#aww2017 Book Review: “A Dangerous Language” by Sulari Gentill

Title: A Dangerous Language (Rowland Sinclair Mysteries #8)
Author: Sulari Gentill
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Date Read: 20/09/2017 – 27/09/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Leaping into the eighth book in a series without having read the others is a risk. I have to admit the main reason I picked this ARC up on NetGalley was because I had seen Sulari Gentill host a panel at the recent Canberra Writer’s Festival and was interested to sample her writing. I think I probably would have been a bit more engaged had I been familiar with the core cast of characters from books one through seven, but this book was enjoyable nonetheless.

In 1930s Australia, Rowland Sinclair finds himself caught up in intrigues between the government, and Fascist and Communist factions when he agrees to help a notorious anti-Fascist speaker get into Australia before the government can ban him. The journey takes him across Australia and nearly gets him killed on more than one occasion.

I enjoyed the characters in this far more than the mystery or the political machinations, really. The core cast are a really fun bunch, and hopeless romantic that I am, I also really enjoyed watching Rowly wrestle with romantic feelings and other related entanglements. I did enjoy the way Gentill wove actual historical events into the story, though at the same time, I am never quite sure how to feel about actual historical figures as characters in novels.

There were two murders featured in the story, though they felt like window dressing for the political machinations, which seemed to be more of the focus. For a significant portion of the book, there was no focus on either death. One of them was solved towards the end, but the other one was just concluded via a note in the epilogue, and I think was mostly there to create some tension at the beginning of the story, when Rowland and his friends thought the victim might have been their friend and colleague, Edna. Once it was established that Edna was safe, there was no real reason for the main characters to give the death any more than a passing interest.

That sort of peripheral focus on the murders is something I am not sure isn’t a feature of the series. I have no idea what form the mysteries take in the other books and so I don’t know if it is just that I wasn’t used to it, being a newbie. Ditto the excerpts from newspapers and other publications of the time at the beginning of each chapter. I have no idea if this is a stylistic feature present in all the books; if it is, I would probably bear with it a bit more, though as it was, I felt they weren’t always necessary and at times, I even skipped them.

Still, I can definitely see why this is a popular series, especially with those who are big readers of historical fiction.


(Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017. Click here for more information).

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#aww2016 #LoveOzYA “And whatever you end up discovering – try to think of me kindly. If you can.” // Review of “The Disappearance of Ember Crow” by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Title: The Disappearance of Ember Crow (The Tribe  #2)
Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Genre: YA/dystopian
Date Read: 12/09/2017 – 14/09/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Knowing that I enjoyed the first book in this series, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, well enough but was not blown away by it meant that I went in without expecting to be blown away by this one.  I had pretty much exactly the same reaction to this one: it has a tight, interesting plot and is well-written,  but for some reason, it just didn’t wow me.

Even though it had been over a year since I read the first book, I didn’t have too much trouble getting back into this world, so that was a good sign. This instalment took the world-building of the previous book and expanded on it, and I did enjoy seeing more of the physical setting as well as getting more of the history.

I didn’t find the romance between Ember and Jules interesting at all. They barely knew each other, and there was no chemistry between them. It didn’t really make much sense to me that Jules would go out of his way to help Ember on a few days’ acquaintance.

I did enjoy the climax of the novel. It was exciting and had some good twists. I honestly can’t tell you why I didn’t get more into this book. I think it was just a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Wrapup #aww2016

aww2016badge

This year was my first year participating in the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. I really enjoyed being pushed a bit out of my comfort zone as I explored the books on offer.]

My goal for this year was to read 12 books by Australian women, including two by indigneous authors and two by LGBTI* authors. I read 15 books, and two by indigenous authors. I didn’t meet my third goal, onlyl reading one book by an LGBTI* author (that I know of). This is because I left it right until the end to get to those two authors, and the second, Letters to the End of Love by Yvette Walker, was just not for me, and I ended up not finishing it.

I will do a better job on the diversity front next year!

Even though I didn’t quite reach my goals, here’s a list of the books I did read and review. The links go to my GoodReads reviews, which then link back to this blog. You can read them in either place.

