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

Once & Future (#1) by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Published: 26th March 2019 (print)/29th August 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 336/10 hrs and 54 mins
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.

First and foremost this story is phenomenal! It’s the King Arthur legend, set in the future, set in space, with a female Arthur and a fabulous, beautifully constructed time loop of curses and legends and a beautiful cast of diverse characters that you will fall in love with.

The world building is definitely something to love – the world that’s been created is incredibly clever and diverse, not only in the planets and their various structures but in the community and the characters as well. Honestly the detail throughout is a constant delight every time something else pops up and the way the original characters and established mythology is woven into this entirely new story is brilliant. It is the myth we all know but it also has a new story unfolding too which was amazing to read about.

The reimagining of Arthur and his legend is incredible; the fact that it feels like a completely new story but also a well told one at the same time is a credit to the imagination and writing skill of these authors. There’s intricate, complicated magic and age old magic being used alongside new players and it’s in these overlaps that you see the remnants of the old stories come through and the mythology stand out in this new construction.

The characters are such a huge part of the magic of this story as well. Ari and her brother, their sibling dynamics as well as their bond over being fugitives is a solid connection. I loved the other bonds between characters and how even with Merlin as the newcomer he fits into this established group really well. There’s a beautifully fluid introduction of the characters and their relationships to Ari are well understood, often with their own backstories seamlessly included. The dialogue and casual conversations never felt clunky or forced, this is a huge benefit of setting the story in the future, it normalises conversations and makes debatable things in the present day feel like outdated issues. There was no need for explanations, things just were and it is well understood.

There is so much I could gush about in regards to this story. Truly from start to finish I was captivated; I was in awe, and I was blown away by how beautiful and smart and funny this entire book was. Even the conclusion was perfect. This is only book one in a duology but the way details and gaps in the story are filled and how answers are given for questions you didn’t even know were being asked is astounding, and the absolute majesty of how it becomes a fabulously rich and complicated set of circumstances makes it a perfect story and one I could reread until the end of time.

You can purchase Once & Future via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Meet Me at the Intersection ed. Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Published: 3rd September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Fremantle Press
Pages: 296
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Meet Me at the Intersection is an anthology of short fiction, memoir and poetry by authors who are First Nations, People of Colour, LGBTIQA+ or living with disability. The focus of the anthology is on Australian life as seen through each author’s unique, and seldom heard, perspective.

With works by Ellen van Neerven, Graham Akhurst, Kyle Lynch, Ezekiel Kwaymullina, Olivia Muscat, Mimi Lee, Jessica Walton, Kelly Gardiner, Rafeif Ismail, Yvette Walker, Amra Pajalic, Melanie Rodriga, Omar Sakr, Wendy Chen, Jordi Kerr, Rebecca Lim, Michelle Aung Thin and Alice Pung, this anthology is designed to challenge the dominant, homogenous story of privilege and power that rarely admits ‘outsider’ voices. 

Meet Me at the Intersection is filled with some brilliant stories and pieces of work by authors who are showing that those marginalised and seldom heard voices can be just as powerful and have just as important stories to tell. It is filled with the voices of Young Adult authors and stories but is an anthology that can and should be read by everyone.

The collection is filled with a range of forms and styles from poetry, memoirs and short stories. Each author brings their own style of writing and it was a nice to see so many different voices through the book. There are little explanations of each author and their background before each piece and it is clear there is diversity across all kinds.

In terms of content, each piece takes place in a different time period and it was refreshing to see not every story was contemporary; and while this makes sense for memoir, some of the other stories were from other time periods as well. I also loved the way these stories have been ordered in the collection. In the introduction it mentions that the oldest culture of storytellers deserves to go first and I loved that that was acknowledged.

What made this anthology stand out to me was it never felt like there was a single message being highlighted, instead it was about representation. The blurb mentions that the focus of the work is to represent the everyday lives of Australians and it has succeeded brilliantly. In doing so you gain an understanding by reading about these fictional, semi fictional, and real lives about the ordinariness and extraordinariness of a diverse group of writers. it is wonderfully eye opening and showcases that these lesser heard and unique voices have some amazing stories to tell. It is an anthology filled with own voices and is beautifully, distinctly Australian. What more could you ask for?

You can purchase Meet Me at the Intersection via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

DymocksAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Rick by Alex Gino

Published: 21st April 2020 (print)/22 April 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Press/Scholastic
Pages: 240/3 hrs and 27 mins
Narrator: Alex Gino
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

Rick’s never questioned much. He’s gone along with his best friend Jeff even when Jeff’s acted like a bully and a jerk. He’s let his father joke with him about which hot girls he might want to date even though that kind of talk always makes him uncomfortable. And he hasn’t given his own identity much thought, because everyone else around him seemed to have figured it out.

But now Rick’s gotten to middle school, and new doors are opening. One of them leads to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities congregate, including Melissa, the girl who sits in front of Rick in class and seems to have her life together. Rick wants his own life to be that … understood. Even if it means breaking some old friendships and making some new ones.

