Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

By the winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2018.

Since her sister died, Meg has been on her own. She doesn’t mind, not really—not with Atticus, her African grey parrot, to keep her company—but after her house is broken into by a knife-wielding intruder, she decides it might be good to have some company after all.

Andy’s father has lost his job, and his parents’ savings are barely enough to cover his tuition. If he wants to graduate, he’ll have to give up his student flat and find a homeshare. Living with an elderly Australian woman is harder than he’d expected, though, and soon he’s struggling with more than his studies.

Published 7 May 2019 |  Publisher: Text Publishing |  RRP: AUD$29.99

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

I went to see the author’s panel at Sydney Writer’s Festival this year and Christos Tsiolkas, who was facilitating, praised this novel for its quiet splendour (I can’t quite remember the exact phrase he used but it’s something along that line) and I couldn’t agree more! This little unassuming novel was so relatable; it’s easy for me to relate to Andy as I was myself an overseas student but I also found myself to be able to relate to Meg, an older Australian lady.

In Room for a Stranger, we have two seemingly very different people come together and found, in the end, that they were troubled with what is essentially the same thing even if troubles came in different forms. It is very clear that the author knows her subjects well as she drew from her own personal experiences as an “overseas student” and a GP to many older patients.

While the book dealt with our protagonists going about their daily lives: Andy with his parental expectations of good results and Meg with her loneliness, it also did not shy from the hard reality of life: sickness, health, unhappy marriages, and racism (one particularly shocking scene where even I as a reader felt the shame of it and I’ve had my share of scenes…).

A wonderful novel about life – no matter who you are or where you are in life, it is always possible to connect with the stranger next to you.

Thanks to Text Publishing for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

I am a writer, mum and general practitioner from Melbourne, Australia. I have been published in print and online. My writing has appeared in The Age, Meanjin, Overland, Griffith REVIEW, Sleepers Almanac, The Bridport Prize Anthology, Lascaux Review, Visible Ink, Peril, The Victorian Writer and Seizure. My short story collection, Australia Day, won the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscript and went on to win the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction. My latest book is the novel, Room for a Stranger. If Saul Bellow is right and “a writer is a reader moved to emulation” then I am moved by authors like Richard Yates, Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami and Christos Tsiolkas.

Find Melanie on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter


Review: The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey

The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey

1833. A near-fatal carriage accident has deposited an unconscious young woman on the doorstep of Hardwick Manor and into the care of young Lord James Ellerby. But when she finally awakens, it is with no memory of who she is or where she came from.

Beth, as she calls herself, has no identity; the only clue to her circumstances is a recurring nightmare of a hummingbird, blood dripping from its steel beak.

With the help of James and his sister, Caroline, Beth tries to solve the mystery of her own identity and the appalling events that brought her to their door. But nothing could prepare her for the escalating dangers that threaten her and the Ellerby clan. From the hazardous cliffs of Dorset to the hostile streets of London, Beth will fight to reclaim her past, hunted by a secretive foe with murderous intentions.

Published 16 April 2019 |  Publisher: Swoon Reads  |  RRP: AUD$26.99

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

I just adored Anstey’s debut, Love, Lies and Spies which is a bit like an Austenesque romp. It was just a fun easy read so I didn’t hesitate to pick this one up. The Hummingbird Dagger though sounds a little more gothic and even the cover hinted at something more sinister than her other books. Then again, I just lurve mysteries! This is a win-win for me 🙂

One of my favourite tropes is a protagonist suffering amnesia at the beginning of the novel and having to slowly regain their memories and identity through the plot. It was exciting start to the novel as Lord James Ellerby witnessed a carriage accident in which his brother was involved. A rather horrific accident where he found a lady, thrown out of the carriage, lying battered & unconscious. Immediately, his sense of responsibility kicked in and with a dose of kindness & generosity, he took charge of the care of this lady.

Beth, as she’s called for she could not remember her name, is a likeable heroine although I feel that I could have loved her had she known who she is. Her gentility, intelligence, and sense of independence still shone through her inability to recall her background; and she has guts! Even while she is depended on the Elerby family in investigating her identity, she wasn’t just going to sit there when the safety of herself & her friends are threatened.

The Hummingbird Dagger with its slight gothic overtone was a terrificly fun read. I feel that this is one that I’d happily snuggle up to reread upon a rainy day over & over again.

