Blog tour review: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin

Hello everyone! This is a little different to my usual review post, as I’m taking part in my very first blog tour! This is a truly powerful novel and I really appreciate the opportunity to read it and make some noise about it!

Blurb:

Lex was taken–trafficked–and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again.

After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that’s what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things.

But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love.

Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like is a gritty, ultimately hopeful novel about human trafficking through the lens of a girl who has escaped the life and learned to trust, not only others, but in herself.

About the author:

KATE McLAUGHLIN likes people, so much so that she spends her days making up her own. She likes writing about characters who are bent, but not broken – people who find their internal strength through friends, strife and sometimes humor. When she’s not writing, she likes studying people, both real and fictional. She also likes playing board games with friends, talking and discovering new music. A proud Nova Scotian, she’ll gladly tell you all about the highest tides in the world, the magical creation known as a donair, and people who have sofas in their kitchens. Currently, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and four cats. She’s the author of What Unbreakable Looks Like.

Visit Kate at her Twitter.

Review:

I was immediately sucked into Lex’s sordid world when I started this book. After struggling with my last few reads, I read the first 30% of this one in an hour or so. And it’s the first book in quite a while to make my cry.

McLaughlin doesn’t hold back in her descriptions. There are multiple flashbacks to the time before Lex’s rescue, showing exactly how a girl like Lex can get caught up in the trafficking industry.

The supporting characters are also really well-drawn. I really felt like they have their own lives, and how those intersect with Lex’s forms an important part of her arc. She knows that some of the things she feels about those around her are selfish, but she can’t help it all the time. She makes jokes about what happened to her to throw up a shield, sometimes hurting others in the process, not believing she’s in a position to let herself be vulnerable.

One of the most important things in this book is Lex’s journey to finding that sex can still be amazing with the right person, even after experiencing sexual trauma. Her journey to this is not linear, it’s really messy at times, but I loved how it played out.

Obviously the book comes with about a million trigger warnings, especially for rape and violence, but it is definitely worth the read.

★★★

What Unbreakable Looks Like is available now – click here to purchase.


Thank you to Wednesday Books for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.

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“The dragon within my heart stirred, shifting her wings, as if remembering they could be used to fly.” // Review of “A Natural History of Dragons” by Marie Brennan

Title: A Natural History of Dragons (Memoirs of Lady Trent #1)
Author:
Marie Brennan
Audio book narrator: Kate Reading
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 05/06/20 – 22/06/20
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

I have to admit, for a book with this title, I expected, well… more dragons. Having said that, I enjoyed the story and characters in and of themselves. Marie Brennan has crafted a really strong character in Isabella Camherst/Lady Trent, and Kate Reading’s delivery of the audio book really built on that.

The world Lady Trent inhabits is based on 19th Century England, and while it is perfectly crafted, the fact that she is an upper-class character did occasionally wear thin. The characters travel to a small village for their scientific expedition and Isabella is horrified when a) the woman helping them doesn’t have the manners of a proper ladies’ maid and b) the villagers don’t even seem to know what a wardrobe is!

I was hoping the attitude would change a little, but as with nineteenth century English explorers, the characters were quite convinced they were in the right about everything.

Sometimes it felt like the characters other than Isabella were a little bland, but I still ended up quite attached to them all, as I realised when one died just before the end of the book! I wasn’t expecting it at all.

As this series is set out as Lady Trent’s memoirs, written as an old woman, there is a fair amount of “authorial” intrusion. Often that bothers me, but I think the fact that it was still the character, rather than the actual author, meant that I could let it go. It might not be for everyone, though. It does of course, also mean that we know that she survives every danger she comes across, or else she wouldn’t be setting down this tale after the fact. So that limits the stakes a little, but I still found it to be entertaining.

