All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

The Paper Palace
Miranda Cowley Heller
Riverhead Books
2021, 388p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: “This house, this place, knows all my secrets.” 

It is a perfect July morning, and Elle, a fifty-year-old happily married mother of three, awakens at “The Paper Palace”–the family summer place which she has visited every summer of her life. But this morning is different: last night Elle and her oldest friend Jonas crept out the back door into the darkness and had sex with each other for the first time, all while their spouses chatted away inside.

Now, over the next twenty-four hours, Elle will have to decide between the life she has made with her genuinely beloved husband, Peter, and the life she always imagined she would have had with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn’t forever changed the course of their lives. As Heller colors in the experiences that have led Elle to this day, we arrive at her ultimate decision with all its complexity. Tender yet devastating, The Paper Palace considers the tensions between desire and dignity, the legacies of abuse, and the crimes and misdemeanors of families.

I have heard a lot of really amazing things about this book, I’ve had it recommended to me a couple times and it’s even one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks. I nabbed it from the local library because I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.

Firstly: trigger warnings for everything. There’s not a lot that’s not in here to be honest, but especially quite graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse so if you find that hard to read (and I think most people do, especially as it’s presented here) then you should definitely approach this with knowledge that you’ll be repeatedly subjected to it.

This is a story of how abuse and trauma is repeated over generations and how perhaps, people make choices that are bad for them because that is what they have seen other people doing. They copy that behaviour or perhaps even subliminally, think they deserve the wrong choice because of this thing or that thing that has happened. But if I were to sum this book up it’s multiple generations of women being subjected to awful things, making terrible romantic choices and for the most part, also being quite terrible parents.

For the most part, the book takes place over about 24 hours but with multiple flashbacks interspersed to show the reader how all the choices and whatever of her mother and grandmother have led main character Elle to where she is now. And that’s having sex with her childhood friend and apparently the ‘one that got away’ up against a wall of the family’s country lake home where Elle has spent every summer of her life. Elle’s husband and mother as well as Jonas’ wife are mere metres away, talking inside. The flashbacks flesh out Elle’s life – the impact of her parent’s divorce and the multiple relationships each had after that, a myriad of bad stepparents and in some cases, awful stepsiblings. Her relationship with her sister Anna, a few years older and her mother, a complex woman who quite honestly, seems like she should never have actually had children and even into her seventies is a bitter and acerbic person who constantly criticises. She was incredibly tedious in the present day but that paled into comparison for how her children were treated by her in their younger years, especially decisions she made or decisions she supported that were about her maintaining a relationship with a man over her daughter’s physical safety and emotional wellbeing.

I can deal with not liking many of the characters if the story intrigues me or if I think there’s reasoning behind their actions. But I hated everyone in this – Elle for the way she treats her husband and her inability to pull the trigger, her knowledge of what will come if she does this thing and also, her passiveness. I know Elle had her incredibly traumatising moments and one of them is something you can see coming for the longest time and the powerless feeling the inevitability of it gave me was immense but everything Elle is in the present day just made me loathe her. Her husband Peter is this weird juxtaposition of all round good guy and yet he’s also incredibly annoying with his stupid remarks, his weird banter with her mother, his lack of parenting their teenage son who, without being pulled up on this behaviour, could turn it into something inherently dangerous. Wallace is awful, a product of her own awful upbringing probably but she willingly contributed to the cycle and picked others over her daughters time and time and time again. Elle and Anna’s father was the same, a weak and spineless man who shunned them every time he got a new wife.

A lot of this hinges on this…..apparently incredible bond that Elle and Jonas have, this friendship that stems all the way back to their childhood. It takes a long time for Jonas to be introduced and to be honest, even though I know they have this big secret that binds them in a way that no one else could probably grasp, I never thought that the book did enough to show that this was a love that had endured for decades, through both of them being married to other people. They spent most of their time together as children and seem to have experienced almost nothing together as adults with adult feelings and understandings. It never struck me as this incredible love story of these two people who tragically couldn’t be together. They could have – years ago. Except Elle kept making different decisions and now she’s married with three children and having sex with Jonas within hearing distance of everyone else. Why now? Why this particular summer? And the way in which it plays out is not a way that makes you think that Jonas cares deeply for her. It’s almost like an act of possession, like he enjoys it partially because everyone is so close. Like he just wants to finally win. It made me uncomfortable, as did the scene on the beach that once again, Jonas orchestrates.

There are no consequences for actions here (with one very glaring exception but it honestly felt like that was orchestrated merely to bind Jonas and Elle together, no other reason) and some (a lot?) of people in this book commit very heinous crimes that they should receive lengthy prison terms for. And you can argue that many people get away with such things and they do. But I wanted more from this book – more awareness, more depth, more showing me why I should give a damn about these people.

This was a disappointing read. And I hated the ending.

4/10

Book #13 of 2022

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Review: Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Open Water
Caleb Azumah Nelson
Viking
2021, 151p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.

This book was just exquisite to read.

I have seen a few people talk about it in various places and I’ve almost bought it twice before. I finally ended being unable to resist any longer (and it was pretty cheap, $5 on Kindle) and I finished it in a couple of hours. There’s a very small page count to this but it packs an absolute punch. Honestly I highlighted so much of this book – the writing is stunning and insightful and brutal at times. Open Water won the 2021 Costa Prize for a first novel and I can absolutely see why.

