All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Love & Virtue by Diana Reid

Love & Virtue
Diana Reid
Ultimo Press
2021, 265p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Feminism, power and sex play out through the eyes of young Australian uni students in a contemporary narrative that is fiercely authentic.

Whenever I say I was at university with Eve, people ask me what she was like, sceptical perhaps that she could have always been as whole and self-assured as she now appears. To which I say something like: ‘People are infinitely complex.’ But I say it in such a way—so pregnant with misanthropy—that it’s obvious I hate her.

​Michaela and Eve are two bright, bold women who befriend each other their first year at a residential college at university, where they live in adjacent rooms. They could not be more different; one assured and popular – the other uncertain and eager-to-please. But something happens one night in O-week – a drunken encounter, a foggy memory that will force them to confront the realities of consent and wrestle with the dynamics of power.

Initially bonded by their wit and sharp eye for the colleges’ mix of material wealth and moral poverty, Michaela and Eve soon discover how fragile friendship is, and how capable of betrayal they both are.

Written with a strikingly contemporary voice that is both wickedly clever and incisive, issues of consent, class and institutional privilege, and feminism become provocations for enduring philosophical questions we face today.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a book as much on social media, as I did this one. I’d never heard of it until about a week before it was published and then all of sudden, it was pretty much everywhere on my instagram. And I guess it’s a testament to that ploy that I bought it and read it only 2 days after it came out.

When I was 19, I moved from my regional town to somewhere in Sydney, for University. So obviously, I lived on campus in a residential dorm, which housed 48 students – 16 to a floor, 3 floors. It was separated from the rest of the residential dorms by a stretch of grass about the size of a football field, which led to a bit of a disconnect between people in my dorm and the students in the rest of the dorms, which formed a quadrangle. It meant that we were often kind of looked down upon by the other dorms (we were the only dorms that included fridges in the rooms, which is why I chose it) but also that we all formed quite a tight bond.

It’s been 20 years since I moved into that residential college but this book took me straight back there like it was yesterday. Like the main character Michaela, I came from outside of Sydney and was surprised by how many people were from Sydney that had moved into the residential college. And many of them had gone to private schools (SHORE, Grammar, Wenona to name just a few I remember). It also had a large number of students who’d gone to boarding schools and were now getting Agricultural degrees before returning to run family farms and the like. It was for me, like stepping into a different world. And that’s before you tackle some of the problematic elements of living on campus.

And that’s what this book does – holds up some of those to the light and examines them through female eyes. I think everyone who has lived on campus, probably has a story where they feared for their safety, where they maybe drank too much and aren’t sure what happened, where they went along with something they perhaps weren’t 100% into, just because. It’s not uncommon and this book reminded me of a lot of my experiences – the good and the bad, with living on campus at a university. Because it’s not all bad. For the most part, everyone is living away from home for the first time, you’re experiencing a taste of freedom, of making your own decisions and choosing your own fates. You make incredibly close friends because you live with these people 24/7. It can be enormous amounts of fun. But it also can be scary, alienating, daunting and in some cases, downright dangerous. My residential hall ended up hiring a security guard to patrol at night and escort us to things like the library or IT building (which was all the way across campus, a 10-15m walk) after a girl was attacked walking back late at night and there were several other attempts. This was in the era before high speed internet in dorm rooms and smart phones, so to use the internet or for many people even a computer or printer, you had to go to the IT building.

For me, so much of this was reminiscent of my own experience at university in many ways even as it was exploring things in a way that I felt would never have been explored during my time and at my own place of residence. It didn’t mean that they weren’t thought about sometimes but this book takes those issues of consent, of privilege, of power, of wealth, of entitlement, and lays them all bare. And it’s more than just that, it’s also an exploration of a charismatic but also toxic friendship at a place of higher learning where everyone is finding their way and just trying to establish themselves. In year 12, you’re a big fish – at university you’re basically a nobody. You can walk into a lecture theatre filled with 2-300 people, all of whom you feel are probably much cleverer than you. It’s possible to feel like a fraud, an imposter. There’s a great showcase in the cast of minor characters here (that person that always, always asks a long, boring question that isn’t really a question but just an erudite sentence proclaiming their own intelligence and superiority) and point me to someone who didn’t share a dorm with a “Wait. What?” girl.

I think this book would really resonate with a lot of people – anyone who lived on campus or went to university mixers, anyone who has experienced the divide between private school and not, anyone who has felt there was an incident in their lives of blurred consent or worse. Anyone who came up against college bureaucracy or an institution’s desire to protect itself. Anyone who discovered that women could be poisonous toward other women in ways they hadn’t encountered or expected before. I felt like some of the philosophy went over my head but I never took a class in it, even at first year level but it was somewhat interesting to read some of the arguments. The social commentary was excellent however and so was the characterisation. I really feel like this is a very powerful and well written story from an author that is going to be one to watch.

8/10

Book #178 of 2021

This is book #77 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Birds Of A Feather by Tricia Stringer

Birds Of A Feather
Tricia Stringer
Harlequin AUS
2021, 464p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Who will find you when you lose your place in the world?

Full of practical wisdom, this heart-warming novel from a bestselling author celebrates finding help where you least expect it as well as the ties between women that can change – and save – lives.

Eve has been a partner in a Wallaby Bay fishing fleet as long as she can remember. Now they want her to sell – but what would her life be without work? She lives alone, her role on the town committee has been spiked by malicious gossip and she is incapacitated after surgery. For the first time in her life she feels weak, vulnerable – old.

