All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer

Secrets Between Friends
Fiona Palmer
Hachette Books AUS
2017, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Best friends Abbie, Jess and Ricki are setting sail on a cruise ship, rekindling the excitement of a school excursion they took ten years earlier to the historic port town of Albany, the oldest city on the stunning turquoise coastline of Western Australia. But are they truly prepared for what this voyage will reveal?

Ricki, a dedicated nurse, harbours a dream she hasn’t chased. Is she actually happy or stuck in a rut?

Jess, a school teacher and single mother to little Ollie, had a tough upbringing but found her way through with the help of her closest male friend, Peter. But Peter has bought an engagement ring and is ready to propose to Ricki . . .

Abbie had it all: a career, a loving boyfriend and a future, but a visit to the doctor bears scary news. Her world is tumbling down and she feels adrift at sea.

This is Fiona Palmer’s first foray away from her strong background of rural fiction/romance and more into women’s fiction. Jess, Abbie and Ricki have been best friends since school and Jess and Peter have been best friends since childhood. Peter and Ricki are now dating and the three girls thought it’d be fun to celebrate their ten year anniversary graduating from high school by revisiting Albany, a place they went to for a school trip. They decide to take a cruise – a few days of fun and cocktails. Their girls trip gets derailed slightly when Peter decides to come with them and use the trip as a way to further his romance with Ricki.

Firstly, I loved the setting. Fiona Palmer has been setting her books in rural Western Australia for a long time, which I always enjoy but it was quite fun to board a cruise ship with the characters. I’ve never been on a cruise ship before but the idea of a short cruise is appealing. I’ve never visited WA either so perhaps that is why I always enjoy visiting it so much in fiction. It’s a way to experience it.

Each of the women are hiding secrets – some more serious than others. Abbie is hiding a lot about her life and in particular about something that she’s just discovered which is hanging over her head on the cruise. Ricki is feeling a bit restless, perhaps not even realising what the problem was until someone reignited feelings in her about her job and about her life. And Jess, well Jess is carrying two intertwined secrets which definitely threaten two of the friendships she holds dearest.

Okay so as well as things I did like about the story, there were a few things that I did have trouble with. Some of those revolved around the secrets, which seemed strange. I mean, I understood why some things were kept secret, as difficult as those were but the reasoning behind keeping some of the lesser secrets kind of confused me. Also – there’s some people that behave quite horribly and I didn’t really find it okay because “both of them did it”. That’s not good reasoning to me, especially as they were unaware of each other doing it and it felt quite uncomfortable to read. It’s also a bit of a deal breaker for me generally, depending on the circumstances but I didn’t feel as though these ones felt like enough. One element of the story felt almost too good to be true, like a convenient out for the other to occur in a way. And some of the fallout felt quite one sided, like some of the issues on both sides weren’t really discussed or explored, it was really more focused on one particular side and the people involved in that situation.

I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone but I did have some trouble connecting to or liking some characters because some of their actions were so dramatically unpleasant and unnecessary. But I did admire the friendship between them and the fact that it was built to withstand an awful lot and that they were remarkably understanding about each other’s secrets and indiscretions – but I wasn’t sure if that understanding came from a place of love and friendship or because several of them were doing the same thing and couldn’t really be angry. A lot of drama certainly came out during this brief cruise though, that’s for sure!

All in all this was a bit of a mixed bag for me – loved the setting and some elements of the story. The idea of the four of them going on the cruise was a lot of fun and a perfect place for secrets to come out because they can’t really escape, they have to face each other and sort things out. But some of the secrets made it difficult to really care about the characters, who were being a bit selfish and unfair to those that they cared about. And I wasn’t really expecting a part of the ending, which had some bittersweet elements to it. If you’re looking for a full and total HEA this might not be the sort of story that you’re after.

7/10

Book #155 of 2017

Secrets Between Friends is book #47 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Top 10 Tuesday 12th September

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme created and hosted by the girls at The Broke & the Bookish featuring a different literary theme each week. This week is a throwback freebie and one of the suggestions was top 10 books from the year you started blogging so I thought I might go with that one! I started in May of 2010 so that should give me enough time to find 10 good reads.

