sorensen_secret Ella and MichaAfter spending eight months away at college, Ella is finally about to go home for the summer break. She is not relishing the prospect; not when she’s spent the better part of a year trying valiantly to reinvent herself, and especially not when she has left behind her best friend, and the only person she could ever count on, without an explanation – or even a goodbye.

Demons don’t wait, as Ella is about to find. And nor does Micha. Her gorgeous best friend has spent the past several months searching for her and, now that she’s back, he has no intention of letting her go again. Or of letting her forget who she really is.

Seeing Micha again stirs up all sorts of feelings that Ella had hoped to leave behind. However much he might want it, remembering who she is isn’t an option – it would mean remembering her past and Ella has done her upmost to bury all of that.

With a set up like the one in The Secret of Ella and Micha, it’s impossible not to get dragged in from the start. What has happened to Ella that is so bad that she’s abandoned everything she knows – including the boy she loves? Worse than that, what has happened that has made her want to become someone else? Someone dispassionate and disconnected from the world when she had always been one to embrace life wholeheartedly?

This is a tale that explores the impact of poverty and broken homes on the teens who experience them. Neither Ella nor Micha have had stable lives, but they had always found stability in each other until something snapped and – for Ella – everything came undone.

The Secret of Ella and Micha has some adult themes that makes it an unsuitable read for middle grade and tween readers; but it is still essentially a book for readers younger than myself. Classed as New Adult, I’d recommend it for older teens or possibly readers in their early twenties. While the storyline is compelling, it doesn’t have the depth of analysis that Ella and Micha’s circumstances call for. Their background is mostly for the sake of conflict and, while it is an interesting conflict, it conveniently fades out to make room for the romance.

The Secret of Ella and Micha is a light romance with a bit of background angst and some mystery. It’s the quintessential beach read – one of those books that you can fly through and enjoy while relaxing on holiday. It’s a safe, friendly read that won’t have you in tears at the end of the whole thing.


The Secret of Ella and Micha – Jessica Sorensen

Little Brown (February 12, 2013)

ISBN: 9780751552287

johnston_thousand nightsTo save her sister she must face a demon.

For many years a cruel king has demanded that his people provide him with brides. They come from all of the districts in the city and all of the towns. They always die – some on the first night. Now it is her village’s turn to provide a wife. She knows that he will choose the most beautiful girl her village has to offer; her sister.

She will not allow it. Whatever the price of keeping her sister alive, she will pay it.

Before long her sister’s life will not be the only thing she is fighting for. With an inter-species war looming, she will have to fight for her family, her people, and the soul of a king…

When revisiting traditional stories, there’s always the possibility that the outdated morals will taint a modern day adaptation. In few stories is there more danger of this than the Asian/Middle Eastern story of One Thousand and One Nights. The story of Scheherazade regaling her royal husband with half-told tales to stay her execution for another night does her credit but obliterates any understanding a modern reader could have for him.

Because of this, I was reluctant to begin a book based on the One Thousand and One Nights tale, but curiosity overcame me. I cracked the spine and read the first page. Then the second. Before I knew it, I was halfway through the book and it was hours past my bedtime.

Suffice it to say that A Thousand Nights is a fantastic novel. It’s a short book, but makes the most of the words it uses. The writing is vivid, lyrical and precise. This book is a luxury to read, and it’s a surprise to find that each beautifully crafted sentence moves the story forward. No words are superfluous.

Unlike the original story, women are the front and centre of A Thousand Nights. In the traditional tale most of the women were present only to die. Even Scheherazade, who survives, is a framing device to tell stories mostly featuring men. In A Thousand Nights, women are the driving force for every major event. The unnamed main character decides her own fate without applying to anyone for permission. Her sister, though the one being saved, is no plot device to disappear once her part is over. She and the main character are connected even across the distance, and neither gives up on the other as they both work toward their goals.

In many ways this is a fairy tale flipped on its head. The bride is no damsel awaiting rescue. Instead it is the humanity in her husband that needs to be saved. He is helpless to free himself and she is his only hope.

A Thousand Nights is a lovely retelling of the tale of Scheherazade. With a focus on character rather than action, it manages to keep the fairy tale-like feeling of the original while exploring the intricacy of emotions a little deeper.

