Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Ambulance Girls

Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: Paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Ever since I fell completely in adoration of Deborrah Burrows’ last book, A Time of Secrets a couple of years ago, I’ve been waiting for another book. And while I was waiting, I kinda stalk her on Goodreads and twitter so I knew she’s been traipsing (sorry, researching) all over London when living there. I greeted the cover reveal of Ambulance Girls with a squeal of excitement and I think my heart might have stopped for mo when I received a copy in the mail.

Firstly, I do love this cover and I really like war historical fiction especially when this particular book’s main character was inspired by a real life historical Aussie woman serving in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Station during the Blitz. There were a lot of things I learnt from this novel about women during the Blitz. I guess there have been quite a number of books or even documentaries but the way it was written here made it all the more real to me. It was obvious that a lot of research was done in the writing of this novel and not just about the women or the Blitz as novel itself feels like veritable literary tour of London.

The novel opens with Lily on duty and having to face one of her fears of enclosed spaces. It was a great start to the novel and you’d easily fall in love with Lily. Her other fears though were not as easily conquered… Aside from her courage, empathy, and her wish to do well unto others, she’s also got a great sense of humour. Maybe that’s her Aussie flavoured humour that coloured her interactions with her friends and gave the book a reminiscent air. We follow Lily through her struggles with daily life during the Blitz; the grief of losing a friend and the joy of falling in love. There were some shaky moments where I thought things were just not going to be right with this book but thankfully, all was made quite well! I had to give the book a bit of a hug from relief and an affectionate pat when I finished reading for I was well & truly shaken.

There were a number of characters both likeable and despicable in this book and the variety and dynamics between these characters were really quite interesting. The book is told from Lily’s perspective only so in a way, we miss out on a lot about the other characters as only a few were well developed. However, as this is the first book of a trilogy, I do believe we will get to know some of the others quite well later on (and I look forward to this!). What you cannot mistake in this novel is the author’s views on anti-semitism (ignorant) and Hitler (evil); she’s loud and clear on that front. Hear! Hear! These things can never be stated enough and whilst Hitler is gone, there are still those like him & share his views.

If you loved the show, Call the Midwife, or the books that inspired it, you would love Ambulance Girls. Lily Brennan may not be English but she’s as brave as those midwives in facing uncertainties & adversities of the time. And I dare say that her Australian personality shone through especially against the foil of English reserved façade.

Thanks to Penguin Books Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Blog Tour: Freeks by Amanda Hocking

freeksFreeks by Amanda Hocking

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Bestselling author Amanda Hocking draws readers inside the dark and mysterious world of Freeks.

My Blurb

I’ve probably said it enough times that thanks for Enid Blyton’s Mr. Galliano’s Circus series, I have this deep abiding love for circus in fiction. Needless to say, I was drawn to this novel by the fact that this is set within a circus sort of scene. The difference is that this is actually a travelling sideshow so you know… lots of those strange and wonderful and not-so-wonderful things! You go there to be entertained, to be horrified, and to have lots of stupid fun.

I didn’t realise that this book is a spin-off of some sort of the Trylle Trilogy and I’ve not actually read them yet so I can’t tell you (if you’re a fan) if this compares well to the original trilogy or if any of previous characters is in this book though from what I can see on Goodreads, they seem to have different sets of characters. After reading this book though, I am rather curious of this world as it’s paranormal with a gothic vibe (especially with all the ‘freeks’ or to be PC, specially talented people).

For some reason, it rather shocked me that the whole book is set in late ’80s. I mean why would you set a book in the ’80s? Especially a YA? However, there are a lot of historical/paranormal YA books set in 19th century & other periods so why not the ’80s?! It really is an historical period despite the fact that I was already alive then :p Of course, quite a few things resonate with me (ie. cassettes, music, etc) and that brings back other memories.

Freeks is a very easy read though rather long. The main characters were easily likeable. The mystery was acceptable. The ending was rather abrupt but totally as I expected. Overall, it was a rather average read; entertaining enough but missing that particular sparkle. I think there was too much in the middle and the build-up for the final confrontation didn’t quite deliver. It’s a cute read for the romance and of course, the ‘circus’ feel.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

Amanda Hocking is a lifelong Minnesotan obsessed with Batman and Jim Henson. In between watching cooking shows, taking care of her menagerie of pets, and drinking too much Red Bull Zero, she writes young adult urban fantasy and paranormal romance.

Several of her books have made the New York Times Bestsellers list, including the Trylle trilogy and Kanin Chronicles. Her zombie series, The Hollows, has been adapted into a graphic novel by Dynamite. She has published over fifteen novels, including the Watersong quartet and My Blood Approves series. Frostfire, Ice Kissed, and Crystal Kingdom – all three books in her bestselling trilogy, The Kanin Chronicles – are out now.

