You’ve Got Mail with Added Emotional Baggage: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Since I first started getting into YA contemporary a few years back, there have been some misses, some solidly enjoyable reads, and a few books that have made me sit there and go, ‘Wow, I really loved that’. Letters to the Lost falls squarely within category three. This is a story that’s honest, emotionally deep, fantastically written, and somehow enjoyable, despite its often sad content.

Who, What Where?

LTTL follows high school seniors Juliet and Declan. Juliet, still grieving the death of her mother killed in a hit and run several months ago, is having difficulty moving on with her life. She takes comfort in writing letters to her mother as if she were still alive and leaves them at her grave. Declan is serving community service at the local cemetery as punishment for drunk driving a car into an office building. After finding one of Juliet’s letters among the headstones, Declan finds himself writing a reply. And so begins an exchange of anonymous letters that will have a profound impact on them both.

Dealing & Moving On

I thoroughly enjoyed the plot of LTTL. The novel has three main overarching storylines: 1) Juliet coming to terms with her mother’s death and trying to engage in life again, 2) Declan dealing with his past family trauma and current family difficulties, and 3) the relationship between the two characters. Each of these stories is given a great degree of attention and depth, and all three are seen through to a satisfying conclusion. As a reader, seeing Juliet and Declan work to overcome their demons and emotional weights is extremely cathartic, and I’ll admit, there were several scenes towards the end that had me feeling some intense…things. Yet, I will say that there are some aspects of the story that do verge into melodramatic territory, but if you can get on board with this early you’ll likely enjoy the ride.

You Get Me

The relationship between Juliet and Declan is beautifully handled and layered. On the one hand, we have their written relationship in which the two feel comfortable to share their guilt, grief, secrets and thoughts about life within the safety of anonymity. At the same time, we also have their real-life interactions which, while starting off on very shaky ground, eventually grow and develop as they come to know more about one another. It’s the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge someone before you truly know them or what they’ve been through.

Characters, Big & Small

Although the writing is amazing, it’s the characters that really made me fall in love with this one.

Declan: On the surface, Declan seems very much like the aggressive, angsty bad boy with a terrible reputation and we see this clearly from Juliet’s early interactions with him. However, Kemmerer wonderfully pulls back the layers on Declan bit by bit to reveal this caring, smart and guilt-wracked person who I so badly wanted to see find some peace, kindness and closure.

Juliet: Unlike Declan, I took some time warming up to Juliet as her grief makes her a little prickly in the earlier stages of the book. As the story goes on though, we get to understand and empathise with her a lot more. I loved seeing her open up to Declan in her letters/e-mails and using these conversations as encouragement to make changes in her life, especially where it came to her friends, family and photography.

Rev: Declan’s friend, Rev, was easily one of the best characters in the book. As an abuse survivor, Rev has his own internal battles to deal with, but he’s also a great friend, kind of awkward, very sweet, and in possession of a dry sense of humour. With this much potential, I’m really looking forward to seeing him in a lead role in More Than We Can Tell.

Wonderful Adults Galore: Can I just give a big shout out to all the gorgeous adult characters in this book. Sure, there’s definitely a few…not so good ones, but the others definitely make up for them in spades (especially since I find that adults frequently get the shaft in YA contemporaries). There’s Mr. Gerardi, who encourages Juliet to get back into photography, Mrs Hillard, who pushes Declan academically and persists despite resistance, Juliet’s dad, a massive sweetheart just trying to do the best for his daughter, and “Melonhead”, Declan’s community service supervisor, who helps him talk through some of his feelings and experiences.

You’ve Got Mail

The writing in LTTL is A+. The story alternates between Juliet and Declan’s first-person perspectives and their letters/e-mails to each other. These letters were one of my favourite parts of the novel as they showcase Juliet and Declan gradually opening up to and trusting one another with intimately personal details about their lives as well as thoughts they’ve never spoken about with anyone. This style choice also allowed for the seamless transition between the two characters’ POVs. These were fantastically done as well, with each character possessing an individual voice and Kemmerer able to perfectly capture their emotions on the page in a way that I couldn’t help but connect with them. 


While I may not have been able to fully get aboard the Kemmerer fantasy train with A Curse so Dark and Lonely, I am 100% full steam ahead when it comes to her YA contemporaries. LTTL is not a light book by any means, but despite its moments of over the top drama, it always feels true, raw, and compelling. After a book that’ll make you feel some things but is still enjoyable? This is the ticket.

