Book Review: “Touched By Magic” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: Touched by Magic (Razor’s Edge Chronicles #1)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Urban fantasy
Intended audience: YA/Adult
Dates Read: 25/02/2021 – 27/02/21
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I will admit that I am a little resistant to change. Having been a follower of Celine Jeanjean’s Viper and the Urchin series for several years, I was sad to see it come to an earlier this year, even as I was excited to see what Celine would write next. It’s going to be nigh impossible for me to not compare this new series to the former, so please bear with me.

This one did not grab me quite the same way the first Viper book did, but it was still a fun ride. I’ve been careful to be reading fairly light-hearted books lately since a few heavy stories left me in a reading slump for most of February, and this was exactly the type of story I was looking for.

It does feel like a series opener, with lots of explanations and a big set-up towards the end for future books, rather than standing too much on its own. But Apiya is a fun lead character (I think she and Rory from the Viper… series would get on famously). I really adored the relationship between Apiya and her parents, her dad especially. He’s such a nerd!

I think my favourite part of this book was towards the end when Apiya had to face the most powerful magical beings and defend herself and her actions throughout the book. It really felt like we had left the real world behind for something entirely different, and this was where I felt things really started to take off. This scene is where the setup for the second book really started, too, so I’m looking forward reading book two and seeing more of this new magical world.


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#AWW2021 Book Review: “The Girl in the Sunflower Dress” by Katie Montinaro

1Title: The Girl in the Sunflower Dress
Author: Katie Montinaro
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 02/03/2021 – 04/03/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This is a really engaging debut novel! It made me stay up past bedtime to finish it, and I am not generally one for staying up late, even if the book is good.

The Girl in the Sunflower Dress follows Chelsea Roberts in the summer after she finishes high-school. She’s questioning the route her life is taking and then her life is thrown into upheaval when she accidentally discovers her father is having an affair.

Chelsea is a really well-written MC. I really sympathised with her as she agonised over whether to share her discovery with her family or keep it to herself. I can’t imagine having that sort of secret weighing on me, especially when it’s on top of things like enormous family expectations.

Chelsea’s journey to figure herself out and what she truly wants to do with her life and finally speak to her true desires was just as interesting as the bigger affair storyline. Having said that, I did find her dad’s opposition to the arts a little baffling given that their mutual love of photography is a whole plot point. I could understand being worried your child won’t succeed in the arts and wanting them to have a backup, but he was outright snobbish about Noah’s graphic design business, even though Noah was able to point to rarely being without work.

The different threads of the story are for the most part woven together really well and come to a head at the end, leading to a satisfying conclusion. The middle sometimes got a little repetitive with Chelsea’s back and forth-ing about what to do about various situations, but I’m not sure there was really a way to avoid that.

But overall, I really loved this debut and I’ll definitely be watching out for Katie Montinaro’s books in the future!


Thank you to the author for providing me a gratis copy of this book in exchange for a review. The Girl in the Sunflower Dress will be available for purchase from April 13, 2021.

This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Book Review: Rebel Rose by Emma Theriault

Title: Rebel Rose (The Queen’s Council #1)
Author: Emma Theriault
Genre: Historical fantasy/fairytale continuation
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 17/02/21 – 21/02/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I know a lot of people didn’t like this book and honestly I can see why. This continuation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was at times hard to reconcile with the original cartoon movie. But I still enjoyed it for what it was, perhaps because in this version it was far enough away from the movie for me to treat as something separate.

One of the main complaints I saw about the book is that the character of Belle is so far removed from the vivacious, outspoken character we know from the movie. While this is true, I could accept that while Belle was outspoken within her village, that now trying to fit into royal society and not knowing her way around, she became a little more subdued.

Some of it was a bit predictable and I knew who the villain was from chapter one or two. Having said that, I had assumed his motivations were the complete opposite of what they turned out to be, and I felt what I had expected would have made more sense than what transpired.

Once I got used to the idea of Disney characters set against real world events, I enjoyed the historical setting. It does make things a bit grittier, but I thought it worked. I did wish we got to see a bit more of the side characters – Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs Potts all make appearances, but I would have liked more.

Despite those niggles, I found the writing quite engaging. Maybe that was because this was the kind of story I needed to pull me out of a two-week reading slump. Whatever the reason, I found myself ignoring chores and staying up a bit late to finish this one. Now knowing how the series is intended to tie together, I’m interested to see how the other Disney properties are tied into this one.


