#20BooksofSummer20 and #ReadARainbow Midway Check-in

In which I do Summer reading challenges in my winter months because Dec-Feb is too busy and annoying a period to do challenges, and the Internet is all Northern Hemisphere-centric anyway. 😝

20 Books of Summer is hosted by Cathy at 746books.com and the aim, as you may have guessed, is to read 20 book in Summer (i.e. 1 June to 1 September).

How am I going? Well, if you mean in terms of the number of books I’ve read during this period… I’m going great!

If you mean, am I sticking to the TBR I set for myself at the start of June?

Um… I’ve read one of them. Honestly, this was always bound to happen. It’s happening with the low-pressure readathon I’m doing this July (see below). It happened with my first readathon last year. It happens.

So what have I read so far?

  1. Burn by Patrick Ness.
  2. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
  3. Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
  4. What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin
  5. A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
  6. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  7. Of Hair and No Hair by P. A. Mason
  8. Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans
  9. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Of these, Euphoria Kids was the only TBR read. And it’s not looking promising for the next little while. I’ve got a couple of ARCs to read. And my July book club book. Nyyyargh. 

I’m also doing the Read A Rainbow challenge on Twitter and Discord. This is  hosted by Books and Pixie Dust.

My original TBR for this one has gone out the window, too, but at least both my ARCs will count towards it! Here’s what I’m going for now: 

  1. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant (red on the cover) (read)
  2. A Pocketful of Eyes by Lili Wilkinson (orange on the cover)
  3. Angel Mage by Garth Nix (yellow on the cover)
  4. The Opium Smuggler by Celine Jeanjean (green on the cover) (ARC)
  5. Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte (blue on the cover) (currently reading)
  6. The Lost City by Amanda Hocking (purple on the cover) (ARC) (currently reading)
  7. Scones and Spells by Rosie Pease (pink on the cover) (currently reading)

Unfortunately my July book club read – Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – doesn’t fit any of those colours (only red, which I’ve already covered), so I’m also going to fit it in somewhere! I’m sure this is all fine! (*cries in the corner*)

So that’s where I am right now! Reading is going a little slowly at the moment because it’s been a bit of a busy week, but I’m hoping to be able to dive in on the weekend and make some solid progress. 

How is your reading going? Is lockdown helping or hindering your reading goals? 

Blog tour review: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin

Hello everyone! This is a little different to my usual review post, as I’m taking part in my very first blog tour! This is a truly powerful novel and I really appreciate the opportunity to read it and make some noise about it!

Blurb:

Lex was taken–trafficked–and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again.

After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that’s what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things.

But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love.

Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like is a gritty, ultimately hopeful novel about human trafficking through the lens of a girl who has escaped the life and learned to trust, not only others, but in herself.

About the author:

KATE McLAUGHLIN likes people, so much so that she spends her days making up her own. She likes writing about characters who are bent, but not broken – people who find their internal strength through friends, strife and sometimes humor. When she’s not writing, she likes studying people, both real and fictional. She also likes playing board games with friends, talking and discovering new music. A proud Nova Scotian, she’ll gladly tell you all about the highest tides in the world, the magical creation known as a donair, and people who have sofas in their kitchens. Currently, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and four cats. She’s the author of What Unbreakable Looks Like.

Visit Kate at her Twitter.

Review:

I was immediately sucked into Lex’s sordid world when I started this book. After struggling with my last few reads, I read the first 30% of this one in an hour or so. And it’s the first book in quite a while to make my cry.

McLaughlin doesn’t hold back in her descriptions. There are multiple flashbacks to the time before Lex’s rescue, showing exactly how a girl like Lex can get caught up in the trafficking industry.

The supporting characters are also really well-drawn. I really felt like they have their own lives, and how those intersect with Lex’s forms an important part of her arc. She knows that some of the things she feels about those around her are selfish, but she can’t help it all the time. She makes jokes about what happened to her to throw up a shield, sometimes hurting others in the process, not believing she’s in a position to let herself be vulnerable.

One of the most important things in this book is Lex’s journey to finding that sex can still be amazing with the right person, even after experiencing sexual trauma. Her journey to this is not linear, it’s really messy at times, but I loved how it played out.

Obviously the book comes with about a million trigger warnings, especially for rape and violence, but it is definitely worth the read.

★★★

What Unbreakable Looks Like is available now – click here to purchase.


Thank you to Wednesday Books for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.

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#AWW2020 #LoveOzYA Book Review: “Oasis” by Katya de Becerra

Title: Oasis
Author:
Katya de Becerra
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-fi
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 18/05/20 – 22/05/20
Rating: 
★★☆

Review: 

Okay, so this was… weird. I honestly am not sure whether it’s a 2.5 or maybe a 3 star rating but this is definitely a case of not living up to the hype. I was expecting to give this 5 stars when I read it. You know those times when you think “Did I read the same book my friends did? I don’t get it.” Yeeaaaah.

