#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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#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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#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.

#StepBoldly #aww2018 “The point is—as far as the Society is concerned—if you are not honest, and determined, and brave, then it doesn’t matter how talented you are.” // Review of “Nevermoor: the Trials of Morrigan Crow” by Jessica Townsend

Title: Nevermoor: the Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1)
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Middle-grade
Date Read: 11/09/18 – 17/09/18
Rating: 
★★★

Review:

Well, this was just delightful. I knew that Nevermoor won a whole slew of awards when it came out, but all the “it’s the next Harry Potter” proclamations still made me wary. But actually, I think this is one time when those comparisons are actually justified. 

Nevermoor is a whimsical, charming world where inhabitants ride the Brolly Rail (a version of London’s Tube where riders hook onto the system with the handles of their umbrellas) and it is perfectly normal for a hotel housekeeper to be a giant cat. The descriptions of Christmas were so lovely that I was able to ignore the fact that Christmas has no reason to exist in a fantasy land. Everything was just a little bit fairytale. 

The characters also all had a fairytale quality about them. There was a bit of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor in Jupiter North, and a bit of Alice in Morrigan Crow. But as well as the whimsy there’s also a real depth to them. 

I do admit the book felt a little long at times, but I would also be hard-pressed to tell you which parts I would cut out. It is a bit like the fourth Harry Potter book in that there was training, then an event, then training for the next event, then the next event happens… but I always wanted to know what happened next. And I think because the characters were engaging and the writing was so lovely, I was able to forgive it. The only thing I worry about is that the size of the book may be intimidating to readers of the target age. But I think any avid reader will be hooked immediately and push through regardless.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#aww2017 Book Review: The Bromancers by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Title: The Bromancers (Belladonna University #3)
Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts
Genre: Urban fantasy
Date Read: 27/10/17 – 29/10/17
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This series continues to be a huge amount of fun! This instalment sees Hebe Hallow trying to manage the members of Fake Geek Girl at a music festival, only to have her plans messed up the arrival of various signifiant others, including her own, and a body swap spell that sees two of the band members out for the count.

I really enjoyed seeing the world expanded beyond the university campus. Roberts managed to convey the crowded, messy, but buzzing atmosphere of a music festival, and added a magical twist.

Roberts still maintains distinct voices for each of her characters. I especially loved that Juniper got to play a bigger role in this one. She’s so delightful. I’m hoping that there might be future stories about these characters in which she might get to do something about her massive crush on Holly.

The Belladonna U stories are short and a lot of fun, particularly if you come from a geek culture background and get a lot of the references. Definitely recommended!


(This review forms part of my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for  more information)

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#AWW2017 “How far a woman could travel if she really put her mind to it. And I put my mind to it.” // Review of “See What I Have Done” by Sarah Schmidt

Title: The Natural Way of Things
Author: Charlotte Wood
Genre: Thriller
Date Read: 19/10/2017 – 24/10/2017
Rating: ★★

Review:

Well, damn. This was one of my most anticipated reads this year.  I think it failed for me for a lot of reasons. 

  1. I think I over-hyped it in my head.
  2. I think I assumed it was going to be things that it never promised it would be.
  3. It turned out to have a literary fiction vibe, which is perfectly fine, but not my thing.

See What I Have Done is a fictionalised account of the murders of Andrew and Abbie Borden in 1892. It is told from the points of view of sisters Lizzie and Emma Borden, their maid, Bridget Sullivan and an mysterious outsider, Benjamin.

I expected this book to be thrilling and tense, and for me to never quite know what was going on. I didn’t know what was going on, but that was more because no one really knows what happened that day, not because I felt Sarah Schmidt was making me ask any new questions about the case. With the exception of a bit of getting into the characters’ heads, there was very little here that I hadn’t already learned by reading the Lizzie Borden Wikipedia entry.

What Sarah Schmidt did do well was the claustrophobic, tense atmosphere of the Borden house. There were times when I had to stop reading because the descriptions of someone throwing up or the smell of the three-day-old mutton heating on the stove made me feel sick. But after a while, even that stopped having an effect on me. As I said, I think this was more in the literary fiction vein than I was expecting, and so a lot of the language use and other techniques that would impress fans of that genre, but they just don’t do it for me.


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2017. Click here for more information.

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#aww2017 Book Review: Fake Geek Girl by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Title: Fake Geek Girl (Belladonna University #1)
Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts
Genre: Urban fantasy
Date Read: 08/10/17
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This review will be fairly short, as the book in focus is quite short (I’m not even sure it would constitute novella length).

