All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Top 10 Tuesday August 21st

Welcome back to another instalment of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created & hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now resides with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. We have a different topic each week and today we are talking…..

Top 10 Books To Get Out Of A Reading Slump

Okay so it’s easy to find yourself in a reading slump, even when you’re a very avid reader. It can happen for all types of reasons – busy life, stress, too many books to choose from, hangover from an amazing book, lack of interest after a few books that weren’t your thing. I find that for myself, I have two methods to get me out of a book slump. The first is to try something tried and true that I love so much, that is such a favourite comfort read. And the second is to try something completely different, something that draws me out of my zone and gives me something new to explore. So I’ve chosen a few from each of those categories.

  1. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. I love this book. Love it. It’s been one of my faves of ALL time since I first read it two years ago. It has everything I adore – hate to love, witty banter, sexual chemistry in spades. I don’t generally re-read it in full (although I have read it in full many times) but I find specific parts that I love and re-read those. It makes me happy and even when I don’t feel like reading anything else, I can still read this and be content.
  2. The Every Series by Ellie Marney. This is like above – I can pick up any of the three in this trilogy and flip to a spot and sink straight back into this world. The middle one is my favourite I think but they are all amazing. And it’s no coincidence that these books have some of the best chemistry I’ve read too.
  3. A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin. Hear me out. I know, it’s a billion pages. Everyone’s seen Game Of Thrones. A few years ago, I was disillusioned with blogging. Feeling burned out with reading. Had too many books to get through. I wiped out all my ARCs and took a month off and decided to try the first book in this series. I hadn’t yet watched the TV series and I really wanted to read the books first (at that stage, I think I had to read the first 4 then watch the TV series) and they were just so addictive! They were all I read for about two weeks and I couldn’t get enough. The good thing about them though is that because they’re split into so many narrators you can also read them in quite short bursts. Or you can just do what I did and devour them.
  4. I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara. I don’t read a lot of true crime – actually even that’s overstating it. I almost never read true crime. But I heard so much about this that I had to pick up a copy and even though I wasn’t in a slump when I read it, I honestly think it’d be a good book for that. It’s such a fascinating story and it just has so much intrigue. How on earth did this guy get away with these horrible crimes in the same areas for years? How were they not linked for so long? There’s just the right amount of detail about the crimes without it feeling grisly and it’s not at all dry like some true crime novels. The author injects a lot of her personality into it and of course, most people know her story too, which also adds something.
  5. It’s Not Me, It’s You by Mhairi McFarlane. This book is perfection! It’s very like The Hating Game in that I have re-read it many times (and listened to it on audiobook too) and re-read my favourite bits more. I find ‘chick-lit’ a great palate cleanser and definitely handy for pulling me out of a slump. This is a very feel good story, it makes me happy just reading it (although fair warning, there’s a bit in here where I also sob uncontrollably so yeah, I often skip that in a re-read) and Mhairi McFarlane is so damn funny. The romantic love interest in this one is just perfect.
  6. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer & Annie Burrows. I only read this book this year. I don’t know how I went so long without having it in my life. This book is just so good and so pure and just so well written. The perfect epistolary. And after you’ve finished it, go watch the movie too. It’s beautiful.
  7. The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at these but then they blew up and everyone was reading them so I thought ok, why not? Then I realised I’d owned the first book for about a year so I decided to try it – and ended up completely obsessed with these books. They are so engrossing and once you’ve finished one you have to go onto the next one. Slump gone!
  8. A good crime/thriller. My last three are less specific, because how do you wade through the thousands of books of this type? Sometimes it’s just trial and error. Trying and discarding until you find that one that sucks you in. But I find a really good crime novel, something that keeps me on the edge of my seat, goes a long way to helping bring me out of a slump. Something that gives me real fear.
  9. A good series. I’m a big series reader. I love them – love returning to familiar characters, familiar settings. There’s the feeling that you know what you’re going to get when you pick up a book in your fave series’. I found some of my fave series’ during a really big slump a couple of years ago where I picked up a load of free books on iBooks that were first in a series. Yes they sucked me in to buying the rest but it was worth it to try some new things.
  10. A good romance. It’s probably no surprise from quite a bit of my list, but romance is generally my first choice when I’m trying to get out of a slump. It can be incorporated into other types of stories, but I have to have a strong romantic element a lot of the time. Historical authors like Sarah MacLean or Tessa Dare are some good choices, contemporary ones like Mhairi McFarlane or Sarra Manning, Kylie Scott.

Slumps can be really difficult to overcome, depending on why you’re in one in the first place. For me, it’s generally burnout. I read a lot, so sometimes I just have to let my brain recharge and have a few days watching trashy TV or spending the time online just generally doing nothing. Then I’ll feel ready to pick up a book again. I find if I try and force it, like ok have to find a book, must find a book, it won’t really work. Nothing will really hold my interest. If it’s hangover from something really amazing, I generally have to try something completely different to the book that gave me a hangover. So that I can’t compare them. Sometimes it’s just trawling blogs and twitter and stuff, looking for books people are excited about and finding something that excites me too. Hopefully you found something here to think about trying next time you’re in a slump.

