Review – ‘Jane & Edward: A Modern Reimagining of Jane Eyre’ by Melodie Edwards

TITLE: Jane & Edward: A Modern Reimagining of Jane Eyre
AUTHOR: Melodie Edwards
GENRE: Romance, Retellings
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 352 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Penguin Random House on March 21st, 2023
RRP$19.99 USD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

This powerful reimagining of Jane Eyre, set in a modern-day law firm, is full of romance and hope as it follows the echoing heartbeats of the classic story.

A former foster kid, Jane has led a solitary life as a waitress in the suburbs, working hard to get by. Tired of years of barely scraping together a living, Jane takes classes to become a legal assistant and shortly after graduating accepts a job offer at a distinguished law firm in downtown Toronto. Everyone at the firm thinks she is destined for failure because her boss is the notoriously difficult Edward Rosen, the majority stakeholder of Rosen, Haythe & Thornfield LLP. But Jane has known far worse trials and refuses to back down when economic freedom is so close at hand.

Edward has never been able to keep an assistant–he’s too loud, too messy, too ill-tempered. There’s something about the quietly competent, delightfully sharp-witted Jane that intrigues him though. As their orbits overlap, their feelings begin to develop–first comes fondness and then something more. But when Edward’s secrets put Jane’s independence in jeopardy, she must face long-ignored ghosts from her past and decide if opening her heart is a risk worth taking.

Jane & Edward: A Modern Reimagining of Jane Eyre is exactly what it says on the tin—but that doesn’t convey the utter brilliance and remarkable competence with which debut author Melodie Edwards pulls off this retelling. Charlotte Brontë’s most popular novel has been adapted numerous times for various audiences, some hewing more closely to the source material than others which merely use it as loose inspiration, but Jane & Edward is truly a masterpiece that will set the bar impossibly high for other future retellings.

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ARC Review – ‘Flowerheart’ by Catherine Bakewell

TITLE: Flowerheart
AUTHOR: Catherine Bakewell
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 352 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Harper Collins on March 14th, 2023
RRP$19.99 USD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

Perfect for fans of Margaret Rogerson and Tamora Pierce, this standalone YA debut is a stunning cottagecore fantasy romance about a girl with powerful and violent magic, which she must learn to control—or lose everything she loves.

Clara’s magic has always been wild. But it’s never been dangerous. Then a simple touch causes poisonous flowers to bloom in her father’s chest.

The only way to heal him is to cast an extremely difficult spell that requires perfect control. And the only person willing to help is her former best friend, Xavier, who’s grown from a sweet, shy child into a mysterious and distant young man.

Xavier names a terrible price in return, knowing Clara will give anything to save her father. As she struggles to reconcile the new Xavier with the boy she once loved, she discovers their bargain is only one of the heavy secrets he’s hiding. And as she hunts for the truth, she instead finds the root of a terrible darkness that’s taken hold in the queendom—a darkness only Clara’s magic is powerful enough to stop.

I enjoyed this one! Lovely, lush writing, the focus on flowers made it vivid and dreamy (except when the flowers evoked body horror, that was viscerally terrifying!) and I liked how it was a cozy low-stakes fantasy. No cliche Chosen One versus Dark One, this is a charming alternative which focuses on the heroine’s struggles with her magic and a potion wreaking havoc in her community. 

The casual queerness is very welcome, it shouldn’t be groundbreaking, but I’m always happy to see it. There’s no homophobia in this world, it’s not unusual to be attracted to/married to someone of the same sex. Transgender characters aren’t as common because Robin mentions being happy to have a transgender mentor who understands them, but again, no transphobia or angst over it which is a relief.

I love the overall theme of overcoming negative self-talk, pushing past your anxiety and having confidence in yourself to achieve your goals. There’s also an emphasis on experiencing your emotions both good and bad, rather than bottling it up or suppressing it, and how crying can be healing which I appreciated.

