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Who Needs A Thesaurus?- a RE-view of The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

This was the first series I read in its entirety. Granted it was out of order, so I thought it was time to give it another try from the start. And in order – the way it was meant to be read.

After the death of their parents in a house fire, siblings Violet, Klaus and Sunny are put into the care of Count Olaf who immediately mistreats them behind closed doors. The three of them seek escape, but when adults don’t listen to them or care enough about them they need to take matters into their own hands to work out what the Count has planned for them in order to get their fortune, locked away.

This novel was introduced to me at age 8 by my teacher, who was a huge fan of the series. This was a particularly impactful series for me because it signified a coming of age for me, much like each character experiences gradually at some point in the series. For me, it was the abandoning of 50-page “chapter” books on fairies and unicorns.

This novel’s biggest strength is definitely its mood. It had a way with putting pessimism on things in simple ways. I feel like it could’ve been described more, but with it being middle grade it worked out fairly well in how the mood was set. This novel would scream dark academia if it was released in the past five years. Well, it still could, but that would be a huge marketing point for this novel if it was newer to shelves.

With it being a middle grade novel, it definitely embraced that side of things. At times it was charming and others it was annoying. Snicket definitely had his clever moments in his writing, but at times they were foreshadowed by how often he explained the meaning of a new word. This wasn’t that much of a deal to me when I read it at the appropriate age, but reading it as an adult I found it passively condescending. Ironically, so did Klaus when adults tried explaining things to him.

The interesting take this novel took was explaining tragedy, trauma and other mature topics to a younger audience. A lot of it is glossed over, but the parts that stayed were very impactful altogether. The parts that explained emotions and behaviours the children experienced, the shock factor of the abuse the Count put them through, how they care for each other. That’s what particularly drew me in – how it was never floury or joking over that aspect of the novel. It had the space to be quirky and eccentric, but knew when not to be.

I’m definitely not as into it as I was initially, but I think this series is one I’ll keep going through and rereading. Just to see what the whole story looks like.

The Bad Beginning gets a score of 3.5/5. Not a bad start for a bad start.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Major Style Points – a review of The Liminal Space by Jacquie McRae

This author studied at the same university as me. Not the same degree – I studied digital communications, not creative writing – but that’s still cool. A small world to find a New Zealand author publishing a fiction novel.

With the church of a small British village called Radley losing money, their library may be shutting down as a result. And in the middle of this village crisis are four people. First is William, a retired doctor and kind soul without history. He helps out Emily, who is in love with an abusive husband and retreats to her workplace at the library to find peace. Next door to William is Arlo and his son Marco, who is struggling to play London rent after not making enough sales as a real estate agent. And fourth is James, depressed and anxious as his father makes his life choices for him. To save the Radley library, together these four will first save themselves.

This book has got some triggering topics that are worth mentioning now: depression, anxiety, suicide, and sexual abuse, all described and playing parts in the narrative. If any of these trigger or upset you, this book isn’t for you. You’re okay to not read this review.

I loved all these characters and the perspectives they provided. Each one felt so real and so genuinely cared for that I cannot discern favourites, because each of them focussed on such real subjects, some of which I could relate to. And the ones that I couldn’t relate to were laced with such an incredible writing style that I would claim it as similar as Markus Zusak’s. How poetic the mundane and the normal was.

With contemporary novels being a big hit-or-miss for me, sometimes the conflicts or the plotlines don’t feel real enough. But each of these conflicts faced by the main characters were very much real and connected with each other very well. It didn’t feel Avengers-y where they all team up to solve a big issue, but the little impacts they make on each other when they meet it the beauty of this novel. It showcases them as individuals even when their POV voices are so unique and similar at the same time. As if I haven’t gushed enough about the writing style already. This is what really captures you when you read this novel.

My only complaint would be how abruptly the character arcs had finished. They did make sense, but in some cases it felt like they happened too soon. James’s plot, which focuses on mental health, is a strong example. It is framed that his mental health problems are “solved” by the end of the book, which in reality would not be. And then another character doesn’t have a POV chapter to solve their problems and finish their character arc, it is just in the background? I didn’t vibe with that.

