borsellino_THRIVE cover_1Thrive continues my foray into reading dystopian YA fiction. A few months ago Havoc, by New Zealand author Jane Higgins, jolted my senses into recognition of this wildly popular genre, which explores future worlds (ones where twisted societal developments reign and hope is generally in short supply). I can report that I have now been on a second eye-opening dystopian adventure.

At the centre of Aussie author Mary Borsellino’s Thrive is teenager Olivia. Introspective and awkward, Olivia feels lost in her life as the daughter of wealthy parents. It’s an existence where privilege, looks, and conformity are valued over everything else.

Being kidnapped and held for ransom by a gang of misfits turns out to be an unexpected gift for Olivia. Here she meets Hannah, a teenager who is totally unlike herself. Hannah lives hand-to-mouth, reads banned hard-copy books like John Wyndham’s 1951 post-apocalyptic classic Day of the Triffids and conceals herself from those she doesn’t trust behind a red rabbit mask.

When Olivia is rescued and returned to her family she has trouble letting go of Hannah. She also can’t give up her new appetite for books. It isn’t long before Olivia is fleeing her stifling surrounds in search of a life less ordinary.

‘From the depths of factory oppression to the dizzying heights of vigilante rooftops, Olivia travels the margins of society, where the misfits gather and build homes for themselves out of whatever they can get their hands on – and fight to make a life worth living.’

Olivia is an engaging heroine, but I must say that by book’s end, I wanted to know her better than I did. Her relationships with the young people around her are definitely interesting but as a reader there were times when I wished more depth of feeling would come at me from the page. One example is a fleeting reference made late in the book to Olivia’s sexuality. I really felt this could have been an important thread in the story had it been explored. It may have also helped frame Olivia’s sibling-like relationship with Sam, who is one of the key characters.

The book has a kind of staccato feel to it, and for the most part I think this jumpy style works well with the broken and often bleak world Olivia and her loosely-formed tribe of revolutionaries inhabit. A couple of times though I yearned for a bit more flow, or perhaps follow-through.

On the plus-side I really did enjoy Thrive. There were many parts where both the writing and the story simply soared. The author’s interweaving of references to classic novels and literary fairytales was beautifully done,and this made them both poignant and important to the story being told. Olivia’s period as a masked vigilante known as the Candy Butcher who delivers nourishing soup and clever words to those starving in the streets is electric.

If you’re a dystopian/post-apocoliptic YA enthusiast this one is definitely worth a read.

sarahHow long have you been writing for MDPWeb, why did you join the group, and what do you like about being part of it?

I have been reviewing for MDPWeb since April 2015. I am loving the opportunity to read books in a wide range of genres. Yes, I have a soft spot for contemporary YA, but as I’m learning through the diverse reading material delivered to me by MDPWeb, there are awesome books to be found in every genre and sub-genre you care to mention. What I find really cool about reviewing books is the idea that maybe I’m helping people discover books they might not otherwise pick up.

What creative piece are you working on, and what author would you liken your work to?

I am working hard to polish and refine the contemporary fiction novel I wrote last year during the Queensland Writer’s Centre Year of the Novel course (novelist Marianne de Pierres was the course’s most excellent presenter). My novel is called New Year’s Eve. The tag line is: Who says coming of age is only for teenagers? Eve Anderson has just turned 30 and this year she’s going to grow up. I’d say my book would appeal to readers of Rainbow Rowell.

 What book have you most enjoyed reviewing for MDPWeb?

Ooh, that’s a hard one. OK, I’m going to say The Prophecy of Bees. This book really took me by surprise. I did not think I was going to like it, let alone love it and I totally did. I am definitely looking forward to diving into my next suspense novel now.

cusackWhat’s your favourite thing to do in your downtime?

Read of course!

Is there somewhere else online/in bookstores we can find your work?

You can visit my blog

What’s your favourite TV series?

Not long ago my sister suggested I watch a show called Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It is totally whack…hilarious…awesome! I think Tina Fey was one of the creators. I was so sad when I’d watched my way through the season. Seriously, if you’re looking for a laugh, check it out.

Who or what is your current crush?

Past, present, future: Lloyd Dobler (AKA John Cusack) in the truly brilliant 80s movie Say Anything. Check out my blog and you’ll understand why.


Pateman_The Prophecy of BeesDo you believe in superstition? I’m talking omens and witchcraft, prophecies and curses; that kind of thing.

Surly 17 year-old Izzy is pretty sure she doesn’t. Then her mother Lindy buys Stagcote Manor, a run-down estate hidden in the English countryside. Lindy hopes moving away from London will help she and Izzy start a new chapter in their lives following the death of Izzy’s dad and a period of wayward behaviour from troubled Izzy.

But the manor comes with its own baggage: tales of a centuries old curse swirl both inside and out the estate’s moss-covered walls. And the local villagers seem heavily occupied with an array of strange practices designed to ward off the manor’s so-called evil.

