Review: Tui T Sutherland – Wings of Fire (books 1-5)

Wings of Fire
Tui T Sutherland

The fabled Dragonets of Destiny have spent the whole of their years being hidden underground. When one’s life is in danger however, they take it upon themselves to escape and get the Prophecy started already!

The set up of these books is that each one of the five dragonets of the Prophecy get a book to themselves. The first two books really only rely on the main characters (Clay and Tsunami) to carry them. Naturally then, I loved Clay the most – he might not be the brightest, but he is certainly the friendliest (plus he likes eating). After that point, we start seeing a bit more variety in the dragonets involved, particularly in book 4 (Starflight – Dark dragon).

I actually read the first three novels by borrowing them from my daughter, but then had to access books four and five online as she wouldn’t part with them (doing a full reread of the 13 released books in the series). I then was reading book 3 aloud (because it’s Glory’s book, and I like her!) and somehow got suckered into reading it again. This is easy reading for adults and advanced readers. I think this is the perfect precursor to Eragon or House of Dragons for the young dragon fanatics among us.

I confess. I hated the ending. I wasn’t at all invested in the dragon that ended up Queen, and too many plots didn’t have an ending. There’s a big deal made around how only dragons that are royal by blood can rule for the majority of the books, but then the final choice is… different.

Tsunami is deemed the favourite of my daughter, because she’s a Seawing, and seawings are awesome! My thoughts on the matter are that I reckon that it’s because of all the dragonets, Tsunami is the snappiest, with a hint of magic around her due to her family history. She’s also fearless.

It’s not adult reading, but it can certainly be enjoyed by an adult as a bedtime reading book to a young dragon fancier. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of “The Winglets Quartet”, so expect that review near in the future!

Review: Jenni Hendricks & Ted Caplan – Unpregnant

Unpregnant
Jenni Hendricks & Ted Caplan

Veronica is the poster child for her parents – straight As and a prestigious college acceptance letter. She wears her chastity ring with pride, and her parents are glad that she didn’t turn out like her sister – married to probably-not-Mr.-Right with a third child on the way. When she gets pregnant despite playing it safe, her best friend of old has to get her out of trouble.

Oh dear. I had to look up the main character’s name. I at least remembered Bailey’s name, probably because I used to have a guinea-pig named Baileys (after Bailey’s Irish Cream liquor). Veronica on the other hand is a blank, boring slate with nothing unique about her. I mean, I felt for her having an unexpected pregnancy and having to drive a bloody long way to get an abortion, but it’s not like she was actually a 3D character I could care about.

Now, tell me how two high schoolers got away with stealing two cars. Yes, not one, but two cars! I thought Veronica was dumb and clueless, and I couldn’t believe Bailey tolerated her at all. Sure, we all dream of a roadtrip with our bestest best friends, but doing it with someone you don’t even really like? I don’t even get the reason why Veronica and Bailey broke up as friends (and I’m not sure they know either).

Veronica spends the whole weekend making sure that no one will know she ended up pregnant and then she ends up telling them all anyway! Just because she was new and empowered and didn’t care about that anyway, since she was so much more empowered and unafraid than she was before. I just couldn’t believe the 360 degree turn she made! She went to a lot of trouble to cover her tracks and then told everyone anyway, because she felt free and relieved.

Overall it was too much of a cliche. What was the purpose of this book, besides the “journey”? I knew from the beginning that she wasn’t going to change her mind. I knew from the beginning that they’d end up besties again. So why did I read it? Well, I was sent a free copy and I thought I should finish it.

TL:DR? The straight A girl gets pregnant and therefore takes a road trip with her ex-best friend to get an abortion, breaking multiple laws on the way. Also, don’t trust the dude not to get you pregnant. 3 stars from me.

Scholastic | 1st April 2020 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Guest Post: Katherine Kayne on “Choosing a location for your novel”

Katherine Kayne on “Choosing a location for your novel”

As an author, the question I am asked most frequently is how I chose to write about Hawaii. Let me give you the short answer; how could I not?

So few of us on the mainland know much about the islands. Once I began to learn about Hawaii’s past I become enthralled. Let me share a bit more about it; suffice it to say Hawaiian history is complicated. There is more to unpack her than I can explain in this brief essay. But I will give it a shot.

First the geology. Millions of years ago, through a fissure in the earth’s crust, emerged the miracle that is today’s Hawaiian Islands. First Kauai, then Niihau, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kaho‘olawe, Maui until . . . at last . . . the island still being born . . . the big island of Hawaii.

