Review: ‘Awakenings’ by J.E. Shannon

Evie Shepard’s nightmare begins when she finds herself buried alive, with no idea how she got that way. As she struggles to remember what happened to her, she begins to notice changes about herself. Her senses are heightened, her movements are quicker, she is incredibly strong….her heartbeat has stopped. It’s then she makes a disturbing discovery. She wasn’t buried alive. She was murdered.

Somehow she has come back…

And she wants revenge.

I was going through my Kindle last month and discovered this ebook, which I acquired back in 2013 and had never quite gotten around to reading. (For the record, this isn’t the longest a book has languished on my TBR pile. There are books there that have moved house with me. More than once.) It was published by a small press that subsequently tanked under dubious circumstances, though it has since been self-published. The version I’m reviewing is the small press version, so please note that there may be some differences between the currently available version and the one that I have.

Awakenings is an urban fantasy whose subtype isn’t vampires or werewolves but an undead creature called a vengador (which is Spanish for “avenger”). These are creatures that get supernatural speed and strength, as well as electricity powers, but who are driven to kill their murderers, even knowing that doing so will end their own existence. I enjoyed reading about a different type of supernatural beastie.

There were a lot of things I really loved about Awakenings; the writing is generally very good (with a few copy edits that may be gone in the current version), and the story is action-packed, full of explosions, car chases and fight scenes. All good stuff. And I enjoyed both Evie (as she struggles with her loss of humanity) and one of the other female characters, Amie, who is a Russian super-soldier and hacker with a penchant for explosives. I’d totally read a book about Amie; she stole every scene she was in. I adored her.

The villains of the piece were murderous Russian slave traders, which stretched credibility a bit, at least for me. I think that Awakenings is meant to be set in a darker version of the USA (rather than in a parallel world that is roughly the same), but I never really got the real sense of that difference, and the villains seemed Bond-like and almost cartoonish in their evil ways.

But the main thing that made this a 3.5 star read for me rather than a four star read was the unnecessary romance. I just didn’t feel any chemistry between Evie and Ethan. Also, she was seventeen and he was … older. I don’t know how old, exactly, but he’d been married and widowed, and had a PI business. I’m assuming at least late 20s. I don’t mind an age gap between characters who are romantically involved, but when one of them isn’t even a legal adult yet (even if they are an undead with superpowers), it just feels a little off to me. It’s one of the reasons I couldn’t get onboard with the Bella/Edward relationship in Twilight.

Still, I like that the book doesn’t have a sugar-coated, happily ever after ending, and the action scenes were compelling. I’d recommend Awakenings for anyone after a fun summer (or winter) holiday read.

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Review: ‘The Slow Regard of Silent Things’ by Patrick Rothfuss

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

This novella is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. Or listened to on audiobook, at any rate. It’s set in the world of The Name of the Wind, and focuses on Auri, an enchanting side character from the main story. In fact, it focuses on her to the point where she’s almost the sole character.

After a fashion.

Auri has a peculiar character trait in that she personifies the objects around her. She sees them as having names and moods and desires of their own, and believes her role is to make all the objects happy, to make the world “proper true”. As a result, there are objects in this novella, such as the light she carries around or a brass gear that she finds, that I was downright fond of by the end. And Auri, who cuts a very lonely figure, is never really alone.

As for the plot, well … there isn’t one. Not in the traditional sense. This novella is seven days in Auri’s life, as she prepares for a visit by Kvothe (though he is never named directly). She goes exploring, she searches for a gift to give him, she makes soap.

That’s it, in terms of the plot.

What the novella does do, and in a breathtakingly beautiful way, is explore the reality of someone who is entirely, utterly broken. Auri used to be a student at the University, and occasionally her educated vocabulary breaks through and gives a tantalising glimpse of the person she used to be. It’s never completely clear how many of her beliefs about the world around her are objectively true in Rothfuss’s world and how many are manifestations of her mental illness — and, at the end of the day, I’m not sure it matters. This story is from Auri’s point of view, and Auri believes these things with all of her being (while acknowledging in her darker moments that she herself isn’t “proper true”), so, as a reader, they were real for me too.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things isn’t a story in the traditional sense. It’s a set piece, a piece of art. The writing is gorgeous, like poetry. As a writer myself, I was humbled.

Rothfuss says in his foreword that, “If you haven’t read my other books, you don’t want to start here.” I can see why he said that, because this story isn’t typical of his style, and I guess he doesn’t want people reading this, being baffled, and not going back to the rest of his books. But, by the same token, you don’t need to have read his other books to appreciate the beauty of The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys beautiful writing and the exploration of the mind of a strange, wonderful character. (Or for those who want to learn how to make soap!)