The two main characters are never named and the book is delivered in the second person, which isn’t something I come across too often. It centres around two young Black people who meet at a pub in London. The main narrator is male and he asks his friend to introduce him to a girl – there’s an instant connection between them but their meeting is somewhat complicated. The woman asks him to help her with a project as the man is a photographer and she has need of someone with that skill and they develop a close friendship that is beautifully layered (but still complicated). The female character is at university in Dublin still and is only in London during semester breaks but whenever she returns, they catch up often and more and more layers get added to the friendship, which remains that way for the longest time as she in particular, doesn’t want to jeopardise this thing that they’ve built by adding the complexity of romance. What if it were to go wrong? She says she’d lose her best friend. It adds this frustrated longing to the dynamic but without feeling overdone.

In and around this developing friendship are the realities of life being young and Black in London. The man, who knows to flip his hoodie down if he sees a police officer, who is stopped anyway some days, who sees violence and inequality everywhere and is exhausted and at times, completely overwhelmed by it. Both of them went to private schools and experienced being very much the minority and it’s a shared experience. Both are also artists – he a photographer, she a dancer and that also seems like an escape for both of them as well. There’s also a lot about masculinity – what that means, how it is expected to act in a certain way, to not act in other ways. Our male characters an avid reader and the book often mentions the piles of books in his room, the book he is reading, or his favourite author (Zadie Smith).

I highlighted so much of this book that some of the pages are more highlighted than not. There’s just a lot of really beautiful and powerful phrases in this book and it’s the sort of book that I think you can finish and just immediately flip back to the front and begin re-reading. There’s so much that I think I would get out of reading this a second time, once I know everything that happens. The ways in which the friendship unfolds, the chemistry between the two characters, the complications, the violence that is experienced and how that plays out as well as the male character’s relationship with his Ghanaian parents and also his brother. It just has so much packed into it but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. It just feels like the author used only exactly the words needed to convey what he wanted to say and showcase this story. I read a review that says it’s almost like poetry and it’s hard not to agree with that.

8/10

Book #12 of 2022

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Review: Living Planet by David Attenborough

Living Planet: The Web of Life on Earth
David Attenborough
William Collins (Harper Collins)
2021 (originally 1984), 302p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A new, fully updated narrative edition of David Attenborough’s seminal biography of our world, The Living Planet.

Nowhere on our planet is devoid of life. Plants and animals thrive or survive within every extreme of climate and habitat that it offers. Single species, and often whole communities adapt to make the most of ice cap and tundra, forest and plain, desert, ocean and volcano. These adaptations can be truly extraordinary: fish that walk or lay eggs on leaves in mid-air; snakes that fly; flightless birds that graze like deer; and bears that grow hair on the soles of their feet.

In The Living Planet, David Attenborough’s searching eye, unfailing curiosity and infectious enthusiasm explain and illuminate the intricate lives of the these colonies, from the lonely heights of the Himalayas to the wild creatures that have established themselves in the most recent of environments, the city. By the end of this book it is difficult to say which is the more astonishing – the ingenuity with which individual species contrive a living, or the complexity of their interdependence on each other and on the habitations provided by our planet.

In this new edition, the author, with the help of zoologist Matthew Cobb, has added all the most up-to-date discoveries of ecology and biology, as well as a full-colour 64-page photography section. He also addresses the urgent issues facing our living planet: climate change, pollution and mass extinction of species.

I bought this a little bit before Christmas – actually the first time I visited a bookstore in person in months after we exited our most recent lockdown. I love David Attenborough, I think he’s just the most amazing person and I love watching his documentaries and listening to his voice. Although I’ve listened to him narrate several of his books on audio, this is the first time I’ve actually bought and read one but it’s impossible not to hear his voice in my head as I was reading this.

This is a revised and updated edition of the book published in 1984 which was a companion piece to a documentary Attenborough did of the same name. Despite the fact that January is “Attenborough month” on Australia’s subscription cable/satellite TV and the fact that various other documentaries from Attenborough appear on various other platforms, I can’t find this one to watch which is a bit disappointing! I would’ve been really nice to watch it and absorb this information in a visual way, because there is a lot of information in this book.

Despite it only being 290 pages of actual story it took me 2 full days to read it. It’s very dense but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just very thorough and contains so much information. It breaks the earth down into sections, basically, with different features and/or climates, so things like the polar world, the jungle, the sea, the grasslands, etc. And then talks about the sort of species that live and thrive in those environments and how in many cases, they have adapted over thousands of years in order to be able to do so.

It’s just so interesting. I really enjoy stuff like geography and the natural world so learning about stuff like this is fascinating to me. I really liked the way the sections were broken down as well, focusing on each “type” of environment as a whole – not even region specific, there are areas with the same or very similar environmental parameters and factors that stretch across the globe and many of those different locations have species that are very similar, sometimes the only real difference being the name they’re known by. In other places, plants and animals have evolved very specifically to suit their exact location, this seems especially true when that location is isolated, such as islands in the middle of the Indian or Pacific Oceans. An example is species of birds on some of these islands who, because of their remoteness, face no predators and so over the years, have lost their ability to fly simply because they do not need to anymore. The island provides everything they need to thrive and they have no need to leave it, nor any threats to fly away from.

