#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “It Sounded Better In My Head” by Nina Kenwood

Title: It Sounded Better In My Head
Author:
Nina Kenwood
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This book was certainly sweet and I loved how painfully realistic it was at times. But some pacing issues and the lack of characterisation from anyone other than the main character left me feeling like there could have been more.

Natalie’s life is diverging from the Plan. Her parents announce their separation on Christmas Day, her two best friends have started dating so she feels like a third wheel, and she’s just finished high-school and doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She’s also still dealing with image issues that have haunted her throughout her teen years thanks to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).  

Since this book is in the first person, we are very much in Natalie’s head. And she has a lot going on in there. But it did mean I felt like I didn’t really get to know the other characters. There were flashes of personality from them, such as Lucy covering awkwardness amongst her friends with OTT bubbliness, Mariella with her love of gossip about her children… but Alex is the love interest and Natalie spends so much of her time thinking about him and yet as I write this, there’s very little I could tell you about Alex as a person.

There’s also the fact that sometimes the pacing was strange. The plot would grind to a half for several pages while we got some of Natalie’s backstory. Sure, it was good to know about her and some of it moved the plot (such as learning how she met Zach and Lucy) but a lot of the time it made me forget what had just been happening.

Apart from that, though, the writing is really engaging. I flew through the pages. The messiness of teenage friendships is so realistic, I could feel my guts churning on behalf of the characters. There were times when Natalie’s body image issues and insecurities felt a little repetitive, but at the same time, I recognise the cyclical nature of such thoughts in real life.

On the other hand, I really liked how sex positive the book was, particularly in regards to its female characters. It’s mentioned that Natalie knows how to give herself an orgasm, and Lucy is the first one of their friendship group to have sex. While it’s a shock to the others, it’s still shown in a positive light.

This is Nina Kenwood’s debut and I will definitely be watching out for more of her work.


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#WWW Wednesday – 08 January 2020

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This blog hop is hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for this week, and just answer the three questions.

Um… hi?

Apparently my last WWW post was October 31. I went on a bit of a hiatus, and then I started wondering “Well, If I do a WWW post, how far back do I go with what I’ve been reading?” And I couldn’t decide. So then I eventually decided I would just start with today and only talk about books read in 2020.

… Yes, I overthink these things.

What have you recently finished reading?

It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood was a sweet YA contemporary. It had some pacing issues and I didn’t really feel like I knew anything about the love interest, but it was painfully realistic when it came to messy friendship dynamics, which I liked a lot.

I’ll have a review up on Friday.

What are you currently reading?!

Don’t Read The Comments by Eric Smith. Apparently I’m in a YA contemporary mood at the moment. Though to be fair, this is an ARC and I need to read it before January 20. Not very far in at the moment but I think it will be quite topical.

I also started The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross. This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast from the Beast’s POV. I’m only a few chapters in but the writing is really lyrical and beautiful! Also a digital version of the cover really doesn’t do it justice. The paperback is so shiny!

What do you think you will read next?

Bitter Falls by Rachel Caine comes out on January 20, so I need to read this ARC next. To be honest, I’m a bit worried about  whether I’ll enjoy it. Stillhouse Lake and Killman Creek were such amazing books but I didn’t love Wolfhunter River as much… So we’ll have to see how it goes.

What are you reading this week? 🙂

Combined November-December 2019 Reading Wrap-up

"monthly reading wrap-up" banner

In the last two months of 2019, I took an unintended blogging hiatus, from both this blog and my writing blog. I was around here a little bit, but I was so tired trying to get everything wrapped up before the end of the year that I totally fell of the  bandwagon with blog hops and readathons.

Australia is rather on fire, especially on the east coast, at the moment and there are a number of emergencies unfolding in areas surrounding where I live. Fortunately we’re safe for the moment, apart from terrible smoke haze blowing in every night and making it hard to breathe.

