All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Friday On My Mind by Nicci French

Friday On My MindFriday On My Mind (Frieda Klein #5)
Nicci French
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 375p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

A bloated man is found in the River Thames, an identifying hospital bracelet around his wrist that states Dr F. Klein. But the victim isn’t Dr Klein, because Frieda is very much alive…and not a man. Nor is he one of her patients but the man is definitely known to her and she can identify him.

And then evidence linking her to the murder is found in her apartment and she becomes the number 1 suspect. Due to her past involvement with the police, as a consultant that has inevitably become involved in cases, often in the very worst way, she knows that it’s going to be almost an impossible job to convince the police of her innocence. The powers that be have already made up their mind and seem to have made it known they consider this case cut and dried. There’s no way that they’ll consider any other suspect and Frieda’s friend DCI Karlsson is being kept mostly out of the loop and away from the investigation.

Frieda makes the choice to go on the run, knowing she’ll never be able to solve this murder if she’s sitting in a jail cell. She needs to piece together the truth herself. She believes that she knows who killed the man found in the river but proving it is going to be hard when everyone else believes that man is dead. And then of course there’s the possibility that Frieda has it wrong…

Friday On My Mind is the fifth installment in this crime series featuring psychoanalyst Dr Frieda Klein. Frieda is a really interesting character as a protagonist, mostly because she’s so seriously cold about everything. She very rarely shows emotion of any description, be it joy, anger, sadness, grief, affection. She’s very calm, very measured and understated in her interactions with people and in her internal thoughts. At times this makes her a difficult character to connect with but it does also make her interesting. She rarely, if ever, allows emotion to get in the way of her work and putting pieces together in the crimes she inevitably becomes involved in both working as a consultant for the police and just in general on her own. Frieda has basically become a crime magnet in recent times but like pretty much everything else, it doesn’t seem to bother her.

This book steps it up a gear with the murder of someone very close to Frieda and it’s clear from the beginning that Frieda is also being framed for it. However the Commissioner has made up his mind about Frieda and her inconveniently cropping up in and being connected to many investigations and he makes it clear that this is who the investigating officer, DCI Sara Hussein and her partner should focus on. Frieda knows they probably have enough to arrest her and have her sitting in a jail cell where she’ll never be able to find the real killer. And so, with the help of a few of her staunch allies, she goes on the run.

Frieda proves surprisingly (or perhaps not so, given how phenomenally capable she is at everything) resourceful whilst on the run and with the help of Josef, her Ukrainian builder who has become a very close friend and who appears to have connections, she is able to find places to stay (of dubious and varying safety) and move about the city as needed. To be honest, I was never really sure how what Frieda was doing was going to help her prove that she didn’t murder anyone, given she had no chance of catching the person she did originally think was responsible. However she did manage to discover that it couldn’t possibly be that person, so that did mean she had to look elsewhere. It did seem however that no matter how capable Frieda is, she needs her friends – Josef is invaluable to her as well as DCI Karlsson. Karlsson is limited in what he can do of course because he risks his job but he believes in Frieda and her innocence and he does what he can in his own quiet, discreet and understated way. In fact if it weren’t for Karlsson and his devotion to Frieda, there probably wouldn’t be a forthcoming book with Saturday in the title.

Although each book is also a separate story, there’s an overarching plot that began in the first one and has carried through each volume, sometimes so far in the background you almost forget about it. This book focuses on it much more and brings it back to the forefront, suggesting that things will soon be very much coming to a head between Frieda and the man everyone else believes is dead. Although I do find Frieda baffling at times, I have to admit her steadiness and sheer unflappability is somewhat soothing in a crime novel. There are no screaming hysterics, no sobbing in corners and although Frieda does occasionally do things that I would term as TSTL in other stories, she does them with such a calm determination that somehow they seem completely logical and rational methods of behaviour. I really enjoy her interactions with those she is ‘close’ to (and I use that term loosely because at times, there’s nothing to separate her actions/mannerisms from those she’s close to with those she isn’t, it’s more how you read between the lines) especially her evolving relationship with DCI Karlsson. The way in which that has grown throughout all of the books has been probably my favourite part of this series.

I really enjoyed this – I think it might be the strongest of the series and I’m really looking forward to the Saturday installment and especially seeing what role Walter Levin is going to play in the future.

8/10

Book #114 of 2015

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Review: Harry Mac by Russell Eldridge

Harry MacHarry Mac
Russell Eldridge
Allen & Unwin
2015, 279p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Tom is a young boy who lives with his family (father, mother, older brother) in a quiet lane in on the edge of town. His best friend is Millie who also lives on the lane and together they puzzle through the often mysterious goings on in their street at a time of change and struggle in South Africa.

Tom idolises his father Harry Mac, a big man who works for a newspaper and who is catching the attention of the wrong people with his scathing op ed pieces. One night Tom is somewhere he shouldn’t be and he overhears his father and his neighbour talking and Tom comes to the conclusion that his father is about to become involved in something terrible.

Tom’s world is changing, growing darker and more dangerous day by day as the politics of South Africa become more radiacalised. His brother is ready to leave for his compulsory military service and the whole family is on edge waiting to see where he will be assigned. The black car that visits the lane at night is a constant source of mystery to Tom and Millie, as is what really happened in the house on the corner. It seems that Tom is close to the truth but the consequences will be like nothing he could’ve ever imagined.