4.5 Stars

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Giving It the Old College Re-Try: Again, But Better by Christine Riccio (ARC)

If you’ve been around the bookish pockets of the internet, then it’s highly likely you’ll have heard about popular booktuber, Christine Riccio, or PolandBananasBooks. If you’re a fan of Christine’s videos, then you’ll also know that she’s been working on a book since at least 2016 which is now finally at the end of the publishing road. It’s titled Again, but Better and I was lucky enough to receive an ARC.  

Who, What, Where?

Shane’s been doing college all wrong – she’s studying a major she has no passion for, has made zero friends, and her love-life is non-existent. In the hopes of changing things up, she applies for a semester abroad creative writing program in London and an internship at a prominent travel magazine. To ensure she makes the most of the experience, Shane sets herself a list of goals – kick ass at her internship, start a novel, kiss a boy, make friends, and have adventures. However, when reality begins to set in, things quickly start to fall apart. But what if, with the help of a little magic, Shane had the chance for a do-over?

Bogged Down or Too Blunt

Having watched a few snippets of Christine’s book writing videos, I know that the first draft of Again, but Better was around 120,000 words. I couldn’t understand how this could possibly be until I actually read the ARC.

Now, this is a book that would have needed A LOT of editing.

Why? There’s just so much unnecessary detail. Being able to vividly visualise scenes is great, but there’s a point where it becomes information overload. Do I really need to know every detail about every street, building, corner, and shop on Shane’s journey to the supermarket? No. You’re writing a novel, not a London guide book.

On the flip side, the chapter ends have the opposite problem. While a lot of the story feels almost gushy, the chapters always seem to end in abrupt (but not cliff-hanger-y) ways. It’s almost as though you’d expect it to be the middle of a scene rather than the end. Because of this they felt a little jarring and anti-climactic, impacting the flow of the novel for me.

Didn’t You Realise, it’s 2011

A large chunk of ABB is set in 2011. This is fine but, for some reason, the book feels the need to remind us repeatedly. If I’d been doing shots for 2011 references, I’d have been on the floor. Shane playing Angry Birds. Shot. Avril Lavigne’s ‘What the Hell?’ plays. Shot. Now it’s Rihanna’s ‘Who’s that Chick?’. Double shot. Shane is re-reading City of Glass for City of Fallen Angels. SHOOOOOTTTTT. Luckily for my liver, the name dropping does calm down in the second half. Even better, Christine stops trying to casually (or awkwardly) integrate the references. Instead, she even manages to turn them into a fun part of the time travel experience.

Christine, is That You?

As someone who isn’t a PolandBananasBooks fan, after I while, even I started to notice that ABB’s MC, Shane has…er…well, a lot in common with Christine. Visually, they’re both white, blonde girls with slim builds who like their eyeliner.  Both have Italian families, social anxiety, and dream of being published authors. Christine’s username is PolandBananas20 while Shane’s blog is FrenchWatermelon19. They like the same books and music, name their laptops, and speak in the same generally excitable, “quirky” way. I get that authors are encouraged to write what they know, but when your MC is basically you, it does mean that your writing starts sounding a lot like wish fulfillment. As a result, there were parts of this that ended up feeling just a little bit cringy – especially the happily ever after ending.

A Re-Do on Boring

Plot wise, I enjoyed the second half of ABB more than the first. The way the book is set out is: Shane does London take 1#, short intermission in the present before BAM time travel twist, then Shane does London take 2#. The problem with take 1# is that much of it feels like an extended prologue – laying down the ground work for parts of take 2#. While there were a couple of moments where things picked up, most of the time I found myself bored. There are a lot of mundane conversations, quite a bit of repetition, and lengthy sections involving Shane recounting uninteresting details of her day-to-day life in her notebook.

The beginning of take 2# is where things picked up a LOT. The humour was better, the writing smoother, and the plot showed more direction. Then, to my frustration, (a) it slowed down again and (b) the characters returned to making frustrating decisions. *groans*.

A Bit of Positivity

At this point, I feel like I’m crapping all over a young author’s debut novel. So, with that in mind here are a few of the things I liked about ABB:

  • The book does have some genuinely funny elements e.g. Shane’s war with the flat’s dining chairs and her recount of the way she spent her spring break. Basically me.
  • Despite having issues with them as separate characters, I did root for Shane and her love interest, Pilot, to end up together. They have some nice interactions, especially in take 2#.
  • While the ending was rushed, unrealistic and corny, I couldn’t help finding it very cute. Stupid swoony heart, you’re supposed to be a cynic! Must be the magic of Taylor Swift.
  • *spoiler* There’s a really lovely moment during take 2# in which Shane helps out her cousin who is struggling with coming out. Super sweet.
  • I’m sure there will be people out there who can relate with Shane’s anxiety issues, and she does have a couple of panic attacks during the novel.

