#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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#AWW2020 “There’s one relationship I’ve neglected my whole life: my relationship with myself.” // Review of “It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake” by Claire Christian

Title: It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake
Author: Claire Christian
Genre: Contemporary
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 11/10/2020– 12/10/2020
Rating: 
★★★★★

Review: 

noniblakecoverI have followed Claire Christian on Instagram ever since reading her debut YA novel Beautiful Mess so I had been seeing a lot about this new release. I decided to grab it when I saw it at the library, but I had no idea how much it would affect me.

I’m writing this review two weeks later, and I’ve been thinking about the book all this time. The idea of a woman taking control of her life and making choices on the fly and not worrying about what people might think… I’m trying to embrace that these days and seeing a character who also struggles with it but learns to really lean into her own desires and wants… that was very inspiring!

Noni is such a relatable character and I saw a lot of myself in her, especially the way she struggled with insecurities. Even towards the end, she was still trying to convince herself that her Pleasure Quest had just been for a little while, and that all good things must come to an end and she has to go back to how things were. The idea that living her life for her could only be a temporary thing was so ingrained. We are so conditioned to put other people before ourselves.

It’s worth noting that Noni’s Pleasure Quest is not just about sexual pleasure, though that plays a significant role. It’s pleasure in the little things – dancing at a club and not caring who sees, feeling incredible as you stride down the street in a new outfit you would have never dared wear before, or being comfortable enough in your body to take part in a nude photo shoot.

If I had not started this book in the evening and needed to go to bed, I would have read it in the one day. It was engrossing and delightful and I couldn’t put it down.


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

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#AWW2020 Book Review: “Holiday Brew” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Title: Holiday Brew (Belladonna U #2)
Author: Tara Moss
Genre: Paranormal/urban fantasy
Intended audience: New Adult
Date Read: 29/09/2020– 30/09/2020
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I have really enjoyed the Belladonna U novellas I have read in the past, so I was pretty excited when I saw there were more up for grabs.

This is such a fun series, set in an alternate version of Australia where magical ability is commonplace, and where universities are divided into the College of the Real, where magic is studied, and the College of the Unreal, for non-magical disciplines. There’s all the usual content you’d expect in a series about uni students: relationships, share houses, drinking, concerns for the future… all with added magical shenanigans.

It’s also got a distinctly Australian feel, which I love about all of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ books.

There are many POV characters, some written in first person, some written in third. I have to admit I sometimes I forgot whose perspective I was reading, and got a bit confused. This was probably not helped by the fact that it had been quite a while since I read Fake Geek Girl and The Bromancers, so it took me a while to remember who was who.

I didn’t find that these issues detracted too much. The plots are fun! I particularly liked Halloween is Not a Verb. They stories and tone are very light-hearted, even as they deal with some big issues, and I really like that. I’m definitely hoping to read more of these characters and this world!


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

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Mini Book Reviews: Cookies and Curses by Rosie Pease, There She Goes by Lynne Shelby, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Sometimes I don’t really have a lot to say about a book. It doesn’t really warrant a full-length review. And while I’m sure the authors appreciate the Goodreads and Amazon reviews, I was trying to think of a way to get the word out to my blog followers, too.

This morning it occurred to me to incorporate a few reviews into one post. Duh. So here are three romances I’ve read recently and a few thoughts about each.


Cookies and Curses

by Rosie Pease
(Matchmaking Grimoire #1)
★★★☆

Argh, this book made me crave baked sweets! So many mouth-watering descriptions! I have to admit, the reason I picked this up is because I can never go past books that combine witches with baking. Which is a really niche interest but there seems to be a reasonable amount of it!

I really enjoyed the idea of matchmaking being a witchy skill and seeing how the ghosts interfered with that.

I loved Ken and Ivy, and really appreciated that when Joanie was first embarking on dating Ken, that the book delved into the complexities of dating someone who already has kids.

I did feel like the mystery dragged on a little long, but that was a minor quibble.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bake some choc-chip cookies!


There She GOes

by Lynne Shelby
(Theatreland #2)
★★★

My main quibble with this book was how early the two characters got together, given that the tag line is “Will they ever share more than an onstage kiss?” I was expecting a slow burn and it was not that at all.

There never seemed to be much in the way of conflict, and what was there was usually easily resolved in the following chapter.

