Review: ‘A Tangle of Gold’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Kingdom of Cello is in crisis. Princess Ko’s deception has been revealed and the Elite have taken control, placing the Princess, Samuel and Sergio under arrest and ordering their execution. Elliot is being held captive by the Hostiles and Colour storms are raging through the land. The Cello Wind has been silent for months.

Plans are in place to bring the remaining Royals home from the World but then all communication between Cello and the World will cease. That means Madeleine will lose Elliot, forever.

Madeleine and Elliot must solve the mystery of Cello before it is too late.

A Tangle of Gold is the final book in The Colours of Madeline trilogy by Aussie author Jaclyn Moriarty. You can find my first two reviews here and here. I commented in my review of the second book that the series title didn’t quite work for me, because Madeline’s parts of the story in the first two books were the less engaging parts.

It’s fair to say that, in the third book, Madeline finally comes into her own. I can’t say much more than that, because it’d be spoiler-tastic, but at last she becomes more than bizarre homeschooling, her mother’s illness, and her quirky friends.  Events in Cello rather than in the World (what they refer to Earth as) are definitely where the story is at, and they drive events. But there’s a lot more crossover, not just a parking metre-based postal service, so the World side of things gets a lot more interesting.

There are things that you need to know about these books if you are considering giving them a go:

  • Moriarty’s prose is beautiful. It’s lyrical and strange at times, but always beautiful. I’m sad that she never truly described the Cello Wind (which is alluded to often but remains off camera, so to speak). It would have been glorious.
  • Her world-building is astonishingly detailed. As a result, sometimes the story feels like it’s dragging a little, but things are always happening — even if their significance doesn’t become clear till later. Which brings me to…
  • The plot twists. OMG. There are things resolved in the third book that were delicately foreshadowed in the first. And some of these twists blindsided me. I usually guess or at least suspect in the right direction of plot twists, but I was way off base on this one, several times.

If you have the patience to read three 500-page books, and love parallel world stories with a truly unique alternate world and intense, intellectual and quirky characters, then this is the series for you.


Review: ‘The Cracks in the Kingdom’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

Princess Ko’s been bluffing about the mysterious absence of her father, desperately trying to keep the government running on her own. But if she can’t get him back in a matter of weeks, the consequence may be a devastating war. So under the guise of a publicity stunt she gathers a group of teens — each with a special ability — from across the kingdom to crack the unsolvable case of the missing royals of Cello.

Chief among these is farm-boy heartthrob Elliot Baranski, more determined than ever to find his own father. And with the royal family trapped in the World with no memory of their former lives, Elliot’s value to the Alliance is clear: He’s the only one with a connection to the World, through his forbidden communications with Madeleine.

Through notes, letters, and late nights, Elliot and Madeleine must find a way to travel across worlds and bring missing loved ones home. The stakes are high, and the writing by turns hilarious and suspenseful, as only Jaclyn Moriarty can be.

This is the second book in The Colours of Madeline trilogy by Sydney writer Jaclyn Moriarty. I finished it last weekend, and it’s taken me a while to sit down to write a review — largely because it took me more than a month to read, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on why.

Other than general life busyness and the danger of reading hardcover books in bed when you’re tired (ow), the obvious reason is that all the books in this series are quite long (and also heavy — ow). This one is almost 500 pages, and maybe my attention span isn’t what it used to be, but it just seemed like a lot. If you’ve read the first book in the series (or my review of same), you will know that the series is a parallel world tale where one of the two main characters, Madeline, is in England while the other is a boy named Elliot who lives in a magical modern-day equivalent of Earth that is called Cello. Moriarty puts a lot of work into world-building as far as Cello goes. Like, a lot. There are extracts from guide books, for example, and newspaper clippings, as well as the letters that the blurb mentions. They are relevant to the story, but gosh there are a lot of them!

There were some parts of the story that dragged and — despite the name of the trilogy — they are almost all Madeline’s sections. She doesn’t have as much to do in the second story other than live her quirky life, post some letters, and be increasingly interested in Elliot, who is (apparently) forever unattainable.

Elliot on the other hand is a very interesting character, as are the other members of the Royal Youth Alliance, Ko, Kiera, Sergio and Samuel. I far enjoyed reading about their meetings and efforts to rescue the royal family. That’s where all the action in the book is. (Sorry, Madeline.)

