Lists: Best of 2017 Diversity


I have gone for a different take on diversity this year. Last year I focused on representation of ethnicity, this year I have broadened the scope. There are many different marginalised voices that are being heard more often and more loudly. Of course, it’s a good thing.

I have always loved the inclusive elements of Maria V Synder’s fantasy novels and Dawn Study (January) is no exception. People can have power regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation, and while magic can represent any of those minorities, it isn’t forced or heavy-handed here. Evil exists and our heroes want to ensure freedoms aren’t impinged. It might seem straight-forward, but it’s far from that. Politics and loyalty are entwined and the stories are exciting and entertaining.

Three books I reviewed for RSO also make it on to this list. Optimists Die First and Phantom Limbs both have an amputee, and Piglettes has a secondary character in a wheelchair, but it’s Mireille and her two friends, as girls trying to affirm their identity and build self-esteem as plus size characters, that are the embodiment of positive representation here. My short reviews are added below.

Optimists Die First by Susin Neilsen (April) Random House

No one does quirky, anxious teen quite like this author. While Petula is paranoid and aggressively antisocial, readers still cheer her on because it’s clear she’s suffering much pain and sorrow. Jacob comes across as the complete opposite – charming, loquacious and extraverted—yet he’s hiding secrets, and is damaged too. Together, they journey towards finding ways to live with their guilt, and the consequences of their actions.

There are significant minor characters, particularly those who are part of the art therapy classes Petula is forced to attend, and hates. Each of these teens must also face their fears. Nielsen presents serious topics here, including alcohol addiction, parental neglect, and grief. The YART classes are often hilarious and sobering both at the same time, which will challenge readers, and let them know that often healing happens when problems are shared. These teens mock the rhetoric of their somewhat inept therapist, but ultimately they bond and blossom despite (or because of?) her inadequacies. Optimists Die First  is aimed at older teens, and is insightful and life-affirming.

Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner (June) Walker Books

This intensely intimate portrayal of grief is authentic and honest. Three young people’s lives are traumatised due to death and disaster, and teenagers will welcome its gritty realism. Otis thinks about sex often, Dara is aggressive and unapproachable, and Meg is the missing cog. Because Otis narrates, we don’t truly know what’s going on with the two girls, but secrets and pain have a way of working their way out, and it’s unflinching and uncomfortable.

Amputees are more visible in YA fiction, and Dara’s portrayal is extremely aggressive. She demands much from the mellow Otis. While he’s thankful for his physique and fitness, he isn’t sure he’s all that interested in being a champion swimmer, but he’s too much of a softie to tell Dara (plus she’s scary). Otis is turned inside out when Meg comes back, and there are lessons to be learned by all three teenagers. It concludes most satisfactorily, allowing readers to believe it is possible to survive the worst that life can throw at you.

Piglettes by Simone Beauvais (August) Pushkin Books

Piglettes has been translated from French, and has a very distinct style and feel. Protagonist Mireille survives severe teasing and humiliation about her looks and weight with humour and sarcasm. Readers will take a few chapters to adjust to Mireille’s narrative voice. It’s light! It’s irreverent, and the way she elects to name people with pseudonyms that are almost like real people is confusing and wickedly funny. For example, she refers to the President of France as Barack Obamette, who just happens to be married to Mireille’s (absent) father, who she calls Klaus Von Strudel because he is half-German. She has no filter, no fear, and no expectations that anyone will ever treat her right.

Astrid and Mireille find second place winner, Hakima, and together, they plan a road-trip to Paris to overcome their demons. Hakima’s older brother, Kader, a amputee soldier accompanies them, and along they way they sell sausages, and develop a social media following as they make their way through villages and towns. Not everything goes to plan, thank goodness, because often it’s in the unexpected that we learn, we laugh and we live.

This is a joyous celebration of girl power, and a challenge to people who are judgemental and intolerant of others. We are swayed here by laughter and friendship. Mireille is generous, kind-hearted, and trying to live her best authentic life. Young people could do worse than spend time with her on this ridiculous and inspiring journey.

