All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Deep State by Chris Hauty

Deep State 
Chris Hauty
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 287p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Recently elected President Richard Monroe—populist, controversial, and divisive—is at the center of an increasingly polarized Washington, DC. Never has the partisan drama been so tense or the paranoia so rampant. In the midst of contentious political turf wars, the White House chief of staff is found dead in his house. A tenacious intern discovers a single, ominous clue that suggests he died from something other than natural causes, and that a wide-ranging conspiracy is running beneath the surface of everyday events: powerful government figures are scheming to undermine the rule of law—and democracy itself. Allies are exposed as enemies, once-dependable authorities fall under suspicion, and no one seems to be who they say they are. The unthinkable is happening. The Deep State is real. Who will die to keep its secrets and who will kill to uncover the truth?

This is the second book that I’ve read in a row where it feels like it’s much more suited to be a movie, rather than a book. In this one, it even feels like it’s written to be that way. It’s almost like a screenplay – there’s a clinical description of plots and action with little in the way of character development and intimacy.

The book revolves around Hayley Chill, an ex-Army person who has now been afforded a prestigious White House intern position. Hayley doesn’t have advanced education or family wealth (or both) like the other interns she’s working with – instead she has a lot of ‘life skills’ and determination. At first she is an intern to the Chief of Staff but after he is found dead in his kitchen (seemingly of a heart attack but was it really?) she is moved to White House Operations. Hayley has evidence that the Chief of Staff was helped to his end but she doesn’t know who to trust – or how deep this goes. But she knows that the President is most probably next and she absolutely has to stop that from happening.

I enjoyed a large portion of the story at play here. Hayley is incredibly interesting as a character, although to be honest, I do not think she’s explored on a personal level anywhere near enough. And perhaps that’s because of the role she plays, as a tough protagonist determined to bring down a group of people intent on upsetting the government. But she has such an interesting background, with a lot of tragedy and it has shaped her in some really important ways but we really only get a few crumbs here and there. She is slight but physically exceptional – a former amateur boxer, obviously well versed in self defence and combat and she also has a photographic memory. It’s clear the other interns think she’s a bit of a hillbilly (she’s from West Virginia) and she also faces a hostile superior as well, who resents the liking that both the Chief of Staff and also the President took to her in a couple of limited interactions and seeks to remove her from their orbits. Hayley seems one of those characters that men are immediately drawn to for reasons that are difficult to explain. She is apparently very beautiful (of course) and implacable and manages to win over various powerful men with barely a few sentences. Even one of the leaders of the group she is looking to foil sees her and decides within minutes that he wouldn’t mind recruiting her, unaware that she’s one of the people working against him and his goals.

However where I don’t felt this book worked for me, was the writing. It’s hard to write a really good action novel, because unlike in a movie, you can’t rely on dramatic effects and tightly shot narrow escapes and ratchet up the tension by creating close calls visually, or show several things simultaneously. In a book you have to tell the story very vividly and paint the scene so that the reader can visualise it in their minds. This may be easier for those familiar with Washington DC (I am not at all) but overall this felt like someone reciting a list of things happening, rather than creating a story. A lot of it felt so clinical and even when it felt like it should’ve been drawing me in, I still felt quite disconnected from it. Perhaps it was because of Hayley and the fact that she didn’t even seem like an actual person with fears, dreams, hopes, loves, etc. She felt more like a robot programmed for a task (ha!) and I just do not enjoy reading that. It’s actually one of the things that makes me highly critical of thrillers – when the protagonist feels like they are impossibly clever and strong that they can thwart everyone else with so little effort, even when the opposition are some of the most highly trained and intelligent people (powerful people) in the country. I know they have to succeed – the story is over if they don’t. But it’s when they succeed in everything so effortlessly….that’s what makes me lose interest in the story. How can I believe that these big bads are so scary if one person can thwart pretty much everything they are planning? We’re talking about assassinating the highest roles in American government….and it’s one White House intern basically on her own with occasional back up from reluctant people who don’t really know what they’re doing and everything just falling into place. There’s also a twist at the end that will either really work for the reader or it won’t, I think I was in the ‘it didn’t’ category.

So yeah, this was just okay for me. Just had the feeling of more a movie-type story than a book one.

6/10

Book #7 of 2020

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Review: The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley

The Last Resort 
Marissa Stapley
Allen & Unwin
2019, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Harmony Resort promises hope for struggling marriages. Run by celebrity power couple Drs. Miles and Grace Markell, the ‘last resort’ offers a chance for partners to repair their relationships in a luxurious setting on the gorgeous Mayan Riviera.

Johanna and Ben have a marriage that looks perfect on the surface, but in reality they don’t know each other at all. Shell and Colin fight constantly: after all, Colin is a workaholic and Shell always comes second to his job as an executive at a powerful mining company. But what has really torn them apart is too devastating to talk about. When both couples begin Harmony’s intensive program, it becomes clear that Harmony is not all it seems – and neither are Miles and Grace themselves. What are they hiding, and what price will these couples pay for finding out?

As a deadly tropical storm descends on the coast, trapping the hosts and the guests on the resort, secrets are revealed, loyalties are tested and not one single person – or their marriage – will remain unchanged by what follows.

This was a book I didn’t get to in my December review pile before I left for my holiday so it was the first book I picked up after I got home. I was after an engrossing read but also something that wasn’t too taxing and also wasn’t long.

It revolves around Harmony Resort, a retreat offered by psychologist couple Drs Miles and Grace Markell and it focuses on people who are struggling in their relationships. For many it is the ‘last resort’, the last thing they try to either patch things up or go their separate ways. Miles and Grace boast a success rate but some of their methods are a little unusual. As marriage counsellors and therapists, they project the image of being in a loving, stable, respectful relationship that is the envy of their clients. But scratch the surface and things are very, very different.

