All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle 
Sophie Green
Hachette AUS
2019, 425p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s the summer of 1982. The Man from Snowy River is a box office hit and Paul Hogan is on the TV. 

In a seaside suburb of NSW, housewife Theresa Howard takes up swimming. She wants to get fit; she also wants a few precious minutes to herself. So at sunrise each day she strikes out past the waves.

From the same beach, the widowed Marie swims. With her husband gone, bathing is the one constant in her new life.

After finding herself in a desperate situation, 26-year-old Leanne only has herself to rely on. She became a nurse to help others, even as she resists help herself.

Elaine has recently moved from England. Far from home without her adult sons, her closest friend is a gin bottle.

In the waters of Shelly Bay, these four women find each other. They will survive shark sightings, bluebottle stings and heartbreak; they will laugh so hard they swallow water, and they will plunge their tears into the ocean’s salt. They will find solace and companionship in their friendship circle, and learn that love takes many forms.

This is the September read for an online bookclub I am a part of and because the year is going so quick, I only realised the other day so I quickly put in a request at my local library and the book, although checked out until late in the month, was miraculously returned and waiting for me within days. I ended up reading it the day I picked it up, just to make sure I was super prepared for the up and coming discussion!

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is set focusing around a small beach town beginning in the spring of 1982. Mother of 2 Theresa has made the decision to take up ocean swimming each morning. She’s a busy mum with a lazy husband who thinks she has let herself go so the only time she can really fit this into her life is at dawn. It isn’t long before she spots Marie, a woman in her 60s who also swims every morning. Marie is a proficient swimmer who has been swimming in the ocean every day for decades. It’s something she used to do with her husband but now that she’s a widow, Marie is on her own again. They begin swimming together, Theresa behind Marie and soon they are joined by Elaine, an English woman who has moved to Australia with her husband. They met and lived their married life in England but now he’s wanted to return home and with their children grown and doing their own thing, Elaine finds herself at a loss in her new country. She doesn’t seem to fit in, until she helps with a rescue at the beach and meets Theresa and Marie. Last to complete the group is Leanne, a young nurse who has only just learned to swim. Although she agrees to swim with the group perhaps for safety reasons, Leanne is determined to hold herself apart and give nothing away. A painful past means she relies on herself and trusts no one.

I really enjoyed this story. Each of the women have interesting backstories and different personalities and the way in which they come together is not this amazing gelling and automatic friendships. They are all prickly in some ways, some more than others, they have misunderstandings and moments where they don’t want to share. They have Theresa who helps bind them all together with her exuberance and friendly personality. The women are in different stages of life – Leanne is the youngest, single, Theresa is about my age, in her late 30s with two children and a husband that needs a royal kick up the backside. Elaine is older, one of her sons is at uni, the other graduated and working and Marie should be enjoying life with her husband after his retirement, however he passed away several years ago, which has left her cash strapped and at a loss with life. Swimming becomes the anchor for all of them and they confide more and more in each other as they spend more time together. And when tragedy strikes one of them (also again, a book that contains my greatest trigger!), the other three pull together with such determination and strength and love in order to help and keep that person’s every day life afloat. I found that the way the story revolved around each lady really gave a strong picture of all their lives. I really appreciated the way the slow bond between the woman formed, and how strong it became. They broke down a lot of barriers within themselves and each other to create something between four women who didn’t have a lot in common to begin with, except swimming.

There’s a lot of charm to this book, it’s a feel-good (despite the elements of sadness and some uncertainty about the future) story with warmth and a really lovely friendship. Women supporting each other without judgement (in some case, learning not to judge, or to let go of the urge to judge) and just being there for each other in many different ways. They each bring something to the group and each come to lean on the other women for emotional support. The friendships become so important to them and quite often it highlights how support from other areas is lacking in their lives. They have created their own village so to speak and it was really lovely to read about that.

I found this a delightful and easy read, a good way to pass a spring afternoon. I have a copy of Sophie’s first book, The Inaugural Meeting Of The Fairvale Ladies Book Club in audio but I don’t really have a lot of luck with audio books – I lose concentration too easily so I think I will have to get myself a print copy.

8/10

Book #143 of 2019

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is the 61st book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Top 10 Tuesday 17th September

Welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now resides with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It features a different bookish-flavoured topic each week and this time we are talking….

Top Fave Snacks/Drinks While Reading

So here’s the thing. I actually don’t really eat a lot when I’m reading. I tend to read in the afternoon after lunch and sometimes at night, after dinner. In my house my kids have to read for 20-30m each night so I try to read then too and that’s well after dinner/showers/pj’s are done. But if I do eat whilst I’m reading I like it to be something simple. I don’t like greasy fingers or food stains to mark my books, nothing I can spill etc. So for me, there’s really only a couple things I’ll be eating or drinking.