I knew this book would be just my thing the second I picked it up. Africa is one of my favourite settings for a novel and this one chooses an interesting and tumultuous time in South Africa’s political history, around the early 1960s. It’s an ugly history, in many different ways and Eldridge chooses to portray it through the eyes of a child who is perhaps just coming to terms with some of what he is beginning to see and hear. He knows enough to be scared of many things but at the same time, he’s still relatively young and his days are spent curiously asking questions. When he cannot ask his father, he asks his neighbour, Millie’s father Sol, a Jewish man who shares stories of the past with Tom and Millie.

The relationship Tom has with his father is what drives the novel. Harry Mac is a big man, a presence. Former military he now works for a newspaper, one of the ones seemingly left that doesn’t mind criticising the political party in charge and defying any attempts at censorship. Harry Mac’s op ed and front page pieces are the most critical of all, which means that he’s being watched, his phone lines tapped etc. Tom has a brother known as Little Harry (despite the fact that he’s no longer so little) who is older, a man ready to undertake his compulsory military service and who, once having started that, can suddenly relate to Harry Mac in ways that the younger Tom cannot. The older men sit drinking beer and Tom longs to join in, to be a part of their world. Instead he is on the sidelines, especially as the pressures of his job and the changing political environment force Harry Mac into his long silences and nights spent alone drinking grimly.

But despite the stress that comes with his job and refusing to back down, Harry Mac still finds time to relate to his youngest son when he can, including taking him out for a bush experience. It is there that Tom first learns what rhino smells like, something that he comes to associate with his father when he becomes angry (and perhaps helplessly angry about things that he doesn’t feel he can really change, no matter how hard he tries and bucks against the system). The household seems to revolve around the moods of Harry Mac – when he’s happy, Tom’s mother dances and laughs and the mood is light. When he’s brooding in silence, Tom’s mother is silent as well, the house is somber and darker. Harry Mac’s enormous presence is very dominant in the novel but I don’t meant that at all in a negative way. He’s a generous man who clearly cares about his family but at the same time, is feeling external pressure and frustration.

Tom is a wonderful character, he sees the world in such a unique way – equal parts youth and innocence as well as a growing sense of awareness about the world around him, and even fear that things will continue to become more and more complicated. I’m including this in my Around The World in 12 Books Challenge and part of the criteria for that challenge is that the book showcase life within its setting and timeframe and I think that this book does a fantastic job at that because you get to see what the situation was for so many characters, including ones that actually don’t even appear in the story but are merely mentioned in passing. Not only are we given a window into Tom’s life at home with his family and Harry Mac’s life at work in a political situation that is becoming more and more aggressive but we also get a chance to hear and see how Tom’s brother Little Harry goes in his military service. Apart from that, there’s also a pretty good look into life for some of the displaced Jews who settled in South Africa around the time of WWII as well as some of the black citizens, such as the lady who works as a kind of housekeeper/maid for Harry Mac and his family and what her son is doing as well. There’s a broad showcase of minor characters such as the young man injured in the war across the road, being cared for by his father as well as the physically gifted but perhaps mentally challenged young man who is using his athletic prowess as a way to attempt to avoid his military conscription. All of these weave together to paint the bigger portrait of life in 1960’s South Africa for a wide variety of people, with the story behind the family that formerly lived on the house on the corner of the lane perhaps one of the most heartbreaking and horrifying stories of all. This was a truly stunning and thought-provoking debut.

9/10

Book #111 of 2015

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Harry Mac is book #3 of My Around the World in 12 Books Challenge. The country visited is South Africa.

 

 

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Review: The Homestead Girls by Fiona McArthur

9780143799825The Homestead Girls
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 282p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

When Dr Billie Green’s teenage daughter Mia falls in with a bad crowd, Billie uses that as an opportunity to return to the small town in far western New South Wales where she grew up. It’s been a goal of Billie’s to work for the Flying Doctor Service and she’s spent time in her career doing rotations and earning qualifications that will serve her well in the remote locations. She’s happy to meet her colleagues, including the lovely but insecure flight nurse Daphne Price and their authoritarian boss Dr Morgan Blake.

Soretta Byrnes has benefited from the Flying Doctor Service after her grandfather was severely injured on their farm. But with him in hospital, Soretta is struggling more than ever to make ends meet when the drought just won’t quit. Although Daphne has supported Soretta as a friend, she decides that she’d like to do more. The homestead on Soretta’s property is huge – old and beautiful and with plenty of room. Daphne, Billie and Mia soon move out to the property as paying boarders, an arrangement which suits everyone. Billie and Daphne want a home and Soretta is grateful for the financial contribution. Teenage Mia is resentful at first…until she realises how much she can help by looking after the animals on the farm. They are soon joined by Lorna Lamerton, an eighty year old former bush nurse looking for a holiday from her son and his wife.

It isn’t long before the women overcome their awkwardness and begin to form strong friendships and attachments. The situation is working out better than any of them could have planned and there’s always someone on hand for advice on medical issues and even the odd romantic challenge. However it’s not until one of the women faces a threat to their life that they show just well they can band together.

Australian rural romance author Fiona McArthur’s latest book invites readers to far west New South Wales and introduces them to a small town which hosts a branch of the Flying Doctor Service. Dr Billie Green has just moved back to the town, which is also where she grew up and is fulfilling a dream working for the FDS. Billie has lived a life moving around, gaining qualifications but not possessions. She and teenage daughter Mia live out of a couple of suitcases and a box full of kitchen necessities.

