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.

#Medievalathon and General May Reading Wrap-up

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I thought this was going to be another slow reading month, but much to my surprise, I finished quite a few books! I managed to negate what I thought was a trend of reading fewer than five books in odd-numbered months and many more in even-numbered ones. So yay that!

Past Month’s Reading:

I decided to do a Medievalathon wrap-up and my usual monthly wrap-up in the same post, since there didn’t seem to be much point in repeating what I read during the month in two separate posts. So instead of just a list, you also get the prompts these books filled as well. The graphics show you what I earned by fulfilling each prompt.

 A Pristine Book: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (literary spec fic – 4 stars – review).

A book under 300 pages: Greythorne by L. M. Merrington (Gothic/historical fiction – 4 stars – review)

A book with a dragon on the cover: Ochre Dragon by V. E. Patton (fantasy – 4 stars – review)

A scary book: The King of Crows by Libba Bray (The Diviners #4) (YA historical fantasy – 4 stars – review forthcoming)

A book with orange on the cover: Oasis by Katya de Becerra (YA sci-fi – 2.5 stars – review)

A romance: Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories edited by Michael Earp (YA short stories/various genres – stars – review forthcoming).

I also read Writing Killer Cover Copy by Elana Johnson, but it didn’t fit any of the prompts. It was a non-fiction four-star read. 

So to sum up, I made it to the rank of Queen at least, and Empress if you count the non-prompt-y book. Not a bad effort! 

Favourite Bookish Photo:

Uhhh… this was my only bookish photo this month. It also might be my most popular Instagram post ever!  You can see all my bookish photos (plus some RL as well) on my Instagram.

Currently Reading:

Physical book: Burn by Patrick Ness. Alternate history — with dragons! I’m really enjoying this so far. I don’t even notice the pages turning. I was hoping to finish this in May and also earn the shield for Medievalathon (a book you have high expectations for) but I guess if my weapon is bows and arrows, I can’t hold a shield anyway, can I? 

Ebook: Potency (Glow #1) by Aubrey Hadley. I haven’t had any ARCs for a while but I remembered I had two due in June, so I thought I’d best make a start. This was originally slated for release a year ago, but the consistent feedback they received from Netgalley led to them taking time to redevelop a lot of it. This is the updated version (I never received the original). I’m interested to see how it goes. 

Audio book: .Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman, number two in the Arc of Scythe. I didn’t love the first book enough to go out and buy the second, so I waited until my library’s copy became available. I’m really enjoying Greg Tremblay’s narration. I wonder if I might have liked the first book a bit more had I also listened to it. 

Planning to read next:

I’m taking part in the blog tour (my first one!) for What Unbreakable Looks Like by Katie McLaughlin, so I want to make sure I’ve read it well before the due date of my review. 

What are you reading? 🙂

#20BooksOfSummer20 TBR

I’m hoping that 746Books, the host of this reading challenge, doesn’t mind me taking liberties and making my own graphic for it. I wanted to make reference to the fact that it… is really not summer here right now.  😁 I am writing this in front of the heater, wearing woolly socks and with a blanket over my lap.

But why should that preclude me from a challenge?! Sure, I could start my own Southern Hemisphere version and run it December – February, but… eh. That sounds like work!

The 20 Books of Summer challenge is exactly what it sounds like. Between June 1 and September 1, participants can choose to read 10, 15 or 20 books.

I’m going to continue my 2020 challenge of reading all the Australian books that I own.

My Australian fiction bookshelf, showing a number of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list, as well as some I’ve already read, and some I’ll get to a bit later.

I find that even when I only do month-long reading challenges, my final result is always a little different from my intitial TBR, but these are the ones I’m going to try for:

  1. The Beast’s Heart by Lief Shallcross (fantasy)
  2. The Iron Line by L. M. Merrington (historical fiction)
  3. Rheia by Cassandra Page (fantasy)
  4. Where Shadows Rise by Amy Laurens (YA fantasy)
  5. Through Roads Between by Amy Laurens (YA fantasy)
  6. Mud and Glass by Laura E Goodin (fantasy)
  7. Harlequin’s Riddle by Rachel Nightingale (YA fantasy)
  8. The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren (horror)
  9. No Limits by Ellie Marney (YA crime/contemporary)
  10. A Pocketful of Eyes by Lili Wilkinson (YA contemporary)
  11. The Grinding House by Kaaron Warren (horror/short stories)
  12. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (YA fantasy)
  13. The Dry by Jane Harper (Crime)
  14. She’s Having a Laugh ed. George McInroe (non-fiction)
  15. Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer (sci-fi)
  16. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth (historical fiction)
  17. One Summer in Santorini by Sandy Barker (romance)
  18. The Blood Countess by Tara Moss (YA fantasy)
  19. Angel Mage by Garth Nix (YA fantasy)
  20. Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans (YA fantasy)

This might be ambitious because I also have a couple of ARC reviews due in June, and a couple of books from the library still to get through. And book club! But I do have the first week of June off work. So we’ll see. See you on the other side! Or at least, at a June 30 check-in.

