What I Read in April 2020

April started off slow as a reading month, but gathered speed by the end, for a total of 8 books, bringing my 2020 total so far to 26.

I read:

1 novel (science fiction)
4 non-fiction books
2 novellas (fantasy)
1 picture book

My average rating was 4.2, continuing this year’s theme of enjoying what I’m reading. Here are the books:

SEMIOSIS by Sue Burke

Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

I said I was hoping for Speaker For the Dead (Orson Scott Card) vibes from this novel that follows several generations of a human colony on an alien planet with sentient plants, and there were similarities at first. But in the end, I liked it, but didn’t love it. The plotting is good, and the ideas are good, and even the characters, so it took me a while to work out where it fell short for me. I think it’s just that it engaged my brain but not my heart, whereas Speaker for the Dead did both. I just wanted more. Still, 31/2 stars isn’t a bad rating. This is the first book of a duology, and I’m not sure if I’ll continue.


BEHIND THE EXCLUSIVE BRETHREN by Michael Bachelard

Genre: Non-fiction/ investigative journalism.
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was a hard read, and I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it’s a very thorough dissection of the history and influence of The Exclusive Brethren, focusing primarily on Australia, including case histories of people who have left and how that has affected them. It was shocking in parts, and heartbreaking, but I think it’s an important book, especially considering the influence this organisation has had and still has on Australian governments. A worthy read, but not a fun one.


NORSE MYTHOLOGY by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Non-fiction / Mythology
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Looking around for something I was pretty sure I’d enjoy after the Brethren book, I picked this up and wasn’t disappointed. Gaiman has a fun way with words and he tells the familiar stories about Odin, Thor, Freya, Loki and the other Norse gods in a fresh and colloquial style, with plenty of humour. The first section, the creation myths, is the driest, but once he gets into the stories, it’s pure gold. I raced through it and absolutely loved it. Highly recommended.


VALKYRIE: THE WOMEN OF THE VIKING WORLD by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir

Genre: Non-fiction/ History and Mythology/ Sociology
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

It was somehow fitting that while I was reading Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, I was offered an Advance Review Copy of this. It almost seemed like fate. Perhaps the Norns were at work!
This is an impressively scholarly treatise about a fascinating topic. The author begins with the same mythological sources that Gaiman’s tales are based on: the Elder (or Poetic) Edda and the Younger (or Prose) Edda. She draws from them what they have to tell us about the way the writers viewed the women of the viking age, via their portrayal of Valkyries and goddesses. Later, she mines the sagas and the archaeological evidence to give a picture of the position and lives of women of various social strata.
Much of this is necessarily speculation, as we have no writings from the point of view of the women themselves, but it’s thorough and intelligent speculation.
Parts of this book were definitely 5-star, but I’ve dropped the rating to 4 simply because there is a lot of repetition, which made some sections a bit hard to get through. But overall, it’s excellent, and I recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.

I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody

Genre: Non-fiction/ Writing craft
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I read through this very quickly without doing any of the exercises, just to get a good overview and judge if I felt it would be useful. The answer is a resounding yes! This is such a thorough analysis of story structure, plotting, character arcs, all that good stuff, and I can see myself applying it at every stage of the writing process from brainstorming through first drafts, structural revisions, editing, and writing marketing copy. It has already earned a permanent place on my shelf and I expect it to fall apart from constant use in a few years.


CHICKABELLA COUNTS TO TEN by Veronica Strachan and Cassi Strachan

Genre: Picture Book / Counting
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is so cute! Simple text, gorgeous illustrations, and Chickabella is counting backwards, which is a nice variation on all the counting up to ten books out there.
And on the final page, your child can have the fun of cleverly pointing out to you where all of Chickabella’s friends are hiding.
Definitely one for the cuddle-up-and-read-together shelf.


