Review: ‘Silver and Stone’ by Felicity Banks

Getting into prison is easy.
Getting out is hard.
Getting away is nearly impossible.
Getting the power to control your own destiny might cost everything you have.

Emmeline, Matilda, and Patrick are sworn to rescue Patrick’s mother from the infamous Female Factory prison, but when a vengeful police officer tracks down their hideout, things get worse fast.

Soon they’re framed for a double murder and fighting a magical monster in the eerie and unfamiliar island of Tasmania. Patrick’s mother hides crucial papers in a tin under her prison smock, and her best friend Fei Fei is dying in the overcrowded prison.

More than one woman’s life hangs in the balance.

This book is number two in the trilogy The Antipodean Queen; I reviewed the first book, Heart of Brasshere. A lot of what I said there is still true of Silver and Stone: it is a fast-paced story set in a parallel world to colonial Australia, one with steampunk technology and a slightly more modern feel in certain regards than was the reality — the author says in a note at the end that she wanted to write a tale that was fun, so she eased off on the worst of the grim racism and bigotry. But it wasn’t completely glossed over; there was still acknowledgement of some of the worse events in Australia’s history, such as the complete extermination of the Aboriginal people in Tasmania.

Emmeline is the narrator. She is a scientist and engineer in a world where metals can be activated and bestow certain abilities, and her passion for experimentation and discovery is enjoyable to see. Yet she is still quite the proper English woman in some ways. Although she’s an outlaw and a bandit, she can’t fathom the idea that she might choose not to wear a full dress, for example, and although she and Matilda are a couple, she gets very flustered at the other woman’s more casual approach to nudity. In a fight, Emmeline does tend to expect someone else to rescue her rather than rescuing herself — but, undermining the ‘damsel in distress’ trope a little, the one doing the rescuing is usually Matilda.

Did I mention that I love Matilda? She’s a feisty woman whose mother is Aboriginal and  father English. She is clearly struggling to find her place a world that doesn’t quite no what to do with her, but at the same time, she’s not afraid to just be who she is. I also loved seeing Emmeline gradually growing more bold, following Matilda’s example.

The story flows quickly, with the characters barely having a chance to rest between one adventure and the next. Some of the things they get up to would be impossible in our world, but I didn’t have trouble suspending my disbelief given that our world also doesn’t have steel corsets that give a woman the strength of a man, or aluminium that, when affixed to an item, neutralises its weight. However, the story focuses less on the characters’ emotions and more on what happens next. I would have liked a bit more emotional depth.

As with Heart of Brass, the last 100 pages or so of the paperback are devoted to a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style story. This one is from the perspective of Patrick’s mother, as she waits for Patrick to rescue her from the Female Factory. I really enjoyed that!

The last book in the series comes out later this year, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for it.

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Cover reveal and excerpt: ‘Honest Love’ by Lauren K. McKellar

It will be no surprise to people who’ve read the last few reviews on my blog that I am a huge fan of Lauren K. McKellar’s writing. She lets the reader experience her characters’ emotions (as she puts those characters through hell!) like no other. Well, I was lucky enough in the last week or so to get to read the first few chapters of her impending release, Honest Love, and then I couldn’t help but sign up for the cover reveal.

Keep scrolling, you guys — not just for cover-y goodness but for an excerpt.

Title: Honest Love (Twisted Duet #1)
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release: March 8, 2018
Cover design: BE Designs

Cover

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Blurb

When you’ve got nothing left to live for, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

In one tragic moment, Cameron Lewis lost everything. His fiancée. His unborn child. His perfect life.

Now, he does what needs to be done in order to get by. Work hard. Play it safe. They’re his mottos, and he’s not going to break them.

Until a beautiful woman with the ocean in her eyes and freedom in her soul comes to his rescue. She’s never known the kind of tragedy he has—and that’s what makes her so damn appealing.

But can Cameron finally let go and risk that last piece of himself? Will honest love be enough?

