All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell #3)
Deanna Raybourn
Berkley
2018, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

Ever read a book where, while you are reading it, it’s super fun and entertaining and you’re like ok, well there are a few quibbles but mostly I am enjoying this immensely but then after you have finished it, in the days before you sit down to write the review you find you’re like, well that bit was kind of irritating and well, why did that even happen and hmm, how come that never went anywhere?

That’s kind of how I feel about this book.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like Deanna Raybourn. I’ve read an awful lot of her books – all the Lady Julia’s, the couple of weird ones that came after them, and the three in this series. Sometimes her writing is perfection and other times we’re stuck in the same rut we were 15 books ago. To be honest, Lady Julia and Brisbane are a much better pair that Veronica Speedwell and Stoker. Veronica is a person passionate about several things, so passionate that it’s all they talk about and they incessantly keep reminding you of it. In her case it’s that she’s not a typical Victorian lady and she has a free and healthy attitude towards the pleasures of the flesh. And Stoker is like a buttoned up Victorian virgin half the time, constantly scandalised by Veronica’s remarks and casual suggestions that they just indulge themselves. And then the other half of the time he walks around half naked in front of her, which doesn’t entirely fit with the era or his repressed character either.

To be honest, I didn’t really buy Stoker and Veronica being asked to investigate the mystery in this book, especially as it concerns Stoker’s ex-wife who divorced him for cruelty and spread such vicious rumours that he ended up some sort of social pariah. I loved the Egyptology stuff though and really enjoyed learning about that. I know that it was an interest to rich people in this time frame who hared themselves off to digs and brought back vast amounts of relics to England. It was quite a social event to reveal a mummy or display ones collection. These days of course, you can’t whip items of historical significance back to your private home and instead all items found belong to the country they’re in and are studied for anthropological reasons or displayed in public museums. I was super interested to know more about Stoker’s former wife because he’s so messed up over it. He can barely utter her name (except you know, that one time in the previous book) and has studiously avoided the topic. Now the topic is back to potentially cause him even more damage although to be honest, a lot of that seemed to be stretching.

We’re three books into this series now and things between Stoker and Veronica aren’t really progressing as fast as I would like. I don’t want to compare to the previous series, but there’s no doubt that things went a little faster there. Perhaps Raybourn feels that was a mistake, like things took a dive when Brisbane and Lady Julia were married. However given Veronica’s constant bleating about not being like other women of this time, you wouldn’t assume that the second anything happens between them, they’ll have to wed. I’d like something to happen though. I feel as though I’m being strung along, like this is one of those series’ where things almost happen but then something happens to prevent it in every.single.book. Like the Stephanie Plum series, but with corsets. Although even Steph does get action, precious more than what either Veronica or Stoker are getting at the moment. Both of them are unconventional, I don’t expect a typical Victorian courtship/romance. But they’re in such close proximity. The chemistry is (most of the time) there. Make it happen. Or at least, make it progress. Somewhere.

It probably sounds like I didn’t like this at all and it’s not true. I did like it. Especially when I was reading it. Raybourn’s mysteries are always entertaining, even when they stretch plausibility. It’s just in finishing it, I’ve realised that there are things that frustrate me, particularly the feeling like the series isn’t really going anywhere. Who knows, maybe we had to face Caroline and sort that out before Stoker could truly move on but to be honest, that confrontation wasn’t particularly engaging. I do think that Stoker and Veronica make a really interesting team and Stoker seems more accepting of Veronica’s involvement and the partnership than he was earlier. I just want it to pick up the pace a bit.

7/10

Book #8 of 2018

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 16th January

It’s Top 10 Tuesday time! This bookish meme was originally created by The Broke & the Bookish and is now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week our topic is:

Bookish Resolutions/Goals

  1. Don’t sweat the GR goal. I sometimes panic about the goodreads goal because it seems to judge you. You’re behind! A couple of times I’ve had to revise the goal down because it was stressing me out. I’ve actually had a really great start to my reading year but it’s school holidays here (summer) and there’s been late nights and lazy mornings sleeping in reading. But it won’t always be like that and I have to accept I’ll have ups and downs in the reading numbers.
  2. Mix review copies with purchases. Since January began I’ve been trying to alternate between review copies and books I’ve purchased myself. Not only does it help me actually read the books I buy instead of them sitting on my shelf, but it also helps break up the obligation I can sometimes feel about review copies and I find it helps maintain my enthusiasm for them when I’m not reading books with a certain pub date one after the other.
  3. Be picky. Don’t be afraid to say no. This is something I’ve been working on in terms of review copies. Sometimes I felt obliged to say yes, or to read something unsolicited if it turned up in my mailbox. They took the time to send it, least I can do is read it? Right? Well sometimes, yeah……but sometimes you have to prioritise. No one can read everything. So I’m saying no to books I don’t think will work for me and looking at NetGalley less. I’m making sure that I only pick things that I really want to read because after all, I want to have time for my own books too. And the easiest way to become overwhelmed is to have more books than you can possibly read.
  4. Be organised. This is a big thing for me. I keep a blogging planner, where I note down what I’m planning to post on the specific day. This helps for blog tours, where I sometimes accept a book months out from the publication and books that arrive well in advance. I can tell at a glance what I’m supposed to be posting this week and I also keep a record of books that arrive and what their publication dates are. The more organised I am, the easier it is to keep on top of the commitments I’ve made and that way I also know what I have going on and I don’t over commit and still leave time for books that I want to read that I don’t have review copies of.
  5. Try new things. Sometimes I tend to stay a little too firmly in my reading comfort zone. The bulk of my reading is probably contemporary fiction written by Australian women, which is awesome, I like that. But it’s nice to broaden the horizons and try something different – when I do, I almost always end up finding new fantastic things. I have to push myself to take that plunge a bit more, pick up books that are a bit outside of my box.
  6. Buy local. I try to do this. Not everything I want to read has an Australian release and sometimes the amount of books I want to read means I have to occasionally buy cheaper. But I do try to support my local bookshops as much as I financially can, for myself and my children. Which actually brings me to my next goal….
  7. Encourage my children to read. I have two boys, 6 and 9. Both are advanced readers – my 9yr old reads at a 13yo level at his last testing. He’s not what I’d call an avid reader though, he tends to read only when made even though he’s so advanced at it. I try to encourage them both to read every day and we provide a wide range of books, both purchased and via trips to our local library in order to sustain their interest. When he finds a book he enjoys, he flies through them – he’s currently on the 4th Harry Potter book. My 6yo is moving into lower level chapter books and is quite happy to sit and read quietly.
  8. Read but not review. Sometimes it’s just nice to read and not have to think about what you might say in a review, etc. Just reading a book knowing I’m not going to review it. I used to try and review everything I read and I probably kept that up for a couple years but it just made reviewing feel like too much of a chore so I started reading books and not reviewing them.
  9. Cull the shelves again. It took me a long time to be able to get to the stage where I thought I could cull books. But it was surprisingly cathartic and limited space means I just have to keep trimming the numbers otherwise books will completely take over my house. I go through and pull out books that I didn’t love or can’t ever see myself reading again and give them away. To be honest I still have way more books than I have shelf space for though!
  10. Take a break from challenges. I think I’ve signed up for one challenge or another every full year since I started blogging (2011) and some I pass, some I fail. This year though, I honestly just needed a break from challenges to just wing it. That’s what 2018 is – the year of winging it!

 

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Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman
Harper Collins
2017, 383p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life. 

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than….fine?

This is one of those books where I find that I struggle to articulate just how good it is without just flapping my hands and saying something like “It’s fabulous. Just read it, you’ll see.”

I read this because of Amanda, the Bookish Manicurist, who sang its praises on her youtube vlogs, so much so that I picked up a copy to be part of my Christmas present (everyone in our family gets at least one book for Christmas each year). I’d heard other people talking it up too and so I ended up getting to this relatively quickly. So often I buy books and then they just sit on my shelf for ages.

Eleanor Oliphant lives alone and has worked in the same job for ten years. Every Wednesday she speaks to her mother on the phone. She has no friendships, her work colleagues often mock her to her face. She wears the same clothes, eats the same food, does the same things every day. And on weekends, the two bottles of vodka make everything go away.

It’s a sad existence and until Eleanor meets Raymond, the IT guy at her work, I’m not sure she even realised. Eleanor is socially inept, often unable to read cues from people or distinguish their sincerity. When she and Raymond assist an elderly man in the street, Eleanor makes an assumption about him but Raymond coaxes her into assisting. That action is the beginning of an odd friendship with Raymond, who is perhaps one of the first people who actually talks to Eleanor and attempts to get to know her. He opens up her life experience in a myriad of different ways as they visit the man they assisted in hospital, meet his family and generally expand Eleanor’s comfort zone and social circle.

Eleanor’s life is a tragedy that unfolds in parts, as snippets of conversation, an interaction or two and Eleanor’s thoughts that help to construct her background. There are many clues but the sheer horror of it is something that doesn’t pop into your head at first thought. It takes time I think, to accept that sort of thing as having happened. Eleanor has led such a sheltered life that she’s missing key knowledge about the most basic of interactions, such as how to go about finding a boyfriend. When she sees a man she likes, she assumes that is all that is required. She’ll show up to where he’ll be, he’ll see her, he’ll like her as she likes him and that’ll be it. It doesn’t matter that she’s never met this man and that she knows nothing about him. And when things don’t go that way, it’s such a lesson for her that she’s not sure how to cope with it and ultimately, she can’t.

It seems impossible that in this day and age, someone could be as alone as Eleanor is before she meets Raymond. She’s not on the internet and therefore doesn’t partake in any social media. Even people who don’t have friends in their immediate vicinity often have vivacious social lives online, sharing conversations with people all over the world. For Eleanor though, this is not the case. She is genuinely alone – the most interaction she might have is with the man who sells her the 2 bottles of vodka. Her work colleagues find her weird – and there’s no denying that she is, very different. I think that represents a strong part of society that does shun the out of the ordinary, that doesn’t make an attempt to get past someone as they present themselves. They do seem to care when it becomes obvious that Eleanor has hit a bad place (the bad days) but it could’ve very easily been too late, if not for the consistent presence of Raymond. Eleanor can be abrupt and she often speaks without thinking and I get the feeling that she might be quite difficult to forge a friendship with. Raymond is an interesting character – patient in a lazy kind of way, the sort of person who lets things fall into place with a confident assurance that they will. He seems unruffled by a lot of Eleanor’s quirks and he has a steady hand in getting her to do things at times, like help Sammy, the elderly man and also return to visit him and his family several times. I really enjoyed the way Raymond and his mother accepted Eleanor. They didn’t try to change her and Raymond offered to help her investigate her past to get the true picture. Raymond also continued to see her the same way, even after what happened, happened.