I realise this review might seem lukewarm, but I really did enjoy most of it — hence the four stars! I went straight into the last book in the series, and I’m hoping I can get it done more quickly than this one. 😉


This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’ve been doing a round robin series of interviews. I was interviewed by the lovely Heather Bosevski; you can find it here. I on the other hand interviewed spec fic author Sharon M. Johnston, and you can find that one here


Review: ‘The Wife Drought’ by Annabel Crabb

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‘I need a wife.’

It’s a common joke among women juggling work and family. But it’s not actually a joke. Having a spouse who takes care of things at home is a Godsend on the domestic front. It’s a potent economic asset on the work front. And it’s an advantage enjoyed – even in our modern society – by vastly more men than women.

Working women are in an advanced, sustained, and chronically under-reported state of wife drought, and there is no sign of rain.

But why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Why don’t men get the same flexibility that women do? In our fixation on the barriers that face women on the way into the workplace, do we forget about the barriers that – for men – still block the exits?

The Wife Drought is about women, men, family and work. Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia.

Crabb’s call is for a ceasefire in the gender wars. Rather than a shout of rage, The Wife Drought is the thoughtful, engaging catalyst for a conversation that’s long overdue.

I’ve had a bit of a crush on journalist Annabel Crabb for years, something that was crystalised when I saw her speak at an event last year. She’s an incredibly engaging and intelligent speaker, both funny and charming. At the time, the audiobook of The Wife Drought wasn’t yet available, and I never quite got around to buying the paperback. I was therefore very excited at the end of last month to discover that the audiobook had finally been released and that Annabel herself was the narrator.

The Wife Drought is both demoralising and insightful, often at the same time. It defines a “wife” as a part time or stay at home partner who does the bulk of the domestic duties — cleaning, school drop offs, dealing with tradies — so as to free the other partner up to pursue earning a crust. A “wife” can be a man by this definition, but the truth is that it is almost always a woman. And it’s a huge economic benefit to have one.

Annabel is a journalist, and you can see her thoroughness in this book: she draws on a number of studies that talk about pay gap trends, division of housework, divorce rates in relationships where women become suddenly successful, women in politics, social expectations on both the husband and the wife*, and much more. Interspersed throughout are often lighthearted and always illustrative anecdotes. A lot of the conclusions she draws seemed obvious to me once she’d pointed them out, but as I haven’t read a lot of feminist literature they were a bit of a revelation.

(* Note that this book is about the male and female partner dynamic. While Annabel acknowledges the wonderfully diverse society that we live in, The Wife Drought tackles the most common relationship structure. I am a single parent — no wife for me! — and I still found it fascinating.)

As one example, the book considers the idea that women are better at raising kids in light of the concept of specialisation and the human tendency to seek the most efficient or economical solution. Given that women usually stay at home with the baby in the first few months, they are the ones who get the early child-rearing experience. It’s not that they are genetically predisposed towards changing nappies; they just get more practice. As for why they stay home, Annabel points to the typical difference in pay between a man and a woman as the primary explanation. (She doesn’t touch at all on the push for women to breastfeed and how difficult that can be if a woman returns to work, which I thought was a curious omission.)

Another point that Annabel makes is that the expectation that fathers will go back to work after their children are born and, if anything, work even harder to support them is actually just as detrimental to dads and their relationship with their kids as it is to their wife’s career. The judgement (and condescending praise) heaped on men who do traditionally feminine childcare duties is a barrier to men who also want to “have it all”.

The overarching argument of the book is that women have seen a huge change in the way we get to live our lives. We are not banned from working while married anymore (yes, it used to be a thing). We are permitted — and often encouraged — to work and have children. But men haven’t seen a concurrent revolution in what society expects of them.

There isn’t an earth-shattering revelation for how to achieve this, of course. It’s a slow process, where men have to not only be given access to the same leave conditions but not be punished in the workplace for exercising the rights that they do have. The change is coming, enabled in part by the digital revolution and an increased ability to work from home. But it is slow.

Four stars


Review: ‘Untamed’ by A. G. Howard

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A post-Ensnared collection of three stories—available in both print and e-versions.

Alyssa Gardner went down the rabbit hole and took control of her destiny. She survived the battle for Wonderland and the battle for her heart. In this collection of three novellas, join Alyssa and her family as they look back at their memories of Wonderland.