It’s hard to stay positive when so many lives (human and otherwise) are under threat and it seems like governments don’t want to do anything to bolster resources, but I’m finding good things to focus on. That includes more books and hanging out in the book blogging community, and I plan to do more of that going into 2020.

So without further ado, read and reviewed in Novemer and December 2019:

November Reading:

    1. Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin (YA fantasy – 4 stars – review) (read October, reviewed November)
    2. The Antics of Evangeline by Madeleine D’Este (YA steampunk – 4 stars – review) (read October, reviewed November)
    3. A Christmas Wish and a Strawberry Kiss and the Cozy Kettle by Liz Eeles (contemporary romance – 2.5 stars – review)
    4. When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne (children’s/poetry – 5 stars – no review)
    5. Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh (short stories/satire – 4 stars – review)
    6. The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke (memoir – 4 stars – review)
    7. The Flower and the Serpent by Madeleine D’Este (YA horror – 3 stars – review)

December reading:


    1. Curses and Candy Canes by multiple authors (anthology/fantasy – 3 stars – not intending to review)
    2. A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews (historical romance – 4 stars – review)
    3. Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton (non fiction – unrated – review)
    4. Beneath the Surface by Rebecca Langham (queer sci-fi – 3 stars – review)

A couple of slow months, as I said, but there you have it.

Booktube:

I have a Booktube account where I talk about Australian books. I’m trying to get more consistent with it, and while I didn’t post  much during my off-period, I did post a NaNoWriMo update. But then I dropped out of NaNo, so that was the end of that. There’ll be more this year, though!

You can check out the channel whole here

Favourite Bookish Photo:

I was so pleased when all five of the Talon Saga books were on the shelf at my library at the same time! Unfortunately, I ended up not enjoying the first book so I didn’t read any further, but they do make a very attractive set. You can see all my bookish photos (plus some RL as well) on my Instagram.

Currently Reading:

Physical book: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray. I read her Firebird trilogy in 2019 and snapped the three books in this Constellations trilogy up when I saw them at the library. I haven’t been completely grabbed by this yet, but I want to see where it goes.

Ebook: None on the go at the moment. But I’m getting a new Kindle soon! Probably.

Audio book: Before The Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray. I actually started reading the book because I felt the audio book would be too long, but I missed all of January LaVoy’s amazing voices way too much! I’ll be seeing this series through to the end on audio, even if it takes me forever!

Planning to read next:

I really want to read It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood. It sounds delightful! I actually sneakily read the first chapter when I first received this in a pre-Christmas book swap, but I made myself wait until I wasn’t already in the middle of a bunch of other books.

What are you reading? 🙂

#AWW2019 // Book Review: “Beneath the Surface” by Rebecca Langham

Title: Beneath the Surface (Outsiders Project #1)
Author: Rebecca Langham
Genre: Sci-fi
Target audience: Adult
Dates read:
24/12/2019 – 30/12/2019
Rating: ★★

Review:

This is kind of a slow book, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It has a lot going on in terms of themes, characters and plot, and explores a lot of it really well. Unfortunately I didn’t engage quite enough with it to bump my rating any higher.

Lydia is a politician’s daughter and has grown up believing that segregation of the alien race they call Outsiders is only natural. But when she takes a teaching contract at the Outside colony, she realises all is not as it seems. And there’s one particular Outsider, Alessia, to whom she feels particularly drawn…

Often I find that I am interested in the development of a relationship up until the point where the characters get together, at which point it gets boring. I actually found the opposite with Lydia and Alessia. I didn’t actually feel there was much build-up or reason for them to feel so strongly about each other, but I loved reading about them together! Once that happened, I really felt the depth of feeling between them.

I mentioned before that there a lot of themes, and a lot of them are talked about. Literally, the characters have a lot of conversations. There is a lot of talking. I’m sure many readers might find this irritating, and it is slow-moving for that reason. There are some dramatic scenes, but I wouldn’t say there’s any action to speak of.

