“It used to be simply noises. The noises were dreadful enough. But now sometimes I think I see it in the shadows.” // Review of “The Dead of Winter” by Chris Priestley

Title: The Dead of Winter
Author: Chris Priestley
Genre:
Horror
Intended audience: Middle-grade
Date Read:
01/10/19 – 03/10/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

Ah man. I was really looking forward to a spooky haunted house story here, and while I knew it was middle-grade, I didn’t think that would affect my enjoyment. How can you go wrong with orphan boy dealing with a haunted house at Christmas?

I want to say that I absolutely think that I would have found this a lot spookier if I had read it when I was ten or eleven, and that I feel this  is one of those books that doesn’t quite transcend its target age group (some MG books don’t, and that’s fine).

As it was, I felt that it was a bit of a checklist of haunted house tropes. We had the ghost of a pale woman in a shift out on the moors, we had banging from within the walls, we had footsteps in the corridor, we had shadowy figures in mirrors… It was all there and yet apart from a couple of scenes, I never really felt like any one haunting was gone into in any depth, nor did it feel like anything particularly new was being done.

The other thing that was while this is ostensibly about a young boy, it is written from the perspective of an older man looking back on something that happened when he was small. I couldn’t help thinking that emulating a Gothic style narration was probably not the way to interest young readers. The last chapter and the epilogue are set years later after Michael has grown up, and I don’t know that MG readers will consider that a satisfactory ending.

But at the end of the day, while this book wasn’t for me, I can’t say what the target audience would think. It’s highly possible that they would find it a lot more enjoyable.


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#Aww2019 #LoveOzMG Book Review: “Songbird” by Ingrid Laguna

Title: Songbird
Author:
Ingrid Laguna
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: MG
Date Read: 05/10/19
Rating:
★★★★

Review:

This was such a sweet, uplifting book! It’s only short and I read it all in one sitting, and afterwards had a huge smile on my face. It was kind of easy to see where the story was going, but that didn’t take away from it at all.

Jamila, her mother and younger brother are refugees newly arrived in Melbourne from Iraq. Jamila is struggling to balance her new school life where she is the odd one out with her mother’s needs as they all try to adapt. But when Jamila joins the school choir and begins to make friends, she starts to fit in there… if only her father could make it to Australia, too…

I really felt for Jamila. I could feel her distress and not being able to talk to her classmates and being nervous due to her less-than-perfect English. I felt her frustration when her mother called her home from school to help with things like groceries. i have not had the same life experiences as Jamila but music got me through some bad times, too, so I completely related when she found that the school choir rehearsals were one of the only times at school that enjoyed, and how she could lose herself in writing a song.

The book deals with refugee issues, racism, death and terrorism in a way that I think would be accessible to readers in the target age group. I think it would be a great introduction to the topic, with room for discussion afterwards, and without feeling too overwhelming.


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

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#LoveOzYA Book Review: “Monuments” by Will Kostakis

Title: Monuments (Monument #1)
Author:
Will Kostakis
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 27/09/19 – 30/09/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

I had been seeing a lot about Monuments in the lead-up to its release so by the time I got my hands on a copy at the Canberra launch last week, I was really looking forward to it.

This is such a fun book! The protagonist, Connor, is a sweetheart. I was on his side immediatley. And he brings all the sass. He and Locky made such a cute pair. Sally was an interesting character with a few surprises up her sleeve – there is a lot we don’t know about her until towards the end.

I did have a few questions about how a bunch of ancient gods ended up in Australia but thankfully those were answered, and in a way that made a lot of sense.

The first two thirds of the story are a fairly straightforward adventure story but then the time travel starts and things do get a bit confusing. There’s a lot of hopping between lots of different times and for a while I lost track of what was what. But that calmed down after a few chapters and I was able to sink back into the story again.

Some of the scenes I liked best weren’t really about the adventuring but about Connor more personally. Connor feels guilty for not visiting his grandfather a lot after dementia took over and his grandfather was put in a home. I don’t want to spoil things but I will say that the way Connor makes amends is pretty epic.

Enough is wrapped up in this book to not feel like you’re left hanging, but the story isn’t over. I am definitely looking forward to book two!