In no time at all, Billie’s colleague Daphne has organised for herself, Billie and Billie’s daughter Mia to move from their duplex accommodation out to a beautiful old homestead some ten minutes out of town. There the women begin to become friends, settling into roles and working together. Even Mia, resentful at first being made to move out west and then away from town and to the farm, begins to prove her worth. She’s given the job of feeding the lambs and Soretta is no nonsense when it comes to any teenage attitude. Mia is told in no uncertain terms she must be responsible or else – the lambs could die if she ‘can’t be bothered’. Through being given this responsibility and trust, Mia begins to mature and grow, coming to appreciate her surroundings and the role she is developing. I really liked Mia and I think McArthur was quite understated in portraying her character as the disgruntled teen. Mia had moved around a lot and even though she resented having to move out to the homestead, yet another move, it seemed almost immediately that it would be different. This was a place where roots could be put down, where Mia could be given a role, even get a pet in the future. All she needed was a little bit of security and some faith, both in herself and from others in her and she began to really blossom which was good to read.

There’s a huge amount in this story about the role of the FDS and it’s fantastic to read. I’ve lived all my life on the coast, never been further west than Dubbo (and that was only to visit the zoo) so it’s super interesting to read about how the FDS works and the sort of incidents they deal with. There’s a wide range of medical emergencies they might encounter as well as geographic difficulties like finding the landing strip that’s the closest to the person that needs attention. I didn’t know about the oxygen issues with so much time spent in the plane in the beginning either so all of those little tidbits were great info. Although most of the population in Australia does live along the coastlines there are still plenty of remote communities and properties that benefit from this service and the amazing people who campaign to fund it.

Whilst there is a little romance in The Homestead Girls it is really quite subtle. Both Daphne and Billie are struggling with workplace attractions and I really enjoyed reading about Daphne getting some of her self-confidence back and hopefully beginning to put her past behind her and those that had made her feel so bad about herself. I’d have liked a little more romantic interaction for Billie but the focus is really on the women building those friendships and strengthening them at the homestead, as well as the role of the FDS. The women are all well constructed, with insecurities and flaws and made stronger by the growing friendship. I would love it if we saw Soretta and Mia again in the future, I’d love to know what the years to come hold for them.

A really enjoyable and heartwarming story from a must-read author.

8/10

Book #112 of 2015

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The Homestead Girls is book #46 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Make sure you check out Fiona McArthur’s guest post on the blog, talking more about the FDS.

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Guest Post: Australian Author Fiona McArthur

McArthur, Fiona, credit Carolyn Guichard3

Today I am thrilled to welcome Aussie romance author Fiona McArthur back to the blog. Fiona was here last year for a Q&A on all things reading, writing and life and now returns to share a little about her newest novel, The Homestead Girls and the inspiration for including the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in the story.

***

Flying Doctors

The Homestead Girls is a story about five women and the background is about medical retrieval in the outback. I’ve dedicated the book, with much sincerity, to the wonderful people who work for and support the Royal Flying Doctor Service, because, like every Australian, I’ve always greatly admired those who meet the needs of those far-flung families who live away from the medical facilities of the city.

One of the women characters is an experienced flight nurse – I do have a friend who is one, one becomes the flying doctor she’s always wanted to be – have met and spoken to several, one used to be a bush nurse and helps raise money for the cause, and one has her closest relative saved by the service – so it’s a story that touches on how the flying doctor service can work.

Real stories of medical retrieval by the flying doctors touch us and a lot of it is the humility and appreciation of those who have been saved. So many times it’s hard working, unpretentious people in extremely remote areas who are used to managing with their own resources, those who never ask for assistance but offer it selflessly, who might need that urgent rescue. RFDS makes it their job to help those people and a whole lot more. It could be a grey nomad and his wife involved in an accident, a mum in an outback community in premature labour or a child with a snake bite. All people who need to travel from a remote outpost to a larger hospital in what could be a matter of life or death.

If you do travel to Longreach, Charleville, Kalgoorlie, Alice Springs, Broken Hill or Dubbo then drop into the RFDS visitor centres because the statistics and stories and history of the service is fascinating and inspiring.

You can read a story, there’s hundreds of them, that will thicken your throat and blur your vision when you look up case a history from the RFDS Stories like ‘Fuzz’s, here. http://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/News.html?NewSite=1&ItemID=891&count=1

Fuzz knew his heart was probably going to stop. Just imagine him telling his mate to strap that AED onto his chest in case they’d have to use it. I’m certainly going to use it in my next book. Not because it’s dramatic and almost unbelievable, but because I admire Fuzz, who has probably saved other people’s lives, for not only thinking of himself, he was worried about his mate and how his mate would feel if he couldn’t keep Fuzz alive until that plane landed. Go Fuzz, and go his mate who did CPR until Fuzz regained consciousness, but unless Fuzz was retrieved to a large hospital by the RFDS for surgery he would have died.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service is only partly funded by the government. It runs on donations from individuals, groups and fund-raising activities, and when you run down the list of people, and what they do to raise that $20 million funds every year, it’s humbling.

An example is Operation Pudding that the senior bush ladies from around Broken Hill come together for every year. The way these women gather, some travelling hundreds of kilometres, to cook for a week and how every single one of those Christmas Puddings are snapped up, not just because it’s a secret recipe and the best pudding in the world, but because people are supporting the RFDS.

Money is raised by sponsored car rally’s, circumnavigating cyclists and women walking the Kakoda Trail, though it’s the RFDS tin that sits in every hairdresser, pub and shop in the outback towns that quietly accumulates, too. So if you see a tin, or a fundraiser, smile, share a thought for the people you can help, and be generous and be thankful, Australia, in all her vastness, has the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

***

I found the RFDS really interesting in The Homestead Girls, there’s so much to consider when staffing and running an organisation that relies on planes to access its patients. I’ll have a review of The Homestead Girls up on the blog later today so make sure you check back for that! Thanks again for stopping by, Fiona.

