All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan

summer-seaside-kitchenThe Summer Seaside Kitchen
Jenny Colgan
Sphere
2017, 384p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Flora is definitely, absolutely sure that escaping from the quiet Scottish island where she grew up to the noise and hustle of the big city was the right choice. What was there for her on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, and no one will let her forget the past. In the city, she can be anonymous, ambitious and indulge herself in her hopeless crush on her gorgeous boss, Joel.

When a new client demands Flora’s presence back on Mure, she’s suddenly swept back into life with her brothers (all strapping, loud and seemingly incapable of basic housework) and her father. As Flora indulges her new-found love of cooking and breathes life into the dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour, she’s also going to have to come to terms with past mistakes – and work out exactly where her future lies… fate worse than death .

A long time ago, and I do mean a long time ago, my grandfather’s family came from the Orkney Islands in Scotland. For some reason, many generations later I am blessed with the Scots colouring – red hair, pale skin. Probably great for a location where the average temperature for the year is in single digits. However when you’re in Australia it really just means an awful lot of freckles and painful, painful sunburn. Thanks, distant ancestors. Although the setting of this book is a construct of the author, it’s very much based on those northern islands of Scotland – the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, etc. So I really wanted to read it to get a bit of an idea what life is like in those places.

And I think for that, it was really good. I loved learning about the lifestyles and traditions of Mure, the small island where Flora is from. There’s a large farming community and they face the same problems as farmers everywhere and considering Flora hasn’t been back for three years, left under difficult circumstances and is working for the rich American who is building a big resort but not using one scrap of local materials, labour or produce, she has her work cut out for her. Flora moved to London to become a lawyer and now she’s a small cog in a big wheel, crushing helplessly on a man who doesn’t even know she’s alive.

Back in Mure, it takes her a little while to find her feet. Her brothers are more reminiscent of teenagers, teasing her (occasionally it spills over into outright resentment) and letting the house go to ruin since she left, not bothering to cook proper meals or even tidy up. For something to do, Flora begins trying to prepare meals – at first she struggles, not finding the ingredients she requires at the local store to make the food she likes. But then she finds her mother’s recipe book and all of a sudden, Flora is in her element.

For the most part, I found Flora easy to relate to. The (very) country girl who moves to the big city, chasing a dream, something that is completely different to the life she left behind. And who hasn’t crushed on someone who doesn’t even know you exist, that person that is so unattainable? When she arrives back in Mure, Flora is so resentful even having to be there but slowly, slowly, her heritage starts creeping in. She becomes invested, reconnects with her mother through cooking her dishes and slowly begins to reconnect with her family as well. And even Mure itself. She keeps telling herself that it’s only temporary and that she’ll be going back to London as soon as she can but everyone soon wants her to stay and you can tell that she belongs on the island. I really enjoyed this journey of Flora’s, of finding herself….of finding her home.

There was one aspect of the story that didn’t work for me at all and that was the romance. There were two….options, for lack of a better word although I wouldn’t say it was a love triangle. I thought I had it pegged which way it was going to go (which for me, would’ve been the better way) but in the end the author went the other way and I just really couldn’t buy it. It just didn’t seem at all realistic and it felt very rushed and not something that unfolded naturally. I couldn’t see them as a couple and I really couldn’t see them lasting as a couple, building a life together. With the other option, I felt that I could see into the future, the kind of life they would have. It just felt quite at odds with the rest of the story.

6/10

Book #34 of 2017

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Blog Tour Review: Country Roads by Nicole Hurley-Moore

country-roadsCountry Roads
Nicole Hurley-Moore
Allen & Unwin
2017, 303p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The compelling story of a grief-stricken man reeling from tragedy and a hard-working female farmer dealing with betrayal who may just find love and healing with each other.

Rebecca Duprey is working day and night to keep the family sheep station, Bluestone Ridge, afloat. But Bec’s father, who’s been in a wheelchair since a farming mishap, keeps second-guessing her decisions. Now, to add Bec’s woes, her unfaithful ex-boyfriend has started lurking around, and the adjoining farm she’d hoped to buy has been snapped up by a guy from the city called Matt Harvey.

After leaving his job in advertising, Matt became a bestselling novelist. But since the death of his fiancee in a car accident, he’s had severe writer’s block and is desperately hoping his move to the country will help him deal with his grief and allow him to focus on completing his next book. Problem is, he seems to have started off on the wrong foot with his new neighbour, Bec Duprey.

Bec isn’t quite sure when she started feeling attracted to Matt, but she’s determined not to succumb to his charms. And Matt isn’t sure when his feelings changed about Bec; all he knows is he can’t get her out of his mind. Can Bec and Matt overcome their fear of loss to find love and happiness with each other…?

This absolutely compelling novel deals with betrayal, tragedy, love – and how first impressions aren’t always right.

Author Matt Harvey is new to the small mostly farming town of White Gum Creek. Having experienced a devastating loss he has sold his city pad and bought a small parcel of land complete with a cottage that needs a bit of work, hoping the peace and tranquil surroundings will help with his writers block. Encouraged by his sister to interact with his fans more, Matt is taking the step of vlogging his move and his settling in, sharing the videos online.

Matt gets off on the wrong foot with his new neighbour Bec Duprey. Firstly the land he’s bought she’d hoped to acquire for her family farm and secondly she finds Matt doing things like burning things in a bonfire on a hot and dry day and being careless where he films. The entire town of White Gum Creek definitely needs rain. The land is in desperate need of it and some families are already struggling, either selling off land or stock, or getting out all together. Bec doesn’t want that – and her frugal father’s ways ensure that there’s a safety net of money behind them. But that frugality causes friction when Bec desperately wants to upgrade things, like the farm machinery. Although she now runs the farm, her father seems to have the last say, dismissing her suggestions and ultimately overruling her. She’s frustrated and short tempered, even more so when her ex suddenly begins showing some renewed interest in her.

