eBook: The City of Snow & Stars

The City of Snow & Stars by S.D. Howard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: A gritty YA Christian Fantasy tackling difficult topics surrounding abuse, human trafficking, and the question “Why does God let bad things happen?”

Trinia’s Gift is the ability to duplicate herself perfectly in mind and body yet, every time she uses it, she feels like she loses another piece of her soul. Her abusive and power-hungry father, Caderyn, wishes to exploit her gift to create an army that obeys his command and rebuild the Airgíd Empire that fell a thousand years before.

Going on the run, Trinia seeks out the aid of the kingdoms that destroyed her people. When things don’t go as planned, she’s forced into trusting a failed mage, a man of legend with a vendetta, and a talking wolf to help her reach her goal by making a promise she isn’t sure she can keep.

As she wrestles with the ghosts of her past trauma and new ones that keep piling up, Trinia begins to wonder where the justice is in it all, and whether she has what it takes to stop her father and save her people.

How far would you run to escape your future?

My review: This book was offered to me by the author for an honest review. I read the blurb “…tackling difficult topics surrounding abuse, human trafficking…” and was unsure if I would be able to handle graphic scenes of this type, but decided to give it a read anyway.

First up, let me say one thing to make it perfectly clear…

There are no graphic scenes in this book that might keep you awake at night or upset you in any way. I have to say that although the message comes across, it is done in a gentle way to raise awareness but not traumatise the reader. The author has done an awesome job in this regard.

The book is a Christian Fantasy story and apart from the abuse and human trafficking themes, there is (of course) the religious theme as well. I was impressed by how the author tackled this theme too. It was subtle. I did not feel preached at, not even once, yet the messages were clear and concise. And because the words were part of the story flow, I heard them. One in particular stayed with me all day because it was something I needed to hear at that time.

The five main characters are diverse and fit well together. There are moments that you can’t help but smile, while at other places you feel the tension or the hurt or the confusion. You know what I mean. The emotions of everyday life. Their backstories are explored and we get a good idea where they are all coming from. At present, my favourite character is Jayden. I think he’s going to have a tough ride through the series, but he has a good heart despite his mischievous ways.

The world is vast and well described. I don’t think I have a good grasp on the world itself yet, but this is the first book, so it is setting up for what is going to come.

Fantasy readers will enjoy this book. It has all the ingredients for an exciting storyline over several books. I love fantasy and have read many series over the years that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and this book did not let me down. The characters drew me back. I wanted to know what would happen to them next in the book. But I also want to know what will happen in the next book, so I guess that confirms I would definitely read more from this author.

Recommended.

I received a review copy of this book, and this is an honest review.

Audiobook: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: 14th February 1900. St Valentine’s Day in rural Australia. Nineteen girls and their two school-mistresses from exclusive Appleyard College leave for a picnic at the brooding, hanging rock. Some of the group fail to return. Murder? Accident? Supernatural happenings? What is the explanation for these bizarre disappearances?

My review: I watched the movie in the 1980s and was captivated by the mysterious music and scenes. When I saw the audiobook in my local library, I was quick to grab it. There are always big differences between books and movies, in my opinion. But while the movie version of Picnic at Hanging Rock dropped the side themes, it stayed true to the book for the most part.

The book (or audiobook, in this case) had that same mysterious feel about it. It’s difficult to explain because the story is a mystery, so it should be mysterious. But that’s not what I mean. There’s a feeling, a strange eeriness, a haunting feeling that radiates from the pages. It’s in the flow of words, in the movements of the characters, in every chapter, on every page.

The author describes everything, even the ants scurrying to safety. I usually don’t like this amount of description, however Picnic at Hanging Rock is built around the descriptions and feelings of the location and characters. That’s what made it a success, I believe.

During the telling of the story, we get a good indication how strict the rules were and we get a taste of “class” in 1900. Here’s another story that shows us how lucky we are now and hard it would have been then.