I didn’t think I would vibe with this book when I saw a almost brand new copy of it in a second-hand book shop and bought it because it was cheap. But as soon as I read it, I knew I was glad to pick it up. And you should pick it up too.

The Liminal Space gets a score of 4/5. A strong writing style foundation with fantastic characters building it up.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Only Humans – a review of The Messenger by Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak has written my favourite book of all time, The Book Thief. I have read one of his other works prior, Bridge of Clay, and wasn’t amazed admittedly. This made me wonder if the Book Thief was the sole place where Zusak peaked.

After reading The Messenger, I decided he is just that good of an author.

Ed Kennedy wants to be more than an underage taxi driver, but he has never found the chance to do so. However, after he stops a bank robbery – albeit a pathetic one – everything changes. His week of fame ends with a single envelope address to him appearing in his letterbox; the ace of clubs with three addresses written on it. With nothing better to do, Ed decides to visit these addresses. And so he spirals into an obsession with these cards and unhealthy selflessness.

Zusak always masters narrative voice in his works, and Ed is no exception. What is most noticeable in The Messenger, however, is the evolution of the voice with the character. As the story went on, so did the depth of Ed’s thoughts and the sheer poetry of what was going on around him. It is very natural for narrative voice to evolve as a story goes on, as an author’s style is very literally improving with each paragraph. But Zusak goes a step further with distinguishable ways that Ed changes in the novel. It makes the words really feel like his thoughts. Zusak flourishes his perfection of writing in first person.

His mastery of characters expands even further to the wide cast in this book. It is very literally showing the characters changing and opening up as Ed takes each of them on different character arcs. It is quite a mission to connect so many short stories so expertly as Ed changes the lives of twelve different people and their families. They were all raw. They were all real. They were all relatable. I felt like I collected their hearts and tenderly loved them all.

But what I especially loved was how it was all laced together. The card game. Well, as it is on the surface. Contemporary stories can be unusual for me, because they focus on very regular things in life and either oversell or undersell what goes on. This was a story about people making do in a small Australian town and not reaching their goals or dreams. And all it took was one person to connect them to their needs. It is a story that truly showed the human condition and how that small thing connects us and is how we evolve. Just by needing that small push, that agent to guide you on the right path. To make yourself.

If you don’t read it, you won’t understand what I’m on about. Pick up a copy right now. You’ll regret it if you don’t. This book was a lucky find in a second hand shop that is worth gold.

The Messenger gets a score of 5/5. Markus Zusak again makes a favourite of mine.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Harmonious End – A review of Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer

I’ve never finished a novel within a week. That’s either indicative of a short page count or a really good read, especially when my average for a really good book is two weeks.

So how did finishing Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer within a week fair up?

In the final installment of the Elementals series we focus on the oldest brother of the Merrick family, Michael. With the Guides seeking to exterminate his family and his allies and their presence looming ever closer, his concern of keeping everyone safe has him losing sleep. But as his entire street is set on fire by the Guides, his girlfriend Hannah is put at risk and Michael himself is suspected of arson. He must choose whether him and his loved ones should run and hide or stand up against the Guides before the entire county gets subject to a warped perspective of the greater good.

This would be the first book in the series to go outside of a high school and the formal classed “young adult” perspective, instead being classed more as an adult perspective as the audience grew up. But it was an interesting adult perspective, as the two main characters, Mike and Hannah, became adults and acting parents arguably too soon. This really highlighted and heightened the stakes when each of them had so much at risk. From the get go I was thoroughly engaged with what was present because I knew the stakes from the first word. This made for very action packed and harrowing moments. It really felt like the final book of the series as a result.

Kemmerer continues to succeed with her characters and their relationships, even without the typical narrative of finding love but instead having a preexisting relationship be explored. There is something really relatable and incredible about a story of losing everything you’ve built up, as a reality or as a threat. The inner thoughts of each characters’ POV were very insightful and engaging, especially seeing their respective struggles.

