All The Books I Can Read

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Top 10 Tuesday September 22nd

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now lives with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It features a different literary themed topic each week and this week we are talking….

Top 10 Books On My Fall Spring Reading List

Spring officially started on September 1st in Australia, although where I live often doesn’t get the memo until much later. It’s also a very popular time for books to be published so there are often loads of exciting releases. Here are 10 I’m hoping to get to pretty soon….

1. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

The publishing date for this was announced just last week and will be (worldwide) on November 17. I pretty much never bother to pre-order books, but I have pre-ordered this. I feel like I’ve been waiting for an Obama presidential memoir for quite a while. This is part 1 in what I think will be a 2 part story and I am super, super excited for this.

2. The Godmothers by Monica McInerney. 

Monica McInerney is a popular Australian author who now resides most of the time in Ireland. I’ve read quite a lot of her books and this one is also the choice for my online bookclub in December but it’s published next month so I’ll probably be reading it for then.

3. Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin.

I borrowed this through my local library’s eBook lending service and had to wait in queue and it just appeared in my account the other day so I’ll be reading this in the next 14 days before it expires!

4. Return To Virgin River by Robyn Carr.

I got a copy of this from the US publisher. I remember binging a lot of this series quite a few years ago now (although I still have not watched the Netflix series!). So I’m interested to see what it’ll be like to return. Might have to go and read all my reviews of previous novels so I remember who everyone is!

5. The Invisible Life Of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

I’ve read a few of V.E. Schwab’s books before and this sounds incredibly interesting – a woman who trades her soul for immortality but the catch is everyone she meets is destined to forget her. After 300 years, Addie meets someone who actually remembers her. This sounds really interesting and I love the cover too.

6. Mind The Gap, Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

I just received a copy of this on the weekend from the Australian publisher and it’s out next month so it makes its way onto my list. I really adored Dash & Lily’s Book Of Dares and although there’s been another book, I haven’t read that one, but I don’t think it’ll matter too much.

7. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

This just won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and I’ve heard a few friends/bloggers with whose tastes I often aline pretty closely with, say really excellent things about this so I’m quite curious.

8. My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I’m not American but it’s impossible not to be aware of the impact of ‘RBG’ and with her unfortunate passing recently it seems like a really good time to learn more.

9. The Living Sea Of Waking Dreams by Richard Flangan

Richard Flanagan is an Australian author who won a Man Booker prize for his previous novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. He’s also won a swag of Australian literary awards as well so I’m looking forward to this one.

10. Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

It’s been a long time since I read Ready Player One but I found it really entertaining. So I’m curious to see what this is like!

These are just 10 of the books I’m looking forward to reading over the next few months. I have more but I tried not to double up on books from my Most Anticipated Releases For the Second Half Of 2020 post, which I did just a couple of months ago.

What are you looking forward to this season?

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Review: Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Well Met (Well Met #1)
Jen DeLuca
Berkley
2019, 336p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

All’s faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author, Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

This was another book suggested in a thread on the romance subreddit which asked for grumpy heroes falling in love with sunflower heroines. It was also on sale on iBooks so I snapped up a copy and was ready to break up the somewhat heavy/serious/crime types of novels I have left on my TBR for the month. But the heart wants what it wants and it wanted to read this book!

Emily was at a low point when her sister, 12 years her senior, was involved in a serious accident. A single mother, Emily’s sister April needed a lot of care and someone also had to help with her daughter, 14yo Caitlin. Emily packed up her life and moved to just outside Baltimore Maryland in order to be that person for both her sister and her niece. And when Cait wants to join the local Renaissance Faire, Emily is told that an adult must volunteer with her as well, so Emily is roped into being involved. She clashes with Simon, the high school English teacher in charge of the volunteers (and seemingly, everything else as well). Emily finds Simon’s rigid attitude towards the faire oppressive and he can’t deal with her casual flippancy towards it, frustrated when she’s on her phone during meetings. It isn’t until Emily meets Simon’s ‘alter-ego’ (his faire character) really, that the two of them seem to find a bit of common ground.

This has all the hallmarks of a book for me and I absolutely did enjoy huge parts of it. I don’t really know anything about Renaissance Faires but it seemed like a bit of fun. The participants are encouraged to stay in character for a lot of the time and they dress in fun costumes. Although it’s also super hard work and Emily is fitting in her volunteering between ferrying her sister and niece to their various medical appointments and extra-curricular activities. For Emily, this was something she had to do for her niece and although it’s fun, she doesn’t approach it in the same way Simon does. And she resents Simon for a bit until she realises just why Simon has this attitude about it and how much it’s taking a toll on him.

I really enjoyed the banter between Simon and Emily’s alter-egos, the pirate and tavern wench. It was a good way to develop things between them but also give both characters an excuse to retreat or think that it’s just part of the game/role play of the faire. Emily’s self esteem has recently taken quite a battering and she has a tendency to immediately assume that someone doesn’t really value her or want her in anyway, even when she gets a part time job in the small town, she assumes that she doesn’t have anything to offer long term and it won’t be long before she’s replaced.

