The Centre of My Everything

 

Author: Allayne L Webster

Publisher: Random House Australia

The Centre of My Everything by Allayne L Webster was recommended to me by a friend. At first, when I started reading it, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I think my initial reserve was that it was too close to home. This is a book that captures Australian small town living and it doesn’t hold back.

The book is set in small-town Mildura, where everyone knows or thinks they know everyone. The first character we meet is Corey. Corey is a football hero and high-school drop out who is struggling in the real world. On first meeting Corey it is quite easy to write him off as a loser, but as the book progresses we learn more about Corey and there is a lot more to him than initially meets the eye.

It is pretty easy to dislike Corey, particularly in the opening chapter when we learn that Corey and his mate Hamish have gone on a bender and stolen bones from the local cemetery. Upon reading this, I wasn’t particularly sure I wanted to keep reading but having grown up in small towns I know that sometimes things that happen don’t always define the person involved.

The next character to be introduced is Tara. It is relatively clear from the beginning that Tara is a disaster. She’s a beautiful disaster, but still a disaster. Her mother is off travelling with her boyfriend and has left Tara to fend for herself and Tara isn’t coping. Tara hasn’t had the best upbringing. Her mother hasn’t been the best role-model.

Next, we are introduced to Justin, who has come back to Mildura after leaving ten years earlier, at the age of fourteen when his mum committed suicide. Justin found drugs in the city but has come back to Mildura clean and looking for answers. His father is the local drunk and is seen most days propping up the bar at the local hotel.

Finally, there is Margo. Margo is aboriginal. She’s not into drinking, partying or messing up her life. Margo wants to escape Mildura and she is working hard at school, so she can leave Mildura and make a life for herself. Out of all the characters, Margo comes from the most stable home.

The book follows the characters and what results is a raw and riveting tale. This is a no-holds-barred book and how refreshing is that to read. I think that’s what holds people back from truly appreciating this book. This is real life and sometimes real life is difficult to read. At the moment I am reading an American YA book and I think that the most significant difference I noticed between the two is that American books are polished (but not always in a good way). Australian YA fiction tends to give us the flawed characters that are relatable. Australian authors don’t sugar-coat characters or a story and Allayne L Webster, in particular, has written a story that is beautifully Australian. Yes, at times it is crude and gut-wrenching, but for lots of Australians so is life.

This is a cautionary tale about binge drinking, but it is never condescending or blaming. Young people don’t always make the smartest decisions, but I think what this book shows is that a bad decision doesn’t have to define you. There are ways out of bad choices. The Centre of My Everything shows that there is hope for everyone, not just the chosen few. Your life may feel like it is out of control, but life can turn around for the better.

The book also presents to us the idea that how someone is presented is not always who they are as a person. That when treated with respect and love a person can show a different side. This happens to all the characters but in particular Corey and Tara. From the outset, these two characters are the most difficult to like. It would seem as though they are wasting their lives away with alcohol and bad decisions. It would also appear that they are no-hopers – not very smart and very little going for them except their good looks and charisma. Through the book, we learn that there is more to Corey and Tara and with compassion and understanding they show what potential they do have. Webster gives us two teenagers who are doing the best they possibly can under the circumstances that they have been handed in life. Neither of the two has had good role models in their life and when they are shown a different way of life they embrace their lives in more positive ways.

The Centre of My Everything is quintessential Australia. It is funny, crude, intense, moving and gut-wrenching. It isn’t always an easy read, but it is a book that will stay with you long after you read it and aren’t these still the best books. The books that make you think, question and wonder. What I loved most about this book is that it is a book about forgiveness and as they say, “to err is human; to forgive divine.”

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Ballad For A Mad Girl

Grace Foley is the girl who lives by her own rules. She’s the prankster in her small group of misfit friends. Grace is the one who always pushes the boundaries. Her friends ground her and they may be the misfits of the town, but they each have a place in their small circle – Grace is the funny one. The trouble is that Grace’s small group is growing up and they are changing and unlike Grace, they want more than what their group can offer them. Grace fears change because change has not been kind to Grace Foley.