While I hate to say it, I wasn’t much of a fan of this one and probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t a big Christine viewer (because it has her written all over it). Again, but Better has its brighter moments, but unfortunately they’re often overshadowed by the novel’s lower points.

2.5 Stars

*** ARC received from St Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.***

Waffles, Glitter, & Heartbreak: ‘The Boy Who Steals Houses’ by C. G. Drews (ARC)

Take some soft boys, sassy girls, a lot of heartbreak, piles of waffles, and a touch of glitter. Mix it all together and you get…well, pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a book written by Paper Fury. In the best possible way, of course.

Who, What, Where?

Sam and his autistic brother Avery have had it tough – an absent mother, abusive father, and an aunt who kicked them out. Ever since, the brothers have been stealing to get by, but not just wallets and phones. Sam also steals houses. Using his lock picking abilities and powers of observation, Sam’s great at choosing places to hold up in for a couple of days. That is, until the empty house he crashes in one night becomes not so empty the next morning. Enter the De Laineys – the big, crazy, and wonderful family that’s everything Sam’s ever wanted. Mistaken as one of the sibling’s friends, suddenly, he’s hanging out with twins Jeremy and Jack, and day dreaming about spunky, fashion designer Moxie. But Sam knows it can’t last and if they only knew the secrets he’s hiding…

I’m Happy, I’m Sad, I’m a Mess

TBWSH is a bizarre mix of different tones. One minute you’re reading about Avery getting abused and wanting to rip your heart out of your chest it hurts so bad, the next, pure happy, fluffdom hits, such as Moxie showing Sam how to eat waffles properly (*spoiler* with lots of caramel sauce!). I’ve read a few books where these different moods haven’t been integrated very well, leaving you with severe emotional whiplash. However, I can safely say that this is one book in which it just works effortlessly. For something with such dramatic highs and lows, it somehow always feels smooth and natural.

Speaking of these highs and lows, I have to say just how well written they are, especially the sadder ones. There are moments of genuine joy and others that are unexpectedly dark. Both hit you hard in a fantastic (or is it awful?) way.

Can I Join the De Lainey Family?

Just like Sam, I unexpectedly fell in love with the De Lainey family. Some members are more prominent/better developed than others, but I thoroughly enjoyed every scene in which members of them were around. Each person is different and sweet, and it’s very easy to believe a family like them exists out there somewhere. Plus, the banter is so good. I cracked a smile on many occasions during this book – it’s all so easy and amusing, particularly if it involves Jack and his swearing.

Loose Ends

While I enjoyed TBWSH, one of the things that bugged me a little were the few loose ends it finished up with. There’s the issue of some stolen money, a someone who does something to Sam and just disappears, and then, (although it’s still adorable) the sort of open-ended-ness to the ending itself. Yes, I understand I can’t always have all the answers but I’m a curious (aka. nosy) person, okay. I just have to know everyone’s alright! 

Writing Style

Something I was worried about going into this book was the writing style. I love Cait’s photography on Bookstagram, however, I’m only able to read her captions and reviews in small doses. I just find her writing very… energetic? Overwhelming? It’s not about quality, just personal preference. For this reason, I wondered if her books would read like her reviews. The answer is yes, and no. The writing still definitely screams Cait, but it also feels a little calmer somehow. Yet, there are a few choice phrases and similes that I found myself going, ‘huh?’ in response to, or finding a little grating with time. For example:

  • “Caseworkers made of black ink and hard lines”
  • Their kiss tasted of “salty tears and bloody memories and empty boxes”
  • “He can build a bridge of moons and caramel cakes”

Autistic Representation

Not only does TBWSH prominently feature a character with autism but, although this is just one expression on a broad spectrum, the representation here is done very well. Avery’s movements, speech, and behaviours are consistent, realistic and never feel gimmicky or thrown in for extra colour. He’s a well-developed and sympathetic character, and the violence and misunderstanding he faces over the course of the book truly hurt me.

You, Me, We

The relationship between Avery and Sam is great and I love how Cait was able to perfectly depict the complicated emotions associated with having a loved one with a disability. There’s love, a desire to protect them, and feelings of responsibility, but also guilt, frustration and resentment. The novel has some lovely moments between Sam and Avery and this bond really is the heart of the story. Sam just wants to protect his brother from the world but he can’t, and that’s the worst part.

Other Thoughts:

  • The book has a great start – it introduces the characters well, has a good degree of tension and really grabs you.
  • Moxie is a boss and I only want amazing things and many boxes of caramel chocolates for her.

TBWSH is a sweet but emotional read. If you’re looking for a YA contemporary about belonging, brotherhood, acceptance (and yummy snacks) that’ll break your heart and put it back together again, all in the space of 300 pages, this is the perfect choice.