The characters are whimsical and laid back to begin with, but as the story progresses we see the darker side of the characters coming out. What happened to the missing girls and their teacher? Who was involved? They storyline shows how the trauma from what happened on that fateful day can change people, changing their lives forever.

I enjoyed the movie and I enjoyed the book. Again, I believe the book is better as those side themes give a deeper telling and if you allow yourself to be swept away, you’ll find yourself totally engrossed in the mystery of Hanging Rock.

Recommended.

Audiobook: The Last Convict

The Last Convict by Anthony Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: ‘It’s a good story, Samuel. You’re a piece of living history.’ 

Oxford 1863: Young Samuel Speed sets a barley stack alight in the hope it will earn him a bed in prison for the night. He wants nothing more than a morsel of food in his belly and a warm place to sleep off the streets. What he receives is a sentence of seven years’ servitude, to be served half a world away in the penal colony of Fremantle, Western Australia. 

When Samuel boards the transport ship Belgravia, he is stripped of his clothing and even his name, and given regulations of when to rise, eat, clean and sleep. On arrival at Fremantle Prison, hard labour is added to the mix and he wonders if life can get any worse. The only solace he finds is a love of reading, which allows the likes of Tom Sawyer and Oliver Twist to become his lifelong friends. 

Samuel is granted a ticket of leave in 1867 and full freedom in 1871, but what sort of life can a man forge for himself in the colony, with no skills, no money and no family? Will it be the beginning of the life he has always dreamed of, or do some sentences truly never end?

A colourful recreation of the life and times of the last known convict to be sent to Australia, The Last Convict is a moving study of old age and loneliness, as one social outcast finds meaning in his impoverished life through the power of literature. Meticulously researched and brilliantly woven into an engaging fictional account, it is an unforgettable story by an award-winning writer and historian.

My review: Here’s another book that I have been slow into writing a review for. I finished the book in July this year. The lack of a review until now has nothing to do with my liking for the book, as I enjoyed it immensely, but is more to do with my lack of time and energy to write reviews this year. To be honest, my health has not recovered as quickly as I would have liked and I’m enjoying life outdoors more while the temperature isn’t too high.

The Last Convict is an Australian book, written by an Australian author. I saw it in my local library and the premise jumped out and immediately took my attention. I live near a pioneer cemetary and while the book is not based on anyone in that resting place, I have discovered an interest of that time.

As the title suggests, the book relates to the story of the last surviving convict in Australia. It is based on a real person. However, little is known about Samuel Speed, but the author used what is known (I actually found and read the newspaper report referred to in the book) and filled in the rest to create this story and I think he’s done an excellent job.

The book isn’t fast paced, but it is captivating in other ways. The main character is relatable and I wanted to know what would happen to him. My heart broke for him in so many ways. Poor Sam and his mate were desperate. Homeless, going from poorhouse to poorhouse looking for a dry bed and a meagre meal. And their desperation made them make a decision that changed their lives. They ended up as convicts for seven years and heading for Australia. Sam spent most of his life in an institution of some kind. His life was lonely and isolated. Yet, in the story, he came across as a lovely man who only wanted peace of mind.

I found myself wondering what his life would have been like if they didn’t make that first decision. And for the life of me, I cannot imagine it would have been any better.

In those days, life as a pauper and a convict would have been most difficult. It’s something I’m glad I have not and will never experience. Living in Australia, I find the history fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed this book as a result.

Recommended.

Audiobook: The Postmistress

The Postmistress by Alison Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: To forge a new life she must first deal with her past…

1871. Adelaide Greaves and her young son have found sanctuary in the Australian town of Maiden’s Creek, where she works as a postmistress. The rough Victorian goldmining settlement is a hard place for a woman – especially as the other women in town don’t know what to make of her – but through force of will and sheer necessity, Adelaide carves out a role. 

But her past is coming to find her, and the embittered and scarred Confederate soldier Caleb Hunt, in town in search of gold and not without a dark past of his own, might be the only one who can help. Can Adelaide trust him? Can she trust anyone?

