“It feels like music, like a heartbeat, like magic… Like Beauty.” // Review of “Hunted” by Meagan Spooner

Title: Hunted
Author:  Meagan Spooner
Audio book narrator: Will Damron, Saskia Maarleveld
Genre:
  historical fantasy/fairytale retelling
Dates read: 28/01/18 – 03/02/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows that I am a fan of fairytale retellings. This book has been on my TBR ever since it was released, so when I saw the audio book available through my library’s digital borrowing app, I snapped it up.

With her father’s fortune in ruin, Yeva and her family return to the forest where her father used to hunt. When her father claims a beast is tracking him through the wood and then goes missing, Yeva sets out to find him. When she discovers he is dead, she tries to kill the beast she believes is responsible, but ends up a prisoner in his castle instead, told only that he needs a hunter to kill a quarry for him and break his curse.

The thing I loved about this book was the writing, and I think it was enhanced by two narrators with very soothing voices to carry the rhythm. For a while it bothered me that I wasn’t excited or invested about the characters, but after a while, I sunk into the story itself despite that. The characters are well-written, but not in such a way to get really invested in.

will admit I’m not an expert on Medieval Russia but the historical setting seemed very well formed to me. I loved the wintery atmosphere – all that snow! The descriptions are beautiful. I also really enjoyed the way this was not only a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but also drew on the Russian story The Firebird. I spotted a few indications of the ties between the two stories early on in the book and was rewarded with the pay-off at the end.

If you like fairytale retellings, or atmospheric, character-driven fantasies, I definitely recommend checking this one out.


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“We may have created them, but like all children, they grow up and make their own lives.” // Review of “Your One and Only” by Adrianne Finlay

Title: Your One and Only
Author: Adrianne Finlay
Genre:
YA/sci-fi/romance
Date Read: 29/01/2018 – 02/01/2018
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I was approved for this on NetGalley months and months ago, and for some reason kept putting it off. With the publication date looming, I thought I’d better get onto it, and when I did, it turned out to be a compelling read.

Jack is a human in a world of clones. The clones are suspicious of him because his behaviour doesn’t fall in line with theirs, and he doesn’t understand their ceremonies. Althea-310 can’t help feeling different from her sisters and drawn to Jack. As their world starts to fall apart, they find hope in each other.

This is definite soft sci-fi, and while some of the “science” did make me raise my eyebrows a little, I found the story was engaging enough that I was willing to handwave the world-building that didn’t seem exactly right. It did take me a few chapters to get my head around exactly how the communities of clones had come to be and how they lived and reproduced, but I did get there in the end.

I felt for Jack, who was raised in virtual isolation and disliked by the closest things he had to peers. But I was more interested in Althea. I liked seeing her progression from one of the clones to individual and how she questioned what was happening to her.

It did bother me that the clones isolated Jack in part because he had a tendency towards violence, but they couldn’t recognise that many of their own also had these same tendencies. The clones were supposed to be perfect, and Jack was different. I couldn’t work out whether that was supposed to be their cognitive dissonance, or a case of the world-building/story not quite working the way the author wanted it to.

I wouldn’t say the romance is gradual, but it did feel like it unfolded at a good pace. In terms of content, apart from some kissing, there is the clones’ monthly Pairing Ceremony. Though Pairings are never really described explicitly, the clones do discuss how they are taught what each of the other clones likes, and how to pleasure them. I did like this exploration of a completely new culture’s attitude towards sex.

There were a few occasions where the pacing felt a bit off, including at the end (during and after the climax). There were also a couple of scenes where dialogue went around in circles a bit.

I can’t say sci-fi romance is a sub-genre I’ve read much of, but if this is an example of it, then I feel like I should broaden my horizons.


Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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January-February 2018 TBR

With the new year, comes a new experiment in how I approach my TBRs. Last year, I found that a monthly reading list was a bit too intense, so I adjusted it to a three-monthly list with about 20 titles on it. I think that was a bit ambitious, too, given how prone I am to getting distracted by other books.

This year, I am going to aim for a TBR with 8 titles to work through over a two month period. I usually read between five and ten titles a month, so that should leave me plenty of time for both completing the TBR and other books such as ARCs or challenge titles. I’ll do a wrap-up at the end of the two months, rather than monthly.

