#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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“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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