All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

October Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 29
Fiction: 27
Non-Fiction: 2
Library Books: 6
Books On My TBR List: 6
Books in a Series: 13
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 14
Male/Female Authors: 3/26
Kindle Books: 6
Books I Owned or Bought: 7
Favourite Book(s): Nona & Me by Clare Atkins, My Story by Julia Gillard.
Least Favourite Book(s):  Temptation by K.M. Golland
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 11

October was definitely a good reading month! I spent the first 8 days of it still on holidays and somehow managed to maintain the reading mojo when I arrived back home. It helped that I had lots of exciting books waiting for me when I got back, things that I couldn’t wait to read! I also had the freedom to read a lot of it in whatever order I wanted as a lot were library books that I’d been waiting to come in for me. I had less review books this month which meant that I could find time for other reads.

I read two really good non-fiction books this month, which is unusual for me – Helen Garner’s account of the strange and tragic case of Robert Farquharson called This House Of Grief and Julia Gillard’s My Story. Normally non-fiction/biography/memoirs are a bit of a struggle for me and I tend to read them in bits and pieces while I read other fiction books but I read both of these in record time.

In amazing fiction, Clare Atkins’ Nona & Me is a definite highlight. It’s set in a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory and features the strong relationship that some of the ‘white’ people form with the Aboriginal families and how as teenagers, this familial bond can be harder to maintain. I absolutely loved this book – it’s beautifully written and it’s a story that really makes you see things from a different perspective.

In terms of books that I have that I’m looking forward to reading in November… Atlantia by Ally Condie, A Sudden Light by Garth Stein, Amnesia by Peter Carey and Us by David Nicholls are topping my TBR at the present moment!

NaNoWriMo starts today and although I’ve taken part every year since 2006, I have to admit I haven’t given it much thought this year. I’m still not sure whether or not I’m going to participate. There was one year in the past where I didn’t start until the 3rd day and still managed to finish successfully – I’ll just have to wait and see how I feel here throughout the day and if anything strikes.

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Review: Trust In Me – Sophie McKenzie

Trust In MeTrust In Me
Sophie McKenzie
Simon & Schuster
2014, 440p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Julia and Livy are best friends. Originally Julia was Livy’s sister’s friend but when Kara was murdered as a college student, Julia and Livy became close in the aftermath. Now over a decade later and the two are still incredibly close even though their lives are very different. Livy is married with two children and Julia remains unattached and childless.

Livy thought they told each other everything but when she rejects a call from Julia during an important dinner at the home of her husband’s boss she has no idea that she’ll never see Julia again. Livy is told that it’s a suicide, that underneath her bright and bubbly personality, Julia was depressed, often drinking alone. Her prickliness, especially with her family seems to mean that they have no trouble accepting it, but Livy remains unconvinced.

So Livy does a little digging. And is stunned when she discovers that Julia has been keeping things from her, important things. Livy is in deep now and the promise of catching a killer after all these years, spurs her on. But she’s in terrible danger herself and her whole life could be blown apart.

Last year I read Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie and loved it so I was really excited when this one turned up in my mailbox. I don’t read a lot of thrillers as a rule but I think that in recent times I’m definitely reading more and more. There’s something about trying to figure it out yourself and also resisting the urge to ‘kill a fairy’ and sneak a peek at the last page to see if things work out the way you want them to!

Even though the reader never really meets Julia, the author does a great job at showing her personality through Livy’s memories – and later on, the opinions of people who are not Livy. It’s always obvious that Livy is perhaps a little biased when it comes to her friend, possibly because of how supportive and helpful Julia was to Livy after her sister Kara’s murder. Julia is portrayed as outgoing, strong and confident. A bit of a bitch as well, but with a heart of gold to those she cares about. She’s particularly close to Livy’s twelve year old daughter Hannah who always feels a need to impress Julia – and Livy will admit that she herself does too. When Julia is found (by Livy and her two children) dead in her apartment it’s quickly ruled a suicide. It seems that only Livy questions it and this dogged determination she has to find out what really happened does at times make her seem a bit unhinged. It concerns her husband Will who believes that Livy doesn’t see the effect her actions are having on their daughter.

Sophie McKenzie also manages to showcase the ups and downs of a marriage in just the opening chapter. The reader learns so much about Livy, about Will and about their relationship and how certain events from six years ago are still affecting it and the both of them. The character of Will is done so well because again, we see him through Livy’s eyes and all the mistrust and issues she still has with him over what happened cast a shadow over every single thing that he does. As the suspense builds, more and more suspicion seems to fall on Will and his angry rants and actions only make him look more guilty – although of how much is the question. Livy and Will are increasingly at odds instead of coming together to deal with what has happened and the impact it will have on their children. Livy spends more time with the mysterious “DB”, who was Julia’s last known boyfriend and who also doesn’t believe that she killed herself. Together they are hunting for clues, finding out what Julia knew that could’ve gotten her killed. And with each step they are closer and closer to being the killer’s next victim.

What I liked about this book was that it wasn’t just a thriller where amateurs attempt to unmask a killer – it delved so much deeper than that and really dug into exploring relationships. The bonds of siblings, the role of the best friend, the fragile connection of marriage – they’re all held up to the light and examined here and it fleshes out the story and makes it so much better for it. It’s not just about knowing whether or not you can trust Will, it’s also about human nature and what happens after a betrayal. Even if you want to trust someone and try again, it’s not always possible to turn your brain off and take that second chance. There are always things that will get in the way, that will eat at you until you’re vulnerable and Livy is in precisely the right frame of mind to begin doubting her husband. It definitely complicates things and makes her more likely to turn away from him and to someone else, someone that she feels is supporting her in a way that Will is definitely not. Livy is definitely stretched thin – she has her grief to deal with over Julia, her suspicion that all is not as it seems, her problems with Will and the fact that her almost-teen daughter Hannah has developed a terrible attitude towards her and seems to want nothing more than to make her life a misery. In investigating Julia’s death I think Livy not only wants to know but also experience the sort of freedom she perhaps hasn’t had since before she was married.

