#AWW2019 “This is how I tell it, or else what’s a story for?” // Review of “The Hate Race” by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Title: The Hate Race
Author: Maxine Beneba Clarke
Genre: Memoir
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
12/11/19 – 16/11/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

It’s always hard to know exactly what to say in a review like this. I’m in a position of privilege as a white person, and this entire book is about Maxine’s experiences of racism as a black woman in Australia.

The racism she describes is mostly not overt. She really highlights the way it insideously inserts itself into a POC’s life – the little things like the tone of voice a fellow pre-schooler uses when she states “Your skin is brown” and how that statement of fact becomes a nasty comment just through the tone. Or how her first high-school boyfriend was happy to hang out with her in certain circumstances but didn’t want to visit her home and disassocated from her when he was surrounded by his private school peers.

Maxine’s experience as a poet definitely comes through in this book – there is a certain poetry throughout the prose; Maxine frames her story as something of a West Indian song or story her grandparents might have told. It’s beautiful and striking, particularly in contrast to the content of some of the stories she is telling.

Definitely recommend this book for fans of memoir and who want to support the diversity of Australian writing. This is my first book from Maxine Beneba Clarke, but I’ll definitely be following it up with some fiction books asap!


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Serpent and the Flower” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: The Serpent and the Flower
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Contemporary/horror
Target audience: YA
Rating: ★★

Review:

Confession: I don’t really know Macbeth that well. I don’t really like Shakespeare’s tragedies. And that probably affected by enjoyment of this book. (Someone give me a romcom set around a production of Much Ado About Nothing, please!)

Well, then, Emily, if that’s the case, why did you put your hand up for an ARC of a book about a group of teenagers staging Macbeth?

Well, because while I might have been more into musicals, I was the theatre nerd at school. And I’m honestly surprised haunted theatre stories aren’t more of a thing – that was up my alley, too. I love theatre ghost lore. Also the cover is gorgeous.

Madeleine D’Este definitely does creepy well. There’s a seance scene in her novella Evangeline and the Spiritualist that creeped me out completely and that was why that was my favourite of the Evangeline stories. And there are equivalent spooky scenes in this one, too. There are some scenes in this book where characters find themselves alone in the theatre or elsewhere in the school, hearing voices or having chairs pelted at their heads by invisible hands.

The characters certainly had their moments (one of my GoodReads updates was ‘Whoa, Ravenswood, you need to calm down!” and another was “Actors like Violet make me glad I’m only ever in the chorus – no one’s going to want to hurt me for my part”). But for the most part I never really felt like the characters leapt off the page… some of the other reviews have referred to parallels between these characters and those in Macbeth, and perhaps if I had been able to spot those parallels,  there would have been some added depth to the characters that I was missing.

My reading experience mostly depends on how invested I am in the characters, but the writing and plotting are both very good, and I think the right reader will definitely enjoy this.


Thank you to the author for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2019 Book Review: “Portable Curiosities” by Julie Koh

Title: Portable Curiosities
Author: Julie Koh
Audio book narrator: Lauren Hamilton Neill
Genre: Short stories/satire
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
10/11/19 – 25/11/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

What an interesting collection of stories! As I’m getting into writing more short stories myself, I am finding myself drawn more to reading them. This collection from Julie Koh is clever, eyebrow-raising and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

The stories examine being Asian in a white world, being female in a male world, diversity, capitalism and consumerism, social media influencers, and many other aspects of the modern world. They do so in an absurdist, satirical way.

There were some that I really enjoyed, such as The Magnificent Breasts, an indictment on the male objectification of women, and they way women are gaslit into staying in abusive relationships.

