Review: ‘All Aces’ by Ellie Marney

A teenage contortionist and a young cardsharp risk danger to right a family legacy of injustice…

Nineteen-year-old contortionist Ren Putri is committed to circus, study and self-discipline – in that order. But after being rescued from a carnival fire by cardsharp Zep Deal, she’s overwhelmed by some highly disorderly thoughts. Zep has a history of trouble, and now he’s been suspected of sabotaging the circus that’s become his whole life. Ren is already coping with family, and keeping secrets of her own – but she can’t resist a mystery. Will Ren’s penchant for solving puzzles bring the case against Zep to rights, or will digging further into the bad blood between rival carnivals only put them both in danger?

Dark YA romance, with a criminal twist – Circus Hearts: Step. Right. Up.

I read this book hot on the heels of All Fall Down (book two in the series) and I loved it almost as much. I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about why it wowed me slightly less — and don’t get me wrong, I still gave it 4.5 stars, and it was still awesome. I mean, it has a main character who is, if anything, even more interesting than either Sorsha or Fleur from the previous books. Sorsha was struggling with trauma but is overall very sweet, and Fleur is an alpha personality who doesn’t like to ask for help, but Ren shows the signs of having obsessive compulsive disorder.

I love that Marney and the other characters don’t make a thing about it — this isn’t a book about OCD, if that makes sense — it’s just a book where the main character has these traits but is also an awesome contortionist and a very determined young lady who is out to save a hot guy she knows and has decided, against the advice of her friends, to befriend.

The relationship between her and Zep is a bit more of a slow burn than either of the previous two, but they had some awesome chemistry and Marney’s ability to write a hot kissing scene has not diminished as this series has progressed. Oof! As with the first book, especially, I loved the description of each of their talents: Ren’s contortionism and Zep’s cardsharp skills.

One of my tiny niggles with the book — and there are slight spoilers for book two here — is that it seemed to start off on a slightly odd note; I don’t know why the circus folk would be giving Zep side eye and assuming he might have been directly responsible for the accidents in All Fall Down when the perpetrator had been arrested at the end of the previous book. (Maybe they assumed he was a co-conspirator and I missed it? I mean, it could have been true — but he did save Ren during one of the incidents, so he’d have had to be in two places at once.)

Another thing I found a bit jarring but that was 100% in character was Ren’s decision-making around the trouble she gets herself and Zep into over the course of this story. Talk about stirring up a hornet’s nest! But given the way that she thinks about the world — as a puzzle or a problem to be solved — I can also see her wanting to take charge the way she did. She also comes from a complicated, more traditional family situation where her mother is trying to pressure her to leave the circus, and her perceived inability to break free from that was definitely a contributing factor.

Overall, I’m sad this book has ended and that the series was only a trilogy. You should 100% check it out if you like books that blend romance, crime and carnival life into a spangled, steamy whole!

Advertisements

Review: ‘All Fall Down’ by Ellie Marney

A ringmaster’s daughter and a bearded lady’s son join forces to stop a saboteur…

Nineteen-year-old Fleur Klatsch is loyal to her trapeze team and her ringmaster father, dedicated to the circus, and tough on everyone around her. After a series of accidents at Klatsch’s Karnival, Fleur is left holding the ball: she’s running the carnival, trying to stop a saboteur, and taking care of her dad. She doesn’t need anyone’s help, least of all Eugenia Deloren’s son, Marco, who’s been trying to break out of show life since the moment he was born into it. All Marco needs to do is get Klatsch’s back on its feet so he can leave. But after one fateful kiss with Fleur, will he really want to? And will Fleur and Marco figure out who’s trying to kill the show before someone kills them…

Dark YA romance with a criminal twist – Circus Hearts: Step. Right. Up.

This book is set a few months after the events in All the Little Bones, and follows a different pair of characters, Fleur and Marco. In fact, each book in this trilogy focuses on a different romance with the same overarching setting (like Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner did in the Starbound series). Strictly speaking, you don’t need to read the first book to appreciate the second, but it would definitely help give useful context for events early on.

I was a bit apprehensive going into this one because Fleur is a bit of a typical “mean girl” and a spoiled brat in the first book — Sorsha interprets a lot of what she does as resulting from feeling threatened because Sorsha is a better trapeze artist than Fleur (not arrogance, just truth). But even in the first book it was clear that Fleur thought that Sorsha and her monumental baggage were a threat to the circus more broadly, not just to her personally. I liked that nuance. Of course, that didn’t stop Fleur from doing something stupid, which she is still paying for at the start of All Fall Down.

