Review: Juliet Marillier – The Harp of Kings (N)

The Harp of Kings

Juliet Marillier

Liobhan and Brocc are brother and sister in training to join the elite Swan Island warriors. They are selected to go on an undercover mission during their training due to their musical abilities. To find the magical Harp of Kings that has been stolen and return it so that the new King can be coronated. However, there is more going on than they realise.ย 

This book pretty much grabbed me at the start and didn’t let me go until I finished the story. The overall story line was recover the king selection mcguffin to allow the Crown Prince to be formally crowned king. The details are always more involved, a crown prince who doesn’t want what’s best for his kingdom, druids who know more than they wish to tell, and a child who gave Liobhan the hints of what is really going on. The Celtic air of this novel is really engaging. The inclusion of the Fae, not in their all powerful, mess with humankind selves is woven in masterfully. A dwindling race that are fighting to keep themselves safe, their presence slowly fading from the world.

The 3 main characters are Liobhan and Brocc, as mentioned. the third is another warrior candidate on the island Dau. At the start of the book I was all set to hate Dau, and perhaps in any other novel I would have. But the sections where Dau was the PoV character gave such an insight into him that I couldn’t really dislike him. The character complexity for all the characters was something that not only surprised me but was also the reason I couldn’t put the book down while reading. Nor was it just Dau, each character was fleshed out with strengths and flaws. One of the my favourite scenes was Liobhan’s self-awareness. She has a temper, and she could recognise when that would do more harm than good to her goals was wonderfully refreshing. It would have been harder to not connect to the characters given the realistic take. The last character Brocc it was clear there is so much more to his back story as well.

The ending comes with Liobhan completing the tasks set for her, and the group ensuring that the harp of kings is found and that the king is crowned. It sounds like a very straight-forward story. But the way the characters interact are what really drives the reader. I just wanted to know what happened next. The final notes of the book were heartbreaking in the best way possible. I honestly couldn’t have given this anything other than 5-stars.

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: Brandon Sanderson โ€“ Steelheart (N)

David knows Epics, guns, and that he sucks at metaphors. He wants to take down one Epic in particular, Steelheart. Now that the Reckoners are in town he has a shot, if he can convince them he’s right.

Interesting flip on super-powers on earth. The maxim power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely comes to mind. An event known as Calamity results in super-powered humans, without any humanity. These people, called Epics, do as they please regardless, when they please. Combining a twist on superheros as villians with a manufactured dystopian future. David is a fact-smart but people-dumb protagonist who’s point of view we follow through the completion of David’s vendetta against the Epic, Steelheart.

On the surface the story is straight-forward battle against the big bad, revenge for lost family, and freeing people from tyrannical rule. It goes deeper than this given the underlying theme of what happens when you create a power vacuum by removing a semi-benevolent dictator. Which Steelheart is if only because he considers all ordinary people his property to do with as he wishes, after all you cannot rule without subjects. There are also themes of choice, revenge, the belief of good vs evil, tall-tales, and a lively argument on the pros and cons of rifles vs handguns. Beyond that there are excellent characters in David and the Reckoner team. Each bringing a different viewpoint on the situation and the plans they develop to topple Steelheart. Creating enough conflict that it is not just a clear system of kill and move on for the Reckoners. And everything is planned out to the nth degree.

Iโ€™ll say this for the story as a whole it keeps you guessing up to the end on if the Reckoners will be successful. The ending was a shock but also made a weird level of sense, having been in Davids point of view from start to finish allows us to follow the logic of his realisations as well. The final twist shows the 3 McGuffins that allow the Reckoners to be even the slightest bit successful at assassinating Epics are more than they seem. Makes for a nice twist at the end without compromising the enjoyment of rereading the book later.
A few loose ends for the story, but expected ones since this is the first book of a series.

Great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. And I will come back to read it again in the future, since this is where my happy lives. And, given it was the first of many Sanderson novels I read, as an introduction to Sandersonโ€™s writing style Iโ€™d highly recommend.