Among the latest intake of couples are Johanna and Ben and Colin and Shell. Ben is a lawyer, Johanna is a social worker on sabbatical and they actually haven’t been married very long at all to already be enrolling in such a retreat. An incident has threatened the intimacy they share. And Colin and Shell? All they do is bicker all the time. Colin is a workaholic, permanently glued to his phone. Even at the retreat where you are supposed to surrender all technology, he has a secret phone in his bag. He’s constantly concerned with his mining job and Shell feels abandoned and has turned to something else for comfort. Despite their arguing, they’ve been together twenty years and they don’t want to lose each other.

This was okay. It has quite a good hook at the start – a brief paragraph from the point of view of someone in a desperate situation, then a newspaper article and then it goes back in time to the couples arriving at the resort. However, from then on, it felt like it took a very long time for the story to get moving – for me as a reader to get to know the characters that the book would be focusing on. The book and indeed the therapy focuses on the fact that the average person has something like 13 secrets, five of which they’ve never told anybody. So of course all these people have secrets and it takes a while for some of them to come out. But while I was waiting, it didn’t feel like there was much happening. I didn’t feel like I got a handle on Ben, or Johanna, or Colin or Shell during their first few days on the island. It wasn’t until almost the end that their stories started to be pieced together, that it felt like I actually knew something about them.

Also, I’ve never been to marriage counselling but there seemed something very off about this from the start, in terms of Miles and Grace. Nothing is at all subtle – pretty much anyone looking at them for more than a moment seems to pick that there’s ‘more going on here than it looks like’ and their seemingly perfect relationship is little more than a brittle facade. It makes me wonder how on earth they’d been running this retreat when there are cracks visible from space in their demeanour and their methods, especially Miles’, are at best incompetent and at worst, actual abuse. Grace barely seems able to keep it together and she seems the last person (okay, maybe second last after Miles) I’d actually put my faith in as someone to listen to my problems and help me muddle my way through them. This is through no fault of her own – Grace herself has an interesting and also tragic story, mired in religious fanaticism and abuse. And I get that these people are also making a last ditch effort…..but everything seems pretty weird right from the start, there are plenty of incidents and remarks and strange things that would give off weird vibes. And by the time anyone really notices, a tropical storm is bearing down on the resort and there’s not only other things to worry about but also escape is impossible, unless you want to die.

This was okay in that it kept me entertained for a couple hours but I honestly felt like I predicted almost everything in the book before it happened – Johanna’s secret, who the mysterious person was being interviewed throughout the book, the backgrounds of several of the characters, what had happened to Colin and Shell. Nothing felt like a shock or a surprise. I really felt like there should’ve been something to shake things up at the end of the book, something that I felt was unexpected. Instead nothing really did, the ending was quite neat and convenient as well. I think the idea is good and that perhaps this might make a better movie or TV series. It might be a better medium to convey the interactions between the characters and also portray the storm.

6/10

Book #6 of 2020

 

 

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Thoughts On: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Dark Emu 
Bruce Pascoe
Magabala Books
2018 (originally 2014), 277p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Dark Emu puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for precolonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag. Gerritsen and Gammage in their latest books support this premise but Pascoe takes this further and challenges the hunter-gatherer tag as a convenient lie. Almost all the evidence comes from the records and diaries of the Australian explorers, impeccable sources.

This is not really going to be a review….because I am in no way qualified to really talk about something like this. I freely admit that my knowledge of Indigenous history is not at all extensive. I was in school at a time when the way in which Australian history was taught was changing – the narrative was altering slightly to encompass the fact that there was already a civilisation here when the British arrived, and that “at times”, they were unfairly treated. But there was also still always an undercurrent of well, British people were doing the right thing, trying to make sure they began living their lives as good Christians, or in the European way or whatever. There wasn’t a lot of respect for the culture until I was probably in later high school and even then, it was still often felt more like just paying token attention to it, but really more focusing on Australian history post 1788, rather than as a whole.

Despite the fact that this book was published five years ago, I only really became aware of it last year. It has seemingly triggered a whole bunch of middle aged white conservative men, like Andrew Bolt, who wrote scathing editorials of it, attempting to tear it down. That’s actually how I became aware of it, and I thought well, anything that gets him in such a strop might be worth investigating, so I went out and bought a copy. And it seems I’m not the only one – Dark Emu was one of the best sellers in 2019, which is an admirable feat for a book published in 2014. It seems that the storm people like Bolt have whipped up has resulted in probably the opposite of what he wanted to achieve – more people reading this book, talking about this book, sharing this book, pondering the truths of this book.

Essentially, Dark Emu presents an argument that the Australian Indigenous population were more than just simple hunter-gatherers, which has always been used as a defence for the British colonisation of the country. That they didn’t work the land, or build houses or create tools, etc. Instead, Pascoe uses primary sources to indicate that this was most likely not true – that they did cultivate and harvest and store crops, that they did build permanent structures to house themselves and that they used farming methods on both land and water.

I haven’t read the primary sources but this makes for compelling reading. There are noted examples of early explorers coming across various things (like structures, grain storage etc) and rationalising it away instead of crediting it to the local Indigenous population. When you think about how Indigenous people have been portrayed early on by settlers it probably stands to reason that they wouldn’t be able to reconcile their ideas of the people and culture to a civilisation capable of building houses and huts, storing grain for later, managing the land with careful cropping and using fire as a tool to manage the undergrowth and encourage seeding of certain trees. I think I read this book at a pretty interesting time because at the moment, several states have just experienced (and in some cases, are continuing to experience) devastating bushfires that have taken lives and homes as well as caused hundreds of millions of animal deaths. The debate about bushfires is raging at the moment – is it getting worse? If so, why? What can we do to manage it better? But also….who can we blame? That debate is one of the louder ones with people howling down “greenies who protest hazard reduction”. What I haven’t seen is a lot of thoughts on the ways in which Indigenous/First Nations people use fires as a management and renewal tool, except from some people I follow on twitter.