Still, I was  interested enough in the world-building and characters to continue reading. There are some pretty big reveals dropped towards the end that pave the way nicely for the conclusion of the story in the second book, and I defintiely want to see the fallout from the events in this one.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2019 “Australia is alive with the long history of the Indigenous people, our culture and our presence.” // Book Review: “Welcome to Country” by Marcia Langton

Title: Welcome to Country:
Author: Professor Marcia Langton
Genre: Non-fiction/travel guide
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
05/12/19 – 27/12/19
Rating:
(chosen to give rating)

Review:

This book made me want to go travelling! Welcome To Country is an Australian travel-guide with a focus on the cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians.

It opens with chapters about Indigenous history and culture, and how colonisation caused so much dispossession, loss of culture, and outright genocide.

There are also sections on Indigneous notions of kinship and ceremony, and other cultural aspects. As the book is written as a travel guide, none of this goes into huge amounts of depth, but it is enough for a primer, which is what the average reader is likely to be looking for.

After this, the book is divided into chapters on each state and territory, and these are further divided into sections on festivals, sporting events, places, galleries, music and other tourist attractions run by Indigenous Australians.

I will admit that I didn’t read this section in the greatest of detail, and mostly skimmed over information related to  travelling to  each place (the font changed and was a lot smaller for this information, and once I started skimming that, I found the whole reading experience a lot better).  But I did pay attention to the names of places and tours, and I wanted to visit so many and give them my support. The Northern Territory and Western Australia are the two longest chapters and the ACT and Torres Strait Islands chapters are the smallest, but they all contain valuable information.

This is such a fantastic resource that should have existed long before 2018! I’ll definitely be consulting it again when I am planning to travel this great land.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Emily’s Top 12 Books of 2019

This year I hit on a better way to do my top books of the year post. In past years, I’ve always looked at my GoodReads yearly challenge page in December and tried to narrow down a top ten for the year. Often the books at the end of the year were fresh in my mind but memories of the ones from earlier were starting to fade. It always felt weird having mostly books from the last few months in such a wrap-up post.

That’s why during 2019, I’ve kept a list of my favourite book each month as the year went along, so I can safely say these were my favourite books of the year, even if I sometimes can’t remember why. (Except for really mind-blowing favourites, the details tend to fade for me).

So without further ado, here are Emily’s Top 12 Books of 2019:

January:

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. The prose in this book is spectacular all the way through, but nothing beats the chapters where Lazlo and Sarai fell in love over the course of a shared dream. *swoon*

February:

Famous Last Words by Katie Alender. This was such a fun, ghostly book! It reminded me that I enjoy ghost stories (as long as they’re not too scary). It was also a fun thriller, which is what I needed after all the SFF.

March:

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray. Mostly, I loved this book because of its forbidden romance element in the Russia-verse, but the whole book was so entertaining! And the audio book is so well performed by Tavia Gilbert.

April:

I have to say it’s a tie between Ten Thousand Skies Above You and A Million Worlds With You by Claudia Gray because I couldn’t get enough of this series, even when it was a bit predictable. Honourable mention to Romanov by Nadine Brandes because even though I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped, it made me think a lot about the real Romanovs and got under my skin.

May:

The Red Labyrinth by Meredith Tate. This was a fun, twisty dystopian, with an ending that left me wanting more. I’m not sure if there will actually be a second book but I sure hope so, because that ending was quite something!

June:

The Diviners by Libba Bray. This had so many things I like – old-timey New York City (it’s set during Prohibition), ghosts, serial killings and occult mischief. And it was just the right amount of scary. Not to mention January LaVoy does such a great job on the audio version, really bringing this whole world to life.

July:

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis– maybe this is because of nostalgia? Even though I never read the books as a child, I did watch the BBC adaptation an awful lot. I really need to get back to my plan to read the rest of the Narnia books.

August:

Women of Wasps and War by Madeleine D’Este. I read this nearly all in one sitting. It was so powerful and made me feel a lot of things. It explored societal privilege in detail and I particularly liked how D’Este examined the way you can love an individual and still recognise they are part of the oppressive system.