9780143799825

 

 

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Review: The Blue Between Sky And Water by Susan Abulhawa

Blue Between Sky & WaterThe Blue Between Sky and Water
Susan Abulhawa
Bloomsbury Circus
2015, 288p
Copy courtesy Bloomsbury ANZ/TheReadingRoom.com

It is 1948 in Beit Daras, a village in Palestine where a family live. Nazmiyeh is the oldest daughter and she takes care of their mother, a woman prone to wandering the village and at times, behaving strangely. Mamdouh works for the village beekeeper and has his eye on the beekeeper’s daughter. Youngest daughter Mariam spends her days with her imaginary friends, learning to write.

And then the Israeli forces roll in and no one could imagine the terror and chaos that would unfold. They are forced to flee their small village as the Israeli forces bomb and burn it, raping the women and shooting the men. The survivors walk to long road to Gaza where a refugee camp has been set up. There they live in tents, the men either leaving to work in Egypt or another neighbouring country in construction, or fishing the Mediterranean. Rations are in force, meaning that many items must be smuggled through the tunnels from Cairo. Always there is the ever present thread of the Israelis who take the men prisoner and restrict visitor access. Nazmiyeh births many sons as she waits for the daughter to arrive that she must give the name her sister Mariam asked of her. Mamdouh moves away, first to Iran to work in construction and then later on to America, for the chance of a new life.

Many years later, Mamdouh’s granddaughter Nur, who has never been to Palestine or met the rest of her family, follows a married man she loves there, having heard of a child experiencing ‘locked in’ syndrome, something that interests her in her work as a psychologist specialising in traumatised children. Through this boy Nur will finally meet the rest of her family and discover the true bond of her heritage in a land far from where she grew up, but that has become to feel like home.

It’s funny, up until this week I hadn’t read anything for Shannon’s Around the World in 12 Books Challenge and now the way that the TBR has fallen, I’ve read 3 books in a row that count towards it, a book set in the Norwegian Sea, this book set in formerly Palestine/Gaza and another book with a review coming next week set in South Africa during the 50s. I have to admit, I didn’t know what this was about when it arrived, but I chose to pick it up for the cover as well. Discovering that it was about the displacement of Palestinians around the time of the creation of the nation of Israel only furthered my interest. I wrote many papers during my PoliSci/International Relations degree on the Middle Eastern conflict – I suspect most of my lecturers probably got sick of reading hundreds of papers on the same topics but there is so much fodder in this area it’s hard to ignore.

The Blue Between Water and Sky spans several generations of the same family and their struggle with separation and disconnect after being driven from their village in 1948. They and thousands of others are forced to relocate to Gaza, an impossibly small strip of land on the sea which borders Egypt and the newly-created Israel. Life in what is basically a refugee camp can be bleak with a lack of jobs and resources. Israel restrict the flow of goods and services into the country and heavily man the borders, forcing many of the citizens to resort to smuggling in goods through tunnels dug (and blown up and dug again) to Egypt. The tunnels are often worked by children, their small statures required to sneak in and out of the restricted spaces. The men that don’t leave Gaza to work in construction in Egypt or other nearby countries work fishing boats although the Israelis control the waters and occasionally attack without warning. The women remain in the camps, some culturing gardens, others working as midwives to deliver the babies, the rest taking care of their families and wondering when the day will come when they can go home and be reunited with those family members that have been forced elsewhere. I do feel as though this book gave a very good insight into what it must’ve been liked for these displaced people, suffering through overcrowding, lack of jobs and basic food (due to the rations and restrictions imposed by those controlling the borders) and the ability they developed to be utterly self-reliant for everything. Throughout the story there is a bit of a magical realism element to do with djinn’s (among other things) that could be a little bit jarring at times.

The more modern-day story focusing on Mamdouh’s granddaughter Nur was incredibly heartbreaking, the sort of thing that makes you wonder how people go on. Nur showed remarkable resilience despite all that happened to her in her young life and despite never having been to visit her family in the Middle East a remarkable set of circumstances bring her home to where they now live in Gaza. Although Nur is happy to have a family at last after so many years alone, she was essentially raised in America and there are situations that she finds herself in which is really quite unacceptable to the Palestinian women in the local community, which will also reflect back upon her family. I was rather interested reading about a woman who had grown up in a different country with a very different general culture and then moving to the Middle East however the book didn’t really delve too deeply into this which was a little disappointing. I do think that the differences would be incredibly noticeable and it would be unusual not to be affected, even if it was just something like the intermittent electricity supply. Constant power is something we probably tend to take for granted in places like Australia and America but still in the present timeframe, an elderly Nazmiyeh watches her TV soap while the power is still on.

Despite the fact that some of the more magical elements of the story weren’t really to my taste, I did really enjoy this book and was quite drawn into the story of these people and their displacement, separation and ultimate reunion. I’d love to read more books set in this particular area covering these types of conflict and the author does have another which I’ll be doing my best to track down.

8/10

Book #110 of 2015

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The Blue Between Sky and Water is the 2nd book completed for the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge. This story covered the former Palestine and the Gaza Strip.

 

 

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Review: The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein

Sunlit NightThe Sunlit Night
Rebecca Dinerstein
Bloomsbury Circus
2015, 249p
Copy courtesy Bloomsbury ANZ/TheReadingRoom.com

Artistically inclined Frances knocked back an internship at the top of the world in order to spend summer with her boyfriend. After they split up, she discovers that the internship is still available and so she travels from New York, leaving behind her parents who are splitting up and her sister who is getting married, to the far north. A string of tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea is where Frances will call home as she works with a famous artist who is painting only in shades of yellow beneath a sun that never sets.

