#AWW2021 “My sisters. My blood. My skin. What a gruesome bond we shared.” // Review of “House of Hollow” by Krystal Sutherland

Title: House of Hollow
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Genre: Magical realism/horror
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 22/10/2021 – 24/10/21
Rating: ★★★☆

Review:

I recently asked for recommendations for creepy books that wouldn’t completely scare a wimp like me and this was one of the titles that came up. Having previously enjoyed Sutherland’s A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, I was keen to give this one a look, too.

As I started, I absolutely loved the vibe that Sutherland had going on here. Missing sister, weird smells, strange flowers, a mysterious disappearance many years ago.

But then it started to peter out. It kept saying that things smelled weird, and that there were strange flowers, and if only Iris could remember what had happened that day ten years ago. What started strong was no longer interesting once I’d heard it so many times.

Admittedly in the final third things started to pick up as we started to really learn what was going on. Some new characters appeared and there were some revelations made. Some of those I had already kind of figured out, but there were still a few surprises.

While this definitely didn’t meet the high expectations that I had based on my experience of Worst Nightmares, it’s still a pretty solid read. I think it will have more appeal for those dipping their toe into horror rather than regular readers of the genre who have most likely seen everything in this book before.


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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October 2021 Reading Wrap-up

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

I’m usually not already a week into the following month when I write these wrap-ups. The problem is that while October is fine, the start of November has been a bit of a mess. But let’s focus on October, where I read seven books and had a great time participating in the Whodunitathon. I have to admit that I have lost my reviewing mojo somewhat in the last couple of weeks, and am only reviewing books that are part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge. While it would be nice to think I might get around to the others at some point, that seems unlikely.

PAST MONTH’S READING:

A row of seven book covers for the books listed below in the blog post.
  1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (thriller/mystery – 4 stars – not reviewed)
  2. A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark (historical fantasy – 4 stars – not reviewed)
  3. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (thriller/horror – 4 stars – review)
  4. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark (historical fantasy – 4 stars – not reviewed)
  5. One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus (YA thriller – 4 stars – not reviewed)
  6. Skalsinger by L. A. Webster (fantasy – 4 stars – review)
  7. House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland (YA horror – 3.5 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. Whodunitathon TBR Part 2 – The Investigation and the Resolution

FAVOURITE BOOKISH PHOTO:

L. A. Webster is a writer friend of mine and I was very pleased to read her new release in advance! In the first book in the series, the main character is literally a gardener and her powers are based in nature. While the main character in this second story has quite a different skill, nature still plays a large part and I felt the need to go and sit outside to read it.

A white hand holding up a Kindle. It displays a book cover of Skalsinger by L. A. Webster showing a young woman in front of a cliff and churning ocean. There is lightning in the sky. There is green grass and trees behind the Kindle..

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

CURRENTLY READING:

The cover of Amazon Decoded by David Gaughran. The text is in black and white and large on a yellow background. There is an emoji-style image of a Kindle with a magnifying glass/search icon hovering over it.

Physical book: Nothing at the moment.

Ebook: Amazon Decoded by David Gaughran. As a self-published author, this is a must-read and to be honest, I’m a bit mad that it’s taken me so long. I’m reading the Kindle version and highlighting the hell out of it.

Audio book: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan. This is book two in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series, which follows Isabella Camherst, natural historian, on her quest to study dragons whilst wrangling with expectations in a quasi-nineteenth century English society.

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

I have absolutely no idea! I am in theory doing another readathon this month but none of the books on my TBR for that are appealing to me right now. I think it will probably be something short and light. Maybe some short stories.

What are you reading? 🙂

#AWW2021 Book Review: “Skalsinger” by L. A. Webster

Title: Skalsinger (Chronicles of Algarth #2)
Author: L. A. Webster
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 16/10/2021 – 22/10/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I will admit that after reading a couple of high-octane thrillers like One of Us Is Lying and The Final Girl Support Group, Skalsinger was a very big change of pace for me, and it took me a while to settle into it.

