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Hits Hard Twice – a REview of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I was disappointed when my teacher in my final year of high school said we might study this book for English and then pulled out Shakespeare two weeks later. We ready the prologue in class and everything! And I was hooked.

But more on that later, and more on what hooked me reading this novel a second time this year.

Also, Markus Zusak commented on my photo of The Messenger the other day. I was starstruck all day.

On the brink of the Second World War in a small town in Germany, Liesel was meant to be sent to a foster home with her brother. He died on the train there. Overcome with grief and with a stolen book in hand, Liesel is welcomed into this new family found in Hans and Rosa Hubermann. In the years to come Liesel draws upon a connection to books as her family becomes silent protestors during the rise of Nazi Germany.

This was the novel that got me into historical fiction. While not the first, it was the one that got me hooked those four years ago with unique writing styles, insights and incredible characters. How anyone was able to write something so phenomenal was beyond me. It was revolutionary to my tiny brain. I someday want to write a book that hits like The Book Thief does but I don’t even know if it’s possible.

And when I read it the second time it still hit just as hard. I still got so emotional and close to tears reading the end, and even little bits in between that I had forgotten. So many surprises, so many lines that hit hard, and so many insights into the human condition. You already know I’m a fan of human condition themes, and this one smacks me in the face with desires to be welcomed, to find purpose, fulfill desires and do good in the world. So universal.

The main reason I wanted to read this novel back when I was seventeen was when I found out that this novel was narrated by Death. Arguably, this is what makes The Book Thief and defines Zusak’s style is narration like this. His portrayal of Death as a concept and a being is refreshing compared to the usual cynical and sinister portrayals. The narrator provides the killer lines and insights that hit the hardest, with a garden of flowery language that makes us see the world through his eyes in an at times dark beauty.

Usually with plots like this, day in the life stories with no clear goals and objectives of the main character, they can get tedious. But Zusak masters this and kept me engaged the whole way through. This is the way you make the seemingly mundane hit hard! He pulls out so much beauty from the simplest things – even dominos! I will never get over his writing style and how well he writes things.

If you haven’t guessed, this is book I recommend to everyone no matter their preferences.

The Book Thief gets a score of 5/5. Find a better book, I dare you.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Not Quite My Boo – a review of The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

This is the first book that BookTok has convinced me to buy.

In an alternate near future, the Scion government rules over London in attempt to prosecute the illegal acts of clairvoyance and the communion of spirits. The most powerful clairvoyants are found in underground gangs amongst the many districts, including Irish immigrant Paige Mahoney. However, when she gets arrested she isn’t killed or brainwashed like she expects to be. She is taken to the off-grid city of Oxford where her kind is enslaved by otherworldly Rephaim to keep the world from destruction. Paige soon discovers that her particular branch of clairvoyance is very sought after, and she must both utilise it and hide it if she wishes to escape.

Fantasy Dystopia is a genre less talked about than other fantasies, and the worldbuilding of this book just goes to prove how good it is. In retrospect I realise it was a lot of information, but it was present and explained in ways that made perfect sense. I’m a huge fan of magic centric worldbuilding and seeing the implications of it. The abstract ways the aether and spirits worked to the will of clairvoyants was especially entertaining for me, especially from the perspective of Paige who was blind to them but could still sense them. Better still was the contrast of the urban and typical dystopia of London put against the archaic and rustic Oxford, very well captured introductions to these key locations which I hope to see more of in the future.

Flashbacks were used a lot in this novel, but for once it didn’t annoy me how often it was used. That’s because they added to the story, the main character and supporting characters who appear later in the plot. It also became a unique way to build out the world, with the flashbacks being in different locations to the present. I’ve read and reviewed other books where flashbacks have been pivotal yet ruined the experience, but this novel done it in a way that made so much sense and became very entertaining to get through. I was happy to come across another flashback as a result.

However, like many other novels this one suffers from the same issue – the lead romance feeling unearned! There were moments where I looked at it and saw it coming, but even when the kiss came to fruition I couldn’t help but wonder how things escalated so quickly. I’m not denying that they care for each other, but to a romantic kind of degree? I didn’t see any thoughts of it that way until the final chapters. It felt like the kiss was shoved in there at the end instead of later in the series to do service to some kind of audience – what kind? I’m not sure.