4.5 STARS

Intense, Raw & Emotional: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess (ARC)

The Quiet you Carry is a little different from the YA books I normally read which generally tend to fall into one of two categories – fantasy or cute, romantic contemporary. But sometimes it’s good to branch out. I didn’t entirely know what to expect from this one other than the fact it would deal with some heavy subject matters and because of that, I went into it without making any assumptions. In the end, some things worked and other things didn’t.

Who, What, Where?

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Nikki Barthelmess’ debut novel centres around seventeen-year-old Victoria. One night. Victoria’s father mysteriously throws her out of the house and as a result, she winds up in foster care. The events of that evening are a blur for Victoria. She believes that there must have been some kind of misunderstanding because if there’s one thing she’s sure of, it’s that her father’s account can’t possibly be true. To her frustration, she’s quickly denied all contact with her family, including her stepsister, Sarah, and moved to an entirely new town and school. With less than a year until graduation, Victoria is forced to adjust to her circumstances and rework her plans for the future. At the same time, she also has to come to terms with the events that led her there if she wants to protect Sarah.

Topics & Triggers

As I mentioned above, the plot of TQyC deals with quite a few difficult topics. Basically, break out those trigger warnings – sexual assault, paedophilia, suicide, eating disorders, children in foster care, and domestic violence. It was interesting to read about a character stuck in a foster care situation written by an author who, herself, grew up in the foster system. Because of this, Victoria’s experiences in the system and those of the kids living with her felt genuine and realistic but also gave me a lot of sympathy for children placed in similar or far worse situations.

Plot

Deciding where I stand on the plot is a little tricky. The book starts out fairly well, if a little confusingly, and does manage to hook you out of interest in finding out what happened the night Victoria was thrown out. After this, as it’s a character-focused story, the plot does meander a lot without much of an obvious point other than to simply showcase Victoria’s experiences and growth. There were certain sections of the book where I was really engaged, especially during some of the big emotional or dramatic moments which were well written and ended up hitting me harder than expected. Then again, there were also long sections, often involving Victoria’s internal monologue, during which I found myself getting bored and checking out, particularly around the middle.

Melodrama & Cheesiness

Something that frustrated me a lot as we got closer to the end, especially during the climax and ending itself, is that the writing quickly veered into being extremely melodramatic and even corny. The dialogue seemed sappy and the tone felt so over the top and manufactured that I even found myself rolling my eyes. I mean, there’s literally a moment of, “At least we have each other” and even an unnecessary and forced flashback section. As a reader, it’s hard to get starry-eyed when everything that’s happened is over a period of only about 3 months.

Characters

As a protagonist, most of the time Victoria is fairly likeable and sympathetic. She makes the best of a crappy situation and doesn’t give up. However, at times she can be snappy and her attempts to isolate herself against interactions at her new school for so long do become annoying. Still, considering what she’s been through, it’s understandable.

In terms of side characters, Victoria’s new friend Christina is enjoyably spunky, while her love interest Kale is adorably charming. I also appreciated the fact that Barthelmess developed Victoria’s foster mother, Connie, into a deeper and more complex character, even if it was a bit sudden. One character I really wasn’t on board with was Victoria’s father. Not because he’s awful (he is) but because he just never felt real to me – he’s just a really bizarre character – and this had a big impact on how I saw Victoria’s family history and experienced the overall story arc.


The Quiet you Carry is an honest and raw read. Even with its weaknesses, I consider this a solid debut with a lot of room for Barthelmess to grow. If you enjoy emotionally complex YA stories which deal with harsh, real-world issues, this may be a good pick for you.

3 Stars

#LoveOzYa – Giving Some Love to YA Books by Australian Authors

If you haven’t already worked this out from either (a) my ‘About Me’ page or (b) my language choices in most of my posts, I am Australian. A Sydney-sider to be exact. And, of course, as a good Aussie bookworm, most of the novels I read are by…not Australian authors…Awks. So, today I’m going to try and rectify my shortcomings (somewhat) by showing off a few YA books by some of my country’s fabulous authors.

Let me just say, I haven’t read every book on the list so in quite a few cases I’m relying on the positive reviews of others or a really great sounding blurb. I’ve tried to cover some books that not as many people overseas might know about. So as much as I adore Illuminae and The Book Thief, you won’t see them on this list. Off we go!


Tomorrow When the War Began – John Marsden

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TWTWB is just one of those books you pretty much have to read as an Aussie teen but it’s definitely able to be enjoyed by anyone. The story follows a group of friends who go camping only to find out upon their return, that their country has been invaded and their town taken prisoner. The teens then have to decide whether they should hide, surrender or fight. The strength of this novel lies in that each of JM’s characters feels real, distinct and complex. The book also manages to perfectly balance the line between action and heartbreaking emotion. It’s an interesting look at war and a fantastic start to great series.

