#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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#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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#AWW2020 “Done right, the truth is fucking funny.” Review of “She’s Having A Laugh” edited by George McEnroe

Title: She’s Having a Laugh: 25 of Australia’s Funniest Women on Life, Love and Comedy
Author: George McEnroe (editor)
Genre: Non-fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 17/12/2020– 20/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

I have to admit that given the title of this collection of essays, I was kind of expecting them to be, well, funnier.

Maybe it’s just that my sense of humour didn’t gel with the majority of these 25 women. In many cases, though, I don’t think the authors were intentionally setting out to be funny, and maybe my expectations were at fault.

There were a couple of essays that I found quite moving, especially Jodie J Hill’s chapter about performing for deployed military. I had read Corinne Grant’s I’m Not A Female Comedian essay somewhere before, but I found it quite powerful once again. Anita Heiss’ Seven Deadly Sins and Lorin Clark’s The ‘Women in Comedy’ Conversation were the ones I found the funniest. These were all towards the end of the book, so for a while I thought I was probably only going to give a two-star rating, but these bumped it up to three.

I do want to address the issue of there being an n-word casually dropped in the second or third essay. This may have been fine if the essay was by a black person reclaiming the word, but as far as I could tell, this was a white author using the word to demonstrate how inappropriate hers and her mother’s sense of humour were. I’m sure there were any number of ways that this could have been demonstrated without using a racial slur. I think that coloured the rest of my reading of the collection, even though it’s not the other authors’ fault that this one used inappropriate language.

I will admit I am generally not much of a non-fiction reader, and maybe that also affected my enjoyment. I am sure that the right reader will really enjoy these insights into Australian women in the spotlight.


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

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “The Iron Line” by L. M. Merrington

Title: The Iron Line
Author: L. M. Merrington
Genre: Historical/mystery
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 05/12/2020– 11/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

I love books that really evoke Australian settings and this book did just that! I went to an author talk L. M. Merrington gave not long after The Iron Line was published, where she talked about her research on the early Australian railway towns, and that research certainly paid off. The town of Tungold, where the action of The Iron Line takes place, really felt like some of the historical towns around where I grew up.

There is an interesting mystery at play, with townspeople acting suspiciously (why wouldn’t the wealthy pastoralist want the railway extended?), a ghost train with an even more ghostly driver, and someone turning up dead. Jane, our main character and narrator, also has secrets to hide. She reveals small things gradually, allowing the reader to put things together slowly until things are revealed properly at the end.

I did get a bit of an “I’m not like other girls” vibe from Jane, but for the most part I really liked her. She is a bit “unlikable” (forgive me for always putting that word in quotes; it’s a rather loaded term, especially when it comes to female characters) but that really juxtaposed her with the Tungold women. Jane is quick to tar them all with the same brush, but their individual personalities reveal themselves the more time Jane spends in the town.

Jane becomes something of an unreliable narrator, though this is not really revealed until right at the end. I’m not quite sure this worked with the first person narration, since it meant her reactions to things earlier on in the novel made no sense once you realised she already knew a lot more about what was going on than she let on.

Still, I found the writing engaging and enjoyed the story through to the end. I recommend for fans of historical fiction.


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

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#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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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “A Pocketful of Eyes” by Lili Wilkinson

Title: A Pocketful of Eyes
Author: Lili Wilkinson
Genre: Mystery/contemporary 
Audience: YA
Date Read: 15/11/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

I read this book over the course of one afternoon. I had to suspend my disbelief quite often, but gosh darn it, it was fun!

Bee has a summer job working for a taxidermist called Gus, and she’s enjoying the routine they’ve built up. Then suddenly a new guy called Toby is also in the office. And Gus is behaving strangely, just before he winds up dead. The police rule it a suicide, but Bee isn’t so sure. Drawing on her lifelong obsession with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, Bee is determined to solve the mystery of who killed her mentor.

I had to wonder whether Bee was supposed to autistic, or perhaps ADHD. She definitely displayed traits of both, though it is never mentioned on the page. I’ve seen this before where authors give themselves an out in case they get it ‘wrong’ – “what, no, I didn’t write them as autistic! I never mentioned anything about that!” Perhaps it’s just that Bee is very observant and logical and just likes routine, and gets very focused on things to the point of basically ignoring all else. But I did have to wonder.