The writing was engaging, I will give it that. There are some great descriptions, though I think the author did better when describing abstract things like the heat or the weird dreams Alif, the MC, has, than when describing more physical things like the sand dunes.

I never believed in the characters, which I think was my main issue. I’m supposed to believe this group have been friends for years, when all they seem to do is quibble. There are multiple times when Alif has the realisation that despite Luke having been part of their group for a long time, she “never really knew him”. Like, surely you have to be really good friends with someone to go on an overseas trip with them. And if you’re that close, and you’re not interested in archaeology, surely you can tell your friend that visiting her dad’s dig site isn’t really for you. You know, rather than getting there and being a jerk about it.

Also Luke and Tommy facing off and getting all macho at each over over Alif… ugh.

The world-building was limited and there was minimal explanation of anything… and then there was the open-ended conclusion that just left me feeling unsatisfied. I genuinely don’t actually understand what happened, and what it meant for the events of the previous 100 pages. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy an open ending, but this was just… a nothing ending.

I’m really disappointed because I’d been really looking forward to it, and I knew a few people who’d really enjoyed it. I guess it was just not to be.


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

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 “Inhale. Exhale. Survive.” // Review of “Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal” by Anna Whateley

Title: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal
Author:
Anna Whateley
Genre: Contemporary/romance
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 06/04/20 – 09/04/20
Rating:
★★★★

Anna Whateley is a Twitter friend of mine and we’ve both been part of the #6amAusWriters group for about a year now, so I was excited and proud to get my hands on a copy of her debut.

This book. I kind of want to hug it. It feels like such an honest, authentic depiction of the neurodivergent experience. Even if I didn’t know it was an #ownvoices book, I would probably have been able to guess. 

Peta is such a wonderful lead character. The book is in first person, which I don’t always enjoy, but this book could not have been any other way. We needed to be in Peta’s head. Seeing her try to fit in and follow the “rules” she has learned through therapy and through observing others could be heartbreaking at times, but it was so liberating seeing her grow and find her own way in a world that is not designed to allow her to succeed. 

I think the only thing I might have liked to see a bit more of was the development of the romance between Peta and Sam. As it was, it felt like it leapt straight from “Oh, look, I am definitely attracted to her” to pushing their dorm beds together and kissing a lot. But it was fine that way, and the aftermath and fallout after that is treated really well. Even as I was wanting to yell “No! Sam! Don’t be ridiculous! It’s not like that!” I could absolutely see Sam’s point of view as well. 

Also must give a shout-out to Jeb, Peta’s best friend. I can tell just from reading he gives the best hugs. And I loved how he knew Peta’s quirks and what she needed and just responded. She never had to feel weird around him. 


Thank you to Allen and Unwin for choosing me as a winner in their recent Facebook giveaway and sending me a proof copy of this book!

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“Without the threat of suffering, we can’t experience true joy.” // Review of “Scythe” by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1)
Author:
Neal Shusterman
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 26/03/20 – 01/04/20
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

Hmmm…. I don’t actually know where to start with this book. I liked it! Don’t get me wrong. I just… wasn’t entirely convinced by the world it was set in, which meant I struggled to believe why some of the events would take place.

Just a note that this review will probably be kind of spoilery because I’m picking apart a few things. So read on at your own risk.

One of my main qualms with the story was the idea that humanity has given its power over to an all-knowing AI called The Thunderhead, which came into being when the cloud developed self-awareness. The narration kept mentioning how Thunderhead was the sum of all human knowledge and that humanity now “knew all there was to know” and that “there was nothing left to learn” and I just… how did they know that? Did the Thunderhead tell them so and they just accepted it?

And while was acknowledged that perfect lives with no threats to existence lead to lives of complacency and drudgery, no one ever felt like they ought to do anything about it, which I found a bit frustrating.

I never really felt attached to either of the main characters. They had no chemistry and their romance felt like an afterthought… apart form an initial spark of attraction, I never felt like there was much chemistry. To be honest, I spent most of the book wishing I was reading about Scythe Faraday and Scythe Curie at the very beginning of the post-mortality age. That would have interested me a lot more. Even Goddard, who was a pretty 2D villain, would have been interesting to see in the early stages of his career as a Scythe.

Sometimes the pacing was odd and what should have been important events, such as Citra’s name being cleared of murder, happened off-screen. I’m not necessarily saying the book should have been longer; it’s already 450 pages. But the focus felt like it was sometimes on the wrong thing.