Trust In Me is another slick thriller that keeps the reader guessing and I enjoyed that but I think for me, observing the way people interacted and how relationships played out lifted it to another level. It was interesting seeing how different people reacted in situations of grief and terror and this was definitely the sort of book where I changed my mind on things a lot! It kept me hooked and I ended up tearing through it in just a couple of hours.

8/10

Book #223 of 2014

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Review: The Billionaire’s Club Boxed Set – Jackie Ashenden

Billionaire's ClubThe Billionaire Club Box Set: The Billion Dollar Bachelor, The Billion Dollar Bad Boy and The Billionaire Biker
Jackie Ashenden
St Martin’s Griffin
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

The three Morrow brothers are all wealthy – Jax is the CEO of the family business and his brother Donovan is the spin doctor behind the company’s PR department. Their younger half brother Sean left five years ago, joining a motorcycle club and Jax and Donovan have been searching for him ever since. All three are ruthless but they’re all about to meet their match.

Jax’s ordered world is turned upside down when Pandora Garrett walks into the bar where he’s having a drink. The daughter of a notorious figure, Pandora has escaped her bodyguards, aiming to taste something of freedom. With no friends beyond the associates her father approves of, Pandora revels in the anonymity of walking into a bar and meeting a man. Neither has any idea who the other really is….until the next morning when Pandora’s father finds them and decides that he’s going to use this as a chance to profit. Jax is given a choice – take Pandora under his own protection or surrender her back to her father to do with what he chooses.

Donovan Morrow has been used in the past for his ability in the bedroom. Attempting to put all that behind him now that their father is gone, Donovan desperately wants to prove himself, to do something that will help make the family legacy a positive one. When older brother Jax orders him to sell a piece of land, Donovan thinks it’s a huge mistake, even if it does lead him to Victoria de Winter. She wants to close the deal on this piece of land to desperately prove herself to her father, to prove that she’s worthy of the de Winter name. When Donovan doesn’t want to sell and Victoria desperately wants to buy, sparks fly between them.

Sean was always the odd one out, the half brother that caused trouble. When he was 18 he fled, leaving Abigail behind. Now that Jax and Donovan have tracked him down again and he’s left his days as enforcer for the motorcycle club behind, Sean and Abby are face to face again. They’ll have to deal with their past, the repercussions that Sean wasn’t around for. And Sean has to believe himself worthy to take his role in the company and worthy of Abby as well.

Just about all romance novels rely on the reader’s ability to suspend their disbelief whilst reading and some books take much more of an effort than others. This one (or these three, I should say) probably required more than I could manage. Whilst I enjoyed some of the moments in the book, the fact that really, they’re all quite short (I think the 3 together come in at about 440p) meant that I just couldn’t get behind the couples in the way that I wanted to. All three needed I think, to be full length novels to really draw out the sexual tension and also fully investigate the conflict, particularly in the case of Jax’s story and also Sean’s. Both of those had a lot of complex issues and could’ve easily supported a longer story.

However the biggest problem I had with these three stories is the fact that they all kind of felt very much the same – the characters included. The women were basically all sexually repressed and inexperienced. Pandora is a virgin, Victoria is in a passionless relationship, engaged to a man who means very little to her and Abby has only had sex once in her life. The women all look different but they seem to act very similar, wanting similar sort of things which is quite handy because the three brothers are all quite similar too. All of them are control freak Alphas who border on bossy (not quite Doms, but sort of close). I didn’t know the book was going to have those tendencies before I started reading it – if I had, I perhaps might not have requested it because to be honest, I’m a bit over the trend of surprise! I want to be spanked/tied up/beaten with a belt.

I think of all of them, the story I liked the most was the last one because the two characters had history and weren’t meeting for the first time two hours before having sex. Abby and Sean had known each other since they were teenagers and he took her virginity about five years ago, before he left the family. The two of them were carrying a lot of baggage, Sean about his childhood and his life after moving in with Jax and Donovan, Abby with what happened to her after Sean left. They have lots of things to work through, he has things to apologise for and he also has changes to make in his life. I’d have liked to know more about his time with the motorcycle club as well and what he did after he left. I think I found Sean’s life the most interesting and he was the brother I would’ve liked to know much more about.

All in all – these were okay. They’re not exactly my preferred type of romance and everything moves along at a pretty fast clip but the writing is okay. I’ve read Jackie Ashenden before and didn’t mind the book I read. I also have one more book of hers to read on my Kindle, which is Mine To Take. It spins off very loosely from the final book in this collection – the main male character is a former associate of Sean’s and introduced very briefly. So I’ll be reading that next month.

5/10

Book #222 of 2014

 

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Review: Country At Heart – Mandy Magro

Country At HeartCountry At Heart
Mandy Magro
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2014, 295p
Copy courtesy the publisher/TheReadingRoom.com

Summer has just finished the business degree she completed to please her father but her dream is to open a yoga studio. Before she begins work on that, she has promised her parents she’ll spend a holiday with them at the family’s beach house – luckily she has her best friend Fiona along to keep her company. When they arrive, Summer discovers her father has invited Marcus, Summer’s former teenage boyfriend and the son of her father’s best friend. He’s made no secret of his desire to see Summer and Marcus married and although Marcus is attractive, Summer isn’t interested.

