#AWW2020 Book Review: “Breaking the Surface” by Rebecca Langham

Title: Breaking the Surface (Outsider Project #2)
Author: Rebecca Langham
Genre: Sci-fi/LGBTI+
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 03/11/2020– 10/11/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This book is stronger than its predecessor. It’s good to see a writer build on their debut and improve their skills! And even though it had been nearly a year since I read the first book, there were enough small reminders of the events in that book for me to not have too much trouble getting my head back into this world.

I loved finding out more about where the Outsiders came from – there’s one big bombshell in particular that changes everything. But as well as that, learning how this origin story affects the nature of the Outsiders (or Celestials, as they come to be called in this book) was also a really interesting bit of world building.

I also really enjoyed the political side of the story this time around. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and that was definitely the case for MC Lydia’s father, Damon. I really enjoyed his arc, and also the fact that even once he is ostensibly on Lydia’s side, there’s still a long way to go before she forgives him.

The story ends in a good place with a satisfying conclusion – the characters still have a lot of work to do, but we know things have worked out for the most part.


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

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “A Pocketful of Eyes” by Lili Wilkinson

Title: A Pocketful of Eyes
Author: Lili Wilkinson
Genre: Mystery/contemporary 
Audience: YA
Date Read: 15/11/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

I read this book over the course of one afternoon. I had to suspend my disbelief quite often, but gosh darn it, it was fun!

Bee has a summer job working for a taxidermist called Gus, and she’s enjoying the routine they’ve built up. Then suddenly a new guy called Toby is also in the office. And Gus is behaving strangely, just before he winds up dead. The police rule it a suicide, but Bee isn’t so sure. Drawing on her lifelong obsession with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, Bee is determined to solve the mystery of who killed her mentor.

I had to wonder whether Bee was supposed to autistic, or perhaps ADHD. She definitely displayed traits of both, though it is never mentioned on the page. I’ve seen this before where authors give themselves an out in case they get it ‘wrong’ – “what, no, I didn’t write them as autistic! I never mentioned anything about that!” Perhaps it’s just that Bee is very observant and logical and just likes routine, and gets very focused on things to the point of basically ignoring all else. But I did have to wonder.

I really enjoyed lots of the details of taxidermy and that it included a lot of details about the behind-the-scenes of a museum. I work in the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector, so a lot of it was stuff I already knew, but I liked that it was included. There were a few times where I picked up on things that probably weren’t quite right, but most readers aren’t going to notice that.

The mystery was a bit convoluted but it actually all makes a lot of sense. I probably didn’t pick up on all the clues at the time, but they were all there. It does rely on the police being a bit useless at their job in order for the teenagers to come in with the big reveal at the end (was there no autopsy?), but look, it’s a YA mystery. Just roll with it.

I enjoyed the romance aspect as well. Toby is such a nerd! (Though I sometimes wondered if he was a nerd so that Lili Wilkinson had an excuse to just dump random animal mating facts into the dialogue – there didn’t seem a whole lot of point to it happening so often). There were times when I was like “Guys, you have each other’s numbers, why are you not just picking up the phone!” I appreciated that Toby cooled off when Bee came out and accused him of murder [would have been weird if he’d been so in love with her to not do that!], but that it all worked out.

I recommend this one when you need something light and fun, with an unusual setting and quirky characters. Spend your Sunday afternoon on it!


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

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Ripper” by Angela Slatter

Title: Ripper
Author: Angela Slatter
Genre: Historical/magical realism (fantasy)
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 04/11/2020– 05/11/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Ooh, I really enjoyed this supernatural take on the Jack the Ripper murders.

Kit Caswell has disguised herself as a man and is beginning her new career as a police constable. It pays better than her previous job in a milliner’s and she has her mother and sick brother to support. But it becomes personal when prostitutes being to be horrifically murdered in Whitechapel.

Having just read another novel set around the time of the Ripper murders, I was familiar enough with the case to be rather concerned when Mary Jane Kelly became a friend of Kit’s. I knew things weren’t going to end well for her. This really increased the tension, especially as the characters laid their plans.

The mystery is well constructed and I was surprised when I reached the reveal of the Ripper’s identity; though the clues are all there, I don’t think it’s one you’ll necessarily see coming.

I really loved the idea of the witches, and that all women have a certain degree of power. This aspect really comes into play at the end and I loved the way it worked (I’m being vague; I don’t want to get spoilery).

This one is only short as it was originally featured in an anthology, and I recommend if you want some historical magical realism and grisly murders one evening.


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

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#AWW2020 “There’s one relationship I’ve neglected my whole life: my relationship with myself.” // Review of “It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake” by Claire Christian

Title: It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake
Author: Claire Christian
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 11/10/2020– 12/10/2020
Rating: 
★★★★★

Review: 

noniblakecoverI have followed Claire Christian on Instagram ever since reading her debut YA novel Beautiful Mess so I had been seeing a lot about this new release. I decided to grab it when I saw it at the library, but I had no idea how much it would affect me.