Geographically isolated as well as geologically young, Hawaii possesses perhaps the best climate in the world—not too hot, not too cold, and rarely the victim of violent storms.

Human habitation came late. A mere millennium or so ago, bold navigators set forth from islands thousands of miles to the south to follow the stars. They sought a legend – a rumor – of new lands in the north. Only then were the islands of Hawaii populated.

Old Hawaii was ruled by chiefs and chiefesses called ali‘i. By 1810 the rule of the island chain was consolidated under one man, Kamehameha the Great, later known as King Kamehameha. Once the western notion of a monarchy took hold, Hawaii was ruled by kings, and finally one queen, for eighty years. That is until the islands became caught within the twin coils of international diplomacy and capitalism. In the late 1890s, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by a group of mostly American businessmen, with military backup from the United States. A kingdom was lost.

During the monarchy Hawaii and Hawaiians thrived. A constitution was adopted. Waves of immigrants were welcomed. Education was encouraged and honored. By the mid 1800s, Hawaii was one of the most literate countries in the world. Education was encouraged and honored. This was a particularly stunning achievement given that before 1820, there was no written Hawaiian language. While the impact of the early Calvinist missionaries is debated, one thing is true. In their eagerness to convert the “heathens” to Christianity, the missionaries assembled a method of reading and writing Hawaiian that is the basis for how the language is recorded today. Now a renaissance of the Hawaiian language is in full swing. The written `ōlelo is key to that movement.

Both cattle and horses arrived shortly after the first Europeans. Ranches in Hawaii rapidly became some of the most successful cattle-producing operations in the world, well ahead of Texas, supplying beef for the California gold rush and the U.S. civil war. The granddaddy of them all, Parker Ranch on the Hawaii Island, remains in existence today with hundreds of thousands of acres.

By the turn of the twentieth century Hawaii was a study in contrasts. Cowboys and kahunas, wild pigs and steamships, hula dancers and rickshaws, land barons and mail-order brides made up the stuff and substance of the islands’ colorful history. The rise of the sugar industry gave great fortunes to a few and bypassed the many. Hawaiians today still fight to right the wrongs of that era. Yet despite it all, those times evoke a great nostalgia.

These are the times I write about. Although my stories are pure fiction, I find inspiration in so many wonderful pieces of Hawaiian history. Just as the colors are deeper, the smells sharper, and the sun brighter in Hawaii, the true stories of the people carry richness beyond imagining.

If you (like me) never got over your love for horses…. if you (like me) always prefer the feisty heroine…. if you (like me) crave hunky heroes with senses of humor…. if you (like me) want to believe there may yet be magic in this world, then these stories are for you.

Please, join me. We are never too old to believe in magic, are we?

Aloha!

Katherine Kayne is the author of Bound in Flame, the first in a series about hard-riding Hawaiian suffragettes at the turn of the twentieth century. Her next installment, a prequel novella, Pistols in Paradise will be out this fall! You can check her out and join her newsletter at katherinekayne.com. Yes, there are cocktail recipes!

 

About Bound in Flame

In 1909, Leticia Lili‘uokalani Lang is en route home to Hawai’I when she dives into the ocean to rescue a horse in distress — and changes her life forever. Brilliant and headstrong, Letty is an accomplished horsewoman, among the first female veterinarians, and now: mākāhā, a Gate to the healing fires of the land. Complicating matters is Timothy Rowley, the horse’s owner, who ignites a special flame of his own in Leticia. Can Letty learn to master her power to have a chance at life and love? Or is the danger of the flame too great?

Review: Kalynn Bayron – Cinderella is Dead

Cinderella is Dead
Kalynn Bayron

Sophia has been preparing for her debut for her whole life. Or at least, her parents have been trying to prepare her. Every girl may go to the ball three times and be chosen by a man – or her life will be forfeit. Sophia can see through the facade though, and she doesn’t want to be chosen by a man. She wants to be with Erin.

I liked the new twist on the Cinderella fairytale, but some elements left me feeling disappointed and short changed. I was happy that I had a lesbian protagonist. I was happy that she didn’t instantly fall for her new female friend… but that she lusted over her. Who doesn’t want something that is forbidden? I feel like that love was really just lust, and that’s far more preferable to insta-love.

I would like to know where Sophia got her blackness from. The kingdom seems tiny and racially white, so where did she come from? I get that she doesn’t fit in, and I get that that resonates with many people of colour at the moment. My problem is that the world that Bayron has built in this novel is too small to have more than one race of people. The ‘Kingdom’ itself just seems to consist of one large town?

