#AusReads #LoveOzYA Book Review: “The Dragon Healer” by Tiani Davids

Title: The Dragon Healer (Chronicles of Eldras #1)
Author: Tiani Davids
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 14/11/2022 – 26/11/2022
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

I was following Tiani Davids on Instagram when she made the decision to go indie with this series, so I’ve been looking forward to reading it for quite a while. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, and you all know I’m a sucker for dragons.

The Dragon Healer is a strong series opener with strong characters and interesting world-building. I really enjoyed the history of Eldras, the supposed reasons why the dragons were expelled from there, and the way this history slowly unravelled the more the main characters investigated.

Elinta is a great main character. I liked that her strength is healing, and she consistently demonstrates the knowledge she has learned from her apprenticeship. The dynamic between her and Zhayra, the dragon, is delightful.

Lorrin, the Crown Prince, and Niles, his best friend, are fun characters, though at times they almost border on being a little too perfect. I’m sitting down to write this review a week after reading the book, and I can recall very few instances of conflict with them. Given how much time Elinta spent in the palace and how much of an outsider she was, it might have been interesting to see something come between them.

Apart from this, the main thing that lets the story down a bit is the pacing. The first half moves along quite well, but then things grind almost to a halt once Elinta arrives at the palace. The plot needed a lot of time to pass, but apart from research, there wasn’t a lot for Elinta to do to fill it.

Given the way this book ends, I don’t think this will be such an issue in subsequent instalments in the series. The characters have moved off on their adventure now, and there is lots for them to discover. I look forward to book two!


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“You don’t need anyone’s permission to be you, Yads.” // Review of “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas

Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Genre: Fantasy/romance
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 19/10/2022 – 26/10/2022
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

This book has been on my TBR ever since it came out and I actually bought it last year in my pile of “buy books during lockdown to support the bookshops!” spree. And then it’s taken me this long to get around to it, as per usual.

The plot of Cemetery Boys sadly underwhelmed me. It was quite slow-moving, and really only became gripping in the last 50 pages.

Having said that, the characters were charming and really drove it. I really enjoyed how Yadriel and Julian’s relationship developed, and the stark contrast between introverted good boy Yadriel and the more outgoing Jules.

It was delightful seeing Yadriel’s family as they prepared for Dia de Muertes, and painful to see the way they unintentionally hurt Yadriel when they misgendered him or otherwise didn’t recognise his true identity.

I got a bit teary at the end when the ghosts of Brujx past visited for Dia de Muertes and we saw just how unconditionally his mother accepted him. That was beautiful.

And on the other side of things, we had Julian’s older brother and friends, with their disparate origins but their fierce loyalty to one another.

Where it fell down for me was the plot. We have at least one dead body from the end of Chapter One, and more to come, but they mystery of how these people died seemed almost secondary. The last fifty pages or so were action-packed, but it felt a little off-balance with the rest of the book. Before that, things moved so slowly, even though the story actually only takes place over a few days. 150 pages in, I felt like very little had happened.

There’s nothing wrong with character-driven stories, of course, but this promised a bit more than that, and then didn’t deliver as well as it might have. Still, this was a debut, and I’m keen to check out Aiden Thomas’ second novel, Lost in the Never Woods, which was another of my lockdown purchases!


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Book Review – “Malice” by Pintip Dunn

Title: Malice
Author: Pintip Dunn
Genre: Sci-fi/romance
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 25/09/2022 – 27/09/2022
Rating: 
★★★☆

Review: 

This was a random library pick based entirely on the cover, and I have to say, I enjoyed it!

I really liked the way the time travel was conceptualised. A consciousness being able to travel back to its past self was a really nifty idea!

Having said that, it did seem a bit silly that so much information was withheld from Alice on the basis of “Even the smallest amount of foreknowledge can change the future” when she was literally being asked to kill someone to prevent a world-ending catastrophe before it happened.

As for the characters, I was conflicted by how quickly Alice accepted the time travel – on the one hand, it was super-fast! But on the other hand, it would have slowed down the story to have her come around at a more realistic pace.

The love interest is Thai, like the author, and it was cool to get a little bit of his cultural background peppered into the story. The romance developed maybe a bit quickly for my tastes but I liked the way it was handled at the end. Damn that time travel messing things up for the characters!

The villain’s motivations felt a little cartoonish in the future compared to how we see them in the present-day setting. It was a little hard to reconcile the two versions, but I liked that the time travel didn’t create an insta-fix, and that the characters would all still have to work together going forward to make sure the world didn’t end.

The writing was engaging and I found myself looking forward to picking the book up when I wasn’t reading it. This is my first read by Pintip Dunn and I’m intrigued to check out more of her writing.


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#AWW2021 Book Review: “Eleven Pipers Piping” by Pamela Hart

Title: Eleven Pipers Piping
Author: Pamela Hart
Genre: Historical romance
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/12/2021
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

There is definitely something to be said for historical Christmas romances and their helpfulness in getting me out of reading slumps. While I have purchased this novella separately, I also own the anthology where it was originally published, so I should remember it when I am needing a book that will pull me out of a funk.

This is a sweet little novella, full of misunderstandings and miscommunications, many based on the characters adhering to the expected manners of the time. I liked that the characters were a little bit older, Elizabeth being a widow with a ten-year-old son, rather than a young woman looking for her first husband, as is often the case.

Speaking of which, I loved young Robin!

Given that the story only takes place over the course of a few weeks, some of the character development did seem to happen very quickly, especially when it came to Elizabeth’s grief over the loss of her husband. But I really enjoyed Gavan’s realisation of his feelings for Elizabeth, and also the dynamic between him and Robin.

