#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Serpent and the Flower” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: The Serpent and the Flower
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Contemporary/horror
Target audience: YA
Rating: ★★

Review:

Confession: I don’t really know Macbeth that well. I don’t really like Shakespeare’s tragedies. And that probably affected by enjoyment of this book. (Someone give me a romcom set around a production of Much Ado About Nothing, please!)

Well, then, Emily, if that’s the case, why did you put your hand up for an ARC of a book about a group of teenagers staging Macbeth?

Well, because while I might have been more into musicals, I was the theatre nerd at school. And I’m honestly surprised haunted theatre stories aren’t more of a thing – that was up my alley, too. I love theatre ghost lore. Also the cover is gorgeous.

Madeleine D’Este definitely does creepy well. There’s a seance scene in her novella Evangeline and the Spiritualist that creeped me out completely and that was why that was my favourite of the Evangeline stories. And there are equivalent spooky scenes in this one, too. There are some scenes in this book where characters find themselves alone in the theatre or elsewhere in the school, hearing voices or having chairs pelted at their heads by invisible hands.

The characters certainly had their moments (one of my GoodReads updates was ‘Whoa, Ravenswood, you need to calm down!” and another was “Actors like Violet make me glad I’m only ever in the chorus – no one’s going to want to hurt me for my part”). But for the most part I never really felt like the characters leapt off the page… some of the other reviews have referred to parallels between these characters and those in Macbeth, and perhaps if I had been able to spot those parallels,  there would have been some added depth to the characters that I was missing.

My reading experience mostly depends on how invested I am in the characters, but the writing and plotting are both very good, and I think the right reader will definitely enjoy this.


Thank you to the author for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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

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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Antics of Evangeline” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: The Antics of Evangeline (Books 1-4)
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Steampunk/Fantasy
Target audience: YA
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Having read Madeleine D’Este’s newest release, “Women of Wasps and War” earlier in the year, it was nice to know that she had some lighter reading in her back catalogue that I could continue on with.

The Antics of Evangeline is made up of four novellas, but I’ve chosen to review them all together. Evangeline is the daughter of esteemed engineer and inventor, Montague Calidcott, though she’s only just discovered that fact. She’s now living with him in Melbourne, and getting up to all kinds of mischief.

Evangeline is a fun lead character. She’s clever but impulsive and doesn’t quite know how to stay out of trouble. She’s also an inspiring inventor, though her inventions don’t always work as intended. The term “inventress” did grate on me a little – I am not sure if it is period-appropriate or just the author’s stylistic decision but I didn’t love it either way. Just use “inventor”!

I know the stories are short but I would have liked to hear more of Evangeline’s backstory. There were definitely some revelations, but I feel like there’s a lot more to know! The last installment was published in 2017; I’m not sure whether further stories were/are intended where we might get to learn more. Ditto her father’s secret project that lurks beneath a sheet in his workshop and every now and then exhibits strange behaviour.

Evangeline is joined by a fun cast of characters, including her best friend Mei, who teaches her martial arts, her Uncle Edmond and his actor ‘friend’/’companion’ August, and Mrs Plockton, the God-fearing housekeeper. They all have very distinct personalities that sometimes clash.

Evangeline and the Spiritualist, episode 3, was definitely my favourite of the four. I actually included it among my Halloween reads as the seance scene was a bit unnerving.

While the books are primarily steampunk, there are small touches of fantasy, which I enjoyed. Things like the seance may be fake or might be supernatural, you’re never quite sure, but the bunyip (book 2) is definitely a monster.

These four instalments are available individually or in a combined volume. I recommend picking these up for light-hearted steampunky goodness.

Individual book ratings: 

Evangeline and the Alchemist – 4 stars

Evangeline and the Bunyip – 3 stars

Evangeline and the Spiritualist – 4 stars

Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights – 3 stars


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

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“I was no one’s sacrifice. Not then. Not now. Not ever.”// Review of “Serpent and Dove” by Shelby Mahurin

Title: Serpent and Dove (Serpent and Dove #1)
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA (upper range)
Date Read: 03/10/19 – 12/09/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This is one of those books where certain chapters were definitely worth five stars, but there were a few overall issues that meant I couldn’t award that to the whole book.

As far as characters go, I really enjoyed Lou. I loved that she spent a significant part of the book basically trolling Reid. But then she started developing real feelings for him and there was less of the fun stuff…

I also have to admit I find it hard to believe romances where Person A would literally kill Person B if Person A knew the truth about them, and they fall in love anyway. I just… how do you overlook that?

As for Reid himself, he’s honorable and sweet and noble, but… kind of boring?