Review: Camryn Garrett – Full Disclosure

Full Disclosure
Camryn Garrett

Simone is HIV-positive and she knows that celibacy is the best way to stay safe. She’s been outed for her status before, but she still wants what she wants. And she wants Miles – he’s sexy and maybe, just maybe, into her. But there’s someone at her school who knows she’s HIV-positive, and they are threatening to expose her if she gets with Miles. What can Simone do?

I laughed, I cried, and I suffered with Simone. Her character came leaping out of the pages at me and then I spent the rest of my time absorbed in her life. I couldn’t put the novel down. I couldn’t work out who the ‘baddie’ was either, and I was pleasantly surprised by the ending.

I devoured this novel the minute it came through my door. Although I don’t know anyone personally with HIV, I know something of what it is like to have a life-long condition that some consider highly contagious. It’s a potent novel that is relevant to the times (nothing like The Things We Promise).

So I personally couldn’t ever consider going to a doctor’s appointment and talking about sex with my parents present (awkward!). But it’s the strength of Simone’s character that she does just that – her family is open about sex and I think that’s really important. Of course the best way to prevent HIV transmission is through abstinence, but at least they are talking about safe sex – teenagers sometimes can’t help themselves – and that’s ok!

If the memoir by Ted Neill is too heavy for you (it was pretty heavy for me, remember), this relatively lighter fiction novel could be more suitable. This novel was one of the reasons that The Prom didn’t take my fancy. I read the two close together, and the level of depth and feeling in Simone’s personality was much more powerful and believable than Emma’s.

This novel could improve the life of a teenager living with HIV, perhaps by making that HIV+ teenager feel better about themselves, or reaffirming their self worth. It has the potential to be a fabulous library book in High School libraries.

It promotes healing and understanding and stamps on some of the misconceptions that still surround HIV and its transmission. HIV isn’t a death sentence anymore, even if it still carries significant stigma. Go out and buy this novel for yourself, for your teen, just leave it laying around as a coffee table book. 5 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 5th November 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Suzy Zail – I Am Change

I Am Change
Suzy Zail

Lilian’s life has been mapped out for her by her mother. Attend school until she gets her first period, and then drop out to marry and raise babies. But Lilian wants more. She’s smart, why shouldn’t she go to school like the boys? Why would she want to marry? She wants more in her life, even though she is poor.

I am warning you now, this novel is not a comfortable or comforting read. I found myself thinking about it while I should have been working, and worrying about Lilian. I even dreamed about it, that’s how powerful this novel was. I wanted Lilian to succeed, even though I knew that it was very unlikely that she would.

I remember that when I requested this novel I was hesitant because I didn’t know if a city born author could do justice to a village born girl’s story. But Suzy Zail has written a powerful, painful novel from the input of 30 girls who have been through many, if not all, of the horrors depicted in the novel.

I recently went to an author talk by Isobelle Carmody (swoon!) where she talked about how it’s impossible to really define an age bracket for novels because everyone is at a different reading level. I’d say this is an adult novel, just as much as it is a young adult novel. It depends whether the reader is able to cope with the trigger warnings for rape, female genital mutilation and domestic violence.

I found it confronting and difficult to read. I recommend that you buy a copy and contemplate how lucky so many women are – and how many girls aren’t lucky enough to become women, because it is pure luck that they survive being given less food than the boys, having their genitals removed and birthing babies constantly year after year.

Walker Books | 1st August 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Helen Hoang – The Bride Test

The Bride Test
Helen Hoang

Khai doesn’t need relationships – he’s not lonely. Esme doesn’t think she needs to get married, since she has her daughter already. But both of them could be happier if they had someone in their lives. Esme can stay in the USA if she can marry him – but can she love him as well?

Ah, I wouldn’t have called this The Bride Test. Is Esme really tested? Or is it Khai who has to decide what he really wants? I loved reading their different perspectives and how the times almost overlapped, and that arg! How could they both think such different things about the same interactions? Well, since Khai identifies as having Autism, yes, it’s clear how that can be the case. It’s nice to see a non-neurotypical writer commenting and writing on a topic that she is surely intimately familiar with.