But there’s no denying that at times I felt the animosity in the beginning was underdeveloped and seemed too advanced for the pretty limited interactions they’d had with each other. It does seem to more be on Emily’s side, Simon’s is a product of his intensity and responsibility I think (which later in the book, is well explored and easy to understand). And the conflict towards the end of the novel felt a bit weak too, but I did enjoy the way in which it was resolved.

Overall this was a fun read – definitely a good way to pass a few hours and it’s the first in a series as well, focused around the Ren Faire. The next book features Stacey, Emily’s fellow tavern wench who befriends her in this book and there was a brief excerpt at the end of my copy of Well Met which made it sound fun.That book comes out tomorrow actually, so I think I’ll definitely read it.

7/10

Book #185 of 2020

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Review: Lonely In Longreach by Eva Scott

Lonely In Longreach
Eva Scott
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2020, 370p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In the red heart of Queensland, two teenagers playing matchmaker are about to turn more than one life upside-down.

Widower Sam Costello has no time for love. When he’s not working on his farm, he’s trying to figure out how to connect with his teenage son Levi.

But Levi is about to finish high school, and he has big plans to move to Sydney for University with his best friend Maddie. If only he didn’t feel so guilty about abandoning his dad. Maddie has her own reasons for wanting to go to Sydney and she’s not going to let Levi’s dad ruin her future happiness. Mr Costello needs a girlfriend and, with her talent for matchmaking, Maddie is the girl to make it happen. By the time Mr C figures out what she’s done, surely he’ll be too in love to be angry.

Journalist Sarah Lewis has a good job, a nice boyfriend and a safe life in Sydney. Though sometimes she wonders if life has more to offer than nice and safe. When she starts working on an article about finding love in the outback she finds herself asking whether journalists should become this invested in their research. But there’s just something about Lonely in Longreach. Could it be that the man behind the dating profile is the key to the passion she has been looking for?

Sleepless in Seattle meets rural Australia in this fresh romantic comedy about optimism, online dating and love at first sight.

This was a really fun read billed as a mash up of Sleepless In Seattle (which I am actually kinda ashamed to say I haven’t seen) and Farmer Wants A Wife (which I also haven’t seen because I’m not into “reality” tv). But I know the basics enough! Sam has been a widower for 7 years. Sam is also raising his teenage son Levi and Levi has big plans to move away to Sydney for university but he doesn’t want to leave his father alone on the farm. His best friend Maddie comes up with an elaborate scheme to create a personal profile for Sam on an outback/country dating site and so the Lonely in Longreach profile is born! It catches the attention of Sarah, a journalist in Sydney trapped in a boring and unfulfilling relationship. Sarah, although born in Newcastle and having lived in Sydney for most of her working life, feels a country girl at heart and part of her longs for the bush. When she sees Sam’s profile, she taps out a message and all of a sudden the two are corresponding…..and she’s planning a visit for ‘work’ but also to see if this might go somewhere. But Sarah and Sam are in for a bit of a shock…..when they realise what two meddling teenagers have done.

I enjoyed a lot about this! It’s kind of a dual story because Levi and his best friend Maddie probably get almost as much page time as Sam and Sarah. Levi and Maddie are at that teen stage where their friendship is changing and evolving and it’s confusing for both of them. Maddie has grand plans to go to Sydney for university (thinks she’s going to live in Bondi, I have a feeling the price of Bondi rents would probably shock her silly!) and she wants Levi to come too. Maddie is a dreamer, with grand plans and ideas and sometimes, that means not seeing (or not wanting to see) what’s right in front of her. She’s definitely the brains of the operation whereas Levi kind of goes along with her schemes, easily talked into things by Maddie, who is confident that everything will just work out for the best.

Sam was a lovely character, I thought his love for Levi came through so constantly and also his worry as well, about whether or not their relationship still had the same connection now that Levi was in his teens. Sam hasn’t dated at all since he lost his wife and his local friends are more than willing to help him get back into the scene. They definitely all want him to be happy – and Levi wants that too. He wants his dad to not be alone when he graduates school and leaves for further education and although he’s gone along with Maddie’s idea of the dating profile, Levi isn’t happy for his dad to date just anyone.

For Sarah, she was attracted to Sam upon first seeing his picture and their ‘communication’ just makes her more invested. She hasn’t been fulfilled in her romantic life for quite a while it seems, she wants more. Using a story about love in the bush, she travels to Longreach and is pleased when she and Sam hit it off in person just as much. The attraction is there between them and Sarah can really see this going somewhere – until she witnesses something and realises something that makes her question everything about Sam and how she’s been treated.

I really liked both stories in this book – Sam and Sarah’s and Levi and Maddie’s as well. I really appreciated how much the teens were involved in the story – they had their own story as well as being kind of the catalyst for Sam and Sarah’s. I would’ve liked it to be a little heavier on the romance for the adults – a little more interaction for Sam and Sarah, some of it did feel a bit instantaneous and I suppose your feelings about that will depend on how much you believe in love at first sight.

But overall this was an excellent way to pass an afternoon and I’ll definitely read Eva Scott’s next book!

