Book Review: “The Abyss Surrounds Us” by Emily Skrutskie

Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Genre:
YA/sci-fi/LGBT
Date Read: 20/04/2017 – 26/04/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I hyped  this book up to myself quite a lot, and while I have a feeling it didn’t quite live up to my hopes, it was still a really solid, enjoyable read.

Cas Leung is a Reckoner trainer, swimming alongside one of the giant genetically-engineered monsters that accompany ships through the NeoPacific and protect them from pirates. But on Cas’ first solo mission, she is captured by a pirate captain who wants her to raise and train the Reckoner pup that they have illegally obtained. And on top of that, she has to deal with burgeoning feelings for one of the other pirates, a pirate girl called Swift.

Regular readers of my blog know that  I’m not usually a fan of first person and I’m definitely not a fan of first person present tense, and yet somehow it works in this one. It’s really consistent, and the voice never really wavers, and so it worked.

Cas is a strongly-written character. She has plenty of doubts about her situation, but knows what she needs to do in her circumstances. I did find her character arc a little unbelievable; she becomes a lot darker than she starts out, but I didn’t quite feel the progression. Ditto her feelings for Swift, though for the most part I did like the way their relationship progressed in and of itself. I’ve seen a number of reviews calling it Stockholm Sydnrome, but I don’t feel that that’s the case. Or at least, it might be, but it feels less squiffy when both the characters are self-aware enough to acknowledge the power imbalance between them.

I really enjoyed the world-building, particularly the idea of the Reckoners and how the eco-systems are carefully managed to ensure that the Reckoners don’t completely destroy the ocean. I didn’t make as much sense of the governments of the future presented in the book. The idea of many smaller governments across the world that could actually look after their constituents made a bit of sense, but it didn’t seem especially viable.

I bought this book because I received the sequel as an ARC. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have ever heard of it, and I’m glad it was brought to my attention.


(Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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Book Review: “the Asp of Ascension” by R. B. Myers

Title: The Asp of Ascension
Author: R. B. Meyers
Genre:
Mystery/ YA
Date Read: 17/04/2017 – 21/04/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

After a slow start, this book did grow on me a little, but I was still left feeling that it was a little rough around the edges.

Nefertari “Terry” Hughes is still recovering from the accident that killed her mother and left her permanently injured. Now she has to start at a new school while her dad helps to organise an exhibit at the local museum, which may feature the sarcophagus of Cleopatra. But when Terry’s dad is found unconscious in the museum’s Egypt Room, she finds herself trying to solve a 50-year-old mystery and dealing with what may be a 3000-year-old Egyptian curse.

The plot of this book, with its mystery and also small supernatural element, was actually pretty tight, but the writing style felt more middle-grade than young adult. Apart from the romance, which felt pretty target-age-appropriate, the characters felt a lot younger than their sixteen/seventeen years. Some of them  actually also felt rather two-dimensional, particularly in the beginning. At about 20% in, I was reading on the bus and turned to my partner to complain that the characters were all such archetypes, “the jocks”, “the cheerleaders”, “the one who doesn’t fit in”, “the quirky one”,  etc. Fortunately, the main characters did at least develop a little more depth, though several of the side characters still felt two dimensional.

There was also the issue that took 75% of the book to hit me, but once it did I couldn’t let it go: one of the characters is an Egyptian Prince (allegedly). With all the talk of Cleopatra and pharaohs, I didn’t question it at first, until my brain finally caught up said, “But wait… Egypt’s a republic!” I did Google it just to be sure, and Wikipedia tells me the monarchy in Egypt was dissolved in 1952. And the thing is, this character doesn’t even need to be a Prince for the story and his character arc to make sense. He could have just been a diplomat. It wouldn’t have made any difference, apart from the fact that the teenage characters couldn’t swoon over there being a literal prince in the vicinity.

Okay, I feel like I’ve ranted a lot, so here are the things I did like. I thought the mystery was well-constructed and I enjoyed seeing the characters doing some really good research into the past of the museum. I also really appreciated that there was some ethnic diversity among the characters; I’m not sure but I got the impression that one or both of Terry’s parents had been Middle-Eastern or of Middle-Eastern descent. Not only that but there was the fact that Terry was dealing with chronic injury/pain, which is uncommon in YA protagonists. I also really loved the frienship between Terry and Maude, who was another social outcast at the school. The scene where Maude admitted she hadn’t acted when the school bully started approaching Terry was because it was nice to not be the target anymore  felt painfully honest.

Having said all that, the book was enjoyable but nothing amazing for me, so I don’t think I’ll be reading the second book in the series.


(Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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“But perhaps I have enough time to figure out a few mysteries of my own” // Review of “The Secret Science of Magic” by Melissa Keil

Title: The Secret Science of Magic
Author: Melissa Keil
Genre: contemporary YA
Date Read: 13/04/2017 – 17/04/2017
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review:

Melissa Keil would honestly have to try pretty hard to disappoint me. I may not read much contemporary YA, but I will pick up anything she writes. This is her most recent book, released at the beginning of April, and it does not disappoint.

Sophia is a certifiable genius, but she can’t always read other people correctly and the mysteries of what the future may hold are giving her panic attacks. Joshua is obsessed with magic, and has harboured a crush on Sophia since Year 7. But how do you romance a genius when you’re barely scraping by?

Melissa Keil writes authentically geeky characters that I’ve always felt were “my people”. I think, though, that this was the book where I felt this the strongest. On top of that was the racial diversity that was never presented as a “thing”: Sophia is from a Sri Lankan family and her best friend is Indian-Australian. Sophia also suffers from anxiety, and while it is never stated explicitly, it’s fairly clear she is somewhere on the autism spectrum.

The romance was a cute slow-burn, exactly how I liked it. I got invested in these characters and their relationships, as well as in their other issues. While both POVs were in first person, it was never confusing.  The side characters were also well-constructed; no one felt two dimensional. I read my reviews of Melissa Keil’s other two books when I started writing this one, and I mentioned in one that it did feel a little bit like she had reused some ideas from her first book in her second. That was never a concern with this book.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017. Click here for more information).

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#WWW and #WIPpet Wednesday – 19 April, 2017

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Welcome to WIPpet Wednesday! This is a weekly blog hop hosted by yours truly. If you’re a writer, you are very welcome to join us by posting an excerpt from your WIP that somehow relates to the date. You can click the blue guy on the right of this blog to be taken to the link up.

I’ve finished the first draft of Memories and Magic! The last chunk is a bit haphazard, as I realised I need to fix some structural issues in the third act before I can make it run smoothly, but I sort of have a whole A – Z progression. In this scene, Clara’s memories of being a princess have just been restored after several months of her living with some false ones.

The scene didn’t change for several minutes. Finally, the blue of the rune faded and the ink on the wall disappeared, as usual. All eyes turned to Clara. She wavered on her feet for a moment.

“Huh,” she said weakly before passing out on the floor.

Yep.

My last assignment for the semester is due on June 09, so writing will go on the backburner for the next couple of months. It’s kind of a good time to finish a draft, as I’ll actually be distracted from wanting to start revisions too soon. I’ll still try to have something to share each Wednesday, even if it’s just something I’ve slapped together on the day.

Sort of on that note, a random writing observation: I realised the other day why I’ve never successfully written a contemporary. It’s because pretty much all ideas and characters I have for contemporary stories are based on my own experience, to the point where writing them in the third person feels weird and distant. Even though that’s what I write everything in, so it is kind of my default. Now that I have realised this, though, I’m going to try writing in first person and see if that helps.

And now 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.

wwwwednesday

What have you recently finished reading?

I finished Soulless by Gail Carriger and reviewed it here. It wasn’t my favourite but it was amusing enough.  I would have preferred a bit more urban fantasy and a bit less comedy of manners in the end.

I also finished The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil. I fell in love with it on page one and stayed in love right to the end; not really a big surprise given how much I’ve enjoyed Keil’s other books. If you read YA and were ever a geek at school, you should read them. She nails it. It doesn’t read like she’s even trying, it just feels completely authentic.

Okay, I’ll stop gushing now. 😛 My review of that one will be up on Friday. If you’re interested, I also posted a review for The Man from Snowy River by Elyne Mitchell over here.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading The Asp of Ascension by B. R. Meyers, which I requested from Netgalley because I feel like there aren’t enough books that use Ancient Egyptian mythology as their basis and this one sounded fun. When I started it yesterday, I was fairly bored but I’m about halfway through now and it has grown on me.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Next I will be reading The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie. I have the sequel waiting for me on NetGalley, but I don’t think it’s one to read out of order. I’ve kind of hyped this series up in my head because it’s premise is lady pirates fighting genetically-engineered monsters in a dystopian future and also there’s LGBT representation, so it’s got huge potential. I just hope it lives up to it!

What are you reading this week? 🙂

~ Emily

“Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations.” // Review of “Soulless” by Gail Carriger

Title: Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)
Author: Gail Carriger
Genre: Urban fantasy/historical fiction/humour
Date Read: 05/04/2017 – 13/04/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book was well-written and genuinely funny. I want to put that out there. But unfortunately I found that it was trying to do too many things to be really great at any one of them.

Alexia Tarabotti is a 26-year-old spinster with theh ability to render any supernatural power useless at her touch. When she is attacked by a vampire and accidentally kills it, she finds herself tangled up in a conspiracy where supernatural creatures are appearing and going missing at a rate of knots… not to mention, tangled up with the dashing werewofl, Lord Maccon, who is investigating by order of Queen Victoria.