Her latest book is Freeks – a standalone YA paranormal romance novel set in the 1980s that follows a travelling sideshow, and it is a available now. Her next books will be a duology about Valkyries – due out in 2018.

Find her on: goodreads  |  website  | pinterest  |  tumblr  | facebook  | youtube  | instagram

Review: The Fifth Letter

the-fifth-letter
The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Do you have a group of best friends? Do they know everything about you or do you think you know all there is to know about each other? I have a group of my own best friends; four of us grew close during high school – almost like Joni, Deb, Eden, & Trina. Like them, 3 of us are married with children and one has just found The One and about to tie the knot in a few months’ time. *sniffs – am so very happy for her*

The beginning of their friendship is almost laughable. It was pointed out to them that they all have 2 things in common: surnames starting with “C” and their star signs (Scorpios). It’s not the silliest thing that have begun deep friendships, of course, but this was the basis that Joni decided that the four of them are meant to be best friends forever. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most innocent start of the group…

scorpio

Years later, they were still good friends. They see each other regularly and even have girls weekend away sometimes. This weekend though, things rather fell apart. They decided to each write an anonymous letter of secrets to tell each other. It really wasn’t that easy to be anonymous when you know each other well and in addition to that, Joni found a fifth letter with a rather menacing tone. What is she to do with it? Is she supposed to do anything about it?

I really enjoyed the beginning of The Fifth Letter. The stage was being set with Joni finding the letter, her confessional conversation with a Catholic priest (my favourite character), then flashbacks to their teen years. I started smiling on page 3 and found at the end of my train trip, that I still had a wide smile on my face. It wasn’t just funny but the flashbacks also remind me of my own memories of my friends. I didn’t actually like any of these 4 ladies even though I can identify/empathise with all of them in one thing or another. Joni, being the main protagonist and whose perspective we read from, can be very frustrating! She is lovely really but oh, she can be so blind! In saying that, however, I also couldn’t really pick the fifth letter writer. And that precious ending, oh wow, I was literally choking with laughter!

What began as a rather humorous and reminiscing read, this novel took a turn into a dark complex of human emotions. These women each have their own issues which they feel they cannot voice yet that is the first step towards healing. The Fifth Letter engages the reader to look beyond the surface, to check our unrealistic expectations of women and see them as a person, an individual, who is not perfect (no one is perfect) and needs loving supports.

Thank you, Nicola Moriarty, for this novel and the chance to reflect of my own friendships. Like Joni, Deb, Eden, & Trina, I’m sure that we do not know everything about each other and that’s okay… I am certain, however, that none of us harbours any ill will towards anyone in the group 😀

Thank you Harper Collins Publishers Australia for providing paperback copy in exchange of honest review

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Review: Crimson Lake

crimson-lakeCrimson Lake by Candice Fox
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was soooo excited to see Candice Fox was to release a new book. I must admit to being a teeny weeny disappointed to find out that it is NOT an Archer & Bennett but still… It’s a must-read. If you love crime novels, Candice Fox’s books are must-reads!

Despite being told that this is her best book yet, I can NOT make this distinction. I love ALL her books fairly equally and they are ALL my favourites. The mysteries are terrific but the characters and what she made them go through are just mind-boggling. They are fragile. They are broken. They are survivors.

The main difference in Crimson Lake to the Archer & Bennett books to my mind is that it’s cracking hilarious. Wait a minute, Amanda Pharrell is horrendously hilarious. I can see some people might find her annoying and if she’s someone I know IRL, I’d probably want to kill her myself but seriously the stuff she said were Lough Out Loud Funny. Err, yes, I’m most probably that crazy lady on the train… Here’s one of the things she said that cracked me up to no end & I kept going back to it:

“… I’m dead fascinated with your case. I’m so fascinated, someone should pin me in their hair and wear me to the races.”

We don’t know very much how Amanda’s mind works as the novel is told from Ted Conkaffey’s perspective but one thing we do know is that she’s full on contradictions. She’d slunk away for certain confrontations and yet,

“…doesn’t anything scare you anymore?”
“Not really,” she said brightly…

Ted Conkaffey is hiding. He’s tired and he’s sad. He has had no choice but to accept what fate has dealt him to date. The geese found him. Amanda baffled him. Her cases interest his mind and his brain geared up to put these puzzles together. Maybe there is something else he could do even now… Despite being told from Ted’s perspective; Amanda completely took over the whole book. Maybe we’ll have her perspective in the next book?

