Monday, 17 July 2017

Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan



Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan
Published April 6, 2017 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars


From the blurb: Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her.
And Mum's disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She'll need a miracle of cosmic proportions …

Fifteen-year-old Megara Clark, Meg for short, finds herself abandoned by her mother and left in charge of her younger half sister, Elsa. Her mother, a nurse and volunteer, gets caught up in a new cause and flies off to Myanmar, leaving Meg in charge. Meg's grandad lives nearby, but he's often just as messy and unreliable as her mum, even though he's caring and supportive. Meg's plans to win a competition gets derailed by her mother's sudden absence, despite her attempts to stick to her plan.

I adore Jenny McLachlan's Ladybird series - four books about a group of friends, and I could not wait for her latest, Stargazing for Beginners. It did not disappoint. I immediately connected with Meg. It's clear her neatness, organisation, and love of planning is a direct response to the irresponsibility and unreliability of her mother. Meg's dream of becoming an astronaut was admirable, as was the fact that she knew exactly how she was going to achieve it. I loved that she was proud of her intelligence and that she was open about her love of science and space.

Unfortunately for Meg, her BFF moved to New Zealand, so she spends her lunch times alone in the library, and often sits alone in class. Though, she is in a friendly rivalry with classmate Ed, as he is also extremely smart. Through Ed, Meg has some interaction with other students like Bella and Raj. Meg also makes some new friends thanks to getting a detention, and they provide much needed support to her and Elsa.

Meg's home life left me feeling helpless and angry. Her mum's complete disregard was infuriating, especially as she left them without any money. Meg has anxiety about not letting anyone know they've been abandoned which is even more stressful for her. But, this more serious plot line was balanced perfectly by the romance and friendship in the story. Ed's obvious feelings for Meg made me so happy. Poor Meg doesn't realise that Ed returns her feelings, so watching them bumble around was sweet and heartwarming.

Ableist language: idiot, twit, insane, crazy, mental, lame.

Stargazing for Beginners is a funny, clever, heartwarming story of a girl who has a big dream. Meg's ambition, determination, and intelligence makes her a wonderfully relatable character, and she's sure to inspire teens to pursue their own dreams, no matter what!

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my copy.


Cover illustration: Levante Szabó.

This is such a gorgeous cover, it's so perfect for the story. I love the beautiful illustration, the shades of blue, and the matte finish with shiny accents. Stunning!

I filmed a tutorial for how I painted this set of nails, this one is fairly easy to do. Check it out below or on my YouTube channel, Cook Read Create.








Wednesday, 12 July 2017

A Cardboard Palace by Allayne L. Webster



A Cardboard Palace by Allayne L. Webster
Published June 1, 2017 by Midnight Sun
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Jorge lives in a shanty town on the outskirts of Paris. Bill, a controller, has an army of child thieves at his command - and Jorge is one of them.
But soon Jorge faces an even bigger threat. His home is to be bulldozed. Where will Jorge sleep? What will happen to his friends, Ada and Gino? Could a growing friendship with Australian chef Sticky Ricky help Jorge to stop Bill and save the army of child thieves?
And will he do it before he loses Ada forever?
Jorge can't keep fighting to live - now he must live to fight.

A Cardboard Palace by Allayne L. Webster is set in Paris, but it's not the Paris we see advertised to tourists. Jorge is eleven-years-old and he was taken from his family in Romania years ago and bought to France to work for a man named Bill. Bill collects children and uses them in all sorts of schemes around Paris. He teaches them to beg and steal and makes them live in a small community on the outskirts of Paris. The community is made up of immigrants and they have built houses out of metal and cardboard. The children have nothing of their own and are often left to go hungry as punishment.

Jorge's character was a testament to the human spirit. You'd think living such a hard life would make a child hard as well, but Jorge is loyal, caring, and inquisitive. He is obsessed with food and longs to be a chef one day - a dream Bill scoffs at. Jorge is also naive and slow to work out what's going on. He is fearful of Bill's threats and tries to follow orders, even when his conscience tells him otherwise.