There’s no denying that British settlement introduced a lot of crops and animals that were not only not suited to our climate but also ones that caused in some cases, probably irreparable damage. There’s quite a bit devoted to how the introduction of sheep hardened the ground, changed the quality of the soil and damaged the yam/tuber crops that Indigenous people had cultivated. British people also introduced rabbits and foxes and there’s plenty to be read on how those, rabbits in particular, devastated the land. I also found the story about abalone interesting – how Indigenous people had always dived for it and consumed it and the British found it tough and not up to their standards, leaving it to the Indigenous people…..until demand from Asia for it suddenly arrived and then all of a sudden, Indigenous people were no longer permitted to dive for it.

There’s been a lot of anger about this book – in fact I think a whole website has been started to debunk it, although people have also then debunked the website and just recently I read that Peter Dutton, the Minister for Home Affairs, has received a complaint about Pascoe, stating that he’s not actually Indigenous like he claims to be and is therefore possibly guilty of fraud, using that claim to make money. There was even something about him possibly having to take a DNA test (is that a thing? Can you tell if someone is Indigenous from a DNA test?). Whilst this has been going on, Bruce Pascoe has been fighting those fires in Gippsland Victoria, unable to be contacted to defend himself so far. Whilst I can’t be sure that everything in this book is 100% accurate without exception, I certainly think it presents enough to challenge the discourse and open up more discussion on the Indigenous people and their lifestyles and methods (especially their methods) and examine the claims that they were a strict hunter-gatherer society. And the fact that this makes so many people froth at the mouth says a lot, really.

I feel like I don’t have to recommend this, as it’s been publicised pretty damn well the past few months, thanks to all those triggered op eds but I do feel it’s the sort of book that should be read, to better promote that public discussion. Also thinking of getting Young Dark Emu for my children to read as well.

8/10

Book #5 of 2020

 

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January TBR & Holiday Book Haul

After three weeks away interstate, we are back home now. The drive home felt very long (I mean it IS long, it’s about 13 hours and we do it over two days, stopping halfway southern NSW). A neighbour across the road was kind enough to collect our mail while we were away and he managed to grab a book parcel or two from the postman however I also got a couple of parcel cards which meant I had packages for collection at a local post office hub. Unfortunately……those cards were delivered right at the beginning of our holiday so whatever they were, they’ve been returned to sender. However I’m pretty sure I know what they are so I’ll have to be in touch with those that sent them and hope they can be posted to me again.

Now that I am home, I can include a January TBR (of sorts). Of course almost half the month is gone so it’s quite small – but one of the books is very big!

Two of these are actually books that I didn’t get to in December before we left – The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale and also The House Of Brides by Jane Cockram. The House Of Brides is also the book for next month in my online book club, so I definitely have to get to that so that I can join in the discussion. The other three are review copies I received and I have to admit I don’t know much about any of them. Deep State looks interesting and like a good political thriller. A Murder At Malabar Hill is the first book in a series by Sujata Massey. I actually think this is published elsewhere as The Widows Of Malabar Hill. It’s recommended for fans of Phrynne Fisher and Precious Romotswe. I haven’t read the Phrynne Fisher books but I have read a dozen or so of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books so I think I might enjoy this. It also fits a prompt for my Reading Women Podcast Challenge, so that’s a bonus as well. And the last one is a Sharon Penman novel. Penman is an author I’ve seen a lot of people praise (and she comes recommended by my reading/blogging friend Marg) but I’ve never read her before. This is a chunky book and the type is actually quite small.

Now it’s pretty much impossible for me to go anywhere without acquiring new books so I thought I’d share the ones I picked up on this holiday. Firstly I was involved in two Christmas/Holiday book swaps (one of which I was also organising) and had both of my book swap partners in those send the books to where I was staying for the holidays. In both cases we had to provide a few examples (about 3-5) of books on our wish lists for our partners to choose from, that way no one would get sent something they already had. In the first one, I received this book:

This is a really lovely hardback book, which we don’t see too often here in Australia – they’re simply too expensive to produce. It also has a beautiful cover. I’d heard a lot of pretty good things about this and I’ve actually already read it – sitting here, watching my kids try to drown each other in my parent’s pool. I enjoyed it. It’s set in France during the French Revolution and there’s a lot of rich history, including a voyage to China and some romance etc.

The second swap was an Aussie book blogger swap and I think for that one I put down a few YA titles I was interested in reading. My swap partner ended up choosing probably the one I want to read the most:

Internment by Samira Ahmed. I’m really excited to read this, it’s one of those books that feels incredibly relevant at the moment and on one hand you’re thinking “how could this happen?” and on another you’re thinking “well, it happened before and why not?”. In this book, Muslims are declared a threat to America and those living there are rounded up and forced into internment camps for Muslim American citizens. This is a girl’s fight for freedom. In Australia, during the war, those of German and Italian descent and heritage were also rounded up and placed within camps. I know in America those that were Japanese or even those born in America but of Japanese heritage also had the same happen. It’s honestly not too far a stretch to think of something like this.