Matt is interested in Bec pretty much right away and he wants to make amends for doing the wrong thing in the country and kind of improve himself in her eyes so that she doesn’t think he’s quite a fool. Bec seems like the sort of person who doesn’t really suffer fools that much and she wasted no time launching into Matt and telling him what an idiot he was being – where she could’ve perhaps educated him in a slightly less aggressive way. Matt was unaware what he was doing was dangerous, he was not deliberately flouting rules. However he does kind of get her to give him a bit of a second chance and they do become friends with a strong undercurrent of attraction. Bec’s friends and a few of the locals seem a bit keen to play matchmaker as well, drawing Matt into their little social circle.

A lot of the conflict for Bec revolves around her father, who although has been forced to hand the reins over to her somewhat earlier than he would like due to an accident, still makes all the decisions. He dismisses her ideas, won’t let her buy new machinery or equipment and seems to make all of the decisions on his own despite Bec running the farm. This continues on for a lot of the book but then is basically all resolved after one conversation. It was a bit of a low key ending to something that had been such a large part of the story and had probably damaged the relationship Bec had with her father. The whole thing makes Bec’s father look quite unreasonable and like he doesn’t even want Bec in charge or think she can do anything for herself and then that just vanishes. He’s also against the idea of Bec forming a relationship with Matt as well and seems to not mind the idea of Bec reuniting with her former fiance, despite the fact that it’s the last thing Bec wants.

This was a pleasant read – I liked it but I didn’t love it. The conflict felt a little too contrived and although the romance between Matt and Bec was nice, it was just that – nice. There’s a friend of Bec’s that features in this book who has a crush on a reclusive man who sort of befriends Matt in this novel. Their story would be really interesting and I do hope that’s a book that I get to read in the future though.

6/10

Book #16 of 2017

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Country Roads is book #6 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Shadows Of Hunters Ridge

shadows-of-hunters-ridgeShadows Of Hunters Ridge (Hunters Ridge #2)
Sarah Barrie
Escape Publishing
2016, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Something’s not right in Hunters Ridge…

Ebony Blakely has her life nearly exactly where she wants it. She’s a country vet with a successful business in Hunters Ridge, a town that she loves, and has a close group of friends. The only thing missing is romance. Unfortunately, the man she wants treats her as a good friend, and no matter how much she tries to change that perception, he just won’t get it.

Lee Dalton is an ex-cop with a chip on his shoulder about his past. He’s determined to make a success of his building business – and keep his thoughts away from his best friend’s sister, Ebony. But seeing Ebony every day as he works on her surgery renovation makes that almost impossible and soon their hidden feelings begin to complicate their friendship.

When it becomes apparent Ebony’s life is in danger, she is scared but determined not to run. But following an earlier encounter Lee knows what these monsters are capable of and is forced to use everything he’s ever learnt as a policeman to keep her safe.

Because these monsters are serial killers, and they’ll stop at nothing to claim their prize.

Recently I saw the third in this series, which is about to be released and it made me realise that I hadn’t read the second. An oversight on my part but to be honest, it’s one I make more often than I’d like to admit. So many books, there are always ones that slip through the cracks or that I mean to read and somehow just don’t get around to. I really loved the first one in this series so I decided that it was time to tackle the second one so that I could be ready for the third one.

This is Ebony’s story, the sister of Cam from the first novel. She’s a very passionate vet, dedicated to her job and she works long hours and is always looking to do more, to expand and take on even more. She went through a traumatic event in the last book and is still haunted by it, particularly as the perpetrator is still on the loose. Ebony has people around her to watch out for her, especially Lee Dalton an ex-cop, her brother’s best friend and the man she loves. Ebony has so little experience with men though, she doesn’t know how to attempt to take her friendship with Lee to the next level. And Lee is pretty busy out there with a succession of casual girlfriends, although Ebony doesn’t know it’s because he’s convinced himself that Ebony is not for him….there’s definitely a bit of the “your best friend’s sister is off limits” going on as well as a few other complications.

Ebony and Lee do have a very strong friendship and they spend a lot of time together. Lee is helping Ebony with some construction work and they also socialise together with Cam, his wife Ally and Ally’s sister Mia, who travels up from her place in the city to the country town frequently. For Ebony though, these interactions with Lee are becoming harder and harder to endure because she wants so much more from him which he seems to be completely oblivious to. Lee is of course dating someone casually, a stereotypical mean girl who is jealous of Ebony and attempts to ruin their friendship on numerous occasions.

I liked Ebony and I enjoyed her dedication to her job as well as the insight into being a country vet. I feel as though she tries really hard to prove herself and to establish her reputation but when it comes to people, she’s a bit soft and perhaps not as professional as she could be. She allows an employee to walk all over her and is willing to hire someone else very quickly without even really having time to check their references and investigate their previous work. She also occasionally does that thing heroines do where they don’t want to leave their home etc even when there’s a clear threat. I don’t really understand that and as a reader, it kind of frustrates me. Your life is in danger… now is not the time for pride. Thankfully she’s a bit better later on in the book, after a few incidents and she accepts staying with Lee or having him stay with her but this seems more about establishing their relationship at times than actually being safe. It’s not sacrificing strength for someone to accept help when there is clearly a danger.

