“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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“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’m going to carve my name into his soul.” // Review of “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

Title: Sadie
Author: Courtney Summers
Audiobook narrator: Full Cast
Genre: Crime/thriller
Intended audience: YA/Adult
Dates Read: 08/08/2021 – 14/08/21
Rating: ★★★

Review:

There are a lot of five star reviews for this book but I have to admit, I didn’t quite see what all the fuss was about. It’s not bad book by any means, but I saw things coming and found the ending quite unsatisfying, so I just never got the heartbreaking emotional payoff that I think so many other readers got.

Some reviews have vaguely referred to “the big twist”, and if it’s what I think it is, then I saw it coming quite early on. To be honest, it all seemed kind of predictable to me.

Having said that, the characters are very well done. Sadie is broken and hellbent on revenge. The more reckless she become as the plot progresses, the more I had no idea whether she would make it out alive.

West McCray, the podcaster following Sadie’s path five months later, was harder for me to get into. He just seemed a bit bland, but I eventually warmed to his need to know attitude. Wes has the final line of the book, one that ties in with a theme that’s run throughout the whole story, and I’ll admit, delivered in that final way made me tear up.

Other characters such as Claire and May Beth, Sadie’s mother and surrogate grandmother, are also well drawn, and this was strengthened further by the full cast audio production. While I thought the full cast aspect worked well in the podcast chapters, I could have done without it in the chapters solely from Sadie’s POV. Every time a random other voice appeared in there, it threw me off.

I mentioned that I found the ending unsatisfying, and that was because I felt it was inconclusive. I get that it was probably aiming to mirror real life by leaving a few strands untied, but at the end fo the day, this is a novel, and I have certain expectations. I don’t mind an ambiguous ending, but I don’t feel like I even got enough for this to be ambiguous. Sadie’s POV sort of just stopped and flipped back to the podcast.

Still, if you’re looking for a gritty YA revenge thriller… this is probably up your street.

CW: Pedophilia, sexual abuse, drug abuse, murder


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#AWW2021 “Some things had to be lived with.” Review of “The Dry” by Jane Harper

Title: The Dry
Author: Jane Harper
Genre: Crime fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 02/08/2021 – 06/08/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I finally got around to reading The Dry! It’s only been sitting on my shelf for four years!

This might have been a five star read for me if I hadn’t seen the movie first. I had hoped that I had forgotten all the major details in the intervening eight months but things started coming back to me as I read, including the identity of the murderer and how a seemingly unrelated plot point led to their discovery.

Despite all of that, this is a very well-written book. I’ve said before that while I enjoy thrillers, general crime fiction doesn’t work for me quite so much. This book does lean more towards the crime fiction, but Harper creates such a vivid picture of a small drought-stricken Australian town that I was drawn in. Lines such as “Falk bought three shirts, because the man seemed so grateful that he was prepared to buy one” felt like a punch to the gut.

The writing style, with flashbacks in italics intruding on the modern day narrative, revealed things at a great pace. The flashbacks are from a more omniscient narrator, providing us insight into the past of characters who are already dead by the time our main character arrives, as well as things that the POV characters would have no way of knowing. It all worked really well to keep the tension building.

I am definitely keen to check out more of Jane Harper’s work, particularly as I won’t have spoilers for subsequent ones the way I did from seeing the movie for this one. I can only imagine her writing goes from strength to strength.


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

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“Open the door. Show us your face. Come Into the Light.” // Review of “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” by Michelle McNamara

Title: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark
Author: Michelle McNamara
Audio book narrator: Gabra Zackman
Genre: Non-fiction/true crime
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 25/07/2021 – 03/08/2021
Rating: 
★★★

I’m not a big reader of true crime to be honest, and my main reason for having this audio book to hand was that it was one of those free book on Audible one month.

I remember hearing about this book when it first came out, how the author tragically died before she could complete her research, and how just a couple of months after the book’s publication, the man she was relentlessly pursuing was finally caught.