I could never quite work out where and when the book was set. The religious characters refer to themselves as Christians and carry around Bibles… but the kingdom they live in appears entirely fictional… and not just a fictional country in Europe… truly fictional. They have running water and indoor plumbing, but no electricity… but some of their speech was very modern. So I never got a good sense of place.

But the writing itself is strong and leading up to what I thought was the climax, I couldn’t put the book down. i had to actively force myself to go to bed. But then after that section, the book kept going and the tension didn’t really rise again. I feel that this book should have ended with the attack on the city and the later events should have been the beginning of the second book.

There is lots of interesting set up for the next book and I’ll definitely think about reading it, though at the moment, I’m not completely committed.


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Book Review: “White Hornet” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: White Hornet (The Viper and the Urchin #5)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk/fantasy
Intended audience: Upper YA/Adult
Date Read: 13/10/19 – 17/10/19
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

Please note: this review contains minor spoilers for the previous four books in this series.

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll know that there is very little negative I have to say about the Viper and the Urchin series. This instalment is no different.

In White Hornet, the gang are undercover in the neighbouring country of Airnia, on a spy mission for the Old Girl. They have no idea who they can trust, and at any moment, their covers could be blown…

There was so much intrigue going on. I loved seeing the political machinations inside the House of Bel, even as I hated basically everyone there.

There are some really great character moments, from Adelma using alcohol to try to hide how much recent conflicts in Damsport have affected her (and the others noticing anyway), to Rory and Rafe setting some ground rules in their burgeoning relationship and Longinus finding out more about his family.

I really enjoyed Rory dealing with the Airnian fashions. Rory is no noblewoman, so having to put up with bustles and corsets was very much not to her liking and it was incredibly entertaining. XD

Speaking of Airnia, the descriptions were fantastic. I felt like I was in the middle of a steampunk Imperial Russia with all the descriptions of cold and snow and heated carriages, and enormous coats and pelts. A far cry from muggy Damsport.

This is the first book in the series to end on a cliffhanger, and the next book will be out in a few months. I’m intrigued to see how our team goes as they continue to navigate among their enemies!


(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), The Slave City (book 3) and The Doll Maker (book 4) by clicking their titles.

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#HocusPocusReadathon – Wrap-up Post

Hey Team Undead! The Hocus Pocus Readathon has come to an end! And I made it to the end! I’m pretty chuffed, honestly!

This readathon is hosted by Tiffy and Alyssa. I have chosen to participate as part of Team Undead, since those are the prompts that worked best for me. Our team leaders are Nox and Fyrekatz.

I have clearly got over my reading slump as I’ve been flying through books this week. With travel and moving house, I was feeling really down about how little reading I’d done, so it’s making me really happy to see these totals building up.

You can read my halfway point check-in here. And now, here are the rest of my titles for the readathon.

  1. Zombies, Graveyards and Cats. Oh my! Read a book with a non-human main character. (5pts)
    Vampire Islandby Adele Griffin was a random digital library find and a short read. I listened to the audio book while I was cooking. The phrase “vegan vampires” caught my eye and sounded amusing, but I couldn’t work out what the book was trying to do… partially it seemed to be making an environmental statement, but other parts of it seemed to go against that, and I wondered if it was just trying to be funny.
  2. The Sanderson Sisters have risen. Read a book with a female protagonist. (5pts)*Ahhh!

    I loved The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg so much! I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and when I got to the twists at the end, I realised all the clues had been there all along! I want to read a sequel with a Fantasist uprising, but this one does end kind of perfectly, so if there is no sequel, I will still feel satisfied.

    * The Team Undead strength gives us the ability to swap out one of our prompts for one from another team, so this prompt replaces Winifred Sanderson raises you from the dead. Read a book that can bring someone back from the grave (5 pts). I was initially going to use the “Read a fantasy novel” prompt from Team Sanderson but I rejigged my TBR and this one worked better.

  3. Help your team stand up to Winifred Sanderson. Read the Group Read. (10pts)


    I chose Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin for my group read. So this was unexpected! For a while it felt like a 3 or 3.5 star read, then somewhere along the  way, I got totally sucked in and had to actively force myself to put it down and go to bed on Friday night so I could get up for work on Saturday.If I were rating it purely on how it gripped me while I was reading it, it would be a five star read… but I only gave it four because there were things that bothered me when I wasn’t reading it but when I was thinking about it… some of the language was anachronistic, and I also had no idea where or when it was set… is it a fictional kingdom in this world? Somewhere else? And they have indoor plumbing but no cars or electricity or anything…

    And as much as I enjoyed reading the romance, I could never *quite* believe in it… even if he is the first person to ever treat you well, and he’s pretty sexy, how do you develop feelings for someone who is honour-bound to kill you if he learns who you really are? How do you get past that?

