All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Boy At The Keyhole by Stephen Giles

The Boy At The Keyhole
Stephen Giles
Penguin Michael Joseph
2018, 261p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A haunting, impossible-to-put-down thriller set almost entirely in a large and forbidding English mansion, in 1961.

England, 1961. Samuel’s mother has been away for 113 days.

Now it’s just Samuel and Ruth, the housekeeper, alone in the once-great house. His mother is abroad, purportedly tending to her late husband’s faltering business. Samuel yearns for her return, but knows she must have had her reasons for leaving in the middle of the night, without saying goodbye.

Although Samuel receives occasional postcards from his mother, her absence weighs heavily on his mind. And when his friend plants a seed of suspicion about Ruth, who rules the house with an iron fist, a dangerous idea is born. What if Ruth is responsible for his mother’s disappearance?

Samuel is soon obsessed with finding answers. Is Ruth the one person in his life who truly cares for him? Or is she a killer with a murderous plan? And will Samuel be able to uncover the truth before it’s too late?

Artful and deliciously claustrophobic, The Boy at the Keyhole is a story of truth and perception, and of the shocking acts that occur behind closed doors.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this story. This is the first book for adults by an author who has successfully written for children and it centres around a boy named Samuel. His father has passed away and his mother is gone, having left without saying goodbye some 113 days ago in order to travel to America, the land of her birth, to secure funding to take over the family business. It’s failing badly and there needs to be a huge injection of capital. She has left Samuel in the care of Ruth, the housekeeper and now basically sole staff, except for William, the gardener. The house is large, a manor really and would’ve come equipped with plenty of staff during good times. But those were long ago.

Samuel desperately misses his mother and lives for the random postcards that show up, detailing what city she is visiting now. He keeps an atlas with pins stuck in it, tracking this mother’s journey across America. More than anything he wants his mother to return to him but the postcards never talk of such things, nor does Ruth, who briskly sweeps aside most talk of his mother, saying she’ll be home whenever she is. With the suspicious minds of little boys, Samuel and his friend wonder if his mother is even in America……or did Ruth do something to her?

For a child of Samuel’s age (9), it’s a long time to be without contact from a parent, especially when the other parent is no longer around also. He is desperate for his mother, his very existence seems to revolve around her return. The character of Ruth is an odd one – on one hand, she continues to stay and care for Samuel, despite the fact that there’s pretty much nothing in it for her. The money Samuel’s mother has left has run out and she has to bake and sell her wares in order to feed them both. But she’s not at all maternal, there are times when she doesn’t even seem to particularly like Samuel and there are times when she displays shocking cruelty towards a small child, a small child who is struggling with this current situation. There were times when Ruth was also deeply compassionate in her own way towards Samuel as well, trying small things to make him feel more hopeful or secure. She was a complete contradiction and to be honest, probably written that way so that you could see the potential for her having manipulated circumstances or things not being as they seem.

Not going to lie, I did struggle with this. It’s not a long book but it feels very slow. Lots of Samuel just creeping around this big old house (which is his house) but yet Ruth appearing out of nowhere telling him he’s not allowed in this room or that room and to go and do this or that. I know she’s in charge of him but she’s the sort of “do as I say” rather than explaining things to him or asking him to do things and Samuel is a typical 9yo boy who is missing his parents and trying to stretch his wings a little. He is very creative in defying her but she always ends up turning up and catching him and it got a bit repetitive. I think the problem for me was just how awful Ruth was in a few scenes, which made it hard to buy that she was actually trying to protect him in some others. Perhaps some of this is the setting – 1961 and crumbling aristocracy or money, kids being seen and not heard I guess but Ruth is a shade too awful at times for me. I can understand Samuel coming to think she had killed his mother and stuffed her in the cellar. Because of this, the ending didn’t work for me either. It just didn’t flow for me, felt jerky and cut away and I had to go back and re-read to make sure I had actually understood what had happened.

A quick read but unfortunately I did not love this.

5/10
Book #173 of 2018

 

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Review: The Girl On The Page by John Purcell

The Girl On The Page
John Purcell
4th Estate
2018, 400p
Copy courtesy of Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two women, two great betrayals, one path to redemption. A punchy, powerful and page-turning novel about the redemptive power of great literature, from industry insider, John Purcell.

Amy Winston is a hard-drinking, bed-hopping, hot-shot young book editor on a downward spiral. Having made her name and fortune by turning an average thriller writer into a Lee Child, Amy is given the unenviable task of steering literary great Helen Owen back to publication.

When Amy knocks on the door of their beautiful townhouse in north west London, Helen and her husband, the novelist Malcolm Taylor, are conducting a silent war of attrition. The townhouse was paid for with the enormous seven figure advance Helen was given for the novel she wrote to end fifty years of making ends meets on critical acclaim alone. The novel Malcolm thinks unworthy of her. The novel Helen has yet to deliver. The novel Amy has come to collect.

Amy has never faced a challenge like this one. Helen and Malcolm are brilliant, complicated writers who unsettle Amy into asking questions of herself – questions about what she values, her principles, whether she has integrity, whether she is authentic. Before she knows it, answering these questions becomes a matter of life or death.

From ultimate book industry insider, John Purcell, comes a literary page-turner, a ferocious and fast-paced novel that cuts to the core of what it means to balance ambition and integrity, and the redemptive power of great literature.