  1. A cup of tea. I love tea! I have so many different varieties and flavours and I drink several cups a day. Usually one with breakfast, whilst I’m writing reviews or blog posts and then generally one in the evening after dinner, while I’m reading. On the weekend, I might drink 3-4 cups in a day.
  2. M&Ms. These fit the bill for simple snacks that are easy to eat one handed whilst I’m holding a book. You need to be careful in summer or you’ll end up with rainbow hands (and possibly rainbow pages) but for the most part they’re the perfect reading snack.
  3. Jelly snakes. Easy to eat, sweet without being too terrible and not likely to dirty the pages!
  4. Coke. One of my only vices. I don’t drink much, don’t smoke at all. But I’m a bit addicted to Coca-cola. I limit myself to a can a day but in summer it’s probably more like two and I quite like a can of Coke if I’m reading during the afternoon in summer. Has to be icy cold – just almost to the point where it’s forming ice.
  5. Hot chips/French fries/etc. Okay so my one exception to my non-messy rule – this one is for summers at the beach! I love the whole atmosphere of an Aussie summer, lazy days by the pool or at the beach, eating hot chips and then swimming them off. This one is not for precious books, but for those summer reads you find hanging around.

So as you can see, I am not much of an eater/drinker while I’m reading! What are your favourites? Maybe I’ll find something I have to give a go.

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Review: Eddie And The Show Queen by Cathryn Hein

Eddie And The Show Queen
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2019, 268p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Can Levenham’s biggest ladies’ man make good – and recapture the heart of the girl he’s always loved?

When horticulturalist Alice Lindner goads her ex-boyfriend Eddie Argyle into a fundraising contest, she doesn’t expect him to take it seriously. Winning small-town Levenham’s inaugural Wine Show crown will take dedication and hard work, and all Eddie cares about is chasing skirt. Besides, a win will be Alice’s tribute to her late mum. No way is Eddie getting his hands on the crown.

Big-hearted farmer Eddie never understood why love-of-his-life Alice dumped him. Yeah, it’d been a difficult time with her mum’s illness, but he’d loved her the best he could and losing her left him adrift. Now he has the opportunity to prove himself by winning not only the crown but maybe Alice’s heart in the process.

Will Eddie’s enthusiasm ruin Alice’s tribute and with it all hope of a second chance? Or will Alice realise that the real prize isn’t in the past but with the man who wants to be her future?

This is the latest in a loosely linked series revolving around the town of Levenham in South Australia. Though the same characters populate all the books, you can read them in any order without missing anything or feeling lost. And each book seems to introduce someone that you definitely feel will be the focus of a feature book.

Alice and Eddie were an item four years ago until Alice abruptly ended things with Eddie still having no idea why. He may have not reacted in the best way post break-up and he’s earned himself the sort of reputation that means Alice is determined never to go there again. The two rarely interact these days but cross paths in Alice’s father’s nursery where Eddie is amused by the Levenham Show Queen competition. Alice has entered and takes offence at Eddie’s gentle mockery, telling him it’s important because it’s raising money for a good cause. She dares him to enter, to prove himself to her and to her surprise – Eddie does. So the competition is on. Alice is desperate to win this…..and Eddie is desperate to win back Alice.

This was incredibly fun. It’s been a little while since I’ve visited Levenham now but it’s so easy to just slip back into this small town, filled with familiar faces. There’s a lot of humour in this one, the competition to raise the most money and be crowned Show Queen seems a race in two – Alice and the Phillips twins, Willow and Chelsea. Eddie enters well behind but it isn’t long before he has some unusual ideas to help him catch up. I absolutely loved reading about what he was going to do next in order to raise money – I think he definitely thinks outside the box in terms of his fundraising ideas, he’s willing to do pretty much anything so long as his mum doesn’t deem it dangerous/indecent and he’s not about things like raffles or danceathons or the like. He has some truly unique ideas  and some of them provide some rather err….vivid mental images!

Alice and Eddie have a lot of history. They were together barely out of their teens until Alice went through an incredibly difficult time and it all fell apart. I thought this was a really good example of how two people could both make mistakes and misunderstand things and then have those actions have severe consequences. After they broke up it seemed they didn’t interact at all. Alice was angry and grieving, Eddie was hurt and shunned, perhaps too proud to ask what exactly was Alice’s reasoning for ending things. Fast forward four years and they mostly keep their distance, crossing paths only occasionally. But neither have moved on, the more they see each other after Alice dares Eddie to sign up for the Show Queen the more it becomes obvious. The competition of each other spurs them on but for different reasons. Alice really wants to win, she has a personal connection to the competition and a goal she’s set herself. Eddie seems more interested in proving himself to Alice, that he isn’t just a lad, that he can care about things and do good deeds. But mostly, Eddie and Alice just need time and maturity to enable them to sit down and actually talk and air the misconceptions and actually understand each other. They were very young when they were together and Alice was going through something that definitely affected her judgement. Their communication was not the best and it meant that they both ended up letting things go that they should’ve asked about.