Dean is in the Australian Army, stationed in Afghanistan working with his explosive detection dog Indy, a blue cattle dog. On leave and back in Australia for Christmas, Dean meets Summer one morning on the beach near her father’s beach house and it’s love at first sight. During Dean’s leave they get to know each other, knowing much stands in their way – their parents have a mysterious past, Summer’s father doesn’t think Dean is good enough or successful enough for his little girl and the sneaky, criminal actions of Summer’s friend Marcus may have long lasting repercussions.

Please note: In order to discuss my feelings on this book, I have had to allude to things that happen in the story. I’ve done my best to avoid directly spoiling but it may be easy to figure out from my words, so ***POTENTIAL SPOILER WARNING***

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of  love at first sight but I think there are some instances with careful writing where it can work. Unfortunately, this story was not at all convincing and given so much of it hinges on that apparent instant connection between Summer and Dean, it means for me that lots of things didn’t work out.

Firstly, the timing makes this seem like all kinds of wrong. Without going into too much detail so as not to spoil, something happens to Summer and she’s confused and upset. She meets Dean pretty much right after that and I just found those two things so very difficult to reconcile. Summer has no idea how to deal with the potentially bad thing that has happened, instead she is passive and weak. She basically ends up apologising to the person that has wronged her and takes no action against them, doesn’t even attempt to stand up for herself and her rights. I get that there are some reasons why she would be reluctant to assert herself and remove this person from her life but for heck’s sake, Summer gives new meaning to burying your head in the sand. And then when Dean asks her a direct question possibly indirectly pertaining to the issue, Summer lies about it. She’s not entirely sure what the truth is but she doesn’t make any attempt to tell Dean what happened and what the possible repercussions might also be. This brings me to another point – it’s all part of Summer burying her head in the sand but she thinks that this certain thing might have potentially happened to her but she doesn’t do anything to either confirm it or have it refuted. Nor does she attempt to protect herself at all from any potential repercussions. It’s the sort of stupidity that doesn’t fly in this day and age and honestly made me so exasperated with her.

Secondly, the dialogue is utterly unconvincing for me and I’ll use this quote as an example:

Summer’s heart swelled as Dean’s declaration of love filled her with absolute joy. “I love you too Dean, and I think I always have, even before I met you. I feel like I’ve been searching for this missing piece of me, believing with all my heart that you were somewhere out there, looking for me too. And now I’ve found you, now that we’ve found each other, it’s even more powerful than I had ever imagined, this love I have for you…. (p129).

Bear in mind Summer and Dean meet on about p65 and they’ve spent possibly about 1-2 days together before these declarations, most of which are just summarised for the reader. They take a motorbike ride and then Summer spends time with Dean and his father Tony helping Dean paint the house on his father’s property. That’s pretty much the entire summation of their interaction together, before these declarations come spilling out. Their dialogue from there on in is mostly peppered with variations of the above with lots of ‘baby’s’ thrown in for good measure. It read as utterly unbelievable that people would actually speak like that, especially a 24yo university graduate no matter how airy fairy and hippy-ish and a soldier in the Army stationed in Afghanistan. It felt more like how 14 year old girls imagine that they and their boyfriends will be like.

Although I really enjoyed reading about Dean’s job and his bond with his detection dog, Indy. They have a great relationship and Dean sees her as a vital part of his life. I think the details about his life in Afghanistan gave a bit of an idea what it must be like over there, the futility of what they’re doing at times when all their progress is destroyed in an instant. Those snapshots were my favourite parts of the book but unfortunately whenever Dean and Summer were together, I could never really see how they fell in love from their limited interactions. I think both of them were probably nice people – Summer is clearly different from her wealthy, snobbish father who tries to buy Dean off. I liked Dean’s family, they seemed very genuine and down to earth, the sort of people you could imagine knowing and being involved with. However Summer’s mother was an inconsistent character and her father was pretty much repulsive and his abrupt turn around towards the end of the book is once again executed without any real attempt to make it at all believable. It’s not often that I say this but it almost feels as if this book was too short – not enough time and care is taken in establishing relationships as well as orchestrating believable conflict. The way in which the Marcus situation is resolved renders the entire plot utterly unnecessary to the story at all.

3/10

Book #220 of 2014

AWWW2014

Country At Heart is book #82 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: Mothers And Daughters – Kylie Ladd

Mothers And DaughtersMothers And Daughters
Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin
2014, 341p
Read from my local library

Fiona, Caro, Morag and Amira all met when their children began school together, almost ten years ago now. Fiona, Caro and Amira all have daughters – Bronte, Janey and Tess. Morag is sort of the odd one out, having twin boys, the only experience with girls being her rebellious sixteen year old stepdaughter. Fiona, Caro, Morag and Fiona’s daughter Bronte and Caro’s daughter Janey are all travelling to remote Western Australia to visit Amira and her daughter Tess. Amira and Tess moved to an Aboriginal community at the beginning of the year, about nine months ago and they haven’t seen each other since. Each of them are looking forward to catching up with Amira and Tess and for Morag this is her first real holiday ‘alone’. No husband, no twin boys, no younger son and no stepdaughter. Or so she thinks.

But this holiday is not entirely like some of them expected. The community where they are staying is far removed from what they term as civilisation. It’s a dry community, although private drinking may be conducted discreetly. It’s oppressively hot, the sun can burn in minutes and also they’re forced to deal with each other’s company perhaps more than even good friends should on holiday. In such an isolated place there’s no where to go to escape each other’s differing opinions and the fact that no one stays the same forever. Bronte and Janey are no longer friends, as they were in childhood and they also find Tess much changed from when she left Melbourne. When Morag’s teenage stepdaughter arrives it adds even more to an already volatile pot.