This is set in the same universe as George and takes place a couple years after the events in that book but this time we focus on a different character. Rick, who we met as a side character before, now takes centre stage and we see him a little older, a little wiser but also a little more confused.  You do not need to have read George to understand this story but it was wonderful to see what happened after the events in that book even if it isn’t the focus of the story.

It was amazing to see this story grow and develop and see Rick grow and develop along with it. Rick and Jeff’s friendship is one that kids form when they’re young: easy, they have fun together, they have a great time, but as they both start to get older their different personalities start to develop and this is where conflictions can occur.

As readers we’re meant to think Jeff is a creep straight away even if Rick doesn’t see it or completely agree, as everything about Jeff’s language and behaviour is gross and/or offensive. My limited understanding of American middle school is that these kids are in year six. They are eleven and twelve years old and they’re talking about girls in totally creepy and sexist ways. It is one way to show how Rick feels by seeing him fight emotionally against what Jeff does and says, but he doesn’t stop how Jeff keeps objectifying these girls.

Rick’s dad is also a sexist and a creep, he says inappropriate things to Rick and I liked that Rick’s response to this is that he feels like he’s “coated in a sticky layer of ick” when he hears it. He also doesn’t like that people expect him to become a ‘hormonal beast’ now he’s in middle school. Which again, is now he’s twelve. Even at my age I feel dirty hearing that phrase.  I am not blaming Gino for this at all and I love that they highlight the weird and inappropriate language people use around kids of a certain age, especially boys. I love that our main character doesn’t feel comfortable hearing this kind of talk and it’s great that Gino shows him working out who he is and makes it ok that he feels confused about his identity.

There is a great representation and exploration of the LGBTQIA+ community and it was great to see kids this age be so supportive and open about who they are, as well as so understanding of those who are still trying to figure themselves out. The kids manage to teach the adults something and the story explores great themes like acceptance, understanding, and support.

Melissa (who we’re introduced to in George) is in the story and I loved seeing her again and seeing her story after the end of George but I also loved that she doesn’t take centre stage. Rick’s story isn’t connected to Melissa’s and while she is in his story, I love how Gino hasn’t connected the two stories in such an obvious way.

There are other things Gino explores about getting to know and understand family and accepting the differences and realising there is a lot more to a person than there first appears. The relationship he has with his grandpa is sweet and it was a nice safe place for Rick to talk about his feelings and not be ridiculed or embarrassed.

This is a fairly quick read but it covers a lot of topics and explores a range of important topics not only about the LGBTQIA+ community but also about being a good person, a good friend and knowing you have the ability to make big decisions even at such a young age. I can’t wait to see what else Gino does next because based on these last two books I can only imagine it’ll be just as wonderful.

You can purchase Rick via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Love, Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Published: 17th September 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
RHCP Digital
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

GROWING UP. FALLING IN LOVE. COMING OUT.

Frankie is nearly fourteen and teenage life certainly comes with its ups and downs. Her mum is seriously ill with MS and Frankie can feel herself growing up quickly, no thanks to Sally and her gang of bullies at school.

When Sally turns out to be not-so-mean after all, they strike up a friendship and are suddenly spending all of their time together.

But Frankie starts to wonder whether these feelings she has for Sally are stronger than her other friendships. Might she really be in love?

Frankie doesn’t want Sally to just be her friend. She wants her to be her girlfriend. But does Sally feel the same?

I picked this up because I was looking for some LGBTQIA books that were directed at younger audiences and while this does have a storyline of a hopeful romance, it honestly falls short. There are a lot of things to praise Wilson for, she shows a strong character who deals with her sick mother and stands up to bullies which is good, but this wasn’t the coming out story I was expecting.

That’s not to say it isn’t there at all. There are a few major themes playing out through this narrative from illness, bullying, as well as a young girl trying to work out if she loves her new friend. Wilson combines all of these together well so we see and understand the pressure Frankie is under concerning her mother and the girls at school, but also her own internal struggles she has to come to terms with.

I found myself becoming worried for Frankie and what Sally’s intentions were for her, I didn’t want to read about any homophobic slurs, especially since Frankie is so unsure herself and since the blurb wasn’t matching up with the story I was reading. However Wilson brings it together in a slow but sure way and you see the start of a story between these girls where there is something more than friendship on the cards.

This story is young adult but it is very much aimed at the low end with younger readers. There is drinking and talk of drugs but none are actually done and there is never a feeling of long term between Frankie and Sally, more is placed on the long lasting friendship than the romance. But it is still an important story about young girls of thirteen and fourteen discovering who they are.

While it feels unresolved and open, the ending is positive in its own way. Not to have Sally outed if she isn’t ready is an unspoken hurdle but there is a light in the future for both girls. The story ends in hope for Frankie and for her mother as well which is a good decision from Wilson given the young age of her main character. For young teens trying to work out their own sexuality it is a stepping stone to show how small steps can feel like big steps and at this age there doesn’t need to be definitive answers or pressure. It just wasn’t the full experience I was looking for and it fell flat in terms of voice. I may have forgiven it if it fell into the junior category, but bumping this into the YA group I wanted a strong voice and writing style that felt less childlike.

You can purchase Love, Frankie via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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