“Who has time amidst all this CHAOS?”

Moria Rose from Schitt’s Creek has been my vibe for the past month!

I have been MIA on the blog as my personal life, job and health have all been quite demanding and well … chaotic. There is no other way to describe the tasks, events and feelings of the past month that was September.

Within the bookstore we have seen a number of fantastic authors walk through our doors (and many more to come), we’ve seen unexpected pivots and I, personally, have been growing my managerial skills in leaps and bounds due to unexpected circumstances. This is positive growth for me but it does not come without exhaustion and in turn, rest.

However, we’re on the rise book friends and the future is looking bright! I am officially rostering in some reading, reviewing, friends, family and wholesome time. I’m scheduled to leave the chaos behind for a little while and just find the things I love most again.

I’ve attempted to read a number of books this month but I’ve shuffled of the bandwagon and leapt into 10 hour sleeps instead #whoops. Here’s the half September wrap:

πŸ“– The Storm Sister by Lucinda Riley

πŸ“– The American Roommate Experiment by Elena Armas

πŸ“– Electric and Mad and Brace by Tom Pitts

πŸ“– The Opal Miner’s Daughter by Fiona McArthur

πŸ“– The Vet from Snowy River by Stella Quinn

πŸ“– Her Death Was Also Water by Allen C. Jones

I need to preface that NONE of these book are BAD! As you can see this month I’ve bounced around from historical fiction, to romance, to literature, to rural romance and back to literature again. My brain had no idea what it wanted to read, and you know what, that’s okay! Because now I have 5 fantastic books that are a quarter of the way read that I can just pick up and keep going at any time – glass half full right? 🀣

Happy weekend to you all and I hope you take the time, as I am, to leave the chaos behind … even just for 24 hours. Mel xx

Book Review: ‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell

My, oh my, oh my! Now you all know how much I ADORED and have RAVED about ‘Devotion’ by Hannah Kent (CLICK HERE to read my review). If you have met me in the bookstore, I can guarantee I have put any and all of Hannah Kent’s books in your hands. For me to say that THIS BOOK – ‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell, comes in as a close contender as one of my favourite books of 2022 is big. It’s BIG people!

‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell is well paced novel curated to intrigue and explore the devastatingly controlled life of Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara. By the age of 15 she was married to a Duke for the purposes of political and land gain. By 16 she was dead.

Set in the mid 1500’s, our opening scene introduces us to Lucrezia and her husband Alfonzo, as they dine for the very last time together before he supposedly, *as history believes* poisons her. This scene is chilling as we’re in the mind of a 16 year old girl who is contemplating what her life has come to and what to expect will come next. We then flash back in time to Lucrezia’s birth and the disconnected relationship she has growing up within her Medici family.

Lucrezia is the somewhat middle child Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Eleanor of Toledo. If you know your Italian history, you’d know that the Medici lineage is one of the most infamous and long ruling families/Italian royalty. The marriage of Cosimo and Eleanor was a loving one, yet Eleanor’s expression of love towards Lucrezia was never the same compared to her other children.

Lucrezia had a milk mother (or wet nurse as the role is more commonly known), of whom was lower class. Lucrezia’s early life was spent in the cook room, playing with her milk mother’s daughter and not learning the skills of her royal family. This resulted in her being somewhat of an outcast with her siblings and also when it came to linear education. Her art was how she expressed herself from a very young age and it followed throughout her short life. She also has an unusually calm connection to animals.

LucΓ©’s connection to animals comes to the forefront of the novel when there is a piercing scene with herself, her siblings and her father, Cosimo. It was hard to remove this picture from my mind throughout the rest of the story. Maggie O’Farrell brings so much truth to LucΓ©’s story and it was actually rumoured that in real life, Cosmio held a collection of exotic animals in the basement of the Palazzo Vecchio. The fictional scene follows Lucrezia as she witnesses the arrival of a new animal, a tiger. She is possessed by its beauty, power and its inability to fit in with the other animals. She feel connection and comfort with this animal. They speak the same emotional and mental language. As she falls behind the group, she reached her hand in the tiger’s cage and awaits its presence. Slowly, the animal comes to her and connecting with her hand is the animals fur. It sees LucΓ©, it feels her, it knows her. They are two creatures but their feelings are that of one. Her Father, terrified to turn and see this animal near his daughter, seeks to destroy the animal immediately. This is ultimately a turning point in the novel.

