January 2023 Reading Wrap-up

An emoji of two books next to each other, with the text "Monthly Reading Wrap-up"

We have been back on home turf for a week now, and it’s been such a relief! I’m heading back to work tomorrow and it will be good to really settle back into routines. Quantitatively, it’s been an excellent reading month, but Heartstopper was the only book that I gave more than three stars to. The rest of my reads have all been fine down to okay. Fingers crossed for some 4 and 5 star reads in February!

PAST MONTH’S READING:

A banner showing the covers of the following books: Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge, The Ghostly Grounds: Murder and Breakfast by Sophie Love, Miss Percy's Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson, A Study in Time by Maureen Flynn
  1. Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic (Dowsers #1) by Meghan Ciana Doidge (cozy mystery/urban fantasy – 2 stars – review)
  2. The Ghostly Grounds: Murder and Breakfast by Sophie Love (cozy mystery – 3 stars – review)
  3. Miss Percy’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons (historical fantasy – 3 stars)
  4. A Study in Time by Maureen Flynn (sci-fi – 3 stars)
  5. Behind the Veil by E. J. Dawson (historical fantasy/horror – 3 stars – review forthcoming)
  6. Mrs Rochester’s Ghost by Lindsa Marcott (thriller – 2 stars)
  7. The Mightnight Library by Matt Haig (magical realism – 3 stars)
  8. Heartstopper by Alice Oseman (YA romance/graphic novel – 4 stars)
A banner showing the covers of the following books: Behind the VEil by EJ Dawson, Mrs Rochester's Ghost by Lindsay Marcott, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and Heartstopper volume 1 by Alice Oseman.

BOOKTUBE:

I’ve started making booktube videos again! Here’s the latest:

  1. Sims Readathon February TBR

INSTAGRAM:

Not exactly a bookish photo but book-adjacent! I only used my British Library card for one day and I won’t get back there before it expires, but I was pretty chuffed to get it!

You can see all my bookish photos and reels (plus some RL as well) on my Instagram.

CURRENTLY READING:

I don’t actually have anything on the go at the moment. I finished Heartstopper earlier this afternoon.

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

It’s very likely it will be Heartstopper Volume 2. Being very simple graphic novels, these do not take long to get through at all and my partner has bought the whole series. I’m doing the Sims Readathon in February and one of the prompts is to read a book with a school setting, for which this series works perfectly.

What are you reading? 🙂

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Book Review: “The Ghostly Grounds: Murder and Breakfast” by Sophie Love

Title: The Ghostly Grounds: Murder and Breakfast (Canine Casper Cozy Mystery #1)
Author: Sophie Love
Genre: Urban fantasy/cosy mystery
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 03/01/2022 – 04/01/2022
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

I have to admit, I went into this because it looked spooky and paranormal. Having now read it, I would have to say that is the books’ weakest feature. While there is definitely something ghostly going on, it really had no impact on the story itself.

I did enjoy the cast of characters. It was particularly nice having a lead character, Marie, who is nearing 40, rather than the usual mid-20s protagonists. I did have to suspend my disbelief a little with how easily she set up the B&B – less than $11k in savings to fix the place up and no building inspections or approvals in sight. Just set up a website!

Sometimes the writing felt a little bit repetitive, especially as different characters kept asking Marie about the rumours that her aunt’s manor might be haunted, and she gave the same answer every time. There was also a lot of hand-wringing over whether she could afford to keep the B&B running, which got a bit tiresome after a while, even if it is realistic.

But the idea of a paranormal investigator being in town at the same time as a noted sceptic and the latter ending up dead… that’s an excellent premise for a cozy mystery, and I did enjoy that side of the book. The investigation moves along at a good pace, and it doesn’t feel like there’s any padding while the story waited for Marie to find more clues.

While I enjoyed this instalment well enough, I did pick this up as a freebie. I am not sure I am necessarily invested enough to continue the series. It might remain at the back of my mind, but I have so many other books to read, it’s unlikely I’m going to return to these ones.


