#AWW2020 #LoveOzYA Book Review: “Oasis” by Katya de Becerra

Title: Oasis
Author:
Katya de Becerra
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-fi
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 18/05/20 – 22/05/20
Rating: 
★★☆

Review: 

Okay, so this was… weird. I honestly am not sure whether it’s a 2.5 or maybe a 3 star rating but this is definitely a case of not living up to the hype. I was expecting to give this 5 stars when I read it. You know those times when you think “Did I read the same book my friends did? I don’t get it.” Yeeaaaah.

The writing was engaging, I will give it that. There are some great descriptions, though I think the author did better when describing abstract things like the heat or the weird dreams Alif, the MC, has, than when describing more physical things like the sand dunes.

I never believed in the characters, which I think was my main issue. I’m supposed to believe this group have been friends for years, when all they seem to do is quibble. There are multiple times when Alif has the realisation that despite Luke having been part of their group for a long time, she “never really knew him”. Like, surely you have to be really good friends with someone to go on an overseas trip with them. And if you’re that close, and you’re not interested in archaeology, surely you can tell your friend that visiting her dad’s dig site isn’t really for you. You know, rather than getting there and being a jerk about it.

Also Luke and Tommy facing off and getting all macho at each over over Alif… ugh.

The world-building was limited and there was minimal explanation of anything… and then there was the open-ended conclusion that just left me feeling unsatisfied. I genuinely don’t actually understand what happened, and what it meant for the events of the previous 100 pages. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy an open ending, but this was just… a nothing ending.

I’m really disappointed because I’d been really looking forward to it, and I knew a few people who’d really enjoyed it. I guess it was just not to be.


This review forms part of my 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Ochre Dragon” by V. E. Patton

Title: Ochre Dragon (Opal Dreaming Chronicles #1)
Author:
V. E. Patton
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 27/04/20 – 12/05/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This was definitely different to the fantasy I usually read. I guess that may be partly because a lot of the fantasy I read is YA, and therefore has a different feel and pace.

Ochre Dragon is the first in the Opal Dreaming Chronicles and it follows three women at different stages of life, living on different worlds, who are irrevocably linked.

The book seamlessly blends science and magic, giving us dystopia, deities, dragons and time gates, to name a few. Somehow it never seems like the book is overdoing it.

I’ll admit it did take me a while to get into it, and I think that was partly because for the first while, I was reading in very small dribs and drabs. It’s the sort of book that deserves to be properly absorbed in as few sittings as possible, I think. The writing is very lyrical and the plot is well set out.

It does end on a cliffhanger, but now that the cast is all in the position, I am very interested to see where they go from here!

Content warning: there are two instances of attempted rape and the suggestion of past sexual violence.


This review forms part of my 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Greythorne” by L. M. Merrington

Title: Greythorne
Author:
L. M. Merrington
Genre: Historical fiction/Gothic novel
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 08/05/20 – 12/05/20
Rating: 
★★★

Review:  

I’ve had a copy of Greythorne for quite some time and I’m finally getting to it now that I am actively aiming to read the Australian books I own.

Merrington draws on the Gothic tradition, as you can probably tell from the cover. The main character, Nell, is sent to Greythorne Manor, an isolated house on a difficult-to-reach island (rocky outcrop?), to become governess to 8-year-old Sophie, the daughter of a scientist.

The sense of isolation within a large, empty house is very well done, and I could imagine Nell wandering empty corridors with the wind billowing outside. And particularly when Professor Greythorne.

I was getting some distinct Frankenstein vibes from the Professor, and while I was somewhat on the right track with that, Merrington definitely puts her own spin on the gothic mad scientist trope. I am probably already giving things away so I don’t want to elaborate anymore on that one.

Following in the tradition of the gothic novels before it, the story moves quite slowly, with the increasing sense of uneasiness. There is some good foreshadowing of things that really become important later. While it took me a few days to get through this one due to time, I think this a good one to dedicate a cozy winter afternoon to.