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

About the author

Cindy Anstey spends her days painting with words, flowers, threads and acrylics. Whenever not sitting at the computer, she can be found—or rather, not found—travelling near and far. After many years living as an expat in Singapore, Memphis and Belgium, Cindy now resides with her husband and energetic chocolate labrador in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Find Cindy on:  goodreads  |  website  | facebook  | twitter

Review: The True Queen by Zen Cho

The True Queen (Sorcerer Royal #2) by Zen Cho

Fairyland’s future lies in doubt…

The island of Janda Baik, in the Malay archipelago, has long been home to witches. And Muna and her sister Satki wake on its shores under a curse – which has stolen away their memories. Satki plots to banish it in London, as Britain’s Sorceress Royal dares to train female magicians. But the pair journey there via the Fairy Queen’s realm, where Satki disappears.

Distraught, Muna takes her sister’s place at the school, despite her troublesome lack of magic. Then the Sorceress receives an ambassador from the Fairy Court, which has incarcerated her friends – for supposedly stealing a powerful talisman. Their Queen is at her most dangerous, fearing for her throne. For the missing trinket contained the magic of her usurped sister, Fairyland’s rightful heir. Mina must somehow find Satki, break their curse and stay out of trouble. But if the true queen does finally return, trouble may find her first…

Published 12 March 2019 |  Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia  |  RRP: AUD$29.99

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

This review is in relation to book 2 of the series but each book could stand on its own and therefore I believe no spoilers exist in my review. 

I remembered enjoying Sorcerer to the Crown (book 1 of this series) when I read it a few years ago so I was excited to see a sequel. I was even more excited when I read the description which seems to have more Asian slant (“The island of Janda Baik, in the Malay archipelago…“). There aren’t many fantasy books published in English with Asian slant; until recent times, of course, when social media helped readers like me to come across writers like Zen Cho, Fonda Lee, and many other amazing talents out there.

I know nothing of Malay’s mythology so I’ve no idea whether any part of this book is inspired by such. I just had a lot of fun imagining Mak Genggang (old cranky Malay old lady), the island, and their style of dresses (I had a lot of Batik motif in mind). And then, when setting was moved to Fairyland, I had even more fun imagining all the fantastical fairy things and creatures. Even whilst I used a lot of my own imagination, I was totally helped along by the author as this novel was full of such rich  descriptive prose. This was what I loved most of this novel.

We mostly follow one of the 2 sisters with some chapters in between from perspectives of some English sorceresses. Prunella, who was the main protagonist in the first book, also made her appearance here though as rather minor character so we didn’t really see her develop here. I did identify with the main protag’s earlier character of sensible timidness even if it annoyed me a little however she did develop into someone you’d very much like.

That last bit at the end of the book, though… I just felt that it was forced. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t feel coming at all. I just didn’t feel it. Is it just me? Please tell me if you actually felt that spark cuz I had none :/

Overall, a very fun adventure of interesting (plus quirky) characters in very lush settings. You could read this second book without reading the first but you’ll miss some background on the English side of the ‘history’. So, read both!

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

About the author

Zen Cho is the author of a short story collection (Spirits Abroad, Fixi, 2014) and two historical fantasy novels (Sorcerer to the Crown, 2015 and The True Queen, 2019, both published by Ace and Macmillan). She is a winner of the Crawford Award and the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and a finalist for the Locus, Hugo and Campbell Awards. She was born and raised in Malaysia, resides in the UK, and lives in a notional space between the two.

Find Zen on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter

Review: Into the Mists by Serene Conneeley

Into the Mists (Into the Mists #1) by Serene Conneeley

Enter the swirling mists of an enchanted land, and open your heart to the mystery...

Carlie has the perfect life. A wonderful family and a best friend she adores. A house by the beach so she can go surfing after school. A clever, rational mind and big dreams of becoming a lawyer. A future she’s excited about and can’t wait to begin.

But in a split second her perfect life shatters, and she is sent to the other side of the world to live with a stranger. In this mystical, mist-drenched new land, she is faced with a mystery that will make her question everything she’s ever known about her parents, her life and her very self. A dark secret that made her mother run away from home as a teenager. An old family friend who is not what he seems. A woman in blue who she’s not convinced is real. A shadowy black cat that she’d swear is reading her mind. A deserted old cottage she can’t always find. And a circle of wild-haired witches who want her to join their ranks.