The most disturbing things in this book I think were the times Attenborough talks about how humans have either systematically wiped out or almost wiped out entire species, particularly of animals. There are plenty of examples given of animals slaughtered almost to the point of extinction and in many cases, for no particular reason other than they were there or in the way of something humans wanted to do. In some cases, they did wipe them out (the dodo is probably the one that comes to mind for most people, named so because it was so trusting you could get close enough to hit it on the head). Even now with the understanding of how important biodiversity is, how crucial it is to maintain the balance in ecosystems, there are still so many different species under extreme threat. Many are declining at alarming rates and almost all of it is because of direct human action or as a consequence of human actions resulting in things like climate change. It’s honestly just incredibly sad to think about the loss of whole species and how it’s going to continue to happen.

I finished this and felt inspired for more Attenborough content and given it is Attenborough month, I picked Blue Planet to watch. I watched the first episode the same day I finished this and it actually included one or two examples of things that I’d read in this book, which was awesome, especially as one of them was footage of turtles laying eggs on a beach in Costa Rica. That was amazing to see after reading a detailed description.

Really enjoyed this but David Attenborough can do no wrong for me.

8/10

Book #11 of 2022

Going to count this one towards my 2022 NonFiction Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. To be honest, looking at the categories, this one could count towards quite a few but I’m going to use it for Popular Science. This is the first book read for the challenge.

1. Social History

2. Popular Science

3. Language

4. Medical Memoir

5. Climate/Weather

6. Celebrity

7. Reference

8. Geography

9. Linked to a podcast

10. Wild Animals

11. Economics

12. Published in 2022

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Top 10 Tuesday January 18

Hello and welcome back for another instalment of Top 10 Tuesday! Hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl, it features a different bookish-related theme each week. This week our topic is:

Top 10 2021 Releases I Was Excited To Read But Didn’t Get To

A Court Of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

Before 2021, this was one of my more anticipated releases but the more that came out about it, the more my interest waned. I didn’t even buy this and to be honest, I’m not sure I’m going to read it at all now. It’s so huge and I really just don’t like Nesta. I thought I could overlook that but really, I just don’t have time to slog through 700p books because of side characters. It’s really amazing how much my excitement for this diminished.

Rule Of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

I only bought this a couple months ago, along with King of Scars, which I hadn’t gotten around to reading. I have read that one (I also re-read Six of Crows and finally read Crooked Kingdom) so I will definitely read this. Actually I’m hoping to read it over the summer.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

This was definitely one of the books I was looking forward to the most. I really loved Red, White & Royal Blue. I’m not sure the description of this book makes it for me as much as the first one, the whole stuck on the subway plot doesn’t honestly sound like my sort of thing but I liked the author’s first book so much I decided to buy it anyway. Still going to read this, just not sure when.

Still Life by Sarah Winman

This came out halfway through 2021 and went onto my wishlist pretty much right away. I love the cover and would’ve wanted to read it merely for that, I think. But I also know several people who have sung its praises and one of our major bookchains here awarded it their Book of the Year. I do have an eBook copy which I picked up on sale but it’s so pretty I’ve really been hanging out for a print copy….

Songbirds by Christy Lefteri

I read The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri and loved it so I was very keen to read this when it was released. A combination of things means that like lots of other books I was excited about, it’s still sitting on my TBR bookcase.

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

This feels like it came out so long ago that I had to double check but it was a January 2021 release. I loved the first three books in this series and I was excited when this was announced because I always felt like there was things left unsaid in the 3rd book. However I hate my edition… such a petty reason but this one is so beautiful and mine is such an ugly cover.

Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

I’ve read a couple of Kristin Hannah books (although not The Nightingale, which seems to be probably her most known one?). I really enjoyed The Great Alone, which was set in Alaska, one of my favourites. This one is set in Texas but seems to be also quite connected to the land. I’ve heard mostly good things about this but some people have said the characters are frustrating.

The Silence Of Scheherazade by Defne Suman

Another one I wanted to read as soon as I saw it! I don’t even like yellow but I love this cover. It’s also not really like anything else I’ve read before so I’m definitely keen to read this. It’s pretty chunky though, so I need some time to devote to it.

The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley

I love Susanna Kearsley’s books and it felt like a while between her last one and this one. I’ve had a copy of this one since October (thanks to the overseas publisher via NetGalley) but I also am really hanging out for a print copy but I think it doesn’t come out here until the beginning of next year. Okay I just checked and it’s May 2022 – almost halfway through the year. That’s a long time to wait until I can get a print one lol.

Rescue Me by Sara Manning

I have loved all the other books by Sarra Manning that I have read (and I have re-read some of them quite obsessively) and I was definitely keen to read this when I heard it was being released. However I’m not sure what happened – I don’t even have a copy of it. I think I might’ve just forgotten about it in a year of so many other exciting releases and I’ve not seen this even in any stores here, to remind me about it. Going to have to actually track this down!

And those are 10 of the books that I was anticipating in 2021 – and yet somehow, never got around to reading! To be honest, there are probably more but those are just the 10 that came to mind first.

Did you have a lot of books that you never got around to in 2021, despite really being excited about them? Let me know….or if you’ve read any of these that I didn’t find time for, let me know that too. Maybe it’ll give me the push I need to finally get there.

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Review: Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor

Beautiful Little Fools
Jillian Cantor
Simon & Schuster AUS
2022, 344p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: On a sultry August day in 1922, Jay Gatsby is shot dead in his West Egg swimming pool. To the police, it appears to be an open-and-shut case of murder/suicide when the body of George Wilson, a local mechanic, is found in the woods nearby.