Mothers And Daughters is Kylie Ladd’s fourth novel, revolving around a very different mix of mothers who became friends when their children all began prep (kindergarten/first year of school) together. Now those children are fourteen and much has changed. Bronte and Janey now go to different high schools and aren’t particularly friends anymore. Bronte is cripplingly shy, awkward in herself whereas Janey trains for the state swim teams and is definitely more outgoing, ready to grow up before her time. Tess has been changed by her move to the Aboriginal community, her world no longer revolving around facebook updates and who is doing what. She has thrived there but it also means that there’s somewhat little to connect her with her former friends, although Bronte is eager to learn everything about the community, especially the Aboriginal art.

This is an interesting exploration of the mother daughter relationship as well as the friendship formed in the classroom, both for the children and the adults. I don’t have a daughter, I have two sons and I have to admit, this book made me briefly glad that I don’t. Fiona is abrasively harsh on her shy daughter, loathing her awkwardness and her tendency to introvert all the while not realising that she does negative things for Bronte’s already fragile self-confidence. Fiona is the character I liked the least – she spews forth the sort of negative views that it’s sad many Australians still hold today, which is bad enough but the way in which she expresses herself is even more distasteful. I expected someone, perhaps Amira to pull her up on the way she talks but this is only ever done in a sort of laughing ‘Oh, Fiona!” sort of way, like, what is she going to come out with next? Ladd holds a mirror up to white hypocrisy with Fiona denigrating the Aboriginal tendency to have problems with alcohol, all the while hocking into her third bottle of Chardonnay for the night, or after she’s vomited up a dinner of alcohol into the bushes. Because Fiona drinks in a “civilised” setting, ie with dinner, with alcohol she can well afford, proper wine and spirits, it’s ignored that she either has a problem or is well on the way to having one. A borderline functioning alcoholic who seemingly drinks to escape the misery of her marriage and the life she has now found herself in, I could have perhaps sympathised with Fiona if she didn’t tend to throw words like “boong” around with such careless abandon.

The relationship between the teenage girls proves just how cruel they can be. Janey has been spoiled and overindulged from birth, always told that she’s perfect, clever and beautiful and it seems that she’s been able to glide through life with very little in the way of consequences for her behaviour. The way she acts in this book is horrifying on a couple of levels but the cruelty of what she does to Bronte is perhaps the worst. I feel as though no one particularly dealt with this very well, least of all her own mother who was vague and seemed to think saying sorry was perhaps enough. When one of the others asked what punishment Janey would receive, it was like it hadn’t even occurred to Caro that there should be a punishment. At least Janey’s behaviour did eventually lead to Bronte taking the first step in standing up for herself and hopefully that gave her more confidence in herself and paved the way for not only a better relationship with herself but also with her mother.

I know Kylie Ladd lived in Broome for a year and I think it’s a brave choice to tackle the social issues she does in this novel. I loved the setting – Broome has long been a place I want to visit and I found myself somewhat enchanted by the community Amira and Tess have moved to, loving the stories that are told by the locals, even when some of them are painful and sad. We have a long and troubled history with the indigenous population and even though improvements are made each year, there’s still a long way to go and still a lot of attitudes to change. The women were an interesting mix, proof that kids can bring together unlikely people and create a lasting friendship. I probably identified the most with Morag. I’m not from overseas but I do live far from where I grew up and have hostile stepchildren – far more hostile than Morag actually experiences! Time away from my kids is also incredibly rare, in fact I’ve been away alone once in six years so I could definitely relate to her feelings about that and how she felt when her husband informed her that her stepdaughter was arriving.

Even though I often didn’t enjoy the characters, I did enjoy this book and the themes. Relationships between mothers and daughters are often troubled and hard to capture but I think Ladd has done an excellent job, as usual, in portraying the complexity, especially with many different characters.

8/10

Book #215 of 2014

AWWW2014

Mothers And Daughters is book #80 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

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Review: Laurinda – Alice Pung

LaurindaLaurinda
Alice Pung
Black Inc Books
2014, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Lucy Lam has just received the first Equal Access scholarship to Laurinda, an exclusive girls school. Her parents are immigrants from Vietnam (although were born in China) and she comes from a very different background to the other students. Her father works long shifts in a factory and her mother sews clothes in the family garage. When she’s not at school or doing her homework, Lucy spends a lot of time helping her mother work or looking after The Lamb, her younger brother.

Laurinda is ruled by ‘the Cabinet’ – a trio of girls who not only control their classmates but also some of their teachers. Although Lucy sees through them she can’t help but also be fascinated by them and she finds herself increasingly drawn into their world when taken the mother of one of the Cabinet takes Lucy under her wing. Then the Cabinet themselves begin showing an interest in her and Lucy sees what it can be like when you’re a part of that, a part of them.

But all things come with a price and Lucy struggles to hold onto herself and her beliefs against the will and pressure of the Cabinet.

Alice Pung breathes fresh life into the Aussie YA world with her debut novel Laurinda a look at a student from a non-wealthy background being accepted into a very prestigious school. Along with several of her friends from her Catholic high school, Lucy Lam sits the scholarship exam for Laurinda but it isn’t that she’s the smartest girl to take the test. Laurinda is looking for more than that. They want someone they can shape, someone who will grow from the experience they have at the school and Lucy’s creative writing exercise is what clinches the scholarship offer. When she arrives at Laurinda to begin year 10, Lucy must undertake some remedial English catch up work and her tutor is Mrs Leslie, mother of Amber Leslie one of the three who make up the Cabinet.

