#aww2017 Book Review: The Bromancers by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Title: The Bromancers (Belladonna University #3)
Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts
Genre: Urban fantasy
Date Read: 27/10/17 – 29/10/17
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This series continues to be a huge amount of fun! This instalment sees Hebe Hallow trying to manage the members of Fake Geek Girl at a music festival, only to have her plans messed up the arrival of various signifiant others, including her own, and a body swap spell that sees two of the band members out for the count.

I really enjoyed seeing the world expanded beyond the university campus. Roberts managed to convey the crowded, messy, but buzzing atmosphere of a music festival, and added a magical twist.

Roberts still maintains distinct voices for each of her characters. I especially loved that Juniper got to play a bigger role in this one. She’s so delightful. I’m hoping that there might be future stories about these characters in which she might get to do something about her massive crush on Holly.

The Belladonna U stories are short and a lot of fun, particularly if you come from a geek culture background and get a lot of the references. Definitely recommended!


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

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#AWW2017 “How far a woman could travel if she really put her mind to it. And I put my mind to it.” // Review of “See What I Have Done” by Sarah Schmidt

Title: The Natural Way of Things
Author: Charlotte Wood
Genre: Thriller
Date Read: 19/10/2017 – 24/10/2017
Rating: ★★

Review:

Well, damn. This was one of my most anticipated reads this year.  I think it failed for me for a lot of reasons. 

  1. I think I over-hyped it in my head.
  2. I think I assumed it was going to be things that it never promised it would be.
  3. It turned out to have a literary fiction vibe, which is perfectly fine, but not my thing.

See What I Have Done is a fictionalised account of the murders of Andrew and Abbie Borden in 1892. It is told from the points of view of sisters Lizzie and Emma Borden, their maid, Bridget Sullivan and an mysterious outsider, Benjamin.

I expected this book to be thrilling and tense, and for me to never quite know what was going on. I didn’t know what was going on, but that was more because no one really knows what happened that day, not because I felt Sarah Schmidt was making me ask any new questions about the case. With the exception of a bit of getting into the characters’ heads, there was very little here that I hadn’t already learned by reading the Lizzie Borden Wikipedia entry.

What Sarah Schmidt did do well was the claustrophobic, tense atmosphere of the Borden house. There were times when I had to stop reading because the descriptions of someone throwing up or the smell of the three-day-old mutton heating on the stove made me feel sick. But after a while, even that stopped having an effect on me. As I said, I think this was more in the literary fiction vein than I was expecting, and so a lot of the language use and other techniques that would impress fans of that genre, but they just don’t do it for me.


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2017. Click here for more information.

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#aww2017 Book Review: Fake Geek Girl by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Title: Fake Geek Girl (Belladonna University #1)
Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts
Genre: Urban fantasy
Date Read: 08/10/17
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This review will be fairly short, as the book in focus is quite short (I’m not even sure it would constitute novella length).

The story focuses on the inhabitants of the Manic Pixie Dream House, a share house for about six students from Belladonna Unversity, which has campuses for Real (magic) and Unreal (tech). The titular Fake Geek Girl is Holly Hadlow, who heads up a band of the same name and sings songs inspired by her twin sister’s nerdy pursuits. Drummer Sage is concerned Holly plans to go solo; meanwhile Hebe Hallow is working out her feelings for a boy from an elite magical family who appears to have lost his magical ability.

The characterisation in this story is very well done. Given the length of the book and the number of characters, this was no mean feat, but they are all easily identifiable. The references to nerd and geek culture also felt natural. Too often, I find authors try to make their character nerdy in an attempt to make them quirky and it comes off sounding inauthentic.

I also really liked the ultimate message of the book, that while Holly doesn’t understand the passion of Hebe and her friends for their various fandoms, she cares about it because they care.

It did take me a minute to realise that the POV character changed with each chapter; make sure you read the chapter titles to figure out who’s talking to you.

This is definitely a  fun start to a unique series. I’ve already read the second one, so watch out for that review, too.


