All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Top 10 Tuesday 19th January

Welcome to another instalment of Top 10 Tuesday, hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. This week our topic is:

Top 10 Books I Meant To Read In 2020 But Didn’t Get To

1. The Invisible Life Of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab.

I meant to buy this as soon as it came out but…..I never ended up getting around to it. I bought quite a lot of books towards the beginning of the year, when we first went into lockdown, but hardly anything once we came out of it towards the end of the year. I hope to get to this one soon!

2. How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

I did buy this last year, around the time of the BLM protests after the death of George Floyd. I bought quite a few books and I read a lot of them but I still have this one and one other non-fiction piece left to read. I’ve been learning a lot from reading these and even though I’m not American, finding so many things that are applicable in so many situations and places.

3. Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin

I read the first one in this series, Serpent & Dove and really enjoyed it. I borrowed this one via ebook when it came out but I was really struggling to read ebooks on my iPad last year for some reason, kept giving me headaches so I think I will try it in a different format in 2021. Hopefully borrow a paperback copy or something.

4. The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi

Never got around to this one either and now it’s been such a long time since I read the first book that I’m probably going to have to read it again before I finally read this one. I can’t remember pretty much anything that happened.

5. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

I have been intending to read this for so long! I am going to buy the whole trilogy – this actually fits into a category for a challenge I’m doing this year and they’re such beautiful books that I have to buy copies instead of reading the copy of this one that I have electronically!

6. Bringing Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

I finally read Wolf Hall (only took me 10 years!) and then I bought this one as soon as I’d finished. But I didn’t get around to actually reading it, so that’s a plan for 2021. And then hopefully when I’m finished, the third book is out in some sort of matching format and I can buy that and finish the trilogy. In probably 2022 or 2023 haha.

7. Torched by Kimberley Starr

This was sent by an Australian publisher but I just didn’t get time to squeeze it in but I transferred it to my ‘when I get time’ shelf because I really liked the sound of it. It’s about a single mother whose son is accused of lighting a bushfire (wildfire) that kills 12 people – something that is really relevant here. In fact the publication of this book was pushed back a few months as the first date coincided with terrible bushfires and they thought it’d be better to publish it once the danger of that time had passed. So I still want to read this.

8. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

I always find books that delve into relationships between teachers and students really interesting from a psychological standpoint. I meant to read this one so many times in 2020 and just….never ended up doing it! Rolling it over into the 2021 TBR pile.

9. The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley

I read the rest of the books in this series in pretty quick succession and finished them just before this one was released. However, I still haven’t read it (oh look, the story of my life!) although I have read an extract. Elektra is my least favourite sister and the extract I read made her seem even more tedious but I do want to read this because I am so curious about all the answered questions in this series like why do these sisters not even know their own adoptive father’s name and various other things!

10. Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

This was also sent by a publisher and I didn’t end up fitting it in – it’s about Nancy Wake, a kind of fictionalised telling I guess. Nancy Wake is a really interesting Southern Hemisphere figure that I do not know nearly enough about and this one also went on my “one day” pile because I think it sounds really interesting and I’ve heard some good things from those who have read it.

And there we are – just 10 of the books I meant to get to in 2020 and did not. Will I be successful in reading these in 2021? Who knows? And do you have anything on your list that’s also on mine? Or have you read one of these (or more!) and have some thoughts? Let me know!

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Review: Elizabeth & Elizabeth by Sue Williams

Elizabeth & Elizabeth
Sue Williams
Allen & Unwin
2021, 323p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The story of how two women, who should have been bitter foes, combined their courage and wisdom to wield extraordinary power and influence behind the scenes of the fledgling colony.

‘I’ve waited for this moment so long, dreamed of it, prepared for it, I can barely believe it’s finally here. But it is. And it is nothing like I expected.’

There was a short time in Australia’s European history when two women wielded extraordinary power and influence behind the scenes of the fledgling colony.

One was Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of the new governor Lachlan Macquarie, nudging him towards social reform and magnificent buildings and town planning. The other was Elizabeth Macarthur, credited with creating Australia’s wool industry and married to John Macarthur, a dangerous enemy of the establishment.

These women came from strikingly different backgrounds with husbands who held sharply conflicting views. They should have been bitter foes. Elizabeth & Elizabeth is about two courageous women thrown together in impossible times.

Borne out of an overriding admiration for the women of early colonial Australian history, Sue Williams has written a novel of enduring fascination.

Fun fact: the town where I grew up and where my family still live, is named for Governor Lachlan Macquarie. This is not particularly special, lots of things are named for both the families that are in this book, the Macquaries and the Macarthurs. They dominated the development of New South Wales in the early 1800s when Lachlan Macquarie arrived with his wife Elizabeth, known as Betsy, to take up the post of Governor, replacing William Bligh, who was famously overthrown in the Rum Rebellion of 1808, with one of the loudest voices being John Macarthur, a sheep farmer of much renown.

This book focuses on a friendship between two Elizabeths: Macquarie, who as a new bride (but not a young one) accompanies her husband to Sydney and finds it to be much less than she expected and Macarthur, who handles their family’s extensive sheep flock after her husband goes to London to defend himself on charges for the ousting of Bligh. The two women met once when Betsey Macquarie was just a child and Betsey is eager to establish a friendship with the older Elizabeth, a woman she believes to be her equal and one she admires and looks up to.

