#AWW2021 Book Review: “Eleven Pipers Piping” by Pamela Hart

Title: Eleven Pipers Piping
Author: Pamela Hart
Genre: Historical romance
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/12/2021
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

There is definitely something to be said for historical Christmas romances and their helpfulness in getting me out of reading slumps. While I have purchased this novella separately, I also own the anthology where it was originally published, so I should remember it when I am needing a book that will pull me out of a funk.

This is a sweet little novella, full of misunderstandings and miscommunications, many based on the characters adhering to the expected manners of the time. I liked that the characters were a little bit older, Elizabeth being a widow with a ten-year-old son, rather than a young woman looking for her first husband, as is often the case.

Speaking of which, I loved young Robin!

Given that the story only takes place over the course of a few weeks, some of the character development did seem to happen very quickly, especially when it came to Elizabeth’s grief over the loss of her husband. But I really enjoyed Gavan’s realisation of his feelings for Elizabeth, and also the dynamic between him and Robin.

I wasn’t feeling terribly festive before, and having picked a whole heap of Christmas-y books for the coming month, I was feeling a bit worried. But now I can thank Pamela Hart for getting me in the Christmas spirit!


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

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#AWW2021 Book Review: “Elsa Goody, Bushranger” by Darry Fraser

Title: Elsa Goody, Bushranger
Author: Darry Fraser
Audio book narrator: Rebecca Macauley
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/09/2021 – 26/09/21
Rating: ★★

Review:

I don’t know whether I just wasn’t in the mood for this book or what. I went into it fully expecting to like it but ended up just feeling quite frustrated.

I have to admit that for the most part, I could tell exactly how the story was going to go, even if I wasn’t sure exactly how it would get there. Sometimes predictability is okay, but it didn’t work for me this time.

I also found that for a piece of adult fiction, the romances were very heavy on the insta-love trope. I can accept that in YA fiction, though I still roll my eyes a bit. It felt very strange reading things like “she was awakening feelings in him he hadn’t felt in a long time” when the characters have literally known each other a couple of hours felt out of place when both the characters and the intended readership are all adults.

Still, Elsa Goody and Ezekiel Jones were likable characters and I stuck with the book because I wanted to see exactly how things turned out for them. I did wish that Elsa’s sister Rosie had a bit more of her own character arc. I felt she was just as selfish at the end as she had been at the start, despite everything they’d been through.

This was my first Darry Fraser book and while it’s clear she’s done a lot of good historical research, I don’t know if I’ll pick up any more of her books.


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

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“I had been a fool to trust in a hero.” // Review of Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Title: Ariadne
Author: Jennifer Saint
Genre: Mythology retelling
Intended audience: YA/Adult
Date Read: 27/06/2021 – 19/06/2021
Rating: 
★★☆

It took me two weeks to get through the first third of this book, then five days to get through the rest. I’m not sure why, I didn’t really feel more investment in the later parts than the first. I guess I had a bit more time to dedicate to it in that five days, and thus was able to move through a bit quicker?

The writing style made it feel like all the events had already happened, and that someone was telling me about them afterwards. I was not there as the events were happening. That combined with the fact that Ariadne is passive as all get out, I didn’t feel compelled to pick up the book again whenever I wasn’t reading.

This changed a little when Phaedra was introduced as a second POV character in Part Two, but it still didn’t entirely save the story for me.

Perhaps it’s because I was already familiar with a fair amount of the mythology, and as far as I can tell, the book didn’t really bring anything new to the table. I liked the exploration of the themes about patriarchy and women’s places in society, namely that women are often punished for the misdeeds of men. But again, it sort of made this point and then… just kept making it, without any real change. I know, I know, it’s ancient Greece, and it’s the Ancient Greek gods, what was I expecting? But still.

Some of the writing is really good, and there were parts I enjoyed. Mostly chapters from Phaedra’s perspective, though I also enjoyed the relationship between Ariadne and Dionysus.

But overall, compared to other recent Greek mythology retellings such as Madeleine Miller’s Circe, I felt this didn’t live up to the hype at all

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Book Review: “Music & Mirrors” by Celine Jeanjean

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Book Review: Rebel Rose by Emma Theriault

Title: Rebel Rose (The Queen’s Council #1)
Author: Emma Theriault
Genre: Historical fantasy/fairytale continuation
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 17/02/21 – 21/02/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I know a lot of people didn’t like this book and honestly I can see why. This continuation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was at times hard to reconcile with the original cartoon movie. But I still enjoyed it for what it was, perhaps because in this version it was far enough away from the movie for me to treat as something separate.

One of the main complaints I saw about the book is that the character of Belle is so far removed from the vivacious, outspoken character we know from the movie. While this is true, I could accept that while Belle was outspoken within her village, that now trying to fit into royal society and not knowing her way around, she became a little more subdued.