Wakefield draws you into Grace’s narrative immediately when in the opening pages of the book Grace sneaks out of home to defend her position as the record holder for the fastest time crossing the 40-metre pipe running 15- metres above a gully at the local quarry. Grace has completed the pipeline run hundreds of times and she is fearless when it comes to this challenge, but this particular night she freezes and is paralysed with fear.

“I stop, steady myself, blink. Stretch my arms and wait for the edges of the world to come back. Fear is in front of me now, and to the side, above and below.”

Not only is Grace paralysed with fear. A strange blue mist has crept in and Grace begins to see, feel and experience the presence of another.

“I trace the word with my finger. It shimmers. A sharp impact near my ribs knocks me sideways and the pipe seems to buckle and twist. My legs lose grip. Close by, someone is sobbing as if their heart could break.”

After that night Grace begins to change, even though she’s desperately trying to hold on to the world, she knows. Grace learns of a mystery that is associated with the gully – a twenty-year-old mystery. A blonde, blue-eyed teenager named Hannah Holt disappeared without a trace and it’s rumoured she’s buried in the gully.

Grace is convinced that Hannah is haunting her. Hannah wants Grace to reveal the truth of what happened that night. That until Grace can do this, she won’t be free of Hannah.

Wakefield writes so beautifully and hauntingly; you feel the creepiness of what is happening to Hannah so vividly.

“A lone crow drifts in lazy circles above. Overhead, the powerlines are humming, and the pitch is maddening. I cup my hands over my ears and lean against the tree. My vision is leached – it’s as if I’m the only person breathing in an abandoned world.”

Wakefield writes her characters so tenderly that you truly ache for them and the dilemmas they find themselves in and Grace is no exception. Wakefield’s characters are real and nuanced.

Vikki Wakefield’s writing is to be appreciated and though this is a book that you want to read quickly because of the riveting mystery. Do yourself a favour and slow down because you may miss those moments that only add to Wakefield’s brilliance. Savour her writing.

Ballad For a Mad Girl is a beautifully creepy book. There is Wakefield’s usual edgy brilliance combined with a thrilling mystery. Ballad For a Mad Girl is Vikki Wakefield at her best – brilliant, edgy and disturbing.

Ballad

Take Three Girls

 

 

Take Three Girls is one of those novels that comes with high expectations. Three award-winning authors are writing together in one book. The first time I read this novel, I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about and it was only on my second reading that I appreciated the three narratives that Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood had blended together.  The book’s chapters switch between each girl’s individual view. Take Three Girls is a book so well written that you take the subtleties and the nuances of this beautifully crafted novel for granted.

Ady, Clem and Kate are thrown together as part of their elite school’s Wellness Program. The three girls are put together in a group (based on their thumb size). The Wellness Program forces the girls to interact with one another and it is through this compulsory group that the three girls get to know each other better, eventually becoming friends. These three girls were barely acquaintances and without the program most likely would never have become friends – Clem is a star swimmer, Ady is the Queen Bee and Kate is a quiet over-achieving musician.

As the book progresses you realise there is more to each girl then the label they have been given. All of them are trying to find their way in the world. The girls are on an exploration to discover who they are and how they fit into the world that they live. The book also introduces us to the online site called PSST (Private Schools Secret Tracker). PSST is an online social media site that takes delight in bullying – mainly through body and slut shaming (most of which is untrue). PSST is a toxic website that shows how toxic online social media sites can be and the damage they can unleash.

“The class is filing in for Wellness, a new program designed to cure us of the urge to trash each other on social media. I love the internet, code, computers. I love that if I miss Ben, I can summon him into my room and talk to him over Skype. It’s the most mind-bending invention in the last century and how do humans use it? They access porn and talk smack about each other.’

What I love about this book is that it is a celebration of friendship. Take Three Girls captures what good friendship looks like but it also shows what bad friendship looks like.

“Friends. It seems so simple it’s dumb, but it took you a while to get onboard – a friend is someone you can be real with. No games, no faking it, no showing off, no putting down, no power plays. Not cool or hot or mean or unpopular or fashionable or competing with each other. Just being true. And how that makes you feel is…relaxed.”

