Book Review: “Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley

Title: Firekeeper’s Daughter
Author: Angeline Boulley
Genre: Contemporary/thriller
Intended audience: YA
Dates Read: 24/03/2020 – 31/03/21
Rating: ★★

Review:

I really struggled with this one and I’m so disappointed. Apparently this is being touted as a thriller, but there is a crime/investigation element to it, I didn’t find it thrilling at all. For the most part, I was bored.

Let’s start with what I did like. Check out that incredible cover! It’s stunning.

I also really loved the descriptions of the Ojibwe traditions. I will confess that while I know there are others out there, this is the first Own Voices book I have read by a Native American author. I really appreciate Boulley being willing to allow the rest of us in. I did have to guess at the meanings of some of the words used, but most I was able to figure out from context.

But the rest? The drug ring investigation? The romance? I just didn’t feel anything. It was a hard slog to get through, and I think it was just too long. It did pick up in the last 20% but overall it was too little too late to really get me engaged.

Also on the romance: a) it came pretty much out of nowhere. I didn’t really feel like the characters had any chemistry. And b) was incredibly inappropriate. Admittedly, another character did call it out as such, but I just… felt pretty squicked by it. I could understand why Jamie would connect with Daunis as he did, but still…

The other thing that kept throwing me off was that it was set in 2004 for no reason that I could really figure out (though some reviews I’ve read say that 2004 was around the time crystal meth was really starting to take off, so I wondered if that was it). Apart from the absence of social media and the occasional reference to a now-outdated phone, there was very little to place it there, so whenever a specific reference was made (such as “class of 2004” or a mention of Janet Jackson’s infamous Superbowl wardrobe malfunction) it always threw me for a second.

I am obviously in the minority with this view – the current GoodReads average is 4.55/5 from over 1700 ratings. I wish I could have been one of the 5 star reviews but not this time.


Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for providing me with a free 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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“she was struck suddenly that he wasn’t unfathomable at all. They were both made of the same star stuff.” // Review of “Axiom’s End” by Lindsay Ellis

Title: Axiom’s End (Noumena #1)
Author: Lindsay Ellis
Genre: Sci-fi/alternate history
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/09/2020– 03/02/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

Oooh, I really liked this one! I don’t read a lot of scifi, but when I do, this is the type I enjoy best! If you’re giving me First Contact, you better tell me how the government deals with that. I want broader socio-political implications, not just “people are running in the streets and explosions”.

Axiom’s End by youtuber and video essayist Lindsay Ellis takes us to an alternate 2007, where First Contact was made in the 1970s and the alien visitors were immediately locked up by the US government.

Nearly 40 years later, more aliens have arrived, and the secret is out. Cora Sabino is in the wrong place at the wrong time when she encounters the being she comes to know as Ampersand, and eventually becomes his interpreter thanks to an electronic translator in her ear. I really grew to love Cora and Ampersand’s tenuous friendship as they each tried to frame the other’s existence in terms they could each understand.

The book examines some big philosophical ideas about our place in the universe, and various characters spend a lot of time discussing these. There’s a lot of talking and sometimes it feels like the plot has ground to a halt; I can understand why some would find it slow and even boring. I didn’t mind it too much though.

The story didn’t always go the way I was expecting, but I enjoyed the directions it took. And some of my guesses were right. Sort of. The revelations in the last few pages were something I was expecting, but it happened in an entirely different way and for a different reason to what I had predicted. And it happened in a much better way (narratively speaking, not necessarily for the characters) than I was expecting, too. I’m really interested to see how that’s handled in the next book. It could be great or it could get weird.

I did start listening to the audio book at first but I found the delivery wasn’t really working for me. I’m really glad I switched to the paperback because I don’t think I would have been able to get as invested otherwise. The book ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger, though not a massive one. I was sort of expecting humans to do something the aliens would consider an act of war, but so far, humanity still appears to be safe from invasion. We’ll see how long that lasts into book two, though!


