#AWW2021 Book Review: “Where Shadows Rise” by Amy Laurens

Title: Where Shadows Rise (Sanctuary #1)
Author: Amy Laurens
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 09/08/2021 – 1508/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

This is a good series opener, though I have to admit I was expecting a bit more. I’ll be up front and say that my main issue was I felt the world was a bit under-developed.

Sanctuary is supposed to be a literal fairyland, with fairies and unicorns, but I never really got a good sense of its depth or any mythos behind it.

I did feel the descriptions of the Valley, the dark opposite of Sanctuary, were more powerful, particularly towards the end as main character Edge begrudgingly fought to save someone she didn’t care for.

Edge, Gemma and Scott also read a lot older than thirteen, which also threw me a bit. I really doubt there are many thirteen-year-olds who know the word “incorrigible”, let alone use it. The only reason I learned it at fifteen was because it was in one of my lines in play!

Still, I have the second book on hand and I plan to continue with the series. I have a feeling that this is the type of series that will build and develop as it goes, and I’m looking forward to book two being a stronger read.


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

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#AWW2021 “Some things had to be lived with.” Review of “The Dry” by Jane Harper

Title: The Dry
Author: Jane Harper
Genre: Crime fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 02/08/2021 – 06/08/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I finally got around to reading The Dry! It’s only been sitting on my shelf for four years!

This might have been a five star read for me if I hadn’t seen the movie first. I had hoped that I had forgotten all the major details in the intervening eight months but things started coming back to me as I read, including the identity of the murderer and how a seemingly unrelated plot point led to their discovery.

Despite all of that, this is a very well-written book. I’ve said before that while I enjoy thrillers, general crime fiction doesn’t work for me quite so much. This book does lean more towards the crime fiction, but Harper creates such a vivid picture of a small drought-stricken Australian town that I was drawn in. Lines such as “Falk bought three shirts, because the man seemed so grateful that he was prepared to buy one” felt like a punch to the gut.

The writing style, with flashbacks in italics intruding on the modern day narrative, revealed things at a great pace. The flashbacks are from a more omniscient narrator, providing us insight into the past of characters who are already dead by the time our main character arrives, as well as things that the POV characters would have no way of knowing. It all worked really well to keep the tension building.

I am definitely keen to check out more of Jane Harper’s work, particularly as I won’t have spoilers for subsequent ones the way I did from seeing the movie for this one. I can only imagine her writing goes from strength to strength.


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

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“Open the door. Show us your face. Come Into the Light.” // Review of “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” by Michelle McNamara

Title: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark
Author: Michelle McNamara
Audio book narrator: Gabra Zackman
Genre: Non-fiction/true crime
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 25/07/2021 – 03/08/2021
Rating: 
★★★

I’m not a big reader of true crime to be honest, and my main reason for having this audio book to hand was that it was one of those free book on Audible one month.

I remember hearing about this book when it first came out, how the author tragically died before she could complete her research, and how just a couple of months after the book’s publication, the man she was relentlessly pursuing was finally caught.

While McNamara’s research is meticulous, I found that the further I got into the book, the more the details blurred into a long list of names and dates that I couldn’t keep track of. It didn’t help that the book doesn’t follow a completely linear timeline so I was feeling pretty lost by about halfway through.

McNamara’s premature death may be part of the reason for this, and the fact that the book was pieced together by others, but it also felt like the chapters were all written separately and never edited for flow. An incident that’s referred to in an earlier chapter is then referred to later like I’ve never heard of it, rehashing a lot of the information I’d already heard.

I do give five stars to the epilogue, McNamara’s “Letter to an Old Man”. It made me cry, and I’m getting teary again just thinking about it now a week later. McNamara addresses it to the old man the Golden State Killer now is, mocking him and telling him that at some point investigators will catch up with him. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of writing, made all the more so in retrospect by the knowledge that she was right.


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Mini Book Reviews: Hidden By Jade by Celine Jeanjean, Tuesday Mooney Talks To Ghosts by Kate Racculia, This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

Sometimes I don’t really have a lot to say about a book. It doesn’t really warrant a full-length review. And so once again, I bring you, mini-reviews!


Hidden By Jade

by Celine Jeanjean
(Razor’s Edge #5)
Urban fantasy
★★★
The cover of Hidden by Jade by Celine Jeanjean. It shows an East Asian woman with pink hair and a swirling ball of magic in her right hand.