Then a diamond hairpin is discovered in the bushes by the pool, and three women fall under suspicion. Each holds a key that can unlock the truth to the mysterious life and death of this enigmatic millionaire. 

Daisy Buchanan once thought she might marry Gatsby—before her family was torn apart by an unspeakable tragedy that sent her into the arms of the philandering Tom Buchanan.

Jordan Baker, Daisy’s best friend, guards a secret that derailed her promising golf career and threatens to ruin her friendship with Daisy as well.

Catherine McCoy, a suffragette, fights for women’s freedom and independence, and especially for her sister, Myrtle Wilson, who’s trapped in a terrible marriage.

Their stories unfold in the years leading up to that fateful summer of 1922, when all three of their lives are on the brink of unraveling. Each woman is pulled deeper into Jay Gatsby’s romantic obsession, with devastating consequences for all of them.

Jillian Cantor revisits the glittering Jazz Age world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, retelling this timeless American classic from the women’s perspective. Beautiful Little Fools is a quintessential tale of money and power, marriage and friendship, love and desire, and ultimately the murder of a man tormented by the past and driven by a destructive longing that can never be fulfilled.

I really enjoyed this. And honestly, I’m quite ambivalent about The Great Gatsby. However, I have only read it once and books like that I think that probably, you benefit from reading them multiple times. There’s always a lot that you don’t pick up on in the first reading or character motivations and actions that become clearer later or after having read other literature on it etc. I’ve never felt compelled to pick it up again…until reading this.

This is a retelling that focuses on the women – Daisy Fay (later Daisy Buchanan), her best friend Jordan Baker and Catherine McCoy (sister of Myrtle Wilson). The women are all very different but will eventually be standing together, deciding to keep a secret before going their separate ways. One detective, Frank Charles, doesn’t really believe that the murder of Gatsby is as open and shut as it looked and armed with the motivation of a healthy reward, interviews all three women in order to clear up “loose ends” and see if he can really know what happened.

Daisy was raised in relative wealth and privilege (so too, was Jordan, whose father was a Judge) with a businessman father and a lovely house. She meets Jay Gatsby, then a poor soldier and the two fall in love with Gatsby begging Daisy to wait for him. When Daisy and her mother are left with virtually nothing after the death of her father, Daisy makes a choice – she will get Tom Buchanan, wealthy beyond reason to marry her, thereby securing her mother and herself a life of comfort. For Daisy, life is a dream – until the gloss starts to wear off after the honey moon and they bounce from one city to another, moving on due to Tom’s “indiscretions”. For what it’s worth, Daisy is aware every step of the way that the choice she has made has created this life – when her child is born, Daisy hopes it’s a boy so that he may be born with more choices than she ever had. When the baby is a girl, Daisy says that she hopes she’ll be a fool and that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a “beautiful little fool”. Daisy is young when she makes these decisions, too young in many ways, to be so jaded. She knows she’s the “pretty one” and that it’s up to her to change things and the only way she can do that, is to use her looks. To become the woman the wealthiest man wants as his wife. A status symbol, an ornament.

Jordan and Catherine are in their own ways, trying to change things. Jordan is a gifted golfer, joining the first Ladies tour and Catherine is a suffragette, fighting for women’s rights. She lives in relative poverty and doesn’t want or need a man, much to her sister Myrtle’s dismay and confusion. Jordan doesn’t want a man either, but for different reasons to Catherine. Over the course of the book, Jordan and Catherine (and Myrtle) all fall pretty to Jay Gatsby’s manipulations, pawns in his determined game to win back Daisy and her love. Gatsby takes obsession to new levels the deeper into the story we go, increasingly desperate to convince Daisy that he can take care of her now. In Gatsby’s mind, the problem was that he had no money and someone of Daisy’s beauty and status was always going to marry into money. Now he has money, it doesn’t matter that Daisy is already married. It doesn’t even seem to matter to him what Daisy wants. Gatsby has obsessed over their being together again for years and I don’t think it occurs to him that this might not have been the case for Daisy.

I’m sure that people who really love and intimately know the original story will see this quite differently than I did but it definitely works as a story for those who are only passingly familiar with Fitzgerald’s book or to be honest, who have never read it at all. It’s made me want to take another look at it again, to see what parts of the novel were used to construct and flesh out female characters, to see what their actions looked like through different eyes and see the differences that Cantor worked into her story. Going to have to dig out the copy we have somewhere.

Really liked this. 2/2 for me now on Jillian Cantor’s novels.

8/10

Book #10 of 2022

This is the first book completed for my 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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Review: Away With The Penguins by Hazel Prior

Away With The Penguins (Veronica McCreedy #1)
Hazel Prior
Transworld Digital
2020, 346p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Veronica McCreedy is about to have the journey of a lifetime . . .

Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick. 

Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone.

She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’).

Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies. 

But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this.

Two books featuring penguins already in 2022! When I saw this, there was no way that I wasn’t going to read it. I picked this up cheap on kindle last year and honestly I’m surprised that it took me this long tor read it.

