#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “A Pocketful of Eyes” by Lili Wilkinson

Title: A Pocketful of Eyes
Author: Lili Wilkinson
Genre: Mystery/contemporary 
Audience: YA
Date Read: 15/11/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

I read this book over the course of one afternoon. I had to suspend my disbelief quite often, but gosh darn it, it was fun!

Bee has a summer job working for a taxidermist called Gus, and she’s enjoying the routine they’ve built up. Then suddenly a new guy called Toby is also in the office. And Gus is behaving strangely, just before he winds up dead. The police rule it a suicide, but Bee isn’t so sure. Drawing on her lifelong obsession with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, Bee is determined to solve the mystery of who killed her mentor.

I had to wonder whether Bee was supposed to autistic, or perhaps ADHD. She definitely displayed traits of both, though it is never mentioned on the page. I’ve seen this before where authors give themselves an out in case they get it ‘wrong’ – “what, no, I didn’t write them as autistic! I never mentioned anything about that!” Perhaps it’s just that Bee is very observant and logical and just likes routine, and gets very focused on things to the point of basically ignoring all else. But I did have to wonder.

I really enjoyed lots of the details of taxidermy and that it included a lot of details about the behind-the-scenes of a museum. I work in the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector, so a lot of it was stuff I already knew, but I liked that it was included. There were a few times where I picked up on things that probably weren’t quite right, but most readers aren’t going to notice that.

The mystery was a bit convoluted but it actually all makes a lot of sense. I probably didn’t pick up on all the clues at the time, but they were all there. It does rely on the police being a bit useless at their job in order for the teenagers to come in with the big reveal at the end (was there no autopsy?), but look, it’s a YA mystery. Just roll with it.

I enjoyed the romance aspect as well. Toby is such a nerd! (Though I sometimes wondered if he was a nerd so that Lili Wilkinson had an excuse to just dump random animal mating facts into the dialogue – there didn’t seem a whole lot of point to it happening so often). There were times when I was like “Guys, you have each other’s numbers, why are you not just picking up the phone!” I appreciated that Toby cooled off when Bee came out and accused him of murder [would have been weird if he’d been so in love with her to not do that!], but that it all worked out.

I recommend this one when you need something light and fun, with an unusual setting and quirky characters. Spend your Sunday afternoon on it!


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

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “Future Girl” by Asphyxia

Title: Future Girl
Author: Asphyxia
Genre: Scifi/dystopia/contemporary 
Audience: YA
Date Read: 10/10/2020– 14/10/2020
Rating: 
★★★★★

Review:

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before. It snuck up on me a bit. At first I was finding it a bit slow and then I reached a point where I couldn’t put it down.

Future Girl is set in a near-future Melbourne and there’s the temptation to call it a dystopia, but it’s not really that. Well, maybe kind of. It’s not like your usual YA Dystopia where the oppressive regime is really obvious about it and you don’t understand why the revolution hasn’t happened earlier.

It’s the more insidious oppression, where the government is doing some good stuff, which makes the population a little less inclined to question the iffy stuff. And that aspect is done really well. In fact, I suspect a lot of the population in the book had no idea the dodgy stuff was going on.

This is an Own Voices book. Asphyxia is a Deaf author/artist/activist and so is the MC, Piper. Piper has grown up wearing hearing aids and lip-reading, and it’s not until she meets Marley, a CODA (child of a Deaf adult), that she begins to learn Auslan. I loved seeing her enthusiasm for her new language, and the scenes where she interacts with Robbie, Marley’s Deaf mother, were wonderful. The descriptions are amazing! I tried doing some of the signs based on the written descriptions and I am sure I did a miserable job, but I am planning on spending some time on Asphyxia’s website watching her introductory Auslan videos.

I was actually surprised to discover I still remembered how to fingerspell the entire alphabet in Auslan, after learning in primary school. It wasn’t taught in class, and I can’t even remember how we ended up learning it, but we did, and… maybe that should be an official thing in primary schools? Just maybe?