Disclaimer: digital copy provided free from the publisher for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

ARC Review – ‘Planning Perfect’ by Haley Neil

TITLE: Planning Perfect
AUTHOR: Haley Neil
GENRE: YA Contemporary, LGBTQ+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 336 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Bloomsbury on February 14th, 2023
RRP$19.99 USD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

In this charming, heartfelt YA romcom about being on the asexual spectrum, a girl tries to craft the perfect wedding for her mother but discovers that sometimes the best parts of life can’t be planned.

​Felicity Becker loves watching an event come together. Whether it’s prom, graduation, or just the annual Arbor Day school dance, there’s something magical about crafting an experience that people will remember. So when her mom gets engaged, Felicity sees the wedding as the perfect opportunity to show off her skills.

​After Felicity’s long-distance friend Nancy offers up her family’s apple orchard as a venue, wedding planning gets even better. But the more time Felicity and Nancy spend together dress shopping and hunting for just-right mismatched china, the more it starts to seem like there might be something besides friendship between them. Felicity isn’t sure how she feels. As someone on the asexuality spectrum, what would dating even look like for her? And would Nancy be open to dating when Felicity doesn’t even know what she wants from a relationship?

​Suddenly the summer is a lot more complicated. Especially when Felicity finds out that one of the wedding guests is an event planner with a prestigious internship available. Can Felicity wrangle her irresponsible mom, juggle her judgmental grandmother, figure out her feelings for Nancy, and plan the perfect wedding? Or will all of her plans come crashing down around her?

Planning Perfect is an #OwnVoices YA contemporary novel about a Jewish teenager on the asexual spectrum. Felicity Becker has a Type A personality to rival Rory Gilmore, and her dynamic with her free-spirited, unconventional mother and uptight, controlling grandmother will ring a bell to anyone with a passing familiarity with the show—not a surprise as the author pitched this as ‘Gilmore Girls but make it Jewish’. Always armed with a plan, to-do list and matching Pinterest board, Felicity believes she can make life to conform to her rigidly outlined expectations, but when she fails to secure the coveted position as Junior Committee President of the Social Friends Committee, she falls into an anxiety spiral over the notion that she’s destroyed her future now that she only has the less impressive title of Chief of Moral Support to put on college applications. But when her mother becomes engaged, Felicity has a chance to salvage the situation with an internship up for grabs if she can pull off the perfect wedding…in forty-seven days.

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ARC Review – ‘What Lies In The Woods’ by Kate Alice Marshall

TITLE: What Lies In The Woods
AUTHOR: Kate Alice Marshall
GENRE: Thriller/Mystery
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 336 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Macmillan Books on January 17th, 2023
RRP$49.99 AUD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

They were eleven when they sent a killer to prison . . .
They were heroes . . . but they were liars.

Naomi Shaw used to believe in magic. Twenty-two years ago, she and her two best friends, Cassidy and Olivia, spent the summer roaming the woods, imagining a world of ceremony and wonder. They called it the Goddess Game. The summer ended suddenly when Naomi was attacked. Miraculously, she survived her seventeen stab wounds and lived to identify the man who had hurt her. The girls’ testimony put away a serial killer, wanted for murdering six women. They were heroes.

And they were liars.

For decades, the friends have kept a secret worth killing for. But now Olivia wants to tell, and Naomi sets out to find out what really happened in the woods—no matter how dangerous the truth turns out to be.

What Lies In The Woods is a childhood secret concealed by trauma, deception and despair. It’s a gruesome discovery improbably folded into a fanciful kids’ game that makes innocent girls complicit in something darker than they realize. It’s the scene of a horrifying attack that causes ripple effects still impacting on people over two decades later and setting in motion something unstoppable and deadly.

It’s the debut adult novel by Kate Alice Marshall who proves to be just as accomplished in this arena as she has been with her previous YA horror books. This time around, she steers away from the supernatural eeriness that’s become her trademark and instead delves deeper into the horrors of the human psyche with richer and more complex characterization on offer. This isn’t to suggest that YA novels lack complexity, but there is a lot more to mine from a character in her thirties with a whole host of mental and behavioural issues stemming from surviving a brutal attack in her childhood! Our protagonist Naomi self-medicates with alcohol and a destructive taste in relationships to repress memories she believes are better off left unexamined, but the death of the man she helped to convict inevitably unearths hidden truths and skeletons buried in her youth.