Aside from these amazing characterisation, I also love Fox’s prose; the way she draws you to the characters then the setting and then weaves tangled weave of mysterious circumstances which leave you guessing ‘til the end. Crimson Lake, with its tightly developed plot, unique characters and a snapping end, is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Thanks to Penguin Books Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Blog Tour: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

About the book

a-quiet-kind-of-thunder

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

My Blurb

A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a beautiful read. Mind you, there were stacks of romance in here though I think you can kind of tell by the number of hearts on the cover 😉 There were times that I found the romance crossed the corny cheesy line but I made the allowance for “First Love”. They really weren’t that bad; just a teeny weeny bit more than I liked so you may love it.

At the beginning, however, Steffi was facing first day back at school without her best friend. She’s 16 so she’s in sixth form; which term I actually had to look up as I’m not familiar with the British education system (thanks, Google!) and it’s like years 12 & 13. She may know all the students there but it’s a big day for her. She is determined that she will speak this year. She needs to prove to herself and her parents that she’s capable of ‘normality’ so they will let her go to university. Minutes later, she met a boy who cannot hear, Rhys, and he’s rather cute…

There is only one perspective, Steffi’s, and we get to hear everything she’s saying in her head. She’s getting help and she’s working very hard to overcome that which limit her. I love that we get to hear these things; she may not be able to speak but it doesn’t mean that her head is empty! I can’t tell how accurate the things she’s thought of in relation to other people who are in the same boat as Steffi but it felt just as how they could’ve thought (feel free to correct me) and in some ways were really enlightening. Meeting Rhys with a different type of limitation helps her in a way as they found support in each other; tackling the world which place those limitations on them and along the way, found her confidence and identity.

I have truly enjoyed this book. It was a fun, educational, heart-warming, and totally encouraging book to read. It really inspires you to reach for your dreams despite what the world tells you; only you can decide your limits.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

Quick Q&A

  1. What kind of research was involved in writing A Quiet Kind of Thunder?

A lot! I learned some (very basic) sign language and read as much as I could on deaf culture and community. I also watched videos on YouTube, including those from/about people in deaf/hearing relationships. For selective mutism, I did a lot of general research into things like diagnosis and treatment, and read the materials that were aimed at teachers and parents to get an idea of how they would deal with a child in that situation.

  1. Is there an interesting story/incident that you came across during your research that you could share with us?

Everything I learned about deaf culture and BSL was fascinating, and I really loved watching BSL music videos online – they absolutely blew my mind.

  1. What is it that drives you to write contemporary YA and of such confronting truths?

For me, those are the kinds of books I most love and that I take the most from. I love books that are honest about people, relationships and the world, and so I suppose it makes sense that I would also try to do this in my own writing. Writing is also a great cathartic way to explore issues and problems that goes beyond just talking or thinking about them, so there’s probably an element of that, too.

About the author

sara-barnardSara lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the “on” switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of secondhand book shops at a young age.

Sara is trying to visit every country in Europe, and has managed to reach 13 with her best friend. She has also lived in Canada and worked in India.

Sara is inspired by what-ifs and people. She thinks sad books are good for the soul and happy books lift the heart. She hopes to write lots of books that do both. BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS is her first book and a dream come true.

Find Sara on: goodreads  |  tumblr  |  twitter  | instagram

 

Quick Reviews #1

For 2017, I’m determined to write a review for all the books I read – even if only a minimal 1 paragraph summing up my feelings/thoughts of the book. So here’s my first Quick Thoughts on a few books I read the first half of January.

raven-black

Raven Black (Shetland Island #1) by Ann Cleeves ~ 4 out of 5 stars

I added this book on my tbr ecause I came across it as a kindle freebie last year. I read this book because, of course, it was picked for a reading challenge. For some strange reason, I keep forgetting that author is British and this book is set in Scotland. I keep thinking US and when certain words crop up, they sent me spinning. I got confused quite a bit with this book but that is my own fault. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the mystery, the interesting characters, and especially the surprising ending! Do not let people’s bias influence you; form your own opinion by looking into the issues yourself.

tags: #mystery #crime #murder #scotland

where-the-sea-takes-usWhere the Sea Takes Us:A Vietnamese-Australian Story by Kim Huynh ~ 4 out of 5 stars

I added this book on my tbr in 2008, the year I registered on Goodreads! It’s one of my project this year to clear my tbr of whatever books I added in 2008 (thankfully, only a handful of them left). My interest in this books lies in the fact that my husband’s parents fled Vietnam in the late 70’s when my mother-in-law was heavily pregnant. My husband was born in the refugee camp in Thailand! The in-laws do not, however, ever speak of their trials so I read of others’.