This review forms part of my 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2020 Book Review of “The Damsel Gauntlet” by P. A. Mason

Title: The Damsel Gauntlet (Gretchen’s [Mis]Adventures #1)
Author:
P. A. Mason
Genre: Fantasy/Satire
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 10/04/20 – 11/04/20
Rating:
★★★

This new short reads series from P. A. Mason promises to be chock-full of things I enjoy.

Witches. Sarcasm. Fairy tale characters. Subverting tropes. Humour. 

I don’t want to spoil the concept of this first instalment but just let me say that when I read why the King and Queen were hiring Gretchen for, I laughed out loud. 

Gretchen’s a great character. I enjoy her sarcastic front, but underneath she really sees the good in people and just wants things to work out all right in the end.

This is the first in what will be a series of monthly installments on the Kindle short-reads store, but it is much more than that. Visit the website for bonus content each time an episode comes out.   


Thank you to P. A. Mason for supplying me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 “Inhale. Exhale. Survive.” // Review of “Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal” by Anna Whateley

Title: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal
Author:
Anna Whateley
Genre: Contemporary/romance
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 06/04/20 – 09/04/20
Rating:
★★★★

Anna Whateley is a Twitter friend of mine and we’ve both been part of the #6amAusWriters group for about a year now, so I was excited and proud to get my hands on a copy of her debut.

This book. I kind of want to hug it. It feels like such an honest, authentic depiction of the neurodivergent experience. Even if I didn’t know it was an #ownvoices book, I would probably have been able to guess. 

Peta is such a wonderful lead character. The book is in first person, which I don’t always enjoy, but this book could not have been any other way. We needed to be in Peta’s head. Seeing her try to fit in and follow the “rules” she has learned through therapy and through observing others could be heartbreaking at times, but it was so liberating seeing her grow and find her own way in a world that is not designed to allow her to succeed. 

I think the only thing I might have liked to see a bit more of was the development of the romance between Peta and Sam. As it was, it felt like it leapt straight from “Oh, look, I am definitely attracted to her” to pushing their dorm beds together and kissing a lot. But it was fine that way, and the aftermath and fallout after that is treated really well. Even as I was wanting to yell “No! Sam! Don’t be ridiculous! It’s not like that!” I could absolutely see Sam’s point of view as well. 

Also must give a shout-out to Jeb, Peta’s best friend. I can tell just from reading he gives the best hugs. And I loved how he knew Peta’s quirks and what she needed and just responded. She never had to feel weird around him. 


Thank you to Allen and Unwin for choosing me as a winner in their recent Facebook giveaway and sending me a proof copy of this book!

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “That Night In Paris” by Sandy Barker

Title: That Night In Paris (Holiday Romance #2)
Author:
 Sandy Barker
Genre: Romance
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/04/20 – 05/04/20
Rating: 
★★☆

Even though it’s not the first book in the series, this is my first book by Sandy Barker and what a fun trip it was!

After a night of bad decisions, Cat Parsons books a fortnight trip through Europe to get away from real life. On the trip she quickly bonds with three other women running away from problems of their own. And then a chance encounter makes Cat question if she can always run from love.

The descriptions of the various locations were done really well. I went on a similar bus tour of Europe myself when I was in my early 20s, and it was fun to relive some of the locations. Tour group hook-ups and other shenanigans were rife on that trip and the one in this book, too. I don’t know if some might find it unrealistic, but my reaction was “Yep, sounds about right.”

I have to admit I was much more intersted in the relationships that developed between the four women than the romance, really! Particularly between Cat and “bus bestie” Lou. It was sweet and realistic and I really enjoyed the way it developed. The other two, Jaylee and Dani, were fun though I sometimes couldn’t remember which one of them was which.

Cat is an intersting protagonist. It did take me a while to warm to her, I guess just because we are So. Different. so at first I found it hard to relate. And perhaps I was bothered by the fact that she was a bit self-involved, but as she started to recognise that about herself and change her behaviour, it became easier to get behind her… though I don’t think I ever want to hear the phrase “lady parts” again.

As to the romance, I have to say, I did love Jean-Luc. But I think just a bunch of personal preferences meant I didn’t get wholly into it. The nature of the story meant that the romance played out in a few short encounters over a two week period, where I tend to prefer a slowburn. It’s also a second-chance-at-love romance, which again, is not really my thing.