As I said, there were fewer dragons than I expected for a book with this title. In this world, they are simply another animal predator, like bears or wolves, albeit a species little is known about. They are very much an object of study, rather than characters in the book, and a lot of the conflict actually comes from other humans. As I said, it was a good story in and of itself, but I can see some people feeling a bit mislead.

“How does the world end? It ends in fire.” // Review of “Burn” by Patrick Ness

Title: Burn
Author:
 Patrick Ness
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 30/05/20 – 03/06/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

the cover of the Patrick Ness novel Burn. It has a black background and the shape of a dragon emerges from flames at the bottom.

It’s not going to be easy to review this book in a way that does it justice. I do feel that it’s a story that only Patrick Ness could write. It has so many different components and could have been a huge mess but somehow he pulls it off.

I’m not going to go into the plot too much. Suffice to say this book is about a girl called Sarah, whose father has hired a dragon to work their farm in late 1957. The Cold War is going on, Sputnik is about to be launched, and an assassin is headed to their small town…

This isn’t some fast-paced action adventure like the Chaos Walking trilogy. If you want to compare to Ness’ other books, I think it’s much closer to A Monster Call. There’s lots of introspection and it’s very philosophical and it builds slowly to a climax rather than racing there.

It’s beautifully written because of course it is, it’s by Patrick Ness. I didn’t really feel any connection to the characters but I was drawn into this world and I didn’t mind that too much because the prose was engaging.

If you like dragons in your fantasy, I would definitely recommend this one. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s definitely worth giving a chance.

#AWW2020 Book Review: “Ochre Dragon” by V. E. Patton

Title: Ochre Dragon (Opal Dreaming Chronicles #1)
Author:
V. E. Patton
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 27/04/20 – 12/05/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This was definitely different to the fantasy I usually read. I guess that may be partly because a lot of the fantasy I read is YA, and therefore has a different feel and pace.

Ochre Dragon is the first in the Opal Dreaming Chronicles and it follows three women at different stages of life, living on different worlds, who are irrevocably linked.

The book seamlessly blends science and magic, giving us dystopia, deities, dragons and time gates, to name a few. Somehow it never seems like the book is overdoing it.

I’ll admit it did take me a while to get into it, and I think that was partly because for the first while, I was reading in very small dribs and drabs. It’s the sort of book that deserves to be properly absorbed in as few sittings as possible, I think. The writing is very lyrical and the plot is well set out.

It does end on a cliffhanger, but now that the cast is all in the position, I am very interested to see where they go from here!

Content warning: there are two instances of attempted rape and the suggestion of past sexual violence.


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

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“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.” // Review of “The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton

Title: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Author:
Stuart Turton
Genre: Literary/speculative fiction
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/05/20 – 08/05/20
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

What even was this book?

No, that’s not rhetorical. Please, someone tell me.

Okay, maybe I’m being a bit disingenuous there, but I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say this book is unlike any other I’ve read. It was compelling, even as I sometimes struggled to keep track of things. I had a small list of murder suspects, and I was ALMOST right!

You do sort of have to roll with this book. It would be easy to try to sit there picking apart all the time travel logic and how it  all works. I suspect Stuart Turton must have had a dozen spreadsheets in order to keep it all straight, and I think there are still times when things don’t quite add up. But as long as you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, then you will keep turning the pages, perhaps even start dreaming about the book as I did!

I have to say that up until about the last 30 or so pages, this was a five star read for me, despite the nit-picking. But as I was nearing the end, I realised that I wasn’t going to find out certain details about how the events of the book all came to pass in the first place… there are hints dropped, but nothing really concrete. We learn that certain character development (as in, a person changed due to their experiences) took place before the book starts, meaning we just have to accept them, rather than seeing it happen.

This didn’t kill the enjoyment for me, but it meant I closed the book at the end feeling dissatisfied. Maybe that’s just me, though? Don’t let me put you off!