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Book Review – ‘The Killing Code’ by Ellie Marney

TITLE: The Killing Code
AUTHOR: Ellie Marney
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction, LGBT, Thriller
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 384 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Allen & Unwin on September 20th, 2022
RRP$41.99 AUD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

Virginia, 1943: World War II is raging in Europe and on the Pacific front when Kit Sutherland is recruited to help the war effort as a codebreaker at Arlington Hall, a former girls’ college now serving as the site of a secret US Signals Intelligence facility in Virginia. But Kit is soon involved in another kind of fight: Government girls are being brutally murdered in Washington DC, and when Kit stumbles onto a bloody homicide scene, she is drawn into the hunt for the killer.
To find the man responsible for the gruesome murders and bring him to justice, Kit joins forces with other female codebreakers at Arlington Hall—gossip queen Dottie Crockford, sharp-tongued intelligence maven Moya Kershaw, and cleverly resourceful Violet DuLac from the segregated codebreaking unit. But as the girls begin to work together and develop friendships—and romance—that they never expected, two things begin to come clear: the murderer they’re hunting is closing in on them…and Kit is hiding a dangerous secret.

THE KILLING CODE is the latest thriller by Ellie Marney focusing on a group of female codebreakers at Arlington Hall who join together to catch the man responsible for the death of their friends. 

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but as a fan of this author’s previous book NONE SHALL SLEEP, I had to check it out and was hooked immediately. To be clear, it’s not similar to NSS which had a laser-sharp focus on the criminal investigation and serial killer profiling without any romance, but the characters we meet here are just as well-written, endearing and easy to invest in. I enjoyed how the criminal profiling element was brought up again in a relevant context as the girls apply their skills at code-breaking to identify the murderer. They weren’t twisted into pretzels to act like FBI profilers which would’ve been unrealistic, but used their innate intelligence, training and connections in their investigation.

It blows my mind how much research the author put into writing this book and incorporating historical details, I particularly loved the quotes at the start of each chapter from one of the real-life World War II Code Girls which made it feel more immersive. I admit I did have to google victory rolls and why Kit was drawing on stocking seams, which others will probably be more familiar with, but I enjoyed picking up these little tidbits of life in their day. The fashion was very on-point and helped the characters pop off the page! 

My favorite element was the romance between Kit and Moya which was very sweet and wholesome. In the middle of all the tension with the war, murders and Kit concealing her real identity, it was a lovely shining arc and I’m relieved they had a happy ending so have no fear on that front! Aside from the sapphic romance, the book developed wonderful strong friendships between the core four ladies who were each other’s biggest supporters and cheerleaders. 

Fun, empowering and fascinating – a delight to read!

Book Review – ‘The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches’ by Sangu Mandanna

TITLE: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches
AUTHOR: Sangu Mandanna
GENRE: Paranormal Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 336 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Penguin Random House on August 23rd, 2022
RRP$41.57 AUD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

A warm and uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family–and a new love–changes the course of her life.

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for….

From the moment you read its title, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches gives off a particular vibe—quirky, wry, humorous. Its first page cements this impression as we take in Mika Moon’s musings about the titular secret society of witches without a name, for whom she decides to create a series of improbable names in order to irritate the prim and proper head witch Primrose. It perfectly encapsulates the overall atmosphere of this book featuring a charming witty heroine who is part of an ancient order with traditions that she bucks against in a low-stakes feelgood paranormal fantasy.

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ARC Review – ‘Belladonna’ by Adalyn Grace

TITLE: Belladonna
AUTHOR: Adalyn Grace
GENRE: YA Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 416 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Little Brown and Company on August 30th, 2022
RRP$28.56 AUD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace brings to life a highly romantic, Gothic-infused world of wealth, desire, and betrayal.

Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.

However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine. 

