All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Mini Reviews {5} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

So every so often I cheat a little and package a few mini reviews up into one post. Sometimes it is because the books don’t really lend themselves to being a full review – I’ve just got a few things here and there to say. Sometimes it’s because life gets in the way and all of a sudden it’s been quite a while since I read them and that’s why I’m bundling these together. I read all of these before a lot of personal stuff happened, including travelling interstate to my grandmother’s funeral and frankly, I’m not sure that my brain has retained the details vividly enough for my usual style of review.

The War Artist
Simon Cleary
UQP Books
2019, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Brigadier James Phelan returns from Afghanistan with the body of a young soldier killed under his command, he is traumatised by the tragedy. An encounter with young Sydney tattoo artist Kira leaves him with a permanent tribute to the soldier, but it is a meeting that will change the course of his life.

What he isn’t expecting is a campaign of retribution from the soldiers who blame him for the ambush and threaten his career. With his marriage also on the brink, his life spirals out of control. Years later, Phelan is surprised when Kira re-enters his life seeking refuge from her own troubles and with a young son in tow. She finds a way to help him make peace with his past, but she is still on the run from her own. The War Artist is a timely and compelling novel about the legacy of war, the power of art and the possibility of redemption.

This started off quite promising, even though I’m not particularly into books about veterans of war. I just don’t really connect with them – I don’t really know anyone that’s been to war and although it’s a very important issue, with PTSD and the changing views of veterans etc, I just don’t particularly enjoy reading them. However I was interested in James Phelan and what had happened to him in Afghanistan and how it came to be that he was being blamed for it…and how it was impacting on him emotionally. His marriage was interesting too.

Unfortunately, the further I got into it, the less I really enjoyed it. I didn’t like the dalliance with the tattoo artist and I found that I could predict most of what happened, before it occurred, including the truth about the child and the ending, which lessened the impact for me and I just…..didn’t enjoy the twists of the story. Some of them made me feel pretty awkward reading it. I think my sympathies lay a lot with Phelan’s wife and all she’d been subjected to and how well she seemed to accept the situation.

6/10

Book #47 of 2019

The Glad Shout
Alice Robinson
Affirm Press
2019, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After a catastrophic storm destroys Melbourne, Isobel flees to higher ground with her husband and young daughter. Food and supplies run low, panic sets in and still no help arrives. To protect her daughter, Isobel must take drastic action.

The Glad Shout is an extraordinary novel of rare depth and texture. Told in a starkly visual and compelling narrative, this is a deeply moving homage to motherhood and the struggles faced by women in difficult times.

This was interesting – and timely. Climate change is a real concern at the moment, even if certain people currently in charge of this country (and others?) don’t seem to really think so. Given Australia has such a large coastline and something like 90% of us live along that coast, rising sea levels are an issue that will impact us greatly in the coming years. And then there are violent storms and changing weather patterns, which is something that this book addresses. A catastrophic storm/flood has destroyed Melbourne (and presumably, other parts of Australia but communication seems to be gone) and those residents that can have fled to a “local sports stadium built on a hill” that seems to be the MCG as a refuge point. It’s basically chaos – food is rationed, hygiene is questionable. The location wasn’t built to house that amount of people permanently. There’s no sign of the floodwaters abating and slowly society starts to disintegrate. Main character Isobel knows she needs to get out with her 3yo daughter. Interestingly, Tasmania has become a place of desirability, due to it’s mountainous interior and they’ve closed their borders. It becomes the reverse of now – boat people come from the mainland of Australia, seeking shelter elsewhere.

I feel as though this book could almost be a warning for the not-so-distant future. It’s not too much of a stretch to believe that we could be decimated by something in this way and the way in which Robinson portrays a crumbling society is really interesting. We are all built to survive – in any way we see fit. In the absence of the usual societal structure and clear rules and laws, it takes little time for things to descend into violent anarchy. And I couldn’t imagine how much more difficult having a young toddler would make things in such a situation. I didn’t always like Isobel (and her family situation was a complete mess that got irritating after a while, when we went back in time to her childhood) but I really liked the story. And I’ve never been a doomsday prepper but I see the value in it now!

8/10

Book #48 of 2019

The Glad Shout is book #21 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone
Felicity McLean
Harper Collins AUS
2019, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’

Tikka Molloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long hot summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth vanished during the night of the school’s Showstopper concert at the amphitheatre by the river, surrounded by encroaching bushland.

Now, years later, Tikka has returned home to try and make sense of the summer that shaped her, and the girls that she never forgot.

Of all the books here, this one is probably the hardest to review. You know how sometimes there is a book that everyone else really seems to enjoy and find deep and meaningful, and when you read it, you just don’t have that reaction to it? For me, that was this book. It’s filled with half-truths and vague recollections and things that change as different people discuss them and a kind of lackadaisical attitude towards what the heck happened to two of the girls. Tikka’s older sister knows something really quite shocking about one of them but even as an adult, doesn’t seem to find this at all concerning. She seems to think it’s just best forgotten, whereas for Tikka, it has basically dominated her entire life. She sees the Van Apfel girls everywhere, even when she’s working in America. There’s a neighbour that witnesses something really freaking disturbing but does nothing about it. This is described as “blackly comic” but I did not find it to be at all so. It’s very The Virgin Suicides but without that book’s nuance.

