#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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Release Day Interview With Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Caitlin

This is by far the strangest thing I have ever written. My brain can’t cope with too much meta, but because today is the release day for A More Complicated Fairytale, I thought I would try my hand at writing something like this. It was weird, but fun.


AMCFTsmallWe’re sitting in the library in the Palace of Nardowyn. It’s a room I know well, as Cait and Felipe spent many of their early meetings in here. The word “library” is a bit of a misnomer, though; “museum” would be more accurate, since as well as the many shelves of books, there are cabinets and glass cases lining the walls, full of rare artefacts collected by the Royal Family over the generations.

Cait and Felipe are sharing a sofa across from me. Between us is a coffee table, which always seemed to have a couple of books lying on it, though that number has increased since Cait has been living in the palace and making the most of full-time access to this room. Felipe has his cane leaning on the arm of the sofa next to him; his war injury is continually improving, but there are still times when the cane is required.

“Thank you for meeting with me today,” I say, and they both nod in acknowledgment, smiling. “It’s been a while since I’ve spent any proper time with the two of you. How is married life treating you?”

They glance at each other, making a quick, silent decision about who will answer the question. “It’s been wonderful,” Cait says. “Marrying into the royal family was a terrifying prospect, but everyone has been very welcoming.”

“And I believe you’ve got some news to share?”

Another glance. Felipe slips his arm around Cait’s shoulders. Wide smiles spread over both their faces.

“We’re expecting a child in August,” Felipe says.

“Congratulations,” I reply. “I’m sure he’ll be a wonderful addition to the family.”

Felipe tilts his head at me. “He? It will be a boy, then?”

Dammit, self, don’t give your characters foreknowledge of major life events. That never works out well.

“That’s all for the next book,” I say quickly. “We’re here to discuss the first one.”

Felipe gives me a sideways look, but he doesn’t press the issue.

“So, how does it feel having the story of your romance out in the world?”

“I’m not sure I was always presented in the best light,” Felipe remarks.

“Well, you can blame Cait for that. It’s from her point-of-view.”

“I was always perfectly charming toward Cait.”

Cait rolls her eyes and grins. “You were an entitled prat at the start.”

Felipe puts on his best wounded expression and claps one hand across his heart. “Cait. It hurts me when you say things like that.”

Cait rolls her eyes again and laughs. She pulls his hand away from his chest. She rests her hand on his knee, still holding his.

phantomscreencap

This is a screencap from Phantom of the Opera, but it’s the picture that most matches Cait and Felipe in my mind.

“Anyway,” she says. “I think it tells the story very faithfully, and I’m glad you’ve done so much work in putting it all together.”

“Thanks, Cait.”

“But what’s next for you?” she asks. “Are you going to be staying here or are your next projects taking you farther afield?”

“Well, I’ve got a few projects on the go. I definitely won’t be leaving Nardowyn for good. Ginny’s going to be getting up to a few things in a few years’ time.”

“What sort of things?” Cait’s eyes narrow at me suspiciously at the mention of her sister as the central character in a new story.

“Don’t worry, I promise I’ll bring her home safely at the end.”

“You’d better.”

By the point, the conversation is starting to get a bit too meta for me to get my head around. I stand to go and give a small bow.

“Your Highnesses, thank you for letting me visit you here today. I’ll keep you posted on the status of the book.”

Cait and Felipe stand up to see me out of the library. When we reach the large wooden doors, Cait says, “Thanks once again,” and I turn and smile.

“You’re very welcome,” I reply, and then step out the door. They close behind me and I am left with the task of finding someone who can help me navigate my way out of this labyrinth of a palace.


Don’t forget, you can now purchase A More Complicated Fairytale from the Amazon Kindle store (link to the American site, but it available pretty much everywhere, I think). It’s also on GoodReads if you want to keep it on your radar but not quite ready to buy it just yet.