I received an Advance Review Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


TROLL HUNTER: WITCH FOR HIRE by P.A. Mason

THE DAMSEL GAUNTLET by P.A. Mason

Genre: Fantasy / Humour/ Novellas
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I read these two short novellas one after the other and it was like enjoying a couple of petit-fours (if petit-fours were funny as well as delicious).
They are the first episodes in a humorous fantasy series that I’m delighted to report is every bit as much fun as it sounds. I truly love the character of the hapless witch Gretchen, who is inept at spells and potions, but not by any means naive or stupid. The secondary characters are fun, too, and P.A Mason takes the idea of a fairy tale retelling and runs with it in an original and engaging way.
I now want to read all of Gretchen’s forthcoming misadventures, and it’s worth noting that there are lots of fun extras on the website http://gretchensmisadventures.com including examples of Gretchen’s execrable poetry, follow-up stories to the main episodes, and articles about the Gretchenverse.

I received an Advance Review Copy of the second novella in exchange for an honest review.


So, those were my 8 books for April. How was your reading month? What was the best book you read?

What I Read in March 2020

Hello again, lovely readers! It’s a very strange time, with all of our lives disrupted one way or another. How has it affected your reading? Are you reading more, less, or about the same? Have your genre tastes changed?

I read 6 books in March, about the same as January and February. They were split between Science Fiction, Fantasy, Crime, Romance and Non-fiction. Four were paperbacks and two were Ebooks, both of which were ARCs (Advance Reader Copies). So, reading-wise, March was a pretty normal month for me. I find this a bit surprising, because it didn’t feel normal at all. Here are the books, on a background of one of my favourite roses, blooming now on an arch in my garden:

Climbing Rose ‘Fourth of July’

My average rating for March was 3.83, quite a bit lower than the past couple of months, but there were two 5-star reads in there, so it wasn’t a bad month by any means. I’ve presented the books in order from lowest rated to highest.

THE SEVENTH LINK (Village Mysteries #4) by Margaret Mayhew
GENRE: Crime/ Cozy Mystery

RATING: ⭐⭐

A retired English Colonel is pleased when an old friend invites him for the weekend, to coincide with a RAF reunion event. His fellow guests include a Lancaster bomber crew, reunited for the first time. But everything is not as it seems, and the Colonel finds himself taking on the reluctant role of sleuth once more when tragedy strikes . . . 

I borrowed this from my library on a whim, and I was enjoying it, just the kind of easy, familiar read I was in the mood for, until it abruptly ended in a way that to me is unforgivable in this genre. To be blunt, the mystery is not solved, not for certain. I mean, the reader is not told what really happened. And the amateur sleuth just kind of shrugs and goes home to his cat. No. Just no.

BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott
GENRE: Non-fiction/Writing

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐

A step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

This was a book I was looking forward to, and it was a disappointment. It’s well-written, as you’d expect from Anne Lamott, but the further I read, the more I disliked her. This is supposed to be part memoir, part writing craft book, but really, it’s all about Anne. Her insecurities, her jealousies, her fragile ego. I would not want to take one of her classes. And despite the glowing blurb, it’s not much of a guide, pretty basic advice and very repetitive. I know people love this, and if I had gotten on better with Lamott’s personality, I probably would have liked it too, hence the 3 stars. But I found nothing to identify with here.


THAT NIGHT IN PARIS (Holiday Romance #2) by Sandy Barker (ARC from Netgalley)
GENRE: Romance

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

To Cat Parsons, a European bus tour feels like a stroke of genius to dodge awkward conversations at home. But little does Cat realise that the first stop will be Paris, the city of love itself.
Joined by new friends, Cat has got two weeks, eight countries and a hell of a lot of wine ahead of her. As they discover hidden treasures and the camaraderie of life on the road, will Cat find a new way of looking at love?