 

Excerpt

I staggered onto the street, the chill of the late autumn air creeping into my bones. The yellow glow of speeding vehicles blurred into a long never-ending light.

“I’ll never let you go.”

I rubbed my thumb against the ring on my finger. Today was the day. The day he would have been born. The day our baby …

And then I saw her.

Red hair curling down her back.

A white dress, billowing in the breeze.

She was about ten feet ahead in a group of three. Two other women I didn’t know.

My chest tightened. My throat constricted.

I grabbed at the wall of the building next to me, but my hand couldn’t make purchase. It slammed against the ground, my body weight behind it, but I didn’t feel the sting, didn’t feel the pain.

Bea.

“Wait!” I pushed to my feet, darting between shadows of people, my eyes on the red hair moving so far in front. “Please!”

I ran, my breath coming shorter. Too much whiskey. Too much love—both were the culprits and I didn’t give a damn. Because I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know why, but she was here. My Bea. She’d come back.

My feet pounded against the pavement, my soles slapping on the concrete. People turned to look, but for once, I didn’t care. Let them look. I wanted to laugh, a crazy, maniacal laugh. Let them look all they want.

Bea.

It was her.

I was sure of it.

It was her—

And then she turned around.

And for one glorious second, it was her. The woman I loved.

The woman I saw every time I closed my eyes, and sometimes when they were open, too.

The woman who’d own my heart forever.

“Hey,” she said.

But her voice—it wasn’t right.

I shook my head. No.

“Hey.” She tried again, but her smile was big. Too big.

Bea never smiled like that.

Nausea churned in my gut.

“Aren’t you that guy from the—”

Bile raced up my throat. I doubled over, clutching at my waist, and emptied the contents of my stomach into the gutter. Acid burnt the back of my tongue, and I coughed and spluttered, wiping at my mouth.

It wasn’t Bea.

No matter how many times I thought I’d seen her during the last six months, it was never Bea.

And as I stared at my own vomit, wanting her to be there, needing her to be there, I wished that just once I could pretend she was. That for one night, I could hold her in my arms again, stroke her long, red hair, and tell her everything would be all right.

“You guys go ahead,” the redhead told her friends. She placed a cool hand on my back, bending to my level. “Are you okay?”

“No,” I croaked. “I was s’posed to be a father. Today.” My baby. I would have met my baby today. Our baby.

She gave a smaller smile this time, and damn, she looked like her. “My name’s Giselle.”

“I’m Cam.” I straightened, the world sliding as I overbalanced, then corrected myself. “I have to go …”

“No.” She linked her hand in mine. “Let me take care of you.”

And I shouldn’t have. But I was so tired of fighting, of blocking out the past, that I let her lead me to her hotel room, let her pour me another drink, let her take off my clothes.“We’re so incredibly lucky, babe.” I pressed a kiss to the soft skin of Bea’s neck.

“The luckiest.” She smiled up at me, tossing her hair out of her eyes. “The luckiest people in the world.”

Only, it turned out that we weren’t.

Because seven weeks after that positive pregnancy test, Bea died.

And I’d never let her go after that.

Author Bio

Lauren K. McKellar is a writer of contemporary romance reads that make you feel. This hybrid-published USA Today best-selling author loves writing books with stunning settings, heart-throb heroes, and leading ladies who overcome great hardships in their lives.

In addition to writing, Lauren loves to read, and you can often find her up at all hours of the night with a glass of wine, some chocolate, and a good book. She lives by the beach in New South Wales, Australia, with her husband, infant son, and their two dogs. Most of the time, all four of them are well behaved.

Website | FacebookTwitterInstagramGoodreads |  Amazon


Review: ‘Seeking Faith’ by Lauren K. McKellar

The inseparable are well and truly split.

Mack, Faith and Lacey, joined at the hip since they were kids, are about to graduate high school. You might think this sounds like a book about coming-of-age and taking that leap into adulthood.

