#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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Book Review: “Don’t Read The Comments” by Eric Smith

Title: Don’t Read The  Comments
Author: Eric Smith
Genre:
Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 07/01/2020 – 13/01/2020
Rating:
★★★★★

Review:

I’ve got to admit that when I requested this book on NetGalley, I was not expecting it to be one that kept me up reading past bedtime. And yet….

This book has a lot of really topical, timely themes: doxing, online bullying and poverty, and of course, your more usual YA themes of figuring out what to do after high-school and first loves and coming of age.

really loved the two main characters! Divya is strong and resourceful, and there for others. She’s also dorky, which is why she gets on with Aaron so well. Aaron was a fantastic example of non-toxic masculinity in a sea of trolls. I liked that it confronted his privilege – that Divya has to assume he could be as bad as the rest until proven otherwise, and how this realisation takes him completely by surprise. And I had such a silly grin on my face when they started sending each other heart emojis over the chat.

I also thought the horror of knowing trolls have your home address was really well depicted as was the realisation of “Wow… they’re actually kind of pathetic, aren’t they?” when the trolls are faced in person. It doesn’t take away the horror, but for a little while you feel that they actually can be beaten, even as they keep trying to sound their battle cry as they’re dragged away.

Also there’s the jerks like Aaron’s ”friend” Jason who, while not exactly part of the group, don’t denounce them and in fact, want to impress them. I knew from the moment I met him Jason would be The Worst and he did not disappoint.

I loved the descriptions of the Reclaim the Sun game and Divya’s livestreams. I really felt that Eric Smith is a nerd/geek himself and has spent time playing this type of game. It all rang true to me, and that’s something I have found lacking in other books about nerd culture.

All in all,  this one comes highly recommended!


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

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “It Sounded Better In My Head” by Nina Kenwood

Title: It Sounded Better In My Head
Author:
Nina Kenwood
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This book was certainly sweet and I loved how painfully realistic it was at times. But some pacing issues and the lack of characterisation from anyone other than the main character left me feeling like there could have been more.

Natalie’s life is diverging from the Plan. Her parents announce their separation on Christmas Day, her two best friends have started dating so she feels like a third wheel, and she’s just finished high-school and doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She’s also still dealing with image issues that have haunted her throughout her teen years thanks to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).  

Since this book is in the first person, we are very much in Natalie’s head. And she has a lot going on in there. But it did mean I felt like I didn’t really get to know the other characters. There were flashes of personality from them, such as Lucy covering awkwardness amongst her friends with OTT bubbliness, Mariella with her love of gossip about her children… but Alex is the love interest and Natalie spends so much of her time thinking about him and yet as I write this, there’s very little I could tell you about Alex as a person.

There’s also the fact that sometimes the pacing was strange. The plot would grind to a half for several pages while we got some of Natalie’s backstory. Sure, it was good to know about her and some of it moved the plot (such as learning how she met Zach and Lucy) but a lot of the time it made me forget what had just been happening.

Apart from that, though, the writing is really engaging. I flew through the pages. The messiness of teenage friendships is so realistic, I could feel my guts churning on behalf of the characters. There were times when Natalie’s body image issues and insecurities felt a little repetitive, but at the same time, I recognise the cyclical nature of such thoughts in real life.

On the other hand, I really liked how sex positive the book was, particularly in regards to its female characters. It’s mentioned that Natalie knows how to give herself an orgasm, and Lucy is the first one of their friendship group to have sex. While it’s a shock to the others, it’s still shown in a positive light.

This is Nina Kenwood’s debut and I will definitely be watching out for more of her work.


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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “Beneath the Surface” by Rebecca Langham

Title: Beneath the Surface (Outsiders Project #1)
Author: Rebecca Langham
Genre: Sci-fi
Target audience: Adult
Dates read:
24/12/2019 – 30/12/2019
Rating: ★★

Review:

This is kind of a slow book, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It has a lot going on in terms of themes, characters and plot, and explores a lot of it really well. Unfortunately I didn’t engage quite enough with it to bump my rating any higher.