Veronica is a formidable lady in her 80s who lives alone in a mansion on the coast of Scotland. She takes daily walks where she picks up litter and has a helper who comes in (Eileen) to assist her with the things she can no longer do. One Sunday when she goes to put her favourite program on, she finds it’s been replaced by a multi-part documentary on penguins. Veronica finds herself intrigued by the creatures but her memory isn’t the best so next week, when she goes to put her favourite show on, she’s surprised that it’s been replaced by a multi-part documentary on penguins (featuring a different one of the 18 types of penguins each week). This program leads Veronica to discover scientific research being done in the South Shetland Islands near Antarctica, on the decline of the population of the Adélie penguins there. She makes a decision. She will go there, see this research first hand with the purpose of leaving her vast wealth to the project, for it to be continued, should she deem it worthy.

Around the same time as this, Veronica also discovers that she has a grandson – but Patrick is not particularly what she pictured as a grandson of hers. He’s mostly unemployed, has just split up with his girlfriend, living in a hovel and a bit of a stoner. When she surprises him with a visit, Patrick and Veronica do not hit it off…..and the penguins look even more likely to benefit from Veronica’s millions.

I loved this. I thought it was so adorable. Veronica is a bit of a cranky older lady, she’s very forthright and has strong ideas about things (such as being addressed as Mrs McCreedy, doors being closed etc) but how many 85yo ladies would undertake to visit a research station in the Antarctic? Seeing penguins are my life’s ambition and if I had Veronica’s money I’d absolutely undertake an expedition to see the Adélie’s (my third favourite variety of penguin!). For my milestone birthday in February I was supposed to be in NZ, basically taking a tour of everywhere there you can see penguins but….for obvious reasons… I am not doing that. Yet. You can do a tour of Antarctica too, seeing the penguins there but it’s super pricey obviously and I have a bit of an aversion to cruise ships (floating Petri dishes in my mind) but if I had the money I think I’d suck up my fear of that and do it anyway, just for the experience.

Despite the best efforts of both Eileen and the research team leader at the station on Locket Island to dissuade her from coming, Veronica is equally determined to go there for her proposed three weeks and despite the primitive facilities, she adjusts remarkably well (probably much better than I would!). She makes a friend in Terry, the only female researcher on the island and accompanies her to check on the penguins. When Veronica finds an abandoned Adélie chick, she forces Terry to allow her to care for it, despite the scientists vowing not to ever interfere. However Terry sees the value in using this as fodder for her blog, to future raise awareness of their work and hopefully, bring in a few donations. I really enjoyed all of the scientists and their bemusement at Veronica’s arrival, one of them is even quite hostile but then their admiration and respect for her grow when she sticks it out and when she makes a bit of a difference in their little situation.

Running alongside this is the story of how Veronica found Patrick, her grandson and why he hasn’t been in her life before now. When she goes to the research station, Veronica leaves Patrick with her teenage diaries, which help explain her situation and perhaps shed some light on why she is the person she is in her advanced years. I really enjoyed the story of Veronica’s teenage years and how it was told – it sort of had more impact on Patrick I think, to read her words as she wrote them, rather than hear it told from far into the future. Even though they spent most of the book far apart, their relationship evolved really nicely and they developed this understanding of each other after their both somewhat negative first impressions.

There’s a sequel to this book, Call of the Penguins, which is set up right at the end of this when Veronica is asked to come to the Southern Hemisphere to help present a documentary on some other varieties of penguins who are not found in the Antarctic. You can bet I’ll be reading that!

***Also – there’s a mention of adopting an Adélie penguin in this book, which I didn’t know you could do. I have adopted penguins in Australia before and recently adopted a specific penguin from the Oamaru Blue colony in New Zealand (one of the many places I was hoping to visit). I definitely am going to look into adopting an Adélie as well.

This is charming but with an underlying seriousness about a lot of issues, not just climate change and species decline. Really enjoyed it and can’t wait for the next one.

8/10

Book #9 of 2022

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Review: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

The Late Show (Renee Ballard #1)
Michael Connelly
Litte, Brown & Company
2017, 405p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: From #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly, a new thriller introducing a driven young detective trying to prove herself in the LAPD

Renée Ballard works the night shift in Hollywood, beginning many investigations but finishing none as each morning she turns her cases over to day shift detectives. A once up-and-coming detective, she’s been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.

But one night she catches two cases she doesn’t want to part with: the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of a young woman in a nightclub shooting. Ballard is determined not to give up at dawn. Against orders and her own partner’s wishes, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night. As the cases entwine they pull her closer to her own demons and the reason she won’t give up her job no matter what the department throws at her.

Recently I received the fourth novel featuring Detective Renee Ballard for review and I really enjoyed it. It made me want to go back and read the others and learn more about her so I requested this one, the one that introduces her, from my local library.

Ballard works the late shift, 11pm – 7am where she and her partner are on call, sometimes together, sometimes separately, if any overnight crimes require a detective. Her job is mostly turning up, signing off on something, gathering some information, then writing a report and turning the cases over to those on day shift who will investigate and end up solving the crimes. The only problem is that sometimes, Ballard gets involved. And she doesn’t want to turn over her cases to the day shift. She wants to see them all through to the end, but it’s a bit harder to investigate when you work graveyard. Ballard gets no where near enough sleep as she chooses to be awake in the daylight hours sometimes, to pursue her lines of enquiry.

