Review: Anne Fine – Shades of Scarlet

Shades of Scarlet
Anne Fine

Scarlet’s parents have split up, they’re divorcing and Scarlet finds herself caught in the middle. While Scarlet tries to navigate school, friends and homework she somehow has to find time to also placate her parents – who want to know what the other one is doing, even if it isn’t Scarlet’s job to pass that on! It seems like her mom is at fault – but is her dad a problem too?

Another day, another book with a main character named Scarlet (see Skin Deep)! I wonder if it’s a common name at the moment. I’m sure that the author had some deeper meaning in mind when she named her protagonist, or perhaps she just thought of the colour red

You know what I also like about this novel? Scarlet isn’t automatically looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend to get herself out of the situation. I personally felt that her best friend was a bit off, but Scarlett herself was spot-on in her emotions and approach to life.

I like how this captured the side-conversations that adults sometimes have that kids aren’t meant to know about. So for example, Alice’s parents have some really inappropriate conversations that one/both girls see/overhear. In my experience, kids know when parents are being sneaky (I mean, not 100% of the time)! So holding conversations in the open is far more helpful for building trust.

I received this book very late compared to the publication date, so there are plenty of reviews around for it now. That being said, I feel like it’s a suitable Christmas gift for a 9-13 year old who has divorcing parents or just struggles to feel heard and understood. Scarlet has a lot of rage, anger and emotions to get out, just like the average teenager.

I’m going to give this one 4 stars. I think it would have appeal to a wide range of audiences, but would be most suitable as middle grade or young teenage fiction. I think that this is a worthy addition to school libraries.

Scholastic | 1st July 2021 | AU$24.99 | hardback

Review: Alicia Jasinska – The Midnight Girls

The Midnight Girls
Alicia Jasinska

Marynka has never been good enough for her Jaga. She’s always been too short, too slow and altogether unimpressive. The thing that keeps her going is her rivalry with Zosia. They clash frequently, looking to steal the hearts of princes for power. Finally a prince appears that has a pure heart, and they ride together to go to the capital – both with only one thing on their mind. Instead the girls find themselves falling for each other and they can’t let the other win.

First, the book title. There is only one Midnight girl. There’s also a Morning girl and a Midday girl. Technically they are all ‘monsters’, but to me they were more minions of their Jagas (witches). There’s a whole lot of alliteration going on there. Then again look at that glorious saturated colour in the cover.

Ok, my major question about this novel is – where are all the Princes coming from? It seems like Wack-a-Mole, as soon as a new prince appears one of the girls is after his heart. If all the princes keep getting killed, where are the new princes coming from? I can imagine them getting married and having their parents abdicate the throne sooner so that they can become king and survive, but I don’t think that’s quite how this works.

The implication is that there were many servants before Zosia and Marynka – what happened to them? Did they all get eaten by the Jagas? I need a little more detail! What is going to happen next? The original Jagas are sisters, what happens when one dies? How long have they actually been living for? How did they get to be witches? I’d read a prequel of that!

Can I get a drool about the delicious Polish delicacies showcased here? Maybe you are thinking at this point that I hated the novel – I didn’t! I actually really enjoyed it and kept thinking about it when I had to put it down to life. I loved the way that both protagonists refused to admit they were in love, rather than the usual trope of the main characters falling in insta-love at first sight. There was the backstory that at least showed their previous relationship.

I’m so sorry. I would have given this 4 stars, except once again Jasinska disappoints with the ending. Lesbian protagonists in a whole where being queer isn’t even mentioned (because it’s so normal)? Sign me up. But I don’t think I’ll be reading more from this author – The Dark Tide has the same ending problem, so I can’t expect it to change.

Penguin Random House | 30th November 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Guest Post from Clark Burbidge on Advice to Budding Authors

Guest Post from Clark Burbidge – His advice to budding authors and what he’s learnt from writing!

