All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Fence Vol 1-12 by C.S. Pacat

Fence Vol 1-12 
C.S. Pacat, illustrations by Johanna the Mad
BOOM! Box
2018-19, 336p
Read via Scribd

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Nicholas, the illegitimate son of a retired fencing champion, is a scrappy fencing wunderkind, and dreams of getting the chance and the training to actually compete. After getting accepted to the prodigious Kings Row private school, Nicholas is thrust into a cut-throat world, and finds himself facing not only his golden-boy half-brother, but the unbeatable, mysterious Seiji Katayama…

Through clashes, rivalries, and romance between teammates, Nicholas and the boys of Kings Row will discover there’s much more to fencing than just foils and lunges.

You know, when it became likely that the coronavirus was going to be a really big deal and that there was going to be extreme measures needed to combat it, I wasn’t that worried about it. There’s a lot of jokes about how introverts have been preparing for this their whole lives and in a way, that’s applicable to me. I much prefer being at home to being out and when they made the decision to close the schools where I live, I thought it’d be fine. But I found myself a lot more anxious than I thought and as a result, I didn’t pick up a book for days. I looked at all the books I had and just did not have the motivation to read any of them. They all felt like they belonged in the ‘too hard basket’ for now. I was scrolling through different apps on my iPad, looking for something that appealed and I discovered this graphic novel series from C.S. Pacat. I’ve read her Captive Prince series and loved it so I thought I’d give this a go. The format felt like something that would work.

Nicholas is a young fencer who has had limited training but exhibits a raw talent. He’s the (illegitimate) son of a former fencing champion and after he’s humiliated by a prodigy named Seiji Katayama he gains a scholarship to a school with dreams of facing Seiji again and beating him. Everyone expects Seiji to be accepted to Exton, the top school for fencing but instead Nicholas is horrified to find that Seiji is also a student at Kings Row, just like he is….and in fact, they’re room mates.

This was just what I needed to kickstart me into reading again. There are 12 volumes available, which set up the story and then work through the tournament at the school that decides the school fencing team. There’s a lot of diversity in this story – characters of different backgrounds and sexualities with gender fluidity as well, although so far we have yet to get into the real romance of the story, which I am pretty keen for (I am assuming that is where it is going). Apparently the next part of the story is coming out in May of this year and after reading through all of the available volumes so far, I can’t wait to see what happens next. The group of fencers that make up the team are eclectic and interesting and I felt like we got to know them as people very well. I have to admit, I don’t often find graphic novels satisfying because I want more – but with this one, I felt as though the story was presented very well with the limited words and the illustrations are excellent.

I know very little about fencing and this story imparts quite a bit of knowledge but without making it feel like that’s all that’s going on here – because it isn’t. There’s quite a lot of other complex storytelling as well, particularly Nicholas’ feelings about his father as well as his half brother. Then there’s his rivalry with Seiji, which resulted in Nicholas being utterly humiliated before being accepted to the school on a scholarship. His entire goal is to get better, train harder, get quality coaching so that he can beat Seiji, atone for his humiliation. And to his horror, Seiji is at the same school…which means they won’t be facing each other in the tournament. Everyone is surprised that Seiji is there…at a “third rate” high school when he’s ranked 2nd. Because of this, Nicholas and Seiji need to readjust their thoughts on each other…Nicholas is raw but he has talent and his ability surprises people at times. They need to learn to be part of a team.

I really enjoyed this – so much so that I read all of the volumes back to back and it was just nice to enjoy something, read it for no real reason other than it caught my eye and was something different to enjoy. It definitely helped me get back into reading and feel like I could become invested in a story, which is something that I was really struggling with.

8/10 (for all volumes – it was very consistent)

Book #s 50, 51 and 52 (I read this in 3x bind ups with 4 volumes in each) of 2020

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Review: House Of Earth And Blood by Sarah J. Maas

House Of Earth And Blood (Crescent City #1)
Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury ANZ
2020, 802p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bound by blood.
Tempted by desire.
Unleashed by destiny.

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

I have previously enjoyed both of Sarah J. Maas’ other series’ and was quite looking forward to this new series, which is the first classified as “adult” despite the fact that her other two were pretty much adult books. However – this book was a struggle in a couple of different ways and I think a lot of that boils down to the fact that well, it’s just too long.

It’s 800 pages and when I finished it, I said to my husband “pretty sure that could’ve been a 400p book. Max.” There’s huge amounts of filler and info dumping in the first section before the murder happens and then pretty much nothing happens for the 300p or so after that except for some pretty tedious conversations between Bryce and various other people and Hunt, the fallen angel turned guardian, following her around as she ‘investigates’ the death of her best friend Danika and Danika’s wolf pack. The last maybe 200p are excellent – I was invested in what was happening and a lot of the plot was actually quite strong, some of the stuff laid down earlier turned out to be important. But because the preceding 300 or 350p was so slow, that made the last 200p or so feel like utter breakneck pace. So overall, it feels a bit all over the place.