When her troubled god-daughter Julia arrives at Wallaby Bay, she seems to offer Eve a reprieve from her own concerns. But there is no such thing as plain sailing. Eve has another house guest, the abrasive Lucy, who is helping her recuperate and does not look kindly on Julia’s desire for Eve’s attention.

But Lucy, too, has demons to battle and as each woman struggles to overcome their loss of place in the world, they start to realise that there may be more that holds them together, than keeps them apart.

But will these birds of feather truly be able to reinvent what family means? Or will the secrets and hurts of the past shatter their precarious hold on their new lives … and each other? 

I thought this was a really nice story, showcasing a small town and giving a good example of how sometimes you build your own family and that some of the closest people to us are not necessarily the ones we are related to.

It revolves around three women who are all at quite different phases in life – Eve is 70, long ago widowed and her two grown sons live far away. For many years Eve has been partner in a very profitable prawn trawler fleet but now her business partner wants to sell and travel. For Eve, the role she plays in the business is her lifeline, especially seeing as of late, she’s become somewhat ostracised from the community. When she injures her shoulder, someone recommends Lucy, new to town but with nursing qualifications, to be her daily help.

Lucy and her partner Alec have moved back to Wallaby Bay, where Alec grew up. They have a plan where Alec works FIFO and they’re saving as much money as possible to start their own business. Lucy is often alone with the kids and she’s reluctant to call on Alec’s parents for help, not wanting to be a burden. Lucy is good natured and isn’t offended by Eve’s brusque manner and sometimes churlishness, knowing that people aren’t at their best when injured. It isn’t long before the two of them build a good rapport, upset somewhat by the arrival of Julia.

Julia is the daughter of Eve’s longtime best friend and she’s at a crossroads. Her funding for her work has dried up, she’s feeling disconnected in her relationship and she feels that a trip back to Wallaby Bay might help. She’s not impressed at finding Lucy helping Eve and the two take a while to find some common ground but eventually the three women form a strong bond and before long they each become confidants to the other and help them through difficult times.

I really enjoyed the way the women built a relationship – Eve and Julia are close obviously as Julia’s mother (now deceased) was Eve’s best friend and Eve has seen Julia as like a daughter to her almost her whole life. Their contact has been a little sporadic lately, with Julia’s work and the general busyness of life. Lucy is new to the area and she and Eve had only crossed paths once before someone suggests she might be able to help Eve after her injury. Lucy has some complex feelings revolving around nursing again which is hinted at being rooted in the tragedy of 2020 but it takes a while for the whole story to be revealed.

I think when the author wrote this, it was probably expected that at this stage, the pandemic would be over but it hasn’t panned out that way. Life in the novel is back to ‘normal’ but you can tell that for Lucy, the stress and guilt and horror of it all, what she experienced, has not faded. It showcases what it might’ve been like, just a snapshot of life for frontline workers that they experienced last year and are unfortunately still continuing to experience, with the Delta variant and the new wave of cases. I really enjoyed Lucy’s story and how it unfolded, as well as her relationship with Alec, her feelings about her in-laws as well as her parental guilt. I think it’s important to see that most of us have guilt about something in regards to our kids!

It took me longer to warm to Julia, I felt like the way she was towards Lucy in the beginning was quite unfair but once Julia warmed up a bit and kind of relaxed, I felt like I got a better showing of her personality. Her work was interesting and it does make you think what might happen to funding that was allocated in 2020 but I was less interested in her relationship woes and felt that ended up being overly dramatic for little reason and resolved very easily with one conversation they perhaps should’ve had months prior.

What I really appreciated was the way the three women band together (especially once circumstances mean they’re all sharing Eve’s quite large house) and build something. There’s strength in all of them together and they really do find confidence and a kind of clarity in sharing their troubles and getting feedback and supporting one another.

Very enjoyable.

7/10

Book #180 of 2021

Birds Of A Feather is book #78 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: The Things We See In The Light by Amal Awad

The Things We See In The Light
Amal Awad
Pantera Press
2021, 364p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: “In the cafe, I watch as a woman takes a photo of her plate an impressive, glossy lime-coloured dessert with shards of chocolate perched on top. I want to feel that ease and confidence, too. Like this is my city again, and I know my way around it”.

Eight years ago, Sahar pursued her happily ever after when she married Khaled and followed him to Jordan, leaving behind her family, her friends and a thriving cake business. But married life didn’t go as planned and, haunted by secrets, Sahar has returned home to Sydney without telling her husband.

With the help of her childhood friends, Sahar hits the reset button on her life. She takes a job at a local patisserie run by Maggie, a strong but kind manager who guides Sahar in sweets and life.

But as she tentatively gets to know her colleagues, Sahar faces a whole new set of challenges. There’s Kat and Inez, who are determined that Sahar try new experiences. Then there’s Luke, a talented chocolatier and a bundle of contradictions.

As Sahar embraces the new, she reinvents herself, trying things once forbidden to her. But just when she is finally starting to find her feet, her past finds its way back to her.

Ok I have to admit, I borrowed this on a whim from my local library/Borrow Box based just on the description and it didn’t occur to me that it might’ve been connected to another book. But when I began reading it, I got the feeling that I was definitely missing something and that a lot of things were being talked of like I should know the background or how this character had feelings for that character, etc. I looked it up and there’s a previous book by the author from about 2012, that deals with Sahar’s friend Samira, who appears pretty regularly in this book and I assume all the background of these characters are given during Samira’s story (which sounds really interesting and I definitely want to read it now).