The only thing left to do now is watch the movie to celebrate! I am writing this post on Saturday but by the time it goes live on Sunday I will have done that.

I’ve had a really good time doing this readathon. I’ve met lots of new bloggers and added a whole bunch of books to my TBR. I’ve definitely got the readathon bug now, so I’ve signed up for the Triwizard Tournament Readathon, which starts on October 31! Maybe I’ll see you there!

#HocusPocusReadathon – Halfway Point Update

Hey Team Undead! We’re halfway through the Hocus Pocus Readathon so it’s time for a check-in.

This readathon is hosted by Tiffy and Alyssa. I have chosen to participate as part of Team Undead, since those are the prompts that worked best for me. Our team leaders are Nox and Fyrekatz.

It’s not quite halfway through going by the dates, but I am halfway through the prompts! So here I am!

I have clearly got over my reading slump as I’ve been flying through books this week. With travel and moving house, I was feeling really down about how little reading I’d done, so it’s making me really happy to see these totals building up.

The prompts I’ve managed so far are:

  1. Not all Undead are monsters. Read a book with paranormal or supernatural elements. (5pts)
    Evangeline and the Spiritualist by Madeleine D’Este. The spiritualist was a fake but there was obviously a real ghost in the room, and she knew a lot about Evangeline. This is the third book in the Antics of Evangeline series of novellas, and my favourite so far!
    .
    I was actually going to read a different book for this prompt, but I realised pretty early on that Dreaming Anastasia wasn’t for me. I haven’t returned it to the library yet, and I may still read it after the readathon, but I didn’t want to waste precious time.
    .
  2. The Graveyard is especially spooky on Halloween night. Read a spooky atmospheric book. (5pts)
    .
    .
    I’ve got to admit I was a bit disappointed in  The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley. I think maybe I was too old for it? I think I would have found it a lot spookier if I read it when I was ten. As it was, it felt more like the author was checking off various haunted house tropes without really giving them much depth. And the skull on the cover has nothing to do with the story at all. :\
    .
    Since it was short, I used this book to cover the Team Undead weakness, which required us  to read a book all in one spot. I read it only when I was travelling on the bus this week.
  3. Catch those kids, but don’t lose your head! Read a random book from your TBR. (5pts)
    .

    I was going to read Briar Rose by Jana Oliver for this prompt, but I only got to page 47 before it irritated me too much to keep going. I hadn’t even really got the Sleeping Beauty aspects yet. As I said on GoodReads, maybe at another time I might have perservered, but I didn’t have the patience for it this week.
    .
    Instead, I read Songbird by Ingrid Laguna, about  a young refugee girl from Iraq who is struggling to fit in at her new school in Melbourne and worries about her father, who is still in Iraq. She finds a place for herself when she joins the school choir. This was such a sweet book! It’s really short and I read it all in one sitting and I loved it! This books kills two birds with one stone as it will also count towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge.
    .
  4. Currently reading:
    .

    For the group read, I’m reading Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin. I’m at about 15% at the moment and enjoying it so far. It feels a bit like what I hoped The Gilded Wolves would be (I didn’t manage to finish that one). I’m not the biggest fan of having multiple first-person narrators, but these ones are distinct enough for it to be okay.

Well, that’s it from me for now, but I’ll be back next Saturday with a wrap-up post.

#HocusPocusReadathon – TBR List

I’ve signed up for my first readathon! I hope I’m doing this right! I generally don’t do these because I’ve got too much going on or I find them a bit too confusing or they’re 24 or 48-hour ones and I am a boring grown-up who has to do things like work and sleep.

But the Hocus Pocus Readathon goes for 13 days and only requires us to read six books (plus watch the movie) and I can do that! I’ve just emerged from a reading slump so I’m feeling energised, and besides, who doesn’t love Hocus Pocus?

This readathon is hosted by Tiffy and Alyssa. I have chosen to participate as part of Team Undead, since those are the prompts that worked best for me. Our team leaders are Nox and Fyrekatz. If you’re interested in signing up last minute, here is the official Twitter with links to the prompts and the sign-up spreadsheet.

Here are the Team Undead prompts and the books I intend to read for them.