Review: ‘Leviathan’ by Scott Westerfeld

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

I can’t remember how Leviathan crossed my path. I think it might have been a sale on Audible? Regardless, I read some of the reviews and decided — despite my usual distaste for war fiction — to give Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk YA alternative history a go. The audiobook is narrated by Scottish actor Alan Cumming, whose accent gives the perfect voice to Deryn, an awesomely competent young adult heroine who shines as a new recruit in the British Air Service. But he also does an excellent Austrian accent for Alek, and his various British accents are also great.

Before I more talk about the characters, I have to mention Westerfield’s alternative world. Germany and Austria are “clankers”, countries that have embraced steampunk-type technology: oil-guzzling, smoke-blowing machines of various fantastical designs. Great Britain, Russia and a few other countries that are mentioned in passing are “Darwinists” who, instead of using technology, use genetically modified “fabricated” creatures in the same sorts of roles. (PETA would not approve of any of the Darwinist creations, and perhaps especially the Leviathan air ship, which is a huge whale modified to host bacteria that produce hydrogen so it can float, carrying humans underneath and within it. I shared Alek’s grossed out reaction to that last part.)

The Leviathan

Anyway, moving on: when Deryn gets whisked away on a rogue Huxley (a hydrogen-breathing floating squid — I’ll let that sink in) and is rescued by the Leviathan, she is drawn into a government diplomatic mission to Istanbul (not Constantinople *snigger*), to try and stop the Ottoman Empire from taking sides in the war.

The fact that Deryn is secretly a girl isn’t the focus of the story, by any means, which was a relief. For the most part, she is a member of the crew, invested in her ship’s wellbeing and surviving one disaster after the next. Because this is young adult and it’d be a rare book indeed that didn’t have some romance, she also slowly develops a crush on Alek that she doesn’t know what to do with.

I also enjoyed Alek’s point of view chapters. He spends the first little while being incredibly naive and somewhat foolish, but under the circumstances that was entirely believable and relatable. Over the course of the story, with the guidance of his cunning fencing master, Count Volger, and patient master mechanic, Master Clopp, Alek comes out of his over-protected shell and starts to make his own decisions — often ones that Volger doesn’t like.

There is a lot of action in this book, but the large-scale action sequences that I find boring in most war books aren’t present here. The chapters stay very tightly focused on either Deryn or Alek, so while there might be other things going on in a battle, we only see what they see. This approach — and the novelty of conducting a war using modified hawks and bats instead of small planes — kept me engrossed where other war fiction loses me.

My only real gripe with the story is that the ending seemed rather abrupt. But luckily, I bought the first two books in the trilogy at the same time, so as I write this I’m already halfway through the sequel. Yay!


Bookstagram: For the Love of Aussie YA — Aussie Writers

On Thursday I was at Aussie Owned, sharing some gorgeous Aussie YA bookstagram photos! Check it out.

This month at Aussie Owned and Read, our theme is For the Love of Words. I love all kinds of books — ebooks for the convenience (mostly), audiobooks for the hands-free alternative, and paperbacks for, as much as anything, the experience. I’d been increasing my collection of the first two types, but in the last […]

via Bookstagram: For the Love of Aussie YA — Aussie Writers


Review: ‘Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology’

The YA event of the year. Bestsellers. Award-winners. Superstars. This anthology has them all. With brilliantly entertaining short stories from beloved young adult authors Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Will Kostakis, Ellie Marney, Jaclyn Moriarty, Michael Pryor, Alice Pung, Gabrielle Tozer, Lili Wilkinson and Danielle Binks, this all-new collection will show the world exactly how much there is to love about Aussie YA.

I love the #LoveOzYa movement, as — like the Australian Women Writers Challenge — it’s a great way to raise awareness of Aussie homegrown fiction. The fact that they turned it into an anthology that involved some of my favourite Aussie writers is even better.

If you love YA, get this anthology, whether you’re Australian or not. You won’t regret it.

One Small Step by Amie Kaufman

This is a gorgeous (and rather tense) romance between female best friends on Mars. I’d love to read more about these characters. Make it so, Amie!

I Can See the Ending by Will Kostakis

This one’s an urban fantasy about a teen psychic who can see the future but can’t change it (and struggling with the sense of futility that generates). It was quite clever, and as sweet as it was poignant.

In a Heartbeat by Alice Pung

This is a contemporary about teen pregnancy. It was really well done, though probably not my favourite of the contemporaries.

