“It was an imperfect world, and her chosen profession was decidedly imperfect, but for now she had a hint of that spark again.” Review of “Dead Man’s Switch” by Tara Moss

Title: Dead Man’s Switch (Billie Walker Mystery #1)
Author: Tara Moss
Audio book narrator: Danielle Carter
Genre: Mystery/Historical
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/07/2021 – 18/07/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Ah, what a great piece of historical fiction this was! Set in Sydney in 1946, just after the war, this is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Billie Walker, former war reporter and now private inquirer. While most of her cases involve tailing cheating men and gathering evidence to give their wives grounds for divorce, but when a woman asks Billie to investigate the disappearance of her 17-year-old son, Billie finds herself thrown into something far more sinister.

Moss’s extensive research is clear and makes all the difference to the book. Details of buildings, fashions, cars, the police force and post-war rationing, just to name a few, are all there, and it makes you feel like you’re there, too.

Billie is a strong lead who carries the story very well, and she’s supported by some great side characters including her baroness mother, her veteran secretary Sam, a quiet but sturdy Detective Inspector, and a young Aboriginal informant.

The mystery runs along at a good pace, with two seemingly unconnected plotlines converging on an exciting climax.

I also want to mention Danielle Carter’s narration of the audio book. She did a spectacular job bringing all these different characters with different accents and backgrounds to life.


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“The threat is here… I’m ready. Another howl. Closer. Here we go.” Review of “Devolution” by Max Brooks

Title: Devolution
Author: Max Brooks
Genre: Horror/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 06/07/2021 – 13/07/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I’ve been thinking for a while that I want to read more horror. I’m a bit inhibited on that front, though, by virtue of being an absolute scaredy-cat. Still, I enjoyed Max Brook’s World War Z, so I thought Devolution might be a good second toe-in-the-water.

I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it, and with the initial just-finished momentum, gave the book five stars. The last 70 pages or so are full of fast-paced action that’s hard to put down. I kept making deals with myself about when I would go to bed, before finally acknowledging that I was going to have to find out what happens in the end.

The opening of the novel creates a lovely insidious feeling of isolation, and a sense that something is very wrong. Brooks gently criticises these types of “back to nature” people who don’t really want to get back to nature at all, who just want all the modern conveniences of urban life surrounded by some trees. One of my favourite lines in the book was “They all want to live “in harmony with nature” before some of them realize, too late, that nature is anything but harmonious.”

But the book did drag a bit in the middle. Yes, it was interesting observing the changing character dynamics as the characters realised they were cut off from the rest of the world and under threat. And yes, I made this GoodReads update at page 231: “Damn book lulled me into a false sense of security and now I’m all creeped out again.” But the real threat did sort of disappear for a while.

This was probably exacerbated by the framing device of an abandoned journal, which meant we knew that the character always survived the events she was describing, though we are told in the introduction that since the last entry, she’s been missing for thirteen months.

Still, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it overall, and it has led me off on Wikipedia rabbit holes about Sasquatch, Yowie, and other related personas such the Grizzly Man, Timothy Treadwell (who thought he had a communion with the bears in an Alaskan national park, until he was eaten by one in 2003). It gives a lot of food for thought, and not just about Bigfoot/Sasquatch. Recommended for fans of survival thrillers as well as horror.


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Book Review: “Murderland” by Pamela Murray

Title: Murderland (Manchester Murders #1)
Author: Pamela Murray
Audiobook narrator: Clare Eden
Genre: Crime/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 20/06/2021 – 23/06/21
Rating: ★★★

Review:

It’s been quite a while since I read a thriller or listened to an audio book. It was a pretty good feeling to get back into both. This was an easy read, and honestly, I did like it, but I found there were a few things that bothered me enough to prevent me from enjoying it more.

The first is that this was written in a very detached style. The old adage of “show, don’t tell” was definitely not adhered to, and I really felt like I was listening to someone relate the events of the book after the fact, instead of being in amongst the action. On top of this, it’s written in 3rd person omniscient, not a perspective I read much. And I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy jumping between different characters’ thoughts and perspectives on the regular.

These two aspects combined particularly bothered me when I was told things like “the DCI knew that Burton had strong feelings for Fielding.” Well, okay, but there’s not been much at all to really suggest that to me. Fielding and Burton share the stage for quite a bit of the novel and there was very little chemistry there. There were also lots of “He felt that” and “It seemed to her” type sentences, which put me at an arms length from the action.

