#AWW2020 Book Review: “Holiday Brew” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Title: Holiday Brew (Belladonna U #2)
Author: Tara Moss
Genre: Paranormal/urban fantasy
Intended audience: New Adult
Date Read: 29/09/2020– 30/09/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I have really enjoyed the Belladonna U novellas I have read in the past, so I was pretty excited when I saw there were more up for grabs.

This is such a fun series, set in an alternate version of Australia where magical ability is commonplace, and where universities are divided into the College of the Real, where magic is studied, and the College of the Unreal, for non-magical disciplines. There’s all the usual content you’d expect in a series about uni students: relationships, share houses, drinking, concerns for the future… all with added magical shenanigans.

It’s also got a distinctly Australian feel, which I love about all of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ books.

There are many POV characters, some written in first person, some written in third. I have to admit I sometimes I forgot whose perspective I was reading, and got a bit confused. This was probably not helped by the fact that it had been quite a while since I read Fake Geek Girl and The Bromancers, so it took me a while to remember who was who.

I didn’t find that these issues detracted too much. The plots are fun! I particularly liked Halloween is Not a Verb. They stories and tone are very light-hearted, even as they deal with some big issues, and I really like that. I’m definitely hoping to read more of these characters and this world!


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 in exchange for my honest review.

#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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“Books. Moonlight. Melodrama.” // Review of “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Mexican Gothic
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Gothic horror
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 09/08/2020– 12/08/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review:

Hoo boy. This was one of my most anticipated 2020 reads, but I have to put the disclaimer that I maybe didn’t know what I was getting into? I loved Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow enough that I wanted to check out her haunted house book. This is despite only managing to get through 30 pages of the last haunted house book I tried because I am a wuss.

It may be that my lack of experience with the horror genre, and with gothic horror in particular, meant I didn’t know what to expect. Some of it was expected, like the creepy, barely accessible house with a lot of death in its history, the awful people living there, and strange dreams and glowing apparitions. But I have to admit the final twist lost me! Without saying anything too spoilery, is that sort of thing common in gothic horror?

Still, the historical world-building and the characterisations were spot on. There’s also a lot of exploration of themes such as racism and misogyny, and colonialism is also an important aspect of this story. I had real visceral reactions, both good and bad, to some of these characters and the things they said and their ways of thinking. This was the reason I wanted to see it through to the end, even when things got a bit too strange for me…


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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)

“They need to know we can hit them back. If they burn our homes, we burn theirs, too.” // Review of “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi

Title: Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha #1)
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 01/08/2020– 09/08/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

I haven’t read a really strong YA high fantasy in a long time. This one definitely fit the bill. It took me a little while to get into, but that was partly because I was feeling reading slumpy and only getting through maybe 10 or 20 pages a day. Once I was able to sit down and give it my undivided attention, I became much more invested.

I loved that this wasn’t a fantasy with obvious good guys and obvious bad guys. There’s lots of politics, and you can see what drives the characters you don’t agree with.

Sometimes the pacing was a little off – seemingly insignificant things went on for ages while significant things were covered in half a page. And sometimes the world-building seemed inconsistent – why does Zelie have to perform this amazing ritual to bring magic back when it seems everybody can just get their magic by touching this special artefact? I also wasn’t sold on the romance – it happened so quickly and it was Twu Wuv right from the get-go.

As to characters, I really loved Tzain and Amari, but both Zelie and Inan wore on me. There are a couple of instances of characters you are just getting to know and love being killed, which is a deliberate choice of this author; the story is her response to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

I read this for book club and it was definitely interesting hearing our different reading experiences with this book. In particular, one member listened to the audio book, which is narrated by a Black woman in an accent reminiscent of the cultures by which the book is inspired.

The book ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m definitely interested in seeing where the second book goes. There’s a lot of setup for future events and things are going to get messy.

“It was beautiful, in its own terrible way. So many monsters are.” // Review of “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant

Title: Into the Drowning Deep
Author: Mira Grant
Genre: Sci-fi/horror
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 28/11/19 – 06/07/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

This book made me geek out so much. It’s horror in many ways, but everything is backed up with so much science. I love it.