It also reminded me of being a kid in the 90s and trying to replicate the signing described in the Baby-sitter’s Club books when Jessie was sitting a Deaf kid and learning ASL. Which makes you realise how few Deaf characters there are in books for kids and YA, since the only other book I can think of where characters use sign language is Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep, which I read earlier this year.

The book is also a bit of introduction to activism for those who might be interested in it. We follow Piper as she becomes aware of issues around her, and starts trying to find a way she can advocate for her beliefs. We’re there when things go wrong and when she has the courage to really stand up for herself.

The idea of the book is that you are reading Piper’s art journal, and it is absolutely beautiful! Every page is illustrated in some way, even if it’s just a border made to look like washi tape around the edges. There are also artworks that Piper talks about drawing, which you often actually see a couple of pages before the entry where she writes about drawing it.

One of my favourite aspects of the format was that as I was reading, I noticed many times the word “deaf” had a capital D over it in red. It’s not until the last third of the book where Marley explains to Piper the difference between dead and Deaf, and she describes going through the journal and making the corrections.

You won’t find another book quite like this one and I definitely recommend picking this up.


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

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Book Review: “The Veiled War” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: The Veiled War (The Viper and the Urchin #8)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk/fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 05/10/20 – 07/10/20
Rating:
★★★★★

Review:

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

Argh, I’m a terrible ARC reviewer, I swear with each time a new book in this series comes out, my review is even later.

After a brief foray into Adelma’s backstory in the previous book, The Veiled War reunites us with our favourite ragtag group of spies. Celine was quite smart in inserting The Opium Smuggler into the series where she did. Characters introduced in The Opium Smuggler had parts to play in this next installment and it was good to already be familiar with them; it would have slowed things down to give them the introduction they needed in this setting.

Once again, we get to see more of Damsport. This time, it’s the Mansion where the Marchioness lives, along with the Damsport prison. The world-building just keeps getting bigger and better in this series.

Character-wise, I think Rafe and Cruickshank were my favourites this time around, even if I did keep wanting to shake Rafe into Just. Talking. To. Rory. But still, I enjoyed the way his arc progressed. Ditto for Cruickshank, as one of the older characters, it was hard seeing her wrestle with the new war coming to their shores.

The political intrigue was also great, especially when you realise how long things have been going on under the characters’ noses. I’m looking forward to seeing how this all pans out.


Thank you to Celine Jeanjean for a gratis copy of The Veiled War in exchange for a review.

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), The White Hornet (book 5), The Shadow Palace (book 6) and The Opium Smuggler (book 7) by clicking their titles.

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ARC Review: “People of Abandoned Character” by Clare Whitfield

Title: People of Abandoned Character
Author: Clare Whitfield
Genre: Historical/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 29/09/2020 – 04/10/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was still a great read.

I was expecting a fast-paced thriller, with main character Susannah racing against the clock to discover whether her husband is Jack the Ripper and possibly prevent the next murder.

Instead, it was slower, with a sense of dread creeping insidiously under the surface. The book takes it time looking at attitudes towards both women and queer people at the time. It doesn’t shy away from vivid descriptions of life in Whitechapel and other slums of London in the 1880s.

I loved the way (is loved the right word? Probably not) the Jack the Ripper murders were tied into the plot of Susannah as she tries to make her marriage work despite Thomas becoming more and more erratic and volatile. In particular the way the murder of Mary Jane Kelly is tied in is especially clever, though when I try to sleep tonight I am probably going to regret enlarging the police photograph of her body on Wikipedia to compare it to the description in the book (pro-tip: don’t do that).

Susannah is not an entirely reliable narrator and she’s definitely the sort of character to be labelled “unlikable” with all the baggage that comes with that descriptor. I imagine she would have been a difficult character to write, particularly in the first person, and I applaud Clare Whitfield for how consistently she wrote Susannah. This is Whitfield’s debut novel and I think she will definitely be an author to watch out for in the future!


