Review: The Flower and the Serpent

By Madeleine D’Este

Genre: Fantasy/ Supernatural/ Horror

Release date: 4 December 2019 (pre-orders available now)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


I’ve just finished reading an ARC of The Flower and the Serpent by Madeleine D’Este and I am still feeling blown away.

The story is set in a high school in Hobart, Tasmania, where a group of students are rehearsing for a production of Macbeth. The dark history of the play is well-known, and D’Este’s setting – on school grounds haunted by past evil – plays perfectly against it. Imbued with a sense of creeping menace, the novel is genuinely frightening at times, but the characters are never overshadowed by the horror.

And it is the characters that shine so brightly here. Each has their own voice, their own hopes and fears, their own shadow and light. Every character rings true, from ambitious, driven Violet to shy, self-effacing Lila. Practical Holly and logical Angelika are a delight. And the teacher, Mr Ravenswood, is such a brilliant creation. With every character, D’Este forces the reader to look beyond surface judgements, to the true depths of the human heart and soul.

Which is not to say the plot is unimportant. It’s a fantastic story, that twists and turns in surprising ways that are never gimmicky. The climax had me on the edge of my chair, and it totally delivered.

Bottom line: if, like me, you love Macbeth, you’ll adore this. If you despise Shakespeare and all he stands for, you’ll love it anyway.

Trust me.

Review: Mom’s Perfect Boyfriend

By Crystal Hemmingway

Genre: Romance/ Science Fiction/ Comedy

Publisher: Galbadia Press

Edition: Paperback

Release date: June 2019

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Crystal has trouble saying no to her lonely, single mother. For 25 years, it wasn’t a problem. But when one small mistake leaves Crystal jilted, homeless and unemployed, she has to move back in with the one person who caused it all: her mother.

Goodreads blurb

I received an early reviewer’s copy of this from Galbadia Press, via Librarything. Romance is not my usual genre-of-choice, but I was intrigued by the structure, so I applied for a copy.

Look, I need to say up front that this is a very silly story with more than one unbelievable plot thread. But it’s meant to be lighthearted and a little comical, so I’m not holding the silliness against it.

The novel is written in the form of emails, text messages, letters, journal entries and snippets from the protagonist’s fiction stories. As with “Illuminae”, this format took a little while to get used to, but after that I liked it. There is a lot going on here – a broken engagement, family drama, career changes, androids (!) and the protagonist’s forays into writing not one but two novels: a fairytale retelling and an erotic tale about dinosaurs (yes, really). To be honest, I could have done without the dinosaur erotica, but I quite liked the rest. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, but at least I was never bored.

My main problem is that while the novel as a whole is written competently enough, the excerpts from the protagonist’s “novels” are very amateurish, which was an odd choice, especially given the ending.
It’s a very quick and easy read and an original set-up, although quite predictable after that. And if you’re looking for a romantic hero to swoon after, you won’t find him here. The romance element is actually pretty slight.

I was wavering between 3 and 3.5 stars, but in the end, I had a fun time with this, actually staying up an hour past my bedtime to finish it, so 3.5 stars seems fair.

Review: Into the Water

By Paula Hawkins

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .

This was a difficult book to rate. In the end, I had to give it four stars because it is very well-written, structured and plotted. And yet…

Here’s the thing. I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it left me feeling quite down and a bit depressed. This is not the result I’m aiming for when I read fiction, especially on holiday. And yet…

Paula Hawkins is such a beautiful writer. From the very first page, she created a mood that was just perfect for this story. Dark, melancholic, with an air of menace and mystery. The village, the Drowning Pool, the river itself, all so real and so atmospheric. The characters, too, even though there are so many primary ones, are all such individuals that I quickly felt I knew them. Although, of course, we can never fully know anyone else, which is one of the well-developed themes of the novel. And yet…

There is a lot of darkness here, and a lot of abuse and violence, both in the present and the past. Not graphic in any way, but deeply disturbing, at least to me. And very little hope, even at the end, when I really needed it. Paula Hawkins doesn’t seem to think much of human nature, especially male human nature. And she doesn’t seem to believe there is much chance of us flawed creatures ever forming truly satisfying relationships, of any kind. I’m not saying she’s completely wrong, I’m just saying that I like a tiny ray of light with my darkness. Especially, as I said, on holiday.

And so, it’s a hard book to rate. Honestly, I think the quality of the writing deserves a full five stars, but my enjoyment level, apart from a bit of revelling in the prose, was probably closer to two. Four seems fair.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, no, I didn’t guess the solution, not totally, but it didn’t really feel like that kind of book, anyway. Less an intellectual puzzle and more an exploration of the things people do to each other and themselves, and why.

Have you read this novel, or Paula Hawkins’ other thriller, The Girl on the Train? What did you think?

What I Read in June 2019

June was a pretty slow reading month for me. I read five books and began two others. My ratings for the five books I completed only averaged out at 3.4 stars, so it wasn’t a spectacular rating month either, although I did have one 5-star read. Here’s what I read:

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

I listened to half of this and read the second half. The wonderful Emilia Fox does a great job on the audio book. I hadn’t remembered how short this novel is! I really enjoyed it all, especially because we see so much of what Miss Marple is thinking, and how bored she is with nothing to investigate! She is very aware that her main interest in life is solving mysteries, whether it be small matters or multiple murders. Christie lays her clues and her traps with as much mastery as ever. I remember the first time I read this, she totally fooled me. A real highlight of Mission Marple.


