#AWW2021 “As a girl, the fairies came to me; they whispered in my dreams and left songs in my head. I went to the glen and found them there.” // Review of “Reluctantly Charmed” by Ellie O’Neill

Title: Reluctantly Charmed
Author: Ellie O’Neill
Genre: Magical Realism/Contemporary
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 26/05/2021 – 17/06/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

This is one of those books that’s hard to rate. 3 stars seems too generous for how I felt about it but anything less (even 2.5) feels harsh.

Honestly, the book’s title is a good description of how I felt about it. While it’s classified as magical realism, I felt it had a bit too much fantasy to qualify as such. But at the same time, not enough fantasy to be a proper fantasy book.

There’s a lot to like here – Kate McDaid is a relatable main character, and she and her group of closest friends make a fun group. The misunderstandings in the romantic subplot were quite obvious but it was still cute.

And the premise of an nineteenth century witch leaving a plea from the fairies for her twenty-first century niece to reveal step-by-step is an awesome premise, which worked well.

Where I started getting tripped up was how quickly Kate became SO famous. I could understand her going viral and becoming a bit of an Internet celebrity. But within two weeks of her starting to publish the Steps, she has the paparazzi following her around, and she’s appearing in gossip rags. Her parents are appearing on national breakfast TV because she doesn’t want to, and they’re hiring an agent and being asked to be the face of advertising campaigns. This just didn’t make sense to me.

I also felt the ending was quite unsatisfying. It all wrapped up in a bit of a rush, too much of a rush. It was all too easy and everything worked out in a couple of chapters. There’s a kidnapping that Kate simply runs away from virtually unscathed. Her choices to do with the Final Step don’t have any real repercussions, apart from one thing which actually should be a HUGE DEAL and is glossed over in a couple of paragraphs in the epilogue (sorry, trying not to be spoilery).

I’m sure this will be a properly charming read for some readers. It just didn’t work for me.


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

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#AWW2021 #LoveOzYA Book Review – “Sky On Fire” by Jesse Greyson

Title: Sky On Fire
Author: Jesse Greyson
Genre: Dystopia
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 20/05/2021 – 25/05/2021
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

Ahh. I was in the mood for a good dystopia and this definitely hit the spot in a lot of ways.

I loved that this was set in a specifically Australian climate-ravaged dystopia. Greyson is obviously drawing on her own knowledge of the Gold Coast when her characters navigate the city.

The world-building was strong enough to carry the story but didn’t get bogged down in details. It told me what I needed to know (solar flares, mutations) but left the rest to my imagination.

I also thought the central characters were really well done – they are all quite distinct and I never had any trouble knowing who was who.

Having said that, I was a little bit bothered that the only character who was either fat or disabled was the villain. While the manipulative, abusive mother was incredibly well-written, and I had genuine angry reactions to some of her actions, but there is a wider stereotype of disabled people as villains, and this plays into that.

Where the book started to fall down for me was in the plotting. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt and wonder if I just missed a sentence here or there that would have explained things, but as it was, there were a few plot inconsistencies that bothered me. At one stage, Dante had an hour to obtain another dose of insulin for his mother, but then spent the day exploring. Earlier in the book, Dante trades with a gang for insulin, because the gang had already hit up the MegaPharm. But then later in the book, the main characters raid the MegaPharm for more. It seemed unlikely to me that in the events of the book, the pharmacy would have been able to restock.

Having said all of that, the book had a strong hopeful ending that I really liked. A book’s ending can make or break it for me, and in this case, it made it.


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

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#AWW2021 #LoveOzYA“We begin as we end; we end as we begin. It’s the middle we must hold onto ” // Review of “The Vanishing Deep” by Astrid Scholte

Title: The Vanishing Deep
Author: Astrid Sholte
Genre: Dystopia
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 27/04/2021 – 02/05/2021
Rating: 
★★

Review: 

Please be warned, this review may be a bit spoilery at the end.

Last year, I tried reading Astrid Scholte’s Four Dead Queens but decided to DNF it. At the time I though it was a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”, but now I’m thinking maybe me and Astrid Scholte’s writing just don’t mix.

Some of it is personal preference, like the dual first person narratives, something I am never a fan of. At first, I didn’t even realise I’d switched to another character’s POV and was very confused.

I never particularly warmed to the two main characters, which made it really hard to be invested in the book at all. I really didn’t care for their romance, which I was supposed to believe took place in a single 24-hour period. I can understand being attracted to someone immediately, but the whole “I can’t get her out of my head” and “she’s so beautiful”… eh.

I especially had trouble with Lor, his one bit of angst got so repetitive! And the twist about him at the end wasn’t a surprise to him, so it felt odd that everything had been told to me in just such a fashion to not point me in that direction.

At least with Tempest, I could at least admire her devotion to her sister and family, even if I didn’t really like her.