A Thousand Nights – E.K. Johnston

Macmillan (October 22, 2015)

ISBN: 9781447284116

griffiths_the-65-storey-treehouseSpending an evening in the company of a group of people who are as passionate as they are knowledgeable about books is about as close as it gets to paradise on Earth. Add a sinfully creamy crème brûlée with the barest sliver of a caramelised crust and it’s closer to heaven.

This pretty much sums up my night on Monday when I went to the 2015 Pan Macmillan Roadshow. Claire Craig, the company’s Children’s Publisher, kindly spent some of her very much in-demand time talking YA, children’s books, and the industry in Australia with me. She had a great deal of insight into all of those topics. Books are constantly variable, and the shift that’s happening in YA right now favours local Australian authors. Not for patriotic reasons. Readers – younger ones especially – don’t care where their books come from. They just want an enthralling read. Increasingly, it seems, Aussie authors are stepping up to fill that demand.

On that note, one of Claire’s personal favourites for the year is local author Fiona Wood’s Cloudwish. A relatively new author, Fiona Wood has never-the-less managed to amass a slew of awards and nominations for her first two novels. Claire was so passionate about this author that I’ve requested her novel and will be bumping it to the top of my TBR pile the moment I have it. Cloudwish follows Vietnamese-Australian Vân Uoc Phan as she tries to maintain a low profile and navigate high school. Unfortunately the best laid plans all too often collapse… Fitting in, standing out; a clash of cultures, and surviving high school; everything about this book makes me want to curl up with a copy of it and lock out the world.

To no one’s surprise, the 65-Storey Treehouse is doing amazing things for the book industry. Released in August, it is the fastest selling Australian title in history moving 70, 000 copies in its first week.

Rainbow Rowell has a new book out in October. Carry On is Rowell’s first foray into all-out fantasy. It’s linked to Fangirl in as much as it’s the story of Simon Snow, the fictional character who is the basis for Cath and Wren’s fanfic, and sounds fantastic. And the question on everyone’s lips – okay, okay, the question on my lips – is will there be slash?

With these amazing titles, I can see that my 2016 reading list is going to balloon this Christmas. Now I just have to decide what to read first…


Bel and Joelene discuss Hachette’s forthcoming YA books, which they heard all about at the Holly Black event in Sydney.


yolen_briar roseAll of her life, Becca’s grandmother, Gemma, has told her the tale of Briar Rose. But this tale is not like the original. In Gemma’s tale only Briar Rose awakens from her hundred years of enchanted sleep.

As Gemma ages, she becomes convinced that she is the princess in that magical fairy tale. Before she dies she asks Becca to promise that she will find the truth behind her story. Without even knowing her grandmother’s real name, that promise is going to be almost impossible to keep. It is a vow that will take Becca far from home in search of castles, princes, and something much darker.

There’s something about fairy tales that draws people to them – and when fairy tales are re-imagined in modern skins, they become even more compelling; a classical story that everyone knows, but with more complex emotions and a possible twist. In Briar Rose, Yolen puts the traditional fairy tale grimness back into the story. Rather than the story serving as a vague morality tale, Yolen links it to the Holocaust to devastating effect.

The way the characters are portrayed when confronted with dire circumstances is at the emotional heart of this novel. There were heroes during the Holocaust but most of the people involved were just trying to survive to the best of their, often limited, ability. Yolen shows this: the men and women who took last stands – not because they thought that they could make a difference but to do something other than starve or freeze; the people who thought that war couldn’t affect them before they were proved wrong and dragged into the violence they had tried to ignore.

Despite the fact that this book is over twenty years old, there is so much in it that is ahead of its time. It’s centred on the relationship between two women, with Becca taking up a quest that her grandmother could not. The novel doesn’t boil the Holocaust down to being a tragedy that only affected Jews either. The other groups that were prosecuted are present.

While Gemma’s story – and the stories of those around her are captivating, Becca’s tends to drag. Her safe existence can’t compare with Gemma’s perilous one. Becca is needed as a framing device to the story, but I rushed through most of the scenes set in the present day.

The thing I love most about retold fairy tales is that – if done well – all of the emotional complexity that is missing from the original is worked into the retelling. In Briar Rose, the emotional impact is shattering. It’s the kind of fairy tale that needs to be told: one with history, depth and compassion. One that was an unfortunate reality for far too many people.

Briar Rose – Jane Yolen

Tor (1992)


ISBN: 9780765342300

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