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Do You Want To Save The Planet? – a review of The Pioneer by Bridget Tyler

I never had a desire to read sci fi. Proper sci fi, more than just the dystopian novels I’ve read that border on the genre. But this book seemed simple and intriguing enough for my little brain, so I gave it a go.

With Earth’s ecosystem on the brink of collapse, Jo and her family have trained for years to settle onto another habitable planet. But after an accident that killed Jo’s brother and gave her high blood pressure, Jo is no longer fit to live her dream on this new world and pilot ships of colonists. Without a purpose in her life, Jo soon finds one as she discovers the company that runs the colonisation lied. On what was thought to be a planet with no known alien civilizations, Jo discovers two at war. This blows things out of proportions that could threaten the new planet they boarded to ecologically collapse just as Earth is about to.

Mediocre characters were brought down even further by tedious dialogue. Every character was defined by a single trait, maybe two if they were lucky – including the love interest just there to make sure a romance exists even though the chemistry was clunky. This was especially sickening in the prologue when the dialogue was full of whacky quips that are exposition in the world’s worst disguise. This continued to an awkward level throughout the rest of the novel – the aliens talking in very formal English, the smart one using long words and sentences, the love interest making a “quirky” nickname for the girl he has a crush on. This made out like tween movie dialogue.

While the world was beautiful, the worldbuilding was ugly. This was in spite of things being very well explained and easy to read. A lot of stuff didn’t make sense – like why the alien cultures on the planet were written so oriental, the intentions of certain characters and why they were blind to certain things, why certain people were trusted and not others. This made the stunning and unique world that the story was placed on feels like rhinestones instead of diamonds.

However, the plot was one that kept you on your toes. Information found in unexpected yet sensible places, plot developments I didn’t quite see coming and a linear form that made sense. It was very easy to read and follow along with as a result and definitely the strongest part of this novel. That was because it didn’t rely on fancy sci fi jargon or features to tell a decent story, and this novel being my first dive into science fiction I am thankful for that.

But it’s ultimate falling point is the number of cliches featured. Alien cultures being framed orientally was the big one, but every personality in this novel felt like a cliche. The colonization tropes were cliches, including the whole thing about Earth’s ecosystem being destroyed. It’s a truth I’m sick of, apparently. But the biggest cliche of all was how infatuated everyone was with NASA. So many people with NASA shirts that it felt like an ad. Thank god NASA wasn’t on the cover.

In conclusion, this wasn’t what I hoped my first proper dive into sci fi novels was going to be. I’ll see you in a few reviews time to see if it gets better.

The Pioneer gets a score of 2.5/5. No wonder Earth died – all of its former inhabitants have no personality for the planet to care for it back.

Yours in writing

Amy

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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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Natural 20! – a review of Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

Have you ever read a book that gave off huge D&D vibes? I’m not sure how many of you have played it, but this book combines the greatest parts of D&D into a fantastic read.

We’re talking dragons, found family and the perfect plot I have ever read.

Dragons rule the land, as does their greed. The people are poor due to ever increasing taxes, one person among them being Will, who lost his family’s far due to their greed. He’d want anything to give the dragons a piece of their own medicine. But as Will meets some newfound allies, they suggest the impossible – stealing from a dragon. And Will may be the only one of the group with the knowledge to do something downright ridiculous to gain riches.

This novel was unafraid to be loud. I love novels of this caliber – where the characters are uncensored, both serious and comedic, and while they plot may be tense it is not afraid to be ridiculous. It takes those absurd moments in stride just as much as it did the dark ones, balancing and distributing the two with precision.

The characters were made excellently, especially the four pivotal characters; Will, Quirk, Balor and Lette. And even the occasional perspective from the antagonistic dragons! They shone as individuals with their own personal backstories, fears and things that made them tick. It was so hard to pick a favourite, but that didn’t matter. As the found family trope normally goes, they were at their best when working together as a team.

I had never read a novel structured to the degree of perfection that Fool’s Gold was. I need to read more novels with heist plotlines because this one was so good! Hollins masters the way he reveals plans, mishaps and characters doing their own things in a way that constantly keeps you on your toes. Even when I had these expectations in place for whether the heist would succeed or not – or what parts of it – I loved finding out how things went wrong and predicting how such things would be fixed. Altogether, very entertaining.

I will admit I’m not usually a fan of dragons. However, the way they were built into this world was so refreshing and pivotal to the way people lived. Dragons are pivotal to the culture of this series, unlike other fantasy stories I have read that feature dragons, and the power that they hold is very well explained and implemented. They rule the world to the point where even though they are powerful, they are lazy about certain things. This gave the dragons so much flavour and I loved them so much in this novel.

It’s easy to say that this novel is among my favourites now. I bought the rest of the series as soon as I finished this first book, and I can’t wait to read it all. I desperately need more people to fall in love with this novel too – so pick it up, damnit!