But this book kicks off with Sahar arriving on her friend Lara’s doorstep, unannounced, having left her husband and marriage in Jordan where she has lived for the past 7 or 8 years. Sahar appears to have always been a rather devout Muslim, but right now, she seems to be having a bit of a personal and even religious crisis. Her marriage is over, incidents have happened that have tested her. She is on the cusp of a new beginning, that means living with Lara in Sydney and getting a job at a well known and popular pasty cafe and sweets place. Before marrying, Sahar made cakes and ran her own small business but in this new job, she’s starting at the bottom and working her way up. She bonds with her fellow workers, even the grumpy and intense Luke, after a rough start and together they implement a sort of challenge for Sahar, where they will all give her things to do that take her out of her comfort zone. Lara and Samira join in too, adding their choices.

This book is told in a back and forth kind of way, with sections in the present day during Sahar’s arrival back in Sydney interspersed with snippets of her life and marriage in Jordan, beginning in the first year and moving forward. Slowly, Sahar’s story is revealed and the reader learns what her marriage was like, how her feelings evolved, the struggle she faced and the tragedy that at last drove her to leave her husband and marriage and return to Australia, where she grew up. You could tell how affected Sahar was by what had happened and how she couldn’t talk about it yet, even with her closest friends. For her, I think there was also a lot of confusion and maybe not shame, but something similar, about the way things had gone in Jordan. A lot of complex feelings to work through and things to come to terms with.

I really enjoyed this and found it incredibly easy to read in a single sitting. I liked that Sahar is somewhat a bit older than books that usually deal with people trying to find themselves – she was probably closer to my own age (late 30s) and struggling at times, with the frustration of being a ‘beginner’ in the pastry place, to wanting more freedom and the chance to showcase her talents, express herself. She’s also somewhat struggling with who she is as a person, choosing to change some things about herself, things about her religious expression and also finding her self-confidence again, recentering herself. I thought Sahar’s journey was so well explored and I loved her growing friendships with Kat and Inez from the pastry place.

There’s a bit of a romance with Luke, who is a talented chocolate worker and I also liked that it was not all smooth sailing. For a start it’s complicated because they work together and both of them have a lot of issues that they need to overcome. The conflict and the resolutions felt realistic, two people negotiating something that neither of them had expected (or maybe even wanted) but that they thought could really be something.

I really liked all the characters (definitely want to know more about Lara’s background and how she came to be in the relationship she’s in at the beginning of this book) and so I am off to hopefully find a copy of Samira’s story, Courting Samira which will hopefully give me all the background information I should’ve had before reading this one. Having said that though, I think you can still definitely read this without having read that first book – this is really Sahar’s story and although she references her friends and their individual situations, the journey she takes is the focus.

8/10

Book #177 of 2021

This is book #77 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart

Digging Up Dirt (Poppy McGowan Mysteries #1)
Pamela Hart
Harlequin AUS
2021, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Renovations are hell. And that’s before you find the body beneath the floorboards. An intriguing mystery from a stylish new voice in crime fiction, for readers of Kerry Greenwood and Holly Throsby.

When your builder finds bones under the floor of your heritage home, what do you do? For TV researcher Poppy McGowan, the first step is to find out if the bones are human (which means calling in the cops and delaying her renovations) or animal (which doesn’t).

Unfortunately, ‘help’ comes in the form of Dr Julieanne Weaver, archaeologist, political hopeful, and Poppy’s old enemy. She declares the bones evidence of a rare breed of fat-tailed sheep, and slaps a heritage order on the site. The resultant archaeological dig introduces Poppy to Tol Lang, the best-looking archaeologist she’s ever met – and also Julieanne’s boyfriend.

When Julieanne is found murdered in Poppy’s house, both she and the increasingly attractive Tol are considered suspects – and so Poppy uses her media contacts and news savvy to investigate other suspects. Did Julieanne have enemies in the right-wing Australian Family party, for which she was seeking preselection, or in the affiliated Radiant Joy Church? Or at the Museum of New South Wales, among her rivals and ex-boyfriends? And who was her secret lover?

Can Poppy save herself, and Tol … and finally get her house back? 

This was…..okay. I think for me, the strength was really the setting. I really like inner-Sydney and sometimes books focus a lot on different areas of Sydney and they become too commonly represented in fiction. But Annandale is a fun suburb and Poppy’s job working at the ABC takes her around the city, to places like Luna Park and I feel like the feel of Sydney really came through. I was also interested in the renovation process, as Annandale is quite an old suburb and it seems like there’s a lot of things that could complicate the renovation, should there be a discovery of historical interest. Even the fact that the bones are sheep, not human, doesn’t let Poppy off the hook immediately. There are apparently, types of sheep that would be very interesting to historical societies!