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Book Review: “Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic” by Meghan Ciana Doidge

Title: Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic (Dowsers #1)
Author: Meghan Ciana Doidge
Genre: Urban fantasy/cosy mystery
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/01/2022 – 02/01/2022
Rating: 
★★

Review: 

I’m not having a lot of luck with urban fantasies lately. Anyone who knows me I will snap up anything that features both baking and magic, but this one really needed a good edit to make it stand out.

There were a lot of things that weren’t really explained very well, and other times where the main character explains too much at a bad time, halting the plot and making the reader forget what was actually happening. Several times, the narration would say something like “Now that I knew how to…” or “so that was why…” and I had no idea where the revelation had come from.

They mystery itself was actually decent enough. I didn’t mind reading the ins and outs of the characters pursuing their leads. The villain was fairly obvious but when it came down to it, I couldn’t quite understand their reasoning, and I’m still not sure what actually transpired at the end. Maybe that’s explained in later books, but I’m not interested enough to continue the series.

I think my favourite character was the vampire Kett. He was the one who seemed to have the most interesting personality, and who seemed like the most fully-formed of the side characters. While there were more werewolves on the scene than vampires, the most interesting one of them ends up dead early on and I never particularly warmed to any of the others.

One more thing to note: a key element of the story is that Jade thought she was half-human, half-witch, but the human aspect may not be correct (she never knew her father). When she finally does get her mother and grandmother to open up at the end of the book, they tell her her father was someone her mother hooked up with while backpacking through Australia and taking part in an “aboriginal fertility ceremony”. Yikes. I’m not an Indigenous Australian, but I would still encourage this Canadian author to not throw around terms like that in the name of humour or a quirky plot point.


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December 2022 Reading Wrap-up

An emoji of two books next to each other, with the text "Monthly Reading Wrap-up"

Hello from Rome, and Happy New Year! December started off strong in the reading department, but it fell down in the second half of the month. Obviously that’s going to happen while travelling. Honestly, it’s 19 days until we return to Australia and as much as we still have some great places to visit, I am looking forward to being home again.

PAST MONTHS’ READING HIGHLIGHTS:

  1. Planting Pearls by Virginia King (suspense/paranormal – 5 stars – review)
  2. A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Bakin g by T. Kingfisher (MG fantasy – 4 stars – review)
  3. The War of the Fae: the Changelings (YA fantasy – 1 star – review)
  4. The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud (YA fantasy/dystopia – 3 stars – review)

Once again, I’m skipping the usual Booktube and Bookstagram sections on this post. From February, I’m hoping to be more active in both those spaces again and then I’ll re-incorporate them into the blog.

CURRENTLY READING:

Physical book: Nothing at the moment. I will admit that I am looking forward to being home with my bookcases.

Ebook: Cupcakes, Trinkets and Other Deadly Magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge. This was a Kindle freebie and it’s… fine. It’s a light-hearted paranormal mystery but it’s nothing mind-blowing.

Audio book: Nothing on the go at the moment. Maybe I should download something for the plane home…

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

Genuinely no idea! It’s harder to determine that when you’re confined to ebooks and can’t cast your eyes over the bookshelves to see what you fancy. I am sure I’ll find something, though.

Well, this post has been short and sweet! I’ll finish it up here.

What are you reading? 🙂

Book Review: “The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne” by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Genre: Fantasy/Dystopia
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 10/12/2022 – 09/12/2022
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

Jonathan Stroud is one of my few insta-buy authors. I loved the Bartimaeus trilogy and I loved Lockwood and Co. (looking forward to the Netflix series in January!). But this book… I don’t know. I think I liked it? Hence the three stars. But it took so long to get through and I did feel a bit dissatisfied at the end.

I think the main problem was that Stroud didn’t give us enough of… anything, really.

We know that there was a “Cataclysm” and that it has broken up the UK into a series of walled “Surviving Towns”, but we don’t know what caused it. We know that it caused wild animals to turn into giant mutations of themselves, and created a race of cannibalistic sub-humans known as The Tainted, but that’s about the extent of our knowledge.

We know a bit about how various religious faiths throughout the world have sort of amalgamated into one big Faith and religious authoritarianism is huge. We know that Scarlett lost someone, possibly to one of these Faith Houses but we don’t know anything about who it was, or the circumstances.