I really enjoyed lots of the details of taxidermy and that it included a lot of details about the behind-the-scenes of a museum. I work in the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector, so a lot of it was stuff I already knew, but I liked that it was included. There were a few times where I picked up on things that probably weren’t quite right, but most readers aren’t going to notice that.

The mystery was a bit convoluted but it actually all makes a lot of sense. I probably didn’t pick up on all the clues at the time, but they were all there. It does rely on the police being a bit useless at their job in order for the teenagers to come in with the big reveal at the end (was there no autopsy?), but look, it’s a YA mystery. Just roll with it.

I enjoyed the romance aspect as well. Toby is such a nerd! (Though I sometimes wondered if he was a nerd so that Lili Wilkinson had an excuse to just dump random animal mating facts into the dialogue – there didn’t seem a whole lot of point to it happening so often). There were times when I was like “Guys, you have each other’s numbers, why are you not just picking up the phone!” I appreciated that Toby cooled off when Bee came out and accused him of murder [would have been weird if he’d been so in love with her to not do that!], but that it all worked out.

I recommend this one when you need something light and fun, with an unusual setting and quirky characters. Spend your Sunday afternoon on it!


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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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “Future Girl” by Asphyxia

Title: Future Girl
Author: Asphyxia
Genre: Scifi/dystopia/contemporary 
Audience: YA
Date Read: 10/10/2020– 14/10/2020
Rating: 
★★★★★

Review:

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before. It snuck up on me a bit. At first I was finding it a bit slow and then I reached a point where I couldn’t put it down.

Future Girl is set in a near-future Melbourne and there’s the temptation to call it a dystopia, but it’s not really that. Well, maybe kind of. It’s not like your usual YA Dystopia where the oppressive regime is really obvious about it and you don’t understand why the revolution hasn’t happened earlier.

It’s the more insidious oppression, where the government is doing some good stuff, which makes the population a little less inclined to question the iffy stuff. And that aspect is done really well. In fact, I suspect a lot of the population in the book had no idea the dodgy stuff was going on.

This is an Own Voices book. Asphyxia is a Deaf author/artist/activist and so is the MC, Piper. Piper has grown up wearing hearing aids and lip-reading, and it’s not until she meets Marley, a CODA (child of a Deaf adult), that she begins to learn Auslan. I loved seeing her enthusiasm for her new language, and the scenes where she interacts with Robbie, Marley’s Deaf mother, were wonderful. The descriptions are amazing! I tried doing some of the signs based on the written descriptions and I am sure I did a miserable job, but I am planning on spending some time on Asphyxia’s website watching her introductory Auslan videos.

I was actually surprised to discover I still remembered how to fingerspell the entire alphabet in Auslan, after learning in primary school. It wasn’t taught in class, and I can’t even remember how we ended up learning it, but we did, and… maybe that should be an official thing in primary schools? Just maybe?

It also reminded me of being a kid in the 90s and trying to replicate the signing described in the Baby-sitter’s Club books when Jessie was sitting a Deaf kid and learning ASL. Which makes you realise how few Deaf characters there are in books for kids and YA, since the only other book I can think of where characters use sign language is Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep, which I read earlier this year.

The book is also a bit of introduction to activism for those who might be interested in it. We follow Piper as she becomes aware of issues around her, and starts trying to find a way she can advocate for her beliefs. We’re there when things go wrong and when she has the courage to really stand up for herself.

The idea of the book is that you are reading Piper’s art journal, and it is absolutely beautiful! Every page is illustrated in some way, even if it’s just a border made to look like washi tape around the edges. There are also artworks that Piper talks about drawing, which you often actually see a couple of pages before the entry where she writes about drawing it.

One of my favourite aspects of the format was that as I was reading, I noticed many times the word “deaf” had a capital D over it in red. It’s not until the last third of the book where Marley explains to Piper the difference between deaf and Deaf, and she describes going through the journal and making the corrections.

You won’t find another book quite like this one and I definitely recommend picking this up.


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

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