It is — except one of them doesn’t make it …

Mackenzie Carter has one solid thing on the agenda for her future — get out of town and focus on her post-school studies. After all, she’s wanted to be a vet since she was a little girl, and nothing, not the thought of being apart from her two best mates or the idea that maybe she’s got more-than-friendly feelings for a sexy local surfer can alter that … can it?

Graduation changes everything.

Almost three years later, and Mack’s high school dreams are just that — figments of her imagination, thanks to the guilt that haunts her on a daily basis. Will a faux relationship with Byron Leckie be the thing she needs to get her life back on track? Or will it make everything worse?

One thing is for certain. When these two collide, the damage will be fierce. After all, graduation was never meant to end like this.

This is the second in the pair of companion novels that together comprise the Surfer’s Way series, parallel novels that look at the consequences of Faith’s death from the perspectives of her two best friends. I reviewed the first book, by Jennifer Ryder, here. (And if you’re flicking between the reviews, I recommend taking a moment to admire the cover art. The use of the same stock image has been so cleverly done here — it ties the two books together but is sufficiently different that you don’t get confused. I love it!)

I adored Seeking Faith. Mackenzie is a character struggling with guilt, forbidden love and a lack of direction that leaves her surviving rather than living, cut off from everyone she loves. Despite all this, when we first meet her, she isn’t flat and defeated — she still has the spark that defines her. I was cheering for her from the first chapter.

Her relationship with Byron evolves through both flashbacks and current day events, so that we get to see how they came to fall in love and be pulled apart. While Losing Faith (the other book in the series) is the story that tells you who killed Faith, Seeking Faith is the one that gives you the real, tangled backstory behind the events of graduation night.

Poor Lacey almost seems naive once you understand the full story.

As a writer, I’m amazed at the craft that has gone into these two books, that they each have their own puzzle and that neither one spoils the main secrets for the other. I take my hat off to both authors. Also, McKellar has this amazing knack for drawing you into her characters. She takes “show, don’t tell” to a whole new level. I’m in awe.

Like Losing Faith, Seeking Faith has some steamy sex scenes, so that’s something to be aware of if you’re worried about — or looking for — that sort of thing. It also has action, enough mystery to keep me (someone who isn’t normally a romance reader) hooked, and a hot leading man. What more do you need?


Review: ‘Losing Faith’ by Jennifer Ryder

The inseparable are well and truly split.

Mack, Faith and Lacey, joined at the hip since primary school, are about to graduate high school. You might think this sounds like a book about coming-of-age and taking that leap into adulthood.

It is — except one of them doesn’t make it …

Lacey Marone had two solid things on her agenda for her future — working in the Pepperoni Palace until she figured out what the hell to do with her life, and getting together with her bestie’s older brother, Quade, who she’s crushed on since she was a kid.

Then graduation night changed everything. Almost three years later, Lacey won’t rest until she discovers the truth surrounding Faith’s death. She’s outcast by those who want to move on from the tragedy, as if the town’s sweetheart never existed.

Years after losing Faith, Quade Kelly returns home to Runaway Beach, determined to mend ties with his parents and cement a future in his hometown teaching at the local primary school. Quade soon learns that his sister’s ghost lives on, thanks to Lacey, the girl who still owns a piece of his heart.

Lacey is hung up on her quest for answers. Quade wants to bury his failures of the past. The pull between them can’t be denied but can the past be forgotten?

Truths will be uncovered and hearts will be cracked open wide. After all, graduation was never meant to end like this.

Losing Faith is one of a pair of companion novels; the other is Seeking Faith by Lauren K. McKellar, which follows Mack’s story. I am a huge fan of McKellar’s work, so I bought the pair and — on advance — read Losing Faith first. (You really seem to be able to read them in either order, but Losing Faith really whets your appetite for wondering what on earth Mack’s deal is!)

