Book Review: “Sugar Spells” by Lola Dodge

Title: Sugar Spells (Spellwork Syndicate #2)
Author: Lola Dodge
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Target audience: NA (upper YA?)
Date Read: 30/10/18 – 06/11/18
Rating: ★★★

I have a pretty terrible memory for the details of books, and I read the first one back in March. But I’m pretty sure I liked this one even more than the first!

Lola Dodge’s culinary descriptions continued to make me drool and once again, the cover is really stunning. The way Anise’s magic is infused with the baking was also described in detail and Dodge was able to expand on the magic system she established in book one. We also got to see more of Blair’s necromancy and Gabi’s cryptoid veterinary clinic, both of which were enjoyable.

Character-wise, my favourite part was the burgeoning friendship between Anise and her bodyguard, Wynn. I love begrudging friendships! And this was definitely begrudging on Wynn’s part. We also got to learn how he ended up in his contract as Anise’s bodyguard and what that meant for him. I loved Anise’s attempts to help him and how he opened up as he realised she was genuine about it.

I never saw the twist coming, but in hindsight, I should have known something was up. And those are the best sorts of twists, I think. The different sub-plots of the story all wove together into the climax, and I ended up taking a longer lunch break than I should have to finish the book. From the sounds of it, it looks like book three in the series follows pretty closely from the events of this one, and I can’t wait until March to read it!


(Thank you to the Publishers and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

WWW Wednesday – 7 November 2018

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.

It does not feel like Wednesday for me today! I worked on Saturday, saw a musical on Sunday and had Monday off, so it still only feels like Tuesday. 

But anyway, on with the questions! 

What did you recently finish reading? 

I finished Sugar Spells by Lola Dodge and it was delightful! I totally recommend this series for anyone looking for fun and cozy urban fantasy. My review will be up on Friday. 

I probably wasted enough time playing Super Mario Bros. 3 that I could have finished another book, but there it is. 

I posted reviews of Legendary by Stephanie Garber and Ruby Moonlight by Ali Cobby Eckermann this week. Click the titles to read them. 

What are you currently reading?

Circus Hearts: All Aces by Ellie Marney. At the time of writing this post, I’m about 15% in and it’s taking me a bit longer to get into than the other two books in the series. I think that might be because I’m really still in the mood for fantasy, but I do need to get this ARC read. And I’m pretty sure once the romantic tension really starts to build (it’s already there a little bit), I’ll get into it properly. 

I’ve also been listening to All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, which is a very well done time travel book that asks some big questions about the ethics of time travel. I’m using my Audible membership to start books I have had on my TBR for a long time. This one has been there since 2015.

What will you read next? 

Next I’ll be reading Twelve Slays of Christmas by Jacqueline Frost, because the sequel is a Read Now on Netgalley and I can’t resist a punny title (the sequel is called “‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas”). 

“I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.” // Review of “Station Eleven” by Emily St John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven
Author:
Emiy St John Mandel
Audio book narrator: Jack Hawkins
Genre:LIterary fiction/dystopia
Target audience:
Adult
Date Read: 27/06/18 – 09/08/18
Rating:
★★★

Review:

This book took a while to hook me. As you can see from the dates above, it was on hold for a bit while I listened to other audio books, and intiially I only returned to this one because I had used an Audible credit to obtain it and felt an obligation. Somewhere in the second half, I realised I was looking forward to solo car trips so I could continue with it. I wanted to know how all the story threads came together and what happened to the characters.

Most of the dystopia/post-apocalyptic books I have read before have been YA fiction, actaion-packed and fast-paced. There books are often set so far into the future that it’s quite hard to really place them in any part of the world that we recognise; they might as well be set on a different planet. Station Eleven isn’t like that. It’s rooted in today’s world, and really examines how our lives – you and me in the second decade of the twenty-first century – would be affected if civilisation as we know it collapsed. It made me really think.

