#AWW2021 “As a girl, the fairies came to me; they whispered in my dreams and left songs in my head. I went to the glen and found them there.” // Review of “Reluctantly Charmed” by Ellie O’Neill

Title: Reluctantly Charmed
Author: Ellie O’Neill
Genre: Magical Realism/Contemporary
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 26/05/2021 – 17/06/2021
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

This is one of those books that’s hard to rate. 3 stars seems too generous for how I felt about it but anything less (even 2.5) feels harsh.

Honestly, the book’s title is a good description of how I felt about it. While it’s classified as magical realism, I felt it had a bit too much fantasy to qualify as such. But at the same time, not enough fantasy to be a proper fantasy book.

There’s a lot to like here – Kate McDaid is a relatable main character, and she and her group of closest friends make a fun group. The misunderstandings in the romantic subplot were quite obvious but it was still cute.

And the premise of an nineteenth century witch leaving a plea from the fairies for her twenty-first century niece to reveal step-by-step is an awesome premise, which worked well.

Where I started getting tripped up was how quickly Kate became SO famous. I could understand her going viral and becoming a bit of an Internet celebrity. But within two weeks of her starting to publish the Steps, she has the paparazzi following her around, and she’s appearing in gossip rags. Her parents are appearing on national breakfast TV because she doesn’t want to, and they’re hiring an agent and being asked to be the face of advertising campaigns. This just didn’t make sense to me.

I also felt the ending was quite unsatisfying. It all wrapped up in a bit of a rush, too much of a rush. It was all too easy and everything worked out in a couple of chapters. There’s a kidnapping that Kate simply runs away from virtually unscathed. Her choices to do with the Final Step don’t have any real repercussions, apart from one thing which actually should be a HUGE DEAL and is glossed over in a couple of paragraphs in the epilogue (sorry, trying not to be spoilery).

I’m sure this will be a properly charming read for some readers. It just didn’t work for me.


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

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#AWW2021 “What happens when the words don’t come?” “You grit your teeth and grip the pen and keep going.” // Review of “Jane in Love” by Rachel Givney

Title: Jane In Love
Author: Rachel Givney
Audio book narrator: Amber McMahon
Genre: Romance
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 18/04/2021 – 23/04/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I was immediately intrigued when I read the premise of this book: Jane Austen travels to the twenty-first century, where she falls in love, and has to choose between love and her literary legacy. I first borrowed it in paperback from the library, then when I thought I wouldn’t get to the book, started the library’s digital audio copy. By the end I was invested enough that I put aside the other physical book I was reading and was going between paperback when I could and audio when I driving, speeding through it a lot faster than I expected.

To be honest, the love story was actually the weakest part of the book for me. Perhaps it’s because I am a hardened cynic and I can never quite bring myself to believe people can be so deeply in love after a short time. Don’t get me wrong, Jane and Fred definitely have their sweet moments, and I was definitely hanging out for them to kiss as much as anyone during a scene where Fred saves Jane from drowning. But I just never quite got into it overall.

I was much more interested in the friendship between Jane and Fred’s movie star sister, Sofia. It helped that due to a few circumstances, Jane was able to convince Sofia that she truly was Jane Austen quite early on, so there was less beating around the bush, trying to come up with convincing lies. And by paralleling Jane’s storyline of aspiring woman writer in the nineteenth century with Sofia’s of aging film star in 2020, Givney was able to show how much women’s roles are a case of “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” While perhaps some of the chapters relating to Sofia and not Jane were not entirely necessary, I really enjoyed Sofia’s arc as a character. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that the end of the final chapter focused on Sofia made me tear up enough I had to stop reading for a minute.

I really enjoyed Jane’s observations on 21st century life, and the way she navigated this new time. It struck the right balance between curiosity and amazement, without bogging down the story or turning Jane into a terrified, traumatised mess. The time travel logic was kept to a minimum, which I appreciated, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps however they liked. It was a bit of a Back to the Future style of time travel, with things yet to have happened merely fading out of existence when the time travel started to prevent them from having happened. Only those closest to Jane remember her books as they literally blink out of existence.