Advertisements
8 Comments »

Review: The Ones You Trust by Caroline Overington

The Ones You Trust 
Caroline Overington
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 336p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Emma Cardwell, celebrity mum and host of top-rating morning TV show Cuppa, seems to have it all: fame, money and a gorgeous family. But when her little girl disappears from day-care – captured on CCTV footage at a nearby shopping centre leaving with someone Emma has never seen before – her world is turned upside down.

As the minutes tick by, and pressure mounts, every part of Emma’s life comes under examination. Is this a kidnapping, the work of a crazed stalker, or an obsessed fan? Is somebody out for revenge or is this something closer to home?

And there is the aching question: how much do we really know about those who care for our children . . . and about the people we love?

This book was…..wow!

I’d heard good things before I started – I knew a couple of people that had already read it and were really singing its praises and I’ve loved several of Caroline Overington’s previous books so my expectations were probably quite high going in, which can sometimes be a bit of a problem. However not in this case.

Emma Cardwell works as a morning TV host (like Sunrise or Today if you’re Australian, or maybe a Good Morning America sort of thing) and she is at the studio at the crack of dawn and often works late into the afternoon and then has events to attend, publicity to create. She has recently been ‘papped’ and had unflattering pictures of her taken on a beach which have been splashed across news pages, making for cruel remarks and jibes about her steadily creeping weight, making her quite vulnerable and fearful of her position in front of the entire country on camera every morning. She and her husband have three children, the youngest of which is only about eighteen months old and attends a day care. They employ a nanny for school drop offs, pick ups and various other tasks, including the day care run. One day Emma is home late and when she goes in to say goodnight to her youngest child, Fox-Piper, she isn’t in her cot. No one picked her up from daycare that day……

Emma is frantic and her position as a well known public face basically means that this story runs 24/7. There’s CCTV footage discovered from the mall that the daycare is in, of Fox-Piper with someone that no one in the family can identify. But as of yet there’s been no demand, no communication. The police know that those first 24 hours are absolutely critical. So far they have no real leads and the chaos of Emma’s position in the media is only complicating matters.

This is just a masterfully told story. It’s a biting insight into television and the role ‘ageing’ (and by that I mean 40s & onwards) women are dealt. It shows how everything is an opportunity for promotion and the micromanaging of television presenters and what goes on behind the scenes (I found the role of Maven absolutely fascinating and also slightly horrifying). There’s the pressure of ratings and constantly being in competition with a similar show on a rival network and always feeling that hanging over you, the constant need to always perform well, better than that other show. When Fox-Piper goes missing, it becomes the lead running story and there’s plenty of theories and judgemental commentary because Emma is a public figure and she’s the breadwinner of her household, working what would probably be termed very unsociable and definitely not friendly hours for having a family. On paper her and her husband Brandon, an American look to have the perfect marriage, raising their three beautiful children and living the dream in a fantastic home. But not everything is as it seems!

This book hauled me in from the first page and kept me hooked the whole way through. I found the mystery element really interesting (who had Fox-Piper, why, how on Earth did they get her out of her daycare without being one of the approved people etc) but I also just really liked the social commentary and exploration of human nature. The dynamics in Emma and Brandon’s relationship, Emma’s working relationship with her male cohost, the role of the producer and publicity and how the wheels of TV kept turning in a never ending war for ratings and success and the way in which audiences were often manipulated. Emma was presented as likeable and sort of ‘girl next door’ – not so beautiful or thin that she was intimidating, a career woman who worked hard but who was also an amazing wife and mother. The sort of woman you’d like to have as a good friend.

The writing, plotting and pace are impeccable. And I’m notorious for not guessing twists and endings but – wow. The twists in this I did not see coming at all and they blew me away. Just when you think you kind of have it figured out, there’s something else that happens and it just steps it up a whole other gear. It went in so many places that I didn’t expect going into it and the end! So, so good. Horrifying in a way, but still. So, so good.

Loved this. Caroline Overington has written a lot of good books in her time and I Came To Say Goodbye holds such a special place for me but I think this is her best yet.

10/10

Book #129 of 2018

1 Comment »

Review: Starting Over by Susanne Bellamy

Starting Over (Mindalby Outback Romance #2)
Susanne Bellamy
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 183p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mindalby, a small town, a community, a home. But when the mill that supports the local cotton farmers and employs many of the town’s residents closes unexpectedly, old tensions are exposed and new rifts develop. Everyone is affected and some react better than others, but one thing is certain: living on the edge of the outback means they have to survive together, or let their town die.

When fashion designer Serena Quinlan arrives in Mindalby for the annual cotton festival, she is hoping to do two things: meet local leather worker Paul Carey and check out all the 50–year–old men to see if they might be her father. She doesn’t expect the explosive attraction she feels towards Paul, nor the untimely and unwanted arrival of her ex–fiance. When her search for her father leads to unexpected results, Serena will be torn between the past she came searching for and the possibility of a future she never expected.

This is the 2nd book of 4 that I received in a bind up and I was quite looking forward to continuing with this series after I enjoyed the first one so much.

The story revolves around Serena, a fashion designer who arrives in Mindalby for two reasons – one to meet a leather worker she wants to work with and two, to see if she can track down her biological father. Conceived at a music festival in NSW years ago, Serena has been raised alone by a single mother but her mother’s illness a short time ago has really motivated her to find her father, despite the few sketchy details that her mother has.