Yasha lives in Brooklyn, the son of a baker. He and his father fled Russia when Yasha was small, leaving behind his mother who always promised to come later. Now Yasha is heading to the top of the world to fulfill a promise he made to his father, who wished to be buried there. Deep in his grief and accompanied by his mother, whom he has long been estranged from and who he blames for his father’s death, Yasha discovers Frances and the artist and the two of them forge an unlikely relationship.

I picked up this book to read because of the cover. I think it’s so beautiful. It sounded quirky and a bit fun and I was interesting in reading about what it would be like to be in a place where the sun never really sets, as is the case in Lofoten for a couple of months in the summer (in the winter for over a month, the sun never makes an appearance). I also realised a week or two ago that we’re almost six months into the year and I haven’t yet read a book for the Around The World in 12 Books Challenge, so I wanted to use this book for that as well.

I enjoyed the set up, both Frances and Yasha in New York. Frances comes from a very artistic Jewish family and her parents are currently horrified at the man her sister is marrying and then drop a bombshell on the two girls that they are separating. Frances will soon no longer have a home anyway, so it’s best that she take the internship in Norway and visit the top of the world, learning to paint in shades of yellow. Frances is in her early twenties, rather straightforward and doesn’t seem prone to much emotion. Nothing really seems to bother her, not her splitting up with her boyfriend, not her parent’s bombshell and subsequent estrangement from her sister. She spends time skyping her parents from Norway and although she tries to encourage them to attend her sister’s wedding, to be honest she never really seems to be that bothered about it or that invested in really attempting to get them to reconcile with her sister.

Yasha was a much more interesting character. He’s younger, in his last year of school and has lived with his father above the bakery his father runs in Brooklyn from the time he was small. His mother was supposed to follow them from Russia but has never appeared, always making excuses and then disappearing entirely. Yasha’s father has something wrong with his heart, so when Yasha learns something rather surprising, he chooses to keep it from his father rather than upset him. When his father dies overseas whilst they are in Moscow, Yasha decides to make good on one of his father’s wishes, choosing to bury him at the ‘top of the world’ which is how he and Frances come to meet, when Yasha arrives to bury his father’s body.

And this is where the story kind of lost me a little bit. I really liked the character of Yasha and I felt desperately sorry for him in his grief and his predicament. Carrying out something like this at such a young age would be very hard and he has the added complication of the resurfacing of his mother, who was a character I struggled with. Yasha needed a lot of things, but the relationship with Frances that developed struck me as a bit strange. It happens very, very fast, there’s no development, there’s no chemistry. Actually, there’s barely an interaction. It seemed very jarring when it did happen, not in the least because Yasha isn’t even eighteen yet.

The descriptions are very beautiful and if you haven’t googled Lofoten, then I suggest you do so because there are some utterly stunning pictures of scenery from the islands. I think the book gave quite a good picture of the surroundings and the conditions (the beach scene in particular) and the descriptions of the journeys to and from the islands are very good too but I would’ve liked to read more about Frances’ feelings living in a place where the sun is always out. They keep strange hours but there’s no real account of how she feels about this, what the impact is on her of the lifestyle and her thoughts and feelings. To be honest, Frances doesn’t seem to have too many feelings about anything, despite her claim at the end of the book. She seems pretty emotionless about everything around her, like she’s just going through the motions of life. Yasha  seemed more concerned about hooking up with Frances than much about the scenery around him but perhaps that was just his way of coping with his grief and it doesn’t matter to him whether the sun is out 24hrs a day or not at all.

This one was a mixed bag. Huge ticks for the unusual, remote location which was new to me and very enjoyable and Yasha was a positive as well. However Frances didn’t really work for me and a lot of her narration was very disappointing.

6/10

Book #109 of 2015

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The Sunlit Night is book #1 of my Around the World in 12 Books Challenge. We visited Norway/the Arctic Circle.

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Review: The Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley

Book of Lost and FoundThe Book of Lost and Found
Lucy Foley
Harper Collins Australia
2015, 458p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Kate Darling is still mourning the sudden loss of her mother, a famous ballerina when her surrogate grandmother figure passes away as well. Finding a portrait of a woman who could only be her biological grandmother as well as letters this woman wrote to her mother, Kate decides to find out exactly what happened and why her mother was given up for adoption. It led her to the life of ballet and she never tried to find her real mother but given these imploring letters, Kate cannot help but be curious. Especially as the portrait could only be the early work of a very famous artist, Thomas Stafford. She begins to look for a way to make contact with the notoriously reclusive artist, who would probably be well into his eighties by now.

In the 1920’s, Tom is studying to follow in the footsteps of his father, something he is utterly unenthusiastic about. When he collides with Alice, a former childhood holiday friend at a party, Tom finds a new purpose. In carefree, reckless Alice he finds the confidence to pursue his true love, art. They spend long lazy days together exploring, falling in love and trying to find a way to break Tom away from his bleak future and into a much more exciting one. But then Alice disappears and Tom is left frantic to find her and know why. He’s sure that no matter what, they can make it right.

I absolutely love a good historical/contemporary blend where a story focuses on different characters in different times that are somehow connected, so this sort of story was right up my alley based on the description alone. The modern part of the story is set in the mid-80s and focuses on Kate, a university graduate and budding photographer who works in a camera and photo shop (the age where everyone had to take their camera films to be processed!). She’s still reeling from the death of her mother, which was sudden and quite horrific when her adopted grandmother also dies, having suffered from dementia. She has one final moment of lucidity where she tells Kate about a box of letters and when Kate finds a portrait inside, she knows that this woman depicted can only be her grandmother. The resemblance to her mother is incredible.