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

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“Life is like a musical: it’s here one moment and gone the next.” // Review of Life is Like a Musical by Tim Federle

Title: Life is Like a Musical: How to Live, Love, and Lead Like a Star
Author: Tim Federle
Genre: Non-fiction/memoir/self-help
Date Read: 28/09/2017 – 29/09/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Tim Federle is my people. If we’d been at school together, we would have been friends because then we would have each had someone to geek out with about musicals when no one else cared. While the advice in this book might be somewhat generic, I really enjoyed the theatre anecdotes that he used to back up his claims, a lot of the time because I could relate, having had a similar experience somewhere in my amateur theatre experiences.

This book is full of lessons Tim learned during his time on Broadway as a dancer, as well as later, writing theatrical material and novels. You can see some of them on the cover: “Let someone else take a bow”, “take the note” (i.e. accept constructive feedback without getting defensive”) and “Dance like everyone’s watching”. He applies these lessons to wider life, careers and relationships.

I really enjoyed some of the anecdotes about being backstage at a theatre. I’ve never performed on Broadway, just at a couple of local theatres in the towns where I’ve lived, but the experiences are much the same. I laughed out loud a lot. I also enjoyed the stories about the big names the Tim worked with on Broadway.

This book probably isn’t for everyone, and I think it probably will particularly appeal to those like me who have a theatre background (even if it’s not a very extensive one). But I laughed out loud several times and related to Tim’s stories so often, so I definitely recommend checking it out.


Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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#AWW2017 “How could she be so close, almost here, and completely out of my reach?” // Review of “The Space Between” by Rachel Sanderson

Title: The Space Between
Author: Rachel Sanderson
Genre: YA/Contemporary/Drama
Date Read: 05/08/2017 – 06/08/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Somehow, despite being in the same writing group as Rachel Sanderson for the past five years, I’ve never really sampled much of her writing until this year. I was so excited when she announced that she had published The Space Between, and grabbed myself a copy straight away. I’m glad to say I really enjoyed reading it; it’s a fantastic YA page-turner.

What should be a regular weekend away camping turns into a nightmare when Erica’s best friend, Daina, goes missing. Coming to terms with Daina’s loss also means coming to terms with the fact that she didn’t know all there was to know about her best friend, as well as trying to navigate messy relationships with both family and friends in the wake of tragedy.

The atmosphere in this book was what struck me the most. There’s a real rawness underneath everything. When Erica ached, I ached. I really felt under her skin. She did sometimes make decisions that I raised my eyebrows at and didn’t really support, but her actions were no more outlandish than a lot of other YA characters’, so it didn’t irk me too much. And they did help to move the plot forward, so there was that.

The writing style is fantastic, and very readable. The pacing is good throughout and I found the book hard to put down.  The set-ups for later revelations about Daina, Erica and their families were done well so when those revelations came about, they made a lot of sense without the story feeling predictable. There were a few moments towards the end where I felt myself tearing up a little; as I said, I felt really close to Erica and really had a sense of her loss.

While I don’t read a huge amount of contemporary YA, this is one I would definitely recommend (and not just because I know the author either 😉 )


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2017. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2017 Book Review: “The Year of Freaking Out” by Sarah Walker

Title: The Year of Freaking Out
Author: Sarah Walker
Genre: YA Contemporary
Date Read: 12/07/2017 – 14/07/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Part of my challenge-within-a-challenge for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge was to read at least two books by LGBTI* authors. This is my first one. 

Kim knows deep down that she is attracted to girls, and it’s only confirmed when she meets Rachel, who has recently transferred to her school. She doesn’t know how to confess any of this to her friends, though, and liking girls isn’t even the worst of the secrets she keeps from them…

I don’t normally enjoy first person narration, but Kim’s voice was very genuine so in this case it worked. I really enjoyed her friendship group as well. They honestly all sounded like individuals, and like teenagers, a tricky feat to manage. There’s the messiness of relationships, fights with parents, the general trying-to-figure-out-your-place-in-the-world struggles.

Along with sexual identity themes, the book also examines sexual assault and the impact that has on young people. It did feel a little at odds with the lighter tone of the narration of the book and most of its other events. However, I felt that it was handled well, especially the revelation that leads to Kim opening up about her own experiences towards the end of the book.