When it’s known that Ebony is the next “target” of a vicious killer who arranges hunt for sport, everyone steps up to make sure she is protected. However I feel as though they (Ebony, Lee, Cam, even Ben the lead detective) overlooked something pretty big in this story – it’s something that twigged for me right away but it’s not something that anyone else ever seems to really question at all, until it’s way too late. I did appreciate that although I was suspicious of someone from the very first time they appeared on the page, the author did make me go back and forth in my mind a few times in an “are they or aren’t they evil?” sort of way. I would be firmly convinced and then doubting myself and maybe they were just red herring and would end up being a permanent fixture of the town…but then maybe they’re not what they seem…..but then again, maybe they are…. It was quite well done actually. The tension was built very nicely as well and definitely had me on the edge of my seat towards the end.

This was definitely a very good follow up to the first book. It continues to build the overall arc as well as establishing a really solid individual one which was enjoyable and filled with suspense. There were a few small issues that I could overlook for the sake of building the story and the tension and it all came together very well.

The third book, Promise Of Hunters Ridge is the story of Mia and Ben and I cannot wait for this one! They’ve had such an interesting dynamic throughout the first two books and it’s bound to be explosive!

8/10

Book #33 of 2017

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Shadows Of Hunters Ridge is book #10 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Blog Tour Review: The House Of New Beginnings by Lucy Diamond

house-of-new-beginningsThe House Of New Beginnings
Lucy Diamond
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 471p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Number eleven, Dukes Square is a white-painted Regency house near the seafront, with elegant bow windows and a winding staircase. Behind the front door, it’s also a place of new beginnings for the tenants who call it home.

A shocking revelation sent Rosa running from London to start over as a sous chef. The work is grueling but it’s a distraction at least…until she comes up against the stroppy teenager next door who challenges her on her lifestyle choices. What if Rosa’s passion for food could lead her to more interesting places?

Having followed her childhood sweetheart to Brighton, Georgie is busily carving out a new career in journalism. Throwing herself into the city’s delights is fun and exciting, but before she knows it she’s sliding headlong into all kinds of trouble….

Nursing a devastating loss, Charlotte just wants to keep her head down and get through the days. But Margot, the glamorous older lady on the top floor, has other ideas. Like it or not, Charlotte must confront the outside world, and the possibilities it still holds.

As the three tenants find each other, hope surfaces, friendships blossom and a whole new chapter unfolds for them all. The House of New Beginnings is a moving and uplifting novel from bestselling author Lucy Diamond.

This is the first Lucy Diamond novel I’ve ever read and I was told to expect good things so I had some pretty high expectations going in. It didn’t take me long at all to be completely hooked on the story and all of the characters living in the house.

All three of the main characters, Georgie, Rosa and Charlotte have found themselves in Brighton either due to escape (Rosa and Charlotte) or moving because of someone else (Georgie). Rosa discovered a horrible secret about her partner and fled, jacking in her job and devoting herself to cooking. Only there’s more chopping of vegetables than there is cooking and it’s clear that Rosa is not living up to her potential. Her job is merely that, another job and not something that fulfills her or that she loves. Charlotte suffered a heartbreaking, terrible loss and now her main goal is just to get through each day without delving into the secret box she hides. She fills her days with work and her nights with a strict rota of housework, keeping her busy. And Georgie, the youngest, followed her boyfriend Simon, not wanting to be separated from him for six months. However, her decision could possibly lead to the end of their relationship, not its saving.

The women are all very different but through a variety of incidents and interactions, end up building a really incredible friendship, both with each other and also with others in the building. Charlotte befriends Margot, the French lady in her 80s that lives on the top floor and is surprised when Margot takes it upon herself to “gift” Charlotte the most extraordinary things. Of all the characters, Charlotte’s story is by far the most heartbreaking. She’s really suffering and it’s possible that she didn’t even realise how much she needed people to help her break out of that routine of just “existing” and to start “living” until it began to happen. Slowly she lets go of her strict cleaning routine that keeps her busy because she has more things to fill her nights. She begins to heal. It’s not something that she’ll ever get over, but the wound is no longer so raw.

Rosa is a lot of fun and the relationship that she builds with Bea, the sulky teenage daughter of a woman in the building ended up being one of the novel’s highlights for me. Friendships between adults and teenagers are difficult to write without the teenager seeming unrealistically benevolent or the adult seeming really desperate. But Lucy Diamond does manage this with Rosa and Bea – it’s not all smooth sailing but slowly, they get there. Bea also challenges Rosa as well, making her think about her career and her future and whether or not what she’s really doing is what she should be doing. Rosa also helps Bea feel more secure, like there’s some stability when her mother is in hospital. Bea feels that her father doesn’t want her and in turn, he doesn’t know how to deal with her hostility. Rosa is a calming influence on both.

I really loved both Rosa and Charlotte’s stories – both underwent a lot of character development and really gained strength and confidence and a lot of that was due to the friendships they made and the interactions with other people living in the same house. I enjoyed Georgie’s story less but not because of Georgie herself. I loved Georgie and I found her to be the sort of person that you wished you were friends with – who pops around with a drink or calls you up to do fun things like roller skating. But I felt like more could’ve been done to develop the character of Simon, her boyfriend. He’s absent for quite a lot of the book and when he’s present, he acts like a bit of a dill at times. I understand that he was presented with a large opportunity and was really determined it happen but at times he seemed to treat Georgie quite shabbily and looked down on her and some of her choices. She took a low paying job in order to follow him to Brighton, to be with him and he’s kind of judgemental about it. Georgie really makes it work however and I feel like he was a bit horrible to her and should’ve done more in person to apologise for being a mostly terrible boyfriend during their time there.