I believe this pivotal scene mimics LucΓ©’s future courtship and marriage with Alfonso. He sees her as beautiful, powerful and caged. He takes advantage of this young, innocent and disconnected creature. His pure use for her is to produce heirs, yet down the line we learn that this is something that does not come easily for him.

I was seized by this story immediately and I believe you will be too. I wanted to learn about how this young girl had experienced a life completely out of her control. The 1500’s time period is one I have not explored a great deal before and Italian history is always something I will jump to read considering my own heritage. I am now adding all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books to my TBR because her writing was just spectacular. I don’t think any other author I’ve read before has made me feel the way she has. Perhaps Hannah Kent would truly be the closest. The ending of this novel was also the perfect way to close the fictional story of the beautiful Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara. I am still thinking of this novel months after reading a prerelease copy – I am glad to finally place it in book lovers hands this September.

LucΓ©’s love for art is her saviour at different times throughout the novel. Yet, when it comes to her famous marriage portrait arranged by Alfonso, she is taken with how the different forms of art can depict a scene or moment of a person. Her own portrait is created by a collection of specialsed artists, one of whom is selective mute – or so we think. His name is Jacopo. Jacopo will go on to play an important role in LucΓ© life, whether that be fictional or true – I do not know.

πŸ’« Mini Review πŸ’«

‘The It Girl’ by Ruth Ware

This was a quick read, with cliff hangers at the end of every chapter. The chapters themselves were also short and immersive which I really enjoyed. I would highly recommend for those who have enjoyed ‘Behind Her Eyes’ and ‘Pieces of Her’ on Netflix πŸ“ΊπŸ’₯πŸŒͺ

April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah met at Oxford. She was decked out in her luxury branded clothing, exclusive haircut and performative posture. She had a particular air about her, as some may say. April is clearly the kind of girl that makes herself known. She’s the ‘it girl’.

Hannah and April are in shared uni accommodation, therefore they begin to learn the ins and outs of each other’s life. Their friendship is magnetic, twisted and dangerous. April is a dominant personality, not only within their immediate friendship, but also within their outer circle of friends, with lecturers and classmates. This power allows her to manipulate those around her for the benefit of her own desires. April likes to plays pranks on her friends to induce the feeling of confusion and control. Her pranks initially start as a way of getting back at someone for not complimenting her – but her tactics, twists and stories start becoming expert level. They’re cruel and calculated, almost like she’s a whole other person.

Then it all goes wrong. 

On the closing night of April’s theatre performance on Oxford campus, she is all glamour and shine. Until Hannah discovers April’s body in her room later on that night. April is dead … or so Hannah thinks. April has been murdered … or so Hannah thinks. 

Fast forward to the present and we have Hannah happily married to April’s then boyfriend, Will. They are expecting their first child. Hannah and Will escaped to Scotland to free themselves of the ongoing press, court case and mystery motive surrounding April’s death. The trauma causes Hannah a lot of grief, especially with her being one of the focal witnesses in the ‘so-called’ attack.

We see Hannah start to retrace her memory on the lead up, and on the night of April’s death due to the ‘convicted’ murderer presently dying in prison. Hannah starts to remember and piece together the how’s, when’s and why’s of her friendship with April. She also begins to dig deeper into her repressed memories, which then leads to the questioning of her closest and most trustworthy friends at the time of their living at Oxford. Was someone close to Hannah more involved with April than she ever knew? Was someone out to get April? Who is in danger? Is April alive? 

Book Review: ‘ When Only One’ by Meg Gatland-Veness

How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?

I need to be explicitly upfront about this novel and its raw topics before I feel dive into this review. This book surrounds the tragic event of a fictional high school shooting in Australia. It provided insight into grief and loss, poverty, domestic abuse, neglect and suicide. These are heavy topics but if you are up to it, do not let that deter you. ‘When Only One’ is one of THE BEST books I’ve read this year and I have absolutely no doubt, in all fibres of my body, that this book will be winning awards in the Australian contemporary young adult category.

Let’s jump into talking about this special novel shall we?