Defy the Stars by Claudia Grey (April) Hot Key Books

I didn’t write anything about this book, and yet its balance of big issues and thrilling adventure has stayed with me. Its diversity comes in several ways–the development of Abel from AI to real ‘person’, the clear representation of female heroes, and the exploration of refugees and the way they are treated and primarily discarded. It’s a different type of inclusiveness, but no less important or interesting.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (April) Walker Books

Another one I wished I had taken the time to write a lengthy review. This has the unfortunate honour of being touted as ‘important’, and ‘mandatory reading’ which might have the reverse effect of turning people off. However, it is actually and thankfully very readable, and a really terrific story. Starr is an excellent narrator and her character arc of safely ignorant to ‘woke’ is plotted really well, and never comes across as heavy or dark. An African-American teenager witnessing the shooting of a friend by a police officer is a strong narrative, and it only gets stronger when we are introduced to Starr’s family, and the complications of race politics and inequality. It is important, but happily, it’s more than that. It’s a great story.

I have one more list to go before Christmas – the #voices best of list.



Lists: Best of 2017 Speculative Fiction


My definition of spec-fic covers fantasy, science fiction, dystopian fiction, magic paranormal, steampunk and super heroes. Cool huh? Most of these are covered in these six books, which are all excellent in their own right. Three are standalones, and three are the first in new series, although La Belle Savuage, as we all know, is a spin-off from the very popular His Dark Materials books.

I reviewed Daughter of the Pirate King (February) and Renegades (November) here on the blog just recently. I reviewed The Undercurrent (August) and What Goes Up (October) for RSO, and will add them here now:

The Undercurrent by Paula Weston Text Publishing

Weston’s characters are thoroughly Australian, from their friendly insults through to their strong heroic instincts. Main characters, Ryan and Jules capture our hearts and our sympathy because we see how much they are at the mercy of greedy corporations and corrupt government agencies. In a departure from standard YA novels, readers are also given viewpoints from two adults, and the book develops in an interesting and layered way. While for the most part this is a fast ride, an action-packed escapist adventure, it also asks important questions about the way money impacts negatively on basic essentials like food and safety. We are also challenged to think about the increase in privatisation, and imagine that happening to the military. The local setting is described clearly, and there are familiar place names that both Queenslanders and South Australians will recognise. The climax is tense and thrilling, and the conclusion will more than satisfy fans of Weston’s previous paranormal series. It will also bring in a new readership.

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy Bloomsbury

This is a book of two halves—the first part set on Earth with our three heroes competing to be chosen to be part of NASA. With the likelihood of alien contact, or at worst, invasion, preparation for the future is crucial. Readers will enjoy pitting themselves against the candidates, considering how they might approach the challenges and puzzles experienced. Kennedy does an excellent job of including unpredictable results and consequences. It’s a series of sequences that are both intellectually stimulating, as well as physically exciting. As well we are asked to make ethical and moral choices, and this is where the book finds its heart.

The second part of the book sees our heroes now facing real danger, and all of the tests and theory must be put into practice. Space is not quite how others have imagined it, and we loved this fresh approach to the alien invasion trope. Kennedy places her characters into emotional upheaval, as well as the physical threats, and readers will find themselves drawn into more than just the action. They will also feel and question what it means to be a hero, and what makes us human. Strong storytelling.

Invictus by Ryan Graudin (October, Hachette) is a clever and controlled mash-up of about five tropes woven together – it’s a heist story, with a raggedy team of diverse genius misfits, who travel back in time to procure items just as they are about to vanish anyway. Stealing? Lord, no, of course not. It’s also snarky and contemporary as only sci fi can do well, with a mystery to solve via cryptic messages sent through time to help (or hinder), and at the core of it all, there’s a story of family, and lost love,  and finding out who you really are. I keep using these words–inventive, inclusive and one hell of a ride.

La Belle Savuage by Philip Pullman (October, David Fickling) Was possibly the most anticipated novel of the year. That’s certainly true for me. I went in with some trepidation, but fell back into the writing style and story with ease. I actually found it fast paced and quite moving. I loved Malcolm’s loyalty and steadiness. His immediate protective instinct towards six months old Lyra makes him the best person to keep her safe. It’s a tense mystery and hints at all the issues we see in Northern Lights. I absolutely loved being transported back into this world, and wish I had time to do more than just flick through the earlier texts, hunting for clues and characters.

