“Without the threat of suffering, we can’t experience true joy.” // Review of “Scythe” by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1)
Author:
Neal Shusterman
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 26/03/20 – 01/04/20
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

Hmmm…. I don’t actually know where to start with this book. I liked it! Don’t get me wrong. I just… wasn’t entirely convinced by the world it was set in, which meant I struggled to believe why some of the events would take place.

Just a note that this review will probably be kind of spoilery because I’m picking apart a few things. So read on at your own risk.

One of my main qualms with the story was the idea that humanity has given its power over to an all-knowing AI called The Thunderhead, which came into being when the cloud developed self-awareness. The narration kept mentioning how Thunderhead was the sum of all human knowledge and that humanity now “knew all there was to know” and that “there was nothing left to learn” and I just… how did they know that? Did the Thunderhead tell them so and they just accepted it?

And while was acknowledged that perfect lives with no threats to existence lead to lives of complacency and drudgery, no one ever felt like they ought to do anything about it, which I found a bit frustrating.

I never really felt attached to either of the main characters. They had no chemistry and their romance felt like an afterthought… apart form an initial spark of attraction, I never felt like there was much chemistry. To be honest, I spent most of the book wishing I was reading about Scythe Faraday and Scythe Curie at the very beginning of the post-mortality age. That would have interested me a lot more. Even Goddard, who was a pretty 2D villain, would have been interesting to see in the early stages of his career as a Scythe.

Sometimes the pacing was odd and what should have been important events, such as Citra’s name being cleared of murder, happened off-screen. I’m not necessarily saying the book should have been longer; it’s already 450 pages. But the focus felt like it was sometimes on the wrong thing.

Phew. Okay. Yes, so far this reads more like a 2 star review than a 3.5… so why the higher rating? Well, I really did love Faraday and Curie, and the more I found about them, the more I liked them. Flouting the Scythe Commandments in the way they did and the ramifications got me quite invested in their story. As I said, that’s what I have would have liked to have read, more so than Citra and Rowan’s… training montage? (Also I will admit I am sucker for a good forbidden romance and I felt there was more to this one than to Citra and Rowan’s).

And regardless of how I felt about the plot, there is no doubt that Neal Shusterman can write. I found this when I read another of his YA dystopias, Unwind, in 2016. There’s a scene in that book that I can still imagine vividly, despite the years and the many books that have passed. That doesn’t happen to me very often.

And Scythe was similar. There’s a visceral quality to the descriptions. You really feel like you’re there. And I was in that strange place I sometimes end up in with books where I wasn’t that interested in the characters but I still wanted to know how everything turned out. The book has a really strong ending. I know this is a trilogy but it almost stands on its own, just as Unwind did, despite being first in a series.

Will I continue with the series? Haven’t decided yet. I have put a reserve on my library’s copy of the audio book, but it’s not available for three months. By then I might not be so worried, but it’s on my list for now. It is possible that now that the first book has set everything up and Citra and Rowan have completed their training, the second and third books will really get going and I will find them more engaging. That’s something I’ll definitely bear in mind.

P. S. Since I mentioned it so much, here’s my review of Unwind from 2016.


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#AWW2020 “First breakfast, and then saving the world.” // Review of “Greenhaelen” by L. A. Webster

Title: Greenhaelen (Chronicles of Algarth #1)
Author:
L. A. Webster
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 04/02/20 – 10/02/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

Quick disclaimer: L. A. Webster is a friend from the #6amAusWriters group on Twitter, and I received an ARC for free. I promise that neither of those facts have affected my review, though.

Greenhaelen has a beautiful lyrical narrative style. I want to say it feels a bit like an older style fantasy novel, even though I’m not quite sure how to explain what I mean by that. It eases you in gently, lets you get to know the characters, gives you some beautiful descriptions of gardens, and then takes you on an adventure. 

It’s the kind of story where I wanted to keep reading even when I was stuck at work because I wanted to know if my theories were correct (yes,  had theories!). 

There’s a great cast of characters, both good and bad. Sara as a main character really carries the story. My favourite, though, was Kelan, the teenage son of the woman who takes Sara in when she first arrives in Algarth. First, because he seemed to think he was cleverer than he really was (in a way that all 19-year-olds tend to) but then by the end he really came into his own and really helped the group and I was so proud, I wanted to hug him! 