I will say that I am not usually one for literary fiction and even thinking about it now, some of the writing is flowery, bordering on wanky. I guess I got used to it in this case, but it’s probably not for everybody. The writing style is quite “tell, don’t show” rather than the reverse and perhaps Jack Hawkins’ narration of the audio book enhanced this somewhat. While I wouldn’t say he read in a monotone, there wasn’t a huge amount of expression.

There isn’t a huge amount of plot; this one iis definitely about the characters and how their lives intersect over the years. It almost feels like you’re reading these characters’ back stories half the time, rather then the parts of their lives the author wants you to know about. But somehow, I eventually did get invested enough in them to care anyway.


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“The problem with monsters is that those of our own making are the most terrifying of all.” // Review of “The Other Alice” by Michelle Harrison

Title: The Other Alice
Author:
Michelle Harrison
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: Middle-grade
Date Read: 25/07/18 – 27/07/18
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This was an interesting book, though I have to admit that I did find some of the world-building a bit lacking. Still, it kept me engaged and that’s the main thing.

Eleven-year-old Midge loves to hear the stories that his older sister, Alice, makes up. When Alice goes missing and her characters seem to be showing up in their home, Midge is the only one who can save her and give the story the ending it needs.

The characters in this story are vibrant and interesting. They are very well-drawn, with various distinct personalities. The backstories of Alice’s characters were interesting and tied in well with each other. I really liked the characters’ reactions to finding out they were made up by Alice. I thought that felt really believable and I did feel bad for them.

I did feel that some of the history and world-building was where it fell down, particularly in the use of the “gypsy curse” trope to give a fairytale feel to Alice’s family history. Many people have written about the reasons why the word “gypsy” and stereotypes such as the curse are problematic to Romani people, so I won’t go into it here. Also, a Romani character called Ramone? Really?

There were also a number of events that had no real explanation other than “it was ~magic~”, but there wasn’t enough set-up of how the magic worked for that to carry.

Still, this was an enjoyable MG fantasy. I think I would recommend it for older readers in that age group as there are some dark themes and a few violent characters. It’s probably one parents and kids could enjoy together.


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#aww2018 #LoveOzYA “I’m improvising, but I’ve been doing that my whole life.” // Review of “Unearthed” by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Title: Unearthed (Unearthed #1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Genre: Sci-fi
Target Age Group: YA
Dates read: 20/06/2018 – 26/06/2018
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book was marketed as “Indiana Jones in space” and while I can see that somewhat… I feel like that ended up giving me expectations for something this book wasn’t. So while I enjoyed it for what it was, I was disappointed it wasn’t what I was expecting.

So what was I expecting? Okay, so I love doing escape rooms, right? My partner finds them a little stressful but he humours me because in return I go to karaoke with him on wekeends. I was expecting this book to be some kind of epic scale escape room in book form, lots of solving puzzles and boobie-trapped rooms and such. And there was a bit of that. But there was really only one interesting puzzle (a musical one which was quite clever). The characters are out of the temple by about halfway to two-thirds of the way through the book and it becomes something completely different.

I liked Jules and Amelia, though I don’t think first person narration works when you have two POV characters. They sound much the same. Yes, they have different personalities and quirks, but I feel like probably everyone sounds fairly similar inside their head. It is different when you can hear different voices, but on the page, there’s not much to differentiate. I couldn’t get too engaged in the romance, as the action takes place over only a few days, maybe a week. I am more of a fan of a slow-burn over “we’re high on adrenaline and running for our lives and I’m gonig to kiss you now”.

Still, the action in the last quarter ramped right up, and the cliffhanger at the end was intriguing enough that I kind want to check out the next book when it’s released just to see where they go with that.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#aww2018 #LoveOzYA “The house was always empty. Even when it wasn’t.” // Review of “I Had Such Friends” by Meg Gatland-Veness

Title: I Had Such Friends
Author: Meg Gatland-Veness
Genre: Contemporary
Target age group: YA
Dates read: 29/06/2018 – 30/06/2018
Rating: ★★

Review:

I feel like this book could have been good but it tried to tackle too many big issues in a short amount of space and ended up not doing them the justice they deserved.