While McNamara’s research is meticulous, I found that the further I got into the book, the more the details blurred into a long list of names and dates that I couldn’t keep track of. It didn’t help that the book doesn’t follow a completely linear timeline so I was feeling pretty lost by about halfway through.

McNamara’s premature death may be part of the reason for this, and the fact that the book was pieced together by others, but it also felt like the chapters were all written separately and never edited for flow. An incident that’s referred to in an earlier chapter is then referred to later like I’ve never heard of it, rehashing a lot of the information I’d already heard.

I do give five stars to the epilogue, McNamara’s “Letter to an Old Man”. It made me cry, and I’m getting teary again just thinking about it now a week later. McNamara addresses it to the old man the Golden State Killer now is, mocking him and telling him that at some point investigators will catch up with him. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of writing, made all the more so in retrospect by the knowledge that she was right.


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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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“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

“It was an imperfect world, and her chosen profession was decidedly imperfect, but for now she had a hint of that spark again.” Review of “Dead Man’s Switch” by Tara Moss

Title: Dead Man’s Switch (Billie Walker Mystery #1)
Author: Tara Moss
Audio book narrator: Danielle Carter
Genre: Mystery/Historical
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/07/2021 – 18/07/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Ah, what a great piece of historical fiction this was! Set in Sydney in 1946, just after the war, this is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Billie Walker, former war reporter and now private inquirer. While most of her cases involve tailing cheating men and gathering evidence to give their wives grounds for divorce, but when a woman asks Billie to investigate the disappearance of her 17-year-old son, Billie finds herself thrown into something far more sinister.

Moss’s extensive research is clear and makes all the difference to the book. Details of buildings, fashions, cars, the police force and post-war rationing, just to name a few, are all there, and it makes you feel like you’re there, too.

Billie is a strong lead who carries the story very well, and she’s supported by some great side characters including her baroness mother, her veteran secretary Sam, a quiet but sturdy Detective Inspector, and a young Aboriginal informant.

The mystery runs along at a good pace, with two seemingly unconnected plotlines converging on an exciting climax.

I also want to mention Danielle Carter’s narration of the audio book. She did a spectacular job bringing all these different characters with different accents and backgrounds to life.


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

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“The threat is here… I’m ready. Another howl. Closer. Here we go.” Review of “Devolution” by Max Brooks

Title: Devolution
Author: Max Brooks
Genre: Horror/thriller
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 06/07/2021 – 13/07/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I’ve been thinking for a while that I want to read more horror. I’m a bit inhibited on that front, though, by virtue of being an absolute scaredy-cat. Still, I enjoyed Max Brook’s World War Z, so I thought Devolution might be a good second toe-in-the-water.

I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it, and with the initial just-finished momentum, gave the book five stars. The last 70 pages or so are full of fast-paced action that’s hard to put down. I kept making deals with myself about when I would go to bed, before finally acknowledging that I was going to have to find out what happens in the end.

The opening of the novel creates a lovely insidious feeling of isolation, and a sense that something is very wrong. Brooks gently criticises these types of “back to nature” people who don’t really want to get back to nature at all, who just want all the modern conveniences of urban life surrounded by some trees. One of my favourite lines in the book was “They all want to live “in harmony with nature” before some of them realize, too late, that nature is anything but harmonious.”

But the book did drag a bit in the middle. Yes, it was interesting observing the changing character dynamics as the characters realised they were cut off from the rest of the world and under threat. And yes, I made this GoodReads update at page 231: “Damn book lulled me into a false sense of security and now I’m all creeped out again.” But the real threat did sort of disappear for a while.

This was probably exacerbated by the framing device of an abandoned journal, which meant we knew that the character always survived the events she was describing, though we are told in the introduction that since the last entry, she’s been missing for thirteen months.

Still, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it overall, and it has led me off on Wikipedia rabbit holes about Sasquatch, Yowie, and other related personas such the Grizzly Man, Timothy Treadwell (who thought he had a communion with the bears in an Alaskan national park, until he was eaten by one in 2003). It gives a lot of food for thought, and not just about Bigfoot/Sasquatch. Recommended for fans of survival thrillers as well as horror.


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