Fleur does learn from her mistakes, though she is still far from perfect: she’s proud, stubborn and doesn’t want to ask from help, least of all from Marco, the childhood friend that disappeared from her life. Still, she doesn’t have a choice, and over the course of the book she really grows into a leader who not only thinks about the wellbeing of her employees but earns their trust too.

Like the relationship between Colm and Sorsha, the one between Fleur and Marco is sizzling and built on a solid base of friendship. Hawt. I also appreciated that the obstacles to the romance in this book don’t feel contrived (my pet peeve in romance, as I mentioned last time — I once threw a book across the room because one of those obstacles would have been so easily addressed by the main character if she’d bothered!).

The crime element of this story is more front and centre than in All the Little Bones; I really enjoyed trying to figure out who was behind the “accidents”, and wondering what was going to happen next.

I can’t rave about this series enough, you guys.

 


Review: ‘All the Little Bones’ by Ellie Marney

A teenage trapeze artist and an apprentice strongman on the run from a terrible crime…

Seventeen-year-old Sorsha Neary’s life is changed in one night when she defends herself behind the vans of her family circus troupe. Now Sorsha and apprentice strongman Colm Mackay are travelling south, to evade the fallout and escape the long arm of the law. All they have in their favour is talent, an old promise, and slim acquaintance with the crew members and performers of their new home, Klatsch’s Karnival. But the question for Sorsha and Colm isn’t if the police will catch up with them, but when…

Dark YA romance, with a criminal twist – Circus Hearts: Step. Right. Up.

I’ve read Ellie Marney’s Every trilogy (you can read the reviews of those books here) but I didn’t realise that she’d also self-published a trilogy of books set in a circus until recently. When I saw them, I had to snap the first book up. I read it recently, during a reading binge while I was on holidays, and then I had to download the second and third books the next time I had internet access because I was so captivated by the first one.

I thought about reviewing all three in one post, because I read them back-to-back and all of my thoughts about them are a bit jumbled up, but I’ll try to unpick them and be coherent about All the Little Bones specifically.

The story is told from the perspective of 17-year-old trapeze artist Sorsha, who from the first line is clearly running from a trauma that she doesn’t want to dwell on and that she’s been pushed to duck responsibility for. The trauma is fresh, and she’s still in the “nightmares and vomiting” stage of coping with it. Poor thing. I just wanted to give her hugs, cookies, and the name of a rock solid therapist and lawyer.

Beside her is Colm, who is sweet and supportive, throwing away everything he had and taking literal beatings to keep Sorsha safe. He is adorable and a great fit for her; her healing process throughout the story is in part due to him.

Still, despite the romance sub-plot, this isn’t a romance genre novel — although boy howdy, can Marney write a kissing scene! Sorsha and Colm start out clearly attracted to one another, and there’s no big, contrived fall-out between them to generate plot partway through (which is my least favourite romance genre trope). I’d describe Every as a young adult crime series rather than a romance one. All the Little Bones is a little less crime-focused in that the crimes take place before the book starts; it’s more focused on the aftermath.

And it’s focused on the circus! I loved that as a setting — it, as much as Marney’s gorgeous prose, is what made me gobble up this book and spend my mobile phone data downloading the next two. I love the glitz and glam, the behind-the-scenes action, the second-hand thrill of performing (which I’d hate in real life, let’s be real). It was so much fun to read about.

Definitely check this one out.

 


Reviews: ‘Every Word’ and ‘Every Move’ by Ellie Marney

Every Word_cover

James Mycroft has just left for London to investigate a car accident similar to the one that killed his parents seven years ago…without saying goodbye to Rachel Watts, his ‘partner in crime’.

Rachel is furious and worried about his strange behaviour — not that Mycroft’s ever exactly normal, but London is the scene of so many of his nightmares. So Rachel jumps on a plane to follow him…and lands straight in a whole storm of trouble.

The theft of a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the possible murder of a rare books conservator, and the deaths of Mycroft’s parents…Can Watts help Mycroft make sense of the three events – or will she lose him forever?

Sparks fly when Watts and Mycroft reunite in this second sophisticated thriller about the teen sleuthing duo.

Every_Movie_cover

Rachel Watts is suffering from recurring nightmares about her near-death experience in London. She just wants to forget the whole ordeal, but her boyfriend, James Mycroft, is obsessed with piecing the puzzle together and anticipating the next move of the mysterious Mr Wild — his own personal Moriarty.