I’m writing this review two weeks later, and I’ve been thinking about the book all this time. The idea of a woman taking control of her life and making choices on the fly and not worrying about what people might think… I’m trying to embrace that these days and seeing a character who also struggles with it but learns to really lean into her own desires and wants… that was very inspiring!

Noni is such a relatable character and I saw a lot of myself in her, especially the way she struggled with insecurities. Even towards the end, she was still trying to convince herself that her Pleasure Quest had just been for a little while, and that all good things must come to an end and she has to go back to how things were. The idea that living her life for her could only be a temporary thing was so ingrained. We are so conditioned to put other people before ourselves.

It’s worth noting that Noni’s Pleasure Quest is not just about sexual pleasure, though that plays a significant role. It’s pleasure in the little things – dancing at a club and not caring who sees, feeling incredible as you stride down the street in a new outfit you would have never dared wear before, or being comfortable enough in your body to take part in a nude photo shoot.

If I had not started this book in the evening and needed to go to bed, I would have read it in the one day. It was engrossing and delightful and I couldn’t put it down.


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

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “Future Girl” by Asphyxia

Title: Future Girl
Author: Asphyxia
Genre: Scifi/dystopia/contemporary 
Audience: YA
Date Read: 10/10/2020– 14/10/2020
Rating: 
★★★★★

Review:

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before. It snuck up on me a bit. At first I was finding it a bit slow and then I reached a point where I couldn’t put it down.

Future Girl is set in a near-future Melbourne and there’s the temptation to call it a dystopia, but it’s not really that. Well, maybe kind of. It’s not like your usual YA Dystopia where the oppressive regime is really obvious about it and you don’t understand why the revolution hasn’t happened earlier.

It’s the more insidious oppression, where the government is doing some good stuff, which makes the population a little less inclined to question the iffy stuff. And that aspect is done really well. In fact, I suspect a lot of the population in the book had no idea the dodgy stuff was going on.

This is an Own Voices book. Asphyxia is a Deaf author/artist/activist and so is the MC, Piper. Piper has grown up wearing hearing aids and lip-reading, and it’s not until she meets Marley, a CODA (child of a Deaf adult), that she begins to learn Auslan. I loved seeing her enthusiasm for her new language, and the scenes where she interacts with Robbie, Marley’s Deaf mother, were wonderful. The descriptions are amazing! I tried doing some of the signs based on the written descriptions and I am sure I did a miserable job, but I am planning on spending some time on Asphyxia’s website watching her introductory Auslan videos.

I was actually surprised to discover I still remembered how to fingerspell the entire alphabet in Auslan, after learning in primary school. It wasn’t taught in class, and I can’t even remember how we ended up learning it, but we did, and… maybe that should be an official thing in primary schools? Just maybe?

It also reminded me of being a kid in the 90s and trying to replicate the signing described in the Baby-sitter’s Club books when Jessie was sitting a Deaf kid and learning ASL. Which makes you realise how few Deaf characters there are in books for kids and YA, since the only other book I can think of where characters use sign language is Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep, which I read earlier this year.

The book is also a bit of introduction to activism for those who might be interested in it. We follow Piper as she becomes aware of issues around her, and starts trying to find a way she can advocate for her beliefs. We’re there when things go wrong and when she has the courage to really stand up for herself.

The idea of the book is that you are reading Piper’s art journal, and it is absolutely beautiful! Every page is illustrated in some way, even if it’s just a border made to look like washi tape around the edges. There are also artworks that Piper talks about drawing, which you often actually see a couple of pages before the entry where she writes about drawing it.

One of my favourite aspects of the format was that as I was reading, I noticed many times the word “deaf” had a capital D over it in red. It’s not until the last third of the book where Marley explains to Piper the difference between dead and Deaf, and she describes going through the journal and making the corrections.

You won’t find another book quite like this one and I definitely recommend picking this up.


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

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Book Review: “The Veiled War” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: The Veiled War (The Viper and the Urchin #8)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk/fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 05/10/20 – 07/10/20
Rating:
★★★★★

Review:

Please note: this review may contain minor spoilers for the previous books in this series.

Argh, I’m a terrible ARC reviewer, I swear with each time a new book in this series comes out, my review is even later.

After a brief foray into Adelma’s backstory in the previous book, The Veiled War reunites us with our favourite ragtag group of spies. Celine was quite smart in inserting The Opium Smuggler into the series where she did. Characters introduced in The Opium Smuggler had parts to play in this next installment and it was good to already be familiar with them; it would have slowed things down to give them the introduction they needed in this setting.

Once again, we get to see more of Damsport. This time, it’s the Mansion where the Marchioness lives, along with the Damsport prison. The world-building just keeps getting bigger and better in this series.

Character-wise, I think Rafe and Cruickshank were my favourites this time around, even if I did keep wanting to shake Rafe into Just. Talking. To. Rory. But still, I enjoyed the way his arc progressed. Ditto for Cruickshank, as one of the older characters, it was hard seeing her wrestle with the new war coming to their shores.

The political intrigue was also great, especially when you realise how long things have been going on under the characters’ noses. I’m looking forward to seeing how this all pans out.