Serena and Paul have an instant attraction (they meet when Paul is kind of erm, exposed) and the banter flows but there are quite a few complications from the beginning. Like most of the town, Paul is preoccupied by the cotton mill closure and what it means for his extended family, especially his troubled younger brother who isn’t coping well with having his cotton held hostage. Both Paul and Serena have quite a lot going on and their strong attraction takes them both by surprise. Serena is just also coming out of a break up as well but the pull between them is hard to ignore.

I really enjoy the way thing are going with the town in this book….the town feels consistent between the two volumes and this one expands upon some of the hardship and difficulties that it’s facing with the closure and limbo of the mill. Tempers are fraying and people are starting to struggle as bills go unpaid and crops face being lost. Paul isn’t strictly a farmer but his family farm and he has financial interests tied up in it so he’s also invested in the outcome of the mill. He also created some leather panels for an event that he now thinks he might not be paid for, which was supposed to be something that turned his finances around.

Serena is using the excuse to meet Paul (randomly, she’s been asked to design some clothing for a town event) to come to Mindalby because it’s where her mother thinks her father might still be living. It’s a bit awkward to be trying to track down your father without even having a name to go by. It leads to a lot of weird situations where she thinks various people might be her father and they all bring severe complications to her burgeoning relationship with Paul. Also her ex-fiance is in town for some reason and seems bent on causing trouble and confusing Serena with mind games.

While I enjoyed the town journey I wasn’t as invested in Paul and Serena – it felt a bit too instalove for me and some of Paul’s early remarks left me feeling a bit icky. They didn’t even know each other so I just found some of that a bit distasteful, a bit ‘old romance’ rather than the type I enjoy reading in 2018. And all of the drama surrounding just precisely who Serena’s father was felt a bit contrived – like the only early options were really the ones that would create the most amount of drama and there are no other men in this town of the right age but it also wasn’t particularly convincing either. Just felt a bit like filler to pad the story out a bit and create some conflict between Paul and Serena when there was probably already enough going on.

This was okay – I enjoyed it for the town development but overall, I wasn’t particularly invested in the romance part.

6/10

Book #135 of 2018

{alternative cover when purchased singly}

Leave a comment »

Review: The Rules Of Seeing by Joe Heap

The Rules Of Seeing
Joe Heap
Harper Collins
2018, 416p
Copy courtesy Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Nova is 32 years old and she is about to see the world for the very first time.

Nova can do many things. She can speak five languages. She can always find a silver lining. And as an interpreter for the Metropolitan Police, she can tell when someone is lying just from the sound of their voice.

But there’s one thing Nova can’t do. She can’t see.

When her brother convinces her to have an operation that will restore her sight, Nova wakes up to a world she no longer understands. Until she meets Kate.

As Kate comes into focus and their unlikely friendship blossoms, Kate’s past threatens to throw them into a different kind of darkness. Can they both learn to see the world in a different way?

This book was such an interesting and thought provoking read.

Nova has been blind from birth. She lives a very active life, working as an interpreter for the Met and navigates her environment with skill. When her brother informs her of an operation that could give her sight, Nova is in two minds but ends up undergoing the operation. When she wakes, everything she once understood has been turned upside down.

This book gave me so much to think about in terms of what it might be like for someone who has never been able to see, to suddenly be able to do so. Nova has a lot of difficulty in terms of spatial awareness and judging distance and the size of objects relative to how far they are away from her. Colours and small objects are hard to distinguish between – she has no frame of reference for basically everything. She has no idea how to read people’s expressions and everything becomes a bit of a minefield. I thought this was all described and showcased from Nova’s point of view so admirably. Nova is a very confident blind person but with her sight she lacks a little something sometimes, as she struggles to negotiate an entire new world. She doesn’t change exactly, but you can tell it’s a much bigger thing that she anticipated.

Nova meets Kate, a woman recovering from a brain injury. Kate has anxiety resulting from her ‘accident’ that left her hospitalised and she also struggles with a new world that she has to negotiate. Kate does a lot of pretending that certain things aren’t happening. We don’t get much of a glimpse into her life in the before, so I’m not sure if the behaviour she starts to experience is normal or if it’s something that escalates out of nowhere. I think from a few bits and pieces that it was something she was already experiencing and also escalating in a way where she almost doesn’t seem to be noticing. She seems quite isolated – before Nova she only seems to have one friend and her family appear distant with priorities lying elsewhere than her.

I liked Kate and Nova’s separate stories, I was drawn into their situations and watching how they negotiated their new and strange worlds. But as those worlds collided, I’m not sure that I was really….buying it? And the book definitely began to get more darker as it went on, which was not something I was expecting going into it at all. To be honest, it felt like the tone changed a little too much in the latter part of the book too abruptly. That’s not to say that things somewhat similar to this don’t happen in real life – they do. But it felt like I started out reading one book but then I finished a very different book and the two of them didn’t exactly seem to mesh seamlessly.