The other problem I had was the world-building. None of it really made much sense (this was the same issue I had with Four Dead Queens). I could buy that the resurrected person was linked to their Warden via the Warden’s heartbeat, but given that the whole issue was the dead person’s heart was weakened and they could only be revived once, it didn’t make any sense that just stopping the Warden’s heartbeat instead would mean that the resurrected person could go on living after their twenty-four hours. And I had other issues, too, but that was the main one.

On top of all this, the ending felt quite flat with a unimpressive villain who disappeared without a word at the end. I wanted to really like this one but there were too many things that didn’t work for me.


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

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#AWW2021 #LoveOzYA“Only need a spark,” she said with a shrug. “Small sparks make big fires.” // Review of “Hollowpox” by Jessica Townsend

Title: Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #3)
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: MG/YA
Date Read: 08/04/2021 – 18/04/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I had forgotten just how much I love the world of Nevermoor. It had been quite a while since I read Wundersmith, so it took me a little while to remember who was who, but soon I was on board for the glorious ride.

I can see why the publishers made the decision to delay the release of this one, which was due out in the middle of the initial COVID-19 lockdown period. A virus that leads to certain parts of the population having to isolate themselves, all the while, bigoted other parts of the population are using the illness to vilify those who are sick? Jessica Townsend nails the way this plays out and it was going to hit a bit too close to home for a lot of people in the first half of 2020. At times, it even felt a bit unnerving reading it in April 2021.

But I loved the expansion of the world and its history. We got to see how Nevermoor and the wider Free States’s relationship with the Wintersea Republic in more detail, and learn more about how magic has been dealt with there (no wonder poor Morrigan was considered cursed because of her abilities).

Not only do we have the political and social implications of the Hollowpox turning Nevermoor’s Wunimals into Unimals, but Morrigan’s personal arc also continues. She begins to be trained in the Wundrous Arts, using Ghostly Hours to witness magical lessons from ages past to learn what Wundersmiths who have gone before her also learned. The way Morrigan became obsessed with seeing more and more of these, to the detriment of her friendships, was well done. I wanted to shake her at times for some of her decisions, and I was relieved when she finally realised the effects this was having.

I’m excited to see how the decisions she has made at the end of this book play out in subsequent instalments. A lot of people aren’t going to be happy with her and I think she’s going to face a lot of backlash, despite the best of her intentions. And also I just want the next book because this world is so rich and whimsical and I can’t wait to be back there again!


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

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#AWW2021 “What happens when the words don’t come?” “You grit your teeth and grip the pen and keep going.” // Review of “Jane in Love” by Rachel Givney

Title: Jane In Love
Author: Rachel Givney
Audio book narrator: Amber McMahon
Genre: Romance
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 18/04/2021 – 23/04/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I was immediately intrigued when I read the premise of this book: Jane Austen travels to the twenty-first century, where she falls in love, and has to choose between love and her literary legacy. I first borrowed it in paperback from the library, then when I thought I wouldn’t get to the book, started the library’s digital audio copy. By the end I was invested enough that I put aside the other physical book I was reading and was going between paperback when I could and audio when I driving, speeding through it a lot faster than I expected.

To be honest, the love story was actually the weakest part of the book for me. Perhaps it’s because I am a hardened cynic and I can never quite bring myself to believe people can be so deeply in love after a short time. Don’t get me wrong, Jane and Fred definitely have their sweet moments, and I was definitely hanging out for them to kiss as much as anyone during a scene where Fred saves Jane from drowning. But I just never quite got into it overall.

I was much more interested in the friendship between Jane and Fred’s movie star sister, Sofia. It helped that due to a few circumstances, Jane was able to convince Sofia that she truly was Jane Austen quite early on, so there was less beating around the bush, trying to come up with convincing lies. And by paralleling Jane’s storyline of aspiring woman writer in the nineteenth century with Sofia’s of aging film star in 2020, Givney was able to show how much women’s roles are a case of “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” While perhaps some of the chapters relating to Sofia and not Jane were not entirely necessary, I really enjoyed Sofia’s arc as a character. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that the end of the final chapter focused on Sofia made me tear up enough I had to stop reading for a minute.

I really enjoyed Jane’s observations on 21st century life, and the way she navigated this new time. It struck the right balance between curiosity and amazement, without bogging down the story or turning Jane into a terrified, traumatised mess. The time travel logic was kept to a minimum, which I appreciated, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps however they liked. It was a bit of a Back to the Future style of time travel, with things yet to have happened merely fading out of existence when the time travel started to prevent them from having happened. Only those closest to Jane remember her books as they literally blink out of existence.

Amber McMahon was a brilliant narrator of the audio book, giving each character a unique voice appropriate to their time and place. I didn’t even realise she was Australian until I got to the acknowledgements at the end, her accents were that good!

I have seen a few comments in other reviews saying that this is not a book for Austen purists. I wouldn’t know, since I have only read Emma in full and know the contents of the other five books because of BBC period dramas and other movies. But I can see how that would be the case. So while I recommend this book, that definitely does come as a caveat.


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

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#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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