So! Here are my 8 titles for January/February. A couple of ARCs, some books that I own, and a bunch that have been sitting on my Kindle for quite a while now.

Everless by Sara Holland

Your One and Only by Adrianne Finlay

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Dollhouse by Anya Allyn

False Awakening by Cassandra Page

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Stay tuned for weekly reading updates, reviews and monthly wrap-ups to see how I’m going with this list and how I feel about these titles, and others.

 

#aww2017 #LoveOzYA “Everything connects, but not everyone hears those connections. ” // Review of “The Foretelling of Georgie Spider” by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Title: The Foretelling of Georgie Spider (The Tribe  #3)
Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Genre: YA/dystopian
Date Read: 08/10/2017 – 11/10/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I really wish I could tell you why I wasn’t more into this series. It ticked all the right boxes. Interesting premise, well-developed characters and tight plot, and yet I was never invested. I actually probably found this to be the case with this third instalment most of all.

While Ashala was still a strong narrative voice, I didn’t really connect with Georgie Spider, which made it difficult reading her POV. I liked the theme of the series coming together, that there is one person to look to the past, one to be in the now and one to look to the future, but I found Georgie’s naivety a little too much at times.

The action scenes were really good in this book; as I said, it was tightly-plotted and I loved the way it was structured. That was the one point where I did think Georgie’s POV worked – when she was seeing futures that were only a minute or so ahead of her present and helped the Tribe to be in the right place at the right time to defeat them.

Also, just a ilttle thing, but I loved that this series uses terms like “Detention centre”, terms we’re all too familiar with here in Australia at the moment when it comes to asylum seekers and refugees.

As I said, I think this series suffered from a case of “It’s not you, it’s me” as I was reading it. I would definitely recommend other fans of dystopia checking it out, even if I didn’t have the best run of it.

Reviews to the previous books in this series:

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

The Disappearance of Ember Crow


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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“Life is like a musical: it’s here one moment and gone the next.” // Review of Life is Like a Musical by Tim Federle

Title: Life is Like a Musical: How to Live, Love, and Lead Like a Star
Author: Tim Federle
Genre: Non-fiction/memoir/self-help
Date Read: 28/09/2017 – 29/09/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Tim Federle is my people. If we’d been at school together, we would have been friends because then we would have each had someone to geek out with about musicals when no one else cared. While the advice in this book might be somewhat generic, I really enjoyed the theatre anecdotes that he used to back up his claims, a lot of the time because I could relate, having had a similar experience somewhere in my amateur theatre experiences.

This book is full of lessons Tim learned during his time on Broadway as a dancer, as well as later, writing theatrical material and novels. You can see some of them on the cover: “Let someone else take a bow”, “take the note” (i.e. accept constructive feedback without getting defensive”) and “Dance like everyone’s watching”. He applies these lessons to wider life, careers and relationships.

I really enjoyed some of the anecdotes about being backstage at a theatre. I’ve never performed on Broadway, just at a couple of local theatres in the towns where I’ve lived, but the experiences are much the same. I laughed out loud a lot. I also enjoyed the stories about the big names the Tim worked with on Broadway.

This book probably isn’t for everyone, and I think it probably will particularly appeal to those like me who have a theatre background (even if it’s not a very extensive one). But I laughed out loud several times and related to Tim’s stories so often, so I definitely recommend checking it out.


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

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#aww2016 #LoveOzYA “And whatever you end up discovering – try to think of me kindly. If you can.” // Review of “The Disappearance of Ember Crow” by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Title: The Disappearance of Ember Crow (The Tribe  #2)
Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Genre: YA/dystopian
Date Read: 12/09/2017 – 14/09/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Knowing that I enjoyed the first book in this series, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, well enough but was not blown away by it meant that I went in without expecting to be blown away by this one.  I had pretty much exactly the same reaction to this one: it has a tight, interesting plot and is well-written,  but for some reason, it just didn’t wow me.

Even though it had been over a year since I read the first book, I didn’t have too much trouble getting back into this world, so that was a good sign. This instalment took the world-building of the previous book and expanded on it, and I did enjoy seeing more of the physical setting as well as getting more of the history.

I didn’t find the romance between Ember and Jules interesting at all. They barely knew each other, and there was no chemistry between them. It didn’t really make much sense to me that Jules would go out of his way to help Ember on a few days’ acquaintance.

