“Our mother the City is not a merciful mother.” // Review of “Court of Miracles” by Kester Grant

Title: Court of Miracles (The Court of Miracles #1)
Author: Kester Grant
Genre: Alternate history/retelling
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 23/08/2021 – 27/08/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

Don’t you hate it when the very thing that sold you on a book turns out to be the thing that disappoints you about it? That was definitely the case with this book. A Les Miserables fantasy-style retelling sounded absolutely my cup of tea. And yet, having now read the book, I felt the connections to Les Mis were tenuous at best. While the author is obviously entitled to take inspiration wherever she chooses, I’m not sure selling this as a retelling or alternate history Les Mis was the way to go.

I’ll admit I’ve never read Les Mis. My knowledge of it comes purely from the musical, which I know well enough to have spotted the lyrics cheekily peppered throughout this book. Maybe the setting here takes more inspiration from the original novel, but to be honest it felt like an original fantasy world more than nineteenth century Paris.

THAT SAID, in and of itself, I enjoyed the world that Grant established, and the characters. The writing style is quick and easy to digest. As much as I roll my eyes at love triangles, I’m a sucker for relationships like that between Eponine and the Dauphin, completely forbidden and yet has the potential to be really sweet in further books. I wasn’t quite as convinced by St Juste as a love interest. It seemed more forced, with lots of “I’m definitely not attracted to him, or so I tell myself” type sentences, when there was very little chemistry between them.

It probably says something that I’m sitting down to write this review a couple of weeks after reading the book, and apart from what I identified in my GoodReads updates, I find it hard to remember many of the specifics. It was fun and enjoyable at the time, but not memorable. And given the next book isn’t due out until 2023, I suspect I’m not going to worry about continuing on with the series.


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“Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite.” // Review of “Geekerella” by Ashley Poston

Title: Geekerella (Once Upon a Con #1)
Author: Ashley Poston
Genre: Contemporary/retelling
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 28/08/2021 – 30/08/2021
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

I don’t understand my reaction to this book. It was full of things that would annoy me in any other book, and yet, I was fully engaged, and devoured it. I even dreamed about it. The next day, I was still thinking about it.

And I’m not sure why.

My theory is that on some deeper level, I was harking back to my own days in fandom and feeling nostalgic. We’re in lockdown so maybe the nostalgia hit harder. I don’t know.

I liked Darien, the movie star “Prince Charming” of this retelling from the moment we met him. I think the fact that his nerdiness was a quieter, internal thing made it easier for me to relate to him than to Elle, whose fandom is all hardcore shipping and angry blogs. And because I warmed to Darien so quickly, I found Elle even more difficult because she was making assumptions about Darien that I as the reader knew to be false.

I also enjoyed the descriptions of rehearsals and being on a movie set, though honestly, I raised my eyebrows at the idea that any actors would be allowed to have their phones on them while they were filming. I know, I know, plot convenience.

It did bother me that all of the villains were cartoonishly nasty. That works in a Disney movie, not in a full-length contemporary novel.

It also bothered me that the entire romance was based on text messages. And unless I missed something, in the final scene, they’re kissing before they’ve even absolutely confirmed that each was the person the other was texting.

But for all that, the writing was addictive and I wanted to see these characters get together! I don’t know if I’ll continue the series but this was definitely a great read.


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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

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: “A Very Krampy Christmas” by P. A. Mason

Title: A Very Krampy Christmas (Gretchen’s [Mis]Adventures #8)
Author: P. A. Mason
Genre: Fantasy/humour
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 15/12/2020– 16/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Gretchen’s Misadventures is such a fun series and this is exactly the type of light-hearted, witchy Chrismtas story I’d been craving this month.

I’m actually rather behind on the series, having only read the prequel and the first two installments, but there weren’t too many references to past events that I didn’t understand.

We get to see various Christmas traditions – or at least we hear about them, as quite a few of them are interrupted by the arrival of a flurry of tiny Krampuses, thanks to an upset young witch not yet in control of her powers. Piper is a great addition to the cast of characters and will add a bit of a new dynamic to the stories going forward. I’m looking forward to seeing what she and Gretchen get up to together.

I don’t know much about The Krampus mythology, so I am not sure how much of the Gretchen’s solutions to the Krampus invasion are true to tradition and how many were invented for this story. But a Christmas demon/monster/creature that is defeated by alcohol and silver? Definitely a festive solution to festive problem. As someone who was wholly freaked out when I first heard of Krampus, I appreciated the ways in which Mason was able to make the legend a lot more lighthearted than the original.

This review is brief because the story itself is brief, but I definitely recommend this series if you like seeing folklore and fairy tales turned on their heads. There are eight stories so far and more to come. Get on it!


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

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