I think for me, if I read 304p, I want something at the end. This just left me with too many things left hanging and I read all this background to get zero closure and sure, life is like that sometimes. But there’s enough mysteries out there in real life (William Tyrrell, Madeleine McCann etc) that I need some answers, not to finish the book feeling more clueless than when I started it. Unfortunately, this was not something I enjoyed. I just had too many issues with the complacency of the locals and the lack of resolution was something I personally found frustrating.

4/10

Book #50 of 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is book #23 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

The Aunts’ House 
Elizabeth Stead
UQP Books
2019, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sydney, 1942.

Recently orphaned, Angel Martin moves into a boarding house populated by an assortment of eccentric and colourful characters. She’s befriended by the gregarious Winifred Varnham – a vision in exotic fabrics – and the numerically gifted Barnaby Grange. But not everyone is kind and her scrimping landlady, Missus Potts, is only the beginning of Angel’s troubles. Angel refuses to accept her fate. She is determined to forge a sense of belonging despite rejection from her two maiden aunts, Clara and Elsa, who blame Angel’s mother for their brother’s death. Her Sunday visits to the aunts house by the Bay expand her world in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

Elizabeth Stead brings her classic subversive wit and personal insight to this nostalgic portrait of wartime Sydney. In Angel Martin, she has created a singular and irrepressible character. A true original.

This was the quirky story of a young orphan named Angel who is sent to live in a boarding house after the death of her mother in a sanitarium. It’s set in the 1940’s, so probably not the most sympathetic of times to the mentally ill. Angel is regarded as a nuisance by the battleaxe that runs the boarding house but is befriended by several of its more permanent residents. She spends her free time away from chores going to visit two of her aunts, who make it clear that they don’t want her there but Angel is determined to be loved by them.

This is a sad life wrapped in humour. Angel has very little (and wants for nothing, to be honest, she is not bothered by material possessions) but at such a young age she’s lost her father, her mother, her home and experiences very little human kindness. There are several alluded to (and one described) incidences of childhood sexual abuse and Angel, who is 10 (the same age as my eldest child) knows way too much and her cavalier attitude toward it is a coping mechanism I think. The book ends up being quite (very) dark in places with villains at every turn – although an attempt to balance this is made with people that genuinely care for Angel and her welfare but who aren’t really in a position to do much about it.

I think people will either love Angel’s originality or not. I found her unique and irrepressible but I think I found myself more focused on the what that is happening to her and her travelling around Sydney on her own. I enjoyed this read without actually loving it or deeply connecting with it.

6/10

Book #53 of 2019

The Aunts’ House is book #25 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

This has helped clear my backlog a little – books that had been sitting on a pile on my desk for a few weeks, waiting for me to get to them. I’m still no where near up to date. I am probably still half a dozen or so books behind but at least now I have reduced the pile and the ones left are ones I’ve read since my return home and are much more fresh in my mind so that I can begin planning them out and getting the scheduled. It takes very little time for things to spiral a bit but hopefully I’m back on track now!

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Review: The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Mother-in-Law 
Sally Hepworth
St Martin’s Press
2019, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Someone once told me that you have two families in your life – the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don’t choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.”

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm’s length. Diana is exquisitely polite, but Lucy knows, even after marrying Oliver, that they’ll never have the closeness she’d been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something…

I love the quote at the beginning of the blurb here – you can choose your partner, but you don’t get to choose the family they come with. And yeah, it’s true, you only marry the person. But when you marry someone, a whole bunch of other stuff comes along with it. Their family dramas and dynamics become a minefield to navigate and it’s so easy for misunderstandings and conflicts to arise.

Which is what Sally Hepworth tackles so admirably in this novel. Lucy meets Oliver through work and she hopes that when they become engaged, she can develop a real relationship with his mother Diana. Lucy lost her mother as a teenager and she longs for that maternal bond. Diana however, is a difficult woman to get to know. Oliver comes from a wealthy, privileged background and Diana is every inch the formidable matriarch. Not warm, she holds Lucy at arms length and the two of them never really hit it off. Over the years as the grandchildren appear, things ebb and flow, fleeting moments of understanding contrasting with aggression that even once becomes physical.

Now police officers have arrived at Oliver and Lucy’s house to tell them that Diana has been found dead in the family home and a suicide note discovered as well. Diana has struggled since losing Oliver’s father to illness and although she retains passion for her work helping refugees, she hasn’t been the same. It soon becomes apparent though that everyone in the family seems to be hiding something – whether it be their last known interaction with Diana or something else. Maybe Diana didn’t commit suicide after all…..but with everyone seemingly having motive and opportunity, if someone did help her on her way, which one of them was it?

This book was a ride. It’s told in a back-and-forth kind of way, beginning in the present and then taking the reader back in time to Lucy meeting Diana, when she and Oliver get engaged, the birth of their children and various other moments over the years. It also includes both Lucy and Diana’s points of view, including several of the same incidents told from both perspectives. So at first you get Lucy’s impression of Diana and her feelings on various incidents that happen over the course of her marriage to Oliver and then later on you get Diana’s life story and also her side of the same incidents. I found that really interesting and it really served to highlight how two people can experience the same moment and see it completely differently. I really appreciated that because so often a book will present to you one side of the story and doesn’t always delve into the other side and it’s the same in life. You have your side and how you perceive the other side is feeling but……chances are, you’re probably wrong. This book demonstrates admirably I think, how both Lucy and Diana tried to have the relationships they wanted with each other respectively and how each felt that they were constrained by certain rules or societal customs and the fact that they were just different people with different ideas that prevented them from really developing things more intimately.