I didn’t go to a private school – actually apart from the standard Catholic high schools like the one Lucy attends before Laurinda, there weren’t even any private schools in my area. But the thing about high school is that fundamentally no matter where you attend, there’s a lot of the experience that’s the same across the board. No matter where you go, there are ways that you’re struggling to fit in, especially when you’re new and clearly a bit different, like Lucy is. Because Lucy didn’t seem to desperately want the scholarship, unlike one of her friends who has been tutored since she was small, she seems almost removed from it. She’s able to sit back and observe Laurinda and those who populate it with an almost detached air. Her observations are expressed through the novel as letters addressed to someone named Linh, describing her experience both before she is accepted into Laurinda and also after as well as her struggles with what her role is to be there.

I always feel a bit awkward trying to assess how someone like Lucy must feel, attending her new school, commenting on a situation and culture that I know nothing about. I’m not an ethic minority and I’ve had relatively little experience understanding that. She doesn’t make mention of any other Asian students there and much is made of her past, the fact that they are immigrants who arrived on a boat, that they are quite obviously not well off. Lucy’s mother doesn’t speak English and spends a lot of the time working, contributing to the family. People constantly mistake her heritage – she’s at the 16th birthday of one of the Cabinet when one of the girls relatives, upon seeing Lucy remarks “I didn’t know our Amber had any Jap friends” and once she tries to explain to someone that although she and her family did come on a boat from Vietnam, they are actually not Vietnamese and her family had already left China to go to Vietnam during the Chinese famine. It clearly doesn’t compute. She seems to be taken on almost as a charity project at times, despite the fact that she doesn’t actually need any charity. When Brodie, one of the Cabinet comes to visit her unexpectedly at home, although she’s not ashamed of her family, Lucy can’t help but look around and see her home and family through the eyes of Brodie, seeing what she sees. Nevertheless she refuses to answer Brodie’s curious questions about what goes on in the garage as well as who the mysterious man was that turned up around the same time. Another time in the book, Lucy’s father wants her to invite her friends over to watch a movie on Vietnam but she knows they won’t be interested and so she doesn’t ask them. She can’t express to her father that they won’t be interested and it’s clear that he’s disappointed when she doesn’t invite them.

When the Cabinet court her, although Lucy has clearly been able to see through them and is appalled by some of their antics, it’s hard to go against the sway of being accepted, even if it all balances on tenterhooks. There are times when Lucy seems to enjoy being part of them, being included in that group but it doesn’t take long for her to see the ulterior motives. How they are cultivating Lucy and her friendship mostly for their own use and in ways that benefit then, attempting to tie her to them in gratitude. Lucy retreats and I was reminded of times when I was fighting with school friends, especially this one girl – I would always pretend to be sick and try and get a few days off school to put some distance between myself and her because she’d always forget about it and things would go back to normal – until the next time and the cycle would start again. At one stage Lucy doesn’t even want to go back to Laurinda but over the course of the holidays, she changes her mind and to her surprise, things seem to have changed. It reminded me how tenuous things in high school can be, how the shift of power can happen in an instant.

Although I didn’t attend a school like Laurinda, this book did take me straight back to my high school experience. It was both the best time of my life and the worst time of my life. I made some great friends in high school and had some great times. At the same time, I also learned a lot about whether or not people are genuine and how it can not always pay to put your trust in someone. This is set around the time when I went to high school so cyber bullying and social media don’t exist and when one girl pulls out a mobile phone, it’s an extreme novelty.

Laurinda is a very clever, funny portrayal of the school portion of life as well as gender and the role of friendship and power. Lucy is frank in her observations in her letters and yet at the same time, she can see herself changing, the more time she spends at Laurinda. She is adapting in some ways, to what they want her to be, forgetting her old life and her old friends – she recognises this and she wants to find her old self again, the one that stands up and questions things and doesn’t just go quietly, ignoring things when they happen. Lucy’s is a wonderful voice, full of life and she gives real vision to the life she leads and how Laurinda and the lives of the other students there, is very different to hers. My words for this book actually feel inadequate – I wish I had an eloquence as beautiful as Lucy’s piece in her scholarship paper to describe how wonderful I think this book is!

8/10

Book #217 of 2014

AWWW2014

Laurinda is the 80th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

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Review: My Story – Julia Gillard

My StoryMy Story
Julia Gillard
Random House AUS
2014, 504p
Purchased personal copy

I was prime minster for three years and three days. Three years and three days of resilience. Three years and three days of changing the nation. Three years and three days to give me a unique perspective of our future.

Three years and three days for you to judge.

This is a hard review to write because I suspect the way people will feel about this book depends on how they feel about Julia Gillard. Because I bought this book, quite obviously I like her. I wouldn’t shell out for a hardback on someone I didn’t like. When Julia Gillard became Prime Minister in 2010, we had just moved to her electorate of Lalor in Melbourne’s south-west. It’s a mix of older, working class suburbs and land reclaimed from market gardeners and farmers that is being redeveloped into housing estates to accommodate the growing population. We’re 35m from the city on a good day when no one has broken down or had a fender bender on the West Gate. House prices are cheap, because they’re in plentiful supply. At the same time, you can see that changing quickly. Soon the land will be gone, the house prices will increase and the development push will continue out to Rockbank and Sunbury. Julia Gillard had been the member for Lalor for over ten years when she went from being Deputy Prime Minister behind Kevin Rudd, to Prime Minister in a spill. The government had lost faith in Rudd, who clearly was buckling under the pressures of the job.

