“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: “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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“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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“I am brave. I am strong. And I am not afraid.” // Review of “The Red Labyrinth” by Meredith Tate

Title: The Red Labyrinth
Author: Meredith tate
Genre:  Dystopian/fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 25/05/19 – 28/05/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I really enjoyed this! I wasn’t sure if I’d be in the mood for it, since I’d been reading a lot of MG and YA, and I felt like maybe I needed to go and read some adult fiction for a while. But this was really engaging… and that ending! Can only hope there will be a book two!

I really felt for the main character, Zadie. She’s had a lot of trauma, and while it was hard to read, it never felt gratuitous. It made a lot of sense within the world that Tate has set up. There were a few occasions where she made (or almost made) some stupid decisions – I could forgive it the first couple of times, but once she knew the labyrinth was out to get her, I expected her to be a bit more sensible. And a lot of the time, she was rather reactionary, and someone else needed to save her. At times this was frustrating, but it was actually part of her character development as well. As she grew into herself and realised there were parts of her that no one could take away, she took charge of her destiny.

I suspected that the there would be more to the character of Dex than initially met the eye and I was right. I really liked learning more about him as the book went on.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Landon… it seemed that he was going to be a rather tropey YA love interest but… then he wasn’t. I don’t want to give much away but just know that Part Three was something I didn’t see coming, but it was really there all along. I came to a dozen realisations along with Zadie (and seeing her character growth in this section was really satisfying).

It does end on a cliffhanger so I will definitely be looking out for book two! The developments in the final act of this book leave room for so much to go down and I really want to see it play out!


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

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#AWW2019 “I was ten years old when my parents were killed by pirates.” // Review of “The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone” by Jaclyn Moriarty

Title: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: MG
Date Read: 13/05/19 – 21/05/19
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

I read this book at the end of a long streak of MG and YA reads, thanks to a self-imposted challenge, and I suspect that might be why I didn’t love it quite as much as I’d hoped. I was needing a change of pace and not quite ready to give it to myself.

But here we are.

Actually, when I started out, I was completely in love with the style of this book. It has vibes of Nevermoor by fellow Aussie writer Jessica Townsend. It’s whimsical and charming without being silly. Unfortunately, for me personally, the novelty wore thin after a while.

I did really love the world of the Kingdoms and Empires. It is some kind of fantastical early twentieth century mishmash. Some people seem to live in a world closer to that of our 1900, while otherse have contraptions closer to those of the 1950s (like refrigerators). It’s actually kind of hard to explain.

There are a lot of characters, which made it hard to keep track of sometimes. The plot relies on Bronte travelling to her ten aunts delivering them gifts from her dead parents, and after a while, I had trouble keeping the aunts and their families straight.  As an adult reader, I know I am not this book’s target audience, so when I say I thought things were solved a bit too easily, that is something that may well not apply to younger readers. Ditto the fact that I saw some of the twists coming. It is a charming adventure story that I think that younger age group will really enjoy .


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

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“Magic was not something apart from her, something she could give up. It was the power of her deepest feeling, the power of who she was.” // Review of “Enchantée” by Gita Trelease

Title: Enchantée
Author: Gita Trelease
Audio book narrator:
Justine Eyre
Genre:
  Historical fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 14/04/19 – 11/05/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I was super excited about a historical fantasy set at the outset of the French Revolution. This turned out to be a bit more character-driven than I was expecting, but I did like a lot of those characters, so I enjoyed it enough.

It does get a big samey at times. There is a lot of back-and-forthing from Paris to Versailles, and the main character, Camille’s, thoughts often get go around in circles.

I felt there were only three characters that were really fleshed out: Camille, her sister, Sophie and their friend, Lesar, an young engineer who is involved with building a hot air balloon to fly across the Alps.

There are a number of aristocrat characters that Camilile befriends, and I have to admit, that I couldn’t really tell them apart. When the eventual villain was revealed, I had trouble remembering if we’d met him before.