I did enjoy the climax of the novel. It was exciting and had some good twists. I honestly can’t tell you why I didn’t get more into this book. I think it was just a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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#AWW2017 #LoveOzYA “What other beautiful things had fear been hiding from her? ” // Review of “A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares” by Krystal Sutherland

Title: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Genre: contemporary YA/Magical realism
Date Read: 07/09/2017 – 11/09/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I’m beginning to think that I’m actually a YA contemporary fan, even though I always tend to preface reviews with “I don’t read a lot of contemporary, but…” Some of my favourite reads this year have been YA contemporaries, and this one is added to that list. 

Esther Solar’s family has been cursed by Death, and each family member is going to die from their worst fear. Esther doesn’t know what hers is yet, but when she is reunited with childhood friend, Jonah, they resolve to face each item on her list and see if she can’t get through to the other side.

This book has such a bitteresweet tone, but don’t let the surface fluffiness fool you. This book gets deep. And dark. It does not treat mental illness lightly, but shows how it can tear a family apart. The characters are great, but rather heartbreaking. In addition to mental illness, the book also tackles domestic violence and also pulls no punches there.

I loved the magical realism aspect for the most part. I found Sutherland’s characterisation of Death really fascinating, and the idea of Death being able to fall in love, and die, and be taken by surprise sometimes, I thought was awesome. The fact that it was never clear whether he was really there or whether it was all in Esther’s head worked for the most part, though I might have liked the ending to be a little less ambiguous. There was also a reveal towards the end about Esther’s grandfather’s interactions with Death, which was a reveal to the reader, but not to Esther. Up until that point, though, Esther had been acting as  though she hadn’t been aware of the facts that came to light here, and I felt it was cheating a bit to have her act that way for the sake of narrative convenience.

Still, I found myself getting a little teary at the end and not wanting to let these characters go. They certainly got under my skin.

Trigger warnings: self-harm, suicide, domestic abuse.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017. Click here for more information).

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“The entire time she’d watched him … her features had remained serene. A flame in the mist.” // Review of “Flame in the Mist” by Renee Ahdieh

Title: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Genre: YA/Fantasy
Date Read: 06/08/2017 – 15/08/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I don’t really know why this book didn’t impress me more. It ticked all my boxes for what makes a great YA fantasy. It was one of my most highly-anticipated releases this year, so there is a chance I just hyped it up too much in my head, or maybe I am actually still in my reading slump a bit. Either way, while this was enjoyable, it didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Mariko is on her way to be united with her betrothed, the son of the Emperor of Wa, when her convoy is attacked and everyone around her murdered. Certain that this is the work of the Black Clan, she infiltrates their ranks disguised as a boy, intent on finding out who sent them to kill her and why. But the more time she spends with them, the more she realises that there is more the Black Clan than their reputation would suggest, and there is also a lot that her sheltered upbringing has kept her blind to…

I did really love the Japanese-inspired world-building, even if I did have to flick to the back to find out what the Japanese words meant. I felt this was the strongest aspect of the novel. I do believe this shouldn’t have been sold as a Mulan-retelling or even as Mulan-inspired. There are plenty of stories about girls dressing up as boys. The resemblances of Flame in the Mist to Mulan were superficial at best. Why not let a story sell on its own merits rather than comparing it.

The characters were where I got stuck. For a start, I didn’t feel like there was a huge difference between Ranmaru and Okami, and even with the helpful prologue to establish a few things, I got lost trying to remember who/whose father betrayed whom.

Mariko was an interesting character in that she is far from the usual kick-ass babe who usually dominates the “strong female character” role. While I appreciated that, her coolness and rational nature actually made it a bit harder to connect to her. Yes, I realise I’m giving Renee Ahdieh a bit of a damned-if-she-does-damned-if-she-doesn’t situation here, but hey, I’m just describing the reading experience for me. I also found her repeated mantras about not being weak and striking when they least expect it quite repetitive and annoying, and I also didn’t buy a lot of the decisions she made. Maybe that’s why I didn’t connect with her.

That being said, I did really like some of her character development. Particularly towards the end, Mariko realises how sheltered she has been and that her family is not as good and honourable as she had always thought. She also realises that they Black Clan is not as evil as it has been depicted. I do like it when a character can come to those realisations.