There was a lot I really enjoyed in this – primarily the way in which the author dealt with a character like Nova being given sight after never having it before. They took it in ways I hadn’t even thought of, things that had never occurred to me and I really enjoyed thinking about things that I’ve never had to think about before. Nova’s notes on ‘the rules of seeing’ are fantastic, clever, insightful, amusing and like this whole part of the story, thoughtful and thought provoking. Likewise, I was intrigued by Kate’s story, the mystery of the white paper and whether or not she’d be able to piece her memories back together and draw on her own strength. But I did feel that it dragged on a tiny bit and took me just to places that I was not expecting to go in a demonstration of ‘that escalated quickly’. I felt it raised issues that are relevant though, such as protection in employment and having trouble getting police support and intervention but didn’t really explore them too deeply. And then after the slower pace for much of it, it suddenly became very fast-paced towards the end, building suspense I did not expect to be experiencing! It’s very very clever though, in lots of different ways and I’ll read anything else Joe Heap comes up with.

7/10

Book #134 of 2018

Leave a comment »

Blog Tour Review: The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

The Botanist’s Daughter 
Kayte Nunn
Hachette AUS
2018, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

I really love dual narrative historical and contemporary stories and this one was unputdownable from the start. Elizabeth, technically a ‘spinster’ in Victorian England, is begged by her ailing father to continue his work in botany and find a miracle plant with believed healing properties. He desperately wants it found before his rival and nemesis does, who will surely sell it to the highest bidder. Although a somewhat privileged and cosseted woman, Elizabeth undertakes a long voyage by sea to South America with just her maid Daisy. Once there, she must keep her identity and mission a secret so as not to attract the attention of her father’s rival, who it seems, will do anything to make the discovery before anyone else does.

I really enjoyed the historical aspect of this novel. It seems that in this time the study of botany and foreign plants was quite a thing and Elizabeth’s father undertakes many voyages to bring back and cultivate foreign species. He has no sons so rather than risk his rival discovering this secret, incredible plant first, he begs his younger daughter to do it for him after his death, sending her on an amazing adventure in a very different place to what she is used to. Elizabeth will find true courage and strength of character on her journey as she endures many different hardships but she will also find great love and happiness as well.

Elizabeth is not without her flaws and she’s secretive and impetuous and singleminded in her task. She certainly doesn’t make things easy for herself and her dangerous expedition places people in danger other than just herself. I liked her but at times I just wanted her to be honest about herself and her task and take people into her confidence and give herself I don’t know, some back up? A bit of assistance? She’s got guts though – to travel such a way with only a maid to a place she’s unfamiliar with and doesn’t know much about is amazing. I love that she was a botanical artist too and very talented at it.

Anna inherits a house from her grandmother in the present day and finds a mysterious box within the wall behind a bookcase that will send her on another incredible journey to discover the identity and truth of the person behind it. Anna is also incredibly interested in botany and has studied at university although perhaps hasn’t truly developed her career due to tragedy. A lot of the time, Anna feels like going through the motions of existing – she works, she goes to the gym every Saturday, she meets her sister and mother for dinner. She doesn’t actually really seem to embrace life and still seems very stuck on something terrible that happened. Finding the box gives Anna a purpose and it’s also a vehicle for her to overcome her fears and do something she should’ve done a long time ago.

This book definitely took me places I did not expect when I picked it up. I was surprised how dark it got during some parts, which added a whole new depth to the story. It’s told with obvious passion and I found myself really into the evocative descriptions of life in both Victorian England and South America. Kayte Nunn paints lush portrait of the landscape, the social life and the people – even the voyage from England is vividly rendered, with poor Elizabeth suffering nearly the whole way. This was the sort of story that you could just sink right into and not come up for air until you were finished. I found both timelines really fascinating and was invested in both Elizabeth and Anna. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know…..and the more I found out, the better the story became.

This is a truly beautiful story that meshes two very different timelines together admirably and takes the reader on a journey around the world from inner city Sydney to the beauty of Cornwall and the intriguing forests of Chile. Even though it focuses very much on botanical matters, you don’t have to have an interest in these to enjoy it and it weaves the information in perfectly. It’s definitely a must-read for all fans of historical fiction and I would happily recommend it to anyone.

9/10

Book #133 of 2018

2 Comments »

Review: The Book Of Ordinary People by Claire Varley

The Book Of Ordinary People
Claire Varley
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 407p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A grieving daughter navigates the morning commute, her mind bursting with memories pleading to be shared.

A man made entirely of well-cut suits and strictly enforced rules swims his regular morning laps and fantasises about his self-assured promotion.

A young lawyer sits in a fluorescent-lit office, typing indecipherable jargon and dreaming of everything she didn’t become.

A failed news hack hides under the covers from another looming deadline, and from a past that will not relent its pursuit.

And a young woman seeking asylum sits tensely on an unmoving train, praying that good news waits at the other end of the line…

In this charming, moving and affectionate novel, Claire Varley paints a magical portrait of five ordinary people, and the sometimes heartbreaking power of the stories we make of ourselves.

This was an absolutely beautiful book and I loved it!

It’s the story of, as the title says, five ordinary people. They’re all living in Melbourne, in close proximity to each other and at first glance, as you meet each of them, they don’t seem particularly connected, with the exception of the two lawyers. But the further you read, the more you realise how their lives are intersecting, without them even knowing it.