Samson is a teenager, the eldest of five boys and belongs to an average income earning household. His father works a desk job while his mother is unfaltering in her Catholic faith, stability and routine at home with five boys. Sam’s home structure is just that – stable. However his reemerged best friend, Emily, comes from a household that is anything but stable. Her father works when he wants too, drinks too much and is abusive toward her mother. Cynthia, Emily’s mum, suffers from mental illness which becomes quite evident early on in the book. Her mother collects shoes and requires a ‘shoe-toll’ before Emily or Sam can enter the house. She hoards these shoes and gathers them around her for a sense of comfort. The shoe collecting is quite humorous at times with Emily and Sam searching all over town for shoes, to Emily missing her shoes within the floor to ceiling shoe garage, to Sam giving up his good runners for a desperate chance to speak with Emily. Until one afternoon when Emily’s dad snaps – the humour is gone.

Emily’s household is violent, neglectful and poverty-stricken. The local town, school and teenagers know this but nobody believes they can or should do anything to help, as they themselves would rather turn a blind eye and continue on with their safe and comfortable lives. Emily finds her solace and safety in sneaking through Sam’s bedroom window and sleeping on top of his clean bed. Sam lets her, while he takes the bean bag. Emily sometimes stays for meals, plays with Sam’s brothers and gets driven around by Sam’s mum if they both need to go somewhere. However, there is always this divide and ‘frowned-upon’ nature that Sam’s mother holds towards Emily. She will never quite let her be a part of their family, even though it is clearly obvious that she needs help. Emily is also adamant on refusing help, claiming she can handle the cards life has dealt her, but she’s only a teenager. She shouldn’t have to handle these challenges on her own, let alone suffer the consequences of them.

Sam and his close group of guy friends are all training for the Ironman Championship and sporting scholarship. They all want to be fit, athletic and well trained sportsmen, like on the Nutri-grain cereal box. His closest friends consist of; Daniel – a flirtatious Italian; Jeff – quiet and hardworking; Patrick – from a well off family but doesn’t like to admit it; and Milo – who grew up on a dairy farm, his mother committed suicide from postnatal depression, leaving Milo, his under 1 year old sister and their father falling apart. There is a piercing passage on pg. 218 that throws the social divisions of Australian high school and small town communities in your face. It reads;

“At our school, there are three main factions. First, there’s the rich kids from town. They mostly have two working parents and a swimming pool. Then there’s us, mid-grounders. We live in town but the wrong side of the main road. We mostly have stay-at-home mums or single parents. We have clean clothes and brushed hair, but our uniforms are clearly from the faded second-hand box and not shiny and bright from the uniform shop. Jeff, Daniel and I fall into that category. Patrick likes to pretend he does, but he’s secretly a rich kid. Then there’s the third faction: the farm kids and derros who live on the outskirts. The Emilys and Milos of the school. The ones with foetal alcohol syndrome, or mums with no teeth, or brothers in jail, or dads with restraining orders against them. They are the ones who hardly ever last to the end of Year 10.”

Meg’s ability to put social hierarchy in such plain words created real feeling for me. I believe it rang true in its bluntness and clear vision through the teenage eyes of Sam, who is discovering the awareness of adversity and privilege all around him. From this, Sam is learning the unwavering power and influence that adversity and privilege have over a persons life. One teenager in this story who was aware of their privilege was Rei. Rei has recently moved to Sam’s school and it was love at first sight for him. Her Asian background and unidentified faith plagued Sam’s mother at times, but he does truly love Rei. Rei advocates for social justice, wins schooling debates and cries over inequalities. Meg does a great job of still painting Rei as a young teenager, with emotion led decision making, self-confidence issues and the feelings of grief and loss surrounding migrating to a new country.

Ultimately, the adversities, disadvantages and addictions faced by the characters in this story, create the demise for severe loss of mental control and physical actions. The escalation is chilling, sickening and unexplainable, but arguably explainable from the perspective of the one character committing the action. I have to say that the novel does not keep you in this heaviness. It gives the reader a clear feeling of immediate grief and how that looks in the realistic lives of teenagers, yet we also see and feel the ongoing cycle of grief. We learn its moving sensation and how it becomes a part of who you are, then you keep growing, then growing, then growing. To say this novel touched me is an understatement. Even now writing this review, I am flipping open pages and thinking gosh I want to write about this, and this, but I can only give you so much book lovers. I need to leave the rest up to you πŸ’–