As a lover of books, both the stories themselves and also the process of producing them, I really enjoy books that are set in the world of publishing. There’s something about them that really appeals to me – a glimpse behind the scenes, getting to know an author’s process but also editing as well as actual publishing, launch and promotion. And if you’re like me and enjoy that sort of stuff too then this book is definitely for you.

I absolutely loved this, from pretty much the first page. Amy is an editor who sort of blackmailed her way into her career and she’s an editor with a difference. She is roped in to coaxing a novel already paid for with a fat advance from literary mastermind Helen Owen, which is already well overdue. The publishing company need that novel and they need it to be a commercial success, despite the fact that Helen has always been an author with more critical success. Helen only works in hard copy and so Amy goes to stay with her and her husband Malcolm, also an author. They’ve moved from the flat they lived in together for almost fifty years to a modern new place with Helen’s fat advance and a lot is riding on Amy being able to find the gold in Helen’s work. Because if she doesn’t deliver, the publishers are coming to take their advance back.

Amy is equal parts amazing and a complete mess. She’s so smart when it comes to books and publishing and I absolutely love the way she went out there and grabbed her career by the balls basically and made it happen for her after too many rejections trying to get in the ‘regular’ way. She’s spun her own success, although much of it is a secret. Her vision is so good and she knows when she sees Helen’s work that she faces a real dilemma. As she spends more and more time with Helen and Malcolm, she begins to fall in love with them as writers and as people. Before meeting Helen, Amy had not read any of her prior work and at Malcolm’s urging, she reads her entire backlist. Amy has so many ideas about what she could do with Helen, none of which her publisher bosses would be interested in and she’s somewhat wasted editing blockbusters that admittedly, net her huge amounts of profit.

There are a lot of jokes, bookish references and gentle jabs at the book industry here. I’m currently slogging my way through 2018’s Man Booker short list (although that’s a bit inaccurate, I’m actually halfway through my first read and it’s fantastic, but I anticipate some will be slogs). Malcolm’s most recent book was long listed (then short listed) and neither Malcolm, nor Helen, to be honest, react in the expected way to accolades and neither of them expect him to win – after all, they’ve opened it up to the Americans now! Malcolm is a gruff old goat at first, seemingly a bit of a grump and cranky about their nice new digs and their separate offices but I came to have such affection for him the further the book went on. He’s so passionate about writing, about who they are and where they come from. He doesn’t see this new place as them any more than the book they want Helen to write to sell is who she is. He’s a huge admirer of his wife’s work, believes her to have one of the best minds of the modern era and it actually kind of blinds him in a way. This book took me to places I did not expect when I picked it up – the journey is laughter, appreciation, admiration and heartbreak. I’ve read that a few people have struggled with the character of Amy, presumably because she sort of acts like the heroes in the blockbuster novels she edits – she drinks far too much, she sleeps around an awful lot and she’s self destructing due to something she did in the past that haunts her. It’s all behaviour that we see a lot of from men in books and I wonder if it’s confronting to see it detailed so unabashedly in a female character. I enjoyed Amy for her passion – she didn’t have to work but she loved what she did so much. She makes some mistakes but she manages to be clever enough to keep herself in the game when others would have her out.

This is obviously written by someone that loves books – and I know most, if not all, authors love books. But this is more than that, it’s about the whole process. Not just the writing and the publishing but the debate and the sales and the talk. Literary and commercial, prize winners and whether or not women specific prizes or accolades are really necessary. There’s so much poured into this, it’s like every conversation I’ve ever had with someone who loves books as much as I do, in book form. And there’s a list of book recommendations from each character and the author at the back….which is perfection. I just love this idea, that we can get a snapshot into their reading tastes and can take further reading from the characters if we so choose. Quite a few books I’ve read but there are plenty I haven’t and if you relate to a particular character you have a few books to dive into after finishing this one! It’s a nice little touch.

9/10

Book #172 of 2018

 

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Review: The Lost Valley by Jennifer Scoullar

The Lost Valley (The Tasmanian Tales #2)
Jennifer Scoullar
Pilyara Press
2018, 361p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Tasmania, 1929: Ten-year-old-twins, Tom and Harry Abbott, are orphaned by a tragedy that shocks Hobart society. They find sanctuary with their reclusive grandmother, growing up in the remote and rugged Binburra ranges – a place where kind-hearted Tom discovers a love of the wild, Harry nurses a growing resentment towards his brother and where the mountains hold secrets that will transform both their lives.

The chaos of World War II divides the brothers, and their passion for two very different women fuels a deadly rivalry. Can Tom and Harry survive to heal their rift? And what will happen when Binburra finally reveals its astonishing secrets?

From Tasmania’s highlands to the Battle of Britain, and all the way to the golden age of Hollywood, ‘The Lost Valley’ is a lush family saga about two brothers whose fates are entwined with the land and the women they love.

This is the second in rural lit author Jennifer Scoullar’s Tasmanian Tales series. The first book introduced us to a part of Tasmania that had remained mostly untouched – old growth forest teeming with wildlife, including the elusive thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. It gave us a love story that spanned decades of heartache and separation and this book picks up into the future with the grandchildren of Isabelle, 10 year old twins Tom and Harry who unexpectedly come into her care after a family tragedy.

Belle has to adjust to having two young children to care for, at a time in her life when it wouldn’t be particularly expected. She takes to the task with enthusiasm however, wanting to give them safety and sanctuary, a place to heal their grief. They retreat to country Tasmania, to her family’s old property and there the boys explore and play, scaring off private tutor after private tutor. It’s not all fun and games though – the boys have their challenges and Harry in particular has a darkness that lurks inside of him, shadowing his relationship with his brother into their adulthood.