Thank you to Celine Jeanjean for a gratis copy of The Veiled War 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) and The Opium Smuggler (book 7) by clicking their titles.

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ARC Review: “People of Abandoned Character” by Clare Whitfield

Title: People of Abandoned Character
Author: Clare Whitfield
Genre: Historical/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 29/09/2020 – 04/10/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was still a great read.

I was expecting a fast-paced thriller, with main character Susannah racing against the clock to discover whether her husband is Jack the Ripper and possibly prevent the next murder.

Instead, it was slower, with a sense of dread creeping insidiously under the surface. The book takes it time looking at attitudes towards both women and queer people at the time. It doesn’t shy away from vivid descriptions of life in Whitechapel and other slums of London in the 1880s.

I loved the way (is loved the right word? Probably not) the Jack the Ripper murders were tied into the plot of Susannah as she tries to make her marriage work despite Thomas becoming more and more erratic and volatile. In particular the way the murder of Mary Jane Kelly is tied in is especially clever, though when I try to sleep tonight I am probably going to regret enlarging the police photograph of her body on Wikipedia to compare it to the description in the book (pro-tip: don’t do that).

Susannah is not an entirely reliable narrator and she’s definitely the sort of character to be labelled “unlikable” with all the baggage that comes with that descriptor. I imagine she would have been a difficult character to write, particularly in the first person, and I applaud Clare Whitfield for how consistently she wrote Susannah. This is Whitfield’s debut novel and I think she will definitely be an author to watch out for in the future!


Thank you to Zeus Books for the gratis copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Holiday Brew” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Title: Holiday Brew (Belladonna U #2)
Author: Tara Moss
Genre: Paranormal/urban fantasy
Intended audience: New Adult
Date Read: 29/09/2020– 30/09/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I have really enjoyed the Belladonna U novellas I have read in the past, so I was pretty excited when I saw there were more up for grabs.

This is such a fun series, set in an alternate version of Australia where magical ability is commonplace, and where universities are divided into the College of the Real, where magic is studied, and the College of the Unreal, for non-magical disciplines. There’s all the usual content you’d expect in a series about uni students: relationships, share houses, drinking, concerns for the future… all with added magical shenanigans.

It’s also got a distinctly Australian feel, which I love about all of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ books.

There are many POV characters, some written in first person, some written in third. I have to admit I sometimes I forgot whose perspective I was reading, and got a bit confused. This was probably not helped by the fact that it had been quite a while since I read Fake Geek Girl and The Bromancers, so it took me a while to remember who was who.

I didn’t find that these issues detracted too much. The plots are fun! I particularly liked Halloween is Not a Verb. They stories and tone are very light-hearted, even as they deal with some big issues, and I really like that. I’m definitely hoping to read more of these characters and this world!


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

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “The Blood Countess” by Tara Moss

Title: The Blood Countess (Pandora English #1)
Author: Tara Moss
Genre: Paranormal/urban fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 15/09/2020– 22/09/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review:

You know when you really wish you enjoyed a book more than you did? Yeah, this was one of those.

There’s a lot in this book – ghosts, vampires, and zombies to name a few – and I can’t help but think it would have been better to introduce some of them later on. As it was, I didn’t really feel that all the supernatural elements got the introduction they deserved.

I enjoyed the glimpses into the NYC fashion scene, something I know Tara Moss writes of with experience. And I really enjoyed seeing Pandora research the BloodofYouth beauty cream and expose it. Maybe that’s because I’m a nerd like that and would do the same kind of digging.

I was excited when a sexy Civil War-era ghost showed up in Pandora’s new home. I’m a sucker for a ghost romance… but that all happened very quickly and didn’t really have any build-up, which was a bit disappointing. And speaking of lack of build-up, the main antagonist was introduced quite late in the piece and was then defeated really easily.

This is a series opener, and I have a feeling that now this book has done a lot of the setup, I could enjoy the subsequent books more. While I didn’t find this to be the most gripping YA paranormal, I haven’t entirely written off Pandora English just yet.


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

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“Books. Moonlight. Melodrama.” // Review of “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Mexican Gothic
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Gothic horror
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 09/08/2020– 12/08/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review:

Hoo boy. This was one of my most anticipated 2020 reads, but I have to put the disclaimer that I maybe didn’t know what I was getting into? I loved Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow enough that I wanted to check out her haunted house book. This is despite only managing to get through 30 pages of the last haunted house book I tried because I am a wuss.

It may be that my lack of experience with the horror genre, and with gothic horror in particular, meant I didn’t know what to expect. Some of it was expected, like the creepy, barely accessible house with a lot of death in its history, the awful people living there, and strange dreams and glowing apparitions. But I have to admit the final twist lost me! Without saying anything too spoilery, is that sort of thing common in gothic horror?

Still, the historical world-building and the characterisations were spot on. There’s also a lot of exploration of themes such as racism and misogyny, and colonialism is also an important aspect of this story. I had real visceral reactions, both good and bad, to some of these characters and the things they said and their ways of thinking. This was the reason I wanted to see it through to the end, even when things got a bit too strange for me…


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