I wasn’t feeling terribly festive before, and having picked a whole heap of Christmas-y books for the coming month, I was feeling a bit worried. But now I can thank Pamela Hart for getting me in the Christmas spirit!


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

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#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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#AWW2021 Book Review: “Skalsinger” by L. A. Webster

Title: Skalsinger (Chronicles of Algarth #2)
Author: L. A. Webster
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 16/10/2021 – 22/10/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I will admit that after reading a couple of high-octane thrillers like One of Us Is Lying and The Final Girl Support Group, Skalsinger was a very big change of pace for me, and it took me a while to settle into it.

Skalsinger, like Greenhaelen before it, has a very classical-style fantasy feel to it. If I didn’t know the author and you’d told me these books were released 40-50 years ago, I’d probably believe you. The prose is wonderfully constructed, with a good sense of pace and rhythm through the story.

The story is very much character-focused. I will admit that I was not as drawn to Cahira, the titular Skalsinger, as I was to some of the others, particularly Niall and Perna. Perna’s growth through the story was a particular highlight for me.

As a fair while has passed between when I read Greenhaelen and this one, it took a little while for me to remember the details of the world of Algarth, but I enjoyed spotting the cameos from some of my favourite characters from the first look, like Sara and Kelan.

I definitely recommend Chronicles of Algarth for any fans of character-driven fantasy. Skalsinger is out on November 1 and you can pre-order now!


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

Thank you to L. A. Webster for providing me with a gratis copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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“I know what happens to those girls. They become women. And they live.” Review of “The Final Girl Support Group” by Grady Hendrix

Title: The Final Girl Support Group
Author: Grady Hendrix
Genre: Horror/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 11/10/2021
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book came highly recommended and I can see why. Set in a slightly alternate reality where the slasher flicks of the 80s were all based on real massacres with real “final girls” still standing at the end, this book examines why these narratives where a character has only a first name if she’s lucky are so revered and even looked upon with nostalgia.

A lot of this book deals with how women experience violence just for existing (thanks, misogyny!). I have to admit, I was impressed how well the male author nailed this pervading sense of danger that most, if not all, woman have grown up with and have to contend with throughout our lives.

There were only a couple of sections where I thought the plot dragged a little. Other than that, there was one decision the main character made that made absolutely NO SENSE to me, unless you allow for the fact that she was in a very fragile mental state. It made sense narratively for it to happen with what came later, but it made no sense to me why her mind went “This is what I need to do”. But these were my only two quibbles.

I know that most of the references to slasher flicks went over my head, but despite that, I still found the book engaging. I read it in a day, which is not something I’ve done with a 400 page adult novel in a long time, if ever!


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#AWW2021 Book Review: “Elsa Goody, Bushranger” by Darry Fraser

Title: Elsa Goody, Bushranger
Author: Darry Fraser
Audio book narrator: Rebecca Macauley
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/09/2021 – 26/09/21
Rating: ★★

Review:

I don’t know whether I just wasn’t in the mood for this book or what. I went into it fully expecting to like it but ended up just feeling quite frustrated.

I have to admit that for the most part, I could tell exactly how the story was going to go, even if I wasn’t sure exactly how it would get there. Sometimes predictability is okay, but it didn’t work for me this time.

I also found that for a piece of adult fiction, the romances were very heavy on the insta-love trope. I can accept that in YA fiction, though I still roll my eyes a bit. It felt very strange reading things like “she was awakening feelings in him he hadn’t felt in a long time” when the characters have literally known each other a couple of hours felt out of place when both the characters and the intended readership are all adults.

Still, Elsa Goody and Ezekiel Jones were likable characters and I stuck with the book because I wanted to see exactly how things turned out for them. I did wish that Elsa’s sister Rosie had a bit more of her own character arc. I felt she was just as selfish at the end as she had been at the start, despite everything they’d been through.

This was my first Darry Fraser book and while it’s clear she’s done a lot of good historical research, I don’t know if I’ll pick up any more of her books.


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

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“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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#AWW2021 “There are only situations, and we do not know what will become of us until we are inside each new one.” // Book Review of “The Performance” by Claire Thomas

Title: The Performance
Author: Claire Thomas
Genre: Literary fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 31/08/2021 – 02/09/21
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is a tricky book for me to review, for the simple reason that it’s very far removed from what I usually read, and I only read it because we chose it for book club, being a book club made up of theatre geeks. I don’t really know if it’s any good by literary fiction standards, though the slew of four and five star reviews would say yes.

You’ve only got to spend five minutes scrolling through my blog to notice that genre fiction is my cup of tea. Literary stream-of-consciousness is something I tend to avoid. The only time I can think where I picked up something like it was when I had to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for uni and it was one of my worst reading experiences.

But I kind of liked this one. I found something I could relate to with each of the characters. It’s not so much a book that starts at A and takes us through to B. It’s more like it starts at B and then looks at how these three characters got there. Despite the title, it’s not really about the performance.

There are lot of themes swimming about in here. Aging, domestic violence, child-rearing, climate change, politics, wealth, race… Given the book is relatively short, it’s a lot to delve into, but I think the key is that the book doesn’t actually try to give any kind of opinion or lead the reader to a particular conclusion. The themes present in the book the way they do in people’s lives, in a contradictory, random fashion. The way you’re treated at work due to your age might pop into your head and give you pause, but a few minutes later it might be out of your mind as you start thinking about your son and grandson.

Isn’t it interesting how in my Ariadne review, I mentioned one of my major frustrations was that it made a point but never did anything with it, and yet here it didn’t bother me. I think it’s the difference in scope of the stories being told that makes the difference for me here.

Am I likely to pick up something else of Claire Thomas’. Probably not. But I went into this expecting not to like it at all, and I was pleasantly surprised.


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

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