I felt the romance was full of tell and little show. I’m actually not a fan of romances where one character falls for the other in spite of everything. As far as Mariko knew, Okami had wanted to kill her. Still wants to. She keeps telling herself that he’s her enemy, but hey, he’s sexy, and that can’t be helped or overlooked? I didn’t think there was any chemistry between them, so all their private thoughts about each other didn’t really do much for me.

I did enjoy the explorations of what it means to be a girl/woman, particularly in societies such as this one. Mariko’s experience is contrasted with that of Yumi, a young maiko (geisha), and Mariko realises that just because she aims for something more, does not mean that every woman will, but that it’s the opportunity that’s important.

This was my first experience of Renee Ahdieh’s writing; I’m yet undecided on whether to read The Wrath and the Dawn. While the writing was good, I don’t feel especially compelled to pick up the sequel when it comes out.


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#AWW2017 “How could she be so close, almost here, and completely out of my reach?” // Review of “The Space Between” by Rachel Sanderson

Title: The Space Between
Author: Rachel Sanderson
Genre: YA/Contemporary/Drama
Date Read: 05/08/2017 – 06/08/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Somehow, despite being in the same writing group as Rachel Sanderson for the past five years, I’ve never really sampled much of her writing until this year. I was so excited when she announced that she had published The Space Between, and grabbed myself a copy straight away. I’m glad to say I really enjoyed reading it; it’s a fantastic YA page-turner.

What should be a regular weekend away camping turns into a nightmare when Erica’s best friend, Daina, goes missing. Coming to terms with Daina’s loss also means coming to terms with the fact that she didn’t know all there was to know about her best friend, as well as trying to navigate messy relationships with both family and friends in the wake of tragedy.

The atmosphere in this book was what struck me the most. There’s a real rawness underneath everything. When Erica ached, I ached. I really felt under her skin. She did sometimes make decisions that I raised my eyebrows at and didn’t really support, but her actions were no more outlandish than a lot of other YA characters’, so it didn’t irk me too much. And they did help to move the plot forward, so there was that.

The writing style is fantastic, and very readable. The pacing is good throughout and I found the book hard to put down.  The set-ups for later revelations about Daina, Erica and their families were done well so when those revelations came about, they made a lot of sense without the story feeling predictable. There were a few moments towards the end where I felt myself tearing up a little; as I said, I felt really close to Erica and really had a sense of her loss.

While I don’t read a huge amount of contemporary YA, this is one I would definitely recommend (and not just because I know the author either 😉 )


This review forms part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2017. Click here for more information.

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“But you’re an illusion. I created you.” “That doesn’t mean I’m not real.” // Review of “Daughter of the Burning City” by Amanda Foody

Title: Daughter of the Burning City
Author: Amanda Foody
Genre: YA/Fantasy
Date Read: 28/03/2017 – 06/06/2017
Rating: ★★

Review:

So it’s not this book’s fault that I was in a reading slump at the time I was reading it and that probably contributed to my rating. There were some genuinely good parts once the plot got going, but I did feel it spent quite a bit of time wandering without much happening.

Daughter of the Burning City tells the story of Sorina, an illusion-worker whose only real family are the illusions she creates. She knows that they’re not real, though… at least, so she thought, until one of them is murdered. But how do you kill something that never really existed in the first place?

For a while, the investigations seemed to be taking forever and nothing was happening. I’ve read a few reviews that claimed the romance never got in the way of the plot, but I would have to disagree. Quite a bit of focus was given to Sorina’s burgeoning crush on Luca, a boy who it is impossible to kill. I did find it interesting that Amanda Foody sought to include elements of demisexuality, though I didn’t really think that Sorina and Luca had known each other long enough when their romance took off for this to be an accurate representation (though I am pretty uninformed on this topic, so take my words with a grain of salt).

I also felt that the style of language clashed with the setting and tone of the book a bit. The book is written in first person and Sorina read more like the heroine of an punchy urban fantasy, rather than something closer to high fantasy.

The world-building was really interesting, though I felt there was a lot of potential that wasn’t fleshed out properly. A lot of the time, I couldn’t quite get my head around exactly how the city-sized carnival of Gomorrah managed to continue existing, how it moved, and how the different magic systems within it managed to operate.

The plot did pick up in the last third and I found myself on the edge of my seat waiting for the killer’s identity to be revealed. It was just a shame that it took a little while to get to that point.


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

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