But what Gillard and probably the rest of the Labor party didn’t realise, was that there were many who didn’t take too kindly to the way she came into power. She wasn’t democratically elected by the people. Faced with an extremely hostile media presence, mostly publications owned by the incredibly right-wing Rupert Murdoch company NewsCorp, Gillard faced constant criticism about everything – including her personal life with partner Tim, her clothes, her hair, her lack of children, her past times, her manner of speech. It was open slather and the attacks and claims of upcoming leadership challenges in the Labor party were published every other day. She had to not only concentrate on running the nation and getting things done after the Rudd period of inactivity but she had to be strong in the face of adversity and personal attack. She was unmarried and an athiest. She didn’t have any children – and was referred to  as “deliberately barren” and unfit for leadership because of that by a Liberal MP. And of course her partner is a hairdresser which must mean he’s a homosexual! That was actually put to Julia Gillard in a radio interview by Howard Sattler who was later sacked because of it. I don’t think I’m alone when I feel that this would never have been asked of a male PM – if their wife was really a lesbian and it was all a sham. Because Gillard was both female and in a de facto relationship rather than protected by the “sanctity” marriage, it seemed as if it gave license to ask her rude, personal questions.

The book is divided into two sections, to answer the two questions Gillard says she is asked most frequently. The first section is how she did it, revolving around the downfall of Rudd and also pulling together a minority government after the 2010 election. The second section is why she did it, which revolves around her vision and what she wanted to implement as well as what motivated her. One thing that absolutely stands out in this book is Gillard’s passion for education. She wants desperately for everyone to have access to excellent quality education, the way she and her sister were able to after her family moved here from a dirt-poor Welsh mining town. She talks at length and often, how important education is to her and how it was one of her big agendas. As someone who now has a child at school, I find myself taking much more of an interest in both state and federal funding and the vision for the future. I’m far more interested in my children’s education than I was in my own at the time and it takes hindsight and maturity to appreciate the opportunities we are afforded here.

I told my husband and someone I spoke to after reading this that this book reads like a conversation with Gillard where she answers the questions before you can ask them. You don’t have to participate as such, just absorb the answers. It showcases her personality, which I don’t think was presented in the best light when she was leader. Gillard is actually warm and funny, quite humorous and very down to earth. When I was walking back home from dropping my son off at school yesterday, I listened to a podcast of Julia Gillard at a literary lunch with Tony Delroy and she is sort of questioned about this and she admits that she’s far better off the cuff, in her own words. She can prepare for things and deliver well in a format like Q&A, or The 7:30 Report but has never been much good at delivering a prepared speech word for word. This was something that hurt her at the time I think, because it seemed that people couldn’t really connect with her, especially after the way she came to power. Listening to the podcasts and her interviews since leaving power and reading her book showcases the sort of personality she could’ve perhaps offered if not distracted by so much negativity – the media, the scare campaign the opposition ran and also within her own party, which was always being or attempting to be, destabilised. She says there was always a need to be stoic, to not ever be seen as emotional (probably lest the ‘hysterical female’ accusations appear) and perhaps that contributed too. She doesn’t have that need anymore, she is able to be freer in her expression

This book is quite frank about the mistakes she made as well – decisions that she made that didn’t turn out to be right, people she trusted that she perhaps shouldn’t have, ideas she had that weren’t ready to be implemented. But I think ultimately Gillard is very proud of the government she led and how much it achieved in the face of such adversity. So many people forget that they passed over 500 pieces of legislation and as she says, “many important pieces, not just tidying up”. She’s proud of the fact that whilst it may not have been easy for her, being the first woman Prime Minister of Australia, she hopes that it will be for the next one….and the next one….and the next one after that. I think like many others do, that history will be much kinder to Gillard than the years she reigned in were. In time, she’ll be remembered for her ideas and her strength, rather than the fact she was a woman who wore clothes the media found boring and didn’t have a husband.

9/10

Book #214 of 2014

AWWW2014

This is the 79th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

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Review: The Alexandria Connection – Adrian d’Hagé

Alexandria ConnectionThe Alexandria Connection
Adrian d’Hagé
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 469p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

CIA agent Curtis O’Connor and his girlfriend/partner archaeologist Aleta Weizman are on a holiday of sorts in Alexandria, Egypt. Although O’Connor is on leave from the CIA, the two are not entirely there to relax – instead Aleta has plans to dive some of the ruins under the ocean in the Alexandria harbour. There have always been rumours of a lost papyrus that would reveal the true purposes of the pyramids of Giza, as well as another one that could turn the entire religion of Christianity on its head.

Elsewhere, a man nicknamed Pharos heads up a group of powerful people. The membership of the group is a well-guarded secret and each person invited in has a very specific attribute. All of these people are putting in a careful plan to create chaos in world financial markets via a string of well organised and funded terrorist attacks that will not only drive up the price of oil and create public hysteria but they will also result in loss of life and nuclear meltdown. Although the CIA have managed to intercept enough communication to know that something is planned, they don’t know where or when. Only Curtis O’Connor might be able to track down Pharos and prevent him from taking control of the entire world.

I think this is the third book that features O’Connor and Weizman but it’s the first that I’ve read. On some levels, you don’t really need to read the previous two as each is a separate story but it would probably help because I didn’t realise they were a couple until they started getting it on. I thought they just worked together and maybe there was potential for one of those ‘will they or won’t they?’ scenarios. Clearly that’s been and gone and they’re a couple of sorts here. I’m not entirely sure how serious it is – O’Connor has apparently well known prowess in the bedroom and Weizman is all about finding antiquities. She’s not the sort to sit at home and wait for O’Connor to get home from his latest assignment of being awesome.