So when Rachel’s brother, Mike, suggests a trip back to their old home in Five Mile, Rachel can’t wait to get away. Unfortunately it’s not the quiet weekend she was hoping for with the unexpected company of Mike’s old school buddy, the wildly unreliable Harris Derwent.

Things get worse for Rachel when Harris returns to Melbourne with them – but could Harris be the only person who can help her move forward? Then a series of murders suggests that Mr Wild is still hot on their tails and that Mycroft has something Wild wants — something Wild is prepared to kill for.

Can Watts and Mycroft stay one step ahead of the smartest of all criminal masterminds? The stage is set for a showdown of legendary proportions…

I read the first book in the Every trilogy last year — although I didn’t actually realise it was a trilogy till partway through the second book, Every Word. That was a little bit devastating, knowing that the amount of Rachel and Mycroft I had left to go was finite …  I was hoping it’d go on forever. 😦

I devoured Every Word and Every Move in the space of a week, which is really fast for me given I also had work and general adulting to do as well. As a result, this is a combined review, which works here but I have no idea how I’ll get it into Goodreads. (Eh, that’s future Cass’s problem!)

All three books in the series are fast-paced, with a murder mystery, some forensic science (Mycroft’s hobby and, later, part-time job), some heated kissing and some moments that left me reeling. As far as the mysteries go, I guessed where the Folio was hidden in the second book (yay) but not who Moriarty actually was (boo). Despite the second book being slightly more transparent, the climax of that was so much more nail-biting to me. For some stupid, naive reason, I expected Ellie Marney to pull her punches a little. She definitely disabused me of that notion in Every Word. (At least by Every Move I was expecting it…)

The second and third books have the same overarching plot, events arising from the death of Mycroft’s parents seven years before, which is why it was great to read them back-to-back. There is closure of the smaller mystery at the end of the second book, but the Moriarty-like villain lingers on.

I should say, for those that haven’t read any of these books or the review that I linked, that these books are inspired by Sherlock Holmes. The characters are aware of the similarities in their names to the famous crime-solving duo, making little in-jokes about it, and the villain actually refers to himself as Moriarty at one point as a nod to that as well.

Of course, as far as I can recall, there isn’t a budding romance between Holmes and Watson. The same can’t be said of Mycroft and Watts, who are one of my new favourite young adult couples. I love how realistic and awkward they are with one another. I love that the obstacles they face in their relationship as time goes on include Rachel’s overprotective parents, something I expect a lot of teenage girls (and many boys) can relate to.

What there isn’t in these two books is a lot of school time. In fact, other than a school dance at one point, there’s not a single scene in either of these books set at school. I can’t think of the last time I read a young adult series that did that!

Every Word is set in London, while Every Move is back in Australia, and the sense of setting in each book is real enough to touch. You can tell that Ellie Marney went to London as part of her research (or maybe on a holiday) — there are details in there that you can’t get from Google street view. Likewise, her descriptions of Australia, of Melbourne and the bush around Five Mile, Rachel’s childhood home, are so real I could close my eyes and not only see but smell and feel the setting. It was wonderful!

The other thing I adored was how Aussie the characters are. Rachel is a farm girl at heart, and her and Mike, her older brother, have the best dialogue, so rich with slang and familiar to me. It warmed my heart. (Though I did raise an eyebrow when Rachel said crikey once — does anyone actually say that?)

Other good things about this book include a realistic depiction of PTSD that doesn’t leave the character hiding in cupboards (I’m looking at you, Katniss Everdeen!); a heart-rending depiction of dealing with grief; an awesome, complex family relationship (Mike! Rachel’s mum!); and a girl being friends with another guy than the one she loves without it turning into a love triangle (it can happen!). Oh, and Mai. I adored Mai.

Have I convinced you yet? Seriously, go read this series.

EllieMarney

Five stars


Review: ‘Every Breath’ by Ellie Marney

Every Breath

Rachel Watts is an unwilling new arrival to Melbourne from the country. James Mycroft is her neighbour, an intriguingly troubled seventeen-year-old genius with a passion for forensics. Despite her misgivings, Rachel finds herself unable to resist Mycroft when he wants her help investigating a murder. And when Watts and Mycroft follow a trail to the cold-blooded killer, they find themselves in the lion’s den — literally.

A night at the zoo will never have quite the same meaning again…

A lot of people had recommended this book to me but, despite that, I probably never would have picked it up because it’s a murder mystery and that’s not my usual thing. However, I’m doing a couple of reading challenges this year — the Australian Women Writers challenge and one that’s Australian writers across different genres — so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and read Every Breath as my mystery installment.