That’s it for today. On Friday, I want to post my #diversity picks.


Lists: Best of 2017 Names


When I started this process, I went through my 5 stars reads on GR, and no kidding, the first four books I listed, went like this: Eliza, Jane, Ramona, Alex, and WOW, that’s a statement right there. Four of my favourite 2017 books had the name of the main character in the title. In interesting and innovative ways too.

I have reviews here for Jane, Unlimited (August) and Ramona Blue (May). Gosh they are both such good books and my reviews try to explain why I liked them so much.

I added The Names they Gave us by Emory Lord (June) here as well, because well, it fits, right? It was such a pleasure to read. This author is really capturing the spirit of a quality contemporary. It’s got layers, and flawed characters, but it also addresses topic issues well. Here is what I wrote for RSO:

Protagonist Lucy, has a fresh voice. She’s a strong believer, but finds herself questioning her faith.  Working with counsellors who have their own troubled and diverse pasts, she is challenged to confront her privilege, and some of the honest conversations in which she engages, provide insight that many teenagers will appreciate. Looking after young children who face adversity allows Lucy’s kind spirit and resourceful nature to surface, giving her validation in a time when she feels insecure and abandoned. Her transformation is a joy and a heartbreak to watch.

The majority of the book takes place over June and July and the rhythms and routines of camp life are vivid and some of the episodes—an epi pen emergency, a scrabbling sixth graders’ fight, and a shy girl needing reassurance—intertwined neatly and organically with Lucy’s weekly visits with her mother, and her own reflections about belief and the best ways to live a life.

While it deals with big issues, it is by no means heavy or dark. Lucy is an optimist, and a thoughtful girl. She faces each new encounter with empathy and kindness. She’s not perfect, but she wants to be better, and is generous and honest. There are many light moments, although eventually Lucy does confront some well hidden family secrets, and is fortunate to now have the type of friends who support her through these shocks and shifts. It concludes satisfactorily, with some aspects neatly tied up, and others left more open.

Alex, Approximately (April) by Jenn Bennett is a sweet romance perfect for summer beach reading. There are several tropes in play, and as all the reviews say, a YA version of You’ve Got Mail. MC Bailey has been virtual friends with Alex for a while, bonding over a common love of classic movies. When she moves to his town, she meets and flirts with Sexy Porter. A dilemma develops–should she seek out unknown Alex, or stick with real Porter? Predictable it might be, but it’s also full of geeky references, with lots of humour and snark, so it’s a pleasure to read. There are also a couple of swoony, smexy scenes, if that’s your thing.

Eliza and her Monsters by came out in May but I didn’t read it till October. There are very strong positive reviews about this book, and there’s reasons that. It handles anxiety and unwanted celebrity status very well. Eliza’s anonymity means she’s free from judgement or expectation, and suddenly losing that threatens her mental health. But this doesn’t happen until the end of the novel, so for the most part, we watch Eliza meet cute guy, Wallace, and slowly venture out and interact with peers socially.  These are mighty steps for her, and we gradually realise the implications of being ‘outed’ as the creator of a very popular online fantasy serial novel. It’s a book for lovers of fan fiction, and the communities that develop around online creative arts. This is another book that presents an artistic life as a genuine pathway.

So, here are my favourite list of names books. Next Wednesday I will share my list of best spec-fic picks.

Lists: Best of 2017 LoveOzYA (more)


So now you know why I have been adding reviews up here randomly–so I can link to them without having to come up with something about a book I read months ago. I am very weepy that I never wrote more about The Secret Science of Magic (April) because it might almost be my favourite of the year, and I don’t have a copy to remind myself or reread passages. Yet I have strong memories of its authentic portrayal of anxiety, its diverse range of characters, plus a terrific representation of family, and of course, Joshua’s magic, optimism and final grand gesture. Everything about it worked for me.

I added reviews of The Things We Promise (March) and Take Three Girls (September) recently. I believe they will feature on many 2017 awards lists. They are powerful stories that invite readers to see the perspective of different people, and in doing so, encourages empathy and action.