Clark Burbidge was born and raised in the high mountain valleys of the Rockies. He earned an MBA from the University of Southern California and a BS from the University of Utah. Clark and his wife, Leah, live near Salt Lake City, Utah, where they enjoy their blended family of ten children and nine grandchildren.

Clark’s award-winning works include the Star Passage series, Giants in the Land trilogy, the acclaimed Christmas book,
A Piece of Silver: A Story of Christ
and a nonfiction work, Living in the Family Blender: 10 Principles of a Successful Blended Family.

What is your best advice for aspiring novelists (based off your own experience or what advice you’ve been given by other writers!)

  1. Just write. You will get better over time.
  2. Test your writing against both fan-type readers as well as editor-type readers.
  3. o to a bookstore, pick out books in your chosen genre, look at the acknowledgements, and write them down. These are people who have supported the kind of book you want to write. Read those books and figure out what they liked about it. Then, give them a call or text. You will be surprised how often you hear back. Most authors are very approachable, but their gatekeepers can be difficult. Persevere.
  4. Do not be intimidated by big agent companies. If they say no, that’s fine. Try to learn from each interaction.
  5. You will get turned down. Remember, you just need one person that likes it, not a dozen.
  6. Good editors will make lots of corrections, but never try to steal your voice. Edits have always made my books better and helped me learn a lot about myself. Those who try to steal your voice and make your work into theirs are not editors.

What did writing your books teach you?

  1. How to be patient with the process. It takes a long time.
  2. How to learn from those who make comments or provide critical advice and behumble.
  3. Your book needs to catch the imagination of strangers to sell. Anyone can sell to their family and friends.
  4. When you are looking for a publisher, you must remember that anyone can print a book, but a publisher should do so much more. Look for those extras.
  5. Love what you do.

Clark is with us today mainly to promote his newest book, Star Passage
buy links: Amazon | B&N | Bookshop

Mike Hernandez and the Coleman twins return, but just when the friends think they have the Star of Passage, it’s riddles, and Orion’s Belt figured out, they discover a new relic.

All of Tim and Martie’s rules are tossed aside when Tocho, a member of the Native American Shoshoni tribe which roamed the Rocky Mountains, knocks on Callie and Courtney’s Astoria, Oregon door with the mysterious Star of Hope. The new relic has the shocking ability to transport the teens forward in time, where cartels and gangs are a rising threat and technology has advanced so far that computer viruses affect humans. As Mike, Callie, Courtney, and Tocho struggle to remain free of the virus, they also have to dodge the shadowy Trackers, those wicked souls who are doomed to haunt history and desire the relics to free themselves from their eternal prison.

The teens find themselves racing to save a possible future, but can they change it for the better?

You can find out more about Clark on a number of platforms including

Interview with Cheryl Campbell

An Interview with Cheryl Campbell, author of the Echoes Trilogy

Cheryl Campbell is the award-winning author of the Burnt Mountain fantasy series, consisting of five novels published between 2013 to 2016, and the Echoes Trilogy, which concludes in November 2021 with Echoes of Fate. Her varied background includes art, herpetology (the zoological study of amphibians and reptiles), emergency department and critical care nursing, and computer systems. She is a New England resident that lives a wandering lifestyle with her laptop and dog.

What inspired you to write the Echoes Trilogy?

Cheryl Campbell: When I was wrapping up my Burnt Mountain fantasy series, I had a wee hours of the morning dream about a young woman that had died and was told she could go back to Earth and live again to fix her mistakes—with a catch. She couldn’t take her memories with her and she’d already been through this process several times without success. Her other choice was to move on to the afterlife. I woke before I learned her decision, but I was so captivated by the idea that I wrote down the basics of the dream and it turned into a trilogy.

Echoes of Fate invites discussion of what makes someone “human”. How do the elements of science fiction serve that larger narrative?