Being a closed book is a huge part of Scarlett’s character, but it does make it hard to get invested in her. All we really see is the bravado she puts on. As she starts to warm towards Albert, we get past the exterior a little bit, but I think a bit more was needed.

Albert, tbough, is an open book and such an interesting character. He’s been raised in an abusive environment, and up until the events of the book, has never been outside the walls of that environment. He is so naïve but so genuine, though his upbringing has taught him to be sneaky in some ways. I really loved his development throughout the story.

I am intrigued enough to read the second book. I do wonder if the first book was a whole lot of set-up and the next book will be more interesting. But I’m going to get it from the library.


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#AusReads Planting Pearls by Virginia King

Title: Planting Pearls (Selkie Moon #1)
Author: Virginia King
Genre: Mystery/paranormal
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/12/22 – 02/12/22
Rating: 
★★★★★

Review: 

I heard about this series through the author’s sister, with whom I do musical theatre, and I’m so glad I checked it out. I loved this one!

Planting Pearls is a suspense novel with a hint of paranormal. I really enjoyed the way that Hawaiian folklore was incorporated into the story. Admittedly, I am not familiar with any of the stories and I have no idea whether the folklore and native stories have been well represented, but at face value, they add to the story.

I mentioned in a recent review that the main character was a sexual assault or rape survivor, but this only ever seemed like a superficial reason for the character to want to leave town. I was pleased that in Planting Pearls, the effects of an abusive relationships were well-developed, as awful as they were. Selkie’s (ex-)husband sends her threatening text messages, cancels her hotel reservations once he’s discovered where she’s gone, and makes Selkie out to be the villain to their friends.

Selkie is a strong lead character, and her friends, particularly Wanda and Derek, make a good team. The mystery unfolds at a solid pace and I didn’t ever feel like the author was trying to pad the story out. I’m definitely looking forward to checking out more of Selkie Moon’s adventures.


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“It is nearly impossibly to be sad when eating a blueberry muffin. I’m pretty sure that’s a scientific fact.” // Review of “A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking” by T. Kingfisher

Title: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
Author: T. Kingfisher
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: MG/YA
Date Read: 04/12/2022 – 08/12/2022
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This book was really cute. I love any fantasy novel where baking and magic are combined, so when this one made mention of it in the title, I was immediately sold.

Often when this concept is used, the baker/wizard in question bakes mostly sweets. Mona is a baker in the traditional sense of the word. She’s up at 4am to get the day’s bread on, and her familiar is a (possibly carnivorous) sourdough starter. I loved this twist! The way Mona’s power, which boils down to being able to persuade uncooked dough that it has certain properties, or wants to act a certain way, ended up being what saved their duchy, was impressive.

Having said that, Mona does not want to be a hero, and it’s a title that is foisted on her for doing simply what needed doing, when people far more qualified than her should have been doing it instead. This is a big theme in the book and I really enjoyed how it was explored.

And can I just say how nice it is to have a 14-year-old main character in a YA book?! So often, this age group is overlooked. And Mona definitely feels like a 14-year-old, too. Spindle, the young thief that she befriends, was also a fun character, and I really appreciated the way his handling of his sister’s death was written.

I will say that sometimes the world-building was a bit lacking. There was enough to carry the story, but it wasn’t enriched by it. And the editing was sometimes poor. There were words missng and Mona’s Uncle Albert turned into Uncle Earl for a whole chapter at one point!

Still, this was a cute and different fantasy story and I definitely recommend!


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Book Review: “The Changelings” by Elle Casey

Title: The Changelins (War of the Fey #1)
Author: Elle Casey
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 04/12/2022 – 08/12/2022
Rating: 

Review: 

I don’t write a lot of 1-star reviews. Usually if a book is that bad, I DNF. But this one was for a readathon and also, with all the plane and train travel I’m doing at the moment, I had the time to commit to it despite not enjoying it.

Usually when I dislike a book this much, I am happy to say “Obviously this wasn’t for me, no book can be for everyone”. But I am surprised just how unanimous the 4 and 5-star reviews are. I would have expected them to be a bit more mixed all things considered.

To be honest, I found none of the characters that interesting. They were all pretty superficial to me. The main character, Jayne, has supposed recently been dealing with sexual abuse from her mother’s boyfriend, but the effects of this are never really delved into and it felt like it was just used as a convenient reason for Jayne to want to skip town.