Will she have the courage to journey into the mists, and into her own heart, to discover the truth? And can she somehow weave together a life that she’ll want to live – or will she give up and allow despair to sweep her away from the world forever?

Published 19 May 2013 |  Publisher: Serene Conneeley/Blessed Bee |  RRP: AUD$4.99 

Buy Links: Amazon | B&N Nook | iBooks  |  kobo  

My Blurb (3.5 / 5 stars)

I met the author, Serene, at a bookclub meeting through Read3r’z Re-Vu and what really appealed to me was Serene’s own loveliness and the book covers. I thought the description was decent but didn’t particularly appeal to my reading taste.

It was a struggle to get through the first half of the book because it was just so choked full of grief that I could only read a small portion at a time. It should be acknowledged that the author has written it well if it could affect me in such terrible ways. However, I did persevere as I was assured of better things to come.

To be honest, I expected this to be more of a fairy story but if it was supposed to be so, that’s definitely not what I got in this first book. What I did get, however, is some education about paganism. The book lost me a bit here as I must confess that I have no interest whatsoever in paganism and at some parts, I felt that it dwelt a bit too much into theories behind it. However, I think for someone who loves paganism or even if curious, this may be something they’d love to read. They are lovely theories but they’re just not for me.

There was one particular part that I really really liked, and without telling too much, it explored a ‘what-if’ for the protagonist. What I really liked was the way the story was written; I just love this type of story (and I can’t tell you or it would spoiled). And at the end, the book raised quite a few more questions that I’d like to find the answer to so I think I’d try the rest of the trilogy and hope for more ‘what-if’.

Thanks to the author, Serene Conneeley, for copy of book in exchange of honest review. 

About the author

Serene Conneeley is an Australian writer with a fascination for history, travel, ritual and the myth and magic of ancient places and cultures. She’s written for magazines about news, travel, health, spirituality, entertainment and social and environmental issues, is editor of several preschool  magazines, and has contributed to international books on history, witchcraft, psychic development and personal transformation.

She is the author of the non-fiction books Seven Sacred Sites, A Magical Journey, The Book of Faery Magic, Mermaid Magic, Witchy Magic and Into the Mists: A Journal, and creator of the meditation CD Sacred Journey. The Into the Mists Trilogy was her first adventure into fiction, and she is currently finishing three Into the Mists Chronicles.

Serene is a reconnective healing practitioner, and has studied medicinal and magical herbalism, bereavement counselling, reiki and many other healing modalities, plus politics and journalism. She loves reading, rainbows, drinking tea with her friends, and celebrating the energy of the moon and the magic of the earth. Her pagan heart blossomed as she climbed mountains, danced in stone circles, trekked along pilgrimage paths, wandered through ancient cathedrals and stood in the shadow of the pyramids on her travels, and she’s also learned the magic of finding true happiness and peace at home.

Find Serene on:  website  |  goodreads  |  facebook   |  instagram

Come back tomorrow for Q&A with Serene! 😀

Review: The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet by Sam Meekings

The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet
by Sam Meekings

Who is that mournful man in the painting?

The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet tells the story of Paul Ferdinand Gachet, the subject of one of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous portraits: one that shows what the artist called “the heartbroken expression of our times.” But what caused such heartbreak? This thrilling historical novel follows Doctor Gachet from asylums to art galleries, from the bloody siege of Paris to life with van Gogh in Auvers, and from the bunkers of Nazi Germany to a reclusive billionaire in Tokyo, to uncover the secrets behind that grief-stricken smile.

Published 1 August 2018 |  Publisher: Eyewear Publishing  |  RRP: AUD$4.99 (ebook) 

Buy Links: Amazon | Amazon UK | Book Depository  |  Eyewear Publishing | Soundcloud

My Blurb (3.5 / 5 stars)

I have to admit that I don’t know much about paintings but I’m always fascinated by what stories they could tell. Like Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Kate Forsyth’s Beauty in Thorns, The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet explores not only how this particular painting came to be but also the life of the muse. In addition, The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet also followed on the journey of the painting after it left its painter’s hands and the author’s research into its related history.

At first, I found the alternating chapters with different settings (time, place, and perspective) quite jarring but as I continue to read, becoming immersed in the journey of Doctor Gachet and Van Gogh’s painting, I came to look forward to not only what but where the next chapter will take me to.