When death and danger threaten – some from her past, some borne of the Australian bush – she must swallow her pride and turn to Caleb to join her in the fight, a fight she is determined to win…

My review: COVID-19 has made me lazy, which I find strange as I’ve been working from home for four months and you would think I would have more time to do the things I’ve always loved, such as reading and writing, but that hasn’t been the case. My husband and I have found walking in the bush a relaxing and enjoyable way to relax. Anyway, I finished this book in August and am just getting around to writing the review now.

The Postmistress is an Australian book, written by an Australian author, and most enjoyable. It begins in England where a daughter of a well-to-do father finds herself pregnant and decides to “run away” to Australia to bring up her child.

The story shows the difficulties of living in a young country—the hardships, poverty, lack of facilities and covers themes such as mining, bushfires, pandemics and dangerous Australian wildlife. But it also shows how people with secrets can start again and build a new life for themselves in a country just starting out. I especially liked how the small town, while diverse, came together to battle outside threats because the enemy without can be more threatening than the enemy within.

But secrets have a habit of coming out in the open. What happens then? We need to adapt and adjust, and sometimes we must face those secrets head on, and that is (of course) what the main character must do.

In my opinion, this is a historical romance. I enjoyed the storyline and the characters. They fit together well. Yes, parts were predicable, but I didn’t mind that at all. It was lovely to read about life in the early years of Australia. I enjoyed the book and would read more by this author.

Recommended.

eBook: Black Jade

Black Jade – A Daiyu Wu Mystery by Gloria Oliver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: Could an old-fashioned ballgown be used to commit murder?

Daiyu Wu is aware that fear of the Yellow Terror has made her nationality a rare breed in the Lone Star State. Being Chinese and blind makes her doubly unique in 1930 Dallas. Despite these impediments, anyone who dismisses her for either fact does so at their peril.

One day, at her family-owned laundry business, Dai detects the scent of burned garlic. With the help of her companion, Jacques, the source is soon discovered. It is a green ballgown. The gown has money pinned inside it to pay for the cleaning, but oddly, it came with no address label to identify its owner. Her extensive knowledge leads Dai to believe someone has committed murder using arsenic. The perpetrator is trying to use White Laundry to hide the evidence. But no mention of foul play turns up in the newspapers, and there’s not enough proof to convince the police there’s been a crime.

Her curiosity and intellect stimulated like never before; Dai ignores the possible consequences and sets out to solve the mystery with the help of her canine companion, Prince Razor, and her confidant, Jacques Haskins. It’s either that or let the killer get away with it — assuming a spoiled popinjay, his jealous self-appointed girlfriend, and Dai’s overprotective parents don’t get in her way.

My review: I’ve read a few cozy mysteries this year. I find them easier on my scrambled mind, and easier to digest when I’m feeling unwell. But I also find them to be extremely focusing and entertaining.

Black Jade is the first book in a mystery series. The lovely things about the book are the era it’s set in and the fact that the main character is a blind Chinese woman. The author weaves in the details of the mystery itself, the racial issues of the time, and society life in the 1930s quite well.

Daiyu and her companion, Jacques, join forces with two unlikely (and totally different) side kicks to find a killer. The setting and characters worked well together. There were little smile moments, strong “that’s racist” moments and a hint of embarrassing romantic moments. All intended. All written well. I liked the storyline and didn’t find anything annoying about any of it.

Daiyu’s companion threw me a bit, at the beginning, but I liked the character and accepted him (once my brain accepted it was a man I was reading about, not a woman as I had first thought).

The mystery was well thought out and the hints subtle. I enjoyed the interaction between Jacques and “the cad”. There was a lot of light hearted humour in there too.

I can’t think of anything bad about the book. The pages turned quickly, the history was equal to the mystery. I learned a lot about life in the ’30s, yet the details were weaved into the storyline, not dumped on the pages. Impressively done, I must say.