The story is tightly-plotted, though there were a couple of times where characters needed to get from A to B so a couple of chapters would be devoted to travelling and not much else. This wasn’t too bad, though. It mostly sticks to the POVs of Sara and a few others, but gives us enough from other characters perspectives when necessary for us to know what’s going on. There’s magic and adventure and politics and intrigue, and I love how it all culminated at the end. 

There are parallels between The Blight, an ecological disaster destroying farms and lives in Algarth, and our own struggles with climate change, and I really enjoyed the way this was dealt with without being heavy-handed. 

This is the first in a series, and I am very much looking forward to book two and exploring Algarth further!


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

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Book Review: “The Shadow Palace” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: The Shadow Palace (The Viper and the Urchin #6)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk/fantasy
Intended audience: Upper YA/Adult
Date Read: 28/01/20 – 01/02/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

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

It took me a little while to get into this next Viper and the Urchin book, but I think that is because I was feeling a bit reading slumpy. Having said that, I think the story itself did pick up in the second half and that did help me to become more engaged.

This instalment picks up where the previous one left off, with Rory and Rafe trying to snag a meeting with the Minister Voynia in order to aid their mission for the Old Girl back in Damsport.

One thing I really enjoy about this series, especially the books not set in Damsport, is trying to spot the real-life cultures that inspired the ones in the books. I was imagining the Airnian Court much like Versailles – ridiculously wide dresses, wigs, powedered faces, vacuous courtiers… Celine Jeanjean’s descriptions are once again strong and vibrant and I had a really clear picture in my head.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but there was a particular aspect of Longinus’ arc that had me genuinely wondering how he would get himself out of the tight spot he was in. It was very touch and go for a while. He also had some really great character development as a result of what happens to him in Airnia. I love seeing a favourite character evolve.

We also learned a few things about Rafe that we didn’t know before and I think that’s going to play a bigger part in the upcoming books – he’s going to have to learn to be honest with Rory or she’s going to ditch him.

There’s big political stuff going on, too, and now that the team have found some answers in AIrnia, it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out in Damsport.

Even though this book wasn’t my favourite in the series, it was still highly readable and as always, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the follow-up!


(Thank you to Celine Jeanjean for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. This did not affect my opinions in any way)

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) and The White Hornet (book 5) by clicking their titles.

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Cover Reveal! Greenhaelen by L. A. Webster

Hello everyone! I’m really proud to be helping out with this cover reveal today.

The #6amAusWriters group over on Twitter are very special to me and L. A. Webster is one of our members. I’m so excited that you’ll all get to read Greenhaelen, when it comes out on February 17.

I’ve been hearing great things about it from the ARC readers who are ahead of me with reading it, and I’ll be diving in soon.

And of course, it doesn’t hurt when a book has a cover as gorgeous as this one:


Argh, it’ so shiny! Can’t wait until I have a copy on my shelf!

Here’s the blurb:

Self-employed gardener Sara Martin has known from childhood that gardens are enchanted places. But she never expected the magic to be literal.

Miraculously swept away to a landscape dying in the grip of an ecological disaster , Sara discovers that the enchantment is as real as the danger. And when a forbidden healing power manifests in her , she is forced to question everything she has built her life on.

Uncertain how far she can trust her outlaw companions, pursued by an enemy intent on her destruction, Sara must decide how much she is willing to risk for a place and a people that are not her own.

And she will be forced to face the question: what is the price for choosing a safe, little life?

Greenhaelan is Book One of the Chronicles of Algarth.

IF that sounds like your cup of tea, you can add it to Goodreads here. Pre-order links will be available soon.

Watch out for my review in the next week or two!

#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “Blackbirch: The Beginning” by K. M. Allan

Title: The Beginning (Blackbirch #1)
Author:
K. M. Allan
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

Quick disclaimer: K. M. Allan is a friend from the #6amAusWriters group on Twitter, and I received an ARC for free. I promise that neither of those facts have affected my review, though.

Witchcraft is my favourite form of magic, and the magick in Blackbirch definitely falls under that heading. From the start, Allan creates an almost other-worldly town in Blackbirch. It almost felt like the town wasn’t quite in the 21st century.

To be honest, my favourite character was Eve, the girl who’s something of an outcast because of her fascination with witchcraft and the town’s history. There are some hints at the end of the book as to where her character arc is likely to lead and I’m really looking forward to seeing that play out (without spoiling too much, I think it’s going to get messy).