I found this such an intriguing mystery – more and more layers unfolded with the plot. Did Diana really commit suicide? I enjoyed the portrayal of her marriage and how it came about and also, how things at first glance were not really accurate! Then you factor in her personal wealth, the way in which she chose to view that wealth and her work and disgruntled family members and all of a sudden, there are a myriad of possibilities for what happened to Diana. This is not a particularly long book, but there’s not a word wasted and I find that this is quite regular in Sally Hepworth’s novels. She is able to tell a really detailed and involved story with intricate plot points and multiple points of view, without getting bogged down in extra details and dragging it out. Everything that happens, happens for a reason and ends up being relevant. It’s the sort of sharp, observant novel that I absolutely adore. Excellent portrayal of realistic family relationships and dynamics and all the complications that come along with them. This ended up being so much more than just the story of a woman whose mother-in-law dies in what perhaps are suspicious circumstances. I found a lot to mull over in this, especially the conditions of Diana’s will and how that would make people feel. I also really liked the inclusion of her work with refugees and how that evolved to become such a key part of the story, particularly looking to the future.

All in all, this was a brilliant story and I loved it. Sally Hepworth’s books always have me hooked from beginning to end and I just admire her storytelling abilities. I always look forward to a new book of hers and they never disappoint!

9/10

Book #54 of 2019

The Mother-In-Law is the 26th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Top 10 Tuesday 16th April

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly bookish event created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish and now hosted with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It features a different book-related theme each week and this week…..well, given we are still experiencing summer and temps of over 80 here in the Land Down Under, it’s a bit of a challenge. I’m not even sure I remember what rain is. But here we go……

Top 10 Rainy Day Reads!

  1. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. To be honest, probably any Susanna Kearsley novel fits the bill here but this is the one I read first and it’s set in Scotland by the sea in the ruins of a castle and there’s plenty of stormy seas and Scottish weather. Doesn’t it rain 300 days of the year there or something?
  2. The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. These are some pretty solid reads, a good size to settle down with under a blanket on a rainy day. I think the idea of being stuck inside would contribute to the isolation of the settings (space station, spaceship) and they’re such engrossing reads that you’ll forget the weather is miserable.
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I actually hate this book – it bothers me a lot. But I can’t deny the atmosphere in it, with all sorts wandering around misty and rainy moors lamenting bad decisions and lost loves. If you can deal with a cast of people that make you want to murder them for being such self-involved and moronic twits who somehow all have combinations of the same three names, then you’ll probably dig this.
  4. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. This is set on a remote island some distance off the coast of Australia (I think WA, but I can’t remember now) where a supply boat comes once a season and the weather is unforgiving for most of the year – the Roaring Forties, weather off Antarctica, the works. This is a movie now too, so you can curl up and watch that when you’re done with the book!
  5. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. This is a reminder it can always be worse! It’s set in Leningrad/St Petersburg during WWII when the city is slowly starving and freezing to death. It’s a compelling love story and a really atmospheric portrayal of what it must’ve been like living in that city as war and famine slowly (and in some cases, not so slowly) encroached during a harsh winter.
  6. A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin. Like the Illuminae Files, these are some chunky-ass books and they’re just so engrossing that you can lose entire days reading them. Yeah, it’s frustrating that he hasn’t finished the series but what’s there is still really good. I live in hope *sigh*
  7. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before Trilogy by Jenny Han. I actually did read the 2nd and 3rd of these in one day, in bed when it was raining. I’d already read the first one (and watched the Netflix film). These are just so sweet and feel good and wonderful that they’re the perfect way to pass a day tucked up inside.
  8. The Midnight Watch by David Dyer. Based on the story of the SS Californian, which is the ship that saw the distress flairs from the Titanic, but didn’t actually do anything. I really enjoyed this!
  9. The Seven Sisters Series by Lucinda Riley. I haven’t read these yet – I own a couple though and they’re on my list of things to get to, that mythical ‘one day’. But when I think about books for a rainy day, I think about chunky stories that keep me occupied for the entire day and I also really enjoy a good series’. These look like decent sizes and I’ve heard good things about them.
  10. Anything You Want. To be 100% honest, I don’t generally pick books for if I think they’ll be good on a rainy day, or good summer beach reads, or whatever. I just read whatever interests me at the time. So pick up anything that intrigues you on any day and sit back and enjoy it!

Happy Tuesday! Hope you find something that interests you, for whatever weather you’re having.

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Review: The Gift Of Life by Josephine Moon

The Gift Of Life 
Josephine Moon
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

You’ve been given the gift of life, now go live it.

Gabby McPhee is the owner of The Tin Man, a chic new cafe and coffee roasting house in Melbourne. The struggles of her recent heart transplant are behind her and life is looking up – until a mysterious customer appears in the cafe, convinced that Gabby has her deceased husband’s heart beating inside her chest.

Krystal Arthur is a bereaved widow, struggling to hold herself and her two young boys together since Evan’s death, and plagued by unanswered questions. Why was her husband in another city the night he died? And why won’t his spirit rest?

Krystal is convinced that Gabby holds the clues she needs to move towards a brighter future. Gabby needs Krystal to help her let go of her troubled past. The two women must come together to try to unlock the secrets in Evan’s heart in order to set free their own.