I enjoyed this – I spent my whole life in NSW until I was 24 so its history is probably my strongest, in terms what I was taught and I liked the fact that I was really familiar with the players in this story, both the Macquaries and also the Macarthurs. My cousin was actually married at Elizabeth House, which is the house that Elizabeth Macarthur lives in, in this story and is now a museum and function venue. I felt like it gave quite a good impression of firstly, what it might’ve been like for Elizabeth Macquarie to arrive in Sydney and experience the colonies first had and also how Elizabeth Macarthur might feel about the new arrival, as someone who had already been in Sydney for a significant amount of time. Although the two women do establish a strong friendship, it’s not instantaneous and Elizabeth Macarthur does often have quite negative thoughts about Betsey Macquarie. Elizabeth Macarthur is on her own, with her husband John having gone back to England but even from there, he’s working to discredit Lachlan Macquarie which, as the friendship of the two women flourishes, ends up causing quite a concern for Elizabeth, given she has loyalty to her husband but has also come to really respect and like the friendship with Betsey and she even has warm feelings toward Lachlan, who has always treated her with courtesy, when her husband’s actions meant that he could’ve made her quite an outcast.

Lachlan Macquarie was quite a progressive governor, who wanted to build roads and hospitals and buildings and grant convicts settlement rights once they had served their time, which didn’t always sit well with traditionalists. His wife Betsey had a good education and was keen to involve herself in the development of the colony – she takes an interest in the welfare of orphans and architecture and Lachlan Macquarie is happy to host those who came here as convicts in his home. But there are ugly sides to this as well – clashes with local Indigenous groups who steal sheep from properties, hunger and poverty and crime. Whilst the book skims over these, it doesn’t delve too deeply into some of the issues in the creation of Australia itself and more focuses on the friendship between the two Elizabeths and how it managed to flourish despite one woman’s husband working relentlessly to discredit and undermine the other’s as well as the stresses and strains that Lachlan’s work as well as issues in their personal life, put on their marriage. It also delves into Elizabeth Macquarie’s fight after her husband’s death, to have his rebuttal to the charges against him of mismanagement and incompetence in the colony, published.

This book also features Betsey’s strong desire to “do something” and to carve out a role for herself in this new nation, much in the way Elizabeth Macarthur has been, in managing the sheep properties whilst John has been forced to go back to London. Elizabeth Macarthur is highly capable, also raising quite a few children in a harsh environment as well as overseeing the sheep for shearing, breeding, and the export of the high quality merino wool that they became so well known for. Betsey wants to make a difference and she often looks to Elizabeth Macarthur for advice and ways in which to accomplish things without ruffling feathers.

An interesting combination of fact and fiction that held my attention and made me want to investigate both women more.

8/10

Book #8 of 2021

Elizabeth & Elizabeth is book #3 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

It’s also the 2nd book read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge of 2021

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Review: Aunt Ivy’s Cottage by Kristin Harper

Aunt Ivy’s Cottage (Dune Island #2)
Kristin Harper
Bookouture
2020, 326p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

All Zoey’s happiest childhood memories are of her great-aunt Ivy’s rickety cottage on Dune Island, being spoiled with cranberry ice cream and watching the tides change from the rooftop. Now, heartbroken from a recent breakup, Zoey can see her elderly aunt’s spark is fading, and decides to move to the island so they can care for each other.

When she arrives to find her cousin, Mark, sitting at the solid oak kitchen table, she knows why Aunt Ivy hasn’t been herself. Because Mark—next in line to inherit the house—is pushing Ivy to move into a nursing home.

With the cousins clashing over what’s best for Ivy, Zoey is surprised when the local carpenter who’s working on Ivy’s cottage takes her side. As he offers Zoey comfort, the two grow close. Together, they make a discovery in the attic that links the family to the mysterious and reclusive local lighthouse keeper, and throws doubt on Mark’s claim…

Now Zoey has a heartbreaking choice to make. The discovery could keep Ivy in the house she’s loved her whole life… but can Zoey trust that the carpenter really has Ivy’s best interests at heart? And will dredging up an old secret destroy the peace and happiness of Ivy’s final years—and tear this family apart for good?

I actually didn’t realise this was second in a series until after I finished it but I don’t think it matters – I think it’s only the location that is the same and this can be read as a stand alone.

Zoey recently lost her job and her relationship ended in a devastating way. She’s moved back to Dune Island and the big family home that she and her sister spent their summers in growing up, where her great-aunt Ivy lives alone now. Zoey’s priority is taking care of Ivy, helping her through her grief and making sure her greedy cousin Mark, who will inherit the property (although a stipulation means it cannot be sold) doesn’t force Ivy out before she’s truly ready to leave the home she’s lived in for decades. Zoey also takes charge of her teenage niece due to some family issues and she’s also looking for a new job so she has a lot on her plate.

There was a lot about this book I enjoyed. I love the setting, the descriptions of the grand old houses with stunning views and how the house had been in Zoey’s family for many years. Ivy, the current owner of the house, was incredibly generous with it – she had no children herself but loved having the children of her siblings and their children over, especially for summer holidays. Zoey and her sister Jessica grew up loving those summers and Zoey has very sentimental feelings about the house and a great love for her aunt Ivy. She’s never really gotten on with Mark, her spoiled cousin who is always being bailed out and babied by the older generation and as the one who will inherit, Mark seems to suddenly be making a lot of plans, like organising a kitchen renovation. It seems he wants everything done before he inherits it, so that his outlay will be minimal but then he can rent it out and enjoy the returns. Zoey is incensed at what she perceives to be Mark’s taking advantage of an older lady who is in a vulnerable state, if not outright bullying.