I’m glad I did, and here are some of the reasons why:

* The characters are inspired by Sherlock Holmes without it actually being a retelling. Mycroft is a bit like Sherlock, but has his differences (I don’t think Sherlock was as good at making friends with strangers, and he wasn’t as insecure as Mycroft — though it’s been over a decade since I read any of the stories). Watts keeps Mycroft grounded — and fed — but has her own issues.

* I say “knowingly inspired” because they are aware of the connection their names suggest and make the occasional Sherlock Holmes joke, without it being overbearing. I actually really enjoyed that touch; I expected it to be a retelling, with the parallels unacknowledged by the characters, sort of an in joke between the author and reader. The fact the characters were in on the joke was awesome.

* I loved the characters, especially Mycroft and Watts, but also Mai, their Vietnamese friend, with her alternative dress code and occasionally hilarious t-shirts. I don’t think Mai owns a single plain t-shirt, which I can relate to!

* The plot is zippy and the murder mystery interesting. I did pick the murderer from their first scene, but that may just be because I’ve watched too many TV crime shows. 😉

* The romance subplot is obvious from the start, but doesn’t hog the limelight. The fact Mycroft and Watts started out as friends was great to see, but I also liked the fact that once they realised they liked each other, there wasn’t too much wailing and angst. They just got on with the kissing.

* The family dynamics are interesting. Watts’s parents are semi-present (as is traditional in YA) due to them being shiftworkers, but they do come together when they realise something is going on. Her brother, Mike, is more present than they are, and provides some familial guidance. (Mycroft on the other hand … the poor boy. I wanted to take him in and feed him.)

* It’s Australian! Obviously I knew this going in, given that’s why I picked it up, but it is so Australian, without straying into the stereotypical Crocodile Dundee drawl so few of us actually use. (There were “cuppas” and “uni”, but not “sheila” and “cobber”, if you know what I’m saying.)

The main thing I didn’t like about the book was actually the blurb. (Did “a night at the zoo” have some special meaning I wasn’t aware of? Also, why mention the lions? Why not leave that to be a surprise?!) I am also not a huge fan of the cover, although I don’t hate it.

Summary: Ellie Marney has game, and I’ll definitely read the next book to see what happens next.

Five stars


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!


Australian Women Writers Challenge – 2016 wrap up

AWW2016he Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is part of a world-wide movement to raise awareness of excellent writing by women. It helps readers to challenge the subconscious stereotypes that govern our choice of books to read. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only.

This is my third year doing the Australian Women Writers challenge — I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 15 books, the same as I achieved last year. Again, I managed to get there, but only by a hair’s breadth. Well, a day. Which could be construed as a hair in some circles, I suppose.

I also did the Goodreads challenge, which I completed a while back. I’ll do a post on that in the next day or two. (I don’t want too many posts in a row; given I’ve been AWOL lately, I don’t want to frighten you all!)

Here is a link to each review, as well as my star rating for each book. They are listed in chronological order.

You’ll note that the link to Undivided is to my review on Goodreads; I originally reviewed the book a couple of years ago when it had another name, but I re-read it before I read Shattered. I updated the Goodreads review, but not the one on the blog. You’ll also note that I couldn’t find a paperback cover anywhere for The Firebird (which I listened to as an audiobook, or I would’ve scanned it!). This fact still pains me… :S

It has been a good year. I can’t wait to see what awesome books I discover in 2017!


Australian Women Writers Challenge – 2015 wrap up

aww-badge-2015The Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is part of a world-wide movement to raise awareness of excellent writing by women. It helps readers to challenge the subconscious stereotypes that govern our choice of books to read. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only.

This is my second year doing the Australian Women Writers Challenge — last year I read and reviewed eleven books by Aussie women, so this year I decided to up my goal to fifteen. Yesterday in the wee small hours of the night, and just in the nick of time, I finished my final book!

This was one of three reading challenges I signed up to this year. The other two were a diverse genres one (again for Australian writers), which I didn’t quite achieve, and the general Goodreads challenge, which I did. As Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad…

Here is a link to each review, as well as my star rating for each book:

I’ve discovered some awesome new-to-me authors this year (such as Ellie Marney, Melissa Keil and Allyse Near), as well as revelling in new releases by some old favourites (such as Kate Forsyth, Paula Weston and the Aussie Owned and Read girls).

It’s been a good year. 🙂