Fool’s Gold gets a score of 5/5. Perfect for fans of D&D and not fans of D&D – basically it’s amazing.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Epitome of Cottagecore- a RE-view of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When I was around twelve, this was one of the few books that actually got me hooked and reading for hours at a time. I distinctly remember reading a digital version of this book in our lounge and rolling around on the floor as I read it, feeling as wholesome as a cinnamon roll.

So how did it compare ten years later from a matured perspective?

Bratty Mary returns to England, after being brought up in India, to live with her uncle after her parents’ death. Her maid, Martha, sets to get the attitude out of her by letting her explore the gardens outside the estate in which she lives. Mary soon becomes involved in an investigation when she hears that one of the gardens has been locked away for ten years. She wants to take a look inside.

This was one of the few classical literature books that had me hooked. I read this novel for hours at a time (granted I was a much slower reader as a kid). This novel was filled with so much whimsy and magic – even though it wasn’t a fantasy. This book captured a near identical essence to what magic is in real life. That being discovery, the wonders of nature and the beautiful defiance of expectations.

It still held up very strong today as I aged. At times middle grade or children’s books become very obviously childlike to the point of it being annoying, but I barely felt like that while reading The Secret Garden. It’s a book that feels both youthful and mature, as it is about children maturing in ways that adults could still resonate with. I found it particularly retable over the knowledge of how bratty I could be as a kid, much like the main character Mary, and seeing how she became kind and assertive. Not quite in similar ways that I did, but it was still great to see and relate to a character like Mary in spite of being twelve years her senior at the minimum.

The part where this novel really shines is in the mood and the aesthetic. Yes, it was a novel about restoring an abandoned garden, but that’s not what you remember it for. You remember the cottagecore! It’s a novel about wonder and finding purities in life, learning to appreciate what’s around you, to become nurturing. And nothing better symbolises that than the garden itself – something to be taken care of. Even in its abandoned state it was full of so much beauty, whimsy and was never treated as ugly. Nothing was. Hodgson Burnett really knows how to bring out beauty in everything. And of course I couldn’t forget the character arcs. While simple, they are the most effective I have read in a long time. This is because of an equally simple plot that became very character driven.

If you’re stuck on finding a classic lit book to get into, I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a purely perfect gateway that I can’t imagine anyone hating or getting angry at.

The Secret Garden gets a score of 5/5. Everybody loves cottagecore, this is the book that embodies those vibes.

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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The Title Is Too Accurate- a review of self/less by AViVA

I was skeptical picking up this book. You’re right to be whenever someone not typically in the writing industry is. For the record, AViVA is one of my favourite songwriters. I didn’t leap at her book to buy it when it came out, but after seeing reviews come out praising it I listened to the audiobook teaser then decided to buy a copy for myself.

Now I’m betting that the five star reviews for this novel came from the AViVA fandom just to support her.

The city of Metropolis is forever haunted by their slogan “We watch because we care.” If you don’t behave accordingly even in the slightest, you will be reported and sanitised. Teddy’s been able to hide her differences for all her life, and as she learns darker secrets about the way Metropolis is run she soon learns about an entirely new city beneath her feet, one that stands for all her government does not. And when it comes at risk, she is the one forced to solve problems that could kill millions of people.

This had a very strong and engaging first act. The world of Metropolis was introduced splendidly, with high steaks surrounding the concept of surveillance. I thought this was a great direction for the novel to be going and a great theme to explore, because the theme of surveillance itself literally makes your hairs stand on end. You could see it building in the world and affecting the psyche of many characters, in both the main world and the culture of the rebellion. And by the midpoint where everything when downhill, I was certain I would be keeping this book and really enjoying it.

Then we go into the second and third acts. This novel reeked of sagging middle syndrome and it went downhill from there. You know your narrative structure is wrong when there was more tension at the start of the novel than the end. It ended up being more pleasant exploration and introduction. And then when the tension builds up again it is literally in the final chapter and ending on a cliffhanger. Now I have more questions than answers. I’m not even sure if any of my questions got answered.

Few of these characters were written or introduced well. It makes sense why this novel was called self/lees – these characters had zero personality. For reference, the leading male’s main and only personality trait and purpose was to be horny for the main character. He was so hollow that it felt like Teddy was kissing a sex doll! And then the characters that did have personality didn’t have consistent personalities.

After reading that novel, I think I’ll just stick to listening to her songs.

self/less gets a score of 2.5/5. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a more accurate name.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Just Here For The Ride I Guess… – a review of The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

I’ve spent a long time looking for a vintage fantasy story to appeal to me. This one appealed to me in concept and I spent a while looking forward to reading it.

Sadly, this ain’t it.

