“But she knew better than to trust the false hope of the holidays.” // Review of “A Wild Winter Swan” by Gregory Maguire

Title: A Wild Winter Swan
Author: Gregory Maguire
Genre: Historical fiction/magical realism
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 28/12/20 – 04/01/21
Rating: ★★☆

Review:

This was supposed to be a December book club book, but life got in the way in December and January and we never ended up meeting to discuss it.

I was interested to see if I liked this book. I tried to read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by the same author, around the time I discovered the musical based on it. I was not a fan. I wondered if perhaps not having prior knowledge of the tale being retold would help me be more into this story. I’d never heard of Andersen’s The Wild Swans before.

Alas, this one didn’t really do it for me, either. Partially, I think it was a case of mistaken expectations. I expect a certain amount of lightness or whimsy in fairy tale retellings, and that’s increased when it’s set around Christmas.

But this is grittier, set firmly in the real life of a poor family in the 1960s, and mostly things are not great for any of the characters. It is told in a kind of detached style that I could never get into. It examines issues of class and privilege, which are worthy issues, but at the end of the day, I didn’t really see what Maguire was trying to say. I didn’t get it, and maybe that’s on me, not the book.


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“An invisible hand squeezes my heart for the nameless women history brushed aside.” // Review of “Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know” by Samira Ahmed

Title: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genre: Contemporary/mystery/historical
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 09/01/2021 – 1/01/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Who doesn’t want to read a book bringing to life the story of a woman history forgot in favour of the men around her? Or at least, presenting a fictional possibility of such a woman. I certainly do!

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know presents dual stories of Khayyam, a modern-day budding art historian, and Leyla, who might be the inspiration for heroine of the famous Byron poem, The Giaour.

I admit I found the historical parts more interesting than the modern-day parts. Leyla’s story is incredibly sad, but also a story about a woman making her own way against all odds.

Khayyam spends quite a lot of time mooning over boys. Having said that, part of that is integral to her overall arc of finding her voice and her identity as a French-American, Indian-American and Muslim-American young woman, and the scene where she finally put herself first was awesome.

For most of the book, I felt it was a 3-star read. I wasn’t overly invested and was reading more to find out the mystery than because I was rooting for the characters. But the ending was very powerful, to the point I even got a little teary, and for that, I bumped it up to four.


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“she was struck suddenly that he wasn’t unfathomable at all. They were both made of the same star stuff.” // Review of “Axiom’s End” by Lindsay Ellis

Title: Axiom’s End (Noumena #1)
Author: Lindsay Ellis
Genre: Sci-fi/alternate history
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/09/2020– 03/02/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Oooh, I really liked this one! I don’t read a lot of scifi, but when I do, this is the type I enjoy best! If you’re giving me First Contact, you better tell me how the government deals with that. I want broader socio-political implications, not just “people are running in the streets and explosions”.

Axiom’s End by youtuber and video essayist Lindsay Ellis takes us to an alternate 2007, where First Contact was made in the 1970s and the alien visitors were immediately locked up by the US government.

Nearly 40 years later, more aliens have arrived, and the secret is out. Cora Sabino is in the wrong place at the wrong time when she encounters the being she comes to know as Ampersand, and eventually becomes his interpreter thanks to an electronic translator in her ear. I really grew to love Cora and Ampersand’s tenuous friendship as they each tried to frame the other’s existence in terms they could each understand.

The book examines some big philosophical ideas about our place in the universe, and various characters spend a lot of time discussing these. There’s a lot of talking and sometimes it feels like the plot has ground to a halt; I can understand why some would find it slow and even boring. I didn’t mind it too much though.

The story didn’t always go the way I was expecting, but I enjoyed the directions it took. And some of my guesses were right. Sort of. The revelations in the last few pages were something I was expecting, but it happened in an entirely different way and for a different reason to what I had predicted. And it happened in a much better way (narratively speaking, not necessarily for the characters) than I was expecting, too. I’m really interested to see how that’s handled in the next book. It could be great or it could get weird.

I did start listening to the audio book at first but I found the delivery wasn’t really working for me. I’m really glad I switched to the paperback because I don’t think I would have been able to get as invested otherwise. The book ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger, though not a massive one. I was sort of expecting humans to do something the aliens would consider an act of war, but so far, humanity still appears to be safe from invasion. We’ll see how long that lasts into book two, though!


