#AWW2021 Book Review: “Eleven Pipers Piping” by Pamela Hart

Title: Eleven Pipers Piping
Author: Pamela Hart
Genre: Historical romance
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/12/2021
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

There is definitely something to be said for historical Christmas romances and their helpfulness in getting me out of reading slumps. While I have purchased this novella separately, I also own the anthology where it was originally published, so I should remember it when I am needing a book that will pull me out of a funk.

This is a sweet little novella, full of misunderstandings and miscommunications, many based on the characters adhering to the expected manners of the time. I liked that the characters were a little bit older, Elizabeth being a widow with a ten-year-old son, rather than a young woman looking for her first husband, as is often the case.

Speaking of which, I loved young Robin!

Given that the story only takes place over the course of a few weeks, some of the character development did seem to happen very quickly, especially when it came to Elizabeth’s grief over the loss of her husband. But I really enjoyed Gavan’s realisation of his feelings for Elizabeth, and also the dynamic between him and Robin.

I wasn’t feeling terribly festive before, and having picked a whole heap of Christmas-y books for the coming month, I was feeling a bit worried. But now I can thank Pamela Hart for getting me in the Christmas spirit!


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

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#AWW2021 “My sisters. My blood. My skin. What a gruesome bond we shared.” // Review of “House of Hollow” by Krystal Sutherland

Title: House of Hollow
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Genre: Magical realism/horror
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 22/10/2021 – 24/10/21
Rating: ★★★☆

Review:

I recently asked for recommendations for creepy books that wouldn’t completely scare a wimp like me and this was one of the titles that came up. Having previously enjoyed Sutherland’s A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, I was keen to give this one a look, too.

As I started, I absolutely loved the vibe that Sutherland had going on here. Missing sister, weird smells, strange flowers, a mysterious disappearance many years ago.

But then it started to peter out. It kept saying that things smelled weird, and that there were strange flowers, and if only Iris could remember what had happened that day ten years ago. What started strong was no longer interesting once I’d heard it so many times.

Admittedly in the final third things started to pick up as we started to really learn what was going on. Some new characters appeared and there were some revelations made. Some of those I had already kind of figured out, but there were still a few surprises.

While this definitely didn’t meet the high expectations that I had based on my experience of Worst Nightmares, it’s still a pretty solid read. I think it will have more appeal for those dipping their toe into horror rather than regular readers of the genre who have most likely seen everything in this book before.


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

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#AWW2021 Book Review: “Skalsinger” by L. A. Webster

Title: Skalsinger (Chronicles of Algarth #2)
Author: L. A. Webster
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 16/10/2021 – 22/10/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I will admit that after reading a couple of high-octane thrillers like One of Us Is Lying and The Final Girl Support Group, Skalsinger was a very big change of pace for me, and it took me a while to settle into it.

Skalsinger, like Greenhaelen before it, has a very classical-style fantasy feel to it. If I didn’t know the author and you’d told me these books were released 40-50 years ago, I’d probably believe you. The prose is wonderfully constructed, with a good sense of pace and rhythm through the story.

The story is very much character-focused. I will admit that I was not as drawn to Cahira, the titular Skalsinger, as I was to some of the others, particularly Niall and Perna. Perna’s growth through the story was a particular highlight for me.

As a fair while has passed between when I read Greenhaelen and this one, it took a little while for me to remember the details of the world of Algarth, but I enjoyed spotting the cameos from some of my favourite characters from the first look, like Sara and Kelan.

I definitely recommend Chronicles of Algarth for any fans of character-driven fantasy. Skalsinger is out on November 1 and you can pre-order now!


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

Thank you to L. A. Webster for providing me with a gratis copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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#AWW2021 Book Review: “Elsa Goody, Bushranger” by Darry Fraser

Title: Elsa Goody, Bushranger
Author: Darry Fraser
Audio book narrator: Rebecca Macauley
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/09/2021 – 26/09/21
Rating: ★★

Review:

I don’t know whether I just wasn’t in the mood for this book or what. I went into it fully expecting to like it but ended up just feeling quite frustrated.

I have to admit that for the most part, I could tell exactly how the story was going to go, even if I wasn’t sure exactly how it would get there. Sometimes predictability is okay, but it didn’t work for me this time.

I also found that for a piece of adult fiction, the romances were very heavy on the insta-love trope. I can accept that in YA fiction, though I still roll my eyes a bit. It felt very strange reading things like “she was awakening feelings in him he hadn’t felt in a long time” when the characters have literally known each other a couple of hours felt out of place when both the characters and the intended readership are all adults.

Still, Elsa Goody and Ezekiel Jones were likable characters and I stuck with the book because I wanted to see exactly how things turned out for them. I did wish that Elsa’s sister Rosie had a bit more of her own character arc. I felt she was just as selfish at the end as she had been at the start, despite everything they’d been through.

This was my first Darry Fraser book and while it’s clear she’s done a lot of good historical research, I don’t know if I’ll pick up any more of her books.