But that’s a small quibble really because I adored this book. It was just so easy to sink into these people’s lives and become invested and I really enjoyed the way almost everything played out. I’m definitely going to be reading more of Lucy Diamond.

9/10

Book #31 of 2017

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Review: Steam And Sensibility by Kirsten Weiss

steam-and-sensibilitySteam And Sensibility (Sensibility Grey #1)
Kirsten Weiss
Misterio Press
2017 (originally 2014), 168p
Copy courtesy of Red Coat PR via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Steam rising. California Territory, 1848. Gold has been discovered, emptying the village of San Francisco of its male population. Steam-powered technology is still in its infancy.

At 19, Englishwoman Sensibility Grey has spent her life tinkering in her father’s laboratory and missing the finer points of proper British life. But when her father dies in penury, she’s shipped to San Francisco and to the protection of an uncle she’s never met.

The California Territory may hold more dangers than even the indomitable Miss Grey can manage. Pursued by government agents, a secret society, and the enigmatic Mr. Krieg Night, Sensibility must decipher the clockwork secrets in her father’s final journal, unaware she’ll change the world forever.

Magic, mayhem, and mechanicals. Steam and Sensibility is a pre-Steampunk novel of paranormal suspense set in the wild west of the California gold rush.

I don’t read enough steampunk. I say that about things a lot….I don’t read enough mystery or crime or fantasy…..and now steampunk. But it’s true. I really don’t read enough steampunk. What I read, I always end up really enjoying and it always makes me make a note to find more books like it. But then that somehow gets lost in a pile of other books. I see a lot less steampunk novels, so I need to make more of an effort to seek them out.

Sensibility Grey is 19 and has recently just lost her father. She’s being sent to San Francisco, to her uncle only when she arrives and disembarks from her ship, he isn’t there. Several other people are though – a mysterious woman who claims to be a government agent, a dandy who claims to have her uncle and seems to want something he’s convinced Sensibility has in return, and a mysterious man. Sensibility needs to decide quite quickly what she’s going to do in this strange place where there are hardly any men. The men are all off making their fortune on the goldfields leaving behind a town of mostly women and a state not too far from anarchy.

From the moment Sensibility touches her feet on land, the book is fast-paced with plenty of action as one thing after the other seems to happen. It’s a game of cat and mouse between Sensibility and the government agent against the dandy, who wants the papers Sensibility rescued from her father’s things before the creditors took everything. Her father was a brilliant scientist who seems to have discovered something very important and a secret society will stop at nothing to have the notes on his work. They are heavily encrypted but no one knew her father and his work better than Sensibility herself, who grew up tinkering in his workshops. She’s actually very talented although she doesn’t yet see what she is capable of. Sensibility believes she can decrypt the papers although she’ll need some time, which they might not have as the dandy keeps threatening her uncle’s life.

I really liked Sensibility. She’s very young and she’s also very out of her comfort zone and she’s also grieving the loss of her only parent. I’m not sure what happened to her mother but it’s quite clear that it was the two of them for a very long time and his loss has definitely devastated her but in that sort of English young lady “well we must go on” sort of way. She is also learning that there was a whole side of her father that she never knew, that he was connected to this secret society, who are most decidedly nefarious. Sensibility is never quite sure who she can trust as it seems that there are plenty of games being played and some bluffing back and forth but I think she knows who she wants to trust.

This has an original publication date of 2014 and there are actually two further books in this series already published. I enjoyed this enough to definitely pick those up and see what is next for Sensibility and the friends she made.

7/10

Book #30 of 2017

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Review: My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

my-not-so-perfect-lifeMy Not So Perfect Life
Sophie Kinsella
Bantam Press
2017, 390p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Katie Brenner has the perfect life: a flat in London, a glamorous job and a super cool instagram feed.

OK so the truth is that she rents a tiny room with no space for a wardrobe, has a hideous commute to a lowly admin job, and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t really hers. But one day her dreams are bound to come true, aren’t they?

Until her not-so-perfect life comes crashing down when her mega-successful boss Demeter gives her the sack. All Katie’s hopes are shattered. She has to move home to Somerset where she helps her dad with his new glamping business.

Then Demeter and her family book in for a holiday, and Katie sees her chance. But should she get revenge on the woman who ruined her dreams – or try to get her job back? Does Demeter – the woman who has everything – actually have such an idyllic life herself? Maybe they have more in common than it seems.

And what’s wrong with not-so-perfect, anyway?

I really enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s books. I’ve read quite a few and most of them are just those perfect sort of books for a fun break, something that makes you laugh and you can zip through it.

I think a lot people will be able to relate to Katie Brenner. She’s a country girl, grew up on a dairy farm but her dream has been to live and work in London for as long as she can remember. And now she’s doing it, but it’s not quite what she expected. She works in “branding” and in a way she’s trying to rebrand herself from Katie into Cat. Except it’s not going quite as smoothly as she would’ve liked…she keeps stumbling over what her name is when asked and sometimes she takes a little too long to respond to being called Cat. Her job involves mostly admin or data entry stuff, not pitching any of her great ideas and her boss even has her do things like dye the roots of her hair. Her commute to work is hideous and she shares a tiny, cramped flat with two other people.

Who hasn’t want to “glamourise” their life a bit? I think that there’s a bit of a trend at times for this on Instagram where it’s really easy to portray only a tiny part of your life….a beautiful brunch in a cafe, a fun night out with friends, a stunning sunset. The life that Katie posts on Instagram is filled with awesome things, but she’s not the one actually doing/experiencing them and no one is any the wiser to the fact that she’s got her budget down to such an art that even one meal out could ruin it for the week. She doesn’t really have any friends and she just doesn’t know how to progress at work.