There’s nothing wrong with either of these tropes! Don’t get me wrong! They’re just not what I generally would seek out. Someone who is really into those will definitely love this book!


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

This forms part of my 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“Without the threat of suffering, we can’t experience true joy.” // Review of “Scythe” by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1)
Author:
Neal Shusterman
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 26/03/20 – 01/04/20
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

Hmmm…. I don’t actually know where to start with this book. I liked it! Don’t get me wrong. I just… wasn’t entirely convinced by the world it was set in, which meant I struggled to believe why some of the events would take place.

Just a note that this review will probably be kind of spoilery because I’m picking apart a few things. So read on at your own risk.

One of my main qualms with the story was the idea that humanity has given its power over to an all-knowing AI called The Thunderhead, which came into being when the cloud developed self-awareness. The narration kept mentioning how Thunderhead was the sum of all human knowledge and that humanity now “knew all there was to know” and that “there was nothing left to learn” and I just… how did they know that? Did the Thunderhead tell them so and they just accepted it?

And while was acknowledged that perfect lives with no threats to existence lead to lives of complacency and drudgery, no one ever felt like they ought to do anything about it, which I found a bit frustrating.

I never really felt attached to either of the main characters. They had no chemistry and their romance felt like an afterthought… apart form an initial spark of attraction, I never felt like there was much chemistry. To be honest, I spent most of the book wishing I was reading about Scythe Faraday and Scythe Curie at the very beginning of the post-mortality age. That would have interested me a lot more. Even Goddard, who was a pretty 2D villain, would have been interesting to see in the early stages of his career as a Scythe.

Sometimes the pacing was odd and what should have been important events, such as Citra’s name being cleared of murder, happened off-screen. I’m not necessarily saying the book should have been longer; it’s already 450 pages. But the focus felt like it was sometimes on the wrong thing.

Phew. Okay. Yes, so far this reads more like a 2 star review than a 3.5… so why the higher rating? Well, I really did love Faraday and Curie, and the more I found about them, the more I liked them. Flouting the Scythe Commandments in the way they did and the ramifications got me quite invested in their story. As I said, that’s what I have would have liked to have read, more so than Citra and Rowan’s… training montage? (Also I will admit I am sucker for a good forbidden romance and I felt there was more to this one than to Citra and Rowan’s).

And regardless of how I felt about the plot, there is no doubt that Neal Shusterman can write. I found this when I read another of his YA dystopias, Unwind, in 2016. There’s a scene in that book that I can still imagine vividly, despite the years and the many books that have passed. That doesn’t happen to me very often.

And Scythe was similar. There’s a visceral quality to the descriptions. You really feel like you’re there. And I was in that strange place I sometimes end up in with books where I wasn’t that interested in the characters but I still wanted to know how everything turned out. The book has a really strong ending. I know this is a trilogy but it almost stands on its own, just as Unwind did, despite being first in a series.

Will I continue with the series? Haven’t decided yet. I have put a reserve on my library’s copy of the audio book, but it’s not available for three months. By then I might not be so worried, but it’s on my list for now. It is possible that now that the first book has set everything up and Citra and Rowan have completed their training, the second and third books will really get going and I will find them more engaging. That’s something I’ll definitely bear in mind.

P. S. Since I mentioned it so much, here’s my review of Unwind from 2016.


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#AWW2020 “First breakfast, and then saving the world.” // Review of “Greenhaelen” by L. A. Webster

Title: Greenhaelen (Chronicles of Algarth #1)
Author:
L. A. Webster
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 04/02/20 – 10/02/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

Quick disclaimer: L. A. Webster is a friend from the #6amAusWriters group on Twitter, and I received an ARC for free. I promise that neither of those facts have affected my review, though.

Greenhaelen has a beautiful lyrical narrative style. I want to say it feels a bit like an older style fantasy novel, even though I’m not quite sure how to explain what I mean by that. It eases you in gently, lets you get to know the characters, gives you some beautiful descriptions of gardens, and then takes you on an adventure. 