I was intrigued by the premise of this book when I read the blurb because I think it presents an interesting ethical question as well as tapping into the heightened emotions of organ donation. And there were elements of this book that I enjoyed, however I think that your mileage may vary depending on just how much you are willing to delve into something that presents organ donation as much more than just a physical transaction.

Gabby received a heart transplant 2 years ago and all has gone well. She’s opened a new business, a coffee shop in Melbourne and one of the things I did really enjoy about this book was Gabby’s devotion to coffee and her shop, to the point where she employs a roaster to roast all their blends and offerings on site. I love coffee but I’m not what you’d call a coffee snob – I can’t pick notes and flavours and I don’t know my single origin Peruvian from my Kenyan and Ethiopian blends. I just know what I like and there are plenty of great cafes where I live out here on the outskirts of Melbourne to get my fix. Melbourne really is truly devoted to its coffee and I think that definitely came through – to the point where Gabby’s kids were becoming aficionados, her oldest learning latte art and even the younger ones indulging in weak, milky coffees.

Gabby’s world is turned upside down when she accidentally gives away a bit more than she should in an interview which leads Krystal Arthur to her shop, convinced that the heart that now beats inside Gabby is from her husband, who was killed in an accident in Sydney. Apparently there are protocols around revealing the exact time a transplant is received, presumably to prevent families of the bereaved being sure who received their loved one’s organ and I can honestly see the wisdom in that. It’s a part of someone people knew and loved, that now keeps someone else alive. It would be tempting to befriend them to keep close to that piece…..or perhaps even air grievances that the recipient is alive but the donor is no longer. And Gabby and Krystal’s interactions are tested when Gabby realises Krystal’s true feelings about the donation. The decision to donate organs can be made by the next of kin if the person isn’t a stated organ donor and it’s very difficult to be in the right state of mind to make that decision for someone, because it means that they’re basically brain dead and being kept alive by machines. It’s the sort of decision that you can make and regret, either way and there are probably a lot of complicated feelings revolving around it. It’s not a decision I’d feel comfortable making for someone if I wasn’t 100% on their feelings on it either.

I’m a more practical than spiritual person so for me, this book was kind of a step too far in what a donor can share with the recipient. I know there are plenty of stories – people who wake up after receiving an organ transplant to realise they crave hamburgers when they were vegan before the operation or things similar to that. I think that probably some weird and unexplainable things do happen – but being able to witness whole scenes from the donor’s life was kind of too big a leap for me and Gabby basically becomes this detective using the memories she’s unlocking through the heart transplant (which seem to be mostly triggered by the arrival of Krystal in her life, because apparently her heart can hear her or sense she’s there, or however it’s explained) to solve just precisely how and why Krystal’s husband was killed. It suddenly became this big mystery about Krystal’s husband’s death and his family and it felt a bit of a swerve, like this was not what I was expecting and to be honest, I wasn’t particularly engaged with that part of it. I was more interested in what was going on with Gabby’s husband, who she co-parents with, but who has become increasingly disinterested in sharing the load. I felt as though that was quite an interesting situation and it could’ve been much more in depth than it was and the reveal was a bit lacklustre and lacking in the sort of impact. Perhaps because he’d spent most of the book doing as little as possible and was a character that inspired more irritation than sympathy until an abrupt about face that I felt needed a lot more exploration.

There were some interesting ideas here and some things that I enjoyed seeing explored but ultimately I felt that the direction things went in, just wasn’t for me personally and I found it a bit distracting from the things I was enjoying. There were a few elements that I felt could’ve benefited from more time spent on them (and some, probably, with less). Ultimately it was okay, but I didn’t love it.

6/10

Book #52 of 2019


The Gift Of Life is the 24th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

 

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Review: Deadly Politics by LynDee Walker

Deadly Politics (Nichelle Clarke #7)
LynDee Walker
Severn River Publishing
2019, 382p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Reporter Nichelle Clarke’s dream of covering a presidential speech is dashed when she finds herself intertwined in a high-profile murder investigation. While Nichelle is no stranger to facing dangerous situations in pursuit of the truth, the stakes in this story are higher than ever before.

Unsure of who she can trust, Nichelle must unravel a web of secrets behind an elaborate murder plot and dodge legal traps set by corrupt politicians. For if Nichelle can’t uncover the conspiracy in time, an unthinkable disaster will strike the nation.

Okay, I knew it’d been a while, but apparently it’s been 2.5 years since the previous Nichelle Clarke book (then titled the Headlines in High Heels Mysteries). Since then, the author has acquired a new publisher for the series, the series has a new look and also a new name – they’re now the Nichelle Clarke Crime Thrillers. The new covers are edgier and definitely darker than the previous ones, which reflected a much more cosy feel. I binged the previous books over a period of about six months, I think. The first four or five had been released and then I picked up the others. I’ve checked back periodically since reading the 6th, hoping it would continue and the 7th is finally here.

No sooner does Nichelle get the amazing news that she’s being pulled in by the political reporter to help cover a Presidential visit to Richmond, when she gets an interesting tidbit of information – a dead body has been found in the Mayor’s office. Kyle, ATF agent and Nichelle’s long-ago boyfriend, sends a cryptic message hinting at the identity of the victim but then vanishes, giving her the standard ‘no comment’ line.