The Monthly Wrap: July

Well, well, well – that’s a stack and a half of books! I had a bit of a slumpy July to begin with and have now rediscovered my reading pace in the last week … so let’s get straight into it shall we πŸ€£πŸ“š

After finishing ‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell, released in August and my second favourite literary novel of 2022 – closely tailing ‘Devotion’ by Hannah Kent (click here for review), I needed something to get me out of a gnarly book slump! I will be posting a book review of ‘The Marriage Portrait’ on its release day, that being the 30th of August. Yes, yes, I’m making you wait – but it’s for good reason 😍

I picked up ‘Salt and Skin’ by Eliza Henry-Jones thinking I will counteract my literary book slump with another EPIC literary fiction. Sadly, this did not go as planned. Salt and Skin covers heavy topics of grief, denial and continental travel. At this point in time, these were not topics I felt in the mood for reading (and as we know, I’m very much a mood reader). The bones of this book are fantastic and I have been pining for a pre-release copy of this to land in my hands for months now, therefore I will not give up! I am determined to read this in August and without fail, I will provide you with a review.

Mixing up my genres, I decided to dip my toes into a Fantasy – I thought this may help. Our Other Worlds Book Club had recently read and throughly enjoyed ‘Atlas Six’ by Olivie Blake and I had multiple members encourage me to pick it up. I found it available at my local library and decided now was the time. I really like the witchiness, the changing perspectives and learning each characters’ powers. The mystery behind their training and schooling is really interesting to follow and kept me gripped. However, a quarter of the way through this book, I went on holidays and it just wasn’t fitting the bill for a light, funny, holiday read – you know? Enter, ‘Today Tonight Tomorrow’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon.

Extract from πŸ’« Mini Review πŸ’«:

“Ahh, this was just cute. It was cute and feel good and made me smile and made me laugh. It had all the feels and was the perfect enemies to lovers plot. Rowan Roth is a determined young woman and hard working right up to the very end of high school but her witty drive is pushed along by the likes of Neil McNair. The two have been in hefty competition with each other since the time they met. Their schooling has been a constant battle of who will be in first place and who will come in second. Rowan is set on not placing second best in their last bid for victory … winning valedictorian.

Yet as graduation looms and their end of Senior Year celebrations of a Seattle scavenger hunt kicks off, Rowan and Neil begin to realise that rather than opposing each other, they are smarter, swifter and more aligned working together than they ever realised. Slowly, they learn about one another’s lives outside of the small portion of school they experience with one another. Outside hobbies, passions and home lives come into play, furthering even more of their connection.”

I actually picked up my copy of ‘Today Tonight Tomorrow’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon while on holiday in Melbourne. I purchased it at Dymocks Melbourne, located on Collins Street. At the time, I also purchased ‘The Mars Room’ by Rachel Kushner (a literary fiction listed for the Booker Prize in 2018), ‘Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe’ by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (of which I read the first book last year and adored its Japanese morals, whimsical thinking and translation) & ‘The Soulmate Equation’ by Christina Lauren (recommended by an avid reader friend who also loved ‘The Unhoneymooners’ by Christina Lauren, as much as I did).

I then visited Canberra, in which I tracked down a Harry Hartog Bookseller. I purchased my copy of ‘Last Time We Met’ by Emily Houghton (contemporary romance) on that adventure! As you can tell from this stack of 5 book purchases, I was feeling the “easy reading’ vibes, with only one literary fiction thrown in there for good measure.

Back to what I actually read! Gosh Mel, way to get side tracked with book buying πŸ˜‰ Presently, at home with Covid, I have had the time to finish a crime fiction novel, ‘The It Girl’ by Ruth Ware. This was suspenseful, twisty and great at developing characters into the kind of people you suspect and cannot stop following their motives. April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah Jones met at Oxford. Decked out in her luxury branded clothing, exclusive haircut and performative posture, April is clearly the kind of girl that makes herself known. She’s the ‘it girl’. April is clever, manipulative and powerful, until she ends up murdered on the closing night of her theatre performance … and Hannah is the one to find her. Moving back and forth, past to present, we now learn that Hannah is married and expecting her first child to April’s then boyfriend. Suspicious – yes βœ…. Hannah also totally isolated herself from a number of their friends at the time after the murder. Suspicious – yes βœ…. Hannah also gave evidence against a security footman in court to convict him of April’s murder, yet he has always plead innocent. Suspicious – yes βœ…. Lot’s of things don’t add up and it made for a very interesting story. Full review coming soon πŸ‘€