Skalsinger, like Greenhaelen before it, has a very classical-style fantasy feel to it. If I didn’t know the author and you’d told me these books were released 40-50 years ago, I’d probably believe you. The prose is wonderfully constructed, with a good sense of pace and rhythm through the story.

The story is very much character-focused. I will admit that I was not as drawn to Cahira, the titular Skalsinger, as I was to some of the others, particularly Niall and Perna. Perna’s growth through the story was a particular highlight for me.

As a fair while has passed between when I read Greenhaelen and this one, it took a little while for me to remember the details of the world of Algarth, but I enjoyed spotting the cameos from some of my favourite characters from the first look, like Sara and Kelan.

I definitely recommend Chronicles of Algarth for any fans of character-driven fantasy. Skalsinger is out on November 1 and you can pre-order now!


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

Thank you to L. A. Webster for providing me with a gratis copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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“I know what happens to those girls. They become women. And they live.” Review of “The Final Girl Support Group” by Grady Hendrix

Title: The Final Girl Support Group
Author: Grady Hendrix
Genre: Horror/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 11/10/2021
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book came highly recommended and I can see why. Set in a slightly alternate reality where the slasher flicks of the 80s were all based on real massacres with real “final girls” still standing at the end, this book examines why these narratives where a character has only a first name if she’s lucky are so revered and even looked upon with nostalgia.

A lot of this book deals with how women experience violence just for existing (thanks, misogyny!). I have to admit, I was impressed how well the male author nailed this pervading sense of danger that most, if not all, woman have grown up with and have to contend with throughout our lives.

There were only a couple of sections where I thought the plot dragged a little. Other than that, there was one decision the main character made that made absolutely NO SENSE to me, unless you allow for the fact that she was in a very fragile mental state. It made sense narratively for it to happen with what came later, but it made no sense to me why her mind went “This is what I need to do”. But these were my only two quibbles.

I know that most of the references to slasher flicks went over my head, but despite that, I still found the book engaging. I read it in a day, which is not something I’ve done with a 400 page adult novel in a long time, if ever!


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Book Review: “Chained By Memory” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: Chained by Memory (Razor’s Edge Chronicles #6)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Urban fantasy
Intended audience: YA/Adult
Dates Read: 25/09/2021 – 29/09/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

In this installment of the Razor’s Edge, we depart the island nation of Panong and head to Bhutan, to the weretiger realm. I really enjoyed seeing this new aspect of the world, and I LOVED it. It sounded so beautiful and safe. I would have quite happily read a whole book set here, but of course, things don’t go smoothly for Apiya. I really enjoyed the way Jeanjean mixed European and Asian folklore without it seeming forced.

I felt like the stakes in this book were higher than in some of the previous ones, with the revelations about Apiya’s true identity that came about in the last couple of books really causing problems here.

Of course, this being a light-hearted urban fantasy series, you can guess how things wrap up, but the journey is still a lot of fun!


(Thank you to the author for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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September 2021 Reading Wrap-up

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

September was one of those months where I felt like I hadn’t read that much, and that read was a struggle, but actually I finished six books, which is a little above my average. The readathon I’ve signed up for in October has me aiming for 13, but six to nine is my usual.

PAST MONTH’S READING:

A row of book covers. From left to right: The Performance by Claire Thomas, Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell, Seat 7a by Sebastian Fitzek, Soulbinder by Sebastien de Castell, Elsa Goody, Bushranger by Darry Fraser, Chained by Memory by Celine Jeanjean.
  1. Geekerella by Ashley Poston (YA contemporary/retelling – 4 stars – review) (read August, reviewed September)
  2. The Court of Miracles (YA historical fantasy/retelling – 3 stars – review) (read August, reviewed September)
  3. The Performance (literary fiction – 3 stars – review)
  4. Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell (Spellslinger #3) (YA fantasy – 3 stars – not reviewed)
  5. Seat 7a by Sebastian Fitzek (translated thriller – 2 stars – not reviewed)
  6. Soulbinder by Sebastien de Castell (Spellslinger #4) (YA fantasy – 3 stars – not reviewed)
  7. Elsa Goody, Bushranger by Darry Fraser (historical fantasy – 2 stars – review)
  8. Chained by Memory by Celine Jeanjean (Razor’s Edge Chronicles #6) (urban fantasy – 4 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. Whodunitathon TBR Part 1 – The Setting and the Crime