Last but not least – second hand bookshops are a bit of a dying breed here in Australia. There aren’t a lot of them anymore. Where I live I don’t think there’s one in a 30k radius. But in my parent’s town, there is one near a beach which has books, records and coffee. It’s a tiny place, crammed with shelves overflowing with books. I’ve been there before and it’s fun to while away an hour or so, picking through the selection and finding some gems. My husband and I went there one afternoon and came out with 11 books. He found a book he’d been trying to buy online for ages but no where had a copy. He found a book by an author he’d just discovered and is now intending to read his backlist. Second hand bookshops are like that – you can find the most random things, get lucky and discover books you’ve been searching for for ages without any luck, only to find one sitting on a shelf right in front of you. I’m a bit picky about my books – I like them to be in good condition and books that spend too much time near the sea unfortunately get a bit spotty. And too many books crammed in together end up smelling a bit. So I fossick for ones that are still in good shape, or that haven’t been there too long. I was pretty happy with what I came away with:

I’m always in two minds a bit buying from a second hand bookshop because I know a sale from there isn’t a sale for the author. But in buying books there, I know it’ll lead to me buying more books elsewhere. I’ve been wanting to try a Ken Follett series for a while and actually, I have some on iBooks. But I don’t like reading super thick books on eReaders, even though that probably seems weird. After all big books are awkward and heavy. But I like to flick back and forth and I need physical evidence of my progress. A bar down the bottom isn’t enough! If I enjoy this, I’ll be buying the rest of the series. Same goes for the other authors in there – I already know I’ll be buying Nina Kenwood’s next book, because I loved It Sounded Better In My Head. I’m hoping that the Barack Obama book might fit into my Non Fiction Challenge for this year. And the others are books I’ve had on my radar for a little bit, or are authors I’ve liked previously.

If you’ve read something from either my January TBR pile or from the list of books I accumulated on my holiday, feel free to let me know your thoughts!

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Review: It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood

It Sounded Better In My Head 
Nina Kenwood
Text Publishing
2019, 304p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When her parents announce their impending separation, Natalie can’t understand why no one is fighting or at least mildly upset. And now that Zach and Lucy, her two best friends, have fallen in love, she’s feeling slightly miffed and decidedly awkward.

Where does she fit in now? And what has happened to the version of her life that played out like a TV show—with just the right amount of banter, pining and meaningful looks?

Nothing is going according to plan.

But then an unexpected romance comes along and shakes things up even further.

It Sounded Better in My Head is a tender, funny and joyful novel about longing, confusion, feeling left out and finding out what really matters.

I heard a lot about this book when it was released last year – but I never really had time to fit it in my reading schedule! However I came across a copy when I was away on holidays and ended up snatching it up. It was one of the first books I read of the new year at the urging of a friend of mine, who wanted to see what I thought about it and I’m so glad I did because I really enjoyed this.

It Sounded Better In My Head was the winner of the 2018 Text Prize for YA and Children’s Writing (an award for an unpublished manuscript) and the story revolves around Natalie, an only child who has just finished her year 12 exams. She and her parents are having Christmas Day when they tell her that they are separating, and that this isn’t just a spur of the moment decision. It’s something they’ve been sitting on for 10 months, waiting until she’d finished her schooling to drop it. Look, if they waited that long, I’m sure they could’ve waited a bit longer, rather than drop it on her on that particular day of all days. Natalia ie blindsided – everything in her life is already changing. School is finished, she’s in that limbo between exams and university acceptances and unlike her two best friends, Natalie isn’t even sure what she wants to do with her life. Now everything at home will be changing too.

As well as examining Natalie’s changing home life, it’s also a study in friendship. Natalie has two best friends, Zach and Lucy. It’s been the three of them for many years but now Zach and Lucy are also dating, creating a twosome plus Natalie which at times leaves her feeling left out and awkward. They try to still include her, make things as much the same as they can but it’s still different and it’s just another way in which Natalie feels she’s been left behind…until she ends up getting closer to Zach’s older brother Alex.

Natalie reminds me a lot of myself at the same age. She doesn’t really like going to parties and finds social interaction difficult – she doesn’t have the knack of making conversation with people she doesn’t know. She also suffers from crippling self esteem problems stemming from incredibly severe acne in her younger teenage years. The sort that leaves deep scarring and isn’t just confined to her face. She had to see a dermatologist and take strong medication in order to be able to manage it. Natalie I think, still looks in the mirror and sees that girl covered in cystic acne, even though her skin is clear now. She’s deeply uncomfortable with herself at times, but then she’ll do something like go to a party where she doesn’t know anyone, as if trying to escape that part of herself.

I really liked Natalie’s voice, she’s so relatable and likeable and I enjoyed the way she and Alex made a connection and the difficulties that got in the way of their evolving relationship. Although Natalie has spent a lot of time at Zach’s, she doesn’t really know Alex as such. She has this idea of him in the beginning as this older, super confident ladies man with a cool job. They seem opposites and quite honestly, like Alex is way out of Natalie’s comfort zone in terms of experience and lifestyle. But the more Natalie gets to know him, the more Alex is kind of recalibrated as a character until you realise that he has insecurities and fears just like everyone else and he is definitely not perfect. In fact Alex has messed up pretty considerably in his past, which is something he chooses to confess to her, in order for them to go into this new relationship without any secrets. Natalie must then decide what to do with the information Alex provides to her as everything starts imploding all around them, particularly with Zach and his difficulty accepting her and Alex as a potential couple.

I found this clever and engaging with a really wonderful main character. It examined different relationships in such genuine and realistic ways – Natalie and her parents as she navigates their separation, Natalie and their friends as they face the next stage of their lives after school and the uncertainty that that brings and also Natalie and dating as she discovers her feelings for Alex and tries to balance wanting a deeper relationship with her own fears and anxieties about what that means. This solid debut has definitely cemented Nina Kenwood as a YA author to watch out for and I can’t wait to read her next novel.