Last but not least, I am currently reading and endeavour to have finished in a few days (iso and all), ‘When Only One’ by Meg Gatland-Veness. This young adult fiction opens on a school shooting in an Australian high school. The book is giving feelings of being set around the 70’s or 80’s time era with reference to things such as old Nintendos and Catholic ideologies. The heaviness and seriousness of this novel hits you immediately and I felt gripped straight away. Meg then takes us back in time through the lens of a teenage boy and his life a year prior to the tragic event. We learn of him, his life goals, his friends and who is struggling within the community – letting the reader peel back slow layers of who may have committed this horrific crime. The writing style is perfect, captivating and feeling.

So that folks, is the STACK! What have you book lovers been reading for the month of July? Have you been book buying? Share below πŸ’¬πŸŽ™

πŸ’« Mini Review πŸ’«

‘Today Tonight Tomorrow’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Looking for a feel good read? βœ…

Looking for an enemies to lovers plot? βœ…

Looking for a romance that moves from high school into new young adulthood? βœ…

This young adult fiction encompasses all of the good suff, making it light, romantic and a quick read. Rowan Roth is a determined young woman and hard working right up to the very end of high school but her witty drive is pushed along by the likes of Neil McNair. The two have been in hefty competition with each other since the time they met. Their schooling has been a constant battle of who will be in first place and who will come in second. Rowan is set on not placing second best in their last bid for victory … winning valedictorian.

Yet as graduation looms and their end of Senior Year celebrations of a Seattle scavenger hunt kicks off, Rowan and Neil begin to realise that rather than opposing each other, they are smarter, swifter and more aligned working together than they ever realised. Slowly, they learn about one another’s lives outside of the small portion of school they experience with one another. Outside hobbies, passions and home lives come into play, furthering even more of their connection.

I read this over a weeks holiday and it was the perfect accompaniment for a light and happy time. I needed a story to get me out of a book slump as I’d just come off the back of reading my second favourite literary novel of 2022 (review coming soon πŸ€—) – so I needed something a little lighter. The lovely Josh from @joshhortinela recommended this strongly and I was convinced to pick it up!

Bagged & Borrowed

My July local library borrow βœ…

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake was a must! I have already picked this up and have immediately been drawn into the witchy world. We’re following six young adult magicians as they are each hand selected for the opportunity of a lifetime. Six go in, only five come out. I love that we actually see and hear from everyone’s perspectives. It is something fresh and new to my reading habits in fantasy.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell was my second borrow. Maggie is an author that’s been around for a while, however she is new to me. I recently finished her new literary fiction landing in August, called ‘A Marriage Portrait’, which was SPECtacular!! It has snuck up behind ‘Devotion’ by Hannah Kent – my 2022 favourite thus far (read my review here). It is set in Italy … LOVE THIS, in the Medici era… LOVE THIS and centres around the marriage of Duchess Lucrezia of Ferrera, at the age of 15 and a 30 year old Alfonzo II, Duke of Ferrera. This was a marriage of convince, yet by the time LucΓ© turned 16, she was dead – presumed murdered by her husband. I could not put this book down! I was addicted to Maggie’s writing from the get go and look forward to following Hamnet in the same way, all while learning about Shakespeare’s son through an accurate yet fictional lens.

Have you visited your local Library this month? They’re a place of such knowledge, care and warmth πŸ“š

Book Review: ‘Paperbark Hill’ by Maya Linnell

If you’re looking to fall in love with a new country romance writer, Maya Linnell is your gal! She just gets it – the challenges of falling in love in rural areas, small town community feelings of support and shared business, opinions and expectations. She also holds a firm grip of what the dynamics of inside a family look like. Her writing makes you feel as if you’re sitting around a dining room table, in a country home, having realistic conversations about farming, family and children.

Paperbark Hill is the conclusion to Maya’s four book series following the McIntyre sisters. All books can be read individually but have overlapping characters, environmental settings and storylines. Believe me when I say, Paperbark Hill has set me up well for devouring the rest of Maya’s books!