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February 2021 Reading Wrap-up

An emoji of two books next to each other, with the text "Monthly Reading Wrap-up"

February was another slow reading month and I was lucky to get through four books. I went through a two week reading slump where I DNFed a few things and didn’t feel like reading anything. Fortunately, I feel that I have pulled out of that now. GoodReads is telling me I’m four books behind schedule on my goal (75 books for the year) but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to catch up in March.

PAST MONTH’S READING:

  1. A Whole New World (Twisted Tales #1) by Liz Braswell (YA fairy tale retelling/fantasy – 3 stars – review) (read December 2020, reviewed February 2021)

  2. A Wild Winter Song by Gregory Maguire (magical realism/historical fantasy – 2.5 stars – review) (read January, reviewed February)

  3. Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed (YA contemporary/historical – 4 stars – review) (read January, reviewed February)

  4. Hard Time (Time Police #2) by Jodi Taylor (YA sci-fi- 3 stars – review) (read January, reviewed February)

  5. Axiom’s End (Noumena #1) by Lindsay Ellis (sci-fi – 4 stars – review)

  6. Everless by Sara Holland (YA fantasy – 3 stars – reread, no review)

  7. Rebel Rose by Emma Theriault (historical fantasy/retelling – 4 stars – review forthcoming)

  8. Touched By Magic by Celine Jeanjean (urban fantasy – 3 stars – review forthcoming)

BOOKTUBE:

I have a YouTube channel where I promote Australian books using the hashtag #AusReads, and also indulge my compulsion for signing up to readathons. Here are the latest videos:

  1. March 2021 Trope-ical Readathon TBR

FAVOURITE BOOKISH PHOTO:

This was the library haul I ended up with very early on in the year. Usually I have a decent amount of self-restraint when I go to the library but it failed me a few times in a row .

Teo books standing side-by-side. They are The Binding by Bridget Collins and sligthly taller, The Betrayals, also by Bridget Collins.

You can see all my bookish photos (plus some RL as well) on my Instagram.

CURRENTLY READING:

Physical book: I have started Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta as my first Trope-ical Readathon book. The prompt is a book written pre-2000; it was published in 1992.

Ebook: I am a couple of chapters into my ARC of The Girl in the Sunflower Dress by Katie Montinaro. I met Katie on a self-publishing course last year and we connected on social media afterwards. I was excited to get a copy of her debut and give her that support.

Audio book: I will soon be starting The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. This is under 4 hours long and I’m using it for the audio book for Trope-ical Readathon.

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

In the interests of keeping the reading slump at bay, I am planning to keep reading fairly light books. I’ve been meaning to read Geekerella by Ashley Poston for a while, so I think that will be my next read.

What are you reading? 🙂

Book Review: “Hard Time” by Jodi Taylor

Title: Hard Time (Time Police #2)
Author: Jodi Taylor
Genre: Sci-fi/humour
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 17/01/2021 – 25/01/21
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I didn’t review the first book in this series here on the blog, but in my Goodreads review, I specifically said, “I don’t think I’ll be reading [the second book].” But let’s face it, I’m easily swayed by an attractive cover on a shiny new paperback on prominent display at the library. This series is fun, and I did find myself once again reasonably attached to Team Weird.

I summed up the vibe of this series to someone at work by saying “Imagine those low-budget BBC kids shows from the 90s, but in a book.” She got exactly what i was trying to say. I hope you do, too.

But I just find the world-building and some of the plotting so strange. I can never get a real sense of time and place. Society is much the same as it is now, except there is time travel, and some of the TP’s weapons are a bit futuristic. The pop culture references are all contemporary. But in the first book, the twentieth century was this weird awful time in the far past, or so it seemed.

There are also two characters with the same first name, which just seemed like such a strange choice to make. It was fine when one of them was only being referred to as “Major Ellis”. But now Ellis and North are on first-name terms, it was jarring to hear her calling him Matthew when one of the central three characters is also Matthew. Of course it’s a common name, but that doesn’t mean you confuse your reader by reflecting that aspect of real life in your novel.

The author has a weird thing about fat people. In the first book, there was a whole thing focused on one overweight family, and there’s another character in this one treated the same way. The motivations of the villains of this piece didn’t really make a lot of sense, to be honest; their decisions seemed based on narrative convenience more than anything else.