I also felt the murderer’s motivation, once revealed, was a bit far-fetched.

Still, it was a reasonably entertaining thriller. I found myself wanting to know more and being drawn back to it. Clare Eden’s delivery of the audiobook sometimes felt a bit dry, but as far as I could tell with my limited knowledge of Northern English accents, she had a fairly good grasp on the small differences between the regions.

I still haven’t decided whether I’ll continue with the series, but I certainly haven’t written it off entirely yet.


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#AWW2021 Book Review: “An Unforeseen Demise” by P. A. Mason

Title: An Unforeseen Demise (Trouble Down Under #1)
Author: P. A. Mason
Genre: Urban fantasy/cozy mystery
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 27/06/2021 – 30/06/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I have to admit that when I heard P. A. Mason was writing a series of witchy cozy mysteries set in Australia, I wasn’t actually expecting an American main character but I understand the choice. Mason’s audience is likely to be mostly Americans, or at least largely non-Australian, and an audience stand-in who can ask questions about kangaroos and our odd colloquialisms was probably necessary.

Kat Crowe is one of a family of witches who travels to Australia to take care of her Aunt Tabitha’s affairs after the older woman’s unexpected death. But Aunt Tabby’s death seems suspicious, not the least because as a seer, she should have seen it coming, and seemingly didn’t.

This book has all the elements you expect from a cozy mystery: small town, nosy neighbours, and residents who aren’t all they seem. I loved some of the witchy additions, like the “witchy web”, an app that connects the magical community but appears as a phony astrology app to non-magical people who stumble across it.

The solution to the mystery was somewhat bittersweet, but it more than answered the question of why no one knew about Aunt Tabby’s death before it happened.

I’m definitely looking forward to more of Kat’s adventures in future instalments!


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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June 2021 Reading Wrap-up

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

We’re halfway through the year! Australia is currently in a weird situation, with various Local Government Areas in various states of lockdown, and my own state dealing with its first mask mandate, in spite of no current community transmission. Everything feels like it’s in a state of flux, but in amidst all of that, the books are still there for us.

PAST MONTH’S READING:

Butter Witch by Tess Lake, Marked By Azurite by Celine Jeanjean, Spellslinger by Sebastian de Castell, Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O’Neill, Music and Mirrors by Celine Jeanjean, An Unforeseen Demise by P. A. Mason.
  1. The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk (YA contemporary – 3.5 stars – review) (read May, reviewed June)
  2. Sky on Fire by Jessy Greyson (YA dystopian– 3.5 stars – review) (read May, reviewed June)
  3. Butter Witch by Tess Lake (urban fantasy/cozy mystery – 3 stars – not intending to review)
  4. Marked by Azurite (Razor’s Edge Chronicles #3) by Celine Jeanjean (urban fantasy – 4 stars – review)
  5. Spellslinger by Sebastian de Castell (YA fantasy – 4 stars – not intending to review)
  6. Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O’Neill (fantasy/magical realism – 3 stars – review)
  7. Music and Mirrors by Celine Jeanjean (historical fiction/retelling – 4 stars – review)
  8. An Unforeseen Demise (Trouble Down Under #1) by P. A. Mason (urban fantasy/cozy mystery– 4 stars – review forthcoming)

BOOKTUBE:

I have a YouTube channel where I promote Australian books using the hashtag #AusReads, and also indulge my compulsion for signing up to readathons. Here are the latest videos:

  1. April Wrap-up and May TBR

FAVOURITE BOOKISH PHOTO:

Despite good intentions, I actually didn’t post any bookish photos on Instagram in June. They were all related to my writing, but I don’t think that should stop me from sharing one here, should it? The snippets I’ve been sharing have all been from my current urban fantasy project, Lucy Williams Is A Witch. This line is spoken by Lucy’s mentor, Grace, when she shows Lucy her potion book for the first time.

Two leather-bound books stand next to each other. the one on the left is a cream colour while the one on the right is brown. Next to the books are two small jars full of coloured liquid, one red, one blue. They have cork stoppers. There is an out-of-focus fire and fireplace in the background. The text reads "It's the most important recipe book in my collection" in curly font. Emily Wrayburn 2021 is in plain font in the top left corner. ⁠

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

CURRENTLY READING:

I don’t actually have anything on the go at the moment. I finished An Unforeseen Demise earlier today and am yet to start anything. I’ve been doing pretty well at keeping to just one book at a time, and I haven’t been in the mood for audio books, so nothing there either.