I didn’t understand the ending with the Fairy Godmother. What did she get out of the status quo? Living forever doesn’t seem like a fabulous thing to me, particularly if you’re isolated. Also, the ending made it seem like if you can just topple the Man at the Top, everything will be breezy. It’s not that easy though. You can’t just make a hole in the power structure at the top, and expect everyone to come to the new system. I wanted to see more – how will this new way of living go? What other countries might they learn about?

Ultimately the ending let me down and I kind of regretted spending my time reading it. A light-hearted and unfulfilling novel. I can only hope that this author’s worldbuilding skills improve for her future novels – and if she’s still writing queer fiction, I’ll be reading it!

Bloomsbury | 1st September 2020 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Hana Tooke – The Unadoptables

The Unadoptables
Hana Tooke

The five oldest children of the Little Tulip Orphanage were left there in unacceptable circumstances. In their various ways they aren’t popular enough to be adopted – some of them going so far as to destroy the chances of their adoption so that they can stay together. After an escape and a little bit of magic, the five are free to make puppets. But will their past catch up with them?

There’s plenty of orphan and adoption stories out there. Batman is perhaps one of the most famous, but Batman at least has his beloved butler to care for him. Or, there’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, where the children did have parents, and now they are being ?watched? by Lemony Snicket. The original orphan story is Oliver Twist, or maybe Mowgli, and then there’s Anne of Green Gable. All of these stories have white protagonists.

How about Despicable Me? You don’t see people up in arms about the fact that all three girls are white. While I don’t think that it should be acceptable that there ONLY stories about white people being ‘adoptable’, I don’t think that too much should be called out about a period novel that is accurately depicting the adoption environment of the times. It’s a fiction, and it shouldn’t be interpreted too deeply. I liked it because it let these orphans not be defined by who adopted them, but that they were able to define themselves regardless of where they came from.

As a geneticist polydactyly is an interesting inherited trait. In fact, it is inherited in a dominant pattern – so someone who has one parent with extra fingers/toes will have a 50/50 chance of also having multiple digits. It’s also really uncommon in Caucasians. Oh! And a bonus fact that I found out was that there is a “Rotterdam registration form for congenital anomalies”. I can see the Dutch connection there as well.

I understood how Egg behaved in regards to finding his own family, but I was frustrated by the fact that the end of the novel was, well, just an end. Yes, the twists and turns to the end were horrifying, but gratifying as well. I also liked the ways the different sections of ‘evidence’ came together. It was almost left open for another novel, but not quite.

I read this in what was hopefully the way it was intended to be written – as a lighthearted romp of five unusual children in the best (and worst) act of their lives. Who doesn’t like a good orphan story? Upon clicking the novel into GoodReads however, I discovered a range of opinions that hadn’t even occurred to me. For a 19th century Gothic novel, it’s probably appropriate that the ‘unadoptables’ are disfigured (12 fingers), mute (selectively) and the wrong appearance (Asian). HOWEVER. There are many people who are adopted or who have been part of the foster system that have objected to this novel, and so in good conscience I can’t recommend this book.

Sometimes the curtain is just blue.

Review: Adam Fraser – Strive

Strive
Adam Fraser

“Strive shakes up everything you know about happiness, turns you around, and sets you on the track to true fulfillment. It’s not what you think—happiness is not found in achievement and luxury and having all the free time in the world. Humans are most fulfilled and feel best about themselves when they are striving towards a difficult goal that involves struggle and discomfort.”

This book is firmly in the business non-fiction category. So, it’s actually a review by my wife (with edits from me for clarity and order). With that being said…

When I first saw this book on the shelf to be reviewed, I wasn’t keen on it because it seemed like it would just have the same old message of that happiness is the key to life. Happiness is a state of emotion, not the end goals of life! You shouldn’t feel bad for having negative emotions, you want to work towards your goal more when you have struggle.

The work we do when we don’t take the easy way is better. The easy way is if you just have everything you want – then what’s the purpose in life? Third generation rich kids are a disaster because they didn’t have to earn it and they don’t understand the struggle that took place to get there. Parts of the book made me smirk, because what was being said was just so true!

There are dot point summaries at each chapter end to make sure you’ve gotten the main points out of the chapter. This book isn’t going to be a complete reread, but it’s worth having as a reference book for flicking through when I need inspiration.

There’s a little picture that gets updated as you go through each chapter. [Rose: I can’t find the whole thing online}. This image basically acts as a guideline as it goes along of where you are up to in terms of learning about the strive pathway.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of it. I get the overall point, but there are some people who work for work’s sake, but that’s not necessarily the right path – don’t struggle for the purpose of struggling!