7/10

Book #184 of 2020

Lonely In Longreach is book #72 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: The F Team by Rawah Arja

The F Team
Rawah Arja
Giramondo Publishing Company
2020, 363p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Meet Tariq Nader, leader of ‘The Wolf Pack’ at Punchbowl High, who has been commanded by the new principal to join a football competition with his mates in order to rehabilitate the public image of their school. When the team is formed, Tariq learns there’s a major catch – half of the team is made up of white boys from Cronulla, aka enemy territory – and he must compete with their strongest player for captaincy of the team.

At school Tariq thinks he has life all figured out until he falls for a new girl called Jamila, who challenges everything he thought he knew. At home, his outspoken ways have brought him into conflict with his family. Now, with complications on all fronts, he has to dig deep to control his anger, and find what it takes to be a leader.
In confronting and often hilarious situations, Tariq’s relationships with his extended Lebanese family and his friends are tested like never before, and he comes to learn that his choices can have serious consequences.
 

Recently I saw YA/MG Aussie author and blogger Danielle Binks heaping praise on this and I think that Danielle and I have some pretty similar tastes so I made a decision to bump this up my pile and check it out as soon as I could.

It centres around the suburb of Punchbowl in Sydney’s south-west. In probably the 1990s, Punchbowl became one of those notorious suburbs in the news, particularly centred around the Lebanese community. There was a lot of talk of gangs, obnoxious and criminal behaviour, it became a place people talked about in disparaging ways, as did the neighbouring suburbs around the Canterbury-Bankstown area. It was probably just the latest at the time, in a long line of ‘targeted’ suburbs heavy with multicultural influence where one or two incidents mean that everyone gets tarred with a similar brush. It still happens today – here in Melbourne where I live, the focus is on suburbs rife with Sudanese ‘gangs’ and much is made of how there are places where people are too scared to go out at night.

Tarik, the main character, is Lebanese. His parents came to Australia, as his dad will tell anyone that wants to listen ‘to give his kids a better life than he had’. Tarik is part of a busy, noisy, big family – he has two brothers and two sisters and they all still live at home. His uncle also lives with them too and keeps bees in the backyard where he makes honey. Tarik and his friends go to Punchbowl High School, which thanks to a few pranks and negative incidents that have made the news in recent times, is in danger of being shut down. There’s a new principal who is determined to drag the school’s image up from the gutter and keep it open and he’s not afraid to use Tarik and his friends to do it. They’re rugby league players and the principal comes up with the idea (punishment?) to make them participate in a camp run in conjunction with the National Rugby League (NRL) but Tarik and his friends get paired with kids from Cronulla, which was famously the scene of the Cronulla race riots, focused on those of Middle Eastern background.

This book is brilliant – I absolutely loved it! Tarik and his friends are this tight knit, raucous bunch of boys who fight and rough each other up and tease each other but at the bottom of it, they are family. They are funny and clever and real and full of flaws. Tarik himself, whilst good-looking and smart, destined to go far, is clumsy emotionally at times, hurting his sister and his uncle and the girl he likes (and the girl he doesn’t) with thoughtless, sometimes sexiest comments. He gets schooled on what ‘women’s work’ is – his mother is a rather traditional stay at home Arab mother who nurtures with food and he seems to see cooking and cleaning and preparing as not things men should do. Despite this though, Tarik has a really good heart and he feels it when he upsets people. He’s also really distressed when one of his close friends (his closest) starts acting out in ways that Tarik doesn’t understand. He knows he needs to find out why but he doesn’t have the emotional maturity to force the confrontation, instead taking refuge sometimes in anger himself. The friendships between the boys (and the ups and downs thereof) is so well done, so real, for boys that are fifteen and in year 10, who have the impact of a possible school closure going on over their heads and the difficulties of adolescence and family issues for some of them as well.

The boys are passionate about their rugby league (Canterbury-Bankstown have a team in the NRL, the Bulldogs that has a very loud and obsessive fanbase) and games make up a portion of the book as well as the boys getting tickets to see an NRL game. Rawah Arja perfectly captures the atmosphere of a “Doggies” game and I really enjoyed that part, especially Ibby’s antics. I enjoyed how the principal used the boys’ love of the sport to channel them, but he demands things from them in return and he’s not afraid to take things away from them (Tarik’s captaincy in particular) in order to pull them into line. A lot of what Tarik’s friends do, or the other boys in school, is stereotypical stupid high school boys stuff. I remember my grade 10 classes tormenting casual teachers in much the same way as Tarik’s class do the science teacher here but it’s the fact that the school is so under scrutiny that makes everything they do seem heightened by 1000x. A harmless scuffle in the schoolyard becomes a dramatic brawl, with mobile phone footage leaked to the local news, etc. All those added together keep the school in danger and it’s the new principal’s job to save it. His methods are unorthodox and the boys resent the heck out of him at first….but slowly, he makes progress. And brings them round.