There are brighter spots in this story; Jorge's love of food and Paris were a delight. He truly loves where he lives and longs to be a part of the city. He meets people who are kind to streets kids rather than shunning them, and he starts to dream about what his future might hold.

This is a heartbreaking story that highlights a lot of world issues in a way that is perfect for middle grade and teen readers. There are hints to more serious and disturbing issues (like child brides and human trafficking) that aren't too graphic for young readers, and I'm sure this story will spark conversations between children and parents.

Ableist language: crazy, insane.

A Cardboard Palace shines a light on the darker side of a major city we know and love, in a beautiful, sensitive and needed way. It's a touching story of survival and hope.

Thank you to Midnight Sun for my copy.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

#LoveOzYABloggers - Favourite high school books


The LoveOzYA and AusYABloggers teams have created a challenge to celebrate our favourite #LoveOzYA reads. Each fortnight will focus on a different theme, the first one is: High School. To participate you choose 3 books and talk about them via whatever social media platform you like (Instagram, Twitter, your blog, YouTube etc).

I've made a video on my 3 picks, you can view it here or on my YouTube channel, Cook Read Create.


The books I chose are: Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty, I'll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry, and Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil.


#LoveOzYABloggers is hosted by #LoveOzYA, a community led organisation dedicated to promoting Australian young adult literature. Keep up to date with all new Aussie YA releases with their monthly newsletter, or find out what’s happening with News and Events, or submit your own!

Upcoming Themes:

July 17th 2017: Fantasy

July 31st 2017: Feels

August 14th 2017: Sci-Fi


Monday, 10 July 2017

But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure



But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure
Published April 6, 2017 by Hachette Australia
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Eden has always let her head lead the way. It's why she excels at ballet, at school, and at life in general. But when she nearly drowns and then wakes from a month-long coma, everything is different. She's troubled by dreams that seem more real than waking life, and her neat cookie-cutter existence is no longer satisfying. Unable to stifle her passionate heart anymore, she finds herself drawn to a boy with melting-chocolate eyes, and to a future different to what she ever imagined. That's when Eden discovers that when it comes to love, first you fall, then you have to leap. 

But Then I Came Back, a companion novel to Estelle Laure's debut novel, This Raging Light, is told from the perspective of seventeen-year-old Eden Jones. Eden lives in Cherryville, New Jersey, with her parents and twin brother, Digby. She has been studying ballet since age eight, but recently gave it up. Lucille, Eden's best friend, has been seeing Digby and it's changed the dynamics of their friendship, to the point where Eden feels guilty agrees to meet Lucille one night, at their spot by the river. That night she falls, hits her head, and goes into a coma. Eden awakens a month later. She's experienced visions and dreams, but she can't be sure what she really saw, and now that she's awake, some of the visions have followed her back.

I enjoyed Laure's debut last year so was thrilled to see she had a new book coming out. What I didn't realise was that it would be a companion novel and I'd completely forgotten about the way A Raging Light ended. It was wonderful to get closure to that story by picking up Eden's story in But Then I Came Back. Eden's personality shone through, despite the fact that she no longer felt like herself. Before the accident, she had her life planned out. She loved lists, she loved quotes, she knew where she was going for college. After the accident she's haunted by visions of black flowers and feels disconnected from Digby and Lucille. She's no longer sure of her future.

The romance between Eden and Joe was sweet and intoxicating. Eden has never been in love and she finds herself falling for Joe quickly, finding him to be a welcome distraction and respite from the aftermath of her accident. Eden's dramatic flair really came back to life in describing their moments together. To complicate matters, Joe's best friend Jasmine is also in a coma. And Eden saw Jasmine while she was out, while she was In Between.

Laure's writing is poetic and carefully crafted, starting out in second person before moving into fisrt person for the remainder of the story. The introduction was intense because of this, it felt like I was going through it with Eden. The rest of the story was just as powerful, very character-driven.

Ableist language: idiot, psycho, crazy, moron, lame, dumb, insane, psychotic.

But Then I Came Back is a beautiful follow up to This Raging Light.  I found the writing enchanting, so much so that I didn't want to leave this intoxicating story.