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

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “The Blood Countess” by Tara Moss

Title: The Blood Countess (Pandora English #1)
Author: Tara Moss
Genre: Paranormal/urban fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 15/09/2020– 22/09/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review:

You know when you really wish you enjoyed a book more than you did? Yeah, this was one of those.

There’s a lot in this book – ghosts, vampires, and zombies to name a few – and I can’t help but think it would have been better to introduce some of them later on. As it was, I didn’t really feel that all the supernatural elements got the introduction they deserved.

I enjoyed the glimpses into the NYC fashion scene, something I know Tara Moss writes of with experience. And I really enjoyed seeing Pandora research the BloodofYouth beauty cream and expose it. Maybe that’s because I’m a nerd like that and would do the same kind of digging.

I was excited when a sexy Civil War-era ghost showed up in Pandora’s new home. I’m a sucker for a ghost romance… but that all happened very quickly and didn’t really have any build-up, which was a bit disappointing. And speaking of lack of build-up, the main antagonist was introduced quite late in the piece and was then defeated really easily.

This is a series opener, and I have a feeling that now this book has done a lot of the setup, I could enjoy the subsequent books more. While I didn’t find this to be the most gripping YA paranormal, I haven’t entirely written off Pandora English just yet.


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

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“Books. Moonlight. Melodrama.” // Review of “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Mexican Gothic
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Gothic horror
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 09/08/2020– 12/08/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review:

Hoo boy. This was one of my most anticipated 2020 reads, but I have to put the disclaimer that I maybe didn’t know what I was getting into? I loved Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow enough that I wanted to check out her haunted house book. This is despite only managing to get through 30 pages of the last haunted house book I tried because I am a wuss.

It may be that my lack of experience with the horror genre, and with gothic horror in particular, meant I didn’t know what to expect. Some of it was expected, like the creepy, barely accessible house with a lot of death in its history, the awful people living there, and strange dreams and glowing apparitions. But I have to admit the final twist lost me! Without saying anything too spoilery, is that sort of thing common in gothic horror?

Still, the historical world-building and the characterisations were spot on. There’s also a lot of exploration of themes such as racism and misogyny, and colonialism is also an important aspect of this story. I had real visceral reactions, both good and bad, to some of these characters and the things they said and their ways of thinking. This was the reason I wanted to see it through to the end, even when things got a bit too strange for me…


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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 “A large male orderly stands sentry, securing her passage to the place beyond sanity, and Emma steps inside…” // Review of “None Shall Sleep” by Ellie Marney

Title: None Shall Sleep
Author: Ellie Marney
Genre: Thriller/historical fiction
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 17/08/2020– 20/08/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

People who know me tend to view me as the boppy, cheery, showtune-belting one, so it always comes as a surprise to them when I announce how much I love books about serial killers (only fictional ones; I can’t do the real ones).

When Ellie Marney announced earlier this year that she was writing a serial killer thriller, I couldn’t have been happier! (I’m sure there’s a showtune I could find to express the excitement.)

I did find that I took a little while to really get into this one, but by the time I got to the end, I was thinking it was my favourite Ellie Marney book (second only to White Night). There are lots of twists and turns, including a character death I totally wasn’t expecting. There are lots of references to blood, and the climax gets violent and bit gory, so I would caution against it if you are faint of heart.

I was surprised there was no romance, given this is an Ellie Marney book. But it works just fine without it, and to be honest, given the things the characters have already gone through and what they continue to go through, it would probably be a bit squiffy to have it in there as well. I really liked the friendship that formed between Emma and Travis instead, that they could recognise each other’s trauma and be there for each other, but also knew how much the other could take and when they needed to step in.

The book is set in 1982 but to be honest, I sometimes forgot! Until the characters are trying to get somewhere without a map, or need to go and find a nearby phone to contact someone. This was fairly early days in the behavioural science field, and it was interesting hearing learning about that.