Woven into the story of Tom and Harry is that of Emma, a young girl the twins meet when their grandmother takes them to the city. Emma has passion for wildlife and spends her days trying to bulk up the feed of animals at the local zoo, which has fallen into mismanagement. The animals are starving, pacing their cages. Nocturnal animals have their burrows or hidey holes shut off in the day, forcing them to stay out in the open for people to observe them. It seems that no one wants to pay to go to the zoo and then have all the animals be sleeping and out of sight. This messes with their body clocks and makes them miserable and this part of the story was truly hard to read. I’ve been to zoos plenty of times, when animals haven’t been visible. One of my favourite animals is a wombat – try spotting any of them when you visit a zoo or sanctuary! They’re always asleep and so they should be, because that’s how they are. Thankfully zoo-type conservation has moved on and the animals are given habitats and routines as close to their wild and native habitats as can be perfected. There are still plenty of issues surrounding zoos and the like but the way they are run has definitely changed for the better.

Emma is soon forced to return home to care for her mother and her story takes such an interesting turn. She’s motivated by a need to earn money to care for her mother, who needs round-the-clock nursing. Her brothers are mostly unhelpful and useless and it falls to Emma to assume responsibility for not just herself but her mother as well. She crosses paths with one twin or the other over the years, her destiny tied to theirs in the most complicated of ways. I thought Emma’s story was handled remarkably well, providing a different insight into a certain sort of life that I don’t think many authors have portrayed so well. I think the reader was really given the chance to understand Emma’s position and her motivations and the ways in which she was able to make these choices for herself. It perhaps may not have started that way but she did use what happened to take control and power for her own destiny. She really does use what happened to her, the position she was put in, to better her own life and to be the one in charge. She goes from being very helpless to financially independent, reclaiming herself and her ability to choose her future. She is a really interesting character and I enjoyed the time devoted to her a lot.

As always, conservation is a strong thread running through this book, from the beginning of the boys exploring their new home to Belle confiding her secrets so that they may be preserved for many years to come. This creates conflict between the two siblings, amplifying the chip Harry seems to have on his shoulder regarding his brother and his confused and muddled feelings after their parents’ deaths. This builds so well throughout the novel novel, Scoullar expanding on the tension that has simmered between the boys since their childhood until it explodes.

This was a fantastic follow up to the first book – these books just flow so well and they’re so readable. I read both on my iPad and sometimes it can be difficult to judge how long you have to go until the finish but these simply fly by so fast I don’t even get time to wonder. I fall into the story of this family so easily – their loves and losses, the passion for the land that underpins everything. I think there’s another book to come and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

8/10

Book #167 of 2018

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Review: Heaven Sent by S.J. Morgan

Heaven Sent 
S.J. Morgan
MidnightSun Publishing
2018, 326p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

At almost sixteen, Evie’s life isn’t all she’d hoped it would be. She lives in the dodgy end of town with her mum and her mum’s deadbeat boyfriend, Seb; and adolescent scoliosis means Evie’s forced to wear a back brace until she’s stopped growing.

Then one night, she meets Gabe. Breathtakingly handsome, he crashes, spectacularly, into Evie’s life. He says their meeting was no accident and convinces Evie he’s been sent to turn her fortunes around. Evie’s best friend, Paige, dismisses him as a pot-head, but Paige has issues of her own and has started spending all her time chasing older men instead of higher grades.

As the weeks go by, Evie’s luck seems to be on a constant upswing and she begins to wonder if she and Gabe really were ‘meant’ to meet; even if she’s noticed that so many aspects of Gabe’s story don’t add up…

But there’s someone else waiting in the wings and, for Evie as well as for Gabe, life is about to get a whole lot more complicated.

This book was really interesting and it was definitely a bit different to what I was expecting.

Evie lives with her mother in a house that’s nothing to write home about. Her mother is in her forties, working a dead end job to make ends meet and provide for not only Evie but also her own boyfriend, a no hoper named Seb who is significantly younger than Evie’s mother and seems to use that as leverage to do as little as possible. Evie really only has one friend at school, Paige, who comes from a more wealthy and privileged background. It seems that only Paige looks past the brace Evie wears for her scoliosis, a brace that makes her feel outcast and gross. She is ashamed of it and the way that it makes her look, bulking out her clothes.

Evie’s life changes when Gabe crashes (literally) into her world, smashing his car through her bedroom window. Gabe sees himself as some sort of protector of Evie and he turns up at the most random moments, although things do not appear to be always what they seem with him. For Evie he seems to be something of an escape, a way to leave behind her dreary house, the presence of Seb, a mother who doesn’t seem to prioritise her. When Gabe is the reason Evie is able to connect with someone she thought she’d never see again, he becomes even more important to her, even if some of his interactions can be strange at times. With home life imploding and her friendship with Paige suddenly struggling, Evie turns to not just Gabe but also handsome year 12 Isak, from school.

