Kingdom of the Wicked

Kingdom of the Wicked
Kingdom of the Wicked Book One
Written by Kerri Maniscalco
Historical Fiction, Mystery, Witches, Romance
Published October 27th 2020
448 Pages
Thank you to Jimmy Patterson Books
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Two sisters.

One brutal murder.

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance.

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe, witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin... Desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost, even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked princes of Hell she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems...

As children, Emilia and Vittoria listened intently to the stories of their grandmother and the Dicarlo family grimoire, monsters, demons and the stregheria, the matriarchal families of the Sicilian town of Palermo. As the ocean gathers the changing winds, the demon world becomes restless, it's been an age since demons were banished into the netherworld and with a solemn prophecy from their grandmother, the underworld has arisen. 

Emilia and Vittoria are contrasting characters, Vittoria is spirited whilst Emilia is passionate about literature and culinary delights, a kitchenhand in their family owned restaurant Sea & Vine. As children, Emilia and Vittoria confided in one another but are now distant, Vittoria secretively indulging in parties and tumultuous love affairs until her body is found within the local monastery, her heart removed in a ritualistic killing. Emilia's sorrow is palpable and although the sisters have grown distant in recent years, she is determined to avenge her sister.

Throughout the narrative, Emilia discovers that Vittoria harboured a dangerous grimoire as she summons a demon from the underworld, the unsuspecting war general, the demonic prince of Wrath. Capturing the devastatingly handsome general for information. Wrath is one of seven demonic princes, each representing the seven houses of immortality. To freed the brothers, a willing bride must be chosen to break the binding spell placed upon the underworld. These princes are deliciously sinful and almost impossible to resist. Yes, they're evil but so incredibly handsome that you almost forget they're in the business of stealing souls. Because handsome. 

Wrath is ridiculously attractive. He and Emilia share a vested interest in finding who killed Vittoria, reluctantly agreeing to work together. Over the course of the narrative, Wrath begins to care for Emilia and although she's more than capable of fending for herself, he is a wonderful yet alluring support for Emilia. Remember when you first discovered Twilight and couldn't get enough of the sexual tension? This

Emilia is a vengeful witch, Wrath is a demonic prince and the mortal enemies to maybe lovers, smouldering attraction and very much wanting to get it on romance is slow and simmering and how I'm here for it. Chef kisses all round friends. If you've read the Stalking Jack the Ripper series with Audrey Rose and Thomas then you'll be well aware of the smouldering, agonising Kerri Maniscalco romances and this was painful in the most delicious meaning of the word. 

Kerri Maniscalco writes incredible narratives, mysteries with dangerous undercurrents and passionate romances and Kingdom of the Wicked was intensely brilliant. So much so that I've run out of words. It's sexy. Damn sexy and hot as hell. Literally. 

In summary, this is one of those reads you'll sell your mother for. 

Watch Over Me

Watch Over Me
Written by Nina Lacour
Contemporary, Paranormal, Mental Health
Publishing September 29th 2020
272 Pages
Thank you to Text Publishing
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Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes. Yes to a second chance in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below. But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster-care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to live on an isolated part of the Californian coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home, a real home. The farm is a refuge, but it’s also haunted by the past. And Mila’s own memories are starting to rise to the surface

Eighteen year old Mila is transitioning from an adolescent in foster care to a homestead estate in Mendocino California, an isolated coastal community and an internship educating children. At the homestead, everyone contributes, the chores, the weekend farmers market and maintaining the property and accommodation. The farming community are welcoming although cautious of Mila and beyond the fields of flowers, the dreamlike mist that settles upon the land and the pebbled beach, the ghosts dance upon the fields under the moonlit sky.

Mila is an interesting character, enigmatic and a fragmented version of herself. The community is her opportunity to alleviate her anxiety and find solace, escaping her early adolescent years and the tragedy that had befallen her family. Harbouring secrets, Mila is tormented by her former stepfather, a man who manipulated her single mother and kept Mila captive, figuratively and literally. 