8/10

Book #3 of 2020

It Sounded Better In My Head is book #1 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

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Review: The Family Gift by Cathy Kelly

The Family Gift
Cathy Kelly
Orion
2019, 355p
Read from my Nan’s stash

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Freya Abalone has a big, messy, wonderful family, a fantastic career, and a new house.

But that’s on the outside.

On the inside, she’s got Mildred – the name she’s given to that nagging inner critic who tells us all we’re not good enough.

And now Freya’s beloved blended family is under threat. Dan’s first wife Elisa, the glamorous, manipulative woman who happily abandoned her daughter to Freya and Dan’s care and left the country, has elbowed her way back into their lives.

But Freya knows that when life gives you lemons, you throw them right back.

Can Freya put her family – and herself – back together? Find out in Cathy Kelly’s warmest, wisest and funniest book yet…

It’s been a while since I read a Cathy Kelly book. I used to read her quite a lot when I was at university because my Nan bought all her books and I was too poor to buy my own books and I read what my Nan bought. I really liked a lot of her early books but I’ve dropped off reading her in the last 5+ years. But seeing as how I’m on holidays visiting my family and I didn’t bring any of my own books, I did raid my Nan’s stash for a couple to read and I decided to try this one, to see whether or not her books have stood the test of time for me. And I don’t know if I’ve changed or they have….but I did not like this.

In fact I can find very little to recommend about it. Freya is a chef who was ‘discovered’ giving a cooking demonstration and now has her own cooking show. She’s warm and personable and can speak to a camera and she cooks simple food that people want to eat. Some months ago, something happened to her and Freya hasn’t been able to deal with it at all, or begin to move past the fear and trauma. She and her husband Dan are moving house, stretching themselves to an almost impossible mortgage and there’s plenty of drama with various family members: Freya’s oldest daughter is Dan’s from a previous relationship that she’s adopted and now her birth mother has exploded back into their lives after years of distance, Freya’s father has had a stroke that he seemingly will not recover from and her mother is undertaking his full time care at home and Freya’s sister is dealing with infertility. It’s a lot.

So there’s a lot happening but nothing actually really happens in this book, to be honest. Things happen but without really for a reason or in a way that contributes to the plot. A lot was made of Freya’s sister Scarlett’s problems of having a child but that then fizzles out without resolution of their situation. Likewise, Freya’s mum plays a large role and then just snap makes a decision at the end of the book. Freya spends a lot of time agonising over the appearance of her daughter’s birth mother back into their lives and although I can understand how she might feel threatened, Freya is nasty, snide and very immature about how she deals with it. It’s mostly an inner monologue but she criticises the woman’s looks frequently in a way that just became really tedious to read. Freya is a woman about my age and look, I know we all have unkind thoughts. But Freya has a lot of unkind thoughts and they just seem like trying to drag someone down because she doesn’t understand their life choices. Even though those life choices are why and how Freya came to parent Lexi in the first place. It’s not even remotely framed as trying to protect Lexi as such, it’s much more about Freya and how she feels and how she doesn’t want Lexi to like her birth mother better or admire her or look up to her or want to be like her. She’s savage to Lexi when she tries applying make up – Lexi gets it a bit wrong, she has a heavy hand (but who doesn’t at 14, having their first crack) and Freya’s jealousy and bitterness makes her so cruel to her daughter. It was really ugly and Freya just became for me, a complete and utter chore to read. Being in her head was unpleasant. She lies to her husband and although there’s some interesting stuff in here about celebrity social media and projecting an image that isn’t real, the writer only skims the surface without any real self-examination and reflection. Also Freya’s youngest daughter Teddy (who is 4) is an unrealistic demanding nightmare who is spoiled and indulged and acts more like a 2yo. I think she’s supposed to be funny but really she just needed to hear the word ‘No’ on occasion and have someone actually stick to it. Dan is framed as husband/father of the year but is mostly absent from this narrative, only appearing in the most vague of ways.

I think Kelly tried to cram too much into this, perhaps to make up for the fact that Freya didn’t feel like a strong enough character to carry this entire book and her story wasn’t particularly interesting. There’s so much about her family members and their dramas but then they don’t really go anywhere or actually contribute to the story in any meaningful way. I think possibly it’s supposed to show how much Freya has on her plate but it didn’t really seem like she was that busy and a lot of this she shoulders without actually having to. I just felt like this was too much “stuff” just chucked in and none of it had much point.

4/10

Book #2 of 2020

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 7th January

Welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday. Originally created by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday is now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl and features a different book and reading theme each week. This week we are talking:

Top 10 Most Anticipated Releases In The First Half Of 2020

1. House Of Earth And Blood (Crescent City #1) by Sarah J Maas.

A new series from Sarah J. Maas. I really enjoy her books, even though I’m yet to finish the Throne of Glass series yet. I might make that a goal – finish the last 2 before this one drops in March.

2. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.

This sounds really interesting – it’s about a girl who had a relationship with her teacher that began when she was 15. Now years later, someone has accused him of sexual abuse, another former student. And Vanessa must decide which narrative she wants to tell.

3. The Lying Life Of Adults by Elena Ferrante.

This is the Italian cover, because Europa Editions have the English translation cover listed as to be revealed. I loved the Neapolitan Quartet and I’ve been really looking forward to another novel from Elena Ferrante ever since I finished those. This will be out in worldwide markets in June, so just squeaks into this list!

4. The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan. 

I’m obsessed with Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly series and cannot wait to read this. The first two books have been two of the better crime novels I’ve read in recent times and I look forward to finding out what is next for Reilly as he continues to negotiate his new job, his colleagues who resent him and the fallout from book #2 and the effects it might have on his partner.

5. The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes by Suzanne Collins. 

I’m really curious about this. I loved the first 2 books in the Hunger Games series but the end of Mockingjay…..wasn’t for me. This one is going to go back 64 years or so in time, to the 10th Hunter Games so I’m interested to see what it’s going to be like.