My favourite part of this was Tarik’s family. It’s big and noisy and chaotic and his dad with his funny lectures and expectations of Tarik’s behaviour (he’s not afraid to embarrass the heck out of Tarik when he thinks Tarik has done the wrong thing) and his mother who takes care of everyone, his smart and dedicated older sister as well as his clever and funny younger sister. Tarik is very family oriented and everyone in the neighbourhood is basically welcome for a meal at his place. Tarik’s mother often feeds his friends who perhaps have less of a family influence at home or who aren’t quite a part of a similar type of family unit. There’s a real contrast between Tarik’s family and Aaron’s (from the Cronulla school). Tarik sees the possessions whereas Aaron sees the connections. And the part with Tarik and his uncle is heartbreaking and beautiful. My close second favourite part of the book was the way the boys from Punchbowl and the boys from Cronulla inch towards friendship. There’s a lot of hostility and wariness at first but soon they are sort of united by a common enemy and they learn to adjust and accept each other and from there, it’s a journey toward being a team, towards building friendships with people who are outside of their social and cultural circles.

And as funny as this is, there’s plenty of seriousness in here as the boys negotiate racism and social expectations and perceptions. It was interesting reading from this perspective as well, of hearing how the judgements and accusations affect them as a whole and how they rally behind each other as a community. How they fight the ‘Angry Arab’ stereotype, or struggle against fighting it, every day. I don’t read a lot of YA from a male perspective so for me, this was refreshing. I also have two sons that’ll be teenagers soon and this is the sort of book I want them both to be reading.

I thought this was fantastic. Highly recommended.

9/10

Book #183 of 2020

The F Team is book #71 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

I’m also counting The F Team towards my Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’ll be using it to check off prompt #13 – by an Arab woman. It’s the 15th book completed for the challenge.

 

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Review: The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker

The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4)
Lucy Parker
Carina Press
2019, 400p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

So the other day I was browsing the romance subreddit and someone requested, basically, romances where “a Slytherin falls in love with a Hufflepuff” and one of the suggestions was this. It reminded me that this was actually a book I skipped in this series. I read the first 3 last year and then #5 was on NetGalley, so I ended up reading that too. From reading that one, I knew that I would be interested in this one but it slipped my mind to go back and read it, so as soon as I read the suggestion on that subreddit, I went and downloaded it straight away.

Freddy was introduced to readers in previous books. She’s an actress, somewhat royalty in London theatre circles – her grandmother was an actress and wrote a very acclaimed play which is now studied by pretty much every British schoolchild. Her father was a talented actor before an accident ended his career and now he manages Freddy. But although her father has very carefully mapped out a particular path for her, one that will see her as a Very Serious Actress, lately Freddy hasn’t been feeling her roles. She’s starting to think that maybe, her career lies in a different direction. Her performances keep also being savaged by J. Ford-Griffen, a clever and cutting critic who writes for the Post and also appears on television. So of course when she accepts an offer to act in a live-tv event that’s a mashup of various Austen books, it’s being filmed at the majestic family pile of “Griff” – whose grandfather infamously had an affair with Freddy’s grandmother. The more they run into each other, the more the banter turns into something a little more….Freddy discovers that the acerbic Griff has a soft heart and Griff knows what Freddy desires in her career and wants to encourage her. But the tumultuous past of their relatives could threaten it all.

Yes, yes, yes. If I could use an emoji with little heart eyes in this post, I would. I adored this book. It was exactly my sort of thing – as most of these in the series have been. I loved Richard and Lainey in book 1 and Luc and Lily in book 2. I also really loved Nick and Sabs in book 5, despite what Nick did (which occurs in this book, and I already knew about it given I’ve read the follow up to this). The dynamic of the characters and the banter pretty much always work for me in this series, this one perhaps more so than any of the others (except maybe Richard and Lainey in book 1). This makes me want to re-read book 1.

I loved Griff – he’s exactly the sort of icy, grumpy hero hiding a heart of gold underneath all those cutting remarks that I love. And Freddy is basically sunshine in a bottle – everything about her is a field of sunflowers and you could not get a more Slytherin/Hufflepuff dynamic. It’s actually referenced several times in the book that Griff is a total Slytherin and even though I haven’t read Harry Potter other than the first book, I know enough to understand that he’s almost a Malfoy implant. He’s a platinum blonde with dark eyes and a snarky attitude. But underneath Griff is a ball of stress and worry as it falls to him to keep his feckless, happy-go-lucky spendthrift family in line when the money is drying up. He has a project, which if he can pull off, might save the day and prevent him from having to sell the family home but Freddy’s father is doing his best to sabotage that.

I adored Griff and Freddy together, the way he reacts every time he sees her, especially in the beginning. Freddy is so full of fun – I loved her in the previous book and was super keen for her to get her own book, I can’t believe it took me so long to read it. I also enjoyed the way she sparred with Griff about the lines he’d written in his reviews. She didn’t hold a grudge and I liked the she accepted that Griff could kind of see what she should be doing, the sort of roles that her heart longed for, that she’d be made for, rather than the more serious, dramatic acting chops roles that her father preferred she audition for. Griff is very encouraging about Freddy taking charge of her own career and owning the sorts of parts she wants to play, rather than continuing to allow herself to be shoehorned into a type, one that was clearly not her strength. But Griff does mess up by doing something that makes Freddy feel like he’s gone behind her back and he has to fix it.