Amber McMahon was a brilliant narrator of the audio book, giving each character a unique voice appropriate to their time and place. I didn’t even realise she was Australian until I got to the acknowledgements at the end, her accents were that good!

I have seen a few comments in other reviews saying that this is not a book for Austen purists. I wouldn’t know, since I have only read Emma in full and know the contents of the other five books because of BBC period dramas and other movies. But I can see how that would be the case. So while I recommend this book, that definitely does come as a caveat.


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

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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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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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#AWW2020 Book Review: “That Night In Paris” by Sandy Barker

Title: That Night In Paris (Holiday Romance #2)
Author:
 Sandy Barker
Genre: Romance
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 01/04/20 – 05/04/20
Rating: 
★★☆

Even though it’s not the first book in the series, this is my first book by Sandy Barker and what a fun trip it was!

After a night of bad decisions, Cat Parsons books a fortnight trip through Europe to get away from real life. On the trip she quickly bonds with three other women running away from problems of their own. And then a chance encounter makes Cat question if she can always run from love.

The descriptions of the various locations were done really well. I went on a similar bus tour of Europe myself when I was in my early 20s, and it was fun to relive some of the locations. Tour group hook-ups and other shenanigans were rife on that trip and the one in this book, too. I don’t know if some might find it unrealistic, but my reaction was “Yep, sounds about right.”

I have to admit I was much more intersted in the relationships that developed between the four women than the romance, really! Particularly between Cat and “bus bestie” Lou. It was sweet and realistic and I really enjoyed the way it developed. The other two, Jaylee and Dani, were fun though I sometimes couldn’t remember which one of them was which.

Cat is an intersting protagonist. It did take me a while to warm to her, I guess just because we are So. Different. so at first I found it hard to relate. And perhaps I was bothered by the fact that she was a bit self-involved, but as she started to recognise that about herself and change her behaviour, it became easier to get behind her… though I don’t think I ever want to hear the phrase “lady parts” again.

As to the romance, I have to say, I did love Jean-Luc. But I think just a bunch of personal preferences meant I didn’t get wholly into it. The nature of the story meant that the romance played out in a few short encounters over a two week period, where I tend to prefer a slowburn. It’s also a second-chance-at-love romance, which again, is not really my thing.

There’s nothing wrong with either of these tropes! Don’t get me wrong! They’re just not what I generally would seek out. Someone who is really into those will definitely love this book!


Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for supplying me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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

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Book Review: “A Holiday by Gaslight” by Mimi Matthews

Title: A Holiday By Gaslight
Author: Mimi Matthews
Genre:
Historical romance
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 17/12/2019
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t 100% this novella would be my cup of tea going in, but I’m so glad I picked it up because my holiday reading this season has been a mixed bag and this one finally pulled me out of the dumps.

Sophie Ampersett is used to making sacrifices for the happiness and security of her family, but she hopes that when she marries, it might be someone she at least likes.

Ned Sharpe, a wealthy tradesman, is smitten with Sophie the first time he lays eyes on her, but after following the advise in a gentleman’s ettiquette guide,  he doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, and Sophie is about to call the courtship off.

But Sophie decides their courtship is worth one last chance, so she invites Ned and his family to her family home in Derbyshire for Christmas, with the hope of finally finding love.

This was such a sweet book! In such a short book, it can be hard to really flesh out your characters, but Matthews has really done just that, not just for the two leads, but the supporting characters as well. There are so many different attitudes from the characters, which leads to misunderstandings and conflict. I loved it.

I loved Ned and Sophie, and how their relationship developed once they agreed to be candid with one another. I loved Ned’s awkwardness. As a tradesman, he was trying so hard to fit in with the upper classes and floundering. Sophie was strong and independent without being anachronistic. I loved the stolen moments they shared in secret alcoves around the house. Secret kisses under mistletoe! Things never felt lusty or steamy; it suited the period and the tone of the writing perfectly.

found myself getting frustrated and angry at Sophie’s father, who has spent the entire family fortune, including his two daughters’ dowries, on upgrades to their home, such as gaslight and eventually indoor plumbing.