About the Author:

  • John knew he wanted to be an author at age 9 but it wasn’t until 37 that he finally published his book, So Much to Tell You.
  • He’s sold more than 2 1/2 million books in Australia alone!
  • For 8 years, he ran a super popular writing course just outside of Melbourne
  • In 2006 he started his own school, Candlebark, for preschool to year 7 students. It’s so popular it has a 4-year wait list.

Pieces of Sky – Trinity Doyle

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Lucy’s life with her family in a small coastal town is easy and happy, but this dramatically changes the day her brother, Cam, drowns under mysterious circumstances. Now she can’t bear to go back to her local swimming club, her parents are shells of what they used to be, and Lucy herself is just struggling to keep going. Drawn to Steffi, her wild ex-best-friend who reminds Lucy of her brother, and music-obsessed Evan, the new boy in town, Lucy starts asking questions about Cam’s death – was it an accident or suicide? But as Lucy hunts for answers she discovers much more than she expects. About Cam. About her family. About herself.

Pieces of Sky seems like such an honest and emotional read, and it’s only got just over 700 ratings on GR. Also, that cover is stunning.

About the Author:

  • Trinity has done a wide range of different jobs – music photographer, graphic designer, joint head of a record label, bassist in multiple girl bands, and obviously novelist!
  • Pieces of Sky is Trinity’s first novel and stemmed from her writing emo poetry.
  • Her favourite book growing up is the next book on this list. She’s a big Marchetta fan.
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Looking for Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta

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Remember how I said John Marsden is one of those books you have to read as an Aussie teen? Well, this is the other one. Literally, it gets assigned to pretty much everyone at school. Josephine Alibrandi lives with her Italian mother and grandmother, and it’s been that way for as long as she can remember. It’s her final year at her wealthy Catholic School and all of a sudden – she just can’t seem to avoid men trouble. There’s her father, who’s suddenly come back into her life, Jacob, the hottie from Cooke High who her family would surely disapprove of, and John, Josie’s best friend who seems to have problems of his own. It’s a fairly short read that deals with growing up, identity, depression, first love, and life as an immigrant. It’s kind of an oldie now, but still a goodie.

About the Author:

  • Looking for Alibrandi (1992) was Melina’s debut novel, which she later turned into a film script and it was adapted in 2000.
  • She used to balance teaching & writing before committing to writing full time.
  • Some of her other books include
    On the Jellicoe Road, Saving Francesca and Finnikin of the Rock,
  • Her books have won numerous awards and she’s known as one of the big names in Aussie YA fiction.
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In the Dark Spaces – Cally Black

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This book is on the younger end of the YA range, but as the most recent winner of the Ampersand Prize, it’s definitely worth noticing. For the past year, Tamara has been living as a stowaway on board the deep space freighter, Starweaver Layla. Here she spends her time looking after her baby cousin and quietly sneaking around the ship’s crawl spaces. Her life is soon thrown into chaos when the ship is invaded by a group of aliens – the Crowpeople, whom no ship has survived an attack from. To her shock, Tamara is taken back to the hive as a hostage to be tested. Here she begins to learn about the aliens’ way of life and to integrate herself into their community. This leaves her with a difficult choice – stay, knowing she’ll never see her family again, or risk everything to escape?

About the Author:

  • In the Dark Spaces is Cally Black’s first published novel.
  • She works in education and lives in Melbourne with her family.
  • Cally is fascinated by science and technology but she’s also drawn to stories about those on the outskirts of society.
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Words in Deep Blue – Cath Crowley

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WiDP revolves around Henry & Rachel who were once best friends before Rachel moved away. Upon her return three years later, she gets a job in the bookstore owned by Henry’s family. Whilst trying to process the grief of losing her brother, she finds comfort in the letters and notes left by others inside the books she catalogues. Meanwhile, Henry has his own problems – his girlfriend has broken up with him again and he’s still unsure about his future. Slowly Henry and Rachel begin to rekindle their friendship but it’ll require them to deal with the elephant in the room – that Rachel once confessed she was in love with Henry. The story is told in alternating perspectives and it’s about BOOKS, love, grief, friendship and learning to live again. Prepare thy emotions!