I loved the story of Ivy and her sister-in-law Sylvia, the glimpses into the past and the slight element of mystery that surrounded the family line. I also liked Zoey and her dedication to taking care of Ivy and making sure that she was able to live as she wanted to, rather than the way anyone else wanted. She also has a lot of dedication to her niece as well, who is going through quite a difficult time and has a lot of upheaval in her life. Zoey also meets Nick, a local contractor engaged to look at the kitchen renovation and at first, Zoey is highly suspicious of him, thinking he’s a friend of Mark’s. But the more time Nick spends around her, the more she realises she had it wrong and they become friends…and Zoey wonders if there might be the potential for something more.

However, I did find a lot of the conflict between Zoey and Nicholas, quite childish. Zoey flies off the handle regularly, even after knowing Nick she ends up overhearing something that makes her believe the worst in him and instead of asking him about it like a mature adult, she acts like a sulky child. It made it difficult to see why Nick would be interested in her, the amount of times she was stand-offish or outright hostile towards him. Also running through the story is a plot thread about who should inherit the house – it passes to the oldest living relative and cannot be sold or transferred out of the family, no matter what. There are hints that Mark might not have a claim to it and Zoey does occupy herself with looking for some evidence, but in a kind of half-hearted way. However the way in which this resolved felt quite unrealistic and involved a serious 180 in character for one person. It felt quite weak, in comparison to the rest of the story, which I felt was mostly quite strong. It was very neat but the biggest thing didn’t actually happen on page as such, but was glossed over, which I thought was disappointing.

Despite my feelings about that particular part of the story, I enjoyed this quite a bit and I’d read more of this series.

7/10

Book #7 of 2021

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Review: The Bushranger’s Wife by Cheryl Adnams

The Bushranger’s Wife 
Cheryl Adnams
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2020, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

How do you tame a wild colonial boy? With an even wilder colonial girl.

Central Highlands of Victoria 1861.

Jack the Devil’s reputation precedes him. The most notorious bushranger on the Central Highlands, nothing throws him off his game-until he holds up Prudence Stanforth and her grandmother. Jack can’t help but be captivated by the feisty Pru and her lack of fear in the face of danger.

Weeks later, Pru crosses paths with the respectable businessman Jack Fairweather, and it’s not long before she recognises him as the bushranger who stole her favourite necklace. His price for the locket’s return is a kiss-a kiss that ignites sparks in them both.

When Pru discovers her grandmother has been keeping a devastating secret, running away with Jack the Devil is the perfect escape for her broken heart. The dangerous nature of his less than salubrious occupation is a poetic contradiction to her sheltered upbringing, and only fuels their passion.

But as life becomes more complicated, will the return of dark elements from Jack’s past ruin their chance at happiness?

This was okay…but I didn’t love it.

Prudence is travelling with her grandmother all the way from England to a place near Ballarat in Victoria, where her uncle has grown his wealth on the goldfields and built an elegant mansion. Along the way they are robbed by “Jack the Devil”, a notorious bushranger who loves snatching jewels but prides himself on not being violent. Prudence cannot hide her excitement at the hold up being a bit of an adventure, until Jack the Devil forces her to surrender her locket, a cheap trinket but the only thing she really has that reminds her of her mother. Later on, Prudence meets Jack Fairweather, a local businessman, whom she recognises as Jack the Devil (or really, he basically tells her) and they make a bargain. And the later on, when Prudence discovers her grandmother deceived her on something, she flees to Jack and decides to marry him.

I think for me, just neither of the characters were really appealing. Jack is arrogant and I was always looking for a deeper reason that he was a bushranger, that he thought robbing people was justified, or a legitimate way of making money but there was really nothing there, for him, it was just easy. He was just a thief. And he was so proud of himself because he wasn’t violent, like it put him so much further above other bushrangers who might injure or attack, especially young women. Look ok, good for you Jack, you’ve never killed anyone. But you’re not exactly worth bragging about, are you? Stealing people’s belongings, in some cases, irreplaceable belongings is not something to admire. Also, I found it odd that he gave his identity up so quickly to Prudence, even though he could sort of tell she’d found the whole hold-up thing intriguing rather than frightening. It just didn’t seem a good idea, to go around revealing his secret past time so easily. He basically does it 2 minutes after they meet when he is in his “businessman” persona. And Prudence is often just too dumb to live, she’s weirdly excited by being robbed, thinking it’s an “adventure”. She’s been raised in a life of wealth and privilege but it bores her and she wants more – so when she hooks up with Jack, she decides she wants to go along and rob people too. Honestly. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to see her as brave and feisty, wanting to do what the men do but that whole part just didn’t do it for me. She’s like one of those women in TV shows who insist on going everywhere and doing everything and then turning out to be incredibly good at it, even better than those who have been doing it for years. I just didn’t find their shared past time romantic or enjoyable to read about. I also found it somewhat amusing when they were offended at the local police officer questioning Jack or being interested in his movements, because how dare they assume that Jack might be an actual bushranger when he is um *checks notes* an actual bushranger.

