#AWW2021 Book Review: “Where Shadows Rise” by Amy Laurens

Title: Where Shadows Rise (Sanctuary #1)
Author: Amy Laurens
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 09/08/2021 – 1508/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

This is a good series opener, though I have to admit I was expecting a bit more. I’ll be up front and say that my main issue was I felt the world was a bit under-developed.

Sanctuary is supposed to be a literal fairyland, with fairies and unicorns, but I never really got a good sense of its depth or any mythos behind it.

I did feel the descriptions of the Valley, the dark opposite of Sanctuary, were more powerful, particularly towards the end as main character Edge begrudgingly fought to save someone she didn’t care for.

Edge, Gemma and Scott also read a lot older than thirteen, which also threw me a bit. I really doubt there are many thirteen-year-olds who know the word “incorrigible”, let alone use it. The only reason I learned it at fifteen was because it was in one of my lines in play!

Still, I have the second book on hand and I plan to continue with the series. I have a feeling that this is the type of series that will build and develop as it goes, and I’m looking forward to book two being a stronger read.


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

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#AWW2021 Book Review: “An Unforeseen Demise” by P. A. Mason

Title: An Unforeseen Demise (Trouble Down Under #1)
Author: P. A. Mason
Genre: Urban fantasy/cozy mystery
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 27/06/2021 – 30/06/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I have to admit that when I heard P. A. Mason was writing a series of witchy cozy mysteries set in Australia, I wasn’t actually expecting an American main character but I understand the choice. Mason’s audience is likely to be mostly Americans, or at least largely non-Australian, and an audience stand-in who can ask questions about kangaroos and our odd colloquialisms was probably necessary.

Kat Crowe is one of a family of witches who travels to Australia to take care of her Aunt Tabitha’s affairs after the older woman’s unexpected death. But Aunt Tabby’s death seems suspicious, not the least because as a seer, she should have seen it coming, and seemingly didn’t.

This book has all the elements you expect from a cozy mystery: small town, nosy neighbours, and residents who aren’t all they seem. I loved some of the witchy additions, like the “witchy web”, an app that connects the magical community but appears as a phony astrology app to non-magical people who stumble across it.

The solution to the mystery was somewhat bittersweet, but it more than answered the question of why no one knew about Aunt Tabby’s death before it happened.

I’m definitely looking forward to more of Kat’s adventures in future instalments!


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

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “A Very Krampy Christmas” by P. A. Mason

Title: A Very Krampy Christmas (Gretchen’s [Mis]Adventures #8)
Author: P. A. Mason
Genre: Fantasy/humour
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 15/12/2020– 16/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Gretchen’s Misadventures is such a fun series and this is exactly the type of light-hearted, witchy Chrismtas story I’d been craving this month.

I’m actually rather behind on the series, having only read the prequel and the first two installments, but there weren’t too many references to past events that I didn’t understand.

We get to see various Christmas traditions – or at least we hear about them, as quite a few of them are interrupted by the arrival of a flurry of tiny Krampuses, thanks to an upset young witch not yet in control of her powers. Piper is a great addition to the cast of characters and will add a bit of a new dynamic to the stories going forward. I’m looking forward to seeing what she and Gretchen get up to together.

I don’t know much about The Krampus mythology, so I am not sure how much of the Gretchen’s solutions to the Krampus invasion are true to tradition and how many were invented for this story. But a Christmas demon/monster/creature that is defeated by alcohol and silver? Definitely a festive solution to festive problem. As someone who was wholly freaked out when I first heard of Krampus, I appreciated the ways in which Mason was able to make the legend a lot more lighthearted than the original.

This review is brief because the story itself is brief, but I definitely recommend this series if you like seeing folklore and fairy tales turned on their heads. There are eight stories so far and more to come. Get on it!


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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#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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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “The Blood Countess” by Tara Moss

Title: The Blood Countess (Pandora English #1)
Author: Tara Moss
Genre: Paranormal/urban fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 15/09/2020– 22/09/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review:

You know when you really wish you enjoyed a book more than you did? Yeah, this was one of those.

There’s a lot in this book – ghosts, vampires, and zombies to name a few – and I can’t help but think it would have been better to introduce some of them later on. As it was, I didn’t really feel that all the supernatural elements got the introduction they deserved.

I enjoyed the glimpses into the NYC fashion scene, something I know Tara Moss writes of with experience. And I really enjoyed seeing Pandora research the BloodofYouth beauty cream and expose it. Maybe that’s because I’m a nerd like that and would do the same kind of digging.

I was excited when a sexy Civil War-era ghost showed up in Pandora’s new home. I’m a sucker for a ghost romance… but that all happened very quickly and didn’t really have any build-up, which was a bit disappointing. And speaking of lack of build-up, the main antagonist was introduced quite late in the piece and was then defeated really easily.

This is a series opener, and I have a feeling that now this book has done a lot of the setup, I could enjoy the subsequent books more. While I didn’t find this to be the most gripping YA paranormal, I haven’t entirely written off Pandora English just yet.


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

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 “A large male orderly stands sentry, securing her passage to the place beyond sanity, and Emma steps inside…” // Review of “None Shall Sleep” by Ellie Marney

Title: None Shall Sleep
Author: Ellie Marney
Genre: Thriller/historical fiction
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 17/08/2020– 20/08/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

People who know me tend to view me as the boppy, cheery, showtune-belting one, so it always comes as a surprise to them when I announce how much I love books about serial killers (only fictional ones; I can’t do the real ones).