This book gave me such joy, it was exactly my sort of thing and I loved it from start to finish. I downloaded a bunch of other “Slytherin falls in love with a Hufflepuff” recommendations and I hope I enjoy them all as much as I did this one.

9/10

Book #182 of 2020

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Top 10 Tuesday 15th September

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday, hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is a “cover freebie”. Freebies are always a bit hard for me, there are times when I can easily name a million books that would make up any number of freebie type posts but the second I sit down to try and think of a “freebie” topic or find books that fit into one, my mind goes immediately blank lol. So I’m just going to go a bit easy here.

Top 10 Covers From Books I’ve Read In 2020

1. With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo. 

I love the vibes of this cover and if you look at it, you keep seeing new things, all of which give you more clues about the plot and the characters and what’s important in the book.

2. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. 

This cover is so incredibly realistic. I keep wanting to reach out and pick up the character’s name tag, which looks like a 3D object just sitting on the book!

3. The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood. 

This is a beautiful cover – I knew nothing about this book before it arrived but I wanted to know what that was on the cover, how it was relevant, etc.

4. Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater. 

I find this cover really tactile too.

5. The Octopus And I by Erin Hortle. 

I’m not entirely sure why I like this one so much – it’s sort of whimsical and fun (not a realistic looking octopus) but the book itself is definitely more serious (and does involve a real octopus).

6. The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi.

I borrowed this book solely because of the cover – I think it’s amazing.

7. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

I really like this cover too – the moodiness of the colours really help set the scene for the isolation of the hotel.

8. The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan. 

I’m an Aussie so the whole Christmas in the snow thing is such a strange concept but I really like reading winter Christmas books. This one is set in remote Norway over the Christmas period and this one gives such amazing vibes from the cover.

9. Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin.

Love this cover and especially how the serpent makes up the ampersand in the title.

10. The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

This cover is also crazy atmospheric. It stretches from the Arctic to Antarctica and honestly, this could be close to either.

So, here are my 10 favourite covers from the books I’ve read so far in 2020. Have you read any of them? If not…..do any of these covers make you want to pick them up?

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Review: The Road To Ironbark by Kaye Dobbie

The Road To Ironbark
Kaye Dobbie
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2020, 308p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

1874, The Victorian Goldfields

In the town of Ironbark, Aurora Scott faces ruin as the railways supplant the Cobb & Co coach line, the lifeline of her hotel. Aurora is no stranger to adversity; the formidable publican has pulled herself from a murky past to build a respectable life in Ironbark. But when bushrangers storm the hotel, taking hostages as leverage for the Starburst Mine’s payroll, Aurora has more trouble on her hands than she can handle.

This is no random act, but a complex scheme of revenge. The gang turn on each other. Shots ring out. And when the dust settles, the money has vanished, and so has Aurora Scott…

After 150 years, the mystery of the missing payroll has passed into folklore. And when journalist Melody Lawson helps her brother prepare for the town’s annual Gold Hunt Weekend, she is just as drawn into the past as the tourists. But with a surprise inheritance her own family history becomes a puzzle, bound up with the fabled payroll – and as Melody follows the clues, danger mounts…

This book was also part of the ‘care package’ I received from Harper Collins Australia for being in Stage 4 lockdown here in Melbourne. I have read and enjoyed a Kaye Dobbie book before so I was quite excited about reading this – I had seen a few very positive reviews around and now having read it, I definitely agree with them. I absolutely loved this and read it in just a couple of hours.

It’s a dual timeline – 1874 and 2017 with a few snippets from a couple of other years as well. In 1874, Aurora Scott is the proprietor of the Ironbark Hotel, which is in the small town of Ironbark in the Victorian Goldfields. A widow, she has experiencing some difficulty financially, spending long hours agonising over how to cut costs and now the Cobb & Co coach line will no longer stop in the town, which will impact incredibly on her business. On the very last run, the payroll from the Starburst Mine is unexpectedly on the coach and bushrangers take Aurora and the others in her hotel hostage, demanding the payroll and threatening their lives.

In the present day, Melody Lawson returns to Ironbark, which she left after high school, after a family tragedy. The town relies heavily on the story of Aurora Scott for their Gold Hunt Weekend, a large tourism event which brings many to the small town. As well as dealing with that tragedy, Melody is also hit with a second bombshell – a surprise inheritance that makes her question everything about herself. She undertakes a bit of an investigation into her own past and the circumstances surrounding being left these assets but is unaware of just how much she might be putting herself in danger.

Both timelines are really interesting. Aurora is a strong, independent woman who has experienced grief and hardship and has also taken steps to protect herself from someone who would use her and who doesn’t take kindly to being told no. He’s the sort of person that has done wrong to many people but is wealthy enough and feared enough to always come out the victor. There’s a lot about Aurora’s background that comes out over the course of her being taken hostage in the hotel and she’s under a lot of pressure to protect everyone. It’s her hotel, she has employees there, people she cares about and people that were on the Cobb & Co coach. For some, it’s about winning, about not being a victim anymore – about taking something that will provide leverage to allow them freedom. I really enjoyed the historical aspect of the story, getting to know Aurora and what had happened to her and how she’d come to be managing the Ironbark Hotel and how the actions of those on that day changed her life.

