“Potentially evil. Potentially good, too, I suppose. Just this huge powerful potentiality waiting to be shaped.” // Review of “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Title: Good Omens
Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Genre: Urban fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 04/08/19 – 11/08/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Well, this is a bit awkward. From what everyone’s been saying, I was expecting this to be a 5 star read. And it definitely started off that way. But after a while, I just wished I was reading a Discworld book instead.

There is definitely a fascinating premise here: what happens if the child destined to bring about Armageddon, rather than being evil, is just… basically a good kid?

I think my main issue was that there were a lot of characters, and most of them could have been done without, and the same story still told. I often felt like characters were being introduced just to give the authors a chance to be funny, such as with the Other Four Horsemen. There were pages devoted their conversations and they didn’t even make it to Armageddon.

I honestly feel you could have just had the Crowley and Aziraphale scenes and the Adam and Them scenes, and had roughly the same story. Everyone else I found a bit superfluous.

I do wonder if some of this comes from the fact that I have never clicked with Neil Gaiman’s writing. While it is not written in such a way that you can point to certain parts and say “Gaiman wrote that bit” or “Pratchett wrote that section”, perhaps the Gaiman influence is what put me off? I have always enjoyed Discworld and as I said, reading Good Omens made me wish I was reading a Discworld I haven’t read yet (and there are stll a lot of those).


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“It’s all a mix here in Appalachia.” // Review of “Cleaning House” by Jeanne G’Fellers

Title: Cleaning House (Appalachian Elementals #1)
Author: Jeanne G’Fellers
Genre: Queer fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 18/07/19 – 03/08/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

There is a lot to really like in this book. I have realised over the past year or so that I much prefer the homey, witchy kind of fantasy with personal stakes over epic sword-and-sorcery save-the-whole-world kind of fantasy. Cleaning House very much falls into the former category, with its blend of Appalachian folklore and witchcraft with Chrsitianity and other spiritual elements. I really enjoyed Cent’s family group, and how they were tied to each to each other throughout centuries of iterations. I also really loved Cent’s Chicago friend, Betty, and how they supported each other.

I did find that the story itself dragged, as so much of the book is given to world-building and the history of the characters (they have a long history). I know that this is a matter of personal preference as other readers will love the slow-moving narrative exploring those relationships. Another thing where personal preference probably affected my enjoyment is that I prefer to read about characters falling in love and getting together… an established relationship such as Cent and Stowne’s is less interesting to me, even if they are rediscovering each other.

Long story short, while parts of this book were right up my alley, other aspects of it just weren’t rewlly my thing. I’m pretty sure the right reader will love this.


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Book Review: “Mother Tongue” by Julie Mayhew

Title: Mother Tongue
Author: Julie Mayhew
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 29/06/19 – 01/08/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I was unfamiliar with the Beslan school massacre of 2004 until I read the summary of this book. I requested a copy because I wanted to know more, and I also thought this might be a book to really move me.

In the end, I was a bit disappointed. The writing style made me feel very disconnected from the main character, Darya, and what was going on in her life. I think this was probably a deliberate stylistic choice. For one, the idea of it is that the story has been translated from Darya’s Russian recount of the story. And secondly, she is heavily broken by the events that take place. But ultimately it meant I didn’t feel truly connected and when I wasn’t reading, I didn’t feel the need to pick up the book again (hence taking so long to finish).

Having said that, the writing is consistent and tight. It probably would appeal to other readers. The story doesn’t… really go anywhere? It is really about Darya as a character, rather than any plot, which is not my favourite style. The Beslan siege didn’t actually play that big a part in the story, either. I think the story could have progressed from any number of personal tragedies.

The story comes full circle in the end, which I think some readers will find satisfying, but I found it a bit pointless. Actually, “pointless” sounds a bit harsh, but I did sort of feel that I was back where I started.


(Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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Book Review: “Cupid’s Match” by Lauren Palphreyman

Title: Cupid’s Match
Author: Lauren Palphreyman
Genre: Urban fantasy/romance
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 07/07/19 – 15/07/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I am a fan of ancient-gods-in-modern-times type stories, so I was definitely interested when I saw this one available on Netgalley. Is one of those books where I really enjoyed parts of it, but there were other aspects I had qualms about, enough to affect my enjoyment.

The romance is where I felt the book’s main strength lay. While I did actually spend a fair chunk thinking/hoping it was going to take a different direction, it built the relationship between Lila and Cupid quite well. They had a decent amount of chemistry and there was certainly some entertaining banter between them.