When Ellie Marney announced earlier this year that she was writing a serial killer thriller, I couldn’t have been happier! (I’m sure there’s a showtune I could find to express the excitement.)

I did find that I took a little while to really get into this one, but by the time I got to the end, I was thinking it was my favourite Ellie Marney book (second only to White Night). There are lots of twists and turns, including a character death I totally wasn’t expecting. There are lots of references to blood, and the climax gets violent and bit gory, so I would caution against it if you are faint of heart.

I was surprised there was no romance, given this is an Ellie Marney book. But it works just fine without it, and to be honest, given the things the characters have already gone through and what they continue to go through, it would probably be a bit squiffy to have it in there as well. I really liked the friendship that formed between Emma and Travis instead, that they could recognise each other’s trauma and be there for each other, but also knew how much the other could take and when they needed to step in.

The book is set in 1982 but to be honest, I sometimes forgot! Until the characters are trying to get somewhere without a map, or need to go and find a nearby phone to contact someone. This was fairly early days in the behavioural science field, and it was interesting hearing learning about that.


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 from Ellie Marney in a Twitter giveaway)

#AWW2020 #LoveOzYA Book Review: “Oasis” by Katya de Becerra

Title: Oasis
Author:
Katya de Becerra
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-fi
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 18/05/20 – 22/05/20
Rating: 
★★☆

Review: 

Okay, so this was… weird. I honestly am not sure whether it’s a 2.5 or maybe a 3 star rating but this is definitely a case of not living up to the hype. I was expecting to give this 5 stars when I read it. You know those times when you think “Did I read the same book my friends did? I don’t get it.” Yeeaaaah.

The writing was engaging, I will give it that. There are some great descriptions, though I think the author did better when describing abstract things like the heat or the weird dreams Alif, the MC, has, than when describing more physical things like the sand dunes.

I never believed in the characters, which I think was my main issue. I’m supposed to believe this group have been friends for years, when all they seem to do is quibble. There are multiple times when Alif has the realisation that despite Luke having been part of their group for a long time, she “never really knew him”. Like, surely you have to be really good friends with someone to go on an overseas trip with them. And if you’re that close, and you’re not interested in archaeology, surely you can tell your friend that visiting her dad’s dig site isn’t really for you. You know, rather than getting there and being a jerk about it.

Also Luke and Tommy facing off and getting all macho at each over over Alif… ugh.

The world-building was limited and there was minimal explanation of anything… and then there was the open-ended conclusion that just left me feeling unsatisfied. I genuinely don’t actually understand what happened, and what it meant for the events of the previous 100 pages. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy an open ending, but this was just… a nothing ending.

I’m really disappointed because I’d been really looking forward to it, and I knew a few people who’d really enjoyed it. I guess it was just not to be.


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

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Ochre Dragon” by V. E. Patton

Title: Ochre Dragon (Opal Dreaming Chronicles #1)
Author:
V. E. Patton
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 27/04/20 – 12/05/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This was definitely different to the fantasy I usually read. I guess that may be partly because a lot of the fantasy I read is YA, and therefore has a different feel and pace.

Ochre Dragon is the first in the Opal Dreaming Chronicles and it follows three women at different stages of life, living on different worlds, who are irrevocably linked.

The book seamlessly blends science and magic, giving us dystopia, deities, dragons and time gates, to name a few. Somehow it never seems like the book is overdoing it.

I’ll admit it did take me a while to get into it, and I think that was partly because for the first while, I was reading in very small dribs and drabs. It’s the sort of book that deserves to be properly absorbed in as few sittings as possible, I think. The writing is very lyrical and the plot is well set out.

It does end on a cliffhanger, but now that the cast is all in the position, I am very interested to see where they go from here!

Content warning: there are two instances of attempted rape and the suggestion of past sexual violence.


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

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Greythorne” by L. M. Merrington

Title: Greythorne
Author:
L. M. Merrington
Genre: Historical fiction/Gothic novel
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 08/05/20 – 12/05/20
Rating: 
★★★

Review:  

I’ve had a copy of Greythorne for quite some time and I’m finally getting to it now that I am actively aiming to read the Australian books I own.

Merrington draws on the Gothic tradition, as you can probably tell from the cover. The main character, Nell, is sent to Greythorne Manor, an isolated house on a difficult-to-reach island (rocky outcrop?), to become governess to 8-year-old Sophie, the daughter of a scientist.

The sense of isolation within a large, empty house is very well done, and I could imagine Nell wandering empty corridors with the wind billowing outside. And particularly when Professor Greythorne.

I was getting some distinct Frankenstein vibes from the Professor, and while I was somewhat on the right track with that, Merrington definitely puts her own spin on the gothic mad scientist trope. I am probably already giving things away so I don’t want to elaborate anymore on that one.

Following in the tradition of the gothic novels before it, the story moves quite slowly, with the increasing sense of uneasiness. There is some good foreshadowing of things that really become important later. While it took me a few days to get through this one due to time, I think this a good one to dedicate a cozy winter afternoon to.


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

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