I’m already familiar with Ballard’s getting involved from reading the most recent book but it was good to get more of an idea of her history – the circumstances that had led to her being reassigned to the graveyard shift and her contentious relationship with both the man she accused of harassment, who seems to now seek to make her life a misery as well as her former partner. And sometimes, her interactions with other members on the force are quite telling as well. In this book Ballard has a partner named Jenkins. He’s been in the force a while, he’s a bit jaded, his empathy is low. He volunteers for this shift because his wife is ill and this allows him to work while she sleeps and be at home with her during the hours she is awake. Jenkins is 100% happy to just do everything by the book, turn it over to daytime and get the heck out of there the second his shift ends. He knows when Ballard is getting too involved and he seems to try to gently disengage her (or sometimes, exasperatedly disengage her) but Ballard is Ballard and she pretty much does what she wants.

Like the other book I read, I found this gripping and couldn’t put it down. Ballard is not what I’d describe as an easy character but she has a way about her and a dedication to her job that I admired. It’s obvious some are trying to run her out of the job but she’s taken her demotion to the late shift and she’s made it her own and tried to do the absolute best she can with it. To try and be the best detective she can be, despite her circumstances. She sacrifices sleep and security to investigate cases, especially one in this book that I think she feels might get a bit swept under the rug or overlooked, because the victim is both a prostitute and a transgender MTF one at that and she seems cynical that the department, no matter how much sensitivity training is provided to them, will treat the victim with the dedication and respect of the other crime that this book involves.

Harry Bosch isn’t in this one – he rates a mention but Ballard doesn’t encounter him, so that seems to be the next book. Which I have already requested from the library because I really enjoy Ballard as a character and I like learning about the ways she investigates and the little ins and outs of how she deals with a lot of the campaign against her and the bureaucracy. I’m looking forward to reading the 2 books with her that are in between this one and the one I read first and catching up on everything.

8/10

Book #7 of 2022

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Mini Memoir Reviews {15}: What I’ve Read Lately

As Beautiful As Any Other
Kaya Wilson
Picador AUS
2021, 304p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: When Kaya Wilson came out to his parents as transgender, a year after a near-death surfing accident and just weeks before his father’s death, he was met with a startling family history of concealed queerness and shame.

This is a trans story.

As Beautiful As Any Other weaves this legacy together with intimate examinations of the forces that have shaped Wilson’s life, and his body: vulnerability and power, grief and trauma, science and narrative.

This is also my story.

In this powerful and lyrical memoir, Wilson makes a case for the strength we find when we confront the complexities of our identity with compassion. As Beautiful As Any Other is a trailblazing debut of remarkable beauty, insight and candour.

The cover for this one caught my eye when I was scrolling through Borrow Box one night. I’ve read a couple of memoirs from trans people and I’m trying to include more trans representation in my reading, both fiction and non-fiction. Kaya Wilson grew up criss-crossing the world, living in places like Aruba, Tanzania, Indonesia and Germany not long after the reunification. As a child, he grew up preferring to dress as a boy, shunning bikini tops and shirts on various beaches, swimming in the ocean and in pools. After university study and living in Australia, Kaya suffers an injury in the surf, spearing headfirst into a sandbar, breaking his neck and almost ending up a quadriplegic. It is in the wake of this injury that he comes out as trans to his parents, that he presents the self to them that he feels he truly is and it stirs up a lot of feelings and he is stunned to learn about his father’s sexual history, something that was never indicated to him prior to this coming out.

There is quite a lot included in this – it’s not just Wilson’s story and experience of transitioning and the treatment and recovery of the ocean injury but includes a lot of other interesting topics, such as climate change, due to his work as a marine scientist as well as observations of living in other countries as a child as well as how experiencing violence in childhood can impact on adults, the boarding school experience of his teens in England and various other aspects of his life as well. There’s musing on feminism and the way in which Wilson must adjust to going from being a person before his transition, looking for threats, taking precautions when out alone, when seeing men, when out at night, to possibly being seen as a threat after the transition. I found that chapter really interesting.

There’s a lot of value in this, there’s massive importance for inclusivity and having trans voices and experiences out there in mainstream publication. I really enjoyed the author’s backstory and the complex issues surrounding his coming out to his family and the secrets that brought out of his father’s own life and history. However, this memoir jumped around a lot with random topics and chapters and things constantly being revisited (like for example, it’s mentioned many times at various different points, the time the author lived in Aruba, instead of just dealing with the Aruba stuff once) and it got quite jarring and repetitive. And I found that some of the chapters on other things, pulled me out of the core story and I was just flipping pages trying to get back to what the author had been talking about before.

Still an interesting and powerful story, just some of the impact was a bit lost with the format for me personally.

Book #6 of 2022

Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir
Ashley C. Ford
Flatiron Books
2021, 224p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: One of the most prominent voices of her generation debuts with an extraordinarily powerful memoir: the story of a childhood defined by the ever looming absence of her incarcerated father and the path we must take to both honor and overcome our origins. 

For as long as she could remember, Ashley has put her father on a pedestal. Despite having only vague memories of seeing him face-to-face, she believes he’s the only person in the entire world who understands her. She thinks she understands him too. He’s sensitive like her, an artist, and maybe even just as afraid of the dark. She’s certain that one day they’ll be reunited again, and she’ll finally feel complete. There are just a few problems: he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there.

Through poverty, puberty, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley returns to her image of her father for hope and encouragement. She doesn’t know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men. In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates; when the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley finally finds out why her father is in prison. And that’s where the story really begins.