Top 10 Books I Read In 2010

  1. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I actually read this before I started this particular blog. Somewhere in the depths of the internet is a short paragraph review I did on it for my personal blog. I started off just writing short reviews for each book on my original blog but soon they were taking over and so I decided to start a blog just for reviewing books and this blog was born. I’ve never re-read this book although I’ve always planned to. I’ve since met Lionel Shriver at the Melbourne Writers Festival and gotten my copy signed. I find her fascinating to listen to, even if she is a very controversial figure at times.
  2. The Passage by Justin Cronin. Gosh has it really been this long since I read this book? I remember the hype when it came out and how much I loved it. And I was lucky enough to get an ARC of the second book The Twelve and read that early as well and it was just as good. And now I look at my TBR shelf and I see The City Of Mirrors sitting there, unread. Probably because it’s been so long since I read the first two, I feel like I have to read them again before reading the third one. Also if you ever get a chance to go and listen to Justin Cronin, then definitely do so because he’s very funny and a great speaker.
  3. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. After Kevin I picked up this at the library and absolutely loved it. It’s a very different sort of story but it’s equally as engaging and I really enjoyed the whole Sliding Doors aspect.
  4. Forget You by Jennifer Echols. Eeek, this is still one of my favourite books. In fact I re-read it earlier this year and became kind of obsessed with it all over again. Zoey is shallow and clueless but still endearing and Doug is just so many shades of awesome wrapped in snark. I will forever heart this.
  5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I have only read this once – from my library. But I remember it so well and the Speak Loudly campaign on twitter after someone described this book as “filthy” and “soft core pornography” and wanted it banned. This is a book that every  teenager should read.
  6. The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa. I’d forgotten how much I liked this until I just re-read my review! It’s made me remember now.
  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Loved this. God this list is making me want to re-read so many books.
  8. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. This book was so beautiful and unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything else by this author, I must look to see if he has another book.
  9. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This was so, so good. I really didn’t love Mockingjay and the whole ending but the first book? Awesome.
  10. Dead In The Family by Charlaine Harris. One of my favourites of this whole series which reminds me, I still haven’t read the final two books. And I’m honestly not sure if I ever will. Maybe it just ended with this book for me.

What an interesting trip down memory lane. So many books here that I’ve realised I’d love to read again. I always enjoy doing stuff like this and it also is the reason why I created this blog in the first place – to revisit books I’ve read and have my memory jogged.

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Review: How To Marry A Marquess by Stacy Reid

How To Marry A Marquess (Wedded By Scandal #3)
Stacy Reid
Entangled Publishing
2017, 279p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lady Evie Chesterfield is a darling of the ton who refuses to become engaged. She’s been desperately in love with her brother’s friend, Richard Maitland, Marquess of Westfall, since forever. But the dark, dangerous marquess only sees her as a friend and refuses to marry any woman. When circumstances change and Evie has no choice but to take a husband, she decides to convince London’s most notorious gentleman to marry her by seducing the scoundrel.

Richard Maitland decided long ago that he wanted nothing to do with love. So when the gorgeous, off-limits Evie asks him for lessons in seduction, Richard knows he’s playing with fire. Despite Richard’s determination to protect her from his dastardly reputation, he is tested at every turn by his need for the infuriating, but enticing, Lady Evie. Before too long he is faced with making an impossible choice…

Eek, I can’t believe I missed this book being published! I’ve read the first two and Lady Evie actually plays quite a pivotal role in that first book when she deliberately sends her friend Lady Adeline into the wrong room in her large house. Readers also got to witness a few interactions between Lady Evie and the rather bitter Marquess of Westfall and so since that first book, I’ve been waiting for this one.

Evie and Richard first met when Evie was just about to turn sixteen and although he was attracted to her, Richard has always been careful to keep his distance, something that grow more difficult as time goes by. The two of them developed a friendship in which Richard has helped Evie spurn several unwanted suitors. The darling of the social season, Evie was expected to make a good match in her first year but she’s seen off titled man after titled man in order to always keep her eye on the prize she really wants – Richard.

When they met, Richard was but a lowly second son but the death of his brother has elevated him to Marquess and so now he might be considered a good match – if he didn’t have so terrible a reputation. Richard doesn’t restrict his company to the Ton and often consorts with the lowest of the low, for personal reasons. He’s very passionate about the inequality that exists and scorns the attitudes of the upper class in regards to those considered below them. In not marrying Evie he’s part protecting her from his reputation and the cutting she would surely endure day after day and part protecting himself. When he was young, Richard had his heart broken by a woman with aspirations and he vowed never to put himself in so vulnerable position ever again.

Evie eventually gets to the stage where she decides that enough is enough and that she can’t avoid other suitors forever and that this dance she and Richard have been doing for years has a shelf life. I really liked Evie, I found her quite refreshing and I liked the fact that her and Richard were actual friends which in this time and setting is probably not at all realistic as I don’t think young, unmarried ladies ever really had a chance to become friends with men, especially bachelors with dubious reputations. Although Richard was friends with her brother, which did give them circumstances in which they would come together but they do seem to manage to create this friendship that no one really protests too much and get these opportunities to get to know each other quite well.

Richard was a difficult character at times – I understood and admired some of his views and his dedication to them but sometimes he was just really judgemental and assumed things without even asking questions. In some way it was nice that he wanted to protect Evie but in other ways he was actually really quite horrible to her when he gets her to question her privilege. Evie is super willing to be educated and she’s curious and interested in the things that Richard has been doing but instead of attempting to gently educate her and answer her questions, he quite often goes on the defensive and attacks her for her ignorance. It’s a defense mechanism but sometimes it just made me want to kick him.

