#AWW2021 Book Review: “The Girl Grandest Bookshop In the World” by Amelia Mellor

Title: The Grandest Bookshop in the World
Author: Amelia Mellor
Genre: Historical fantasy
Intended audience: MG
Date Read: 19/03/2021 – 24/03/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Oh gosh this was lovely! There was something about knowing that the Book Arcade in this book was once a real place that made it extra special.

I got a lot of Nevermoor vibes reading this. It had the same charming, whimsical veneer whilst getting deep into issues of grief, sibling rivalry, and a child’s feelings of powerlessness against more powerful adults.

The descriptions of Cole’s Book Arcade, which really existed in Melbourne in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, made me wish I could have visited! Edward Cole sounds like a fascinating person and Mellor draws such a vivid picture of his whole family!

The magical aspect was simple but provided far-reaching application, giving Mellor a broad canvas of magic that many of her characters could perform.

I was never quite sold on the Obscurosmith’s reasons for wanting to get his hands on the Arcade, and I felt at the end he was defeated perhaps a little too easily, but because I was being swept along for the ride, I didn’t mind too much.

The book sometimes does get a little dark and might be scary for some younger readers. It’s also reasonably long as far as MG novels go. But I think a mature reader will absolutely love it!


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

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“I know I don’t have to prove a single thing to them. What matters most is what I prove to myself.” // Review of “Where Dreams Descend” by Janella Angeles

Title: Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1)
Author: Janella Angeles
Audio book narrator: Imani Jade Powers, Steve West
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 21/11/2020– 10/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Ever since I heard of this book, and its comparisons to Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera, I knew I had to read it.

This book is beautifully atmospheric, with incredible descriptions of the mysterious nightclub, Hellfire House, and the city of Glorian and its buildings and inhabitants. Main character Kallia’s magic acts were always described vividly so I could see it all play out in my mind.

Kallia herself was a difficult character to figure out sometimes. For all her insecurities, she sure had a lot of bravado, to the point where she sometimes came across as quite arrogant. This made sense sometimes, when she was up against male characters just as arrogant, but felt just plain mean when she was doing to characters like Demarco or Aaros, who just wanted to be there for her. I get it, she’s putting up walls because she’s been hurt before, but still.

Need to shout out to Aaros, who is a perfect, sweet, precious boy and so far he’s got away unscathed. If anything happens to him in the second book, I will be Having Words.

Demarco is a good guy, well-meaning but awkward. I was glad when his secrets were explained in more detail towards the end of the book – up until then, there were just references that didn’t mean much, and I wondered whether that was going to be held over until book two, which would have been irritating. There are definitely connections between his own past and where I think Kallia has ended up through the disaster performance at the end of the book, so I’m definitely intrigued to see how their paths converge more as the story goes on.

Jack comes across as a bad boy, but I think there’s more to him than that. While it seems his whole relationship with Kallia is based on lies, or at least lies by omission, it seems there are bigger things at play that he is trying to keep at bay. There was a big reveal about him at the end of this book and it seems he’ll be playing a bigger part in the next one, so hopefully we’ll learn more about him then.

All in all, this was an evocative fantasy with a fun cast of characters and a mystery that I look forward to resolving. Can’t wait for book two!


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“We take those memories and put them where they can’t do any harm. That’s all books are.” // Review of “The Binding” by Bridget Collins

Title: The Binding
Author: Bridget Collins
Genre: LBGTI+/Romance/Magical Realism
Intended audience: upper YA/adult
Date Read: 25/11/2020– 02/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Okay, I liked this book but it’s going to be kind of hard to review I expect. It’s one that’s going to be hard to talk about without being too spoilery, but I’ll do my best. Let’s dive in, shall we?

First of all, the writing is beautiful and descriptive, even if a bit slow at times. I took a while to get into the story. The book is divided into three parts, and a significant portion of Part 1 is spent keeping things from the main character for no good reason, other than it would give away the plot too soon.

It took me over a week to get through the first 150-200 pages, then I read the rest in a couple of sittings because that was when I found a reason to be invested. Without giving too much away, this is where the romance begins, and the flirting and initial awkward steps towards a relationship were what made me invested, whereas before, little had happened for me to really care.

I will say, though, that the romance is something of a love triangle, and I felt bad for the third character involved. She was treated pretty badly by the other two, all things considered, and they dove into things without really caring about her feelings. They snuck around, deliberately leaving her in the dark. When things go pear-shaped, she received quite a lot of blame, which was unfair to her.

The POV shifts to a different character in Part 3, which felt a bit jarring for a while, but made sense for the story. I did think the ending left a bit to be desired. The characters were going to be all right in the short-term, but I had no sense of how they would actually continue on after the events of the book. I wanted a bit more resolution.

