All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

June Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 18
Fiction: 17
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 3
Books On My TBR List: 6
Books in a Series: 4
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 12
Male/Female Authors: 
6/12
Kindle Books: 1
Books I Owned or Bought: 6
Favourite Book(s): The Last Summer by Karen Swan, The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Coast by Eleanor Limprecht, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, The Making Of Her by Bernadette Jiwa, Circe by Madeline Miller, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman,
Least Favourite Books: Nothing below a 3/5 this month!
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 7

I feel like June definitely gave me my reading mojo back! May was such a sad reading month and I had my final two essays due in the first 9 days of June and I got them submitted without too much drama. I did write one of them in basically a day (it was only 1000 words) and then edited and subbed it on the morning of the day it was due but the other one (which was 2500 words) I had already written a draft of and I spent about 3 days editing that one. It’s worth 50% of my grade and without it I was sitting on 47.5/50 so I wanted to do as well as I could on it. My marks actually get uploaded today so fingers crossed!

Not only did I read quite a bit in June but I read a lot of really really good books! I rated one 5/5 (A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman), I had 6 that I rated 4.5/5 and a further 7 that were 4/5 and the lowest I rated a book this month was 3/5 which was amazing. I was talking to my husband and my friend Theresa about this streak and no one’s sure if part of it was just me being so glad to be reading again and enjoying reading and being able to choose books that I knew I’d enjoy but whatever. I’ll take it.

Challenge check in time!

Read Non Fiction Challenge: 2/6 

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge: 32/15

Aussie Author Challenge: 5/12

My 22 in 2022: 8/22

I made some improvement in my 22 in 2022 Challenge in June! I really tried to prioritise that one a bit – I read 3 books towards it and all of them were excellent! Hopefully I can read a couple more in July and get myself to that halfway point in the challenge.

Onto the July TBR!

These are the books I have received from publishers that have July release dates – it’s not likely I will get through them all so I am intending to hopefully read about half this month and save some for another time. I do know that the Kate Forsyth book will probably be the first one I pick up because I do really love all of her novels. I’ve also heard some pretty good things about The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt so I’ll try to get to that one as well. Sixty-Seven Days sounds amazing and is also one of the choices for the Rachael Johns Online Book Club (for which I am an admin). I’ve only read one Karin Slaughter before but I really loved it so I think I’ll definitely have that one quite high on my list as well. Apart from that though, I’m not sure what else might make it into my reading this month.

I hadn’t bought any books for some time so I did have a little splurge recently – I ordered all of these and some of them will definitely be picked up in July.

I am excited about all of these obviously as I bought them but I think Elektra, Mad About You and You Made A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty are the three I am most hoping to read in July.

Also…one more book intended for reading in July:

The new Netflix adaptation of Persuasion drops this month and I definitely want to do a re-read. The past 2 months I have read one of my new clothbound hardcover classics and both of those were books I had no read. I have read Persuasion (a couple of times actually, but not for over a decade) and it’s long overdue.

I’m probably being a little ambitious for July but I figure I should while I have the time! It’s super cold and miserable at the moment, even when it’s sunny it’s freezing. And it’s predicted to rain most of next week – excellent reading weather.

I hope you all had a great reading June. Feel free to leave me any recommendations if you’ve read something on either of my piles.

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Review: The Silence Of Scheherazade by Defne Suman

The Silence Of Scheherazade
Defne Suman (translated by Betsy Göksel)
Head Of Zeus
2021, 512p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Set in the ancient city of Smyrna, this powerful novel follows the intertwining fates of four families as their peaceful city is ripped apart by the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

On an orange-tinted evening in September 1905, Scheherazade is born to an opium-dazed mother in the ancient city of Smyrna. At the very same moment, a dashing Indian spy arrives in the harbour with a secret mission from the British Empire. He sails in to golden-hued spires and minarets, scents of fig and sycamore, and the cries of street hawkers selling their wares. When he leaves, seventeen years later, it will be to the heavy smell of kerosene and smoke as the city, and its people, are engulfed in flames.

But let us not rush, for much will happen between then and now. Birth, death, romance, and grief are all to come as these peaceful, cosmopolitan streets are used as bargaining chips in the wake of the First World War. Told through the intertwining fates of a Levantine, a Greek, a Turkish, and an Armenian family, this unforgettable novel reveals a city, and a culture, now lost to time.

Every now and then I read a book which reinforces again, how poor my historical knowledge is. I’d honestly never heard of Smyrna and this time is definitely not something that I was ever taught in school. The city of Smyrna is now known as Izmir and is in modern-day Turkey. Prior to WWI, it was an ethnically diverse city of people of Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Levantine (which I also had to look up!) and other different origins, an important port on the Aegean Sea. After the war, when the Allies were planning to carve up the Ottoman Empire, the city was originally promised (by the English I think) to go back to the Greeks, who occupied it and installed a military government. However the Turkish military entered the city in 1922 and as a result, fires broke out in both the Greek and Armenian quarters. The resulting deaths were anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 citizens and thousands more (anywhere from 50,000 to 400,000) fled the city, including British, Greek and American soldiers.