Things get even worse when she is let go from her job in a very humiliating way. She can’t tell her father that she’s been fired because there has been some strain in their relationship about London and he’s very protective of her. However it does free up some time for her to help her father and stepmother in their new business venture, which is something that plays to her strengths and when her former boss books in with her family for a holiday, Katie sees opportunity….for revenge.

I have to admit, I did find a lot of what Katie did amusing. It was also quite childish in a way, to seek revenge like that on someone that wronged her, make a fool of Demeter. But I think that’s also something people can understand. When people humiliate you, you sometimes want them to experience what you did at their hands. From the outside Demeter’s life seems so perfect to Katie. But when she actually begins talking to Demeter, she finds out that no matter what your position, be it lowly admin staff or boss, things might not always be as they seem. Demeter had her own problems and Katie realised that a higher salary and rank at a company didn’t suddenly mean that Demeter had a magic life. Everyone has problems.

I really liked Katie and found that she was very relatable. She was a country girl who had tried to stamp that out of herself for a more polished London look but mostly she was trying to be something she wasn’t for other people as if to justify her even being in the city in the first place. The Katie at the farm was much different…..because she was back in her comfort zone. But she had to go back I think, to realise that part of her was never going to go away and that she could make it a part of her London life.

This book is classic Sophie Kinsella – plenty of laughs with a down to earth main character and just a little bit of romance as well. It’s very feel good and I also really loved the way that Katie reworked her Instagram at the end of the book. Now that is a life.

8/10

Book #28 of 2017

 

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Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

pachinkoPachinko
Min Jin Lee
Apollo
2017, 485p
Copy courtesy of Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Yeongdo, Korea 1911.

In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.

Every now and then you read a book which serves to remind you how little you truly know about something and for me, Pachinko was one of those books. I know next to nothing about Korean history and little about their culture as well. I haven’t read many books set in Korea or by Korean authors. This was a chance to learn a little about both in a multi-generational story that takes in Korea’s annexation by Japan, the devastating Second World War and the split of Korea thereafter into North and South Korea.

Sunja is just a teenager when she falls pregnant to a married man almost twice her age. Although he offers to house her and provide for her as his “Korean” wife, Sunja had no idea that he was already married and is insulted and offended, refusing his offer. Fearing ruin, she is surprised when one of the lodgers at her mother’s boardinghouse, a young Christian missionary named Baek Isak offers to marry her. He believes that things happen for a reason and it is Gods will that he show Sunja kindness, offer her a good life and save her from ruin. A sickly child, Baek Isak unexpectedly made it to adulthood and didn’t expect he would ever marry. He still feels that he will leave Sunja a young widow but this would be preferable to ostracism. The young couple move to Japan where Isak’s brother works in a factory.

What follows is a life of struggle in many ways. Money is always scarce and Sunja soon learns that Koreans are horribly looked down upon in Japan. All the bosses are Japanese, all the landlords are Japanese. If Isak’s brother and his wife hadn’t been able to purchase a tiny property, they would never have been able to find somewhere to rent as no one will rent to Koreans. Where they live is almost like a slum area, people crammed in together in high numbers but in small spaces. As things worse, Sunja and her sister-in-law are offered a surprising lifeline. This means defying Isak’s brother and going out to work but he is forced to swallow his pride and allow it in order for the family to live.

Sunja’s two children are very different, with her eldest being very bright and studious and her younger shunning learning and finding himself headed down a path for trouble in his teens before he is rescued and put to work for a man who owns numerous pachinko parlours (from what I could gather pachinko is kind of like a cross between an arcade game and a poker/slot machine). During their teens it seems as though the two boys could not be more different. The eldest is set for a prestigious college although securing the funding for the tuition might lead to selling his soul. The youngest who leaves school early, surprises by rising up the ranks rapidly and showing a real aptitude for the business. As the years roll by, the lives of the brothers diverge and then come back together in the most surprising of ways.

I had very little idea of the racism that existed in Japan towards the thousands of Koreans who ended up there either just before the war, searching for opportunities denied to them in an impoverished homeland, or because of the war. Sunja’s children are faced with mockery and bullying, the only way to survive is to be as Japanese as possible. Even faking it, changing their names to ones that sound Japanese and not Korean, speaking faultless Japanese, etc. There are jobs that Koreans would never be hired for simply for being Korean-born. Or even just having Korean parents.

This is quite a long book, almost 500p and covers 4 generations. It was the sort of book that for me, required slow and thoughtful reading so that I could take in as much as possible about the life and habits of the characters and not miss anything. Sunja is a tireless workhorse, as is her sister-in-law. Despite not meeting until when she and Isak arrive in Japan the two women forge a relationship that is perhaps closer than that of sisters. They are working constantly and when they are not working they are tending those that need it – injured husbands, dying relatives, etc. Because this is also a book that is underscored in tragedy. No matter the generation. I don’t think there is anyone in here who doesn’t experience terrible loss and cripplingly difficult times. There is poverty, war, disease, imprisonment, depression and fear but underneath all that is a determination to keep on going. To stoically accept these things and just…..keep going.

I found this book so interesting, it was the sort of book that it was so easy to become fully immersed in the lives of these people, their ups and downs, the dark tragedies and horrible sacrifices. But along with all of that, there was a lot of love and devotion, although perhaps not expressed demonstrably, as seemed to be the way. There are numerous mentions of not “spoiling” children with praise and affection (several characters break this rule but even when they do, their displays are very low key). It is a quiet sort of love, hidden inside but nurtured fully.