I could honestly barely tell the other characters apart, and I kept forgetting which guy was supposed to be the love interest. And while most of the characters have known Jayne for a matter of four days, at the end when they have to declare the innermost desire in order to move forward, these two guys both declare they want to protect her?

Plot-wise, I felt like I was mislead. This felt like The Hunger Games or something, rather than a fantasy novel. Yes, there were supernatural creatures, but it felt more like a series of action scenes, with each one separate to the others, and no connection or cause and effect. And apparently while many of them were presented as foes, they’re actually all on the same side at the end?

I was also annoyed that Casey ignored the traditional meaning of the word “changeling”, made it mean what she wanted it to mean in her world, and then went so far as to address this, saying “oh, yeah, the meaning diverged between humans and fey over the centuries”. Whatever.

The other thing that bothered me was the casual ableism, homophobia, etc. Jayne says she can’t be blamed for wanting to laugh at the dwarf (a human with Dwarfism, not a fantasy dwarf a la Tolkien) in commando gear, and also refers to her “OCD” step-mother. Then there’s the stereotypically queer-coded vampire making leery comments, and Jayne’s outdated references to “bitchy gay guys”. Yes, the book is 10 years old. Yes, maybe the author doesn’t include this sort of thing anymore. But ugggh.


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#AusReads #LoveOzYA Book Review: “The Dragon Healer” by Tiani Davids

Title: The Dragon Healer (Chronicles of Eldras #1)
Author: Tiani Davids
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 14/11/2022 – 26/11/2022
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

I was following Tiani Davids on Instagram when she made the decision to go indie with this series, so I’ve been looking forward to reading it for quite a while. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, and you all know I’m a sucker for dragons.

The Dragon Healer is a strong series opener with strong characters and interesting world-building. I really enjoyed the history of Eldras, the supposed reasons why the dragons were expelled from there, and the way this history slowly unravelled the more the main characters investigated.

Elinta is a great main character. I liked that her strength is healing, and she consistently demonstrates the knowledge she has learned from her apprenticeship. The dynamic between her and Zhayra, the dragon, is delightful.

Lorrin, the Crown Prince, and Niles, his best friend, are fun characters, though at times they almost border on being a little too perfect. I’m sitting down to write this review a week after reading the book, and I can recall very few instances of conflict with them. Given how much time Elinta spent in the palace and how much of an outsider she was, it might have been interesting to see something come between them.

Apart from this, the main thing that lets the story down a bit is the pacing. The first half moves along quite well, but then things grind almost to a halt once Elinta arrives at the palace. The plot needed a lot of time to pass, but apart from research, there wasn’t a lot for Elinta to do to fill it.

Given the way this book ends, I don’t think this will be such an issue in subsequent instalments in the series. The characters have moved off on their adventure now, and there is lots for them to discover. I look forward to book two!


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November 2022 Reading Wrap-up

An emoji of two books next to each other, with the text "Monthly Reading Wrap-up"

Hello from Florence, Italy! Despite travelling since November 14, I have managed to read 3 books so far on this trip! Turns out train travel is good like that.

PAST MONTHS’ READING HIGHLIGHTS:

  1. The Eighth Wonder by Tania Farrelly (historical fiction – 3 stars – review)
  2. The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall (dystopia/adventure/literary fiction – 2 stars – review)
  3. The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman (fantasy – 3 stars)
  4. The Dragon Healer by Tiani Davids (YA fantasy – 3.5 stars – review forthcoming))
  5. High Tide by Pip Russell-Brown (contemporary fiction – 4 stars)

I’m skipping the usual Booktube and Bookstagram sections on this post. To be honest, I haven’t been terribly active on either, especially Booktube. That’s something I don’t think I’ll get back to until 2023, and I’m okay with that!

CURRENTLY READING:

I am actually completely inbetween books at the moment, having finished the only one I had on the go earlier this evening. I am not sued to having nothing for this section!

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

I’m doing the Reindeer Readathon this month (despite travel!) so it will be something from my TBR for that. I’m leaning towards A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. You know how I love any book that combines baking and magic.

What are you reading? 🙂