This was the perfect blend of humour and seriousness, I liked that a lot of the time was spent in Eddie’s head and that he owned his mistakes and wasn’t exactly as Alice and her friends saw him. It’d be easy to see him as just a bit of a footy boofhead – and I think that’s kind of how Alice has come to see him, or taught herself to see him, so that perhaps their break up doesn’t smart so much. But he’s much more than that and gets a little cut up at their cheap jabs. But he’s clever and sweet and determined…..but also generous. When Eddie puts his mind to something, you can definitely say that he’ll see it through!

This is just a super feel good book that will give you happy feels. I’m already a bit excited about the next one because I find that character very intriguing!

8/10

Book #143 of 2019

 

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Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide To Happily Ever After by Victoria Alexander

The Lady Traveler’s Guide To Happily Ever After (The Lady Travelers Society #4)
Victoria Alexander
Harlequin
2019, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

For the past seven years, Violet Branham has enjoyed the luxury of traveling the world as an independent woman, and confining her awkward past to a distant, if painful, memory. But now she has been summoned home to England over a stipulation in the will of her late uncle, the Earl of Ellsworth, one that decrees she lose everything unless she reconciles with the man who broke her heart and ruined her life—her husband.

This sounded like such fun – and I keep saying this, but I should research more before I request. I didn’t realise that this was number four in a series until almost the end. Which kind of explains the three random old ladies that turn up in the middle of the story but to be honest, this reads perfectly well as a stand alone.

It started off very promising, with the aftermath of James and Violet’s marry-in-haste wedding after he kissed her at a party and everyone saw. For James, it was a way to get out of an engagement he didn’t want to be in and he did do the right thing by marrying Violet after he ruined her. But he made it clear that he wanted them to live separately, rather than as a real marriage and so Violet negotiated escape, spending six years on the continent. Now James’ uncle has passed away and James has inherited his title….but in order to get his properties and wealth James must abide by the stipulations of his uncle’s will which states that James and Violet must live together for 3 years, spend no more than 14 nights a year apart and be seen as a married couple in company regularly.

I really enjoyed the premise. James and Violet have spent six years apart since the day after their wedding and although Violet has returned to England quite regularly, she and James have not crossed paths as he always leaves his uncle’s home before she arrives. Now they will have to share a home and, for all appearances, live and socialise as a married couple. James’ uncle has made it clear that he thought they belonged together, James just had some growing up to do. Now it seems that his will stipulations will help get that ball rolling.

I think the thing that ruined this for me, was James. I didn’t like him. I didn’t like him in the past, when bored and trapped, instead of just being honest, he kissed a young woman. It wasn’t supposed to be witnessed by everyone, but it was. And even though he did marry Violet and save her reputation, he shouldn’t have had to because he shouldn’t have ruined it. Then he just wants to cast her aside, live separately. No wonder she leaves and when Violet comes back, she’s a much different woman to the one she was when she left. Travelling and living abroad has definitely given her more confidence and poise, she’s not so easily embarrassed and quietspoken as she was beforehand. I thought Violet’s reasons for agreeing to Uncle Richard’s will stipulations were a bit weak – she’s been away from James for six years. She claims he allowed her her freedom but he didn’t so much allow her as kind of be completely uninterested in her and what she did. It was Richard who provided her with the means to live as she wished, and I guess she wants to fulfil his wishes but…..he’s dead. He isn’t going to derive any happiness out of it.

And current-timeline James is to be honest, as immature as six-years-ago James. I found him really quite annoying. I think he’s supposed to have this irrepressible boyish sort of charm with these cheeky grins and winks and haha I’m handsome and amusing aren’t I? type character but I just found him hypocritical and annoying. Put it this way – one person has been actually faithful in this marriage and it isn’t James. One person spends a lot of time worrying about and being angry about whether or not someone actually was faithful – and that isn’t Violet. I found his preoccupation with it ridiculous, especially given his own behaviour. I know it’s common for the time….men were permitted to have mistresses, especially men with titles and money. And it wasn’t acceptable for women to do the same thing, even if their husband had abandoned them or whatever. But James’ endless speculation and jealousy got tedious to read about.