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“I cannot expect people to do for me what I cannot.” // Review of “A Whole New World” by Liz Braswell

Title: A Whole New World (Twisted Tales #1)
Author: Janella Angeles
Genre: Fantasy/Retelling
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 22/12/2020– 26/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

Ahh, I hate it when a book has so much potential it doesn’t live up to. To be fair, for the most part it was engaging and I did enjoy it. But I had so many little niggles that kept pulling me out of the story.

For those unfamiliar with Disney’s Twisted Tales series, each book takes a well known Disney property and asks “What if?” about a certain aspect of it – in this case, what if Jafar had got to the Genie’s lamp instead of Aladdin?

I wasn’t quite sure what this book was trying to be. The writing felt middle-grade, but the characters were aged up (Princess Jasmine refers to being nearly twenty at one point). The writing style was very unsophisticated, too, and never gave a sense of place. It was really modern, with phrases like “you guys” peppering it (what modern Princess would use “you guys”, let alone one from a so-called “ancient” city?). These are things that don’t bother me in a cartoon movie but a book requires something more.

It also bothered me that every time the characters referred to Princess Jasmine, they called her “the royal princess”. Every. Time. Let’s not use tautology, okay? The royalty is implied in the word “princess”.

Having said that, I enjoyed the overall ideas and the way the story was twisted. The last third was pretty engaging, as Aladdin and Jasmine’s army started to find its feet and the action started ramping up. I did find Jafar’s defeat a little rushed, and a bit too easy, but I did tear through to the end, so that’s something.

I’m still interested to try the other Twisted Tales. This was the first one written, and it’s also the one with the lowest rating on GoodReads. There are also a few different authors writing them so that might also make a difference.


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January 2021 Reading Wrap-up

An emoji of two books next to each other, with the text "Monthly Reading Wrap-up"

January has been a bit slow for reading and even slower for reviewing. I never really felt settled into a new 2021 routine before I took a week’s holiday to go visit my parents. I feel like I’m finding my groove now but I do think it’s a bit rude that my GoodReads challenge is already saying I’m two books beh

So without further ado:

PAST MONTH’S READING:

  1. A Wild Winter Song by Gregory Maguire (magical realism/historical fantasy – 3 stars – not intending to review)

  2. The Rising Rooks by Celine Jeanjean (fantasy/steampunk – 5 stars – review)

  3. Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed (YA contemporary/historical – 4 stars – review forthcoming

  4. Hard Time by Jodi Taylor (YA sci-fi- 3 stars – review forthcoming)

BOOKTUBE:

I have a YouTube channel where I promote Australian books using the hashtag #AusReads, and also indulge my compulsion for signing up to readathons. Here are the latest videos:

  1. How I nearly completed a readathon for once in 2020 – #AusReads and #Musicalathon Wrap-up
  2. December Library Haul – What I’ll be reading over the holidays

FAVOURITE BOOKISH PHOTO:

This was the library haul I ended up with very early on in the year. Usually I have a decent amount of self-restraint when I go to the library but it failed me a few times in a row .

You can see all my bookish photos (plus some RL as well) on my Instagram.

CURRENTLY READING:

Physical book: I have returned to Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis. I am really enjoying this, but I can understand why some people would find it slow or tedious.

Ebook: Nothing at the moment.

Audio book: While in theory I have an audio book in progress, it’s very much on hold at the moment as I really haven’t been in the mood for audio books.

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

I think next will be Everless and Evermore by Sara Holland. I gave Everless five stars when I read it as an ARC a few years ago, but I never got around to reading the sequel. So I may just skim Everless and then dive into Evermore properly. Or I might get totally sucked in. I can’t remember much so I probably will. Hopefully I enjoy it just as much the second time around!

What are you reading? 🙂

Book Review: “The Rising Rooks” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: The Rising Rooks (The Viper and the Urchin #9)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk/fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 04/01/2021 – 07/01/21
Rating:
★★★★

Review:

risingrookscover

I can’t believe this is the last book in the Viper and the Urchin series! What a journey it has been.

This is a fitting finale for this series. There’s action and high stakes as our ragtag favourites attempt to take back Damsport from invaders. The action begins straight away, with a sabotage attempt failing due to the characteristic grudges of the Rookery folks preventing them from working together.

A lot of strands from previous books are brought back and tied up. We get to find out a little more about Rory’s origins, and old foes with questionable loyalties reappear.

Some things did seem to get tied up a little too quickly at the end, but I was left with a smile on my face, sad to say goodbye to my favourite characters but knowing that there’s so much more possibility for them (and maybe a new series?) on the horizon.