Phew. Okay. Yes, so far this reads more like a 2 star review than a 3.5… so why the higher rating? Well, I really did love Faraday and Curie, and the more I found about them, the more I liked them. Flouting the Scythe Commandments in the way they did and the ramifications got me quite invested in their story. As I said, that’s what I have would have liked to have read, more so than Citra and Rowan’s… training montage? (Also I will admit I am sucker for a good forbidden romance and I felt there was more to this one than to Citra and Rowan’s).

And regardless of how I felt about the plot, there is no doubt that Neal Shusterman can write. I found this when I read another of his YA dystopias, Unwind, in 2016. There’s a scene in that book that I can still imagine vividly, despite the years and the many books that have passed. That doesn’t happen to me very often.

And Scythe was similar. There’s a visceral quality to the descriptions. You really feel like you’re there. And I was in that strange place I sometimes end up in with books where I wasn’t that interested in the characters but I still wanted to know how everything turned out. The book has a really strong ending. I know this is a trilogy but it almost stands on its own, just as Unwind did, despite being first in a series.

Will I continue with the series? Haven’t decided yet. I have put a reserve on my library’s copy of the audio book, but it’s not available for three months. By then I might not be so worried, but it’s on my list for now. It is possible that now that the first book has set everything up and Citra and Rowan have completed their training, the second and third books will really get going and I will find them more engaging. That’s something I’ll definitely bear in mind.

P. S. Since I mentioned it so much, here’s my review of Unwind from 2016.


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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “Blackbirch: The Beginning” by K. M. Allan

Title: The Beginning (Blackbirch #1)
Author:
K. M. Allan
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★★

Review:

Quick disclaimer: K. M. Allan is a friend from the #6amAusWriters group on Twitter, and I received an ARC for free. I promise that neither of those facts have affected my review, though.

Witchcraft is my favourite form of magic, and the magick in Blackbirch definitely falls under that heading. From the start, Allan creates an almost other-worldly town in Blackbirch. It almost felt like the town wasn’t quite in the 21st century.

To be honest, my favourite character was Eve, the girl who’s something of an outcast because of her fascination with witchcraft and the town’s history. There are some hints at the end of the book as to where her character arc is likely to lead and I’m really looking forward to seeing that play out (without spoiling too much, I think it’s going to get messy).

None of that is to say the other characters weren’t interesting. It took me a little while to warm to Josh, mostly because he spends a large chunk of the novel being mopey and a bit of a stick in the mud. But there are reasons why he was doing that, which come out later. Once he was a bit more involved in the action, I was able to get more invested in him.

I am definitely jealous of Allan’s ability to write a climax – there’s a fantastic buildup to a confrontation in the woods that I really enjoyed.  And while most of the major plotlines are wrapped up, there are still plenty of opportunities for things to unfold in the coming books. I for one am really looking forward to it!

 


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Cover Reveal! Blackbirch: The Beginning by K. M. Allan

Hello everyone! I’m really proud to be helping out with this cover reveal today.

The #6amAusWriters group over on Twitter are very special to me and K. M. Allan is one of our members. I’m so excited that you’ll all get to read Blackbirch: The Beginning, when it comes out on February 17.

I’ve been hearing great things about it from the ARC readers who are ahead of me with reading it, and I’ve dived into the first chapter myself today.

And of course, it doesn’t hurt when a book has a cover as gorgeous as this one:


Argh, it’ so shiny! Can’t wait until I have a copy on my shelf!

Here’s the blurb:

Welcome to Blackbirch. It’s a place no one forgets. Except for Josh Taylor.

The fatal car crash took more than 17-year-old Josh’s parents. It stole his memories and returned him to his birthplace, Blackbirch, a tourist town steeped in a history of witchcraft.

Amongst friends he’s forgotten and a life he doesn’t want, Josh is haunted by nightmares so believable he swears the girl in his dreams is real. Kallie is so captivating he ignores her blood-stained hands, but he can’t overlook the blue glow summoned to her skin.

Kallie says it’s an ancient magic they share and a secret worth hiding, because as Josh discovers, they aren’t the only gifted ones.

To restore his memories and find the true cause of the car accident, he must learn what’s real. And what secrets Blackbirch has buried in its woods.

IF that sounds like your cup of tea, you can add it to Goodreads here. Pre-order links will be available soon.

Watch out for my review in the next week or two!

Book Review: “Don’t Read The Comments” by Eric Smith

Title: Don’t Read The  Comments
Author: Eric Smith
Genre:
Contemporary
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 07/01/2020 – 13/01/2020
Rating:
★★★★★

Review:

I’ve got to admit that when I requested this book on NetGalley, I was not expecting it to be one that kept me up reading past bedtime. And yet….