8/10

Book #27 of 2017

 

 

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Some Of My Favourite Romances

So it’s Valentine’s Day! To be honest, I’m not a huge celebrator of the day. We don’t really do anything for it. Today is also my stepdaughter’s birthday so it’s more about that. But I do love a good romance novel….of all types. Contemporary, historical, YA, fantasy…. So I thought that given today is the day of love, why not do a post celebrating some of my favourite books featuring romance? Not all of these books are strictly romances but they all contain romantic elements.

Contemporary

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Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (my review) I read this book just over five years ago and it remains one of my favourites of all time. There’s so much humour and sweetness in this and it’s just one of those books that makes you feel happy about life.
Lick by Kylie Scott (my review) This book had angst and chemistry in spades. My favourite things! It was a great start to a series – the story wasn’t perfect but the interactions were amazing.
Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry (my review) This has one of my most-loved pairings…confident, sassy woman and uptight, slightly repressed (but perhaps dying not to be) male. I re-read this sooo many times. Violet and Martin are so wrong for each other that they’re perfect. Even writing this now has made me want to go and read this all over again.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (my review) My favourite book of 2016. Love love love.
In At The Deep End by Penelope Janu (my review) My most recent obsession. Like the two above, there’s a little of the uptight, controlled male here as well. It is my thing.

Rural 

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Promises by Cathryn Hein (my review) Lots of lovely angst here. A modern-day Romeo and Juliet set in a horseracing world. Sophie and Aaron are from warring families and this is a slow burn romance peppered with lots of secrets and guilt. But also lovely, lovely things. And I also want to read this again.
The Girl In Steel Capped Boots by Loretta Hill (my review) Oh wow, it’s been five years since I read this! This for me was a ground-breaking rural. Who thought the Pilbarra could be so sexy? There was so much to love about city girl Lena negotiating her way as one of 4 women in a camp of 400 men, including one very demanding client. Ah, Lena and Dan.
Outback Blaze by Rachael Johns (my review) It was hard to pick which Bunyip Bay book to choose because I like them all for different reasons but I think Drew and Ruby are my favourites. I do like a man in a uniform 😉
The Vineyard In The Hills by Lily Malone (my review {note I read this when it was named So Far Into You}) Really enjoyed this one, set in the wine-making region of South Australia. Remy was an awesome character and I appreciated the way that Seth listened to her and the conflict wasn’t drawn out unnecessarily.
Red Sand Sunrise by Fiona McArthur (my review) Midwives, very rural Queensland and a “stern faced giant”. Obviously I was going to like this!

Romantic Suspense 

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In Safe Hands by Lee Christine (my review) Awesomely paced thriller about a Sydney lawyer who posed for photographs over ten years ago, which are now coming back to haunt her. She has to engage a former SAS man to keep her safe and the chemistry is smoking. There are also other books that follow on from this, each probably as good as this one.
Burning Lies by Helene Young (my review) An undercover cop investigating a suspected arsonist and a damaged Border Watch worker who helps track things from the air. Gotta love a good undercover guy, especially one who needs reminding on just who he is and what his life could be.
Legacy Of Hunter’s Ridge by Sarah Barrie (my review) A heroine suffering from PTSD has to confront her fears. This was so well written. The cranky neighbour who comes to tell her off is a bit of a jerk at first but when he sees just how much she is struggling, it’s the beginning of something new. There are also more books that follow on from this.
Half Moon Bay by Helene Young (my review) It was impossible not to include two books by Helene Young here. I really could’ve included more but restricted myself to my two favourites. This competes with Burning Lies and I often can’t decide which one I like the most. This one felt like home to me….it’s set in an area very similar and quite close to the one I grew up in.
Dead Heat by Bronwyn Parry (my review) A former undercover cop now detective in a quiet (ha) rural posting and a National Parks Ranger. Lots of crime and mystery but just enough romance as well.

Historical 

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The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley (my review) I could’ve included this either here or in contemporary as it’s a blend and to be honest, it’s the contemporary romance that interests me the most. But the historical portions of Susanna Kearsley’s books are so incredible. This one is intricate and fascinating. But I just love Nicola and Rob.
The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth (my review) Kate Forsyth just writes amazing, beautiful books. Every single time I get lost in these stories.
Eleven Scandals To Start To Win A Duke’s Heart by Sarah MacLean (my review) Sassy impetuous heroine. Stuffy, repressed Duke. Enough said.
Silent On The Moor by Deanna Raybourn (my review) The third in the Lady Julia Grey series, aka the one where things happen. The chemistry is angsty and electric and there are huge amounts of will they or won’t they etc. It’s my favourite in the series.
The Seduction Of The Crimson Rose (my review) I liked this one a lot because it was interesting to see two fundamentally selfish and basically unlikable people become better for knowing each other. Both Lord Vaughn and Mary are haughty and sarcastic but they’re also very fun together. Loved their banter and what each was willing to sacrifice.