This novel has some HOT sex scenes that surprisingly didn’t make me cringe too much! Khai’s first time is adorable. There’s a lot of time spent thinking about penises because Khai is sexually frustrated, so if that’s not your thing, perhaps don’t pick this novel up. Esme is so comfortable with her body that it’s really freeing to read about.

GoodReads has this tagged as ‘The Kiss Quotient #2′ but it has NOTHING to do with Helen Hoang’s other novel. Yes, they both have autistic protagonists and are hot romances, but that’s it. They don’t contain any of the same characters.

You know, I read this the moment it got inside my front door like a ravaging maniac. Then I didn’t review it because I went on holidays. So then, oh, poor me, I had to read it again! And so I’ll give it 5 stars. I can’t wait for Helen Hoang’s next novel.

Allen & Unwin | 1st July 2019 | $33.99 | paperback

Review: Helena Fox – how it feels to float

how it feels to float
Helena Fox

Biz has her Posse, her mum, her siblings, her best friend and her dad. She doesn’t share her thoughts with anyone. But how can she process her feelings of kissing her best friend or noticing the new boy? Biz floats, not letting anything in – but that means that she’s adrift with no anchor.

How does one little book pack so much in? It approached mental illness, uncertain sexuality, physical disabilities, single parents and adopted grandmothers. Oh, and siblings and hobbies and FEELINGS. I had high hopes for this novel just from the pretty cover and the blurb. The blurb resonated with me without me even realizing why.

It’s so hard to review this novel without giving things away. There are so many things the reader assumes at the beginning that turn out not to be true. It’s not simple or clean, it’s messy and dark and confusing. Go into this with expectations of brilliance, but don’t assume anything about the plot.

My one teensy complaint was the use of photography (and SLR film cameras) to once again allow the protagonist to ‘express herself’. What redeemed this common expression media was the way that Biz started having her photographs talk to her and show her dad in them. Now that’s a nice way to show character development/progression!

Normally I would also complain about the writing style being a bit of stream of consciousness and too flowery, but somehow it worked. I sunk into Biz’s consciousness and didn’t come out for another 372 pages. I kept telling myself I’d take a break after this next chapter… and the next one… I could not put this novel down, and once I finished it, I really wanted to read it again.

I’m lending this novel to a friend who needs this in her life right now, But then I’m going to get it back, and read it again. This is a staggeringly good debut by Helena Fox, and I can’t wait to read what she publishes next. I can’t thank Pan Macmillan enough for sending me this to review. Why are you still reading my review? Go out there and buy a copy. You won’t regret it.

Pan Macmillan | 23rd April 2019 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Sara Barnard – Fierce Fragile Hearts

Fierce Fragile Hearts
Sara Barnard

Suzanne has spiraled down to being depressed and suicidal, and checking out on life into a mental institution but is now back and willing to try again. Again. In her bed-sit, she needs to work out what she can and can’t cope with – and decide whether to let people get close enough to hurt her or love her.

Suzanne is a tormented character with multiple facets that I loved. The magic here was that I could see things from her perspective and her flawed logic, even as I hated the way that she treated people. Strangely enough, I had just read Supernormalย (this non-fiction looks at the affects of abuse and its creation of resilient people), and I recognized a lot of the theory of those findings here. I was particularly satisfied by the ending, as Suzanne makes some really powerful choices.

This should have a trigger warning attached. The scenes in which Suzanne is depressed and self-destructive are very confronting and elicited many strong memories for me. I almost cried multiple times. Then, I couldn’t hold it in anymore when I got to an important character dying, and I cried! I’m not sure if it was a sad or happy cry either.

What I do know is that this novel is amazing, and I’m going to want to read it again, and it’s companion book Beautiful Broken Things again. Sara Barnard is also the author of A Quiet Kind of Thunderย and Goodbye, Perfect. The best part about this author is that she is still relatively new on the scene, and I know that I can expect further wonderful things from her. 5 stars for this novel.