I enjoyed the first book in this series, One Summer in Santorini, but this one was better. I loved the tour aspect, and the descriptions of the different places. I really want to go to Lauterbrunnen now! The romance was fine, and not as cringy as most (I’m not a huge fan of romances in general). But for me, the best part was the relationship between Cat and her “bus besties”, especially Lou. As others have said, Cat begins the trio as somewhat self-obsessed, but she fully realizes this and really grows by the end. A satisfying escapist read, full of heartfelt and touching moments, and just the kind of thing we all need right now. 

HOSTAGE TO FORTUNE (A Bradecote and Catchpoll Investigation #4) by Sarah Hawkswood (ARC from Netgalley)
GENRE: Crime/ Historical

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

January 1144. Hugh Bradecote does not want his betrothed heading off on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Edgyth at Polesworth, but the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy and his entourage of monks seem Heaven sent as escorts, right up until they are captured by a renegade who wants his forger out of the lord sheriff’s cells; a renegade who loathes the Benedictines, and kills for pleasure.

This invites comparisons to Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael Mysteries, and while it isn’t quite on that level for me, it was an enjoyable story with engaging characters and a solid plot. My favourite character was Christina, and I would have liked to see more of her. Hugh was a little colourless, except when he was thinking about her, when he suddenly came to life in my imagination. Catchpoll is well-realised and a nice contrast to his superior. A good read.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
GENRE: Science Fiction/ Time travel

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

This seems to be a polarising book, but I absolutely loved it: the writing, the structure, the story, the characters. It’s short, but it packs an emotional and cerebral punch. The authors don’t spoon-feed you, which I suspect is the reason some readers haven’t enjoyed this. You are dropped straight into the action with very little explanation, and off you go, figuring things out as you go along. I was hooked from the first page and remained mesmerised all the way through. I really hope this duo is planning more collaborations in the future.

LEVIATHAN WAKES (The Expanse #1) By James S.A. Corey
GENRE: Science Fiction/ Space Opera

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe. 

Why did I wait so long to read this? There’s Space Opera and then there’s SPACE OPERA, and this is close to perfection. Holden and Miller are so well-realised, their personalities and motivations so clear, it was as if I was getting to know real people rather than characters in a book. The action is perfectly paced, the settings brilliantly imagined, the ending surprising and at the same time inevitable. Have I said enough to convince you yet? If you like Science Fiction at all, I can’t imagine you won’t love this one. And there are 7 more books in the series!

So, that’s what I read in March. Have you read any of these? What did you think? And what did you read last month?

Review: Ochre Dragon

(THE OPAL DREAMING CHRONICLES #1)

BY V.E. PATTON

GENRE: Fantasy/Science Fiction/Dystopian/Hope Punk

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

On three distant worlds, three women journey towards their destinies. Before they started out, all three made a choice – to forget they share a single soul.

In tech-ruled post-Crack Earth, where magic doesn’t officially exist, project manager Ali’s humdrum life under the crumbling Melba Dome is becoming weirder by the day. Her fingers keep glowing, a snarky dragon takes up residence in her head, and people she thought were her friends keep trying to control, kidnap or assassinate her. To top it off, she can’t figure out why her previously perfect memory is suddenly full of holes.

Meanwhile, on Heavens Gate, where magic and science have forged an uneasy alliance, research analyst Merindah is desperate to save her dying planet. What she lacks in magical ability, she more than makes up for in ambition, which comes in handy as she navigates family politics and feral deities. But when an impatient and not-so-extinct dragon begins to help her solve the puzzle of the Yarran journal, she realises her magic might not be as weak as she’d thought.

Finally, on Reverie, where magic rules unfettered, a young orphan becomes burdened with tainted magical gifts. Dee is alone, trapped in a waking nightmare. When she finally surrenders to the voices in her head, her out-of-control magic unleashes her dragon and propels her onto a path that could unravel the fabric of time and space.

Three women, three worlds – and their time is running out. Unless Ali, Merindah and Dee can reunite and unlock the secret of the Timegates in a single year, all is lost. They must each make unimaginable sacrifices to become the Key, the Gatekeeper, and the Fire who will save the Cosmos – or ignite Armageddon.