Young Adult 

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Forget You by Jennifer Echols (my review) Zoey you are so wonderfully clueless…and Doug is basically just wonderful. A bit of an ass at times but god what he put up with haha. I love these two. I imagine them as mid-20 somethings now, teaching swim teams or something.
Every Breath (the whole series really) by Ellie Marney (my review) Rachel and Mycroft are basically everything. Ellie Marney might write the best sexual tension I’ve ever read in my life. I love this whole series.
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (my review) Two words: Will Trombal
Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar (my review) Carly and Ryan oh my gosh. I love this book so much. It’s that little bit something different, my first foray into stuff that was a bit edgier. Neither Carly nor Ryan were the type of YA characters I was used to. This pulled me so far outside the box and it was amazing.
Anna & the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (my review) You know I was fully prepared not to like this one because of the circumstances with St Clair and also because the title (and original cover) were hella lame. But I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
Where She Went by Gayle Forman (my review) The guitar moment. I will never forget that! This gave me everything I needed after If I Stay 

Fantasy/Sci-fi/Paranormal etc

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Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat (my review) I like books that surprise me and this book (this series actually) really surprised me. So much chemistry and intrigue. It has all of the feels!
Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning (my review) I love this whole series (ok, books 1-5, the more recent ones are a total hot mess) but I picked the final one because it’s my favourite. After the shocking end of 4, I needed 5 to be everything and I feel like it pretty much was.
Working Stiff by Rachel Caine (my review) and the other 2 books in the Revivalist series. To be honest, sometimes there are books that you just like. They just somehow have something that appeals and for me this series was one of those. I found the whole serum thing really interesting and poor Bryn and Patrick went through sooo much.
Crosstalk by Connie Willis (my review) Telepathy books…..there’s just something about them that works for me. I loved this….actually I still re-read bits of it occasionally when I’m in between books.

And there we go. To be honest it was pretty hard to keep each little category capped at a handful of titles because I quite easily could’ve included many more. For me, nearly all of these books could be termed as comfort reads, ones I can go to and pick up any time, open to any random page and just start reading. They’re all stories that have stayed with me and made me want to revisit them over and over again. Sometimes I do just that…..and writing this post has made me want to do it with so many more! I have at least 10 books that I want to re-read desperately from this post now!

If you have a favourite romance (or book with romantic elements) let me know in the comments! Especially if it’s one I haven’t read, because I’m always in need of more recommendations.

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers!

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Review: The Ninth Grave by Stefan Ahnhem

ninth-graveThe Ninth Grave (Fabian Risk #2)
Stefan Ahnhem
Head Of Zeus
2017, 551p
Copy courtesy of Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two countries in the grip of winter…

On the coldest day of the year, Sweden’s Minister for Justice steps out of Parliament House and into a blizzard – and disappears. That same night, across the Baltic Sea, a Danish celebrity finds a stranger lurking in her snow-bound home.

Two killers stalk the streets…

One is a srugeon who carefully dissects his victims. The other is a brutal predator who targets women. Police in Stockholm and Copenhagen are closing in on their suspects. But as winter darkens and more people die, their investigations begin to unravel.

Sometimes murder is just the beginning…

I was super keen for this next installment in the Fabian Risk series. The first book, Victim Without A Face ended at a pretty interesting place and I was really excited to see what happened next. So I was a bit confused when this began and Fabian was somewhere else. It took me a little while to realise that although this is book 2, it’s set before book 1. The events in this novel are how Fabian came to be back in his hometown at the beginning of the previous book, it explains more of the situation between Fabian and his wife….and also gives a better idea about the ‘other woman’ situation.

Fabian is called in to discreetly investigate the disappearance of the Swedish Minister for Justice, who stepped outside in a blizzard. There was a car waiting for him but the Minister disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. Meanwhile in Denmark, young female detective Dunja has been given the lead on an investigation into the brutal murder of the wife of a Danish television star. Much to her colleagues chagrin, Dunja has been placed in charge by her sleazy boss, whom she suspects might have ulterior motives.

It doesn’t seem possible that the disappearance of a Swedish politician and the savage murder of a woman in Denmark could be linked. But as the bodies keep piling up, soon both Fabian and Dunja, working different cases, discover that the victims are each missing something. In this case, it’s what is missing that helps complete the full picture.

It’s so nice to get a lot of the backstory that set up Victim Without A Face. You can tell that Fabian is under a huge amount of pressure, both at home and at work. His wife Sonja is an artist who is working day and night to finish her latest pieces in time, leaving Fabian to do the bulk of the parenting at home. Given that Fabian is out at all hours doing his job, this doesn’t generally work too well. The oldest child Theodor is about 13 in this novel and there are clearly some inklings that things are amiss with him. Their daughter Matilda is younger and her creatively artistic drawings for school depict the cracks that are running through the marriage of Fabian and Sonja. Most of the time Matilda is left in the care of a negligent babysitter or her distant older brother as Fabian searches for evidence, follows up hunches and takes women out to dinner. Fabian is the sort of person that is always going to get results in the cases he investigates but probably not without large amounts of collateral damage, some of that being the emotional development of his own family.

The plot is intricate….very intricate but it’s woven together incredibly well. As well as Fabian and Dunja, the reader is also treated to the thought processes of some of the victims as they struggle to piece together what is going on or in some cases, accepting their fate as perhaps a debt owed. Something that has finally caught up with them. That was really interesting and as the story unfolded and the pieces came together, it suddenly took on a whole new meaning. I don’t mind a non-linear timeline and I really liked the extra points of view. There are even some chapters that take place from the perspective of the killer(s) although it’s up to the reader to interpret who in particular is responsible for what.

As well as getting a lot more insight into Fabian and his family dynamic here, likewise we are treated to equally the same amount of Dunja’s backstory. She was one of my favourite characters in the first book and I really saw here how much she has put up with in order to have and hold her job. Her boss is an odious creature, her two colleagues resentful when she is put in charge, one so much so that his attitude towards her nearly results in her death when he ignores her call for help. There’s no doubt that Dunja is actually incredibly capable of running the investigation, despite the hindrances from her boss and her colleagues. However they assume she’s been put in charge because her boss either is sleeping with her, or intends to use his decision as leverage to be sleeping with her. They ignore her when she suggests that a closed case doesn’t feel ‘right’ and that there’s more to it. She has good instincts and after book 1 I’d hoped she’d be working with Fabian. Now I’m even more sure that it needs to happen.