In a steampunk version of Victorian London, sorcerers possess magic and mentaths possess inhuman minds. However, mentaths are being killed for a plot that Prime Sorceress Emma Bannon suspects will put the crown at risk. She seeks out to protect mentath Archibald Clare while investigating this plot, one which Clare has natural interest in himself. And it appears this plot goes far deeper than either had hope, potentially involving the ancient dragons that grant Londonium’s power.

The plot did exist, but it was very difficult to follow. I’d blame the writing style personally. It was written like an investigation from Sherlock Holmes (which I haven’t read, so I don’t know if this was a copy of the same style), but things were very difficult to follow along with. It felt like a large amount of coincidences that the characters either knew or had connections to the next pieces of the puzzle. For it being a murder mystery, I never felt like I had the chance to solve anything. Even when things got explained – that’s a red flag.

I may have liked the magic system if it was ever explained. It had potential to be for sure – dark and light magic that had connections to dragons and was in an inner pool that reset every sunrise. But this system wasn’t clear until about half way and none of the technicalities were even explained. When people want to enter a fantasy world, they would typically want to be immersed in it. This system and world felt elite, like it was reserve for people with an IQ over 300. On the bright side, where spellcasting scenes or fights were involved the quality of the scenes increased a fair bit.

While the characters were distinguishable, the way they were was… controversial. It was by gender, race and accents. This was literally how I could describe the cast of protagonists in the climax: British Male, British Female, Queen of England, Insane British Male, Indian Male, Italian Male, German Male. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you anything about the personality of any of them except for Insane British Male. There’s indefinitely more to characters than that.

The Iron Wyrm Affair gets a score of 2/5. The book itself proclaims it is too good for me, and I don’t have the class for it.

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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Give ME Mercy – a review of I Am Mercy by Mandi Lynn

My plight to read more books by indie authors AND AuthorTubers continues. Historical fantasy is a genre I wanted to read more of, and this one was promising.

But do you know what’s worse than a promise being broken? When that promise comes from a book.

The Black Plague is ripping through Aida’s village. Death and hatred surround her as her near-white eyes brand her as a witch. To save her people, even when she is shunned, an actual witch promises her the power to do so – a trick. Aida is instead granted immortality and a slumber that leads has her wake up hundreds of years in the future in an unfamiliar town. Without the sense of touch to ground her to reality, she wanders the world in a pessimistic eternity.

Here’s the biggest problem with the book, and it isn’t even what’s written in it. It’s the blurb and the way it was marketed. I was promised a story about a girl becoming a witch and curing the Black Plague and I didn’t get that. I got a story about a girl becoming more or less a ghost and then coming to terms with it over the course of hundreds of years in hermitage. This is not the first time that a book blurb has fooled me, and I HATE when authors do this now. A blurb is meant to promise the readers that something will be happening, and the plague became completely irrelevant about 80 pages in. I was robbed of the story that hooked me in and that I wanted to read! That affects my opinion of it a lot in a negative way.

Now let’s move on to the actual content of the book.

The actual writing of the book was very nice, however. The writing style was very compelling and reflective, especially when considering the interesting lack of the sense of touch. That put a lot more attention on other senses that were absolutely beautiful when written out and described. It created a very visual experience. One filled with very beautiful language that draws you in and makes you keep reading.

But that thing to read was sketchy. Lynn clearly had no clue what the plot of this novel was going to be about. The main conflict felt like it changed every chapter and the book left more questions than answers – a literary sin! The premise of the black plague never being mentioned again is very obvious – but then there were characters that were never interacted with again, plot points left lose in the wind, and trajectories that were never once foreshadowed. While I recognise now that this was a prequel I didn’t read the original of prior, this is NOT how you write one.

One thing I’m always checking is how distinct characters are from each other. This was done very well. You could see it from characters who were there for a long time or just a chapter. They were each characterised very well, showed their purposes and flaunted them. Or… most of them. There wound up being a very large cast of characters towards the end that I wonder why they were given a name or introduced except to set up the original story this was a prequel of… I guess?

In summary, it once the betrayal of the focus on the Black Plague happened it was very difficult to discern was was worth remembering or not. I’m probably gonna forget about this book anyway, with pleasure.

Don’t break promises.

I Am Mercy gets a score of 2.5/5. If your novel is not about the Black Plague, then DO NOT say it is about the Black Plague. Simple.

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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Homewreckers, am I right? – a review of Queendom of Chaos by Megan Aldridge

It is genuinely interesting that my own novel – though it takes place over a hundred years in the future of this one, shares similarities with my own. I rarely see any other books with the same combination of tropes, mechanics and world building methods as my own, until I picked this book up.

And not only does this author have good taste, but she can tug your heartstrings like crazy.

I was given an Advanced Reader Copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you very much to the author for giving me this!