I did enjoy Evie and Richard’s journey but I’m not sure it lived up to my expectations and sometimes that’s the way it goes when you are so, so keen. I kind of had some sort of thing that I wanted from those few interactions in the previous story and it didn’t play out at all the way that I expected and that’s not to say that it wasn’t a good story, I think I just expected Richard himself to be a bit different, given the way he appeared previously. Stacy Reid does really quite excel at writing the grovelling male though, after he has done something to hurt the heroine and this book is no different. There’s always a lot of feels towards the end of the book! I do really like this series and I’ll be looking for the next one.

7/10

Book #154 of 2017

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Wrap Up: #TheReadingQuest Challenge

So today is the 10th of September, the last day of #TheReadingQuest Challenge. It’s almost lunch time here and I don’t anticipate reading another book for this challenge so I’m going to go ahead and wrap up what I read and my points.

I chose the Mage character path after some consideration – it was the path that I thought I could best tackle based on the books I had on my TBR pile and I’m happy to say that I read all five books required to tick that off as complete. I also read books that counted towards 4 side challenges which brings me to 9 books read in total over the 4 week period of the challenge. Here are the books I read for the challenge:

So I read 8 physical books and one eBook. The five books I read for the Mage character path were:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Read the first book in a series 352p
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Read a book set in a different world 383p
Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller – Read a book based on mythology 352p
Akarnae by Lynette Noni – Read a book that contains magic 436p
Illuminae by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – Read a book with a one word title 599p

And the four side challenges I completed:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Read whatever you want 438p
City Of Ashes by Cassandra Clare – Respawn: Read a book you previously dnf’d 411p
Fire by Kristin Cashore –  Expansion challenge: read a companion novel 384p
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – Grind challenge (500+ pages) 659p

I really enjoyed participating in this challenge. Sometimes my TBR bookshelf is so big that I just lack focus and can’t decide what to read and occasionally I just end up not picking up anything. Creating a specific, focused TBR pile before the challenge and having it sitting there made it much easier and I found I had renewed enthusiasm for tackling books on my shelf that I might not have actually even looked twice at when looking for something to read.

For this challenge, 7 of the 9 books I read have been sitting on my TBR shelf for months. Some for even years. I think I bought the first few Mortal Instruments books when I was pregnant with my youngest son and he’s about to turn six this month! I also read one library book and one book that I purchased because of this challenge – I’d read Graceling and after completing that I bought Fire and Bitterblue immediately. Now I’m kind of annoyed because as you can see in the pic above, my copy of Graceling is an eBook and I really want a physical copy to match the other two in the series.

I also tried new things during this challenge – people have long been singing the praises of the Illuminae Files to me but I had not made the plunge because I wasn’t sure if they’d be my thing. I picked up the first one at random from the library but without this challenge to assign it to, it’s possible I’d have just returned it unread because I have so many other books sitting around. Now I’ve read the first two (in a matter of a couple of days) and am eagerly awaiting the third book, which still doesn’t come out for months.

I shouldn’t need an excuse to tackle books from my TBR but sometimes I just do need something to push me to choose something that’s been published for a while versus something that has just been, or is about to be released. It’s made me realise just how many books I buy and hoard without reading. And once I do finally tackle some of them through something like this, I remember why I bought them in the first place and wonder why the heck I let them sit on a shelf unread for so long. So I’m trying, trying harder to incorporate books I’ve owned for a long time and not read yet, into my monthly TBR piles. I’m aiming to start small, one book that I’ve owned for 6+ months but I found that balancing review copies with books for this challenge during the four weeks had the added bonus of keeping my mind refreshed.

Once again, a huge thank you must go out to Aentee from Read At Midnight for creating and hosting this challenge. I’ve had a fabulous time participating and I would love to do something like this again in the future, should it ever happen. Also big thanks to CW from Read, Think, Ponder who created the amazing artwork for the challenge and allowed people to use it to make their own character cards, etc. Here’s my final board:

I’m going to keep an eye on it. There are books I have that fit quite a few of these categories and even though the challenge is ending today, I might use these categories here as motivation for pulling future reads off my TBR shelf.

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Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire (Graceling Realm #2)
Kristin Cashore
Gollancz
2010, 384p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

She is the last of her kind… It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.

Exquisitely romantic, this companion to the highly praised “Graceling” has an entirely new cast of characters, save for one person who plays a pivotal role in both books. You don’t need to have read “Graceling” to love “Fire.” But if you haven’t, you’ll be dying to read it next. 

I loved this book.

I read Graceling recently and immediately ordered both Fire and Bitterblue. The second book, Fire only features one common character with Graceling and actually takes place well before Graceling but I just love this world. I honestly wish there was a dozen books to read from Kristin Cashore set in this world. It’s just amazing.

So in this book we have Fire, who is what is loosely termed as ‘monster’. Monsters can be any species and they look physically similar but they are…..more. Just amazingly more. Brilliantly coloured. So you might have a glossy, perfect, purple horse. That’s a monster horse. Or a stunningly beautiful blue monster kitten. Fire’s father was a monster (in more ways than one) and the offspring of monsters and humans are always monsters. In Fire’s case she’s so amazingly beautiful that she renders almost everyone who comes into contact with her dumb with her beauty. Strangers will profess love for her or want to marry her. They’ll want to touch her. In some cases, they will also want to hurt her. Her hair is one of her monster features, being an incredibly bright myriad of red, orange and pink hues. She keeps it mostly bound up in a headscarf so as not to distract people and seeks to cover herself as much as possible. She learned early that people will not always take no for an answer and she has to protect herself.