There’s a lot going on here and it’s to d’Hagé’s credit that he manages to tie it all together relatively easily. In one part of the world you have O’Connor and Weizman having a ‘holiday’ of sorts (that keeps getting interrupted when O’Connor keeps getting recalled to active duty because of what the other people the in the novel are up to) diving searching the lost ruins of Egypt for evidence of the two rumoured papyrus. You have Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan planning terrorist attacks on the west, increasing on the severity scale with each one. You have one of the world’s richest men heading up a private group hell-bent on basically taking control of the world via influence over the financial markets, the control and supply of fossil fuels, print media coverage and the terrorist acts they’re paying others to carry out for them. d’Hagé also manages to work in domestic political issues such as the carbon tax on a grander scale, presenting it as a critical issue for an upcoming American presidential election. Given I read this book directly after finishing Julia Gillard’s memoir, I found that a very interesting and relevant inclusion!

I really enjoyed the parts of the story that revolved around Egypt and the antiquities as well as the quest to discover what the pyramids were for – all of that is really fascinating. However I do have to admit that the parts of the story connected to terrorism were less interesting to me. I tired of reading about the terrorists talking about the ‘infidels’ and I’m not entirely sure if I should be concerned about the ease of which some of these were planned and carried out or not. There’s a lot of panic now about the perceived level of threat Australia faces from terrorism and I tend to really try to shy away from the hysteria. Although I don’t know of anyone who fills the role of Pharos in reality, there probably are several people who are that wealthy and would pay obscene amounts to have yet more power. It’s a rather unpalatable thought and I did have trouble connecting to any of the characters within the book. O’Connor is a typical CIA/FBI/Navy SEAL/etc action hero and Weizman is basically a walking, talking archaeological and historical encyclopedia. She shows little other personality other than a knowledge and love of history in this book and again, that may be because I haven’t read the previous books featuring her. There is quite a lot of background between her and the CIA which would probably be interesting to catch up on, given it’s summarised in a paragraph or two here. The man behind Pharos is supposed to be loathsome and is, although I feel as though he was too one dimensional, like he could’ve been given something interesting as motivation rather than just money and power. I know they’re both things that easily corrupt but it made him boring.

I think this book is clever and intricate and I enjoyed parts of it a lot and admired the way other parts of it managed to blend together to create a seamless story. I am tempted however to go back and read the books with O’Connor and Weizman on the Maya Codex and the Incan Prophecy, I’ve read books concerning that sort of thing before and I’ve always enjoyed them.

7/10

Book #216 of 2014

Aussie-Author-Challenge-2014-final-badge

The Alexandria Connection counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2014. It’s book #16

 

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Review: Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is MissingElizabeth Is Missing
Emma Healey
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 275p
Read from my local library

Maud is 82 and she’s becoming more and more forgetful. She makes herself a cup of tea, forgets to drink it and then makes more. She goes to the shops, can’t remember why she’s there and buys things she doesn’t need until they’re piling up in the pantry. She forgets that she’s already eaten and makes herself some more toast. She forgets that really, she shouldn’t be cooking and thinks that boiling an egg will be ok. It’s just an egg.

One thing Maud does know is that her friend, Elizabeth, is missing. She hasn’t heard from her and the note in her pocket reminds her. Elizabeth is missing. Maud is sure that Elizabeth’s son Peter has done something, but no one is listening to her. And it’s pretty hard to solve the mystery of where Elizabeth is when you keep forgetting what you’ve already learned.

Maud’s confusion means she sometimes mixes up the events of now with the events of the past and the disappearance of Elizabeth isn’t the only mystery Maud needs to get to the bottom of. Seventy years ago her sister disappeared and locked away somewhere in Maud’s mind is the answer, if only she can find a way to let it out.

Elizabeth Is Missing is Emma Healey’s first novel and I would imagine that she’s chosen a very difficult character as her narrator. Maud is in her 80s and in the early stages of dementia/Alzheimer’s. At the beginning of the book she’s still living independently in her own home but it’s pretty obvious to the reader that this will not be able to continue much longer. Maud constantly forgets that she’s done things like turn the gas on to boil an egg. She has a carer who comes in the mornings and makes Maud her lunch, which Maud isn’t supposed to eat until lunch time but despite the note left on the food, Maud almost always eats it immediately. She has been told not to go to the shops but she keeps going, buying things she doesn’t need, forgetting the things that she does need.

Fortunately for me, I’ve never had any experience with someone who has Alzheimer’s so I can’t judge from personal experience how accurate Maud seems, only judge by what I’ve heard and it seems as though Healey has done an absolutely brilliant job capturing someone who is on the brink of being unable to live independently. Maud has moments of clear lucidity, more in the beginning of the book but as you get deeper into the story, the present and the past begin to blur more and more often in her mind and she has trouble recognising people in her life, even her daughter Helen. There is quite an amusing moment, after she moves in with Helen, where she tells Helen that the new girl Helen has hired doesn’t do any cleaning and leaves clothes all over the floor. Maud is actually talking about her own granddaughter Katy, who she has moments of not recognising and even though Helen can clearly see this is an advancement of her symptoms, she’s able to find the funny side in Maud clearly seeing that Katy doesn’t contribute.

Along with the mystery of where Maud’s friend Elizabeth is, a second mystery, that of the disappearance of Maud’s sister Sukey. Sukey was older than Maud, glamorous and someone Maud clearly looked up to. She was married to a mysterious man named Frank who always seemed to be doing favours for people and was always able to get them extra rations during the time of war. Sukey disappeared without a trace and it affected not only Maud but also the structure of her whole family. Her parents never quite dealt with the disappearance of Sukey and Maud was forced to seek out either her husband Frank, who people suspected of harming her, or their lodger Douglas who seemed to have a complicated relationship with Sukey, if she ever wanted to be able to talk about her.