6. Jacinda Adern by Michelle Duff.

I really admire Jacinda Adern, the NZ Prime Minister. She’s a breath of fresh air in some truly depressing world leaders (my own included) and seems like she’s had an interesting life. I’m really keen to read more about her and her rise in politics.

7. Amnesty by Aravind Adiga.

This sounds really relevant atm – it’s about an undocumented illegal immigrant here in Australia from Sri Lanka who has been denied asylum who suddenly has relevant information about a crime. He faces a choice – coming forward with what he knows and risking deportation or staying quiet and live with the guilt of knowing he could’ve helped justice be served.

8. All The Stars And Teeth by Adalyn Grace.

I’m kind of into books about magic atm and I love this cover. That’s enough for me to be excited about this because I always enjoy a new series to get stuck into and this sounds like it has a really good idea.

9. A Song Of Wraiths And Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown.

Okay the title of this is a bit close to the Sarah J. Maas books but I really like the idea – a black heroine, West African folklore (which I’m pretty sure I’ve read nothing of), people that want to murder each other but are also falling for each other. That sounds like something I am going to really love.

10. Heartstopper Volume 3 by Alice Oseman.

I almost never read graphic novels but I saw so many people saying how cute these were so I had to try them. And they are incredibly cute. I ended up getting very invested in Charlie and Nick and their finding of each other and I can’t wait to read the next instalment.

I always forget books when I do these posts – I’ll probably read other people’s today and see books and think OMG! How could I have forgotten that one? Which is why these are so good (and bad!) because they help me remember books I’m excited about that I’ve forgotten because there are so many and also because they add sooooo many books to my TBR pile. But it’s all good – you have never have enough books.

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Review: Wild Life by Keena Roberts

Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs
Keena Roberts
Grand Central Publishing
2018, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Keena Roberts split her adolescence between the wilds of an island camp in Botswana and the even more treacherous halls of an elite Philadelphia private school. In Africa, she slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire, and lived each day alongside the baboon colony her parents were studying. She could wield a spear as easily as a pencil, and it wasn’t unusual to be chased by lions or elephants on any given day. But for the months of the year when her family lived in the United States, this brave kid from the bush was cowed by the far more treacherous landscape of the preppy, private school social hierarchy.

Most girls Keena’s age didn’t spend their days changing truck tires, baking their own bread, or running from elephants as they tried to do their schoolwork. They also didn’t carve bird whistles from palm nuts or nearly knock themselves unconscious trying to make homemade palm wine. But Keena’s parents were famous primatologists who shuttled her and her sister between Philadelphia and Botswana every six months. Dreamer, reader, and adventurer, she was always far more comfortable avoiding lions and hippopotamuses than she was dealing with spoiled middle-school field hockey players.

In Keena’s funny, tender memoir, Wild Life, Africa bleeds into America and vice versa, each culture amplifying the other. By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, Wild Life is ultimately the story of a daring but sensitive young girl desperately trying to figure out if there’s any place where she truly fits in.

I love books set anywhere on the continent of Africa, particularly those that revolve around the wildlife sanctuaries, issues with poaching etc. So when I saw this on NetGalley I jumped on it because it sounded really interesting.

Keena Roberts spent her life divided between two locations. Her parents were prominent primatologists who spent large portions of their careers at overseas postings researching baboons and although Keena’s mother returned to the US for her birth, they took Keena back to Africa at quite a young age and she spent a huge portion of her childhood there, firstly in Kenya and then later in Botswana. She was homeschooled or taught herself and also learned a lot about living in a remote location with little in the way of resources and zero luxury. The temperatures were often incredibly oppressive – there was a heatwave that pushed it to 120 and there was almost no way to seek relief. When Keena got older, her parents decided that proper schooling needed to be a part of her life and also they had to both fulfil teaching engagements with their university employer so Keena started school at a Philadelphia private school. The students there didn’t understand her previous life and she didn’t fit in – she spent most of her time living wild and her clothes, hair and everything else was all wrong. She wasn’t interested in what other children were interested in and they didn’t understand the things that interested her.

I’m not particularly brave, so I was pretty fascinated by Keena’s life in Africa, complete with experiences with black mambas, spiders the size of dinner plates, the danger of navigating channels in the Okavango delta in a boat where crocodiles and hippos lurk. For her, it was all normal – as much as walking into the living room and putting the tv on or stepping outside to have a swim in the pool or play on the swings, as I did in my own childhood. It’s when she goes back to Philadelphia that she has trouble – the house doesn’t feel right, so different it is to Africa and her experience coming and going from school means that she doesn’t make many close friends and is often the subject of ridicule and isolation by the other students.

There were parts of this I enjoyed – I don’t like monkeys (or apes, chimpanzees, etc) so I was more interested in the other animals that Keena and her family observed whilst they went about their work in Botswana. Elephants, lions, hippos, etc. I love all of them and reading about them observing them in their natural habitat was really interesting. It was certainly a unique childhood, although also fraught with quite a lot of danger. The book opens with Roberts gleefully recounting the three times she nearly died when she was a baby/toddler and there is also a story in the book where her mother requires her to pilot a boat on her own through rivers where crocodiles and hippos, both of which are known to attack boats and dislodge people from them, inhabit. She’s less than 10 at the time and has her even younger sister with her, which I did find quite disturbing. There’s other rules I guess, when you’re living so remote. Kids grow up quicker and take on more responsibility.