There were elements I enjoyed – the descriptions of the local area, even Prudence’s struggle against the life she was being groomed for, marriage to an eligible man and a life of running a household and coordinating staff, etc. Prudence’s troubled relationship with her grandmother was also very well done. The old woman was quite formidable and she made many mistakes with Prudence in order to save face in such times and ended up paying the price. The writing itself was good – just didn’t really like the bush ranging aspect, which kind of was a core point of the story. But I guess I just don’t find crime romantic! I tend to feel very much the same about modern day OMC books. The tension was built well also, towards the end of the novel, although I did find the ending a bit lacking, a sort of neat fix and kind of irrelevant to the main plot in terms of the whodunnit.

This was a quick read but a mixed bag for me personally.

5/10

Book #6 of 2021

 

The Bushranger’s Wife is book #2 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

It is also book #1 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021

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Review: Dopesick by Beth Macy

Dopesick 
Beth Macy
Head Of Zeus
2019, 408p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Beth Macy takes us into the heart of America’s struggle with opioid addiction. From distressed small communities in Central Appalachia to wealthy suburbs and once-idyllic farm towns, this powerful and moving story illustrates how a national crisis became so firmly entrenched.

At the heart of the narrative is a large corporation, Purdue – whose owners are celebrated for their sponsorship of art galleries and museums – that targeted areas of the country already awash in painkillers and encouraged small town doctors to prescribe OxyContin, a highly addictive drug. Evidence of its capacity to enslave its users was suppressed. Macy tries to answer a grieving mother’s question – why her only son died – and comes away with a harrowing story of greed and need.

Overtreatment with painkillers became the norm. In distressed communities of ex-miners and factory workers, the unemployed used painkillers both to numb the pain of joblessness and pay their bills. Macy’s portraits of the families, cops and doctors struggling to ameliorate this epidemic are unforgettable. But in a country unable to provide basic healthcare for all, Macy still finds reason to hope that there may be a decent future for people so abandoned by their political leaders. This is an essential book for anyone trying to understand the harrowing realities of Trump’s America.

This was…..eye opening. In so many ways.

The first time I really properly heard about America’s opioid crisis was a piece that John Oliver did on Last Week Tonight. This was one of the books I earmarked when I made a note to learn more about it and I found it both fascinating and also, heartbreaking. Reading from the perspective of an Australian, it’s also interesting to look at another facet of the American medical system and the ways in which big pharmaceutical companies push their drugs on doctors, teams dedicated to “courting them” with free dinners, vouchers, gifts, etc to make sure that their product is the one they have in mind when they reach for that prescription pad. Here, narcotics tend to be a bit of a last resort and they’re much more controlled. My husband has had several very serious and intensive operations – pain management is controlled intravenously for the first day or two, then they switch you to tablets and honestly, by the time he’s left hospital he’s twice been on only ibuprofen and paracetamol and the two times they did prescribe something stronger, it was one prescription, no repeats, enough tablets for one every six hours for about a week. Most of the time, he didn’t even finish them, switching to over the counter stuff or stuff available anywhere, after a few days. There are some truly disturbing stories here of people being prescribed potentially hundreds of serious painkillers for sprained ankles, thumbs, etc.

This book focuses on rural Virginia and the way in which OxyContin, a “new” (in the 1990s) pain pill, was touted as being incredibly low-risk for abuse due to addiction. Literally weeks after it was made available, people had discovered that if they crushed it and snorted it or injected it, that negated the slow-release part of the pill and they got about 70% of the dosage right away, providing a strong high and creating horrific addiction. Withdrawal from “Oxy” is as as bad as heroin – and after a long campaign by parents of kids who had been killed taking Oxy, the company that created and market it, Purdue Pharma, finally added a “blocker” to it, that took away the high feeling. When that feeling dried up, those addicted to it turned to heroin to get their fix. Both Oxy and heroin created waves of overdoses, often amount young people, those still in high school. It changed the mindset about who could get addicted, who this sort of thing could impact upon. That it wasn’t just street junkies this was happening to – but middle class, white, young (teens and 20s) people as well as others from all walks of life. And because it began in a small, mostly poor rural area, it was a long, long time before it was recognised as a problem. And by the time it was, by the time it had infiltrated cities and larger areas, the damage was done.

Beth Macy follows several parents in this, who lost their children to addiction and their fight to bring Purdue Pharma to justice for what they created and marketed and the ways in which they went about doing it. You hear a lot about the evils of big Pharma and Purdue embraced that with a passion it seemed, lacking in anything remotely resembling interest in people dying from their product as long as doctors were still prescribing it by the bucketload. I was gobsmacked how easy it was to score a decent supply of pills for really, the smallest of injuries – for some, it was a lucrative business, selling the pills they were prescribed to addicts desperate for the next fix. There were things they (Purdue) knew and hid, to get FDA approval and in the time since this book was been published, “it was reported that Purdue had reached a settlement potentially worth $8.3bn, admitting that it “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” doctors dispensing medication “without a legitimate medical purpose”. Members of the Sackler family will additionally pay $225m and the company will close.” Many studies drew a direct line between Purdue’s marketing tactics and the uptick in addiction, and the company continued to push their claim that the pills were not addictive, when taken correctly. In fact, most of the time executives said the problem was inadequate pain management and that there should be more pain pills used, not less. Now whilst inadequate pain management might be an issue, it’s a separate one and one that won’t be fixed by throwing more pills at people. OxyContin was originally created for palliative care, giving 12hrs free of pain but when intake is not controlled, the consequences were dire.

