#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“Simple dreams are the hardest to come true” // Book Review: “Looking for Alibrandi” by Melina Marchetta

1Title: Looking for Alibrandi
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 01/03/2021 – 05/03/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This is one of those YA books I really wish I had read when I was actually a young adult. By the time I was in high-school it was already firmly established as an Australian Classic, but it was never on my curriculum and somehow I never got around to it on my own time before now.

Melina Marchetta beautifully explores what it is like growing up caught between two identities, and how that can affect family and friend relationships. It’s hard to explain exactly what it is, but there’s something really Australian about the tone and voice of this book.

Josie is sometimes a difficult character to sympathise with but at the same time, she is a self-aware of a lot of her faults. While we see the other characters through Josie’s eyes, they do become their own fully formed characters. I especially loved how the relationship between Josie and her Nonna developed, and how it was nearly torn apart towards the end when certain revelations came to light.

One of my colleagues saw me reading this in the lunch room and said that Melina Marchetta is one of her favourite authors, and that she always returns to her books “when she needs a good cry”. I definitely found myself getting teary at the end. It wraps up perfectly, even as it goes to show that life will always be messy and you can only do your best to follow the path you want.


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

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#AWW2021 Book Review: “The Girl in the Sunflower Dress” by Katie Montinaro

1Title: The Girl in the Sunflower Dress
Author: Katie Montinaro
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 02/03/2021 – 04/03/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This is a really engaging debut novel! It made me stay up past bedtime to finish it, and I am not generally one for staying up late, even if the book is good.

The Girl in the Sunflower Dress follows Chelsea Roberts in the summer after she finishes high-school. She’s questioning the route her life is taking and then her life is thrown into upheaval when she accidentally discovers her father is having an affair.

Chelsea is a really well-written MC. I really sympathised with her as she agonised over whether to share her discovery with her family or keep it to herself. I can’t imagine having that sort of secret weighing on me, especially when it’s on top of things like enormous family expectations.

Chelsea’s journey to figure herself out and what she truly wants to do with her life and finally speak to her true desires was just as interesting as the bigger affair storyline. Having said that, I did find her dad’s opposition to the arts a little baffling given that their mutual love of photography is a whole plot point. I could understand being worried your child won’t succeed in the arts and wanting them to have a backup, but he was outright snobbish about Noah’s graphic design business, even though Noah was able to point to rarely being without work.

The different threads of the story are for the most part woven together really well and come to a head at the end, leading to a satisfying conclusion. The middle sometimes got a little repetitive with Chelsea’s back and forth-ing about what to do about various situations, but I’m not sure there was really a way to avoid that.

But overall, I really loved this debut and I’ll definitely be watching out for Katie Montinaro’s books in the future!


Thank you to the author for providing me a gratis copy of this book in exchange for a review. The Girl in the Sunflower Dress will be available for purchase from April 13, 2021.

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

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#AWW2020 “There’s one relationship I’ve neglected my whole life: my relationship with myself.” // Review of “It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake” by Claire Christian

Title: It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake
Author: Claire Christian
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 11/10/2020– 12/10/2020
Rating: 
★★★★★

Review: 

noniblakecoverI have followed Claire Christian on Instagram ever since reading her debut YA novel Beautiful Mess so I had been seeing a lot about this new release. I decided to grab it when I saw it at the library, but I had no idea how much it would affect me.

I’m writing this review two weeks later, and I’ve been thinking about the book all this time. The idea of a woman taking control of her life and making choices on the fly and not worrying about what people might think… I’m trying to embrace that these days and seeing a character who also struggles with it but learns to really lean into her own desires and wants… that was very inspiring!

Noni is such a relatable character and I saw a lot of myself in her, especially the way she struggled with insecurities. Even towards the end, she was still trying to convince herself that her Pleasure Quest had just been for a little while, and that all good things must come to an end and she has to go back to how things were. The idea that living her life for her could only be a temporary thing was so ingrained. We are so conditioned to put other people before ourselves.

It’s worth noting that Noni’s Pleasure Quest is not just about sexual pleasure, though that plays a significant role. It’s pleasure in the little things – dancing at a club and not caring who sees, feeling incredible as you stride down the street in a new outfit you would have never dared wear before, or being comfortable enough in your body to take part in a nude photo shoot.

If I had not started this book in the evening and needed to go to bed, I would have read it in the one day. It was engrossing and delightful and I couldn’t put it down.