This is a slow-burn if ever there was one. The characters don’t leave port until the 25% mark, even though the whole thing is supposedly about the search for mermaids. We spend a lot of time with the characters. It’s an ensemble cast and yet each character is unique. I really appreciated that. While I cannot speak to the representation myself, characters with various disabilities and/or mental illnesses seemed to be treated with nuance and sensitivity, which was wonderful to see.

Some of the science stuff did seem to be stretching into the realms of unbelievability. There was a whole thing with some dolphins and a scientist who was convinced they could communicate complex concepts to said cetaceans in their own language. This was a big part of tracking down the sirens but it just seemed really far-fetched to me.

There were so many different characters involved in various aspects of the climax, given the setting, it felt almost like watching the ending of Titanic. Some people were dying, others were almost making it to safety, and others still were in precarious positions where you didn’t know if they would live or die. Even the climax builds slowly, like the rest of the book, but I still found myself unable to put it down.

This is the kind of book that is probably not for everyone. I had some specific bookish friends in mind that I have recommended this to since finishing it, but I don’t think it will be for everyone. Still, I recommend giving it a go.

#LoveOzYA Book Review: “Euphoria Kids” by Alison Evans

Title: Euphoria Kids
Author: Alison Evans
Genre: Urban fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 28/06/20 – 02/07/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

This is such a delightful little book. It’s no secret that I love earthy, witchy magic, nor that I love the Fey. And this book has both in spades.

At its heart, this is a book about queer kids getting to be themselves. The three main characters are a trans girl, a trans boy, and a non-binary character. Their gender identities are important and inform their characters, but they aren’t the whole plot. This is about trans kids getting to be the main characters in the stories told about them that cis kids have been getting for decades.

I found the plot itself started off strong but then kind of fizzled towards the end. There’s a lot of fuss about the witch that cursed Babs coming back, and how dangerous she might be… but she turns out to be really nice, and the curse was accidental. A strong part of The Boy’s arc is that he hasn’t found his name yet, but when he does, it happens off-page.

But despite that, the writing style and the descriptions are so lovely. I felt totally immersed in Iris’ descriptions of their birth from a plant, and their descriptions of their two mums romance. I felt transported into the other Realm each time the MCs went through the National Park. I loved the way the journey into the Realm was slightly different each time and could never quite be predicted.

This is definitely a mood read, and I recommend for when you need something gentle and feel good.

Book Review: “The Opium Smuggler” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: The Opium Smuggler (The Viper and the Urchin #7)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk/fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 19/07/20 – 25/07/20
Rating:
★★★★

Review:

Please note: this review may contain minor spoilers for the previous books in this series.

When Celine first offered me an ARC of The Opium Smuggler, warning me that it was not a continuation of the Viper and the Urchin series but in fact an origin story for our favourite smuggler, Adelma, I was still keen to read it. I thought it was be a rollicking, fun romp. I did not expect to get quite so invested!

As usual, the world building is brilliant, from Adelma’s father’s clever method of ensuring lobster pots remained underwater and away from thieving hands, to the quarantine systems in the docks of the various countries. Once again we get to visit a new country, this time Terraverre, run by a benevolent dictator, and seemingly almost perfect. But as usual, there is something darker beneath the surface. 

I loved Adelma’s plans to be the first person to successfully smuggle opium into Terraverre, and I loved how in character some of her terrible decisions were.   

I also absolutely adored her burgeoning relationship with Radish! She was so in denial about any feelings she had. Radish had to put up with a lot, but he wasn’t perfect either. And knowing how deeply they came to care for each other just made it extra enjoyable.

While I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to the usual cast of characters with the next book in the series, I very much enjoyed this diversion! Thanks again Celine for such consistently great books!


(Thank you to Celine Jeanjean for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. This did not affect my opinions in any way)

You can read my reviews of The Bloodless Assassin (book 1),  The Black Orchid (book 2), The Slave City (book 3), The Doll Maker (book 4), The White Hornet (book 5) and The Shadow Palace (book 6) by clicking their titles.