There was a lot I really liked about this book. I thought Evie was a great character, she’s really not in a great place when the book starts. Her home life kind of sucks – Seb is gross and you just know he’s waiting until the day Evie turns 18 so he can basically turf her out. Her mother is always at work and I think Evie definitely would struggle to really talk to her, connect with her about how she feels about Seb (who definitely gave off creepy vibes to me from the beginning). Her friend Paige is high maintenance and I think Evie feels grateful to her, for being her friend, ignoring the fact that half the time Paige isn’t particularly kind to her, and betrays her in incredible ways later on in this book. Evie seems to find herself in Paige’s shadow – all the boys love Paige, whereas Evie doesn’t see herself as attractive, held back by the brace and her spinal disfiguration. I think she sees Gabe as something that is intrinsically hers and no one else’s, someone that she doesn’t have to share with Paige or seemingly worry about him transferring his interest to Paige. There’s no denying though, that Gabe is quite intense and there’s some definite red flags that Evie either doesn’t see or chooses to ignore, because of what Gabe brings to her life.

It’s pretty clear from early on that there’s….something…that’s a bit concerning about Gabe but it takes Evie quite a while to see it. I think that the way this played out was quite well handled and there seemed a careful consideration of Gabe’s issues and how they affected him and also the world around him but also how factors contributed that blurred the lines. I think Evie definitely showed maturity and compassion in her handling of the events that occurred in the latter part of the novel, not just with Gabe but also with Paige as well. I think I’d have liked a little more explanation or accountability for Paige and her actions, once there was a reveal it’s like she just completely disappeared from the narrative. She was Evie’s best friend, I would’ve definitely liked a little more thought from Evie on Paige’s actions and how she had treated her.

Perhaps a lot of things are kept vague in this deliberately – why/how Gabe crashed into the house, why the wall was never fixed, why Evie’s mother did what she did, why Paige did what she did, etc but I felt like the book set up a lot of things and then didn’t really play them out in quite as much detail as I expected. Things just kind of happen and then people shrug their shoulders and move on. Some people will love that….it just leaves me with questions. But despite my queries and a little feeling that I wasn’t completely satisfied at the end, I did enjoy this and I think the writing was good. I also really liked the issues handled, Evie’s scoliosis and Gabe’s situation as well. I’d read more of S.J. Morgan in the future.

6/10

Book #171 of 2018

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Review: The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell

The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Retirement Village
Joanna Nell
Hachette AUS
2018, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s never too late to grow old disgracefully…

The life of 79-year-old pensioner Peggy Smart is as beige as the décor in her retirement village. Her week revolves around aqua aerobics and appointments with her doctor. The highlight of Peggy’s day is watching her neighbour Brian head out for his morning swim.

Peggy dreams of inviting the handsome widower – treasurer of the Residents’ Committee and one of the few eligible men in the village – to an intimate dinner. But why would an educated man like Brian, a chartered accountant no less, look twice at Peggy? As a woman of a certain age, she fears she has become invisible, even to men in their eighties.

But a chance encounter with an old school friend she hasn’t seen in five decades – the glamorous fashionista Angie Valentine – sets Peggy on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. Can she channel her ‘inner Helen Mirren’ and find love and friendship in her twilight years?

This is probably not something I’d have chosen to pick up without receiving it for review. Peggy is around my grandmother’s age, both are 80-odd. One actually lives in a retirement village that sounds quite similar to the one Peggy lives in, the other still lives in the home she and my grandfather retired in, although she’s on her own now. My parents face challenges with both their mothers – my dad’s mother, the one in the retirement village is coming to a time where she’s no longer able to live independently. She’s forgetting if she’s eaten, she’s forgetting to take her medication, she doesn’t turn the gas off when she’s finished. Dad has to make that call that she’s going to need more assistance to keep her health. And my mother is at the stage where she devotes several days a week to my grandmother’s needs and care that enable her to continue to live in her own home. Both my parents are actively involved in the lives of their mothers, from taking them shopping or to doctor’s appointments or just spending scheduled time with them each week. I live interstate now but whenever I visit, I make sure to spend decent time with both, ensuring that my kids are part of their worlds.

That seems to be something that’s quite missing from Peggy’s world. Her children are both grown with their own lives – at one stage Peggy was minding her grandchildren so that her daughter-in-law could return to work but it seemed to escalate to the point where it was too much for her. When she mentioned that she might like to cut back a bit, it was withdrawn completely and now it seems that Peggy operates her life a bit on the outer from her children, who swoop in to check on her level of senility and attempt to make decisions for her without actually listening to or observing her in her environment. I understand from what my dad is going through that it’s actually quite hard to have to make that call and he’s doing it with the discussion and input from my grandmother.

Peggy is a widow, still missing the companionship and presence of her husband but she’s not dead yet so her eye has landed on Brian, a handsome and pleasant widower who also resides in the retirement village. It seems that Brian is a bit of a hot commodity and Peggy doesn’t rate her chances. She sees herself as unglamorous and frumpy and when Angie Valentine, a childhood friend of Peggy’s arrives looking incredibly well preserved and confident, Peggy is even more downhearted. Angie seems determined to rekindle their friendship and takes it upon herself to also give Peggy a makeover, teaching her how to dress for her shape. On one hand, I quite liked the dynamic between Peggy and Angie. They were very different and had lived very different lives – Peggy having been married to pretty much her only boyfriend for over 50 years and Angie having been married four times. Angie does encourage Peggy to get out there, to do a bit more, enjoy life a bit more as well. Which is good, because although she has her medical issues (doesn’t everyone who gets to 80?) Peggy is still remarkably healthy and capable of living a fulfilling life, something that her children definitely need to realise.

