#LoveOzYA #aww2019 “You told the story to show me how to move on.” // Review of “Catching Teller Crow” by Ambellin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Title: Catching Teller Crow
Author:
Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Audio book narrator: Miranda Tapsell
Genre: Contemporary/magical realism
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 20/03/19 – 23/03/19
Rating:
★☆

Review:

Ah, man, I hate being the unpopular opinion person! So many glowing reviews of this book. So many “I read it all in one sitting!”s. And here’s me feeling kind of underwhelmed. 

Looking back now as I write this review, some of this could be down to being in a bit of funk life-wise at the time. I wasn’t really enjoying anything, books included. So it’s probably partly on me. 

I also feel like some of this was to do with the audio book. It wasn’t the worst one I’ve ever listened to, but I felt like the way it was read made the character of Beth Teller sound kind of annoying, and a lot younger than her 15 years.

On the other hand, there were also sections of Isobel Catching’s chapters where it was read with no expression whatsoever. I’m deliberately using passive voice here because I’m assuming that there are directors and other people involved in the recording of an audio book and this is not all Miranda Tapsell’s fault, so I don’t want to seem like I am ragging on her alone. 

In terms of the content of the book, it was one of those stories where I got what it was doing, but I felt it needed to be explored further. It’s quite a short book and it’s dealing with a lot of issues. I also figured out fairly early on what Catching’s chapters were really about, so I think the revelation towards the end lost some of its impact because of that. 


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

I am trying to read as many of the books as possible on the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notables List. Click here to see the titles.

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#LoveOzYA #aww2019 “But it’s not like we pick and choose what to be afraid of. It’s like our fears pick us.” // Review of “Small Spaces” by Sarah Epstein

Title: Small Spaces
Author:
Sarah Epstein
Genre: Psychological thriller
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 17/03/19 – 19/03/19
Rating:
★★

Review:

I have to admit that I had hoped I would love this book more than I did. It definitely had its moments, but I ultimately felt a little bit unsatisfied. 

Tash Carmody is haunted by the memory of her imaginary friend Sparrow leading away family friend when they were both small. Mallory Fisher has never spoken about the abduction and Tash thinks that Sparrow is gone from her mind… until the Fishers move back to town and she starts seeing Sparrow out of the corner of her eye again… 

First of all, I have to admit that I was nerding out every time the setting of the book was mentioned, because I grew up in the same area. My parents were hoping I would stay at home after school and commute to Newcastle Uni (I moved five hours away instead). There was a mention of Gloucester Shire Council, members of whom my mum just recently had a meeting with. And my family used to go camping in Barrington National Park, which is where Mallory was found wandering a week after her abduction. So that was fun. 

The treatment of mental illness in this book was realistic but infuriating. Everyone just thought Tash was doing things for the attention. There was a particularly poignant moment where Tash asks “Why would I want this kind of attention?!” and I wish more people would think about that before hurling such accusations. It was really great to see her validated at the end. 

There were genuine creepy moments throughout. At one point, I was berating myself for reading just before bed, because I was too wired when I turned the lights off. I walked to the bathroom in dim light and kept my back to the wall just in case. 

I did feel that the book felt a bit long. While there were certain things that of course needed to be set up and established, I thought it could have been done a bit faster?! And to be honest, I’m not exactly sure why I felt underwhelmed by the ending. It was well plotted and lead up to a logical conclusion. But for all that, I just found myself thinking, “oh, is that what it was?” I feel like I’m being unfair on the book and the author here because I don’t know what I wanted or expected, but whatever it was, I just feel I didn’t quite get it. 


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

I am trying to read as many of the books as possible on the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notables List. Click here to see the titles.

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#LoveOzYA #aww2019 “And there’s a good chance the only *one day* I’ll get is here and now.” // Review of “Between Us” by Clare Atkins

Title: Between Us
Author:
Clare Atkins
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 14/03/19 – 15/03/19
Rating:
★★★★

Review:

Oof. What a book to start off my challenge of reading the YA and MG books on the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2019 Notables List.

This is the story of Iranian asylum seeker, Ana, who is only let out of detention to attend school. There she meets and becomes close to Jono, the son of one of the officers at her detention centre. Meanwhile Jono’s father, Kenny, becomes increasinly paranoid about the relationship between his son and the detainee.

This book has real power, though I wonder if some people will dismiss it as being over the top. I certainly had to keep reminding myself that our country wouldn’t be in the situatioin it currently is in regards to refugees if there weren’t people who thought the same way as the characters in this book. It says something about the present situation when the author can’t even name some of the people she spoke to when researching the novel.