There was also the issue that for probably 75-80% of the book, I just couldn’t stand the main character. He had basically no redeemable qualities, though he did finally get his act together towards the end. He is awful to his so-called best friend (and for someone who calls himself a nerd, he sure was judgey about cosplay and video games and anime). He’s pretty sexist, judging all the girls at school except the one he’s friends with because of course, she’s not like those other girls. And he’s so terrified of sounding like a girl or coming across as sissy, like that’s the worst thing you could possibly be perceived as.

One could argue that this is a fairly typical representation of a lot of country boys, and you’d probably be right… but I can’t stand when this stuff is unchallenged within a text. And highlighting it with the occasional “I know it made me a bad person to think that” doesn’t really make him any better. ve

Oof. That was a bit of a rant. Sorry. Hamish just really bugged me.

The story tries to tackle sexuality, grief, domestic violence, and coming of age issues, and sometimes it nearly hits the mark. But I just never felt any kind of emotional pull while reading, and I predicted the outcome, too. It just never really felt true enough. A lot of this is probably because I didn’t like Hamish enough to care, but I think also the writing style was a bit detached and disjointed, making it hard to really get drawn in.

I do think Gatland-Veness shows promise as a writer. This one just didn’t work for me.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

Thank you to Pantera Press and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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“There is a spectrum to assholery. I’m pretty low on scale.” // Review of “Zombie Playlist” by K. J. Chapman

Title: Zombie Playlist
Author: K. J. Chapman
Genre: Dystopia (zombie apocalypse)/humour
Target age group:
YA/NA
Date Read:
23/06/18
Rating: ★★

Review:

I will say out the outset of this review that most of my feelings towards this book are on me. This was a fun story and most of my reasons for not liking it more are  a matter of preference. Zombies aren’t usually my thing but I had been following Chapman on Instagram for a while and wanted to support a fellow indie author, so knowing this was quite short, I took a chance.

The two main characters, Dagger and King, were on opposite ends of the badass spectrum, and on reflection, I think I like my characters somewhere in the middle. While they did both grow over the course of the story, and thus come a little way off the end and into the middle, it took until then for them to really grow on me, so I wasn’t feeling too connected to them to start  off with, and we therefore all got off on the wrong foot.

I also didn’t even realise until a few chapters in that the book wasn’t set in America, rather than England. There were turns of phrase as well as the use of “asshole” rather than “arsehole”, which is how I would expect it to be spelled in a British or Australian book. So I kept forgetting where they were and it was odd whenever they mentioned going to Cornwall, it pulled me up a bit, too.

I did really like the last couple of chapters; I thought it lead to a good conclusion for the story. I did feel that there was probably enough material in the book that it could have been fleshed out into a full-length novel, but I got to the end and felt satisfied with the journey i had taken with the characters. Most of the character development for Dagger particularly happened towards the end so that was when she was most able to grow on me.


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“We’re meant to go. We’re not meant to stay forever.” // Review of “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Audio book narrator: Katy Sobey
Genre: Historical fantasy
Date Read: 20/05/18 – 13/06/18
Rating:
★☆

Review:

This started of well. I was enjoying the language and the mythology that was beinig constructed around main character, Agnieszka, and her village. But the plot began to drag and I wasn’t invested in the characters and after I while, I was just very underwhelmed.

The writing is really lyrical and beautiful. I think when I started the book, I was in the mood for something fairytale-like, and this fit the bill perfectly. Katy Sobey’s very soothing narration helped a lot, too. At somewhere around the 50-60% mark, though, I suddenly realised that the characters had very little personality and I didn’t really care about them at all. And once you have a realisation like that, it’s hard to come back from it. 

I also felt uncomfortable with the inevitable romance between Agnieszka and the  Dragon. There is no basis for it. The Dragon only ever insults Agnieszka,  or scowls at her, or sighs at her, even when they’re working together. And how does 17-year-old Agnieszka manage to do what several centuries-old wizards haven’t with regard  to The Wood?