I could talk about this book for a long time but the uniqueness of Honeyman’s writing and Eleanor Oliphant’s voice just has to be experienced. It’s a gentle look at fragility, loneliness, blocking things out and just telling everyone (and even yourself) that you’re absolutely fine…..when really, nothing is fine. It’s beautifully written and constructed, a story that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s such a powerful, amazing debut that it’s made Gail Honeyman go straight to the top of my list of authors to obsessively stalk watch for a new novel.

9/10

Book #7 of 2018

 

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Review: Cake At Midnight by Jessie L. Star

Cake At Midnight
Jessie L. Star
Simon & Schuster AUS
2018, 319p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Giovanna, Zoë and Declan have always been a trio – their fierce friendship has seen them through every heartbreak and hardship and helped pave the way to brighter futures. Gio is a passionate baker of cakes, pastries and all things delicious, Zoë a take-no-prisoners beauty, and Declan an ambitious businessman on the way up.

Best friends forever, Gio thinks – until Gio’s lifelong crush on Declan is exposed, leaving her humiliated, and Gio realises she needs to cut him loose to get over him once and for all.

Enter Theo, Gio’s neighbour … She’s never met anyone like him before. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s kind, he’s sexy, he’s generous and he’s often awake in the middle of the night, like Gio. Theo has a sweet tooth and a mysterious history and Gio can’t seem to stay away.

Thanks to the power of sleepless nights and chocolate cake, Gio thinks she’s finally over Declan, but then his whole world turns upside down. Gio knows she can’t desert Declan in his time of need, but how can she explain a lifetime of love to Theo?

Letting go of the past isn’t so easy when your heart is breaking.

I loved this!

Gio, Zoë and Dec are childhood friends who refer to themselves as Baker, Beauty and Brains. They have a long standing friendship although it was complicated when Gio kissed Dec, who doesn’t return her romantic feelings. In the time since, Dec has been taking advantage of Gio’s feelings for him, resulting in Zoë distancing herself from him. When Dec invites Gio last minute to a work function at his fancy firm, she’s surprised to find someone she kind of knows there.

Gio refers to Theo as “Nod Next Door” – they live in apartments on the same floor and she’s taken to saying hi to him when she sees him, only to receive a nod in reply. Theo rescues Gio when she overhears something humiliating and all of a sudden he’s talking, rather than just nodding and disappearing. Soon they’re spending their nights together (innocently) – Theo works and Gio hangs out on his couch. She’s determined that she get over Declan once and for all and she might’ve found the perfect way to do it.

This was sooo much fun! Gio (short for Giovanna), Zoë and Declan all grew up in a rough neighbourhood and although Gio had a loving home life, Zoë and Dec definitely lacked that. Their childhood bond keeps them tight and even though Zoë and Dec aren’t the closest of friends these days, she’ll still drop everything when he needs her. Gio has been in love with Declan for years and although he doesn’t return her feelings, he does use them in order to get her to do things that he wants, to Zoë’s chagrin. Gio has never really seen it until her feelings are very hurt when she overhears something at Declan’s work party. It makes her see him in a whole new light and she decides that she really does need to move on from this crush. He doesn’t have feelings for her and he never will and she’s wasting her life pining after him when nothing is ever going to happen. Declan has the best of both worlds – women to date and Gio as permanent back up to step in whenever required so she needs to remove that from the equation.

I absolutely loved Gio and Theo together! I liked their early interactions – Gio is friendly and quite bubbly so she always offers a cheerful greeting whereas Theo is more reserved, nodding politely and moving on. As they spend more and more time together, at night in his apartment, you get a better picture of Theo and what has made him the man that he is. Gio is the perfect counterpart, baking sugary treats, providing a down to earth presence in a life that has been filled to the brim with drama. Despite Gio’s angst over Declan, she’s not particularly dramatic and her determination to move on seems to ground her. Weirdly, I never noticed until I began writing this review that Theo and Gio rhyme (I think because in the book he calls her Giovanna all the time). Like their names, they fit together.

I also loved Theo’s backstory, a lot of it was really unexpected. He’s wealthy, with an important job which was expected but the secrets in his family, his employment history were all really nice surprises, helping to construct his character in multiple layers. Gio’s support of him in difficult moments is something he really appreciates and is I think, not used to. Theo’s family are truly quite awful selfish people and it’s sort of both unbelievable and also incredibly unsurprising that he turned out the way he did. I also really appreciated that the book is told two ways – most of the narrative is first person from Gio’s point of view but at the end of each chapter is a brief portion that’s third person from Theo’s perspective which really helps round out the narratives and give the reader a better insight into his thoughts in the early stages.