Reading about Purdue Pharma is fascinating stuff – after this book was published, upwards of 36 states were suing them due to their deceptive marketing practices increasing addiction and how that had impacted socially and economically in many states. Many people didn’t start off as addicts looking for a quick fix and hearing about a new pill – they started off as people who went to their doctors for a legitimate pain issue and were prescribed a pill that didn’t live up to what it said on the box – so they took more. And became addicted. It was interesting to try and understand addiction as a beast and how little those in power often do. A lot of the time, the only rehab option available to people was a “cold turkey” type, with no medical assistance and a lot of studies show that type of rehab isn’t effective for withdrawal from opioids. In fact, according to this book, the average addict would need about 8 years of failed attempts to get clean for 12 months. However the average life expectancy of an opioid addict is just under 5 years. They’re horrific statistics – a lot of rehab facilities are run by churches and religious organisations and they don’t agree with using controlled medications in order to help people detox and feed the craving but erase the high. Most of the time, insurance doesn’t cover a facility that uses medical assistance and these facilities can run to thousands of dollars. That’s simply not an option for so many people. And even when it is an option, addiction is so tricky that it simply doesn’t always work. There were people in this book who had paid tens of thousands of dollars trying to get clean or get their children clean. Some had lost everything to the addiction as well, like a 70+yo farmer who sold his property and basically everything he owned and spent it all on the addiction. It was heartbreaking, reading so many of the stories.

I feel like this book is a great place to start if like me, you didn’t know much about this. It gives you plenty of information but without being overwhelming on science and policy and legality – and there’s so many stories of real people in here that it gives you a real appreciation of the damage this has done. And continues to do.

8/10

Book #5 of 2021

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Top 10 Tuesday 12th January

Welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday! Hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl, Top 10 Tuesday features a different bookish themed question or topic each week. This time we are talking:

Top 10 Bookish Hopes Or Resolutions For 2021

I have ebbed and flowed with bookish resolutions over the years. This year I hadn’t made any specifically before now but I thought it might be a good chance to think about the sorts of things I might want to accomplish in 2021 for the blog, with reading and reviewing in general. Let’s see how much I come up with…

  1. Remember that cross posting is a thing that exists: I am really bad with remembering to post my reviews to goodreads when they go up on my blog, or posting them in linky things or databases for the challenges that I am taking part in. I usually end up posting like, 40 at a time to goodreads, which is I’m sure, annoying for everyone on my friend’s list when they log in and get smashed with everything I’ve read in the last 2 months on their main page! I am going to make a conscious effort this year, to cross post and link up my reviews at the relevant places much more regularly.
  2. Use a reading journal: I used to also keep track of what I’d been reading in paper form as well as books received from publishers etc, but that kind of fell by the wayside last year and my reviews, records of what I’d read etc, were all electronic. I’d like to go back this year, to writing things down. I’ve got some really lovely notebooks that are unused and this seems like a good way to use up one of them!
  3. Continue to try and read more diversely: This has been a goal of mine for a couple of years and I’ve made some improvements but I’m still not where I’d like to be. I’d like to read more books by authors of colour, more books with characters who are LGBTQIP+ and by authors who are the same.
  4. Continue reading more non-fiction: The last couple of years I have been increasing the amount of non-fiction that I have been reading and I’ve been really enjoying it. It’s good sometimes, to read something that is a bit more complex because it also then makes me appreciate the fiction books that I go back to in-between non-fiction titles, especially the palate cleansing ones. I have a challenge this year as well, to help me with more non-fiction.
  5. Do not forget about my reading challenges, until the last minute: Sometimes this is a thing. I sign up for challenges at the beginning of the year and then kind of forget about them for large chunks of the year and then I panic about the amount of books I still have left to read for the challenges. This year I need to have more of a plan to space out the reading I need to do for challenges a bit, to search out books a bit earlier in the year.
  6. Be more choosy about the books I buy and in which format: I didn’t buy a huge amount of books last year, because I was basically in lockdown for 6 months and although I ordered some online, I definitely bought less than if I’d been out looking in bookstores every other week. Because of that, I didn’t have a huge amount of books that I bought last year and didn’t read yet, which is different to previous years. I still have unread books that I bought many years ago – so this year I want to be more careful about the books I buy. Utilise my library more, only buy favourite authors or books I really, really want to own. I want to buy more books on kindle as well simply because I just do not have the room to keep buying print copies at the rate I have been. My house is running out of room!
  7. Be a bit more brutal about the books I keep: I get quite a few books sent to me by publishers and I used to keep everything. Recently (last 3-4 years) I’ve realised that like above, that’s not sustainable – I can’t keep doing that. I’ve done a few culls of my book collection but I’ve realised I need to cull more regularly – maybe every month or two. If I read a book and I didn’t love it and know I won’t read it again most likely – set it aside to donate. Only keep the books that really spark joy, the ones that I adore. Even books that I buy – sometimes I buy something thinking I love it but I don’t end up doing that. And if not, then it needs to go.
  8. Care less about the goodreads goal: In the past, I’ve found the goodreads goal a bit stressful, like it was judging me. The last couple of years, I have deliberately lowballed my reading goal and that makes me feel much better about it.
  9. Don’t read things because I feel obliged: Sometimes in the past, I’ve felt like I should read something, because it was sent to me, unsolicited. I pretty much don’t feel like that anymore, but sometimes I need reminding.
  10. Keep my desk tidy: This is something I also need to remind myself about. It’s so easy for me to just dump stuff on my desk where I write reviews, because it’s quite large. I need to make sure I keep it tidy because when it gets messy I avoid sitting at it, and that’s how reviews pile up and my preference is to write them as soon as I can after finishing a book, because if they do pile up then I get overwhelmed and just don’t do it. So setting aside a time each week or every second week, to tidy my desk, remove anything that no longer needs to be there, keep the things that do need to be there organised, helps enormously.

