#AWW2020 “First breakfast, and then saving the world.” // Review of “Greenhaelen” by L. A. Webster

Title: Greenhaelen (Chronicles of Algarth #1)
Author:
L. A. Webster
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 04/02/20 – 10/02/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

Quick disclaimer: L. A. Webster is a friend from the #6amAusWriters group on Twitter, and I received an ARC for free. I promise that neither of those facts have affected my review, though.

Greenhaelen has a beautiful lyrical narrative style. I want to say it feels a bit like an older style fantasy novel, even though I’m not quite sure how to explain what I mean by that. It eases you in gently, lets you get to know the characters, gives you some beautiful descriptions of gardens, and then takes you on an adventure. 

It’s the kind of story where I wanted to keep reading even when I was stuck at work because I wanted to know if my theories were correct (yes,  had theories!). 

There’s a great cast of characters, both good and bad. Sara as a main character really carries the story. My favourite, though, was Kelan, the teenage son of the woman who takes Sara in when she first arrives in Algarth. First, because he seemed to think he was cleverer than he really was (in a way that all 19-year-olds tend to) but then by the end he really came into his own and really helped the group and I was so proud, I wanted to hug him! 

The story is tightly-plotted, though there were a couple of times where characters needed to get from A to B so a couple of chapters would be devoted to travelling and not much else. This wasn’t too bad, though. It mostly sticks to the POVs of Sara and a few others, but gives us enough from other characters perspectives when necessary for us to know what’s going on. There’s magic and adventure and politics and intrigue, and I love how it all culminated at the end. 

There are parallels between The Blight, an ecological disaster destroying farms and lives in Algarth, and our own struggles with climate change, and I really enjoyed the way this was dealt with without being heavy-handed. 

This is the first in a series, and I am very much looking forward to book two and exploring Algarth further!


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

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “Blackbirch: The Beginning” by K. M. Allan

Title: The Beginning (Blackbirch #1)
Author:
K. M. Allan
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

Quick disclaimer: K. M. Allan is a friend from the #6amAusWriters group on Twitter, and I received an ARC for free. I promise that neither of those facts have affected my review, though.

Witchcraft is my favourite form of magic, and the magick in Blackbirch definitely falls under that heading. From the start, Allan creates an almost other-worldly town in Blackbirch. It almost felt like the town wasn’t quite in the 21st century.

To be honest, my favourite character was Eve, the girl who’s something of an outcast because of her fascination with witchcraft and the town’s history. There are some hints at the end of the book as to where her character arc is likely to lead and I’m really looking forward to seeing that play out (without spoiling too much, I think it’s going to get messy).

None of that is to say the other characters weren’t interesting. It took me a little while to warm to Josh, mostly because he spends a large chunk of the novel being mopey and a bit of a stick in the mud. But there are reasons why he was doing that, which come out later. Once he was a bit more involved in the action, I was able to get more invested in him.

I am definitely jealous of Allan’s ability to write a climax – there’s a fantastic buildup to a confrontation in the woods that I really enjoyed.  And while most of the major plotlines are wrapped up, there are still plenty of opportunities for things to unfold in the coming books. I for one am really looking forward to it!

 


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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “It Sounded Better In My Head” by Nina Kenwood

Title: It Sounded Better In My Head
Author:
Nina Kenwood
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This book was certainly sweet and I loved how painfully realistic it was at times. But some pacing issues and the lack of characterisation from anyone other than the main character left me feeling like there could have been more.

Natalie’s life is diverging from the Plan. Her parents announce their separation on Christmas Day, her two best friends have started dating so she feels like a third wheel, and she’s just finished high-school and doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She’s also still dealing with image issues that have haunted her throughout her teen years thanks to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).  

Since this book is in the first person, we are very much in Natalie’s head. And she has a lot going on in there. But it did mean I felt like I didn’t really get to know the other characters. There were flashes of personality from them, such as Lucy covering awkwardness amongst her friends with OTT bubbliness, Mariella with her love of gossip about her children… but Alex is the love interest and Natalie spends so much of her time thinking about him and yet as I write this, there’s very little I could tell you about Alex as a person.

There’s also the fact that sometimes the pacing was strange. The plot would grind to a half for several pages while we got some of Natalie’s backstory. Sure, it was good to know about her and some of it moved the plot (such as learning how she met Zach and Lucy) but a lot of the time it made me forget what had just been happening.

Apart from that, though, the writing is really engaging. I flew through the pages. The messiness of teenage friendships is so realistic, I could feel my guts churning on behalf of the characters. There were times when Natalie’s body image issues and insecurities felt a little repetitive, but at the same time, I recognise the cyclical nature of such thoughts in real life.

On the other hand, I really liked how sex positive the book was, particularly in regards to its female characters. It’s mentioned that Natalie knows how to give herself an orgasm, and Lucy is the first one of their friendship group to have sex. While it’s a shock to the others, it’s still shown in a positive light.

This is Nina Kenwood’s debut and I will definitely be watching out for more of her work.