Lucid Dreaming by Cassandra Page – 4 stars, fantasy

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville – 5 stars, historical fiction

Mirrorfall (Require: Cookie #1) by Grace McDermott – 2.5 stars, sci-fi/fantasy

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil – 3.5 stars, contemporary YA

Captive Prince (Captive Prince #1) by C. S. Pacat – 2 stars, m/m romance/fantasy

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald – 3 stars, thriller

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss – 3 stars, memoir/social commentary

Isla’s Inheritance  (Isla’s Inheritance #1) by Cassandra Page – 3 stars, YA urban fantasy

Paper Daisies by Kim Kelly – 3 stars, historical fiction

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe #1) by Ambelin Kwaymullin – 3.5 stars, YA dystopian

Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss – 4 stars, memoir

Tallow (Curse of the Bond Riders #1) by Karen Brooks – 3.5 stars, YA historical fantasy

Votive (Curse of the Bond Riders #2) by Karen Brooks – 3 stars, YA historical fantasy

The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley – 3.5 stars, historical fiction

Heat and Light by Elle van Neerven  – 3.5 stars, literary fiction

As you can see, there was a lot I enjoyed, though maybe not much that completely blew me away. Next year, I plan to set the same goals and hoepfully I’ll find some real favourites!

~ Emily

“What will this experiment hold for her?” // Review of “Heat and Light” by Ellen van Neerven #aww2016

Title: Heat and Light
Author: ellen van Neerven
Genre: Literary fiction/queer fiction
Date Read:
28/11/2016 – 30/11/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is quite an interesting book, split into three sections. The first two, I really enjoyed, though I have to admit, I didn’t quite “get” the third one. Still, the writing is gorgeous and this is a fabulous debut novel.

In Heat, we meet several generations of the Kresinger family, and see the effects of the matriarch, Pearl, on her descendents. In Water, we see a dystopian Australian future, where an ancient spirit still thrives, and in Water, we see the effects of familial ties on a struggle for identity.

In these stories, aboriginality, sexuality, and womanhood all intersect. These three themes are not usually dealt with all at once and it was really interesting seeing them explored together. Water was my favourite of the three stories, perhaps because it took the form of a genre I prefer over the other two, which were more literary and contemporary.  It also dealt with issues of displacement and race, using a metaphor that was , while fairly obviousk still nuanced and never heavy-handed. Water was also more linear in its storytelling, while the other two parts are more fragmented, jumping between characters and between time periods.

The characters in all three stories read as genuinely Australian, and genuinely aboriginal (from my, admittedly limited, experience). The writing style is really beautiful; it flows really naturally and never feels like it is trying too hard (apart from maybe that fragmented style). As I said earlier, I didn’t really get the third part quite as much. It did seem more disjointed than the other two pieces. I read in some other reviews that this part actually tied in with the first, but if that is the case, I missed the connection.

Ellen van Neerven is definitely an author to keep an eye on. She has a great way with words and a way of exploring complex issues without feeling too pretentious or over-the-top.


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2016. Click here for more information.

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December 2016 TBR

Who else can’t believe it’s already December? I certainly can’t! I’ve still got two reading challenges to finish, and while I have the various things I need to finish over this month recorded in various places, I thought it might be a good idea to list it all here. In any other month, I wouldn’t be too worried about trying to finish this number of books, but December is always so busy, and I barely have a free weekend between now and Christmas. We can only hope!

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge

lettersendoflovecoverThe goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year was to read and review at least 12 books by Australian Women, including two by Indigenous authors and two by LGBTQI* authors. While I have reviewed 15, I still need to read one more by a lGBTQI* author. The book I have chosen is Letters to the End of Love by Yvette Walker. This book sounds really enjoyable from the blurb and the reviews, so I’m hoping I enjoy it. I have this one out from the library at the moment, so I can get to it asap.

The 2016 Choose Your Own Challenge Challenge

This challenge has been run out of a GoodReads group. At the beginning of the year, I chose 20 prompts, and I still have five to go, but I’ve worked out which books to read to fill them, and I have copies of all of them, so here’s hoping!

elenorecoverElenore by Faith Rivens = a book with a protagonist who has your occupation

Librarian, that is, not demon hunter. I’d be no good at that. Faith was good enough to provide me with an ARC of this book, and I’m really excited to read her debut.

motherofdreamscoverMother of Dreams edited by Makoto Ueda = a book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with

A colleague who recently passed away wanted her library to given away to family and friends. She was very interested in Japanese culture and had a lot of books pertaining to that among her shelves. This is one of the, uh, seventeen that I ended up with.

fairestcoverFairest by Marissa Meyer = an “in between the books” book (i.e. Book 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 of a series)

I recently replaced “the 16th book on your TBR” with this prompt, as for various reasons, that one wasn’t going to happen. But I’m gradually working my way through Marissa Meyer’s books that I am yet to read, and I’m excited to finally get to this one.