That doesn’t wash with Nichelle – he can’t just offer up some information and then vanish after begging her not to print it. Nichelle is determined to get to the bottom of what happened, especially as it seems like the possible victim (apparently identification is an issue) is someone that she knows from an earlier case she investigated and reported on. Nichelle is also confused when she confides in Joey, her boyfriend of dubious employment and it seems he’s much more affected by this death than she expected. What exactly is going on? Joey has also warned her off the Presidential coverage but is vague about the why – just that he doesn’t want her anywhere near it. Nichelle doesn’t really do what she’s told, especially if he’s not going to give her a reason but she’s curious about what Joey knows that she doesn’t. And that’s a whole can of worms right there, given Joey’s line of work and the difficulties of being a crime reporter when your boyfriend is probably in the business of producing it. The deeper Nichelle gets, the more intriguing and dangerous this becomes – and when she takes a gamble, she might not just have blown up her career but she could also have signed her own death warrant.

This was an explosive ride from start to finish, in lots of ways. I feel as though this is a bit of a new direction for Nichelle, perhaps to match the new look. The fundamentals are still the same – Nichelle is still amazing at her job, she still has a great ‘nose’ for trouble and she’s still smart enough to puzzle things through, although this book does lead to her getting it wrong at one stage, but she figures out so quickly why and how. Nichelle has been struggling in her job for a while – it’s not a qualifications issue. It’s more the owner of the newspaper doesn’t really like her and has wanted to replace her for quite a while now. Nichelle’s boss Bob has always been able to back her up and keep her in the crime position but the way that things play out here suggest a very new direction for both Bob and Nichelle and I think I like it. I think it gives her a lot more scope and it might allow her to branch out into some more diverse and complex topics and features. I think the dynamics of the new situation will be really interesting in future books.

Something else that will be interesting is the situation with Joey. I really like Joey and have ever since he appeared in Nichelle’s living room in the first book. I’ve always been curious as to how Walker would progress with Nichelle and Joey given their different….situations and it seems she’s decided in this book. I’m not sure I like one of the complications of this but I hope it’s short term pain for some long term gain. I think the thing I like the most about Joey is that deep down, he knows that Nichelle is always going to do what she’s going to do – and it’s get on board or get out of the way. And he tends to just get on board. He might occasionally try to warn her off (like with the Presidential visit) but ultimately, he knows that it isn’t going to work. Nichelle simply isn’t like that. And he better just roll his sleeves up and try and keep her from getting dead, but in this book it’s kind of Nichelle who keeps Joey from getting dead. They work together so well, I’d really enjoy seeing them in that capacity more in the future.

I think this is probably my favourite in the series.

9/10

Book #50 of 2019

 

 

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Review: A Life Of Her Own by Fiona McCallum

A Life Of Her Own 
Fiona McCallum
Harlequin AUS
2019, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/AM Publicity

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When knowledge gives you the power to change your life …

Alice Hamilton loved being a mature-age student, but now she’s finished her university degree she needs to find herself a career. But the job market is tough and it doesn’t help that her partner David keeps reminding her about their sizeable mortgage. When she’s offered a role in a major real estate agency, she jumps at the opportunity. David is excited by her prospects in the thriving Melbourne housing market, and Alice is pleased that she’ll be utilising her exceptional people skills.

But Alice quickly realises all is not as it seems. What is she doing wrong to be so out of sync with her energetic boss, Carmel Gold, agent extraordinaire? Alice is determined to make it work, but how much will it affect her values?

As everything starts to fall apart, a sudden visit home to the country town Alice escaped years ago provides an unexpected opportunity to get some perspective. Surrounded by people who aren’t what they seem, or have their own agendas, can Alice learn to ask for what she really wants … on her own terms?

In her latest novel, Australian author Fiona McCallum tackles something I can relate to – a woman in her thirties who isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life. After the breakdown of her first marriage in her small hometown, a chance meeting led Alice Hamilton to undertake the university degree she’d never gotten the chance to do when she was younger. She discovered that she really loved study and now armed with her bachelor, she is interested in going further. But partner David has ambitions and he needs Alice in the workforce to pay down the large mortgage they’ve just undertaken, buying a house in Melbourne.

Alice struggles with really finding something that she’s greatly passionate about. She applies for jobs but nothing about them really excite her, although when she secures one as an assistant to a mover and shaker real estate agent, she’s determined to do her best at it. But I can relate to Alice’s struggle to find that thing that speaks to her. When I was in high school (forever ago now) I thought I’d have that magic moment where I’d come across the career I was ‘meant’ to do. A couple of university experiences later, I still haven’t found it and probably never will. I don’t think it works like that for a lot of people – work is necessary to pay the bills and sometimes you don’t have the luxury of waiting for that dream opportunity to come along. You take what is on offer and under pressure from David to contribute to the household, Alice does just that. She lands what sounds like a great job – but the red flags present early and it isn’t long before the job is stripping any confidence she had in her abilities and leaving her dreading it.

I enjoyed the story of this book but I think there were a couple of things that threw it off for me – the first is the pacing. It’s a bit uneven, the situation at Alice’s new job seems to escalate really quickly in a way that I think would’ve been much more impactful if it’d been over a longer period and really showed the gaslighting that can take place by people in positions of money and influence who are enabled in their bad behaviour. Also David is quite obviously a dill from the first page but Alice either cannot or does not see it for far too long and then when things do happen, it’s again, at a really rapid pace and things fall into place in this magical way that does not really seem to reflect how difficult it can be to start over on your own and uproot and change your entire life. Basically, Alice experiences a lot of horrible people doing horrible things to her, from her mother and sister in childhood, to her first husband, to her best friend, to her partner, to her boss, and she tolerates this for a long time and honestly, it got a bit wearying at times, like here is another person making things difficult for her.