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“I cannot expect people to do for me what I cannot.” // Review of “A Whole New World” by Liz Braswell

Title: A Whole New World (Twisted Tales #1)
Author: Janella Angeles
Genre: Fantasy/Retelling
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 22/12/2020– 26/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

Ahh, I hate it when a book has so much potential it doesn’t live up to. To be fair, for the most part it was engaging and I did enjoy it. But I had so many little niggles that kept pulling me out of the story.

For those unfamiliar with Disney’s Twisted Tales series, each book takes a well known Disney property and asks “What if?” about a certain aspect of it – in this case, what if Jafar had got to the Genie’s lamp instead of Aladdin?

I wasn’t quite sure what this book was trying to be. The writing felt middle-grade, but the characters were aged up (Princess Jasmine refers to being nearly twenty at one point). The writing style was very unsophisticated, too, and never gave a sense of place. It was really modern, with phrases like “you guys” peppering it (what modern Princess would use “you guys”, let alone one from a so-called “ancient” city?). These are things that don’t bother me in a cartoon movie but a book requires something more.

It also bothered me that every time the characters referred to Princess Jasmine, they called her “the royal princess”. Every. Time. Let’s not use tautology, okay? The royalty is implied in the word “princess”.

Having said that, I enjoyed the overall ideas and the way the story was twisted. The last third was pretty engaging, as Aladdin and Jasmine’s army started to find its feet and the action started ramping up. I did find Jafar’s defeat a little rushed, and a bit too easy, but I did tear through to the end, so that’s something.

I’m still interested to try the other Twisted Tales. This was the first one written, and it’s also the one with the lowest rating on GoodReads. There are also a few different authors writing them so that might also make a difference.


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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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Book Review: “Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares” by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Title: Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares (Dash & Lily #1)
Author: Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Genre: Romance/Holiday
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 04/12/2020– 05/12/2020
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

What’s up with YA characters that talk like forty-year-olds? That is the main thing I have to say about this book. I’ve been seeing all the talk about the new Netflix adaptation so I thought I’d check out the book.

I really liked the idea of two characters who had never met before communicating via a notebook passed between their friends and relatives. I liked the exploration of how we can build up an idea of a person so much that the reality of them can’t help but disappoint.

But the characters, especially Dash, spend so much time waxing lyrical and quoting classic authors (are there really that many teenagers obsessed with J. D. Salinger?) that I just couldn’t believe he was a sixteen/seventeen-year-old.

I did like Lily’s character a bit more. She was sweet, and I related to the sheltered upbringing she’s had. I thought her family’s dynamics were done really well. But her over-the-top quirkiness wore thin after a while.

The story is lighthearted. Nothing especially high-stakes ever happens, and the conflict is more a series of amusing incidents rather than any drama (though there is one scene involving a touchy-feely department store Santa that is obviously played for laughs but made me feel a bit squicky). Obviously this is what the book is going for, and that’s fine. But I never quite got into it, and it left me wanting a bit more.


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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Breaking the Surface” by Rebecca Langham

Title: Breaking the Surface (Outsider Project #2)
Author: Rebecca Langham
Genre: Sci-fi/LGBTI+
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 03/11/2020– 10/11/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

This book is stronger than its predecessor. It’s good to see a writer build on their debut and improve their skills! And even though it had been nearly a year since I read the first book, there were enough small reminders of the events in that book for me to not have too much trouble getting my head back into this world.

I loved finding out more about where the Outsiders came from – there’s one big bombshell in particular that changes everything. But as well as that, learning how this origin story affects the nature of the Outsiders (or Celestials, as they come to be called in this book) was also a really interesting bit of world building.

I also really enjoyed the political side of the story this time around. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and that was definitely the case for MC Lydia’s father, Damon. I really enjoyed his arc, and also the fact that even once he is ostensibly on Lydia’s side, there’s still a long way to go before she forgives him.

The story ends in a good place with a satisfying conclusion – the characters still have a lot of work to do, but we know things have worked out for the most part.


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

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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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