I liked Violet. I thought it was pretty obvious from just a couple of scenes that she’d probably had a very unpleasant upbringing and had been constantly mistreated by her mother. She had done what she pleased, rather than just stay in London and allow James to run roughshod all over her or ship her off to another property. She’d travelled and learned and spoke several languages and when they go back to Europe as part of this story, it’s clear she’s in her element whereas James is quite out of sorts. It highlights for me the differences between the two. James had every opportunity to travel, as did most moneyed young men of the day and he completely wasted it. Not only does Violet soak everything in and make the most of every opportunity she also uses her privilege to help others as well. In the end I thought Violet deserved far better than James for a life partner. Someone who definitely had more respect for her and knew her better.

Even though I didn’t like James, the fact that I liked Violet and the premise means that I think I’d read another book from this series, or from the author. But for me, the spark for them as a couple just wasn’t there, I didn’t feel it at all whilst reading the book.

6/10

Book #140 of 2019

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Review: Matters Of The Heart by Fiona Palmer

Matters Of The Heart
Fiona Palmer
Hachette AUS
2019, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Western Australia, 2019: The Bennets are a farming family struggling to make ends meet. Lizzy, passionate about working the land, is determined to save the farm. Spirited and independent, she has little patience for her mother’s focus on finding a suitable man for each of her five daughters.

When the dashing Charles Bingley, looking to expand his farm holdings, buys the neighbouring property of Netherfield Park, Mrs Bennet and the entire district of Coodardy are atwitter with gossip and speculation. Will he attend the local dance and is he single? These questions are soon answered when he and Lizzy’s sister Jane form an instant connection on the night. But it is Charlie’s best friend, farming magnate Will Darcy, who leaves a lasting impression when he slights Lizzy, setting her against him.

Can Lizzy and Will put judgements and pride aside to each see the other for who they really are? Or in an age where appearance and social media rule, will prejudice prevail?

So I love Jane Austen – I think probably most romance readers do. But there’s no denying that Austen reworks can be very hit and miss. Some are brilliant, others lack anything original and don’t bother to put anything fresh on the take. However, that’s not the case with Fiona Palmer, who reworks Austen into a contemporary setting in rural Australia. This is definitely a first for me in terms of Austen adaptations. This year alone I’ve read one set in Pakistan and one featuring Muslim characters but set in Toronto but it’s great to find one with a very local flavour!

Lizzy Bennett is a passionate farmer, although things have definitely been better at Longbourn. She has recently taken the reins from her father and now most of the decisions made are hers, and she’s trying to get them back into the black. Lizzy is one of five sisters and is part of an overwhelming and boisterously noisy family. The two youngest are still teenagers in school who don’t really understand the precarious money situation. Middle sister Mary is away at university and Jane and Lizzy are the two eldest, with Jane running a nearby daycare centre ‘in town’. When wealthy Charles Bingley purchases the neighbouring property it definitely gets local gossip mills going because Charles is from a very wealthy family with numerous properties and also because he’s quite single. Unfortunately Charles comes with even wealthier friend Will Darcy who definitely gets off on the wrong foot with a lot of people in town, mostly with Lizzy.

It’s a well known plot. And this is just super fun. All the key elements are there – the Bennetts and their loud, messy, slightly down on their luck family with a bit of an embarrassing mother. Beautiful Jane and lovely Charles Bingley and sassy, determined Lizzy and socially awkward Darcy. This is really, really enjoyable reading and I read it in one sitting and loved every bit of it. It’s comfortingly familiar but also just different enough to make you feel like it’s fresh. Palmer reworks the Collins/Charlotte situation slightly and of course in this day and age, the thing that hinges P&P together, Wickham and Lydia, doesn’t work. So that gets a bit of an upgrade too. This has that laid back, rural Australian feel where it’s local rodeos and pub events. Fiona Palmer is an actual farmer so she is hugely knowledgeable which is something she passes on to Lizzy who is passionate about farming and her family property and determined to make it profitable again. She hasn’t had formal higher education but reads voraciously to educate herself on farming practices and best methods etc which means she can talk on just about any subject with skill. The chemistry between her and Darcy is incredibly good and I enjoyed their conversations and the way in which Palmer upgraded Darcy’s interest in Lizzy.

You definitely don’t have to be an Austen fan to read this either and it works perfectly well if you’ve never read P&P at all. Although the characters are based on Austen’s story, they are also fully fleshed and evolved characters in their own right and their concerns and day to day lives are completely different of course. It’s more than just a romance, like P&P was, it also gives social commentary in the same way, mostly about farming difficulties and the struggle to keep smaller, family owned properties afloat as the weather wreaks havoc with crops.

This was a lot of fun, really loved it from beginning to end! If you’re an Austen fan, a rural fan or even just a romance fan, it’s a highly engaging read that I think most will enjoy.