Moving onto characters and relationships, which was a mixed bag altogether. Few of the characters stood out in spite of clearly unique personalities, and while relationships were there and solid I felt like they could’ve been expanded upon more. This made the stronger characters, such as Jaxon and Nick, cast the rest of the cast in shadow and have the emotional stakes involving them get dampened.

Luckily there will be more books in the series to get to know the characters that are still sticking around. I am still very much looking forward to what the rest of the series holds.

The Bone Season gets a score of 3.5/5. What a wonderful world, but the characters constructively need more work.

Yours in writing

Amy

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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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Inspired My Own Novels – a RE-view of Troubletwisters by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Welcome to our first RE-view! Where I take books I have read – but not reviewed – and return to them with a critical eye to see if they were really as good as I thought they were as a kid.

First off we’ve got a novel which, upon re-read, features the seeds to inspire my debut novel, Aster’s Coda: Exposure.

A bizarre incident that exploded their home forces twins Jack and Jaide Shield to meet and move in with their eccentric grandmother. Though the small town and even the house they live in provides many curiosities, none are greater for Jack and Jaide than Grandma X’s suspicious activity in the house – how the scent of hot chocolate affects their short term memory, her cat sometimes talks to Jack, and Jaide getting caught in the wind. And when they start to get attacked by animals with pure white eyes, they suspect she could be behind it.

Let’s start off with describing my attachment to this book and this series when I first read it. This was the first book series I read when I left primary school and it somewhat marked another step in me moving away from books about fairies. I loved it within the first chapter, with the dark fantasy twists on a middle grade book that even disturbed me now – ten years since this book came out. In retrospect, this novel features many tropes that wound up being favourites of mine. The way is uses magic, mind control villains, and contemporary fantasies. The magic is really what sucks you in the most.

Upon reading it again, however, I noticed the behaviour of the characters and the way they were described were a little bit shallow. The difference in the twins’ personalities were fairly minute at the start, their mum and dad had fairly typical parent behaviour, and the side characters were introduced with little impact. I would say that the only characters that didn’t seem flawed in that way were Grandma X and her cats. They were all very entertaining.

The magic system and the plot were still very strong. Simple, yes, but very strong. Simple plotlines or premises can end up making stronger stories in my eyes, and this is no exception. This made for moments to be described in engaging and disturbing ways. Nothing was taken away from this novel upon a reread in terms of a great experience and story.

So while my opinion of this novel may have gone down, it is still very good and very treasured to me.

Troubletwisters gets a score of 4/5. This novel walked so my own novel could run.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Who Wrote This? – a review of Aster’s Coda: Exposure by Amy Rosenfeldt

I’m gobsmacked.

I don’t know how, but I found this book lying on my bookshelf and I don’t even remember how it got there. The author’s name was familiar – I don’t remember from what exactly even now – but I was not looking forward to reading certain books on my TBR and decided to pick this one up instead.

What was I thinking?

Abby Tacker is grieving the loss of her mother when her life takes yet another turn. After being rescued from creatures made of smoke, she learns that they are after her because she is being hunted. A curse that has spanned across Three Worlds has targeted her as the next to die in her family’s bloodline unless she can hunt the hunter. But her cowardice leads her running from this problem until it bites her in the butt in the worst way possible.

Reading this book felt like an invasion of privacy. I literally am in the middle of writing a book with characters very similar to these ones. It was basically the backstory of these particular characters and I didn’t even realise. Not to mention that it felt like a mish mash of Men in Black, Shadowhunters, RWBY and Percy Jackson. How could so many shows combine into this?

And the plot was so predictable! I must be a psychic because I could literally tell what would happen next, how every character would react and even how the magic system worked before it was even explained. I have never experienced this with a book before. It’s predictability made it lose all the tension it should’ve had. It makes me so tempted to spoil the whole plot for you guys.