However, and this is kind of a big thing, the way the story actually went with Angie……I didn’t like it. It wasn’t for me. I thought it was just a bit…..cruel, actually, that Angie would come back for that particular reason and there was also a bit of a cop out with one of the main characters involved no longer around and not able to give their side of the story. Also Peggy took the entire thing remarkably well pretty much immediately which didn’t really wash so much with me. I guess when you’re 80 there’s no point holding a grudge but honestly, a bit more internal debate probably would’ve been a bit more realistic, for me anyway. I just really didn’t enjoy this whole portion of the book and it seemed a bit out of step with the rest of it. It also seemed a long time to be revealed and is all dealt with quite swiftly, which threw off the pacing a bit for me.

Overall I did enjoy most of this book but I didn’t fall in love with it. It was quite sweet and I appreciated the insight into an older protagonist and the challenges they face with maintaining independent life and their health. But I can’t ignore that I didn’t like the second part of the book.

6/10

Book #170 of 2018

 

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 9th October

Welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now has a new home with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. Featuring a different bookish related theme each week, this week we are talking…..

Top 10 Longest Books I’ve Ever Read

For the purposes of this, I’m only going to include individual books – not bind ups (such as the LotR series in 1 volume or the box set of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, which Goodreads lists as the longest book I’ve ever read!). I’m also going to include the books from A Song Of Ice & Fire as one entry otherwise they’d be basically half this entire list. I’m also relying on Goodreads’ page count to be accurate, because I’m not hunting down all these books to check!

  1. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. My version is apparently 1232p – actually it’s a beautiful version. One of those clothbound hardbacks, they’re all so gorgeous. I read this a few years ago in a read-a-long with another blogger friend and I was surprised just how much I enjoyed it. There’s no denying that it is indeed, quite wordy and Hugo loves a tangent to be sure. But it’s quite a good read.
  2. A Song Of Ice & Fire: A Game Of Thrones, A Clash Of Kings, A Storm Of Swords, A Feast For Crows & A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin. These range from 837p (A Game Of Thrones) to 1184p (A Dance With Dragons) so that puts Dance as my second longest book. It’s actually my least favourite of the series – bit long and rambly and contains several of my least favourite plots, whereas 4 is a much better book. But the series as a whole – still fabulous. Hurry up and bloody finish it George.
  3. The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody. The final book in the Obernewtyn series if you’re in Australia. I get heaps of people telling me it’s not the last one, but they’re American and the series is numbered differently over there as they kept splitting the big books in two. The Red Queen is a pretty whopping 1120p. And so concludes one of my favourite ever series’ and definitely the series I spent the longest amount of time reading.
  4. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I was 12 when I read this and you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever re-read it. I’ve seen the movie a few times though, most recently a couple of years ago. It’s just a book that has never really left me although I should re-read it and see if it holds up to how 12yo me felt. Actually I remember that when I was 12, Rhett Butler didn’t interest me much. However when I re-watched the movie a few years ago, 30-something me was super into Rhett!
  5. Riders by Jilly Cooper. 919p. Haha, The Rutshire Chronicles. I was obsessed with these in the 90s. All that sex and horse racing! Jilly Cooper does know how to write a terrific bonkbuster. It’s been a while since I read some of these but this one, Rivals, The Man Who Made Husband’s Jealous, Appassionata, Score, Pandora etc were such good fun.
  6. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. 850p. Look, to be honest, the less said on this one the better. I wasn’t a huge fan and I know I’m in the minority but I had a lot of issues with this book and I don’t like Jamie. There, I said it!
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. 837p. Another surprisingly enjoyable read! I actually was expecting this to be a bit of a slog but it was really good. Tolstoy is prone to the odd tangent, much like Hugo but the storyline was very compelling. Weirdly like the week before I read this, I read a book that spoiled the ending for me!
  8. The Passage by Justin Cronin. 766p. Seeing this here just reminds me that I am still yet to read City Of Mirrors despite buying it when it came out a couple of years ago. Also I saw Justin Cronin at the Melbourne Writers Festival and he is hilarious.
  9. Temple by Matthew Reilly. 763p. Hmm, I think this is the one set in Peru. Matthew Reilly books are all very very fast paced with a lot of action and things that are exploding. Think of the movie you’ve seen with the most explosions and then make about 200 more things explode and you’re probably getting close.
  10. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. 756p. Really? Okay, I didn’t realise this book was that big. *shrug* I’ve only read it once and it was…..weird. I didn’t actually mind some of these when I read them. I could see the issues, but they were strangely compelling and are probably the books that actually got me reading YA again but this one…….yeah, it’s quite weird. Even when I was enjoying the rest of them, I thought this one in particular was badly written, plotted and full of terrible ideas. Also…. Renesmee will never not be the worst thing ever. The end.

So there’s my top 10 longest books read, ignoring bind ups and box-sets. There was a time when I sought out the biggest chunksters I could find, wanting bang for my buck. Now with a lot of books to get through, sometimes I’ll actually deliberately avoid something that’s ginormous! But there’s nothing like sinking into a big, meaty story and knowing that you can live in that world for a long time!

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Review: Dressing The Dearloves by Kelly Doust

Dressing The Dearloves
Kelly Doust
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Failed fashion designer Sylvie Dearlove is coming home to England – broke, ashamed and in disgrace – only to be told her parents are finally selling their once-grand, now crumbling country house, Bledesford, the ancestral home of the Dearlove family for countless generations.