But this is a journey – and Alice I suppose, has to learn how to stand up for herself and put herself and her self worth first. Firstly with her professional life, figuring out what she wants to do and also facing her fears and the terrible experiences she had and learning from them, addressing them and being able to move on from them so that she can basically be ‘at peace’. And also in her personal life, not tolerating being unhappy because someone else is pressuring her about something she isn’t particularly invested in. It’s quite obvious that Alice isn’t happy for quite a long time and that her and her partner have two very different outlooks on life and desires for their future but it can still be quite difficult to make that break. So in that case, everything Alice experiences here becomes part of who she is and how she decides to shape her future. She’s lucky in that she has a supportive friend, who actually turns out to be rather helpful in more than one way but apart from that and a kind stepfather who does his best, Alice does not have the largest circle, which I think she needs to perhaps work on (there’s evidence of this at the end of the book, so I think she’s on the right track). I appreciated the overall arc of Alice’s journey and I feel as though I could definitely relate to her because of that search for who she is and what she wants to do.

I had the feeling on finishing this, that it was set up for a sequel. Alice has made some decisions, but she hasn’t really begun living them yet and there’s obviously plenty left for her to do and experience. I’m actually quite curious about what happens next and how she gets to where she has decided she wants to be.

7/10

Book #49 of 2019

A Life Of Her Own is the 22nd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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March Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 14
Fiction: 13
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 2
Books On My TBR List: 3
Books in a Series: 2
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 8
Male/Female Authors: 3/11
Kindle Books: 1
Books I Owned or Bought: 2
Favourite Book(s): Deadly Politics by LynDee Walker
Least Favourite Books: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 8

*dusts off blog*

So it’s been a while! This is my first post since the 14th of March! I am super behind with writing reviews and stuff like that. My parents arrived on the 18th of March for what was supposed to be a two week visit with us (they live interstate, about 14hrs drive away) but for unfortunate reasons, they had to leave early a little over halfway into their stay and rush home for a family emergency. My family also went away for a couple of days, to Phillip Island which has been on my Wishlist for soooo many years, so that adds up to basically not a lot of reading in the month of March. In fact I’m actually surprised the total was still 14 books. I thought I’d struggle to get to double figures. I must’ve got quite a lot done in the first half of the month.

I actually read every book on my March TBR, which almost never happens – including the monster The Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, which was nearly 900p and which I buddy read with Theresa Smith Writes. I think it’s been a while since I read something so huge!

Moving on to April! It’s been weird here, until the last couple of days or so, it’s still been very warm, temps in the high 20s and it didn’t feel like summer had left. Now it’s grey and overcast and feels more like winter than autumn but it’s not going to last – temps are back up into the high 20s by the end of the week. It’s good reading weather at the moment, I spent yesterday on the couch under a blanket with a book.

Here’s my April TBR:

Because I got done with my whole March pile pretty early, I’ve actually already read a couple of these, so reviews for A Life Of Her Own, The Gift Of Life and The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone will be up in the coming week or so.

Hope you all had a great reading month for March! If you’ve read anything from my April TBR let me know….or mention something you’re excited about reading this month.

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Review: The Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Priory Of The Orange Tree 
Samantha Shannon
Bloomsbury ANZ
2019, 830p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

From the internationally bestselling author of The Bone Season, a trailblazing, epic high fantasy about a world on the brink of war with dragons–and the women who must lead the fight to save it.

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction–but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

I remember my excitement around The Bone Season when it was released and how much I enjoyed it. I bought the second book but I’m yet to read it. There’s probably more books released in that series, who knows. One day I’ll catch up on it, maybe when it’s all been released. I’ve decided that sometimes, that’s the best way to go with series’.

But here we have a stand alone release from Samantha Shannon and it is a whopper, coming in at well over 800p in large paperback form. It’s a beautiful cover on a large, often unwieldy book which was, on occasion, hard to read because of its enormousness. Luckily, it’s a pretty engrossing story to keep you returning to it time and time again. I also had the added motivation of buddy reading this with Theresa from Theresa Smith Writes, otherwise this might’ve sat on my TBR shelf for a very long time! Thank you for keeping me accountable and pushing me to read this right away 😉

There are multiple narrators, mostly divided between east and west of a world split by differing faiths. One of the main players is Ead, lady-in-waiting to Queen Sabran the Ninth but who is really a mage sent to court under an alias in order to keep the Queen safe. Ead thwarts assassination attempt after assassination attempt on the Queen with no one’s knowledge as the powers at court attempt to get Sabran to finally choose a man to wed in order to conceive a daughter so that the line of her House might continue. It’s widely believed that the House of Berethnet keeps something called the ‘Nameless One’ from rising and that if Sabran does not further the line, destruction awaits.

Tané has risen from peasant to train to be a dragonrider but she makes a decision on the day of the ceremony that will come back and find her. All she wants is to be paired up with a dragon, to prove herself. There are plenty out there who would see her fail – she doesn’t come from a line of dragonriders, she’s pulled her way up through sheer grit and skill.

