#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “Blackbirch: The Beginning” by K. M. Allan

Title: The Beginning (Blackbirch #1)
Author:
K. M. Allan
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

Quick disclaimer: K. M. Allan is a friend from the #6amAusWriters group on Twitter, and I received an ARC for free. I promise that neither of those facts have affected my review, though.

Witchcraft is my favourite form of magic, and the magick in Blackbirch definitely falls under that heading. From the start, Allan creates an almost other-worldly town in Blackbirch. It almost felt like the town wasn’t quite in the 21st century.

To be honest, my favourite character was Eve, the girl who’s something of an outcast because of her fascination with witchcraft and the town’s history. There are some hints at the end of the book as to where her character arc is likely to lead and I’m really looking forward to seeing that play out (without spoiling too much, I think it’s going to get messy).

None of that is to say the other characters weren’t interesting. It took me a little while to warm to Josh, mostly because he spends a large chunk of the novel being mopey and a bit of a stick in the mud. But there are reasons why he was doing that, which come out later. Once he was a bit more involved in the action, I was able to get more invested in him.

I am definitely jealous of Allan’s ability to write a climax – there’s a fantastic buildup to a confrontation in the woods that I really enjoyed.  And while most of the major plotlines are wrapped up, there are still plenty of opportunities for things to unfold in the coming books. I for one am really looking forward to it!

 


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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “It Sounded Better In My Head” by Nina Kenwood

Title: It Sounded Better In My Head
Author:
Nina Kenwood
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This book was certainly sweet and I loved how painfully realistic it was at times. But some pacing issues and the lack of characterisation from anyone other than the main character left me feeling like there could have been more.

Natalie’s life is diverging from the Plan. Her parents announce their separation on Christmas Day, her two best friends have started dating so she feels like a third wheel, and she’s just finished high-school and doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She’s also still dealing with image issues that have haunted her throughout her teen years thanks to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).  

Since this book is in the first person, we are very much in Natalie’s head. And she has a lot going on in there. But it did mean I felt like I didn’t really get to know the other characters. There were flashes of personality from them, such as Lucy covering awkwardness amongst her friends with OTT bubbliness, Mariella with her love of gossip about her children… but Alex is the love interest and Natalie spends so much of her time thinking about him and yet as I write this, there’s very little I could tell you about Alex as a person.

There’s also the fact that sometimes the pacing was strange. The plot would grind to a half for several pages while we got some of Natalie’s backstory. Sure, it was good to know about her and some of it moved the plot (such as learning how she met Zach and Lucy) but a lot of the time it made me forget what had just been happening.

Apart from that, though, the writing is really engaging. I flew through the pages. The messiness of teenage friendships is so realistic, I could feel my guts churning on behalf of the characters. There were times when Natalie’s body image issues and insecurities felt a little repetitive, but at the same time, I recognise the cyclical nature of such thoughts in real life.

On the other hand, I really liked how sex positive the book was, particularly in regards to its female characters. It’s mentioned that Natalie knows how to give herself an orgasm, and Lucy is the first one of their friendship group to have sex. While it’s a shock to the others, it’s still shown in a positive light.

This is Nina Kenwood’s debut and I will definitely be watching out for more of her work.


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#Aww2019 #LoveOzMG Book Review: “Songbird” by Ingrid Laguna

Title: Songbird
Author:
Ingrid Laguna
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: MG
Date Read: 05/10/19
Rating:
★★★★

Review:

This was such a sweet, uplifting book! It’s only short and I read it all in one sitting, and afterwards had a huge smile on my face. It was kind of easy to see where the story was going, but that didn’t take away from it at all.

Jamila, her mother and younger brother are refugees newly arrived in Melbourne from Iraq. Jamila is struggling to balance her new school life where she is the odd one out with her mother’s needs as they all try to adapt. But when Jamila joins the school choir and begins to make friends, she starts to fit in there… if only her father could make it to Australia, too…

I really felt for Jamila. I could feel her distress and not being able to talk to her classmates and being nervous due to her less-than-perfect English. I felt her frustration when her mother called her home from school to help with things like groceries. i have not had the same life experiences as Jamila but music got me through some bad times, too, so I completely related when she found that the school choir rehearsals were one of the only times at school that enjoyed, and how she could lose herself in writing a song.

The book deals with refugee issues, racism, death and terrorism in a way that I think would be accessible to readers in the target age group. I think it would be a great introduction to the topic, with room for discussion afterwards, and without feeling too overwhelming.


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

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#LoveOzYA Book Review: “Monuments” by Will Kostakis

Title: Monuments (Monument #1)
Author:
Will Kostakis
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 27/09/19 – 30/09/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

I had been seeing a lot about Monuments in the lead-up to its release so by the time I got my hands on a copy at the Canberra launch last week, I was really looking forward to it.