And they’re my top 10 resolutions for 2021! I actually wasn’t sure I was going to be able to come up with 10 but in the end, it was quite easy.

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Review: I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver

I Wish You All The Best 
Mason Deaver
Push
2019, 336p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s just three words: I am nonbinary. But that’s all it takes to change everything.

When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

I had heard really good things about this book and I don’t think I’ve ever read something where the main character is non-binary and revolves around the issues and fallout from coming out as such, to their parents. Ben has come to realise this about themselves, with their preferred pronouns being “they” and “them”. Ben’s parents have already fallen out with Ben’s older sister Hannah – she left for college 10 years ago and never looked back. Ben had been struggling with the issue of their identity for a while and has decided that they have to be honest with their parents about themselves. I don’t think they could’ve predicted the fallout – they are kicked out of the house immediately in the depths of winter and have to use a payphone to call Hannah, begging her to come and get them. Hannah does immediately and takes Ben back to the home where she lives with her husband Thomas, a high school science teacher. Together they agree to give Ben a place in their home and get them enrolled in the same high school where Thomas is a teacher. There Ben meets Nathan, who is chosen to show Ben around the school. Although Ben is reserved, Nathan is hard to ignore and slowly he sneaks his way in under Ben’s walls.

I’m not sure if it’s Ben’s desperation to be accepted by their parents or perhaps teenage naivety that means that they don’t really seem to consider the potential possibility of rejection. Ben even admits that their father is somewhat difficult – their parents also seem highly religious and the father in particular, judgemental (anti-gay, etc). However every child just wants to be loved and accepted by their parents for who they are, no matter what that is and Ben is no longer able to really stand hearing pronouns that they do not identify with any longer. Thankfully after their father casts them out of the house, they find acceptance with Hannah, who along with Thomas, make a huge effort to use the correct pronouns and give Ben somewhere safe where they can be themselves. Ben is grateful for that, but they still have issues with Hannah, particularly the way she disappeared without a trace. Ben understands that Hannah had to leave – and perhaps why, after the fallout with their father – but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t some resentment about her disappearance from Ben’s life, even as she’s trying to make amends by helping Ben now.

As I mentioned, I am pretty sure this is the first book I’ve read with a non-binary main character and I do not have any experience with a person who identifies that way in real life so this book was a chance to learn and understand a bit more, the ways in which people can identify this about themselves, their choices to ‘come out’ (or not) to those they know and trust etc. Ben has a non-binary friend, someone they met online that has been a huge support for them and I would honestly imagine that many people in Ben’s situation probably find support in this way – seeking out people who feel the same way they do or seeing/hearing something online that strikes a chord within them. Especially if they’re in Ben’s situation where it’s not an easy choice to come out and there’s a chance of rejection or ignorance. Ben’s parents both accidentally and deliberately misgender them and misgendering is a very upsetting experience for Ben, even when it comes from people who have no idea that they identify as non-binary and are not aware that they are doing it. Ben’s parents do not seem willing to listen and understand and Ben definitely struggles with making a difficult choice in order for their own mental health. I was happy to see that Hannah gently suggested the idea of counselling for Ben and that the counsellor she had discovered, was very familiar with issues for those who are LGBTQIP+. Ben had been through (and was still going through) an awful lot and had issues with depression and anxiety as well, revolving around being kicked out of their home and rejected and abused by the two people who should care about them the most. I always wonder what I would do if one of my children did a certain thing – and if any of them ever realise something about themselves like Ben does, I know how not to act. My goal would be to be more of a Hannah.

There’s a romance in this but it’s not a primary focus and I sort of wish it had been a little more. Ben has a lot going on in their lives though and I guess in a way, romance is the least of their concerns and it happens anyway, but I think for me, I’d have liked a bit more chemistry build up. Nathan is a lovely character, he’s the softest cinnamon roll who is accepting and friendly and sweet and has this incredible approach to life and folds Ben into his life – both in school and out of it – without hesitation, even when Ben tries to avoid such entanglements. But I definitely get why it was lower key, considering there was so much going on in Ben’s life.

I enjoyed this – it’s a sweet story of Ben finding people who do accept them, even as they learn that sometimes, you have to let things go in order to grow. But more than that, I’m sure it’ll be an important book for a lot of people, for them to see themselves, or someone like them, represented in fiction.

8/10

Book #4 of 2021

 

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Review: Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Take A Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters #2)
Talia Hibbert
Piatkus
2020, 361p
Gifted via Secret Santa exchange

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint? 

I bought the audio of Get A Life, Chloe Brown on a whim because I’d heard a few really good things about this series and I absolutely loved it, which was rare for me, as generally I prefer listening to audiobooks of things I’ve already read. But the narration was excellent and I loved both Chloe and Red and so when I participated in a Secret Santa bookswap for this Christmas we were recommended to list up to 3 books we’d be happy to receive and so I put this one down as one of my selections. I was really happy that this is the book my SS chose and I ended up reading it the day after it turned up on my doorstep.