In Six Impossible Things, Alyssa recalls the most precious moments of her life after Ensnared, and the role magic plays in preserving the happiness of those she loves. Alyssa’s mother reminisces about her own time in Wonderland and rescuing the man who would become her husband in The Boy in the Web. And Morpheus delves into Jeb’s memories of the events of Splintered in The Moth in the Mirror, available in print for the first time.

This collection expands upon Ensnared‘s epilogue, and includes some deleted scenes to provide a “director’s cut” glimpse into the past and futures of our favorite Splintered characters.

This book is set after the end of the Splintered trilogy, and contains three stories that reveal more about the world — about events that come after the end of Ensnared. As a result, it’s super-spoiler-y, and really won’t make sense if you don’t read the trilogy first. You can find my review of the first book in the series here, if you want to see whether it’s something you might be interested in.

Please note that the rest of my review does contain mild spoilers for the end of the trilogy; it’s more aimed at people who are familiar with the books and are deciding whether to pick up this compilation. Read on at your own peril.

The first story, The Boy in the Web, contains backstory about Alyssa’s parents and was sweet enough, though I really wanted more to happen.

The second, The Moth in the Mirrror, is a bit of a non-entity in that it’s some of Jeb’s story from the trilogy told through Morpheus’s eyes — and, yeah, I didn’t really like Jeb that much, so I could have lived without it.

The third one, Six Impossible Things, is the story that I was really keen to read: the transition from Alyssa’s life with Jeb to her life with Morpheus. I liked it best of the three stories, although all the reminiscing by the characters towards the front end of the story dragged a little.

A. G. Howard can write. Her prose is glorious. But this book felt a little bit like fanfiction, a “what comes after the happily ever after” story. I could live without it in the same way that I wasn’t a fan of the end of the Harry Potter series — I didn’t need to know what Harry named his kids, or what Alyssa and Jeb did. The original trilogy had action and tension, and there was almost none of the former and not as much of the latter as I would have liked.  What there was was a lot of “look how perfect their lives are”.

Also — bigger spoiler here — the way that Alyssa is made a virgin again after having three kids during her mortal life made me twitch. The way she seemed to forget how childbirth worked after having three kids made me roll my eyes. Morpheus loved her when she was frail and old, so why was it necessary that she have her “innocence” restored along with her youth? It erased her family and her womanhood in a very literal sense. Blah.

Untamed was nice enough. It was an easy read. But it didn’t wow me the way the original books did. While I’d still highly recommend the original trilogy, you can give this one a miss.

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Three stars

 


Review: ‘A Corner of White’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

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The first in a rousing, funny, genre-busting trilogy from bestseller Jaclyn Moriarty!

This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).

Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.

As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…

At the end of last year, fabulous teen blogger Emily Mead did a huge post with a mini-review of the 100+ books that she read in 2016. I added a bunch of books to my TBR pile as a result (curse you, Emily), and the first of these was A Corner of White.

This is actually quite a difficult book to review. It’s a parallel world story  (partly set in our world and partly in a fantastical other world — think Alice in Wonderland or, well, a bunch of other books). But it’s even more of a parallel world story than usual, in that the main characters, Madeline and Elliot, live very similar lives. Both live away from their fathers and are missing them. Both come to see what they believe are problematic elements of their fathers in their own personalities. Both of them are dissatisfied with their situation and want to leave it for one reason or another. Both are charming and loved by those around them.

But in some other ways, this book is quite baffling. I spent maybe the first third of it being dissatisfied and somewhat unengaged by Madeline’s real-world antics and her life, which was so quirky that it seemed, well, unrealistic. By comparison, Elliot’s life — in the magical kingdom of Cello — actually seemed more normal. Certainly he had more things going on than strange “homeschooling” classes and slightly deranged (albeit generally well-meaning) friends. His world and story were kept me guessing, whereas Madeline’s, well, didn’t.

If you’d asked me at 100 pages how I thought I’d be rating A Corner of White, it would have been three-star at best, despite the lovely prose and the unique world of Cello. Which made me sad, because I wanted to love it. Luckily for me, it turns out that once Moriarty got the bit in her teeth and got going, the story picked up and I raced through the rest of it. I didn’t see the plot twists coming, and I loved the way that Moriarty wove them all together at the end. I loved how Madeline’s introspective rambling about science and history drove Elliot nuts, but also taught him something valuable about his own world.