In terms of the plot, this plot was probably the best of the whole series. As mentioned before, the stakes felt so real here. I also liked how various plot points from the rest of the series were tied in to this – the arsonry from Book 2, Hunter’s family involvement from Book 3, Adam and Tyler from Book 4, and of course the grounds based in Book 1. I would have hoped that the partners of the main brothers were a bit more involved with the plot rather than some of them being supportive and this book being the big finale – especially Becca, being a Fifth herself. But I was still very pleased with how it ended and won’t complain about that.

In fact, I don’t think I have any complaints. This is rare. Other 5 star books on my site would have very minor complaints, but my only complaints as seen previously is minor squared. It is rarely that a final installment in a series would go so right. But this one did.

Sacrifice gets a score of 5/5. I couldn’t think of a better end to this series which I literally grew up through high school and university with.

Now we gotta rate the whole series! You’ll also catch my reviews of the first 2 books which I read before my blogging journey, albeit short.

Storm – 5/5, loved the characters, loved the plot. A breath of fresh fantasy air for 17 year old me.

Spark – 4/5, characters started to lack a little bit, but this plotline was something else.

Spirit – 4/5, absolutely incredible until the climax was rushed.

Secret – 3.5/5, an amazing blossoming romance that sadly wasn’t tied with the overarching plotline.

Sacrifice – 5/5, brand new and mature takes on pre existing elements to conclude the series.

If you want romance with high stakes set in a contemporary fantasy environment, this is the series for you. Kemmerer expertly portrays romances with deep connections in high risk settings across all books in this series. She understands her characters well, even greater when they have connections to their powers and how they are personified. While the plots get mixed up in places, the stakes are always very real. Even for it being a fantasy, it feel so damn real. This will definitely be one of my favourite series of all time. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Elementals series gets a score of 4/5. This one’s a keeper.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Queer Airbender Twin – A review of Secret by Brigid Kemmerer

I know Nick isn’t Aang, but that was how I had to describe him to my friends because that prospect excited me so much, okay?

And it still excites me because it was pretty well written.

Nick Merrick, one of four Elemental siblings, has more than just his air manipulation powers to keep secret; he’s gay. He’s got the hots for his cover-story girlfriend’s dance partner, but not the guts to come out even to his own twin. But tension rise between Nick and his posed girlfriend Quinn as not only is her situation at home worsening, but she’s hanging out with a sworn enemy of his family. Not to mention Nick trying to prioritise protecting his family in case a bloodthirsty Guide comes around over his own wants and dreams…

This story the more that I read it felt personal to Nick rather than the overarching plot of the Merricks vs the Guides. Am I saying it’s a bad thing? Kind of, but kind of not. It only really made an impact at the start and the finish. In the previous book, Spirit, the Guides were front, centre and a threat the entire time, ready to wreak havoc on the Merrick brothers and their allies. Here, they were established at the start to be there and then popped out of their hiding hole at the climax. There was barely a presence of them there for them to be so close to the climax of the series. It felt disappointing that the Guides weren’t really covered in this book. In fact, the Elemental side of things was hardly tied to it at all. Just kind of flavour.

Regardless, the intimate story that was there was done incredibly. The romance between Nick and Adam was downright magical. Kemmerer just does romance so well full stop! I can strongly say that my list of OTPs is very small. Nick and Adam – Nidam? – was just added to this list. They compliment each other so well and their relationship just felt so real and safe and pure. The emotions and language used made me feel so damn warm inside, no wonder I was shivering on the cold dank bus while reading this!

More on Nick, after reading this story he’s become my favourite of the brothers so far, if not my favourite character of the whole series. I feel like this book was also titled very appropriately; Secret. It was a key theme to Nick’s development; the secret that he’s an air elemental, the secret that he’s gay, the secret that he wants to move out of town. All of that was well reflected on his fear of going against what society expects him to be. Though it went so specific, it was a struggle that still felt universal and real. I understood him well solely on how he was written, how rooted he was in his fears. I feel like society is an obstacle for all of us to overcome. We often forget to look at ourselves, and I’m glad we saw that in Nick.