If I had to describe this book in one sentence it would be “love after tragedy in a sleepy coastal town”. I think I went into it expecting it to be a little bit more of a murder mystery than it was — Lacey is obsessed with finding the person responsible for Faith’s death in a hit-and-run accident, and with preventing something similar happening to anyone else. But her investigation doesn’t really have any sort of momentum within the book (understandably, as it’s three years later and any leads have petered out). It’s only when the clues are shoved under her nose that she puts everything together, well after I suspect most reads would have.

The romance between Lacey and Quade develops fairly quickly, but it doesn’t feel like insta-love because they have a long history of wanting to hook up from earlier in their relationship. The sex scenes are plentiful and also steamy (so be warned if that’s not your thing — though they get a big thumbs up from me). There is also a fair dose of the sort of humour you get in real life: foot cramps and mosquitoes and interrupting phone calls. I liked that realistic element, and that the book didn’t take itself too seriously.

The reason I’ve given Losing Faith 3.5 stars rather than a higher rating is that, for some reason, I didn’t connect with this story and its emotions as much as I wanted to or probably should have. I spent a couple of days after I finished it trying to figure out why, and I can’t put my finger on any one thing. The writing is good and Lacey is an enjoyable character to follow. I don’t normally read pure romance (McKellar’s work notwithstanding), so this might be an “it’s not you, it’s me” thing.

Still, 3.5 is a solid “I liked it”, and if you love romance by the beach and a hint of mystery, then this is definitely one for you to check out.


Review: ‘The Last Days of Us’ by Beck Nicholas

Five teens, one derelict Kombi and an unforgettable road trip…

Six months ago, Zoey’s life went off the rails. After the tragic loss of her brother, she partied her way to oblivion, estranged her best friend, Cass, and pushed away her now ex, Finn. But when her destructive behaviour reaches dangerous heights, Zoey realises she needs to pull herself together and get her old life back, including her ex. There’s just one complication: Finn is now dating Cass.

Now, it’s the last week of summer and Zoey, Cass and Finn are setting out on the road trip of a lifetime to see their favourite musician, Gray, perform live, joined by Finn’s infuriatingly attractive bad-boy cousin Luc and his vibrant younger sister Jolie. Zoey thinks this is her chance to put things to rights and convince Finn they should get back together. But she wasn’t counting on her friends’ lingering resentment, Luc’s disarming sincerity, and Jolie’s infectious love for life to turn her plans upside down.

I bought this book yesterday, and finished it last night (well, technically this morning — it was after midnight). That’s something that never happens to me these days, so I needed you to know that upfront. I mean, I’ve owned this book for so short a time that I haven’t even taken a bookstagram pic of it to go with this review yet!

While some of the speed with which I read it is due to the relatively short length of this young adult contemporary, especially compared to the last book I reviewed here on the blog, most of it is due to Nicholas’s accessible writing style and the natural momentum of a road trip story.

But The Last Days of Us isn’t just any road trip story. Firstly, it’s Australian, set on the road between Adelaide and Melbourne as the characters travel there to see the musician Grey in concert. That has particular appeal for me, because — although that’s not a drive I’ve done myself — I’ve seen photos of a lot of the landmarks that the teens visit. It’s always self-affirming to see your own world in fiction.

Secondly, The Last Days of Us is a powerful exploration of grief and grieving. As the blurb says, Zoey is trying to piece her life back together after losing herself in alcohol and wild parties following her brother’s death. She has broken up with her boyfriend, has grown distant from her best friend (who is now dating her boyfriend, so that seems fair), and is estranged from her parents. She can see that her life is a mess, but the only way she can see to fix it is to try and return to the “old” Zoey, the one she was before Dan died. She tries to do this in a very literal sense — same haircut, same fashion sense, same boyfriend.

Some may find Zoey’s intention to get between Cass and Finn a little shocking, but it didn’t prevent me from being able to get behind her as a character. For a start, Zoey isn’t particularly nefarious about it. She doesn’t set out to directly sabotage Cass with Finn. She instead tries to reconnect with him, show him that the old Zoey is back (even if she’s not and never can be), and see if that is enough. Also, it’s clear from the beginning that Finn is a terrible choice for Zoey (and probably for Cass), so I guess I never expected Zoey’s scheme to go very far.

