Category Archives: Book Review

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Overview
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Title: Heart Berries
Author: Terese Marie Mailhot
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Memoirs, Mental health, Race
Dates read: 29th August – 4th September 2021
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Counterpoint
Year: 2018
5th sentence, 74th page: You were still fucking me, though.

Synopsis

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, Terse Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father – an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist – who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Thoughts

For such a short book, this is incredibly difficult to read through. It took me quite a while. Mostly because the emotions and power of Mailhot’s words were unforgettable. Powerful and filled with such rawness that I frequently had to pause and look at another story.

Mailhot is able to address issues of mental health, abuse and transgenerational trauma in a completely unforgettable way. It is, in places, physically difficult to read about this. But it is also filled with a cautious feeling of optimistic hope.

Under all of the writing and experiences, Mailhot has this overwhelming love for her children. Love for her family. And love, ultimately for herself. There is that cautious optimism throughout, but there is also a great sense of overwhelming love and attachment to those in her life.

This is one of those books that MUST be read. I will probably read this half a dozen times and find something new in it that I just wasn’t expecting. The complexity and power of this writing will most definitely give you new insight with each and every new read.

<- The Answer to the Riddle is MeTwelve Patients ->

Image source: Goodreads

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Overview
Shadow and Bone: Siege and Storm : Leigh Bardugo : 9781510105263

Title: Siege and Storm
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Shadow and Bone Trilogy #2, Grishaverse #2
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Fantasy, Magic, Young adult
Dates read: 4th September 2021
Pace: Fast
Format: Novel
Publisher: Square Fish
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: The wound in my shoulder felt like it was on fire, but I was unhurt and my whole body was thrumming from using my power again.

Synopsis

SOLDIER. SUMMONER. SAINT.

Alina Starkov’s power has grown, but not without a price. She is the Sun Summoner – hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Shadow Fold. But she and Mal can’t outrun their enemies for long.

The Darkling is more determined than ever to claim Alina’s magic and use it to take the Ravkan throne. With nowhere else to turn, Alina enlists the help of an infamous privateer and sets out to lead the Grisha army.

But as the truth of Alina’s destiny unfolds, she slips deeper into the Darkling’s deadly game of forbidden magic, and further away from her humanity. To save her country, Alina will have to choose between her power and the love she thought would always be her shelter. No victory can come without sacrifice – and only she can face the oncoming storm.

Thoughts

Ever since reading Shadow and Bone, I’ve been seriously wondering what was going to be thrown in Mal and Alina’s way this time. And, you know, when the Darkling was going to reappear. He’s a great villain – I don’t really get the sexy vibes off him that others have claimed, but he is dark, mysterious and undoubtedly evil. A wonderful combination for a villain in my opinion.

Even though I think Mal is a wonderful lead love interest, he’s also kind of a knob. I mean, he’s got a woman who is obviously being thrown into a situation she’s not comfortable with. But instead of trying to communicate and support her? He runs. And just acts… well, knob-like. By the end of the book I was finding him to be a bit much and a bit frustrating in this area… im hoping Ruin and Rising will redeem him a bit more…

The build up that Bardugo creates in this story is wonderfully and seriously intense. Not only is there the clash between Alina and the Darkling, but there’s now royalty and a cult… I mean, if that set of trials and tribulations isn’t gearing up for a massive one, then what is?

I honestly couldn’t put this book down. Even in the moments that I wanted to cringe and look away, I just… couldn’t. The majority of this was read in one sitting. Late at night. When I should have been sleeping. Always a good recommendation for a book in my eyes…

<- Shadow and BoneRuin and Rising ->

Image source: Bookdepository

In the Future When All’s Well by Catherynne M. Valente

Overview
Image result for teeth ellen datlow terri windling book cover

Title: In the Future When All’s Well
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
In: Teeth: Vampire Tales (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling)
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Paranormal fantasy, Vampires
Dates read: 31st August 2021
Pace: Medium
Format: Short story
Publisher: Harper
Year: 2011
5th sentence, 74th page: It’s all random.

Synopsis

Vampirism has become a daily occurrence – there are those in the high risk, those who just break the rules… but eventually a whole lot of people get turned. The future is showing us a whole new reality.

Thoughts

I liked the idea of this future world in which vampires are running free. And that they’re just kind of the next, logical evolutionary step to the pyramid. The fact that it’s also written all around the perspective of a teenager just works all that much better. After all, all of the stories at the moment surrounding vampires seem to be very young adult centred.