I did feel some of the plotting was a bit weak. For example, after a character jumps off a building in the height of passion (don’t worry, he survives), rather than being completely horrified and upset, his classmates all decide they should still go to a house party that night as planned, because… it’s whathe would have wanted or something? (Or, because the author needed the characters to be at that party, because it was plot relevant, regardless of whether it made sense.)

The policy documents for the Cupid Matchmaking Agency, supposedly written two or three millenia ago, were written in modern-day corporate speak, which was amusing, but didn’t make much sense. And in her nightmare world, Pandora faces off with physical manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins, a Christian construct.

The book does rely on the main character being kept in the dark about certain things until the other characters are ready for her to know and that got a bit tedious at times. Once that reveal came about, did enjoy the build up to the climax, even if the day seemed a little too easily won in the end.

Look, basically, this is one of those books that’s fine and entertaining for a while but ultimately not that memorable.


(Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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Book Review: “The Nowhere Emporium” by Ross McKenzie

Title: The Nowhere Emporium
Author: Ross McKenzie
Audio Book Narrator: Monty d’Inverno
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience:
MG
Date Read: 06/07/19 – 09/07/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book reminded me a lot of The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern and going by the reviews, I’m not the only one. Obviously, this is for much younger readers, and it has its differences. I still enjoyed the idea of a magical shop with infinite rooms containing Wonders drawn directly from imgination.

Daniel Holmes lives in present-day Glasgow, but when he comes across a mysterious  shop where the owner doesn’t expect him to remember his time inside, he is taken on as an apprentice to Mr Silver of the Nowhere Emporium. But Mr Silver has a long and sad past, and his sworn enemy is still looking for him. Daniel finds himself in the middle of this fued, and in a race to save the Emporium and the staff he’s come to love.

There are some really wonderful rooms described throughout the Emporium. Many of them were whimsical and delightful and made me feel nostalgic for childhood. And I’m all for a tragic backstory, so the fact that that was at the heart of the conflict was really enjoyable for me, too.

I did think that some of the running around to try to stop Vindictus Sharpe from destroying the Emporium did get a bit tedious, especially when it was a case of “Go to this room – no, that didn’t work at all” followed by the same again. It seemed only to serve to throw some more backstory in, because some of these rooms turned out to be no use at all.

Still, I did appreciate how the challenges that Sharpe and Daniel set each other at the end played into fears and biases that had been set up for each of the characters earlier on, and they had to face them in the only way they knew how. The ending may have been a little rush, but I still felt that it was satisfying. I got through this is only a few days and really appreciated a simply, whimsical story with a lot of heart.


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“For dreams, too, are ghosts, desires chased in sleep, gone by morning.” // Review of “Lair of Dreams” by Libba Bray

Title: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)
Author: Libba Bray
Audio book narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical fantasy/horror
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 09/06/19 – 06/07/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book had a lot to live up to after I enjoyed the first one so much. I’ve got to be honest, there were times when I was just plain bored, and as you can see from the dates above, it took me nigh on a full month to get through. But it did pick up in the final quarter, and that’s why it still gets the rating it does from me.

There are a number of different threads through this book. First, Henry and his new friend, Ling Chan, are both dreamwalkers, and they meet as a mysterious sleeping sickness is taking over New York. So much of this storyline was devoted to character back stories and world building. I sometimes felt these parts were very, very slow.

Evie, Sam and Jericho are still about. Evie has become a sensation with her own radio show, The Sweetheart Seer, but to be honest, I found her a bit irritating in this book. In the first book, she was superficial but you could see what she was using that superficiality to mask. But there was less of that hidden vulnerability here, and she got a bit tiresome. The fact that there is a love triangle developing between her, Sam and Jericho also made me a bit weary.

Having said that, part of this aspect of the story is the search for Sam’s mother, which is hinted at, at the end of book one. I did find this stuff intriguing, and the extra information we got about Project Buffalo. I’m still not sure where the oft-mentioned King of Crows comes into that, but I suppose that will be revealed later in the series.

I guess the main reason I struggled more with this book than the first is that the pacing is entirely different. In the first book, there is a race to find the killer before he attacks again. There is no such time pressure in this book. So many scenes are devoted to dream walking, but the dreamscape is the same each time. And the characters aren’t really doing much, just hanging out and chatting. No one actually knows how to fix the sleeping sickness, so they just sort of generally worry about it.