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“Something has to change. In being robbed of our deaths, we are robbed of our lives.”// Review of “Suicide Club” by Rachel Heng

Title: Suicide Club
Author: Rachel Heng
Genre:
Sci-fi (dystopia)
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 17/09/19 – 20/09/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book got me out of my reading slump! Yay! It’s not a perfect book but it was entertaining and sometimes (a lot of the time) that is the most important thing.

Suicide Club is set in a future USA where bodily enhancements have advanced to a point where humanity is on the verge of immortality… but not for everybody. Only the best people deserve it. And now a terrorist organisation calling itself The Suicide Club is sending out viral videos, suggesting that endless life isn’t all its cracked up to be.

There are two central characters in this story: Lea and Anja. I’m sure if I check GoodReads there will be plenty of reviews bemoaning the fact that Lea is The WorstTM and not a bit likeable. And she is both of those things, but I found her incredibly compelling anyway. I wanted to see her crack.

It’s a lot easier to sympathise with Anja, though I did find some of her story didn’t really go anywhere. I did like the way she lived her life subversively, though.

Sometimes I felt that the future world didn’t really feel futuristic enough… they still have cars n the future and pay for things with cash when electronic payments aren’t convenient… the New York subway still exists, seemingly in its current form. If you do the maths, it has to be set at least two hundred years into the future and I wasn’t entirely convinced of that.

The plot is slight; a lot of this is about the characters’ journeys. But I found it entertaining, and that was the main thing.


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“Dreams are for mortals.” “Why?” “Because they must die.”// Review of “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Historical fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 22/08/19 – 16/09/19
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

This is one of those books that I completely loved in spite of having a few quibbles with it. It has a beautiful, poetic style that deserves to be absorbed all in one sitting, rather than the dribs and drabs I read it in. I loved it anyway, but I did read it at the wrong time.

Moreno-Garcia really captures the atmosphere of 1920s Mexico. I felt like I was there. The haircuts and the architecture and the dances they did, it was all there.

I really loved both Casiopea and Hun-Kamé and I enjoyed watching their relationship develop. I wasn’t really sure which direction it was going to take at the end – a happy ending seemed unlikely but I was maybe secretly hoping a bit. In the end, I think their story ends the only way it can, and I can assure you, I definitely smiled as I read the final pages.

did feel sometimes that the battles were won quite easily. The main characters got the upper-hand and immediately their foes just handed over the prizes… but in a way, I felt that added to the mythological feel, and the way the prose is written to make you feel like you’re listening to a story being told to you by someone who had it told to them… So after it’s been passed down a few times it’s just “look, this thing happened, don’t question it. that’s the way the story goes.”

I have no idea if I’m making any sense…

Anyway, read this book for atmospheric, slow-burn romantic, poetic historical fantasy. It won’t disappoint.


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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Women in Black” by Madeleine St. John

Title: The Women in Black
Author: Madeleine St. John
Genre: Historical fiction/slice of life
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 16/08/19 – 22/08/19
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This book is widely considered to be something of a modern Australian classic, and I have to admit, when I first started reading, I was expecting something a bit deeper. It is really a bit of a fluff piece.

But don’t let that put you off. Sure – not a lot happens, but the descriptions really place you in 1950s Sydney, and the characters are all unique and vibrant.

I enjoyed the framing device of work at Goodes’ Department Store – each of the women in black (so named because of the black dresses they wear at work) has her own story outside that the others may or may not be aware of.

My favourite character was Magda, a Slovenian migrant who works in Model Gowns, and takes new high-school gradute Lisa under her wing. I also felt for Patty, who has an unfeeling, clueless husband and gossipy sisters, but who is heading towards a  proper happy ending by the end of it.

Anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows that I am not generally a fan of character-driven fiction, but I definitely found this one engaging and fun.


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

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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “Women of Wasps and War” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: Women of Wasps and War
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 11/08/19 – 12/08/19
Rating:
★★★☆

Review:

Oof. This was a powerful book. I read about 20% of it one night and then the rest of it the following day because I couldn’t put it down. A lot of my reactions were simply “Argh!” or “Mmngnng” and could probably be summed up better in reaction gifs than a proper review, but I’ll try my best. Here goes.

D’este has crafted a believable patriarchal fantasy world where men do not question their authority and women know their place. This arrangement has been interrupted by war, and many of the women who ran Ambrovna in the men’s absence are not so keen to see it go back to the way it was before.