Secondly, Bryce. She’s really annoying. She’s one of those “sassy” girls who isn’t intimidated by anyone or anything, even immortal beings that could clearly snap her in two with a mere thought. She’s also ridiculously beautiful of course and although she’s half-Fae, has almost no power until it turns out that she’s a special snowflake after all, because of course she is. I found Bryce tedious for probably 90% of this book. There’s a lot of drug taking and partying and sleeping with randoms in toilets in the earlier section and a lot of being horrid to people in the rest for seemingly little to no reason at all. I think in order to make the reader feel sympathetic toward Bryce, Maas has some people/wolves treat her in a truly heinous fashion but for me, this is never particularly adequately explained. It’s partially explained in terms of one character but in relation to another, nothing really makes sense other than the fact that Bryce is a “half-breed” but the level of hatred and revulsion feels ridiculously over the top and stupidly petty.

I found no reason to get invested in Bryce and Hunt because this is the first book and Maas has sunk every first book ship and there’s little to suggest that won’t happen here as the series moves on. To me their chemistry wasn’t particularly there. They’re just two exceptionally hot people forced to spend time together and for some reason that results in them wanting to sleep together (which doesn’t happen actually, there’s no sex scene here). I liked Hunt as a character and I enjoyed his motivations, the twists revolving around him. He actually felt far more interesting to me than Bryce – the struggle with his ’employment’, his desire for freedom, his dedication and loyalty to his fallen lover was something I felt marked him as different…until it seemed that he wasn’t immune to Bryce either because she’s super beautiful and amazing and her only flaws are her too-big boobs and her too-big butt which meant she couldn’t have the dancing career she desired. The best thing about Bryce was actually her friendship with Danika.

Books don’t have to be this long to set up a story, even in a completely foreign urban fantasy world. I felt the same way about Kingdom Of Ash as well, and that was culminating a massive book arc. This is just beginning….it’s possible subsequent books in this series could be longer, if it follows patterns of her others. I felt like you could lose probably 300p of this book and it honestly would not actually impact on the core story at all. There’s just a lot of Bryce doing things – going to work, going home, going for a run, eating, talking to people, arguing with Hunt, arguing with others, reminiscing about Danika and navel gazing. This just reminds me that sometimes I say “oh I feel I could read 1000p of X character just living their lives” and then an author gives me a book that is basically 1000p of a character doing things and yeah, no, it’s not the read I thought it was. Or maybe it’s just because I found Bryce so meh most of the time. I liked Feyre and Aelin a lot more. Bryce is like Aelin with the volume turned up even more and I wasn’t sure that was possible. Maybe now that she’s at peace over the death of her friends, I’ll like her more in the future. I hope so.

If this had been a 400p book (like the first 100p and the last 300) I think it would’ve been pretty amazing. There’s actually a lot of pretty clever (and quite gruesome) stuff and the way it peaks at the end was really engaging and like I said earlier, I was pretty invested. But I really had to push through the 400p in the middle, I was literally forcing myself to read through it at times, just waiting for something to happen. When it does, it’s great. But there’s so much time spent where nothing is happening and that for me, is getting to be a problem.

7/10 (I really ummed and ahhed over what to rate this, whether it’d be a 3 or a 4 on Goodreads, 6 or a 7 here. I think because the last portion really did have my heart racing and made me feel things {I am still not over Lehaba} I went the more generous number)

Book #49 of 2020

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Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious (Villains #1)
V.E. Schwab
Tor Books
2013, 366p
Read via Scribd.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

Last week I saw on twitter that Scribd, an app for eBooks and audiobooks, had waived their fee for 30 days, in an attempt to give people quality content during this period of enforced isolation for many, as well as accurate information. I was pretty curious so I decided to have a look – and was pretty impressed by the selection of books to choose from. There was a good mix of eBook and audio, some of which I added to a favourites list. There’s other stuff as well, such as magazines, documents, music, etc. I chose this to read because not that long ago I actually searched for it and couldn’t find it anywhere. My local library did not have it, nor did the bookshops I checked. I could’ve ordered it online but I probably got distracted by other books and forgot about it entirely until I saw it in the Scribd library.

This is a really clever story and I found myself hooked pretty much right away. Victor and Eli are college roommates who are intelligent and competitive. When they have to choose topics for their senior year theses, the topics they choose crossover somewhat. Eli wants to research “EO’s” – ExtraOrdinary beings. People who have had a certain experience that has changed them, given them powers or abilities. It’s not enough to just research this – both Victor and Eli then decide that to truly explore this they need to do it themselves.

Ten years later and Victor has liberated himself from jail with one thing on his mind – finding Eli and making him pay. Their friendship is in ruins and Victor has spent the better part of the previous decade in prison because of Eli. Armed with his prison roommate/friend and a 13yo girl with an unusual ability, Victor sets about tracking Eli down but their unique abilities mean that it’s not going to be easy for either of them to kill the other…and Eli is hunting Victor just as much as Victor is hunting him.

This is super heroes….but different. Super anti-heroes maybe. To be honest, neither Eli nor Victor are particularly worthy of admiration….they both do some pretty messed up things in their quest for super abilities and in particular, Victor seems quite jealous of Eli, spurring him on to try something that has added danger and consequences. Ten years later, Victor is looking to settle the score with Eli, blaming him for his stint in jail. And Eli, he’s become some sort of self-appointed avenging angel type being, making it a mission to eradicate anyone with supernatural abilities, whilst completely ignoring the fact that he manufactured his own on purpose, it seems. He has a sidekick, someone with an incredible super ability herself which makes him almost invincible. If they’re going to get to Eli, they’re going to have to neutralise her first and that’s definitely easier said than done.