I felt that the comedy of manners aspect of this book was the major player in the genre field. The steampunk and supernatural elements were almost window dressing. There was a great deal of witty banter, and that was where the laugh-out-loud moments came from. The plot itself, and the mystery contained therein, I didn’t actually find very engaging. That meant that when the comedy started wearing a bit thin, there wasn’t much left to hold my interest.

While the writing was overall strong, there were also some stylistic things that bugged me, such as the main character being referred to in the narration as Alexia in one paragraph, then Miss Tarabotti in the next.  Obviously, being the Victorian era, what the characters called each other was quite important, but when the narration was from Alexia’s point of view, it felt odd to hear her essentially refer to herself formally.

While it wasn’t for me, I do still recommend the book/series, as I know others have enjoyed it a lot more, and the genre blend will probably work for others better than it worked for me.


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Sunday Summary – April 16, 2017

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This week in writing

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The official ending (by which I mean, the actual last chapter/scene/line, not the general ending) of Magic and Memories is eluding me! I kind of know roughly what I’m after, but getting there is hard. I did write 2509 words this week, though.

I also had a very vague idea for a sequel last night. So maybe I could work on that when I finally put this one in a drawer for a few weeks. Though I also saw the new Beauty and the Beast movie on Friday night and now I want to write something sweeping and romantic.

this week in reading

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I finished both The Man from Snowy River by Elyne Mitchell on audio and Soulless by Gail Carriger. I wasn’t as into Soulless as I had hoped, but The Man from Snowy River was a really fun adventure! I’ve now go two contemporary YA novels on the go at once, and I keep getting them slightly confused.

This week in blogging

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I have responded to all blog hop participants and comments on my own blog. Woo! I have a review of Soulless scheduled for tomorrow, too, and I should be finished reading The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil in time to review that for Friday.

THIS WEEK IN STUDY

I did some study work yesterday but I have suddenly realised how close the due date for my 4000-word report is. So I am going to have to spend a lot of my free evenings working on that this week and the next. I also realised I have a small research proposal for my other class due this week and I have no idea what I want to research! Ahhh!

This week in health and fitness

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I wasn’t expecting much in terms of weight loss this week, seeing as how I have been eating a fair amount of chocolate and according to my own logging, I wasn’t really creating a calorie deficit. So imagine my surprise when I discovered I had lost 800g this week! I’m also six days out from finishing the Blogilates beginners calendar, and I have really toned up thanks to it. I’ll post some progress shots next week after I finish it.

Other highlights this week

Remember a while back I said to watch this space for an ‘OMG YOU GUYS I’M GOING TO NEPAL!” announcement. Well, I spoke to my doctor about the trek I wanted to do on Wednesday, and she has some advice for me to go on with in the lead-up, but essentially “OMG YOU GUYS I’M GOING TO NEPAL!” In 12 months, which is ages, and it feels so abstract that I am not the slightest bit excited by it yet, but it is happening. This is the trek: click the banner to read more.


That’s
my week. How have you been doing?  ~ Emily

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#aww2017 “He’s not a boy, he’s a man.” // Review of “The Man from Snowy River” by Elyne Mitchell

Title: The Man from Snowy River
Author: Elyne Mitchell
Genre: Action/adventure/romance
Audio book narrator: Richard Aspel
Date Read: 04/04/2017 – 12/04/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I want to start by just saying how much fun I had with this book! It evoked the Australian bush landscape in such a way that made me feel nostalgic for home, even though I have no intention of ever moving back to my tiny rural home town. The characters were all vibrant and both the love story and the adventure story held my interested the whole way through.

After the death of his father, Jim Craig is told he must earn his right to continue living in the mountains by working down in the town.  He gets a job for a rich cattle owner, Harrison, and meets his daughter, Jessica, with whom he forms a bond. When Harrison’s £1000 colt escapes and Jim is blamed for it, he knows that finding the colt is the last chance he will get to prove himself a man.

As I said, every character in this book has their own individual personality; no two of them sounded the same. I sympathised with Jim and his fish-out-of-water situation while he longed for the mountain home where he grew up. I cheered Jessica on when she stood up to her father and I hated the way Harrison thought he had the right to dominate everyone else.

Life on the farm was also well-described, as was the mountain life and horse-riding. There was a mystery regarding Harrison’s past that wasn’t too hard to guess, but it did provide some good backstory. One of the few things that niggled me was the way at the end, Jim and Harrison both spoke of Jessica as something they could lay claim to. While Jim did say “Jessica can make her own decision on that”, it still bothered me a little.

While Banjo Patterson’s original poem, The Man From Snowy River, focuses solely on the escape of the colt and the mad ride to catch it again, this only accounted for about the last quarter or so of the novel. However, it was interesting revisiting the poem after reading this and realising just how many references from it were peppered throughout the book.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017. Click here for more information).