Now let’s get into the worldbuilding, the edgiest worldbuilding you’ve ever seen. The author decided to make up their own creatures – no elves, no dragons – which leaves so much in this world feeling foreign. Why would you do this? People look for familiarity in their fantasy books and this has none of it. I want a world I can connect with, and this isn’t it.

And the worst part is even though this book feels like plagiarism, I can’t sue the author. The author is me.

Aster’s Coda: Exposure gets a score of 5/5. Happy April Fools.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Real War’s At Home – a review of The Gunner Girl by Clare Harvey

World War II fiction lads! Been a hot minute since we’ve had one of these, and I’m so excited to tell you guys about this one! It’s a great one!

The ATS served as the women’s branch of the British Army during the Second World War, and this story follows three of them; Joan, who doesn’t remember her own past, Edie, looking to be like her idol Mary Churchill, and Bea, providing for her impoverished and growing family. The three find sisterhood bunking together and doing their bit for the war, some of them also finding and holding onto love in the process. But soon they discover their own battles in their personal lives in spite of their success with the ATS…

We need to get some trigger warnings out of the way first. This novel depicts sexual assault, abortions and side effects of PTSD.

The characters in The Gunner Girl were the indefinite highlight. Characters blur and blend into each other at times during historical fiction, but that was never the case with this book. Each character was very distinct, engaging and favourite of mine – not even the pivotal characters. Every side character was just as engaging and distinct.

I additionally found the writing style to be very engaging. Good writing style right from the start can instantly hook me in, and this was definitely the case. It was a style that put forth the character’s thoughts and motivations, and you could really see them propel the story forward. The style didn’t bother to look fancy and it got down to the story. But while I’m normally a hater for stories without clear plots, but the way this story flowed and its style made up for it immensely.

What I really enjoyed about the plot was the war not so much being the focus on it – it was very much about the people. These are the World War II books I’ve really enjoyed, where the war serves as a backdrop and propels some but not all of the actions. It really allowed for insights into psychological impacts of war on the average person. A lot of the problems that the main three characters faced were both posed by the war and more regular things in contrast, and to see the psychological effects of both was very insightful.

But what really brought this story together was the homey vibes and the sisterhood – what the story is at its roots.

The Gunner Girl gets a score of 4.5/5. Sisterhood during wartime to make you feel heartwarming.

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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Toasters Have Feelings Too – a review of Engines of Empathy by Paul Mannering

We got another book by a New Zealand Author! And a sci fi one at that, really hard to find. New Zealand publishing industries aren’t fond of publishing anything like this. So I was lucky to find this one on an online list to read.

Sadly, though, this one’s not a keeper.

In a near future where human empathy is used as the best clean fuel source out there, Charlotte Pudding gets intercepted by a radical called Drakeforth. He claims that the Godden Corporation is hiding secrets from the public, which can only be found in the folds of Charlotte’s antique desk, a family heirloom she doesn’t want to part with. Things get more out of hand when a Godden Repossession company wants hold of her desk too, and she buys into the story set by Drakeforth. Together they head to one of the few religious sects left in the world to find the resources and insights hidden in the wood of the desk before anyone else can get their hands on it.

The strongest part of this novel was definitely the plot. Everything was connected very well, with Mannering’s foreshadowing, causes and effects. This made the story very easy to follow along with and yet it still featured unexpected moments. And a very satisfying ending. One so strong, that it bumped up its mediocre rating by a fair bit.

But what made it mediocre in the first place?

It was gimmicky. And not to the point where it made it charming, at least not for me. Maybe for some. But it left a bitter taste in my mouth, aside from the banter between the two leading characters. Minor characters with surnames like Burrito, alternative swear words and slang that felt written by a twelve year old, and a power system that gives feelings to inanimate objects. I genuinely couldn’t tell if this novel wanted me to take it seriously.

And oh dear, we got a Mary Sue for a main character! Charlotte’s personality was not distinguishable. Neither were her flaws. And her strengths just happened to be perfect for this novel. She wasn’t painful to read, but it was clear she wasn’t an everyman trope. Everything fell into place too much for her and she was cliched in quite a few ways. She literally deus-ex-machina’d the bad guys!