I enjoyed the cat and mouse games in this, the way that Victor and Eli knew each other so well, knew what the other was thinking, anticipating their next moves. For me it felt really satisfying and although there’s a second book, I’m honestly not sure I feel the need to read it? That’s unusual for me but this one just felt like a complete story. I’ll see….if I come across it I might not be able to help myself but for now? I feel content with how this one ended.

8/10

Book #48 of 2020

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Review: Scarlett And The Model Man by Cathryn Hein

Scarlett And The Model Man
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2020, 178p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

He might be the perfect model, but is he the right man for Scarlett?

When up-and-coming artist Scarlett Ash discovers the perfect model in small-town Levenham, she can’t believe her luck. Her creativity abandoned her months ago and with her move to London to take up a prestigious residency fast approaching, she’s desperate for a muse to bring it back.

Surfing dairy farmer Sam Greenwood is delivering milk when a gorgeous girl accosts him. Charmed by her invitation to model for a painting, Sam wants to say no. While Scarlett might be stunning, she’s arty-farty weird, and he’s flat out with his growing dairy business. Somehow, though, he can’t resist.

As Scarlett struggles to find her way with her new work, Sam becomes determined to help. Scarlett is smart, talented and sympathetic to the unremitting toil of dairy farming, and they’re both healing from failed relationships. Soon burgeoning friendship blossoms into so much more.

Knowing that London beckons and her time in Levenham is short, Scarlett resists the lure of love. She has no plans to return to Levenham, and big-hearted Sam deserves more than a brief fling followed by a quick goodbye. Except as their affair deepens, how can she leave the man who’s not only given her back her passion but her heart?

This is the latest in Cathryn Hein’s Levenham series, books loosely linked by the town they revolve around. Characters often appear in various books although most could probably be read stand-a-lone. Scarlett was briefly introduced in the previous novel when she offered a painting of hers to be auctioned. However since then she has struggled in her art. Nothing is working, she’s not satisfied with anything she’s producing and most days are frustrating. She’s due to take up a residency in London soon and she desperately wants to get back on track before she leaves.

She’s struck with an idea….then she just needs the right man to help. That right man might be dairy farmer Sam Greenwood, who isn’t sure what to think when Scarlett accosts him in the street one day. Life-modelling isn’t for everyone but luckily Sam decides he isn’t shy, especially when it comes to spending time with someone like Scarlett.

This is a super cute and sweet story, I always enjoy the books set here. The town is charming and full of life and well populated. I think one of the things I enjoy a lot about rural romance is that it does give authors a lot of scope to set multiple stories in the same location and therefore you can have plenty of characters from past books interacting. It really gives the reader a sense of community, like when they pick up a new book, the town and people are familiar to them. Sometimes, something like that is just what you need. I’d imagine that comfort reads would be pretty big in the world right about now and for me, Cathryn Hein’s books fit that description perfectly.

I really enjoyed the interactions between Scarlett and Sam. Scarlett is fun and feisty and I thought that Cathryn Hein managed to pack quite a lot into her backstory without devoting a lot of page space to it. This isn’t a long book at all but the characters and story are well fleshed out and it helps that the town is already well depicted in quite a few other novels. Sam is a lovely hero, a big strong strapping dairy farmer who also loves a bit of a surf and he just seems like a general all round nice guy who appreciates Scarlett’s hard work and also feels the need to help take care of her when she’s in the midst of creating by bringing her food and checking in on her to make sure she’s doing okay. When Scarlett is heavily into creating, she tends to forget about things like eating, sleeping, etc so I thought that was incredibly adorable of him. Scarlett’s artistic process, as well as her slump and frenzy of creativity felt really authentic and in line with what I’ve experienced in talking to artistic people myself. Scarlett’s work also sounded really amazing.

My only criticism of this one might be that I wanted more…..more about Scarlett’s career and art, more scenes with her and Sam, more about her overseas stuff, more about Sam’s plans for the dairy farm. It still works as a story with the length that it was but I think it was just the sort of book that I could so easily sink into without having to worry it was going to bring up cancer or some other traumatic thing that I wished it were longer! Although there’s some serious topics in here, including gaslighting and its effects on a relationship, it’s the sort of book that still presents a hopeful and positive tone and the whole thing just felt really uplifting. Which is what I needed.

8/10

Book #47 of 2020

This is the 18th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

 

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Review: A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn

A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell #4)
Deanna Raybourn
Berkley Books/Penguin Random House
2019, 323p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker’s brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly’s house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée—much to Stoker’s chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly’s wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband’s mind.

As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker’s help to discover the host’s true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund…

It’s been a while since I read one of these – I missed this one being released and only noticed when the 5th book came out this month. I requested this through my local library and it came in just before the library closed down due to coronavirus concerns. I’m mixing up review books with library books and TBR books this month and next so I plucked it from the pile because I haven’t read a historical that wasn’t set around a World War in what feels like forever. I wasn’t too sure about the last book (things were starting to bother me with Veronica and Stoker) but I was wanting to see if progress was going to come anytime soon. Or was I going to be doomed to reading a sexual tension that never went anywhere because both of them were too proud to act on it and too independent to let a single thing disrupt their scientific lives.