Where I didn’t really enjoy this book, was the heavy themes of politics and religion and the combination thereof. I think the big church is kind of supposed to be like Hillsong? It had all the markers: a charismatic pastor who might be not quite what he seemed, his submissive and obedient wife and the perfectly turned out and well behaved children as well as a few people connected quite high up and the fact that they were dipping into pushing “family values” in politics where the only values they care about involve one white man, one white woman joined in holy matrimony before Jesus and the obligatory few children, all of whom attend church, wear purity rings and etc. As well as that, Poppy’s parents are devoted Catholics and expect Poppy and her siblings to all be virgins up until they marry (it’s 2021 and Poppy is like, 30 but okay Mum and Dad). Poppy is expected to attend Mass whilst living under their roof and all of that about religion just makes me feel very uncomfortable. Just let people make their own choices. Poppy is pretty clear in this about believing in God but it definitely seems like she’s forced into certain aspects of her parent’s beliefs. Also she sees herself as the disappointment of her family: she’s not married and her parents all seem infinitely surprised when she turns out to be good at her job or does well getting a plum interview. I also wasn’t sure how realistic that was, a researcher elevated to basically getting all the amazing interviews surrounding this murder and not one actual news reporter has any questions for Poppy about that.

There’s also a lot of weirdness about the romance. Poppy has a boyfriend, Stuart but he’s very boring and also turns out to be a liar and when Julieanne arrives to look at the bones, she brings her latest boyfriend, Bartholomew Lang (known as “Tol”). There’s this attraction between Poppy and Tol but his girlfriend is found dead in her house, which you’d think, might be a bit of a dampener, they’re also both “persons of interest” but they just keep having moments and both are quite flippant about dead Julieanne. I know she and Poppy were not friends and she and Tol were only together a few weeks or months but yikes, some of it just felt really, really cold. And I was not really keen for them to be a couple. Tol is also supposed to leave to go back on some dig overseas so I don’t know if he’ll return in future books – why do I feel like he’ll return just enough to mess up anything Poppy might have going with anyone else. Be one of those characters that pops in and out, when he is in-between digs, just doing enough so that Poppy maintains an interest in him.

I would be interested in reading the next instalment of this, hopefully without the religious and political overtones (sometimes, some of the issues with the conservative political party, felt mentioned really often) just to see whether it was the particular story itself that didn’t work for me or the character of Poppy as well because at the moment, I’m not really sure.

Didn’t love this one, didn’t really dislike it. It’s just in the middle.

5/10

Book #174 of 2021

Digging Up Dirt is book #75 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: The Highland Fling by Meghan Quinn

The Highland Fling
Meghan Quinn
Montlake
2021, 350p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Freshly fired from her third job in a row, Bonnie St. James has lost her way. So when she and her best friend stumble upon a “help wanted” post to run a coffee shop in the Scottish Highlands, they apply on a whim. Who knows? Maybe traveling to a new place is just what she needs to figure out her next move.

When the friends arrive in the tiny idyllic town of Corsekelly, they instantly fall for the gorgeous Highland landscape and friendly townspeople. But Bonnie finds a less-than-warm welcome in Rowan MacGregor, the rugged local handyman. Busy wrestling his own demons, Rowan’s in no mood to deal with the quirky American—even if she is a bonny lass.

As Bonnie and Rowan’s paths inevitably cross, insults—and sparks—fly. Can the pair build on their similarities to help each other find purpose and direction…and maybe romance too? Or will their passionate tempers fling them apart?

I actually preordered this (got it really cheap) after seeing it highlighted somewhere. Maybe a Goodreads romance wrap up or something like that. I’ve been buying a lot of books like this lately (contemporary romance with a lot of humour) but to be honest, the results have been hit and miss for me and this one? Is another miss.

I almost DNF’d this many times. Look, I understand that arriving in a foreign country is daunting, particularly when they drive on the other side of the road. But there’s a whole scene which is just so over the top and paints Bonnie in the most ridiculous manner and I thought okay, maybe it was just because she was so stressed. But no. Bonnie is pretty much like that, all the time.

Enemies to lovers has a bit of a knack to it for me, because it’s difficult to get the enemies bit right without making the bickering feel really annoying and in this book, the bickering between Bonnie and Rowan is really annoying. They are so childish and awful (particularly Bonnie) and it’s peppered with weird moments like the bats and drunken dancing. Everyone smiling smugly and “knowing” that they’re into each other is weird, especially because they keep saying it in front of both of them and they’ve only known each other like, three hours.

I wanted more Scotland, more actual cafe stuff, more showcasing the small village and the differences for them after coming from LA. Instead so much is focused on Bonnie and after all that focusing, here’s what I know about Bonnie:

  1. She likes cake
  2. She’s been fired a lot, for someone who is early 20s
  3. She’s horny
  4. That’s it. That’s all.

Bonnie is self-involved, self-absorbed, a bad friend and not a great girlfriend either. Luckily this is balanced out by the fact that Bonnie’s friend Dakota is almost as bad a friend as Bonnie is and Rowan is a terrible boyfriend with an anger management problem and Daddy issues out the wazoo. These people are both terrible to each other and probably it’s best that they don’t inflict themselves on normal people.

The first 75% of this was a 1-star book. However the last section is actually much better: Rowan and his family have to actually address the toxic mess that their family has become, a lot of stuff that’s been simmering below the surface between a lot of characters is aired out and addressed and resolved and there’s some genuine emotion and feeling in this portion of the book. And actually, I didn’t mind the sex scenes either. Bonnie’s a confident character in bed, an instigator and I liked the way they were written.