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett = a book published on the year you were born pyramidscover

I already had this on my list and was planning to get it from the library when I picked up a copy from a local market stall. It’s been a while since I read any Terry Pratchett, and this one is quite short, so I think it will be a good one to get back into his books with.

annefrankcoverDiary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank = a book from the Rory Gilmore Challenge

I remember starting Anne Frank’s diary once before, but I never finished it. I understand a lot more about the Second World War now, though, and I have seen the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam (I didn’t go in as the queue was around the block and I was quite sick; I ended up going back to the hotel and sleeping). I have a feeling this one is going to result in lots of tears.

So that’s it! I have 29 days and six books to get through (plus the one I’m reading at the moment)! Wish me luck!

~ Emily

“Anyhow, I couldn’t do it without you.” // Review of “The Birdman’s Wife” by Melissa Ashley #aww2016

Title: The Birdman’s Wife
Author: Melissa Ashley
Genre: Historical fiction
Date Read: 23/08/2016 – 08/09/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Based on a real life and meticulouusly researched, this book conveys information about the life of illustrator Elizabeth Gould, as well as the natural history craze sweeping Europe in the mid-nineteenth century.

Elizabeth Coxen married zoologist John Gould in 1829. Not only did she give birth to eight of his children, but she was also the illustrator for many of his publications on wildlife, particularly birds, around the world. In 1838 she accompanied him on a trip to Australia, where she provided the illustrations for his monograph, The Birds of Australia. Sadly, Elizabeth died at the age of 38 and her husband’s career significanly eclipsed that of her own. This book seeks to give her her own much deserved place in history.

Melissa Ashley manages to cram so much into this book about life in London in the 1820s and 30s and travel in Australia in the late 30s, as well as details about ornithography, zoology and the specimens John and Elizabeth Gould collected and described. And yet, it never really felt like the author was info-dumping. It was more like someone really passionate about their subject getting excited and wanting to share everything they can with you.

The novel is in first person, not something I am generally a fan of, but I did like Elizabeth’s narrative voice. It felt very appropriate to the time period, and I think it worked because it did allow for the glimpse into her innermost thoughts that we don’t really get a sense of by just reading the history books. The character of John Gould got a bit overbearing at times; while it was great to see a character so passionate about his calling, he certainly did let that overpower his devotion to his wife a lot, and that made me frown.

The novel is littered with other enjoyable side characters, such as the Gould children and extended family, Lady Franklin in Tasmania, and fellow illustrator Edward Lear (I had to google him to check it was the same Edward Lear who wrote the Owl and the Pussy Cat, and what do you know, it was! He was also a scientific illustrator).

The main reason this didn’t get a higher rating than 3.5 from me is more of a preference thing than anything actually “wrong” with the book. As this is based on someone’s life, it is more of a chronicle of things they did, rather than having a “plot” so to speak, with interesting twists and turns. I do find this sort of story a bit harder to get into to, and so it meant that it was a bit of a slower read for me. However, I am sure that people who read more historical fiction than I do will not have such a problem with this.

I was reading an ARC, so there were only a few examples of the illustrations, but I believe their are quite a few more was able to find some examples online of Elizabeth’s work, and I think having those in the final product will enhance the reading experience.

(Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Shuster Australia for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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“One look will steal your heart, but her touch will steal your soul…” // Review of “Votive” by Karen Brooks #aww2016

Title: Votive (Curse of the Bond Riders #2)
Author: Karen Brooks
Genre: YA/Historical fantasy
Audio book narrator: Eloise Oxer
Date Read: 17/08/2016 – 27/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book was good when it focused on the characters I cared about. Unfortunately, it spent significant portions of time with characters I wasn’t interested in at all, which made for a very long book.