This book also celebrates how a few can make a difference in a small way. This is a book about showing teenagers that if everyone made a stand (even in a small way), then the bullies can be put in their place. Online bullying is most likely here to stay, but rather than embracing it and relishing the gossip and takedown of others – stand up, speak out and do what you can. It may only be small. It may not make a huge difference, but it will make a difference. Teenagers are an influential group and they can make a change. Ady, Clem and Kate took on an online site and they may not have stopped it but their small action brought joy and beauty to many and this ultimately is what life is about – giving happiness and taking away pain, even if it is for just a moment.

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The Secret Science of Magic – Melissa Keil

Melissa Keil is one of the finest voices in Australian YA fiction. Her books are always delightful, entertaining and wonderfully eccentric and The Secret Science of Magic, her third novel is no exception.

A quirky, high school romance unfolds in alternating voices of maths whiz Sophia and aspiring magician Joshua. The Secret Science of Magic is a book with a lot of heart that deals with complex questions of love, identity, friendship – sensitively and realistically.

Sophia is a fantastic and refreshing character. She is almost certainly on the autism spectrum – brilliant in science and maths but finds people challenging. Life for Sophia is not comfortable – crowds frighten her and she suffers from panic attacks. She lives inside her own head and sees the world a little differently to those around her. Sophia is authentically geeky and readers will emphasise with her anxiety.

I like that Sophia shows us that just because someone doesn’t feel comfortable around people doesn’t mean that they are shy, aloof or uninterested. Many of those on the spectrum choose to be alone, preferring their own company – a little like introverts.

“I resist the urge to remind her that I am not shy. That’s always been the conclusion most people draw about me, the simplest and least demanding diagnosis, which I rarely bother to correct, ‘shy’ is a label everyone can get on board with.”

Keil has an exceptional gift of putting together characters who are uniquely different but so well matched. Joshua is empathetic, vulnerable, awkward and romantic. He understands Sophia and Sophia needs a Josua in her life.

Joshua brings fun and joy to Sophia’s life. He uses his magic to woo her (often anonymously) and it works. It is sweet, charming and gorgeous. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like magic.

“Mr Grayson’s vintage movie projector on the back of the room starts to whirl…it floods the dreary lab with flickering light and then begins broadcasting a Dr Who Xmas special.”

Josh is unique because at school he’s a loner but he’s okay with this, he’s happy and he isn’t fazed by what other people think.

Melissa Keil has a knack for creating colourful and likeable characters that you wish you knew in real life. Her characters feel real and always are fun, engaging and intelligent.

The Secret Science of Magic is a modern classic for today’s generation. Both Joshua and Sophia are clueless about what their life after high school will look like. Keil doesn’t sugar coat the reality of what life can be like for a teenager and the confusion that occurs particularly in Year 12 where life is about to change dramatically.

What I love about Melissa Keil’s books is they sparkle and yet they have hidden depths. She always makes her books funny, uplifting but also moving and emotionally wise. She makes it look so smooth and effortless, but a book with this much heart has been written by an exceptional author.

Like her previous novels, The Secret Science of Magic is humorous, heartfelt and compelling. Once again Melissa Keil has delivered a book that is heartwarming, empathetic and often hilarious – a delightful read.

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The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex

Recently, I attended Somerset Celebration of Literature at Somerset College on the Gold Coast. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Gabrielle Williams’ sessions. I have been a huge fan of Gabrielle’s for some time, Beatle Meets Destiny being one of my favourite books.

During the session, Gabrielle spoke about her book The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex and it reminded me of how much I loved the book, and so I decided to reread it.

I love books that are a blend of truth and fiction. When authors take an event that has happened and weave it into a story, I find it endlessly fascinating. For days after I find myself googling different elements of the story to learn more. The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex is based on the infamous theft of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ from the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) by a group called Australian Cultural Terrorists.

“On 2 August 1986, a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists stole one of the world’s most iconic paintings – Picasso’s Weeping Woman – off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and held it to ransom, demanding an increase in government funding for artists in Victoria. The painting was the subject of an international manhunt involving Interpol, Scotland Yard and the Australian Federal Police.