This book isn’t just his opinions, Adam Fraser has a PhD in biomedical science and did actually do research on over 800 leaders to see what they actually did. I’m going to pass it on to another friend who needs this motivation to keep striving and succeeding.

Review: LC Rosen – Camp

Camp
LC Rosen

Randy used to be a steriotypical gay teenager. He’s fallen in love though with a straight-seeming guy who seems to date (and hurt) a different person each summer. Randy wants to be noticed and be the one who gets to keep the guy. But will changing himself into a buff and masculine gay teen mean that he misses out on all the things about camp that he used to find fun?

This book hurt me, because it had so many steriotypical ‘gay male’ behaviours in it. The main character is a normally flamboyant gay male who wears nail polish, sings and dances hilariously and isn’t sporty. Normally I hate steriotypes, but they are usually known for a reason. The fact that Randy’s head space shows his personality regardless of his outside presentation is important. Many gay people act straight to ‘pass’ as normal, and it’s nice to have a protagonist who can show what that’s like, and how hard it is.

I could have cried at some points in the novel. Randy/Del had so many feelings, and he shared all of them with me! Maybe I would have liked to have something more from Hudson’s side of the story, but it was good to have some brief perspectives from older queer individuals and their shared life experiences.

It would be so cool if there were gay/queer retreats like this in Australia. Or maybe there are but I missed the window to attend one. Anyway, it’s good to know that there are options for gay teens in the USA, because it seems like their environment is a lot less tolerant of queer individuals compared to Australia.

This book has very leading text on the cover – “Putting the ‘out’ in the great outdoors”, “Top or bottom?” and “It’s time to bunk up…” What was cool for me was that the first copy I had of this had rainbow colours behind the Penguin publishing penguin (instead of the regular orange). Now I’m wondering if there are other books on my shelves that have it.

A worthy addition to young adult queer fiction. I very much liked the first novel from this author, Jack of Hearts (and other parts) and I was excited to read this book. When this novel walked in through the door I got started reading it almost immediately. Unfortunately, I didn’t review it right away… I was prompted to write this review when I received a second copy! 4 stars from me, and I’ll definitely try to pick up the next novel from this author. I’d also be keen to see some more young adult lesbian fiction by #ownvoices. Also, a book such as this one should be made compulsory reading in the Australian curriculum – enough Tim Winton, guys, let’s see some gay fiction.

Penguin Random House | 2nd July 2020 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Juliet Marillier – A Dance with Fate

A Dance with Fate
Juliet Marillier

Liobhan, Dau and Brock are in training to become elite Swan Island Warriors. Brock and Liobhan were musicians before, but will they remain able to maintain their skills with the hard training at hand? After the events of the first novel (spoilers ahead), Liobhan and Dau have completed their training, while Brock remains in the Otherworld. A horrible accident sends Dau and Liobhan back to Dau’s childhood home where more is at stake than it appears.

Although I was introduced to Mariellier’s work through the Sevenwaters series (those are some of my earliest reviews, circa 2012), I personally feel that the Blackthorn and Grim novels are some of her best work. I hurried to read this novel, because I knew anything by Juliet Marillier would be good. I was shocked to discover that I hadn’t read the Harp of Kings! Fortunately I still had it on my reviewing shelf, and I didn’t have to break quarentine to get it from my main (offsite) bookshelf. As a result, I read the two novels back to back, and this will ltherefore be a combined review.

I knew that I loved the Blackthorn and Grim novels and I was both sad and satisfied after reading them (Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns and Den of Wolves). Because I don’t tend to read anything about a novel until after I’ve read and reviewed it, I didn’t initially realise that this novel was about Blackthorn & Grim’s children. I was thinking that the writing and tone of the characters was familiar, and then on page 39 I finally realised why! Liobhan and Brock are their children!

As always, Marillier pulls you in with relatable characters, and then sets the scene for them masterfully. Liobham, Brock and Dau lept out of the pages at me, demanding that I keep reading. This has the elements of mystery (and subsequent reader frustration that we can’t work it out either!) that I loved from the first series. That being said, there is no need to have read the first trilogy as this one can stand alone. Equally, you could read A Dance with Fate without having read The Harp of Kings – but why stint youself on reading?

There might be the underlying idea that the three protagonists are warriors first and foremost, but that’s not the case. Marillier doesn’t linger on bloody fight scenes, but includes enough detail that I could see the action sequences in my mind. The music is included in such a way that I wished there was a soundtrack to listen to while reading.