None of that is to say the other characters weren’t interesting. It took me a little while to warm to Josh, mostly because he spends a large chunk of the novel being mopey and a bit of a stick in the mud. But there are reasons why he was doing that, which come out later. Once he was a bit more involved in the action, I was able to get more invested in him.

I am definitely jealous of Allan’s ability to write a climax – there’s a fantastic buildup to a confrontation in the woods that I really enjoyed.  And while most of the major plotlines are wrapped up, there are still plenty of opportunities for things to unfold in the coming books. I for one am really looking forward to it!

 


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Book Review: “Bitter Falls” by Rachel Caine

Title: Bitter Falls (Stillhouse Lake #4)
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre:
Thriller
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 13/01/2020 – 17/01/2020
Rating:★☆

Review:

I’m not sure if this is the last book in the Stillhouse Lake series or not (a few things at the end made me feel it might be), but either way, I think it is the last one I will read.

The depiction of the PTSD all of the Proctors are experiencing is really well done. There’s a scene early on during an active shooter drill at the kids’ schools, and it was particularly heartbreaking seeing Connor’s reaction.

I also thought the cult was depicted well, including the self-proclaimed prophet who lead the group, the way many women were the most stout believers, and the whole setup itself. The action sequences at the end of the book are well done, as usual. There is one explosion that is particularly chilling, knowing what its intended purpose was even if it didn’t achieve it.

If I had realised that the case Gwen is working on in this book was closely connected to the events of the previous one, I might have re-read it beforehand. As it was, being eight months between instalments, I didn’t remember all the ins and outs and so I felt a bit lost. It’s not as connected to Wolfhunter River as Killman Creek is to Stillhouse Lake, but I would recommend having the events of Book 3 fresh in your mind.

I also couldn’t help feeling frustrated with some of the decisions the characters made, particularly running into things without solid plans, and in contradiction to what law enforcement has advised them. I know that without them doing things like this, there is no story, and that it was quite in character for Gwen, but it reached the point where I couldn’t suspend my disbelief anymore.

All this meant that I was never especially keen to pick the book up, and that I wasn’t terribly engaged when I did. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic series, and Stillhouse Lake/Killman Creek as a duology are definitely among my favourite thrillers ever. But as I mentioned at the top of the review, I think I’ve reached my limit with this series.


Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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Book Review: “Don’t Read The Comments” by Eric Smith

Title: Don’t Read The  Comments
Author: Eric Smith
Genre:
Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 07/01/2020 – 13/01/2020
Rating:
★★★★★

Review:

I’ve got to admit that when I requested this book on NetGalley, I was not expecting it to be one that kept me up reading past bedtime. And yet….

This book has a lot of really topical, timely themes: doxing, online bullying and poverty, and of course, your more usual YA themes of figuring out what to do after high-school and first loves and coming of age.

really loved the two main characters! Divya is strong and resourceful, and there for others. She’s also dorky, which is why she gets on with Aaron so well. Aaron was a fantastic example of non-toxic masculinity in a sea of trolls. I liked that it confronted his privilege – that Divya has to assume he could be as bad as the rest until proven otherwise, and how this realisation takes him completely by surprise. And I had such a silly grin on my face when they started sending each other heart emojis over the chat.

I also thought the horror of knowing trolls have your home address was really well depicted as was the realisation of “Wow… they’re actually kind of pathetic, aren’t they?” when the trolls are faced in person. It doesn’t take away the horror, but for a little while you feel that they actually can be beaten, even as they keep trying to sound their battle cry as they’re dragged away.

Also there’s the jerks like Aaron’s ”friend” Jason who, while not exactly part of the group, don’t denounce them and in fact, want to impress them. I knew from the moment I met him Jason would be The Worst and he did not disappoint.

I loved the descriptions of the Reclaim the Sun game and Divya’s livestreams. I really felt that Eric Smith is a nerd/geek himself and has spent time playing this type of game. It all rang true to me, and that’s something I have found lacking in other books about nerd culture.

All in all,  this one comes highly recommended!


(Thank you to Harlequin Australia for sending a free copy my way in exchange for an honest review)

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “It Sounded Better In My Head” by Nina Kenwood

Title: It Sounded Better In My Head
Author:
Nina Kenwood
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This book was certainly sweet and I loved how painfully realistic it was at times. But some pacing issues and the lack of characterisation from anyone other than the main character left me feeling like there could have been more.

Natalie’s life is diverging from the Plan. Her parents announce their separation on Christmas Day, her two best friends have started dating so she feels like a third wheel, and she’s just finished high-school and doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She’s also still dealing with image issues that have haunted her throughout her teen years thanks to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).  