Sylvie has spent her whole life trying to escape being a Dearlove, and the pressure of belonging to a family of such headstrong, charismatic and successful women. Beset by self-doubt, she starts helping her parents prepare Bledesford for sale, when she finds in a forgotten attic a thrilling cache of old steamer trunks and tea chests full of elaborate dresses and accessories acquired from across the globe by five generations of fashionable Dearlove women. Sifting through the past, she also stumbles across a secret which has been hidden – in plain sight – for decades, a secret that will change the way she thinks about herself, her family, and her future.

Romantic, warm, and glamorous, moving from Edwardian England to the London Blitz to present day London, Dressing the Dearloves is a story of corrosiveness of family secrets, the insecurities that can sabotage our best efforts, and the seductive power of dressing up.

I absolutely adored this.

Despite the fact that I’m Australian and there probably isn’t a building here older than just over 200 years (or maybe because of?), I’m so into the whole crumbling manor houses that date back to the 1400s or whatever, that populate English novels. There’s something about those graceful old buildings, even as they’re falling into disrepair that’s so romantic and I just sort of long to live in one. Yes they come with crippling upkeep and taxes and whatever and there’s only so much Heritage Trust money to go around but just the idea of living in some 60+ room stone mansion with different wings and sculpted, stately gardens harks back to a completely different time. I love books that take these and give them modern day issues and contexts and this book does this so well.

Sylvie grew up in such a place, a manor that has been in her family for generations. Now she’s returning to it after her foray into New York fashion went horribly wrong, determined to regroup and rebuild her life. She’s surprised to discover that her parents are finally selling the manor as the debts mount and the money runs out and more and more needs replacing. Although Sylvie supported the idea, freeing up her parents to enjoy the later years of their life in comfort, when her mother asks for help clearing out the attic, Sylvie finds generations of clothes belonging to fashionable Dearlove women, most of them designer, all of them beautiful. It inspires her and although she’s suffering from crippling self-doubt, Sylvie slowly comes to understand the importance of the manor to their family, it’s history and the secrets it keeps and she suddenly decides that they must do anything they can to protect it.

I’m not hugely into couture myself but I enjoy reading books set in the fashion world. Sylvie was a hot designer, snapped up for big money in America after a hugely successful range. However she finds herself let go, burned out, struggling with self belief and inspiration until she finds the clothes in the attic. Her friend encourages her to use the clothes as a way to generate income but it takes Sylvie a little time to figure out what the right method of earning money from the clothes should be! I loved the descriptions of the outfits and the fact that the story took you back to some of the times where those outfits were worn, by the generations of Dearlove women who came before Sylvie.

Sylvie’s great grandmother Lizzie is a very strong character in this novel – she’s very elderly now, almost bedridden, which shocks Sylvie although it probably shouldn’t. I think it’s more because of the sort of character she was – a very opinionated, strong minded woman. The book takes you back in time to key moments in Lizzie’s life and how those shaped the woman she became – or perhaps how the woman she was actually shaped those moments! I can’t say that I liked Lizzie, in fact the more I found out about her, the less I liked her. She was very much a product of her privileged and wealthy upbringing and the family name and reputation were everything to her, so much so that she was willing to sacrifice her happiness and that of her sister in order to preserve it. Although I’m not sure Lizzie would’ve considered it a sacrifice for herself…..it was everything to her, seen as her ‘duty’, something she chose to do willingly and was super invested in making sure her sister played the role too. I really liked the character of Lizzie’s sister and her struggle with what Lizzie wanted her to do vs her own desire for a life she chose, a life that would make her happy.

This was a compelling story – well several compelling stories woven together! Loved the different generations and their individual struggles and just the whole manor house setting. I found myself completely invested in Sylvie’s change of heart and her desire to suddenly save it, preserve it and keep it in the family. When it was placed up for sale it was obvious that the only people or corporations likely to buy it would tear it down and build entire housing estates on the land, or something like that and at first Sylvie thought she was fine with it but when it comes to the actual reality, she’s not so keen to let it happen. And so she must find a way to save the house, secure the funds to restore it and work out a way to make it profitable. I really liked the way this played out and the way that Sylvie found purpose again in a place she had kind of avoided.

9/10

Book #168 of 2018

 

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Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers 
Liane Moriarty
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 493p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The ten-day retreat at boutique health-and-wellness resort Tranquillum House promises healing and transformation. Nine stressed city dwellers are keen to drop their literal and mental baggage and absorb the blissful meditative ambience while enjoying their hot stone massages. They are all on a path to a better way of living. Or at least a better waistline . . .

Watching over them is the resort’s director, a woman on a mission to reinvigorate these tired bodies and minds. But to what lengths will she go to achieve her goal?

These nine perfect strangers have no idea what’s about to hit them.

This review is probably going to be a bit of a mess.

Firstly, I haven’t been able to read much lately. Before I read Nine Perfect Strangers yesterday, the last book I managed to read was back on the 26th September, because for I kept getting savage headaches whenever I was trying, be it on my iPad or in physical form. I’d read the last few September books through thumping headaches and then took a few days off to try and get them to go away. I remembered I was probably a little while overdue for an eye exam and so I went to get my eyes checked out. Turns out, I do need new glasses and my eyes were having a lot of trouble focusing on anything up close, which makes me concentrate harder….which causes headaches. So. I got to go through the whole process of picking new frames and all that fun stuff. I got glasses when I was 11 because I couldn’t see the board in school anymore but weirdly, during this eye exam, one of my eyes’ distance vision had actually improved.