But for all that, I have to admit that I enjoyed seeing Jane and Luke undercover, and seeing Jane uncover Luke’s hidden depths. Matthew is not quite as interesting to me, and I feel that maybe his existence is mostly so that the St Mary’s characters can keep making cameo appearances. Having not read the St Mary’s books, these feel a bit in-jokey.

Still, I’ve marked book three as “to read” on GoodReads because I might as well admit that I’m going to read it.


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“But she knew better than to trust the false hope of the holidays.” // Review of “A Wild Winter Swan” by Gregory Maguire

Title: A Wild Winter Swan
Author: Gregory Maguire
Genre: Historical fiction/magical realism
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 28/12/20 – 04/01/21
Rating: ★★☆

Review:

This was supposed to be a December book club book, but life got in the way in December and January and we never ended up meeting to discuss it.

I was interested to see if I liked this book. I tried to read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by the same author, around the time I discovered the musical based on it. I was not a fan. I wondered if perhaps not having prior knowledge of the tale being retold would help me be more into this story. I’d never heard of Andersen’s The Wild Swans before.

Alas, this one didn’t really do it for me, either. Partially, I think it was a case of mistaken expectations. I expect a certain amount of lightness or whimsy in fairy tale retellings, and that’s increased when it’s set around Christmas.

But this is grittier, set firmly in the real life of a poor family in the 1960s, and mostly things are not great for any of the characters. It is told in a kind of detached style that I could never get into. It examines issues of class and privilege, which are worthy issues, but at the end of the day, I didn’t really see what Maguire was trying to say. I didn’t get it, and maybe that’s on me, not the book.


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“An invisible hand squeezes my heart for the nameless women history brushed aside.” // Review of “Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know” by Samira Ahmed

Title: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genre: Contemporary/mystery/historical
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 09/01/2021 – 1/01/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Who doesn’t want to read a book bringing to life the story of a woman history forgot in favour of the men around her? Or at least, presenting a fictional possibility of such a woman. I certainly do!

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know presents dual stories of Khayyam, a modern-day budding art historian, and Leyla, who might be the inspiration for heroine of the famous Byron poem, The Giaour.

I admit I found the historical parts more interesting than the modern-day parts. Leyla’s story is incredibly sad, but also a story about a woman making her own way against all odds.

Khayyam spends quite a lot of time mooning over boys. Having said that, part of that is integral to her overall arc of finding her voice and her identity as a French-American, Indian-American and Muslim-American young woman, and the scene where she finally put herself first was awesome.

For most of the book, I felt it was a 3-star read. I wasn’t overly invested and was reading more to find out the mystery than because I was rooting for the characters. But the ending was very powerful, to the point I even got a little teary, and for that, I bumped it up to four.


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“she was struck suddenly that he wasn’t unfathomable at all. They were both made of the same star stuff.” // Review of “Axiom’s End” by Lindsay Ellis

Title: Axiom’s End (Noumena #1)
Author: Lindsay Ellis
Genre: Sci-fi/alternate history
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/09/2020– 03/02/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Oooh, I really liked this one! I don’t read a lot of scifi, but when I do, this is the type I enjoy best! If you’re giving me First Contact, you better tell me how the government deals with that. I want broader socio-political implications, not just “people are running in the streets and explosions”.

Axiom’s End by youtuber and video essayist Lindsay Ellis takes us to an alternate 2007, where First Contact was made in the 1970s and the alien visitors were immediately locked up by the US government.

Nearly 40 years later, more aliens have arrived, and the secret is out. Cora Sabino is in the wrong place at the wrong time when she encounters the being she comes to know as Ampersand, and eventually becomes his interpreter thanks to an electronic translator in her ear. I really grew to love Cora and Ampersand’s tenuous friendship as they each tried to frame the other’s existence in terms they could each understand.

The book examines some big philosophical ideas about our place in the universe, and various characters spend a lot of time discussing these. There’s a lot of talking and sometimes it feels like the plot has ground to a halt; I can understand why some would find it slow and even boring. I didn’t mind it too much though.