For a reclusive artist, it’s rather easy to for Kate to end up getting in touch with Thomas Stafford and she includes a photo of her portrait so that he knows that she’s genuine. In return, Thomas invites her to his remote home in Corsica, Italy so that he can tell her what he knows about the woman in the portrait. Kate accepts and journeys out to Italy where she sits for Thomas and listens as the talks of his youth and the woman called Alice, who is depicted in the portrait.

The narrative jumps back and forth between Kate in the present day and Thomas and Alice at various stages in the past. I’ll be honest, I did find it a bit weird that Kate headed out to another country (a very remote part of it) to stay with someone she didn’t know. Okay he’s a famous artist but still. It may be a product of the time, I suppose, a hangover from the decade previous. But I would certainly have thought twice about going somewhere I’d be almost uncontactable and somewhere it’d be very difficult to get away from, should she need to. She doesn’t need to, because Thomas is a lovely old man but it was just one of those things that stuck in my head.

I was prepared for a star-crossed lovers story but I wasn’t prepared for the utter stupidity of some of Alice’s actions. Okay actually, most of Alice’s actions. Beginning from when she leaves Thomas. She claims that she has his best interests at heart but…in doing that, you also hurt the person you love? A hurt that actually stayed with him for the next sixty-odd years. But Alice’s stupid decision making didn’t actually stop there. She was a victim too, definitely and that may have contributed to the decisions she made over the next few years but I feel as though a lot of it was just an attempt to make Alice look quirky but….yet so brave. And I actually found her sections of the story quite difficult to read, because I didn’t really like her or understand her that much and felt like she was being pushed a little too hard, particularly because a lot of her is told through Thomas’s rather adoring eyes.

This book is so slow. It takes forever for anything to happen and then the story meanders around through the decades, back and forth but really taking forever to get anywhere. The story was told in such a long, round-a-bout way that it was hard for me to maintain my interest, to be honest. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t feel as though Alice was that palatable a character and each time she did something else that I found questionable as in ‘why did you do that Alice, for goddsake?” there seemed a lack of real, genuine reasoning other than just Alice’s whim or a connection to Paris that was only ever really vaguely touched upon.

In some ways this is a recurring thing throughout the novel. When Kate arrives in Corsica, she’s greeted with borderline hostility by Thomas’s grandson, who continues to regard her with suspicion until he learns her story. There’s supposed to be a sort of connection between them, despite this early false first impression but the chemistry is poorly developed and where it could’ve been really quite interesting, especially with both their backgrounds, it kind of staggers along in fits and starts and then peters out only to be passingly referenced in the epilogue. There’s not enough there, not enough time devoted to developing the attraction, teasing out the chemistry and having them confide their stories in each other. It feels both rushed and also stagnated, which is quite odd. I enjoyed both of their characters, both together and separate however I really do feel as though there could’ve been much more done with their story.

For me this story had a good premise but the execution didn’t really live up to it. I’m not sure the backwards and forwards narration worked as smoothly as it could have and it seemed to take far too long to get to the guts of the story. Most things I could piece out myself well before they were revealed, which meant that when the story did finally reveal them, I had already moved on past that moment and was onto something else. It was an okay read, not one I could really fall in love with. I just wasn’t invested into the characters and their stories enough to do that.

6/10

Book #106 of 2015

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Review: Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

Love May FailLove May Fail
Matthew Quick
Picador
2015, 398p
Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan AUS

When Portia Kane catches her husband cheating on her, that’s the end of their marriage. She bids goodbye to their comfortable life in Florida, paid for by her husband’s career of making porn films and flees back to her childhood home in Philadelphia. There she settles back into a life she thought she’d long left behind: her childlike, hoarding mother who hasn’t touched Portia’s room since Portia left high school but has crammed the rest of the house with overflowing piles of….things. A chance encounter with an old classmate puts Portia in mind of Mr Vernon, her old English teacher, a figure that for Portia, was as close to a father as she ever had.

Learning from the classmate that Mr Vernon retired and disappeared after a violent attack in his classroom, Portia suddenly finds herself filled with purpose. She’s going to track down Mr Vernon and save him from his reclusive lifestyle and get him back to doing the thing he was meant to do – teach. It’s not going to be easy but she’s going to have a little bit of help along the way from a rather enlightened nun and Chuck, the brother of Portia’s old classmate. Portia also might just find the confidence to pen the novel that she feels as always been inside of her.

Love May Fail is the latest novel from Matthew Quick, author of Silver Linings Playbook among others. This is the first novel I’ve read by Quick, although Silver Linings Playbook has been on my wishlist for a little while now. The book opens with Portia catching her rather slimy husband in the act of bringing a young woman home, believing Portia to be away. This finally seems to give Portia the motivation required to leave him, although you get the feeling she hasn’t been happy in a very long time. The only place for Portia to go is back ‘home’, the house where she grew up. The reader is given a rather comprehensive look into what Portia’s childhood must have been like and it’s quite sad and you can understand why she might have clung to a teacher that inspired her, that gave her some semblance of praise and feeling of normality. When Portia learns what has happened to Mr Vernon, she’s horrified (and it is pretty horrifying). She decides that finding him and ‘fixing him’ will be the task she embraces.