One of the aspects I liked most about this story was the idea that those in the “high risk” category were considered different and amoral. It’s the same fear mongering that you see again and again throughout society. Which made me smile. A great reflection on society as we know it.

All in all, I really enjoyed this short story. It was a unique idea, but one that I felt kind of had merit. After all, there is definitely scientific support for the idea that we are all evolving into a new version of “humanity”, who’s to say it isn’t going to be as blood suckers?

<- BabyTransition ->

Image source: HarperCollins

Pack of Thieves? 52 Port Arthur Lives by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart & Susan Hood

Overview
Pack of thieves? : 52 Port Arthur lives

Title: Pack of Thieves? 52 Port Arthur Lives
Author: Hamish Maxwell-Stewart & Susan Hood
Rating Out of 5: 3 (On the fence about this one)
My Bookshelves: Australian history, Crime, Non-fiction
Dates read: 15th – 30th August 2021
Pace: Slow
Format: Non-fictional text
Publisher: Port Arthur Historic Sites
Year: 2001
5th sentence, 74th page: On the same day he was punished with a beating of one hundred strokes for breaking gaol while awaiting trial – he had been recaptured by the guard at Eaglehawk Neck.

Synopsis

George Arthur, Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land from 1824-36 is credited with constructing an intricate system of convict management. The idea behind Arthur’s grand plan was that convicts would sink or rise through the tiers of his multi-layered system according to their conduct. Thus, the intention was that the wicked would be punished for their sins and the good rewarded for unerring servile toil. In 1830 Arthur ordered the construction of a new penal station on the Tasman Peninsula named Port Arthur in his honour. This was to be the foundation stone of Arthur’s scheme for regulating the lives of his colonial charges – a place to which prisoners incurred the wrath of the convict administration could be sent as a lesson to all.

Arthur likened his convict system to a prison without walls. This was because the lives of ordinary prisoners were regulated by paper work rather than guard towers and iron bars. Every detail that could be gleaned about a convict was entered into a set of enormous registers which ere used to separate those considered worthy of indulgence from those whose conduct was thorught to merit further punishment. At times Arthur appeared to sit astride his system like a colonial puppet master pronouncing judgement on his charges.

This book charts the lives of 52 prisoners who served time at Port Arthur in the 1830’s. It looks at the impact of transportation upon their lives and charts the ways in which they negotiated a passage through Arthur’s labyrinthine penal colony.

Thoughts

After visiting Port Arthur, this was a fun and easy read. It was also seriously fascinating. If you read it in parts. I mean, most of the stories were someone stole something, they got sent to Port Arthur. And repeat. But then some of the daring just had me smiling… you can’t predict human nature after all.

All in all, this was an interesting journey into the world of Australian history. But, like most Australian history, it was a bit white-washed and turned softer. I remember visiting Port Arthur fifteen years ago, and the stories that you were told were a lot more honest and gritty. Not like the ones that are told now…

<- More non-fictionMore Australian history ->

Image source: Abebooks

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews

Overview
Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy, #5) by Ilona Andrews

Title: Emerald Blaze
Author: Ilona Andrews
Series: Catalina Baylor Trilogy #2, Hidden Legacy #5
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Magic, Paranormal romance, Romantic suspense, Strong women
Dates read: 23rd – 29th August 2021
Pace: Fast
Format: Novel
Publisher: Avon
Year: 2020
5th sentence, 74th page: Sink some magic into it.

Synopsis

Ilona Andrews, #1 New York Times bestselling author, continues her spellbinding series set in the Hidden Legacy world where magic controls everything… except the hearts of those who wield it.

As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers – powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart.

The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops to use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart.

Thoughts

Ilona Andrews is one of those authors that I pick up strategically… because I can never seem to put her books down. And I generally get a really bad book hangover once I’ve finished it. Emerald Blaze was no different. It was wonderful and impossible to put down. It was amazing and now I’m honestly a little bit pissed off that I have to wait until the next Catalina Baylor book to come out…

The more I find out about Catalina’s power and her own personal battles, the more I fall in love with her. Like all of Andrews’ heroines, she is intrinsically flawed. But, for Catalina, the biggest challenge she often faces is that she’s an introvert thrust into an extroverted position. The fact that she also has to battle her big, bad, evil grandmother… yeah, I can’t wait to see how that unfolds in the final book in this trilogy. She goes from strength to strength, but at what cost? It’s a beautiful question that you’re constantly wondering, even as you hope that the battle that Catalina and Alessandro face turns out… good in the end.

