All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Man Booker Shortlist #5 – Thoughts On: The Long Take by Robin Robertson

The Long Take
Robin Robertson
Picador
2018, 237p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Walker, a young Canadian recently demobilised after war and his active service in the Normandy landings and subsequent European operations. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and unable to face a return to his family home in rural Nova Scotia, he goes in search of freedom, change, anonymity and repair. We follow Walker through a sequence of poems as he moves through post-war American cities of New York, Los Angles and San Francisco.

What is with these Man Booker books and such brief synopsis’?

This is a really hard one to review because it’s written in verse and they’re not really my preferred type of story. I’ve only read a handful and if it weren’t for reading the shortlist, I probably wouldn’t have ever looked at this type of story, both because I’m not into verse and I am not particularly drawn to stories about veterans.

Walker by nature…..he’s Canadian, but finds himself in America after returning from some arduous conflicts serving in WWII. He settles first in New York but then makes his way to California, collecting his veteran’s pension and finding a job as a journalist. He wants to focus on features about veterans, the careless way they are treated once back in the country and the problems and difficulties they face returning to society. So many end up homeless, with drinking or drug addictions and nervous conditions that would be umbrella’d today under PTSD. Walker himself struggles with things like fireworks  which remind him of shelling and he drinks pretty much every day. Still, he manages to hold down his job, travelling up to San Francisco to document more veterans.

The further we get into the book, the more flashbacks we get of Walker’s time serving in the war and the become more detailed each time. It’s like as time gets more removed from the time he spent in the war, the more the memories creep in and permeate everything. We learn the stories of others that he comes across as well and eventually, most of Walker’s traumatic past is revealed, including what he shunned after the war and why he’s in America.

I thought this was a really interesting way to showcase some of the changing and often contradictory attitudes towards veterans. On one hand, a country like America, where Walker is, is passionate these days about thanking people for their service, for making sure it’s signposted really loud that everyone is appreciative of veterans and their sacrifice and everything they do so that the country remains free, etc. But even today, with better understanding of the effects of serving in conflict, post-deployment services for veterans remain woefully underfunded and it can be very difficult for career servicemen and women in particular, to readjust to ‘civilian’ life. Attitudes towards veterans have been swings and roundabouts – the ones post the Vietnam war are an interesting contrast to the way things are now and it seems that in the late 40s and 50s of this book there were whole communities of veterans living in squats, hovels, and on the streets.

For me, the last third or so of this, was probably the best part as it really picked up regarding flashback’s and also Walker’s deteriorating mental state. It made me want more, to learn in a more depth way about him and what he’d experienced. I’m honestly not qualified to really comment on the writing on this – I’m not big on poetry, almost never read it, wouldn’t recognise good structure from bad and although I did -like- it, I didn’t love it. And maybe some of that was the verse. Because it just felt vague at times and like I wasn’t getting the whole picture and I wanted to know more. The format definitely limited the way that information was conveyed and how much of it, which is probably half the point.

This was easy to read and thought provoking but I felt unsatisfied when I finished it.

6/10

Book #190 of 2018

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Review: The Wrong Callahan by Karly Lane

The Wrong Callahan (The Callahan’s Of Stringybark Creed #1)
Karly Lane
Allen & Unwin
2018, 326p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It had been two long years since Lincoln Callahan had found himself in front of the gates to Stringybark Creek. He was in the army then – a lifetime ago. Linc had always been the unsettled Callahan, looking for danger, the one who couldn’t wait to leave the family farm.

This time he was back for his little sister, Hadley’s, wedding. From far and wide, the Callahan relatives were streaming toward Stringybark Creek.

Linc’s little brother, Griffin, was the steady son, the one who stayed at home, the one who did the right things. And now, the one who had feelings for city-girl, Cash Sullivan.

For Cash, the offer to manage her best friend’s luxury beauty spa tucked away in the country had come at the right time. She knew she needed to make smarter choices in her life, starting with the men she dated, and an enforced break in the country seemed the right way to consider her options.

When Linc sets eyes on Cash at a family dinner, their swift attraction floors him. But Cash is his brother’s girlfriend…what was he thinking?

As Linc, Griff and Cash form an uneasy triangle, each of them have personal demons to face before they can open their hearts.

Karly Lane’s latest release is the first in a new series centering around the Callahan family who own and operate a farm in New South Wales’ Riverina district. In this book, older son Linc has returned home to the farm for the first time in many years. A former military man, Linc signed up for the army as soon as he could and left the small country town behind. Several tours later and now he owns and runs his own private security firm that specialises in helping people navigate overseas’ difficulties. Returning to the farm for his sister’s wedding, Linc is hiding a lot of secrets from his family, such as why he’s really back for such a long time. His return is immediately complicated by his attraction to neighbour Cash Sullivan, whom the whole family seems to think will soon be attached to Griffin, Linc’s younger brother.