Lydia is a politician’s daughter and has grown up believing that segregation of the alien race they call Outsiders is only natural. But when she takes a teaching contract at the Outside colony, she realises all is not as it seems. And there’s one particular Outsider, Alessia, to whom she feels particularly drawn…

Often I find that I am interested in the development of a relationship up until the point where the characters get together, at which point it gets boring. I actually found the opposite with Lydia and Alessia. I didn’t actually feel there was much build-up or reason for them to feel so strongly about each other, but I loved reading about them together! Once that happened, I really felt the depth of feeling between them.

I mentioned before that there a lot of themes, and a lot of them are talked about. Literally, the characters have a lot of conversations. There is a lot of talking. I’m sure many readers might find this irritating, and it is slow-moving for that reason. There are some dramatic scenes, but I wouldn’t say there’s any action to speak of.

Still, I was  interested enough in the world-building and characters to continue reading. There are some pretty big reveals dropped towards the end that pave the way nicely for the conclusion of the story in the second book, and I defintiely want to see the fallout from the events in this one.


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

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#AWW2019 “Australia is alive with the long history of the Indigenous people, our culture and our presence.” // Book Review: “Welcome to Country” by Marcia Langton

Title: Welcome to Country:
Author: Professor Marcia Langton
Genre: Non-fiction/travel guide
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
05/12/19 – 27/12/19
Rating:
(chosen to give rating)

Review:

This book made me want to go travelling! Welcome To Country is an Australian travel-guide with a focus on the cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians.

It opens with chapters about Indigenous history and culture, and how colonisation caused so much dispossession, loss of culture, and outright genocide.

There are also sections on Indigneous notions of kinship and ceremony, and other cultural aspects. As the book is written as a travel guide, none of this goes into huge amounts of depth, but it is enough for a primer, which is what the average reader is likely to be looking for.

After this, the book is divided into chapters on each state and territory, and these are further divided into sections on festivals, sporting events, places, galleries, music and other tourist attractions run by Indigenous Australians.

I will admit that I didn’t read this section in the greatest of detail, and mostly skimmed over information related to  travelling to  each place (the font changed and was a lot smaller for this information, and once I started skimming that, I found the whole reading experience a lot better).  But I did pay attention to the names of places and tours, and I wanted to visit so many and give them my support. The Northern Territory and Western Australia are the two longest chapters and the ACT and Torres Strait Islands chapters are the smallest, but they all contain valuable information.

This is such a fantastic resource that should have existed long before 2018! I’ll definitely be consulting it again when I am planning to travel this great land.


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

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Book Review: “A Holiday by Gaslight” by Mimi Matthews

Title: A Holiday By Gaslight
Author: Mimi Matthews
Genre:
Historical romance
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 17/12/2019
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t 100% this novella would be my cup of tea going in, but I’m so glad I picked it up because my holiday reading this season has been a mixed bag and this one finally pulled me out of the dumps.

Sophie Ampersett is used to making sacrifices for the happiness and security of her family, but she hopes that when she marries, it might be someone she at least likes.

Ned Sharpe, a wealthy tradesman, is smitten with Sophie the first time he lays eyes on her, but after following the advise in a gentleman’s ettiquette guide,  he doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, and Sophie is about to call the courtship off.

But Sophie decides their courtship is worth one last chance, so she invites Ned and his family to her family home in Derbyshire for Christmas, with the hope of finally finding love.

This was such a sweet book! In such a short book, it can be hard to really flesh out your characters, but Matthews has really done just that, not just for the two leads, but the supporting characters as well. There are so many different attitudes from the characters, which leads to misunderstandings and conflict. I loved it.

I loved Ned and Sophie, and how their relationship developed once they agreed to be candid with one another. I loved Ned’s awkwardness. As a tradesman, he was trying so hard to fit in with the upper classes and floundering. Sophie was strong and independent without being anachronistic. I loved the stolen moments they shared in secret alcoves around the house. Secret kisses under mistletoe! Things never felt lusty or steamy; it suited the period and the tone of the writing perfectly.

found myself getting frustrated and angry at Sophie’s father, who has spent the entire family fortune, including his two daughters’ dowries, on upgrades to their home, such as gaslight and eventually indoor plumbing.

There is a side plot with Ned’s friend and business partner and Sophie’s sister which felt less well-developed. I was taken a bit by surprise with that one, though its outcome did lead to more misunderstandings and moved the Sophie and Ned’s story into its final stages.

I hadn’t come across Mimi Matthews before, but I am definitely going to check out her other historical romances when I am in the mood for this kind of thing.


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#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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