The ending of Sapphire Flames leaves a perfect cliff hanger in the feeling of who and what Alessandro actually is. Alessandro’s backstory, a bit like Catalina’s, is bought to life even more throughout the pages of this book. I actually wanted to reach through the pages of the book and hug him. It helped to strip back the arrogance that is so prominent in the other books, and, although you were always gunning for a happily ever after… this book makes you want it all that much more. I can’t wait until they get their sail off into the sunset ending (like Nevada and Rogan did), but as previously mentioned… now I have to wait (can you tell that I’m finding that quite disappointing?).

This is the most amazing of stories. I think I sat there staring at the wall for about 2 hours before I was capable of conversing too much or reading anything else. You know that the book is damn good when you are just… paralysed with the enjoyment of what you’ve read. When you can’t quite seem to get the adventures of the pages out of your head.

<- Sapphire FlamesRuby Fever ->

Image source: Goodreads

The Gap by Benjamin Gilmour

Overview
The Gap by Benjamin Gilmour - Penguin Books Australia

Title: The Gap
Author: Benjamin Gilmour
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Medical, Memoirs, Mental health
Dates read: 22nd – 25th August 2021
Pace: Medium
Format: Novel
Publisher: Viking
Year: 2019
5th sentence, 74th page: I lean down beside our patient and speak in a whisper so no one will hear.

Synopsis

Benjamin Gilmour has been a paramedic for more than twenty years. He has seen his fair share of drama. But the summer of 2008 remains etched in his memory for the very worst reasons.

In this riveting memoir, Gilmour recounts the call-outs that summer: some dangerous, some gruesome, some downright ridiculous. And we meet fellow paramedic John who, they say, can get a laugh out of everyone except the dead. As they city heats up, however, even John begins to lose his sense of humour. People are unravelling – and Benjamin and John are no exception.

The Gap is a vivid portrait of the lead-up to Christmas; an unflinching, no-holds-barred look at what happens after the triple-zero call is made – the drugs, nightclubs, brothels, drunk rich kids, billionaires, domestic disputes, the elderly, emergency births, even a kidnapping. Patients share their innermost feelings, and we witness their loneliness, their despair and their hopes. 88 BB Beautifully written and sharply observed, The Gap exposes the fragility of our lives and the lengths that paramedics will go to try to save us.

Thoughts

I honestly just bought this because I needed a book with an ambulance on the cover. I really didn’t expect this to be such an amazing emotional rollercoaster ride. It was just… words can’t describe. I just don’t have the words to describe what it felt like to read this book. There’s such a potent emotional ride that had me reading this story until late in the night. Bated breath and eyes burning.

I knew that being a paramedic is an incredibly mentally taxing career. I know a few people who work in the field and the mental toll that it can take on a person. But, Gilmour’s words add a whole other layer of context to this reality. It provides faces and personalities to an issue that we all know is there. Provides a face to the trials, tribulations and tragedies of paramedics and those working within the health sector. It also kind of broke my heart throughout as I read about the daily life and experiences of Benjamin and his partners.

The title didn’t really mean much to me at the beginning of this novel. I mean, cool, it’s called The Gap, but that meant literally nothing to my brain. Then I read the opening paragraphs – and the title began to make much more sense. Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. I mean, you knew some of this was going to be a tough read because it’s about a day in the life of a paramedic. When there is a spot that he is frequently called to that is known for suicides…it’s going to be a whole new kettle of fish and difficulties.

I’ve been on a good run of books lately. Read a few that, once I close the final page, I just lie there, staring at the ceiling. This was most definitely one of them. Although Gilmour deals with the very serious issues of mental health and wellbeing, there is humour and light throughout his words. Some incredibly difficult real world realities are faced up to, but they are paired off with some of the more ridiculous adventures of the paramedics. It shows you that whenever there is dark, you can also find some light.

<- CommittedTalking as Fast as I Can ->

Image source: Penguin Books Australia

Things I Wish I’d Known edited by Victoria Young

Overview
Things I Wish I'd Known, Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood by Victoria  Young | 9781785780370 | Booktopia

Title: Things I Wish I’d Known
Author: Victoria Young
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Memoirs, Pregnancy
Dates read: 15th – 28th August 2021
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Icon
Year: 2019
5th sentence, 74th page: And it is that now, I have finally come to love my breasts.