Now normally I’m not really a huge fan of love triangles and I’m even less of a fan when they include members from the same family. I always find it a bit awkward to read about sisters warring over a man or brothers both attracted to the same woman because it’s hard to see this issues just….going away….and everyone getting along in the future. Also indecisiveness really bothers me, so I really dislike it if a character is going back and forth between two options for a good portion of the book. However this was written in a way that I think was both believable and managed to weave in some very intricate and old family conflicts that really gave this depth and about much more than just which brother Cash liked more.

Cash had a very unusual upbringing, not an easy one and her taste in men has seemed to run to the….not so good for her. The ones that don’t stick around, that aren’t really good prospects. Griffin is kind of the opposite of all that, he’s a nice guy with a steady job working his family’s farm and a plan for the future. Lincoln however…..seems more like the men she’s always chosen. No fixed address, a bit dangerous, a bit of a past. Cash wants to change the pattern of her behaviour, her choices but the thing is, you can’t force chemistry. It’s either there or it isn’t and Cash’s head might want one thing but her heart definitely wants another.

The Callahan family are big and kinda rowdy and not without their individual issues. Griffin has a long standing resentment of Lincoln, who doesn’t understand what he’s done to deserve it. One sister seems to be going through a very difficult time and the other is finally getting married after she and her fiancé postponed it twice due to their busy careers. All of the siblings were really interesting and I enjoyed their interactions with each other. What’s mostly explored here is between Lincoln and Griffin and it’s a way for Lincoln’s secrets to out after Griffin flips a switch. I’m not sure there was as much resolution as I was expecting but perhaps the next book will look to address that a bit more. There’s certainly a lot still left to explore in terms of individuals and also how these people connect as siblings. I enjoyed the characterisation of the parents as well, who are very strongly portrayed as hard working and social country people. Lincoln and Griffin’s mother in particular does a lot to make Cash feel welcome and included, although I do suspect she has ulterior motives.

This was a very enjoyable read and a good introduction to the Callahan family. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book and seeing what happens as several family members still have a lot of things to deal with. I really liked the setting and the small community and for me, the way that the love triangle played out was well done.

8/10

Book #200 of 2018

 

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Review: The Librarian Of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

The Librarian Of Auschwitz 
Antonio Iturbe (translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites)
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 423p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust.

Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.

Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.

Honestly these are some of the hardest books to read, ones that centre around concentration camps and the persecution of people in the second World War. I’ve read a few books now that deal with Auschwitz and some of the other camps. This one is set in Auschwitz II-Birkenau which was a combination internment/execution camp. On one hand, this camp had a role to play for the external world, that people were being kept safe and treated well. There was no extermination happening, there were no gas chambers, children were even getting an education. However despite that, there were still thousands being executed in the gas chambers and the conditions were far from what was being presented.

Dita was born to well off parents in Prague. Displaced during the war, first to a ghetto community and then to Auschwitz, Dita is a teenager when she arrives at the camp. She’s granted access into Block 31, where the school is being kept and Freddie Hirsch, a Jewish leader asks her to assist in maintaining the school’s library. The Nazis burn books and even being caught with a book would mean execution. The school’s library is meagre – just a handful of books in mostly poor condition but Dita takes her new role very seriously. She devises a system of storing and even carrying the books on her person so that they won’t be detected during the Nazis routine inspections.

This is based on a real story – the character of Dita is real and a lot of what happens in this book is her story as told to the author in a series of emails and exchanged communications. It’s always so shocking to me when I read accounts of Auschwitz or stories based on what happened there, just how far humanity can fall. That people can actually do these things and believe in them, to other human beings. It’s always one of the hardest things for me, that a group of people can be ‘othered’ to such a successful degree that they become less than human, treated worse than any animals. And the saddest thing is, I can see how this happens…..I see the way there’s an attempt here to demonise refugees and asylum seekers, to reshape them into something else. I don’t want to believe that it’s easy but take a country with festering, lingering resentments over the first World War, add in a desire for power and return to a dominance and what they believe is standing in their way and you start to see it. The way that over time, suddenly a whole class of people stops being seen as such. But to get to the levels in this book, that happened during the Holocaust, is just next level.

There are some examples of truly brutal treatment in this book as well as neglect. People starving to death, dying of simple illnesses that are exacerbated by the lack of hygiene, medicine, warm clothes and shelter that the camps were known for. The conditions are crowded, often 2-3 people to a bed, people often sleeping in shifts. They are worked to the point of exhaustion and further and it seems that no one escapes without some sort of horrific loss or experience, if they survive at all. But even with all that, there are beacons of hope and light, such as Block 31 and the determination of some to educate the children of Auschwitz to the best of their ability with the few things they have available to them to do so. The role of librarian is one that Dita takes very seriously, despite the danger it puts her in at such a young age. To be honest, Dita rarely seems her age, possibly due to the fact that kids in concentration camps surely grow up faster simply by means of losing pretty much everything that childhood means. She also assumes responsibility for her mother in a way, who does not seem able to cope with some of what has occurred. Dita has a very strong, often brusque manner but that’s not to say that she isn’t frightened by what she sees and hears.

