Book Review: “Mrs Claus and the Santaland Slayings” by Liz Ireland

Title: Mrs Claus and the Santaland Slayings (Mrs Claus #1)
Author: Liz Ireland
Genre: Urban fantasy/cozy mystery
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 02/12/2021 – 06/12/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

When I walked past this book at the library, I had to pick it up. A cozy mystery with Santa as the prime suspect? My theory was it would be enjoyable even if it turned out to be a case of “so bad it’s good”.

I was actually taken by surprise by how in depth the world-building was! It was so over-the-top cheesy festive, but it worked. There were elves and talking reindeer, and even sentient snowmen. It was fun!

I liked amateur sleuth, April Claus, and her and Nick’s valet, Jingles. The overbearing mother-in-law, Pamela Claus, was also great – she was so fussy and prim and reminded me strongly of my grandmother!

I have to admit, though, that I wasn’t overly fussed on the rest of the rest of the Claus family. While it is clear that Nick Claus has taken on the mantle of Santa somewhat unwillingly, he just seemed… so un-Santa-like. It was a bit jarring.

I know some of the other reviews have said the identity of the murderer was obvious from the beginning. I had the opposite problem, in that I felt I hadn’t really seen enough of this character, and the things that pointed towards them as the murderer either weren’t clear or I missed them. So I was just a bit “meh” about the whole revelation.

Still, this was a fun, seasonal read with a unique twist!


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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: “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)