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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Greythorne” by L. M. Merrington

Title: Greythorne
Author:
L. M. Merrington
Genre: Historical fiction/Gothic novel
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 08/05/20 – 12/05/20
Rating: 
★★★

Review:  

I’ve had a copy of Greythorne for quite some time and I’m finally getting to it now that I am actively aiming to read the Australian books I own.

Merrington draws on the Gothic tradition, as you can probably tell from the cover. The main character, Nell, is sent to Greythorne Manor, an isolated house on a difficult-to-reach island (rocky outcrop?), to become governess to 8-year-old Sophie, the daughter of a scientist.

The sense of isolation within a large, empty house is very well done, and I could imagine Nell wandering empty corridors with the wind billowing outside. And particularly when Professor Greythorne.

I was getting some distinct Frankenstein vibes from the Professor, and while I was somewhat on the right track with that, Merrington definitely puts her own spin on the gothic mad scientist trope. I am probably already giving things away so I don’t want to elaborate anymore on that one.

Following in the tradition of the gothic novels before it, the story moves quite slowly, with the increasing sense of uneasiness. There is some good foreshadowing of things that really become important later. While it took me a few days to get through this one due to time, I think this a good one to dedicate a cozy winter afternoon to.


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

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Mini Book Reviews: Cookies and Curses by Rosie Pease, There She Goes by Lynne Shelby, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Sometimes I don’t really have a lot to say about a book. It doesn’t really warrant a full-length review. And while I’m sure the authors appreciate the Goodreads and Amazon reviews, I was trying to think of a way to get the word out to my blog followers, too.

This morning it occurred to me to incorporate a few reviews into one post. Duh. So here are three romances I’ve read recently and a few thoughts about each.


Cookies and Curses

by Rosie Pease
(Matchmaking Grimoire #1)
★★★☆

Argh, this book made me crave baked sweets! So many mouth-watering descriptions! I have to admit, the reason I picked this up is because I can never go past books that combine witches with baking. Which is a really niche interest but there seems to be a reasonable amount of it!

I really enjoyed the idea of matchmaking being a witchy skill and seeing how the ghosts interfered with that.

I loved Ken and Ivy, and really appreciated that when Joanie was first embarking on dating Ken, that the book delved into the complexities of dating someone who already has kids.

I did feel like the mystery dragged on a little long, but that was a minor quibble.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bake some choc-chip cookies!


There She GOes

by Lynne Shelby
(Theatreland #2)
★★★

My main quibble with this book was how early the two characters got together, given that the tag line is “Will they ever share more than an onstage kiss?” I was expecting a slow burn and it was not that at all.

There never seemed to be much in the way of conflict, and what was there was usually easily resolved in the following chapter.

Having said that, as a community theatre practitioner, I did enjoy the aspects of the professional theatre scene, auditions, call backs, etc. As well as the waiting for word, the crappy day jobs, the agony of being so close but so far.

And the writing was engaging, even if I did think the plot was a bit light on the ground.


The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman
★★★

This started off entertaining but I have to admit that after a while the whole cute and quirky vibe wore off a bit. I didn’t find myself terribly invested in the romance. I didn’t see any chemistry between Nina and Tom, they just apparently fancied each other and then they were together.

What I did enjoy were the dynamics between Nina and her newly-discovered extended family. I loved how with some of them she slipped right in like she’d never been apart, but others were much more hesitant.

I also really appreciated the sensitive treatment of Nina’s anxiety.


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#AWW2020 Book Review of “The Damsel Gauntlet” by P. A. Mason

Title: The Damsel Gauntlet (Gretchen’s [Mis]Adventures #1)
Author:
P. A. Mason
Genre: Fantasy/Satire
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 10/04/20 – 11/04/20
Rating:
★★★

This new short reads series from P. A. Mason promises to be chock-full of things I enjoy.

Witches. Sarcasm. Fairy tale characters. Subverting tropes. Humour. 

I don’t want to spoil the concept of this first instalment but just let me say that when I read why the King and Queen were hiring Gretchen for, I laughed out loud. 