In the present day, Melody has been eking out a living working for a community newspaper in Melbourne when she’s called home. Despite the tragedy they have experienced, Melody and her brother (her brother in particular) have a ‘show must go on’ type of attitude for the Gold Hunt Weekend. Melody’s brother is involved with all the organisation and it’s very important to him and his situation in the town that the weekend be a success. Melody is also reeling from the news of a mysterious inheritance and all that means as well as dealing with an enigmatic stranger and the high school boyfriend she left behind when she went to Melbourne – who seems to want her back. But he’ll never leave Ironbark and Melody has never been sure she wanted to live there again….until the inheritance that suddenly gives her more options. I got really invested in Melody’s story as well, both the aspect of her finding out about this mysterious inheritance and also her romantic life. Melody had to figure out what she wanted out of life and what was more important to her and being back in Ironbark definitely put her on the right path about that. Especially as she was motivated to stay there a bit longer because of the personal circumstances – she wasn’t really able to duck in and duck out quickly, as it seemed she had in the past when returning to visit her family. This made her spend more time with Hugh, who had been her high school boyfriend but had stayed behind in Ironbark for personal reasons when the two finished school. He’s now the local policeman and there are times when his role causes a bit of conflict with Melody but Hugh knows what he wants and has made it clear. It’s Melody who has to figure out where her heart really lies.

This was such an entertaining read, I was equally invested in both timelines and enjoyed all aspects of the story. I really do need to read some more of Kaye Dobbie’s books.

9/10

Book #181 of 2020

The Road To Ironbark is book #70 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

 

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Review: The Mystery Woman by Belinda Alexandra

The Mystery Woman
Belinda Alexandra
Harper Collins AUS
2020, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In a small town, everyone is watching… She had thought Shipwreck Bay was simply a remote town where people were bored senseless with their little lives. Now she saw its virtuous facade hid something darker, more sinister.

Rebecca Wood takes the role as postmistress in a sleepy seaside town, desperate for anonymity after a scandal in Sydney. But she is confronted almost at once by a disturbing discovery – her predecessor committed suicide.

To add to her worries, her hopes for a quiet life are soon threatened by the attentions of the dashing local doctor, the unsettling presence of a violent whaling captain and a corrupt shire secretary, as well as the watchful eyes of the town’s gossips. Yet in spite of herself she is drawn to the enigmatic resident of the house on the clifftop, rumoured to have been a Nazi spy.

Against the backdrop of the turbulent sea, Rebecca is soon caught up in the dangerous mysteries that lie behind Shipwreck Bay’s respectable net curtains.

I’ve read one of Belinda Alexandra’s books before and really enjoyed it so I was very keen to read this. Set in a small Australian seaside town after the Second World War, Rebecca has taken a job as postmistress. She needed to get out of Sydney after the end of relationship that would be scandalous if it were to be leaked in the press and so she hopes that the small, quite isolated/insular community is the perfect place to lay low.

From the moment she arrives, Rebecca discovers that life won’t be that easy. The small town is full of people curious about her single state – unusual for a woman in her early thirties. There’s outright hostility from some and her beauty attracts a lot of attention from the men, both single and otherwise. But Rebecca is determined to build a life for herself here and that means befriending the ladies and making sure they have no reason to suspect her of suspicious behaviour with their husbands. There’s also the mystery of why a predecessor, postmistress of Shipwreck Bay some twenty years, committed suicide. And Rebecca soon discovers that it was a double tragedy. As well as that, there’s a brewing feud in the town between the whalers and a man who would see the practice banned, a man of German origin who was arrested and incarcerated for being a spy in the war.

This is part mystery, part social commentary in a lot of parts. Rebecca is a single woman in a time when it wasn’t ‘the norm’ and especially at her age. She’s only early thirties but that in the 1950s was definitely verging into spinster territory although she’s not without a lot of interest from the local men. She needed to escape Sydney in order to protect herself and she’s hoping that this place will be remote enough that she won’t be discovered and exposed for her previous life. There’s rather a lot about double standards in here – how women were/are held to much higher standards. For example, it’s almost expected that a wealthy, connected man would have a mistress but for a woman to be the mistress, there must be something wrong with her for her to engage in such morally bankrupt behaviour. Such women are a threat to the very idea of a family, according to some of the more pious voices.

I have to admit, I didn’t know much about whaling in Australia given as a practice, it stopped before I was born. Now a lot of Australia is concerned with anti-whaling activities, protecting our waters and also even waters further afield. Whale watching is a large tourism industry, attracting both locals and foreign visitors. It was strange to think of it being such a big industry, given they’ve been somewhat protected my entire life. Some species were hunted almost to extinction. From what this book describes it sounds like quite an unpleasant industry, both the harpooning of the whales and the treatment of the carcasses thereafter. But it was a huge part of the town and even to turn a nose up at the smell was seen as being unsupportive of the local community, who relied heavily on the industry. This is something that Rebecca learns when she first arrives in the town and it’s also the reason that Stefan Otto is so much at odds with the town – as well as being of German heritage, he’s also vocal against the whalers and campaigns for the reduction of the practice and the turning from whale oil to other products, such as canola or flaxseed.