The Australian Cultural Terrorists were never found.”

It is almost inconceivable to imagine this theft occurring, and that the theft was so simply orchestrated. While googling the incident, I found an article in The Sydney Morning Herald by chief conservator Thomas Dixson (https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/thomas-dixon-first-person-weeping-woman-20160623-gpqixc.html).

“Art gallery security in 1986 was primitive by today’s standards. I had been on staff at two major art galleries in the US and can attest that NGV facilities and procedures were pretty much on par with the art world of the time.

This meant that at 5 pm attendants locked up the gallery and did a perfunctory walk-through and beat a hasty exit leaving a skeleton staff overnight.

Lacking CCTV and motion detectors, the four-storey building was secured by two attendants’ hourly patrols with hand torches. A thief could simply conceal themselves until after closing and wait for a patrol to pass. They then had an hour or so until another patrol. Come morning they could mingle with other visitors and leave unnoticed. It wouldn’t take genius, just bravado.”

Gabrielle spins a story with four principal characters – Guy (The Guy), Rafi (The Girl), Luke (The Artist) and Penny (The Ex) and with a tremendous supporting cast tells their stories which she then weaves together to become one story. The book is told in third person alternating chapters. In the beginning, you don’t quite understand how all these characters stories are connected, but Gabrielle does a great job of intersecting their lives in surprising ways.

What I particularly like about books that revolve around an event that actually happened is the excerpts from newspaper articles and letters to the editor to tell me what the vibe was at the time concerning the incident. At the time the people of Victoria were wavering between being outraged at the theft or perplexed and bemused that the ‘kindergarten-like’ painting has been stole and cracking jokes or suggesting the Gallery is better off without it in its collection.

                “Thank heavens

Thank heavens that monstrosity has been taken off the walls of our gallery.

ELLEN PORTER, Balwyn”

 

                “Tired old jokes

                Picasso was original, unlike the tired old jokes about children being able to                  do better.

ERIC HANOVER, Northcote”

 

The novel ties together four characters who don’t know each other, a curse, a party, love at first sight and an art heist. Quite a combination but Gabrielle Williams is a master storyteller, and she ties together all these elements effortlessly. The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex is a superbly crafted novel. Gabrielle Williams is an intelligent, discerning and compassionate writer and this her second YA novel is an engaging, quirky page-turner.

 

 

 

 

Amelia Westlake – satire or romp?

Amelia Westlake is an easy read with an anti-establishment message.  It wasn’t a great read, but it wasn’t a terrible read. On the whole, it was a witty and engaging read from an Ampersand Prize-winning author.

Amelia Westlake is an enjoyable read, and I do think that Erin Gough managed to highlight several issues that are important to young people. There was a definite feminist vibe to the book, which I believe young adults will warm to.

The book revolves around two main characters. There is Will (short for Wilhemina). Will is snarky, anti-social and politically evolved (apparently) and a talented artist. Yes, she could fit a stereotype. Harriet is an over-achiever, she’s a school prefect and star tennis player. Yes, another stereotype.

After school one day while Will is in detention and Harriet is sucking up to a teacher the two girls engage in a heated discussion and come up with a cartoon depicting their sleazy sports coach. The girls decide they should deliver it to the student newspaper to be published. The only trouble is the school newspaper editor (a friend of Will’s) won’t publish anything without a name attached to it. The girls come up with the pseudonym of Amelia Westlake. After the success of the cartoon, Will & Harriet decide to hook up and cause havoc in Amelia Westlake’s name.

The book continues along in this manner, where the girls continue to expose social injustices that are occurring in their elitist private school. The trouble is that the book feels contrived and a little like a sitcom at times. Nothing is ever entirely believable. At times, the characters feel like caricatures, particularly Will and her friend the school editor, Nat.

I did enjoy the comedy and the witty dialogue, and there were times that I laughed out loud.