Dani Brown is an academic, highly focused on her career and her research and not at all on relationships. Dani is bisexual and has just ended things with a colleague named Jo when Jo wanted to get more serious. Dani doesn’t get serious, ever. She prefers things casual – encounters to release tension and then she’s happy for them to go on their way so she can get back to work. When footage of her security guard friend Zafir Ansari carrying her goes viral, it gives Zafir an opportunity to grow his charity if they lean into it by pretending to be in a relationship. It helps that they already think the other is very attractive – Zafir has been fighting it for a while and Dani is more impressed by each layer of Zafir she uncovers.

This was so fun. I enjoyed it so much. The banter is top quality, which I expected after the first book. I liked the glimpse of Dani in that book and she was so smart and sassy, always working but the ways in which she stops to connect with Zafir are great. And he was adorable – I loved him. A Muslim ex-rugby union player (Dr Rugbae! Clever, haha) who suffered a great loss that triggered depression and ramped up his anxiety, Zafir works security at the university to pay the bills but his real passion is teaching teens how to take charge of their mental health and learn that it’s not taboo to express themselves. His family are amazing – his mother, sister-in-law and niece and he also has a wonderful, long-standing friendship. Also because he’s a former rugby union player, he’s built like a brick $hithouse and Dani is a generously proportioned black woman (Jamaican heritage) and these books have positive representation everywhere. I also love that like in the first one, we get the internal thoughts of both and Zafir really does have quite a lot of thoughts about Dani. It’s always one of my favourite things to get to see the male character’s appreciation and hear their thoughts. Male characters with angst are one of my favourite romance things and Zaf definitely has some angst going on.

I really like how Talia Hibbert balances the humour in the banter and character’s snappy personality with serious issues. Zaf’s anxiety is done really well and he’s this big burly bloke that people don’t expect to have that sort of thing and he’s all about positive portrayal of mental health and smashing through toxic masculinity. Dani is also a feminist researcher and I loved the way she was supportive of Zaf, especially when he has an anxiety attack and also the way that she discovers that Zaf is quite familiar with her work. You can just see them taking positive steps for a healthy relationship, even if Dani is so convinced that she’s not a relationship sort of person.

Super fun, super re-readable, really excited for book #3, especially as this one had a small excerpt in the back and I got the beginning of Eve’s story.

8/10

Book #3 of 2021

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Review: Loud Mouth by Avery Flynn

Loud Mouth (Ice Knights #3)
Avery Flynn
Entangled:Amara
2020, 220p
Purchased personal copy via Amazon

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

I never meant to say a word, not one single word.

But I did.

And now, because of my blog, everyone knows that Ice Knights hockey star Ian Petrov’s best friend and fellow player is actually his half brother—hello, hockey Hall of Famer dad who couldn’t keep his jeans zipped.

That wouldn’t be such a big deal if Ian knew. He didn’t, and boy howdy is he pissed. And who is he most mad at? Oh sure, he’s upset with his dad and former best friend/brother from another mother, but most of his ire is with me. It’s definitely a case of hating the messenger.

And what could make it worse? How about the two of us being trapped together in a remote cabin after a massive blizzard. Neither of us can leave. Just us, the snow, his resentment, and OMG sexual tension so thick it would take a snowplow to break through it.

I’ve got to get out of here before I do something even dumber than I’ve already done and kiss the sexy, snarly grump with his misplaced anger and perfect pecs. That would be the worst, the absolute worst. That’s why I’m not going to do it. Nope. Really. So why can’t I stop imagining what it would be like?

This was just okay, didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped, unfortunately.

It sounded like my sort of thing – big grumpy dude, spitfire of a heroine and I love ice hockey. It begins with them both being sent to a cabin and getting snowed in after Shelby’s accidental indiscretion results in a reporter getting the scoop of the year that best friends and teammates Ian Petrov and Alex Christiansen are actually half brothers, with Alex being the child of an affair. Alex knew who his father was but he never told Ian and although Ian’s parents are now divorced, Alex’s existence means that he was playing away from home for a very long time. The news is splashed all over the papers before the club or Alex can break it to Ian gently – and he’s pissed. Really, really pissed about it. Shelby is the last person he wants to be snowed in with (and there’s no power so they have to snuggle in front of a fire, because of course they do). I love a good enemies to lovers and a good forced proximity so I was ready to really enjoy this.

But the bit where they’re snowed in together is disappointingly short, which means that the sexual tension feels forced and rushed, not a simmer brought to a boil. Ian also really isn’t that grumpy, he’s taciturn and doesn’t talk much and he’s really hurt and angry about his newfound brother, especially at what he considers to be a deep betrayal by Alex in not telling him. Ian is actually annoying angry about it, they bicker like two dumb kids (Alex is mad too, I don’t know why, maybe because Ian is mad at him and he feels Ian’s anger is misplaced I guess). After the disappointingly short time period of Ian and Shelby being snowed in together is over, Ian and Alex’s ice hockey management team decides the best way to handle this scandal is to force them to be best buds and have Shelby write about it for her hockey blog, which is now tied to the club as they offered her a media position. The media liaison officer or head of publicity or whatever she is decides to add to the fun by having them do things like babysit her baby on a long flight because she’s tired and I don’t know, that seems like kind of an odd thing to expect people you are responsible for but who are not your direct employees, to do.