I think that a lot of these ideas that Portia has are good – in theory. However I’m not at all sure I could agree with the way in which she goes about attempting to fix Mr Vernon. She comes across as really quite pushy and selfish and it seems that her desperation is all about fulfilling her own desire to achieve something, to make Mr Vernon her accomplishment. At times she’s quite cruel to him, given the poor guy is pretty traumatised (and rightly so) by what happened to him. Teaching is something that I don’t think you appreciate really until you’re an adult and realise what it must be like to deal with disinterested students, rude students and in the case of Mr Vernon, students who attack you physically. It’s a profession that can have its rewards but it seems like it can also suck the life right out of you and that’s what it seems like it’s done here. Portia is so focused on her task that she doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that she’s going about it the wrong way. All her attempts to motivate Mr Vernon are just panicking him.

The narrative is split into four parts: Portia, Mr Vernon, letters from the nun that Portia meets and then Chuck (followed by an epilogue from Portia’s point of view) and I think there are both strengths and weaknesses in this format. The downside is that when you begin to get comfortable in a character’s head, the narrator changes and you’re kind of left hanging, wondering. This is particularly true after Mr Vernon has his turn at narrating. Given he was so psychologically damaged, I’d have liked a little more information about how he came to be in the position he was in at the end of the book. But the trade off is that you get to know more than you would if the whole thing were told from one person’s point of view. I really enjoyed the letters from the nun, although to be honest, I probably would’ve reacted in exactly the same way if someone had told me my devastating injury was some sort of divine plan. The religion is heavy handed, but the character is a nun so you have to expect that. I found her to be sharp and funny, although that part does require some suspension of disbelief if you aren’t religious (which I am not).

I found the section where Portia writes a novel to be interesting. That part of the story is told from the point of view of her boyfriend Chuck and details the process of getting it published and going through the rounds of reviews. The book is quite heavily savaged, which was quite different to read from the point of view of someone close to the novelist. There’s no denying that negative reviews must be disappointing – more than disappointing. It happens a lot, books just don’t find their market or hit it at the right time. Authors touching on reviews has become a big no-no in recent times, so to explore it through the act of having a character go through it was rather a different take on it but overall, I’m not sure it was one that really worked.

I mostly enjoyed this book and found it relatively easy to read and I did become invested in the story. But I was to be honest, much more invested in poor Mr Vernon’s story than I was in Portia’s. I found most of her story unnecessary, the bit with her ex-husband towards the end a prime example. I think I would’ve crossed the line into loving it if it had focused more on Mr Vernon primarily, once he was properly introduced instead of reverting back to more about Portia.

7/10

Book #108 of 2015

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Review: The Spring Bride by Anne Gracie

Spring BrideThe Spring Bride (Chance Sisters #3)
Anne Gracie
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It is almost the London Season and Jane Chance is about to make her debut into society. Stunningly beautiful, it was always the hope that she would be the one to secure a brilliant match. But her sisters Abby and Damaris have also managed to secure themselves wonderful husbands – wealthy, eligible men that are also kind. Men that the sisters love and who love them in return.

For Jane, she’s never really considered love a priority. She remembers hunger and she remembers fear. What she wants is stability, the knowledge that she and any children she may have in the future are always well taken care of. Her parents risked it all to refuse their arranged matches and marry for love. But that love didn’t keep them clothed and fed and Jane has never really forgotten how that played out for her and Abby. They’re safe and happy now…but for a while, things were very bleak indeed.

Just as Jane receives the offer that could give her all she thinks she craves, she meets Zachary Black. At first she thinks he’s a gypsy but in reality Zachary is a former spy now laying low in London in order to clear his name and claim his inheritance. He’s by far not the pauper that Jane considers him to be but he can’t tell her who he is just yet. Jane fascinates him – her combination between perfect looks and her compassion to the street urchins as well as her ability to handle herself in dangerous situations.

Jane knows that she shouldn’t fall in love. Especially not with a man who cannot give her the security she desires. Even though Zachary is the most interesting man she’s ever met and he makes her feel things that others don’t.

The Spring Bride is the third in the Chance series about four sisters (two are actual sisters, the other two are somewhat adopted sisters but all view the other three as their sisters) finding love in society London. Jane was the sister that they were trying so hard to get a proper season because she was by far their best chance of making an advantageous match and by that I mean she is supposed to be by far the most beautiful. Despite this belief early on, two of her sisters have already made very good marriages already. Now Abby, Jane’s sister, wants Jane to know the same happiness that Abby has found.

But Jane doesn’t want to muddy her decision with sentimentality. I felt as though this was a really interesting part of the story because a lot of the time, a debutante does want to find someone to love (as well as being a Duke with 10,000 a year and a country estate etc). In this story, Jane doesn’t really consider love to be a factor in making a choice what proposal to accept – and she does receive one very early, before the Season officially begins. The man offering for her is very wealthy, a collector of beautiful things and it’s quite obvious that’s what he considers Jane to be. Just another beautiful thing that he can add to his collection, something to raise his status because he married the most beautiful debutante. All Jane wants really, is a settlement agreed to to ensure she will be taken care of, along with their children (if any) should something happen to him. I really enjoyed Jane’s struggle to do the thing that would secure her what she’s always craved, the knowledge that she’d never be poor or hungry again. However there’s no denying that the man offering for her is a condescending twit, who makes the most irritating remarks about the way she should behave and the fickleness that’s inherent in her because she’s female. However I absolutely loved Jane’s speech to him toward the end of the book, when she realises she can’t marry him. That conversation could’ve gone one way, with him making her feel inferior but Jane gently asserted herself and steered it back to the fact that he was marrying her for all of the wrong reasons, even in this society and that he’d be happier if he looked beyond the most perfect face and accepted a person as a whole for his future wife. It was a nice touch, that entire part of the plot and I think it worked really well with Jane’s struggle and character.