This book takes a bit to get going – it’s around 100p before it really starts to get into the point of why Stoker’s brother (the tedious Tiberius) invited Veronica to an island off the coast of Cornwall under the pretence of his old school friend gifting her some larvae of a rare species of butterfly. Because the friend is a strict Catholic, Veronica and Tiberius must pretend to be engaged, for the sake of propriety by which…..meh. Usually I’m really good for a fauxmance, but only when it’s between the actual people I want to end up together. Tiberius is a pain in the posterior, because he’s the elder son, rich, arrogant, self-indulgent, untrustworthy and manipulative and titled now but this book seeks to (I think?) humanise him in some way but it falls pretty flat because he spends most of the book being incredibly annoying and just getting in the way. I don’t enjoy him as a character but I suspect that he’ll probably be back, unfortunately.

This book opens with Veronica taking off to Madeira for six months after what she and Stoker -almost- said in the previous book. However we don’t know anything about that trip other than who she went with and the fact that both of them apparently required significant medical attention at some stage during the trip. During this time, Stoker did not write to Veronica (she told him not to) but when she returns, she’s somewhat put out by this and the two of them are overly polite with each other, both of them seemingly making some sort of decision that above all, their friendship is the most important thing, not perhaps what lies beyond that, and that’s what they should preserve, no matter what the cost of ignoring everything else is. They each seem to be playing a game – sometimes it’s the same game, but other times it is not and sometimes it works and sometimes I want to grab the pair of them and bang their stubborn rock heads together really, really hard. Also Veronica is really shit at pretending to be someone’s fiancé and it’s a massive miracle that the guy that they are supposed to be pretending to doesn’t figure it out in about three and a half minutes. Pretty much everyone else does. I suppose it doesn’t help that Stoker invites himself along and Veronica spends far more time with him than she does her own ‘fiancé’.

This one was just going okay for me – it wasn’t the best of the mysteries of this series and I was ready to give it an average rating….but it gets rounded up a bit because of what happens at the end. I don’t want to get into it too much but the way in which it occurs is why I have loved Deanna Raybourn books so much and why I keep reading them because it is these moments in various books that keep me coming back for more.

Well, now I have to read the next one.

7/10

Book #46 of 2020

 

 

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Mini Reviews {9}: What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Every so often I do one of these posts to include a stack of books that really don’t need a full on solo review. In this case, they are all books I read for the Reading Women Challenge. One is a picture book, one is under 100p and one is an anthology.

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America
Edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding
Picador USA
2017, 248p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump and 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, how can women unite in Trump’s America? Nasty Women includes inspiring essays from a diverse group of talented women writers who seek to provide a broad look at how we got here and what we need to do to move forward.

Featuring essays by REBECCA SOLNIT on Trump and his “misogyny army,” CHERYL STRAYED on grappling with the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s loss, SARAH HEPOLA on resisting the urge to drink after the election, NICOLE CHUNG on family and friends who support Trump, KATHA POLLITT on the state of reproductive rights and what we do next, JILL FILIPOVIC on Trump’s policies and the life of a young woman in West Africa, SAMANTHA IRBY on racism and living as a queer black woman in rural America, RANDA JARRAR on traveling across the country as a queer Muslim American, SARAH HOLLENBECK on Trump’s cruelty toward the disabled, MEREDITH TALUSAN on feminism and the transgender community, and SARAH JAFFE on the labor movement and active and effective resistance, among others.

I’m not American but I felt the despair when Trump was elected. Not just because he comes across as a racist, sexist illiterate who cannot even string together a coherent sentence but also because he just seemed so grossly unqualified. It was mind boggling to me that someone with no actual real worthy political experience could be elected to the top job running the country – and who knows, for a lot of people, maybe that’s why they voted for him. Maybe they were sick of career politicians and thought someone who’d spent a lot of time running businesses (to varying success) and being on tv might be a better choice. And it’s pretty obvious he appeals to a certain demographic. I think that as time has gone on, he’s become more of a figure unworthy of office. I’ve yet to hear him say one thing that makes me feel like he a) knows what he’s doing about anything or b) has any sort of control and even coherence at what’s happening. He frequently gets things wrong, he spends most of his time blaming Obama or Hillary for pretty much anything and everything and yelling at people on twitter.

There’s a lot of really good essays in here and I wish I’d written this a bit earlier because I had to return this to the library long ago as there were people requesting it. It’s a lot of thoughts about the 2016 election – a lot of hope from women that they might finally have a voice. The conditions seemed perfect – Hillary was considered to be one of the most qualified candidates that had ever run. She’s a lawyer with White House experience, a former Senator and Secretary of State. She was a woman who gave other women hope. And she was immensely popular with women of colour. It was probably unprecedented popularity. But the old ‘but her emails‘ scandal and the fact that she seems rabidly loathed by so many meant that the one person who seemed utterly unelectable, ended up being elected, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote but won the EC vote (a vote he himself had lambasted on twitter a few years earlier, but now of course, embraced wholeheartedly). This was a very inclusive anthology with essays about and by women of colour, women who are LGBTQI+, women who embody the immigrant experience and women who are disabled.

8/10

Book #26 of 2020

This was for the prompt #8 – an anthology by multiple authors.