About the Author:

  • Cath first discovered she wanted to be a writer on a trip to Europe during which she sent her brother letters of her adventures (which he used to turn into a musical!).
  • The loss of her father helped her to write Words in Deep Blue and understand just how different grief is for each person.
  • Her most recent novel, Take Three Girls, was published in 2017.
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Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey

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Late on a hot summer night in 1965, thirteen-year-old Charlie Bucktin, is startled by an urgent knock on his window. His visitor is Jasper Jones, Corrigan’s town outcast. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, he eagerly agrees. Jasper takes him to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery – the body of young Laura Wishart. Soon, Charlie’s not only dealing with the impending collapse of his parent’s marriage, the racism directed at his Vietnamese friend, Jeffrey, and falling in love for the first time, but also Corrigan’s growing fear and suspicion. Because if Charlie doesn’t learn to sort the truth from the lies, it may just be Jasper that pays the price.

Jasper Jones has won a heap of awards and it’s been on the top 101 books list at Aus’s biggest bookstore chain for years now. It’s even been adapted into a movie and play. If you like (a) historical (b) mystery and (c) coming of age books, this is probably for you.

About the Author:

  • Craig is both a novelist and a musician – he writes for and performs in a band called The Nancy Sikes!
  • He grew up on an orchard at Dwellingup in Western Australia
  • Aside from his novels, he’s also written a children’s picture book about a guide dog.
  • His first novel, Rhubard was published when he was only 19 years old.
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Akarnae – Lynette Noni

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Arkarnae has been sitting on the kids top 51 chart for Australia’s biggest book store chain for a while now. It beat SJM and Cassie Clare. Like what? Akarnae is supposedly a mix of Narnia, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and X-men all thrown in together. It tells the story of Alex, who walks through a doorway and somehow finds herself stuck in the fantasy world of Medora. Only a man named Professor Marselle can help her get back but oh no, he’s missing. In the meantime, Alex attends a Medoran Boarding School for kids with special abilities. However, when weird things start to occur, it becomes clear that something BAD is coming. As you can imagine, it’s up to Alex and her new friends to save the world, but what if doing so means she’ll never get home? Arkarnae is the first in a series of 5 and shock, gasp, oh my god, there is NO romance in the first few books.

About the Author:

  • Lynette has studied journalism, academic writing and human behaviour at university.
  • She loves animated movies and baking.
  • Aside from Akarnae, she’s also the author of Whisper (2018).
  • Lynette regularly takes part in writing-related panels and conducts workshops for schools.
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A Thousand Perfect Notes – C. G. Drews

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Another debut from a young Aussie author. ATPN is about a boy name Beck who’s grown up in an abusive home. Beck’s mother constantly forces him to practice the piano in the hopes that he will make up for the illustrious music career she believes she missed out on. Beck is terrified of his mother and wants nothing more than to get away. One day he’s paired for a joint school assignment with a classmate named, August – she’s free-spirited, full of life, and may just offer Beck the perfect escape from his trapped existence.

About the Author:

  • Cait is more widely known in internet blogging circles as Paperfury and is one of the most popular bookstagrammers around/reviewers on Goodreads.
  • ATPN is her debut novel and her second, The Boy who Steals Houses, is due for release in April.
  • She reads hundreds of books a year and shares my immense love of cake.

Have you read many YA books by Aussie authors? What are some of your favourites?

In a Well-Ordered Universe: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

If there were a perfect way for me to explain the way I feel about Since You’ve Been Gone, it would be to say that it’s the same as listening to Taylor Swift’s song, Fearless. It’s sweet, innocent, reminds you of hot summer days, and makes you feel young and free. This book is summer in literary form and, in the best possible way, it’ll remind you of your best friends – the crazy things you’ve done together, the adventures you’ve had, and the intimate moments you’ve shared.

Who, What, Where?

Since You’ve Been Gone centres around the friendship between reserved Emily and wild child Sloan. Emily and Sloan do everything together and they’ve got plans for a fantastic summer. That is, until Sloan just up and disappears. The only clue Emily has is a list – thirteen tasks that Sloan has left for her which Em would never even think of doing alone. Some are easy – ride a horse, break something. Others, such as steal something and kiss a stranger, not so much. With the help of a few new friends, Emily sets out to complete the list in the hopes that somehow it’ll bring her best friend home to her.

Why You Should Read This Book

Emily’s Character Arc

I love character growth. It’s honestly my favourite thing in the world. Ignore the fact that I’ve probably said this about fifty-million other things already this year. Emily’s character arc is honestly one of the most wonderful parts of this book. She starts off the novel a bit of a wallflower, really awkward (as in, cannot hold a conversation past ‘Hello’) and lacking in self-confidence. Emily’s used to relying on Sloane to take the lead in interactions and encourage her to try new things, almost to the point of it being annoying when the book first starts. However, as she makes her way through Sloane’s list and the associated events, she slowly grows in confidence and gains a far better understanding of who she is. She starts to speak up for herself, take risks, and ends up forming several new and unexpected friendships. Watching young women come into their own is pretty much the best thing ever so you can see why I loved this one.