Dita lived a remarkable life and this book has made me want to learn more about her. It’s made me want to read more stories about people like her, despite the fact that I find them so hard at times. It’s about pushing myself out of my comfort zone and learning from this sort of thing because I feel like if we don’t learn from these things in history we are doomed to repeat them. To become complacent is to allow it to happen again. Recently I was talking to my son’s 4th grade teacher who mentioned that he was interested in concentration camps and wanted to know about them. Tell him, I said to her. If he’s asking questions, tell him. And let him learn and understand what happened to kids like him who should’ve been at school. Because sometimes, like a lot of kids, he lacks empathy and it can be hard for him to see what life is like even just in a pre-iPad and PS4 era let alone during a war. This book is perhaps not right for him just yet, but one day it will be.

It’s hard to say something like I loved this because this is a book of so much heartache and pain. But I’m glad I read it.

8/10

Book #198 of 2018

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Review: Life On The Leash by Victoria Schade

Life On The Leash
Victoria Schade
Allen & Unwin
2018, 343p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cora Bellamy is a woman who thrives on organisation. She’s successfully run her own dog training business for years, perfectly content with her rescue pitbull as the main man in her life.

But all that changes when she meets Charlie Gill, the hottest client she’s ever had. The only problem? Charlie’s taken. Luckily, Cora has a new friend — the lovably geeky Eli Crawford. He’s always there to help Cora with her problems, including her love life. That’s why she’s shocked to realise that, even as things start heating up with Charlie, there might just be a spark between her and Eli, too.

As Cora’s life gets more tangled up than a dog walker’s leashes — and as she prepares to audition for a dog training TV show that may change her life — she has to figure things out before it all goes straight to the dogs.

Charming, witty and warm-hearted, Life on the Leash inspires you to cheer for every underdog looking for love.

I was really intrigued by this when I read the synopsis. I’ve been involved with rescue animals before – I’ve adopted dogs from a rescue organisation and I’ve fostered cats/kittens for another. Having an MC as a dog trainer sounded really interesting, not something I’ve come across many times before.

Cora is passionate about animals and about helping people get the best out of their dogs. She doesn’t want to “fix them” but rather work with dogs and their owners to incorporate positive training and a connection that help them get the best out of the relationship. Her methods are very gentle, in direct contrast to a popular TV trainer who is more about pack control and dominating them and teaching them who is boss. Cora despairs of dog owners who follow this TV trainer and she’s up front about those not being her methods and if that’s what people are after, she’s not the trainer for them.

After being single for a while, having broken up with her former fiancé Cora is now ready to kind of get back into the dating game. This part of her life is greatly complicated by a handsome client Charlie, who is charming and seems just as passionate about animals as she is. However Charlie comes with a girlfriend which puts Cora in a difficult situation.

Okay so a lot of this was cute. I really liked Cora’s approach to her clients and how she felt about dogs and her bond with her own dog, a rescue pit bull. Her relationship with her best friend was supportive and really enjoyable as well. I also liked a couple of her clients, including an Aussie named Fran but unfortunately, that was kind of all I liked. Oh wait, I also liked Eli, I think he was fantastic. Even if his little freak out at the end was a bit weird.

Charlie is a predator from first appearance, hidden behind a charming smile and an affable demeanour. It’s almost embarrassing how clueless Cora is when it comes to him. The fact that Cora was even looking at him as an option was really off putting, because she first meets Charlie’s long-term, live in girlfriend. Cora almost completely loses her mind over Charlie, continually trying to convince herself that he’s special and a good guy, despite all evidence to the contrary. It honestly did Cora no favours every time she was near him, she seemed to completely lose herself just because he was cute. It made me struggle with her as a character, because it seemed so at odds with the other parts of her.

Ultimately I feel like this book was just trying to include a little too much and as a result, several of the plot lines suffered because it was so busy. The whole reality TV show with Cora’s ex-fiance could probably have been excluded because in all honestly, it added absolutely nothing to the story line save a way to introduce Cora auditioning for her own reality show, but that could’ve quite easily been done without needing that. It takes up far too much of the plot for zero pay off as well. Also there is a lot about the TV dog trainer that Cora doesn’t like which also really doesn’t get any pay off. Cora writes a blog that lambasts him but there’s no confrontation or conversation between the two, there’s no culmination of this energy spent on him.