I will add some words from reviews I wrote for RSO for the other three books.

Remind Me How it Ends by Gabrielle Tozer (March)

Gabrielle Tozer’s third novel presents Milo, small town slacker, one of the only kids in his year level to not escape to university. We meet him in the first chapter, visiting Sal, his high school girlfriend at a college party, and his bewildering sense of dislocation and separateness from her and her new friends is described perfectly.

This sets the scene for Milo’s search for a sense of belonging. It’s not in Durnan, middle of nowhere ACT, or at his parents’ bookshop where he works. It’s certainly not Sal, or his friends who have left him behind. Turns out it might be Layla, one time best friend, who arrives out of the blue, seemingly damaged, reliant on a deadbeat boyfriend, but who sparks something in Milo he can’t deny or resist.

This coming-of-age story is fresh and strong, and offers many layers beneath the banter, the banal world Milo wants to escape, and the bittersweet feelings of loss and longing. The ending is perfectly pitched, and provides an realistic and satisfying resolution.

Because of You by Pip Harry (August)

Tiny’s voice, aimless and full of longing, is distinct from Nora’s heart-broken and uncertain one. There is vulnerability for both of them, and the friendship and kinship that develops through their interactions is as hopeful as it is unexpected. Harry’s inclusive and diverse cast of minor characters carries a subtle message about stereotyping and judging others. The tone is warm and gentle, but the subject matter is harsh and uncomfortable. However, readers aren’t made to feel pity or guilt. Instead they are inspired by the way individuals rise to the challenge to help others, like Eddie, and cheer on the members of the creative writing group as they bravely confront their demons in a public forum full of strangers.

Harry has created a well plotted story combining a number of topical social issues with a strong coming-of-age journey. Do not let teen boys be put off by this cover. It’s relevant and important for all young adults about to step into the wide, sometimes uncaring world.

Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor (August)

Anton’s snarky, laid-back voice is one of the best reasons to read this book–he is hilarious, self-aware and self-depreciating. The two female leads, Rani and Bec call him out when he is disparaging, but in ways that are clever and helpful. The trio are formidable when the action starts, but that takes time, actually, and the story is better for the steady build-up and foundation created by astute writing and an eye for detail. Pryor’s confident and witty wordplay will appeal to nerdy readers who are likely to geek out at the constant pop culture references and the humorous asides.

Anton’s indecision about his future is not overworked, and yet is a constant thread, making it just as much a coming-of-age story as it is a ghost busting action-packed fight against the forces of evil. Adults play significant roles, some helpful and some obstructive, adding depth and richness. I particularly love the character arc of Anton’s dad where he learns to navigate the wonders of 21st century technology.

It’s a genre novel that doesn’t pander or placate. It’s elegant, clever and charming.

On Sunday, I will post the obscurely titled ‘Names’ list.


Lists: Best of 2017 LoveOzYA 2


I couldn’t limit myself to only 6 Australian novels, but I could manage 12. Here are my first 6.

I reviewed three of these here, over this year: Valentine (January), Before You Forget (January) and Wilder Country (August). They are very different in style and genre, but they all depict a strong main character who has to deal with big questions. They are each distinctly Australian, either by voice or location, and they all offer an authentic teenage experience.

I went back to RSO to see what I said about My Lovely Frankie, and it’s a fairly extensive review, so I impulsively added it here yesterday. I am not sure which teen is going to pick it up, but it won’t be that cover that puts them off! I found the story mesmerising and gentle.

The other two are well reviewed on GR and other places. But just quickly, here are some thoughts of mine.

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe (April)

Kirby lives in the smallest country town in Australia, according to her best friend Clancy who is ready to flee to be a musical theatre star, and his snark and vibrancy keep Kirby from moping about too much. Everyone wants Kirby to leave too, but she’s less sure of that, especially when her grandfather starts to exhibit signs of memory loss and dementia.

Kirby is going through a lot, yet Bowe’s writing style is laconic and breezy. She allows Kirby’s fears about her family to filter through a lens of humour and rebellion. She doesn’t want to follow expectations, or hurt anyone, but she does have things to figure out, including her feelings about her absent father, and the new delectable arrival, Iris.