Fire can also slip into people’s minds and manipulate them. Her father was incredibly cruel and she has always taken care never to use her power to hurt people. She may redirect their interest or seek to gentle their thoughts if they think to hurt her or even throw themselves at her and she loathes doing even that. Fire is a young woman in heartbroken conflict about her gifts and her desperation to never use her power to hurt anyone. Her father enjoyed hurting people and was corrupted by a desire for power. He helped ruin the previous King and tried to kill the King’s youngest son Prince Brigan, a warrior with abilities far beyond his young years, many times. But now her father is dead and although the Prince Brigan looks at Fire with a deep distrust, he does not seem affected by her monster beauty. His mind is a closed book to her, strongly guarded and she need not fear his reaction to her. What he does do is bring out her guilt about her father.

Fire is no Katsa – she can’t physically fight, she’s not even particularly strong. She has some pretty severe mental hang ups as well about her abilities and about being a monster. She was raised in relative isolation with few friends and people are mostly in awe of her or scared of her and what she could do. Her mind is a mess of guilt and loathing both of herself and her gift. She has daddy issues for days that just get bigger and bigger the further you get into the novel. Since I finished this book I read a lot of criticism about Fire, that she was pathetic and weak and not worthy of being a main character. But I actually appreciated that about her – that she began the book isolated and unwilling to explore what her gift could do and as the book progressed, she learned. She realised she could be useful without being cruel, that she could use her gift without it meaning that she would turn into her father. I actually found her quite likable and when she was away from her home, she really began to grow into herself. She made friends, connections with guards, princesses, children.

There is a love story in this and though it’s understated, it’s seriously perfect. I adore it. It just has so many things that I find enjoyable to read – I will admit that I’m a total sucker for a story where there’s distrust and possibly even dislike that has to be overcome. A bond takes time to develop and this book does this with careful, sweet scenes that bring two people closer together. They have so much in common – both are conflicted about the uglier side of what they can do and fear that it’ll be reason for each other to look at them in horror. I loved their quiet conversations, the way in which they opened themselves up to each other. I also appreciate Kristin Cashore’s open mindedness about relationships and the focus not necessarily being on marriage.

This is such a fabulous world. Loved Graceling, I love this and now Bitterblue will be moved up my TBR pile because I can’t get enough.

9/10

Book #152 of 2017It actually wasn’t until I finished this book that I realised I could also count it towards my participation in #TheReadingQuest Challenge. Although the second book in the Graceling Realm series, Fire is more a companion to the other two books. It’s set in the same world but well before the other two and features only one common character.

My updated character card. 10ts added for another book completed and 38pts added for pages read. With just three days left in this challenge now, I hope to finish one more book.

Thanks as always to Aentee from Read At Midnight for hosting and CW from Read, Think, Ponder for the artwork.

 

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Blog Tour Review: We That Are Left by Lisa Bigelow

We That Are Left
Lisa Bigelow
Allen & Unwin
2017, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A moving debut novel about love and war, and the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, hope and despair.

Melbourne, 1941. Headstrong young Mae meets and falls head over heels in love with Harry Parker, a dashing naval engineer. After a whirlwind courtship they marry and Mae is heavily pregnant when she hears that Harry has just received his dream posting to HMAS Sydney. Just after Mae becomes a mother, she learns Harry’s ship is missing.

Meanwhile, Grace Fowler is battling prejudice to become a reporter on the afternoon daily newspaper, The Tribune, while waiting for word on whether her journalist boyfriend Phil Taylor, captured during the fall of Singapore, is still alive.

Surrounded by their friends and families, Mae and Grace struggle to keep hope alive in the face of hardship and despair. Then Mae’s neighbour and Grace’s boss Sam Barton tells Mae about a rumour that the Japanese have towed the damaged ship to Singapore and taken the crew prisoner. Mae’s life is changed forever as she focuses her efforts on willing her husband home.

Set in inner Melbourne and rural Victoria, We That Are Left is a moving and haunting novel about love and war, the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, and how servicemen and women are not the only lives lost when tragedy strikes during war.

I really enjoy historical fiction and have been particularly interested lately in fiction set around both WWI and WWII. It’s really nice to get an Australian perspective and this, Lisa Bigelow’s first novel uses her family experience and the loss of her grandfather aboard the HMAS Sydney to showcase the strength of the women left behind.

Mae is a young bride about to give birth living in the inner west of Melbourne. I found that the setting was a really fun part of the book for me because I live in the west (a bit further out than the featured Yarraville/Williamstown areas) but I loved getting a glimpse of what it would’ve been like in this area all those years ago. It was great to see such familiar places featured. When Mae gets word of the rumour that the HMAS Sydney has gone down with all on board, she immediately slips into a state of denial. She’s sure that Harry, if anyone, could survive such a thing and the fact that there’s talk the wrecked sub was towed to Asia with some survivors just feeds her belief that Harry will come home one day. She struggles to cope on her own, relying on the family that raised her, an aunt and her two uncles, all getting on a little bit in age now. They are close knit though and Mae also has a strong friendship bond with her neighbour, wife of a newspaper editor and mother to two young children.