8/10

Book #159 of 2019

Matters Of The Heart is book #60 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2019. I’m now 3/4 of the way through my challenge to read 80 books for the year by Australian women authors.

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Review: The Breeding Season by Amanda Niehaus

The Breeding Season
Amanda Niehaus
Allen & Unwin
2019, 263p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The rains come to Brisbane just as Elise and Dan descend into grief. Elise, a scientist, believes that isolation and punishing fieldwork will heal her pain. Her husband Dan, a writer, questions the truths of his life, and looks to art for answers. Worlds apart, Elise and Dan must find a way to forgive themselves and each other before it’s too late.

An astounding debut novel that forensically and poetically explores the intersections of art and science, sex and death, and the heartbreaking complexity of love. The Breeding Season marks the arrival of a thrilling new talent in Australian literature.

I don’t find this an easy review to write. I requested this book for review because I was really interested how it would explore grief, a devastating loss, one that can really either bind couples together or force them apart. But the more I got into this book, the less that grief seemed to dominate the pages. It does in the very beginning, with Elise barely able to move, can’t even get out of bed, can’t or won’t talk to husband Dan, who spends his days wandering their house as the rains beat down, trapped in his own grief, a grief that Elise doesn’t seem to recognise. In the beginning there’s a lot of sympathy for them, to have experienced such a terrible, awful thing and be dealing with it, or trying to. But the more the book went on, the more complicated my feelings became, the more it seemed to leave that actual grief behind and get a bit lost.

This is the sort of book that is very bleak. It begins with the aftermath of an awful event and just kind of keeps piling them on. There’s definitely a chance that some people will struggle with the mood of this book, which is oppressive and humid, feeling just like being trapped in never-ending Queensland rains. Just when you think that there might be an opportunity for hope and a positive future, it’s snatched away and the book takes an even darker turn. It also contains my greatest trigger, which regular readers will know but I don’t particularly want to spoil that aspect of the book here. It’s the sort of thing however, that I feel as though people should be warned about because it can be very distressing to come across it when you’re completely not expecting it.

Unfortunately, although beautifully written in a very literary and lyrical sort of way, this book was just not for me. I found it very difficult to become involved in Elise’s work, which I didn’t find particularly interesting and her decision to remove herself and go on field work was a bit puzzling in the fact that it didn’t seem to play out in any really relevant way. Dan’s actions are predictable from a phone call incredibly early on in the book which for me, made him a character that was difficult to later sympathise with because his actions are so incredibly infuriating. There are twists in this book that do seem to go nowhere and have no real impact on the story and it’s almost like for me, it began to take on a bit too much. It’s not a long book and there are some plot lines in here that seem to come to a bit of an abrupt end, having served no real purpose. I found myself asking quite a bit of ‘why did this happen?’ or ‘what was the point of including that bit in there?’ with no real answers.

5/10

Book #138 of 2019

The Breeding Season is book #59 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2019

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Top 10 Tuesday 10th September

Welcome to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now lives with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. There’s a different bookish related topic each week and today we are talking:

10 Books On My TBR I’m Avoiding & Why

  1. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. Okay, this one has probably been on my TBR the longest! The first two books are amazing and when the author died, I just wasn’t ready to let this series go at all. I know it’s since gone on with someone else writing it but for me, that’s different. I’ve just never been ready for the last book the original creator was able to write.
  2. War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Haha, it’s a billion pages. Okay, like 1400 or something. But it’s also a billion pages of Russian tangents and suffering. I find it quite intimidating even though I read and really liked Anna Karenina. It’s probably been sitting on my shelf about 8 or 9 years! Along with a whole bunch of other classics that I bought with great intentions and never got around to.
  3. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Okay I’ve actually tried to read this twice. Both times I never got further than about page 50. It has so many amazing reviews and so many people sing its praises, I’ve kept it because one day I’ll push through that section and I’m sure it’ll be amazing. Eventually.
  4. City Of Mirrors by Justin Cronin. I’m not avoiding this as such, but it’s just been so long since I read the first couple of books that I feel like my memory of what happened is pretty poor now. I really feel like I should read them again before reading this one…..but it’s not something I have time for right now. So this one sits on the shelf until I feel like I can tackle all three of them again together.
  5. The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett. I actually only picked up a copy of this one this year – free on iBooks. But it’s about a thousand pages and a) that’s not something I kind of have time for right now especially if I then find I want to go on with the series, as there’s a couple more books that are probably also 1000 pages and b) I actually can’t really read huge books on my iPad. I can read a normalish sized paperback, 250-300p but anything longer than that and I start to get a headache. So I either have to read it in chunks or forget about the eBook version and pick up a paperback copy somewhere.
  6. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. Yup, this book again! I feel as though it makes my list every week! I loved the first two in this series and I’ve owned the third since it was released. And yet I cannot pick it up yet. It’s partially the fact that I’m not ready for it to end. I have this real reluctance when it’s the final book. Some of it is the size too, although I know that the format means the size is a little misleading.
  7. The Thornbirds by Collette McCulloch. This is relatively new to my TBR pile as well, I think I bought it about 2 years ago when I had this idea that I was going to read more Australian classics that I felt had passed me by. I am still yet to pick it up (or any other Australian classics tbh) and I think again, it’s the size. It’s just intimidating when I have so many other books to read, even though I know that is basically a rubbish excuse.
  8. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Like Obsidio this book seems to make it onto my list every other week. I think it’s the subject matter that makes me baulk with this one now, because I know that it’s supposed to be quite traumatic. And I have to wait for a time when I know I can mentally cope with that sort of thing. I avoid a lot of books about grief and/or cancer for the same reasons.
  9. Fallen Torment by Lauren Kate. I bought these so many years ago, from some bargain place for 5 bucks each. I have culled books a couple of times since then and last time I actually had these on the list to get rid of and then removed them at the last moment. I’m not sure why, because mostly everything I’ve heard suggests these are not going to be my sort of thing. But there’s a curiosity there as well, I think. I like the covers and one is a really beautiful hardback, which is not common here. So they sit on my shelf and wait to see if I decide to finally read them or finally cull them.
  10. Armada by Ernest Cline. I actually really loved Ready Player One even though I didn’t really expect to. I was surprised just how entertaining I found it. I ended up with this book but I haven’t read it yet…..I’m not sure I will like it as much as I liked RPO and so I haven’t been able to pick it up. I know every book is different and I can’t expect to like every book an author puts out the same. But I just don’t feel like tackling this one just yet.

What a fun topic this was. I think that it’s fun to examine the TBR sometimes and why we choose what we choose – and why we don’t choose things. For me, it does seem like a lot of it is about length and a lot of it is about not wanting to let things go! I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone is has been avoiding!

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Review: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial Bodies 
Jokha Alharthi (translated by Marilyn Booth)
Allen & Unwin
2019, 243p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Celestial Bodies is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada.

These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, Celestial Bodies is a coiled spring of a novel, telling of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.

This was a really interesting read but it’s the sort of book that’s quite difficult to review. It’s written in a way that means it moves back and forth in time – there are chapters told in the first person by Abdallah, which seem to be significantly far into the future of the other chapters, all told in third person and revolving between a bunch of different people as the focus. The book begins with Abdallah’s marriage to Mayya and the subsequent birth of their first child and the ways in which Mayya and her mother observe the rituals in Oman that centre around childbirth.

At its core, the story is of three sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khawla. All three of them marry for very different reasons. Mayya marries Abdallah, who cares for her very deeply, loves her but it’s a love that she doesn’t return. She experiences a heartbreak and then marries Abdallah and although they seem to make a good life together, it’s obvious to Abdallah his marriage is uneven and a lot of his chapters revolve around his feelings for his wife and also the cruelty he experienced as a child at the hands of his father.

Asma is the middle sister and when two brothers come seeking the hands of her and her sister Khawla, Asma takes some time to think before agreeing to the match because it’s what she should do. Khawla on the other hand, refuses the brother interested in her because she considers herself long promised to her cousin from childhood, a cousin who has moved to Canada to study. Khawla seems to fiercely believe he will come back for her, like he promised but most others seem skeptical, having heard the rumours about the freedom he is enjoying being in Canada. Khawla remains loyal though, refusing to even consider anyone else, keeping herself only for her cousins.

This book spans multiple generations and takes place during a time of great change for Oman, the outlawing of slavery and the reluctance of some such former slave owners to accept the new laws and that things were changing. Also things were confusing for slaves, who were once owned and are now free….but free to do what and go where? Slavery is all they have ever known in most cases. Some choose to stay where they were owned, unsure how else to make their way in this changing Oman. It’s pretty euphemistic but I assumed that some of the female slaves that were spoken of giving birth, were generally giving birth to children their owners had fathered, although this did not seem to be acknowledged. In some cases, slaves did seem to be openly recognised as mistresses of their owner, such was the case with Abdallah’s father. Slaves that the owners were pleased with were often rewarded with marriages to other slaves and it did seem as though the owners controlled every aspect of the slave’s lives.