This book begins in 1905 with the birth of a baby in a secluded room somewhere in the city at the same time that a man arrives from foreign shores. From there it kind of splits to follow several different people in different parts of the city throughout the years until the post-war period of turmoil as the city is handed to the Greeks but then they are unable to protect the city from the approaching Turkish army. Two of our main characters are Edith Lamarck, the daughter of a wealthy French family and Panagiota, a teenager at the time of the onset of the war, who is a daughter of ethnic Greeks and straining against the confines her mother puts upon her, after believing Panagiota to have died during her labour. Panagiota is aware that she seems responsible for mother’s happiness and at times, this puts her at odds with her mother as Panagiota wants her freedom and her mother would much rather keep her close and protected, especially as Panagiota grows more beautiful and the turbulent international situation brings more danger to their doorstep. As well as Edith, Panagiota and occasionally another character or two, we also have Scheherazade, a young woman who was found in a backyard with severe burns to her legs after the fires in 1922. She is mute but she is telling the story and eventually, all the threads tie themselves together to provide the whole picture.

For the most part, I thought this was a really intriguing story detailing a time in pretty recent history that I didn’t not know anything about. It was great to read about the city, about the different quarters and its history and how the war affected it and how it didn’t end in 1919. I thought a lot of that was done quite well but I wouldn’t particularly say that I enjoyed the characters. Edith was a struggle to get to know from a reader’s perspective and the fact that she spends almost all of the book quite addicted to opium doesn’t make that easy. She’s raised in wealth and privilege but never quite fits in with what her mother wants for her and her world is rocked by news of a mysterious inheritance. From there Edith chooses to live as an independent woman, who has a lover but never marries and who doesn’t conform to societal norms. However I wouldn’t really say that I connected to her or felt like I knew her or that I understood her. A few reveals quite late in the book made things more clear in some ways but Edith was still definitely a struggle and her opium haze definitely prevented her from engaging with the world, seemingly by choice.

Panagiota was easier to read, she was a young woman who wanted the boy she liked to notice her and her parents to stop treating her like a child – sometimes things don’t change over time! I wasn’t sure of the point of her narrative at first, other than to provide a different perspective of the events from a different, less sheltered part of the city I suppose and there’s a section in the middle where it started to become quite difficult to keep track of the time and location and character and a lot of things got quite muddled for a bit. I think this book might’ve been a fraction too long and the middle could’ve been tidied up just a little, for clarity and conciseness but when we got to the point in the story where everything was being put together, I was definitely more invested and really enjoyed those reveals and the way in which everything wove together and made all of the little mysteries suddenly crystal clear.

A solid, enjoyable read rich with history and a little bit of the unusual.

8/10

Book #102 of 2022

The Silence Of Scheherazade is book #32 of my 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader

It is also book #8 of my 22 in 2022 Challenge that I set for myself.

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Top 10 Tuesday June 28th

Hello and welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl! It features a different bookish or literary related theme each week and this week we are talking…

Top 10 Books On My Summer Winter TBR

Yes it is unfortunately winter here. It actually “becomes” winter here on the first of June, so it’s actually been winter for a while – both officially and in terms of the weather we’ve been experiencing. We’ve had two things they term a “polar vortex” which is a cold front dragged up from Antarctica, so that’s about as fun as it sounds. It’s already been mid-to-late-July weather in early June which probably doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season. Looks bound to be super cold and super rainy apparently. Which is good for reading!

Before I get into what’s on my TBR for the next couple of months, I’m going to have a look at how many titles I read from my Autumn TBR (I suspect not many as I hardly read anything in May). Looking back I read only 4 of the 10 books I had highlighted as wanting to read which is definitely one of my lower performances! Let’s hope I do better with this one.

Elektra by Jennifer Saint

I loved Ariadne so I am super keen to read this. I’ve actually tried to buy it twice recently and wasn’t able to find it so I’m going to just have to give up and order it online.

Daughter Of The Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

I currently have this out from my local library – I had it requested for months but I must’ve been quite far down the list as it only came in about two weeks ago. I’ll actually have to read this one pretty quickly as I won’t be able to renew it as I’m sure there will be lots more people waiting.

Gild by Raven Kennedy

I’d never heard of this until recently but apparently the first 3 books have caused a bit of a storm. I’ve seen it everywhere since then so I thought I’d give the first one a go (not committing to the series until after I’ve read this lol) and see if I like it.

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

I saw this the other day – the ebook comes out today I think?! But the paperback doesn’t come out until November which is a bit disappointing. Anyway this sounds so fun – another book that contains a writing/editing plot and also, someone is dead? I really want some books just like this one at the moment.

Book Of Night by Holly Black

I preordered this so I’ve had it since it came out…..which is like a month and a half? Nearly two months? But I haven’t read it yet and I keep hearing that people are pretty disappointed with it. People who loved The Folk of the Air series (which I did), who expected to love this. There’s so many that they’re kind of hard to ignore, even though I know you shouldn’t worry too much about what other people thought or let it put you off. But it did mean that this went from something I’d read the moment it arrived to something that is still sitting on my TBR shelf.

Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I’ve seen this a lot of places recently and it looks very fun. Definitely something I think I would like.

You Made A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

I just ordered this after hearing someone in a podcast I listen to rave about it and also some on BookTube as well. Hopefully I love it!

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Netflix have an adaptation of this one coming next month I think. I haven’t read it in over 11 years so I’d like to refresh my memory before I watch it. And since I last read it I have bought the hardback clothbound version, so gives me an excuse to pull that one off the shelf.

Rule Of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

This is on my 22 in 2022 list that I set for myself and I’m still a bit behind the pace I probably should be on. I really want to get this one read and wrap up this duology.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I read Transcendent Kingdom recently and really enjoyed it. Definitely keen to read this even more now – I already own it and it’s also on my 22 in 2022 list!

These are just 10 of the books I plan to read this winter – have you read any of them? Let me know if I should be prioritising them highly or maybe pushing them down my list a bit!

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Review: The Signal Line by Brendan Colley

The Signal Line
Brendan Colley
Transit Lounge Publishing
2022, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Brothers Geo and Wes are testing their relationship now that their parents have passed away. Geo and Wes rarely agree on anything, especially not the sale of the Hobart family home. Geo needs the money to finance his musical career in Italy. For Wes the house represents the memory of their father, and what it means to live an honest, working life.

But then a ghost train appears in Hobart, often on the tram tracks that once existed, along with the Swedish man who has been pursuing it for 40 years.

Everyone it seems is chasing their dreams. Or are they running from the truth?

The Signal Line is a warm-hearted, unforgettable novel about what we are all searching for, even when our personal dreams and aspirations have collapsed: love and acceptance.

This is definitely one of the more unusual books that I’ve read lately.

Geo is about thirty and has returned from living overseas where he’s been for the past few years, to Tasmania Australia to see about selling his parents’ home that he and his brother have inherited. His older brother Wes, who is about ten years older than Geo, is not keen and the two brothers are basically at odds from the moment Geo arrives. They’ve never really been close – the age gap and the fact that they’re very different coupled with the fact that they had very different experiences growing up in the family home has led to quite a distance between them.

The same day Geo arrives by plane, a mysterious train discharges a bunch of passengers along a disused line in Hobart, who claim to be from Rome, Italy and that they boarded the train just a short time before. Geo, who has been living in Italy, is used by Wes to translate the stories of the passengers and they are all consistent and they are all stunned to apparently find themselves in Hobart. Shortly after that, Wes and Geo meet a mysterious man who claims to know someone that can help him solve the mystery of the passengers – a man from Sweden who has pursuing the “ghost train” for the previous forty years.

For me personally, a lot of the strength in the story was the way the author conveyed the story of Geo and Wes. This is Geo’s story, so we do see everything through his eyes – his relationship with Wes, his relationship with his father, the relationship and bond he had with his mother. Wes is a police detective and it seems like during the time Geo has been overseas, the two haven’t really been in contact and Geo is surprised at the developments in Wes’ life. It’s quite clear that Wes seems to resent Geo for leaving or for spending time and money chasing his dream, which is to be a viola player in an orchestra. He’s had a lot of auditions and does play with a quartet in Rome, but he wants an orchestra position. Wes seems to view this as an overindulgent waste of time and he’s also critical of Geo for the way Geo views their father, even though Wes had a very different experience in terms of his relationship with their father. Geo has left a lot out, perhaps choosing to protect Wes’ view but it leads to the two not seeing eye to eye on pretty much anything. There’s a lot of tension and arguments as Wes does not want to sell the family home and Geo is basically of the view of well, either you buy me out and keep it yourself, or we sell it. I don’t want it. He also needs the money to continue to further his pursuit of an orchestra position, which seems to only further make Wes resent that ambition.

I was intrigued by the ghost train idea at first – it seemed like it could go a number of ways but to be honest, the amount of random characters that drifted in and out of this story that Geo ended up inviting to stay at the house or ending up being connected with, kind of bogged it down for me a little bit. I was less interested in them and all their stories and why they were there (honestly for the most part most of them felt like they had no point really being in the story, with the exception of the Swedish guy and the guy from the bookstore). The deeper into the story of the ghost train and the calculations and the predictions and I began to kind of lose interest in it because I was less interested in when and where it would appear and more interested in the actual story of it but that wasn’t explored in any satisfying way for me. And everyone’s vague way of imparting knowledge and the weirdness of the journalist/investigative guy of many names outlived its novelty.

So for me, this one had excellent family relationships and portrayal of them – the stuff with Wes and his family and Geo watching all of this as a bystander as well as his own struggles with Wes, his unresolved feelings about his father, etc – all very good. And the ghost train felt promising when I first started the novel but it just didn’t end up holding my interest in the way that it probably should have.

6/10

Book #103 of 2022

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Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe
Madeline Miller
Bloomsbury
2019, 333p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

I really loved Madeline Miller’s The Song Of Achilles which it took me probably 4-5 years after buying it to read. I only bought Circe in October of 2021, so when it comes to her next book I definitely got to it much quicker.