No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference
Greta Thunberg
Penguin
2019, 68p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘Everything needs to change. And it has to start today’

In August 2018 a fifteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, decided not to go to school one day. Her actions ended up sparking a global movement for action against the climate crisis, inspiring millions of pupils to go on strike for our planet, forcing governments to listen, and earning her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

This book brings you Greta in her own words, for the first time. Collecting her speeches that have made history across Europe, from the UN to mass street protests, No One Is Too Small to Make A Difference is a rallying cry for why we must all wake up and fight to protect the living planet, no matter how powerless we feel. Our future depends upon it.

This is not a book, rather it’s a collection of short speeches made by Greta Thunberg in various places. I actually haven’t listened to her speak before, and I read this because it was suggested for the prompt Under 100p and for me, it’s pretty hard to find something to read that’s under 100p. I tried a few books suggested but they weren’t available to me or were exorbitantly priced on eBook platforms, which wasn’t really an option at the time.

This is okay – I get the message, I applaud the message but because it’s just a collection of speeches with nothing tying them together or fleshing them out, it’s actually very repetitive. They’re mostly just version of the same couple of speeches, slightly rearranged. Like when you write an essay and have to pad it out so you just start rewriting what you’ve already written but changing it around a little bit so it doesn’t read exactly the same. Only in this case, some of it reads exactly the same. I think Greta Thunberg now has another book out, so perhaps I would find that more interesting, so long as it’s an actual book. There is an introduction, with a bit about how she came to be doing this but apart from that there’s not much actual information (other than the same couple of facts, repeated in each of the speeches). So for me, this wasn’t particularly interesting to read.

5/10

Book #41 of 2020

Welcome To Country 
Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy
Black Dog Books
2016, 32p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Welcome to the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri People. We are part of this land and the land is part of us. This is where we come from. Wominjeka Wurundjeri balluk yearmenn koondee bik. Welcome to Country

Okay so if you’ve been to an event in Australia, be it a sporting, music, arts or cultural event, chances are you’ve heard a welcome to country. The welcome to country is an Indigenous tradition as people moved between their lands and the lands of others – first they needed to be welcomed onto the new lands by those who inhabited those lands. These days a welcome to country intends to highlight the traditional owners of the land and also to pay respects to that culture’s elders past and present as well as elders from other cultures as well. It should be performed by an Indigenous elder however if one isn’t available anyone can do it in an acknowledgement of country, where the traditional owners of the lands are noted as are the traditional names for the area where the event is taking place. In some areas, either a welcome to or acknowledgement of country ceremony is mandatory and must be performed prior to the event.

This is a lovely picture book that incorporates the history and purpose of the Indigenous welcome to country in its historical form, between tribes as they moved about the land. For this topic, I really wanted to read something Australian but I don’t read picture books anymore (my kids have left those days behind, one reads YA now and the other MG chapter books) so I had to trawl the thread for suggestions and this one was the only one that seemed to be specifically Australian. This was easy to acquire, my library had about a million copies so I can only assume it’s used during story time and playgroup activities.

I loved the illustrations in this, they are beautifully done. I enjoyed the message too, especially in current times, of only taking what you need and also what you can give back. Reading it at this stage, with what is happening and supermarkets being stripped literally bare of so many things, it felt like a very important message, one that resonates throughout the years to pretty much anyone. The land is so important in Indigenous culture, they are very respectful of it, not wasteful and it feels like we could definitely take on board quite a bit of that philosophy now, to be respectful and considerate of others that need resources as well. It’s written in both English and the Wurundjeri languages. I enjoyed this a lot although I didn’t give it a numerical rating because it didn’t feel right to give something like that for an Indigenous tradition.

Book #43 of 2020

This was for prompt #4, picture book by a BIPOC (black/indigenous person of colour) author.

These books are the 3rd, 8th and 9th books I read for the challenge.

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Review: Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

Saint X 
Alexis Schaitkin
Picdor
2020, 340p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison, disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men – employees at the resort – are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.

Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth – not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.

As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.

I’ve just had to cancel my family’s first “proper” holiday in about a decade, where we were going somewhere that didn’t involve visiting family so it seemed like a time to pick this up, as part of it takes place on a tropical island, the likes of which no one can probably visit right now. Saint X is a fictional island in the Caribbean, close to places like St Kitts. Claire is only seven when her family holidays there but it’s the sort of holiday that changes the lives of her and her parents forever. On their last night there, her older sister Abigail disappears. When her body is found, days later, there’s not much resolution in the case.

Claire is now known as Emily and she’s grown up, graduated from college and is now living and working in New York. Although she’s never forgotten her sister, or what happened obviously, she had moved on in her life – until she gets into a taxi and finds herself with one of the suspects. From then on, it becomes an obsession for her. She acquires all her sisters spoken diaries and gets to know the girl she was, she follows the taxi driver, even befriends him, trying to get to the stage where she can bring up what happened to her sister and perhaps get the truth she finally needs to close that chapter of her life for good.

I think, it must be one of the hardest things in the world to have someone you love die (by way of murder or other, such as misadventure) and not really ever know what happened. There are thousands of unsolved cases, probably millions out there. For Abigail’s family, she became one such a case. She had injuries, but it was difficult to tell whether or not she had received them accidentally or through someone inflicting them upon her. The suspects petered out, there were never any convictions, it was never even really determined if it was in fact, a murder. Although Abigail’s parents were convinced that it had to be, that someone had to have done this to her because why would she be in a position where it could be otherwise?