I will read more books in the series as I enjoyed my time in their world. Recommended.

I received a review copy of this book, and this is an honest review.

Audiobook: Hamish Macbeth Mysteries

Death of a Perfect Wife by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurb: Hamish Macbeth is savouring the delights of a Highland summer. But as fast as the rain rolls in from the loch, his happy life goes to hell in a handbasket. The trouble begins when his beloved Priscilla Halburton-Smythe returns to Lochdubh with a new fiancé on her arm. His miseries multiply when clouds of midges descend on the town. And then a paragon of housewife perfection named Trixie Thomas moves into Lochdubh with her cowed husband in tow. The newcomer quickly convinces the local ladies to embrace low-cholesterol meals, ban alcohol, and begin bird-watching. Soon the town’s menfolk are up in arms and Macbeth must solve Lochdubh’s newest crime – the mysterious poisoning of the perfect wife.

M. C. Beaton is the author of the best-selling Agatha Raisin series. She has also written several Regency romance series. She lives between Paris and the Cotswolds.

My review: I picked this out of my elibrary listing, not knowing it was part of a series…and book 4 of the series! Yet, it didn’t matter. The author wrote the book in a way that felt stand alone. The characters, the setting, the era, all were complete and interesting.

I felt like reading something “easy going”. By that, I don’t mean simple, I mean something that flows easily and doesn’t jerk the reader here, there, and everywhere. The book is part of the Hamish Macbeth cozy mysteries and I enjoyed it immensely.

The setting felt old fashioned and laid back. The people of the Scottish town had distinct personalities and traits that I could relate to and the mystery itself was well thought out and entertaining.

I will read more by this author.

Death of an Outsider by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurb: Dreary Cnothan’s most hated man is dumped into a tank filled with lobsters then eaten in Britain’s best restaurants. Exiled there with his dog Towser, Hamish Macbeth misses his beloved Highland village Lochdubh, Priscilla, and easy lazy days. His superiors want the business hushed up, a dark-haired lass wants his body, and a killer is out for more blood. On TV show.

My review: In order to keep to the trend, I’ve gone backwards instead of forwards with this series. I completed book 4 recently, and then decided to read book 3. I know, I’m crazy to go backwards, but it really was not an issue as this book was not set in the same town. Worked out perfectly for me.

Hamish is set to another town to fill in while the regular police officer had a well deserved holiday. But, of course, things go wrong as soon as Hamish turns up. Yet, there is a upturn of events for Hamish in other areas (wink, wink, say no more).

This storyline was a little more twisted, and I didn’t like the townspeople much. I don’t have much more to say other than I would read more books in the series.

Book review: Phosphorescence

Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark by Julia Baird

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The blurb: A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ that Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – which will sustain us even through the darkest times.

Over the last decade, we have become better at knowing what brings us contentment, well-being and joy. We know, for example, that there are a few core truths to science of happiness. We know that being kind and altruistic makes us happy, that turning off devices, talking to people, forging relationships, living with meaning and delving into the concerns of others offer our best chance at achieving happiness. But how do we retain happiness? It often slips out of our hands as quickly as we find it. So, when we are exposed to, or learn, good things, how do we continue to burn with them?

And more than that, when our world goes dark, when we’re overwhelmed by illness or heartbreak, loss or pain, how do we survive, stay alive or even bloom? In the muck and grit of a daily existence full of disappointments and a disturbing lack of control over many of the things that matter most – finite relationships, fragile health, fraying economies, a planet in peril – how do we find, nurture and carry our own inner, living light – a light to ward off the darkness?

Absorbing, achingly beautiful, inspiring and deeply moving, Julia Baird has written exactly the book we need for these times.