Belladonna is the first in a new series by New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace, who is well-known for her duology All the Stars and Teeth. Her previous series was set in a fantasy world with intricate magic, mermaids, and pirates, but Belladonna positions itself in a more down-to-earth Victorian-inspired setting. However don’t make the mistake of picturing Bridgerton as this Gothic-inspired murder mystery with paranormal romantic fantasy elements is more along the lines of Crimson Peak meets Stalking Jack The Ripper.

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Book Review – ‘The Thousand Eyes’ by A.K. Larkwood

TITLE: The Thousand Eyes
AUTHOR: A.K. Larkwood
GENRE: Fantasy, LGBT+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 385 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Macmillan Publishers on February 15th, 2022
RRP$39.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

The sequel to A. K. Larkwood’s stunning debut fantasy, The Unspoken NameThe Thousand Eyes continues The Serpent Gates series–perfect for fans of Jenn Lyons, Joe Abercrombie, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Two years ago, Csorwe and Shuthmili defied the wizard Belthandros Sethennai and stole his gauntlets. The gauntlets have made Shuthmili extraordinarily powerful, but they’re beginning to take a sinister toll on her. She and Csorwe travel to a distant world to discover how to use the gauntlets safely, but when an old enemy arrives on the scene, Shuthmili finds herself torn between clinging to her humanity and embracing eldritch power.

Meanwhile, Tal Charossa returns to Tlaanthothe to find that Sethennai has gone missing. As well as being a wizard of unimaginable power, Sethennai is Tal’s old boss and former lover, and Tal wants nothing to do with him. When a magical catastrophe befalls the city, Tal tries to run rather than face his past, but soon learns that something even worse may lurk in the future. Throughout the worlds of the Echo Maze, fragments of an undead goddess begin to awaken, and not all confrontations can be put off forever…

The Unspoken Name was a delightfully mesmerising 2020 debut that combined epic fantasy and space opera to offer an outstanding and original tale focused on an Orc priestess-turned-mercenary who is taken under the wing of a powerful sorcerer. It’s a densely packed tome of action-adventure, complex mythology and murky politics with ever-shifting dynamics as characters alternately ally with and betray one another. You won’t be able to pick up The Thousand Eyes without having read the first book!

While you might benefit from a re-read before delving into the sequel, I didn’t find it a hindrance to jump in unprepared—these beloved characters basically walk off the page with the familiarity of old friends and you’ll find yourself effortlessly sinking back into the lives of Csorwe, Shuthmili and Tal like the last two years passed in a mere instant. It really is an absolute joy to start the story off with the trio living together in peace and harmony—well, Csorwe and Shuthmili are sappily blissful together, but Csorwe and Tal get on best when they’re bickering and getting on each other’s nerves, which provides no end of entertainment. Of course this can’t last forever and after we’re caught up with the status quo, it’s not long before they’re getting into trouble and way in over their heads once more.

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Book Review – ‘Killer Content’ by Kiley Roache

TITLE: Killer Content
AUTHOR: Kiley Roache
GENRE: YA Thriller
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 336 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Penguin Books Australia on November 30th, 2021
RRP$16.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

Knives Out meets One of Us is Lying! In this paperback original thriller a group of famous TikTokers find themselves turning on each other when one member of the group turns up dead at their beachfront Malibu mansion.

35 million followers. One dead body.

The six teenagers who make up the Hype House seem to have it all. A beach front Malibu mansion, millions of TikTok followers, model good looks, and sponsorship deals up to $30,000 per post. Everything’s pretty much a Gen-Z paradise. Except that one member of the house has just turned up dead in the infinity pool. And the rest of them are suspects.

When the group TikTok account starts posting cryptic messages about the murder, the police limit their investigation to the members of the house. Now old joke videos are filed as evidence and past rivalries start to look like motives.

As investigators dig into these influencers’ lives beyond their glossy internet personalities, they discover all five had reasons their lives would’ve been easier with Sydney Reynolds dead. But only one of them killed her.

Underlined is a line of totally addictive romance, thriller, and horror paperback original titles coming to you fast and furious each month. Enjoy everything you want to read the way you want to read it. 

KILLER CONTENT is an entertaining YA thriller primarily set in a Malibu mansion where a teenager ends up dead, putting her fellow teen housemates under suspicion. 