The first two books in this series have both been winners for me. It’s been a while since I’ve started a new Nordic crime series but this reminds me why I’m such a fan of them. I know there’s a third book but I’m guessing it’s going to be a year or so before we see it released in English…..which isn’t fair because I’d really like it now, please.

8/10

Book #26 of 2017

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Antique Maps of the WorldMap of EuropeNicolas Visscherc 1658

This is the first book I’m counting for my European Reading Challenge 2017! It is mostly set in Sweden but also includes Denmark.

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Review: Victim Without A Face by Stefan Ahnhem

victim-without-a-faceVictim Without A Face (Fabian Risk #1)
Stefan Ahnhem (Translated from Swedish by Rachel Wilson-Broyles)
Head of Zeus
2016 (originally 2014), 550p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Detective Fabian Risk returns to his hometown to resolve a string of hideously inventive murders. The sensational debut from the new star in Nordic Crime Fiction.

A KILLER WITH A MESSAGE
The first victim was a bully who liked using his fists. The second was a thug who favoured steel-capped boots. Their bodies bore the marks of a killer who knew their sins. A single clue was left at the scene: a class photo from 1982, with two faces neatly crossed out.

A DETECTIVE WHO CAN’T LET GO
There are eighteen men and women in the photo who are still alive – and one of them is the lead detective on the case. Fabian Risk thought he’d left his schooldays behind. Now his classmates are dying for the sins of their childhood… Who is the faceless killer who’s come back to haunt them?

CAN YOU EVER HIDE FROM JUSTICE?

I received the second in this series for review and was originally going to see if I could borrow this one from my local library but then I happened across it randomly in a bookshop so I bought it. I’m pretty glad I did because even if this particular story isn’t referenced in the second book, it certainly gives quite a lot of background on Fabian Risk and his family and I believe all of that will be pretty useful when reading the second book.

Detective Fabian Risk, his wife Sonja and their two children are moving back to Fabian’s hometown. Previously they’d been living in Stockholm and the circumstances surrounding Fabian’s decision to move home and take a job in the local police are a bit murky. There’s the suggestion that Fabian is a bit of a rogue cop, the lone wolf type who although they’re good at their job, the result comes by way of hunches, individual investigation and probably a few legally grey areas. Although he’s supposed to take a couple of weeks vacation before starting in his new position, the gruesome murder of a former classmate of Fabian’s has him pulled in right away first as a way to get some information and then to officially be part of the investigation. It seems as though this classmate may be just the first victim and that others in the class are potential targets.

Fabian is one of those enigmatic, slightly douchey characters that knows something is wrong at home but pretends that it isn’t. There’s clearly some discord between him and his wife and this move back to his hometown is something of a fresh start. And there’s clearly a woman involved, back in Stockholm but to what extent isn’t made clear. Although Fabian seems to love his wife and absently love his children, he is also a workaholic who seems barely present in their lives. It’s always about the job, which is incredibly demanding and takes him away from his family for most hours of the day. Even when he’s supposed to be on vacation. Even when he’s been “excused” from the case. Fabian’s dedication and his brain work in interesting ways. He doesn’t always get it right….in fact there are a couple of mistakes and missed opportunities here where the end result is pretty catastrophic. But he keeps thinking, keeps digging until eventually he gets it.

I don’t particularly judge him for not knowing what was going on with his son. Theodor is a teenager who has pretty much removed himself from the family, spending time in his room thumping loud angry metal (Theodor it seems, is a refugee from the late 90s with Marilyn Manson, Metallica and Slipknot his angry bands of choice) playing CoD. He grunts at his parents when spoken to and considers most family outings “lame”. However, Sonja seems like a bit of a hovering parent, the one who is always all over it and a bit reluctant to cut the apron strings so I was pretty surprised when she took off with Matilda late in the book and left Theodor at home with a father who is out until all hours. Fabian also relies on texts to communicate with Theodor – it takes him god knows how many days to actually push open the door to his son’s room and attempt to lay eyes on him. Although he’s a teen, he’s only 14 so at the younger end of the scale. I know for sure I would not have been afforded such a freedom at that age….and perhaps if Fabian had been a little more vigilant, things would not have happened.

I don’t know much about Scandinavian relations but quite a lot of the book is structured around a reluctance to co-operate between Danes and Swedes when the suspect crosses borders. There’s a general disdain it seems from the Danish and there are police officers that delight in making it as difficult as they can for the Swedish team, heading up most of the investigation. This is something that appears to continue into the next book, given the blurb I’ve read. One of the most interesting characters is a Danish policewoman who kind of “breaks rank” and I hope that she’s going to be in the next book. I’d really like it if she were working with Fabian in his colleagues because she has all the makings of a great partner for him. She’s as reckless and rogue as he is in a lot of ways and I really enjoyed the parts of the book where she featured.

The story is delightfully twisty – some are quite predictable but then it takes a bit of an unexpected turn which was good. And the crimes are very gruesome and meticulously planned but I have to admit, I kind of queried the motivation. It just didn’t seem to be enough – the first suspect, that motivation made a lot of sense. A huge amount of sense actually. But the first suspect is rarely ever the culprit and when they find another suspect, it just seems too bland, a bit unbelievable as the reason for wanting to murder 20+ people.

I was pretty hooked though and the way the story built was amazing. By the end of it I was turning pages so fast, I was desperate to know how it was going to end. The suspense was really very good and some of the big reveals were very well orchestrated. I am definitely looking forward to the next book. I was going to read something else before I picked it up but I really want to find out how Fabian’s mental state is so I think it’s going to be my next read.

8/10

Book #25 of 2017

 

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