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#WWW and #WIPpet Wednesday – 12 April, 2017

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Welcome to WIPpet Wednesday! This is a weekly blog hop hosted by yours truly. If you’re a writer, you are very welcome to join us by posting an excerpt from your WIP that somehow relates to the date. You can click the blue guy on the right of this blog to be taken to the link up.

Today I have three lines (1+2) describing Max’s experience of Clara’s magic. Clara is transporting a group of Mages back to her home after a run-in with some not-so-good ones. This particular night is the first time this particular power has manifested, but she quickly got the hang of it.

Max couldn’t believe how instantaneous the transfer was. One second, he was on picnic bench in the park, the next second, in his kitchen. There was no darkness in between, no nausea like he had imagined travel at such a speed might induce. There was just nothing. It was seamless.

And now 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.

wwwwednesday

What have you recently finished reading?

I finished Walpiri Women’s Voices: Our Lives, Our History (Oral history series) and reviewed it here. It was interesting, but somewhat hard to read since it was just transcripts of the oral histories with no embellishments or anything. I actually left it unrated because I wasn’t sure what rating to give.

I also finished The Man from Snowy River by Elyne Mitchell. This was a really fun adventure story. Even though I had never read it before, nor seen the movie, it made me feel nostalgic, I think just because I grew up surrounded by the Australian bush (even though I have no desire to move back there).

I also reviewed Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey; you can read that here.

What are you currently reading?

I am finally currently reading Soulless by Gail Carriger. It has some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments due to clever writing, but I feel like there is not much plot to speak of. I imagine I will finish this over the next few days but at the moment, I’m not feeling terribly inclined to pick up the next book in the series.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I will probably read The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil. This was only released last week and while I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA, I was at the top of my library’s queue for this one. I will read anything this woman writes. And I just found out it has diverse characters, too! The MC is South Asian. So yay that, too!

What are you reading this week? 🙂

~ Emily

#aww2017 #BeatTheBacklist Book Review: “Walpiri Women’s Voices: Our Lives, Our History” edited by Petronella Vaarzon-Morel

Title: Walpiri Women’s Voicess: Our LIves, Our History
Author: compiled by Janet Nakamarra Long and Georgina Napangardi and edited by Petronella Vaarzon-Morel
Genre: Non-fiction/oral history
Date Read: 31/03/2017 – 07/04/2017
Rating: unrated

Review:

I’ve never left a book unrated when I’ve reviewed it before, but it was really hard to know what to rate this one. That mostly comes from the fact that this is not a book as such, but transcripts of oral history interviews done with women members of the Walpiri people from the Northern Territory.

The interviews cover the community’s relationship to the land in the time before white people settled the area, through to white settlement and a little of the present day (the book was published in 1995).

While I appreciated the content, it was slow-going. I think this was due to the format; the recordings were done in Walpiri language, and what I was reading was essentially a direct translation with no embellishment. As someone who much prefers fiction to non-fiction in general, I did find this difficult to get through, but I think that is more a matter of personal preference. Still, this is an important record and I’m glad that this information was recorded while it was still possible.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017. Click here for more information).

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Sunday Summary – April 09, 2017

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This week in writing

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This was a bit of a slow writing week; I only wrote on three out of seven nights. There were various reasons for this but I won’t bore you with them here. I did hit 50k, though! I noticed some structural issues which were going to be too hard to fix as part of the current draft, so I’ve sort of skipped over a section of the story with the intention of fixing that all in the next version.

this week in reading

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I finished both Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey on audio and Walpiri Women’s Voices in print this week. I have started listening to The Man from Snowy River by Elyne Mitchell and reading Soulless by Gail Carriger.

This week in blogging

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I have responded to the WWW participants but not to WIPpeteers! Oops! I only realised this this afternoon. However, I do have it on my Habitica to-do list and I’m hoping to still make it around before I reset the linky on Tuesday. I reviewed Puberty Blues on Friday and have a review of Walpiri Women scheduled for tomorrow.

THIS WEEK IN STUDY

This was the first week of the mid-semester teaching break so I didn’t have tutorial questions to answer or anything like that. I intended to do some more work on my significance report this weekend than I ended up doing, but I have reserved some relevant books at the library and will try to spend a few nights after work doing some research. By Easter weekend I will hopefully be able to start writing. It’s a 4000 word report due May 01.

This week in health and fitness

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Not much in terms of weight loss this week (I over-ate the last couple  of , but it was really exciting to take a “two weeks in” photo and compare with the photo I took before I started doing the Blogilates workouts. Even after two weeks, there was an obvious difference in how I looked. I’m already more toned. So that has motivated me to really keep going with the routines. Yay!

That’s me for this week. How have you all been doing? ~ Emily

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