#AWW2021 “My sisters. My blood. My skin. What a gruesome bond we shared.” // Review of “House of Hollow” by Krystal Sutherland

Title: House of Hollow
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Genre: Magical realism/horror
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 22/10/2021 – 24/10/21
Rating: ★★★☆

Review:

I recently asked for recommendations for creepy books that wouldn’t completely scare a wimp like me and this was one of the titles that came up. Having previously enjoyed Sutherland’s A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, I was keen to give this one a look, too.

As I started, I absolutely loved the vibe that Sutherland had going on here. Missing sister, weird smells, strange flowers, a mysterious disappearance many years ago.

But then it started to peter out. It kept saying that things smelled weird, and that there were strange flowers, and if only Iris could remember what had happened that day ten years ago. What started strong was no longer interesting once I’d heard it so many times.

Admittedly in the final third things started to pick up as we started to really learn what was going on. Some new characters appeared and there were some revelations made. Some of those I had already kind of figured out, but there were still a few surprises.

While this definitely didn’t meet the high expectations that I had based on my experience of Worst Nightmares, it’s still a pretty solid read. I think it will have more appeal for those dipping their toe into horror rather than regular readers of the genre who have most likely seen everything in this book before.


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

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Mini Book Reviews: Hidden By Jade by Celine Jeanjean, Tuesday Mooney Talks To Ghosts by Kate Racculia, This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

Sometimes I don’t really have a lot to say about a book. It doesn’t really warrant a full-length review. And so once again, I bring you, mini-reviews!


Hidden By Jade

by Celine Jeanjean
(Razor’s Edge #5)
Urban fantasy
★★★
The cover of Hidden by Jade by Celine Jeanjean. It shows an East Asian woman with pink hair and a swirling ball of magic in her right hand.

Apiya’s adventures continue in Book 5 of the Razor’s Edge Chronicles, and now her identity is known amongst the Mayak, but her standing among them remains up for debate. I really enjoyed the scenes within the Baku’s world and Ilmu’s memories, the descriptions of those scenes were fantastic. Particularly entering into the Ilmu’s memories, I thought that was a really cool concept. Also Apiya’s accidental taking of Mayak life and her reaction to that was done really well.

But I must say there was a great deal of talking in this book and I didn’t always feel that it was talking that moved the plot forward.

One thing I’ve felt a bit iffy about ever since the first book in this series is the use of non-Christian deities as purely fantasy/mythological figures, and there is quite a bit of that in this book.

Apiya’s choices at the end of the book were also a bit questionable. Yes, she was in a tight spot but she put Sarroch in an even worse one (well, maybe an equally bad one). Still, the ending of this one promises new realms and characters in the next one, and I’m looking forward to seeing where that goes.

(Thank you to the author for a gratis copy in exchange for a review)


Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

by Kate Racculia
Contemporary/magical realism
★★★★

I want to start by saying that the title of this book is metaphorical, and thusly a bit misleading at the outset. There’s maybe one ghost, and there’s the possibility that she is all in Tuesday’s head.

This book has a charming cast of unique characters and I really enjoyed all of them. The plot became a little convoluted and ended up being not quite what I expected. I was hoping for some Ready Player One-style treasure hunting, and there was that, but it was really more a story about finding “your people” and letting go of the past.

While it wasn’t what I expected (honestly, between the title and the cover I was expecting a charming paranormal middle-grade story), I still found it really engaging and wanted to put aside work and other commitments to keep reading. I’m keen to look up Kate Racculia’s other books now.


This Will Be Funny Someday

by Katie Henry
Contemporary YA
★★★★
The cover of "This Will Be Funny Someday" by Katie Henry. there is a banana peel on a red background. The title is made to look like it has been written along the banana peel in pencil. The author's name is in yellow text at the bottom.

This book made me feel a lot of things. And isn’t that all you can ask of a book, really?

For a book about stand-up comedy, this book sure delves into a lot of heavy topics. Having said that, I think it manages to handle them pretty well. It does sometimes get a little bit heavy-handed in the delivery of its message (e.g. sometimes an entire scene would just be two characters talking about societal expectations of women, or white supremacy, or another Issue).

In particular I thought the author handled the abusive relationship aspect quite well. Main character Isabel has herself absolutely convinced that Alex needs her and loves her, even though it’s clear to everyone that isn’t the case. Seeing her evolve and become independent was fantastic.

It did bother me that for a while even when she was called out on the things she was doing wrong, it took Izzy a long time to recognise that. She wanted everything to go back to the way it was, and it seemed to come as a surprise when people pointed out their own perspectives and why going back would be weird for them now the truth was out.

Still, it ends on such a strong hopeful note and I felt so proud of how far Izzy had come. This is a really powerful book!


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#AWW2021 “As a girl, the fairies came to me; they whispered in my dreams and left songs in my head. I went to the glen and found them there.” // Review of “Reluctantly Charmed” by Ellie O’Neill

Title: Reluctantly Charmed
Author: Ellie O’Neill
Genre: Magical Realism/Contemporary
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 26/05/2021 – 17/06/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

This is one of those books that’s hard to rate. 3 stars seems too generous for how I felt about it but anything less (even 2.5) feels harsh.