And now, since I have your attention, a rant about how non-heterosexual content is marketed in books. The back of this one describes Kim having to make the biggest decision of her life, between her “passionate friendship” with Rachel and her “feelings for her friend, Matthew”. That’s not the choice at all! I know this book is twenty years old, but Rachel is the one she has feelings for; she tries to convince herself she has feelings for Matthew, but she knows that it’s just an attempt to make herself “normal”. But we couldn’t have that on the back cover of a book! Someone think of the children! Or something.

I wouldn’t say this book had a profound impact on me, but I can totally understand the reviews that say they wish they had had this book when they were trying to figure out their own identities like Kim. It was a sweet, fun read though; definitely recommended if you enjoy coming-of-age YA stories.


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2017. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2017 Book Review: “How the Aliens from Alpha Centauri Invaded My Maths Class and Turned Me Into a Writer… and How You Can Be One, Too” by Jackie French

Title: How the Aliens from Alpha Centauri Invaded My Maths Class and Turned Me Into a Writer… and How You Can Be One, Too
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Non-fiction/middle-grade
Date Read: 06/05/2017 – 07/05/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:
I read this book years ago,  when I was probably still a member of the target age-group, and there were things in it that I still remember and apply to my writing. When I came across it in my local library while looking for Stephen King’s On Writing, I thought it was time for a re-read.

Jackie French breaks down the writing process into easy-to-understand chunks. There isn’t any jargon; instead, French uses terminology like “make your story fat and then make it skinny again” – meaning, in this case, “write all the words you think your story needs, then go through and cut out all the unnecessary stuff”. It’s all advice that we hear in chunkier writing craft books, just delivered in a perhaps more digestible way.

The fact that it is written for younger writers shouldn’t put you off. Most of the chapters end with writing exercises which I think would be just as beneficial to any adult writer as they would be to a twelve-year-old. We are always learning, and this is a great back to basics book for anyone.


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2017. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2017 “What would people in their old lives be saying about these girls? Would they be called missing?” // Review of “The Natural Way of Things” by Charlotte Wood

Title: The Natural Way of Things
Author: Charlotte Wood
Genre: Thriller
Date Read: 05/01/2017 – 06/01/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:


What a difficult book to review. While I wouldn’t say it was “hyped” to me, it certainly came highly recommended,  which I think resulted in some unrealistic expectations of what I was in for.

Ten women wake up on a property in the Australian outback surrounded by a giant electric fence, and as time wears on, they find themselves prisoners of two inept gaolers and a young woman playing at being a nurse .As hope of rescue dwindles along with their food supply, and it becomes clear that even their captors did not know what they were in for, the girls find they must take power into their own hands.

The writing in this book is very good. It’s mentioned in the official blurb and therefore not a spoiler to say that the common link between all the women in this book is that they were all involved in high profile sex scandals, and underneath the writing, there is a simmering anger at the misogyny and rape culture rife in today’s society. The anger is very measured, but it is always there, much like the anger many of us experience at these same issues.

The main reason I couldn’t rate this any higher was because I felt there were too many loose ends. I needed more information about the alleged security company that had set up the prison, and how the women ended up there. There is an implication that they were coersed and that other people in their old lives knew what was going to happen to them, but this is never really cleared up (probably a deliberate choice by the author, but one I couldn’t really get into). There was also no real explanation of who was running the whole joint. Why had they simply abandoned these women with incapable supervisers and dwindling supplies?

I gather the ending is rather divisive, some reviewers seem to think it was perfect, others that it was unsatisfying. Unfortunately, I fall into the latter camp. I was left just thinking, “Oh, come on!”

I also would have liked to know more about the scandals that happened to each girl. In most cases, small morsels of detail were often dangled in front of my nose, but I never really felt like I knew enough about them to really appreciate their plight. That sounds callous, as I should be appreciating their plight regardless of the details of what happened to them. I imagine this might have been the point, but there it is.

Sometimes with books like this, I feel there might be deeper meanings, more subtle or metaphorical, that I didn’t truly “get”. I’m a pretty literal reader; I take things at face value. This is probably also reflected in my enjoyment and rating of this book. Those who can find that deeper level will probably have a higher appreciation for it.


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2017. Click here for more information.

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“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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