However I did find the book quite circular. Because they spend months in Africa and then return for Keena to go to school, there is a repeat of the same pattern and I did grow a bit bored with this. I know she was treated quite unfairly by her classmates, ostracised and picked on but the stories from when they live in Philadelphia contain pretty much nothing else. Nothing else of her life in America and surely they must’ve done other things? There’s some interesting internal thoughts about how she’s torn between her two places – she’s American, born in America but her formative years were all spent in Africa living a life that is very different to the average American. In America she often feels lost and clueless, but when she returns to Africa it’s like ‘coming home’. But I’m not sure why I didn’t love this – I probably should have, it’s right up my alley, talking about a lot of things that I love to read about. But parts of it were honestly a chore and I could’ve been reading the same thing over and over again, because of the aforementioned pattern it followed. I liked this – but I didn’t connect with it in a way that made it feel meaningful to me, a way where I would remember it as a favourite. It was okay.

6/10

Book #1 of 2020

I’m going to count this book towards my participation in the 2020 Non Fiction Challenge hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. It actually applies to quite a few of the categories but my favourite part of it was about the landscape in Botswana and the animals, so I’m going to use it to tick off the Nature category.

1/6 books read for this challenge. There’s potential that I could end up reading books for all 12!

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December & 2019 Yearly Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 13
Fiction: 12
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 2
Books On My TBR List: 1
Books in a Series: 5
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 4
Male/Female Authors: 1/12
Kindle Books: 3
Books I Owned or Bought: 4
Favourite Book(s): The Only Plane In The Sky by Garrett M. Graff
Least Favourite Books: Nothing below a 3/5 this month
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 6

December was a quiet month but then, I knew it was going to be. I completed my Goodreads goal in November and with going away, I figured that I probably wouldn’t be reading as much. I’m still quite happy to have read 13 books. As of writing this I’ve read 4 on my holiday – I actually pictured reading a bit more out by the pool but honestly? It’s been too hot to sit comfortably outside. We still have just over a week of holidays remaining and then I’ll probably be back to my normal reading habits. January is generally a pretty big reading month for me….the last 2 years it’s been one of my most prolific reading months.

And the yearly reading wrap up…….

Total Books Read: 217
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 106
Male/Female Authors: 32/187 (some are counted under both, which is why it adds up to 219)
Kindle Books: 35
Library Reads: 27
5-Star Reads: 31
Most Prolific Reading Month: October – 29 books
Least Prolific Reading Month: June & December – 13 books

The spreadsheet I used this year to track my reading allows me to actually have a much more comprehensive reading break down at my fingertips without having to go back and re-read every monthly reading wrap up I did or scroll through my Goodreads and reviews. It’s got pie charts and lists which allow me to see things like:

  • I read 179 adult titles in 2019
  • 31 YA titles
  • 7 middle grade or children’s titles
  • 16 non-fiction titles
  • 20 books by POC and 23 featuring main characters of colour
  • 14 books with a queer author or main character
  • 2 books in translation
  • 16 titles that are ‘own voices’
  • 63 books I read in 2019 I purchased myself
  • 27 were from my local library
  • 112 were ARCs from publishers either digital or print
  • 6 books were re-reads
  • General/contemporary fiction was my biggest genre with a whopping 81 titles. Next is historical fiction (35), then romance (32). I read 1 classic and 1 book I considered to be ‘horror’.
  • It takes me on average, 1.3 days to read a book and I read an average of 219 pages per day
  • Overall I read 79,585 pages and I listened to 1x 9hr audiobook.
  • My lowest rating was 1×2 star
  • I rated 27 books a 4.5/5 and 4 books a 5/5 (9/10 and 10/10 on my blog)
  • 98 books were between 3-400p. I also read 11 books that had over 600p throughout the year

Comparing 2019 with 2018, I read more books in 2019 – 11 more. I also read a lot more male authors – only 18 in 2018 compared with 32 this year. However new authors to me were slightly down – 106 this year compared with 113 last year. My eBook consumption has been dropping steadily in the last few years….it was 56 last year but I only read 35 this year. That’s just under 3 a month. I think a few years ago, eBooks would’ve been a much higher percentage of my overall reading. In 2017, I read 82 kindle books. I’m not overly sure why this is….I don’t think I receive too many more print ARCs now than I did in 2017 but I do certainly use NetGalley a bit less. I still buy eBooks, especially during sales – I will often stock up with 10 or so books when they have $1.99-$4.99 sales. So they’re there. I’m just not reading them as often. I did nab a lot of eBooks to read while I’m on holidays though, so I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to choose them over print books that might be lying around.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my reading in 2019. I’ve ticked over 200 books for the year for the last few years now but certain life changes in the next year or so may mean that trend doesn’t continue. My Goodreads goal for 2020 is going to be lower because sometimes I find it a bit judgy and stressful. And I’m aware it’s stress I put on myself, as I’m the one that sets it!

I’m happy with the amount of reviews I wrote this year. I didn’t review about 40 books – 6 or 7 of which were re-reads and I have already reviewed previously before. Another 5 or 6 were cookbooks and I don’t really review cookbooks although I do still have plans for a series of posts about changing the food I eat and finding new dishes to become ‘regulars’ for our family. That’s kind of a work in progress so maybe that’s something I can get to and work on a bit more in 2020. There were just some books that I read that I felt a review wasn’t really necessary or I didn’t have anything to say. So I probably wrote close to 180 reviews in 2019 which is almost 4 a week. I always aim to try and publish 4 posts a week so that works with my blog goals.

I don’t know how I feel about resolutions – I’ve had years when I’ve made blogging and reading resolutions and years where I haven’t made any. I think I work better when I do have a few goals and aims to achieve for the year, so in the coming week I might try and get a goals for 2020 post up as well.

Normally I post a picture of the this month’s TBR but I don’t have a January TBR as I’m not at home – I do have some books waiting for me when I get home but for now, maybe it’s time to get to those eBooks that are sitting around being ignored!