Grace has moved from the country to Melbourne to work as an assistant to Sam Barton, editor of the afternoon paper The Tribune but what she really wants is to be a journalist. Her father ran a country Victorian paper and it’s been a part of her whole life. Grace composes headlines about her daily life in her head constantly as she negotiates the politics of her new workplace and  deals with handsome reporter Phil Taylor who is just becoming something more when he heads overseas to cover the war up close and personal. He is taken hostage during the fall of Singapore and word is slow. He’s been horrifically injured and Grace isn’t sure at times, if he’s even still alive or will ever return to her. And if he does, what will she face? Will he be a broken, shell of a man like her father, still damaged from his time in WWI?

It’s hard to believe, living in the age that I do, that there was a time when you had to wait weeks for word or information from another part of the world about something so serious as a submarine sinking or a hostage situation. In this case, Sam Barton, the newspaper editor, and presumably most of the reporters are aware of strong and probably credible rumours surrounding the loss of the HMAS Sydney but they don’t have permission to print the story just yet. And Mae is his neighbour, so that must’ve been quite an awkward situation for him as well as a stressful one for Mae, with these rumours circulating but no government word or confrontation. It’s an horrific state of limbo to be in. The lack of accurate information also leads to more swirling rumours that give Mae and probably others the hope that their loved ones could have possibly survived this. For Mae that leads to a real deluded state, where she absolutely refuses to believe that Harry could have died and that he is alive somewhere and will make his way back to her and their baby soon. Time rolls on though, with no credible information that anyone did survive and slowly others accept their loss and begin moving on with their lives. Mae isn’t able to do this though and she spends a large portion of the book assuring people and herself that Harry will be back one day. I found it quite sad because she’s a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, who should’ve been making the best of it and at times it was like she wasn’t living at all. Just merely existing and waiting for something that wasn’t ever going to happen.

Likewise, I found Grace’s situation very sad also. I felt like her story was very much unfinished at the close of the book and that a lot of the defining moments in her life might come later on. I admired her dedication and drive and the way in which she didn’t allow anything to stand in her way and that should’ve been celebrated by those that love her rather than viewed with suspicion and derision. If I had a criticism of Grace’s story it’d be that I just didn’t really buy the romance……the pacing was off too, it seemed to start off in one way, go no where for the longest time and then a few things happened and then Phil left to go overseas. I didn’t really get a chance to get to know Phil or experience any chemistry between the two of them at all and the skipping forward in time at the end of the book only further cemented that fact.

Despite the fact that it’s subject matter tended a bit towards the grim, I found We That Are Left to be a very enjoyable read, particularly for its showcasing of 1940s Melbourne and the surrounds. It’s a very promising debut and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Lisa Bigelow’s next book.

7/10

Book #150 of 2017

We That Are Left is book #45 of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017

This review is part of the We That Are Left blog tour. Please make sure you check out the other spots on the tour, featured below.

We That Are Left is published by Allen & Unwin, out now. RRP $29.99

Visit Lisa Bigelow’s website 

Follow her on Facebook

 

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Review: Akarnae by Lynette Noni

Akarnae (The Medoran Chronicles #1)
Lynette Noni
Pantera Press
2015, 436p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

With just one step, sixteen-year-old Alexandra Jennings’s world changes—literally.

Dreading her first day at a new school, Alex is stunned when she walks through a doorway and finds herself stranded in Medora, a fantasy world full of impossibilities. Desperate to return home, she learns that only a man named Professor Marselle can help her… but he’s missing.

While waiting for him to reappear, Alex attends Akarnae Academy, Medora’s boarding school for teenagers with extraordinary gifts. She soon starts to enjoy her bizarre new world and the friends who embrace her as one of their own, but strange things are happening at Akarnae, and Alex can’t ignore her fear that something unexpected… something sinister… is looming.

An unwilling pawn in a deadly game, Alex’s shoulders bear the crushing weight of an entire race’s survival. Only she can save the Medorans, but what if doing so prevents her from ever returning home?

Will Alex risk her entire world—and maybe even her life—to save Medora? 

Okay so originally I was going to read another book for this last category for my character path for #TheReadingQuest Challenge. But then I thought about this book and it’s actually been on my TBR shelf for longer and I saw one of the follow ups on social media recently so I thought I would swap the other book out and use this one instead. Although the people of Medora don’t use the word ‘magic’ for what they can do and some of the things that can happen, for Alexandra who is from Earth, it is definitely magic.