This gentle story is full of heart and optimism. Kirby is slow to act, but her thoughts are generous and self-effacing. It’s the small details that gives this story depth – the mysterious crop circles, and why they appear, the carpenter with a casual approach to Kirby as apprentice, the animals, all as important to Kirby as people, and of course, Clancy’s one-night-only extravaganza musical performance. The whole town comes alive under Bowe’s skillful hand, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in their stories.

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield (May)

Grace’s narration is strong if not always reliable. Wakefield continually plays on the meaning of ‘mad’, so that by the end, we have been twisted and turned like a broken spiral. There’s a mystery to solve, friendships to patch, and a brother who is impossible to know. Grace’s grief about her mother’s death scars her actions, and ultimately we are left with more questions than answers. Well, I was.

It really is a tour de force and I am intrigued to see the next direction Wakefield takes. I know I don’t explain anything here about the plot, but it is best to read this unspoiled.

My (other) favourite 6 Australian novels will be posted on Friday.

Review: My Lovely Frankie by Judith Clarke

My Lovely Frankie by Judith Clarke

Published: Allen & Unwin
Published: July 1 2017
ISBN: 9781760296339

Read: April 21 2017


In an age where it is hard not to judge the Catholic Church for its reprehensible actions against children, My Lovely Frankie offers a different point of view. True, the teachers of the seminary are exactly as you’d expect – inflexible, pious, and judgemental– but into that narrow, repressed world comes narrator, Tom, and the aptly coined lovely Frankie.

Frankie is exactly the type of priest who would be accepted and appreciated today. But in the 1950s, he stands out as too earthly, too empathetic, too much in the present. Frankie celebrates nature, he listens to (lay) people, he smiles at everyone. These qualities are condemned, and leave him open to envy and anger. Quiet, solitary Tom understands that Frankie is at risk, he’s just not sure why or from whom.

The build up to Frankie’s disappearance combines the story at the seminary, a look back to how both boys arrived there, and as well, we see and hear from Tom in the future, as he is now, old and content, presiding over a small country town parish, accepting of his attraction to Frankie, and its implications. It’s a mastery of structure and storytelling that each of the timelines flow naturally into each other, and that as patient readers, we let Clarke guide us gently through the joys of Frankie’s life, and the tragic consequence of jealousy and ambition.

Today’s young people are more secular and less knowledgeable about how Church doctrine impinged on many aspects of people’s lives. The ‘50s and ‘60s weren’t so long ago, but Australia’s societal and cultural norms have shifted significantly. This look back is almost like viewing a different country. It provides teenagers with another narrative to add to the one they get from today’s media about the role and impact of institutional religion.

Review originally written for Riverbend Standing Orders.

Lists: Best of 2017 Mystery


Who Killed Christopher Goodman by Allan Wolf (July) The power in this book the wonderful Christopher Goodman. He comes alive on the page, and knowing he dies makes the story even more poignant. Despite it being a book about a murder, there are some light moments between the five narrators, and a nostalgic trip to 1970’s small town America. I really went through all the emotions with this one.

One of us is Lying by Karen M McManus (June) This Breakfast Club meets Cluedo is addictive and twisty. It’s full of secrets and lies, and every one of the suspects has motivation and means to be the murderer. But it’s also an interesting spin on mental health issues, and while it can be read as a straight mystery, it also allows for discussion about bullying, alienation, and the need for us of us to be kinder and more gentler to our peers.

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada (November) This is a fast-paced, action thriller with a mystery that is yet to be totally resolved. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where genetic enhancements are almost obligatory, our intrepid hero, Cat faces and overcomes some incredibly taxing obstacles which makes for an exciting ride. I admit I didn’t follow all the science-y talk, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely.

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (May) I loved this a lot, and anyone who has read Code Name Verity will have to hunt this down. My long review is here.

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth (January) I read this at the beginning of the year, about 200 books ago, but I can still remember the disparate worlds Roth creates – the contrasting ideologies, the differing character traits and physical appearance of the warring races and the dire consequence of these hostilities on the surrounding planets. It’s an ambitious book, but one that still manages to work at an intimate level, with our main characters fighting to maintain their integrity and save their family, at the time as questioning traditions and their place in their own society.