People, myself included, tend to put labels on things and keep them organized within those categorizations, but there are a lot of gray areas that are hard, if not impossible, to reconcile. Dani is an alien Echo but she shows more kindness and humanity than some of the humans around her. Leveraging a science fiction story with aliens against the definition (whatever it is) of human made it easy to push and blur those gray areas even more. It was a way to challenge myself and my ways of thinking about things. It also changed how I view the world now.

What do you hope readers will take away from the final book in your Echoes trilogy?

One of the topics that all three books touch on is mental health including suicide. Dani has moments of darkness that make her consider taking her life. We need to talk more with each other about these things. Speaking about mental health should not be a hush-hush topic. I’ve lost friends to suicide. I don’t want to lose any more.

Echoes of Fate takes place in the New England region. Why did you choose this setting for a sci-fi story?

I grew up in the Deep South, but I found home in northern New England. Residents here are hardy folk that I’ve seen come together in beautiful ways to help out neighbors and even strangers. I wanted to capture that in my stories.

How did you develop your characters? And which of them do you have the strongest connection to?

I usually start with a general idea for main characters and supporting characters then they grow from there. At times it feels like they become their own individuals and change in ways I did not predict or even intend. Sometimes the supporting characters become much more and bubble up to become main characters. I love Dani and who she is, but I think I identify most with Mary. Mary was supposed to just be a supporting character, but she had a chemistry with Dani and this fun personality that I couldn’t ignore. My nature is to support and protect others, and that’s exactly what Mary does for Dani. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Mary turned out that way too.

Find Cheryl on Instagram and Facebook and her website  www.CherylsCreativeSoup.com

Review: Lyndall Clipstone – Lakesedge

Lakesedge
Lyndall Clipstone

Violetta holds a lot of secrets, ones that might be important for her survival. Violetta doesn’t care much about herself though – she only cares for her brother and protecting him from his dark shadows. She is limited though – the Lord of Lake’s Edge gets what he wants – and he wants her brother. Violetta tags along to see if she too can fight the Corruption.

Oh no! He’s feeding the Lake Monster! Oh no, he is the Monster. Oh well, we all know that the main characters in books like these will fall in love. In fact, we can predict pretty much the whole storyline despite them pretending that everything is a huge secret.

Isn’t the cover gorgeous? Ultimately it’s not the forest that is even relevant, or the lake. The interior of the house and the garden get the most attention, but maybe Violetta’s mind is the main attraction? I had such high hopes when I requested it, but it was hopeless. I felt like I’d wasted my time reading in.

Look, I’ve categorized it as teen fiction, only because there are some racy scenes there. My hunch is that the Lord of Under is going to be nursing a baby in 9 months time! Unfortunately the storyline is too simple and there isn’t enough character growth to truly belong to the teenage category – I think it could even be an advanced middle grade fiction except for the sexual elements. There’s also a hint of LGTBIQA* relationships, but these aren’t convincing or deep.

I got to the end of this novel, and I discovered that it’s only the first in a series! Honestly, it felt like half a book. There was a whole lot of telling rather than showing going on, and the ending wasn’t complete. I tried retelling this as a oral story at bedtime, and my audience was very unimpressed with the ending. I personally felt that I hated the characters enough that I would have been perfectly happy (even overjoyed!) that one or more of them died. 3 begrudging stars from me.

Pan Macmillan | 31 August 2021| AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Emma Isaacs – The New Hustle (S)

The New Hustle
Don’t work harder, just work better
Emma Isaacs

“What if we’ve been served a big, fat lie about what it takes to be successful at work? Pro-hustlers will tell you living in a work-more, sleep-less world is how we get ahead. But on the back of the pandemic, entrepreneur and Business Chicks founder Emma Isaacs believes the hustle is now dead. Moreover, traditional ways of working – long commutes, unproductive meetings and outdated systems of bureaucracy – actually don’t work at all.”