Apiya’s adventures continue in Book 5 of the Razor’s Edge Chronicles, and now her identity is known amongst the Mayak, but her standing among them remains up for debate. I really enjoyed the scenes within the Baku’s world and Ilmu’s memories, the descriptions of those scenes were fantastic. Particularly entering into the Ilmu’s memories, I thought that was a really cool concept. Also Apiya’s accidental taking of Mayak life and her reaction to that was done really well.

But I must say there was a great deal of talking in this book and I didn’t always feel that it was talking that moved the plot forward.

One thing I’ve felt a bit iffy about ever since the first book in this series is the use of non-Christian deities as purely fantasy/mythological figures, and there is quite a bit of that in this book.

Apiya’s choices at the end of the book were also a bit questionable. Yes, she was in a tight spot but she put Sarroch in an even worse one (well, maybe an equally bad one). Still, the ending of this one promises new realms and characters in the next one, and I’m looking forward to seeing where that goes.

(Thank you to the author for a gratis copy in exchange for a review)


Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

by Kate Racculia
Contemporary/magical realism
★★★★

I want to start by saying that the title of this book is metaphorical, and thusly a bit misleading at the outset. There’s maybe one ghost, and there’s the possibility that she is all in Tuesday’s head.

This book has a charming cast of unique characters and I really enjoyed all of them. The plot became a little convoluted and ended up being not quite what I expected. I was hoping for some Ready Player One-style treasure hunting, and there was that, but it was really more a story about finding “your people” and letting go of the past.

While it wasn’t what I expected (honestly, between the title and the cover I was expecting a charming paranormal middle-grade story), I still found it really engaging and wanted to put aside work and other commitments to keep reading. I’m keen to look up Kate Racculia’s other books now.


This Will Be Funny Someday

by Katie Henry
Contemporary YA
★★★★
The cover of "This Will Be Funny Someday" by Katie Henry. there is a banana peel on a red background. The title is made to look like it has been written along the banana peel in pencil. The author's name is in yellow text at the bottom.

This book made me feel a lot of things. And isn’t that all you can ask of a book, really?

For a book about stand-up comedy, this book sure delves into a lot of heavy topics. Having said that, I think it manages to handle them pretty well. It does sometimes get a little bit heavy-handed in the delivery of its message (e.g. sometimes an entire scene would just be two characters talking about societal expectations of women, or white supremacy, or another Issue).

In particular I thought the author handled the abusive relationship aspect quite well. Main character Isabel has herself absolutely convinced that Alex needs her and loves her, even though it’s clear to everyone that isn’t the case. Seeing her evolve and become independent was fantastic.

It did bother me that for a while even when she was called out on the things she was doing wrong, it took Izzy a long time to recognise that. She wanted everything to go back to the way it was, and it seemed to come as a surprise when people pointed out their own perspectives and why going back would be weird for them now the truth was out.

Still, it ends on such a strong hopeful note and I felt so proud of how far Izzy had come. This is a really powerful book!


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“I had been a fool to trust in a hero.” // Review of Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Title: Ariadne
Author: Jennifer Saint
Genre: Mythology retelling
Intended audience: YA/Adult
Date Read: 27/06/2021 – 19/06/2021
Rating: 
★★☆

It took me two weeks to get through the first third of this book, then five days to get through the rest. I’m not sure why, I didn’t really feel more investment in the later parts than the first. I guess I had a bit more time to dedicate to it in that five days, and thus was able to move through a bit quicker?

The writing style made it feel like all the events had already happened, and that someone was telling me about them afterwards. I was not there as the events were happening. That combined with the fact that Ariadne is passive as all get out, I didn’t feel compelled to pick up the book again whenever I wasn’t reading.

This changed a little when Phaedra was introduced as a second POV character in Part Two, but it still didn’t entirely save the story for me.

Perhaps it’s because I was already familiar with a fair amount of the mythology, and as far as I can tell, the book didn’t really bring anything new to the table. I liked the exploration of the themes about patriarchy and women’s places in society, namely that women are often punished for the misdeeds of men. But again, it sort of made this point and then… just kept making it, without any real change. I know, I know, it’s ancient Greece, and it’s the Ancient Greek gods, what was I expecting? But still.