Some of it was a bit predictable and I knew who the villain was from chapter one or two. Having said that, I had assumed his motivations were the complete opposite of what they turned out to be, and I felt what I had expected would have made more sense than what transpired.

Once I got used to the idea of Disney characters set against real world events, I enjoyed the historical setting. It does make things a bit grittier, but I thought it worked. I did wish we got to see a bit more of the side characters – Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs Potts all make appearances, but I would have liked more.

Despite those niggles, I found the writing quite engaging. Maybe that was because this was the kind of story I needed to pull me out of a two-week reading slump. Whatever the reason, I found myself ignoring chores and staying up a bit late to finish this one. Now knowing how the series is intended to tie together, I’m interested to see how the other Disney properties are tied into this one.


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“But she knew better than to trust the false hope of the holidays.” // Review of “A Wild Winter Swan” by Gregory Maguire

Title: A Wild Winter Swan
Author: Gregory Maguire
Genre: Historical fiction/magical realism
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 28/12/20 – 04/01/21
Rating: ★★☆

Review:

This was supposed to be a December book club book, but life got in the way in December and January and we never ended up meeting to discuss it.

I was interested to see if I liked this book. I tried to read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by the same author, around the time I discovered the musical based on it. I was not a fan. I wondered if perhaps not having prior knowledge of the tale being retold would help me be more into this story. I’d never heard of Andersen’s The Wild Swans before.

Alas, this one didn’t really do it for me, either. Partially, I think it was a case of mistaken expectations. I expect a certain amount of lightness or whimsy in fairy tale retellings, and that’s increased when it’s set around Christmas.

But this is grittier, set firmly in the real life of a poor family in the 1960s, and mostly things are not great for any of the characters. It is told in a kind of detached style that I could never get into. It examines issues of class and privilege, which are worthy issues, but at the end of the day, I didn’t really see what Maguire was trying to say. I didn’t get it, and maybe that’s on me, not the book.


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#AWW2020 Book Review: “The Iron Line” by L. M. Merrington

Title: The Iron Line
Author: L. M. Merrington
Genre: Historical/mystery
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 05/12/2020– 11/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

I love books that really evoke Australian settings and this book did just that! I went to an author talk L. M. Merrington gave not long after The Iron Line was published, where she talked about her research on the early Australian railway towns, and that research certainly paid off. The town of Tungold, where the action of The Iron Line takes place, really felt like some of the historical towns around where I grew up.

There is an interesting mystery at play, with townspeople acting suspiciously (why wouldn’t the wealthy pastoralist want the railway extended?), a ghost train with an even more ghostly driver, and someone turning up dead. Jane, our main character and narrator, also has secrets to hide. She reveals small things gradually, allowing the reader to put things together slowly until things are revealed properly at the end.

I did get a bit of an “I’m not like other girls” vibe from Jane, but for the most part I really liked her. She is a bit “unlikable” (forgive me for always putting that word in quotes; it’s a rather loaded term, especially when it comes to female characters) but that really juxtaposed her with the Tungold women. Jane is quick to tar them all with the same brush, but their individual personalities reveal themselves the more time Jane spends in the town.

Jane becomes something of an unreliable narrator, though this is not really revealed until right at the end. I’m not quite sure this worked with the first person narration, since it meant her reactions to things earlier on in the novel made no sense once you realised she already knew a lot more about what was going on than she let on.

Still, I found the writing engaging and enjoyed the story through to the end. I recommend for fans of historical fiction.


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

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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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ARC Review: “People of Abandoned Character” by Clare Whitfield

Title: People of Abandoned Character
Author: Clare Whitfield
Genre: Historical/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 29/09/2020 – 04/10/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was still a great read.

I was expecting a fast-paced thriller, with main character Susannah racing against the clock to discover whether her husband is Jack the Ripper and possibly prevent the next murder.

Instead, it was slower, with a sense of dread creeping insidiously under the surface. The book takes it time looking at attitudes towards both women and queer people at the time. It doesn’t shy away from vivid descriptions of life in Whitechapel and other slums of London in the 1880s.

I loved the way (is loved the right word? Probably not) the Jack the Ripper murders were tied into the plot of Susannah as she tries to make her marriage work despite Thomas becoming more and more erratic and volatile. In particular the way the murder of Mary Jane Kelly is tied in is especially clever, though when I try to sleep tonight I am probably going to regret enlarging the police photograph of her body on Wikipedia to compare it to the description in the book (pro-tip: don’t do that).

Susannah is not an entirely reliable narrator and she’s definitely the sort of character to be labelled “unlikable” with all the baggage that comes with that descriptor. I imagine she would have been a difficult character to write, particularly in the first person, and I applaud Clare Whitfield for how consistently she wrote Susannah. This is Whitfield’s debut novel and I think she will definitely be an author to watch out for in the future!


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

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