The worldbuilding in this novel was just plain confusing, especially the pivotal part of the novel in which electronic are powered by social relations. It was explained as it being just the way things were without any explanation as to how the process unfolded. Furthermore, there were references to British things but I didn’t know if it took place on Earth or another planet. The religion felt too scientific to be classed as one. And why was the weakness of the antagonists the fact that their whole process to get the desk off Charlotte was that it had to be consensual?

In conclusion, this many wrongs won’t match the right. It has the potential to be good to somebody, but that ain’t me.

Engines of Empathy gets a score of 3/5. Plot doesn’t make the story, after all.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Wrongly Named – a review of The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Two weeks to read a book a year ago used to mean that I was totally engaged with a book. But nowadays if I read a book in two weeks it means the total opposite.

So yeah, guess how long it took for me to read The Old Curiosity Shop?

Nell faces poverty at the hands of her grandfather’s gambling addiction, though he means well. He seeks the wealth she deserves in massive earnings through card games. However, learning of this Mr Quilp seeks out lawyers and forms of manipulation to take over the old man’s shop and home. As a result Nell decides to run away with her grandfather, their absence turning their former compatriots’ lives upside down and Nell’s adventures changing the lives of many strangers on the road.

First off, most characters felt like copies of each other. The women were largely passive wives or maid who would never dare to utter anything impolite, and the men were inquisitive lawyers and businessmen doing their working journeys. Or if there were differences between characters, they were so vague that I couldn’t notice them. It didn’t help that in their dialogue the characters were barely distinguishable and that points of view changed so much and for such long periods of time that I don’t remember the goals or arcs of a good 80% of the characters.

Speaking of, these characters has such a disjointed plot. Sure, it was all connected at the beginning, but as the narrative went on so too did their stories split to bizarre levels. And they way their plotlines were revealed were downright bizarre, either disrupting flow or going off in unnecessary directions. Those that did matter had such small impacts to the overall narrative. Why wasn’t it just about Nell and her Granddad, maybe with some chapters from Quill’s perspective?

That plotline was good. I was always looking forward to Nell’s endeavor’s and seeing the addictions her grandfather had to get through – the best part of it all. But it’d be luck if it took up half of the book. It was the easiest to follow and had the most beautiful story – which didn’t need to be connected to literally anything else. Like the villain Quilp – he set the story in motion and was never part of their lives ever again.

But I think what maddens me the most about this novel is how little the titular “old curiosity shop” was a part of the story. Like a tenth of it. That maddens me the most as it robbed me off all my expectations for this novel.

The Old Curiosity Shop gets a score of 1.5/5. Why name a novel after the shop when they’re barely a part of it?

Yours in writing

Amy

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Forgettable, and I Have Proof! – a review of the Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy

I had a moment while reading this book. I read a line early on in the novel that I recognised, had me flashing back to a time where I read this book in high school for one period we had in the library. I didn’t realise I had read this book before when I picked it up prior. And it makes sense, because when I read it the second time I imagined it to be completely different to when I read it the first time.

When I read that line it should’ve been a sign to put the book down.

Heriot was known to have fits which his farming family concealed from all visitors, until the King’s Lord arrives after some mysterious events and rumours that conspired. He has the magical potential to be the Magician of Hoad, a fate that Heriot doesn’t want to take up. Yet he is forced into it, forced to become a shell and a toll for the king’s disposal, for entertainment and political affairs. As he grows he becomes further disconnected from himself, only finding connect with the King’s mad son Dysart through supernatural means.

And somehow he feels the magical essence of the kingdom of Hoad in trouble or something? I don’t know, it was written so bad I couldn’t connect anything together.

None of the characters had either a complete personality or a unique personality. The characters were either very distinguishable in terms of personality from the rest, but you couldn’t tell what their flaws were or if they even made any character development by the time the novel finished. Or they were carbon copies of lords and ladies. I was mostly the latter. My god, how can a cast of characters be so boring? I confused which of the royal men were talking so much that they almost melted together into an amorphous blob. Half the time I couldn’t even tell what motives all these characters had. There had never been such a band palette of characters set before me in my life.