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

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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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#aww2018 “The boy steps into the day like he owns it.” // Review of “Sixty Seconds” by Jesse Blackadder

Title: Sixty Seconds
Author: Jesse Blackadder
Genre: Contemporary drama
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 09/12/18 – 13/12/18
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

knew I wanted to read this book from the moment I read an interview with Jesse Blackadder around the time of its release. This book, dealing with the aftermath of a backyard drowning, is the author’s creative response to exactly that tragedy occurring in her own family when she was twelve. 

I think my main reason for not rating it higher is that I just couldn’t necessarily get into the characters, which I think is partly due to some stylistic decisions. There are three different POVs, Finn’s in third person, Jarrah’s in first person, and Bridget’s in second person… the second person in particular took quite a while to get used to. It’s a difficult POV to pull off, and I am sure I am not the only one who kept thinking “No, it’s not me doing these things.” But after  a while, I did get more used to it. Jarrah was the POV character I felt the closest to, I think because the first person narration really worked for his character and it made me feel closer to him than either of the other characters. There were actually some side characters I had stronger reactions to than the main ones.

The writing and pacing in this book is well done and quite tight. However, I did find that sometimes an event was glossed over, and we only got to see a character’s  quick reflection on it afterwards, rather than reading the event itself. I think some of the reason I wasn’t quite able to get into this one is because I don’t read a lot of straight contemporary stories. I read things set in the modern day, but they’re usually a romance or a thriller or some such. This focus on the everyday lives of people, even in the aftermath of something huge, is not quite my thing.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“Possibilities are where the best stories begin.” // Review of “The Cottingley Secret” by Hazel Gaynor

Title: The Cottingley Secret
Author:
Hazel Gaynor
Audio book narrator:
Karen Cass, Billie Fullford-Brown
Genre:
General fiction/magical realism
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 09/10/18 – 24/10/18
Rating:
★★★

Review:

I’ve been intersted in the Cottingley Fairies ever since I researched the case and turned into a drama project in my final year of high-school. So as soon as I saw the word Cottingley in this book’s title, I knew I wanted to read it.

This book tells the story of Olivia, visiting Ireland after the death of her grandfather, and the parallel story of Frances Griffiths, one of two cousins who historically took photographs of fairies in Cottingley, Yorkshire, in 1917 and caused a worldwide stir. As Olivia reads Frances’ memoir, she discovers they share more of a connection than just a belief in fairies.

I have to admit, while I liked Olivia for the most part, there were times when I wanted to shake her. I could tell from the first time he was mentioned that her fiance was obviously an awful person, and I wished she realised that sooner and was  a bit more decisive. I did like that she was a book binder! I know book binders! I really appreciated the  sensitive handling of Alzheimer’s disease through the character of Olivia’s Nanna, Martha. I thought that was very well done.

As I said, I was pretty familiar with the case of the Cottingley Fairies, but the chapters from Frances’ perspective did give extra insight into how a young girl might have felt thrust into the spotlight unwillingly in the way she and Elsie were.

I did appreciate the little hints of magic throughout both the historical and contemporary stories. While it is acknowledged that the photos were fakes, Hazel Gaynor leaves it up to the reader to decide whether or not fairies are real or whether they were a figment of a young girl’s imagination. The two stories are woven together particularly well towards the end, and I actually found myself getting a little bit teary in the final chapter. In a good way, of course.


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#aww2018 #LoveOzYA “You thought your community was gone? Think again, babe.” // Review of “White Night” by Ellie Marney

Title: White Night
Author: Ellie Marney
Genre: Contemporary/romance
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 05/09/18 – 10/09/18
Rating:
★★★☆

Review:

This book  totally found its way under my skin. I was thinking about it all the time when I wasn’t reading, and I had ideas about where the story was going and was supremely worried for the characters.

Bo has a lot on his mind, between footy, the end of high school and crisis in his family that his parents aren’t talking about. When Rory, a girl from the local off-the-grid commune, begins attending his high school and he finds himself drawn into her way of life.

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve started reading Ellie Marney’s books this year is that she has the ability to really capture the Australian experience of being a young adult. These aren’t just teenagers that could be lifted out of her book and transplanted somewhere else. These are very definitely Australian teenagers. This is an Australian small town. There’s just something about the descriptions and the way the characters speak that wouldn’t work anywhere else.

I loved Bo’s character development and Rory’s. Their romance is affected by things like Rory not having access to a phone, and it was interesting to see that explored. Bo’s wider friendship circle is also great; everyone felt real. Sprog in particular has a great arc that’s central to the plot.