I liked the ideas behind this book, but I don’t think I liked how it’s structured or how it’s written. I completely agree that a lot of people “hustle” and work for work’s sake when it really should be looking at your output and what’s working best for you. I also liked that it’s new and relevant to life in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Things I didn’t like about it: ‘the stories’ or examples were very short and not in any detail. It seemed to gloss over and be wishy washy and fluffy. Out of the stories that were there, most of them were about the author and not in a vulnerable way but in a way that’s talking herself up and comes across as bragging. What a reader really wants are stories where the author has made mistakes, or from a range of different businesses as examples.

A lot of the ‘rules’ seemed obvious and common sense to me, eg “learn how to say no”, “stand for something”, “stop making excuses”. It’s like the author is trying to empower and motivate you but with no facts and just in a cheerleading way. It also felt like the author was all for girl power, women rights etc, one of the ‘rules’ being “normalise pregnancy” and mentioned throughout. Although I don’t disagree with the principles here, I just don’t feel the need to mention it. I personally haven’t seen this issue in the workplace and never even thought of it as an issue.

Overall you can stop and start it as it doesn’t have much continuity throughout. It’s also a nice easy light read. In saying that though, I don’t think you’ll get much out of it. I’m not exactly sure who its target audience is. Perhaps women who work and have a ‘busy’ (full) life and need to take a step back, or women who need to feel a little more motivated for changes. I recommend Permission to Screw Up instead of this book. 2.5-3 stars.

Pan Macmillan | 31 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

The Cat Who Saved Books
Sosuke Natsukawa

The death of Rintaro Natsuki’s grandfather only strengthens Rintaro’s determination to stay at home, in the bookshop that holds fond memories for him. Yet, the bookshops are perhaps a dying trade – and Rintaro doesn’t feel strongly enough about anything to protect it from his loving aunt. But perhaps the cat can save the bookshop, and him too.

Some of the ideas in this novel were just too foreign to work with my understanding of the world. There’s no such thing as a ‘class rep’ and there is no chance that a teenager would be left in charge of a bookshop. Also, students generally aren’t allow to miss that much school without serious consequences in Australia.

I think that unfortunately this book loses a lot of its charm in the translation. Maybe I’m just not its target audience? I think that the audience it would suit are teenagers who are slightly more immersed in Japanese culture or literature, who are of the bookish inclination.

I loved the idea of a cat that cares about books, and I found the three labyrinths quite engaging. Hopefully other readers also find these ideas thought provoking. My favourite was perhaps the man trying to cut books down to a single word to compress the meaning of them. This is so true, and you see it in abridged audio books! Why would you cut out the best bits?

I think it’s somewhat unfair of me to assign this book a star rating as it just wasn’t aimed at me. Maybe I’ll give a 3 stars, but I’d consider 4 stars for the right audience. It’s a thin volume that can be knocked over in a short reading period (it took me around 2 hours). It’s probably great to borrow from a library or buy online to give as a gift, but I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for you to rush out to buy your own copy.

Pan Macmillan | 14th September 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Tobias Madden – Anything But Fine

Anything But Fine
Tobias Madden

Lucas’ life is wrapped up in ballet. Ballet is his whole life – he practices and practices and lets his schoolwork slide. Terrifyingly he slips and suffers a potentially career ending injury that also causes him to suffer the teenage fear of changing schools and losing his scholarship.

I’m not sure how I felt about Lucas’ relationship with his OT (occupational therapist). I also wasn’t 100% sure why he wasn’t seeing a physiotherapist? And honestly, it sounded like he would have also benefitted from seeing a psychologist. As many Australians would know though, mental health isn’t a ‘done thing’ and finding appointments is hard. Lucas’ dad is lovely and supportive though.

Starting at a new school is hard for anyone, but try being gay and on crutches in a small rural school. I think this novel is quite a realistic view of high school and homophobic people. Also, Lucas’ new friend is Muslim, and we also see some horrible Islamophobia. Oh! And don’t forget parental expectations for medical school. There’s a lot packed into this novel, and you won’t be disappointed.