I’ve read a few more mythology adaptations since The Song Of Achilles but my knowledge is still pretty rudimentary. Which to be honest, isn’t necessarily a bad thing because I have no preconceived ideas going in, nothing that I feel should or should not be included. Circe is the story of well, Circe, the daughter of Helios, the sun God and Perse, a nymph daughter of Oceanus. Circe is considered by her family and the other various nymphs and gods and the like, to be particularly unattractive and with a voice that is seen as weak and harsh on their ears. She is often alienated and tormented by the siblings that came after her, mostly left to her own devices. She adores her father and constantly follows him or is near him, seeking his approval, but he rarely pays much in the way of attention to her. Circe has several probably more famous relatives: her sister births Ariadne and the Minotaur, her brother is the father of Medea. For her role in witchcraft in which she changes a man she wishes to marry and then the one he chooses instead of her, Circe is banished to an island to live there forever, forbidden to leave in order to avoid a war between the Titans and the Olympians.

It’s been a while since I read The Song Of Achilles but I’ve read a couple of other mythological retellings more recently, all of which include characters that also appeared in this book, albeit in much more minor roles. For example, Circe briefly interacts with her niece Ariade when she goes to Crete to help her sister birth the Minotaur and Odysseus spends a year with Circe on her island. This is written with the same lyrical beauty of Madeline Miller’s first novel and she tells a complex story woven so well, adding her own twist on Circe’s childhood, her banishment for her practice of witchcraft and how she spends years on her island, honing her skills. I particularly enjoyed the method Circe developed of dealing with sailors who came to her island, enjoyed her hospitality and upon realising she was alone, thought they’d help themselves to more than just that. It’s a small way in which she can have power, even though it comes from an event where she is rendered powerless.

I have an almost non-existent knowledge of Greek mythology and it honestly really doesn’t matter. The book gives enough explanation in the background of the characters as well as some sketching in about the Titans and the Olympians and anything you don’t know, can be easily discovered by doing a little searching. For me, the strength in these books is just….the actual experience of the characters themselves. Reading about Circe from her perspective, and even though a lot of her experiences are shaped and dominated by men (her father, Zeus, Prometheus, Hermes, Odysseus, etc) this is still a female experience, seen through a female gaze and a lot of Circe’s journey is her finding a way to grasp her own agency and break the shackles that have been placed upon her. It’s not a quick or easy process and there’s plenty that happens in her life along the way that it’s easy to find a bit frustrating but watching Circe start to understand her power and use it, especially to protect her son in the future, ends up being an incredibly powerful experience.

I really loved this – it’s rich and engrossing and so easy to read, even if you don’t have the background knowledge, like me! It makes me want to read other mythological retellings (next up will be Elektra by Jennifer Saint, which is a pretty anticipated release for me) and I can’t wait to see what Madeline Miller chooses to tackle next because her books are just phenomenal.

If you loved Song of Achilles or Ariadne or The Penelopiad or the Pat Barker Women Of Troy duology, you’ll love this as well.

9/10

Book #98 of 2022

This is book #31 of the 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader

This is also book #6 of my 22 in 2022 Challenge (which I am really trying to get back on track with).

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Review: Black River by Matthew Spencer

Black River
Matthew Spencer
Allen & Unwin
2022, 343p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A long, burning summer in Sydney. A young woman found murdered in the deserted grounds of an elite boarding school. A serial killer preying on victims along the banks of the Parramatta River. A city on edge.

Adam Bowman, a battling journalist who grew up as the son of a teacher at Prince Albert College, might be the only person who can uncover the links between the school murder and the ‘Blue Moon Killer’. But he will have to go into the darkest places of his childhood to piece together the clues. Detective Sergeant Rose Riley, meanwhile, is part of the taskforce desperately trying to find the killer before he strikes again. Adam Bowman’s excavation of his past might turn out to be Rose’s biggest trump card or it may bring the whole investigation crashing down, and put her own life in danger.

It’s been a while since I read a good crime novel – I have to be in the mood for one, especially if I feel like it’s going to be one that increases anxiety!

When a young teenager discovers a body wrapped in plastic on the grounds of a boarding school, it has the media in a frenzy as they believe it to be the next victim of a killer that has been dubbed “BMK” – the Blue Moon Killer, who has two victims already so far, found at different places on the same river. In each case, it was clear the BMK had stalked their victims for some time, knew their movements and patterns. But other than the victims both being young and female, the task force put together to investigate cannot find any other link. The most recent victim is also young and female, the daughter of the chaplain of the school but other than that, there are a few things that seem to suggest that this crime is a bit different from the others. There’s enough to suggest that it could be BMK – but also a few things that raise some questions.