This book tells of the author’s parents, their backgrounds (the first 2 chapters were about both sets of grandparents and their origins), their struggles against poverty, their little victories, and in the end, their endeavour in seeking better futures for their sons. Both families were living quite comfortably when the Indochina War broke. Both families lost everything and had to suffer through terrible hunger. The devotion of the parents, the hard work of both parents and children, most of them survived and despite flirtation with communism, fought for education to pull themselves through to better living conditions. The author is a politician in Canberra and his brother is a doctor living in an affluent Sydney suburb so I guess the parents are very happy and proud of their sons’ achievements in freedom.

tags: #memoir #history #vietnam #nonfiction

last-orders-at-harrods

Last Orders at Harrods: An African Tale (Kuwisha Trilogy #1) by Michael Holman  ~ 2 out of 5 stars

A rather random find on BorrowBox to fit a reading challenge task. I didn’t have any particular book in mind so I was browsing and thought this might be a fun-funny sort of read. I guess there was some funny bits but there wasn’t enough for me to think it as a funny read. This cover (the blues and yellows) made me think that it’s going to be a hilarious romp through Africa but boy, was I wrong! And unfortunately, I just wasn’t that interested in the story or any of the characters but I didn’t mind the wily ending. I don’t think I’d read the rest of the trilogy.

tags: #contemporary #africa
last-night-i-dreamedLast Night I Dreamed of Peace: An Extraordinary Diary of Courage from the Vietnam War by Đặng Thùy Trâm ~ 4 out of 5 stars

An incredibly lucky find when researching for a reading challenge task. I was looking for a non-fiction book set in South East Asia (excluding Indonesia) that has been translated to English. You know Anne Frank & her diary? Well, this is also a diary by a girl, a young adult in her early 20s. She may be a communist but she is also a person, a human who bled red with a breakable heart and beautiful dreams. As I read her most intimate thoughts, my heart broke for her over and over. This is only part of the diary she kept as earlier books are lost. In the beginning, you learn that her heart was broken by a boy she loved and throughout the book, she continued to love him, was sad throughout, yet exhorting herself to work hard to forget him and strive for her dream of peace. She is a doctor and she believes in the idea of communism; she is fighting for her country to be free and to prosper. Her idealism, though transparent in the diary, did not saturate the writings. She wrote from the heart and so this book is full of her wishes, longings, and dreams. It is therefore even more heartbreaking that she died so very young.

tags: #memoir #history #vietnam #diary #nonfiction

Wawaldenlden; or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau ~ 3 out of 5 stars

I ended up rating this book 3 stars though I was close to 1 or 2 stars, at least the beginning. I was struggling firstly with the prose of very very long sentences. I keep having to re-read a sentence because I keep missing his point after all the ramblings. Then I also felt that he was rather condescending with some of his points and sometimes rather preachy. The only parts I really like were his descriptions of nature and his appreciation of it which I guess is why this book is such a classic but other than that, I was totally underwhelmed.

tags: #memoir #history #massachusetts #nonfiction #nature

Review: The Strays

wp-1484100547222.jpgThe Strays by Emily Bitto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: Library copy

On her first day at a new school, Lily meets Eva, one of the daughters of the infamous avant-garde painter Evan Trentham. He and his wife are attempting to escape the stifling conservatism of 1930s Australia by inviting other like-minded artists to live and work with them at their family home. As Lily’s friendship with Eva grows, she becomes infatuated with this makeshift family and longs to truly be a part of it.

Looking back on those years later in life, Lily realises that this utopian circle involved the same themes as Evan Trentham’s art: Faustian bargains and terrible recompense; spectacular fortunes and falls from grace. Yet it was not Evan, nor the other artists he gathered around him, but his own daughters, who paid the debt that was owing.

My Blurb

This book pulled me in two opposite directions. On the one hand, I am just like the young Lily who was fascinated and absolutely loved the freedom in the Trentham’s family home. But on the other hand, as a young parent, I was absolutely horrified by the way the children’s needs were ignored. Of course, these children, whilst appreciating their freedom, also resented their parents for not being parents.

The novel opens with the adult Lily, with a grown child of her own, living a ‘normal’ boring life. She received a letter from her best friend whom she has not been in contact for a very long time. We didn’t find out exactly the reason why until near the end but this reason blew me away. I expected a tragedy in the shape of a death, an accident, or something just as devastating but a ‘that’s life’ kind of reaction from me BUT the reason repulsed me. I can’t say anything more without spoiling the ending so suffice to say, I was bowled over and I love it.

Years later, the consequences of the Trenthams’ lifestyle (parenting) choice are still reverberating in their lives. The author, via the oldest child (Bea), also acknowledged in a ‘you reap what you sow’ kind of way. The Strays was very easy to get lost in; Lily’s reminiscence and regrets were clearly felt throughout the story. I loved immersing myself in 1930s Melbourne though I did get quite worked up at the end so I can only afford a 4-stars rating.

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