Paperbark Hill follows Diana McIntyre and her 4 boys as they learn to navigate and continue on their lives after the death of their stronghold, their husband and father. Diana is surrounded by her loving sisters and father, who encourage her dreams of cut flower farming, selling locally and creating a name for herself in the industry. Flower farming and raising her 4 boys is the highest priority. This remains so throughout the novel. Her thoughts and feelings do however increase when Ned Gardiner, an ex-local comes back to town after the unexpected loss of his father.

Ned is a locaum pharmacist and a bit of a gypsy. His flexible job allows him and his two beautiful, sweet and worldly children to move around. This is bit of a relief for Ned after his wife and mother to his two children, just up and left. Ned’s routines and travelling is thrown out the window when the loss of his father brings him back to his home town. His father was a keen chicken egg farmer and flower gardener. It also turns out, his father was Diana’s sidekick in maintaining and starting her flower farming. Both Diana and Ned are feeling the heavy loss of Ned’s father, which ultimately brings them together.

The warm buzz between Ned and Diana grows. Their time spent together in the flower fields, bringing their children together for play dates, stopping for afternoon tea together and chatting over salty scones, are just some of my favourite subtle ways of their relationship growing. I really could appreciate that their relationship was about stability, trust and respect. They’ve both been hurt in the past, they both have children who are the centre of their world, and they are both trying to navigate new found love at 40+. It’s slow, romantic and the development of love grows through gesture.

I think Maya was clever to include some challenges to new found love at 40. She wove the protests of children surrounding new parental relationships and the questions they ask. Diana’s teenage boy found the adjusts hard and was defiant in letting a new person into Diana’s life. He felt as if Diana would forget about his father and not acknowledge significant past birthdays or anniversaries. However, he grows to realise that it is about a balance of blending the two together and recognising that Ned is never going to stop Diana from loving, thinking of, or celebrating her late husband. Ultimately Ned and Diana show harmony within their two families individually, therefore when they bring the two together, it is just a big group of love and happiness!

Reading Diana and Ned’s story had me swept away in a matter of 48 hours – I couldn’t step away from their story for too long!! I am incredibly grateful and humbled to have received this copy of Paperbark Hill from Allen & Unwin and Maya Linnell to personally read and review πŸ’– This copy of Maya’s book has already been loaned a friend to read and also love πŸ’«

Book Review: ‘A Place Near Eden’ by Nell Pierce

Wow. Wow. Wow. Nell Pierce coming through with the award winning literary fiction. Nell is the prestigious winner of the 2022 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award. Okay cool Mel, but what does this actually mean? My fellow reading friends, it means that Nell had worked dang hard on her book like all authors, was selected out of a HUGE bunch of unpublished manuscripts, fit the bill of being under the age of 35 AND has now had this manuscript published, promoted and sold with Allen & Unwin. So let me tell you, this book is a no brainer for you to pick up in 2022.

A Place Near Eden follows three main characters; Tilly (Matilda); Sem; and Celeste. Their intricate, manipulative and submissive relationships with one another creates the whirlwind of events and downward spirals in this novel. The overall theme that has really kept me thinking and pondering long after I finished, is manipulation. A Place Near Eden shows the different types of manipulation a person can face in real life. This novel shows strong instances of verbal manipulation, tv and film consumption that had been manipulated to make you believe a persons’ innocence, and manipulation through the streams of social media. There has been a tragic ‘accident’ near Eden and we begin to slowing unfold who was involved by back tracking Tilly’s story, but is Tilly’s story real and honest? Or has it been created through the manipulation and impression of those around her, who are aiming to save themselves by throwing Tilly in the firing line.

At the beginning it is brought to the reader’s attention that teenage Tilly is facing a change in home environment. Her new foster brother Sem, has moved in and her parents are at odds over Sem’s behaviour and his influence on her. Tilly idolises Sem and begins to develop romantic feelings towards him. Now bring Celeste into the mix – she is Sem’s ‘girlfriend’ and next door neighbour. Celeste is older than Tilly and has a teenage strength about her. She wears her midriff tops without the worry of wandering eyes, lies and boasts about going all the way with Sem. Celeste creates arguments with her Mum and Sem for no good reason other then wanting to have a fight, she talks Tilly into drinking a lot, she criticises and makes fun of Tilly for getting a job and then goes and gets one herself, she also convinces Tilly to not keep any other friends. Celeste is clever, manipulative and calculating. She can also strongly influence and convince Tilly’s change in mindset, mood and memory.