All that said, I started this series in 2017 when I read Storm in Year 12. Now it’s 2021, and you bet Sacrifice is only 4 more books on my TBR pile away. 5 years. 5 books. We’re on the home stretch now, Merricks. Bring on the final installment of the Elementals series!

Secret gets a score of 3.5/5. Chances were lost to tie the world to the plot better, but the plot was still something fantastic without it.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Woke, but Tiring – A Review of Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Just finished this book in time for the new year. Pity the review came out a bit later, so you didn’t know.

Another pity was this book. We’ll talk more about that in a second.

In Dead Until Dark vampires are real. The supernatural is mainstreaming and becoming part of daily life with humans. Including Sookie Stackhouse, a human with mind reading abilities. With the arrival of a hot vampire at the small town bar she works at, he brings on a little bit more trouble whether he wanted to or not. Murder. The deaths of various humans who get down with vampires, including one of Sookie’s coworkers. She’s down to prove the innocence of those she’s close with and do whatever she can to make sure she’s not targeted next.

Let’s talk about this Sookie character first. A lot of her traits felt very contradictory. She hates people due to reading their minds uncontrollably sometimes but she’s incredibly bubbly. Her emotions and feelings towards her clearly shifty boyfriend change more than weather in the spring, hating him in the morning and bedding him the same night. Her strengths became her weaknesses at the same time, and it was like the author flipped a coin to decide if she’d be good with them or not. It made me very hard to feel for her unless a situation she got into just had plain old shock factor.

Speaking of shock factor, the killer. This is a murder mystery plot after all. There wasn’t any realisation at any time during the novel over who the killer was and me being right, or when the killer was revealed I was in disbelief or realising it all made sense. It was just left feeling mediocre about it. It only barely made sense because this character really didn’t have a lot of presence in the story. There were no stand-out points that connected their motives and made everything click. It was like fixing a car with duct tape.

It wasn’t all piss poor though. The magical realism played into this book was quite well done, how the vampires decided to fit into the world and much about them was already well known to the general public, including some stereotypes. It made the world feel solid. Another solid part of the world was how diverse both the humans and vampires were and how naturally they were a part of it; black vampires, gay vampires, polyamoury between vampires and humans. It made the world feel all the more natural.

Until we talk about how the men in it were portrayed. All of them were assholes, and for some reason the main character looked up to a lot of them? The hot vampire she dates is clearly manipulative, her boss wants to be a homewrecker on her relationship, her brother calls Sookie’s mental trauma ‘excuses’. I’m not saying men are as pure as Jesus himself, but none of them came close.

And as much as I was looking forward to reading a lot of the series, I don’t want to now. This is the first and only Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood book I’ll be reviewing on this blog I’m afraid.

Dead Until Dark gets a score of 2/5. I’ll give it credit for being woke at the time of its publishing, but everything else can be discredited.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Tale of the Misguided Edgelord – a review of Spirit by Brigid Kemerer

Bit awkward. I’m reviewing book 3 of this series when I haven’t reviewed books 1 and 2 on this blog.

Granted I did read them before I decided this blog was going to be a thing. Don’t expect me to backlog every single book I’ve read. #sorrynotsorry

Actually most of the books backlogged would wind up being Rainbow Magic books, so I won’t apologise for that. Be relieved I won’t be reviewing the tonne of books I no longer have.

Anyway, the Elementals series! This series follows a family of four brothers, each controlling a different element. But there’s one kind of elemental not in the Merrick family; a Fifth, the spiritual elemental. One Fifth is Hunter Garrity, whom the Merricks can’t decide if he was on their side the whole time or betrayed them. We follow his story as one of his former friends, a fire elemental, threatens to burn down the town if the Guides, hunters of elementals, don’t come and cause chaos themselves. Little does Hunter know that the new girl who caught his interest has an agenda with the fires around town too.