This book was the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019, awarded to a book translated into English. Normally I don’t have a lot of luck with prize winners but I found this book beautiful to read, from a standpoint of looking at individuals and their choices or lack of them, a family as a unit and even a country as a whole. I’ve never read anything set in Oman before, which was one of the reasons I requested this from the publisher, because I’m really interested in trying works of fiction from new-to-me places, especially from authors who are from or living in those areas. The translation felt flawless too, creating a very evocative piece where I felt I could picture myself there as Mayya experienced her confinement after giving birth and feel the sand beneath my feet as her father trekked the desert to the Bedouin community. I really enjoyed the complexity of the woven in stories that took the reader far beyond Mayya and her sisters and explored the class system in Oman, the British influence, the languages, the city versus the more rural village areas. It felt to me, a very thorough book despite a relatively slim page count.

Jokha Alharthi definitely goes on a list of authors to watch out for in the future because I definitely want to read more from her.

8/10

Book #137 of 2019

I’m counting Celestial Bodies towards my participation in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge for 2019, for the prompt #6 – Multi-gen family saga. Originally I had another book chosen for this prompt but given one of my personal goals was to read as widely as possible, I decided this one fit better. It’s book #19 for the challenge.

 

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Review: The Surprising Power Of A Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

The Surprising Power Of A Good Dumpling
Wai Chim
Allen & Unwin
2019, 392p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.

But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.

A nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family, and the surprising power of a good dumpling.

I had seen this book around a little bit on social media and I thought it sounded really cute so I picked myself up a copy after reading a few good reviews. The cover is really eye catching and lets face it – who doesn’t love a good dumpling?

But this book is so much more than just that cute cover and catchy title. It’s actually a really amazing exploration of mental illness and how it impacts on a family. Anna is about 16, she’s the oldest of three children. Her father works long hours at the family restaurant on the Central Coast in Gosford. As the family now live in Sydney, it’s quite a trek there and back each day and sometimes he doesn’t even bother to return, staying on a pullout bed in his office. Anna’s younger sister is a high achieving scholar at a selective school and their brother Michael is still very young, in early primary school and still requiring quite a bit of care. This often falls to Anna and her sister, because Anna’s mother has times where she cannot even get out of bed.

This is a really complex story which is incredibly well explored. Anna has frustration that she must keep hidden inside and so she puts on a bright face and lies for younger brother Michael, saying their mother is a bit tired and she will be well soon. The family are Chinese-Australian and so there are cultural aspects at play too. Anna’s father is frequently absent and unwilling to discuss the issue of Anna’s mother, perhaps because it seems that it just isn’t talked about. He seems confused and helpless at times, removing himself to the restaurant and leaving the two girls to basically struggle on as best they can, shielding Michael and trying to ensure he gets what he needs both at school and at home. Anna seems reluctant to push the issue, not really knowing how to make her father listen that this isn’t just her mother being tired, that they need some help. And when her mother does finally get out of bed, it’s not because she’s ‘better’. Things end up very bad indeed.

Anna also has struggles regarding school – she is not the stereotypical high achieving student of Asian background that it seems people expect her to be, excelling in maths and science. She doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and various meetings with her high school careers counsellor leave her frustrated and feeling misunderstood and typecast. There’s pressure to be more, do more, be “worthwhile” but Anna gets a lot of pleasure from helping her father in the restaurant. It’s something she used to do on a regular basis when the family lived close by to it, but now that they live in Sydney, it’s difficult for Anna to be able to undertake that travel as well as do school. She negotiates helping in the school holidays which is how she meets Rory, the new delivery driver for the restaurant. She loves being in that environment, rolling spring rolls, manning the fryers, knowing their quirks. She comes up with really good ideas when her dad is concerned that the business might be decreasing in profit and it’s something that she seems very passionate about. I love the scene where she takes Rory to her favourite dumpling place near her home and explains how to eat what she orders for them. It seemed like such a wonderful experience and was so vividly described. I’m pretty well aware that most of what I eat is “western Chinese” or western influenced Thai or whatever, rather than what would be the norm for families of those cultures and backgrounds so the talk around what the restaurant makes vs what they actually eat as a family is interesting. And later on in the book, Anna sees an opportunity for them to make a more authentic version of their cuisine as well, rather than just falling back on the popular lemon chicken, spring rolls, etc.

The food talk is wonderful, the romance is adorable but also with a really strong message too. Rory has had his own mental health issues and I think his openness with Anna helps her find some clarity in her mother’s situation as well, that this is not a quick fix (or possibly even a fix) sort of thing. It will be ongoing, there will be good days and bad days and it will be a trial and error thing to deal with. Some things will work, others will not. Anna will probably always feel that pressure and strain to keep things together in a way, being the eldest but I feel that at least her father does step up for her, understands the burden of his absence and helps to ease that so that Anna might rely on him a little more, know he’s going to be closer and around when needed. The way in which the book deals with Anna’s mother’s illness through Anna’s eyes gives a very strong picture of the effect it has on the rest of the family but also what it does to their mother as well, the way in which it makes her feel and the forms that it takes.