Genuine Fraud by e lockhart (September) Told in a reverse timeline, this book is complex and morally ambiguous. Jule is an unreliable yet sympathetic narrator. That we can’t help but want her to succeed, may challenge some readers. It’s clever, full of the big questions about privilege and power, and immersive. Best to go in to it utterly spoiler-free for maximum impact.

Next up will be my favourite Australian YA novels, posted next Wednesday.

Lists: Best of 2017 LGBTQIA


It’s been a strong year for queer YA, and I think the release of the film, Love, Simon, based on Becky Albertalli’s Simon Versus the Homo Sapien Agenda has something to do with that, and will open doors for even more literature depicting positive representations of all sorts of teens, but particularly those who sit somewhere on the queer spectrum. You’ll actually find other LGBTQIA books on my other lists too.

Future Leaders of Nowhere by Emily O’Beirne (March) I have been raving about O’Beirne’s books for a couple of years now. Contemporary Australian coming-of-age stories about gay girls that have a fresh voice. I reviewed both Future Leaders, and its sequel, All the Ways to Here (November) here. Willa and Finn are searching for meaning and stability. They support each other, and are stronger for their love for each other.

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (May) I don’t know if this is readily available in Australia, but look out for it. It’s such a strong novel with a poor Asian scholarship student transforming herself to a boy to join an all male an elite a cappella octet called the Sharpshooters. I think it’s the longest review on here. God, I loved this. Interestingly, MC Jordan’s possible bisexuality is not the biggest question of the story. Read with glee (sorry, can’t help myself).

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (April) A companion novel to Simon Versus the Homo Sapien Agenda, Albertalli introduces twins Mollie and Cassie, who each deal with issues, primarily romantic endeavors, that are equally sweet and thoughtful. Again, this novel is filled with inclusion elements, and a powerful overriding sense of celebrating who you are. Can’t wait for her collaboration with Adam Silvera.

Release by Patrick Ness (May) A deeply personal, intimate story, Ness shows us one day in the life of Adam Thorn. Set in small town America, Adam is the son of a preacher, and is about to say goodbye to his first love. As he experiences this day of tumultuous highs and lows, Adam shows us what helps him through: a best friend, a new love, and his own strength and resilience. It wouldn’t be Patrick Ness without a parallel story of the ghostly  kind. It’s dense and dark, but ultimately hopeful.

We are Okay by Nina LaCour (February) I keep going on about this one. My review was posted at Children’s Books Daily.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (June) For a book that I loved so much, I have not raved about it much. But it’s been getting rave reviews everywhere else, and was voted one of the top books in the Young Adult Fiction 2017 GR Choice Awards. My short review is here.

My mystery list which was actually supposed to be posted today will be published on Sunday.


Lists: Best of 2017 Younger Readers

And we’re off! My first list of favourite reads of 2017 are ones for younger teens. I am not going to write much about each book, but if I have reviewed it somewhere, I will link to that. These were the ones that I loved most for that 11 to 14 age group. It’s a difficult category because there are so many good books out there.

I plan to add 10 lists, posting one every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday over the next three weeks with my top 5 published on Boxing Day.


The Traitor and the Thief is by NZ author Gareth Ward. It was released in August by Walker Books Australia and the cover reflects its steampunk nature. Sin is a terrific main character and there are two courageous girls who assist him ably. There’s a excellent mystery to solve, and a rich fantastical layer of world building that enhances the story.

Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean was a surprisingly funny book about survival in the 1700’s on an island of birds. It’s very dark and totally immersive and explores many issues around faith, gender and power. Based on a true story, McCaughrean includes a long author’s note about her extensive research about what happened to the villagers, and why they never came back to collect the children. It’s an extremely poignant read. Also dense and quite literary.

The Fall by Tristan Bancks is fast paced, cleverly plotted, with extremely strong teen appeal. Sam is a brave protagonist, trying to emulate his father’s investigative skills. There is a lovely balance of action and reflection, with several literary and pop cultural references. The story is told over a 24 hour period, ensuring the tension rises dramatically, and the climax is edge-of-the-seat stuff. Highly recommended for action-oriented young readers.