The story focuses on the inhabitants of the Manic Pixie Dream House, a share house for about six students from Belladonna Unversity, which has campuses for Real (magic) and Unreal (tech). The titular Fake Geek Girl is Holly Hadlow, who heads up a band of the same name and sings songs inspired by her twin sister’s nerdy pursuits. Drummer Sage is concerned Holly plans to go solo; meanwhile Hebe Hallow is working out her feelings for a boy from an elite magical family who appears to have lost his magical ability.

The characterisation in this story is very well done. Given the length of the book and the number of characters, this was no mean feat, but they are all easily identifiable. The references to nerd and geek culture also felt natural. Too often, I find authors try to make their character nerdy in an attempt to make them quirky and it comes off sounding inauthentic.

I also really liked the ultimate message of the book, that while Holly doesn’t understand the passion of Hebe and her friends for their various fandoms, she cares about it because they care.

It did take me a minute to realise that the POV character changed with each chapter; make sure you read the chapter titles to figure out who’s talking to you.

This is definitely a  fun start to a unique series. I’ve already read the second one, so watch out for that review, too.


(This review forms part of my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for  more information)

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“Life is like a musical: it’s here one moment and gone the next.” // Review of Life is Like a Musical by Tim Federle

Title: Life is Like a Musical: How to Live, Love, and Lead Like a Star
Author: Tim Federle
Genre: Non-fiction/memoir/self-help
Date Read: 28/09/2017 – 29/09/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Tim Federle is my people. If we’d been at school together, we would have been friends because then we would have each had someone to geek out with about musicals when no one else cared. While the advice in this book might be somewhat generic, I really enjoyed the theatre anecdotes that he used to back up his claims, a lot of the time because I could relate, having had a similar experience somewhere in my amateur theatre experiences.

This book is full of lessons Tim learned during his time on Broadway as a dancer, as well as later, writing theatrical material and novels. You can see some of them on the cover: “Let someone else take a bow”, “take the note” (i.e. accept constructive feedback without getting defensive”) and “Dance like everyone’s watching”. He applies these lessons to wider life, careers and relationships.

I really enjoyed some of the anecdotes about being backstage at a theatre. I’ve never performed on Broadway, just at a couple of local theatres in the towns where I’ve lived, but the experiences are much the same. I laughed out loud a lot. I also enjoyed the stories about the big names the Tim worked with on Broadway.

This book probably isn’t for everyone, and I think it probably will particularly appeal to those like me who have a theatre background (even if it’s not a very extensive one). But I laughed out loud several times and related to Tim’s stories so often, so I definitely recommend checking it out.


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

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#aww2017 Book Review: “A Dangerous Language” by Sulari Gentill

Title: A Dangerous Language (Rowland Sinclair Mysteries #8)
Author: Sulari Gentill
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Date Read: 20/09/2017 – 27/09/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Leaping into the eighth book in a series without having read the others is a risk. I have to admit the main reason I picked this ARC up on NetGalley was because I had seen Sulari Gentill host a panel at the recent Canberra Writer’s Festival and was interested to sample her writing. I think I probably would have been a bit more engaged had I been familiar with the core cast of characters from books one through seven, but this book was enjoyable nonetheless.

In 1930s Australia, Rowland Sinclair finds himself caught up in intrigues between the government, and Fascist and Communist factions when he agrees to help a notorious anti-Fascist speaker get into Australia before the government can ban him. The journey takes him across Australia and nearly gets him killed on more than one occasion.

I enjoyed the characters in this far more than the mystery or the political machinations, really. The core cast are a really fun bunch, and hopeless romantic that I am, I also really enjoyed watching Rowly wrestle with romantic feelings and other related entanglements. I did enjoy the way Gentill wove actual historical events into the story, though at the same time, I am never quite sure how to feel about actual historical figures as characters in novels.

There were two murders featured in the story, though they felt like window dressing for the political machinations, which seemed to be more of the focus. For a significant portion of the book, there was no focus on either death. One of them was solved towards the end, but the other one was just concluded via a note in the epilogue, and I think was mostly there to create some tension at the beginning of the story, when Rowland and his friends thought the victim might have been their friend and colleague, Edna. Once it was established that Edna was safe, there was no real reason for the main characters to give the death any more than a passing interest.

That sort of peripheral focus on the murders is something I am not sure isn’t a feature of the series. I have no idea what form the mysteries take in the other books and so I don’t know if it is just that I wasn’t used to it, being a newbie. Ditto the excerpts from newspapers and other publications of the time at the beginning of each chapter. I have no idea if this is a stylistic feature present in all the books; if it is, I would probably bear with it a bit more, though as it was, I felt they weren’t always necessary and at times, I even skipped them.

Still, I can definitely see why this is a popular series, especially with those who are big readers of historical fiction.


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

(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017. Click here for more information).

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