But. I felt like there were still things that were so unnecessary in this book and in the behaviour of all the main characters, in particular, Rowan’s blow up. It’s true that he catches Bonnie in a place that makes him feel raw and exposed and that he’s also just received some devastating news. But screaming in her face was so off-putting – it felt like such a display of toxic masculinity when he could’ve chosen to confide in her, to connect with her, to bring her into his life. Instead he went over the top ridiculous in his manner of telling her off and it honestly gave me red flags. I had liked Rowan better than Bonnie up until that point but reading that really put me off him, despite the circumstances.

I felt like the set up of this book – the girls moving to Scotland to take over the cafe – was actually lost for a really big portion of the book. I just wanted to read more about that, and I get the cafe wasn’t thriving, and why….but it seemed like they waited a really long time to implement the (very good) changes that Bonnie came up with. Like, what were they doing every day? Just sitting in an empty building, doing nothing? It was kind of weird. I feel like there could’ve been a lot more about that, as well as exploring the area and interacting with people. I have this feeling that some of the other characters might pop up in books in the future…..but I don’t think I’ll be reading them.

This was a really disappointing read for me but it has a lot of very high ratings on Goodreads, so might just be a case of me just not vibing with the story and the characters.

3/10

Book #175 of 2021

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Review: The Happiest Man On Earth by Eddie Jaku

The Happiest Man On Earth
Eddie Jaku
Pan Macmillan AUS
2020, 208p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you.

Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, a Jew second. He was proud of his country. But all of that changed in November 1938, when he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp.

Over the next seven years, Eddie faced unimaginable horrors every day, first in Buchenwald, then in Auschwitz, then on a Nazi death march. He lost family, friends, his country.

Because he survived, Eddie made the vow to smile every day. He pays tribute to those who were lost by telling his story, sharing his wisdom and living his best possible life. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’.

Published as Eddie turns 100, this is a powerful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful memoir of how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times.

Oh my God. This book. This book.

I always try to be kind of objective, whether I love a book, hate a book or am indifferent to it. But sometimes that’s impossible and this book, is one of those books. I just….I can’t even explain really, how reading this book made me feel.

I’ve seen this book around a lot since it was published last year – I’ve almost bought it on Audible a few times and the other day, I finally borrowed it from my local library. It’s very short. I actually read it in about an hour but for me, this is the perfect example of a book not needing to give you a million details or describe everything, in order to have an impact.

Eddie Jaku is a survivor of the Holocaust who now lives in Sydney, Australia. He’s 101 years old at the time of my writing this review and is an OAM (Order of Australia Medal) recipient, has done a TedTalk and published this book around the time of his 100th birthday, the story of his life.

Eddie was born in Leipzig in 1920 and by the time he was in high school, the Nazi Party was already rising to prominence in Germany and as a result, he was prevented from attending higher study because of his Jewish faith. Although not particularly a religious person, his family observed a lot of the traditions, often to please his mother’s much more devoted parents. Eddie’s father placed a high importance on education and he secured false papers for Eddie to study at a boarding school, 9 hours by train away from his family. It’s a decision that ended up saving his life multiple times over the years that would follow, as due to his skills as a mechanical engineer, Eddie was often classified in the different camps he would be sent to, as an “Essential Jew”, with a skill the Germans valued in their war effort, which meant that he would be kept alive.

This book is written as Eddie, as a much older man, sitting down and speaking to you, the reader, as though the two of you are alone, having a conversation. It’s incredibly effective, for multiple reasons, but the often slightly matter-of-fact way that Eddie recounts some of the things he experienced, such as the repeated separations from his family, the realisation that they’d been killed at Auschwitz, the repeated beatings, the atrocities, the starvation, the situation and conditions in the camps, does not detract from the impact of them. You don’t necessarily need vivid description for most of these – to be honest, your brain does the rest. This was the reality for millions of people and even though Eddie obviously survived multiple ways in which he could’ve died (starvation, hypothermia, disease, gassing, being shot, beaten, etc) I also appreciated that he included the difficulties that came after he was rescued by Allied soldiers during the March of Death and taken to a hospital. I feel as though that is something that is often missing from stories about WWII and the camps. Eddie and his fellow survivors had severe malnutrition and that caused multiple physical health issues. And then there’s the mental scarring as well.

Although this book claims he’s the happiest man in the world, it wasn’t always the case and Eddie does talk about the feelings after his rescue and release and how he had a lot of anger and unresolved feelings for a while. And how talking about it was finally the thing that helped – sharing his story with others, listening to the stories of others. He talks about doing his TedTalk and visiting schools and sharing his story with the students as well as being instrumental in helping set up the Jewish Museum in Sydney. After moving to Australia in (I think) the 50s, Eddie and his wife Flore have worked tirelessly, including in their own real estate agency up until their 90s!

A large portion of this book is devoted to how important Eddie views family. Both during his childhood, in Germany, when he was separated from them when studying as well as the tireless efforts to find them and be reunited at various points during the war after each of them kept getting arrested and either escaping or being released. He talks of the importance of family now, his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. How he felt holding his firstborn son and his second son and the joy his family gives him, the way he talks about them and about his wife, who he fell in love with at first sight, is lovely to read. That he’s managed to find happiness and joy and enjoy his life after the years of horrible things that happened to him, is a wonderful thing.

Everyone should read this book. Even though it lists some atrocities, the likes of which are hard to imagine and talks about how truly horrible to each other humans can be, there’s still the fact that it’s so pure. That Eddie comes across as this pure soul and it’s truly remarkable.

