Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

Published: October 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Allen and Unwin
Pages: 242
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

On her eighteenth birthday, Lady Truthful, nicknamed “Newt,” will inherit her family’s treasure: the Newington Emerald. A dazzling heart-shaped gem, the Emerald also bestows its wearer with magical powers.

When the Emerald disappears one stormy night, Newt sets off to recover it. Her plan entails dressing up as a man, moustache included, as no well-bred young lady should be seen out and about on her own. While in disguise, Newt encounters the handsome but shrewd Major Harnett, who volunteers to help find the missing Emerald under the assumption that she is a man. Once she and her unsuspecting ally are caught up in a dangerous adventure that includes an evil sorceress, Newt realizes that something else is afoot: the beating of her heart.

In Newt’s Emerald, the bestselling author of Sabriel, Garth Nix, takes a waggish approach to the forever popular Regency romance and presents a charmed world where everyone has something to hide.  

Having not read the blurb beforehand and diving straight in simply because it was a Garth Nix book, this wasn’t at all the story I was expecting. That isn’t to say it wasn’t wholly enjoyable. I learnt about the regency, historical, and magical elements as I went. It wasn’t until the end that I realised exactly what it was but this didn’t dampen my enjoyment at all.  The story is full of real-life history but is laced with magic and fantasy as well. I love that one of my rare experiences to a historical regency romance is through Garth Nix and his elements of magic and fabulous storytelling.

I loved this style of regency romance. I am sure it isn’t the way a historical regency romance is meant to be but the story was funny and enjoyable and I was pulled along through the pages. The story was compelling, and the characters were complicated and unique with relationships, histories, and grudges. I’ve taken a shine to regency stories with a touch of magic and supernatural of late and this is a great addition.

I loved the disguises and the subterfuge, the fact Newt has plans while also having no real plan at the same time is fantastic. There are tongue in cheek moments, the story is light and not overly complicated but detailed enough to set the story which is all I needed.

The story ends with a grand masked ball which is what you want from your regency stories. Plus all the flirting and bickering and secret disguises makes it even more enjoyable. This is a fantasy in a regency setting, not a classic regency which, knowing nothing about the genre, I think it means Nix can do whatever he pleases and the story will be magnificent regardless.

You can purchase Newt’s Emerald via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Published: 1 September 2014 (print)/ 9 May 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hardie Grant Egmont /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 295/7 hrs and 55 mins
Narrator: Roshelle Fong
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends.

The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:

Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails.
And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.

Also, the world might be ending – which is proving to be awkward.

As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems. 

I loved this book so much and yet writing this review has been so hard because I never feel like I am doing my complete love and adoration of this story the justice it deserves.

The story takes place during that timeless period over Christmas and New Year where you don’t know what day it is and there’s a strangeness in the air. Alba and all the characters are wonderful and I love how Keil has developed them and expressed them on the page. They felt so real, so alive, and the complexity of their emotions and their lives comes through even with the smallest of interactions.

There are so many little things I adored about this book: the atmosphere of the small town and the impending Doomsday, the exploration of friendships and growing up and making choices. There is no love triangle which was fantastic and there is a wonderful exploration about friendships and how old friends as kids don’t always mean friendships as adults. Keil demonstrates that sometimes these relationships can end up better, but at the same time you can also outgrow one another.

Alba not wanting to leave her small town is a nice change from the desperate need characters have to get out of their small town and never return. The sense of belonging and the attachment she has to her town is sweet and I loved that she enjoyed her home and the people in it. She doesn’t have a hatred towards it, but the understanding that you can’t really have the life you want staying where you are is a profound theme to explore.

As a character Alba is so wonderful. Her love of baking and being an artist was so wholesome and seeing her express herself through both her passions was refreshing and comforting. She is comfortable in herself and her bubbly and chatting nature was never a bad thing. She had such a depth to her personality it was amazing to see it revealed.

While there is a plotline of Doomsday and the end of the world on New Years Eve, the weirdness takes a backseat. There is a focus instead on Alba, Sarah and her friends, their journeys and their friendships take centre stage and I loved that their connections was what the story was about, the other stuff is all secondary.

Through the whole thing I felt so content. Reading it was such an enjoyable experience and it was so great to read an Australia YA that felt Australian without having reference after reference thrown in your face to really remind you it was set in Australia.

I could listen to this book over and over. There was such a loveliness to it but also so many details to get wonderfully lost in and with a slow but never stale plot I relished this journey with all these beautiful characters.

You can purchase The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg

book-bite

Published: 1 February 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Allen & Unwin
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★  – 3 Stars

 

This isn’t just about me. It’s also about the other people in my life – my mother, my father, my dead sister Sky, my penpal Denille, Rich Uncle Brian, Earth-Pig Fish and Douglas Benson From Another Dimension. These are people [with the exception of Earth-Pig Fish, who is a fish] who have shaped me, made me what I am. I cannot recount my life without recounting elements of theirs. This is a big task, but I am confident I am up to it.

Introducing Candice Phee: twelve years old, hilariously honest and a little … odd. But she has a big heart, the very best of intentions and an unwavering determination to ensure everyone is happy. So she sets about trying to ‘fix’ all the problems of all the people [and pets] in her life.