I will be honest that there were others where I got to the end and wasn’t 100% sure what the story had been trying to say. But I really appreciated that these stories were speculative and funny as they satirised the world around us. I have found a lot of the short story genre tends to be very realistic, and lacking humour as it tries to be deep. Or maybe I’m just reading the wrong short stories? Either way, this was a nice break and I definitely intend to pick up Julie Koh’s other collection not too far in the future.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Book Review: “A Christmas Wish and a Cranberry Kiss at the Cosy Kettle” by Liz Eeles

Title: A Christmas Wish and a Cranberry Kiss at the Cosy Kettle
Author: Liz Eeles
Genre:
Contemporary romance
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 30/10/19 – 06/11/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

Ah man. I hate being that person. That is, the first person to give a negative review of a book. I just didn’t love this one!

Look, I probably should have checked my review of A Summer Escape and Strawberry Cake at the Cosy Kettle, the second book in this series, before I requested this one. I thought I had given that one four stars, and that this one would be much the same. But actually, it was only a 3-star read for me, and I think I had a lot of the same issues with this one.

It started out well. I found Becca really relatable at first. But her inability to see that Logan was usiing her combined with letting the book club crew walk over her and insist on helping her (“they’re being kind” she says as they push her into something she’s not entirely comfortable with for the fifth time) just made her feel more like a doormat after a while.

Most of the side characters were pretty one dimensional. I ddi mention in my review of the previous book that I thought Stanley was a bit over the top, and that feeling continued in this one. He was pushy, and inserted himself into situations he had no real right to be in. While I understood Becca’s anxieties about her twin sister and thought they were well-written, Jasmine herself was irritating. I guess she was supposed to be a little, though.

A lot of the complications in the second half of the book would be alleviated if the characters just talked to one another. I get that it’s difficult to tell someone you have feelings for them, but a quck “Are you and my sister a couple?” would have helped.

And given that Logan was booking the Cosy Kettle for one night only, it seemed odd that Becca spent a good couple of weeks leading up to his party redecorating the cafe to his requirements.

I feel like such a Grinch giving a feel-good holiday romance a bad review, but I guess at the end of the day I just had too many niggles to really enjoy.


(Thank you to Bookouture for sending a free copy my way in exchange for an honest review)

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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Antics of Evangeline” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: The Antics of Evangeline (Books 1-4)
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Steampunk/Fantasy
Target audience: YA
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Having read Madeleine D’Este’s newest release, “Women of Wasps and War” earlier in the year, it was nice to know that she had some lighter reading in her back catalogue that I could continue on with.

The Antics of Evangeline is made up of four novellas, but I’ve chosen to review them all together. Evangeline is the daughter of esteemed engineer and inventor, Montague Calidcott, though she’s only just discovered that fact. She’s now living with him in Melbourne, and getting up to all kinds of mischief.

Evangeline is a fun lead character. She’s clever but impulsive and doesn’t quite know how to stay out of trouble. She’s also an inspiring inventor, though her inventions don’t always work as intended. The term “inventress” did grate on me a little – I am not sure if it is period-appropriate or just the author’s stylistic decision but I didn’t love it either way. Just use “inventor”!

I know the stories are short but I would have liked to hear more of Evangeline’s backstory. There were definitely some revelations, but I feel like there’s a lot more to know! The last installment was published in 2017; I’m not sure whether further stories were/are intended where we might get to learn more. Ditto her father’s secret project that lurks beneath a sheet in his workshop and every now and then exhibits strange behaviour.

Evangeline is joined by a fun cast of characters, including her best friend Mei, who teaches her martial arts, her Uncle Edmond and his actor ‘friend’/’companion’ August, and Mrs Plockton, the God-fearing housekeeper. They all have very distinct personalities that sometimes clash.

Evangeline and the Spiritualist, episode 3, was definitely my favourite of the four. I actually included it among my Halloween reads as the seance scene was a bit unnerving.

While the books are primarily steampunk, there are small touches of fantasy, which I enjoyed. Things like the seance may be fake or might be supernatural, you’re never quite sure, but the bunyip (book 2) is definitely a monster.

These four instalments are available individually or in a combined volume. I recommend picking these up for light-hearted steampunky goodness.