Speaking of The Wood, it was a bit of an odd villain? I felt the same about the Wood as I did with the villain in V. E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light… its presence was over the whole story, but I never found it particularly threatening. Even though it obviously was. It was just a little too easy for the main characters to save those they needed to, so I always felt it would all work itself out in the end and I just wasn’t worried.

I can definitely see what people love about this book, and I myself have really enjoyed some of Novik’s other work. This one wasn’t meant for me.


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“Monsters are in the eye of the beholder.” // Review of “Shine” by Candy Gourlay

Title: Shine
Author: Candy Gourlay
Genre:
YA contemporary
Date Read: 10/06/18
Rating:
 ★★★★☆

Review:

This was a chance find at the library. I sat down with the intention of reading it all in one sitting because it’s a long weekend and I wanted to catch up on some reading. I ended up reading it one sitting because it got to the point where I couldn’t have put it down if I tried.

This book has so much going for it. A main character of colour, who also has a disability (she has  a condition colloquially known as the  Calm, which prevents her from speaking, so she communicates in sign language). There’s an examination of how children cope when it feels like a disable sibling gets more parental love and attention. There’s mental illness rep.  There’s mythology and writing that feels like a modern folk tale.

The book is split into two parts: the present-day narration from Rosa, and letter-style segments from Rosa’s mother Kara to her twin sister, Kat. These two stories seem separate at first, but weave together nicely by the end. The way the story unrolled really gripped me.  I wasn’t sure if there were ghosts or monsters or whether someone was out to get Rosa and I really wanted to know. I was able to guess a few things, but having an inkling of what was coming didn’t impact on my enjoyment in any way.

I did wish there was a bit more about the setting, Mirasol. At first, I thought that it was somewhere to the north of Scotland because part of the mythology is that it rains all the time. But then it seemed to be more of an African nation, perhaps? But then, there was reference to pesos being the currency, which made me think South America at first, but on discovering that the author was born in the Phillipines, I wondered if it was supposed to be there. A bit more clarity on the real-world stuff to go with the mythology would have been good.

I mentioned mental illness rep above. It’s good that it’s there, but at the same time, I was in two minds about it and the way that particular storyline was resolved. There was a scene where a character referred to the mentally ill character as a monster and Rosa stepped in and said “She’s not a monster, she’s ILL.” Which is great. But she never receives any help and the conlusion of her story is less than desirable (I won’t say anything further  because I’m trying not to spoil anything).

While my library categorises this book as junior fiction (effectively, middle-grade), and Rosa is thirteen, I would probably put this book on the younger side of young adult. Some of it was quite dark, and I wonder whether younger readers would be able to pick up on all the clues throughout the book the way I did.


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#WWW Wednesday – May 23, 2018

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.

wwwwednesdayWhat have you recently finished reading? 

I‘ve had so much going on the last couple of weeks and I also fell into a bit of a reading slump. With that combination, it took me a full three weeks to finish Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton. It was… fine, and I was interested enough in the outcome that I wanted to stick it out, but I can’t say I was terribly invested in the characters. I can’t be bothered writing a full review but you can read my thoughts on GoodReads here.

I finished The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel on audio and this one was a lot more enjoyable. I have recently signed up for an Audible subscription, and while I didn’t pick up the second book immediately, I think it might be next month’s choice. I’ll have my review of this one up this week.

I posted by review of Lessons in Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder by Corinne Grant this week. You can read it here.

What are you currently reading? 

I have started the audio book of Uprooted by Naomi Novik at the recommendation of a friend. I am really enjoying this so far. The prose has a really fairytale-like quality, and the narrator’s voice is really suited to that. I’m not entirely sold on the Dragon, but I am hoping he’ll improve.

I’m also reading The Owl Service by Alan Garner. A few people at work read it and I wanted to get in on the action. I’m not quite sold on it yet, but I think I know where it’s going and it sounds like it could get interesting. Opinion at work is divided, so it’ll be interesting to see where I fall.

What do you think you will read next?

I have Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane and After the Party by Jesse Blackadder out from the library. Neither of these is what I would normally read but they are for my Australian Women Writers Challenge, in particular, my own diversity challenge-within-a-challenge.

What are you reading this week?~ Emily