10/10

Book #173 of 2021

Devastatingly, Eddie Jaku passed away just yesterday, aged 101. I’m incredibly sad to read this, having just finished this book. He was a remarkable man and the world is a poorer place without him.

Some time after reading this and writing and scheduling this review, I realised it actually fulfilled the requirements of my 2021 Read Non Fiction Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out.

This book is perfect for the prompt ‘Wartime Experiences’ as it deals first hand with what Eddie went through during WWII at various concentration camps and his attempts to escape incarceration more than once. This means it’s also the 6th book read for this challenge and my participation is technically complete! But I’ll try to fit in a couple more before the end of the year, if I can.

1. Biography

2. Travel

3. Self-help

4. Essay Collection

5. Disease

6. Oceanography 

7. Hobbies

8. Indigenous Cultures

9. Food

10. Wartime Experiences

11. Inventions

12. Published in 2021

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Top 10 Tuesday October 12

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

Top 10 Favourite Book Settings

  1. Alaska. Probably my absolute favourite setting to read! I really enjoy the way that the seasons are so extreme and the winters last a long time and the light in summer never ends. It’s really different to where I live and it works for so many different things. I especially like reading about homesteading in Alaska or subsistence farming.
  2. Antarctica. Inject it into my veins. I love books set in Antarctica because generally the characters are doing some sort of scientific research, which is really the only reason people are there. Bonus if it’s wildlife research because penguins are my favourite animal and there are large populations of various penguins on Antarctica and nearby. Because of the way Antarctica is “divided” it also lends itself to interesting stories about espionage and war and that sort of thing.
  3. Africa. Yeah okay, Africa is big and a wildly varying continent but I’m continuing with my ‘A’ theme here for just a bit. I generally read books set in countries with game reserves, so South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya, etc but I’ve read books set elsewhere in Africa and loved them. There’s a huge scope for variety in terms of setting, geography, climate etc but so many amazing possibilities in fiction.
  4. Australia. I’m Australian so I do tend to read a lot of Australian books and I enjoy books set in my home country. Especially when I feel that it really taps into a place and the experience of living there and if it’s somewhere I personally have lived, like Sydney, Melbourne or one of the rural areas I’ve grown up in or somewhere I’ve holidayed. I also like books set in places I’m yet to go: Tasmania, the Northern Territory, etc.
  5. Arctic Circle. Like Antarctica for interest but with the added benefit of having actual communities that are considered to be within this.
  6. Scotland. My family are originally from Scotland many generations ago now and I look like a person from Scotland (not great when you live in Australia, tbh) so I enjoy books set here, especially those on the Orkney Islands or remote parts of Scotland. Not somewhere I’d like to live but I really like reading about cold places, it seems.
  7. Deserted Islands. I honestly think this stems from reading The Swiss Family Robinson when I was about eight and falling in love with it. I’ve been obsessed with books where characters end up in uninhabited places ever since. Especially if it’s an island. I love survival stuff and if it’s a romance, this is classic ‘there was only one tent’ territory.
  8. A Method Of Travel. So like road trip books where the characters are in a car or campervan/Winnebago type thing, or on a train or a plane or a boat. I really like forced proximity stories and I love road trip books etc. So much fun. Plus it’s a good way as a reader, to explore a place you’ve never been.
  9. Fantasy Worlds. I read quite a lot of fantasy and it’s always interesting diving into a new world and getting to know it.
  10. Russia. Also this is vague because Russia is huge and has a range of different settings within it. But I love books set in the cities that describe the architecture and the differences in social and political systems as well as books set in the more remote parts, especially places like Vladivostok.

I have many other settings I love, these are just the 10 that came to mind quickest! What are your favourite settings in books? Let me know!

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Review: Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr

Please Don’t Hug Me
Kay Kerr
Text Publishing
2020, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A funny-serious own-voices story about what happens when you stop trying to be the person other people expect you to be and give yourself a go.

Erin is looking forward to Schoolies, at least she thinks she is. But things are not going to plan. Life is getting messy, and for Erin, who is autistic, that’s a big problem. She’s lost her job at Surf Zone after an incident that clearly was not her fault. Her driving test went badly even though she followed the instructions perfectly. Her boyfriend is not turning out to be the romantic type. And she’s missing her brother, Rudy, who left almost a year ago.

But now that she’s writing letters to him, some things are beginning to make just a tiny bit of sense.

If I had to think of one word to describe this book, I think it’d be “raw”.

I’d had it on my radar for a while, mostly for the cover I think. Who doesn’t love a cinnamon donut? I wasn’t sure why the cover was cinnamon donuts, but it turns out that when our main character Erin has a bad day, her best friend brings her hot cinnamon donuts from a donut chain here in Australia called Donut King (who do absolutely excellent hot cinnamon donuts). This was something I could definitely get behind. I know donuts would definitely make a bad day better for me.

Erin is autistic and at the moment, she is going through a time. She’s in her final year of school, navigating everything that brings and means especially with her diagnosis, which means that situations that are not stressful for others, or that they enjoy, are not something that Erin enjoys. She only really has one proper friend, the rest of the group are just friends with her best friend and seem to regard Erin as an inevitability and generally treat her with indifference ranging to hostility. Erin doesn’t enjoy parties or large social gatherings but she’s saving for schoolies anyway, because it’s sold as this defining experience – the reward of all your 13 years hard work. Losing her job doesn’t help with this and for some unknown reason, Erin is writing open letters to her older brother Rudy.