A lot of people have been urging me to read this and although I have a tonne of October books I should be getting to, I picked it up yesterday on a whim. I didn’t plan to read the whole thing – it’s almost 500p and I wasn’t sure I would get through it but turns out, I did. It was….not what I expected.

Firstly, the pacing is quite slow for probably at least the first third of the book. You get a few different view points cycling back and forth, mostly Frances, a 50-something romance writer who has just had her latest book rejected. She’s twice divorced and has just been the victim of a brutal ‘break up’ which is not what it seems. She’s on her way to a 10 day retreat in country New South Wales and she’s having a lot of thoughts and what seems like some severe issues of hypochondria. Then eventually we get introduced to the others who are going to be on the same retreat as Frances – the Marconi family (Dad Napoleon, Mum Heather and daughter Zoe), married young couple Ben and Jess, grumpy Tony, beautifully handsome Lars and tired mother Carmel. They’re all looking for something at the retreat – to lose weight, to distract themselves, to gain clarity, to get some counselling, to learn new healthy habits. What they get is…..not what they bargained for. A bit like me with this book.

Firstly, the characterisation is amazing here. Most of them are rich, fully realised and come with an array of issues and baggage that’s believable and written really well. Liane Moriarty does relationships and entanglements so well, she does baggage and complicated emotion so well. I really enjoyed learning about each and every one of them but I had a really special liking for the Marconi family. Why they are there at first is a bit of a mystery and with each reveal their story gets more heartbreaking. It’s done so well and there’s such elements of grief and frustrating and anger and rage. They’re a tight family but they’re also broken. I thought Ben and Jessica were really much more than they were initially presented to be – Jessica an instagram wannabe who had sculpted her looks, unaware of the only person that didn’t find it an improvement was her own husband. And Ben, obsessed with his car always going on about the damn car, it’s just a car Ben (ok it’s a very expensive car but still). But the further I got into it, the more I appreciated their story as well and the stresses of what had changed their lives. Lars seems shallow at first but develops hidden depths (his choice of career) and Tony evolves as well. Probably Carmel is the character I felt got the least amount of attention and grew the least during the stay and her story was the least interesting to me.

But for me, this book escalates into the complete weird and I have issues with it, because I don’t think it fully dealt with the consequences of its own storyline. It’s very difficult to talk about without spoiling also, but I felt as though there was this big “thing” that happens and everyone is furious and then they are just…not. And there’s a lot of glossed over stuff at the end which really minimises the invasive exploitation of people’s trust. I also found a lot of the scenes during this portion of the book quite heavy handed – Frances’ in particular! Perhaps because she’s a romance author and Liane Moriarty is an author, it just seemed like it was a lot of unloading on the industry and it didn’t feel at all subtle. There were some funny moments but a lot of it I just read feeling a bit awkward, like I’d walked into the middle of someone’s private rant. I also have no way of knowing if any of these experiences the characters go through are realistic (and I’m not going to find out, because that’s just not something I’m interested in) but they all seemed so pointed. I was really quite annoyed at the way some of the characters were quite rightfully outraged at the abuse of their trust but then it just…..faded into nothing? I mean it probably became obvious that there were some serious issues going on with the person controlling everything behind the scenes but it just came off a bit clunky for me, like it was okay in the end because they magically dealt with their issues.

As a conversation piece? This book is brilliant. There’s so much to talk about – and I’ve had two good conversations about it already. It’s great for book clubs, great for people who really enjoy picking a book to pieces (and I don’t mean that in a negative way, in a way that analyses everything that happens in great detail) and those who like to mull over everything and savour it. Because Liane Moriarty is clever – really clever. She’s great with characters, she’s great at drawing you into a story. There’s a reason I read this in an afternoon, even with my nitpicky issues with some of it. Because even though it starts a bit slowly, there’s a period of investment in these characters (particularly the Marconis for me, that story is utter perfection). But I didn’t care about all of them and at times I found Frances, who seems to be the ‘main’ one, even though there are numerous characters who all narrate, quite tiring. I feel as though the book really nailed the whole retreat thing but then just took it that step further and it was weird, but not……without some grounding in possibility. Dangerous as all heck though. I wasn’t overly sure about the character of Masha in the end. I felt as though that downward spiral might’ve been a bit rapid but that’s just me. It felt like the first part of the book was, as I said, very slow, but then the end of the book had a disjointed and rushed feeling which may have been deliberate, to emphasise the ordeal the characters were going through. I kind of think that a few characters could’ve probably been trimmed in order to spend more time on the ones remaining – although yes, I know she does characters well, there were a few that probably could’ve vanished from the narrative and it honestly wouldn’t have made any difference to the story. And it would’ve given more time to focus on other characters, including the one that I think did need it, which was Masha.

But….it’s not my favourite book from Liane Moriarty. It might not even be in my top 3. And that’s interesting because I feel there are so many authors out there where you love each new book even more than the previous. And this isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the reading experience – I did, but it was a very up and down experience. There were times when my attention wandered a bit early on, there were times later in the piece where I was invested but the weirdness of the way the story and I ended up with more questions than answers at times, and a vague sense of dissatisfaction about some of the resolution. However I’ve no doubt that it’ll be made into a TV show or a movie and it’ll probably be very good – it is a story that might be well suited to a visual depiction. I find it a bit hard to rate it, because I didn’t love it. Didn’t dislike it. Read it really quickly but not super intensely…..however the thing that I think tips it for me is that it’s a book you can discuss endlessly. There honestly is so much to talk about and pore over and it’s one of the things I enjoy most about reading. So.

