredible to see.

Each woman has a one page biography about their lives and their contributions to their field or the world. Even with this brief snippet you get a great sense of the work these women have done and the challenges they have faced to get there. Some of the entries I felt were simplified which was curious and left out key pieces of information but I understand this is not the point of this collection and not everything can be included, but it was an interesting omission for some. Alongside these biographies are an accompanying illustration drawn by different artists that captures the essence of these accomplished women and brings to life some recognisable faces and some that may not be as well known.

This is a great book to celebrate the amazing women Australia has given the world and the recognition is something that will no doubt inspire others who read this and show that women can and have changed the world and no one should let anything stand in the way of their dreams.

You can purchase Shout Out to the Girls via the following

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Stuff Happens: Sean by Will Kostakis

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Published: 27th August 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin Australia
Pages: 120
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fictions
★   ★  ★  ★  – 4 Stars

 

4 boys, 4 stories, 4 great Australian writers in an important new series.

Stuff happens sometimes.

Everyday stuff.

At school, at home, with sport, with mates.

For Ned it happened with a new teacher.

For Sean it happened starting at a new school.

For Michael it happened when he thought he was disappointing his parents.

For Jack it happened when a game at recess went wrong.

This is such a sweet story. It is a quick read and part of the wider series but there is a wonderful message in there about being a friend and finding your place in a new school. Despite the length the narrative is quite complicated which I was surprised about. Kostakis covers feeling scared of a new school and trying to make new friends. But he also explores how leaving one place doesn’t make the love of your old home go away. There are lessons about being helpful and making grown up decisions when you are scared of the consequences.

There are morals and messages but they are not obvious as they develop naturally around the characters and their actions. Kostakis doesn’t make it overly complicated either, Sean’s feelings and thoughts help tell the story as well as his feelings and the inclusion of the emotion chart at the bottom of some pages was a clever way to indicate how Sean was feeling.

I read this because it was a Will Kostakis book, now I might need to track down the others in the series as well to get the full scope of this fascinating set of books.

You can purchase Stuff Happens: Sean via the following

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