I truly recommend the whole Viper and the Urchin series if you enjoy light-hearted fantasy/steampunk. There’s such a great cast of characters, banter, adventure, all tied up in fantastic, well-written stories.


Thank you to Celine Jeanjean for a gratis copy of The Rising Rooks in exchange for a review.

You can read my reviews of The Bloodless Assassin (book 1),  The Black Orchid (book 2), The Slave City (book 3), The Doll Maker (book 4), The White Hornet (book 5), The Shadow Palace (book 6), The Opium Smuggler (book 7) and The Veiled War (book 8) by clicking their titles.

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December 2020 Reading Wrap-up

An emoji of two books next to each other, with the text "Monthly Reading Wrap-up"

December was not only a good reading month, but I managed to get back into reviewing regularly! Apparently having an accountability thread on Twitter can work wonders! I’ve still got two books to review, but those will be coming in the next few days. So without further ado:

PAST MONTH’S READING:

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle, The Binding by Bridget Collins
  1. The Binding by Bridget Collins (fantasy – 4 stars – review)

  2. Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle (comic – 5 stars – not intending to review)

  3. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (YA contemporary – 3 stars – review

  4. Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle (comic – 5 stars – not intending to review)

  5. Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles (YA fantasy – 4 stars – review

  6. The Iron Line by L. M. Merrington (historical fiction – 3.5 stars – review

  7. A Very Krampy Christmas (Gretchens [Mis]Adventures #8) by P. A. Mason (fantasy/humour – 4 stars – review

  8. She’s Having a Laugh, edited by George McInroe (creative non-fiction – 3 stars – review

  9. Universal Love: Stories by Alexander Weinstein (short stories/sci-fi – 4 stars – review forthcoming

  10. A Whole New World by Liz Braswell (fantasy/fairytale retelling – 3 stars – review forthcoming

A Whole New World by Liz Braswell, Universal Love: Stories by Alexander Weinstein, She’s Having A Laugh, edited George McInroe, A Very Krampy Christmas by P. A. Mason, The Iron Line by L. M. Merrington

BOOKTUBE:

I have a YouTube channel where I promote Australian books using the hashtag #AusReads, and also indulge my compulsion for signing up to readathons. Here are the latest videos:

  1. How I nearly completed a readathon for once in 2020 – #AusReads and #Musicalathon Wrap-up
  2. December Library Haul – What I’ll be reading over the holidays

FAVOURITE BOOKISH PHOTO:

Whoops, I didn’t post a single bookish photo throughout December. (In my defence, I spent the month feeling exhausted). Here’s one I just posted yesterday, an aesthetic for my circus fantasy, Facing the Music, which I’m hoping to finish writing this year.

a 3-by-3 grid with nine images. The images are as follows: 

top-left: a man in a red shirt tosses a hat in the air. 
top-centre: a couple kiss in the sunshine - in sillhouette
top-right: a woman plays the violin surrounded by golden magical swirls
middle-left: a long-distance shot of a circus ring with cast members parading around with lots of coloured lights. 
centre: a roll of tickets saying "Admit one" .
middle-right: a ticket booth with a circus tent in the background
bottom-left: a woman in a pink leotard hangs upsidedown from a trapeze. 
bottom-centre: four acrobats stacked in a pyramid. They are mostly doubled over backwards, but the person on top     is doing a handstand and has their legs in the splits. 
bottom-right: a woman twirling flaming torches. She is also on fire, but she is smiling. It's a bit magical.

You can see all my bookish photos (plus some RL as well) on my Instagram.

CURRENTLY READING:

The cover of "A Wild Winter Swan" by Gregory Maguire. The background is grey paintstrokes. The title and author's name are at the top, above a hand holding a snow globe that depicts the New York City skyline.

Physical book: A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire. I’m reading this for the Swell Publications book club, but I have to be honest, I’m not really into it. It’s a bit too literary/magical realism for my tastes.

The cover of "The Rising Rooks" by Celine Jeanjean. An armoured, mechanical hand sticks out of a hole surrounded by cogs and clockwork on a blue background.

Ebook: The Rising Rooks by Celine Jeanjean. This is the last book in the Viper and the Urchin series and I can’t believe it’s coming to an end. This is an ARC and the book comes out on January 9, so I geuss I’d better get a wriggle on!

The cover of "Hench" by Natalie Zina Walshots. The title is in mint green all caps. A red sillhouette stands near a wall at the back of the image. Her shadow is taller than her and also wears a cape.