Even a world so small was not built out. This is the number one thing you need to do in fantasy as you tell the story – build out the world. And for all that I described, this whole thing could’ve taken place in my backyard with all the characters shrunken down. There are authors who spend too much time on worldbuilding, but Mahy didn’t spend enough time on that. The canvas was barely painted. It was all aesthetics and no depth, if an aesthetic was even there to begin with. Nothing about this story’s world felt real except the confusing as to how everything worked.

One such aspect was Heriot’s magic, which was barely explored or explained. With the magic being the primary things that makes this story a fantasy story, it was next to never a part of it. It was heavily involved at the start, and then forgotten about until the end with no exploration as to how the powers worked, no explanations as to where this magic came from, and no limits or struggles shown as Heriot used it. Why even make him magical in the first place if it barely impacted the story?

The plot was the main way the story was told, but I could not tell what happened for what reasons. Whatever did try to connect this story was so boring and un-fantasy that, just like the first time I read a fraction of this novel, I’m going to forget it. Half the novel Heriot was moping around in an orchard hutt, then this chick called Linnet was doing nothing but observing random politics going on around her until she discovered she had feelings for the prince, and apparently three years went by after each section or something? But I couldn’t tell you much more.

Actually wait, I can. This book was a massive disappointment. Such a shame from a beloved New Zealand author.

The Magician of Hoad gets a score of 1/5. I forget this book once, I’m bound to forget it again.

Yours in writing

Amy

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This Isn’t The Start Of The Series – a review of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

This book had been on my TBR for over a year – I remember buying it in late 2020 during my lunch break at a Christmas job. And somehow it kept getting pushed back, further and further on my TBR shelf as more intriguing reads tempted me and more series yet to be finished were completed. What was probably an exact year after buying it, I finally decided to read it.

I think the fact it kept getting pushed back in my TBR was a sign.

Galadriel seeks to make an alliance in the Scholomance – the brutal wizarding school meant to protect all those with an arcane affinity but wounds up feeling just as deadly. Only with her being prophesied to become a dark sorceress, she is most weary about those she can trust, the biggest cynic in her junior year. So when the hero of the school, Orion, has continuously saved her from the monsters invading the school, she knows something is odd. Especially with the influx of them. Such a huge influx that could threaten the lives of thousands of students who dwell there.

I really liked El as a character, both conceptually and personality wise. She is a sassy cynic with her defences up who still wishes for deep human connection after depriving herself of it for the past two years. Her personality carries the whole novel very well, one that isn’t seen executed well in many novels from a main character. El is written expertly, without being annoying or contradictory.

That being said, her half-Indian ethnicity was treated very orientally. Before reading this book I heard there was some racist things towards Indian culture in this book, and I can see where it came from. I’m not sure if I would call it racism myself while having studied it for a semester in high school, but I can more strongly identify it as orientalism – the act of taking things from non-western cultures for face value. El’s Indian side took on stereotypes most often found in fiction but all without the spirituality and experiences of actually being Indian. It literally felt like El had a half Indian side so she wasn’t just another white protagonist. I’m not Indian myself, but I have many close friends who are. I understand second hand the experiences and expectations of being Indian, and what El went through wasn’t it. It was superficial.

It felt like there was a infodump every five pages. This was, unfortunately, framed by El’s masterful voice adding anecdotes and miniature history lessons in where the didn’t need to be. Literally in the middle of the final battle she spent a whole paragraph describing how some other student – not the one she had seen – died to a certain kind of monster. The whole worldbuilding relied on these things being told at inappropriate times. There were too many rules introduced too quick. Frankly, this would have been avoided if the story started sooner – there were enough flashbacks to make up at least one additional novel.

That also accounts for how this novel lacked a clear narrative. Said flashbacks created the main narrative in the first half in the middle of mundane magic academy activities, which disrupted the pacing and made me confused as to what the whole point of the story was. It literally wasn’t until the climax that I figured it out by filling in so many blanks that Novik created. It simply started in the wrong place and went downhill from there.

So I do admit that if this was book three or four in the Scholomance series, I may have rated it higher. But maybe Novik should’ve listened to the Sound of Music and started at the very beginning, “a very good place to start”.