Somebody’s Daughter steps into the world of growing up a poor Black girl, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be. As Ashley battles her body and her environment, she provides a poignant coming-of-age recollection that speaks to finding the threads between who you are and what you were born into, and the complicated familial love that often binds them.

I really enjoyed this.

I borrowed it from my library’s eBook lending platform on a whim. Ashley C. Ford has such a beautiful writing style and even though her childhood was obviously very different from mine, I found that she painted it so vividly I could easily picture it.

Her father was incarcerated for 20+ years when she was very young so for basically all/most of her living memory, he was not around. Despite this lengthy sentence, Ashley goes a very long time without knowing exactly what her father was jailed for. Despite (or perhaps because of) his absence, Ashley holds him in high esteem, always very confident in his love for her, his unfaltering love. Ashley and her siblings are raised in that absence by her (mostly) single mother, a complex woman prone to outbursts of violence but who can also be fun and loving. Ashley has a very unstable relationship with her mother growing up, especially around her mother’s boyfriend Allen, a manipulative man but because he helps pay the bills, Ashley’s mother is always defensive of him – and critical of Ashley.

There’s so much in this that I found fascinating, particularly Ford’s look at men who blame children for sexual thoughts. Ashley is victim of several instances where as basically a child, she is accused of inappropriate behaviour or insulted/abused for asserting her childhood when men mistake her for being older. It’s something that’s as old as time and it never fails to be disturbing, that grown men cannot be responsible for their own sexual thoughts, especially when they may be made feel uncomfortable about them. Turning the blame back on the object of them is almost always the first line of defence.

I thought this book excelled at looking at the complex relationships of families, the ups and the downs and the struggle of single parenthood, low income and when Ashley goes to college, being Black in a very non-Black dominated world. Her writing of trauma is very powerful and moving, as is her description of losing a beloved relative, a true force in their family. Her relationship with her mother is presented unflinchingly as is her struggle with authority during school.

Would love to read more of Ashley C. Ford’s writing in the future.

Book #8 of 2022

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Top 10 Tuesday 11th January

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl, it features a different bookish-related topic or theme each week. This week we are talking….

Top 10 Recent Additions To My Bookshelf!

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

In 2021, I read both Beartown and Us Against You by Fredrik Backman and loved them both so much. Beartown made my top 10 books of the year and I also gave Us Against You an honourable mention and I knew that I wanted to read more Fredrik Backman. ALL the Fredrik Backman. We always make sure everyone has at least one book to unwrap on Christmas Day and this was one of mine. I’ve heard amazing things about this, so my hopes are pretty high.

The Island Of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

I actually included this in my Top 10 Tuesday for Books I Hope Santa Brings. I ended up buying a copy of this on Christmas Eve – we went to have Christmas lunch with my mother-in-law in the town she lives in and finally got around to visiting the cute little bookshop there that I haven’t been able to check out yet because of 2 years of covid ever changing rules and restrictions. This was on the display shelf for new releases when I walked in and I immediately picked it up.

Living Planet by David Attenborough

I love David Attenborough – January is also Attenborough month on the nature channels on my subscription tv, so I plan on also watching some of those! I bought this in either late November or early December and it’s definitely high on my priority list for early this year. I also have the audiobook version and Attenborough reads it himself. I’ve listened to two of his audiobooks in the past and they were both excellent.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honoree Fannone Jeffers

I picked up this in the same bookshop as the David Attenborough. I’d seen it on booktube and instagram. It’s a behemoth of a book – close to or just over 800p. This apparently is the story of an American family over the span of centuries, through slavery, the Civil War and to the present. I’m really keen for this, I just know it’s going to be quite an undertaking so I want to make sure I have the proper time and energy to devote to it.

The Gosling Girl by Jaqueline Roy

This was sent to me by Simon & Schuster Australia and will be released in February. It’s about a black girl now named Michelle who is newly released from prison after luring a (white) child away from her parents and murdering her when she herself was just a child. She’s served her time and now has a new identity but when a woman is found dead in her new apartment building, it’ll only be a matter of time before Michelle’s identity is discovered and she’ll be a suspect. This sounds harrowing.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I bought this recently after a book I was reading referenced it (and the main character also buys a copy). I’ve never read it. I really love these hardcover clothbound versions of classics and it’s my goal from now on, whenever I buy a book that comes in this version, that this is the version I’ll get. I’m hoping to read this soon but I really have to be in the right mood to pick up this sort of story.

Still Life by Sarah Winman

I picked up a copy of this cheap on iBooks I think? But I really want a print copy….it just has such a beautiful cover! This one is high on my summer TBR priority as I’ve heard such excellent things about it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life by Robert Dallek

I bought this on a whim recently from a place that has heavily discounted books. The selection is pretty random, I just browsed through about 1000 books and ended up buying maybe a dozen. I feel like FDR is one of the most interesting American presidents and he’s definitely the one I want to learn more about. I’ve read quite a few fiction books that feature him prominently but never anything non-fiction and my husband has read this (from our local library, which I didn’t realise!) and said it’s excellent.

Moonlight And The Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook

Sent to me by Penguin Random House and out here in Australia in February. It’s set in Western Australia during the 1880s and the pearling industry off the coast there. Eliza Brightwell is awaiting the return of her father’s ship but when it finally arrives back into port, he is not on it, pronounced missing at sea. Eliza refuses to believe this though and seeks to find the truth. Sounds pretty good and I’ve not read enough books set in Western Australia – most of the Aussie historical fiction I’ve read centres very much around colonies on the eastern side of the country.