Life On The Leash showed promise and there were a few things that I really enjoyed and I particularly liked the message about working with your animals and Cora’s training techniques. I appreciated her devotion to her own dog and her dedication to trying to save as many animals as she could, in as many ways as she could. However Cora herself was often frustrating as a main character, distracted by something shiny and inappropriate. I would’ve liked more time spent on the built of a genuine romance with someone who didn’t have a girlfriend instead of a hasty tacked on bit at the end. So a bit of a mixed bag here – some good moments and some positive stuff but also quite a bit that didn’t work for me as well as I had hoped.

6/10

Book #197 of 2018

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Review: I Can’t Remember The Title But The Cover Is Blue by Elias Greig

I Can’t Remember The Title But The Cover Is Blue
Elias Greig
Allen & Unwin
2018, 224p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Hilarious, unpredictable and, at times, touching, this compilation is the perfect gift for fans of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and The Diary of a Bookseller.

As any retail or service worker will tell you, customers can be irrational, demanding, abusive, and brain-scramblingly, mind-bendingly strange. They can also be kind, thoughtful, funny, and full of pathos. Something about the often-fraught interaction between customer and worker, with the dividing line of the counter between them, loosens inhibitions, and has a kind of hot-house effect on eccentricity.

In I Can’t Remember the Title But the Cover is Blue, veteran bookseller Elias Greig collects the best, worst and downright weirdest customer encounters from his years working as a Sydney bookseller. From ill-behaved children to nostalgic seniors and everything in between, this hilarious and unpredictable book is the perfect gift for anyone who’s ever been on the wrong side of a counter.

When I was younger, my dream job was owning a bookstore. Like the ones in books or tv shows/movies that are half new books, half secondhand with a coffee machine or something and I could spend most of my day reading books and the other portion helping people find the books they want. Now when you’re about 10, that sounds perfect. It’s also incredibly unrealistic. Despite my love of books and how much I enjoy talking about them and recommending titles to people, I’ve never worked in a bookstore. I’ve never worked in retail because actually I don’t have that much patience and I’m not the sort of person to be polite when someone is rude to me. To be honest, books like this are just another hilarious reason why I don’t see a career in book sales.

Elias works in a bookstore on Sydney’s North Shore and decided to keep a bit of a diary, some daily interactions with customers. Some of the best are detailed here and there’s a bit of everything – customers who are irritatingly vague about a book they’re after, expecting him to read their minds to intuit it, customers who don’t keep their little darlings in check, customers who want him to google things, or print things or do other things that have nothing to do with books. Some of them are funny, some are thoughtful, others are downright bizarre and some are infuriating. I especially got a kick out of things like where someone comes looking for the latest Mark Latham or something and Elias is delighted to inform them that no, they don’t have that in stock today! There’s also a customer whom he suspects might possibly be a Nazi sympathiser based on his orders through the shop and he wavers back and forth throughout conversations with him.

The author has a very laid back and engaging style and the drawings that accompany many of the stories are simple but really well done and give a nice visual. Each of the customers is given a bit of a snappy name too, relevant to why they’re there, or what they’re looking for or the type of customer that they are. The format is really fun – each interaction is only a page or two and it’s short, snappy conversations and wry observations. It’s the sort of book you can read in a single sitting (like I did) and it won’t take you too long at all and it’s also the sort of book you can pick up and read a couple pages here and there whenever you have a spare few minutes, like in the car at school pick up, waiting for an appointment etc. It’s the perfect little companion for any book lover or person who appreciates the challenges of working in retail!

8/10

Book #196 of 2018

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Books On My TBR I Really Should’ve Read By Now……{Part 1}

It’s the eternal problem of a book addict, right? The ever growing TBR pile that threatens to overtake every room in the house. We moved house about 6 months ago and in the master bedroom is a weird little recess in one of the walls that at first glance, I wasn’t sure what to do with. It actually didn’t look wide enough to fit a dresser or a bookcase but upon moving in, I discovered that it perfectly fit one of my IKEA bookcases. Moving had given me the perfect chance to reorganise and reassess my book collection. I culled several hundred books, gave another 80 or so to the teenage daughter of friends and packed some away in crates to store in the garage. I decided that the bookcase in the bedroom would be a ~TBR~ bookcase of books I hadn’t read yet but really wanted to soon. Books I should’ve gotten to much earlier than this.

It’s actually not full, because I’ve kind of been pretty picky about what goes in here (I have another TBR bookcase with less urgent titles in it). I also included all my classic books here, simply because they fit. Some of them I’ve read, some of them I haven’t. I thought for fun (and accountability) I’d pick out some books that are at the top of my pile. That way when I do finally get around to reading them, I can see how long it actually took me from the time of posting this. Because I know myself well enough to understand that it’s still going to be a while!