Individual book ratings: 

Evangeline and the Alchemist – 4 stars

Evangeline and the Bunyip – 3 stars

Evangeline and the Spiritualist – 4 stars

Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights – 3 stars


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“I was no one’s sacrifice. Not then. Not now. Not ever.”// Review of “Serpent and Dove” by Shelby Mahurin

Title: Serpent and Dove (Serpent and Dove #1)
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA (upper range)
Date Read: 03/10/19 – 12/09/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This is one of those books where certain chapters were definitely worth five stars, but there were a few overall issues that meant I couldn’t award that to the whole book.

As far as characters go, I really enjoyed Lou. I loved that she spent a significant part of the book basically trolling Reid. But then she started developing real feelings for him and there was less of the fun stuff…

I also have to admit I find it hard to believe romances where Person A would literally kill Person B if Person A knew the truth about them, and they fall in love anyway. I just… how do you overlook that?

As for Reid himself, he’s honorable and sweet and noble, but… kind of boring?

I could never quite work out where and when the book was set. The religious characters refer to themselves as Christians and carry around Bibles… but the kingdom they live in appears entirely fictional… and not just a fictional country in Europe… truly fictional. They have running water and indoor plumbing, but no electricity… but some of their speech was very modern. So I never got a good sense of place.

But the writing itself is strong and leading up to what I thought was the climax, I couldn’t put the book down. i had to actively force myself to go to bed. But then after that section, the book kept going and the tension didn’t really rise again. I feel that this book should have ended with the attack on the city and the later events should have been the beginning of the second book.

There is lots of interesting set up for the next book and I’ll definitely think about reading it, though at the moment, I’m not completely committed.


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Book Review: “White Hornet” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: White Hornet (The Viper and the Urchin #5)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk/fantasy
Intended audience: Upper YA/Adult
Date Read: 13/10/19 – 17/10/19
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

Please note: this review contains minor spoilers for the previous four books in this series.

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll know that there is very little negative I have to say about the Viper and the Urchin series. This instalment is no different.

In White Hornet, the gang are undercover in the neighbouring country of Airnia, on a spy mission for the Old Girl. They have no idea who they can trust, and at any moment, their covers could be blown…

There was so much intrigue going on. I loved seeing the political machinations inside the House of Bel, even as I hated basically everyone there.

There are some really great character moments, from Adelma using alcohol to try to hide how much recent conflicts in Damsport have affected her (and the others noticing anyway), to Rory and Rafe setting some ground rules in their burgeoning relationship and Longinus finding out more about his family.

I really enjoyed Rory dealing with the Airnian fashions. Rory is no noblewoman, so having to put up with bustles and corsets was very much not to her liking and it was incredibly entertaining. XD

Speaking of Airnia, the descriptions were fantastic. I felt like I was in the middle of a steampunk Imperial Russia with all the descriptions of cold and snow and heated carriages, and enormous coats and pelts. A far cry from muggy Damsport.

This is the first book in the series to end on a cliffhanger, and the next book will be out in a few months. I’m intrigued to see how our team goes as they continue to navigate among their enemies!


(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) and The Doll Maker (book 4) by clicking their titles.

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“In the end, it does not matter what a story is about. It only matters who gets to tell it.”// Review of “The Kingdom” by Jess Rothenberg

Title: The Kingdom
Author: Jess Rothenberg
Genre:
Sci-fi/romance
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 07/10/19 – 09/10/19
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

only found out about this book by accident! I’ve been out of the loop of new YA releases this year, but just happened to see someone in the line in front of me in a book shop buying this one. We had a mutual friend in the bookseller, and so we got chatting about it. Boy am I glad for that!

The plot was twisty and turny and left clues everywhere for people cleverer than I to pick up on. Some things that I thought were just world-building turned out to be hugely important later on. Rothernberg maintains the tension from the start to the end.

I have been known to say that I love Disney in spite of the knowledge that it is an evil, multinational corporation, and this book taps into the more sinister underside of the things we look to for comfort. Right from the start, you just feel that something is not quite right at the Kingdom.