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Blog tour review: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin

Hello everyone! This is a little different to my usual review post, as I’m taking part in my very first blog tour! This is a truly powerful novel and I really appreciate the opportunity to read it and make some noise about it!

Blurb:

Lex was taken–trafficked–and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again.

After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that’s what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things.

But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love.

Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like is a gritty, ultimately hopeful novel about human trafficking through the lens of a girl who has escaped the life and learned to trust, not only others, but in herself.

About the author:

KATE McLAUGHLIN likes people, so much so that she spends her days making up her own. She likes writing about characters who are bent, but not broken – people who find their internal strength through friends, strife and sometimes humor. When she’s not writing, she likes studying people, both real and fictional. She also likes playing board games with friends, talking and discovering new music. A proud Nova Scotian, she’ll gladly tell you all about the highest tides in the world, the magical creation known as a donair, and people who have sofas in their kitchens. Currently, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and four cats. She’s the author of What Unbreakable Looks Like.

Visit Kate at her Twitter.

Review:

I was immediately sucked into Lex’s sordid world when I started this book. After struggling with my last few reads, I read the first 30% of this one in an hour or so. And it’s the first book in quite a while to make my cry.

McLaughlin doesn’t hold back in her descriptions. There are multiple flashbacks to the time before Lex’s rescue, showing exactly how a girl like Lex can get caught up in the trafficking industry.

The supporting characters are also really well-drawn. I really felt like they have their own lives, and how those intersect with Lex’s forms an important part of her arc. She knows that some of the things she feels about those around her are selfish, but she can’t help it all the time. She makes jokes about what happened to her to throw up a shield, sometimes hurting others in the process, not believing she’s in a position to let herself be vulnerable.

One of the most important things in this book is Lex’s journey to finding that sex can still be amazing with the right person, even after experiencing sexual trauma. Her journey to this is not linear, it’s really messy at times, but I loved how it played out.

Obviously the book comes with about a million trigger warnings, especially for rape and violence, but it is definitely worth the read.

★★★

What Unbreakable Looks Like is available now – click here to purchase.


Thank you to Wednesday Books for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.

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“The dragon within my heart stirred, shifting her wings, as if remembering they could be used to fly.” // Review of “A Natural History of Dragons” by Marie Brennan

Title: A Natural History of Dragons (Memoirs of Lady Trent #1)
Author:
Marie Brennan
Audio book narrator: Kate Reading
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 05/06/20 – 22/06/20
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

I have to admit, for a book with this title, I expected, well… more dragons. Having said that, I enjoyed the story and characters in and of themselves. Marie Brennan has crafted a really strong character in Isabella Camherst/Lady Trent, and Kate Reading’s delivery of the audio book really built on that.

The world Lady Trent inhabits is based on 19th Century England, and while it is perfectly crafted, the fact that she is an upper-class character did occasionally wear thin. The characters travel to a small village for their scientific expedition and Isabella is horrified when a) the woman helping them doesn’t have the manners of a proper ladies’ maid and b) the villagers don’t even seem to know what a wardrobe is!

I was hoping the attitude would change a little, but as with nineteenth century English explorers, the characters were quite convinced they were in the right about everything.

Sometimes it felt like the characters other than Isabella were a little bland, but I still ended up quite attached to them all, as I realised when one died just before the end of the book! I wasn’t expecting it at all.

As this series is set out as Lady Trent’s memoirs, written as an old woman, there is a fair amount of “authorial” intrusion. Often that bothers me, but I think the fact that it was still the character, rather than the actual author, meant that I could let it go. It might not be for everyone, though. It does of course, also mean that we know that she survives every danger she comes across, or else she wouldn’t be setting down this tale after the fact. So that limits the stakes a little, but I still found it to be entertaining.

As I said, there were fewer dragons than I expected for a book with this title. In this world, they are simply another animal predator, like bears or wolves, albeit a species little is known about. They are very much an object of study, rather than characters in the book, and a lot of the conflict actually comes from other humans. As I said, it was a good story in and of itself, but I can see some people feeling a bit mislead.