Some of the writing is really good, and there were parts I enjoyed. Mostly chapters from Phaedra’s perspective, though I also enjoyed the relationship between Ariadne and Dionysus.

But overall, compared to other recent Greek mythology retellings such as Madeleine Miller’s Circe, I felt this didn’t live up to the hype at all

“It was an imperfect world, and her chosen profession was decidedly imperfect, but for now she had a hint of that spark again.” Review of “Dead Man’s Switch” by Tara Moss

Title: Dead Man’s Switch (Billie Walker Mystery #1)
Author: Tara Moss
Audio book narrator: Danielle Carter
Genre: Mystery/Historical
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/07/2021 – 18/07/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Ah, what a great piece of historical fiction this was! Set in Sydney in 1946, just after the war, this is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Billie Walker, former war reporter and now private inquirer. While most of her cases involve tailing cheating men and gathering evidence to give their wives grounds for divorce, but when a woman asks Billie to investigate the disappearance of her 17-year-old son, Billie finds herself thrown into something far more sinister.

Moss’s extensive research is clear and makes all the difference to the book. Details of buildings, fashions, cars, the police force and post-war rationing, just to name a few, are all there, and it makes you feel like you’re there, too.

Billie is a strong lead who carries the story very well, and she’s supported by some great side characters including her baroness mother, her veteran secretary Sam, a quiet but sturdy Detective Inspector, and a young Aboriginal informant.

The mystery runs along at a good pace, with two seemingly unconnected plotlines converging on an exciting climax.

I also want to mention Danielle Carter’s narration of the audio book. She did a spectacular job bringing all these different characters with different accents and backgrounds to life.


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

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“The threat is here… I’m ready. Another howl. Closer. Here we go.” Review of “Devolution” by Max Brooks

Title: Devolution
Author: Max Brooks
Genre: Horror/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 06/07/2021 – 13/07/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I’ve been thinking for a while that I want to read more horror. I’m a bit inhibited on that front, though, by virtue of being an absolute scaredy-cat. Still, I enjoyed Max Brook’s World War Z, so I thought Devolution might be a good second toe-in-the-water.

I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it, and with the initial just-finished momentum, gave the book five stars. The last 70 pages or so are full of fast-paced action that’s hard to put down. I kept making deals with myself about when I would go to bed, before finally acknowledging that I was going to have to find out what happens in the end.

The opening of the novel creates a lovely insidious feeling of isolation, and a sense that something is very wrong. Brooks gently criticises these types of “back to nature” people who don’t really want to get back to nature at all, who just want all the modern conveniences of urban life surrounded by some trees. One of my favourite lines in the book was “They all want to live “in harmony with nature” before some of them realize, too late, that nature is anything but harmonious.”

But the book did drag a bit in the middle. Yes, it was interesting observing the changing character dynamics as the characters realised they were cut off from the rest of the world and under threat. And yes, I made this GoodReads update at page 231: “Damn book lulled me into a false sense of security and now I’m all creeped out again.” But the real threat did sort of disappear for a while.

This was probably exacerbated by the framing device of an abandoned journal, which meant we knew that the character always survived the events she was describing, though we are told in the introduction that since the last entry, she’s been missing for thirteen months.

Still, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it overall, and it has led me off on Wikipedia rabbit holes about Sasquatch, Yowie, and other related personas such the Grizzly Man, Timothy Treadwell (who thought he had a communion with the bears in an Alaskan national park, until he was eaten by one in 2003). It gives a lot of food for thought, and not just about Bigfoot/Sasquatch. Recommended for fans of survival thrillers as well as horror.


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Book Review: “Murderland” by Pamela Murray

Title: Murderland (Manchester Murders #1)
Author: Pamela Murray
Audiobook narrator: Clare Eden
Genre: Crime/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 20/06/2021 – 23/06/21
Rating: ★★★

Review:

It’s been quite a while since I read a thriller or listened to an audio book. It was a pretty good feeling to get back into both. This was an easy read, and honestly, I did like it, but I found there were a few things that bothered me enough to prevent me from enjoying it more.

The first is that this was written in a very detached style. The old adage of “show, don’t tell” was definitely not adhered to, and I really felt like I was listening to someone relate the events of the book after the fact, instead of being in amongst the action. On top of this, it’s written in 3rd person omniscient, not a perspective I read much. And I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy jumping between different characters’ thoughts and perspectives on the regular.