Thank you to Hachette for my copy.



Cover illustration: Marion Deuchars

I love this simple cover design and the way the flowers are incorporated into the text. I took the flowers and turned them into a full design for this manicure. I love the result!





Wednesday, 5 July 2017

June Wrap Up and Book Haul. Plus, July TBR!

June was a great month of reading for me. I feel like I've properly left my reading slump behind and I'm back to enjoying reading again. I read 8 books including a French audio book, one non-fiction/memoir from the library, and 6 YA novels.



Check out my wrap up here or on my YouTube channel.



I also acquired some fantastic new books that I'm really looking forward to reading, including a lot of AussieYA. I've added some of the books I didn't get to in June to my new stack of books to create a large TBR for July - wish me luck!



Monday, 3 July 2017

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe



Night Swimming by Steph Bowe
Published April 3, 2017 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Imagine being the only two seventeen-year-olds in a small town. That’s life for Kirby Arrow—named after the most dissenting judge in Australia’s history—and her best friend Clancy Lee, would-be musical star.
Clancy wants nothing more than to leave town and head for the big smoke, but Kirby is worried: her family has a history of leaving. She hasn’t heard from her father since he left when she was a baby. Shouldn’t she stay to help her mother with the goat’s-milk soap-making business, look after her grandfather who suffers from dementia, be an apprentice carpenter to old Mr Pool? And how could she leave her pet goat, Stanley, her dog Maude, and her cat Marianne?
But two things happen that change everything for Kirby. She finds an article in the newspaper about her father, and Iris arrives in town. Iris is beautiful, wears crazy clothes, plays the mandolin, and seems perfect, really, thinks Kirby. Clancy has his heart set on winning over Iris. Trouble is Kirby is also falling in love with Iris…

Night Swimming is Steph Bowe's third novel. Set in the fictional rural town of Alberton, the story revolves around seventeen-year-old Kirby Arrow. Kirby lives with her mum, grandad, cousin, and a menagerie of animals. Her mum runs the goat milk soap business her grandad started many years ago. Kirby is learning how to be an apprentice carpenter and plans to stay on in town, rather than leave, like most teens do. Her best friend, Clancy, is one of those who plans to leave as soon as possible. Then a new girl moves to town and both Kirby and Clancy fall for her.

It was fun getting to know Kirby. She has a pet goat, Stanley, who accompanies her on walks to and from town. She's a great best friend to Clancy. She's loyal to her family. But, Kirby struggles with the idea of leaving because abandonment is a theme in her family. Her grandmother left when her mum was a child, and Kirby's father left when she was only a few months old. On top of this, Kirby's grandad has dementia and it feels as though Kirby is losing him too. She is fiercely protective of him and resents her mum's plan to move him into a home. Kirby's relationship with her mother is also complicated. Her mother is quite distant, uncaring, and uninterested, probably due to her own maternal issues, but I liked how this was explored in the story. Kirby doesn't have the typical family that's often shown in YA, and I'm sure there'll be teens who appreciate this.

The book features diverse characters and doesn't rely on outdated stereotypes when it comes to small towns. Clancy is Chinese and his family run a popular restaurant in town, one that is well supported by the local community. When Iris comes out she too has the support of her family. Iris is biracial (her father is Indian) and they are also welcomed to town, though both she and Clancy have experienced racism in the past.

Kirby's crush on Iris and their developing romance was beautiful and so realistic. It was sweet to see Kirby overthink everything and worry about what to say whenever Iris was around. And for Kirby to discover she was desirable.

Ableist language: idiot, insane, crazy, fool, loon, lame, dumb.

Night Swimming is amusing, quirky, and all heart. The story tackles family, sexuality, racism, small town-life, and is the perfect read for high school teens.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.

Illustration: Henn Kim
Cover design: Jessica Horrocks

The covers for Steph Bowe's previous two books were photograph-based, so this illustrated cover is something new and I really like it. The illustration is cute and I like the range of colours.

You can watch the video of my nail art here or on my YouTube channel, or view the photos below.