#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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#AWW2021 #LoveOzYA“Only need a spark,” she said with a shrug. “Small sparks make big fires.” // Review of “Hollowpox” by Jessica Townsend

Title: Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #3)
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: MG/YA
Date Read: 08/04/2021 – 18/04/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I had forgotten just how much I love the world of Nevermoor. It had been quite a while since I read Wundersmith, so it took me a little while to remember who was who, but soon I was on board for the glorious ride.

I can see why the publishers made the decision to delay the release of this one, which was due out in the middle of the initial COVID-19 lockdown period. A virus that leads to certain parts of the population having to isolate themselves, all the while, bigoted other parts of the population are using the illness to vilify those who are sick? Jessica Townsend nails the way this plays out and it was going to hit a bit too close to home for a lot of people in the first half of 2020. At times, it even felt a bit unnerving reading it in April 2021.

But I loved the expansion of the world and its history. We got to see how Nevermoor and the wider Free States’s relationship with the Wintersea Republic in more detail, and learn more about how magic has been dealt with there (no wonder poor Morrigan was considered cursed because of her abilities).

Not only do we have the political and social implications of the Hollowpox turning Nevermoor’s Wunimals into Unimals, but Morrigan’s personal arc also continues. She begins to be trained in the Wundrous Arts, using Ghostly Hours to witness magical lessons from ages past to learn what Wundersmiths who have gone before her also learned. The way Morrigan became obsessed with seeing more and more of these, to the detriment of her friendships, was well done. I wanted to shake her at times for some of her decisions, and I was relieved when she finally realised the effects this was having.

I’m excited to see how the decisions she has made at the end of this book play out in subsequent instalments. A lot of people aren’t going to be happy with her and I think she’s going to face a lot of backlash, despite the best of her intentions. And also I just want the next book because this world is so rich and whimsical and I can’t wait to be back there again!


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

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#AWW2021 “What happens when the words don’t come?” “You grit your teeth and grip the pen and keep going.” // Review of “Jane in Love” by Rachel Givney

Title: Jane In Love
Author: Rachel Givney
Audio book narrator: Amber McMahon
Genre: Romance
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 18/04/2021 – 23/04/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I was immediately intrigued when I read the premise of this book: Jane Austen travels to the twenty-first century, where she falls in love, and has to choose between love and her literary legacy. I first borrowed it in paperback from the library, then when I thought I wouldn’t get to the book, started the library’s digital audio copy. By the end I was invested enough that I put aside the other physical book I was reading and was going between paperback when I could and audio when I driving, speeding through it a lot faster than I expected.

To be honest, the love story was actually the weakest part of the book for me. Perhaps it’s because I am a hardened cynic and I can never quite bring myself to believe people can be so deeply in love after a short time. Don’t get me wrong, Jane and Fred definitely have their sweet moments, and I was definitely hanging out for them to kiss as much as anyone during a scene where Fred saves Jane from drowning. But I just never quite got into it overall.

I was much more interested in the friendship between Jane and Fred’s movie star sister, Sofia. It helped that due to a few circumstances, Jane was able to convince Sofia that she truly was Jane Austen quite early on, so there was less beating around the bush, trying to come up with convincing lies. And by paralleling Jane’s storyline of aspiring woman writer in the nineteenth century with Sofia’s of aging film star in 2020, Givney was able to show how much women’s roles are a case of “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” While perhaps some of the chapters relating to Sofia and not Jane were not entirely necessary, I really enjoyed Sofia’s arc as a character. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that the end of the final chapter focused on Sofia made me tear up enough I had to stop reading for a minute.

I really enjoyed Jane’s observations on 21st century life, and the way she navigated this new time. It struck the right balance between curiosity and amazement, without bogging down the story or turning Jane into a terrified, traumatised mess. The time travel logic was kept to a minimum, which I appreciated, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps however they liked. It was a bit of a Back to the Future style of time travel, with things yet to have happened merely fading out of existence when the time travel started to prevent them from having happened. Only those closest to Jane remember her books as they literally blink out of existence.

Amber McMahon was a brilliant narrator of the audio book, giving each character a unique voice appropriate to their time and place. I didn’t even realise she was Australian until I got to the acknowledgements at the end, her accents were that good!

I have seen a few comments in other reviews saying that this is not a book for Austen purists. I wouldn’t know, since I have only read Emma in full and know the contents of the other five books because of BBC period dramas and other movies. But I can see how that would be the case. So while I recommend this book, that definitely does come as a caveat.


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

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#AWW2021 #LoveOzYA“Simple dreams are the hardest to come true” // Book Review: “Looking for Alibrandi” by Melina Marchetta

1Title: Looking for Alibrandi
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 01/03/2021 – 05/03/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This is one of those YA books I really wish I had read when I was actually a young adult. By the time I was in high-school it was already firmly established as an Australian Classic, but it was never on my curriculum and somehow I never got around to it on my own time before now.

Melina Marchetta beautifully explores what it is like growing up caught between two identities, and how that can affect family and friend relationships. It’s hard to explain exactly what it is, but there’s something really Australian about the tone and voice of this book.

Josie is sometimes a difficult character to sympathise with but at the same time, she is a self-aware of a lot of her faults. While we see the other characters through Josie’s eyes, they do become their own fully formed characters. I especially loved how the relationship between Josie and her Nonna developed, and how it was nearly torn apart towards the end when certain revelations came to light.

One of my colleagues saw me reading this in the lunch room and said that Melina Marchetta is one of her favourite authors, and that she always returns to her books “when she needs a good cry”. I definitely found myself getting teary at the end. It wraps up perfectly, even as it goes to show that life will always be messy and you can only do your best to follow the path you want.


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

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#AWW2021 Book Review: “The Girl Grandest Bookshop In the World” by Amelia Mellor

Title: The Grandest Bookshop in the World
Author: Amelia Mellor
Genre: Historical fantasy
Intended audience: MG
Date Read: 19/03/2021 – 24/03/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Oh gosh this was lovely! There was something about knowing that the Book Arcade in this book was once a real place that made it extra special.

I got a lot of Nevermoor vibes reading this. It had the same charming, whimsical veneer whilst getting deep into issues of grief, sibling rivalry, and a child’s feelings of powerlessness against more powerful adults.

The descriptions of Cole’s Book Arcade, which really existed in Melbourne in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, made me wish I could have visited! Edward Cole sounds like a fascinating person and Mellor draws such a vivid picture of his whole family!

The magical aspect was simple but provided far-reaching application, giving Mellor a broad canvas of magic that many of her characters could perform.

I was never quite sold on the Obscurosmith’s reasons for wanting to get his hands on the Arcade, and I felt at the end he was defeated perhaps a little too easily, but because I was being swept along for the ride, I didn’t mind too much.

The book sometimes does get a little dark and might be scary for some younger readers. It’s also reasonably long as far as MG novels go. But I think a mature reader will absolutely love it!


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

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