Aida is a young asylum seeker from Iran, waiting. Waiting for the news of a letter that will tell her that her application to extend her visa has been approved. After having been in camps, released into the community, a large amount of asylum seekers were suddenly told that they had to reapply. Now their lives are in limbo, waiting for that piece of paper that tells them yes they can stay or no, they cannot. Aida lives in a small 2 bedroom house with Elham, also an asylum seeker and Elham’s daughter Niki who attends the local kinder and is struggling, perhaps because of her disrupted upbringing. Aida and Elham are not really friends at first but their bond strengthens. Aida’s story was without a doubt the one that I found the most powerful in the book, her chapters were always the ones I looked forward to the most because she was the one that I really felt had the most to lose in the book. She’s well qualified in Iran but here she finds herself taken advantage of, paid minimal amounts cash in hand because who is she going to complain to? Aida soldiers on, day by day and I just wanted her to get her letter telling her that her application was successful already.

Although I think I connected the most with Aida’s story, I enjoyed reading about the other characters too – Rik, a disgraced journalist who has isolated himself from everyone he knows, writing puff pieces on residents who “love living in the northern suburbs”. Rik is clearly suffering some sort of PTSD and you don’t realise his true identity right away. And then it becomes about discovering what happened to him, why he’s doing this to himself. Evangelia is a Greek Australian who is still mourning the death of her mother and wants to desperately write her story only she can’t seem to find her mother anywhere she looks. Evangelia’s story included a really in depth look at the Greek mourning traditions, the stories and the responsibility and role of the eldest woman in the family. She struggles in comparison to her elder sister Lydia, the two constantly at odds and bickering about everything. Evangelia and her husband own a gyros shop which is a constant source of stress for many reasons. And then there’s Nell and “DB” – they both work in a law firm. Nell is young and being mentored by DB, who dreams of a promotion and writes breezy, humblebrag letters to someone called “Jonesy” about how amazing his life is even as it starts to fall down around him. DB becomes obsessed with money, status, class and impressing the boss. Having a big house in a particular area, despite the fact that it makes life harder when his wife wants their son to attend a community kinder closer to her parents place in order for them to be able to care for him while DB and his wife are still at work. When Nell comes up with a partnership idea with a community legal firm, DB learns a lot about what he’s prioritising and how it’s affecting his life.

I loved the glimpses into these totally ordinary lives of ordinary people. People who are struggling with the day to day of juggling family and work, dealing with feelings of grief, isolation and even recovering from trauma. I love the connections between all the characters that kept appearing and how their circles intersected constantly over the course of the novel. But ultimately I kept coming back to Aida’s story and how it must be indicative of thousands of people at the moment who just want to escape a place of oppression and find somewhere to live freely. Her and Elham and Niki. I think the scene where they collect Niki from kinder and the nervous teacher tries to explain that Niki might need some assistance is the one that just stuck with me the most. Elham doesn’t speak English so Aida has to translate for her and there’s just so much fear and nervousness from Elham as she struggles to understand. I’ve had a child that needed extra assistance at kinder – occupational therapy was recommended for my youngest to help with his fine motor skills and it was over a 6 month wait for a public facility. To go private is expensive and there are many people who simply cannot afford that it when you’re struggling to make ends meet. Many times by the time the child gets into the programs, they are almost ready to start school or have started school and are no longer eligible and then you have to try other things. This complication must be amplified into the thousands when you don’t speak fluent English yet and are not skilled at navigating things like doctors appointments. Simple things like advocating for your child become an impossibility and this can be how children fall further behind.

This was a really thought provoking read and I enjoyed every page of it.

8/10

Book #132 of 2018

2 Comments »

Review: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

Bellewether
Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark
2018, 512p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren’t such easy things to keep.”

It’s late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.

Part history, part romance, and all kinds of magic, Susanna Kearsley’s latest masterpiece will draw you in and never let you go, even long after you’ve closed the last page.

I’ve been a big fan of Susanna Kearsley’s books every since Marg introduced me to The Winter Sea quite a few years ago now. I was very excited to receive a review copy of this one some months ago but I was actually patient and waited until close to the release date to read it. Last weekend I had a truly lazy day, staying in bed all day to read this. I didn’t realise upon starting it how long it was. It’s definitely a hefty read.

It’s a dual narrative, historical and present day. In the current timeline, Charley is a curator who has recently moved from Canada to Long Island, New York for family reasons. She’s taken a job curating an exhibition at the Wilde House Museum which is undergoing renovations. It’s the former home of a war hero and the museum will celebrate and honour his life. Charley finds herself soon drawn into an intriguing mystery as locals tell her the strange stories that surround the house – that of a ghost and of a tragedy that happened many years before.