  1. Zombies, Graveyards and Cats. Oh my! Read a book with a non-human main character. (5pts)
    I just heard about The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg yesterday and I love it already! (Don’t develop unrealistic expectations, she tells herself, already hyping this to beyond in her head). It’ a bit of a cross between Westworld and Disneyland, with courtroom drama thrown in.I’m pretty certain that the main character is a robot, given the references to her programming and the fact that she has never experienced love before.
  2. The Graveyard is especially spooky on Halloween night. Read a spooky atmospheric book. (5pts)
    I don’t actually know that The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley will be spooky and atmospheric, but considering it’s about a child alone in a haunted house at Christmas, it definitely sounds like it! I was looking through the library shelves this morning with this readathon in mind and thought this sounded perfect.
  3. Winifred Sanderson raises you from the dead. Read a book that brings someone back from the dead. (5pts)I’m going to swap this one out with one of the prompts from the other teams. See below.
  4. Catch those kids, but don’t lose your head! Read a random book from your TBR. (5pts) 


    Briar Rose by Jana Oliver has been on my TBR for a little while now and I spotted it at the library today. Love a good fairytale retelling.

  5. Not all Undead are monsters. Read a book with paranormal or supernatural elements. (5pts)
    I have a feeling that I have avoided Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble before due to the  mixed reviews, but I couldn’t resist an Anastasia Romanov-inspired story when I walked past it at the library.  In this book, Anastasia and another character are linked through their dreams. There might be other magic stuff going on, too. Not sure.
  6. Help your team stand up to Winifred Sanderson. Read the Group Read. (10pts)


    There are two group reads to choose from for this challenge and I’ve decided to read Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin. I know nothing about this one so I’ll be going in blind. Sounds good from the synopsis, though!
  7. Celebrate by watching the movie. (15pts)
    Well, okay! That’s easy enough. 😀

Team Strengths: You can switch your prompt with another team’s prompt.

I’m going to swap out the “book that brings someone back from the grave” prompt with “Don’t get caught by the Sanderson Sisters. Study magical foes by reading a fantasy novel” from Team Trick or Treaters.

For this prompt I’m going to read Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, which I picked up at a second-hand book fair a couple of weeks ago. I’ve heard really good things about it so I have high hopes!

Team Weakness: you are trapped in the cemetery. Read one book all in the same spot.

The Dead of Winter is under 250 pages so I’m pretty sure a couple of sessions on my couch of an evening should see this one done!

Team Goal: Help defeat the Sanderson Sisters and enjoy your eternal rest (50pts)

And that’s it! I’ll post an update at the halfway point and a conclusion post at the end. See you on the other side!

“Dreams are for mortals.” “Why?” “Because they must die.”// Review of “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Historical fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 22/08/19 – 16/09/19
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

This is one of those books that I completely loved in spite of having a few quibbles with it. It has a beautiful, poetic style that deserves to be absorbed all in one sitting, rather than the dribs and drabs I read it in. I loved it anyway, but I did read it at the wrong time.

Moreno-Garcia really captures the atmosphere of 1920s Mexico. I felt like I was there. The haircuts and the architecture and the dances they did, it was all there.

I really loved both Casiopea and Hun-Kamé and I enjoyed watching their relationship develop. I wasn’t really sure which direction it was going to take at the end – a happy ending seemed unlikely but I was maybe secretly hoping a bit. In the end, I think their story ends the only way it can, and I can assure you, I definitely smiled as I read the final pages.

did feel sometimes that the battles were won quite easily. The main characters got the upper-hand and immediately their foes just handed over the prizes… but in a way, I felt that added to the mythological feel, and the way the prose is written to make you feel like you’re listening to a story being told to you by someone who had it told to them… So after it’s been passed down a few times it’s just “look, this thing happened, don’t question it. that’s the way the story goes.”

I have no idea if I’m making any sense…

Anyway, read this book for atmospheric, slow-burn romantic, poetic historical fantasy. It won’t disappoint.


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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “Women of Wasps and War” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: Women of Wasps and War
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 11/08/19 – 12/08/19
Rating:
★★★☆

Review:

Oof. This was a powerful book. I read about 20% of it one night and then the rest of it the following day because I couldn’t put it down. A lot of my reactions were simply “Argh!” or “Mmngnng” and could probably be summed up better in reaction gifs than a proper review, but I’ll try my best. Here goes.

D’este has crafted a believable patriarchal fantasy world where men do not question their authority and women know their place. This arrangement has been interrupted by war, and many of the women who ran Ambrovna in the men’s absence are not so keen to see it go back to the way it was before.

I was constantly frustrated by the men’s inability to see the women’s point of view, and I appreciated the way D’Este explored the fact that you can love an individual dearly while still not recognising your privilege overall, or conoversely while knowing that your loved one is the oppressor.

Some of the women did terrible things in the hopes of earning their place back as head of the household, and I have to admit that it generally felt completely justified. Of course, these things come at a price and a foreboding feeling I had about one incident turned out to be correct.

I have to admit I did feel the epilogue took away from the power of the final chapter, but that it really the only complaint I had. This book is addicitve.

Trigger warnings for graphic physical and emotional abuse.


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

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“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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