PLANNING TO READ NEXT:

I will soon be starting Ariadne by Jennifer Saint for book club. It’s been on my radar for a while, but I admit the book club factor is the only reason I’m getting onto it this soon. I honesty have no idea what to expect from it or whether I will like it. I guess we’ll see!

What are you reading? 🙂

Book Review: “Music & Mirrors” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: Music and Mirrors
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: YA/Adult
Dates Read: 20/06/2021 – 23/06/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

While I know that it’s a bit of a problematic trashfire, Phantom of the Opera is pretty much my favourite musical, so I was extremely excited when Celine Jeanjean announced to her advance team that she would be publishing a Phantom retelling this month. When I saw that gorgeous cover, my excitement only increased.

This is very different to Celine’s other books – her characteristic humour and snark are absent, and it’s a lot more character-driven that her other books. There were a couple of occasions when I found myself thinking “but nothing has actually happened“. Things had happened, though, but so much of it about the character arcs and what happens to them as people, rather than actual action or events.

And there are still hints of the Jeanjean signature style. I was getting some definite Viper and the Urchin series vibes from the descriptions of the feats of engineering in and under the opera house.

This version of the story is genderbent, with a female “phantom” and an aspiring bass-baritone opera singer. Also present is Ada Byron aka Ada Lovelace, in our own world commonly viewed as the earliest “computer programmer”. Jeanjean’s Ada is clearly autistic, even though the word obviously is never used. I wasn’t quite sure why it was necessary to have Ada Lovelace present as a character and not just an original aristocratic character, but in and of herself, I loved this character.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Eric when we first met him, but he grew on me as the story went on. His love for his sister really shines through and it becomes clear early on that he will genuinely do anything for her. I also really loved that he respected Ada’s boundaries and the fact that she didn’t make eye contact or want to be touched.

In the original story, we learn about Erik’s disownment by his mother and how he travelled Europe and Asia before taking up residence under the Opera House. I wish we had got a bit of a similar backstory for Miriam, the Phantom equivalent in this story, especially given that she was the owner of the opera house and incredibly wealthy. I was intrigued where all that came from. Jeanjean does a good job of humanising the character without justifying her terrible actions, and I certainly sympathised with her as she realised towards the end that her loneliness was mostly of her own making.

I am pretty sure this is intended as a standalone, but I’d be interested in seeing more of these characters if Celine is willing to revisit them. I feel like there’s still so much ahead of them that could be explored!


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

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#AWW2021 “As a girl, the fairies came to me; they whispered in my dreams and left songs in my head. I went to the glen and found them there.” // Review of “Reluctantly Charmed” by Ellie O’Neill

Title: Reluctantly Charmed
Author: Ellie O’Neill
Genre: Magical Realism/Contemporary
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 26/05/2021 – 17/06/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

This is one of those books that’s hard to rate. 3 stars seems too generous for how I felt about it but anything less (even 2.5) feels harsh.

Honestly, the book’s title is a good description of how I felt about it. While it’s classified as magical realism, I felt it had a bit too much fantasy to qualify as such. But at the same time, not enough fantasy to be a proper fantasy book.

There’s a lot to like here – Kate McDaid is a relatable main character, and she and her group of closest friends make a fun group. The misunderstandings in the romantic subplot were quite obvious but it was still cute.

And the premise of an nineteenth century witch leaving a plea from the fairies for her twenty-first century niece to reveal step-by-step is an awesome premise, which worked well.

Where I started getting tripped up was how quickly Kate became SO famous. I could understand her going viral and becoming a bit of an Internet celebrity. But within two weeks of her starting to publish the Steps, she has the paparazzi following her around, and she’s appearing in gossip rags. Her parents are appearing on national breakfast TV because she doesn’t want to, and they’re hiring an agent and being asked to be the face of advertising campaigns. This just didn’t make sense to me.

I also felt the ending was quite unsatisfying. It all wrapped up in a bit of a rush, too much of a rush. It was all too easy and everything worked out in a couple of chapters. There’s a kidnapping that Kate simply runs away from virtually unscathed. Her choices to do with the Final Step don’t have any real repercussions, apart from one thing which actually should be a HUGE DEAL and is glossed over in a couple of paragraphs in the epilogue (sorry, trying not to be spoilery).