Libba Bray does do a very good job representing true realities of life in the 1920s, and the gap between the privileged and the marginalised. I loved that Ling is a disabled character, and that forms part of her identity but isn’t her whole story. She is also part-Chinese and the book doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the anti-Chinese sentiments that were alive and well at that time.

There are some characters I haven’t mentioned, such as Theta, Memphis and Isaiah, and that’s because while they’re there, I didn’t really feel their scenes/chapters added much to this particular story. As I said, there’s a lot of character and background stuff, and I’m sure some of things we learned about the characters in this book will play out in the next installments but… it made it long.


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“If you were lucky in love, you sure as hell were lucky in life.” // Review of “Beau and Bett” by Kathryn Berla

Title: Beau and Bett
Author: Kathryn Berla
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 27/06/19 – 29/06/19
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This was a really hard book to rate and review. I found it readable enough. I liked some of the characters. But I just couldn’t work out what the book was trying to do. I had no particular investment in any of the characters and I wasn’t particularly concerned about the outcome.

Now that I’ve lambasted the book with that opening paragraph, I should say that there were certain things I liked. I liked Beau’s part-Cajun family and their dynamics. I liked that Beau was kind of the oddball in the family. I really liked the descriptions of the Diaz ranch. That is something I haven’t really come across in a YA book before, and i liked that Bettina wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She wasn’t going to leave the ranch either – she saw herself staying there and running it eventually. But all the characters ever did was build a fence. Like, every time Beau went over there. Sometimes Bettina would make them a beautiful lunch in the middle of the day, then they’d go back to the fence.

I guess part of my issue was that the links to Beauty and the Beast were pretty tenuous.. I didn’t really buy the romance at all. I think part of the reason for that is that Beau is interested in another girl for at least the first half. And the lie that Beau catches Bett in, according to the blurb… I mean, I got why it bothered him. But I was expecting something a bit bigger.

Additionally, the reasons for Bett being called Bett the Beast at school were kind of flat, and everything around that suddenly seemed resolved at the end. It felt like perhaps the author was trying to do something with the whole #metoo movement and make a comment on rape culture, but it just wasn’t explored enough.

It’s possible that without the claim that it was a retelling, I could have enjoyed this a bit more. As it was, I really looking for parallels with the fairytale, and not really finding them, so ultimately I was disappointed.


(Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for a free copy of this book  in exchange for an honest review)

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Book Review: “A Summer Escape and Strawberry Cake at the Cosy Kettle” by Liz Eeles

Title: A Summer Escape and Strawberry Cake at the Cosy Kettle
Author: Liz Eeles
Genre: Contemporary romance
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 14/06/19 – 16/06/19
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This book was sweet and cosy, just like the title suggests. This was exactly what

When Flora discovers her restauranteur husband in a passionate embrace with one of his waitresses, her world starts to fall apart. She turns to the bookshop and cafe she manages in the village of Honeyford, including a New Age eccentric called Luna, and Luna’s son Daniel and grandson, Caleb. At first, things seem to be getting off on the wrong foot, but soon Flora finds that she is discovering sides to herself that she never knew existed.

This did take a little while to get going. For the first third of the book, the conflict was all a bit superficial. Malcolm, Flora’s husband, showed up a few times and made things awkward or difficult, and quite a lot of the conflict in the book was “Oh, I don’t know whether to leave Malcolm for good or not!” which became a bit repetitive after a while.

There is a bookish mystery going on through a lot of the book as well (again, this got a little repetitive, particularly as I had predicted the outcome pretty early on). I have to say I did find this whole plotline a little unlikely – the idea that a self-published book that seemingly was just thrown onto the Internet in its first draft form could be so perfect and universally adored by every woman in town… hmm.

Some of the characters did seem a bit over-the-top, such as Stanely, who at 80 has decided to live life to the fullest, and embrace extreme sports. But I did like some of the other characters, such as Luna. Yes, she aws a bit of a hippy, but she meant well and really looked after Flora.

I enjoyed how Flora came to care for Caleb, despite not being a kids person. I thought the misunderstandings between her and Daniel, particularly when it came to Caleb, were quite well done. She didn’t know what she was doing and made some mistakes, but Daniel was able to see that Caleb did care for Flora as well. I have to admit I didn’t really feel like there were ever sparks flying between Flora and Daniel. Obviously, I could see the direction the book was going to take, but their feelings developed maybe a little too slowly/subtly.