Basically I just loved this from start to finish. I found Gio really easy to relate to, her crush on Dec and her resolution to get over it – well, who hasn’t been there? I liked Theo, even when he did silly things because I understood why he was doing them and that’s important. And did I mention this book talks about food a lot? Gio is a pastry chef (in training kind of) and she bakes lots of things. She shares a lot of them with Theo and this book made me crave rich chocolate cake so much. Definitely going to be looking out for more from this author in the future.

9/10

Book #5 of 2018

 

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Review: Here’s Looking At You by Mhairi McFarlane

Here’s Looking At You
Mhairi McFarlane
AVON (Harper Collins)
2013, 432p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In essence it’s an ugly duckling tale. Our heroine Aureliana returns to school after fifteen years for a reunion. School doesn’t hold happy memories for her, as being a roly poly Italian (known as the Italian Galleon), and always armed with a Tupperware full of pungent Mediterranean food, she was bullied incessantly throughout her years there.

Now in her 30s, Aureliana wants to put the past behind her once and for all and face up to the bullies who made her life hell. But she is much-changed from the girl she once was – all curves and because I’m worth it hair – and no one recognises her when she arrives. Losing her bottle, she backs out on her plan for revenge and slinks off, hoping never to be reminded of her years at school again. But fate gets in the way, and after the reunion her path keeps crossing with James – major hunk and Aureliana’s major crush back at school. But alas, as a crony to the bullies, Aureliana to this day believes that his beautiful exterior hides an ugly interior. As they continue to cross paths a love/hate relationship ensues until eventually something shifts, and they both start to discover what the person underneath is really like…

Full of Mhairi’s trademark laugh out loud humour, Here’s Looking At You is a novel about facing your demons and being happy with who you really are.

This is the middle book in my eBook bind up of 3 of Mhairi McFarlane’s backlist, which I purchased after I read Who’s That Girl? I’ve since read one of the 3 in the bind up and absolutely loved it so when I was scrolling through books in my iPad, it jumped out at me that I should read another.

Anna is in her early 30s and works at a university. She’s a historian and although she’s pretty va-va-voom now with an hourglass figure and long hair, in high school she was much heavier. She was relentlessly bullied by most of her peers who gave her horrible nicknames and subjected her to taunts and even physical violence. It seems her entire high school life was a misery culminating in a prank pulled on her by a good looking boy, one of the cool ones. She was completely humiliated and when her school reunion rolls around she goes in order to show people how she’s changed, now she’s not that fat, ugly, frizzy haired girl anymore. Except no one recognises her. Not a single person.

Coincidentally just after that reunion, Anna finds herself working with James, the good looking boy from school. He was her crush and the one who pulled the cruel prank on her. James is still good looking and he has no idea who Anna is. Despite the fact that she resents him for his cruel treatment of her, Anna warms to James’ charm and the two begin to become friends. James is currently separated from his wife and he seems to find comfort and solace in Anna’s friendship and enjoys spending time with her.

I have to admit, I’ve loved both the Mhairi McFarlane books I’ve read previously but I didn’t love this. I liked it, yes. I found it enjoyable, amusing at times, sad at others, frustrating, well written and entertaining. But for me, this wasn’t one of the books that gave me the giddy and gutwrenching feels. I liked Anna, I felt sorry for her. In high school Anna was a true social pariah. She wasn’t like many people, bullied or mocked occasionally by groups of people but still had their few close friends. Even associating with Anna was a death sentence and so everyone avoided her, even those who didn’t actively bully her. She had no friends in school and it seems a miserable, depressing experience culminating in a desperate act. Even now having lost the weight, it’s clear that Anna still has many insecurities and hang ups, she still lacks self confidence and struggles through internet dating without success.

James is a character in two parts for me. I know people do terribly cruel things in their teenage years and it doesn’t mean they should be judged for them for the rest of their lives. Pack mentality is a powerful thing in high school and no one wants to be the target. Far better to be part of the pack than the one that’s being hunted. So yes, he did cruel things but that was sixteen years ago and I was willing to let it go. However current day James also does some pretty stupid and thoughtless things that are mixed in with the kind and considerate things he does. It seems James struggles with who he really is – he has this persona he often seems to use in his work environment and then he has his own personality. He’s a bit of a dill about his marriage break up for most of the book despite what is staring him in the face and he reacts with shallowness that perhaps covers embarrassment and humiliation at a reveal. But he also puts himself out there and attempts to make things right when he realises just how badly he has messed up.

My problem is that I never really felt the chemistry and developing attraction between the two of them and the book never really takes it far enough for me to credibly see them in a relationship. I got the friendship and I thought that was really nice. They did a lot of fun things together, their conversations were interesting and when they weren’t fighting, it was good. Anna’s crush returned in full force apparently but I just didn’t really see it enough. And also, a critical scene in James’ decision about his future occurs partially off page and only vaguely referenced in flashback and I thought it should’ve been better articulated within the book because it should have been a very defining moment for James. A shedding of one thing and acceptance of his true self. For me, the coming of accepting yourself message was okay, but the romance aspect was severely lacking. This is never the primary focus in McFarlane’s books but I think the other two I’ve read perhaps made me expect more from this one and I was quite disappointed not to get it.

There are some really fun modern day Pride & Prejudice references in this and being a huge fan of that, I enjoyed those. They were clever and that aspect was appealing. But this one just didn’t make my heart race for the right outcome, like the other two that I’ve read, which was a bit of a shame.