Erin and Rudy are clearly very different – Rudy comes across through Erin’s letters as a larrikin, a life of the party sort, the type of person that everyone loves to have around, who pulls pranks and occasionally gets in trouble – maybe pushes the envelope a bit. He’s also a source of conflict in the house, due to his mother’s enabling and protecting of him when he does things like drop out of TAFE (technical college) and the like, versus their father’s frustration with him. For some reason, Rudy isn’t around anymore and Erin’s writing to him is a form of therapy as some sort of anniversary approaches. There’s a couple of possibilities for Rudy’s absence from Erin’s life and it’s not until well into the book that the reason for Rudy not being there for Erin to talk to is revealed.

Everything in this book is told from Erin’s point of view in one of her letters to Rudy: her life at school, her at times tenuous friendship with her best friend, the fracturing of her family, her struggles with the world around her and her anger at Rudy for not being there anymore to make things better. It’s very powerful to read a lot of Erin’s thoughts and things that happen to her from her own point of view, particularly things where she doesn’t understand what she could’ve done differently to achieve a different outcome or understand the outcome itself.

Throughout the book, Erin finds strength to stand up for herself in certain circumstances, such as against her boyfriend Mitch, who treats her with condescension verging on gaslighting, as well as choosing options that make her comfortable rather than her doing things because her friend wants to. She develops a voice, perhaps through writing the letters and getting some clarity whilst writing them. We also learn what happened to Rudy and how/why he isn’t around anymore and the impact that has had on everyone in and around Erin’s circle and especially, how that has impacted on Erin herself and how the letters are helping her process all of her feelings.

This is a quick read but very powerful. It’s an own voices story, with the author also being autistic and I think that it really shows in Erin’s character, that this comes from a place of deep understanding. There’s such an openness in the letters, perhaps because she’s writing to someone that she really cares about and through those letters, you get a good idea of the sibling relationship Erin and Rudy shared, despite being quite different. The things they knew about and confided in each other, the small ways in which Rudy tried to help Erin during difficult times, when things had become overwhelming for her. It all contributes to make the story of what happened, all the more deeply effective.

Despite the often dark tones, I felt like the ending of this book had a hopeful, uplifting sort of feel as well. Erin really did grow as a character throughout the course of the book and had learned in some ways, to express herself and put herself first in terms of what she wanted to do for herself and there were some positive signs for her family as well.

Would definitely recommend.

8/10

Book #172 of 2021

Please Don’t Hug Me is book #74 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: The Name Curse by Brooke Burroughs

The Name Curse
Brooke Burroughs
Montlake
2021, 334p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: In this flirty wilderness adventure by the author of The Marriage Code, two hikers who drive each other crazy discover they might have a lot to learn from one another about navigating life, love, and living up to family expectations.

Ever since her father died, Bernie’s life has been stagnant. When concerned friends and family suggest she join a hike through Alaska to gain new perspective, Bernie reluctantly agrees to go, even though she’s never been the adventurous type, unlike her namesake, Great-Aunt Bernice.

Matthew is a struggling screenwriter who needs a week off the grid to gain some inspiration for a new project and to process the reappearance of his absent father.

When the two meet at the trailhead, it’s annoyance at first sight. He’s dismayed to discover that he’ll have to share a tent with Bernie, who doesn’t know the first thing about camping, while she finds he’s a little too into “roughing it” to be a reasonable human being. But as they’re forced to hike through the wilderness together, their relationship becomes a surprising source of empathy and inspiration…and maybe other feelings too. Can the two adversaries find the path to breaking the curse of family expectations—and each other?

I think this one might just be a case of, “it’s not the book, it’s me”. It has a lot of very positive reviews on Goodreads but for me, I just found it a big struggle to get into the story and to connect with any of the characters. They had so little chemistry and the conflict was very lacklustre.

I was drawn to this because I adore books set in Alaska, I love anything about Alaska. I love watching documentaries about it, reading books there, watching people that live there going about their lives. It’s so beautiful and so different to what I am used to. This was also a bit of an enemies to lovers trope, which is also one of my favourite things so I thought this would 100% be a hit for me. Unfortunately, it just really wasn’t.

Loved the idea – although as much as I love Alaska, the idea of a 5-day hike is kind of my worst nightmare. But I love the idea of reading about other people doing such a hike, especially when they’re as unprepared for such a thing as Bernie is. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a girl who likes my creature comforts (a working bathroom with running water please) so this sort of adventure is not for me but it definitely makes for an interesting setting within a story.

Bernie is stuck in a bit of a rut – still living in her childhood home, she is forced into taking some annual leave by her boss after allowing too much to accumulate. Her mother, thinking Bernie needs to have a bit of an adventure, live up to her namesake of her crazy Great Aunt Berniece, buys her a Groupon of a 5-day hike up Mount Dinali in Alaska. A mix up leads the organisers to believe that Bernie is a man, and they place her in a tent with Matthew, a screenwriter from LA who is escaping the city in search of fresh inspiration for his next project. Bernie and Matthew do not hit it off and it’s made all the more awkward by the fact that they will continue to have to share a tent.

I usually love a bit of forced proximity and “There was only one bed!” (or in this case, tent) but these two just had no actual chemistry, for me. They bickered a bit early on, but not in a hot, sexy filled-with-tension sort of way. More like in just a two people nitpicking everything sort of way. Also Bernie is one of those people that does things or has things happen to her which are supposed to be funny but in that way that just makes you cringe internally when you read them with secondhand embarrassment.