Mila is responsible for the education of nine year old Lee, anxious and afraid of ghostly apparitions. Lee is an intelligent boy, my heart ached for what he continued to endure, his anxiety was often overwhelming and the adults within the property settlement seemingly believed that a nine year old child was able to manage his own anxiety. Mila is unqualified and a few of her interactions with Lee seemed inappropriate. Using storytelling as a means to share and provide a feeling of solidarity, Mila tells the story of a wolf, ripping a young woman's heart from her chest, representative of the situation of Mila herself and her stepfather. She goes on to share the story about how she was conceived and how her mother had decided her father wouldn't be given the opportunity to become a parent. I understand that Mila is young but with seemingly no experience with children, I'm not entirely certain she understood the sensitive nature of Lee's anxiety or working with children. A small annoyance that didn't impact my overall enjoyment but I found Mila's actions concerning.

On the farm, Mila is befriended by Liz and Billy, who are seemingly in a sexual relationship. Mila is experiencing ongoing traumatic stress from her adolescence and begins sleeping between the young couple each night as a comfort mechanism, the two young women also bathing together. Their relationship isn't defined but I suspect Mila may be attracted to the young couple, pleasuring herself after overhearing them being intimate. The property community appeared as a humanism, unstructured environment, a commune of spirited and likeminded people. Perhaps I'm cynical but the community is similar to a congregation but rather than preaching religion, they promote togetherness, your personal journey to wellness and although it appears to be a positive environment, I couldn't shake the sinister undercurrent and expected there may have been something awful happening at the farm.

Nina Lacour is an incredible author, her themes of sadness, mental wellness and loss are told beautifully, artistically and poetically. Watch Over Me is an engaging read but not particularly immersive. The liberation of healing through symbolism was quite exquisite but the narrative, characters and community were too peculiar and underdeveloped unfortunately.

The Secret Life of Stars

The Secret Life of Stars: Astrophysics for Everyone
Written by Lisa Harvey - Smith
Illustrated by Eirian Chapman
Non Fiction, Science
Thank you to Thames & Hudson Australia
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We all know the Sun, the powerhouse of our solar system, but what about Luyten’s Flare, the Rosino - Zwicky Object or Chanal’s variable star? For those whose curiosity takes them far beyond Earth’s atmosphere, The Secret Life of Stars offers a personal and readily understood introduction to some of the Galaxy’s most remarkable stars.

Each chapter connects us to the various different and unusual stars and their amazing characteristics and attributes, from pulsars, blue stragglers and white dwarfs to cannibal stars and explosive supernovae. With chapter illustrations by Eirian Chapman, this book brings to life the remarkable personalities of these stars, reminding readers what a diverse and unpredictable universe we live in and how fortunate we are to live around a stable star, our Sun.

Stars are born, they age before slowing succumbing to the inevitable, their ashes returned to the cosmos. Anaximander and Aristotle, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton and Neil Degrasse Tyson, composers and artists, our universe captivates humankind, our sense of wonder and curiosity has inspired generations of scientists and amateur astronomers. Written in engaging and accessible language, The Secret Life of Stars, Astrophysics for Everyone is fascinating and entertaining, a wonderful reference infused with humour, wonder and whimsy. 

Lisa Harvey - Smith is a decorated astrophysicist, an engaging and inspirational ambassador, an Astronomer, Author and Broadcaster. I had the privilege of asking Lisa about our universe, our Australian space agency, advances in astrophysics and her advocacy of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Please welcome Lisa Harvey - Smith.

Why do you suppose humans are captivated by our universe and in particular, the night sky?

Human beings have wondered at the night sky for tens of thousands of years. It's a work of art, a thing of beauty and a rich scientific playground for people like me. 

Do you remember the moment you chose to pursue astrophysics as a career and the inspiration behind your decision?

I fell in love with the night sky after spotting the planet Mars with my Dad in the garden. I was 12 years' old and I never looked back. I knew that astronomy was my passion and I had to make it a career. Aged 15 I was already determined to become a researcher and find out more about our incredible universe. I'm glad I did!

The Australian Government established the Australian Space Agency and are investing in the Moon to Mars mission, how will this impact the astrophysics and research community now and in the future?

The Moon to Mars program, led by NASA and including many international partners, will be a science and technology extravaganza. The aim is to land people, including the first woman - finally, on the Moon in 2024 then to build bases and infrastructure towards a crewed landing on Mars around 2030. It is tremendously exciting for Australia to be part of the technology development towards these missions. Scientifically, it will bring a greater understanding of the history of our solar system but more importantly it will galvanise a new generation of scientific and technological discovery that will hopefully bring benefits to us here on Earth.  