A Deadly Education gets a score of 2/5. You simply don’t start a novel in the middle of an entire series.

Yours in writing

Amy

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An Expert Balancing Act – a review of All The King’s Traitors by Keylin Rivers

Being an indie author myself, it shocked me to realise that I hadn’t read a lot of books by other indie authors. I can count the number on one hand. Yikes. And so I set to read my fifth book by an indie author – one who I recently discovered is a fellow Authortuber!

And it’s a banger, you guys! What a book to review as my last one of 2021! (Happy New Years Eve, by the way).

Azanthea is ruled by a God-king, and in this novel we follow six people deemed his traitors. A young teen in recent possession of a Godstone, and a brother protecting him. An orphan fugitive seeking somewhere to be safe, and a soldier fighting between the safety of his wife and his daughter. An heir seeking to overthrow the God-King, and one forced to prove her loyalty to him to survive. These six seek not only the powers they hold, but that of the God-King. His political sway, his array of powers and what may ultimately defeat him. Each of these six may hold a key to defeat him.

Instantly, the magic system and worldbuilding hooked me in. Godstones are wielded by the first person to touch them, manipulating the elements around them. And they came about at the end of the first version of humanity. Firstly, this is one of my favourite kinds of fantasy, where magic is the primary function within the world. And Rivers creates such a unique take on the typical elemental-style casting. The rules surrounding the magic system and the world as a whole are perfectly written, without the need to reference any appendixes or look back and forth between pages. All of it is understandable and totally memorable.

Rivers is further an expert of her novel’s balancing act when it comes to her characters. Six characters with POVs are in this novel and each are explored expertly. In their arcs, in their relevances and in their depth she excels. Writing a large cast of POV characters, and in fact reading, intimidates me. There is too much to keep track of and too little time to understand these characters well. In contrast, this book was an ease to read, keep track of everyone and explore their minds. Each of their charms and motives were very easy to explore and there wasn’t a single character I wasn’t invested in.

Narrative was another aspect used very well. Tension and exploration was very well balanced, and in spite of the many characters everything was revealed with poise and at just the right time for the story to appear cohesive. Tense scenes bunched up together expertly. When characters’ paths converged, the perspectives were used so appropriately that it was uncanny. This book indeed feels perfectly written and I have no complaints whatsoever.

Actually I do have one; I wish book two was out already!

All the King’s Traitors gets a score of 5/5. Expect big things from this series.

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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Easy A made me do it- a review of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My first inclination that this novel existed was back in Year 10 of high school in which our class watched the acclaimed teen comedy Easy A. It was an enjoyable movie, and when I found this piece of classic literature again on my Nintendo DS game I suddenly became interested in the material this film was inspired off of.

In the Puritan New England, Hester Prynne has been marked with the letter “A” for adultery after giving birth to a daughter of unknown parentage, facing public humiliation in her town for what she has done. She can only be freed from this humiliation is she reveals the child’s father, but her husband refuses to let her speak of it for he will also be punished. What follows is a life of ostracization for Hester and her daughter Pearl, as they both embrace and resent the reputation the Scarlet Letter brings to them. However, they may not be the only ones facing such burden…

I liked this novel for how it told of the roles played by man, women and child – just to name a handful – in such a society. Each was subject to alienation – by self, by society and by birth respectively. Just to see how each of these characters reacted to such things was intriguing. Father Dimmesdale going mad, Hester taking her’s in stride, and young Pearl oblivious to it.

The narrative was viewed through one valuable and terrifying lens – manipulation. Blackmail. Something so universally terrifying from even so long ago. The balance between righteousness and security. Though I experience it from a very modern perspective, I related to this theme a fair amount. I feel guilty for doing things that offer me security but ultimately feel wrong. And the symbolism of the novel really showcased this, powerful imagery that left me spooked.