  1. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. First cab off the rank and actually I think this might be a good contender to actually get read in 2019. Recently I decided to take part in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. One of the ‘bonus’ categories is read a title by Jhumpa Lahiri – so that’ll be quite easy to accomplish!
  2. Bone Ash Sky by Katerina Cosgrove. I bought this when it first came out so in 2013 sometime. It’s about the Armenian genocide, which is something I know little about and it seemed interesting. I think I actually read a few pages of this a couple of years ago and never went on with it.
  3. Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant. I’ve never read Sarah Dunant before but I know a few people who really like her books. I bought this one after seeing her at the Melbourne Writers Festival in the session detailed in this post back in 2013. All I know is that it’s about the Borgias. Actually I just went and read the synopsis of this and it sounds really good. Why on earth haven’t I read it yet?
  4. Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. I was sent this (unsolicited) for review last year but I never got around to it. Wasn’t sure it was really my sort of thing but I’ve actually heard a lot of good things about it, so it earned its place on this shelf. I also have the sequel, Grey Sister which I picked up either free or cheap on iBooks.
  5. The Girl That Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. Okay so this one has been on the old TBR a while. In fact the original reason I hadn’t read it was because I’d loved the first two so much, and Stieg Larsson had died, so I just wasn’t really ready to let the series go. Since then there’s been two (I think?) more books released written by someone else maybe cobbled together from notes from the unfinished manuscript for the first one and then solely completed by the new person for the one after. I don’t know if I want to read the others but I still intend to read this one at some stage.
  6. Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Another I bought when it first came out. I have actually read What Happened already but somehow this one hasn’t been taken down off the shelf yet. I really like her writing and I find her quite personable. I’m aware that she’s one of the most polarising figures in recent times but – I’m a fan.
  7. Wars Of The Roses 1, 2 & 3 by Conn Iggulden. I was actually sent these for review over a period of three years and haven’t yet read any of them. I like the idea and I haven’t read a lot from this era (which probably makes me on my own there). I’m pretty sure there’s at least a 4th book too but I don’t have that.
  8. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. How have I still not read this yet? I don’t know. I rated both Illuminae and Gemina 10/10 and reports seem to suggest this one is just as good. I think it’s just probably the size that daunts me and wanting time where I can sit down and power through it, rather than have to put it down and pick it up all the time.
  9. City Of Mirrors by Justin Cronin. The third book in the Passage trilogy. The problem is it’s been so long since I read the first two that my memory is patchy. Don’t know whether to put them all aside and reread the trilogy as a whole or just suck it up and read this and hope it all comes back to me….
  10. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. A book I just ‘had to have’ when it came out. This actually creeps me the heck out – the idea of knowing the date of your death. I want to read it but at the same time, I’m a bit weird about death books at the moment.
  11. Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff, Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, The Rose And The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh and A Gathering Of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. Lumping these in together because they’re all second books in trilogies or duos where I’ve read the first book, own the second books and haven’t gotten around to reading them yet!
  12. The Diviners by Libba Bray. I won this in a giveaway quite a few years ago and I’ve heard such good things about this (and it’s the first book in a series too).
  13. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. People keep telling me this is equal parts amazing and traumatising. It’s a big investment, the sort of book where I want to have the time to take with it.
  14. The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth. I really like Kate Forsyth’s books and this is the only one published in recent times that I haven’t read yet. I’ve owned it a couple of years and I keep putting it on holiday and challenge TBR’s but not getting around to it. Maybe I can make it fit my Reading Women Challenge in 2019.
  15. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’ve tried to read this twice. And both times I didn’t get past page 35. I’ve heard that the beginning is challenging and that once you’re past that, it’s amazing. It certainly is a very highly praised book and it’s a Man Booker winner after all with a TV adaptation. So it sits and waits for me to try it 3rd time lucky.

Look, I could keep going but probably have to cap it somewhere. These are the books that sit highest on my current priority list as far as my TBR goes. My review list is quite small this month, only 7 on it so I’m going to try my hardest to cross something off this list in the month of December. It’s all about the baby steps!

Next week I might do a Part 2 featuring my other TBR bookcase!

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November Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 11*
Fiction: 10
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 3
Books On My TBR List: 4
Books in a Series: 3
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 5
Male/Female Authors: 2/9 (I’ve counted a title written under a male pseudonym in my female tally)
Kindle Books: 1
Books I Owned or Bought: 4
Favourite Book(s): The Lost Man by Jane Harper, Lethal White by Robert Galbraith, The Summer Of Secrets by Barbara Hannay & Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.
Least Favourite Books: Milkman by Anna Burns. Honestly it might be the worst title I’ve read all year.
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 0 – because this is the year of no challenges!

* – Goodreads counts one DNF title towards my tally, which makes this month’s effort 11 books but in reality I DNF’d it after 30 odd pages so it’s more like only 10 books read for the month.

So. November was an interesting month…..