Also Shelby is an alcoholic which is interesting, as she’s about 6 years sober and it’s referenced a lot and she’s only in her mid to late 20s so it’s obvious she had a problem quite young but this doesn’t really go anywhere or mean anything. It feels like a core part of her personality obviously, to have already come through rehab and earned some chips at such a young age but there’s relatively little background. She does talk about going to meetings and she has a sponsor but I honestly thought it was going to tie in to the plot somehow but it didn’t. Instead it just felt like the author decided Shelby needed something in her backstory that could be referenced but not elaborated on too deeply because this book is only just over 200 pages, spun a wheel, threw a dart and hit “recovering addict” on it.

Also the ending is kind of weird, Ian and Alex fix their issues over bonding over what a dick their dad is even though he has literally always been this way and both of them have always known this fact. And Ian and Shelby’s conflict is resolved in a way that made me die inside of embarrassment and not in the good way. The sex scenes were fine even though I would’ve liked so much more build.

It took very little time to read this and it was cheap but I wasn’t blown away by it.

6/10

Book #2 of 2021

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Review: Starting From Scratch by Penelope Janu

Starting From Scratch
Penelope Janu
Harlequin AUS
2021, 349p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After a troubled childhood and the loss of her beloved grandmother, Sapphie Brown finally finds somewhere to call home – the close-knit rural community of Horseshoe Hill.

The locals love Sapphie because she never gives up – as chair of the environment committee, with the children in her classes, the troubled teens at the youth centre, the ex-racehorses she cares for and even the neglected farmhouse and gardens she wants make her own. Sapphie gives second chances to everything and everyone. Except Matts Laaksonen.

An impossibly attractive environmental engineer who travels the world, Matt’s was Sapphie’s closest childhood friend. He came to deliver a warning – now he doesn’t want to leave.

All Sapphie wants to do is forget their painful past, but thrown together they discover an attraction that challenges what they thought they knew about each other. Do they have a chance to recapture what they lost so long ago? Or will long-buried secrets tear them apart?

In the flowers she creates from paper and the beauty that grows on the land, Sapphie has found perfect imperfection. Could that be what love is like too?

There’s nothing better than starting the New Year with a wonderful book – I deliberately made this book my first read for 2021 because I felt like it would deliver that, based on previous experience and I was right.

Starting From Scratch is set in the same location as Penelope Janu’s previous book, Up On Horseshoe Hill with a few familiar faces appearing. Sapphie is a local primary school teacher who also chairs an environmental committee and works with troubled children, including using horses as equine therapy. In Horseshoe Hill, Sapphie has found a home that was lacking in her formative years after her parent’s trouble marriage, the postings overseas for her father’s work and the deaths of some of the people she loved most in the world. Sapphie found a new home with a foster family despite her father still being alive and from there, she began to build the existence she lives today. Which is threatened when her childhood best friend, Matts Laaksonen reappears in her life and gives her the kind of news that turns it upside down.

Sapphie is brave and determined – she’s experienced a lot of pain and loss in her life and even though she’s damaged, she’s not broken. She has a lot of things she throws herself into. She’s a huge part of the local community and she’s great with her kids, who worship her and she can often get through to the local teenagers, who know that she’ll forgive them their mistakes and help them make things right. She has several rescue horses and she’s passionate about them and the old schoolhouse which she is leasing with the option to buy, once she’s saved a little more. She has friends – including Jet from Up On Horseshoe Hill and purpose even though for Sapphie, there’s not really anyone to share this life with.

Enter Matts, who was her best fried when their fathers were posted together first in Argentina and then Canberra. Matts is three years older, which complicated their friendship as they grew older but when they were younger, they were often inseparable. Years ago, Sapphie cut Matts off for a betrayal and they haven’t spoken since, until he appears in her backyard. It brings about a lot of complex feelings for Sapphie, especially when Matts seems to want to spend more time in her local area. As there are in many (perhaps all?) of Penelope Janu’s other books, there’s a strong environmental concern, this time about wetlands in western NSW and the usage of them, how important they are as habitats, for a myriad of species, including endangered ones and how the changing climate and over draining of them mostly from large, corporate owned farms, is impacting severely. I really enjoyed a lot of the information about the wetlands as well as the trip they take. Stuff like this is always a concern to me, the way in which rivers are diverted (the Murray-Darling has loads going on) and wetlands are drained or also diverted to the way of big farms. I know you need water to grow things but if you alter or destroy these habitats, the ramifications are so huge.

This story went in some unexpected places, particularly concerning the background in the foreign country. I loved Sapphie’s relationship with her grandmother, including the making of the paper flowers. I also think a lot about colours and naming them (there’s a reason I have so many coloured markers and pens, I always need what I feel is the ‘right’ colour for something) and her devotion to her mother and her unwillingness to tarnish her reputation when she is no longer able to defend herself. There’s a good fleshing out of Matts and Sapphie’s backstory, as well as expressing a younger Sapphie’s innocence at the change in Matts towards her when he’s about 18. And in the present, Sapphie is still a little naive in some ways, prickly and defensive but vulnerable too and still ripe for being used as a tool by one person who should be trying to protect her, not manipulate her to his advantage and render her helpless in the new life she has slowly built for herself.

I loved this – revisiting Horseshoe Hill was a lot of fun and I enjoyed seeing familiar faces like Gus and of course, Jet and Finn. I also liked Hugo and felt like there might’ve been a hint of a suggestion that he might get his own book one day in the future. But Sapphie really shone in this as a character, shaped by her past but brave enough to be embracing her future and I enjoyed Matts’ patience and quiet determination. Like the others, this ticked all my romance boxes.

9/10

Book #1 of 2021

Starting From Scratch is book #1 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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