Adopted by the Maleovelis, Tallow is now in training to become the city’s most celebrated courtesan. Believing Dante to be dead and everyone else she loved lost, Tallow hardens her heart and does as they  dictate. But various political factions are moving against one another, and all are on the hunt for an Estrattore, putting Tallow in more danger. Can she really continue to do what is asked of her?

A lot happens to Tallow in this book, and her character development followed a very good trajectory. There were a couple of events that took me by surprise at first, but actually made a lot of sense when I thought about it, and contributed to Tallow’s arc. I did feel that there wasn’t quite as much from Tallow’s first person POV as there might have been (Tallow often narrates the story, while the other POVs are in third person), and I was always glad when it finally did turn to this narration.

We also get to learn more about other characters such as Katina, and the politics of the Bond Riders’ community. Two other Bond Riders, Santo and Stephano, play a major role in this book, though unfortunately, they were two of the characters I really wasn’t interested in. Ditto Queen Zaralena and her emissary, Lord Waterford, who are plotting against Seranissima from afar.  The Queen actually made me quite uncomfortable in a couple of scenes, which didn’t help.

The plot becomes a lot darker in this book, and there is also a lot more political intrigue. This may once again be a case of the print book being better to read than the audio book, as I would have been able to flip back and remind myself who was invading whom and how they were betraying each other if I was reading the book. I’m really not good at keeping track of these sorts of intrigues, and to be honest, at some point I started skipping through the scenes with Queen Zaralena or Lord Waterford, as I just wasn’t interested anymore. However, wanting to know what happened to Tallow, Katina and a few others is what kept me going, and why I didn’t give a lower rating.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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Book Review: “Tallow” by Karen Brooks #aww2016

Title: Tallow (Curse of the Bond Riders #1)
Author: Karen Brooks
Genre: YA/Historical fantasy
Audio book narrator: Eloise Oxer
Date Read: 07/08/2016 – 16/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

tallowcoverWhile this book definitely felt like a series opener, and a set-up for bigger things to come later, the setting and characterisation were both fresh and original and drew me in completely.

Tallow has grown up as a candle maker’s apprentice in Serenissima, a place we now know as Venice. Her strange eyes have always bothered people, but it’s not until a stranger shows up at their door that she learns she is one of the last Estrattore, a race able to extract and distill the feelings of those around them, and who were exiled and killed by the Church hundreds of years before. Under  Katina’s tutelage, she begins to learn how to control her power, but she soon also learns that even using her powers for what she perceives to be good can have dire consequences.

The world-building is definitely the highlight of this book, and the books that follow. It is rich and sensual and makes the reader feel like they are really there, too. The descriptions of the various regions of Serenissima, the canals, Carnivale, etc, were all vivid. Italian language is peppered throughout the story, which also served to remind us where we were.

Tallow is a well-constructed character. She is eager to please, eager to help and horrified by the attention she begins receiving when people start attributing certain things to her (“his” – she is disguised as a boy for the majority of the book) candles. Her guardians, Pillar, the candle-maker, and his mother, Quinn, are also very thoroughly characterised, though I never especially warmed to any of them. Katina is really the only Bond Rider we meet in this book, and she makes a very good mentor for Tallow, and her world-weariness comes across well, too.

There is a bit of romance in the novel, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I usually do in YA books. I think this is because it is actually realistic – Tallow and Dante meet by chance, and there is no “I laid eyes on him and immediately knew he was the One/special/whatever else”. Instead, they continue to spend time together and slowly fall in love, though neither acts on it until right at the end, because Tallow is worried about revealing her powers to Dante, and Dante thinks Tallow is a boy.

There are also several subplots, including one with some Venetian nobles who go on to play a larger part later on in the series, and also with a queen of Farrow Fair (somewhere in Albion; on the audio book, she’s read with a French accent so I’m not exactly sure where she’s supposed to be from), who is also on the lookout for an Estrattore. The problem was, these characters were visited so infrequently that I tended to forget their side plots even existed when I wasn’t following them. They also made the book a lot more drawn out than it needed to be, especially as they were both being set up to play larger parts in the later books, rather than actively having much of an effect on the events of this book.

In spite of all that, the world and main characters did win me over and I had the next book downloaded before I had even reached the ending of this one.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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“I walk among my enemies, but I carry my friends with me.” // Review of “The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf” by Ambelin Kwaymullina #aww2016

Title: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf
Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Genre: YA/dystopian
Date Read: 26/06/2016 – 01/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I had high hopes for this book, and while it didn’t quite meet them, I really appreciated the fact that it didn’t rely ono so many tired tropes that are prevalent in the YA dystopian genre.