In terms of reading, it was, I think, easily my worst in terms of numbers for 2018. I’m not quite sure why I struggled so much this month….or well I am, in some ways. Firstly, the first book I tried to read this month was the Man Booker winner, Milkman by Anna Burns. And wow, it’s the first book I’ve actually officially DNF’d this year. The way it was written – I just couldn’t get into it at all. And it gave me a bit of a hangover, I was really reluctant to pick something else up and the book I did finally choose wasn’t a good choice for me. I’m not sure if it’s heading towards that end of the year and getting fatigued, but I spent many more days not reading than actually reading this month. In fact I wiped out pretty much all my November TBR pile – I think I only read one of them. And I didn’t like it much. The rest of them…..when I investigated further, 3 of them were sequels or connected to other books, which I hadn’t read. And I decided instead to just find things that interested me. I read Lethal White by Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling, which had been one of my goals and it was sooo good. I might’ve only read 10 books this month, but 4 of them were 5-star reads for sure. I went to see Jane Harper at an event at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville, in Melbourne’s west, which was a fantastic event. Jane Harper is a star. Her two Aaron Falk books are great (the first one, The Dry is to be a movie with Eric Bana playing the lead, which is pretty impressive) but her third book, The Lost Man is fantastic. Absolutely brilliant.

I also picked up a couple of books that had been on my TBR pile for a long time – in the case of A Discovery Of Witches it’s been about 6 years! I also got around to finally reading Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, the third in the Graceling trilogy. I’d read and loved the first two books last year and I’d started Bitterblue twice only to put it down after less than a dozen pages and move onto something else instead. But I picked it up and was finally able to give it the attention it deserved.

Given this month’s effort, my December pile is deliberately modest:

I’ve actually already read 2 of these but I still have reviews to write for them, hopefully both will be up later this week.

Last week I had the entire week off blogging – in fact I don’t even think I looked at my blog once. Sometimes I just need to take that little break and refresh myself a bit or the whole idea of sitting down and writing blog posts becomes a bit overwhelming. It worked really well and now hopefully I can finish out the year on a positive note!

Happy reading!

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Review: The Summer Of Secrets by Barbara Hannay

The Summer Of Secrets 
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Michael Joseph
2018, 384p
Copy courtesy of Michelle from Beauty & Lace

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sydney journalist Chloe Brown is painfully aware that her biological clock isn’t just ticking, it’s booming. When her long term boyfriend finally admits he never wants children, Chloe is devastated. Impulsively, she moves as far from disappointment as she can – to a job on a small country newspaper in Queensland’s far north.

The little town seems idyllic, a cosy nest, and Chloe plans to regroup and, possibly, to embark on single motherhood via IVF. But she soon realises that no place is free from trouble or heartache. The grouchy news editor, Finn Latimer, is a former foreign correspondent who has retreated after a family tragedy. Emily, the paper’s elegant, sixty-something owner, is battling with her husband’s desertion. Meanwhile, the whole town is worried when their popular young baker disappears.

As lives across generations become more deeply entwined, the lessons are clear. Secrets and silence harbour pain, while honesty and openness bring healing and hope. And love. All that’s needed now is courage…

I’m on a bit of a roll with books read at the moment – this is the third book in a row that I’ve rated 5-stars on Goodreads. I always love Barbara Hannay books, so to be honest it was no surprise how much I ended up enjoying this. Her books are feel good reads for me but always with depth and an intimate look at human relationships.

Chloe is 37 and after devoting the past 7 years of her life to a man who is never going to be on the same page as her, she finds herself leaving Sydney and her job at a girl’s magazine for a post in far North Queensland at a rural newspaper. Before Chloe arrived there was basically a staff of one – former foreign correspondent Finn Latimer, who is used to doing things his way and not having anyone else around. He’s a Serious Journalist and not particularly interested in having someone that he thinks probably wrote quizzes for Dolly magazine helping him out.

Chloe finds herself settling into the small town almost immediately, which is preoccupied by the disappearance of the young man who owns the local bakery. Ben went out for a jog one morning and never came home and the fear is that he stumbled on a meth lab. There’s not much to go on and Chloe befriends his girlfriend Tammy as she gets to know the locals for a series of articles she’s preparing for the local paper. She finds herself accepted into this community, enjoying the change of pace and beauty of the local area. It’s a far cry from inner Sydney and it’s growing on her. As is Finn himself.

I loved the small town feel. I’ve never been to far North Queensland so I appreciated the descriptions of the local farms and the forests, as well as the brightness of the stars at night and even a little cameo by some of the (perhaps not so palatable) wildlife.  Chloe is at that stage of her life where she has to make a decision – she’s already late-30s, which is considered advanced maternal age, especially for someone who will be undertaking having their first child, even though more and more women are having children later. She has recently ended a long-term relationship and if she wants to have a baby before she’s 40, she’s probably going to have to go it alone. I think being somewhere small and quiet gives her time to think, reassess and gain some clarity. It will also give her more freedom to be a working mother as well. However…..now there’s also Finn in her life and the two of them definitely have a lot of chemistry and I really enjoyed the way she and Finn interacted – it was a bit of a rocky start, with Finn not really buying into her credentials, but Chloe brings a breath of fresh air and colour to the local paper and Finn doesn’t take long to see that she’s really quite valuable. And very helpful when they get a strange clue about Ben, the vanished baker, that leaves Finn free to pursue that line of enquiry. A future together requires both of them taking a strong leap of faith and for Finn, letting go of the past and his guilt over it.