These two aspects combined particularly bothered me when I was told things like “the DCI knew that Burton had strong feelings for Fielding.” Well, okay, but there’s not been much at all to really suggest that to me. Fielding and Burton share the stage for quite a bit of the novel and there was very little chemistry there. There were also lots of “He felt that” and “It seemed to her” type sentences, which put me at an arms length from the action.

I also felt the murderer’s motivation, once revealed, was a bit far-fetched.

Still, it was a reasonably entertaining thriller. I found myself wanting to know more and being drawn back to it. Clare Eden’s delivery of the audiobook sometimes felt a bit dry, but as far as I could tell with my limited knowledge of Northern English accents, she had a fairly good grasp on the small differences between the regions.

I still haven’t decided whether I’ll continue with the series, but I certainly haven’t written it off entirely yet.


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#AWW2021 Book Review: “An Unforeseen Demise” by P. A. Mason

Title: An Unforeseen Demise (Trouble Down Under #1)
Author: P. A. Mason
Genre: Urban fantasy/cozy mystery
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 27/06/2021 – 30/06/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I have to admit that when I heard P. A. Mason was writing a series of witchy cozy mysteries set in Australia, I wasn’t actually expecting an American main character but I understand the choice. Mason’s audience is likely to be mostly Americans, or at least largely non-Australian, and an audience stand-in who can ask questions about kangaroos and our odd colloquialisms was probably necessary.

Kat Crowe is one of a family of witches who travels to Australia to take care of her Aunt Tabitha’s affairs after the older woman’s unexpected death. But Aunt Tabby’s death seems suspicious, not the least because as a seer, she should have seen it coming, and seemingly didn’t.

This book has all the elements you expect from a cozy mystery: small town, nosy neighbours, and residents who aren’t all they seem. I loved some of the witchy additions, like the “witchy web”, an app that connects the magical community but appears as a phony astrology app to non-magical people who stumble across it.

The solution to the mystery was somewhat bittersweet, but it more than answered the question of why no one knew about Aunt Tabby’s death before it happened.

I’m definitely looking forward to more of Kat’s adventures in future instalments!


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

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Book Review: “Music & Mirrors” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: Music and Mirrors
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: YA/Adult
Dates Read: 20/06/2021 – 23/06/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

While I know that it’s a bit of a problematic trashfire, Phantom of the Opera is pretty much my favourite musical, so I was extremely excited when Celine Jeanjean announced to her advance team that she would be publishing a Phantom retelling this month. When I saw that gorgeous cover, my excitement only increased.

This is very different to Celine’s other books – her characteristic humour and snark are absent, and it’s a lot more character-driven that her other books. There were a couple of occasions when I found myself thinking “but nothing has actually happened“. Things had happened, though, but so much of it about the character arcs and what happens to them as people, rather than actual action or events.

And there are still hints of the Jeanjean signature style. I was getting some definite Viper and the Urchin series vibes from the descriptions of the feats of engineering in and under the opera house.

This version of the story is genderbent, with a female “phantom” and an aspiring bass-baritone opera singer. Also present is Ada Byron aka Ada Lovelace, in our own world commonly viewed as the earliest “computer programmer”. Jeanjean’s Ada is clearly autistic, even though the word obviously is never used. I wasn’t quite sure why it was necessary to have Ada Lovelace present as a character and not just an original aristocratic character, but in and of herself, I loved this character.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Eric when we first met him, but he grew on me as the story went on. His love for his sister really shines through and it becomes clear early on that he will genuinely do anything for her. I also really loved that he respected Ada’s boundaries and the fact that she didn’t make eye contact or want to be touched.

In the original story, we learn about Erik’s disownment by his mother and how he travelled Europe and Asia before taking up residence under the Opera House. I wish we had got a bit of a similar backstory for Miriam, the Phantom equivalent in this story, especially given that she was the owner of the opera house and incredibly wealthy. I was intrigued where all that came from. Jeanjean does a good job of humanising the character without justifying her terrible actions, and I certainly sympathised with her as she realised towards the end that her loneliness was mostly of her own making.

I am pretty sure this is intended as a standalone, but I’d be interested in seeing more of these characters if Celine is willing to revisit them. I feel like there’s still so much ahead of them that could be explored!


Thank you to the author for a gratis copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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