Honestly, the book’s title is a good description of how I felt about it. While it’s classified as magical realism, I felt it had a bit too much fantasy to qualify as such. But at the same time, not enough fantasy to be a proper fantasy book.

There’s a lot to like here – Kate McDaid is a relatable main character, and she and her group of closest friends make a fun group. The misunderstandings in the romantic subplot were quite obvious but it was still cute.

And the premise of an nineteenth century witch leaving a plea from the fairies for her twenty-first century niece to reveal step-by-step is an awesome premise, which worked well.

Where I started getting tripped up was how quickly Kate became SO famous. I could understand her going viral and becoming a bit of an Internet celebrity. But within two weeks of her starting to publish the Steps, she has the paparazzi following her around, and she’s appearing in gossip rags. Her parents are appearing on national breakfast TV because she doesn’t want to, and they’re hiring an agent and being asked to be the face of advertising campaigns. This just didn’t make sense to me.

I also felt the ending was quite unsatisfying. It all wrapped up in a bit of a rush, too much of a rush. It was all too easy and everything worked out in a couple of chapters. There’s a kidnapping that Kate simply runs away from virtually unscathed. Her choices to do with the Final Step don’t have any real repercussions, apart from one thing which actually should be a HUGE DEAL and is glossed over in a couple of paragraphs in the epilogue (sorry, trying not to be spoilery).

I’m sure this will be a properly charming read for some readers. It just didn’t work for me.


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

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#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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“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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“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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#LoveOzYA #aww2019 “You told the story to show me how to move on.” // Review of “Catching Teller Crow” by Ambellin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Title: Catching Teller Crow
Author:
Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Audio book narrator: Miranda Tapsell
Genre: Contemporary/magical realism
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 20/03/19 – 23/03/19
Rating:
★☆

Review:

Ah, man, I hate being the unpopular opinion person! So many glowing reviews of this book. So many “I read it all in one sitting!”s. And here’s me feeling kind of underwhelmed. 

Looking back now as I write this review, some of this could be down to being in a bit of funk life-wise at the time. I wasn’t really enjoying anything, books included. So it’s probably partly on me. 

I also feel like some of this was to do with the audio book. It wasn’t the worst one I’ve ever listened to, but I felt like the way it was read made the character of Beth Teller sound kind of annoying, and a lot younger than her 15 years.

On the other hand, there were also sections of Isobel Catching’s chapters where it was read with no expression whatsoever. I’m deliberately using passive voice here because I’m assuming that there are directors and other people involved in the recording of an audio book and this is not all Miranda Tapsell’s fault, so I don’t want to seem like I am ragging on her alone. 

In terms of the content of the book, it was one of those stories where I got what it was doing, but I felt it needed to be explored further. It’s quite a short book and it’s dealing with a lot of issues. I also figured out fairly early on what Catching’s chapters were really about, so I think the revelation towards the end lost some of its impact because of that. 


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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“When put that way, it sounds rather like magic, doesn’t it?” // Review of “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Audio book narrator:
Jim Hale
Genre:
Historical/magical realism
Date Read: 09/08/2016 – 18/08/2016
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Back in 2012, I started reading The Night Circus, but I gave up, only about 100 pages in. I think listening to the audio book was the way to go, as it meant sneaking it in when driving or cleaning, all those times when I can’t sit with a physical book in my hands. At times, I thought my final rating was going to be anything from 3 starts to 4.5, but I think the solid 4 probably is the best overall indication of my enjoyment.

There is not a huge amount of plot to this novel – two magicians, Celia and Marco, are pitted against one another by their instructors in a challenge where they can only be one winner. The challenge does not only affect them, though, for the Cirque des Reves is their venue and everyone who relies upon the circus or comes to love it is touched by the challenge. The lack of plot didn’t bother me too much for reasons I’ll get into below, but I did feel the reasoning behind the challenge could have been better (basically all the reason we get is that the two instructors wanted to know whose methods were better). Celia and Marco were asking all the time and there was never any indication of if they were doing well, who was winning, etc… it got frustrating after the first few times.

The plot does jump around in time a lot, which is difficult to keep track of when listening to an audio book. If I had had the print copy, I probably would have been flipping back a few times to check what year it was last time I met these characters.

But depsite all of that, the language is absolutely beautiful. The descriptions are wonderful; I could imagine every single exhibit in the Circus in exquisite detail. At first, I felt that Jime Hale’s voice a little bit too rough and jarring for the sort of prose he was reading, but after a while I got used to it. Read aloud, the descriptions have  a really lilting, poetic quality that was just delightful to listen to.

While I wouldn’t necessarily say I was one of these people myself, I would say this novel is best suited to those whose first loves are description and setting. Many a reader would find that the plot leaves too much to be desired, but I am glad I finally found a way to enjoy this.


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