These characters disgusted me, but I know they are not far from the truth. I think it might be easy for those less willing to engage to write them off as unrealistic, but I hope that isn’t the case.

The scenes from Ana’s perspective are heartbreaking. Watching her have to take responsibility for her family as her mother sinks further into depression while also trying to cling to some semblance of a regular teenage life through friendships and music and the occasional excursion. 

I didn’t warm to Jono quite as much. This is not really the fault of the character, as he is well written. It is more that he is not the type of character I can easily identify with – he smokes and drinks and lies to his dad about his whereabouts. Look, I admit it, I was a goody two-shoes growing up, but I don’t see anything wrong with that. I did enjoy the scenes where Jono opened up a bit more to his dad, and their bond started to return.

Kenny was the character I struggled with the most, for the reasons I stated above about not quite believing there are people like this. I wanted to shake some sense into him.

Despite these niggles, I still gave it five stars for the way it made me feel,  for the fact that I had a dream about these characters, and the fact that I was still thinking about it days later.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

I am trying to read as many of the books as possible on the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notables List. Click here to see the titles.

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“The ability to feel is a strength, not a weakness.” // Review of “An Enchantment of Ravens” by Margaret Rogerson

Title: An Enchantment of Ravens
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 04/03/19 – 06/03/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is one of those books that was totally enjoyable to read but was totally unmemorable  after I finished it. It was fun but ultimately a bit flimsy.

Isobel is an expert portrait artist who is popular with the fair folk due to her extraordinary talent. But when she paints human sorrow into the eyes of the Autumn Prince, he whisks her away to the fairy court to  stand trial for humiliating him.

That is essentially the story that is on the back cover of the  book, but it’s not exactly the direction the story takes. For one thing, the Autumn Prince, Rook, and Isobel, never actually get as far as a trial. I think the fact that it never quite goes in the direction it promised kind of threw me and left me feeling a little bit unsatifised.

I could also never quite pin Isobel down… was she a Mary Sue? She was certainly ridiculously talented. Surely there were more older, experienced painters than this seventeen-year-old, even if she has been painting “ever since she could hold a brush”.  Or was she one of those clever, capable female characters who turns to mush over a handsome man the second they meet? Actually, she certainly was the latter, even if she wasn’t the former.

And yet, at times, there was something about Rook that I really enjoyed. I think it might have been that he subverted a lot of my expectations. In so many books about the other folk, the Fey love interest is cruel and cold and the romance is a pile of problematic trash. Rook was actually vulnerable and awkward at times, and I enjoyed the way his privilege was often addressed. So I guess while he wasn’t the greastest love interest ever, he was better than I was expecting from this type of story, so it gets points for that.

I really enjoyed  the world-building of the fairy realm and I enjoyed the exploration of a life of immortality devoid of feeling. However,  I thought that Isobel’s world of Whimsy was a bit flimsy. I wasn’t quite sure whether it was part of our world, somewhere in between our world and the fairy one, or what was going on. There were references to something called The World Beyond but I wasn’t quite sure if this was our world, an afterlife or something else all together.

Still, despite all of that (and a bit of a deux-ex-machina-y ending that was supposedly being masterminded by another character all along), the writing was quite lyrical and lovely and that was what kept me reading.  Overall, I enjoyed the book, even though it will not go down as a favourite.


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“This is the kind of dream you don’t wake up from, Henry.” // Review of “Famous Last Words” by Katie Alender

Title: Famous Last Words
Author: Katie Alender
Genre: Paranormal mystery/thriller
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 23/02/19 – 25/02/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Okay, so I have a confession to make. Several reviewers I follow on GoodReads gave another Katie Alender book, Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer, pretty average-to-negative reviews. I’ve seen that book at the library a number of times and always avoided  it because of that. If I had noticed the line of text underneath Katie Alender’s name that said “Author or Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer”, I may very well have not picked up this book. And that would be sad.

I’ve been reading a lot of SFF, and while this book still had ghosts in it, the contemporary setting and the thriller aspects made it a good break from the more epic stuff I’ve been reading. I really liked that this had a pretty traditional  take on ghosts – dripping taps, knocking on doors, strange dreams – rather than a ghostly figure who can actually communicate.

I did guess who the killer was (well, I had too suspects but it wasn’t hard to narrow it down), but that honeslty didn’t affect my enjoyment. I ploughed through this book in a couple of days, which isn’t something I’ve been inclined to do lately.