Friendship & Romance

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, there is not enough of a focus on amazing and well-developed friendships in YA. Romance is great, but fab friendships make my little book-loving heart sing. Sloane and Emily’s relationship is at the centre of the story and their friendship is developed quite well through the use of flashbacks. While I wish there would have been maybe one or two more, the novel still manages to show how close the girls are, the value each places on their bond with the other, and establishes Sloane’spersonality, too. The relationship isn’t perfect but the fact that it’s able to adjust to Emily’s changing sense of self is the true measure of its worth.

As Emily completes the list, she also makes several other friends – Dawn, Collins & Frank. Each character is decently fleshed out, very likeable, and feel distinct from the others. What’s also lovely is watching the four come together as a group, not only to help Emily in her quest to complete the list, but to just generally spend quality time together as well.

Before you ask, yes, there’s a romance plotline, too. And yes, I really liked it. Emily and Frank just mesh. They have this wonderfully subtle dynamic that’s slowly built up over the course of the book from acquaintances to friends to maybe something more. Frank is a love interest you can easily get behind – he’s kind, honest, supportive, and in the face of a moment where he could have acted like a complete dick, he aces the obstacle with flying colours. You go, Frank.

Completing the list

The concept for this book is cute – it’s pure YA contemporary adorableness and I unashamedly loved it. It’s fairly simple, complete the list of challenges, but Matson executes it very well. It’s just so much fun seeing what will come up next on Sloane’s list and how Emily will manage to tick it off, even though it’s something ridiculously out of her comfort zone. Some of the things on the list are a bit ambiguous and need Emily to interpret them so there’s also a degree of mystery. The reason it all works so well is that a lot of the challenges end up leading Emily to something unexpected and more significant than she originally expects – new friends, a summer job, quality time with her brother, party crashing, a run-in with an ex, and a whole host of other things. Yet, the real appeal is that completing the list is just so full of fun, weird, and crazy experiences that they can’t help but make you feel young and adventurous just reading about them.

Why You Might Want to Skip It

Fluffy, Summer Fun

If you go into this book looking for something super deep and heavy, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s just simply not this novel’s vibe. Does it deal with real emotions, of course, but this is a story about finding yourself and not letting fear stop you from living life to the fullest. If you’re looking for big life questions, move right along.

Cheating

A few people have commented on this so, heads up, there is a cheating incident at the end of the book. Some people are going to have a problem with it. Sure, the actual event of is sucky but I think the aftermath is handled very well by the character doing said cheating. No stuffing around and the situation is resolved quickly &maturely. Yet, at the same time, the book doesn’t skirt around it being cheating as shown by one character very clearly calling the other out for their actions so there’s that.

The Romantic Drama Complication/Ending

You’ll see the way the romantic storyline unfolds in this book from a valley, mountain and ocean away. Predictability is fine, but I do have to admit to slight feelings of frustration when I reached this part of the book. Why? Because it annoys me when conflict is created in books simply because characters won’t talk to each other or one won’t let another explain something when this would SO easily fix said conflict! That’s the case here, and I think it’s largely because resolving it would deprive us of a cute ‘skip into the sunset’moment right at the end. Those scenes are great, but I feel ending this earlier would have been a better choice. My reason for this is that it would have left the resolution to Sloane and Emily’s story as the last moments of the book, which fits the overall theme of the novel so much better. After all, this friendship is the driving force for the entire story.

Since You’ve Been Gone is easily one of my new favourite YA contemporary books and I can see myself going back to re-read this on holiday, lazing around during Summer, or even when just in the need for something light, fun and comforting. I’ll definitely be recommending this one to friends!

4.5 Stars

Top 10 Tuesday: YA Contemporaries on my Summer TBR

This week’s topic is to do with cozy winter reads (thanks Jana) but as usual, I live in the Southern Hemisphere which means, to my horror, we’re now in summer. Basically in AUS that means the country is flooding, on fire, and in drought all at the same time. There’s also been word of a giant cow somewhere. Anyway, I’m finally getting on board with the whole ‘summer is a great time to read YA Contemporaries’ thing. In my case, it’s probably more like: summer is a great time to catch up on all the YA Contemporaries everyone else in the world seems to have read ages ago and I haven’t. So here are ten that I’m hoping to read at some point over the next few months of icky, sweaty, humid, bug infested Summer.