While Ana is the main character, several of her ‘sisters’ (the seven half-human, half robot hybrid “Fantasists”) are starting to question their roles in the Kingdom, and whether the people who created her really have her best interests at heart (do they even think she has best interests?). The Kingdom is superficially inclusive, with Fantasists representing “all the cultures of the world” but really it is controlled by powerful, wealthy (it’s never specified but I want to say white, too) men who want to maintain the status quo. The Supervisors are always watching, and you’d best not say the wrong thing to an Investor.

Was the romance a little lacklustre? Er… yes. Because we are in Ana’s head the entire time, we get very little about Owen, apart from some records shown during the murder trial. Ana is following him around slightly creepily a lot more than she actually interacts with him. If we’re being honest.

Was the ending a little rushed? Maybe… I was so into it, though, I didn’t really notice that until I saw others pointing it out and I thought about it a bit… Obviously the author was doing something right to keep me hooked like that.

So much of my star ratings for books are just based on my reading experience, and this one left me breathless at the end. So that’s why it’s five stars from me in spite of those niggles.


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“It used to be simply noises. The noises were dreadful enough. But now sometimes I think I see it in the shadows.” // Review of “The Dead of Winter” by Chris Priestley

Title: The Dead of Winter
Author: Chris Priestley
Genre:
Horror
Intended audience: Middle-grade
Date Read:
01/10/19 – 03/10/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

Ah man. I was really looking forward to a spooky haunted house story here, and while I knew it was middle-grade, I didn’t think that would affect my enjoyment. How can you go wrong with orphan boy dealing with a haunted house at Christmas?

I want to say that I absolutely think that I would have found this a lot spookier if I had read it when I was ten or eleven, and that I feel this  is one of those books that doesn’t quite transcend its target age group (some MG books don’t, and that’s fine).

As it was, I felt that it was a bit of a checklist of haunted house tropes. We had the ghost of a pale woman in a shift out on the moors, we had banging from within the walls, we had footsteps in the corridor, we had shadowy figures in mirrors… It was all there and yet apart from a couple of scenes, I never really felt like any one haunting was gone into in any depth, nor did it feel like anything particularly new was being done.

The other thing that was while this is ostensibly about a young boy, it is written from the perspective of an older man looking back on something that happened when he was small. I couldn’t help thinking that emulating a Gothic style narration was probably not the way to interest young readers. The last chapter and the epilogue are set years later after Michael has grown up, and I don’t know that MG readers will consider that a satisfactory ending.

But at the end of the day, while this book wasn’t for me, I can’t say what the target audience would think. It’s highly possible that they would find it a lot more enjoyable.


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#Aww2019 #LoveOzMG Book Review: “Songbird” by Ingrid Laguna

Title: Songbird
Author:
Ingrid Laguna
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: MG
Date Read: 05/10/19
Rating:
★★★★

Review:

This was such a sweet, uplifting book! It’s only short and I read it all in one sitting, and afterwards had a huge smile on my face. It was kind of easy to see where the story was going, but that didn’t take away from it at all.

Jamila, her mother and younger brother are refugees newly arrived in Melbourne from Iraq. Jamila is struggling to balance her new school life where she is the odd one out with her mother’s needs as they all try to adapt. But when Jamila joins the school choir and begins to make friends, she starts to fit in there… if only her father could make it to Australia, too…

I really felt for Jamila. I could feel her distress and not being able to talk to her classmates and being nervous due to her less-than-perfect English. I felt her frustration when her mother called her home from school to help with things like groceries. i have not had the same life experiences as Jamila but music got me through some bad times, too, so I completely related when she found that the school choir rehearsals were one of the only times at school that enjoyed, and how she could lose herself in writing a song.

The book deals with refugee issues, racism, death and terrorism in a way that I think would be accessible to readers in the target age group. I think it would be a great introduction to the topic, with room for discussion afterwards, and without feeling too overwhelming.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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