There is a side plot with Ned’s friend and business partner and Sophie’s sister which felt less well-developed. I was taken a bit by surprise with that one, though its outcome did lead to more misunderstandings and moved the Sophie and Ned’s story into its final stages.

I hadn’t come across Mimi Matthews before, but I am definitely going to check out her other historical romances when I am in the mood for this kind of thing.


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Cover Reveal! That Night In Paris by Sandy Barker

Hello everyone! I go years without doing a cover reveal and then I do two within a couple of weeks. This is something I really want to get back into regularly, so hit me up if you have one coming up, I’d love to help!

Today we’re revealing the cover for That Night In Paris, coming April 2020. But first, here’s the synopsis:

Note to self: don’t sleep with your flatmate after a curry and three bottles of wine… especially if he’s secretly in love with you and wants you to meet his mum.

Cat Parsons is on the run. She doesn’t do relationships. After ten years of singlehood even the hint of the ‘L’ word is enough to get Cat packing her bags and booking herself onto a two-week holiday.

A European bus tour feels like a stroke of genius to dodge awkward conversations at home. But little does Cat realise that the first stop will be Paris, the city of love itself.

Joined by new friends, Cat has got two weeks, eight countries and a hell of a lot of wine ahead of her. As they discover hidden treasures and the camaraderie of life on the road, will Cat find a new way of looking at love?

Discover the beauty of Europe’s most romantic cities in this uplifting and laugh-out-loud novel for fans of Samantha Parks, Alex Brown and Mandy Baggot.

Sounds like something I will be picking up asap! Well, next April.  (I say that, but I am The WorstTM, and still haven’t read Sandy’s first book, One Summer in Santorini, though it’s been sitting on my Kindle virtually since  it came out! It’s been getting great reviews, though, so you should also check it out!).

But regardless, you’re here for the cover and you’re going to love it.

Here we go!

Agggh, it’s so cute! And I’m sure the words inside will be amazing to match! Pre-order now on Amazon for Kindle or in paperback!

Book Review: “A Christmas Wish and a Cranberry Kiss at the Cosy Kettle” by Liz Eeles

Title: A Christmas Wish and a Cranberry Kiss at the Cosy Kettle
Author: Liz Eeles
Genre:
Contemporary romance
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 30/10/19 – 06/11/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

Ah man. I hate being that person. That is, the first person to give a negative review of a book. I just didn’t love this one!

Look, I probably should have checked my review of A Summer Escape and Strawberry Cake at the Cosy Kettle, the second book in this series, before I requested this one. I thought I had given that one four stars, and that this one would be much the same. But actually, it was only a 3-star read for me, and I think I had a lot of the same issues with this one.

It started out well. I found Becca really relatable at first. But her inability to see that Logan was usiing her combined with letting the book club crew walk over her and insist on helping her (“they’re being kind” she says as they push her into something she’s not entirely comfortable with for the fifth time) just made her feel more like a doormat after a while.

Most of the side characters were pretty one dimensional. I ddi mention in my review of the previous book that I thought Stanley was a bit over the top, and that feeling continued in this one. He was pushy, and inserted himself into situations he had no real right to be in. While I understood Becca’s anxieties about her twin sister and thought they were well-written, Jasmine herself was irritating. I guess she was supposed to be a little, though.

A lot of the complications in the second half of the book would be alleviated if the characters just talked to one another. I get that it’s difficult to tell someone you have feelings for them, but a quck “Are you and my sister a couple?” would have helped.

And given that Logan was booking the Cosy Kettle for one night only, it seemed odd that Becca spent a good couple of weeks leading up to his party redecorating the cafe to his requirements.

I feel like such a Grinch giving a feel-good holiday romance a bad review, but I guess at the end of the day I just had too many niggles to really enjoy.


(Thank you to Bookouture for sending a free copy my way in exchange for an honest review)

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