Though sceptical at first, Izzy soon finds herself being drawn into the eerie mystery that engulfs Stagcote. Strange noises wake her in the middle of the night, and then there’s the fatal prophecy Cedric says is stirring up the hive of bees down at the Gatehouse.

The Prophecy Of Bees is a tightly wound tale of suspense. I found myself gripped by this novel very early on. It was tense and surprisingly kinda scary. I was desperate to keep reading and find out how the story would unravel.

Angsty Izzy, with her initial derision of the dreary manor and the lost-in-time villagers is the perfect character to take us on this thriller-style journey. As Izzy’s scepticism is replaced by a strong desire to investigate Stagcote’s curse and its true origins, we are right there with her.

In fact, the book’s entire cast of characters is memorable. I loved the loyal maid Olga and the all-knowing bee whisperer Cedric. Oh, and I couldn’t help warming to the Fletcher sisters Brenda and Glenda as they ingratiated themselves back at Stagcote once more. Other key characters got to me too, but I don’t want to spoil the story for you. There’s a twist at the end that I never saw coming.

Although I’m not a huge fan of book trailers, I did find one for this book that I think is pretty good. You can check it out here.

Hyde_Footy DreamingNoah and Ben play on opposing teams in a footy obsessed Aussie town. Both teenagers dream of one day playing professional AFL at the G, but if either of them are going to get there they’ve got some work to do.

Indigenous kid Noah is a natural. When he’s on the footy field he knows exactly what to do. Putting in the hard yards with fitness and training, however, isn’t something Noah’s too fond of. And having to deal with racial prejudice on the field is a challenge he wishes didn’t exist.

Ben wants to do everything right. He trains hard and plays hard and he won’t let disappointment over his absent Mum get in the way of his footy dream. But Ben’s friendship with Noah is turning his club-mates against him and making the game he loves feel more like a battleground than it should.

Michael’s Hyde’s footy-fuelled novel is aimed at 10-11 year-olds, and with Aussie Rules being our most watched sport, it’s sure to capture the interest of young AFL fans all over the country. The match scenes in the book are written with plenty of colour and movement, down to the smell of hot pies wafting from the canteen and the sound of avid barracking from supporters in the stands.

But this book isn’t just about footy. It’s also about mateship. Noah and Ben forge a very believable and endearing friendship and the author skillfully uses this friendship to navigate the often tricky issues of race in a way the targeted reading age-group will understand.

I particularly liked how this book wove elements of Aboriginal culture into the story in a natural and accessible way.

Novels like Footy Dreaming are really important. Australian children need to be reading them. Great stories with some serious messages tucked neatly inside.


Footy Dreaming – Michael Hyde

Ford Street Publishing (2015)

ISBN 978-1-9250-0099-3

higgins_havoc I’m just going to be upfront and admit it: I’m a total newbie when it comes to dystopian YA fiction. Fans of the genre are right now wondering what the heck I’ve been doing with my reading hours up until now.

Well, we’ve all got to start somewhere, and I’d say being handed Jane Higgins’ novel Havoc was a pretty good introduction to the rough and tumble of worlds tending towards irreversible oblivion.

I didn’t realise it at first (d’oh, newbie alarm sounding again!) but Havoc is actually Book 2 in the Southside Novels series. Book 1, The Bridge, won the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing in 2010 so it comes from strong pedigree.

Havoc picks up where The Bridge left off. It’s 2199 and The City remains divided. There might be a ceasefire between the two warring sides (Cityside and Southside), but it’s one that’s barely holding. Then Cityside blows up one of the bridges leaving Southsiders dead and conflict instantly re-ignited. In the bomb’s aftermath, teenagers Nik and Lanya are drawn into the complex web of power, fear and betrayal that’s fueling The City’s fractured war.

I really enjoyed stepping into this vivid futuristic world. In the hands of Nik, who is the only son of the chief spy for Southside’s Brekens, it felt like I was on a crazy, adrenalin pumping adventure full of wrong turns and intrigue…with a few perfectly timed lucky-breaks. Nik’s split loyalties between his new home on Southside and his past in Cityside injects the story with a great dynamic. I was right with this character as he tried to navigate his way around old relationships while following his new sense of purpose as something of a champion for the Breken cause.

The character of Lanya (and the chemistry between her and Nik) is another of the book’s strengths. Lanya is a smart, feisty heroine for readers to invest in. Nik and Lanya’s race to halt the widespread release of Cityside’s biological warfare is pacey and compelling.

There were times when I found the book’s political aspects a little confusing (so many factions with differing motivations) but had I read The Bridge first I’m sure this wouldn’t have been an issue.

Being the dystopian newbie that I am, upon finishing the book I was keen to know what committed readers of the genre had thought of it. As far as I can tell it’s getting a big wrap for not following ‘the usual tropes’ and many praise it for being an ‘intelligent’ read.

My assessment would be that this is a well-paced adventure into a world cleverly imagined.


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