Book Review: The Dark Realm (Feylands #1) by Anthea Sharp

Title: The Dark Realm (Feylands #1)
Author: Anthea Sharp
Genre: Fantasy/sci-fi
Date Read: 04/09/14 – 08/09/14
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

feylandsdarkrealmIt’s no secret that I enjoy anything to do with traditional representations of Fey creatures. When I saw a bundle of 10 Fey-related stories for 99c, I snapped it up, figuring that even if I ended up only reading one of the stories in it, I’d still get my money’s worth.

The Dark Realm is the first of the Feylands trilogy, and is a clever blend of sci-fi and fantasy. In the future, complete immersion in virtual reality is how video games are played. Feylands is only in beta, but Jennett’s dad works for a top gaming company, so she’s able to access it early. When she loses a battle with the Dark Queen, her mortal essence is taken, and unless Jennett can find a champion to play the game through with her and win it back, her real life could be in danger.

Tam Lin lives in a poor, rough neighbourhood that he wishes he could escape. He cares for his mother and his little brother, often missing school because of these responsibilities. He uses gaming as an escape, having won a decent console in a competition. When Jennett sees Tam play, she knows he’s the person she needs to as act as her champion in Feyland, but first she has to convince him she’s not just a spoiled little rich girl and honestly does need his help.

The world-building and the plot are what made this story for an older reader like me. If it had been set in an every day high-school setting, I wouldn’t have had much interest. However, the contrasting descriptions of Jennet and Tam’s neighbourhoods, as well as the in-game descriptions of Feyland are what really drew me in. When aspects of the game started bleeding through into the real world, things started feeling really intense.

While I am yet to get around to reading the other two books in the series, I certainly intend to, as Tam and Jennett certainly aren’t out of danger yet. If you are familiar with the traditional ballad, “The Ballad of Tam Lin”, then the story will take on an added layer of meaning. I didn’t know of it until I read it at the back of this book, and I still enjoyed the story. Recommended!

Book Review: Island of Glass by Ruth Nestvold

Title: Island of Glass (Age of Magic: The Glassmakers #1)
Author: Ruth Nestvold
Genre: Fantasy/alternate history
Date Read: 30/11/14 – 01/12/14
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

image

I have read some of Ruth Nestvold’s books of short stories, but I have to admit it was a while ago. However, when Ruth started sharing excerpts of Island of Glass on her blog for WIPpet Wednesdays, I became pretty excited to read it in its entirety. It did not disappoint.

Island of Glass is set in an alternate 17th century Venice,  where alchemy won over chemistry and thus began the Age of Magic. Chiara Dragoni is a maestra glass maker in Murano and like all glass makers of the period, is forbidden to leave Venice, lest she share the secrets of glass making with the rest of Europe. When Chiara’s uncle is arrested after being caught on the mainland, Chiara comes up with a plan to bargain for his safety, but little does she realise how much her life is going to change thanks to one small gesture.

While it’s not entirely obvious from that brief summary, the story draws a lot of parallels with Cinderella, Most notably the glass slippers Chiara makes as a gift for the prince in exchange for her uncle’s freedom. However, do not expect to simply mad the name fairytale you already know, just in a different setting. The prince in this story is a complete slime bag,  who made me shudder nearly every time he opened his mouth. He serves to make Chiara realise exactly where her heart lies, and pushes her to realise her deepest dreams.

Chiara herself is a strong, well rounded character; she works hard to get what she wants, but she is not infallible, and needs advice from friends and family members surrounding her. Her main love interest, Pasqual, does not actually play an enormous part in the story, but when he is there, he is quite charming, and also a character who has his own goals.

It is also quite clear that Ruth Nestuold has done her research into Venetian life at the time. While she has  tweaked certain parts of history to suit her alternate world, much of it is based in our own history, and the world felt authentic as I read.

The end of this book left me cheering for Chiara and Pasqual, but also concerned for what might happen to them in future; the prince and his mother do not sound like ones to be crossed. l can’t wait to see what happens in Book 2!