The story didn’t always go the way I was expecting, but I enjoyed the directions it took. And some of my guesses were right. Sort of. The revelations in the last few pages were something I was expecting, but it happened in an entirely different way and for a different reason to what I had predicted. And it happened in a much better way (narratively speaking, not necessarily for the characters) than I was expecting, too. I’m really interested to see how that’s handled in the next book. It could be great or it could get weird.

I did start listening to the audio book at first but I found the delivery wasn’t really working for me. I’m really glad I switched to the paperback because I don’t think I would have been able to get as invested otherwise. The book ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger, though not a massive one. I was sort of expecting humans to do something the aliens would consider an act of war, but so far, humanity still appears to be safe from invasion. We’ll see how long that lasts into book two, though!


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“I cannot expect people to do for me what I cannot.” // Review of “A Whole New World” by Liz Braswell

Title: A Whole New World (Twisted Tales #1)
Author: Janella Angeles
Genre: Fantasy/Retelling
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 22/12/2020– 26/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

Ahh, I hate it when a book has so much potential it doesn’t live up to. To be fair, for the most part it was engaging and I did enjoy it. But I had so many little niggles that kept pulling me out of the story.

For those unfamiliar with Disney’s Twisted Tales series, each book takes a well known Disney property and asks “What if?” about a certain aspect of it – in this case, what if Jafar had got to the Genie’s lamp instead of Aladdin?

I wasn’t quite sure what this book was trying to be. The writing felt middle-grade, but the characters were aged up (Princess Jasmine refers to being nearly twenty at one point). The writing style was very unsophisticated, too, and never gave a sense of place. It was really modern, with phrases like “you guys” peppering it (what modern Princess would use “you guys”, let alone one from a so-called “ancient” city?). These are things that don’t bother me in a cartoon movie but a book requires something more.

It also bothered me that every time the characters referred to Princess Jasmine, they called her “the royal princess”. Every. Time. Let’s not use tautology, okay? The royalty is implied in the word “princess”.

Having said that, I enjoyed the overall ideas and the way the story was twisted. The last third was pretty engaging, as Aladdin and Jasmine’s army started to find its feet and the action started ramping up. I did find Jafar’s defeat a little rushed, and a bit too easy, but I did tear through to the end, so that’s something.

I’m still interested to try the other Twisted Tales. This was the first one written, and it’s also the one with the lowest rating on GoodReads. There are also a few different authors writing them so that might also make a difference.


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January 2021 Reading Wrap-up

An emoji of two books next to each other, with the text "Monthly Reading Wrap-up"

January has been a bit slow for reading and even slower for reviewing. I never really felt settled into a new 2021 routine before I took a week’s holiday to go visit my parents. I feel like I’m finding my groove now but I do think it’s a bit rude that my GoodReads challenge is already saying I’m two books beh

So without further ado:

PAST MONTH’S READING:

  1. A Wild Winter Song by Gregory Maguire (magical realism/historical fantasy – 3 stars – not intending to review)

  2. The Rising Rooks by Celine Jeanjean (fantasy/steampunk – 5 stars – review)

  3. Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed (YA contemporary/historical – 4 stars – review forthcoming

  4. Hard Time by Jodi Taylor (YA sci-fi- 3 stars – review forthcoming)

BOOKTUBE:

I have a YouTube channel where I promote Australian books using the hashtag #AusReads, and also indulge my compulsion for signing up to readathons. Here are the latest videos:

  1. How I nearly completed a readathon for once in 2020 – #AusReads and #Musicalathon Wrap-up
  2. December Library Haul – What I’ll be reading over the holidays

FAVOURITE BOOKISH PHOTO:

This was the library haul I ended up with very early on in the year. Usually I have a decent amount of self-restraint when I go to the library but it failed me a few times in a row .

You can see all my bookish photos (plus some RL as well) on my Instagram.

CURRENTLY READING:

Physical book: I have returned to Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis. I am really enjoying this, but I can understand why some people would find it slow or tedious.

Ebook: Nothing at the moment.

Audio book: While in theory I have an audio book in progress, it’s very much on hold at the moment as I really haven’t been in the mood for audio books.

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

I think next will be Everless and Evermore by Sara Holland. I gave Everless five stars when I read it as an ARC a few years ago, but I never got around to reading the sequel. So I may just skim Everless and then dive into Evermore properly. Or I might get totally sucked in. I can’t remember much so I probably will. Hopefully I enjoy it just as much the second time around!

What are you reading? 🙂