There’s a few other local characters populating this story. Emily is the owner of the paper, who took over from her mother a very formidable woman who is almost 100 and still going strong. Emily and her husband are going through something quite traumatic and they’re both dealing with it in different ways – or trying to. Jess, a young woman Chloe met in the airport after her flight landed, was also leaving to find a new life and I really enjoyed the way her story played out. It was nicely done – I only really started to suspect her true reasons for being in the area shortly before it was revealed. I also liked the inclusion of Emily’s mother’s early life as a pilot in WWII for Britain. This also made me realise that somewhere along the way I’ve missed a book from Barbara Hannay so I’m definitely going to have to rectify that.

Also? I’d kind of like to see Hawk in a future book….

9/10

Book #193 of 2018

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Review: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4)
Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)
Sphere
2018, 649p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“I seen a kid killed…He strangled it, up by the horse.”

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott-once his assistant, now a partner in the agency-set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been-Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

I’ve only read the first Harry Potter book so really my experience with JK Rowling, who writes this adult crime/mystery series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is purely the result of these Cormoran Strike books. I read the first one when it was published but only read books 2&3 this year, before I watched the BBC adaptation, Strike. That turned out to be a good decision because the wait for book 4 after the ending of 3 would’ve been torturous.

We get a brief description of what happened after the end of Career Of Evil and then we skip forward in time 12 months. Cormoran and Robin are partners in the agency now and Cormoran’s publicity from solving the Shacklewell Ripper case has led to a steady supply of work, so much so that Cormoran has had to hire a few more people to cover it. The resulting publicity does also mean that he’s quite recognisable now, which can be a hindrance to being out undercover so when Jasper Chiswell, the Minister for Culture expresses an interest in hiring the agency about someone blackmailing him, it’s Robin that is sent in undercover to work in Chiswell’s office. Robin can be smoothly unobtrusive, it’s far easier to disguise and change her appearance and she has people skills. It’s an added bonus that this case seems to cross over with the troubled man named Billy who confessed to Cormoran that he witnessed a murder as a child, but fled before Cormoran could get any details out of him. With Robin on Chiswell, Cormoran works on tracking down Billy, fearing for his safety and wellbeing, as well as wanting the rest of his story.

I love this series. The first three were all really solid reads for me but this one for some reason, is my favourite so far. I think it’s the combination of a really, really intricate mystery with a cast of many and the simmering tension between Cormoran and Robin as they attempt to negotiate this working relationship after what happened at the wedding. They almost fall over each other in an attempt not to step on each other’s toes, ask personal questions or perhaps cross an invisible line unwittingly which would change everything. Despite this avoidance of a million and one things, their thoughts are constantly tied to the other  and Robin’s paranoia that her job may vanish at any second if she even so much breathes a word of an inner struggle to Strike strongly motivates her choices to keep everything locked up inside and her personal life just adds to her stress and state of mind.

There’s no denying this book is long. It’s about 650p in large paperback form. It begins with a visit to Strike’s office from a young, mentally disturbed man named Billy who claims to have witnessed a murder as a child but then we don’t see Billy again for probably another 500p as it sinks into the investigation for Jasper Chiswell and his complicated, moneyed family, which is connected to Billy’s family (definitely not moneyed). Quite often large books annoy me because I can see huge chunks of irrelevancy that the editing process should’ve cut through but I honestly never once had that thought with this book. It took me a couple of days to read it and each time I had to put it down, I could not wait to be able to sit down and pick it back up again. There’s so much going on, in both Robin and Strike’s personal and professional lives. Some of it is signposted so well for the reader but it takes the characters longer to put the clues together.

Everything about this worked for me. It’s long, sure but it keeps busy, uncovering small clues that honestly, just ask more questions for a while and then something happens which changes the entire focus of the investigation and everyone has a role to play, no matter how minor a character they seem when first introduced. I actually felt like that Galbraith/Rowling did an amazing job planting some of the clues here to lead the reader in the right direction about several things but ultimately the way that Strike connects the dots is a thing of beauty, about everything. I liked that Robin sort of didn’t really know where he was going with everything and how he’d done it because although she’s got great instincts, she’s still learning and Strike is kind of a tactical wizard so far and it just felt more real instead of Robin looking at the clues Strike gave her and going oh yes, I see exactly what’s going on here.