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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “Beneath the Surface” by Rebecca Langham

Title: Beneath the Surface (Outsiders Project #1)
Author: Rebecca Langham
Genre: Sci-fi
Target audience: Adult
Dates read:
24/12/2019 – 30/12/2019
Rating: ★★

Review:

This is kind of a slow book, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It has a lot going on in terms of themes, characters and plot, and explores a lot of it really well. Unfortunately I didn’t engage quite enough with it to bump my rating any higher.

Lydia is a politician’s daughter and has grown up believing that segregation of the alien race they call Outsiders is only natural. But when she takes a teaching contract at the Outside colony, she realises all is not as it seems. And there’s one particular Outsider, Alessia, to whom she feels particularly drawn…

Often I find that I am interested in the development of a relationship up until the point where the characters get together, at which point it gets boring. I actually found the opposite with Lydia and Alessia. I didn’t actually feel there was much build-up or reason for them to feel so strongly about each other, but I loved reading about them together! Once that happened, I really felt the depth of feeling between them.

I mentioned before that there a lot of themes, and a lot of them are talked about. Literally, the characters have a lot of conversations. There is a lot of talking. I’m sure many readers might find this irritating, and it is slow-moving for that reason. There are some dramatic scenes, but I wouldn’t say there’s any action to speak of.

Still, I was  interested enough in the world-building and characters to continue reading. There are some pretty big reveals dropped towards the end that pave the way nicely for the conclusion of the story in the second book, and I defintiely want to see the fallout from the events in this one.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2019 “Australia is alive with the long history of the Indigenous people, our culture and our presence.” // Book Review: “Welcome to Country” by Marcia Langton

Title: Welcome to Country:
Author: Professor Marcia Langton
Genre: Non-fiction/travel guide
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
05/12/19 – 27/12/19
Rating:
(chosen to give rating)

Review:

This book made me want to go travelling! Welcome To Country is an Australian travel-guide with a focus on the cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians.

It opens with chapters about Indigenous history and culture, and how colonisation caused so much dispossession, loss of culture, and outright genocide.

There are also sections on Indigneous notions of kinship and ceremony, and other cultural aspects. As the book is written as a travel guide, none of this goes into huge amounts of depth, but it is enough for a primer, which is what the average reader is likely to be looking for.

After this, the book is divided into chapters on each state and territory, and these are further divided into sections on festivals, sporting events, places, galleries, music and other tourist attractions run by Indigenous Australians.

I will admit that I didn’t read this section in the greatest of detail, and mostly skimmed over information related to  travelling to  each place (the font changed and was a lot smaller for this information, and once I started skimming that, I found the whole reading experience a lot better).  But I did pay attention to the names of places and tours, and I wanted to visit so many and give them my support. The Northern Territory and Western Australia are the two longest chapters and the ACT and Torres Strait Islands chapters are the smallest, but they all contain valuable information.

This is such a fantastic resource that should have existed long before 2018! I’ll definitely be consulting it again when I am planning to travel this great land.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2019 “This is how I tell it, or else what’s a story for?” // Review of “The Hate Race” by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Title: The Hate Race
Author: Maxine Beneba Clarke
Genre: Memoir
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
12/11/19 – 16/11/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

It’s always hard to know exactly what to say in a review like this. I’m in a position of privilege as a white person, and this entire book is about Maxine’s experiences of racism as a black woman in Australia.

The racism she describes is mostly not overt. She really highlights the way it insideously inserts itself into a POC’s life – the little things like the tone of voice a fellow pre-schooler uses when she states “Your skin is brown” and how that statement of fact becomes a nasty comment just through the tone. Or how her first high-school boyfriend was happy to hang out with her in certain circumstances but didn’t want to visit her home and disassocated from her when he was surrounded by his private school peers.

Maxine’s experience as a poet definitely comes through in this book – there is a certain poetry throughout the prose; Maxine frames her story as something of a West Indian song or story her grandparents might have told. It’s beautiful and striking, particularly in contrast to the content of some of the stories she is telling.

Definitely recommend this book for fans of memoir and who want to support the diversity of Australian writing. This is my first book from Maxine Beneba Clarke, but I’ll definitely be following it up with some fiction books asap!


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Serpent and the Flower” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: The Serpent and the Flower
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Contemporary/horror
Target audience: YA
Rating: ★★

Review:

Confession: I don’t really know Macbeth that well. I don’t really like Shakespeare’s tragedies. And that probably affected by enjoyment of this book. (Someone give me a romcom set around a production of Much Ado About Nothing, please!)

Well, then, Emily, if that’s the case, why did you put your hand up for an ARC of a book about a group of teenagers staging Macbeth?

Well, because while I might have been more into musicals, I was the theatre nerd at school. And I’m honestly surprised haunted theatre stories aren’t more of a thing – that was up my alley, too. I love theatre ghost lore. Also the cover is gorgeous.

Madeleine D’Este definitely does creepy well. There’s a seance scene in her novella Evangeline and the Spiritualist that creeped me out completely and that was why that was my favourite of the Evangeline stories. And there are equivalent spooky scenes in this one, too. There are some scenes in this book where characters find themselves alone in the theatre or elsewhere in the school, hearing voices or having chairs pelted at their heads by invisible hands.