Having said that, as a community theatre practitioner, I did enjoy the aspects of the professional theatre scene, auditions, call backs, etc. As well as the waiting for word, the crappy day jobs, the agony of being so close but so far.

And the writing was engaging, even if I did think the plot was a bit light on the ground.


The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman
★★★

This started off entertaining but I have to admit that after a while the whole cute and quirky vibe wore off a bit. I didn’t find myself terribly invested in the romance. I didn’t see any chemistry between Nina and Tom, they just apparently fancied each other and then they were together.

What I did enjoy were the dynamics between Nina and her newly-discovered extended family. I loved how with some of them she slipped right in like she’d never been apart, but others were much more hesitant.

I also really appreciated the sensitive treatment of Nina’s anxiety.


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“I was no one’s sacrifice. Not then. Not now. Not ever.”// Review of “Serpent and Dove” by Shelby Mahurin

Title: Serpent and Dove (Serpent and Dove #1)
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA (upper range)
Date Read: 03/10/19 – 12/09/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This is one of those books where certain chapters were definitely worth five stars, but there were a few overall issues that meant I couldn’t award that to the whole book.

As far as characters go, I really enjoyed Lou. I loved that she spent a significant part of the book basically trolling Reid. But then she started developing real feelings for him and there was less of the fun stuff…

I also have to admit I find it hard to believe romances where Person A would literally kill Person B if Person A knew the truth about them, and they fall in love anyway. I just… how do you overlook that?

As for Reid himself, he’s honorable and sweet and noble, but… kind of boring?

I could never quite work out where and when the book was set. The religious characters refer to themselves as Christians and carry around Bibles… but the kingdom they live in appears entirely fictional… and not just a fictional country in Europe… truly fictional. They have running water and indoor plumbing, but no electricity… but some of their speech was very modern. So I never got a good sense of place.

But the writing itself is strong and leading up to what I thought was the climax, I couldn’t put the book down. i had to actively force myself to go to bed. But then after that section, the book kept going and the tension didn’t really rise again. I feel that this book should have ended with the attack on the city and the later events should have been the beginning of the second book.

There is lots of interesting set up for the next book and I’ll definitely think about reading it, though at the moment, I’m not completely committed.


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“In the end, it does not matter what a story is about. It only matters who gets to tell it.”// Review of “The Kingdom” by Jess Rothenberg

Title: The Kingdom
Author: Jess Rothenberg
Genre:
Sci-fi/romance
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 07/10/19 – 09/10/19
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

only found out about this book by accident! I’ve been out of the loop of new YA releases this year, but just happened to see someone in the line in front of me in a book shop buying this one. We had a mutual friend in the bookseller, and so we got chatting about it. Boy am I glad for that!

The plot was twisty and turny and left clues everywhere for people cleverer than I to pick up on. Some things that I thought were just world-building turned out to be hugely important later on. Rothernberg maintains the tension from the start to the end.

I have been known to say that I love Disney in spite of the knowledge that it is an evil, multinational corporation, and this book taps into the more sinister underside of the things we look to for comfort. Right from the start, you just feel that something is not quite right at the Kingdom.

While Ana is the main character, several of her ‘sisters’ (the seven half-human, half robot hybrid “Fantasists”) are starting to question their roles in the Kingdom, and whether the people who created her really have her best interests at heart (do they even think she has best interests?). The Kingdom is superficially inclusive, with Fantasists representing “all the cultures of the world” but really it is controlled by powerful, wealthy (it’s never specified but I want to say white, too) men who want to maintain the status quo. The Supervisors are always watching, and you’d best not say the wrong thing to an Investor.

Was the romance a little lacklustre? Er… yes. Because we are in Ana’s head the entire time, we get very little about Owen, apart from some records shown during the murder trial. Ana is following him around slightly creepily a lot more than she actually interacts with him. If we’re being honest.

Was the ending a little rushed? Maybe… I was so into it, though, I didn’t really notice that until I saw others pointing it out and I thought about it a bit… Obviously the author was doing something right to keep me hooked like that.

So much of my star ratings for books are just based on my reading experience, and this one left me breathless at the end. So that’s why it’s five stars from me in spite of those niggles.