This book has a lot of really topical, timely themes: doxing, online bullying and poverty, and of course, your more usual YA themes of figuring out what to do after high-school and first loves and coming of age.

really loved the two main characters! Divya is strong and resourceful, and there for others. She’s also dorky, which is why she gets on with Aaron so well. Aaron was a fantastic example of non-toxic masculinity in a sea of trolls. I liked that it confronted his privilege – that Divya has to assume he could be as bad as the rest until proven otherwise, and how this realisation takes him completely by surprise. And I had such a silly grin on my face when they started sending each other heart emojis over the chat.

I also thought the horror of knowing trolls have your home address was really well depicted as was the realisation of “Wow… they’re actually kind of pathetic, aren’t they?” when the trolls are faced in person. It doesn’t take away the horror, but for a little while you feel that they actually can be beaten, even as they keep trying to sound their battle cry as they’re dragged away.

Also there’s the jerks like Aaron’s ”friend” Jason who, while not exactly part of the group, don’t denounce them and in fact, want to impress them. I knew from the moment I met him Jason would be The Worst and he did not disappoint.

I loved the descriptions of the Reclaim the Sun game and Divya’s livestreams. I really felt that Eric Smith is a nerd/geek himself and has spent time playing this type of game. It all rang true to me, and that’s something I have found lacking in other books about nerd culture.

All in all,  this one comes highly recommended!


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

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#LoveOzYA #AWW2020 Book Review: “It Sounded Better In My Head” by Nina Kenwood

Title: It Sounded Better In My Head
Author:
Nina Kenwood
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/01/20 – 07/04/20
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This book was certainly sweet and I loved how painfully realistic it was at times. But some pacing issues and the lack of characterisation from anyone other than the main character left me feeling like there could have been more.

Natalie’s life is diverging from the Plan. Her parents announce their separation on Christmas Day, her two best friends have started dating so she feels like a third wheel, and she’s just finished high-school and doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She’s also still dealing with image issues that have haunted her throughout her teen years thanks to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).  

Since this book is in the first person, we are very much in Natalie’s head. And she has a lot going on in there. But it did mean I felt like I didn’t really get to know the other characters. There were flashes of personality from them, such as Lucy covering awkwardness amongst her friends with OTT bubbliness, Mariella with her love of gossip about her children… but Alex is the love interest and Natalie spends so much of her time thinking about him and yet as I write this, there’s very little I could tell you about Alex as a person.

There’s also the fact that sometimes the pacing was strange. The plot would grind to a half for several pages while we got some of Natalie’s backstory. Sure, it was good to know about her and some of it moved the plot (such as learning how she met Zach and Lucy) but a lot of the time it made me forget what had just been happening.

Apart from that, though, the writing is really engaging. I flew through the pages. The messiness of teenage friendships is so realistic, I could feel my guts churning on behalf of the characters. There were times when Natalie’s body image issues and insecurities felt a little repetitive, but at the same time, I recognise the cyclical nature of such thoughts in real life.

On the other hand, I really liked how sex positive the book was, particularly in regards to its female characters. It’s mentioned that Natalie knows how to give herself an orgasm, and Lucy is the first one of their friendship group to have sex. While it’s a shock to the others, it’s still shown in a positive light.

This is Nina Kenwood’s debut and I will definitely be watching out for more of her work.


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#LoveOzYA Book Review: “Monuments” by Will Kostakis

Title: Monuments (Monument #1)
Author:
Will Kostakis
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 27/09/19 – 30/09/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

I had been seeing a lot about Monuments in the lead-up to its release so by the time I got my hands on a copy at the Canberra launch last week, I was really looking forward to it.

This is such a fun book! The protagonist, Connor, is a sweetheart. I was on his side immediatley. And he brings all the sass. He and Locky made such a cute pair. Sally was an interesting character with a few surprises up her sleeve – there is a lot we don’t know about her until towards the end.

I did have a few questions about how a bunch of ancient gods ended up in Australia but thankfully those were answered, and in a way that made a lot of sense.

The first two thirds of the story are a fairly straightforward adventure story but then the time travel starts and things do get a bit confusing. There’s a lot of hopping between lots of different times and for a while I lost track of what was what. But that calmed down after a few chapters and I was able to sink back into the story again.

Some of the scenes I liked best weren’t really about the adventuring but about Connor more personally. Connor feels guilty for not visiting his grandfather a lot after dementia took over and his grandfather was put in a home. I don’t want to spoil things but I will say that the way Connor makes amends is pretty epic.

Enough is wrapped up in this book to not feel like you’re left hanging, but the story isn’t over. I am definitely looking forward to book two!


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