This story centres around interracial couple Sam and Annabelle as they leave their hometown, whom wish to keep them apart, and they head further North in early 20th century America to start their life anew. Then after a visit to a lake, Sam finds a mark of three roses on his arm and a nauseating pain in his body. Annabelle, desperate to save him, seeks out the bizarre thread of a nearby Oracle to help him. Little do they know what threatens to keep them apart and what world is falling deeper into the clutches of a tyrant.

This novel was very refreshing with its use of tropes. But the one I find most refreshing (minor spoiler I guess) is that the homewrecker is the villain. Typically at the start of a series when there is a couple in a relationship involving one or more main characters, you can predict that it won’t last. But Aldridge comes in with a very loyal and very sweet couple who fights to stay together – and thus far succeeds! The loyalty this couple held laced this story together and tied it off with a cute little bow.

The narrative structure was also new and refreshing. It’s a setup that makes much sense for the story and the introduction of the worlds involved, and one that didn’t feel too campy or stereotypical. Unorthodox narrative structures are hard to pull off, but Aldridge does it very well. I will however say that the third act didn’t feel completely third-act-y and it relieved tension I would have rather had (a phrase I thought I never would’ve said). I wasn’t quite on the edge of my seat and was waiting for a darkest moment that never came.

Speaking of dark, let’s talk about the world. While it featured largely a glimpse of a small section of Taegaia, that glimpse was very well established. A magic system well introduced and explained to plot relevancy combined with stunning visual descriptions of the world with strong vibe checks. The mood was extremely well set in this novel. Especially in Taegaia, the use of mood within environments and settings was incredible and added so much more to each scene.

These characters were fantastic, but I have to give special credit to the villain. For some reason, in many books I have read the villain is the weakest written character that falls into selfish stereotypes that fail to make an impact. Queendom of Chaos’s villain is anything but. They were introduced as a threat and retained that air constantly to the point where I was in awe of their power and sway. Most prominent was their charm – or anti-charm. They weren’t likeable from an interpersonal perspective, but they could intimidate just by walking. That’s a great villain.

But what definitely made me rate it so high is how this novel isn’t even out yet and I want the sequel. WHEN’S IT COMING OUT, MEGAN?

Queendom of Chaos gets a score of 4.5/5. Screw all those homewreckers.

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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Strong Vibe Check – a review of Blood of the Lily by S.D. Huston

When I was a child, I was subscribed to a kids magazine that fortnightly discussed different fairytales from various cultures through the lens of ballet icon Angelina Ballerina.

Among these tales was the one that this novel was based off of – Snow White and Rose Red. So I may have had a bias when reading this novel, along with this one:

I received a free copy of this novel in e-book format in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to S.D. Huston for providing me with one.

Sisters Lily and Rose encounter a leprechaun, only to have Rose get kidnapped by him upon their third encounter. This takes things even further out of proportion for quiet Lily, having watched her sister drown a year later only to responsible for Rose’s abduction and being unable to find a Greek tourist that visited their village. Lily uses her hunting prowess and her druidic ability to talk to land animals as her tool in the Otherworld to find where Rose has been taken. But she remains haunted by her sister’s death and fears to make that mistake again.

A fair amount of this novel was predictable, but that was a lot to do with me being familiar with the tale of Snow White and Rose Red. It wasn’t an exact replica of it, and that made it very interesting. The Irish and Greek cultures represented through a German fairytale retelling was a fantastic amalgamation of cultures which wound up pivotal to the narrative of not just this book, but the rest of the series. That left room for plot twists and elements never seen before in the interpretations of this tale. It didn’t make me mind the predictions much at all. Predictability isn’t always a hindrance for me as long as there’s still some captivating stuff and there was!

The characterisation in this novel was stellar! Both hero and villain felt severely human (even the gods) and the struggles and developments they each went through felt so unique. Lily was especially a favourite of mine. Few books I read have a lead character who is more soft spoken with agency still. Huston wrote her very well. She was by far the most relatable and the most well rounded – a clear favourite.

The way the novel was paced out worked very well too. It almost felt like another fairy tale solely from said pacing and the narrative beats. In fact, the whole vibe was very strong. The worldbuilding, the language, the characters all contributed to make a novel which very much felt like the essence of mythology. I don’t think any other novel I have read has captured this vibe, let along any, in such a great way.

However, where it falls short is the same with many YA fantasy novels that I read. Unearned romance. Rushed romance. Where two characters do in fact make a connection but not quite a strong enough once to where I would call it severe romantic and/or sexual attraction. In fact, the only relationships – even the platonic ones – I actually bought into were the ones already established, such as between Lily and Rose. The others, for the short amount of time they took place in, didn’t earn the results they got.

Even so, I can’t wait to get the paperback of this novel. And it’s sequel that came out last month. and I hear the final book in the trilogy is getting published soon too.

Blood of the Lily gets a score of 4/5. The same old story with a different kind of fairytale spin.

Yours in writing

Amy