This is also a rather frank look at public persona vs private personality and how the person you think is an upstanding member of society can fool everyone and be the very opposite. I thought this part of the book was very well done, particularly the last 100-150 pages where Alexandra ramps up the tension as Rebecca comes to the slow, horrifying realisation that she’s gotten someone completely wrong and now her life is in danger.

I enjoyed this but it did feel a bit slow at the start for me. It’s over 400p and a lot of the early part is descriptions of outfits and meetings with people in the town. The latter part of the book though is excellent and there was a lot in here that I did find really interesting, such as the information about whaling and the exploration of attitudes towards women in the 1950s.

Enjoyable and I definitely have some other Belinda Alexandra novels that I want to read.

7/10

Book #179 of 2020

The Mystery Woman is book #68 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: Elsa’s Stand by Cathryn Hein

Elsa’s Stand (Outback Brides #3)
Cathryn Hein
Tule Publishing
2018, 260p
Free on Amazon for kindle

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When the sudden death of his mother forces outback opal miner Jack Hargreaves home to Wirralong, his plan is simple: mourn his mother, sort out the family farm, and get the hell out of the town that has always hated him. But Elsa O’Donoghue, the beautiful hairdresser with a big heart and even brighter smile, has other plans.

From the moment Jack strides into her salon and helps himself to her clippers, Elsa is in lust. He might be a poster boy for the strong silent type, but she senses there’s a good man behind that stoic facade. With her business taking off, Elsa is finally ready for a relationship and Jack is just her kind of man. Not to mention, she’s never said no to a challenge.

Worried their association will harm Elsa’s business, Jack tries to avoid her, but Elsa is irresistible. Soon, she has him believing and hoping for a future with her in Wirralong, but another family tragedy shatters Jack’s fragile dream. Jack knows he must leave Elsa to protect her, no matter the cost to himself. 

Recently I read Serenity’s Song which was Cathryn Hein’s contribution to the most recent quartet surrounding Wirralong, a town in country Australia. In that book, the main character runs her beauty business out of Elsa O’Donoghue’s hair salon, so Elsa is a steady presence throughout the book. Through reading that, I picked up on enough of Elsa’s story to know that hers was a book I really wanted to read. Before the quartet I read, there’d been two previous quartets and I intend to catch up on all of them but this one was free on all Amazon platforms, so it was like a sign.

Elsa grew up local – her mother was a teacher at the primary school and it seems like she’s firmly entrenched in the community. She runs the hair salon and thanks to a friend turning her property into a boutique wedding venue, Elsa has plenty of brides and bridesmaids to keep her busy as well as the locals. She’s well liked and respected, the locals don’t raise an eyebrow at her family, which is different to what Jack Hargreaves has experienced. His parents had an unusual situation and his father is a rather notorious figure often connected to the shady Melbourne underworld. Jack has always been closer to his mother, the two of them bonded over a shared passion for prospecting. Kate, Jack’s mother always believed in the truth of the “Strathmore sapphires” and she has searched tirelessly for them on her family property. On the day she died, she called Jack when he was on his Lightning Ridge opal mining claim and left a message telling him she’d found them. Unfortunately she passed away the same day, leaving their location a mystery. It was some weeks before Jack picked up the message, not having service on the claim and he has to drive non-stop to make it back to Wirralong for her funeral.

Jack and Elsa have such an interesting first meeting and I really enjoyed all of their interactions. Elsa is a fun personality, she’s really friendly and forthright and she’s happy to chatter away to Jack and draw him out when he visits the salon. Jack is definitely a very quiet person, he doesn’t talk much and he’s well aware that people look at him suspiciously in Wirralong, sure he’s tarred with the same dubious brush as his notorious father. Jack has never liked the scrutiny and even though he’s inherited his mother’s property, he’s not sure he can see himself making his life in the area, not with the way that people look at him and what they’re thinking but don’t have the courage to say.

Elsa takes Jack exactly as she finds him – she’s not interested in rumours about his father, about his family or people’s opinions on him or them. She likes Jack. She likes the look of him and she even likes his rather silent manner and enjoys pampering him a little by offering him the full luxury shave package, which definitely helps to advance the simmering attraction between them. Elsa and her mother are movie buffs who enjoy a lot of classic movies, movies that Jack hasn’t seen and she uses that as an opportunity to get to know him more by inviting him to watch movies with her in the name of broadening his education. Elsa enjoys gently teasing Jack, who is quite serious and she’s one of the few people it seems, who can definitely get a strong positive reaction out of Jack.

I found this really fun and I loved both Elsa and Jack. They had contrasting personalities that worked really well together and their interactions are really enjoyable. I understood Jack’s reservations about getting involved with someone that the town had such a high opinion of, that he felt that he might ‘taint’ her given the way some people felt about him. But it’s Elsa (despite Jack’s intimidating size) who is the brasher, more aggressive of the two, who makes it super clear that she doesn’t care what other people think and neither should he, she isn’t bothered by rumours and innuendo and she accepts him as he presents himself to her and nothing else matters.