Synopsis

Things I Wish I’d Known sees some of the most brilliant writers reveal the truth of what it’s really like to be a mother.

Look inside many parenting books and what do you see? Advice about how to be a glowing mother-to-be and how to rear pristine, beautifully-behaved children. But the reality is, your pregnancy might be a sweaty, moody rollercoaster; your children and you will almost certainly spend the first few years of their lives covered in food, tears and worse, and you may spend the first few months of motherhood wondering where the heck your old life has vanished to. Not to say that the experience isn’t still magical, of course!

In this no-holds-barred collection of essays, prominent women, including Cathy Kelly, Adele Parks, Kathy Lette and Lucy Porter (and many more) explore the truth about becoming mothers. Packed with searingly honest writing about everything from labour to the Breastapo, twins to single parenthood, weaning to post-birth sex, Things I Wish I’d Known is a reassuring, moving and often hilarious collection that will speak to mothers – and mothers-to-be – everywhere.

Thoughts

I’m obviously feeling a little bit anxious about become a first time mum. I mean, I don’t really know someone who isn’t when they find out that they’re expecting for the first time. Which made this a seriously happy and comforting book to read. Rather than waxing on and off about how amazing motherhood is, this book is far more realistic.

Each chapter of this book is beautifully written. It deals with a multitude of realities and experiences. And, honestly, it just highlights the fact that every single parent, every single child, every single experience is different. Again, something that I found seriously comforting. I mean, it just shows that when all of your experiences are different, none of you is actually doing anything “wrong”.

Not only is this book serious in places and filled with information. It is also filled with humour. And the oddities of parenthood. It doesn’t stay stuck on ideas of what is proper, right or wrong. Rather, it focuses on a reality of… well, real life. Real life isn’t perfect and picturesque, but it is fun and worth doing. Which is the overarching message I got from this book.

I absolutely adored and devoured this book. It helped me feel a little more settled about what is to come, which, when you’re growing a human being, is kind of seriously helpful…

<- Bad GroundBlack Dragon River ->

Image source: Booktopia

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

Overview
The Clockwork Scarab (Stoker & Holmes, #1) by Colleen Gleason

Title: The Clockwork Scarab
Author: Colleen Gleason
Series: Stoker & Holmes #1
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Historical fiction, Steampunk, Time travel
Dates read: 22nd – 23rd August 2021
Pace: Fast
Format: Novel
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Year: 2013
5th sentence, 74th page: I couldn’t imagine what it would be like not to have any adults about, meddling in my daily life.

Synopsis

“Tonight, I ask, on behalf of Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales: will you do what no other young women are called to do, and place your lives and honor at the feet of your country?”

Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood, so to speak. And when two young society girls disappear – one dead, one missing – there’s no one more qualified to investigate. Now fierce Evaline and logical Mina must resolve their rivalry, navigate the advances of not just one but three mysterious gentlemen, and solve a murder with only one clue: a strange Egyptian scarab. The pressure is on and the stakes are high – if Stoker and Holmes don’t figure out why London’s finest sixteen-year-old women are in danger, they’ll become the next victims.

Thoughts

This is one of those books that’s been on my wish list for ages – I finally managed to find a second-hand copy. And, from the very moment I received it… I was kind of desperate to read it. Turns out that my instincts were correct. This book is amazing. I love how it takes elements of steampunk, historical fiction and two very well-known literary figures to create an amazing storyline.

Having read both Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, I was intrigued by the idea of Stoker & Holmes as a team. What I didn’t expect was Irene Adler appearing at the very beginning of this story. That somehow, Gleason would manage to incorporate some of the best aspects of the original classics, without making it all feel like a total repeat. There was a great sense of fun and uniqueness that swept me away and left me smiling very happily as I dived further and further into this amazing world that Gleason has created.

Although this was a steampunk, this story had very much a cozy mystery feeling to it. I’m not quite sold on it sitting upon that shelf, but there is definitely that kind of feel to it. This story makes you constantly wonder who the culprit is. And you wonder how the women are going missing and why. But, you don’t really get that graphic, horror feeling that you would get from an actual mystery or thriller. You also get the fast-paced adventure feel of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

I loved this novel from beginning to end. It was fun and filled with a great setting. The mix of steampunk and historical / literary fiction worked brilliantly together. Then, there is the great characterisation of the two girls. Taking some of the character points from Holmes and Dracula, but spinning them into their own women who are capable of being strong and independent. I can’t wait to see how much further this story takes me and, ultimately, who the Big Baddy is.