The premise is unique and timely as it follows a group of TikTok famous teens who move into a glamorous location together to boost their collective fame and fortune. I’m not into TikTok myself (I’m old-school, okay, I can’t learn another platform), but given how much money can be made if a TikToker has a large enough following and can hook the right sponsors, it makes sense that the teens in this book are so obsessed with curating the perfect image to appeal to their fanbase. Love it or loathe it, social media has a massive, inescapable impact and I’m enjoying how fiction has gone from using teens hooked on apps as an easy punchline to developing them as legitimate three-dimensional characters with nuance and narrative arcs. 

Kat is the most relatable as a girl who got into the lifestyle by accident when her account blew up and she decided to explore where this could take her, but I also enjoyed Gwen who is allowed to be a shallow, girly-girl who likes nice things and uses her good looks climb the social ladder and acquire that rich cushy lifestyle she’s always dreamed of; plus I have a soft spot for Cami, the uptight type-A curvy girl who didn’t fit into the image prized by society and became driven to make a name for herself regardless so that she could be seen and validated. Of the two boys, Tucker is the stereotypical frat-boy douchey character and Beau is the sweet cinnamon roll too pure and precious. 

Chapters alternate between the different characters and different time periods, flitting from before and after the discovery of the dead body, fleshing out various social dynamics and revealing the secrets concealed by different group members. I do wish that the writing for the different chapters was tweaked to make it more distinctive so I didn’t have to double-check whose POV I was reading from as the girls’ voices blended together at times. And you’ll need a strong ability to suspend disbelief during the police investigation scenes because that wasn’t realistic at all (surely the kids would be allowed to return home, not remain confined in the mansion with a killer among them)!

An enjoyable and compelling teen thriller that delves into the shiny idealized world of social media influencers and explores the fallout when a desire for fame pushes someone to do the unthinkable. 

Disclaimer: physical copy provided free from the publisher for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Book Review – ‘Luminous’ by Mara Rutherford

TITLE: Luminous
AUTHORS: Mara Rutherford
GENRE: YA Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 384 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Harlequin Australia on January 5th, 2022
RRP$19.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos–and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.

A witch who must learn to harness her power–or risk losing her loved ones forever.

If you’ve read Mara Rutherford’s Crown of Coral and Pearl duology, you know she has a knack for charismatic scene-stealing villains and her newest book LUMINOUS is no different. We’re introduced to Darius, a powerful mage and the king’s right hand who rules the land by proxy, who is super compelling and I have to admit I was rooting for him throughout the book. Sure, he’s the bad guy, but I really enjoy when an author makes them understandable (not by trying to justify what they’re doing, but giving them believable motives than just ‘born evil’) plus I’m a sucker for the ‘Friendly Enemy’ trope. 

Our heroine Liora has spent her life hidden away in a small village in the middle of nowhere to keep her safe from Darius, who collects magic-users for his own purposes. Liora’s repressed her magic as much as possible, but after she’s revealed to be a witch, she’s drawn into danger as a diabolical plan unfolds that threatens everyone she loves and the only way out is to rely on her magic. 

In a lot of ways, I found her to be a pretty typical YA fantasy lead – sheltered and naive, in love with her best friend, low on self-esteem yet recklessly overconfident. However I did like her self-awareness in recognizing her selfish tendencies at times when she wanted to be special, hoped to be noticed and prioritized her magic over a quiet dull life because that felt relatable. 

I also liked Liora’s dynamic with her sisters and that she stood up to her father when he tried to stifle her, but the romance with Evran fell flat for me. His lack of communication and unwillingness to trust her even when he knew that she was hurting because of his abandonment made it seem toxic. PSA: don’t ghost people for their own good, that’s nonsense! There are two minor female characters introduced that I enjoyed and wished played a bigger role, but the major focus is on Liora’s coming-of-age arc. 

This fast-paced standalone fantasy is a fun read with a bunch of entertaining plot twists. It had enough material to fill a duology and felt a bit too easily resolved at the end, but it kept me engaged all the way through. 

Disclaimer: physical copy provided free from the publisher for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.