I also found it really weird that Bernie was named after her aunt and everyone seemed to expect her to be like her adventurous aunt? Like it’s said that she was named after her because she was such a funny baby, doing all these funny, crazy things but….you literally name a baby usually within moments of it being born, or at worst a few weeks later. Bernie did seem to be a bit wild and adventurous when she was younger but her desire to be like her much-admired Dad has meant that she’s reined that side of her in and it seems that people keep almost being disappointed (mostly her mother) that she’s not like that anymore and she should be more spontaneous or out there or crazy or do wild things. It took up a rather large part of the story and considering Great Aunt Berniece is no longer with us and actually, barely rates a mention as an actual human not connected to Bernie’s existential struggle, I did find my patience running out with this as well as Bernie’s lack of communication with her mother and asserting herself as an adult. She can’t seem to decide anything about her life, whether it’s to sell the family home, take a holiday, be wild or not, etc.

I just also didn’t find myself at all invested in either Matthew or Bernie as a couple either, all of this seemed to happen over just a week and I just didn’t feel like the development of their relationship was something I cared deeply about. Matthew was sort of fine I guess, although I completely understand why Bernie got upset at the end of the book and the story with his dad didn’t really seem fleshed out as much as it could have been.

I’m so disappointed I didn’t love this. I have had a few fails lately, with books I thought I would adore. Maybe I don’t know myself as well as I think at the moment!

5/10

Book #167 of 2021

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Review: Whiteout by Adriana Anders

Whiteout (Survival Instincts #1)
Adriana Anders
Sourcebooks Casablanca
2021, 352p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Angel Smith is ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the research station is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there’s nowhere left to run.

Isolated in the middle of a long, frozen winter with a madman at their heels, they must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But the outside world depends on what Ford and Angel know and, as their pursuers close in and their new partnership burns bright and hot, they will stop at nothing to make it out of the cold alive.

Okay so anyone that knows me and what I like as a reader, would know immediately that Antarctica is an instant autoread for me. I love books set in Antarctica and I also love enforced proximity as a romance trope. This ticks so many of my boxes I had to buy it and it was only about $5 so I thought why the heck not.

It was actually a pretty decent read. Was it at all realistic? No. Did I care? Also no.

Angel Smith has been working at a research station in Antarctica over the “summer”, as the station cook. She’s provided the researchers and workers with tasty meals but now it’s time for the summer crew to leave and the station will be manned by a skeleton winter crew. One of the winter crew will be glaciologist Ford Cooper, who has caught Angel’s eye more than once but who has shut her down at every opportunity. Just before Angel should be boarding the plane she finds herself caught up in an attack on the station and left behind – just her and Dr Ford Cooper. With the station destroyed they need to leave – especially as Angel made sure that the people who attacked the station did not leave with what they wanted and they’ll be back. They have 21 days of food to make it almost 300 miles to a Russian research station across harsh unforgiving territory and no doubt with people on their heels with technology at their disposal, which Angel and Ford do not have.

Ford and Angel will have to rely on each other in ways that will test every single thing about them – especially Ford, who has always kept Angel at a distance for multiple reasons. Ford has some sensory issues, he seems to get easily overloaded by sounds and crowds and other things as well and he’s definitely a reclusive type of person who rarely gets close to anyone. Angel is a bit of a ray of sunshine and she’s been intrigued by him for a while. He also definitely thinks she’s attractive but doesn’t think that sort of attachment is for him. He’s happiest researching his ice in Antarctica, drilling his ice cores and whatever and living a peaceful and solitary life. The isolation and peace of Antarctica suits him but close proximity to Angel on the journey tests his control to the limit.

Look, the mystery/suspense bit isn’t the strongest. There’s a lot of people operating some sort of clandestine research of their own, and they need Ford’s ice cores. There’s a lot about how it goes “all the way to the top” (which by of course they mean the American government, because who else would be “the top”?) and the villains are at times, comically evil but also incredibly stupid. I’m not sure when this was written but what is in the ice feels uncomfortable to read at the moment but it could just be a coincidence (ok it was published January 2020 so it’s a coincidence which suddenly gains an all new realism in 2021).

However, where this book is excellent, is the romance. And let’s face it, that’s why I was reading it anyway! This is not quite enemies to lovers, but it has the forced proximity that is my jam and sexual tension for days. Especially because for a while, it has to remain unconsummated as well, one just can’t be going around being naked in a tent in quickly-turning-to-winter Antarctica where it’s -25 to -45. The tension is delicious and I really loved Ford’s inner struggle with himself and his tenuous grip on his control and it’s so much fun. I also liked the descriptions of the trip where they have to mostly ski across a large portion of Antarctica to the next research station and the growing realisation that they simply aren’t moving fast enough for the amount of food they have with them.

This is a series and it looks like the overall story is going to spin out over several books, so there is not closure here on the ‘big bad’ and what they’re doing. The author introduces some people Ford knows and those people are seemingly going to provide the basis for a potential number of books and it’s probably going to become this group vs the big evil that is trying to do something incredibly deadly. So this book ends without any real closure on that story and I did like this enough to want to read the next one because……it’s set in Alaska! Which is also one of my favourite settings. More forced proximity! People on the run! Sometimes you just want some fun.

Entertaining. Kept me invested and I really enjoyed the romance.

7/10

Book #170 of 2021

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