September:

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’d been looking forward to this book for a while by the time it was released. It took me a little while to get into it but I eventually realised that was because I was reading it in small doses. It needs your full and undivided attention. I loved learning about Mexican mythology, and the writing is poetry!

 

October:

The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg. Almost-human robots in a dystopian Disneyland. What’s not to love? This was fast-paced and incredibly fun! I was worried I had hyped it up to myself too much, but it lived up to my expectations! Now I want a sequel where the robots stage a revolution!

November:

Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh. I’ve become more interested in short story collections in the past few months and this was definitely a quirky, enjoyable one. Sometimes I had to think about the stories before I figured out what they were really saying, and there were a few that I didn’t get at all, but the satire was really entertaining.

December:

A Holiday by Gaslight by  Mimi  Mathews. I was in such a readinig slump and this delightful little Victorian romance was exactly what I needed to pull me out. It had everything I wanted in a romance and loved the characters.

You  can see the full list of books I read this year at my GoodReads 2019 Challenge page.

Here’s to more amazing books in 2020! Can’t wait to hang out with you all some more!

 

Book Review: “A Holiday by Gaslight” by Mimi Matthews

Title: A Holiday By Gaslight
Author: Mimi Matthews
Genre:
Historical romance
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 17/12/2019
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t 100% this novella would be my cup of tea going in, but I’m so glad I picked it up because my holiday reading this season has been a mixed bag and this one finally pulled me out of the dumps.

Sophie Ampersett is used to making sacrifices for the happiness and security of her family, but she hopes that when she marries, it might be someone she at least likes.

Ned Sharpe, a wealthy tradesman, is smitten with Sophie the first time he lays eyes on her, but after following the advise in a gentleman’s ettiquette guide,  he doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, and Sophie is about to call the courtship off.

But Sophie decides their courtship is worth one last chance, so she invites Ned and his family to her family home in Derbyshire for Christmas, with the hope of finally finding love.

This was such a sweet book! In such a short book, it can be hard to really flesh out your characters, but Matthews has really done just that, not just for the two leads, but the supporting characters as well. There are so many different attitudes from the characters, which leads to misunderstandings and conflict. I loved it.

I loved Ned and Sophie, and how their relationship developed once they agreed to be candid with one another. I loved Ned’s awkwardness. As a tradesman, he was trying so hard to fit in with the upper classes and floundering. Sophie was strong and independent without being anachronistic. I loved the stolen moments they shared in secret alcoves around the house. Secret kisses under mistletoe! Things never felt lusty or steamy; it suited the period and the tone of the writing perfectly.

found myself getting frustrated and angry at Sophie’s father, who has spent the entire family fortune, including his two daughters’ dowries, on upgrades to their home, such as gaslight and eventually indoor plumbing.

There is a side plot with Ned’s friend and business partner and Sophie’s sister which felt less well-developed. I was taken a bit by surprise with that one, though its outcome did lead to more misunderstandings and moved the Sophie and Ned’s story into its final stages.

I hadn’t come across Mimi Matthews before, but I am definitely going to check out her other historical romances when I am in the mood for this kind of thing.


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Introducing #StartOnYourShelfathon! Dec 2019 – Dec 2020

Hello friends! Blogging has kind of fallen by the wayside for the rest of the year. I have two more books to read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, plus one more general one, and they are the only ones I’ll be reviewing between now and January.

I’ve ended up in a bit of a reading funk, brought on by end-of-year exhaustion, a couple of books I didn’t enjoy, along with some other life-related stresses that don’t help. That meant I fell completely off the bandwagon with the Triwizard Readathon from a few posts ago, but that’s okay.

Anyway, I’m here to talk about a year-long readathon I’ll be participating in next year! Technically it’s already started, but it’s unlikely I’ll manage much for it between now and January 01.

#StartOnYourShelfAthon is all about reading the books you already own, be they physical or electronic. It’s hosted by The Quiet Pond and you can read all the info here.