Summerlost is written by Ally Condie whose previous books have been for older teens (The Matched series is possibly her most popular). It’s a gentle story that deals with grief and friendship. Our two main characters, Cedar and Leo bond over a small town actress, who hits the big time, but whose death remains a mystery. The setting is a Shakespearean Summer Festival, which is irresistable to an ex English teacher.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone was always going to be a winner for me. Jaclyn Moriarty has a charming and lyrical way with words, and her ability to generate emotion is unequivocal. My review is here on the blog.

The Book of Secrets by A L Tait is the first book in her series, The Ateban Cipher, and it begins with a bang. I wrote a long, gushing review for Children’s Books Daily. I can’t wait for future titles.

My next list will be my favourite mysteries for older teens, posted on the 8th.

Review: The Sweetheart Sham by Danielle Ellison

The Sweetheart Sham by Danielle Ellison

Published by Entangled: Crush
Released: December  4 2017 (in the US)
ISBN: 9781640633551

Read: November 29 2017


I love it when Entangled Crush advances me a book on Netgalley. I enjoy their marketing, their covers, and their final products. It’s true the books aren’t difficult to read, and are often predictable, but who doesn’t love a great HEA? Even though the focus is on bringing the two main characters together in a sweet and young teen friendly way, authors often slip in a few issues to challenge readers. These can be social, particularly friendships or the use of technology, or environmental, like sustainable living or conservation. But most often they deal with family dramas and identity crises, which with most young readers can identify.

In The Sweetheart Sham, Ellison develops a gay character, Will. who is too scared to come out. Will is a Montgomery, and in the small Southern town of Culler, this is a very big deal. He and protagonist and best friend, Georgia Ann, watched the only out boy leave town, and Will is horribly worried his conservative grandfather will reject him. To be able to spend time with his new secret ‘mystery boy’, Will convinces Georgie to go on fake dates with him. There are valid reasons why Georgie agrees – it’s summer, the wedding of the century, run by her mother, is stressful and going off with Will gives her much needed breaks, and there isn’t anybody she wants to date.

Except Beau. But he left town two years ago, breaking Georgia’s heart. So naturally, as soon as she agrees to this set-up, Beau appears for the summer, to re-connect with his estranged father, and to secretly see if his feelings for Georgia are true. Oi Vey, what a mess!

We are given both Georgia’s and Beau’s points of view, as well as flashing back to the past, when the heartbreak occurred. They both have come through some dark times – his parent’s divorce, and her mother’s cancer, and there’s a lot they don’t know about each other. But the attraction is undeniable and their secrets could break what’s left of their friendship. This aspect of the story is well handled, and even though we wish Georgia would come clean, it’s difficult to not applaud her loyalty to Will. Beau is charming and thoughtful, Georgia is feisty and kind, and of course, Will deserves the space to reconcile his identity in his own time. Ellison deals with this very compassionately.

Ellison makes a lot of points about the dangers of keeping secrets. Will and Georgia are also keeping secrets from each other – that she is (and always has been) attracted to Beau, and Will refuses to give up the identity of ‘mystery boy’. Beau is thoroughly confused by Georgia’s mixed signals, and through all of this, wedding plans go awry and need sorting. It’s a terrific set up, and we learn lots about all of the characters, ensuring the town of Culler comes alive for readers.

Of course, at the wedding of the year, everything is resolved wonderfully. If I have one niggle, i was disappointed there wasn’t a final scene between Will and Georgia once all the drama has died down: one quiet conversation where they forgive each other, and cement their best friend status. It would have been the icing on the (wedding) cake (so to speak).

Recommended to readers who already enjoy romance novels offered by Entangled, and who like small town shenanigans. The town is filled with quirky oldies who know everything and have no hesitation in telling the young ‘uns how they should live their lives. There is very little focus on the future, which is a nice change, and all the parents are supportive and avoid stereotypes. Thanks to Netgalley and publisher for this advanced copy. The Sweetheart Sham will be out on December 4.