The Empire Of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty

The third in the Daevabad trilogy. Oh I am so bad at finishing series’ – I think I have issues with letting go and I finally bought this and it’s sitting on my shelf, mocking me, for my inability to pick it up! Although I did add it to my summer TBR so….let’s see how that goes!

And there we have it – 10 of the most recent additions to my shelf. Anything you’ve read? Anything you want to read? Let me know in the comments!

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Review: The Hush by Sara Foster

The Hush
Sara Foster
Harper Collins AUS
2021, 350p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A multigenerational, female-led thriller, and a terrifying conspiracy that goes right to the heart of the British Government.

Six months ago, in an English hospital, a healthy baby wouldn’t take a breath at birth. Since then there have been more tragedies, and now the country is in turmoil. The government is clamping down on people’s freedoms. The prime minister has passed new laws granting authorities sweeping powers to monitor all citizens. And young pregnant women have started going missing.

As a midwife, Emma is determined to be there for those who need her. But when her seventeen-year-old daughter Lainey finds herself in trouble, this dangerous new world becomes very real, and both women face impossible choices. The one person who might help is Emma’s estranged mother Geraldine, but reaching out to her will put them all in jeopardy …

The Hush is a new breed of near-future thriller, an unflinching look at a society close to tipping point and a story for our times, highlighting the power of female friendship through a dynamic group of women determined to triumph against the odds.

I’m just going to go ahead and file this one under ‘so real it’s scary’.

For many people, this would be every fear come true. Every small rolling back of human rights, of women’s rights – every Roe vs Wade questioning and debate, every negative that could come out of a pandemic or situation in a way that gives governments power to increase their monitoring of citizens, to restrict their rights and freedoms, to exert control over them by utilising fear and turning it into an excuse to ‘protect’ them.

This is set about 10 years post the situation we are currently in. Citizens in Britain have slowly had their freedoms tightened – they now all wear watches that record things like their movements and are used to scan in and out of workplaces and schools. They are not allowed remove them and there are punishments for doing so. When babies, perfectly healthy babies are born and refuse to open their eyes or take a breath, it escalates the situation. You have to provide ID for a pregnancy test. Pregnant teens disappear. Abortions are outlawed. As the statistics for babies who are born this way go from 1 in 10 to 1 in 8 to 1 in 5 to almost 1 in 2, the panic escalates and the net tightens.

Emma is a midwife who has witnessed many of these births. Her job is now a mess of paperwork, everything documented to the nth degree in order for researchers to try and discover how and why this is happening -and how it can be fixed. It’s making it hard for her to do her job and there’s a creeping ideology of guilting mothers as well. I honestly can’t imagine having to do Emma’s job in this sort of situation and being a woman in labour during this sort of thing must’ve been terrifying, especially as the statistics rose. The chance that you would not be bringing a baby home with you, the high chance, would make an incredibly stressful situation even more so.

Emma is a single mother to teenager Lainey, who not only sees the way the increasing stillbirths are affecting her mother but her pregnant friend has vanished. No one has seen or heard from her – and a well known YouTuber/activist who wrote and performed a song about teenagers who had also vanished, has now disappeared as well. Lainey knows enough that when she suspects something terrifying she has to keep it a secret.

This book really is very good but I do feel like perhaps I read it at the wrong time. Even if I’d read it a month ago or two, it might’ve felt easier. Things at the moment feel like no matter what we do, it gets worse and I think that did have an impact on me, when I was reading this. It felt a bit claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing and look, that might be the point. To make you feel uncomfortable with how easily this all seemed to happen. How citizens complied with these new rules and laws, this new monitoring. The detaining of minors, the basically abduction of minors and lack of ability for their parents to do a single thing about it. The complicity of the press in aiding the governments in these methods, refusing to report on things that were critical or questioning.

In many ways, it’s so easy to understand how they ended up there. Scarily easy actually. And in other ways, it’s so incredibly horrifying that they did end up there. That these rights were eroded, that people were forced to register for pregnancy tests, that their every move was monitored and recorded. The fear of babies dying for some unknown and completely invisible reason is such an interesting idea for this book because it taps into the helplessness you feel sometimes when you’re pregnant, like you can do all the right things but still things can go wrong. Those odds these days, are quite small but they still exist. Enough for the ‘what if’ thoughts. This takes that and amplifies it into this ever-growing terror because won’t make people comply if not helpless babies dying?

I think this is such an excellent story and I really admired both Emma and Lainey. They are both smart, resourceful, caring people and supportive as well. Emma risks everything for Lainey and she doesn’t stop fighting. Sereena and Meera were excellent characters as well, fearless and loyal. Emma and Lainey both have a great support network of mostly women (but definitely also some male allies) who they can turn t for help, even in dangerous situations. If I did have one aspect that I thought could’ve done with a little bit more fleshing out, it was the end. It felt a bit abrupt and sudden, I think I might’ve liked another chapter or two – but I’m a person that likes that, rather than imagining things!

Did I think this was good? Yes. Would I recommend people read it? Absolutely. But I’m not 100% sure I can say that I loved the experience of reading this. But I’m still very glad I read it anyway.

8/10

Book #5 of 2022

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