There were parts of this I really enjoyed – a lot of it is introspective, Claire/Emily’s musings. Because she’s so young when Abigail dies, she has to get to know her sister as an adult, by way of her teenage diaries. And in that case, it’s an adult listening to the somewhat self-indulgent ramblings of a teenager, and she sort of has to realise that as an adult, things have changed. As a child, she worshipped and idolised Abigail but as an adult she can see her flaws, is privy to every mean or shallow thought Abigail ever recorded, including some about Claire herself. She doesn’t talk to her parents about how this has resurfaced for her and definitely doesn’t tell them that she’s basically stalking someone. Emily tries to befriend Clive and through that we learn what has happened in his life since the discovery of Abigail’s body and although he wasn’t ever charged for her death, he did serve time for something else.

It highlights the cramped conditions immigrants (legal or otherwise, I honestly wasn’t sure of Clive’s status) live in when in places like New York City, often half a dozen of them living in tiny apartments, working shifts, sending every spare dollar they earn home to families in various places. There’s a fair bit I think, about racism and social class in here. Abigail reflects on it in her spoken diaries, the way her mother looks when she ‘praises a black person’, the cringeworthy way her dad always asks a local what food they recommend for an ‘authentic’ experience whenever they visit somewhere on holidays, the way they as wealthy white people pay to go somewhere where local black people wait on them hand and foot. But it mostly comes from a position of privilege and isn’t particularly explored in depth, it’s more like teenage Abi’s realisation of it.

I think the biggest problem I had was that I found almost everyone tedious to read about. Abi is a selfish, privileged, spoiled rich girl looking for excitement on a family holiday, creeping out of rooms in the middle of the night and leaving her seven year old sister in there alone. Claire, now Emily as an adult, becomes completely obsessed with the cold case, watching an old documentary, stalking the taxi driver, devoting entire days and nights to listening to her diaries. She doesn’t care that she’s slacking in her job, that she’s let friendships lapse, that the only thing that matters is standing across the street watching this taxi driver (until she eventually walks into where he eats and forces him into conversations). A lot of that made me quite uncomfortable – it’s not okay behaviour, it was creepy, especially when she follows him around. The more she dropped her life to follow him around, the more I lost interest in the story. Although I did like hearing about Clive’s life, I got quite sick of Emily. And I haven’t been in that situation, so I don’t know what it’s like, that search or need for answers. But I do know that it didn’t seem to do her any good, she completely lost hold of anything ‘real’ in her life and was pinning everything on this man from nearly two decades ago.

This was okay – it kept me entertained for an afternoon, for the most part although there were definitely portions of the story that I found to be a bit of a slog to get through. I feel as though a bit too much was spent on Emily’s obsession and probably not enough on the more serious aspects of the story. It felt a bit skewed the wrong way, like it had something to say but didn’t dive deep enough to really say it.

6/10

Book #45 of 2020

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Review: The Secrets Of Strangers by Charity Norman

The Secrets Of Strangers 
Charity Norman
Allen & Unwin
2020, 337p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A gunshot rings out in a London cafe and the lives of five strangers will never be the same again. The only thing that’s certain is that nothing is as it seems.

Five strangers, one cafe – and the day that everything changed.

A regular weekday morning veers drastically off-course for a group of strangers whose paths cross in a London cafe – their lives never to be the same again when an apparently crazed gunman holds them hostage. But there is more to the situation than first meets the eye and as the captives grapple with their own inner demons, the line between right and wrong starts to blur. Will the secrets they keep stop them from escaping with their lives?

I made the mistake of taking this book with me to my son’s swimming lesson, to read during that. The swimming lesson is only 30min plus the time it takes for my son to get changed. It was a big mistake because when it was time to go, I did not want to put this book down at all. If you start it, do so when you have plenty of time. Because it sucks you in immediately and takes you on the most unexpected journey.

It seems relatively straightforward at first – it’s early morning at a cafe in London, there’s a host of workers and regulars: businesspeople stopping in for a coffee before work, mums with young children. Then a young man storms in, demands something of the cafe owner and is summarily dismissed. But he’s back moments later, this time with a shotgun. Some manage to flee but about a dozen are trapped inside, including an elderly man and some young children.

From there it’s the job of police negotiator Eliza to get on the scene, find a way to contact the gunman inside the cafe and hopefully, defuse the situation before there is loss of life. The narrative revolves between six adults: homeless man Neil, African immigrant and nurse Mutesi, lawyer Abi, a worker, the gunman himself and Eliza. For Eliza, it’s about ascertaining the motive, connecting with the perpetrator as a person, hearing him and hoping to talk him down. For everyone else except Sam, the gunman, it’s about staying alive. Not doing anything that might set him off. And for Sam himself? Well that becomes outlined over the course of the narrative.

This is an expertly character driven novel, with Charity Norman using a small cast of people to construct the whole. Abi is on the phone when the first gunshot is fired, so police are alerted and on the scene very quickly. Through each of the characters, Sam’s story is revealed. For Eliza, connecting with Sam is a must. It’s quite obvious that he’s feeling as though he’s the only one without his life together, which leads the others who are his hostages to share some of their stories. So that Sam can see that whilst it might look like everyone else is doing well, you never know what is going on beneath the surface and that everyone has their demons to face, crosses to bear, the ways that life has disappointed them, rejected them, let them down, hurt them unbearably.