My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I thoroughly enjoyed the sequel to One Word Kill. My full review is here. But basically, Limited Wish is a sequel that doesn’t drop the ball. In fact, it keeps several balls spinning and then catches them all and takes a bow. The third book, Dispel Illusion, will be coming out in November. I’m expecting a satisfying conclusion to the series.


My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

My gushing review is here. I loved this book beyond all reason – Augusta and Parfait stole my heart. Through their eyes, Joanna Glen takes us from suburban England to Burundi and Spain and also deep into the territory of the heart. Look, just read it, okay?


My rating: ⭐

No, I wasn’t too impressed with this non-fiction book about writing. The material was too basic for the premise, the examples weren’t very good and it was too rambling. If you want to know more, my review is here.


My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

This one wins for best cover of the month, but the story inside is just okay. I think the premise of a detective with a clockwork leg investigating the murder of a druid in a steampunk world, with Fae, is fantastic, but the execution was a bit lacking. I enjoyed it, but there were quite a few flaws, mainly in the pacing. My review is here.


I also began two other books:

The Age of Arthur by John Morris (British history) and The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris (general fiction). I’m enjoying both of them so far.

So that’s it for my June reading. How about yours? What did you read last month? Did you have a great reading experience or a so-so one? Any 5-star books to recommend? One-stars to avoid? Let’s have a conversation.

Review: The Clockwork Detective

By R.A. McCandless

Publisher: Ellysian Press

Genre: Steampunk/ Fantasy/ Murder Mystery

Released: May 2019

Rating: 3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Can I say first, what a gorgeous cover this is? It’s what first attracted me to this novel. And then the title and blurb were very intriguing, too:

Aubrey Hartman left the Imperial battlefields with a pocketful of medals, a fearsome reputation, and a clockwork leg. The Imperium diverts her trip home to investigate the murder of a young druid in a strange town. She is ordered to not only find the killer but prevent a full-scale war with the dreaded Fae. Meanwhile, the arrival of a sinister secret policeman threatens to dig up Aubrey’s own secrets – ones that could ruin her career. It soon becomes clear that Aubrey has powerful enemies with plans to stop her before she gets started. Determined to solve the mystery, Aubrey must survive centaurs, thugs, and a monster of pure destruction.

Sounds good, right? Fae in a steampunk world and a murder mystery. I haven’t read anything from R. A. McCandless before, so I don’t know how this compares to his other two novels, which are urban fantasy. All the ingredients are here, but they just didn’t add up to a tasty enough dish for me.

Aubrey is an engaging protagonist with an interesting backstory and solid detective skills. The clockwork leg is a stroke of genius. I think one of the problems is that I wanted more fantasy and science fiction wonder here. What I got felt more of a police procedural than anything else, despite the speculative elements. You could drop Aubrey into real world Victorian London, replace the druids with priests and the Centaurs with East End thugs and the first two thirds of the story would unfold in much the same way.

The final third begins with more supernatural happenings, but then devolves into so many pages of thinking and dialogue that it loses most of its momentum and tension. The ending wraps things up nicely, but again is too slow and extended.

I still think there are things here to enjoy, and I know that some readers have loved this novel, but it just scrapes in at three stars for me.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from #Netgalley, courtesy of Ellysian Press.

Review: The Other Half of Augusta Hope

Joanna Glen

Publisher: The Borough Press

Editions:  Hardback, paperback, Kindle, E-book, Audio Book

Release date: 13 June 2019

Rating:   5 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:

Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in.

At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi.

And now that she’s an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia.

When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta’s life, she’s propelled headfirst into the unknown. She’s determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?

My thoughts:

This book. These words. You know how sometimes you finish a book and you actually want to hug it? That.

Before I began reading The Other Half of Augusta Hope, I had no inkling I was going to adore it so much.


Review: Limited Wish

Impossible Times #2

Mark Lawrence

Publisher:   47 North

Edition:   Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, Audio

Release date:   28 May 2019

Rating:   4 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:

One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.

It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge University, working with world-renowned mathematician Professor Halligan. He just wants to be a regular student, but regular isn’t really an option for a boy-genius cancer survivor who’s already dabbled in time travel.

When he crosses paths with a mysterious yet curiously familiar girl, Nick discovers that creases have appeared in the fabric of time, and that he is at the centre of the disruption. Only Nick can resolve this time paradox before the damage becomes catastrophic for both him and the future of the world. Time is running out—literally.

Wrapped up with him in this potentially apocalyptic scenario are his ex-girlfriend, Mia, and fellow student Helen. Facing the world-ending chaos of a split in time, Nick must act fast and make the choice of a lifetime—or lifetimes.

Game on.

My Thoughts:

Limited Wish is another really fun read from Mark Lawrence. Nick and his friends are back, along with two new characters: Helen, and a mysterious girl who keeps appearing and disappearing. I guessed who she was, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment. There are many parallels to the previous book, One Word Kill, which is also fun. Things are similar yet different, in interesting ways.