Oh! And did I mention the glossy covers with beautiful, appropriate art? I perhaps expected Liobham’s hair to be tied back, but otherwise she’s the woman I would imagine. I’m giving these 5 stars (naturally) and I can’t wait to see and read the next book.

Pan Macmillan | 28th July 2020 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Jessica Cluess – House of Dragons

House of Dragons
Cluess

Every 50 years or so, a new Emperor must be chosen. The chosen ones are the oldest, strongest and best trained of their family. But this year, something seems to have gone wrong. It’s the younger siblings’ turn to compete for the throne with their dragons – except in some cases, the youngest has been murdered or isn’t the youngest!

I have to say I was stupidly excited to get a novel with dragons. It feels like it’s been too long since my dragon fix! Unfortunately, this one turned out to have more perspectives from the humans, and not enough from the dragons (except for towards the end of the book). Turns out that this novel has the same title as a Game of Thrones something? Anyway, I had to actually put the author in to find it in GoodReads.

I think it’s a bit rich to call one of the contestants a liar. She’s just a bit shady about her abilities! I’m absolutely buying the soldier, thief and servant as accurate character descriptions, but honestly the murderer is more like a psychopath! I didn’t really get attached to any of the characters, except perhaps Emilia. Everyone else was pretty average. I honestly feel like Emilia was my favourite because her perspective was the first one I read. Of course, I’m always going to complain about too many perspectives in a novel as my pet peeve – and here there are five different view points!

I am going to look for the next book when it comes out, because you know, dragons. And with the events in the last couple of chapters, I think it’ll be more exciting, and have more dragons! I was feeling disappointed at the end though, because I think it could have wrapped up and I would have been satisfied by the ending. Instead, the epilogue leaves it open for the next book. On the epilogue… it makes absolutely NO SENSE in the context of the rest of the novel. Read it, and see if you agree with me.

I did finish off this novel, and it’s hopefully shifted me out of my COVID-19/reading slump. I’m also behind on reviews, and feeling pretty guilty about it. 4 stars from me, even if it’s more of a 3 star read now that I’ve reviewed it.

Penguin Random House | 4th August 2020| AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Xanthe Mallett – Reasonable Doubt

Reasonable Doubt
Dr Xanthe Mallett

“We all put our faith in the criminal justice system. We trust the professionals: the police, the lawyers, the judges, the expert witnesses. But what happens when the process lets us down and the wrong person ends up in jail? … Exposing false confessions, polices biases, misplaced evidence and dodgy science, Reasonable Doubt is an expert’s account of the murky underbelly of our justice system – and the way it affects us all.”

This book was both interesting and problematic. I wasn’t really sure what to do with the information I learnt beyond that forensic science is really cool! once again, I loved the blood splatter analysis. It reminded me fondly of a blood spatter book I read over 5 years ago.

However, the take homes from these stories are that some of the time (or even most of the time!) DNA or other forensic evidence can be interpretted incorrectly or even damaged during analysis. Something that may seem to put someone safely in jail with irrevoccable guilt, can possibly implicate them when they aren’t actually guilty.

Many of these cases come about where people ignored the evidence at hand. Or, they actually got a confession from someone for doing the murder, but then ignore that to put the person they ‘suspect’ in jail. You’d hope that these days people would be trained better to see how these biases arise, but half the time the expert seems to not be the expert. It’s thought-provoking, but also frustrating.

The acknowledgements bring up some questions about the lawyer cracked up on cocaine being the author’s friend! I read both of Tim Winton-Munro‘s non-fiction works, and while I thougth the first was good, the second was average. Is it just the time when people of that age start writing non-fiction about their lives? What determines who gets a publishing contract. But I digress…

Something cool that I did learn was that people are really bad at recognising people of other ethnic backgrounds. This could otherwise be known as “White people are unconcious assholes”. If you have a witness to a crime and give them a picture of other witnesses they will randomly select someone who looks familiar – regardless of whether they were another bystander or actually the suspect.

There’s lots of dodgy stories where people in positions of authority do idiotic things. I could say everyone should read this book to know what NOT to do if they are ever suspected of homicide. This book needs a tl:dr, since smart people might read the whole thing but it’s not necessarily the smart people that are the problem.

The takeaways I got was that even if you know you are innocent don’t tell them anything! Police will absolutely lie to your face if it gets them the outcome they want. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Let’s just hope that I never end up on the scene of a crime – but then as a Caucasian, blonde hair, blue-eyed slimly built female, I’m probably not going to be a suspect.

Pan Macmillan | 28th July 2020| AU$32.99 | paperback