Really need to read the rest of these, they’re such perfect reads for me at the moment.

9/10

Book #178 of 2020

Elsa’s Stand is book #67 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

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Blog Tour Review: The Bush Telegraph by Fiona McArthur

The Bush Telegraph
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 360p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘Small towns and gossip go together like trees and birds.’

It’s been more than ten years since Maddy Locke left Spinifex, the small outback town where she gave birth to her daughter, Bridget. Now she’s back to prove she’s got what it takes to run the medical centre and face the memories of that challenging time in her life. But everything’s changed – the old pub is gone, her new colleagues aren’t pleased to see her, and it’s drier and hotter than ever.

Station owner, Connor Fairhall, thought he’d left the drama behind in Sydney, but moving back to Spinifex with his rebellious son, Jayden, hasn’t been the fresh start he’d envisioned. His brother, Kyle, is drinking too much and the only bright spot on the horizon is meeting Nurse Maddy, who’s breathing new life into the weary town up the road, little by little.

Can Maddy ignore the rumours about Connor and risk her heart again? Or will the bush telegraph spread along the wire fences and stand in the way of trust?

From Australia’s renowned midwife and bestselling author of The Desert Midwife, The Bush Telegraph is a romantic drama about love, friendship, community and the joys and challenges of life in the outback.

If you’ve read Fiona McArthur’s The Baby Doctor then you may recognise Maddy here. Over 10 years ago, Maddy left Spinifex in outback Queensland and has raised her daughter Bridget mostly between Lord Howe Island, off the coast of New South Wales, and Sydney. However opportunity sees Maddy return to Spinifex as a way to almost redeem herself after everything that went wrong the first time she was living there. Now she’ll be running the medical centre but already things are not looking as positive as she might’ve hoped – her daughter Bridget has not fallen in love with the changed landscape. She’s used to the lush tropical beauty and sea breezes of Lord Howe and Spinifex, with its lack of trees and red, dusty land as far as the eye can see, is not an adequate substitute. Also Maddy’s new coworkers were hoping for one thing but getting Maddy was definitely not it and one of them in particular is quite combative to her presence.

I enjoyed every single thing about this book. I really enjoyed Maddy’s journey back to Spinifex, a place that doesn’t hold a lot of positive memories for her and one that she feels she needs to revisit. As a nurse, she wants to work in remote communities and Spinifex is the first step in that. It’s many hours from pretty much everywhere (five or six to Mount Isa I think) and she’s taking her 11yo daughter along for the ride, who isn’t really all that enthusiastic about it. On her first day she meets single dad Connor, who has a son similar in age to Maddy’s daughter Bridget. Connor and his son have also only been in the area a short amount of time – Connor grew up there but his son Jayden has spent very little time there and deeply resents being there. To Connor’s dismay, he’s spending far too much time with Connor’s brother Kyle, who is hitting the bottle way too hard these days.

Both Maddy and Connor have similar single parent issues that they can bond over, although Connor’s are more serious than Maddy’s. Jayden is definitely being influenced by his uncle in some very negative ways and Maddy provides not only a sounding board but also a fresh voice, some suggestions of ways to maybe help strengthen and repair his bond with Jayden. Connor and Maddy build a really nice friendship (with the simmer of something more just under the surface) but given her history, Maddy is very wary. And there are some rumours circling about Connor that definitely make her feel as though she needs to tread carefully, lest she make the same mistake a second time.

Fiona McArthur is a nurse by profession (midwife) and she always incorporates a lot of medical procedures, routines and information into her books and this one is no exception. Maddy deals with a lot of different things at the clinic from the seriousness of a cardiac arrest to prenatal check ups to the standard assessment and treatment of suspected broken limbs. Everything is woven into the story in such seamless ways, a natural progression of the character’s medical qualifications combined with the reality of rural living. Maddy faces several dangerous scenarios here and for the most part she’s a calm, steady professional but it’s the last medical emergency that tested her in every single way possible and for me, it was that part of the story that pushed this book from very enjoyable into absolutely amazing. The way in which the tension escalated and the danger was described, the urgency of the situation was all so excellently conveyed and it had me totally gripped.

I loved this book, it was so perfect for the sort of reads I’m just craving at the moment. It’s feel good but with a seriousness throughout the plot that means you’re invested in the characters and their outcomes. I enjoyed revisiting the town of Spinifex and appreciated some of the complexities of living in such a small, outback town with quite punishing weather. I really also enjoyed the exploration of Bridget and Jayden, their feelings about their separate moves to Spinifex and in particular, Jayden’s complex and mixed up feelings about his dad and how and why Connor is a single parent. I found the situation with Kyle and Belle intriguing as well – Kyle had his problems and had made a lot of very wrong choices but he had redeeming features.

Highly recommend this.

9/10

Book #173 of 2020

The Bush Telegraph is the 64th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

This review is part of the blog tour for The Bush Telegraph organised by Penguin Random House Australia. Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour and see their thoughts on this lovely book!

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