Audiobook: Shadowseer: London

Shadowseer: London by Morgan Rice

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Shadowseer: London (Book One) tells the story of Kaia, 17, an orphan coming of age in the Victorian London of the 1850s. Kaia yearns to escape her horrific orphanage, to discover who her parents were, and to understand why she can sense shadows when others cannot. Yet the streets of London are as brutal as the orphanage, and for Kaia, there is no easy way out.

When Kaia, arrested, faces an even worse punishment, Detective Pinsley, 45, notices a strange marking on her arm and thinks she might be the key in solving a peculiar, mysterious case. Bodies are turning up dead in London, and Pinsley wonders whether it’s the work of a deranged serial killer, or of something….else. The methods of murder seem impossible, as does the murderer’s ability to escape death.

Kaia is given a choice: help solve the case, or be shipped off to Bedlam, the notorious insane asylum.

Unlikely partners, each mistrusting the other, Kaia and Pinsley embark to scour the dark corners and cobblestone streets of 19th century London in search of clues.

Yet what they find may shock and horrify even them.

My review: I was looking for another audiobook to listen to and this one was offered to me at a discounted price. I liked the blurb and the cover gave off a certain dark feel about it, so I decided to purchase it.

I haven’t regretted that decision.

The story is set in Victorian England. The setting was enough to allow me to feel that’s where I was while walking on my treadmill. It felt a little like I was actually walking the dirty streets. It was a bit eerie, to be honest.

Inspector Pinsley and Kaia make an unlikely team, but they fit well together for this murder mystery.

The inspector’s boss is looking for a reason to get rid of him, and Kaia has run away from an orphanage the day before she was going to be handed over to a male benefactor. A murder in a locked room at Bedlam brings the pair together. The inspector knows that the mark on Kaia’s arm associates her to the murder. And Kaia wants to find out why the dead woman has the same birthmark as her.

The storyline progresses smoothly along, giving little hints along the way. I felt the author captures the characters and the settings quite well. When we learn what is really happening, it’s not surprising, but continues to be written in a captivating manner.

I liked the characters and wanted to know what would happen to them. I enjoyed the telling of the story by the narrator, who had the perfect voice for this particular book. He was easy to listen to.

In fact, I enjoyed listening to this book so much that I instantly looked for Book 2 and was pleased to find the audiobook at a reasonable price and purchased it too.

Recommended.

Audiobook: Penguin Bloom

Penguin Bloom by Cameron Bloom

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Penguin the Magpie is a global social media sensation. People the world over have fallen in love with the stunning and deeply personal images of this rescued bird and her human family. But there is far more to Penguin’s story than meets the eye. It begins with a shocking accident, in which Cameron’s wife, Sam, suffers a near fatal fall that leaves her paralysed and deeply depressed.

Into their lives comes Penguin, an injured magpie chick abandoned after she fell from her nest. Penguin’s rescue and the incredible joy and strength she gives Sam and all those who helped her survive demonstrates that, however bleak things seem, compassion, friendship and support can come from unexpected quarters, ensuring there are always better days ahead. This plucky little magpie reminds us all that, no matter how lost, fragile or damaged we feel, accepting the love of others and loving them in return will help to make us whole.

My review: I believe the book has photos, which in my opinion would cement this story into the reader’s mind quite firmly. However, I listened to the audiobook, so naturally I did not see the photos, but the words alone were magical.

Such a tragic story, yet inspiration and love shone through. The husband and father of the Bloom family wrote about their worst nightmare, sharing the details of his wife’s terrible accident and what followed. My heart went out to her, and to the rest of the family. And my heart swelled when Penguin came into their lives to help and be helped. It’s a marvelous story, but I wish they didn’t have to experience any of it.

I cannot know what Sam went through, and continues to experience. But this book shows that even in the worst circumstances, love and light and sheer will power can improve the situation. Truly, I’m lost for words and can only say that the book is worth your time. Be prepared for tears, and that warm fuzzy feeling you get when love conquers all.

Highly recommended.

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.