Jonsberg captures Candice’s uniqueness remarkably well. With her voice and actions we get an insight into who she is and the kind of life she leads. She has a unique way of thinking and acting, but while she is odd in some people’s eyes, her heart has good intentions.

The premise of detailing her story through the A-Z school assignment is a clever solution as it allows Candice’s story to be told in full and you can see the interconnecting actions. Jonsberg explores her family situation and the complex history naturally and in due course, we also get to see her interactions with those around her like her friends and fellow classmates.

Underneath the humour and the quirkiness there is a powerful story about family and forgiveness, and the healing nature of love. Candice is a powerful force in her own right and it is cringe-worthy at times when you read about what she is doing, but understanding she is twelve years old, with her own way of thinking, sometimes that is just what is called for.

You can purchase My Life as an Alphabet via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

#LoveOzYa Book Bingo Wrap Up

Image result for loveozya logo

Image result for loveozya logo

I was incredibly excited when I learnt about this bingo because while I am already doing many challenges and bingos this year, I couldn’t ignore one so specifically up my alley. From the best intentions to dive into this on 1 Oct, I actually didn’t get going until two weeks in which to me makes my achievement even greater.

As I was struggling in that last week to make up a bingo and find the books that would fill the categories I needed but were of a reasonable length that I could actually finish them in time, the temptation to include the same book for multiple categories was high but I felt it wasn’t in the true spirit of bingo. I also cursed all the YA books I’d read during the year which I couldn’t include since they were read outside of October. Thankfully I managed to get there in the end and even had a couple of choices for lines at one point.

I’ve included a list of the books I read below, some I have already reviewed, some I will be hopefully reviewing in the coming weeks . I really hope the #LoveOzYA team do this again soon or make it a regular thing because I had a lot of fun and not only did I get books of my TBR list finally, I read some truly amazing Aussie YA in the process. I am now planning on finishing the card because I think it is a great way to diversify my reading and there’re a great many more books I would like to read that fill in some of these squares.

 

Fantasy: Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

High School: You Must be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

LGBTQIA: Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin

Contemporary: My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg

Historical: Emmie and the Tudor King by Natalie Murray

Sci Fi: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman

Start of a Series: Foundling by D. M. Cornish

Stand Alone: Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Own Voices: When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn

You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Published: 5th March 2019 (print)/5th March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin/Penguin
Pages: 288/5 hrs and 21 mins
Narrator: Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Layla’s mind goes a million miles a minute, so does her mouth – unfortunately her better judgement can take a while to catch up! Although she believes she was justified for doing what she did, a suspension certainly isn’t the way she would have wished to begin her time at her fancy new high school. Despite the setback, Layla’s determined to show everyone that she does deserve her scholarship and sets her sights on winning a big invention competition. But where to begin?

Looking outside and in, Layla will need to come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be if she has any chance of succeeding.

I have mixed thoughts about this book. I enjoyed parts of it, and how it didn’t become an Issue book, but at the same time I think it didn’t do enough to flesh out the issues it does raise. In essence it is a good story, there is a balance between Layla being the Minority Spokesperson but there is also a universal story about finding your place in the new school and being the awkward age of being a teenager.

Layla has dreams and she makes sacrifices to achieve those dreams. I like that there is a protagonist who isn’t shy and meek, or a full on fighter, she is loud and cheerful, which she is completely ok with, and she has goals.  She screams self-confidence and her Sudanese and Muslim traditions are part of her day and not huge plot points in the narrative, it’s a background part.

There are themes of ethnicity, belonging, family, and bullying which are all dealt with reasonably well. One thing doesn’t stand out as the main point of the book, they are all woven together like they are in life, coming and going and being ever present in the background. I did love that Layla doesn’t have to stop being a teenager to become a fighter against the bullying or an advocate for her heritage, she could just enjoy her life.

It pays to remember this is the narration of a thirteen year old girl and those around her are year eight students which is a great eye opener to the next generation because while some parts were reminding me of my own year eight experience, the language and the technology is a new experience. There are also great male/female friendships. I was worried at the start based on how Abdel-Magied introduced them, but it was great to see that girls and boys could be friends without it being an issue.

Unfortunately Abdel-Magied’s writing is not entirely seamless, there is some repetition and the language can be clunky. I didn’t mind the teen slang, it may date but that was fine. It was more that I think it needed another edit, needed to be refined a bit more. This is evident listening to the audiobook. Even though Abdel-Magied reads it herself, and she does a decent job, it makes you even more aware of the writing as it can be jarring at times and highlights the flaws.

It skirts along big issues but doesn’t focus on them any further. Initially a good idea, and while I am glad Layla and the book doesn’t become focused on those issues, by the end I think it needed a bit more depth and maybe more length. In a strange way it felt like the start of a series, that all the issues half introduced in this story would be addressed in the next book. There were a lot of issues half raised and I kept expecting certain things to have more of an impact.

One thing that irked me is I honestly can’t see how this can be classed as an LGBT book like I’ve seen when it happens in the last few pages of the book and has no effect on the plot whatsoever. It could be edited out and it would mean nothing. For all the parts that work, there are just as much that doesn’t. It’s a book that borders on two sets of audiences, kids and teenagers. Layla is 13 and I think anybody over that age won’t get as much out of it as those who are younger. There’s some great messages in there that suit the younger age bracket that can escape being brushed over with minimal depth.

You can purchase You Must Be Layla via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

 

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