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.

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.

eBook: Sha’Kert: End of Night

Sha’Kert: End of Night by Ishmael A. Soledad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: No blurb found

My review: It’s strange how things work out. A couple of months ago, I made a comment to my husband regarding wanting to read a book about the Amish people/culture, and the very next day I received a review request offering a book with an Amish theme. Of course, I had to say yes please to the offer.

Sha’Kert: End of Night drew me in and kept my interest from the very beginning. What made it more rivetting was the science fiction theme weaved in with the Amish theme. It was well done and felt natural.

Set in the future, where my imagination was free to paint my own scenes using the author’s guidelines, the main characters find themselves on another planet. The stories of how they got there are full and deep. There are difficult hurdles to overcome, life-threatening decisions to make, and a very real futuristic world that could become a reality, which was a little scary. And then what they go through once they get to the unknown planet left me wondering how I would cope in the same, or similar, situation.

The characters are well defined and can easily be identified. The world-building is excellent. I had no trouble believing and accepting what I was reading. The writing was exceptional.

The landscape was vivid in my mind and I kept returning to the book because I wanted to know what would happen next. There is more I would like to say, but I don’t want to give anything away. I guess I can say that I asked myself several times, would I survive if I were there. What would I do? Unfortunately, I cannot give the answer without giving a spoiler.

There was something deep in regards to the writing of this book. To be honest, although I’ve thought on it for a few days I am unable to verbalise it or put it into words. I don’t know what it is, but I feel as if I missed something, or didn’t understand something that should have been plain, that the deeper meaning of the storyline went over my head. Thing is, I don’t think this issue has anything to do with the way the author wrote the book. I believe my mind couldn’t grasp whatever it was because I’ve been unwell over recent months. And that saddens me.

I enjoyed the book. It held me captive for many weeks (I’m a slow reader these days). I am so happy I was given the opportunity to read this brilliant story and recommend it.

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

Audiobook: The Woman in the Green Dress

The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb: 1853 Mogo Creek, NSW

Della Atterton, bereft at the loss of her parents, is holed up in the place she loves best: the beautiful Hawkesbury in New South Wales. Happiest following the trade her father taught her, taxidermy, Della has no wish to return to Sydney. But the unexpected arrival of Captain Stefan von Richter on a quest to retrieve what could be Australia’s first opal, precipitates Della’s return to Sydney and her Curio Shop of Wonders, where she discovers her enigmatic aunt, Cordelia, is selling more than curiosities to collectors. Strange things are afoot and Della, a fly in a spider’s web, is caught up in events with unimaginable consequences…

1919 Sydney, NSW

When London teashop waitress Fleur Richards inherits land and wealth in Australia from her husband, Hugh, killed in the war, she wants nothing to do with it. After all, accepting it will mean Hugh really is dead. But Hugh’s lawyer is insistent, and so she finds herself ensconced in the Berkeley Hotel on Hunter St, Sydney, the reluctant owner of a Hawkesbury property and an old curio shop, now desolate and boarded up.

As the real story of her inheritance unravels, Fleur finds herself in the company of a damaged returned soldier Kip, holding a thread that takes her deep into the past, a thread that could unravel a mystery surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress; a green that is the colour of envy, the colour buried deep within an opal, the colour of poison…

My review: I was looking for something different to listen to while on my treadmill each morning and came across this audiobook. It’s set in Australia, and as I know of the two locations (Mogo Creek and Sydney) and have visited them, I decided to borrow this book.

The author wrote the story over two timelines and then merged them together. It was well done. I especially enjoyed reading about the hardships of the two eras – 1853 and 1919. Both eras would have been difficult to live in, and I could appreciate those difficulties and felt like I experienced them because of the way the book was written.

The taxidermy element was interesting to read as well. It’s a craft I know little about, but I believe the information given would be correct, especially the bit about arsenic. I also appreciated how the author wove the issues early Australia had between the new settlers and the original inhabitants of the land into the storyline as well. I believe many atrocities occurred back then. Many never recorded in history.

I class the story as a drama/mystery. There was a tiny bit of romance, but nothing overbearing. The characters were written well and fit together nicely. I was interested in the main characters, from both eras, and wanted to know what the harsh times and the storyline had in store for them.

I would recommend the book and would read more by this author.