The way that the book ended, while not exactly cliff-hanger-y, definitely left me wanting more. Happily books two and three have already been released! Yay! (Now, hurry up, Mr Postman!)

Overall, this was a four-star read for me, based  on simple maths: three for the start, five for the end. I feel like Madeline would approve of that approach.

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Four stars


Bookstagramming Aussie books

Today on Instagram I decided (on a bit of a whim) to post pics of Aussie books. Because Aussie books are the prettiest — and they look even better when placed beside Funko PopVinyl figures (of which I have, err, rather a lot).

So, on a similar whim, I decided to share some of them here too. Taking bookstagram pics is one of my new favourite hobbies! I could post a ton more, but these are some of my most-recent photos. I decided to stick to those, primarily because I’m really digging this style of pic. Angles! Origami stars! Pops! Yay!

… and yes, I snuck a pic of some of my own books in there. I couldn’t resist. And it is a pretty picture! (In case you weren’t already aware, the first ebook in my Isla’s Inheritance trilogy is available for freeeee! The links are up there, at the top of the screen. *points*)

For my Australian friends, have an awesome public holiday … especially if you’re working. For everyone else, HAPPY THURSDAY!

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AussieOwned_ContributorToday over at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking why we love being an Aussie writer, and why we set our books where we do. Check it out!


Review: ‘Poison Fruit’ by Jacqueline Carey

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The Pemkowet Visitors Bureau has always promoted paranormal tourism — even if it has downplayed the risks (hobgoblins are unpredictable). It helps that the town is presided over by Daisy Johanssen, who as Hel’s liaison is authorized by the Norse goddess of the dead to keep Pemkowet under control. Normally, that’s easier to do in the winter, when bracing temperatures keep folks indoors.

But a new predator is on the prowl, and this one thrives on nightmares. Daisy is on her trail and working intimately with her partner and sometime lover from the Pemkowet PD, sexy yet unavailable werewolf Cody Fairfax. But even as the creature is racking up innocent victims, a greater danger looms on Pewkowet’s horizon.

As a result of a recent ghost uprising, an unknown adversary — represented by a hell-spawn lawyer with fiery powers of persuasion — has instigated a lawsuit against the town. If Pemkowet loses, Hel’s sovereignty will be jeopardized, and the fate of the eldritch community will be at stake. The only one who can prevent it is Daisy — but she’s going to have to confront her own worst nightmare to do it.

Poison Fruit is the third and apparently final book in the Agents of Hel series by unfairly talented speculative fiction writer Jacqueline Carey. You can read it as a stand-alone novel, but you’ll get more out of it if you read at least the previous book, if not the entire series.

Of course, I just reviewed the second book earlier this month, and a lot of what I said then is still true here. The love square has thinned down to a love triangle (and boy, what a triangle!), but we still have the chatty, cranky, awesome Daisy and her Scooby Gang friends.

Reading about them was like coming home.

For something different, here’s a handy list of different reasons I loved this book (and the series).

Things I loved about Poison Fruit

  • Daisy and her mother are so sweet with each other. Also, Daisy’s surrogate aunt, Lurine, is seriously badass but calls Daisy the most adorable pet names. I have a bit of a crush on Lurine, tbh.
  • Jen, Daisy’s best friend, makes with the best friend realtalk. And sends embarrassing texts on Daisy’s phone when they are drunk. So real.
  • There’s Cody and Stefan, who are the two other points of the love triangle. I had my personal favourite, however — and it wasn’t the one I’d usually go for. #TeamCody
  • When one of the love triangle points broke it off with Daisy and then got jealous, she told him not to be a jackass. Jealousy is not a sexy character trait, people!
  • Daisy screws up, sometimes in a very big way, but she owns it.
  • The supernatural community of Pemkowet is a big old jumble. I was going to say a melting pot, but there’s definitely no melting together here. There’s Hel, the Norse deity; a hell-spawn lawyer who works for the Greek diety, Hades; various cranky seelie fairies; a surprisingly chill unseelie bogle; a wonderfully diverse witch’s coven; and a ton more. It’s chaotic and nonsensical and I loved it!

Things I didn’t like as much

  • The book meanders and explores a few sub-plots while the big plot plays out sooooooo slooowly. About three-quarters of the way through I was, like, LET’S GET TO THE SHOWDOWN, PEOPLE! But then we did and it was glorious.

Read these books.

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Four stars