I recently watched The Planets documentary series with Professor Brian Cox, whom you worked with on Stargazing Live and you've toured Australia with Buzz Aldrin, is there anyone else within the scientific community you would love the opportunity to collaborate with?

I've been very fortunate to work with many exciting and accomplished people from the space industry, including three Apollo moon walkers with whom I toured the nation with live stage shows. I would love to work with more rockstar astronauts like Mae Jamieson or Samantha Christoforetti, to show young people that women are exploring the frontiers too. I would have loved to have met the late Sally Ride, the first female US astronaut. As a badass astronaut and a queer icon, she was a real role model of mine. 

Under the Stars and The Secret Life of Stars are both wonderful reads, what inspired you to write accessible and engaging reads about space and astrophysics? 

I get bored easily! No, truly I get frustrated at people who manage to make science boring, when it is absolutely the closest thing we have in this world to magic. I believe that astronomy is for everyone, and by writing fun and engaging books about the natural world I hope to open up the magic of science to everyone. 

I read that you worked on the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory in remote Western Australia, can you share how you were involved and how the observatory will influence the field of astronomy?

I was for several years the CSIRO Project Scientist for the Square Kilometre Array telescope and later for its Australian pathfinder in outback Western Australia. These telescopes are new, cutting edge radio antennas that enable us to study the past 10 billion years of cosmic history. I was involved in designing and commissioning the new telescopes and their vast computing and data centres. I also used the telescopes to conduct scientific research, weighing a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy to check it was working correctly. Exciting stuff!

You're a wonderful advocate of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics studies and careers, can you tell me about your role as an ambassador?

As the Australian Government's Women in STEM Ambassador my role is to increase the participation of women and girls in STEM study and careers. I advise government on policy, work with STEM peak bodies and organisations, conduct research and projects, create resources and run national campaigns to break down stereotypes about STEM. The end goal is to reduce barriers to women's participation in STEM careers and to make workplaces fairer and better for everyone. You can follow Australia's Women in STEM Ambassador on socials or visit to find out more. 

And lastly, what is your favourite fact about space that few people would know about?

Eight hundred and twenty-two light years away in the constellation of Cygnus lies a rocky planet called Kepler - 1652b. It sits in the solar system's habitable zone, which means there could potentially be liquid water on its surface. Oh, and did I mention that it has four Suns? Yep - if there is alien life on that planet, they would definitely need the factor 50 sunscreen. But with no night time, how would they sleep?

None Shall Sleep

None Shall Sleep
Written by Ellie Marney
Mature Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery
Published September 2020
400 Pages
Thank you to Allen & Unwin
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Interviewing convicted juvenile killers for the FBI leads Emma Lewis and Travis Bell on the hunt for a serial murderer who targets teenagers. A riveting young adult thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seat from start to finish.

It's 1982, and the innovative FBI Behavioural Science section is breaking new ground. Emma Lewis and Travis Bell, two teenagers with valuable skills, are recruited to interview convicted juvenile killers for information on cold cases.

When they're drawn into an active case targeting teenagers, everything starts to unravel. Over Travis's objections, Emma becomes the conduit between the FBI and an incarcerated serial killer, nineteen year old Simon Gutmunsson, who is a super intelligent sociopath. And although Simon seems to be giving them the information they need to save lives, he's also an expert manipulator playing a very long game.

Can Emma and Travis stop a serial killer on the loose or will they fall victim themselves?
Eighteen year old Emma Lewis continues to endure the psychological trauma of being held captive, the sole survivor of man who abducted young women as wives. Now studying forensic psychology at University, Emma is about to embark on a landmark venture with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, adolescents recruited to interview adolescent sociopaths to help understand the psychological motivation of their crimes. Emma is a determined and resolute young woman, intelligent, perceptive and resilient. She's reluctant to join the Federal Behavioural Science Unit, tempted by the prospect of accelerating her education. 

Travis Bell is the son of a decorated police offer, killed in the line of duty by a sociopath killer, now pursuing a career in law enforcement. Travis has been recruited by the FBI and alongside Emma, plans to make the most of the opportunity he's given to forge a career and honour his father's memory. Travis and Emma are strangers, brought together by circumstance but form a tentative and platonic friendship over their shared experience, Emma's abduction and Travis' father killed by Simon Gutmunsson. They share moments of attraction but their working relationship and budding friendship was lovely, seeing them trust one another without the complications of a romantic relationship. Both Travis and Emma are healing and given the circumstances of the investigation, I'm thankful their connection remained purely platonic.  