I did find it hard to get a sense of time or place. There are a couple of references to China (the country, not the ceramics), but apart from that, it seemed to be an invented world. I think Castelford was the book’s equivalent of London? There are references to daguerreotypes and Luddites, both of which suggest a mid-nineteenth century, post-industrial-revolution time period, but most of the time, it felt set a couple of centuries before that.

This was my book club’s November read, and while we’ve ended up not finding a convenient time to meet up in December, I’m really looking forward to discussing it when we reconvene in January. There’s going to be lots to discuss and I’m really keen to hear what the others thought about it.

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Ripper” by Angela Slatter

Title: Ripper
Author: Angela Slatter
Genre: Historical/magical realism (fantasy)
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 04/11/2020– 05/11/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Ooh, I really enjoyed this supernatural take on the Jack the Ripper murders.

Kit Caswell has disguised herself as a man and is beginning her new career as a police constable. It pays better than her previous job in a milliner’s and she has her mother and sick brother to support. But it becomes personal when prostitutes being to be horrifically murdered in Whitechapel.

Having just read another novel set around the time of the Ripper murders, I was familiar enough with the case to be rather concerned when Mary Jane Kelly became a friend of Kit’s. I knew things weren’t going to end well for her. This really increased the tension, especially as the characters laid their plans.

The mystery is well constructed and I was surprised when I reached the reveal of the Ripper’s identity; though the clues are all there, I don’t think it’s one you’ll necessarily see coming.

I really loved the idea of the witches, and that all women have a certain degree of power. This aspect really comes into play at the end and I loved the way it worked (I’m being vague; I don’t want to get spoilery).

This one is only short as it was originally featured in an anthology, and I recommend if you want some historical magical realism and grisly murders one evening.


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

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“The dragon within my heart stirred, shifting her wings, as if remembering they could be used to fly.” // Review of “A Natural History of Dragons” by Marie Brennan

Title: A Natural History of Dragons (Memoirs of Lady Trent #1)
Author:
Marie Brennan
Audio book narrator: Kate Reading
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 05/06/20 – 22/06/20
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

I have to admit, for a book with this title, I expected, well… more dragons. Having said that, I enjoyed the story and characters in and of themselves. Marie Brennan has crafted a really strong character in Isabella Camherst/Lady Trent, and Kate Reading’s delivery of the audio book really built on that.

The world Lady Trent inhabits is based on 19th Century England, and while it is perfectly crafted, the fact that she is an upper-class character did occasionally wear thin. The characters travel to a small village for their scientific expedition and Isabella is horrified when a) the woman helping them doesn’t have the manners of a proper ladies’ maid and b) the villagers don’t even seem to know what a wardrobe is!

I was hoping the attitude would change a little, but as with nineteenth century English explorers, the characters were quite convinced they were in the right about everything.

Sometimes it felt like the characters other than Isabella were a little bland, but I still ended up quite attached to them all, as I realised when one died just before the end of the book! I wasn’t expecting it at all.

As this series is set out as Lady Trent’s memoirs, written as an old woman, there is a fair amount of “authorial” intrusion. Often that bothers me, but I think the fact that it was still the character, rather than the actual author, meant that I could let it go. It might not be for everyone, though. It does of course, also mean that we know that she survives every danger she comes across, or else she wouldn’t be setting down this tale after the fact. So that limits the stakes a little, but I still found it to be entertaining.

As I said, there were fewer dragons than I expected for a book with this title. In this world, they are simply another animal predator, like bears or wolves, albeit a species little is known about. They are very much an object of study, rather than characters in the book, and a lot of the conflict actually comes from other humans. As I said, it was a good story in and of itself, but I can see some people feeling a bit mislead.

“How does the world end? It ends in fire.” // Review of “Burn” by Patrick Ness

Title: Burn
Author:
 Patrick Ness
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 30/05/20 – 03/06/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

the cover of the Patrick Ness novel Burn. It has a black background and the shape of a dragon emerges from flames at the bottom.

It’s not going to be easy to review this book in a way that does it justice. I do feel that it’s a story that only Patrick Ness could write. It has so many different components and could have been a huge mess but somehow he pulls it off.

I’m not going to go into the plot too much. Suffice to say this book is about a girl called Sarah, whose father has hired a dragon to work their farm in late 1957. The Cold War is going on, Sputnik is about to be launched, and an assassin is headed to their small town…

This isn’t some fast-paced action adventure like the Chaos Walking trilogy. If you want to compare to Ness’ other books, I think it’s much closer to A Monster Call. There’s lots of introspection and it’s very philosophical and it builds slowly to a climax rather than racing there.

It’s beautifully written because of course it is, it’s by Patrick Ness. I didn’t really feel any connection to the characters but I was drawn into this world and I didn’t mind that too much because the prose was engaging.

If you like dragons in your fantasy, I would definitely recommend this one. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s definitely worth giving a chance.

“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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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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