I found the character of Zachary pretty interesting as well. He appears very rough around the edges in the beginning and he’s been out of the country for over a decade. He’s quite persistent in the beginning as well, even after Jane tells him not to return he still does. Even though he’s attracted to her, the way in which the story plays out means that they get to know each other quite well, even though Jane is betrothed to another man. It gives their relationship a lot of time to develop, gives Jane a chance to see what sort of man Zachary is and hear his story (which she accepts unquestioningly, especially as he has the support of Lady Beatrice as well). I also loved how there is somewhat of a role reversal at the end of this story. It is Jane who takes it upon herself to make a journey to find something that will help Zachary. She is the saviour, rather than the one who needs to be saved. She takes a big risk – she could potentially be ruining herself given she’s broken her engagement and if she cannot find what she needs, Zachary will probably hang. Even though she’d never be left to starve (her family would see to that) it’s still something that requires Jane to give up her comfortable ambitions and embrace love and a very different possible future.

I’ve enjoyed this whole series and I’m a little sad that there’s only one more left. However I am really excited to see what Daisy’s story will bring because she is so different I think, to the rest of the girls. She has very different ambitions and is from quite a different background.

8/10

Book #105 of 2015

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The Spring Bride is book #46 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: A Dangerous Arrangement by Lee Christine

Dangerous ArrangementA Dangerous Arrangement
Lee Christine
Harlequin Escape Publishing AUS
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Dean Logan designs and sells yachts and has just been the victim of a cyber attack which has stolen the latest designs to his superyacht. This attack could cost him billions and unless he gives in to the hackers demands, he and his company will suffer. There’s no denying it’s an inside job but his former employee has vanished. Dean has his head of security making investigations and the eye of suspicion soon falls on his former employee’s flatmate.

Violinist Marina Wentworth has just arrived in Europe for a very small gig, something that’s important to her to get her back on the path of performing. She’s playing as part of a quartet and the last thing she expects is to be accosted by an angry yacht owner who thinks she’s involved with the plans to steal from him. It doesn’t take long for Dean to realise that Marina isn’t involved and has been set up by her former flatmate who used his formidable computer skills to hack into her laptop and gather information about her that was used to plant evidence against her.

Despite the circumstances under which they meet, Dean and Marina experience a powerful attraction which only grows as Marina works with Dean with information that might help him bring to justice his former employee and her former flatmate. But ultimately Dean and Marina are from different worlds, far apart and Marina still has a secret or two she’s been keeping. Is this only a fleeting happiness or is there a way to make it work for the long term?

A Dangerous Arrangement is Lee Christine’s fourth romantic suspense novel and once again she delivers another smooth and polished story with some main characters with very interesting occupations. Dean Logan is a yacht architect and makes his money building expensive boats for other people. He has a history in racing yachts and a trauma buried deep in his past. Marina Wentworth is American, although living and working in Sydney. She’s a violinist and quite a well known one, although she has experienced some injury with her wrist and is currently easing herself back into performing. After a childhood where Marina knows just how much her family sacrificed for her lessons and for her to become successful, she’s terrified of her injury threatening her career and letting everyone down. This trip to Europe to play as part of a quartet on a ship (boat? yacht? like Marina, I have to admit I’m not entirely sure which is which!) is a way to gently test herself and build her confidence again. The last thing she expects is to be accused of theft and bribery and then roped in to help the real thief be caught.

Dean doesn’t take too kindly to being blackmailed and I can understand his anger at what has happened to him and his suspicion of Marina. Some of his actions are a little heavy handed, but he does listen to Marina and figure out pretty quickly that she’s not involved and is nothing but a scapegoat for the real culprit. Marina does have some information that she’s able to offer up and when it looks as though she is being blackmailed just as much as Dean is, she vows to do all that she can to ensure that the guilty party is caught. The two of them end up spending a lot of time with each other as Dean takes Marina to his yacht and then also begins to teach her how to swim when he realises what her fear stems from. There’s an attraction that simmers between them and I liked the way their relationship developed as they spent more time with each other.

I also really liked both character’s backgrounds, not something that you read about a lot. I’ve read another book many a year ago now that focused on the characters of an orchestra but probably nothing since and I found Marina’s background quite interesting. She’s very open about the sacrifices her family made for her and the possible resentment this has inspired from her siblings, who didn’t get quite the same attention lavished on them. She feels so compelled to be the best that she can be, to justify that time, effort and money spent on her in her youth. She has hit a lot of heights in her career but there’s been a scandal or two and lots of pressure as well (most of it probably self inflicted). I found Dean’s background fun as well, it was nice to learn a few things about sailing and yachts. It’s hard not to know the money that can be in them – the gossip pages are full of this celebrity and that celebrity enjoying holidays on their million dollar yachts but you tend not to think of the design that goes into crafting something like that, just the luxurious end product. Dean was a self-made man who had known personal loss and pain and also sacrifice and hard work. I quite admired his determination to catch the hacker and blackmailer and not accept the situation passively. Although he does pay the bribe, he does it knowing that it won’t accomplish anything other than perhaps buy him more time to further close in on the elusive hacker and I even found the story behind the hacking quite interesting too and not too implausible.

A Dangerous Arrangement is a fast-paced and highly enjoyable story that blends the best of romance and suspense into one cohesive story. I never have any hesitation in picking up one of Lee Christine’s books and recommend them all.

9/10

Book #102 of 2015

Make sure you check out the wonderful trailer for A Dangerous Arrangement here!

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A Dangerous Arrangement is book #42 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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