This book’s strength, which is the rambling, confused narrative of Maud is also occasionally its weakness for me, because there’s so many things that are repeated, so many fragments that don’t come together to make sense in a meaningful way. This is of course intended, but it does occasionally make for frustrating reason as we go through for the twentieth time that yes, Elizabeth is missing according to Maud and no one is listening to her. I don’t know if they are telling Maud where Elizabeth is sometimes and she’s just forgetting it or if they’re attempting to protect her but it does occasionally come off as if they are just ignoring her or even worse, humouring her. The fact that she remembers that Elizabeth isn’t around is interesting, it appears to be the one thing that sticks repetitively in her mind. I’m not sure if it’s because it reminds her of Sukey disappearing, which has obviously weighed so heavily on her for her whole life and Elizabeth seems to also be the one person that Maud spends time with where neither of them are doing it out of duty. I know for Helen, it must be both frustrating and also depressing seeing her mother descend more and more into confusion and Helen sighs a lot and becomes short with Maud but at the same time, most if not all of her care, falls to her. Helen has a brother, Maud’s son who lives abroad and so basically the entire workload falls to Helen and it wouldn’t be easy. Maud is also an entirely unreliable narrator as she forgets so much and confuses incidents between the past and the present.

I enjoyed this a lot – I think it’s a very difficult story executed very well and I would be interested in anything else that Emma Healey writes in the future.

7/10

Book #213 of 2014

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Review: The Eye Of Heaven – Clive Cussler

Eye of HeavenThe Eye Of Heaven (Fargo Adventures #6)
Clive Cussler and Russell Blake
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 389p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Husband and wife treasure hunting team Sam and Remi Fargo are on an environmental expedition off north western Canada. To the surprise of everyone, the expedition discovers a perfectly preserved Viking ship. But that’s not the most surprising thing – the fact that the ship is filled with pre-Columbian artifacts from Mexico could change what is known and taught about history.

After they have secured and photographed the scene and stayed with it until the Canadian government is able to dispatch a research team, Sam and Remi fly home and begin their research. They find a link between the Vikings and the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl of the Toltecs. They also find evidence of an object known as the Eye of Heaven….a emerald about the size of a man’s fist. Sam and Remi want to finish the job and prove definitively that the Vikings did visit Mexico and they’d also like to locate the Eye of Heaven in order to have it preserved and able to be enjoyed. But they’re not the only ones who are on the trail and there are others out there who would do anything to possess these incredible historical artifacts, but for the ability to sell them to the highest bidder. There’s a huge black market in trading antiquities and soon Sam and Remi will be fighting not just for the right to keep the Eye of Heaven from falling into the wrong hands, but also for their lives.

I have to admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for this series. I’ve only read books 4-6 but it really doesn’t matter. You don’t need to read all of them, or even read them in order. They’re all basically the same – Sam and Remi are incredibly wealthy (due to Sam inventing something and selling it for megabucks) and they spend their time trotting around the globe hunting treasure for the altruistic reasons of turning it over the authorities. It’s the thrill of the chase, the excitement of the discovery and uncovering a mystery that excites them. They both have lots of skills and they’re attractive and generous with their money. These books always involves lots of interesting locations and a good mystery with some action, usually them fighting off bad guys who want the treasure for profiting purposes.

The two previous Fargo Adventure books I read had a different writer involved – I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure about the role that the other writer plays in the writing of the book. Do they write the entire thing, taking only the creation of Sam and Remi Fargo from Clive Cussler? All of the books have had an “assistant” writer, Russell Blake is the third author to step in on this series. There’s little that changes perceptibly from the books I read previously except that this one does tend to lay off the filler that I complained about in my last review, describing Remi’s designer clothes and shoes although the devotion to describing their elaborate meals out at restaurants and the wines that are chosen to go with them stays. I tend to find this very jarring because it feels out of place. I’m tipping that most readers of these books don’t care whether or not Remi wore Dior or Chanel. I noticed that in this book, Sam has added a Gulfstream G650 to his assets, enabling them to fly around the world at a moment’s notice much more simply than when their assistants had to book them onto commercial flights! These will set you back around $65m US although Sam was thrifty and picked up a repossessed one or something, so I’m imagining that he got a bargain!

These books are pure escapism although I don’t actually want to be Sam or Remi. I actually would prefer to work for them, helping them with their research and learning interesting things! They have a very small team that they place their utmost trust in – in this novel, one of their team brings in someone new and Remi in particular has quite a negative reaction to this, convinced for most of the book that the new person can’t be trusted and is possibly betraying them. I felt as though this wasn’t resolved very satisfactorily and there was little to suggest why Remi, otherwise intelligent and rational, might feel this way.

In terms of the actual mystery and treasure, I have to admit it wasn’t the most exciting one I’ve read. However what I like about these is that they’re really easy reads that just keep you turning the pages, waiting for the inevitable moment when Sam and Remi get the treasure, thwart the bad buy and live happily ever after, ready for the next mystery they can sink their teeth into. This one was interesting in that it paired Vikings with Mexico but I found the actual searching for the treasure to be a bit lacklustre and it seemed like they did little in the way of protecting the dig, even though they knew that someone was following them and attempting to find the Eye of Heaven before they could. It seemed like Sam could’ve dropped some of his extensive fortune on security officers to secure the site who wouldn’t be bribed so easily by the person chasing them. But I enjoyed the cat and mouse games, the attempt to stay one step ahead of the bad guys or regain ground lost, which is part of the fun of these. You always know who is going to win in the end, but first you have to get there.

Not my favourite of these but definitely still a pretty good read.

7/10

Book #212 of 2014

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