It’s the kind of story where I wanted to keep reading even when I was stuck at work because I wanted to know if my theories were correct (yes,  had theories!). 

There’s a great cast of characters, both good and bad. Sara as a main character really carries the story. My favourite, though, was Kelan, the teenage son of the woman who takes Sara in when she first arrives in Algarth. First, because he seemed to think he was cleverer than he really was (in a way that all 19-year-olds tend to) but then by the end he really came into his own and really helped the group and I was so proud, I wanted to hug him! 

The story is tightly-plotted, though there were a couple of times where characters needed to get from A to B so a couple of chapters would be devoted to travelling and not much else. This wasn’t too bad, though. It mostly sticks to the POVs of Sara and a few others, but gives us enough from other characters perspectives when necessary for us to know what’s going on. There’s magic and adventure and politics and intrigue, and I love how it all culminated at the end. 

There are parallels between The Blight, an ecological disaster destroying farms and lives in Algarth, and our own struggles with climate change, and I really enjoyed the way this was dealt with without being heavy-handed. 

This is the first in a series, and I am very much looking forward to book two and exploring Algarth further!


This review is part of my 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information. 

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Book Review: “The Shadow Palace” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: The Shadow Palace (The Viper and the Urchin #6)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk/fantasy
Intended audience: Upper YA/Adult
Date Read: 28/01/20 – 01/02/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

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

It took me a little while to get into this next Viper and the Urchin book, but I think that is because I was feeling a bit reading slumpy. Having said that, I think the story itself did pick up in the second half and that did help me to become more engaged.

This instalment picks up where the previous one left off, with Rory and Rafe trying to snag a meeting with the Minister Voynia in order to aid their mission for the Old Girl back in Damsport.

One thing I really enjoy about this series, especially the books not set in Damsport, is trying to spot the real-life cultures that inspired the ones in the books. I was imagining the Airnian Court much like Versailles – ridiculously wide dresses, wigs, powedered faces, vacuous courtiers… Celine Jeanjean’s descriptions are once again strong and vibrant and I had a really clear picture in my head.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but there was a particular aspect of Longinus’ arc that had me genuinely wondering how he would get himself out of the tight spot he was in. It was very touch and go for a while. He also had some really great character development as a result of what happens to him in Airnia. I love seeing a favourite character evolve.

We also learned a few things about Rafe that we didn’t know before and I think that’s going to play a bigger part in the upcoming books – he’s going to have to learn to be honest with Rory or she’s going to ditch him.

There’s big political stuff going on, too, and now that the team have found some answers in AIrnia, it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out in Damsport.

Even though this book wasn’t my favourite in the series, it was still highly readable and as always, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the follow-up!


(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) and The White Hornet (book 5) by clicking their titles.

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “Blackbirch: The Beginning” by K. M. Allan

Title: The Beginning (Blackbirch #1)
Author:
K. M. Allan
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

Quick disclaimer: K. M. Allan is a friend from the #6amAusWriters group on Twitter, and I received an ARC for free. I promise that neither of those facts have affected my review, though.

Witchcraft is my favourite form of magic, and the magick in Blackbirch definitely falls under that heading. From the start, Allan creates an almost other-worldly town in Blackbirch. It almost felt like the town wasn’t quite in the 21st century.

To be honest, my favourite character was Eve, the girl who’s something of an outcast because of her fascination with witchcraft and the town’s history. There are some hints at the end of the book as to where her character arc is likely to lead and I’m really looking forward to seeing that play out (without spoiling too much, I think it’s going to get messy).

None of that is to say the other characters weren’t interesting. It took me a little while to warm to Josh, mostly because he spends a large chunk of the novel being mopey and a bit of a stick in the mud. But there are reasons why he was doing that, which come out later. Once he was a bit more involved in the action, I was able to get more invested in him.

I am definitely jealous of Allan’s ability to write a climax – there’s a fantastic buildup to a confrontation in the woods that I really enjoyed.  And while most of the major plotlines are wrapped up, there are still plenty of opportunities for things to unfold in the coming books. I for one am really looking forward to it!

 


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