For me, quite early in, Tilly reads as an unreliable narrator and this kept me flipping the pages. Tilly talks in the past of her coming and going relationships with Sem and Celeste, moving out with Celeste, drinking a lot, counselling sessions arranged by her Dad to draw out information on Sem, her unusual relationship with her near absent mother, and the place of spiritual awakening that Sem and her mother would visit way out bush. Tilly is talking to someone in the present, someone who will be learning about Tilly, Sem and Celeste’s story through a documentary. This documentary has been created, aired and viewed to expose the possible scenarios leading up to the accident near Eden and who is responsible. Due to Tilly being an unreliable narrator, for a long time she is convincing you, as the reader, that she is responsible. She is telling you she has destroyed someone’s life and should be punished – yet as Celeste and Tilly’s relationship begins to unravel, we can’t be so sure as to who’s the guilty one.

This novel is challenging for me to write about without giving too much away. I really enjoyed the not knowingness of jumping in with just the blurb for reference. I want you to experience that unknown feeling too! Therefore, I will finish this review with one of my favourite lines in the book. This stood out to me the moment I read it, as I felt it can sum up Celeste’s mind games, Tilly’s influenced inability to make choices and Sem’s unreliable nature. It can also sum up young adulthood, pivots in life paths and personal growth;

“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy,” Sem said. “It’s okay if you don’t see things the way I do. It’s just important to me that I make my own choices, that’s all.”

One big cheer and shout out to Allen & Unwin, as well as Nell Pierce for generously sending me this (now well read, tagged and already passed around) copy of ‘A Place Near Eden’. I am so SO very grateful for the experience πŸ’–

πŸ’« Mini Series Review πŸ’«

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

The first volume of Heartstopper grabs you with two gentle hands and gives you a warm hug! Charlie is a quiet and introverted, openly gay teenager at an all boys high school. He knows who he is and his friends and family are true and supportive. He sees the best in people and trusts them to be as kind as himself, however his current ‘boyfriend’ Ben, is not that. Ben chooses to sneak around with Charlie and manipulate Charlie into not speaking openly about their relationship. This is because Ben isn’t ready to explore his sexuality openly. Charlie is struggling with the back and forward of Ben’s feelings and desires – when he meets Nick Nelson.

Nick is the high school rugby lad who is loved by everyone and is 100% straight … until he gets to know Charlie. The strong feelings of friendship grow into more than ‘just best friend’ level, and seemingly overtake Nick’s thoughts. Nick has never questioned his sexuality before, therefore this first book really has a focus on Nick exploring what romantically liking Charlie could be like in his world.

Volume 1 is introductory to Nick and Charlie, their friend groups, their schooling environments and the blooming first love. πŸ’« Butterfly feelings πŸ’« Exploration of self πŸ’« First kiss moment

Volume 2 explores the newness of Nick and Charlies feelings and relationship. πŸ’« Joining new friendship groups πŸ’« Bullying πŸ’« More butterfly feelings πŸ’« Cute cinema scene πŸ’« “Boyfriends” πŸ’« Coming out

Volume 3 looks at Nick and Charlie opening their relationship into the school environment and on their school excursion to Paris. πŸ’« Nick telling his extended family about Charlie πŸ’« Mental health and anorexia πŸ’« Second base romance πŸ’« More, more butterfly feelings πŸ’« Coming out to school friends πŸ’« Nick can speak fluent French?! (I’m excited to see this on the Netflix series) πŸ’« Tao and Elle accept their feelings for one another

Volume 4 gets deep people! So trigger warning for the content surrounding self-harm, mental health and anorexia. I really think Alice has brought light to these subjects to show the boys maturing and how their emotional intelligence grows as they move into a different stage of their life. Honestly, I didn’t see the series moving this way so I’m interested to see where she takes it in Volume 5. πŸ’« “I love you” πŸ’« Mental health unit admission πŸ’« Nick’s challenging relationship with his older brother comes to breaking point πŸ’« PDA at school πŸ’« More, More & more butterfly feelings πŸ’« Nick and Charlie’s first party attending as a couple πŸ’« Awkward family dinner πŸ’« A New Year’s kiss

Have you read the graphic novels of Heartstopper yet? Or tried the Netflix series? Let’s chat in the comments πŸ’¬