I did wish some of the characters were delved into a little more, particularly Willa’s mother and new stepfather. It is mentioned that  the famous Hollywood director came in an swept the small-town widow off her feet but it seemed quite strained a lot of the time. And it is never fully explained why she did turn into such a 1950s housewife once she married him when she had a successful career before (though it is clear at the end that she is finding her way back into that again).

I actually realised after reading this that  I have another of Katie Alender’s books on my TBR. I’m keen to bump it up the list now. 😀


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“There comes a certain point with a hope or a dream, when you either give it up or give up everything else.” // Review of “The Muse of Nightmares” by Laini Taylor

Title: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Audio book narrator: Steve West
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Upper YA
Date Read: 21/02/19– 22/02/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book gave me a lot of feelings. Laini Taylor is a stunning world-builder and wordsmith, but I did find myself getting frustrated throughout portions of the book. I may have banged my hands against the steering wheel on more than one occasion when I was listening while driving.

Muse of Nightmares picks up exactly where Strange the Dreamer left off, though we are very quickly introduced to two new characters, Kora and Nova, whom we learn more about as the story goes. Their stories eventually converge with the others in a tumultuous finale.

The world that Laini Taylor created in Strange the Dreamer is exapnded upon ten-fold here. To explain how would be a spoiler, but it did do my head in just how much scope there is.

The writing is once again beautiful, and I can’t really complain about it at all, except to once again observe that is very dense in its descriptions at times. My main issue with this one was the pacing. Two centuries could be covered in a chapter, followed by a twenty minute fight scene that spanned several chapters. And the characters were all very powerless throughout those, which made it more frustrating.

But despite those frustrations, when I reached the end, I felt fully satisfied and found that I was smiling to  myself.  The book ends with “The end… or is it?”, which made me both laugh and moan. The way the story wraps up completes the main story of Lazlo and Sarai and Minya and Eril Fane and the city of Weep, but it leaves us with other stories still left to tell. And despite those niggles and frustrations I had with this book, I’m pretty sure I would read anything set in this world that Laini Taylor decided to write.


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““You are the most vexing and endearing box of contradictions I have ever seen. You fascinate me, Wendy.”” // Review of “Second Star” by J. M. Sullivan

Title: Second Star (Neverland Transmissions #1)
Author: J. M. Sullivan
Genre: Sci-fi
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 10/02/19 – 15/02/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

I was totally on board with this book for probably the first half. I had a few quibbles up until then, but I was willing to overlook them. Unfortunately, the second half got confusing and frustrated me to the point where I was just waiting for the book to be over.

This is a Peter Pan re-telling set in the far future. I really enjoyed the little references to the original story. It was fun to spot them  all.

But while the characters are jumping through hyperspace and hanging out on foreign planets, the language they used and the society established felt woefully outdated. Even the main  insult several of the characters used – “codfish” – feels like something out of Dickens rather than Doctor Who. It actually felt like it could have been turned into a good steampunk quasi-historical story, but it didn’t go that way.

The characters also make Harry Potter references and one of them listens to Bob Marley… okay, maybe we will still be reading HP in 400 years  and maybe Bob gets to stick around as a master of the classical music of this period… but it didn’t immerse me in the time period.

I also assumed that  as the book went on, we would learn exactly why Hooke was the bad guy, rather than just having to take  Peter’s word for it… and we did, technically, but it never rang true to me. This might be because some of the worldbuilding about the Second Star and the ultimate Big Bad actually left me feeling a bit flummoxed, so Hooke’s place in the overall plan didn’t feel fully fleshed out.

The line I used in the title of this post is something Peter says to Wendy, and it’s lovely and romantic… but he has literally known her an afternoon when he says it. Maybe a full day. Good ol’ instalove. Wendy is nearly ready to sacrifice other members of her crew for Peter after only knowing him a couple of days.

There are more books to come in this series but I don’t feel inclined to follow the story any further. The one instalment was enough for me.


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

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#LoveOzYA #aww2019 Book Review: “The Zigzag Effect” by Lili Wilkinson

Title: the Zigzag Effect
Author:
Lili Wilkinson
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 04/02/19 – 05/02/19
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

I knew I had to  read this book as soon as I learned that it was about a girl getting a summer job with a magic show. I wanted to be a magician when I was a kid, and while I learned a few card tricks that I’ve now forgotten, I still have a soft spot for all  things magic.

I thought the main character, Sage, was really well-written. She’s homesick and sad, and trying to make the best of it. She’s also really capable, and pulls the magic show into the twenty-first century.