Journalist Adam Bowman is not a crime reporter but for his teen years, he lived on the grounds of the boarding school where the latest body has been found and that’s enough for his editor to send him out there looking for a different angle. Adam uses his intimate knowledge of the school to bypass the police cordon and get access that no other journalists get and it’s enough to get the cops to offer him a deal – if he helps them, they’ll make sure he will get proper access to stories, when the time comes. But he has to sit on things that they ask him to. For Adam, it seems like an idea situation – he’s in his 40s, works the graveyard shift, has never really gone anywhere in his career. Working with them in this situation can lead to perhaps even being able to write a book about this, in the future. He has no idea that Rose Riley, the Detective Sergeant, has her own suspicions about Adam, who always seems to be in the right place to make an interesting discovery and knows this area intimately – something they’ve already established that the killer does too. She’s definitely keeping an eye on him.

This was a really solid debut and I enjoyed a lot of things about the story. It was great to see a different setting – although the story still revolves around wealth and privilege, with the crime scene being the grounds of an exclusive boarding school where the rich and elite send their children, it was in a location I don’t see much in fiction, on the Parramatta River in Sydney’s west. Even though Adam went to the school, he wasn’t from a background of wealth and was there because his father taught at the school and the family lived in one of the houses on the grounds, which was an option a lot of staff took advantage of. The school is also the source of a trauma from his childhood and he didn’t finish out his schooling there although few people know what happened.

I really liked the dynamic between Adam and Rose although at times, Adam is quite oblivious to some of Rose’s deep suspicions. She knows they cannot afford to make a mistake – the eyes of the city are on them to solve this and solve it quickly, before there are more victims. The crimes are deeply disturbing, although there are things about the third victim that are different from the previous two. Her boss is the sort of man who has stuck his neck out before and they need to make sure that they have investigated everything thoroughly and not missed a single thing that could potentially lead to the perpetrator getting away or being at large long enough to select another victim and carry out another murder. Sometimes though, it seems like the list of potential suspects includes almost everyone that they talk to who is still on the grounds of the school over the summer break and it’s up to them to find what they need to narrow it down.

This definitely kept me guessing the whole way through. I’m not sure if it’s intended to be a series but I feel as though it could go that way if the author wanted to bring Rose and the other police like O’Neill and Patel back as well as Adam to work the journalist angle but it also works perfectly well as a standalone novel. Either way, I definitely will be reading Matthew Spence’s next book!

8/10

Book #100 of 2022

Going to include this one in my 2022 Aussie Author Challenge. It’s the 5th book read so far and it’s also an author that is new to me.

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Review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom
Yaa Gyasi
Viking
2021, 288p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: As a child Gifty would ask her parents to tell the story of their journey from Ghana to Alabama, seeking escape in myths of heroism and romance. When her father and brother succumb to the hard reality of immigrant life in the American South, their family of four becomes two – and the life Gifty dreamed of slips away.

Years later, desperate to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed her brother’s life, she turns to science for answers. But when her mother comes to stay, Gifty soon learns that the roots of their tangled traumas reach farther than she ever thought. Tracing her family’s story through continents and generations will take her deep into the dark heart of modern America.

I am on a reading roll at the moment, almost everything I pick up has been incredible. And this book was no exception.

I bought Yaa Gyasi’s first novel Homegoing last year for Love Your Bookshop Day and I’ve had my eye on this one, her second novel, since before that, even though I haven’t actually read Homegoing yet and I ordered it a month or two ago. I picked it up on a whim because I’m trying to make sure I read books when I buy them (it’s a work in progress). It is relatively short, coming in under 300 pages and looked like the sort of book I could read in an afternoon. And I did.

Gifty is in her late twenties and finishing up her final year of a Ph.D program at Stanford University in California when her mother’s priest contacts her and says that her mother is having some mental health struggles again. Gifty saw her mother sink into a deep depression when she was about 11, so she arranges for her mother to be brought out to California. Her mother came to the United States from Ghana before Gifty was born, ostensibly to give her older brother Nana, the world, believing that he was an exceptional child who deserved whatever America had to offer. She settled in Alabama with a cousin and was joined later by her husband and then Gifty was born. The family struggled, Gifty’s mother working long hours for little pay as an in-home carer and her father worked as a janitor. It was often up to Nana and Gifty to get themselves to and from school. Nana was a gifted athlete who excelled first at soccer and then at basketball, with college scouts even coming to watch his high school games.

Yaa Gyasi manages to pack so much into this book without the narrative ever feeling crowded. Through Gifty’s youthful eyes we are treated to the story of her mother coming to America from Ghana and the salvation she found in the local Church, even as she faced casual racism from the locals. Gifty as a young girl was determined to be ‘good’ – I think she could always see her mother’s favouritism for Nana, she seemed to want to do as much as she could to be seen as good and well behaved in her mother’s eyes and that often came out as a religious fervour in her younger years. As well somewhat obvious parental favouritism, Gifty also experiences parental abandonment at a young age There’s also a study of addiction, the stigma around it and the ways in which people who had previously looked to ingratiate themselves, abandoned them. The sleepless nights, the never-ending search every time the addict falls off the wagon and the culmination.