First though… they need to teach their soulmate dragons who’s in charge! 

Ochre Dragons is a stunning, genre-bending work of the imagination that effortlessly engages both mind and heart. From the almost mythological Prologue to the pulse-racing conclusion, this is a glorious, multi-faceted gem of a book.

I began reading the Ebook on my Kindle, but a third of the way through, I ordered the paperback (available from Amazon at a ridiculously low price, just saying). The story just seemed too epic, too huge in scope, to be contained within a small, flat electronic device.

For a start, we have three main characters, all women at different stages of life, but somehow connected to one another. I fell in love with Ali first. She is the elder of the three, in the same decade of life as I am, which may be the reason I took to her so early. But her life in a future dystopian Australia is so interesting, as is her personality. And when her dragon appeared, well that just put the icing on the cake. It took me a little while longer to warm to Merindah, in her world where magic and science co-exist, and perhaps gods and goddesses, too. But I was on her side by the end. And then there’s Dee, the youngest, and in some ways in the most desperate situation of them all. She has the least time time devoted to her and her world, and I’m hoping for more of her in the sequel.

As if that wasn’t enough, the world-building is extraordinary, the settings switching between science fiction and fantasy, dystopian and frankly cosmological. And then, of course, there are dragons.

This is not a simple tale, but I loved the complexity. Other things I appreciated were:

  • The lyricism of the Prologue. And yes, it is a necessary element in this novel, and yes,you must read it. Trust me.
  • The sentient towers, and the eventual reveal of why and how they are sentient.
  • The inclusion of the archetypes of maiden, mother and crone, without falling into the trap of making them only hollow symbols. instead of real, flesh-and-blood women in their own right.
  • The fact that it’s such an Australian story in many ways, and yet universal, too. Nice trick, if you can pull it off as well as Patton does here.

This novel was first published in 2018, and it seems to have been flying under the radar to some extent since then. It deserves better. Buy it, read it, and tell me I’m wrong. I dragon-dare you.

Review: Don’t Read the Comments

Eric Smith


Genre: YA Contemporary
Release Date: 20 January 2020
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.
At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight. 

It’s been a long time since a book made me want to stand up and cheer, or literally set my heart thumping, or brought tears to my eyes. This one did all three, not just once, but over and over.

CONTINUE READING

Review: Fight Write

How to write believable fight scenes

By Carla Hoch

Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books

Edition: Kindle, Paperback

Release date: 11 June 2019

Source: Netgalley digital ARC / paperback purchased by me

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


In Fight Write you’ll learn practical tips, terminology, and the science behind crafting realistic fight scenes for your fiction. Broken up into “Rounds,” trained fighter and writer Carla Hoch guides you through the many factors you’ll need to consider when developing battles and brawls.

I was only a quarter of the way through the digital ARC of this book when I went online and bought a paperback copy for myself. I already knew this was a reference book I wanted on my shelves. I imagine I’ll be dipping into it often.

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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.

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Review: The Chalk Man

By C.J.Tudor

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 5 STARS

It’s been a long time since a book hooked me so quickly and so thoroughly from the first page. And I’m not sure I’ve ever given 5 stars to a straight thriller before. So there’s a recommendation for you!

The Chalk Man is the story of Eddie and his friends and is told using two timelines. In 1986 they are teenagers living in an English village, biking around together and using chalk drawings of stick figures as a kind of code for each other. Until something shocking happens. In 2016, Eddie returns to the village in response to receiving a drawing of a stick man in the mail. He soon discovers he has to figure out what really happened in the past before he can understand and survive what’s happening now.

It’s a great setup and Tudor handles it beautifully. Both timelines are fully engaging and I was on the edge of my seat more than once. The atmosphere of menace is so well done, without ever slipping over into cheap sensationalism.

CONTINUE READING THIS REVIEW