Alex has just turned 16 and is being dropped off at an exclusive boarding school while her parents go on an 8 month archaeological dig where she won’t be able to contact them. Instead of opening a door to the Principal’s office, she opens a door to literally another world, almost a parallel Earth but with differences. She is almost immediately confronted by someone who assures her that he’s been waiting for her and that together they will rule the world. It seems she’s stepped onto a school campus and so while she waits to figure out how to get back to her own world, she enrolls at Akarnae Academy, a school for the gifted. Although she struggles at the start, confused as to why the mysterious procedure has enrolled her in high levels of certain courses, Alex soon starts to settle in at Akarnae. She makes two solid friends who are with her every step of the way and it seems that the mysterious Library of the college is not only much more than it seems, but it has also Chosen her in some way. In fact Alex’s entire appearance in Medora seems to have a specific and important purpose and some of the choices she makes will be incredibly important. Actually the whole future of Medora could hinge on them.

On the whole, I found this quite an enjoyable story. It’s a little bit like Narnia – a young girl opens a door and finds herself in a completely different land and there are Things Happening. I didn’t mind Alex as a main character. She certainly has the ability to be beaten and to stand up and take it over and over again. She deals pretty well with her foray into a foreign world and doesn’t go into hysterics or constantly whine about wanting to go home. She does have moments of wondering if she’ll ever be able to, or will she see her parents again, which was normal but she didn’t spend the entire time thinking about ‘why me?’ and stuff like that. I liked the way she threw herself into her new school subjects at Akarnae, even when they seemed way above her abilities and the teachers were brutal. It actually seemed like a really fun school – unorthodox but fun. And the technology ideas were quite interesting. I enjoyed a lot of the secondary characters as well. I also really liked the idea of Medora and the set up and also Medora’s history. I found that really interesting and would’ve liked even more about that, which I suppose will come in future books as Alex herself learns more, especially in regards to her role for the future.

There were a few small quibbles – nothing major, the writing at time felt a bit simple and the dialogue could be a bit clunky. I think at times it was really like the friendship between Alex, Bear and Jordan felt a bit forced, like they were still getting to know each other but sometimes their interactions felt like they’d supposedly known each other for years. It didn’t always come off as natural and at times the jokes and ribbing felt a bit too much too soon. It’s also quite long but it’s not really jam packed with happenings, so a lot of it is kind of just repetitive stuff at the school and Alex continually getting hurt and going to the school’s medical ward. At times it felt as though the book kind of lost its way and meandered a bit. However these weren’t enough to turn me off at all and I’m quite keen to read the next book in the series, Raelia to see where it goes from here.

6/10

Book #151 of 2017

Akarnae completes my character path of Mage in #TheReadingQuest Challenge! It’s my 7th book read for the challenge so far. Hoping to fit one more in before it ends on the 10th.

And my updated character card. Another 10pts for a book completed taking me to 80exp total and 43 added to my health which is now at 328pts.

Thanks to Aentee from Read At Midnight for hosting this challenge and also CW from Read, Think, Ponder for the artwork.

 

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Review: The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song Of Achilles
Madeline Miller
Bloomsbury Publishing
2012, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. 

But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear. 

I remember when this book came out. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2012 and I probably bought a copy in either late 2012 or early 2013. And it’s basically sat on my TBR bookcase ever since. I recently saw someone mention it in a Booktube video I was watching and so when I signed up for #TheReadingQuest Challenge and saw the topic for a book based on mythology, this book was fresh in my mind and became my choice.

In high school I only ever did the basic compulsory history in grades 7 and 8 which focused on {whitewashed} Australian history and our role in the major wars (Boer, WWI, WWII and Vietnam). Although I did elect Ancient History for my year 11 preferences, it clashed with another course I’d chosen and I wanted to do that course more so I didn’t end up doing Ancient History. So I’ve pretty much done no foreign history, no mythology studies, nothing. The closest I’ve come was having to read parts of Homer’s The Odyssey in Advanced English, which revolves around Odysseus’ journey home after the War of Troy. I haven’t even seen Troy the movie. My knowledge of the War of Troy is basically just gathered from pop culture references such as the Trojan horse and the “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” etc. I know the basics of why the war began and how it ended and I know of Achilles because of the heel thing. But honestly? Going into this book I was pretty much a clean slate.

Patroclus is an awkward Prince, not really a physically impressive child. In the beginning of the novel his father takes him to press suit for Helen, daughter of the King Tyndareus. There are many suitors there and a young man named Odysseus speaks eloquently to say that all the men should allow the woman to choose her own husband and that the others will swear not to declare war on Tyndareus or on Helen’s new choice of husband. And that the suitors there should ever defend her husband, should anyone ever take her from him (which will be important much later). Patroclus is only a child of 9 or 10 and is therefore not really a contender. After returning back to his father’s palace he is involved in an incident that leads him being exiled to the court of King Peleus, the father of Achilles.

Achilles is everything that Patroclus is not, he has greatness stamped upon him and prophecies foretell him being the greatest warrior there ever was. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends Patroclus and names him his special companion, which exempts Patroclus from the training and regime of the other boys fostered at King Peleus’ court. Achilles trains in private and will undergo a specific education, fitting of his prophecy. As they age, the two boys grow closer and closer, the lines of friendship blur into something more, enraging Achilles’ mother Thetis, a sea-goddess who disapproves of Patroclus. After Helen flees to Troy with Paris, that old pact is invoked…and Odysseus comes looking for the world’s greatest warrior as well as Patroclus, who was there the day they all swore their loyalty. After going to great lengths to avoid being conscripted in this war at his mother’s insistence, Achilles finds himself exposed and they sail for Troy.