In the past, Jean-Phillipe de Sabran is a French Canadian lieutenant fighting in some war I honestly don’t know anything about. I’m not American or Canadian and this war takes place before the British “arrived” in Australia (therefore schooling never bothered to cover it) so I have to admit, I’d never actually even heard of this war. I’ve talked at length in various reviews about how bad my historical knowledge is and this is another example! This is prior to American independence anyway and Jean-Phillips along with another man seem to be some sort of very gentlemanly prisoners of war where they are billeted with American families. Apparently American/British prisoners of war were billeted with French families in Canada or something, it’s all very civilised. Jean-Phillipe doesn’t speak English but the man he is billeted with does, so he acts as a translator although Jean-Phillipe often finds this frustrating as he feels his fellow lieutenant is not translating everything, or with accuracy. Jean-Phillipe is also French Canadian whereas the other man is French French and this itself seems to suggest that they are very different and that the French French lieutenant looks down on the French Canadian Jean-Phillipe. The daughter of the house, Lydia, has reason to be resentful of soldiers of the opposing side and she’s dead against the men being billeted in her own home. Despite this, Jean-Phillipe is quite taken with Lydia and he wishes to get to know her.

I found all of the historical stuff quite interesting but I have to admit that at the same time, it felt quite slow. There’s a lot of information to process in both timelines as well so at times this is quite a dense read. It takes rather a long time for things to ‘progress’ in the historical portion of the novel. Neither Lydia nor Jean-Phillipe speak the other’s language and their interactions are so minimal, I just never really got to the point where I think I got invested in their future. I would’ve liked to become invested in it, but I don’t know, it just wasn’t enough for me. We are privy to both their thoughts and I enjoyed that but their interactions are so limited. I suppose despite really not speaking each other’s language they learn each other’s true characters by observation and Lydia does have to overcome a rather large (and understandable) prejudice to see the sort of man that Jean-Phillipe is and that’s admirable. But it still left me wanting.

I quite enjoyed the modern day story. Charley is undertaking something quite challenging, both at work and out of it. Her appointment was not unanimous and she deals with animosity of several members of the board and has to prove herself and her theories at every meeting. I really liked her and I also thought her eventual love interest was wonderful. There’s a brief connection in this story to a character from a previous Kearsley book and I do wonder if we might see that character in a book of their own one day. Charley’s family situation is interesting as well and I admired her for stepping up at a time of grief to really try and shoulder responsibility and provide support and stability.

I did enjoy this and it’s meticulously researched and written but I just didn’t find myself drawn into the historical aspect with the same intensity as with prior Kearsley novels. Perhaps it was because I was lacking in knowledge myself, perhaps it was because the interactions just weren’t enough for me. The modern day story definitely kept me involved though and I found that I really loved the little ‘twist’ at the end. That way very well done.

7/10

Book #131 of 2018

2 Comments »

Review: I Had Such Friends by Meg Gatland-Veness

I Had Such Friends 
Meg Gatland-Veness
Pantera Press
2018, 275p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Charlie Parker dies, it affects everyone who knew him. Everyone, that is, except for seventeen-year-old Hamish Day, the boy who lives on a cabbage farm and only has one friend.

But Hamish soon finds himself pulled into the complicated lives of the people left behind. Among them is Annie Bower, the prettiest girl in school. As he uncovers startling truths about his peers, his perspectives on friendship, love, grief and the tragic power of silence are forever altered.

This is a contemporary debut #LoveOzYA novel focusing on Hamish who is 17 and in his final year of high school. Hamish is on the fringe of society in school – he really only has one friend, a boy named Martin who tends to be the butt of everyone’s jokes. Although Hamish isn’t really bullied like Martin is, he’s mostly ignored. As Hamish will readily admit, he hasn’t been himself for a while. Not since the incident that changed his family forever.

There was quite a bit to like about this book. Hamish felt like a really genuine voice. He’s on that cusp of adulthood and he’s struggling with his life choices. His parents are farmers and things have been tough. They work very long hours and Hamish seems to feel that he’ll be expected to take over the family farm but that’s the last thing that he really wants. He has no interest in farming and seems to resent the farm (cabbages – who even likes cabbages?) and wants to move away from their rural area to go to university.

The book opens with the aftermath of the death of Charlie Parker, a popular football player at Hamish’s school who was killed in a car accident. There’s a sort of vigil held at the school for Charlie so that the students may share memories of him and mourn the loss of their classmate. It’s always tough to be honest, that first death of a peer. When I was about Hamish’s age, a boy I’d gone to school with (he’d actually left the year before) was killed in the same way. Even though we weren’t close friends, it still hit very hard, that example of our mortality. Even now to be honest, I really struggle when I hear of people my own age dying. Even though Hamish doesn’t really grieve Charlie Parker as such, his death definitely changes Hamish’s life.

This book went in some directions that I did not expect and that was a pleasant surprise. I thought the evolution of Hamish’s strange friendship with Peter Bridges was quite well done. Peter is notorious in their small town – football player, wrong side of the tracks, troubled home life and he was Charlie Parker’s best friend. Previously Hamish would not have had anything to do with Peter Bridges but Peter seeks him out for reasons that are quite a mystery to Hamish for a little while. And Hamish seems bored – bored with the same routine at school, bored with his one friend, bored with heading home to the cabbage farm. He seems to latch on to the idea of letting loose a bit, cutting school to go to the beach with Peter Bridges. It’s something different and perhaps he also enjoys being the one that’s sought out, like Peter Bridges could choose anyone to go hang with but he’s choosing Hamish. And then there’s Annie – formerly Charlie Parker’s girlfriend, prettiest girl in school. All of a sudden Hamish’s life is very different to what it was before….and perhaps also from how he thought it would go.