This book leaves things in a very interesting place, where I’m not sure they’ve been before. I’m really looking forward to the next book, for both the mysteries that Cormoran and Robin investigate together and also their growing personal relationship. I think they established a more intimate connection here (and I don’t mean physically) and I’m keen to see where that goes. I hope it’s not another 3year wait for the next book and that they hurry up turning this one into new eps of the tv show.

9/10

Book #192 of 2018

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Top 10 Tuesday 20th November

Welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now has a new home with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. Featuring a different bookish related theme each week, this week is a Thanksgiving/thankful freebie. I am not American (or Canadian) and we don’t have anything like Thanksgiving so I’m going to take a bit of a stab at the other part of the suggestion.

Top 10 Books I’m Thankful To Have Read

  1. Enid Blyton Books. I honestly think that if I look back on it, my love of reading started with several series’ of Enid Blyton books – the Magic Faraway Tree, Magic Wishing Chair and Cherry Tree Farm. I probably started reading these when I was around six and they’re the books I have the earliest memories of reading. I had this big hardback, illustrated version of The Enchanted Forest and I honestly wish I’d kept these but eventually they were donated to make way for other books on my one childhood bookshelf. Fun fact: my son is now reading the Magic Faraway Tree books with his class and it’s been fun reliving them with him (and I’m slightly amused at the PC changes that have been made).
  2. The Babysitters Club Series by Ann M. Martin. I think these kickstarted my love of a long series – following the same characters on new adventures and it’s something I still enjoy to this day. I started reading these when I was around 7 and I was seriously obsessed with them for a few years. I quickly caught up with all the books that had been released and then it was a matter of waiting for each new one. I was living in the country at the time, no bookstore nearby and my grandmother used to buy these and either send them to me (she lived 6hrs away) or keep them until we visited her for Christmas holidays. My nan has always been a big reader and she has always fostered my own love of reading, buying me many books in my childhood.
  3. Sweet Valley High/University by Francine Pascal (and probably numerous ghost writers). I think these books kept me anchored in reading throughout my early and mid teens, when I could’ve probably quite easily dropped off. I didn’t really have any friends who enjoyed reading, so having something that I really liked definitely kept me enthusiastic and tied to that love of books.
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. My year 10 text for study. This is important in so many ways because it was the first book that I ever read for school that I feel like I truly loved. I often found texts set for study lacklustre, boring and overanalysed but TKAM turned everything upside down for me. It opened me up to a whole new type of reading and studying books became something else entirely.
  5. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. This is a bit of a weird one. I am grateful to Twilight not because I loved it or it spoke to me but it did kickstart my foray back into YA books, which I hadn’t dipped into since probably the days of SVH/SVU, which would’ve been some 10+ years before I read Twilight. In my mid-late teens I abandoned any sort of teen/YA books for adult books and it wasn’t until reading this series that I went back to investigating YA and realised how far it had come since I was a teen myself. I’ll always be grateful that Twilight was my gateway back because it led into my next couple of choices for this list……
  6. Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar. I picked up a copy of this at a Penguin AUS event way back in 2011, knowing nothing about it except that two other people had assured me it was amazing and I would love it. They were right, because it is and I did. It became one of my favourite books – it sort of straddles that YA/NA line and deals with trauma and love and pain and isolation and it’s just so wonderful.
  7. Speak by Laurie Halse. Probably one of the most important books I’ve read and I wish I could give it to everyone I know.
  8. Melina Marchetta Books. Blogging definitely led me to these. I’d read Looking For Alibrandi years before but it wasn’t until meeting some fellow bloggers that I got around to reading Marchetta’s other releases, particularly Saving Francesca and On The Jellicoe Road, both of which probably have a place in my favourite books of all time. It doesn’t matter what Marchetta writes, I love it. Fantasy, contemporary YA, adult crime/mystery. Bring it on.
  9. The People Smuggler by Robin De Crispigny. This book opened my eyes so much in terms of asylum seekers and ‘boat people’. I’ve never been against them, but before reading this, I don’t think I understood the motivation of the people that bring them here, in boats that often can’t withstand the journey. This gave me so much more to the story, the situations that lead to this desperation. Everyone should read this book.
  10. Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. I had heard so many good things about these but I put off reading them because I just didn’t think they were my thing. I’m not really into sci-fi and space stuff but then I undertook a challenge that for me, was basically a way to step right out of my comfort zone and the day after I signed up, Illuminae was sitting on a stand at my local library when I walked in. On a whim I grabbed it on my way past because I knew it’d fit in with the challenge I’d just signed up for. I ended up loving it so much that I bought Gemina like the next day – just another reminder to take a chance sometimes, because it might just lead you into something you never knew you would love!

To be honest, I’m grateful for most books in my life but these ones are kind of a journey of my reading life from childhood to now! If you’re American, have an awesome Thanksgiving celebration and thanks for stopping by! Feel free to leave a comment with a book you’re grateful for.

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