“She’s a joiner. Joiners are the worst. She’s unbelievably repressed. She has a grating enthusiasm. She says meaningless things like, ‘Everything happens for a reason’ and, ‘There’s no “I” in team!”

I found Harriet incredibly endearing and grew to quite like her. Though, I am not entirely sure that private school students are as naïve and innocent as Erin Gough’s character of Harriet.  I also enjoyed the sense of solidarity and power that was shown by the students towards the end of the book and thought that it was more realistic than most of what occurred in the book.

The book is somewhat unrealistic, contrived and melodramatic, but it is a funny read, and I do believe that most young adult readers will enjoy the writing, its characters and the witty plot. Its biggest problem is that it tries too hard to be an edgy satire rather than the engaging romp, it is actually is.

“Still making a fair amount of noise, I run after her, which is tricky, what with her being an elite sportsperson and me being an elite couch potato.”

“I’m comfortable with isolation, unlike some people I know who sweat at the temples if Snapchat is taking too many seconds to load.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renegades – Marisa Myer

Renegades isn’t a book I would typically read. Actually, it is a book that I would generally avoid like crazy. I am not at all interested in superheroes. The only superhero movie I have seen is Suicide Squad, which I only went to see because of it being more about villains than superheroes. I thought that Suicide Squad was okay. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t for the ridiculous Cara Delevingne character, the Enchantress. Anyway, enough of that. I am not a superheroes fan, but since becoming a CBCA judge, I have decided to continue to push the boundaries of what I read, so I decided to read Renegades. It was another book that I received in my YA Chronicles subscription.

Renegades is quite a good book. I now understand the hype surrounding the author, Marisa Myer; she knows how to write a good story. This is quite a large book at 556 pages but rarely did I find myself bored or wishing Myer would just get on with it. Instead, I discovered that Myer wrote in such a way that the story unfolded in my mind, almost like a movie.

The story is set around the Renegades and the Anarchists. Supposedly the Renegades are the good guys, and the Anarchists are the bad guys, but these lines are always blurred. Like most of society, there is good and bad in every group. No group is ever perfect, including superheroes.

In the world of Renegades and Anarchists, there are prodigies. Prodigies are born with superpowers, and this is where Myer takes a more creative turn. Rather than your run –of- the- mill superheroes that can fly, have super strength, faster-than-light speed and so on, Myer’s superheroes are pretty cool. There’s a prodigy who can transform herself into thousands of butterflies. A character whose blood becomes a weapon. A girl who can make bombs with her hands. The names of the characters are also great – The Detonator, Nightmare, Phobia. Though, they may be names of the villains. Some of the superhero names are a little predictable – like superheroes themselves.

The story revolves around Nova, a prodigy who has ties to the Anarchists and has reason to hate the Renegades. Nova has grown up with the Anarchists but her identity has been hidden, and she is able to move about in society without fear of being recognised as an Anarchist, though her loyalties lie with the Anarchists. She becomes intertwined with Adrian, a Renegade, who believes that justice will prevail. Adrian is what we call a “do-gooder”, he believes that the world needs superheroes and that civil liberties and heroes will always prevail. Nova isn’t interested in justice. She wants revenge and a world where society doesn’t feel that they “need” superheroes.

Myer has created a book that superhero devotees will enjoy and for those of us who just enjoy a well written entertaining book. There is a twist ending, and you do find yourself wondering what will happen next in the series. Will I read the next book? Maybe? I am curious to learn more about Nova and the Anarchists. I am also wondering if the Renegades plan for prodigies will come to fruition.

5 Brilliant YA novels you need in your life

blue

If you love books and bookshops, you will adore this book because this is a love letter to books, words and bookshops. Cath Crowley writes with love and humour, and you can’t help but be swept up in this book about grief, love and the power of words. Her characters are gorgeous, yet flawed and complicated. This is a book that every lover of books needs in their life.