Audio book: Hench by Natalie Zina Walshots. This is a really interesting deconstruction of the superhero genre. While superheroes aren’t generally my cup of tea, this one was highly recommended by Seanan McGuire and so far I am liking it.

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

The cover of "Plain Bad Heroines" by Emily M. Danforth. The title is white on a black background, the first two words in a plain font, the word "heroines" in a more gothic font. Around the edge are red line drawings of various flowers. It looks ominous.

I have a huge pile of library books all due back on January 16, so it’ll need to be one of those. I’m not 100% sure which yet, though Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth is fairly high up on the list.

What are you reading? 🙂

Top Books of 2020

At the time of writing this post, I have read 72 books this year. I might just make it to 73 if I knuckle down on my current read.

Throughout the year, I’ve been keeping a list of my favourite book each month and now that we’ve reached the end, it’s time to share those! Here goes!

JANUARY:

The cover of Don't Read the Comments by Eric Smith. Each word of the title is a speech bubble, like it's a text message screen. There is a teenage girl with headphones on one side, and a boy looking his phone on the other.

Don’t Read The Comments by Eric Smith. Diversity! Kick-ass ladies! A sensitive depiction of the aftermath of sexual assault. Non-toxic masculinity. A realistic depiction of online streaming, particularly as a woman, and the trolling one receives. The cutest online romance you will ever read. I didn’t expect this book to keep me up late at night… but it absolutely did.

FEBRUARY:

The covers of The Thornthwaite Inheritance and The Thornthwaite Betrayal by Gareth P. Jones. In the first, a boy saws off the bottom of a ladder that a girl is sitting at the top of. Meanwhile the girl is about to cut a rope attached to a large rock hanging over the boys head. In the second, the boy and girl are seated at a table. There is a cake between them with dynmamite sticking out the top. There are knives everywhere and a chandelier looks like it is about to fall on them.

The Thornthwaite Inheritance and The Thornthwaite Betrayal by Gareth P. Jones. I’m a little bit biased on this one, as I was reading these books in preparation for auditioning for a musical based on the first one (and read it again after being cast). Book two came at just the right time. I’d had a rough week at work and I read it in one sitting on a Friday night. These books are a weird Addams Family/Series of Unfortunate Events mishmash and I loved every moment.

MARCH:

I was in a massive reading slump for the whole of March and only finished one book, which I didn’t like, so let’s not even talk about March.

APRIL:

The cover of Peta Lyre's Rating Normal by Anna Whateley. It shows a teenage girl against a snowy backdrop, rendered mostly in blue and white. Her ski mask has a rainbow across it.

Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley. I wanted to hug this book. Such a wonderful, honest, authentic depiction of someone living with ASD/ADHD/SPD, and all the messiness that comes with falling in love for the first time.

MAY:

The cover of Greythorne by L. M. Merrington. The cover is in very dark tones, with large ominious house. The moon shines on it, but there are clouds all around.

And this isn’t just because I know the author! I really enjoyed the Gothic atmosphere and claustrophobic, isolated setting that L. M. Merrington created in Greythorne. She played with the Mad Scientist trope really well. For a while, it seemed to be going straight down a Frankenstein route and I was little skeptical, but there was a unexpected twist on that aspect that I really enjoyed.

JUNE:

The cover of Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.

I’ll admit there’s a lot of nostalgia involved with me choosing Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer for this month. I first read it back in 2001/2002 when it was originally released, and followed the series until the end. It was such a trip to revisit this world, even if some of it does feel a bit dated now (Wow, Artemis bought a camera over the Internet!). I re-read this in preparation for the movie finally releasing, and… I would have to say it’s one of the worst book-to-movie adaptations I’ve ever watched. I was so disappointed. I’d been waiting 18 years!

JULY:

Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. This was a reread and my first time reading in print a book I’d already listened to on audio. I enjoyed it so much better in this format! I hadn’t realised until I looked at the print book how much of the text is written in poetry form – that didn’t come through for me in the audio version. There are so many themes of storytelling in the book and how the words are presented really helped to solidify those themes.

AUGUST:

None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney. I was so excited to win a copy of this! Ellie is my favourite Australian YA author and so I was really looking forward to her new release. I’m also a fan of serial killer fiction in general. Ellie did not disappoint. This was a rocking good read.

SEPTEMBER:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This was a re-read for Swell Publications Book Club and while I still have some issues with certain aspects of the story, I do love the setting and the imagery and writing is beautiful.

OCTOBER:

Where to even start with It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake by Claire Christian. This was not only my favourite book for October, I’d say it was probably my favourite book of the year. I nearly read it in one sitting. It was affirming and inspiring and I want to go on my own Pleasure Quest. I’m trying to be like Noni and follow my own desires rather than looking after other people at the expense of myself.