When Gifty is an adult, her Ph.D study is looking at neural pathways in rats trying to isolate the one that seeks pleasure. It’s an attempt to understand addiction and that maybe, if the determination to seek out that pleasure no matter the consequences, can be overridden then perhaps there is potential to use this method to treat addicts. It is so obvious how much of her life has been dominated by the experience she has with addiction and her entire academic life has seemed to revolve around understanding the brain in an attempt to perhaps find a way to break the cycle of dependence. According to the Author’s Note in the back of the book, Yaa Gyasi took this study from a close friend of hers and Gifty’s work as an adult is a replication of that. It’s incredibly interesting although some of the scenes detailing Gifty’s work might be hard to read for those who are sensitive to scenes with animals being used in science.

I am coming at Yaa Gyasi’s books backwards – I bought Homegoing first but haven’t read it yet. I bought this one just recently but ended up reading it almost immediately. She’s a consummate writer, able to say so much in what isn’t a particularly long book. I really enjoyed this, I think it explores its topics with a lot of depth and sensitivity but it never feels crowded or like you’re bouncing from one issue to the next. It’s a snapshot of a family, the grief and loss that they experienced in the quest by Gifty’s mother to give her son the world. Or to give the world her son.

I thought this was phenomenal and now I must push Homegoing further up my TBR and get to it as soon as I can.

9/10

Book #96 of 2022

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Review: The Making Of Her by Bernadette Jiwa

The Making Of Her
Bernadette Jiwa
Bantam
2022, 352p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A moving, intergenerational novel set in 1990s Dublin about a woman reconnected with the daughter she gave up for adoption who gets in touch after thirty years, setting off an exploration into past secrets.

Dublin 1996. Joan Egan lives an enviable life. She and her husband, Martin, and daughter, Carmel, are thriving in Dublin at the dawn of the Celtic Tiger economic boom. But everything changes when Joan receives a letter from Emma, the daughter who she and Martin gave up for adoption.

While Joan grapples with the pain and regret of giving up her baby long ago, she must confront her present as the cracks in her marriage become impossible to ignore and simmering tension with Carmel boils over. Meanwhile, Carmel and Emma struggle to come to terms with the perceived sins of their mother, and to imagine a future for their family before it is too late.

Spanning the nineties and the sixties, with Dublin as its backdrop, The Making of Her is the tender and heartbreaking story of marriage, motherhood, a culture that would not allow a woman to find true happiness—and her journey to finally claim it.

I picked this book up intending to read maybe 100p as it was mid-afternoon, I’d finished and submitted my last university essay of the semester and we were having 13 people over for dinner that night. Instead I ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting because I could not put it down.

From the first page I was drawn into Joan’s story. When the book opens in 1996, she’s a woman who is maybe 50 or so, married to Martin and owner of a thriving family business that their daughter Carmel also works in. Joan seems to have it all – lovely house, beautiful family, everything she could ever want or need. But below the surface, the reality is very different.

The book splits its time between the ‘present’ – which is Dublin in 1996 but also travels back in time to the 60s, when Joan was a teenager. From a poor area, Joan suffered much when she was young in a family that had too many children, not enough money and altogether too much grief. She is busy working in a factory by the time she is in her mid-teens and it’s walking to and from work that she first sees Martin. At the time, she knows he’s not local to her area but she has no idea that he’s actually the son of probably the wealthiest and most privileged family.

It’s a story as old as time – boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love, despite knowing boy’s family would not approve. And boy and girl eventually get into trouble, as boys and girls do, which in conservative Dublin in the 1960s, is tantamount to disaster. Joan believes that Martin has a plan and they escape together to London. And the consequences of what happens there have lived in Joan every day ever since, until thirty years later when she hears from the child she gave up for adoption. The child that Martin made her keep a secret, never breathing a word of her existence to anyone.

When the book begins in 1996, Joan ruminates on the fact that divorce has just become legal and the discussion that the decision has generated in the community. That is only just over 25 years ago so you can imagine how conservative the situation would have been thirty years before that, when Joan is an unmarried woman who ‘got into trouble’ as the saying goes. And it would’ve been Joan who would’ve born the brunt of the fallout, if it had become public. If they’d gone their separate ways, Martin would’ve found another girlfriend or woman to marry with no trouble whatsoever. But Joan would’ve been seen in an entirely different light.

Whilst Martin is seemingly able to put the birth of the first baby behind him without a second thought, Joan is not able to do this. She learns to keep her thoughts on the inside though, as anytime she tries to bring them up with Martin, she is shut down unrelentingly and he absolutely refuses to engage with her in any way about what happened and later on, becomes so angry whenever she tries to bring it up that she learns not to. As the story unfolds it becomes obvious I think, that Martin dominated Joan in everything, ruthlessly using his position of privilege over her to keep her quiet and everything in Joan’s life is a constant reminder that it exists because of Martin. He “rescued” her from her life. And now what she has – the big house, the comfortable income, everything she could dream of, it’s all because of him. She is always aware of this and if she weren’t, her overbearing mother-in-law, who it seems has always lived with them, is more than happy to shove it in her face on the daily. Even after close to thirty years of marriage where Joan has apparently been the perfect wife to Martin, her mother-in-law still believes that she is ‘gutter trash’ because she comes from a family who were of a disadvantaged background.