Okay, first thing I have to say is that Hunter needs a hug. Like right now. One weary thing that can happen with characters as tragic as Hunter is that they won’t do anything about it and become very passive characters. I absolutely loathe pivotal characters who remain inactive in their sorrows for their entire lives and waste their lives away. Hunter wound up being very active and turbulent, making much of the things that happened to him very powerful. It was never a matter of his emotions in the moment for long, he would always lead on to ways to fix the problems in front of him. His emotions rarely made him passive to the problems faced in front of him. I admire that in characters like him.

Emotion was actually a huge core to Kemerer’s writing, which I find absolutely excellent. Especially in third person writing, at times emotions are glossed over. Emotion is a core to the storytelling presented. I really engaged with the story through emotions alone, how each action was presented at the base of a feeling. It became almost effortless to get into the characters minds and understand what was going on.

That being said, some moments were placed off and drew me out of the story. The strongest (or I guess weakest) example was the climax. It was a very short lived chapter, thus the emotions and the stakes felt more like ripping off a band aid instead of tearing down a wall. This was odd when compared to the depth of other scenes target felt so long, so real. Like the midpoint, very well executed. But with such a big deal as the climax being so short, it made me doubt whether the storyline being resolved was actually important or not. This was especially when the previous climaxes in the series were built up and expanded upon so much more.

Perhaps if Kemerer put more emphasis into those final scenes I would have given this book a perfect score.

Spirit gets a score of 4/5. There was passion put into the characters and the very emotive writing, if only the same could be said for the ending.

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Lived Up To Its Name – A Review of Nowhere Fast by Kevin Waltman

Contemporary. Big hit or miss typically in my eyes. There’s either a concept I fall in love with or one that I would never touch.

Well I finally found a middle ground book.

Nowhere Fast follows Gary, a teen in a small town in the US. He finds excitement being towed by his rebellious best friend Wilson and comfort from his girlfriend Lauryn, all to distract himself from an abusive father. Gary doesn’t have a life of his own, though. All he wants is a break from his life, a chance for something new like moving out of town. But things get a little hectic when Wilson encourages him to “borrow” a suspicious man’s car overnight.

The language used in this novel was absolutely stunning. The descriptions were very vivid, very personal both inside and outside of Gary’s head. That was really the highlight of reading this book, how such simple concepts were described so divinely in such a short space of time (this book just surpassed 200 pages). I could really connect to Gary through these emotions he saw his town through.

But let’s talk about Gary for a second. I mentioned that he wasn’t his person. That’s literally all that can be said about him, even after his character arc was “complete”. Everything about him is that he’s attached to this person or does as this person says, making him an amalgamation of all the people in his life. For me that just makes him devoid of character. Just a reflective shell of himself. I was expecting him by the end of the book to become his own person, but he’s just that same shell after all he went through.

Speaking of which, this novel had the most hollow ending ever. It was a negative resolution, but that’s not bad if there’s some message that comes out of it. But I genuinely can’t find it. Gary has mildly changed, it feels like the start of his character arc if anything, his wants remain exactly the same, and he hasn’t pinpointed what was wrong in his life. The story feels pointless. Not to mention how many unanswered questions there are. I feel like something more needs to be there to establish the change that happened to Gary.

But if there’s one thing that redeems Gary it’s his relationship and the way he treats it, or at least tries to. I wouldn’t call him and Lauryn my one true pairing, but the relationship they endorsed was one of the healthier and more consent driven ones I’ve seen. Gary is an incredibly respectful boyfriend, and he is aware of making sure Lauryn is comfortable and is embarrassed when he takes a step a little too far. It’s fantastic to see a relationship like this that is also romantic, a couple that goes out instead of just sticking to themselves making out and getting heated. It was great to see that kind of rep in Young Adult fiction.

That being said, this plot didn’t know where it was going for me a lot of the time. When one direction or outcome was established, the story changed so it established something else. Gary wanted a change of pace or scenery, her never got it or realised to love his home. Wilson said he might end up moving out of town, nothing was done to stop that happening. Many things felt disjointed and unresolved as a result. This book was a stand alone and there were still so many loose ties.

Dare I say it, this book went nowhere fast.

Nowhere Fast gets a score of 2/5. You were written nice, but finish the damn story!

Yours in writing

Amy