#AWW2020 #LoveOzYA Book Review: “Oasis” by Katya de Becerra

Title: Oasis
Author:
Katya de Becerra
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-fi
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 18/05/20 – 22/05/20
Rating: 
★★☆

Review: 

Okay, so this was… weird. I honestly am not sure whether it’s a 2.5 or maybe a 3 star rating but this is definitely a case of not living up to the hype. I was expecting to give this 5 stars when I read it. You know those times when you think “Did I read the same book my friends did? I don’t get it.” Yeeaaaah.

The writing was engaging, I will give it that. There are some great descriptions, though I think the author did better when describing abstract things like the heat or the weird dreams Alif, the MC, has, than when describing more physical things like the sand dunes.

I never believed in the characters, which I think was my main issue. I’m supposed to believe this group have been friends for years, when all they seem to do is quibble. There are multiple times when Alif has the realisation that despite Luke having been part of their group for a long time, she “never really knew him”. Like, surely you have to be really good friends with someone to go on an overseas trip with them. And if you’re that close, and you’re not interested in archaeology, surely you can tell your friend that visiting her dad’s dig site isn’t really for you. You know, rather than getting there and being a jerk about it.

Also Luke and Tommy facing off and getting all macho at each over over Alif… ugh.

The world-building was limited and there was minimal explanation of anything… and then there was the open-ended conclusion that just left me feeling unsatisfied. I genuinely don’t actually understand what happened, and what it meant for the events of the previous 100 pages. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy an open ending, but this was just… a nothing ending.

I’m really disappointed because I’d been really looking forward to it, and I knew a few people who’d really enjoyed it. I guess it was just not to be.


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

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#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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Down the TBR Hole #6

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Welcome to the Down The TBR Hole meme. The aim behind this game is to whittle your TBR down a little by going through and removing books you’ve lost interest in or aren’t truly likely to pick up.

My TBR is not as out of control as some of yours, but I figure it’s probably still worth trying to get it down a bit. I’d love your comments on any of my decisions.

Here’s how it works, feel free to join in!

    1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
    2. Order on ascending date added.
    3. Take the first 5 (or 10 — or even more if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course, if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
    4. Read the synopses of the books
    5. Decide: keep it or should it go?

So, without further ado!

Inconceivable! by Tegan Wren

I’m a bit torn about this one. It sounds cute and I enjoy a royal romance as much as the next person. But it’s a full on romance-to-marriage-to-trying-to-have-a-baby within 350 pages? Honestly sounds like it might be trying to do a bit too much and while I appreciate a book that explores infertility, I’m not sure it’s for me.   

~~ Decision:  GO ~~

5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

Honestly… as much as the idea of a dystopia set in future India feels different and fresh, I think I’d rather read one from an Indian author. Also a few reviewers that I follow say the world-building is sketchy, which means I’m bound to pick it apart and ask too many questions. I’m going to let this one go.

~~ DECISION:  GO ~~


The Forbidden Wish
by Jessica Khoury

This one sounds really good! I’m not sure if it’s a fairytale retelling exactly, but it has djinn! I love djinn! They’re one of my favourite mythological creatures and I am willing to read any book featuring them. So this is a kepeer.

~~ DECISION: KEEP ~~

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H. P. Wood

There’s a note at the end of the blurb for this on stating that it’s not a children’s or YA book. Which is weird because the blurb totally reads like middle-grade. And based on some of the reviews, the things that would have drawn me to it – Coney Island, carnival oddballs – are not actually a major feature. Apparently it’s more about an outbreak of yellow fever, with a bit of magical realism thrown in. Again, I don’t think it’s for me.

~~ DECISION: GO ~~

Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis

Fairytale retelling! Yay! Sci-fi? Yeeehhh? But it sounds intriguing? Gonna keep this one for now.

~~DECISION: KEEP ~~

TODAY: 2 keep, 3 go.

ALL TIME: 14 keep, 16 go.

What do you think of these choices? Have you read any of these titles? Would you have chosen differently?

You can read my previous Down the TBR Hole posts here.

See you next time!

#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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