The longest chapters were of the life of Doctor Gachet as we learn of his childhood, his marriage and older years. While he lived in a period of turmoil of French history, we really do not hear very much of the world outside of his life. This book is very much focused on Doctor Gachet though of course, only the main turn-points in his life or this book will be a much thicker one. As life goes, his wasn’t a complete tragedy or a most happy one. It’s full of ups and downs and in-betweens but what the painting tells us is that his burden is rather heavy on him.

With the second alternating chapter, there is a narrator (which I assume could be the author) who became fascinated with this painting and the sadness portrayed. He decided to research into the origins of the painting and the subject of said painting. As he shared his research journey, he also shares some life reflections which resulted from his journey.

The last alternating chapter follows the journey of the painting after it was sold. It was displayed in some homes. It missed the Nazi purge and was smuggled out of the country. It was sold for a lot (stress on the ‘lot’) of money. Then, the world seems to have lost its track… Where could it be? Who owns this painting now?

By Vincent van GoghUnknown, Public Domain, Link

The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet is an immersive tale of life. It is captivating as it draws the readers to follow on this journey of many lives over a long span of time. It is a book to be savoured for its historical value and reflections of life.

Thanks to the author, Sam Meekings, for copy of book in exchange of honest review. 

About the author

Sam Meekings grew up near the south coast of England. He took an undergraduate degree in Modern History and English Literature at Mansfield College, Oxford University and, later, a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University. In 2005 he moved to China where he worked as a teacher and editor. He recently moved to Qatar with his wife and family to take up a post as Lecturer in poetry and creative writing at Qatar University. In 2006 and 2007 Sam was longlisted for an Eric Gregory Award for poets under 30.

Find Sam on:  website  |  goodreads  |  twitter   |  instagram  |  facebook  |  youtube

Blog Tour: The Dysasters by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast -a Review

The Dysasters (The Dysasters #1) by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast

P.C. and Kristin Cast, the #1 New York Times bestselling authors of the House of Night phenomenon, return to the scene with The Dysasters—the first action-packed novel in a new paranormal fantasy series.

Adoptive daughter of a gifted scientist, Foster Stewart doesn’t live a “normal” life, (not that she’d want to). But controlling cloud formations and seeing airwaves aren’t things most eighteen year olds can do.

Small town star quarterback and quintessential dreamy boy next door, Tate “Nighthawk” Taylor has never thought much about his extra abilities. Sure, his night vision comes in handy during games, but who wouldn’t want that extra edge?

From the moment Foster and Tate collide, their worlds spiral and a deadly tornado forces them to work together, fully awakening their not-so-natural ability – the power to control air.

As they each deal with the tragic loss of loved ones, they’re caught by another devastating blow – they are the first in a group of teens genetically manipulated before birth to bond with the elements, and worse… they’re being hunted.

Now, Foster and Tate must fight to control their abilities as they learn of their past, how they came to be, who’s following them, and what tomorrow will bring… more DYSASTERS?

Published 26 February 2019 |  Publisher: Pan MacMillan  |  RRP: AUD$18.99

My Blurb (3.5 / 5 stars)

It seems, these days, it’s the market for teens with “special” abilities. They are so much fun to read though. I mean who doesn’t want to have a superpower?! Realistically, it’s really quite frightening thing to have (after all, with great power comes great responsibility). Scientifically, you really have to put that on the shelf and read just for fun ;)\

The main highlight of this book for me was the illustrations (see example below). Isn’t it just beautiful? They are peppered throughout the story and it’s just so good to have the characters drawn out on paper. It basically just added an extra dimension to the book. The action bits and the sweet parts made them a whole lot more exciting.

There were many ‘oh no’ and eye-roll moments in the first 2 chapters. I was finding it a little bit difficult to like these 2 characters, Foster and Tate as they are not only polar opposite of each other but also feels like their characters were exaggerated. There were so much anger and trust issues with Foster but Tate, omg, where can I find this perfect guy? Or rather his perfect parents/family? He seems to have been the only lucky one in that department. It was very unique though as to date, no one else, has his great family. In fact, it just seems too perfect.

When the action starts, however, this book was really quite fun to read. It was really enjoyable to see them coming to their abilities and how!