The book is told from several points of view: Joan, switching between 1996 and the 1960s as well as the daughter she gave up for adoption, who has contacted Joan for the first time, sending everything in Joan’s life into question and also Carmel, the daughter that Joan and Martin had later on, after the adoption when they went back home to Dublin and married. It lays out why Emma has chosen now to contact Joan and also what Joan is willing to do, in order to meet with Emma and help her with what she needs and also, how Carmel comes to understand some of the greatest mysteries of her childhood, which until now, have been unfathomable. And Emma getting in contact is the catalyst for Joan remembering herself, choosing what she wants and what she needs rather than what Martin tells her.

I thought this was an amazing, engrossing story from a debut author and I’ll definitely be looking for Bernadette Jiwa’s next novel.

9/10

Book #97 of 2022

The Making Of Her is book #30 of my 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader

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Review: The Coast by Eleanor Limprecht

The Coast
Eleanor Limprecht
Allen & Unwin
2022, 311p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Alice is only nine years old in 1910 when she is sent to the feared Coast Hospital lazaret at Little Bay in Sydney, a veritable prison where more patients are admitted than will ever leave. She is told that she’s visiting her mother, who disappeared one day when Alice was two. Once there, Alice learns her mother is suffering from leprosy and that she has the same disease.

As she grows up, the secluded refuge of the lazaret becomes Alice’s entire world, her mother and the other patients and medical staff her only human contact. The patients have access to a private sandstone-edged beach, their own rowboat, a piano and a library of books, but Alice is tired of the smallness of her life and is thrilled by the thought of the outside world. It is only when Guy, a Yuwaalaraay man wounded in World War I, arrives at The Coast, that Alice begins to experience what she has yearned for, as they become friends and then something deeper.

Filled with vivid descriptions of the wild beauty of the sea cliffs and beaches surrounding the harsh isolation of the lazaret, and written in evocative prose, The Coast is meticulously researched historical fiction that holds a mirror to the present day. Heartbreaking and soul-lifting, it is a universal story of love, courage, sacrifice and resilience.

A couple of months ago I read a book which referenced the Coast hospital in Sydney in the late 1800s, when it was a containment centre for smallpox. It wasn’t an overly dominant part of the story but it was my first introduction to something that I hadn’t known existed before then so when I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it and learn more about these colonies. The Coast hospital also became a colony for those suffering from leprosy as well. Anyone who was found to have leprosy was removed from society and placed within these isolated compounds, where they were to live until the disease took them or until they had a certain number of negative swabs in a certain amount of time. Not a lot was understood about the disease by many and there was widespread panic about the population becoming infected, despite the fact that it generally took prolonged close contact for the disease to be transmitted and a lot of people actually had a natural immunity. The Coast treated many different ailments, like tuberculosis, the Spanish Flu, other war injuries and patients were generally segregated based on what they were diagnosed with, which was the way of treating diseases seen as infectious at the time.

Alice is a young girl when she is taken to the Coast hospital. Her mother is already there and her grandfather also spent time there. Although isolated, the life there could be worse – for the first time in her life probably, Alice has enough to eat and many of the medical staff are kind. She also gets to spend time with her mother, who was taken when she was just a toddler. But it’s still like being in jail in a way, even though they have access to a beach and Alice is separated from family members she loves. Plus living in the colony is experiencing grief over and over as people are taken by the disease.

The narrative in this book is split between Alice, a young Aboriginal man named Guy, Alice’s mother Clea, and Will, a doctor who works at the Coast. I really liked that format as it gave a really rounded view of different things. Guy, as an Aboriginal man who is diagnosed with leprosy is sent to a Queensland colony where they also segregate based on colour as well as sex and the people of colour have quite a different experience in the camps to those who are white. Will provides a medical voice, someone who treats the patients with sensitivity and compassion. He particularly comes to care for Alice, having looked after her medically since she was just a child and enjoying her humour and intelligence. He provides her with books and conversation as well as care that doesn’t make her feel like her disease makes her any less.

When Alice and Guy meet, it also gives Alice to experience something that she might never have otherwise – romance. The two meet when Alice is in her 20s and after Guy has experienced many things: being removed from his home for being ‘half-caste’ and taken to learn how to ‘integrate’ as well as fighting overseas in World War One. Reading about the way he is treated, both as a child (especially as a child?) and after, when he is sent to the first leprosy camp, was quite difficult. What the people in charge did to Aboriginal children for decades is such a travesty. Ripping children from their homes and forcing them into institutions so that the girls could learn to become domestic staff and the boys labourers, making them forget their languages and cultures. However they were certainly happy to take the young men to fight a war for a country that didn’t even grant them citizenship status. The descriptions of Guy (then known as Jack, the leprosy patients are told to take new names on intake, to protect their families from the stigma, I think) fighting with the Lighthorse Brigade in the Middle East are brutal and so realistic I felt like I was dehydrated just reading it.