So as the story picked up, I started to become more invested and wonder how it was going to play out. It was obviously building to something so I was interested to see how Hamish would negotiate these new complications in his life and the ramifications that they would have. As much as this novel showcases the often tedious monotony of living in a small town with not much to do, the ending also showcases the uglier side, of people fearing and hating what is different or what they don’t understand. There was opportunity for some real exploration of this issue but apart from being a brief catalyst it isn’t looked at in any real depth. At times it almost feels like there’s too much going on in this book, once all the issues come into play which means that some of them are more glossed over than others. And I really feel as though the ending came up very quickly and very abruptly without any real indication that this was how it might go. And that might be deliberate on the author’s part to show that this can happen in real life and people are left wondering and bewildered, not having seen it coming. But it honestly just felt like the author had the ending in mind but just wasn’t quite sure how to really explore the issues that lead to such an act and maximise the impact. I had to read it again in a ‘what?’ sort of way, not an ‘omg I cannot believe it!’ kind of way. I think I was just expecting a bit more from the ending: more power, more emotion, more impact, just more.

Despite the few reservations I had about the ending, I think that for the most part, this is a really interesting and well written story. Hamish is not really a sympathetic character in many ways for a bit of the novel and he’s portrayed in a refreshingly honest way, highlighting his flaws rather than trying to hide them. His home life is done fantastically – his struggling, worn down parents desperately hoping for a good crop, the differences between his mother and father, the family’s heartbreaking grief after their loss. Hamish’s struggle to deal with that loss is definitely a highlight of the story for me. I also enjoyed his acceptance of his true self though and the friendships he built. I think that Meg Gatland-Veness has written the sort of debut that could slot into a high school curriculum and I look forward to see what she produces in the future.

7/10

Book #130 of 2018

 

Leave a comment »

Review: Return To Roseglen by Helene Young

Return To Roseglen
Helene Young
Penguin Random House
2018, 366p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

At times like these families should be coming together, not tearing each other apart.

On her remote North Queensland cattle station, Ivy Dunmore is facing the end of her days. Increasingly frail, all she holds dear is threatened not just by crippling drought, but by jealousy and greed – and that’s from within her own family.

Can Felicity, who’s battling her own crisis as her fiftieth birthday approaches, protect her mother and reunite her family under the homestead’s faded iron roof? Or will sibling rivalries erupt and long-held secrets from the past break a family in crisis?

Return To Roseglen is a bit of a departure for Helene Young, who has long enjoyed the title of Queen of Australian Romantic Suspense. This book revolves around the Dunmore family, championed by matriarch Ivy who still lives on the family property of Roseglen despite her advancing age. Lately Ivy has been getting a bit confused here and there which unfortunately makes her ripe for the picking by her eldest son Kenneth. He lives nearby on another property but daughters Felicity and Georgina are further afield, Felicity in Brisbane and Georgina wherever her work as a pilot takes her. When Felicity discovers her husband in a compromising position, she decides that she will head home to Roseglen. That will allow her to assess Ivy and see if she needs any assistance and if so, determine what that might be too. Georgina decides to return as well, which sets the three siblings on a collision course as the tensions erupt.

Recently I have read several books where the main characters are women who are slightly older than what I would consider the ‘norm’ for what I read. Not old – just older. Felicity is about to turn 50, Georgina is probably close to 60 and I think Ivy is getting on towards 90. And so there’s a whole bunch of issues and problems that can be explored that women in these age ranges face. For example, Felicity faces starting over, having worked her whole life towards paying off a mortgage and enjoying a comfortable retirement. That’s likely not her future after she discovers her husband’s lack of fidelity and that not only has their mortgage not really decreased all that much but also property prices are falling. Instead of heading into her later working years ‘winding down’ so to speak, she may need to work harder than ever to secure her future after divorce. It can be difficult to start over at any age but there are added stresses when you are coming towards the end of your working life and know that your capacity to earn and secure a comfortable future is limited.

And then there’s Ivy herself…..having lost her husband years ago, Ivy knows she’s coming to that end stage of life. Her worries are different, more about worries for the future of the family property, for her children. I have to admit, I did find the character of Ivy slightly inconsistent at times because everyone kept saying how forward she was, bit of a battle-axe. But she shows significant weakness around her only son and real reluctance to confide in her daughters about what had been going on in recent times and I wasn’t really sure why she kept putting off telling them. I know Ivy had her own plans going on and she was willing to take steps to secure the family property but it just seemed so odd that she kept thinking to herself ‘oh I have to tell them’ and then never actually doing it. I understand the challenge and the responsibility of an ailing parent. My father has recently had to assume full legal and financial responsibility for his mother, who is getting to the stage where her mind is becoming confused and forgetful and she will not be able to live independently any longer. She frequently forgets to eat at meal times, or thinks she has when she hasn’t. It’s a huge deal and it leaves people ripe to be taken for a ride, if the trustee is not 100% vigilant and responsible with the task. There are many who see opportunity and will take what they can get (what they believe is ‘owed’ to them) no matter if there are other siblings, or even if it inconveniences or disadvantages the actual person they are supposed to be caring for. Ken is definitely one such person, a self-entitled, odious man who thought only of himself and how he could use others to fix his own mistakes.