My review: This is totally different to my normal reading material. However, my niece and her man gave me the book for Christmas and I was determined to read the book for that reason alone. Phosphorescence is a big word that I find difficult to say, let alone know what it means. And, I had no clue what the book might present me, so was surprised to find it isn’t a novel at all. 🙂

My surprise was deepened when the first chapter turned out to be about jellyfish. Yet, once the surprise ebbed, I was captivated. Honestly, I didn’t know how interesting jellyfish could be. Yet, of course, the book is so much more than jellyfish too. This is an inspirational, self-help book that speaks to your inner emotions and sooths your soul.

Each reader will take something different from each chapter. But I believe, for me, it allowed me to view the world through someone else’s eyes. It allowed me to feel, experience, and understand what’s going on around me in nature and how that, if noticed, can heal our wounds and lift our spirits.

We rely on electronics too much. We have become separated from those around us, especially now in this new COVID world. Yet, we can still be happy and content if we appreciate the smaller things.

There were two chapters that I couldn’t finish reading. I got the jist of what was being said, but I felt the message went on for too long, and I grew bored. However, those two chapters aside, I enjoyed the book immensely. No, it wasn’t a novel, but it still took me to other places and allowed me to be and it allowed me to see.

Not everyone will love the book, but I would recommend you try it to see if you do…or not.

eBook: The Ancient Wish

I read this book at the beginning of the year. I attempting to catch up with my reviews, as I’ve fallen too far behind.

The Ancient Wish by S.A. Beattie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: 𝐎𝐧𝐞 𝐥𝐨𝐬𝐭 𝐠𝐢𝐫𝐥. 𝐎𝐧𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐰𝐢𝐬𝐡. 𝐎𝐧𝐞 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐡𝐨𝐦𝐞.

Being sixteen is hard enough, but now Maxena Saltash’s best friend has a new boyfriend, is bullying the shy girl at school, and thinks Max’s choice of career is as lowly as the rocks she wants to study. Grateful to be away camping with her family, Max follows a strange creature deep into a cave system. But when she emerges, everything is different.

Frightened and lost in an unfamiliar world, Max is on the run from bandits who mean to kill her and kidnap the creature she names Roo. Along the way, she meets cranky Hazel, who blames Max for destroying his home, and mistrustful Peng, a disfigured half-man, half-bird who just wants to be accepted. But when Max discovers she holds the key to a powerful prophecy it’s up to her to solve the clues, endure five trials, and claim the ancient wish.

If Max fails, her murderous adversaries will use the wish for their own malicious intent. She will never see her home or family again, and the magical world will fall to ruin. Will Max find the strength to stand and fight, or will she remain forever lost?

Join the magical quest in a fantasy world with a steampunk twist, laugh-out-loud moments, and edge-of-your-seat action in 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘈𝘯𝘤𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘞𝘪𝘴𝘩.

My review: The Ancient Wish is a young adult fantasy novel. It’s the type of fantasy I have always enjoyed. The type that takes someone from our world into another world. The reason I love this particular type of fantasy is because (to me) it makes the storyline feel real, possible.

Maxena finds herself in an unknown place, trying to work out how she got there and how she’s going to get home. But every time she turns around something happens–and with or without her permission she is drawn into an adventure.

She is joined by Roo, who seems to be a magnet for trouble. And then there’s Hazel, a little annoyed by Maxena’s intrusion, and Peng, who doesn’t really fit in with society. They join forces and all have their reasons for continuing the journey to get Maxena home.

Maxena and her new friends make a good mix of lively characters. I especially liked Hazel, whose personality was quirky and he got me smiling on numerous occasions. I felt sorry for Peng, as I could relate to not always feeling accepted by others, but he was aloof in his manner giving the air of mistrust.

Something was always happening. They would get out of one troublesome situation, only to find themselves in another one which was worse. The plot is fast-paced and easy to read. The world had a steampunk feel to it, which I also enjoyed. I should read more steampunk. Anyway, I felt the author did a great job with her descriptions, as I could easily visualise the towns and the people around the main characters.

I enjoy this first book in the series and look forward to reading the next book later in the year.