Likewise the way leprosy patients were treated was also incredibly brutal. Children like Alice being removed from what they had known and sent to isolated hospitals where they would be forced to live out their lives. Alice is ‘lucky’ in a way, as her mother is already there and she gets to actually know her. But Alice’s mother was removed from her own children, one of whom was still breastfeeding and the only reason she was ever able see them again was because they too, arrived there eventually. They are forbidden to ever leave (unless they have the right amount of negative swabs which means their body has successfully fought off the disease) and although some of the medical staff are kind and considerate, there are also some that are not.

This gave me a real insight into something from history that I did not know a whole lot about before reading this. It’s an engrossing story written from various points of view that give a lot of really interesting angles and also help to broaden the reader’s experience of understanding what it was like for various people in various hospitals and that the experience wasn’t universal.

I thought this was incredible and would love to read the author’s previous novels now.

9/10

Book #95 of 2022

This book counts towards my 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader. It is book #29 of the challenge so far.

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Review: The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Dance Tree
Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Picador
2022, 304p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: In Strasbourg, in the boiling hot summer of 1518, a plague strikes the women of the city. First it is just one – a lone figure, dancing in the main square – but she is joined by more and more and the city authorities declare an emergency. Musicians will be brought in. The devil will be danced out of these women.

Just beyond the city’s limits, pregnant Lisbet lives with her mother-in-law and husband, tending the bees that are their livelihood. Her best friend Ida visits regularly and Lisbet is so looking forward to sharing life and motherhood with her. And then, just as the first woman begins to dance in the city, Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe returns from six years’ penance in the mountains for an unknown crime. No one – not even Ida – will tell Lisbet what Nethe did all those years ago, and Nethe herself will not speak a word about it.

It is the beginning of a few weeks that will change everything for Lisbet – her understanding of what it is to love and be loved, and her determination to survive at all costs for the baby she is carrying. Lisbet and Nethe and Ida soon find themselves pushing at the boundaries of their existence – but they’re dancing to a dangerous tune . . . 

This was such an incredible book.

It’s based on real life events – occasions of “mass dancing” that occurred during this time for inexplicable reasons and started with one person and eventually grew into hundreds. People who danced all day and night for days, sometimes people danced until they died. It is a strange phenomenon.

Lisbet is a pregnant woman, hoping for her first living child. She has suffered innumerable losses and sees the way it has changed the way her husband looks at her. They live outside of Strasbourg, on a small farm, tending bees during a time when there is widespread starvation. They have enough to get by but little else and their lives are overshadowed by a neighbour, the henchmen of the “twenty-one”, some sort of religious affiliate or organisation that dominate or control the local area. Early in the book, Lisbet’s husband is summoned to another city to prove that his bees do not steal from that belonging to the church when they search for the pollen from flowers on church land. Just before he leaves, his sister returns from a convent high in the mountains where she has spent the last six or seven years doing “penance” for a crime Lisbet remains in the dark about.

I became so immersed in the world of Lisbet and her mother in law Sophey as well as Anethe, her husband’s sister, when she returns from the mountains. Their lives are not easy (Anethe’s in particular) and it’s also incredibly hot and dry, the weather adding an atmosphere of oppression to the book. Lisbet is balancing her freedom (or this version of it) with trying to keep from overdoing it after many difficult pregnancies.

“We women, we bear the brunt. We are bred or banished, and always, always damned.”

A lot of this book highlights a lack of power and agency of women during this time. Agnethe has experienced shocking punishment for her ‘crime’, given an impossible choice. The women are often powerless when Lisbet’s husband is absent (which he is for pretty much this entire book) and they are beholden to the whims and orders of the man who does the church’s bidding, to give this amount of beeswax or that amount of something else or to give shelter to two musicians when they organise them to ‘play the dancing out’ of the people possessed. There’s an ominous feeling of foreboding, women are often arrested, charged and sentenced to horrific things and all of the positions of power are of course, held by men. Women have babies and work hard and do what they are told. Lisbet is at times, quite defiant and rebellious in her own way, sometimes secretly, sometimes more blatantly. She is also drawn into a dangerous friendship during a time that sees people from a faraway place as ‘other’, not equal.

I didn’t guess what the ‘crime’ was that Agnethe had committed – I had figured it was something along the lines of what Lisbet herself assumed, considering no one would tell her. When she does find out, it’s the sort of thing that she has to fight her prejudice about but ultimately, she does. She sees others in a different light, as well, with how they reacted to it. It gives her new feelings about her husband and also her mother in law, a woman she had not previously found much harmony with. By the end of the novel though the women have shown their strength and resilience, they have found a way to put aside differences and do something when others would stand by and do nothing. What they managed to accomplish, even though it partially ended in tragedy, was still remarkable and Lisbet in particular, is shown to be able to do what it takes to secure her safety and that of her unborn child.

This is a remarkably written book, showcasing just how powerful religion was, how it governed everything and dictated what could or could not be done, celebrated, mourned. It is the reason for everything – God is the reason for the oppressive weather, the failed crops, for some reason, they have displeased him. And of course it is men who interpret these messages from above and implement what they feel would appease their God, make amends and make his grace and favour shine on them again.

I really do have to read The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave now because this was brilliant and I definitely need to have more of her work in my life.

9/10

Book #94 of 2022

This is book #28 of my 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader

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