I’m sure this will be a properly charming read for some readers. It just didn’t work for me.


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2021 #LoveOzYA Book Review – “Sky On Fire” by Jesse Greyson

Title: Sky On Fire
Author: Jesse Greyson
Genre: Dystopia
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 20/05/2021 – 25/05/2021
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

Ahh. I was in the mood for a good dystopia and this definitely hit the spot in a lot of ways.

I loved that this was set in a specifically Australian climate-ravaged dystopia. Greyson is obviously drawing on her own knowledge of the Gold Coast when her characters navigate the city.

The world-building was strong enough to carry the story but didn’t get bogged down in details. It told me what I needed to know (solar flares, mutations) but left the rest to my imagination.

I also thought the central characters were really well done – they are all quite distinct and I never had any trouble knowing who was who.

Having said that, I was a little bit bothered that the only character who was either fat or disabled was the villain. While the manipulative, abusive mother was incredibly well-written, and I had genuine angry reactions to some of her actions, but there is a wider stereotype of disabled people as villains, and this plays into that.

Where the book started to fall down for me was in the plotting. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt and wonder if I just missed a sentence here or there that would have explained things, but as it was, there were a few plot inconsistencies that bothered me. At one stage, Dante had an hour to obtain another dose of insulin for his mother, but then spent the day exploring. Earlier in the book, Dante trades with a gang for insulin, because the gang had already hit up the MegaPharm. But then later in the book, the main characters raid the MegaPharm for more. It seemed unlikely to me that in the events of the book, the pharmacy would have been able to restock.

Having said all of that, the book had a strong hopeful ending that I really liked. A book’s ending can make or break it for me, and in this case, it made it.


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Book Review: “Marked By Azurite” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: Marked By Azurite (Razor’s Edge Chronicles #4)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Urban fantasy
Intended audience: YA/Adult
Dates Read: 06/06/2021 – 08/06/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I received a free copy of this book from the author, but then I went out and bought a copy anyway, because I am continuing my streak of reading reviewing my “advance” copies at least a week after the book is released. Good work there, Emily.

I was surprised to realise on reflection that I think this might be my favourite book in this series so far. The reason for that is mostly that the events in this book feel a lot more personal. This one is really about Apiya finding out who she is.

In addition to that, we get some great backstories for Sarroch and Yue. I don’t want to spoil too much but let’s just say, Sarroch has made some bad, selfish choices in his long life, and Yue was kinda sorta almost… humanised? (For want of a better word, since she is not human). I’m really interested to see how this stuff pans out – Apiya as usual has got herself caught in the middle of things and bluffed her way to this point, but it’s hard to see how she’s going to persuade Yue to stop trying to kill her.

The revelations about Apiya’s true identity are going to have some pretty huge ramifications for the entire Mayak world and I’m also interested to see how that plays out, both within the Mayak community and in the wider negotiations between Mayak and Mundane. Definitely looking forward to the next book! Enough I might even manage to review that one before the official release date. 😂


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“Dreams didn’t follow logical, step-by-step patterns. They swirled, never taking you down a straight path.” // Review of “The Others Side of Perfect” by Mariko Turk

Title: The Other Side of Perfect
Author: Mariko Turk
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 25/05/2021 – 27/05/2021
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

I was so excited to win an ARC of this book in a giveaway. There aren’t too many books that cater to us musical theatre nerds, so the fact that the MC was doing the school musical and that was a major part of the plot made me very keen!

I loved the content from the other musical theatre kids – it was kind of cool having the main character as an outsider and having those references explained, so that those readers less initiated into the world of musicals would be able to at least understand a bit. And reading about these teenagers who are drawn to theatre for the same reasons I am – that it’s a place that misfits can feel like they fit in somewhere.

I also loved the discussions about racism in ballet, and the juxtapositions between ballet and contemporary dance, and how they seek (or don’t) to challenge traditions. The reactions of the ballet mistress to Alina and her best friend Colleen when they called her out on racist casting where disappointingly realistic (defensiveness and anger and a rant about “tradition”).

Unfortunately, I found that the main character spent far too much of the book being self-absorbed and not recognising how much she was hurting other people. Yes, that was part of her arc, and yes, people called her out on it, but it just went on for too long. I stopped sympathising.

I did find that the process of mounting and producing the musical seemed a little unrealistic, but I was able to accept that because they plot needed to move forward somehow. I think I was possibly just not quite the right reader for this book.


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