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

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(I received a free copy of this book from Ellie Marney in a Twitter giveaway)

“They need to know we can hit them back. If they burn our homes, we burn theirs, too.” // Review of “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi

Title: Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha #1)
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 01/08/2020– 09/08/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

I haven’t read a really strong YA high fantasy in a long time. This one definitely fit the bill. It took me a little while to get into, but that was partly because I was feeling reading slumpy and only getting through maybe 10 or 20 pages a day. Once I was able to sit down and give it my undivided attention, I became much more invested.

I loved that this wasn’t a fantasy with obvious good guys and obvious bad guys. There’s lots of politics, and you can see what drives the characters you don’t agree with.

Sometimes the pacing was a little off – seemingly insignificant things went on for ages while significant things were covered in half a page. And sometimes the world-building seemed inconsistent – why does Zelie have to perform this amazing ritual to bring magic back when it seems everybody can just get their magic by touching this special artefact? I also wasn’t sold on the romance – it happened so quickly and it was Twu Wuv right from the get-go.

As to characters, I really loved Tzain and Amari, but both Zelie and Inan wore on me. There are a couple of instances of characters you are just getting to know and love being killed, which is a deliberate choice of this author; the story is her response to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

I read this for book club and it was definitely interesting hearing our different reading experiences with this book. In particular, one member listened to the audio book, which is narrated by a Black woman in an accent reminiscent of the cultures by which the book is inspired.

The book ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m definitely interested in seeing where the second book goes. There’s a lot of setup for future events and things are going to get messy.

“It was beautiful, in its own terrible way. So many monsters are.” // Review of “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant

Title: Into the Drowning Deep
Author: Mira Grant
Genre: Sci-fi/horror
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 28/11/19 – 06/07/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

This book made me geek out so much. It’s horror in many ways, but everything is backed up with so much science. I love it.

This is a slow-burn if ever there was one. The characters don’t leave port until the 25% mark, even though the whole thing is supposedly about the search for mermaids. We spend a lot of time with the characters. It’s an ensemble cast and yet each character is unique. I really appreciated that. While I cannot speak to the representation myself, characters with various disabilities and/or mental illnesses seemed to be treated with nuance and sensitivity, which was wonderful to see.

Some of the science stuff did seem to be stretching into the realms of unbelievability. There was a whole thing with some dolphins and a scientist who was convinced they could communicate complex concepts to said cetaceans in their own language. This was a big part of tracking down the sirens but it just seemed really far-fetched to me.

There were so many different characters involved in various aspects of the climax, given the setting, it felt almost like watching the ending of Titanic. Some people were dying, others were almost making it to safety, and others still were in precarious positions where you didn’t know if they would live or die. Even the climax builds slowly, like the rest of the book, but I still found myself unable to put it down.

This is the kind of book that is probably not for everyone. I had some specific bookish friends in mind that I have recommended this to since finishing it, but I don’t think it will be for everyone. Still, I recommend giving it a go.

#LoveOzYA Book Review: “Euphoria Kids” by Alison Evans

Title: Euphoria Kids
Author: Alison Evans
Genre: Urban fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 28/06/20 – 02/07/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

This is such a delightful little book. It’s no secret that I love earthy, witchy magic, nor that I love the Fey. And this book has both in spades.

At its heart, this is a book about queer kids getting to be themselves. The three main characters are a trans girl, a trans boy, and a non-binary character. Their gender identities are important and inform their characters, but they aren’t the whole plot. This is about trans kids getting to be the main characters in the stories told about them that cis kids have been getting for decades.

I found the plot itself started off strong but then kind of fizzled towards the end. There’s a lot of fuss about the witch that cursed Babs coming back, and how dangerous she might be… but she turns out to be really nice, and the curse was accidental. A strong part of The Boy’s arc is that he hasn’t found his name yet, but when he does, it happens off-page.

But despite that, the writing style and the descriptions are so lovely. I felt totally immersed in Iris’ descriptions of their birth from a plant, and their descriptions of their two mums romance. I felt transported into the other Realm each time the MCs went through the National Park. I loved the way the journey into the Realm was slightly different each time and could never quite be predicted.

This is definitely a mood read, and I recommend for when you need something gentle and feel good.