It was easy to go into this book, knowing it was a shooting and hostage situation and think one way. That you knew how you were going to feel about characters, about the situation. But the ways in which the backstory is revealed and it’s shown how everything came to this moment, is so expertly done. I honestly couldn’t stop reading this, it’s such an amazing showcase of some of the more subtler forms of abuse that are out there, the ones that people do not see, and perhaps the ones that it’s impossible for those to see who are outside looking in. But for those experiencing it, it’s very real, it’s the realest thing in their world at the same time as being something that they wonder if it’s even happening, because why can no one else see it. It’s so incredibly damaging, so insidious, especially over a long period of time.

I loved so many of the characters in this – Neil and his blunt honesty about his life and who he was. Mutesi and her story was heartbreaking and the sort of person that she was was just a joy to read because of the outlook she had managed to maintain. Her pain and heartache and suffering were so enormous and the impact of her story I think, hit everyone. What she had endured and not let break her was incredible. Even Abi and her brusque manner and tendency to occasionally clap back at Sam, kept me amused, even though he was the dude standing there with the gun. I think it said a lot about the situation as it unfolded, that Abi was willing to do that.

This is a very powerful story, the sort that it’s actually not that difficult to imagine. That one day, you might walk into your favourite cafe and get caught in a situation that you don’t expect, that could very quickly escalate to terrifying levels. It’s not that difficult to put yourself into this story, think about what you might do or say, how’d you feel. I loved every page of this, I appreciated so much the way that the author chose to tell the story, how it forced me to re-examine things constantly. And once again – if you do pick this up (and I hope everyone does!) give yourself the time to sit down and read this in as close to one sitting as you can.

9/10

Book #44 of 2020

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Top 10 Tuesday 17th March

Welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday! I took a few weeks break but now it’s time to dive right back in. Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly bookish feature created by The Broke & the Bookish and now residing with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It features a different book and reading related theme each week and this week it is…..

Top 10 Books On My Spring Autumn TBR

Well, it’s an interesting time in the world right now. Here in Australia I don’t think we have anywhere near felt the brunt of this virus and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. A lot of things are cancelled (all extracurricular activities for my kids) or closed (libraries and public service buildings) or ‘advised against’ (gatherings over 500 people) but as of now, the schools are still open but that is ‘subject to change at any time’. My husband cannot work remotely, he works on site at various different places each week so if his industry shuts down, he will be placed on leave at a guess. We are okay – we have food and necessities should we need to self-isolate for a period of time and…..there’s always books!

I’m lucky in that I get sent a lovely pile of books to my door each month by publishers for the purpose of a review. I always have things to read. But I was talking to a fellow reading/blogging friend last night and we were saying that with libraries shut and visits to public places discouraged, it’s also a good opportunity to read “off your shelves” ie those books you bought heaven only knows how long ago and they’ve been languishing on the shelf ever since. So for this list….I’m going to do 5 books that are going to be published over our autumn and 5 books from my TBR shelf that I would like to get to in the next couple of months.

1. The Switch by Beth O’Leary. Look, I’m hoping that this is the feel-good, amazing read I need of the season. I adored Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare and I could really do with something that gives me the same laughs and warm and fuzzy feels.

2. Deep Water by Sarah Epstein. This is the second novel from an award winning Australian young adult author. Her first book, Small Spaces received a lot of recognition. I actually haven’t read it but I’ve heard a lot of great things from people who have and I received a copy of this, her second novel which is out in April. So I’m really looking forward to being able to read this – seems like a bit of a thriller about a teen that went missing and the fallout of that.

3. House Of Earth And Blood by Sarah J. Maas. Lots of people have probably already read this one – I’ve bought it but I haven’t read it yet as I’ve been waiting for a day when I’ve got enough time to really sink into it in one go. With everything like soccer practice etc for my kids being cancelled I hope to be able to tackle this one over the weekend!

4. Heartstopper Vol 3 by Alice Oseman. Basically, inject this into my veins. Much like my first choice, this is the sort of feel-good fuzzy (hopefully!) content that I am after right now. I adored the first two volumes of this and I am not a graphic novel reader, so it says a lot that I am desperate to read the third one.

5. Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer. I have only read one of Kelly Rimmer’s books before but it was amazing and I’ve heard so many good things about her others that I had to snap up an early copy of this one when I saw it. This does sound quite intense though, not really the sort of happy-go-lucky, good feels type of read I’m after at the moment so I think I’ll have to wait with this one, for when I’m in the right mindset.

6. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Onto the TBR shelf, obviously. The third book in this trilogy has just been released. The first two each won a Man Booker. I have owned Wolf Hall for probably 10 years? I have actually tried to read it twice but didn’t get far each time…..people have said, look, the first 50-100p is a bit of a slog, but just get past that and you’ll be hooked. So I intend to try and do that. And then I can read the next two.

7. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I’ll be the first to admit that this one? Probably a bit ambitious. But I recently saw the adaptation of Emma that was written by Eleanor Catton and I really enjoyed it. I’ve owned this for years too – I think one day I opened it, read the first page, went nope and put it on the shelf. But I wouldn’t mind having another go, seeing if I can actually get deep into the story. It might not happen but it seems the perfect book to attempt during a potential isolation period, if I’m honest!

8. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. I’ve probably owned this book for 10 years also. I have a lot of books by this author that I picked up in a bundle cheap from somewhere and…..I still haven’t read any of them! I’ve heard some amazing things about this series and I think I probably have the first 3-4 sitting on my shelf so I’m going to make a big effort to start this series and see how I go from there.

9. A Torch Against The Night by Sabaa Tahir. The last (I think?) book in this series just came out recently or is coming out soon. I’ve owned this for a couple of years now but it’s been so long since I read the first one I’m not sure if it’d all come back to me or if I’d be best re-reading the first one? Honestly, there’s probably a bunch of series in this exactly situation – where I’ve read the first, bought the second and never got around to actually reading the second and now it’s years later and I’ve probably forgotten everything and maybe they even all just blur together as one book with characters in danger.

10. The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. I’ve had this in my iBooks collection for ages…..I am always picking up books in freebie promos and sales and then they basically just hang out in my eLibrary until one day, I remember that they’re there! I’ve got this and a stack of others just waiting for the right moment….which could be now! This seems like it’ll fit in with my need to probably pepper the future with cheerful, funny, sweet, fuzzy reads.

So this is my autumn TBR……well, books I’d like to read. I have a stack of things to read really, because my library is closing I’ve been able to renew all my current check outs until the 1st of May. But I think it’s a great opportunity to also mix in some of those books that you’ve forgotten about or have pushed aside for newer, shinier reads!

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Review: The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke

The Lost Love Song 
Minnie Darke
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is the story of a love song . . . And like any good love song, it has two parts.

In Australia, Arie Johnson waits impatiently for classical pianist Diana Clare to return from a world tour, hopeful that after seven years together she’ll finally agree to marry him.

On her travels, Diana composes a song for Arie. It’s the perfect way to express her love, knowing they’ll spend their lives together . . . Won’t they?

Then late one night, her love song is overheard, and begins its own journey across the world.

In Scotland, Evie Greenlees is drifting. It’s been years since she left Australia with a backpack, a one-way ticket and a dream of becoming a poet. Now she spends her days making coffee and her nights serving beer. And she’s not even sure whether the guy she lives with is really her boyfriend or just a flatmate.

Then one day she hears an exquisite love song. One that will connect her to a man with a broken heart . . .

Oh my gosh, this book….my heart. It was so amazing.

It’s told in such a unique way. Arie, an IT professional, meets Diana, a concert pianist and they fall into a wonderful relationship. Sometime into their future, Arie wants to marry Diana, who seems somewhat hesitant. When she goes abroad on tour, she writes him the most wonderful love song as an expression of her feelings for him and the future she wants to build. Inadvertently she leaves her notebook behind where someone else picks it up and discovers the scrawled notes of the song. The man uses it as a way to settle some of the discord between him and a family member and from there on, the song flows out into the world. Slowly…..slowly……the song finds its way, changing the lives of many who hear it in lots of different ways.

Including Arie’s.

I found myself drawn into this story from the very beginning and it’s the sort of story that has you running through the full spectrum of emotions. There’s sadness, grief and loss (which are explored realistically but also sensitively, with the emphasis on there being no real magic cure, just time and waking up each day and going though the motions) but also a lot of joy and hope and love as all the separate parts form the whole. As well as the main story that mostly revolves around Arie and Evie, who begin on separate sides of the globe, there are several “side stories” that seem unrelated but then all weave together and end up forming a hugely important part of the main story. It is all done so seamlessly. I did not want to put this book down, it’s the sort of story that just sucks you in and builds and builds on its remarkable premise and you just have to keep reading for all the unexpected connections and the way the song travels across the globe in this kind of anonymous way, the people hearing it all making their own adjustments and remembering bits and pieces in different ways until it takes on multiple life forms.

Music is something that links a lot of people together, sometimes intentionally but other times not so. We all have songs that ‘mean’ something to us, that drag us back to a place and time from the past when we hear them, or make us feel a certain way. There are lots of people who will connect with this story through its love of and homage to music. Diana as a concert pianist, was a gifted musician and most of the other characters play an instrument, be it just casually or as a large part of their lives. Arie doesn’t play but he has developed his knowledge of music through his relationship with Diana and still chooses favourites that suit a ‘mood’ be it something soft and calming to do a difficult task or something upbeat for distraction. I think a lot of people use music in a mood-related way, whether it’s to boost your mood when you feel down, help you ramp up productivity or maybe even use it to wallow. I know I do and I appreciated and enjoyed how much music was a part of the narrative, pinning it all together, creating those connections between characters and shaping the paths their lives took.

I really enjoyed this. I just found it to be a really beautiful story, one of the ones that for some reason, takes hold of you and sticks in your mind. I really loved the way the author chose to tell the story, the jumping around and introduction of new characters really worked for me actually when sometimes I feel it wouldn’t have. There was something about the way it was done where it added to the overall story, not detracted. I haven’t read Minnie Darke’s other book, Star Crossed but this was so good that I think I am going to have to now.

9/10

Book #40 of 2020

The Lost Love Song is book #17 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

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