What I appreciate about readathons like this one is that they have a lot of wriggle room for setting your own goals. This challenge ties in with some goals I was already planning to set myself for 2020, and this way, I’ll have some public accountability.

So what are those goals you ask? Easy!

  • Read 20 Australian books – this will tie in with my Australian Women Writers Challenge, as well as give me plenty of fuel for my Booktube Channel, where I talk about Aussie books.
  • Read 10 Discworld novels – I’ve had a whole bunch of Discworld novels sitting on my shelf that I bought off a friend who was going overseas… years ago. I’ve only read a few. And it’s ridiculous, because I know I enjoy them.
  • Read 10 other ebooks – I have all the unread books on my Kindle in a collection together, so it’s easy for me to see what I have and haven’t read, and I’ve got plenty to choose from.

I usually read about 75-90 books in a year, so aiming for 40 challenge books still gives me plenty of room for new releases, library books, that sort of thing.

In the coming weeks, I’ll set up a separate page here on the blog to keep track of the titles I read for the challenge. I don’t think I’m quite up for a star chart, so  a page will have to do.

Come join in the fun if you feel so inclined!

#AWW2019 “This is how I tell it, or else what’s a story for?” // Review of “The Hate Race” by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Title: The Hate Race
Author: Maxine Beneba Clarke
Genre: Memoir
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
12/11/19 – 16/11/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

It’s always hard to know exactly what to say in a review like this. I’m in a position of privilege as a white person, and this entire book is about Maxine’s experiences of racism as a black woman in Australia.

The racism she describes is mostly not overt. She really highlights the way it insideously inserts itself into a POC’s life – the little things like the tone of voice a fellow pre-schooler uses when she states “Your skin is brown” and how that statement of fact becomes a nasty comment just through the tone. Or how her first high-school boyfriend was happy to hang out with her in certain circumstances but didn’t want to visit her home and disassocated from her when he was surrounded by his private school peers.

Maxine’s experience as a poet definitely comes through in this book – there is a certain poetry throughout the prose; Maxine frames her story as something of a West Indian song or story her grandparents might have told. It’s beautiful and striking, particularly in contrast to the content of some of the stories she is telling.

Definitely recommend this book for fans of memoir and who want to support the diversity of Australian writing. This is my first book from Maxine Beneba Clarke, but I’ll definitely be following it up with some fiction books asap!


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Serpent and the Flower” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: The Serpent and the Flower
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Contemporary/horror
Target audience: YA
Rating: ★★

Review:

Confession: I don’t really know Macbeth that well. I don’t really like Shakespeare’s tragedies. And that probably affected by enjoyment of this book. (Someone give me a romcom set around a production of Much Ado About Nothing, please!)

Well, then, Emily, if that’s the case, why did you put your hand up for an ARC of a book about a group of teenagers staging Macbeth?

Well, because while I might have been more into musicals, I was the theatre nerd at school. And I’m honestly surprised haunted theatre stories aren’t more of a thing – that was up my alley, too. I love theatre ghost lore. Also the cover is gorgeous.

Madeleine D’Este definitely does creepy well. There’s a seance scene in her novella Evangeline and the Spiritualist that creeped me out completely and that was why that was my favourite of the Evangeline stories. And there are equivalent spooky scenes in this one, too. There are some scenes in this book where characters find themselves alone in the theatre or elsewhere in the school, hearing voices or having chairs pelted at their heads by invisible hands.

The characters certainly had their moments (one of my GoodReads updates was ‘Whoa, Ravenswood, you need to calm down!” and another was “Actors like Violet make me glad I’m only ever in the chorus – no one’s going to want to hurt me for my part”). But for the most part I never really felt like the characters leapt off the page… some of the other reviews have referred to parallels between these characters and those in Macbeth, and perhaps if I had been able to spot those parallels,  there would have been some added depth to the characters that I was missing.

My reading experience mostly depends on how invested I am in the characters, but the writing and plotting are both very good, and I think the right reader will definitely enjoy this.


Thank you to the author for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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