7/10

Book #9 of 2018

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Review – Nevermore: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1)
Jessica Townsend
Lotharian Children’s Books (Hachette AUS)
2017, 448p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Born on an unlucky day, she is blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight
on Eventide.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s there that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organisation: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart. Except for Morrigan, who doesn’t seem to have any special talent at all.

To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests – or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate. 

This was so much fun! I’d been hearing so much praise of it from every direction and I bought a copy way back in October not long after it was released. I decided to add it to my summer reading pile because it seemed like just the sort of book for school holidays. Now that I’ve finished it, I’ll be passing it on to my oldest son, who is 9.

There are plenty of comparisons to Harry Potter that I’ve heard about this one. I’m not really the biggest Harry Potter expert (only read the first book) however I see some core similarities. Both Harry and Morrigan are maligned children – in Harry’s case treated hopelessly unfairly by his unwilling guardians and in Morrigan’s she’s claimed to be ‘cursed’ and is blamed for everything that goes wrong in her town, no matter what it is. Her father is counting down the days until Morrigan is due to die on Eventide and how it will benefit him, no longer being the father of the cursed child, especially as he is the town chancellor and no longer has to calculate how the fear of a cursed child will impact on his approval rating.

Instead of dying on Eventide, Morrigan finds herself whisked away by Mr Jupiter North to a place called Nevermoor, saving her from that fate and introducing her to the possibility of another. He wants to be Morrigan’s patron for an organisation called The Wundrous Society containing Nevermoor’s brightest and talented minds. Morrigan has never felt particularly gifted at anything and it takes her some convincing that this is something she should be doing. There are to be a series of trials in order to be accepted – only a handful applicants out of hundreds will be accepted and Morrigan spends most of the time in eternal panic because all applicants have to demonstrate a specific gift or talent in the final trial and as far as she’s aware, she has no gift at all. And Jupiter is annoying vague about it every time she asks him, merely patting her and saying it will all be fine and to trust him.

This is just so highly entertaining. I started it at the local pool one morning while my boys were swimming and was astonished to find I’d read 150p while we were there. I couldn’t put it down. Morrigan is a likable child, you can’t help but feel sorry for her given the life she has had so far. A disinterested at best, hostile at worst father and an entire community who seek to lay the blame for every little mishap at her door whether it be a flood, failing a test or falling ill. Although she believes herself to be cursed (hard for not to, I would imagine it’s probably all she’s ever heard) and had accepted the inevitability of a premature death, Morrigan still has such an endearing personality, a clever mind that is prone to bouts of self-doubt.

Nevermoor is such a quirky setting – Jupiter’s hotel is a living, breathing character all on its own, always changing and evolving. I especially loved the idea of Morrigan’s bedroom and how it evolves throughout the story. And the Wundrous Society gives Morrigan the chance to belong to something for the first time in her life. As Jupiter says, it will give her a family – her fellow candidates who are successful with her will become like brothers and sisters, a bond of which cannot be experienced another way. I think those relationships, closeness with people, a true sense of belonging and family is something that Morrigan desperately wants because she’s never been able to experience it. She’s been cheated out of that experience by a family who believed in a curse accusation and now she has the chance to start her life fresh as someone with worth and value. It’s a strong draw for anyone, that they are special and wanted. Jupiter is the sort of character who pops in and out of the story but he has this unwavering faith in Morrigan even when he won’t tell her any sort of information. For Morrigan that was understandably frustrating but I found it sort of reassuring – much is made of the fact that Jupiter has never been a patron of any candidate before, despite members being obliged to perform this role. So you know that there’s something he knows about Morrigan that everyone else does not.

I figured out what it was before he revealed it, as the author cleverly inserts the clues for the reader at various points in the story and you simply have to put them all together. It’s a fantastic reveal and sets up this story for future volumes. Count me in as being part of the ride!

8/10

Book #4 of 2018

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 9th January

It’s Top 10 Tuesday time! Created by The Broke & the Bookish, this is the last time it will be hosted there. Next week, TTT moves to Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl’s blog. This week our topic is:

Top 10 Books I Didn’t Get To In 2017 {But Will In 2018}

  1. A Torch Against The Night by Sabaa Tahir. I think I bought this almost a year ago and I still haven’t read it yet! I enjoyed the first book but now I’m starting to wonder if I should skim it again before I read this one so I can refresh my mind on some of the characters and plots.
  2. Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. I won this in a giveaway and I’m super keen to try it, having not read any of Kristoff’s stand alone work before. This has excellent wraps in book blog land and I’d expect nothing less.
  3. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. Read both Graceling and Fire last year and loooved them so much. I have actually sat down to start this twice and then have either had to pick up a review book or just decided to read something else. I know this is going to be amazing, just have to find the time to tackle it because I’m sure I’m going to want to devour it in a day.
  4. Glass Sword & King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard. Okay this is kind of deliberate. I had the 2nd book and waited until the 3rd came out in the smaller paperback version so it would both match my others in the series and also be cheaper. But in waiting I heard a few things about the ending of 3 that put me off reading them. However I do want to finish them. I think the 4th comes out this year.
  5. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Feels like I’ve had this forever and it’s also a chunkster. It’s on my summer TBR pile and I may be reading it with 1-2 fellow bloggers as a kind of buddy thing, hopefully this month.
  6. The Rose And The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh. I bought The Wrath and the Dawn and this one together because I couldn’t resist the beautiful hardback versions. I loved the first one but I just haven’t picked up the second one yet (which is literally, the story of my life).
  7. A Gathering Of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. Lol, as with the above, I bought the first 2 books together. Read A Darker Shade of Magic and thought it was really interesting. I have the 2nd book, I really have no excuse for not picking it up yet! Definitely going to get to it in 2018.
  8. Tower Of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas. I bought this the week it was released. I binged the other books in this series in 6 days in 2017 and I was sure I’d read this one immediately but somehow it never happened. Perhaps I’m apprehensive of an entire book revolving around Chaol. Anyway, I will get it done this year! Hopefully next month.
  9. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton. I buy her books the day they come out but somehow non-fiction nearly always gets pushed aside for the piles of fiction. However I’m determined to read this one and soon. It’s still so relevant. In fact it probably gets more so every day.
  10. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch. I’ve had this on my iPad for so long. I think I bought it around this time last year in a big sale. Who knows, it might’ve even been the year before! I intended to read it last year but didn’t end up getting around to it. So onto the general 2018 tbr pile it goes.

So with the best intentions, I write this blog post…..but as we all know, the best intentions often go astray! It’s my hope that I not only get to these in 2018, but also in the first half of 2018 but who knows what will happen? My TBR pile is chronically out of control and I don’t expect that to ever change!

Super interested to see what everyone intends to get to themselves in 2018.

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Review: No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

No One Is Coming To Save Us
Stephanie Powell Watts
Penguin Random House AUS
2018, 367p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The Great Gatsby brilliantly recast in the contemporary South: a powerful first novel about an extended African-American family and their colliding visions of the American Dream.

JJ Ferguson has returned home to Pinewood, North Carolina to build his dream home and to woo his high school sweetheart, Ava. But he finds that the people he once knew and loved have changed, just as he has. Ava is now married, and wants a baby more than anything. The decline of the town’s once-thriving furniture industry has made Ava’s husband Henry grow distant and frustrated. Ava’s mother Sylvia has put her own life on hold as she caters to and meddles with those around her, trying to fill the void left by her absent son. And Don, Sylvia’s undeserving but charming husband, just won’t stop hanging around.

JJ’s newfound wealth forces everyone to consider what more they want and deserve from life than what they already have—and how they might go about getting it. Can they shape their lives to align with their wishes rather than their realities? Or are they resigned to the rhythms of the particular lives they lead? No One Is Coming to Save Us is a revelatory debut from an insightful voice that combines a universally resonant story with an intimate glimpse into the hearts of one family.

This is pitched as a modern day The Great Gatsby but I have to admit my knowledge of that classic is basic at best. I’ve only read it once, never studied it, haven’t seen the movie, etc. It isn’t my favourite and I get the basic similarities with this novel – but I’m not particularly equipped to analyse just how much it really is a contemporary re-imagining.

The novel is set in South Carolina relatively recently (Obama is president) although to be honest, I actually forgot when I began this that it was set in current day and it took me a while to realise it again. The town seems to be mostly poor, the factories that employed most of the workforce shutting down one by one.

Ava is close to 40 and she desperately wants a baby. She and her husband have been married a long time and they’ve been trying a while and have tried lots of different things, including IVF which they no longer have the money to continue investigating. Ava has fallen pregnant but each time has been unsuccessful in getting past the first trimester. Ava works in a bank as a senior loans officer, seemingly one of the few from their area to go to college, get a degree and a desk job. Her husband Henry works at the furniture factory and is chronically dissatisfied with life. He’s very attractive but has no real work ethic and doesn’t seem to know what he wants.

Ava and Henry have purchased Ava’s childhood home, the home her mother Sylvia and her father Don raised her and her brother in. With her parents separated now, Sylvia has an apartment on the other side of town but she finds it sterile and uninviting, preferring to spend all her time at Ava and Henry’s. When JJ Ferguson returns to town, Sylvia awaits his visit. JJ as a teenager spent many hours and dinners at Sylvia’s house due to his friendship with Ava. Everyone knows JJ loves Ava and the huge house he’s building on the hill has everything to do with her.

But if JJ’s in town to woo Ava, there’s not really a whole lot of that. It takes a huge part of the book before they even come into contact with each other and it’s all very low key. Ava’s life has started to fall apart – she’s uncovered a secret about her husband that {should have} broken her, given her current preoccupation but even that seems laid back and casual like Ava can’t be bothered getting the truth or talking to her husband or making any plans to do anything and will just wander around. She spends time at JJ’s house but no one seems to really care. Henry hasn’t come home and doesn’t notice and how are these people married? Everyone is just wandering around overnight and their spouse’s barely even notice that none of them have been home because they aren’t either.

There’s none of the flash of Gatsby – despite JJ’s apparent wealth and the ginormous house on the hill, it’s unfurnished and he seems to be constantly saying he needs to do things before it’s ready to show people but they never happen. If Sylvia hadn’t sprung him I’m not sure he would’ve even made contact with her, despite his professed desire to see her. I’m not sure really why he was back. He knows Ava’s married. He buys this big house that he doesn’t really seem to be doing anything with. There’s no opulence, no parties, no romantic overtures. Ava’s marriage is falling apart but he doesn’t know that, nor does he really actually make much of attempt to do anything. I’m not even sure what it is he does now that he’s back.