FAVOURITE BOOKISH PHOTO:

As far as bookish photos go, this is not one of my best, but it’s the best of the ones I posted this month. Featured is a pile of new books I picked up, which had been recommended to me as ones to read if I want to get into horror (which I do) but am also a wimp (which I am).

 a hand hiding up a pile of three books against a white wall. From top to bottom the books are Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland and Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix.

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

CURRENTLY READING:

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie book cover. It is mostly plain green, with a small picture of a large coastal home and the title and author in plan black text.

Physical book: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Starting off Whodunitathon with an actual whodunit.

Ebook: Return of the Dwarf King by Charley Case, Martha Carr and Michael Anderle. I bought this on a whim after seeing it somewhere and while it’s not what I expected, I’m giving it chance to get me hooked.

Audio book: I bought the WhisperSync audio companion for Return of the Dwarf King, which means I can swap between audio and ebook without losing my place.

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix was recommended to me as a horror book that someone wimpy could still be into. I’ve got pretty high expectations so I hope it lives up to them!

What are you reading? 🙂

#AWW2021 Book Review: “Elsa Goody, Bushranger” by Darry Fraser

Title: Elsa Goody, Bushranger
Author: Darry Fraser
Audio book narrator: Rebecca Macauley
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/09/2021 – 26/09/21
Rating: ★★

Review:

I don’t know whether I just wasn’t in the mood for this book or what. I went into it fully expecting to like it but ended up just feeling quite frustrated.

I have to admit that for the most part, I could tell exactly how the story was going to go, even if I wasn’t sure exactly how it would get there. Sometimes predictability is okay, but it didn’t work for me this time.

I also found that for a piece of adult fiction, the romances were very heavy on the insta-love trope. I can accept that in YA fiction, though I still roll my eyes a bit. It felt very strange reading things like “she was awakening feelings in him he hadn’t felt in a long time” when the characters have literally known each other a couple of hours felt out of place when both the characters and the intended readership are all adults.

Still, Elsa Goody and Ezekiel Jones were likable characters and I stuck with the book because I wanted to see exactly how things turned out for them. I did wish that Elsa’s sister Rosie had a bit more of her own character arc. I felt she was just as selfish at the end as she had been at the start, despite everything they’d been through.

This was my first Darry Fraser book and while it’s clear she’s done a lot of good historical research, I don’t know if I’ll pick up any more of her books.


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“Our mother the City is not a merciful mother.” // Review of “Court of Miracles” by Kester Grant

Title: Court of Miracles (The Court of Miracles #1)
Author: Kester Grant
Genre: Alternate history/retelling
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 23/08/2021 – 27/08/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

Don’t you hate it when the very thing that sold you on a book turns out to be the thing that disappoints you about it? That was definitely the case with this book. A Les Miserables fantasy-style retelling sounded absolutely my cup of tea. And yet, having now read the book, I felt the connections to Les Mis were tenuous at best. While the author is obviously entitled to take inspiration wherever she chooses, I’m not sure selling this as a retelling or alternate history Les Mis was the way to go.

I’ll admit I’ve never read Les Mis. My knowledge of it comes purely from the musical, which I know well enough to have spotted the lyrics cheekily peppered throughout this book. Maybe the setting here takes more inspiration from the original novel, but to be honest it felt like an original fantasy world more than nineteenth century Paris.