I really enjoyed this. It’s a complex but not confusing read, if that makes sense. There are multiple narrators but it’s quite easy to keep all of the different ones straight and their locations as well. Most of the narrators are women and strong women at that, creators of their own destinies, breakers of rules and traditions. Sabran the Ninth, Queen of Inys was for me, probably the most difficult of the characters to get a handle on – she’s portrayed mostly through the eyes of Ead and because she’s a Queen raised to be a Queen, she tends to brook no dissent in her ranks (except from Ead, who doesn’t tell her what she wants to hear but rather what she should be told). Sabran has long lived with the belief hanging over her head that the rule of the House of Berethnet, nearly a thousand years strong, is what keeps the realm safe. In order to continue that, she must marry, which is not something that excites her. The women of Berethnet produce only daughters, each one looking like their mother and given one of a handful of names, ensuring a rule of consistency in pretty much all manners. Sabran’s mother was still murdered though, despite the numerous protections around her, so the safety of Sabran is placed above all else with people tasting her food, trying on her clothes, sweeping her chambers, even sleeping by her side. I enjoyed the way her relationship with Ead developed in that Ead was an outsider and had to work her way up through cunning and correct behaviour (but also through her personality of not necessarily pandering to Sabran) to get to the position where she was able to enjoy the favour of the Queen and also be in a better position to keep her safe and help her. The discoveries mean that Sabran has to really go through quite an evolution of faith, let go of things she’s held as true her entire life and without Ead I don’t think she would’ve been able to do that.

I love books with dragons and this has honestly made me realise that I don’t read enough of them! Surely there must be loads of books with dragons out there, I’m definitely going to have to try and find some more. In this there are different types of dragons – and some areas don’t distinguish this, believing them to be all evil servants of the Nameless one. However where Tané is from, dragons are revered and to be paired with one is the ultimate honour. The riders develop a deep bond with their dragon – and I absolutely loved the way that Tané and her dragon interacted. The devotion from Tané towards her dragon was limitless and she was willing to put herself in peril and sacrifice herself time and time again.

There’s no denying the size of this story and at times, it does feel a little bogged down, with characters needing to travel between places for information or by way of getting back to somewhere else. But at times I think this is a logistics issue, in that characters need to get to places and it takes them time to get there, it’s not necessarily a plot issue. But for most of the time, my attention was riveted to this story and I think that’s high praise for an over-800p book. It was the sort of story were I could put it down if I needed to and when I picked it up, I slipped right back into the story again, without missing a beat. It was also the sort of story where you could probably power through it in a sitting or two, if that’s your thing. A few years ago, I could’ve easily slogged through this in a day but with kids and stuff to get done, it’s a rare event that I can get through something of this size in that short a time these days!

I also appreciated the conciseness of the ending, which makes it a complete story but also leaves a few things open in that I guess you can speculate on the character’s futures. It’s not super perfect with everyone all tied up and there’s more a ‘happy in the future, when things are done’ rather than happy forever, right this second onwards at the end. I liked that. It felt real.

8/10

Book #46 of 2019

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Review: Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread
Helen Oyeyemi
Picador
2019, 291p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories–equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel” to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can–beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

Perdita Lee may appear to be your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make. Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far-away (and, according to Wikipedia, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. In fact, the world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval–a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.

Decades later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value. Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, it is a true feast for the reader.

Haha, what even is this book about?

I don’t know. I like a dash of magical realism – I’m a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen. But I have to admit, this I think, was perhaps a bridge too far for my personal tastes? I hadn’t heard of Helen Oyeyemi before receiving this but I was really quite intrigued by the premise and the cover. The cover of this book is stunning. The gold is foil and it contrasts so nicely with the more subdued background.

Perdita is a 17yo girl living in England with her mother, an apparent expat from the country of Druhástrana, a country that no one really knows where it is and only three countries every acknowledge its existence and now two of those countries have revoked that. Apparently it’s maybe somewhere near Czechia or maybe Hungary or whatever but it has entirely closed borders and you can’t get in or out without some truly drastic measures being taken. Perdita’s grandmother escaped with her daughter (Perdita’s mother) Harriet. Now Perdita has taken the chance to visit her mother’s homeland.

I think I quite enjoyed the set up for this, the story of Harriet and Perdita in London and what Perdita does in order to visit her mother’s homeland……then it delved into Harriet’s past as a child/teen in this mysterious place of Druhástrana and somewhere in that section I think, is when I felt that this book and I kind of started to part ways. Things just started to get a bit too strange and I couldn’t really figure out where it was going…..or why. My knowledge of Hansel and Gretel, which people are saying this is retelling of, is a bit vague but there is a lot that just simply doesn’t seem to fit. I try not to read reviews of books I’ve read until after I’ve written my own review but I did glance at reviews on Goodreads and it seems a 50/50 split of people praising its brilliance and amazing writing and people who like me, were a bit confused what was going on and felt the story was a bit over their heads.

Reading is always your milage may vary and I think for me this was a good indication of how much magical realism I enjoy – more a pinch than the whole dumped in amount. There were too many things here that I felt weren’t particularly adequately explained and just ignored away because it was magical realism and didn’t require an explanation. Which okay, fine for some probably but it made it too difficult for me to really sink into the story because I was always wondering about things. And the story kind of petered out about halfway through and went from heading somewhere to just…..not. I didn’t understand why Perdita did what she did and what it achieved, or didn’t achieve. The writing was good, excellent even but the story was just lacking for me. It was super quick, which was in its favour (especially as I read this during a break from slogging through an 830p book) and it was difficult…..but I did find that I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck was going on and why something was either happening or not happening.