I had no expectations when I began reading this and other than what I mentioned above, I didn’t know the details of the War itself so I was able to just enjoy the story. It’s incredibly compelling, whether it’s the growing relationship between Patroclus and Achilles, this mismatched pair who find something in each other that they both need or the ins and outs of this battle that lasted like, a decade. There are several other prophecies at play once the battle begins, which is why Achilles’ mother tried to prevent him from joining the men. I wasn’t aware of the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, or the character of Hector so quite a lot of what occurred was a surprise to me. I did know going in that it was a tragedy and I was curious how this would play out given the book is told in the first person from the point of view of Patroclus, who does not survive until the end of the War of Troy.

The interpretation of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus has differed many times with some, such as this book, presenting it as a lasting romance. I haven’t read The Iliad other than a passage or two for analysis in high school but I’m aware that there is debate about whether or not the relationship is a homoerotic one or a simple warrior one. It seems that it was common for boys to experiment – they were raised with each other, trained with each other, slept together but that most of them still married or had salt/spear wives and had children. I enjoyed the journey for Achilles and Patroclus in here, finding friendship as boys and it developing into something where they couldn’t be without each other. Patroclus is often required in order to persuade Achilles, who is tormented about his prophecies and whether to choose glory or life. It’s interesting how Achilles is prophesised to be the greatest warrior ever, he’s the one they sought for battle, believing without him they wouldn’t or couldn’t win and yet….he often comes across as stubborn, petulant, sometimes even childish. He seems unable to cope when things don’t go his way and often ignores doing the right thing in order to ‘win’ or be seen as not backing down. In contrast, Patroclus who was presented as weak physically, unremarkable, perhaps even following in his simple mother’s footsteps, grows to learn interesting things and seems to view things around him in a clearer, more levelheaded way. Of course he wasn’t built up to be a great warrior from birth either, so it was interesting to think about nature versus nurture in relation to Achilles also.

I really enjoyed this. So much so that I wouldn’t mind finding a few other retellings – I’m not going to subject myself to Homer, even if it makes me a Philistine.

8/10

Book #148 of 2017

The Song Of Achilles was read as part of my participation in #TheReadingQuest Challenge, created and hosted by Aentee @ Read At Midnight, with artwork and illustrations by CW @ Read, Think, Ponder. It counted towards my character path, ticking off the category of read a book based on mythology. With that done, I only have one more category to go before I will complete my character path – read a book that contains magic. For this I have chosen A Gathering Of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. With only 5 days until the challenge ends, I anticipate completing that book and hopefully one other, which will most likely be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas which was my middle square free choice read.

Here’s my updated character card. 10ex points added taking me to 70 total and another 35pts added to health for 352 pages read taking me to 285pts.

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Review: Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

Are You Sleeping
Kathleen Barber
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 323p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidante, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.

The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past – starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to the midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past – and the lies on which she has staked her future.

I loved the idea of this novel and thought the blurb sounded fascinating. In this day and age of all encompassing social media, it’s hard to hide yourself away the way that Josie has tried to do. She’s changed her name and after travelling the world, has settled in New York working at a bookstore. She has a partner that she met overseas, an aid worker named Caleb, who is from New Zealand. Caleb knows nothing of Josie’s past and therefore when Josie hears of both Poppy Parnell’s podcast and also her mother’s death, they’re not things she can confide in Caleb about.

There were things I enjoyed and things I didn’t. I liked the idea of Josie escaping, of shedding that past victim identity and becoming someone else with no connection to tragic events. I think that it would be very hard to be “that kid whose dad was murdered” and to have that follow you everywhere you go and overshadow everything. Perhaps for Josie to be able to truly move on, she needed to leave that self behind – and she did that fully by pretending it hadn’t happened. When she met Caleb she invented a backstory for herself, believing that their relationship would be brief and when it turned out to be more serious, she stuck to her story. Her isolation from her family in New York allowed her to do this – until the surprise death of her mother, who joined a cult in California when Josie and her twin sister Lanie were teenagers.

What I didn’t like so much in this story was the entire Lanie debacle. I’ve read several books with estranged twin sisters and they all seem to follow exactly the same sort of pattern and this book is disappointingly similar. All the conflicts are the same, even the way in which one twin betrays the other is always the same! I knew how this part would play out almost as soon as the words “twin” and “betrayal” were mentioned and it was quite disheartening when it turned out as I expected. The character of Lanie was also quite predictable and nothing I haven’t come across before many times in stories involving twins. It seems that literature relies really heavily on this twin dynamic of one always being the troublesome one and the other not and the one that isn’t is always used, abused etc by the one that is but yet cannot truly sever that twin ‘bond’. Although Josie hasn’t seen or spoken to Lanie for years, the second they do see each other again, Josie can’t help but fall into old habits, even though she professes to not want anything to do with her sister. Although they’re at the funeral for their mother and perhaps it is a lesson that life can change suddenly and maybe it’s not worth holding a grudge….it just felt very repetitious and nothing that I hadn’t read before so many times with nothing new to add a fresh twist.