Since this book is in the first person, we are very much in Natalie’s head. And she has a lot going on in there. But it did mean I felt like I didn’t really get to know the other characters. There were flashes of personality from them, such as Lucy covering awkwardness amongst her friends with OTT bubbliness, Mariella with her love of gossip about her children… but Alex is the love interest and Natalie spends so much of her time thinking about him and yet as I write this, there’s very little I could tell you about Alex as a person.

There’s also the fact that sometimes the pacing was strange. The plot would grind to a half for several pages while we got some of Natalie’s backstory. Sure, it was good to know about her and some of it moved the plot (such as learning how she met Zach and Lucy) but a lot of the time it made me forget what had just been happening.

Apart from that, though, the writing is really engaging. I flew through the pages. The messiness of teenage friendships is so realistic, I could feel my guts churning on behalf of the characters. There were times when Natalie’s body image issues and insecurities felt a little repetitive, but at the same time, I recognise the cyclical nature of such thoughts in real life.

On the other hand, I really liked how sex positive the book was, particularly in regards to its female characters. It’s mentioned that Natalie knows how to give herself an orgasm, and Lucy is the first one of their friendship group to have sex. While it’s a shock to the others, it’s still shown in a positive light.

This is Nina Kenwood’s debut and I will definitely be watching out for more of her work.


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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “Beneath the Surface” by Rebecca Langham

Title: Beneath the Surface (Outsiders Project #1)
Author: Rebecca Langham
Genre: Sci-fi
Target audience: Adult
Dates read:
24/12/2019 – 30/12/2019
Rating: ★★

Review:

This is kind of a slow book, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It has a lot going on in terms of themes, characters and plot, and explores a lot of it really well. Unfortunately I didn’t engage quite enough with it to bump my rating any higher.

Lydia is a politician’s daughter and has grown up believing that segregation of the alien race they call Outsiders is only natural. But when she takes a teaching contract at the Outside colony, she realises all is not as it seems. And there’s one particular Outsider, Alessia, to whom she feels particularly drawn…

Often I find that I am interested in the development of a relationship up until the point where the characters get together, at which point it gets boring. I actually found the opposite with Lydia and Alessia. I didn’t actually feel there was much build-up or reason for them to feel so strongly about each other, but I loved reading about them together! Once that happened, I really felt the depth of feeling between them.

I mentioned before that there a lot of themes, and a lot of them are talked about. Literally, the characters have a lot of conversations. There is a lot of talking. I’m sure many readers might find this irritating, and it is slow-moving for that reason. There are some dramatic scenes, but I wouldn’t say there’s any action to speak of.

Still, I was  interested enough in the world-building and characters to continue reading. There are some pretty big reveals dropped towards the end that pave the way nicely for the conclusion of the story in the second book, and I defintiely want to see the fallout from the events in this one.


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

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#AWW2019 “Australia is alive with the long history of the Indigenous people, our culture and our presence.” // Book Review: “Welcome to Country” by Marcia Langton

Title: Welcome to Country:
Author: Professor Marcia Langton
Genre: Non-fiction/travel guide
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
05/12/19 – 27/12/19
Rating:
(chosen to give rating)

Review:

This book made me want to go travelling! Welcome To Country is an Australian travel-guide with a focus on the cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians.

It opens with chapters about Indigenous history and culture, and how colonisation caused so much dispossession, loss of culture, and outright genocide.

There are also sections on Indigneous notions of kinship and ceremony, and other cultural aspects. As the book is written as a travel guide, none of this goes into huge amounts of depth, but it is enough for a primer, which is what the average reader is likely to be looking for.

After this, the book is divided into chapters on each state and territory, and these are further divided into sections on festivals, sporting events, places, galleries, music and other tourist attractions run by Indigenous Australians.

I will admit that I didn’t read this section in the greatest of detail, and mostly skimmed over information related to  travelling to  each place (the font changed and was a lot smaller for this information, and once I started skimming that, I found the whole reading experience a lot better).  But I did pay attention to the names of places and tours, and I wanted to visit so many and give them my support. The Northern Territory and Western Australia are the two longest chapters and the ACT and Torres Strait Islands chapters are the smallest, but they all contain valuable information.

This is such a fantastic resource that should have existed long before 2018! I’ll definitely be consulting it again when I am planning to travel this great land.


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

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