However, there were times where I was unsure what was happening. This may have largely been to the writing style and how Hawthorne would add detail to certain routines, occasional backstory and heavy internal monologue. This can be a big turn off for me at times, often what makes me finish a book or rate it under average. Luckily I was able to work out the plot of the novel towards its end and connect the various dots. The fact that I could still understand the story as a result proved to be a very valuable part of finishing this novel in the end, especially during a year where there were novels that didn’t make sense at any time. I very much merit the Scarlet Letter for that.

I look forward to connecting the dots and seeing the greater value of the story when I reread it. Maybe then I may rate the novel higher, but we shall see.

The Scarlet Letter gets a score of 3/5. I’m willing to give this book a second try in a couple of years time, but for now I am satisfied.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Some Obvious Bias – a review of Dark Destiny by MJ Putney

I dug myself into a hole when I decided to read the third book in the Dark Mirror series. Since my review of the previous book and it being average as all nine hells, I opened this final installment wincing.

A book that should’ve taken me five days to read took me eight instead, PLUS an additional four days to get the guts to read these.

Back in the early 1940s Tori, Cynthia and her fellow mages have saved members of the Rainford family from death and has saved Dr Weiss and his family from Nazi imprisonment. But now these mages have to return to 1804 as the threat of Napoleon invading looms and they must now protect their own land and time. Meanwhile, Rebecca Weiss remains in the 1940s as a French Jew going to a British school, discovering her own magical potential. Such magic may be crucial in defeating Napoleon…

For this being the big battle and the way to conclude the series, it wound up fairly tame. The leads claimed to have found the situation stressful, with the only struggle faced being a broken ankle and them having many feasts and hospitable situations keep their head in the game. It didn’t feel right – more so how the magic system is soft to the point of it being malleable to solve any problem the mages may have. It barely felt like a struggle. Book one featured a greater struggle than in book three – that goes against all narrative logic! Too much was handed to them on a silver platter instead of in a rubbish bag.

As a sucker for World War II fiction, I enjoyed the perspectives from Rebecca and her being welcomed as a Jew in a British community. This part felt the most real and insightful out of anything. I would read the hell out of a novel that was just of Rebecca trying to find a new normal life with the British and the people around her recognising and celebrating her Jewish culture. If there is a story like this, can someone please tell me!

On the flip side, the 1804 society was in comparison completely glossed over. Most of the insights here were fictional due to the inclusion of magic in this world and how pivotal it was in nobility. To me that just screams a bias – at least while researching – towards World War Two. The writing itself showed that especially in this novel, with the world being far more developed in those scenes.

Furthermore, the main character Tori felt nearly useless in this novel. Her power was framed as something so huge, but she was next to never responsible for the story progressing. She was just there for every important moment to boost powers that knowing how bad this magic system is could have been achieved without her help. This is further emphasised by the one thing I hate the most in novels – when the main character doesn’t solve their own problems or achieve their goals. Other people do it for Tori. And that makes me furious at how happy an ending she got.

So in conclusion, I’m glad to finally finish the series, but not that it wasted my time.

Dark Passage gets a score of 2/5. The only parts I loved to death were short lived, like sunshowers in between thunderstorms.

I don’t think I need to do this whole series reviewing thing because you already know my thoughts, but I’ll go through it anyway as per tradition.

Dark Mirror3.5/5, the plot twist blew the whole story out of proportion, but it wound up being a very fun read nonetheless.

Dark Passage2.5/5, never mind, it’s not fun anymore. It’s a drag. So much talking and planning when there needs to be more actin and exploration.

Dark Destiny – 2/5, I just want a book about Rebecca Weiss now. I want that to be the only thing I remember from this series.

The one way to describe this series is never delivering on its promises. I thought this was going to be a series about a secret mage society protecting England to prove their magic to not make them worthless, and instead I got time travel with a warped magic system. This series had such a promising start in spite of the shock over it not being the story written on the blurb. I should’ve seen this as a sign that it was only going to go downhill. This is to the point where I would guess that somebody else may like it more than me – I’m not going to shit on the series any more than I already have. Undoubtedly, this is the most average book series in existence. It is definitely not for me. I hope I haven’t discouraged any potential readers too much.

The Dark Mirror Trilogy gets a score of 2.5/5 It’s going off the bookshelf.

Yours in writing

Amy