Ashala Wolf is an Illegal, someone with an ability that allegedly causes a disruption to the Balance. She has been taken prisoner by Neville Rose, the Chief Administrator of Detention Centre 3, and is subjected to The Machine, which can harvest memories from a person’s  mind. All the while, Justin Connor, her betrayer stands by… but all is not as it seems, including Ashala’s of her Tribe and her capture…

First of all, there is no love triangle in this book! I know! And on top of that, the dysoptia is not constructed around a regression to bygone sexist and racist ages. Anyone can be born with an Ability (Ashala’s is sleepwalking, and being able to do whatever she wants in her dreamstate; others can cause fires or earthquakes, heal others or alter memories),  and there are people of all races and genders in Ashala’s Tribe. The same is true of Enforcers, Adminstrators and Citizens. So this book gets major props for that, because goodness me, I tired of those awful tropes.

There is a romance, but it was a bit ploddy, and never convinced me entirely. I think part of this is due to the structure of the book. Ashala believes things to be one way for a significant portion fo the story, but a revelation part way through completely changes the way she, and the reader, sees things, meaning a lot of her past is restructured as she comes to terms with it. While I liked this structural arrangement in terms of plot, it did mean the relationships between some of the characters got a little confused.

(^^ I hope that makes sense. I’m trying to be spoiler-free).

The world-building was mostly good; there was definitely enough to go on, and things were explained as they needed to be throughout. However, I think I was hoping for a bit more evidence of inspiration taken from the author’s Palyku (an Australian First Nation) culture. There is a serpent character who is rather reminicent of the Rainbow Serpent, and certainly the idea of the Illegals could be taken as an allegory for the Stolen Generations (up until the 1970s, Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from the families and raised with white people so as to better “assimilate” into “proper” Australian culture), but I was hoping for something more in this vein.

The story actually concludes rather nicely, making me wonder whether Kwaymullina actually intended it to be a series from the outset. Since it feels wrapped up, I don’t feel the need to rush out and get the second book straight away, but the synopsis of the second book is intriguing, so I might still give it a go at some point.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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“I am clearing out my heart” // Review of “Paper Daisies” by Kim Kelly #aww2016

Title: Paper Daisies
Author: Kim Kelly
Genre: Historical fiction
Audio book narrator: Rebecca McCauley, Johnny Carr
Date Read: 24/07/2016 – 29/07/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

paperdaisiescoverThis was an enjoyable book, set in the Australian bush at a time when Australia was just becoming a nation, but I felt it could have been  half the length. There was a lot of meandering and repetition, but it did (eventually) work its way towards a satisfying conclusion.

It’s 1901 and Berylda Jones is finishing up her first year at Sydney University, and dreading travelling back to Bathurst, to where she and her sister live with their abusive uncle. Meanwhile, botanist Ben Willberry’s mother has just died, and to honour her final request, he is travelling to western New South Wales to track down a flower she remembered from her youth. They meet by chance and form a strong connection, but can Ben stop Berylda from crossing a point of no return?

The story unfolds in chapters that alternate between Ben and Berylda’s points-of-view. Berylda is not the most likable of characters, but she has reason to be hardened the way she is, and to be reluctant to let anyone into her confidence. There were times when I rolled my eyes a bit because she didn’t entirely think through her actions, but I did sympathise with her and her plight the majority of the time. Ben was my favourite, he was so derpy and awkward, but a total sweetheart all the while. It is love at first sight when he meets Berylda, and from then on he knows he will do whatever he has to, to get her out of her awful life situation.

As I said earlier, the story meanders on quite a bit. The majority of the story only takes place over about three or four days, but the book is quite long, and a lot of time is spent in the characters’ heads over this time. I don’t know how many times I listened to Berylda think about what she was going to do to her uncle for everything he had done to her and her sister, Greta, or how many times Ben waxed lyrical about Berylda’s lovely eyes. I would say it probably picked up in the final third, as this is when most of the action takes place.

I don’t know that I would recommend the audio book, but I have a feeling this would be a quicker read in print form. As I said, I did ultimately enjoy the story, but I think the writing might be more effective when one is reading than listening.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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