I’m not going to lie, those moments in the first half of the book where she tries to orchestrate things so she can talk to Finn alone are awkward as anything. But, here’s the thing — I found them so cringey because I remember how, when I was seventeen, I tried to arrange things so I could be with a crush. Not one that had a girlfriend, admittedly, but I was just about as ham-fisted about it as Zoey. I could really relate to her in that regard.

There are other elements of grief in the story, ones I won’t get into because of spoilers. They are fairly well telegraphed, and play out as you might expect — but that didn’t make them any less heartbreaking. Still, the scene that made me cry is one that is all Zoey, mourning for her brother. Her grief is so raw.

The relationship that develops between Zoey and Luc is sweet, and didn’t feel rushed despite the relatively short timeframe in which most of the book takes place. He is perceptive, is sweet without being a pushover when Zoey is rude to him, and provides an excellent foil for the shallowness that is Finn. Cass is a little more problematic as a character — she clearly struggles with having Zoey back on the scene and is insecure about her relationship with Finn, but she resorts to some pretty low comments for a supposed best friend. (She and Finn try to slut-shame Zoey, which did make me want to punch them a little bit.)

The other thing I really loved about this book was Grey, the teen musician they are travelling to see. He’s only in a couple of scenes, but excerpts from his songs (written by the author, obviously) are at the start of each chapter, so his fingerprints are throughout. His music leans towards tortured and broody, so the excerpts are a nice note … so to speak.

Definitely check out The Last Days of Us for an easy  but compelling summer read.


My 2017 in review

This is the first time I’ve sat down to write one of these year in review posts where I’ve felt like my successes have been qualified. Where I haven’t felt as proud of myself as in previous years.

On writing

The Lucid Dreaming duology, as endorsed by (my) Lara Croft (PopVinyl)

I finished writing, edited and self-published False Awakening, the second book in the Lucid Dreaming duology. But, since then, I haven’t managed to start my next novel, and my promo efforts have been lackluster at best.

I have done other things; I wrote and submitted a short story for an anthology (which I’m still waiting to hear back about), and this month I’ve been working on a novella I originally wrote more than ten years ago. But I had this huge period in the middle of the year where it felt like I didn’t achieve much of anything.

A lot of that was due to real-life pressures. My work has been short-staffed all year, and insanely busy since May. I edit for a living, as I’ve said before, and the idea of coming home and sitting in front of a PC after sitting in front of a PC all day was just too exhausting. As a result, I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing. Blog posts and reviews, sure, but books? Not so much.

I’ve been working on that over the last couple of months, though not with a novel (yet). Still, I will definitely have a couple of releases for you this year. Woohoo!

On reading

This is the first year since I started doing the Goodreads and Australian Women Writers challenges that I haven’t quite met me goals. For the Goodreads one, I set a goal of 40 and read 31. And for the Australian Women Writers challenge, I set a goal of 15 and read 11. At least I got close in both, right? (Right?)

A lot of the blame here goes to Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. When I set my Goodreads goal, I didn’t anticipate discovering (and adoring) this series, and each of these books is over 1000 pages. That’s three regular novels for one Stormlight one. I’m currently listening to the audiobook of the third one in the series, and the download is available in five parts. FIVE. If I hadn’t been reading them, I would have nailed my goal, for sure! 😉

Goodreads produced a handy summary, an extract of which is below. If you’re desperate to stalk my reading (and why wouldn’t you be?!), you can find the rest of the blog post here.

My 2017 reads

My resolutions

In light of all this, my writing resolutions for 2018 are very straightforward:

  • Do better.
  • Forgive myself at times I don’t do better.

I figure that’s pretty comprehensive!

What about you? How did you do with your reading (and, if applicable, writing) in 2017? Tell me your triumphs, or commiserate with me on your woes. ❤


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!