At first, I really loved Herb, the backstage assistant and total magic nerd. I enjoyed learning about magic as he excitedly taught things to Sage. A couple of times I went and googled things to learn more. But he did say a few things that deserved a smack on the upside of the head (like tarot and crystals being “women’s magic”) and while Sage calls him out on it, I never really got the sense that he would stop. He also complained about her stage makeup when she is replacing the usual assistant, but there was no mention of the fact that male performers also  wear makeup onstage. Look, Herb is not the worst YA love interest, by far, but he did still bother me a bit.

I think Bianca was my favourite character. She’s the superstitious magician’s assistant and it is through her character that the book examines the way the magic industry is stuck in a sexist past that a lot of other forms of entertainment are at least trying to move away from. Bianca has a lot of baggage and to be honest, there were times I wished she was the main character, because she seemed a bit more interesting than the other two.

It did weird me out a little that the theatre had no staff of its own, and that the entire thing seemed to be run by three people closely involved with the show, but not the theatre. Where was theatre management?  Where was the tech crew? To be fair, it’s only because I do theatre in my spare time that any of this stood out to me. I’m sure it wouldn’t bother a reader who doesn’t do a musical every year. 

I thought the ending was satisfying but I wondered whether others might think it ended with the kidnapper/saboteur not getting their comeuppance.  I guess YMMV on that one. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything. It definitely picked up a lot in the secocnd half after a bit of a slow start. 


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Book Review: “In Another Life” by C. C. Hunter

Title: In Another Life
Author: C. C. Hunter
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 01/02/19 – 02/02/19
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This book was engaging enough. I read it in a couple of sittings. I also want to add the disclaimer that I read the ARC and it’s possible some of my issues will be fixed in the final version. The formatting was a problem as there was no indication of a change in POV – and as there were several POV characters, this did frequently pull me out of the story.

I was intrigued by the premise of this book – I knew that illegal adoptions happened but didn’t really know anything about them. The idea of someone growing up in a happy adoptive family only to discover there is another family somewhere missing them and hoping they might one day return is a really great premise for a novel.

The way the book is structured meant that we knew more about the mystery than the characters did and in some ways, I felt that lessened the stakes too soon. We knew who the bad guys were and figured they would probably get their comeuppance, so there wasn’t as much mystery as there might have been.

I thought Chloe was a very well-written character. She’s got a lot goinig on – her parents’ divorce, her mother up and moving her to a different city, and now a strange guy claiming she’s trying to con his foster parents by pretending to be their long-lost daughter. I did think the romance betwee her and Cash happened a little fast, but I guess that could just be because I’m a sucker for a slow-burn. I did like the fact that when it was revealed that Chloe had been kidnapped, she still acknowledged her adoptive parents as mum and dad, even as that upset her birth parents.

Cash frustrated me a bit with his absolute refusal to accept any help from his foster parents. I got that he didn’t think he deserved it, but he just went on and on and there never seemed to be an arc there. There are several villains of the piece and to be honest, I got them all a bit confused.

All that being said, I did find this book an engaging read and I think it was a good break after I’d read a tonne of fantasy.


(Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for a gratis copy of the book in exchange for an honest review)

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“Do you still think I’m a singularly un-terrible demon?” “No,” he said smiling. “I think you’re a fairytale.” // Review of “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor

Title: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Audio book narrator: Steve West
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Upper YA
Date Read: 16/12/18 – 21/01/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This is such a huge book and it took me so long to get through the audio version, all 18 hours of it! I was going to return the audio book and get the ebook instead, but then I ended up powering through the last third. I have a feeling that had I read it at my own pace, it may have even been a five star read. That is not to say that the audio book was bad, far from it, but it did stretch the story out more than perhaps it should have been (not that there would have been any way to pare it back other than abridge it and … yeahno).

This is a dense, slow-burn, character-driven fantasy, filled with beautiful language. Its about dreams in all senses: one’s hopes for the future and the visions we see when we’re asleep. Some might find the writing too flowery, but I found it fell just on the right side of that fine line. It is jam-packed with details, though, and sometimes I wondered whether it was a little too much. I think this is partially because I was reading the audio book and couldn’t make the decision to skim over a few things that  I might have were I reading the print version.

For a book with such  a large cast of characters, Taylor does a wonderful job of giving them all individual personalities. Even the mythology is delicately crafted, and I could imagine the past events described by many of the citizens of the city of Weep. And of course, as a librarian, I particularly loved that the hero in an epic fantasy was a dorky librarian whose nose was broken by a book of fairytales.

Needless to say, I was very keen to begin the second book as soon as I reached the end of the first. This was my first foray into Laini Taylor’s work but it certainly won’t be the last.


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