“‘But I love you, and before you say it words do matter. They’re not pointless. If they were pointless then they couldn’t start revolutions and they wouldn’t change history and they wouldn’t be things that you think about every night before you go to sleep. If they were just words we wouldn’t listen to songs, we wouldn’t beg to be read to when we’re kids. If they were just words, then they’d have no meaning and stories wouldn’t have been around since before humans could write. We wouldn’t have learnt to write. If they were just words then people wouldn’t fall in love because of them, stop aching because of them, have sex, quite a lot of the time, because of them.”

beautiful

Beautiful Mess is a beautifully written novel. I loved it from the moment Ava started screaming at Mr Bryan on the first page. The story is driven by the beautiful, gutsy, grief-stricken Ava. She has lost her best friend Kelly, and she is angry and making not so right choices in life. She meets Gideon, and he helps her through her grief. Shy, anxious Gideon has his own issues, but Ava and Gideon through writing letters and poetry find their way through their pain and issues and come out on the other side. Claire Christian deals with some weighty issues, but she navigates these issues with humour and love. She captures the rawness of grief exquisitely, particularly grief associated with suicide. I loved the letters and the poetry (I love letters!), and I LOVED the ending!

yellow

Yellow is an engaging and well-written book. A lot is going on in the book – Kirra is a fourteen-year-old girl who has a troubled home life, is being bullied at school and she encounters a ghost! But somehow Megan Jacobson makes it work and makes it work brilliantly. The characters are likeable, and the small Australian beach town adds to the book wonderfully. When I first read the blurb for this book and saw that it had a supernatural element, I was immediately sceptical, but once I had read the first page, I was hooked.

               “I know this to be true: there is a special corner of hell that’s called being a fourteen-year-old girl.”

This is a book that you’ll find confronting at times, but then suddenly you will be laughing and then entirely out of the blue it will throw in a twist. It is quite the read!

sidekicks

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis is a beautifully written, genuinely funny book. Ryan, Harley and Miles don’t have much in common except for their mutual best-friend, Isaac. The beautiful, charming Isaac who died too soon. The book is divided up into three parts, and we hear from all three boys and find out why Isaac was so crucial to each and every one of the boys. The boys are all different and yet all viewed Isaac as their best friend. Ryan is the golden-boy jock. Harley is the rebel. Miles is the class nerd. As the stories are told we learn more about Isaac, and we learn more about each of the boys’ through the eyes of the other boys. There are heaps of laughs in this book, and at times you will find yourself laughing out loud, and at other times your heart will break for each and every boy.

beatle

Beatle Meets Destiny. This is one of my favourite books.  John “Beatle” Lennon meets Destiny McCartney on Friday the 13th and Beatle being a highly superstitious boy decides that their meeting is fate. The only trouble is that Beatle has a girlfriend named Cilla, who happens to be pretty amazing. The story continues on in this manner where Beatle and Destiny continued to stumble across each other in bizarre and yet utterly believable ways. Destiny is feisty and gorgeous, and Beatle has quite the dilemma on his hands. The book is all about chance and fate. It is about being young and making mistakes and then making more mistakes! It is hilarious. If you like quirky comedies, you will love this book. The story plays out in Melbourne which becomes another character in the novel. A brilliant novel by a brilliant writer – Gabrielle Williams.

The Cruel Prince

I am not a huge fan of fantasy. It isn’t my go-to genre. Many years ago I wouldn’t read fantasy, but I have progressed from that point, and I now am able to appreciate a well-written fantasy book. I decided to read The Cruel Prince because it was one of the books that arrived in my YA Chronicles subscription. My expectations weren’t high, and I am pleased to say that The Cruel Prince was a wickedly good read.

The Cruel Prince is the first book in a new series from YA author, Holly Black and it is beautifully written. Black writes with high intensity and vibrancy that you almost feel like you are a part of this treacherous, unscrupulous world.

The start of the book is confronting, but it indeed introduces you to the world of Faerie where bloodlust, revenge and cruelty are commonplace.

Jude is a human; she has been living in the world of Faeries since she was seven years old along with her twin sister Taryn and her half-faerie sister Vivi. Jude and her sisters live with Vivi’s father, Madoc. Jude has grown up in the world of Faerie Gentry, but even though she has had the protection of Madoc, she has never felt safe or as though she belongs. Though, after a decade of living in the world, she feels that it is her home and genuinely wants to find her place amongst the Faeries and to feel like she belongs and is accepted.