Simon Gutmunsson, he's charismatic and under any other circumstances, even endearing. Ellie Marney created a likeable sociopath and I'm equally parts delighted and horrified. Simon is known as The Artist, he doesn't consider himself in the same lowly league as a sociopathic killer, he artfully killed his victims as a calling card, proud of his extracurricular activities. Simon is highly intelligent and curious about Emma, alluding to the current murderous spree by the unknown assailant. The FBI hope by understanding juvenile killers like Simon, they'll be able to profile and catch the current serial killer, using Emma and Travis at bait to see what Simon knows.

The killings are brutal. We're given a glimpse into the mind of the killer as he strings up his victims and performs ritualistic killings. It's terrifying and creates an incredibly urgent storyline, using the cryptic innuendo provided by Simon and applying his insights to the current, open case before the killer strikes again. Holy shit. None Shall Sleep is creepy, downright terrifying but balanced with moments of tenderness and a gentle and tentative friendship. 

This is next level Marney, a little bit batshit, pee yourself while reading and jumping at shadows for the next three months. Outstanding!

Where We Begin

contains mild spoilers of sensitive issues such as family violence, abortion, alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse, colonisation, genocide, prejudice and racism
Where We Begin
Written by Christie Nieman
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Australian
Published August 28th 2020
368 Pages
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Seventeen year old Anna is running into the night. Fleeing her boyfriend, her mother, and everything she has known.

She is travelling into the country, to the land and the grandparents she has never met, looking for answers to questions that have never been asked.

For every family has secrets.

But some secrets, once laid bare, can never be forgiven.
Anna could see the ramshackle, debilitated home from the roadside as the coach drove into the night, the letter from her grandmother safely in her pocket. Anna departed Sydney for the small country town in Victoria, a life of uncertainty among the dry, desolate pastures, anxious and alone.

Anna's estranged grandparents hadn't expected their seventeen year old granddaughter to visit, considering their daughter abandoned the family home and her family before Anna was born. Anna is in turmoil, her mother is attending a business conference in New Zealand, her father visiting his dying father in Germany and Anna is pregnant, unbeknownst to her boyfriend Nassim.

Anna's narration is harrowing, she's anxious, alone and navigating a new relationship with her estranged grandparents. In her final year of school, Anna is intelligent and motivated, wanting to study medicine at university. Escaping to the small country town, Anna plans to abort her pregnancy. The nonlinear narration shifts between the present and the events leading to Anna's decision to leave, moments from her mother's adolescence as the past and present converge.

In the present day, Anna's mother Cathy is an absent parent, businesswoman, entrepreneur and alcoholic, Anna's father excusing her behaviour, encouraging Anna to practice understanding and forgiveness. Anna's relationship with her mother is irrevocably fractured when as she introduces her mother to Nassim, her boyfriend. Cathy overindulges and becomes verbally and physically abusive.

As the storyline unravels, we learn about Cathy's adolescence, her parents Bette and Hessel, a stoic and racist Danish man. The Krause family colonised the local Indigenous land, white farmers who decimated the landscape. As children, Cathy and Leonie shared a wonderful friendship, Leone an Indigenous girl who Cathy was forbidden to see. Leonie, a local nurse, remained in the small country town and raised a wonderful son in Basil. Cathy and Leonie are no longer in contact with one another.

First Nations communities continue to endure racism and prejudice and with the permission from the Dja Dja Wurrung community, Christie Nieman explores the Blood Hole Massacre, a horrific incident of genocide. Basil, Leonie's son, is a storyteller and a beautiful character. The life he's endured, carrying the stories of his community. Basil's enthusiasm and effervescence is infectious, his character is incredibly endearing and proudly Indigenous, although also recognising his colonist ancestry. 

Where We Begin raises awareness and encourages discussion of family violence, alcoholism, adolescent pregnancy, abortion and physical and emotional abuse. First nations, colonisation, Indigenous genocide, prejudice and racism. Although the narrative is harrowing and poignant, Where We Begin is written with compassion, delicately and an intricate tenderness. Often we choose novels without realising the impact they leave upon us and as readers, we experience our world through fictional characters. When We Begin is a remarkable read and I thank Christie Nieman for sharing her words.
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