This was a really incredible book, very emotional and I felt it portrayed the circumstances beautifully – especially the difficulties.

8/10

Book #134 of 2019

This is book #58 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 3rd September

Hi and welcome back to another instalment of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now lives with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl and features a different bookish related theme each week. This week our topic is…..

Top 10 Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside My Comfort Zone

  1. Illuminae & Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. I put off reading the first of these books for ages because I was so sure it definitely wasn’t my thing. I don’t really enjoy books set in space but I finally ended up reading Illuminae for a challenge I was participating in and I had to go out and buy Gemina as soon as I’d finished. I have Obsidio but I still haven’t read it, because I’m not ready for the end!
  2. The Captive Prince Trilogy by C.S. Pacat. I would never have read this if it wasn’t for the publicist! She sent me a bind up ARC of the first two books and a really good pitch – I’d been communicating with her regularly and she knew what I liked and what I probably wouldn’t be interested in reading. She said, look I know this probably sounds like it’s not your thing but it is amazing and just give the first one a go and then tell me how you feel. I absolutely loved this series. Sometimes just taking a chance is the most rewarding thing.
  3. The Vampire Academy Series by Richelle Mead. Another series I came to very late – they were all well and truly published by the time I read them (which meant I could binge them all in about five days). And also, it was the recommendation of a publicist working for the Australian publisher that was the reason I finally read them. I was pretty fatigued with vampire books, I tended to avoid them but I made an exception because she made them sound so good and I ended up loving them.
  4. Recursion by Blake Crouch. I don’t even know how to describe this book! It’s sci-fi with time travel but really different time travel. It’s not something I’d have ever picked up on my own, so sometimes having books turn up unsolicited can work out really well. This was incredibly interesting and complex and I liked it a heck of a lot more than I thought I would going into it.
  5. The People Smuggler by Robin De Crispigny. This gave me such a different perspective on the issue of people smuggling and “illegal immigrants” that arrive by boat. The media here presents these people in such a negative way that their stories get lost. This book was one of the first that I read that attempted to show just why not only do some people come here, but why others risk their lives to pilot the boats that try to reach Australian shores.
  6. A Song Of Ice & Fire by George R.R. Martin. When I was in high school, I went through this huge fantasy stage. Read everything David Eddings had ever written. I read The Hobbit. Tried to tackle Lord of the Rings but ended up giving up. I sort of dropped off fantasy and the like by the time I was in university and it’d been years since I’d read a series of that sort, before trying this one before watching the tv adaptation. It made me remember why I had been so into it earlier and I know there are other series’ out there, I just have to find them.
  7. The Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries by Angie Fox. I don’t generally do ghosts. I’m not a fan. I can’t remember why I read this now, whether the first book was free on an eBook platform or if I got it from NetGalley. I picked it up at a time when I was really plowing my way through a lot of cosy type mysteries and this ended up in there too. I actually find the series really amusing – it’s light and fluffy but sometimes underneath there’s just enough in Verity’s encounters to create this sinister side. It always works out of course and they’re great palate cleaners. I am rather glad I found this series.
  8. The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. These are also perhaps not the sort of books I would generally gravitate towards even though I enjoy historical fiction. But I heard so much about these and they were so universally praised for the most part that I had to try them. And I absolutely loved these four books. I rated all of them 5 stars which is really unusual for me. I’ve been trying to get my husband to read them for years!
  9. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I love Rainbow Rowell. I adored all of her novels except one (Landline) but when I heard about this I was pretty adamant that I was not interested at all. I liked Fangirl, which it kind of spun off from but I wasn’t interested in the fan fiction world that was referenced in that novel. But then I received a copy and thought eh, why not and I ended up really liking it a lot more than I thought I would. It’s definitely not my comfort zone, this novel based on a fan fiction of a series referenced in another of the author’s novel, especially as I haven’t read the series that I think this ‘fake’ series derives a lot of its inspiration from. But I liked Baz and Simon. And I’m definitely going to read Wayward Son.
  10. The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Normally prize winners and I are not friends. I often don’t tend to read war stories either, and I’ve not read much about prisoners of war in Asia. But I was really interested in this book and it ended up being incredibly spectacular. It definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone, in more ways than one but I was very glad that I read it and incredibly happy when it won the Man Booker Prize.

To be honest, this topic was actually a bit harder than I anticipated. I do tend to have a pretty large comfort zone and it’s not often that I think I push the boundaries with something that’s really quite far outside of it. There are things that I might think hmm, don’t really think that’s for me and sometimes I’m wrong.

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