I was constantly frustrated by the men’s inability to see the women’s point of view, and I appreciated the way D’Este explored the fact that you can love an individual dearly while still not recognising your privilege overall, or conoversely while knowing that your loved one is the oppressor.

Some of the women did terrible things in the hopes of earning their place back as head of the household, and I have to admit that it generally felt completely justified. Of course, these things come at a price and a foreboding feeling I had about one incident turned out to be correct.

I have to admit I did feel the epilogue took away from the power of the final chapter, but that it really the only complaint I had. This book is addicitve.

Trigger warnings for graphic physical and emotional abuse.


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

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“Potentially evil. Potentially good, too, I suppose. Just this huge powerful potentiality waiting to be shaped.” // Review of “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Title: Good Omens
Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Genre: Urban fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 04/08/19 – 11/08/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Well, this is a bit awkward. From what everyone’s been saying, I was expecting this to be a 5 star read. And it definitely started off that way. But after a while, I just wished I was reading a Discworld book instead.

There is definitely a fascinating premise here: what happens if the child destined to bring about Armageddon, rather than being evil, is just… basically a good kid?

I think my main issue was that there were a lot of characters, and most of them could have been done without, and the same story still told. I often felt like characters were being introduced just to give the authors a chance to be funny, such as with the Other Four Horsemen. There were pages devoted their conversations and they didn’t even make it to Armageddon.

I honestly feel you could have just had the Crowley and Aziraphale scenes and the Adam and Them scenes, and had roughly the same story. Everyone else I found a bit superfluous.

I do wonder if some of this comes from the fact that I have never clicked with Neil Gaiman’s writing. While it is not written in such a way that you can point to certain parts and say “Gaiman wrote that bit” or “Pratchett wrote that section”, perhaps the Gaiman influence is what put me off? I have always enjoyed Discworld and as I said, reading Good Omens made me wish I was reading a Discworld I haven’t read yet (and there are stll a lot of those).


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“It’s all a mix here in Appalachia.” // Review of “Cleaning House” by Jeanne G’Fellers

Title: Cleaning House (Appalachian Elementals #1)
Author: Jeanne G’Fellers
Genre: Queer fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 18/07/19 – 03/08/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

There is a lot to really like in this book. I have realised over the past year or so that I much prefer the homey, witchy kind of fantasy with personal stakes over epic sword-and-sorcery save-the-whole-world kind of fantasy. Cleaning House very much falls into the former category, with its blend of Appalachian folklore and witchcraft with Chrsitianity and other spiritual elements. I really enjoyed Cent’s family group, and how they were tied to each to each other throughout centuries of iterations. I also really loved Cent’s Chicago friend, Betty, and how they supported each other.

I did find that the story itself dragged, as so much of the book is given to world-building and the history of the characters (they have a long history). I know that this is a matter of personal preference as other readers will love the slow-moving narrative exploring those relationships. Another thing where personal preference probably affected my enjoyment is that I prefer to read about characters falling in love and getting together… an established relationship such as Cent and Stowne’s is less interesting to me, even if they are rediscovering each other.

Long story short, while parts of this book were right up my alley, other aspects of it just weren’t rewlly my thing. I’m pretty sure the right reader will love this.


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Book Review: “Mother Tongue” by Julie Mayhew

Title: Mother Tongue
Author: Julie Mayhew
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 29/06/19 – 01/08/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I was unfamiliar with the Beslan school massacre of 2004 until I read the summary of this book. I requested a copy because I wanted to know more, and I also thought this might be a book to really move me.

In the end, I was a bit disappointed. The writing style made me feel very disconnected from the main character, Darya, and what was going on in her life. I think this was probably a deliberate stylistic choice. For one, the idea of it is that the story has been translated from Darya’s Russian recount of the story. And secondly, she is heavily broken by the events that take place. But ultimately it meant I didn’t feel truly connected and when I wasn’t reading, I didn’t feel the need to pick up the book again (hence taking so long to finish).

Having said that, the writing is consistent and tight. It probably would appeal to other readers. The story doesn’t… really go anywhere? It is really about Darya as a character, rather than any plot, which is not my favourite style. The Beslan siege didn’t actually play that big a part in the story, either. I think the story could have progressed from any number of personal tragedies.

The story comes full circle in the end, which I think some readers will find satisfying, but I found it a bit pointless. Actually, “pointless” sounds a bit harsh, but I did sort of feel that I was back where I started.


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

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