I do believe fans of House of Night series or even Twilight series may love this book. The only reason that I didn’t love this book but only just enjoyed it is because it was just too much cheese for me. Mind you, I’m nearing the big four-oh so I may be a tad bit cynical lol. I think this book may be perfect for teens who like their romance with their action story.

My thanks to St Martin’s Press for having me on this tour (and the Netgalley copy) and thanks to Pan Australia for paperback copy of book (arrived unsolicited but with impeccable timing!). 

About the author

#1 New York Times & #1 USA Today bestselling author P.C. Cast was born in the Midwest, and, after her tour in the USAF, she taught high school for 15 years before retiring to write full time. PC is a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. Her novels have been awarded the prestigious: Oklahoma Book Award, YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, Booksellers’ Best, and many, many more. Ms. Cast is an experienced teacher and talented speaker who lives in Oregon near her fabulous daughter, her adorable pack of dogs, her crazy Maine Coon, and a bunch of horses.

Find PC on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter  |  facebook  | instagram

Kristin Cast is a #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today bestselling author who teams with her mother to write the wildly successful House of Night series. She has editorial credits, a thriving t-shirt line, and a passion for all things paranormal. When away from her writing desk, Kristin loves going on adventures with her friends, family, and significant other, playing with her dogs (Grace Kelly and Hobbs the Tiny Dragon), and is currently obsessed with her baby.

Find Kristin on:  goodreads  | website  | twitter  | instagram

Review: Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard

Bloodwitch (The Witchlands #3) by Susan Dennard

Loyalties will be tested as never before.

The Raider King’s plans to claim the Witchlands are under way. Now, his forces sow terror in the mountains, slaughtering innocents. After finding the slain, Aeduan and Iseult race for safety. And despite differing goals, they’ve grown to trust one another in the fight to survive. Yet the Bloodwitch keeps a secret that could change everything . . .

When Merik sacrifices himself to save his friends, he is captured by the Fury. However, Merik isn’t one to give up easily, and he’ll do whatever it takes to save those he loves. And in Marstok, Safi the Truthwitch agrees to help the empress uncover a rebellion. But those implicated are killed and Safi becomes desperate for freedom.

War has come once more to the Witchlands. Perhaps if Safi and Iseult were united, their powers could bring peace. But chaos is not easily tamed.

Published 12 February 2019 |  Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia  |  RRP: AUD$16.99

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

This review is in relation to book 3 of the series and I have done my best to avoid any spoilers. 

I loved Truthwitch & Windwitch (books 1 & 2) so much so Bloodwitch was a highly anticipated release for 2019. I was sooo excited when it arrived, all shiny and beautiful and best of all, the thickest book of the 3! Woot! There was a lot more to read this time around.

Bloodwitch picked up not long after Windwitch and in retrospect, I should have re-read the first 2 books because whilst I have no trouble remembering the main 4 characters, I struggled a little with the rest so it didn’t start that well for me. I only remembered enough of what happened at the end of Windwitch.

As the author acknowledges in the book, this story is so complicated and after reading this book, I agree completely. With Bloodwitch, this series became ever more complex in its worldbuilding so in a very real way, it has exceeded my expectations. With 1 unexpected mind-blowing twist and 1 heartbreaking expected scene, I have enjoyed this book quite a lot. There was a lot of things happening so it felt to be a very busy book but I just didn’t get the same feels as I did from the first 2 books. I have to note here that I think I’m in a reading slump (nothing really picked up my interest *sighs) and unfortunately, this book didn’t pick me up either :/

I do feel, however, that this book deserves a re-read so I will be re-reading the whole series when I’m in a better reading situation. If you loved the first 2 books, you’d definitely read this, hey! and if you didn’t particularly find the first 2 books to be enthralling, well, this one may prove to be a better read for you because it just didn’t stop!

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

About the author

Susan Dennard has come a long way from small-town Georgia. Working in marine biology, she got to travel the world—six out of seven continents, to be exact (she’ll get to you yet, Asia!)—before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor.

She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the New York Times bestselling books Truthwitch and Windwitch, and when not writing, she’s usually slaying darkspawn (on her Xbox) or earning bruises at the dojo.

She lives in the Midwestern US with her French husband, two spoiled dogs, and two grouchy cats.

Find Candice on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter  |  facebook  | instagram  | tumblr  |  | pinterest