The off-the-grid community was also well-written. I liked that it wasn’t presented as a crazy cult from the get-go, and that the majority of people living there genuinely wanted to do something good for the world. A sense of unease begins to develop and by the last fifty pages, I couldn’t have put the book down even if I had wanted to. The only reason I knocked off half a star was because I did feel that sometimes the speeches given by Ray, the sort-of-head of the commune, were often a bit info-dumpy. They served a purpose but I did find myself skimming them a bit.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#WWW Wednesday – February 28, 2018

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This blog hop is hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for this week, and just answer the three questions.

wwwwednesday

I didn’t post here last Wednesday as I have decided to alternate Wednesday posts between this blog and my writing blog. That way I might actually find time to visit fellow participants in each blop hop! So this post covers my last two weeks of reading.

What have you recently finished reading?

First up, I finished The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. While I had a couple of issues with the pacing and being able to keep track of a fairly large cast of characters, I thought this was a great insight into the life of a Black teenager in present-day America. I reviewed it in more detail here.

I also read Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen. This is the book form of the webcomic Sarah’s Scribbles. It is cute, though I think I like it better as an isolated comic I sometimes see on the Internet, rather than all of them packed in together.

Because of the amount of walking and hiking (and driving to the mountains) I’m doing to train for my trek in Nepal in April, I’ve finished many audio books! Though I haven’t necessarily loved many of them, they have been a good distraction when I have been walking uphill for four hours (I am not even kidding).

First I finished Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley, which was fine, I guess. I felt the balance between the sci-fi elements and the fantasy wasn’t quite achieved, and most of the characters annoyed me, but I did like most of the world-building and the mythology. You can read my full review here.

Then I finished the audio book of Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. This was another 3-star book, as I felt it read more like a MG book, except it had more mature content in it. While it is the first in a series, it concluded enough that I’m not going to keep going.

After that was The Matchmakers by Jennifer Colgan. This was a cute fantasy romance about a cupid-type Fey who has to team up with a human to help three couples fall in love or they both lose their ability to love forever. I did enjoy this one.

And then there was Bootleg by Alex Shearer, which was a fairly short kids’ book about a Britain under control of the Good For You Party, which bans chocolate and all other sweets. This one was a bit silly but in the way you let slide when reading children’s books.

I’ve still got to get reviews written for most of these!

What are you currently reading?

I’ve had barely any time to read, what with hiking and actually finding inspiration for my own writing again, so I’m still reading the same ebook I started after The Hate U Give. It’s called Deadly Sweet and is by Lola Dodge, and even if I end up hating it (I am enjoying it so far), that cover is going to be one of my favourites of the year.

I am also reading Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. I am sure many of you remember the blog of the same title, which gave us such gems as The Alot and This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult (where “Clean all the things!” originated). The book is a mixture of some of the blog posts and some new content.

What do you think you’ll read next?

That’s a great question, I’m glad you asked it! I’m actually working on my March/April TBR right now! Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie and The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon are the two left over from my January-February TBR but knowing me I’ll probably get distracted by something else 😛

What are you reading this week?~ Emily

#WWW Wednesday – February 14, 2018

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This blog hop is hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for this week, and just answer the three questions.

wwwwednesday

What have you recently finished reading?

Only one finish this week: Keep Her Safe by Richard Parker. I know many people really loved it but I wasn’t a fan. I just couldn’t make sense of a lot of it. You can read my review here. Sorry it’s a bit ranty.

I actually DNFed Hellhole by Gina Damico, as the humour wore off after a while and I wasn’t really into the story. And given that I had completely forgotten about it until I looked at last week’s post to start this one, I guess that shows how much I was into it.

I also posted my review of Hunted by Meagan Spooner this week. You can find that one here.

What are you currently reading?

I am finally reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. For those unaware, this book came out of the Black Lives Matter movement and is about a black teenager whose best friend is shot by a white police officer while unarmed. I have put it off for a long time because I was worried about how I would find it. And it isn’t an easy read and is making me frustrated and angry a lot of the time, but in a good, this-book-is-challenging-me way.

On audio, I am still listening to Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley, though I’ll probably finish it today or tomorrow. I like many of the ideas, but I’m not so sold on the plot itself. The MC is surrounded by characters who refuse to explain what is going on, mostly for the sake of padding out the plot, which is annoying. And I don’t care about her best friend who is trying to find her back on earth. I’ll finish this but unless the ending is really impressive, I don’t think I’ll read the sequel.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m going to try to knock a couple more books off my February TBR. Possibly Dollhouse by Anya Allyn will be next. Or The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon if I feel like a physical book instead of an ebook.

What are you reading this week?~ Emily