THAT SAID, in and of itself, I enjoyed the world that Grant established, and the characters. The writing style is quick and easy to digest. As much as I roll my eyes at love triangles, I’m a sucker for relationships like that between Eponine and the Dauphin, completely forbidden and yet has the potential to be really sweet in further books. I wasn’t quite as convinced by St Juste as a love interest. It seemed more forced, with lots of “I’m definitely not attracted to him, or so I tell myself” type sentences, when there was very little chemistry between them.

It probably says something that I’m sitting down to write this review a couple of weeks after reading the book, and apart from what I identified in my GoodReads updates, I find it hard to remember many of the specifics. It was fun and enjoyable at the time, but not memorable. And given the next book isn’t due out until 2023, I suspect I’m not going to worry about continuing on with the series.


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#AWW2021 “There are only situations, and we do not know what will become of us until we are inside each new one.” // Book Review of “The Performance” by Claire Thomas

Title: The Performance
Author: Claire Thomas
Genre: Literary fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 31/08/2021 – 02/09/21
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is a tricky book for me to review, for the simple reason that it’s very far removed from what I usually read, and I only read it because we chose it for book club, being a book club made up of theatre geeks. I don’t really know if it’s any good by literary fiction standards, though the slew of four and five star reviews would say yes.

You’ve only got to spend five minutes scrolling through my blog to notice that genre fiction is my cup of tea. Literary stream-of-consciousness is something I tend to avoid. The only time I can think where I picked up something like it was when I had to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for uni and it was one of my worst reading experiences.

But I kind of liked this one. I found something I could relate to with each of the characters. It’s not so much a book that starts at A and takes us through to B. It’s more like it starts at B and then looks at how these three characters got there. Despite the title, it’s not really about the performance.

There are lot of themes swimming about in here. Aging, domestic violence, child-rearing, climate change, politics, wealth, race… Given the book is relatively short, it’s a lot to delve into, but I think the key is that the book doesn’t actually try to give any kind of opinion or lead the reader to a particular conclusion. The themes present in the book the way they do in people’s lives, in a contradictory, random fashion. The way you’re treated at work due to your age might pop into your head and give you pause, but a few minutes later it might be out of your mind as you start thinking about your son and grandson.

Isn’t it interesting how in my Ariadne review, I mentioned one of my major frustrations was that it made a point but never did anything with it, and yet here it didn’t bother me. I think it’s the difference in scope of the stories being told that makes the difference for me here.

Am I likely to pick up something else of Claire Thomas’. Probably not. But I went into this expecting not to like it at all, and I was pleasantly surprised.


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite.” // Review of “Geekerella” by Ashley Poston

Title: Geekerella (Once Upon a Con #1)
Author: Ashley Poston
Genre: Contemporary/retelling
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 28/08/2021 – 30/08/2021
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

I don’t understand my reaction to this book. It was full of things that would annoy me in any other book, and yet, I was fully engaged, and devoured it. I even dreamed about it. The next day, I was still thinking about it.

And I’m not sure why.

My theory is that on some deeper level, I was harking back to my own days in fandom and feeling nostalgic. We’re in lockdown so maybe the nostalgia hit harder. I don’t know.

I liked Darien, the movie star “Prince Charming” of this retelling from the moment we met him. I think the fact that his nerdiness was a quieter, internal thing made it easier for me to relate to him than to Elle, whose fandom is all hardcore shipping and angry blogs. And because I warmed to Darien so quickly, I found Elle even more difficult because she was making assumptions about Darien that I as the reader knew to be false.

I also enjoyed the descriptions of rehearsals and being on a movie set, though honestly, I raised my eyebrows at the idea that any actors would be allowed to have their phones on them while they were filming. I know, I know, plot convenience.

It did bother me that all of the villains were cartoonishly nasty. That works in a Disney movie, not in a full-length contemporary novel.

It also bothered me that the entire romance was based on text messages. And unless I missed something, in the final scene, they’re kissing before they’ve even absolutely confirmed that each was the person the other was texting.

But for all that, the writing was addictive and I wanted to see these characters get together! I don’t know if I’ll continue the series but this was definitely a great read.


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