I enjoyed the complicated family relationships in this story – especially the sister dynamic between Georgina and Felicity. They haven’t been particularly close (there’s a significant age gap I think) but when they both come home to Roseglen they definitely find themselves being able to find some common ground, especially considering the fact that the two of them seem to have similar ideas about the property and against the rein of terror of Ken. I also liked Felicity’s friendship with Mitch, the farmer ‘next door’ which dates back to their years as children. Mitch is the one that ‘got away’ but now they are both single and even though Felicity isn’t looking for anything and she’s still dealing with the ending of her marriage, Mitch is there and they fall back into an easy friendship. Mitch also has a very special relationship with Ivy and has always done his best to make sure she was okay through the hard years of drought. I loved the relationship between Mitch and Ivy, it was so sweet and benefited them both so much emotionally.

There’s a mystery here as well, buried deep in the pages. I guessed a small part of it but much of it was an unexpected twist and I thought that played out very well. I’d have liked to have seen a little bit more devoted to Ivy and Georgina though, just to really attack the meat of that relationship. I feel as though it could’ve carried a little bit more of the story. But apart from that, I definitely enjoyed Helene Young’s foray into new territory. I hope she doesn’t completely leave behind romantic suspense but I’ll happily read anything she writes.

8/10

Book #128 of 2018

Leave a comment »

Review: Cotton Field Dreams by S.E. Gilchrist

Cotton Field Dreams (Mindalby Outback Romance #1)
S.E. Gilchrist
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 220p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mindalby, a small town, a community, a home. But when the mill that supports the local cotton farmers and employs many of the town’s residents closes unexpectedly, old tensions are exposed and new rifts develop. Everyone is affected and some react better than others, but one thing is certain: living on the edge of the outback means they have to survive together, or let their town die.

Sasha comes to Mindalby to recover from a traumatic event, plan her next move, and seek out information to avenge her beloved uncle – the last thing she wants is a relationship. But when she meets local single dad, Cole, she can’t help but be drawn to his warmth and his humour, and his two engaging children. Cole says and does all the right things, and Sasha finds herself falling, but will all of her secrets destroy the relationship before it has a chance to begin?

Cotton Field Dreams is the first in a new series centering around the outback town of Mindalby, which relies heavily on the local cotton mill for employment. Sasha is a nurse, but after an horrific incident while she was working overseas, she needs time to recuperate and regroup. She applies for a job at the Mindalby cotton mill, just doing payroll. She’s not an accountant and she’s perhaps a bit under qualified for the job but she is successful anyway and moves to the small town.

When the mill closes abruptly, Sasha finds herself squarely in the firing line. She’s an outsider and she’s the person most people believe are behind the money. If there’s someone squirrelling money away or dodgy activities going on, Sasha is going to be just about everyone’s number one suspect. It seems that only Cole, a local single dad, might be willing to give Sasha the benefit of the doubt. But Cole relies on the mill just as much as many others in the town and he has two kids to provide for and a struggling farm to keep afloat. For the sake of everyone, Sasha is determined to get to the bottom of exactly what is going on behind the doors of the cotton mill.

Recently I received the first four books in this series in one volume (featuring the cover I’ve used here). I love a series that revolves around a small town, especially when the town is in Australia. So last Sunday, I spent a large portion of the day in bed reading the first book in this series. Although the bind up is huge at 800p, each individual novel is about 200p, a perfect size for a quick read.

This first book perfectly sets up the situation in the small town – it opens with the abrupt closure of the cotton mill, supposedly due to a safety issue but when people start making noises about not having been paid, it’s clear there’s definitely something else going on. And most of them seem to be looking firmly towards Sasha for information. Not only is she the person responsible for that job, there are some rumours that she’s friendly (very friendly) with the boss and might know a lot more than she’s letting on. Sasha is actually as much in the dark as everyone else but she does have a few secrets – she’s in town to recover from her ordeal yes but she also has an ulterior motive or two for why she picked Mindalby itself.

I really enjoyed Sasha’s character. She was a very determined woman, even though she wasn’t really expecting to really get very far I don’t think. She was in town for a reason and she wanted to accomplish something – the mill closing was a bit of a curve ball for sure but it just made her even more suspicious. I liked her burgeoning friendship with Cole, single dad and farmer and Cole’s family were fun, warm, loving and quite realistic. The chemistry between Cole and Sasha was good but both of them were also a bit cautious as well – Cole has his kids to think of and also Sasha’s actions and motives to at times, seem slightly suspicious. And Sasha has a career that’s a true calling and she’s never stayed in one place for very long so to get very involved with someone might be a mistake.

I feel as though this book showcases the best and worst of living in a small town. It’s a tight knit community which is struggling and there are people who’d do anything for you but there are also a few bad apples, that make it clear to Sasha just how much they resent her and feel as though she’s got something to hide. Poor Sasha cops quite a bit of poor treatment but she manages to remain stoic and soldier on, even offering to help workers that are under financial hardship with the closure of the mill. After all, she’s faced much worse!

This was a great start to the series and I’m really keen to get stuck into the rest of them!

8/10

Book #126 of 2018

{alternative cover when purchased singly}

 

Leave a comment »