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

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#AWW2021 “There are only situations, and we do not know what will become of us until we are inside each new one.” // Book Review of “The Performance” by Claire Thomas

Title: The Performance
Author: Claire Thomas
Genre: Literary fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 31/08/2021 – 02/09/21
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is a tricky book for me to review, for the simple reason that it’s very far removed from what I usually read, and I only read it because we chose it for book club, being a book club made up of theatre geeks. I don’t really know if it’s any good by literary fiction standards, though the slew of four and five star reviews would say yes.

You’ve only got to spend five minutes scrolling through my blog to notice that genre fiction is my cup of tea. Literary stream-of-consciousness is something I tend to avoid. The only time I can think where I picked up something like it was when I had to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for uni and it was one of my worst reading experiences.

But I kind of liked this one. I found something I could relate to with each of the characters. It’s not so much a book that starts at A and takes us through to B. It’s more like it starts at B and then looks at how these three characters got there. Despite the title, it’s not really about the performance.

There are lot of themes swimming about in here. Aging, domestic violence, child-rearing, climate change, politics, wealth, race… Given the book is relatively short, it’s a lot to delve into, but I think the key is that the book doesn’t actually try to give any kind of opinion or lead the reader to a particular conclusion. The themes present in the book the way they do in people’s lives, in a contradictory, random fashion. The way you’re treated at work due to your age might pop into your head and give you pause, but a few minutes later it might be out of your mind as you start thinking about your son and grandson.

Isn’t it interesting how in my Ariadne review, I mentioned one of my major frustrations was that it made a point but never did anything with it, and yet here it didn’t bother me. I think it’s the difference in scope of the stories being told that makes the difference for me here.

Am I likely to pick up something else of Claire Thomas’. Probably not. But I went into this expecting not to like it at all, and I was pleasantly surprised.


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

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#AWW2021 “Some things had to be lived with.” Review of “The Dry” by Jane Harper

Title: The Dry
Author: Jane Harper
Genre: Crime fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 02/08/2021 – 06/08/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I finally got around to reading The Dry! It’s only been sitting on my shelf for four years!

This might have been a five star read for me if I hadn’t seen the movie first. I had hoped that I had forgotten all the major details in the intervening eight months but things started coming back to me as I read, including the identity of the murderer and how a seemingly unrelated plot point led to their discovery.

Despite all of that, this is a very well-written book. I’ve said before that while I enjoy thrillers, general crime fiction doesn’t work for me quite so much. This book does lean more towards the crime fiction, but Harper creates such a vivid picture of a small drought-stricken Australian town that I was drawn in. Lines such as “Falk bought three shirts, because the man seemed so grateful that he was prepared to buy one” felt like a punch to the gut.

The writing style, with flashbacks in italics intruding on the modern day narrative, revealed things at a great pace. The flashbacks are from a more omniscient narrator, providing us insight into the past of characters who are already dead by the time our main character arrives, as well as things that the POV characters would have no way of knowing. It all worked really well to keep the tension building.

I am definitely keen to check out more of Jane Harper’s work, particularly as I won’t have spoilers for subsequent ones the way I did from seeing the movie for this one. I can only imagine her writing goes from strength to strength.


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

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“It was an imperfect world, and her chosen profession was decidedly imperfect, but for now she had a hint of that spark again.” Review of “Dead Man’s Switch” by Tara Moss

Title: Dead Man’s Switch (Billie Walker Mystery #1)
Author: Tara Moss
Audio book narrator: Danielle Carter
Genre: Mystery/Historical
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/07/2021 – 18/07/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Ah, what a great piece of historical fiction this was! Set in Sydney in 1946, just after the war, this is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Billie Walker, former war reporter and now private inquirer. While most of her cases involve tailing cheating men and gathering evidence to give their wives grounds for divorce, but when a woman asks Billie to investigate the disappearance of her 17-year-old son, Billie finds herself thrown into something far more sinister.

Moss’s extensive research is clear and makes all the difference to the book. Details of buildings, fashions, cars, the police force and post-war rationing, just to name a few, are all there, and it makes you feel like you’re there, too.

Billie is a strong lead who carries the story very well, and she’s supported by some great side characters including her baroness mother, her veteran secretary Sam, a quiet but sturdy Detective Inspector, and a young Aboriginal informant.

The mystery runs along at a good pace, with two seemingly unconnected plotlines converging on an exciting climax.

I also want to mention Danielle Carter’s narration of the audio book. She did a spectacular job bringing all these different characters with different accents and backgrounds to life.


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

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#AWW2021 “As a girl, the fairies came to me; they whispered in my dreams and left songs in my head. I went to the glen and found them there.” // Review of “Reluctantly Charmed” by Ellie O’Neill

Title: Reluctantly Charmed
Author: Ellie O’Neill
Genre: Magical Realism/Contemporary
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 26/05/2021 – 17/06/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

This is one of those books that’s hard to rate. 3 stars seems too generous for how I felt about it but anything less (even 2.5) feels harsh.