Hope you all had a wonderful reading year and that 2020 is enjoyable and filled with amazing books.

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My Best Books Of 2019 (Top 10 Tuesday 31st December)

Best lists are a tricky beast because I read so many wonderful books it can be hard to narrow it down to a list that doesn’t just go on forever. But for my best books of 2019, there has to be something about them that sticks in my mind, that singles them out. This post is also doubling as my Top 10 Tuesday December 31 post (hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl) where the topic is Top 10 Reads of 2019. I actually have slightly more than 10….but it’s fine.

These are in the order I read them, not actual preference.

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper. Her non-fiction is just….incredible. This was about some of the horrific fires of Black Saturday 2009 in Victoria and it’s rich with the details of some of the stories of those that lost their lives or that were close to people that did. It was also the first book I read in 2019, so it was a powerful way to start the reading year. My review.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Oh wow, this book. This was a 10/10 read for me and heck we all know I give them out almost not at all. The writing is amazing, the story is phenomenal and the ending is just….something that I still think about. And I read this in January. My review.

No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani. This is another 10/10 read for me and is my Book of the Year. This was written by a Kurdish refugee seeking asylum in Australia, confined on Manus Island. He wrote it on WhatsApp in Farsi and sent it to his translator. It’s very poetic and the sheer task of translating that into English and keeping the integrity intact must’ve been a task. It was admirably done. It highlights with unflinching realism how horrifically people have been treated by this country’s government, just for daring to come here. My review.

What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume. The summer Aussie YA I’ve always wanted to read with a plus-sized main character and a super cute love interest who is hot for her the way she is. My review.

The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan. The second in the Cormac Reilly series, about a detective in Ireland who took a demotion and is regarded with suspicion by most of his work colleagues. This book involves his partner in a crime and these books are just so good. I can’t wait for more. My review.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee. A memoir detailing one woman’s fight for justice in her case against someone who sexually molested her. Bri Lee works as a judge’s associate in a Queensland – both regional and metropolitan. She sees her boss, known affectionately as “Judge”, deal with a lot of sexual assault cases and a large amount do not result in convictions. This was very confronting with a lot of painstaking research but also raw emotion as Lee came to terms with her own status as sexual assault victim and her quest to have her voice heard. My review.

Vardaesia by Lynette Noni. I ended up loving this series so much! Each new book just built on the world and the story in such interesting ways and I really liked the characters. This finale was really well done and it was such a satisfying journey. My review.

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth. Sally Hepworth is just the master of a family drama. Her portrayal of complex relationships is so clever and her books are impossible to put down. My review.

The Place On Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta. Melina Marchetta is my Queen. It’s impossible for me not to love her books and I especially love Francesca Spinelli, Tom Mackie, Jimmy Hailler and Tara and Justine and Will. These kids have gone from high school students thrown together to adults who are a family. I love them ALL. My review.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary. I absolutely loved this – it’s about two people who share a one bedroom flat but they’ve never met. One works nights and sleeps in the flat during the day. The other works days and sleeps in the flat overnight. They start leaving little notes for each other and eventually….things happen. This is cute AF and weirdly, I never wrote a review of it.

The Island Of Sea Women by Lisa See. This was such an amazing story about a matriarchal society living on Jeju, an island off the coast of South Korea. The women in the society are basically free divers, training from a young age to hold their breath and dive to deeper and deeper depths to harvest the sea while the men stay home and look after the children. It was amazing – moving through WWII and Japanese occupation. My review.

The Forgotten Letters Of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn. A brilliant dual timeline book about a young woman committed to a mental asylum by her husband in the 1950s after a loss and a woman in 2017 taking up a new career posting to a remote island off the coast of Cornwall. Incredibly engaging. My review.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Possibly my romance of the year – this book is amazing in 5,000,000 different ways. A Hispanic First Son of America and a very British prince who cause a scene and are then told by their respective minders that it’s time to make nice….and they discover that under that animosity that actually kinda like each other a lot. This is amazing. 1,000,000 more like this would be fab. My review.

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves. This is the first book I’ve ever read by Ann Cleeves, although she’s a prolific writer with several series’ even having been adapted for television. This is the first in a brand new series featuring a detective who fled his overly religious family some 20 years ago. He’s now working in his home town although his rejection of his family’s religious lifestyle means he’s basically invisible to them (as does his choice of partner). This was good and I am eagerly awaiting the next one. My review.

Guest House For Young Widows: Among The Women Of Isis by Azadeh Moaveni. A divisive book, I have no doubt. This tells the story of some of the {young} women who were lured to join a new Muslim caliphate. In some cases, they were as young as 15 and married off almost immediately to ISIS soldiers. A lot of them are widows, some have been widowed more than once. And now the debate rages about what to do with them. My review.

I Am Change by Suzy Zail. This was amazing, a YA set in Uganda and the struggle of a young girl to be able to just go to school and complete her education and the struggles of a mother who wants a traditional life for her, to preserve her culture (even facets of it that are now illegal) and a daughter who just wants to write and be something other than a wife and mother. My review.

The Queen Of Nothing by Holly Black. Yasss. I love this whole series. My review.

The Only Plane In The Sky: An Oral History Of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff. This was so good. It’s just so simple – the story of what happened to each person on 9/11 from people who worked in the Twin Towers, first responders, loved ones who lost people either in the towers or those who were on the planes. It’s in chronological order from the early morning onward and it is pure story, no politics. My review.

2019 had a lot of memorable books – I have a few dozen more I could probably list as honourable mentions but that would make this post go on forever. I just decided to be a bit ruthless and stick to the ones that I felt really stood out, or that I felt changed my reading landscape.

Hope you all read many, many wonderful books in 2019 and here’s to more of the same in 2020!

 

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