The characters certainly had their moments (one of my GoodReads updates was ‘Whoa, Ravenswood, you need to calm down!” and another was “Actors like Violet make me glad I’m only ever in the chorus – no one’s going to want to hurt me for my part”). But for the most part I never really felt like the characters leapt off the page… some of the other reviews have referred to parallels between these characters and those in Macbeth, and perhaps if I had been able to spot those parallels,  there would have been some added depth to the characters that I was missing.

My reading experience mostly depends on how invested I am in the characters, but the writing and plotting are both very good, and I think the right reader will definitely enjoy this.


Thank you to the author for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2019 Book Review: “Portable Curiosities” by Julie Koh

Title: Portable Curiosities
Author: Julie Koh
Audio book narrator: Lauren Hamilton Neill
Genre: Short stories/satire
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
10/11/19 – 25/11/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

What an interesting collection of stories! As I’m getting into writing more short stories myself, I am finding myself drawn more to reading them. This collection from Julie Koh is clever, eyebrow-raising and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

The stories examine being Asian in a white world, being female in a male world, diversity, capitalism and consumerism, social media influencers, and many other aspects of the modern world. They do so in an absurdist, satirical way.

There were some that I really enjoyed, such as The Magnificent Breasts, an indictment on the male objectification of women, and they way women are gaslit into staying in abusive relationships.

I will be honest that there were others where I got to the end and wasn’t 100% sure what the story had been trying to say. But I really appreciated that these stories were speculative and funny as they satirised the world around us. I have found a lot of the short story genre tends to be very realistic, and lacking humour as it tries to be deep. Or maybe I’m just reading the wrong short stories? Either way, this was a nice break and I definitely intend to pick up Julie Koh’s other collection not too far in the future.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Antics of Evangeline” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: The Antics of Evangeline (Books 1-4)
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Steampunk/Fantasy
Target audience: YA
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Having read Madeleine D’Este’s newest release, “Women of Wasps and War” earlier in the year, it was nice to know that she had some lighter reading in her back catalogue that I could continue on with.

The Antics of Evangeline is made up of four novellas, but I’ve chosen to review them all together. Evangeline is the daughter of esteemed engineer and inventor, Montague Calidcott, though she’s only just discovered that fact. She’s now living with him in Melbourne, and getting up to all kinds of mischief.

Evangeline is a fun lead character. She’s clever but impulsive and doesn’t quite know how to stay out of trouble. She’s also an inspiring inventor, though her inventions don’t always work as intended. The term “inventress” did grate on me a little – I am not sure if it is period-appropriate or just the author’s stylistic decision but I didn’t love it either way. Just use “inventor”!

I know the stories are short but I would have liked to hear more of Evangeline’s backstory. There were definitely some revelations, but I feel like there’s a lot more to know! The last installment was published in 2017; I’m not sure whether further stories were/are intended where we might get to learn more. Ditto her father’s secret project that lurks beneath a sheet in his workshop and every now and then exhibits strange behaviour.

Evangeline is joined by a fun cast of characters, including her best friend Mei, who teaches her martial arts, her Uncle Edmond and his actor ‘friend’/’companion’ August, and Mrs Plockton, the God-fearing housekeeper. They all have very distinct personalities that sometimes clash.

Evangeline and the Spiritualist, episode 3, was definitely my favourite of the four. I actually included it among my Halloween reads as the seance scene was a bit unnerving.

While the books are primarily steampunk, there are small touches of fantasy, which I enjoyed. Things like the seance may be fake or might be supernatural, you’re never quite sure, but the bunyip (book 2) is definitely a monster.

These four instalments are available individually or in a combined volume. I recommend picking these up for light-hearted steampunky goodness.

Individual book ratings: 

Evangeline and the Alchemist – 4 stars

Evangeline and the Bunyip – 3 stars

Evangeline and the Spiritualist – 4 stars

Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights – 3 stars


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#Aww2019 #LoveOzMG Book Review: “Songbird” by Ingrid Laguna

Title: Songbird
Author:
Ingrid Laguna
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: MG
Date Read: 05/10/19
Rating:
★★★★

Review:

This was such a sweet, uplifting book! It’s only short and I read it all in one sitting, and afterwards had a huge smile on my face. It was kind of easy to see where the story was going, but that didn’t take away from it at all.

Jamila, her mother and younger brother are refugees newly arrived in Melbourne from Iraq. Jamila is struggling to balance her new school life where she is the odd one out with her mother’s needs as they all try to adapt. But when Jamila joins the school choir and begins to make friends, she starts to fit in there… if only her father could make it to Australia, too…

I really felt for Jamila. I could feel her distress and not being able to talk to her classmates and being nervous due to her less-than-perfect English. I felt her frustration when her mother called her home from school to help with things like groceries. i have not had the same life experiences as Jamila but music got me through some bad times, too, so I completely related when she found that the school choir rehearsals were one of the only times at school that enjoyed, and how she could lose herself in writing a song.

The book deals with refugee issues, racism, death and terrorism in a way that I think would be accessible to readers in the target age group. I think it would be a great introduction to the topic, with room for discussion afterwards, and without feeling too overwhelming.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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