NOVEMBER:

A Pocketful of Eyes by Lili Wilkinson. This wasn’t anything too deep but it was one of those books that I picked up exactly the right time and it really hit the spot. It was a fun mystery with enjoyable characters and a fun setting.

DECEMBER:

Universal Love – Stories by Alexander Weinstein. This was a collection of thought-provoking short stories examining the ways that technology may affect our relationships and how we love one another going into the future. I’m trying to read more short stories and I feel like this collection is kind of what I would like to emulate in my own short story writing.

Honestly, I read a lot of good books this year, and you can see them all on my 2020 GoodReads reading challenge page here. Some months, the stand-out was obvious but other months it was really hard to pick just one!

Let me know your favourite 2020 reads!

“I know I don’t have to prove a single thing to them. What matters most is what I prove to myself.” // Review of “Where Dreams Descend” by Janella Angeles

Title: Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1)
Author: Janella Angeles
Audio book narrator: Imani Jade Powers, Steve West
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 21/11/2020– 10/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Ever since I heard of this book, and its comparisons to Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera, I knew I had to read it.

This book is beautifully atmospheric, with incredible descriptions of the mysterious nightclub, Hellfire House, and the city of Glorian and its buildings and inhabitants. Main character Kallia’s magic acts were always described vividly so I could see it all play out in my mind.

Kallia herself was a difficult character to figure out sometimes. For all her insecurities, she sure had a lot of bravado, to the point where she sometimes came across as quite arrogant. This made sense sometimes, when she was up against male characters just as arrogant, but felt just plain mean when she was doing to characters like Demarco or Aaros, who just wanted to be there for her. I get it, she’s putting up walls because she’s been hurt before, but still.

Need to shout out to Aaros, who is a perfect, sweet, precious boy and so far he’s got away unscathed. If anything happens to him in the second book, I will be Having Words.

Demarco is a good guy, well-meaning but awkward. I was glad when his secrets were explained in more detail towards the end of the book – up until then, there were just references that didn’t mean much, and I wondered whether that was going to be held over until book two, which would have been irritating. There are definitely connections between his own past and where I think Kallia has ended up through the disaster performance at the end of the book, so I’m definitely intrigued to see how their paths converge more as the story goes on.

Jack comes across as a bad boy, but I think there’s more to him than that. While it seems his whole relationship with Kallia is based on lies, or at least lies by omission, it seems there are bigger things at play that he is trying to keep at bay. There was a big reveal about him at the end of this book and it seems he’ll be playing a bigger part in the next one, so hopefully we’ll learn more about him then.

All in all, this was an evocative fantasy with a fun cast of characters and a mystery that I look forward to resolving. Can’t wait for book two!


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#AWW2020 “Done right, the truth is fucking funny.” Review of “She’s Having A Laugh” edited by George McEnroe

Title: She’s Having a Laugh: 25 of Australia’s Funniest Women on Life, Love and Comedy
Author: George McEnroe (editor)
Genre: Non-fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 17/12/2020– 20/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

I have to admit that given the title of this collection of essays, I was kind of expecting them to be, well, funnier.

Maybe it’s just that my sense of humour didn’t gel with the majority of these 25 women. In many cases, though, I don’t think the authors were intentionally setting out to be funny, and maybe my expectations were at fault.

There were a couple of essays that I found quite moving, especially Jodie J Hill’s chapter about performing for deployed military. I had read Corinne Grant’s I’m Not A Female Comedian essay somewhere before, but I found it quite powerful once again. Anita Heiss’ Seven Deadly Sins and Lorin Clark’s The ‘Women in Comedy’ Conversation were the ones I found the funniest. These were all towards the end of the book, so for a while I thought I was probably only going to give a two-star rating, but these bumped it up to three.

I do want to address the issue of there being an n-word casually dropped in the second or third essay. This may have been fine if the essay was by a black person reclaiming the word, but as far as I could tell, this was a white author using the word to demonstrate how inappropriate hers and her mother’s sense of humour were. I’m sure there were any number of ways that this could have been demonstrated without using a racial slur. I think that coloured the rest of my reading of the collection, even though it’s not the other authors’ fault that this one used inappropriate language.

I will admit I am generally not much of a non-fiction reader, and maybe that also affected my enjoyment. I am sure that the right reader will really enjoy these insights into Australian women in the spotlight.


This review is part of my 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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