<- More Colleen GleasonThe Spiritglass Charade ->

Image source: Goodreads

The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

Overview
The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris - Penguin Books Australia

Title: The Truths We Hold
Author: Kamala Harris
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Memoirs, Politics, Race
Dates read: 18th – 22nd August 2021
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Vintage
Year: 2019
5th sentence, 74th page: She cared a great deal about making our apartment a home, and it always felt warm and complete.

Synopsis

The extraordinary life story of one of America’s most inspiring political leaders.

The daughter of immigrants and civil rights activists, Vice President Elect Kamala Harris was raised in a California community that cared deeply about social justice. As she rose to prominence as a political leader, her experiences would become her guiding light as she grappled with an array of complex issues and learned to bring a voice to the voiceless.

Now, in The Truths We Hold, Harris reckons with the big challenges we face together. Drawing on the hard-won wisdom and insight from her own career and the work of those who have most inspired her, she communicates a vision of shared struggle, shared purpose, and shared values as we confront the great work of our day.

Thoughts

The last few years I’ve been somewhat fascinated by American politics. After all, they inform our own in some of the worst ways possible (and I’m sure in some good ways, but still…). The fact that Kamala Harris is one of the first women to not only hold such a high office but is of mixed heritage… it was fascinating.

I really enjoyed this memoir. However, it did really read like a political dossier. Each chapter discusses a different political issue and fight. And, considering this was written and published before the election… it kind of makes sense that it’s a well written and engaging drive for election.

Unlike a lot of memoirs that I’ve read, this didn’t really follow a chronological order. As I mentioned, each chapter focuses on a different political and social fight. Harris is able to bring in her own past experiences and journeys to the different topics. That way, by the time you’ve finished her book you feel like you’ve had a good autobiographical overlay, even if it was a little out of order.

I really enjoyed Harris’ approachable tone of voice throughout this. She dealt with some very heavy topics that I didn’t necessarily want to delve too far into. But she did it in a way that you didn’t get bogged down in the politics and horrors that our world is facing… she managed to walk that line beautifully.

<- The Last Black UnicornThe Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl ->

Image source: Penguin Books Australia

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Overview
The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Title: The Kingdom of Back
Author: Marie Lu
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Historical fiction, Magical realism, Music
Dates read: 22nd August 2021
Pace: Fast
Format: Novel
Publisher: Putnam
Year: 2020
5th sentence, 74th page: “Like this.”

Synopsis

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish: to be remembered forever But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she’ll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in eighteenth-century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age – her tyrannical father has made that much clear

As Nannerl’s hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true – but his help may cost her everything.

In her first work of historical fiction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu spins a lush, lyrically told story of music, magic, and the unbreakable bond between a brother and a sister.

Thoughts

It’s not often that I finish a book and experience a book hangover. There’s many that will leave thoughts and feelings lingering long after I finish them? But actual difficulty in picking up the next book? Not a common occurrence for me. It didn’t QUITE happen this time either. But its the closest I’ve come in a very long time.

Recently I’ve heard of Nannerl Mozart due to the Enola Holmes movie and the statues going up in response to this. However, beyond her existence and levels of talent similar to her brother, I knew pretty much nothing. Including the fact that she was a celebrated progidy just like her brother. The mix of reality and fantasy in the book helped to make me feel a lot more educated about such an amazing woman.

Honestly, my heart hurt throughout this story. Knowing how quickly woman are and were swept under the rug is one thing. But the way that Lu emphasises this in Nannerl’s voice… it left me feeling physically uncomfortable. Which I think was incredibly important to the tone and message of this story. Being ignored because of your gender is not a comfortable thing and Lu was able to perfectly emphasise this.

I’ve read a few historical fictions lately. But this is the first that intertwines this so strongly with fantasy. There are elements of the fae and fairy tales. And just a hint of familiarity to the fantasy story line that I just can’t place. But, alongside this you have the reality of being a woman in the time of Marie Antoinette, Nannerl and Wolfgang. With all of the challenges that that entails.

<- More Marie LuMore magical realism ->

Image source: Goodreads