This is such a fun book! The protagonist, Connor, is a sweetheart. I was on his side immediatley. And he brings all the sass. He and Locky made such a cute pair. Sally was an interesting character with a few surprises up her sleeve – there is a lot we don’t know about her until towards the end.

I did have a few questions about how a bunch of ancient gods ended up in Australia but thankfully those were answered, and in a way that made a lot of sense.

The first two thirds of the story are a fairly straightforward adventure story but then the time travel starts and things do get a bit confusing. There’s a lot of hopping between lots of different times and for a while I lost track of what was what. But that calmed down after a few chapters and I was able to sink back into the story again.

Some of the scenes I liked best weren’t really about the adventuring but about Connor more personally. Connor feels guilty for not visiting his grandfather a lot after dementia took over and his grandfather was put in a home. I don’t want to spoil things but I will say that the way Connor makes amends is pretty epic.

Enough is wrapped up in this book to not feel like you’re left hanging, but the story isn’t over. I am definitely looking forward to book two!


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WWW Wednesday – 22 May 2019

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This blog hop is hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for this week, and just answer the three questions.

What have you recently finished reading?

I finished listening to Emily the Strange: the Lost Days by Rob Reger not long after Wednesday’s WWW. It was amusing, but very bizarre. I’m still not sure what it was actually about. Due to my confusion, I’m not planning to write a proper review of this one.

I finished The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty about an hour ago. It was sweet but sort of wore thin after a while… the cutesy, whimsical style didn’t really work when there were nearly 500 pages. I’ll  have a review up soon.

Two reviews this week: His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda and Enchantee by Gita Trelease.

What are you currently reading?

I started The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale because That. Cover. Some of the reviews are comparing it to The Night Circus and I can see why. I actually started the audio book first but the narrator’s voice was annoying me so I switched to the ebook. But I really like the magical descriptions of Papa Jack’s Emporium so far.

What do you think you will read next?

I don’t really know what I’m in the mood for at the moment, but I just realised that The Red Labyrinth by Meredith Tate comes out on June 4, so I probably need to pick up the ARC pretty soon. Particularly considering I don’t know how much reading time I’m going to have over the next week or so.

What are you reading this week? 🙂

WWW Wednesday – 15 May 2019

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This blog hop is hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for this week, and just answer the three questions.

First of all, sorry if I linked you to my writing blog rather than this one last week! I do blog hops on both blogs on a Wednesday and totally wasn’t paying attention to which link was on my clipboard!

What have you recently finished reading?

I finally finished Enchantee by Gita Trelease! My review will be up on Friday. I enjoyed it enough and I thought it tied up really well, but overall it was a three star read. Might have been partly because it took me so long to get through?

I also finished His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda. I spent the whole book feeling a bit reading slumpy and thinking this would be a three-star read at most, and then things sort of all tied together in the last few chapters and got me right in the feels. To the point I teared up a little. So that was nice.

Only one review posted this week: The Things That Will Not Stand by Michael Gerard Bauer.

What are you currently reading?

I have started reading The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty (yes, sister of Liane for the curious). Jaclyn is an author I keep going back to, even though I don’t always enjoy her books. So far, this one is giving me Nevermoor vibes in that it’s quite lighthearted and whimsical and a bit nonsense (in the best way), but I suspect it will also get me in the feels at some point.

I also started listening to Emily the Strange: the Lost Days by Rob Reger on a whim. It’s rather bizarre, kind of a Lemony Snicket/Welcome to Night Vale mashup. Strange things happen but it’s all delivered with a completely straight face. I think Emily might be a clone or something?

What do you think you will read next?

Not sure what I’m in the mood for. Also Bronte Nettlestone is quite long so there’s a good chance I won’t finish it this week with everything else I’ve got going on. I’ll also finish Emily the Strange pretty soon but I have no idea what I fancy audio book-wise, either.

What are you reading this week? 🙂

#LoveOzYA #cbca2019 Book Review: “The Things That Will Not Stand” by Michael Gerard Bauer

Title: The Things That Will Not Stand
Author:
Michael Gerard Bauer
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 02/05/2019
Rating:
★★

Review:

This book was kind of unexpected. I wasn’t expecting the humour and banter and pathos. I knew it was short but I wasn’t expecting to fly through it in one day. But here we are. 

From the opening chapter, Seb has a really distinct narrative voice. The book is written in first person present tense, which I think really emphasises the immediacy of the action taking place over a single day.

I really enjoyed the banter between Seb and Frida, and how it became more obvious as the book went on that something about Frida didn’t add up. I do have to admit, though, that apart from the three main characters of Seb, Frida and Seb’s best friend, Tolly, the remainder of the characters seemed a little 2D… particularly the burly university security guard who kept seeming to pop up. He seemed a bit of a stereotype.