7/10

Book #169 of 2018

 

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September Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 19
Fiction: 19
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 1
Books On My TBR List: 4
Books in a Series: 8
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 11
Male/Female Authors: 2/17
Kindle Books: 4
Books I Owned or Bought: 3
Favourite Book(s): The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton, The Killing Of Louisa by Janet Lee, Dressing The Dearloves by Kelly Doust.
Least Favourite Books: Roommating by Noelle Adams and Samantha Chase, Echoes Of The Past by TJ Hamilton.
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 0 – because this is the year of no challenges!

See ya, September! Feels like I barely registered your existence which is weird, because we did things in September. It was my youngest son’s 7th birthday and my mother was here for a week to spend it with him and we did plenty of thing while she was here, including a trip to the zoo, where she’s never been before. It’s also been school holidays the past week but that’s been a bit of a bust so far unfortunately because my husband has worked 6 days of the past 8 or 9. I also have to fill the rest of the time with boring things like dental appointments, eye appointments and haircuts before the boys go back to school.

Still managed 19 books for September which I’m really happy with because I didn’t read much at all when my mum was here. It was a pretty good reading month – 3 books were 5-star reads for me and I had a bunch of 4s too. Lots of keepers.

The October arrivals were steady and this is going to be a big month……

Look at all the goodness!

And apart from these, I also have two purchases I made recently that I really want to read – Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty and Lethal White by ‘Robert Galbraith’. Plus I once again decided to try and read the Man Booker shortlist (seriously, why do I do this?) and so I requested the lot from my library. Three of the titles have come in – The Long Take by Robin Robertson, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan and Milkman by Anna Burns. I don’t know when the winner is announced but guaranteed it’ll be before I probably read any of them! I don’t know anything about them, I just decided on a whim one day to request them all. We’ll see how that goes!

Hope you all had a fantastic reading month of September. If you’ve read anything from my October pile (or the Man Booker shortlist, lol) then please let me know!

 

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Review: The Bogan Mondrian by Steven Herrick

The Bogan Mondrian
Steven Herrick
UQP
2018, 240p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘There are worse things than school.’

Luke sleepwalks through his days wagging school, swimming at the reservoir and eating takeaway pizza.

That is until Charlotte shows up.

Rumour is she got expelled from her city school and her family moved to the Blue Mountains for a fresh start.

But when Luke’s invited to her house, he discovers there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

This is an example of how being a book blogger expands my horizons. This is not a book I’d have probably picked up on my own but I received it for review and I thought I might pass it onto my son. He’s 10 and in grade 4 but has been assessed as reading at an 8th grade level – however he doesn’t get to read everything at that level. His teacher and I tend to coordinate on what we think is still appropriate, given his age. So I decided to read this one first before I handed it over and I ended up enjoying it a lot.

Luke comes from the council housing side of town – he lives with his overworked mother, his father having passed away from cancer. Luke’s father seemed a larger than life character, a gambling man. Always with a hot tip at some track or other. Sometimes those hot tips panned out and the rewards were rich. But those times were brief and more often than not, the tips didn’t pan out and that’s life with someone who lives for the flutter. When Charlotte moves to his school from the city, they cross paths one day and Luke is surprised when Charlotte tells him that there are worse things than school. After all, what doe she have to worry about, with her big house on the other side of town and her father with his high paying city job?

But Charlotte has a confession about her ‘perfect life’ that allows Luke to see that trouble can be found anywhere, not just on his side of town. Charlotte’s situation is grim and Luke wants to help her but isn’t sure how. It’s clear that Charlotte desperately wants help – almost everything she does is a cry for help. She’s a very volatile character, prone to emotional outbursts which is confusing for Luke but he doesn’t give up on helping her.

I loved the characterisation in this – Luke, Charlotte, their friends, they’re teenagers just struggling to make their way. School is tedious and boring, their struggles with the principal almost a daily occurrence. Luke spends a lot of his time roaming his local area (the Blue Mountains) taking photographs and swimming at the reservoir. There’s rarely any food in the house, it seems his mother was never the cook and she spends a lot of time at work, probably just trying to make ends meet. Luke has such a nice relationship with some of his neighbours – he exchanges fruit and Italian insults with a man nearby and befriends the new owners of the local store, a Vietnamese-Australian couple who introduce him to banh mi and give him coffees. And then there’s Buster as well. Luke is not without his flaws and his grief is still quite obvious and raw but he’s a very likeable kid and the way he wants to help Charlotte is wonderful. I think perhaps Luke’s tendency to skip school and get in a bit of trouble is perhaps why Charlotte seeks him out in the first place, maybe wondering if he might help her in a different way. But Luke is smart as well and he ends up coming up with good ideas in order to help not just Charlotte out of the predicament.

I think this is so well done – it is such a good depiction of navigating high school and the ups and downs that everyone is facing and that the perfect façade can hide an ugly interior. There’s a frank portrayal of Charlotte’s issue that squarely places the blame where it should be intended and also highlights the difficulty than can come when the offender is one with money and power. I also liked the showing of Luke’s memories of his dad – the struggle of life with a gambler, even one who loves his family. Beautifully done.

7/10

Book #165 of 2018

 

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