Image result for alex approximatelyAlex, Approximately – Jenn Bennett

Essentially this is You’ve Got Mail (which I really enjoy) in a modern, teen setting. So, as you can imagine, I’m very much on board. I like the whole enemies to lovers trope where it involves gaining a new understanding of someone you thought you knew and this definitely seems to check that box. I’m just preparing for a chick flick in book form, really.

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Image result for fangirl rainbow rowellFangirl – Rainbow Rowell

I bought this one a few months back now and still haven’t gotten to it despite the fact that it’s one of those YA Contemporaries everyone RAVES about because it’s apparently so relatable. The cover is cute, the blurb’s cute, and yes, it does all feel very relatable. The lead is an introvert who writes fan fiction and absolutely loves books..sound like anyone you know? I also kind of like the fact that it’s set at university rather than high school. Time to see what everyone’s been talking about. Cath and Levi, I’m coming for you.

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Image result for what if its usWhat if it’s Us? – Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

I was majorly anticipating this particular release and while I have certainly bought it, as usual, I still have yet to read it. I love Becky’s books and after reading my first of Adam’s books last month, I’m super keen to read their joint baby. I’ve seen a few mixed reviews on it since its release but I’m hoping that adorable characters and theatre vibes will make it a winner for me.

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28919058Autoboyography – Christina Lauren

This one was recommended to me by someone at the bookstore after I finished Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I’ve heard Christina’s books are really sweet and there is honestly so much love for this book online. I also feel like it’s pretty important to read some more books with diversity. The cover is super pretty and I think the concept in itself sounds really lovely. It may also be because like every other book worm out there, I, too, like to write.

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33385229They Both Die at the End – Adam Silvera

This one’s a little different from the other YA Contemporaries on this list because its technically set in another world but it’s still classified as one anyway. After reading and enjoying History is All You Left Me, I’d love to read some more of Adam’s work and this one seems to be the most popular of the bunch. I can tell it’s going to be another heart wrecker but hey, emotion is good. I think this will be a great reminder to live life to the fullest and appreciate the little things. At least it won’t be a shock ending, right? RIGHT?

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25756328Love and Gelato – Jenna Evans Welch

Um, what’s more summer than romance, gelato and Italy? Nothing, that’s right. Okay, there’s probably a lot of things but regardless, I get the feeling this will be a perfect summer pick. I’ve used this book in other posts before but because I still haven’t got there, it’s showing up again. Sue me. I absolutely adore Italy so it’ll be nice to read something fun and light set there. I’m not expecting anything too substantial but sometimes that’s okay. I can’t read books about life and death questions all the time.

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18304322Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy

Dumplin’ has been on my radar for a while but I’ve been putting it off because there seems to be some people that love it and think it’s wonderfully body positive, and others that have a heap of issues with it and complain about it being hypocritical. I’m far from the skinniest person you’ll ever meet so I’m hoping I’ll end up finding something in the former camp. Plus, the Netflix adaptation comes out later this week and I’m one of those people for which nothing spurs me on to read books I’ve been putting off quite like seeing an adaptation trailer.

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31952703Words in Deep Blue – Cath Crowley

A book about BOOKS. Can you imagine anything more perfect than that? Even better, people connecting and falling in love by leaving notes for each other in books! It’s basically my romantic dream. No direct socialisation and spending heaps of time in bookstores. *swoons* This is suposed to be a short read but it’s also got a great reputation for being a really beautiful book about love, loss and learning to move on with your life. Why do so many books on this list want to wreck me emotionally? BONUS, it’s set in Australia! Horray! And yet, I’m still determined to get my hands on the US cover because gosh the UK/Aus cover is a snooze. Zzzzzzzz…

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18460392All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

This book has come up a lot in YA circles. It’s on the 2018 top 101 list at my local bookstore, won a Goodreads choice award back in 2015 and has an average star rating of 4.18. Yes, it’s another love story but this seems like it deals with a lot of bigger things too such as mental health and suicide so I’m expecting to get that giant hole in my heart by the end of it. However, apparently it’s a bit John Green-esque which, no shade to Mr Green, hasn’t really been my thing so far. Eh, we’ll have to see!

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31351689Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake

Okay, this isn’t exactly what you’d call an easy, breezy summer read but it’s YA, contemporary and I am hoping to read it during summer. I’ve got a lot of love story books on this list and I feel like it might be nice to have something a little more serious. This book deals with rape, trust, relationships and it looks intense but it’s supposed to be fantastic and I’m hoping for a really great read which successfully tackles some heavy themes.

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That makes 10. I’ll be realistic, it’s unlikely I’ll get anywhere near to reading all of these during the next few months because I do need to break things up with some other genres for variety but it’s always nice to have goals.

Have you read any of the YA Contemporaries on this list? What are some of your favourite books in this genre?