The descriptions are probably this book’s strongest point. Whether Trelease is describing the opulence of Versailles or the dirt and grime of the poorest parts of Paris, she immerses the reader there.

I don’t know whether it was actually that the book got more interesting, or that I simply got out of a slump/not being in the mood for audio books, but I did feel things picked up in the second half of the book. There is a definite shift in atmosphere after the storming of the Bastille; you could feel the unease rippling through the characters.  While this might not have been my favourite, I recommend it for historical fantasy fans.


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“Even if tonight goes all belly-up, I’ll still be very glad today happened the way it did.” // Review of “The Doll Maker” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: The Doll Maker (The Viper and the Urchin #4)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk/fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 21/04/19 – 24/04/19
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

Celine Jeanjean is spoiling us. After a gap of several years, we’ve received two Viper and the Urchin books within a few months of one another. And I have to say I really loved this one. I may have caught myself making silly noises a couple of times.

One thing I enjoyed about this book particularly was that a lot of the stakes were really personal. Friendships were betrayed, loyalties were tested and feelings had to be faced.

We also got to learn more about the history of Damsport, and how the Marchioness and Lady Martha operate. Revolution is in the air and that got quite tense at times. It was interesting to see Rory having to reconcile her loyalties in Damsport with the political situation she sought to dissolve in Azyr in the previous book.

Rafe grows on me more with every book and in this instalment we got to learn a bit more about the family he’s unwilling to talk about. I also really loved the dynamic between him and Rory here. I won’t say anymore. 😉

Longinus once again needs all the hugs for various reasons. He’s still the Longinus we know and love from book one, but he’s learning to overcome some of his issues, though they are certainly still haunting him (and that’s going to be a major part of the next book, I expect).

I pretty much read this book in one sitting, so now I’ve got to wait the maximum amount of time for the next one. But I think it will be worth the wait.


(Thank you to Celine Jeanjean for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. This did not affect my opinions in any way)

You can read my reviews of The Bloodless Assassin (book 1),  The Black Orchid (book 2) and The Slave City (book 3) by clicking their titles.

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“I have a story I was meant to live. And not even you can unwrite it.” // Review of “Romanov” by Nadine Brandes

Title: Romanov
Author: Nadine Brandes
Genre:
Historical fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 17/04/2019 – 19/04/2019
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Ah man. I was approved for this ARC back in November 2018 and I’d been really looking forward to it. I’d hyped it up a lot in my head. So imagine my disappointment when I re-read the blurb when I was about 20% into the book and realised that I had totally misread it the first time, and the reason it wasn’t quite meeting my expectations was beceause I was stupidly expecting something that was never promised to me.

For some reason I got into my head that the execution of the Romanov family would happen fairly early on, and that the book would be about Anastasia being on the run through the Russian wilderness.

There is far less adventuring than that. A good half of the book takes place before the execution, and depicts the exile of the Romanov family in Impatiev House. Apart from the occasional mention of spells, this first half felt like it was straight historical fiction. The fantasy is barely there. Then in the second half, the pacing speeds up the nth degree and everything is about spells and spellwork. It is almost two different books, and it was a little jarring.

In terms of characters, I really enjoyed the close-knit family dynamic of the Romanovs. I enjoyed the cheeky Alexei, and I actually was pretty into the forbidden romance between Grand Duchess Maria and Bolshevick soldier Ivan, which I learned after reading is actually historically accurate.

But apart from that, the characters all felt.. superficial, I guess. A bit shallow. I didn’t really buy the romance between Anastasia and Zash at all, except for one or two moments. And even I with my limited knowledge know that Tsar Nikolai II was not the loving, kind, beneficient ruler devoted to the Russian people that he is presented as here. I want to give benefit of the doubt, because it is from Anastasia’s first person perspective and she may well have viewed her father that way, but it would have been good to see her delve into the whys and wherefores of the revolution a bit more.

Still, I read the vast majority of it in one day, so take from that what you will. I have a copy of Fawkes, Nadine Brandes’ other historical fantasy, which I still intend to check out.


Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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