Pan Macmillan | 12th February 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Brigid Kemmerer – A Curse so Dark and Lonely

A Curse so Dark and Lonely
Brigid Kemmerer

Harper hasn’t led a sheltered life in Washington, DC. Her mother is dying of cancer, and her older brother Jake is still determined to protect her, even though she’s able to look out for herself. When she tries to protect another girl, Harper instead finds herself sucked into Rhen’s world – Rhen the Prince who is trapped to repeat the autumn of his 18th year until a girl falls in love with him.

Three months is such a short time to fall in love with someone, yet Kemmerer avoided making them cliche into love at first sight. I liked the way she set it up with Harper knowing exactly what was going on, even if at first she didn’t want to believe. Harper doesn’t want to fall for Rhen and she’s such a strong protagonist that the reader doesn’t want her to either. We’d be ok if you chose Grey!

I’m not sure if Harper’s cerebral palsy was consistently approached in the latter half of the novel. In the beginning, it is quite obvious what her limitations are, and how far she is able to push herself. When the creature comes though, she seems a lot more stable. I’d have to reread to make certain (Oh what a problem, I’ll have to reread it!!)

I initially thought to myself that this would be just another Beauty and the Beast retelling. But no! The characters in this felt real enough to come off the pages, and weren’t your normal run-of-the-mill prince/princess. Not to mention that deliciously evil sorceress.ย What I was very sad about was the fact this this is a series? duo? I’m not sure. But I have to wait a whole year for the next one! The conclusion to this one was satisfying though, and I really felt like the last chapter could have been left out.

I was very keen on reading this novel when it came in the door, and I had read it within two days. My hopes were high due to my enjoyment of Letters to the Lost and Thicker than Waterย and I was not disappointed. I still need to read More Than We Can Tell, and you better believe I’m even more excited to get my hands on it now. 5 stars for this novel from me. Thanks Bloomsbury!

Bloomsbury | 4th February 2019 |AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Lynette Noni – Whisper

Lynette Noni

Jane Doe is stubborn. She committed herself to a psychiatric ward so that she wouldn’t harm anyone else, but in the end she found herself trapped in an underground facility with a daily psychologist appointment, martial arts training and a torture session with a brain chemist. Suddenly befriended by one of the staff, will Jane finally crack? And if she does, what lies in store for her?

I liked Jane precisely because she was a blank slate with little personality. I think believing you’ve killed someone important to you would definitely stunt your growth, as would not speaking for more than 2 years. I watched her grow and Speak and I was excited for her!

What about the premise? That a drug given to women for fertility can have supernatural effects on their progeny… Yes, I could see it happening. There is so much we still don’t know about the brain. And it won’t be the first time a drug given to pregnant ladies has a bad/strange outcome for offspring (Thalidomide, anyone?) I would have loved to hear more about the science behind the scenes (literally and figuratively), but this novel is ultimately about Jane and her fears.

I do have to say that a lot of smirking took place. And I couldn’t possibly condone some of the behaviour. According to other reviewers there’s a love triangle happening here. I’m sorry, I didn’t see it. Mostly I just saw Jane being terrified and stressed out. Yes, she may have noted at some point that she cared about the other characters, but I didn’t see a love story. I guess now I fear that the second novel will suffer from a gooey protagonist. Let’s hope not.

This novel came in the front door and I immediately got stuck into it. I didn’t put it down until I was finished and I ignored all else in favour of it. It was entrancing and sublime and I need to read it again – as soon as the second novel is out. Arg! I can’t wait, considering that I read this before the official publication date! … and I have now waited a year to reread and review it, and I was just as captivated with it the second time around. 5 stars. Please Lynette Noni, write us the second one! If you are looking for other similar novels in the mean time, try Burning.

Pantera Press | 1st May 2018 | AU $19.99 | paperback