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“It used to be simply noises. The noises were dreadful enough. But now sometimes I think I see it in the shadows.” // Review of “The Dead of Winter” by Chris Priestley

Title: The Dead of Winter
Author: Chris Priestley
Genre:
Horror
Intended audience: Middle-grade
Date Read:
01/10/19 – 03/10/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

Ah man. I was really looking forward to a spooky haunted house story here, and while I knew it was middle-grade, I didn’t think that would affect my enjoyment. How can you go wrong with orphan boy dealing with a haunted house at Christmas?

I want to say that I absolutely think that I would have found this a lot spookier if I had read it when I was ten or eleven, and that I feel this  is one of those books that doesn’t quite transcend its target age group (some MG books don’t, and that’s fine).

As it was, I felt that it was a bit of a checklist of haunted house tropes. We had the ghost of a pale woman in a shift out on the moors, we had banging from within the walls, we had footsteps in the corridor, we had shadowy figures in mirrors… It was all there and yet apart from a couple of scenes, I never really felt like any one haunting was gone into in any depth, nor did it feel like anything particularly new was being done.

The other thing that was while this is ostensibly about a young boy, it is written from the perspective of an older man looking back on something that happened when he was small. I couldn’t help thinking that emulating a Gothic style narration was probably not the way to interest young readers. The last chapter and the epilogue are set years later after Michael has grown up, and I don’t know that MG readers will consider that a satisfactory ending.

But at the end of the day, while this book wasn’t for me, I can’t say what the target audience would think. It’s highly possible that they would find it a lot more enjoyable.


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“Something has to change. In being robbed of our deaths, we are robbed of our lives.”// Review of “Suicide Club” by Rachel Heng

Title: Suicide Club
Author: Rachel Heng
Genre:
Sci-fi (dystopia)
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 17/09/19 – 20/09/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book got me out of my reading slump! Yay! It’s not a perfect book but it was entertaining and sometimes (a lot of the time) that is the most important thing.

Suicide Club is set in a future USA where bodily enhancements have advanced to a point where humanity is on the verge of immortality… but not for everybody. Only the best people deserve it. And now a terrorist organisation calling itself The Suicide Club is sending out viral videos, suggesting that endless life isn’t all its cracked up to be.

There are two central characters in this story: Lea and Anja. I’m sure if I check GoodReads there will be plenty of reviews bemoaning the fact that Lea is The WorstTM and not a bit likeable. And she is both of those things, but I found her incredibly compelling anyway. I wanted to see her crack.

It’s a lot easier to sympathise with Anja, though I did find some of her story didn’t really go anywhere. I did like the way she lived her life subversively, though.

Sometimes I felt that the future world didn’t really feel futuristic enough… they still have cars n the future and pay for things with cash when electronic payments aren’t convenient… the New York subway still exists, seemingly in its current form. If you do the maths, it has to be set at least two hundred years into the future and I wasn’t entirely convinced of that.

The plot is slight; a lot of this is about the characters’ journeys. But I found it entertaining, and that was the main thing.


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“Dreams are for mortals.” “Why?” “Because they must die.”// Review of “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Historical fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 22/08/19 – 16/09/19
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

This is one of those books that I completely loved in spite of having a few quibbles with it. It has a beautiful, poetic style that deserves to be absorbed all in one sitting, rather than the dribs and drabs I read it in. I loved it anyway, but I did read it at the wrong time.

Moreno-Garcia really captures the atmosphere of 1920s Mexico. I felt like I was there. The haircuts and the architecture and the dances they did, it was all there.

I really loved both Casiopea and Hun-Kamé and I enjoyed watching their relationship develop. I wasn’t really sure which direction it was going to take at the end – a happy ending seemed unlikely but I was maybe secretly hoping a bit. In the end, I think their story ends the only way it can, and I can assure you, I definitely smiled as I read the final pages.

did feel sometimes that the battles were won quite easily. The main characters got the upper-hand and immediately their foes just handed over the prizes… but in a way, I felt that added to the mythological feel, and the way the prose is written to make you feel like you’re listening to a story being told to you by someone who had it told to them… So after it’s been passed down a few times it’s just “look, this thing happened, don’t question it. that’s the way the story goes.”

I have no idea if I’m making any sense…

Anyway, read this book for atmospheric, slow-burn romantic, poetic historical fantasy. It won’t disappoint.


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