I did like the inclusion of the podcast – each new “installment” of the podcast is included at the beginning of some of the chapters and through that the reader gets to dig deep into the past. I’m not sure I bought that the podcast was such a big deal that it seemed everyone in America was listening to it and discussing it endlessly but it was a cool idea and it was a way for the reader to gain information about this crime that wasn’t through the eyes of Josie. The character of Poppy could’ve been really interesting but again reverted to a typical pushy journalist stereotype who intruded on private moments and turned up on doorsteps shoving microphones and cameras into people’s faces with a “how do you feel?” type question. I liked the style of the podcast, which tackled a different angle each episode and examined issues but Poppy was just such a unlikable character who really didn’t care what she stirred up as long as she got her hits and listens. Her dismissal of something was quite flippant and I think she probably needed to explore that with a more sympathetic eye (as well as look at her own contribution a bit more objectively).

I did enjoy the mystery element of this, the story of who did kill Josie and Lanie’s father and why was really interesting but I felt at times that this was overshadowed by some of the family drama which for me, didn’t add anything to the story and at times bogged it down a bit. I did like Josie and Caleb and was definitely hoping they’d be able to come through all the turmoil.

This was a promising debut with some really exciting and intriguing aspects. It’s just a shame that some elements of the story really didn’t work for me. I’d still be very interested in reading future books from Kathleen Barber though.

6/10

Book #149 of 2017

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August Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 20
Fiction: 17
Non-Fiction: 3
Library Books: 1
Books On My TBR List: 7
Books in a Series: 11
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 12
Male/Female Authors: 7/13
Kindle Books: 5
Books I Owned or Bought: 11
Favourite Book(s): Illuminae Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Least Favourite Books: Two Cabins One Lake by Shaye Marlow
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 10

So August was probably my best reading month in quite a while. I read 20 books and 2 of them were around 600p each so were almost double the size of an average book. I had a couple of 5-star reads and quite a lot of 4-star reads so the quality of reads was also really high.

I attribute my higher than usual number of reads to joining #TheReadingQuest in August. So far for that challenge I’ve completed 6 books – four from my character path and two side quests. I’m probably not going to get through all the books I had set aside for this quest (it ends on September 10th) but I need one more book to finish my side path and then I would like to read at least one, hopefully two from the side challenges.

I’m really guilty of seeing all of these books and going “Oh I must have that book!”, buying it and then it sits on my shelf for ages, sometimes years because, other books. I have the attention span of a gnat sometimes when it comes to books and I think blogging is kind of a part of the problem because there are so many new books released all the time and it’s so easy to get distracted by the shiny new ones and forget about the ones you already have. No one can read every book released every month, there are always ones that are going to get pushed aside but not because you don’t want to read them. Simply because you don’t have enough time to read them! I have books I bought years ago that I’m still super keen to read. And that’s why this challenge has been so good……it was in part to help diminish books from the TBR pile, so I made my pile up from books that I already owned on my shelf and one library book. So for the challenge I have now read five books from my shelf that have been sitting there for varying lengths of time, including a couple that have been there for about five years. It’s done a lot to renew my enthusiasm for some of these books – one book was from an old series and now I want to catch up and read the rest. I need something like this every month, something to both push me out of my comfort zone but also get me to embrace the books I already own. It’s been really good and I’ve enjoyed it. Of course it’s also led to me making more book purchases but it’s okay. I’m totally allowed because I read some off my TBR shelf…..right?

Going to make a tentative September pile here….

The top 2 are books that I plan to read for #TheReadingQuest Challenge….. A Gathering Of Shadows by V.E. Schwab will complete my character path and The Hate U Give is my free choice read. The bottom three are review books. And….there are also the books that I’ve recently purchased:

The Wrath & the Dawn I came across somewhere and I ordered this really pretty hardback from overseas. I also ordered The Rose & the Dagger in the matching hardback but it’s not here yet. I have heard good things but I just saw these versions and thought they were really pretty. And I like the names. I ordered Fire and Bitterblue which are books 2&3 in the Graceling Realm series. I read the first book in August and loved it. I also bought the small version of King’s Cage today – I’d been holding off on buying it until this one came out so it would match my versions of Red Queen and Glass Sword. And I picked up Take Three Girls by 3 Australian women YA authors – Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood. Been looking forward to this one for a while and it’ll probably be the first one that I read. I’m not sure if I’ll read all of these this month (haha, probably not – I’ll need a future #TheReadingQuest Challenge to get me picking them up off my shelf!) but I’ll definitely read some. And probably the next in the Mortal Instruments series as well.

If you’ve read any of the books above, feel free to tell me which and whether or not I should push them to the top of the pile. Hope you all had a fab reading August.

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