Perhaps the best part of the book for me was Sylvia’s grief and the way in which that was written and how that story played out. I had a bit of an inkling, just from early on but even I didn’t expect the grim reality of it and the way in which it had shaped Sylvia’s very existence, was incredibly sad. I feel as though that is perhaps why she continues to speak to Marcus, an inmate in a nearby jail who dialed her number at random one day, just for someone to talk to. Marcus gives her something that no one else can, most importantly the one she wants it from the most. Her husband Don, whom she is estranged from, seems a waste of space but yet he still continues to come and visit her inexplicably whilst treating other women abominably. The men seem chronically unfaithful, with the exception of JJ, who perhaps deserves the most and gets the least.

I have to say that I found this a rather unsatisfying read. There were parts that were interesting to me – Sylvia’s struggle and even her difficult relationship with Ava, which had survived Ava’s teen and college years only to begin to stutter as Ava approached her forties. The only character I really enjoyed reading about was Jay/JJ and he didn’t form anywhere near as large a part of the story as it focused more on the female characters of Sylvia and Ava.

I really struggled with this one. I still don’t know how I felt about it. I didn’t really like it…..at times I was definitely pushing myself through it and although it got better the further into it I got, I was never really connected to the story or the characters. But I didn’t dislike it either and I could appreciate some of the writing. So I guess I would describe this one as middle of the road.

5/10

Book #3 of 2018

 

 

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Review: No Regrets by Julie Moffett

No Regrets (Lexi Carmichael Mystery #10)
Julie Moffett
Carina Press
2018, 243p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Geek girl Lexi Carmichael has tackled her share of formidable tasks, but nothing quite as daunting as serving as maid of honor at her best friend’s wedding.

When I agreed to stand by my best friend, Basia, on her big day, I had no idea what I was in for. Bouquets and unflattering evening wear I can handle. But between disgruntled dates, a beach venue and suspicious packages, what else can go wrong? Oh, right—my parents don’t know I’ve moved in with Slash. Oops?

Thankfully, I’ve got everything semi under control, at least as far as Basia and Xavier know. They can leave for their honeymoon happy, knowing Elvis, Slash and I will keep things safe at home.

Meanwhile, Elvis and Xavier’s boss at ComQuest has asked X-Corp—well, me—to take a quick trip to retrieve a sensitive company package from the British Virgin Islands. No hacking involved. Just show up, accept the package and bring it home safely. A cushy assignment, and a safe one. Right? 

Wrong. Things start to unravel the minute I set foot on the boat to the island. Before I know it, I’m up to my neck in thugs, sand and trouble. I’m going to have to work fast to stop the bad guys before the sun sets for good on this unexpected beach vacation…

I enjoy this series but I have to admit, I enjoy parts of it more than others.

In this installment, Lexi is serving as bridesmaid for her best friend Basia, who is finally marrying one of Lexi’s other few close friends, Xavier Zimmerman. The role has brought about many duties and things that are outside of Lexi’s comfort zone but she’s appreciative of Basia and she wants everything to be perfect so she’s getting on with it. She can’t shake the feeling that something will go wrong though – lately Lexi has been compiling the data of what happens to her in a ‘Little Black Cloud’ spreadsheet so that she can analyse it. Lexi is the kind of person that ‘things just happen to’ and she’s determined that nothing ruin this special day.

I think these books are better when they focus on the ‘mystery’ and less on the ‘comic relief’ but that’s just personal opinion because I find that crazy incidents with animals bother the heck out of me and there are two of them in this book. The first one is kind of not so bad but the second one…..ugh, I honestly can’t believe it was even left in the book.

I really did enjoy the mystery – as I said, it’s where I feel the strengths in this series are and I always like to watch Lexi doing her thing, gathering information and sorting out things in her head and coming up with a plan. She’s very smart, she’s confident in her abilities and she definitely shines in this book. I loved her process of investigating and could ignore the distractions and silliness that kind of cut in along the way because they were just small moments and the solving of what was going on took up a far bigger portion of the book. I liked that Lexi didn’t need rescuing in this book but I also appreciated that there were people who came to make sure of it.

Lexi’s developing relationship with Slash has been a big thing for me since the third book – I wasn’t too crazy about him as an option in the first book and maybe the second but since the third I’ve been fully on board. I love that it does actually develop – a lot! They’re not just stuck in a holding pattern, she’s not torn between two guys (thankfully that part was cleared up very early on in the series) and they’ve grown as a couple, shared things about each other and moved forward. And they continue to move forward in this one, which I appreciate although once again, the manner in which it happens was kind of another one of those ‘Lexi’ moments. And I really liked the way this one ended. There’s a bit of a cliffhanger and it revolves around Slash and it looks as though the next book is going to be really interesting and quite personal. I do think that the author has done a great job really developing Lexi and Slash’s story and continuing to have it grow over numerous volumes and there’s still plenty left for them.