While I was really struck by the puns and the humour at the start of the book, the continued use of them did start to wear a bit thin as we moved towards the end. I did appreciate the book’s overall message of letting someone know when you think they’re worth it, and that anyone is deserving of that, no matter what they might think of themselves. figured out Frida’s riddle at the end a lot faster than Seb did, though, so I did want him to get a wriggle on with figuring that out. That was probably a little drawn out for my tastes but maybe it was because I did already know what she meant.


I am trying to read as many of the books as possible on the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notables List. Click here to see the titles.

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WWW Wednesday – 08 May 2019

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This blog hop is hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for this week, and just answer the three questions.

What have you recently finished reading?

I finished The Things That Will Not Stand by Michael Gerard Bauer in a single day, which I was not expecting. It was very readable, and full of puns. Also some really strong characters. Having said that, I haven’t quite figured out how to review it yet, so that’s still pending.

Then I finished my ARC of Lucid by Kristy Fairlamb, which I ended up giving three stars. I think I was hoping for something a bit more thrilling. I posted a review here.

What are you currently reading?

Enchantee by Gita Trelease as got a bit more interesting. I think I’m at around the 60% mark now. I don’t actually know why it’s more interesting, I think it may be more to do with me than the book, if that makes sense. Anyway, I’m a bit more keen to find opportunities to listen to it now.

I’m also reading His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda. This is the first book I’ve read of hers as an adult, though she was a favourite author of mine when I was growing up. At the moment, I’m not quite sure whether this is more ghostly or fairytale-y or what it’s going to be, but I’m pretty sure I will enjoy it.

What do you think you will read next?

Not sure at this stage. I’m really more in the mood for fantasy, but the books I have from the library are more contemporary in one way or another. I might have a look at my ARCs and see what’s coming up soon.

What are you reading this week? 🙂

#LoveOzYA #aww2019 Book Review: “Lucid” by Kristy Fairlamb

Title: Lucid (Lucid #1)
Author:
Kristy Fairlamb
Genre: Paranormal/contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 27/04/19 – 05/05/19
Rating:
★★

Review:

I was intrigued by the premise of Lucid, but I have to admit it started off quite slowly for me.

While the blurb is all about how main character, Lucy, experiences real people’s deaths in her dreams, the first half of the book is focused more on the burgeoning romance she has with new boy, Tyler. Yes, Tyler was featured in her dreams about a year ago, and yes, they share a connection through their dreams, but to be honest, it felt like I was reading a straight contemporary. There’s nothing wrong with contemporary, of course, but I was expecting something else.

Fortunately, this does pick up at about the 60% mark. This is where Lucy’s begins to recognise the extent of her powers, and that they’re not simply bad dreams. I think the series has been set up in such a way that some of the repercussions of this power will be explored in the second book, but this one is mostly about Lucy’s relationship with Tyler and how that changes her.

I still enjoyed reading it, but I suppose I was hoping for some more exploration of the implications of Lucy’s dreams and the power they come with, and where that power comes from.


Thank you to NetGalley and Lakewater Press for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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

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#LoveOzYA #aww2019 “The tide was moving in as I ran along the shoreline. Always crashing, always unsettled…” // Review of “P Is For Pearl” by Eliza Henry Jones

Title: P is for Pearl
Author:
Eliza Henry Jones
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 23/04/19 – 27/04/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

It’s been a while since I read something small town-y and character-driven. At first, I thought the story was taking a while to get going. But then I realised the characters are the story in this one. And I really loved them. This is a coming of age story about grief and loss and growing up and it explores its themes really well. 

Eliza Henry Jones really captured the small town vibe in this. Little details like everyone calling each other in a storm to check if they’ve still got power or if they need anything really made me feel like everyone knew each other and like I could walk from one end of town to another in an hour. 

Gwen and her two besties made such a great friendship group. I enjoyed their banter a lot. And Ben, who was just the most adorkable love interest. He kept doing such awkward things and he got all stammery and I loved it. I also liked how Gwen helped him help his sister, and how Amber hadn’t been terribly nice to Gwen, she was still willing to help when someone needed it. 

I did think Gwen’s dad was… not terrible, and probably also dealing with grief in his own way. But he was really inattentive to her and I wanted to shake him a lot. Biddy, Gwen’s stepmother, is in a difficult position that I thought she juggled really well, trying to help Gwen through her grief but also sometimes just not knowing how to help. 

This was one of those books where you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to the characters when you reach the end. Even though they were moving on with the next stages of their lives, I wanted to hang out with them in their small town with the beach and the mermaids for longer. 


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

I am trying to read as many of the books as possible on the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notables List. Click here to see the titles.

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