Book Review: Reunion of the Heart by Elaine Jeremiah

Title: Reunion of the Heart
Author: Elaine Jeremiah
Genre: Contemporary romance
Date Read:
22/08/2014 – 25/08/2014
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

RotH-Cover

I have to say I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would, given it’s not a genre I’m normally into (a cursory glance at any of my GoodReads shelves gives you magic, fairies, ghosts, etc). This is Elaine Jeremiah’s second novel, following The Inheritance, which she released around this time last year. The main character, Anna, is a writer dealing with the aftermath of a messy break-up. Her best friend convinces her to attend their high-school reunion, and there she runs into Will, who was one of the two bullies who made her life hell during school. Around the same time, Anna’s writing is taken on by a new agent, Peter, who doesn’t just have eyes for her writing. Anna needs to decide who she wants in her life, before things get too out of control.

I was surprised that so much of the novel was actually taken up by Anna’s relationship with Peter, as Will is the only one mentioned in the blurb. Peter was not overly likeable, so I have to admit that the second I could sense their relationship was on the rocks, I was rooting for it to end. I also thought that the beginning of their relationship could have been a little fleshed out as they essentially became an item “off-screen”.

While Will makes a few appearances in the first two thirds of the novel, it’s not really until the final third where he really becomes a major player. I think probably my favourite scene was one in which he and Anna finally have a conversation about their feelings towards each other. Basically, they were in Paris and it was winter so they were all rugged up and they were having what amounted to a warm, fuzzy [for the reader] conversation and so it ticked all my boxes.

I think Elaine Jermemiah’s writing was strongest when there was real conflict between characters, such as when Anna was calling Peter out on his possessiveness of her, or when she was reminding Will that he had made her life hell during school and she had no desire to see him again. These sections felt very real. Sometimes the characters’ internal conflicts felt a little repetitive, as did Anna’s conversations with Melissa about her love life (though Melissa does eventually point out to Anna that she needs to figure her life out on her own; she can’t keep asking Melissa for advice and blaming her when it goes wrong).

Having now written this review, and getting to the point where I make a concluding remark, it occurs to me that probably half the time I read books outside my usual genres, I tend to say “I enjoyed this more than I thought I would” so maybe I should just accept that I actually enjoy these sorts of stories now and then and look forward to Elaine’s next book, too!

Cover Reveal: Reunion of the Heart by Elaine Jeremiah

Yay! It’s another cover reveal! I do love these! This time it is for Elaine Jeremiah, another fellow WIPpeteer, one I have met in person and who fed me when I was a broke and hungry traveler (see how awesome the WIPpeteers are?!). Elaine is launching her second novel, Reunion of the Heart, later this month, and it is this one that we are cover revealing today. 😀

First of all, a little about the book:

After a messy breakup with her boyfriend, Anna is feeling fragile.  So when her best friend Melissa suggests the two of them go to their school reunion, she’s reluctant as Anna’s school days weren’t her happiest.  The evening is going well until she meets the boy who made her school life hell.

But the grown up Will is different and Anna is surprised by the direction her life takes.  The reunion sets in motion a series of events that lead Anna to realise things will never be the same again.

And now the bit you’ve all been waiting for:

RotH-Cover

Isn’t that pretty? Sexy guy, cosy embrace, Paris… what’s not to like?

I’ll leave you now with a bit more info about Elaine. Keep watching this space for more news of the book’s release. I’ll keep you posted! 😀

Elaine Jeremiah has always enjoyed writing, but it’s only in recent years that she’s begun to devote serious time to it.  She’s written lots of short stories, one previous novel that will never see the light of day and a novel which has seen the light of day: ‘The Inheritance’ which she published last year.  ‘The Inheritance’ is available on Amazon. You can make contact with Elaine via her blog: elainejeremiah.co.uk and Twitter: @ElaineJeremiah

Book Review: Finding Esta by Shah Wharton ( + Giveaway!)