Honestly, the book’s title is a good description of how I felt about it. While it’s classified as magical realism, I felt it had a bit too much fantasy to qualify as such. But at the same time, not enough fantasy to be a proper fantasy book.

There’s a lot to like here – Kate McDaid is a relatable main character, and she and her group of closest friends make a fun group. The misunderstandings in the romantic subplot were quite obvious but it was still cute.

And the premise of an nineteenth century witch leaving a plea from the fairies for her twenty-first century niece to reveal step-by-step is an awesome premise, which worked well.

Where I started getting tripped up was how quickly Kate became SO famous. I could understand her going viral and becoming a bit of an Internet celebrity. But within two weeks of her starting to publish the Steps, she has the paparazzi following her around, and she’s appearing in gossip rags. Her parents are appearing on national breakfast TV because she doesn’t want to, and they’re hiring an agent and being asked to be the face of advertising campaigns. This just didn’t make sense to me.

I also felt the ending was quite unsatisfying. It all wrapped up in a bit of a rush, too much of a rush. It was all too easy and everything worked out in a couple of chapters. There’s a kidnapping that Kate simply runs away from virtually unscathed. Her choices to do with the Final Step don’t have any real repercussions, apart from one thing which actually should be a HUGE DEAL and is glossed over in a couple of paragraphs in the epilogue (sorry, trying not to be spoilery).

I’m sure this will be a properly charming read for some readers. It just didn’t work for me.


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

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#AWW2021 #LoveOzYA Book Review – “Sky On Fire” by Jesse Greyson

Title: Sky On Fire
Author: Jesse Greyson
Genre: Dystopia
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 20/05/2021 – 25/05/2021
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

Ahh. I was in the mood for a good dystopia and this definitely hit the spot in a lot of ways.

I loved that this was set in a specifically Australian climate-ravaged dystopia. Greyson is obviously drawing on her own knowledge of the Gold Coast when her characters navigate the city.

The world-building was strong enough to carry the story but didn’t get bogged down in details. It told me what I needed to know (solar flares, mutations) but left the rest to my imagination.

I also thought the central characters were really well done – they are all quite distinct and I never had any trouble knowing who was who.

Having said that, I was a little bit bothered that the only character who was either fat or disabled was the villain. While the manipulative, abusive mother was incredibly well-written, and I had genuine angry reactions to some of her actions, but there is a wider stereotype of disabled people as villains, and this plays into that.

Where the book started to fall down for me was in the plotting. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt and wonder if I just missed a sentence here or there that would have explained things, but as it was, there were a few plot inconsistencies that bothered me. At one stage, Dante had an hour to obtain another dose of insulin for his mother, but then spent the day exploring. Earlier in the book, Dante trades with a gang for insulin, because the gang had already hit up the MegaPharm. But then later in the book, the main characters raid the MegaPharm for more. It seemed unlikely to me that in the events of the book, the pharmacy would have been able to restock.

Having said all of that, the book had a strong hopeful ending that I really liked. A book’s ending can make or break it for me, and in this case, it made it.


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

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#AWW2021 #LoveOzYA“We begin as we end; we end as we begin. It’s the middle we must hold onto ” // Review of “The Vanishing Deep” by Astrid Scholte

Title: The Vanishing Deep
Author: Astrid Sholte
Genre: Dystopia
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 27/04/2021 – 02/05/2021
Rating: 
★★

Review: 

Please be warned, this review may be a bit spoilery at the end.

Last year, I tried reading Astrid Scholte’s Four Dead Queens but decided to DNF it. At the time I though it was a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”, but now I’m thinking maybe me and Astrid Scholte’s writing just don’t mix.

Some of it is personal preference, like the dual first person narratives, something I am never a fan of. At first, I didn’t even realise I’d switched to another character’s POV and was very confused.

I never particularly warmed to the two main characters, which made it really hard to be invested in the book at all. I really didn’t care for their romance, which I was supposed to believe took place in a single 24-hour period. I can understand being attracted to someone immediately, but the whole “I can’t get her out of my head” and “she’s so beautiful”… eh.

I especially had trouble with Lor, his one bit of angst got so repetitive! And the twist about him at the end wasn’t a surprise to him, so it felt odd that everything had been told to me in just such a fashion to not point me in that direction.

At least with Tempest, I could at least admire her devotion to her sister and family, even if I didn’t really like her.

The other problem I had was the world-building. None of it really made much sense (this was the same issue I had with Four Dead Queens). I could buy that the resurrected person was linked to their Warden via the Warden’s heartbeat, but given that the whole issue was the dead person’s heart was weakened and they could only be revived once, it didn’t make any sense that just stopping the Warden’s heartbeat instead would mean that the resurrected person could go on living after their twenty-four hours. And I had other issues, too, but that was the main one.

On top of all this, the ending felt quite flat with a unimpressive villain who disappeared without a word at the end. I wanted to really like this one but there were too many things that didn’t work for me.


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

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