Safe to say, this isn’t my sort of story. But it seems that Helen Oyeyemi has a lot of fans and her books are widely praised so I might be tempted to try something again and see if perhaps I enjoy her style more on further exploration. And if not, well then I’ve given something a go.

5/10

Book #44 of 2019

I discovered upon finishing this that I can use it towards my Reading Women Challenge. Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria so I’m ticking off category #3. It’s the 7th book completed for the challenge out of 26.

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Review: Hunter by Jack Heath

Hunter (Timothy Blake #2)
Jack Heath
Allen & Unwin
2019, 424p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Timothy Blake, ex-consultant for the FBI, now works in body-disposal for a local crime lord. One night he stumbles across a body he wasn’t supposed to find and is forced to hide it. When the FBI calls Blake in to investigate a missing university professor, Blake recognises him as the dead man in his freezer.

Then another man goes missing. And another.

There’s a serial killer in Houston, Texas, and Blake is running out of time to solve the case. His investigation takes him to a sex doll factory, a sprawling landfill in Louisiana and a secret cabin in the woods.

As they hunt the killer together, FBI agent Reese Thistle starts to warm to Blake – but she also gets closer and closer to discovering his terrible secret.

Can Blake uncover the killer, without being exposed himself?

A confounding, intriguing and wildly suspenseful thriller from the bestselling and acclaimed author of Hangman

As is my way, I didn’t realise this was the second in a series when I picked it up. To be honest it didn’t really matter – this probably reads pretty fine for not having the background knowledge, it’s all explained pretty well. And I actually got the shock of exactly what Timothy does with dead bodies in his ‘disposal’ job for one of Houston’s most ruthless crime lords. This was clearly revealed in the first novel and the reader is supposed to go into this book already knowing what Timothy does…..but I didn’t know so yeah, that was pretty much a shock. It’s definitely unusual!

Timothy lives a very solitary life – the only time he seems to venture outside is when he gets called to come and pick up another body. All that changes when his former partner from the FBI gets in contact with him, asking for his help consulting on a case. This complicates Timothy’s life a lot – part of the reason he retreated from the FBI was to keep FBI agent Reed Thistle safe (from him). The two have known each other a long time, since they were both children in a flawed foster care system and Timothy is torn between his desire to keep Thistle safe and also his curiosity in solving the crime and his desire to spend more time with her. Even though he’s been warned off by his own crime boss (probably warranted, given the body that Thistle is searching for is actually in his freezer and there’s an entire FBI task force dedicated to the goings on of the crime lord) Timothy seems unable to let it go. Only the further into it he gets the more danger he’s in. Especially as things seem to be warming up between him and Thistle and she keeps coming to his house. One day, she’s going to look in the freezer. And then what is he going to do?

Timothy is unusual. Of course he’s unusual. And it’s not just because of what he’s doing with the bodies either. He’s weird in other ways. He’s incredibly socially introverted and he seems to really have trouble in day to day casual interactions. Look, part of that might be his paranoia about his ongoing activities and the fact that he’s frightened of being discovered so he keeps interactions to a minimum. But even in the course of his investigations working with Thistle as a consultant, he really struggles to interact with people. It’s not that he doesn’t get results – maybe putting people off is all a part of his strategy, because getting them awkwardly off side definitely seems to result in him picking up information that they might otherwise not have been able to. He also doesn’t really seem to care for rules or laws either (duh, I guess) and kind of does whatever he wants in the moment, not worrying about little things like warrants and proper procedure.

I enjoyed this a lot – I found it sufficiently creepy to make me glad I read it during the day time and not at night when I’m home alone. I really liked the development of the investigation and how they started off looking at one thing and then it completely morphed into something else. There’s also the complications with Timothy’s crime lord boss, who doesn’t really like being disobeyed and his growing relationship with Agent Thistle, which has a million and one complications.

Despite Timothy’s…..job, I found him kind of sympathetic. I actually felt quite sorry for him in a lot of ways and I liked him. He’s intelligent and amusing, although awkward and I like the way his mind works. I think it seemed like he’d had a pretty awful childhood. I’m not sure exactly why he does what he does, for that I probably need to go back and read the first book and fill in the gaps, but for the sake of being able to read this without feeling too confused, it was perfectly fine. It ended in the most interesting of ways – Timothy is in a world of trouble in probably two ways but it’s also possible he’s not the only one and maybe he’s the predator rather than the prey? It could go either way. I definitely do want to read the first book and I’m really quite interested to see where it goes after this too.

The only thing – can we get a solution for Timothy’s riddles? He makes a bit of pocket money on the side solving people’s riddles that they send him and there’s one at the beginning of each chapter. I’m a bit of a dope or something because there were a few in here that I had no idea what the answer was and I really would’ve liked to know. I don’t have a cryptic, analytical brain and I’d be staring at the page of each new chapter for five minutes wondering what the heck the answer was. In the end I had to stop reading them and finish the book first and then go back and read them all. I’ve no idea if they were relevant to what was actually happening or not or just completely random.

8/10

Book #41 of 2019

 

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