This is a bit different to my last few book reviews. To celebrate the release of the new edition of Finding Esta, her debut novel, Shah Wharton is hosting a giveaway. There are ten copies up for grabs. Read my review, read what others have said and then click the link if you want to go into the running. (At least, I hope everyone else can see the link; my browser is telling me to enable Javascript, which I’m reasonably sure is already enabled =\ )

Title: Finding Esta
Author: Shah Warton
Genre: Paranormal romance (/sci-fi?)
Format: E-book, also available in print, see further down for links.
Date Read: 29/01/2014 – 18/02/2014
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I’m going to start with a confession: I’m not usually a reader of paranormal romance. There are usually too many sexy but mysterious leading men and curvacious bombshells for leading ladies. Were I more into this, I’m fairly sure Finding Esta would get more stars from me, as I’m pretty sure it ticks a lot of the right boxes for it’s genre.

Finding-Esta-hardcover-3D

Luna is an empath with a touch of psychic ability. She can read people’s auras but physical touch is usually accompanied by intense physical pain. She’s also extensively photosensitive; just a few minutes in the sun and she’s breaking out in blisters.

This all changes, however, on a trip to Cornwall to investigate the disappearance of a baby, Esta Whelan, twenty years earlier. This leads to far more than Luna ever expected, as she begins to learn of her true nature and heritage (or does she?).

Being the first in the Supes series, there is a lot of world-building and exposition going on. There are several supernatural races and their respective mythologies to introduce. It did take a little while for the story to get started, and I only really thought the plot started to get going around 70% of the way through, when Luna leaves the house where she’s been the past several weeks and starts learning that maybe things up until then had been a bit too good to be true. While there’s probably no way to do it with cutting out a lot of the aforementioned world-building and character introductions, I felt this part of the plot should have happened much earlier.

I thought Luna was a pretty decent character and I enjoyed learning of her true nature along with her. However, her constant lusting after the two the love interests got a bit annoying after a while (like I said, not really a PR reader). Abby, the first of these, is sweet and well-meaning enough, but his gushing got old pretty quickly, and I usually wanted Luna to shove him off the bed when he frequently said insensitive things (like I said, he was well-meaning, but that doesn’t excuse it…). The second guy was a bit more my type; while Luna is still very attracted to him, they start out on a much more friendly basis. My favourite character was Flo, the Shadow who mostly lives in Luna’s head, she was really snarky and fun and I would hope that we get to see more of her in the sequels.

I did find it interesting the way the author blended the fantasy elements with some sci-fi, though sometimes it did make me wonder what genre I was reading. Spoiler [highlight text to view]: Alien vampires with magical abilities? Not something you see every day. Having said that, kudos to the author for trying it. The idea grew on me, actually, and they stop mentioning their spaceship and things after a while, so it becomes just a fact at the back of your mind that the Mimicanes are this alien species stranded on earth.

Conclusion: while I felt that the story could probably be tighter, I didn’t dislike it. I think now that the main series arc has been established, the rest of the series will probably be more engaging. Here is what others have to say (people who are probably more into this genre than I).

“The true source of her empathy is mind-blowing.” By Book Reviewer: Wandalyn Thomas

“It’s a great tale that’s part Nancy Drew, part Harry Dresden, and part Underworld, with a dash of Weapon X thrown in for good measure.” By Author: Tom Winship

“Be ready for things you will not expect.” By Kathryn Bennett for Readers’ Favorite

“Finding Esta is an urban fantasy tale with a riveting plot that hooked me from the very first page. It is the firs installment of Shah Wharton’s Supes series and cleverly weaves both mystery novel and supernatural tale together. By Valerie S. Fowler: Book Reviewer

“Can’t wait for the next one. Truly amazing story best book I’ve read in a long time I hope the next one comes soon.” By Wrainbeau: Book Reviewer

eBook Edition

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk and internationally.

Barnes & Noble | KOBO | Sony| iBOOKS SMASHWORDS

Print Edition

Amazon | Amazon France | Amazon Germany | Amazon Italy |

Amazon Spain | Amazon United Kingdom

 FIND SHAH HERE

WEBSITE/BLOG

Amazon Author Page (US) | Amazon Author Page (UK) |

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