First Casualty by Michael Pryor

This sci-fi was my least favourite in the anthology. It was well-written and had a ragtag Firefly vibe about it that I was digging till the main story got started and it turned into a transparent dig at one of Australia’s previous conservative government. I don’t have a problem with that, per se (I’m hardly conservative!), but the lack of subtlety detracted from the story for me.

Sundays by Melissa Keil

Melissa Keil is my favourite contemporary YA author because of the way she handles misfits and nerds, and this story really delivers. It’s set over one evening at a wild, drunken party.

Missing Persons by Ellie Marney

This story is a prelude to the Every trilogy (which is a mystery/thriller inspired by Sherlock Holmes), and describes how Rachel Watts meets James Mycroft and Mai Ng. The squee factor will be higher if you have read the trilogy … which I have, so squeee!

Oona Underground by Lili Wilkinson

This is another gorgeous romance about a teen girl in love with her female best friend, but is quite different to One Small Step. It’s magic realism with a bit of a Neverwhere vibe. I’d definitely read more about this world (though I didn’t love Oona as much as I probably should have).

The Feeling from Over Here by Gabrielle Tozer

This is a contemporary set on a coach ride between Canberra and Melbourne, with some use of flashbacks and a lot of desperate texting. It primarily explores school bullying, and the voice is wonderful. One of my favourites!

Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory by Danielle Binks

This is another poignant story about a teen girl coming to grips with her older brother’s decision to travel the world after graduation. The two kids are called Bowie and King, which is rather unfortunate, but King is deaf, and the description of the sign language is really fascinating.

Competition Entry #349 by Jaclyn Moriarty

This story was a lot of fun, and competes with The Feeling From Over Here for the most voice. It’s modern day(ish), but with time travel and an amazingly scatterbrained main character. It’s great!


Confessing my fear: failing as an author

Happy Halloween, dear readers! As you’ll already be aware, this month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re talking fears. I’ve already blogged about a couple of mine previously — during our 2014 Haunting Halloween blog hop, I shared a scary (and true) story of the last time took part in a seance, and talked about […]

via Fear of failing as a writer — Aussie Writers


Review: ‘The Lovely Dark’ by K. A. Last

Three teenagers.
One witch.
Twelve souls.

Harvey Anderson always knew the universe was against him, but there’s a lot of stuff he never expected to happen, like having a crush on the most popular girl at school, and then falling into a giant hole in the middle of nowhere with her. And if that wasn’t enough, somehow they managed to release a soul-sucking, ancient witch as well. So yeah, there’s that. You’d think it’d be pretty hard to beat, but knowing Harvey’s luck, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

I was lucky enough to nab an ARC (advanced reader copy) of The Lovely Dark, which is scheduled for release later this month — just in time for Halloween. The release date is particularly appropriate, because this story is atmospheric and occasionally creepy as all get out. I was reading it in an empty house when the sun was going down, and brr!

The story starts with Harvey, his best friend Toni, and popular girl Lian as they get lost orienteering in the Aussie bush on school camp (who hasn’t done that — amirite?) and fall into an underground cavern that opens up during an earthquake. Toni is injured, so Harvey and Lian explore the cave system, trying to find a way out. Of course, given Harvey’s luck, they manage to release a soul-sucking, murderous witch instead. Whee!

Harvey is the point of view character. He’s afraid of the dark, which makes the scary night-time and underground scenes in this book twice as confronting as we see them through the filter of his terror. He is also very conscious of what the other teens think of him, and would prefer to escape into Netflix rather than deal with what is going on.

All of this made him seem realer to me than your average young adult protagonist … at the same time that I occasionally wanted to shake him a little, not gonna lie. But those moments where Harvey took action were glorious, just because I’d been cheering for him to step up for so long.

Toni is far and away my favourite character. She has a little bit of Hermione about her — she is the one who figures out what is going on and tends to be the voice of reason and competence throughout the story. I loved her. Lian was nice enough, and I could see why Harvey had a crush on her, but she was no Toni! 😉

K. A. Last hasn’t just gone for the wicked witch stereotype here, which is a relief (I’ve dabbled in paganism in my past, so I hate a bad stereotype). While there’s no doubt that the witch they release is evil, she has a tragic backstory and her nastiness is more than offset by the awesomeness of the other witchy characters that pop up throughout the story. (I won’t provide details, because spoilers.)

Other than how atmospheric this book is, my favourite thing about The Lovely Dark is the dialogue. There were actual, for real laugh out loud moments for me (something that doesn’t normally happen when I’m reading). Plus there’s a nod to Evil Willow from Buffy, which basically earned the book a star on its own. ❤

If you love your books spooky as all get out, with creepy birds and a high body count, then this is the story for you!