Faerie world is filled with magic and beauty but Jude, being the human outcast knows the ugly side of Faerie. She has been tormented by those who live in this world since she arrived. Most particularly she has been cruelly bullied by the other children of Faerie. Jude’s bullying by the Faeries is challenging to read, but it allows the reader to understand Jude’s motivations and why she makes the decisions that she does. Jude wants to become a member of the High Court, mainly for the power that it will bestow upon her.

Black has given us a world that is deliciously dark, wicked and violent. This is not a light read. Think Game of Thrones for Faeries!  Like Game of Thrones, there are some jaw-dropping moments when you wonder how far Black will take the violence and bloodlust; she definitely does not hold back. Black is a master at layering. Nothing is written without a purpose. She does not waste words, and she layers the plot with beautifully intricate twists and turns, she leads the reader deeper and deeper into the fascinating and dangerous world of Faerie.

Not only does Black layer the plot but she layers the characters. Black develops her characters so that as a reader we struggle to see them as black and white characters. All the characters are grey. Black gives us enough for us to realise that some characters are cruel and vicious but are they all bad? All the characters, even the most minor, have their stories to tell. Black has neither completely good or bad characters. Even Jude, our captivating, tough, intelligent heroine has motivations that are not entirely pure, but understandable considering all she has been through.

Black is a master of story, and she has a gift for developing characters. The Cruel Prince isn’t just a book about Faeries, but a book about relationships, intrigue and bloodshed. This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted! You will find yourself wondering what is going to happen right up until the last page.

And in the words of Victoria Aveyard, bestselling author of the Red Queen series, “I require book two immediately. Holly Black is the Faerie Queen.’

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Scythe – Neal Shusterman

Imagine a world with no hunger, no disease, no terrorism, no crime, no war, no mortality. The digital cloud has transformed into the Thunderhead, whose good and generous totalitarian rule has turned the planet into a utopia. There is no such thing as old age, once you reach a certain age you can ‘turn a corner’ and choose to go back to any age you wish; which means that there can be people who are 140 years old in a body of a 30-year-old. The world’s population lives in harmony, all knowledge has been acquired, and there is nothing left to learn. Depending on how you feel about it, it could either be wonderful or exhausting. I think it would be exhausting, but that’s my opinion. In a perfect world where there isn’t much to achieve, what do we live for? What are our goals in life? What’s our purpose? I would imagine that after a period of time life would become quite monotonous and weary. The book left me with many questions, and I always say that is the sign of a good book – one that makes you question. The book isn’t perfect, and at times I don’t think the author thought through all the elements of such a utopia, but that’s okay because it really is quite cleverly thought out in most ways.

Of course, if we live in a world where people no longer die from accidents, natural causes or diseases, how do we keep the population under control and this is where the title of the book comes into play. In this world, we have Scythes, society-sanctioned killers. The Scythes operate independently from the governing AI (Thunderhead) and rely on their own moral code to control the population. The appointed Scythes must carry out ‘gleanings’ – true deaths which one cannot be rejuvenated back from, death at the hands of a Scythe is permanent.

We are introduced to two sixteen-year-olds, Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova who have both impressed the Honourable Scythe Faraday with their empathy and humanity. He offers them both an apprenticeship, and they reluctantly accept. They leave their families and go and live with Faraday who teaches them all there is to know about the world of Scythedom. Being a Scythe is an honourable position in society and Scythes are meant to be noble characters. Though, even in a perfect world, there is always going to be those who are not moral or decent. We are after all dealing with people, and even though the world may be perfect, humans are not, and Scythes are not machines, they are people. One would hope that people are drawn to the profession of Scythe because they have a strong sense of justice and right and wrong, but of course, some people are drawn to the job because they like killing. In the days of mortality, we would call these people, ‘murderers’.

This is a book that is meant to be thought-provoking. It is a fascinating read, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys being challenged. It will have you questioning life, death and the meaning of both. Shusterman manages to inject humour into the book which allows the book to not get too dark or depressing.

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