But this isn’t my favourite one of the series. I’m probably in the minority but I find a lot of the ‘comic’ moments contrived, like they’ve been really thought out and written purely to invoke amusement rather than unfolding naturally. None of them really felt natural and that pulls me out of the story which lessens my enjoyment of it. Lexi is really funny enough on her own. She doesn’t need ‘crazy’ things happening to her to get a laugh. And I really just appreciate her geeky, funny, intelligent side without disasters. However the way in which this book ended has made me so keen for the next book. I really need to find out what’s going to happen there.

6/10

Book #1 of 2018

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Review: The Little Coffee Shop Of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul (The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul #1)
Deborah Rodriguea
Bantam (Random House)
2011, 317p
Personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In a little coffee shop in one of the most dangerous places on earth, five very different women come together.

SUNNY, the proud proprietor, who needs an ingenious plan – and fast – to keep her café and customers safe.

YAZMINA, a young pregnant woman stolen from her remote village and now abandoned on Kabul’s violent streets.

CANDACE, a wealthy American who has finally left her husband for her Afghan lover, the enigmatic Wakil.

ISABEL, a determined journalist with a secret that might keep her from the biggest story of her life.

And HALAJAN, the sixty-year-old den mother, whose long-hidden love affair breaks all the rules.

As these five women discover there’s more to one another than meets the eye, they form a unique bond that will for ever change their lives and the lives of many others.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is the heart-warming and lifeaffirming fiction debut from the author of the bestselling memoir The Kabul Beauty School.

I’ve been curious about this book for a number of years now and I picked it up either as a freebie or in one of the sales for $4.99 or less on iBooks a little while ago. I was looking for something to read yesterday and decided it was finally time to give this one a go.

Sunny, an American from Arkansas came to Afghanistan after 9/11 and now runs a coffee shop in Kabul. She spends long stretches of time on her own as her lover Tommy, whom she came with, started working for an NGO and now works as a kind of freelancer often on dangerous missions, gone months at a time without contact. The people around her in the coffee shop become like her family, including Halajan, the woman who owns the building and her son Ahmet who stands guard at the door. There’s the barista as well, who doubles as the man who makes sure that everyone checks their weapons when they enter and looks out for Sunny’s safety. On a visit to the Women’s Mission, Sunny overhears Yazmina’s story and realising something about her, offers her a room and work in the cafe to help keep her safe.

The cafe needs to make money and so Sunny hosts a kind of event night where they invite women to come and speak. The first two involve a doctor specialising in obstetrics and women’s health as Afghanistan has one of if not the highest rate of women dying in childbirth in the world. These events bring Isabel, a British journalist and Candace, an American woman who left her diplomat husband for her Afghan lover and has now followed him back to Afghanistan to help him in his work. The women form a loose and imperfect friendship, sharing the difficulties of being women in this male dominated country with its strict rules and protocols.

I was really interested in how ‘Western’ women would cope living in a country with very different laws, traditions and protocols, some of which are very restrictive. Sunny has already been in Afghanistan a while at the beginning of the book but both Candace and Isabel are new, although Isabel has previously been in war torn countries but in Africa. I was really interested in all the women’s thoughts and feelings about Kabul and Afghanistan as a whole, and how they felt about being there, the differences to what they were used to etc. Isabel has a specific reason for being there and whilst researching that, finds motivation and other causes that she wants to help. Candace was married to an ambassador, whom she left for an Afghan and has now followed him back to his country. He’s younger than her and her thoughts are mostly preoccupied with how different things must be for them now that they’re back in his country and why he doesn’t seem as into her as he did previously. Candace wasn’t as large a portion of the story as I would’ve liked – I think there was quite a lot that was glossed over when it came to her. She wasn’t always a sympathetic or likable character but I feel as though she did have a very interesting story, probably quite a bit more interesting than Sunny’s and I wanted more of it.

I really enjoyed Yazmina’s story and the way in which the women rallied to help her in her predicament in many different ways. Yazmina’s situation is truly pitiable and I have to admit I didn’t realise the difficulties that widows faced as well. I thought widow might have been enough of a status to ensure some respect but apparently there are no credible story tellers if the man in the equation is dead and many would be unwilling to believe Yazmina’s story because she is the only one who was around to tell it, having been taken from her family. I presume if her uncle had been present, or her father, or someone {male} to confirm then it might not have been such an issue but I don’t know that for sure. Yazmina was on her own though and would’ve faced very different circumstances had Sunny not overheard her story that day, which made me sad. There have probably been countless girls in such situations. I enjoyed the story that played out for her, in fact the way in which Yazmina, Halajan and Ahmet’s lives intertwined and the way in which Ahmet had to struggle with progressiveness versus his religion (and how he learned some lessons in both) was probably my favourite part of the book.

There’s a sequel to this, which I admit to being curious about. There are characters that I want to see again and find out what’s happening with them. But there are also other characters I honestly didn’t care for too much and felt that this book perhaps didn’t address in depth enough or explain enough why something was happening. Most of the key plots for characters were entertaining but quite a few of them I just wanted more from them. More about the characters thoughts and feelings deep down and more connection between some of the characters as well. I needed to be able to see what was supposedly happening between them, not just be told in a brief sentence of realisation. So whilst I did enjoy this, I didn’t find it amazing. It felt like a sanitised version of what I really wanted to read.

6/10

Book #2 of 2018

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