The teenage love story is cute, but also filled with respectful relationships and understanding parents. There’s a few ‘racy’ scenes here, but nothing too blushworthy to a teenage male (from what I know about being a hormonal teenager, anyway). You’ll find it slightly less, um, provocative than Jack of Hearts (and other parts) for example.

This is a worthy addition to teenage queer fiction. It hits all the right notes about consent and waiting until you are ready, while also sensitively exploring the problems of high-school and jock culture. I’m giving this 5 stars, and giving it a pride of place on my shelf. I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Penguin Random House | 31st August 2021| AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Mage Storms Trilogy

Mage Storms Trilogy
Mercedes Lackey

“Karse and Valdemar have long been enemy kingdoms, until they are forced into an uneasy alliance to defend their lands from the armies of Eastern Empire, which is ruled by a monarch whose magical tactics may be beyond any sorcery known to the Western kingdoms. Forced to combat this dire foe, the Companions of Valdemar may, at last, have to reveal secrets which they have kept hidden for centuries… even from their beloved Heralds.

It had been a while since I read the later novels in Lackey’s (in)famous Valdemar world, so I picked this one up as an easy read. I actually didn’t even finish reading the Mage Winds series before doing so. I found it interesting that perhaps my distaste of non-Herald protagonists or my dislike of multiple perspectives in a novel set me up to view this one unfavorably.

While I enjoyed the novelty of having Karal’s perspective, I found it difficult to relate to him because he was truly a priestly type. I much preferred An’desha as being more relatable and showing some really decent character growth. Something I really didn’t ‘get’ was Florian’s role, and why Karal was convinced he was important (and why didn’t Florian just bond with him, huh?)

This is very slow as well, which doesn’t help. Every movement of Karal is detailed, from lighting candles through to taking notes. I needed a little more action! And the epilogue is a bit of a joke, given the HUGE leadup. Perhaps I found it a let-down compared to Brandon Sanderson’s novels, because there was very little chance that my favourite (or indeed any) characters would be killed off.

Obviously I’ve reread these, but probably with a span of at least 7 years between reads. Although that should qualify this series of novels as an automatic 5 stars, I think I’ll just give them 4. They just aren’t as good as my favourites such as the original trilogy (Talia, Arrows of the Queen) or Alberich/Skif (Exile’s Honor/Valor, Take a Thief). However, they are excellent compared to the most recent Foundation Chronicles!

Review: Paul Whang – Operating Room Confidential

Operating Room Confidential
Paul Whang

“An anesthetist reveals operating room curses and superstitions, the characteristics of a good surgeon, and the patients that doctors fear, in this insider’s view of the fascinating protocols of the operating room and the people who work there.”

This was a medical type non-fiction that was interesting but not riveting. I somehow didn’t realise that anesthesiologists are medical doctors first! I’m not sure how I didn’t know that. Imagine using all of your training to gas people under each day! No, that is a complete disservice. As this book sets out to accomplish, I came out the other end knowing that an anesthetist’s job is actually quite complicated and essential for smooth surgery.

What I wanted were gruesome stories of anesthetics going wrong or interesting horror stories of operations that had gone right from an anesthetics point of view, but very very wrong from the operation (eg. removing the wrong leg!). instead I got a run-down of the different types of surgeon and the types of decisions that are sometimes made when preparing for surgery. Also, an appreciation for how difficult it is to do surgery on some people. If I was in a position where I was going to need surgery, I now know that they can do something for the nausea (easily the worst part for me) and shivers! I just have to make sure to get a very knowledgeable anesthetist…

I definitely wouldn’t buy this book, there is nothing particularly amazing about it that tells me to read it again. I’m not even sure I’d recommend it as reading for anyone unless 1. they are from the USA (many of the medical facts are only relevant to those particular North Americans, and 2. have a keen interest in finding out about all facets of medicine via non-fiction reading.