Still, this story of finding love and finding yourself in a small town community was a fun read, and sometimes that’s just what you need.


(Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for a free copy of this book  in exchange for an honest review)

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“There is no greater power on this earth than story.” // Review of “The Diviners” by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
Author: Libba Bray
Audio book narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical fantasy/horror
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 28/05/19 – 07/06/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book had everything I want in a book! 1920s New York, serial killings, the occult, ghosts. Not to mention January LaVoy is a fantastic narrator.

There is a large cast of characters, whose paths intersect in various ways, but the main ones are Evie O’Neill and co., who are assisting the police in solving a series of occult murders. In between these, we get spooky chapters detailing each killing (don’t listen to these after dark!), along with chapters introducing us to others with powers that will become known as Devining, making them Deviners.

Evie is pretty selfish and self-centred, though she has moments of vulnerability. She puts on a front to hide the grief of losing her brother in the war eight years earlier. But she and the others make a good team when it comes to solving the murders.

The rest of the ensemble cast all have really fleshed out characters, too. Even though in the cases of a lot of these  characters, the book is setting up for the sequel where they become central characters, their scenes never felt like filler. I really iked Mabel, Evie’s BFF, though I wished she would sometimes stand up for herself a bit more (though she definitely has potential to come into her own later). I had mixed feelings about Sam Lloyd and Jericho Jones, whom I am pretty sure are going to both become love interests.

I loved all the history involved in the mystery. There are fifty-year-old cults, and weird ceremonies, and prophecies and all sorts of fun things. And it’s so detailed. There are creepy murder scenes that were probably made extra creepy by the fact that I always seemed to reach them when I was walking after dark from the bus stop, or driving alone late at night. January LaVoy has a certain talent with voices, I must say. The climax is especially scary, with Evie mostly on her own against an army of ghosts.

There did seem to be about an hour at the end of the book where things were being either tied up or set up for  the next book. There are so many different characters, it really did feel like Bray was actively having to tick each one off to make sure she’d dealt with them. But I was still keen to start the second book as soon as this one was finished.


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#AWW2019 “YES is a fine life policy to consider. Just tell a friend where you’re headed, and be choosy.” // Review of “Get the Girls Out” by Lucy Bloom

Title: Get the Girls Out
Author: Lucy Bloom
Genre: Memoir
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
03/06/19 – 14/06/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

I want to preface this review with a quick story about Lucy Bloom. A couple of years ao, she gave a talk at my workplace. I can’t even remember the topic. Maybe it was Women in Leadership or something? Anyway, it was very inspiring and I wrote down a lot of quotes like “Fear should never stop you having an adventurous life”.

It also actually gave me the last push I needed to request the info pack, and eventually register, for the UN Women Trek for Rights in Nepal, and thus I found myself hiking through the Annapurna region in the pouring rain and the mud in April 2018. Thanks, Lucy. 😛

I happened to email Lucy later that day about something else she had said in her talk, and mentioned the Nepal trip. Her response was so enthusiastic, with a capslock “WHOOO YOU’RE GOING TO NEPAL” (I had  only requested the info pack at this point but she was sure already) followed by “Drag me into your fundraising!” Me, the random person she had never met before who had sent her a single email. I never did drag her into my fundraising (though I raised $5500 regardless) but I have no doubt that if I had approached her, she would have thrown herself behind it because she is that kind of person.

Okay, so maybe that story wasn’t so quick but I wanted to give you an idea of why I was so keen to read this memoir when I saw a staff recommendation on my local library’s Facebook page.

A lot of this memoir is about the last four or five years of Lucy’s life. In 2015, she was fired from her job as the CEO of a high-profile charity, and soon after, her husband of twenty years asked hehr for  a divorce. While this tore her apart, it also gve her the opportunity to pursue opportunities and a side of herself that she may never have otherwise, instead always bowing to obligation.

Lucy is incredibly gutsy and that really comes through in this book. She writes in a really conversational way; you feel a bit like you’ve been friends with her for years and you’re sitting around a table on her back porch with a drink while she tells you these stories from her life.

The only problem I found with this was sometimes we’d be in the middle of one story and the narrative would go off onto something else entirely… only to come back around to the original point at the end of the section. It is definitely a memoir in terms of organisation, with chapters based around themes of attributes that Lucy aspires to, rather than an autobiography with a linear story.

Much like Lucy’s talk which I went to a few years ago, picking up this book may inspire you to the next adventure in your life. I encourage you to check it out!


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

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