Gretchen’s a great character. I enjoy her sarcastic front, but underneath she really sees the good in people and just wants things to work out all right in the end.

This is the first in what will be a series of monthly installments on the Kindle short-reads store, but it is much more than that. Visit the website for bonus content each time an episode comes out.   


Thank you to P. A. Mason for supplying me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 “Inhale. Exhale. Survive.” // Review of “Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal” by Anna Whateley

Title: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal
Author:
Anna Whateley
Genre: Contemporary/romance
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 06/04/20 – 09/04/20
Rating:
★★★★

Anna Whateley is a Twitter friend of mine and we’ve both been part of the #6amAusWriters group for about a year now, so I was excited and proud to get my hands on a copy of her debut.

This book. I kind of want to hug it. It feels like such an honest, authentic depiction of the neurodivergent experience. Even if I didn’t know it was an #ownvoices book, I would probably have been able to guess. 

Peta is such a wonderful lead character. The book is in first person, which I don’t always enjoy, but this book could not have been any other way. We needed to be in Peta’s head. Seeing her try to fit in and follow the “rules” she has learned through therapy and through observing others could be heartbreaking at times, but it was so liberating seeing her grow and find her own way in a world that is not designed to allow her to succeed. 

I think the only thing I might have liked to see a bit more of was the development of the romance between Peta and Sam. As it was, it felt like it leapt straight from “Oh, look, I am definitely attracted to her” to pushing their dorm beds together and kissing a lot. But it was fine that way, and the aftermath and fallout after that is treated really well. Even as I was wanting to yell “No! Sam! Don’t be ridiculous! It’s not like that!” I could absolutely see Sam’s point of view as well. 

Also must give a shout-out to Jeb, Peta’s best friend. I can tell just from reading he gives the best hugs. And I loved how he knew Peta’s quirks and what she needed and just responded. She never had to feel weird around him. 


Thank you to Allen and Unwin for choosing me as a winner in their recent Facebook giveaway and sending me a proof copy of this book!

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “That Night In Paris” by Sandy Barker

Title: That Night In Paris (Holiday Romance #2)
Author:
 Sandy Barker
Genre: Romance
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/04/20 – 05/04/20
Rating: 
★★☆

Even though it’s not the first book in the series, this is my first book by Sandy Barker and what a fun trip it was!

After a night of bad decisions, Cat Parsons books a fortnight trip through Europe to get away from real life. On the trip she quickly bonds with three other women running away from problems of their own. And then a chance encounter makes Cat question if she can always run from love.

The descriptions of the various locations were done really well. I went on a similar bus tour of Europe myself when I was in my early 20s, and it was fun to relive some of the locations. Tour group hook-ups and other shenanigans were rife on that trip and the one in this book, too. I don’t know if some might find it unrealistic, but my reaction was “Yep, sounds about right.”

I have to admit I was much more intersted in the relationships that developed between the four women than the romance, really! Particularly between Cat and “bus bestie” Lou. It was sweet and realistic and I really enjoyed the way it developed. The other two, Jaylee and Dani, were fun though I sometimes couldn’t remember which one of them was which.

Cat is an intersting protagonist. It did take me a while to warm to her, I guess just because we are So. Different. so at first I found it hard to relate. And perhaps I was bothered by the fact that she was a bit self-involved, but as she started to recognise that about herself and change her behaviour, it became easier to get behind her… though I don’t think I ever want to hear the phrase “lady parts” again.

As to the romance, I have to say, I did love Jean-Luc. But I think just a bunch of personal preferences meant I didn’t get wholly into it. The nature of the story meant that the romance played out in a few short encounters over a two week period, where I tend to prefer a slowburn. It’s also a second-chance-at-love romance, which again, is not really my thing.

There’s nothing wrong with either of these tropes! Don’t get me wrong! They’re just not what I generally would seek out. Someone who is really into those will definitely love this book!


Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for supplying me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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

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