All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Hideaway by Sheila O’Flanagan

The Hideaway
Sheila O’Flanagan
Headline Review
2018, 432p
Copy courtesy of Hachette AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

What would you do if you discovered you were living a lie?

When a shocking news report shatters Juno Ryan’s world, she suddenly finds herself without the man she loves – and with no way of getting the answers she so desperately needs.

A distraught Juno flees to the enchanting Villa Naranja in Spain. The blue skies and bountiful orange groves – along with Pep, the winemaker’s handsome son – begin to soothe her broken heart, but only Juno herself can mend it.

Just when she begins to feel whole again another bombshell falls. Can Juno put the past behind her? And will she ever learn to trust herself again?

I have read a few Sheila O’Flanagan books but it’d be quite a while ago now. My grandmother is quite a big fan and buys her books when they come out, a few of which she’s passed onto me. This is the first one I’ve read in a long time and I really enjoyed it.

Juno is in a very bad way. She’s been hit with not only a devastating loss out of no where but then a betrayal that she never saw coming. She finds herself struggling to do her job at work, breaking down at the most inopportune times. Her work places her on unpaid leave and friend offers her several weeks of rest and relaxation at her grandmother’s place in Spain. It’s mostly sitting empty, unable to be sold because it’s a little too far from the ocean for summer holiday home.

Juno arrives bravely in the dead of night, settling herself in, musing at the slight spookiness of it all. As the only practical one in a family of dramatic and theatrical people she’s not usually given to flights of fancy but she can’t help wondering about the possibility of ghosts in her neglected holiday home. By daylight it’s not quite so spooky although it’s looking a little dated and never good at being idle, Juno finds herself mending shutters and painting walls to freshen it up a little.

Juno’s world is so rocked when she arrives in Spain, she isn’t sure she can really see a way forward. She was expecting her life to go one way and that’s been completely turned upside down, not just in one way but in two. I think it would be tempting to hole up at the villa, to just wallow but Juno makes an effort in the local community and quickly becomes a subject of interest. A foreigner, staying all alone apart from a young, handsome pool cleaner who visits regularly. Juno is mostly amused as she joins in the local festivities and a little bewildered. I think she’s long thought of herself as the forgotten member of her family – a later in life baby for her mother, sensible and practical, not quite as given to the drama as various members of her family. She’s not sure why she drums up so much interest and doesn’t see herself as doing anything unusual.

I absolutely adored the setting of this book. The Villa Naranja sounded so enchanting – it’s not right on the coast like a large array of holiday and resort towns but situated a little further inland, among wine country and with its own orange grove. It needed a little TLC, it’s owner having died and the rest of the family not able to visit it often but it’s the perfect setting for Juno to come to terms with her loss and decide how to move forward with her life. I absolutely loved the character of Banquo too, a source of great comfort to Juno and the twist regarding Banquo was very sweet and unexpected.

There’s a small element of romance in this, it’s more a suggestion and I’m in two minds about it. I love the character and I love them together, I just feel as though it was slightly awkward, given who he is and the people it would bring Juno into contact with in the future. But mostly this book is about Juno herself, making her way through this horrible tragic event that is both hers and not hers to grieve over and dealing with it and then learning to move forward. I think Juno also learns a lot about herself during this process as well, the things that she’s capable of and I was really into that whole part of the story. The focus is so much on Juno’s strength as a person, but also her weaknesses as well. Her grief is so raw in the beginning and although she isn’t completely ‘healed’ at the end, you can tell where her life is going and it’s a very positive and uplifting direction.

This was a really engrossing read – the warmth of the setting helped take my mind off the depressing winter weather I’m currently experiencing and it’s definitely made me keen to read Sheila O’Flanagan’s books more often and not leave it so long until the next one!

8/10

Book #106 of 2018

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Review: April In Paris, 1921 by Tessa Lunney

April In Paris, 1921 
Tessa Lunney
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 307p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Meet the glamorous, witty and charming Kiki Button: socialite, private detective and spy. We all have secrets – it’s just that Kiki has more than most … For fans of Phryne Fisher and Julian Fellowes.

It’s 1921, and after two years at home in Australia, Katherine King Button has had enough. Her rich parents have ordered her to get married, but after serving as a nurse during the horrors of the Great War, she has vowed never to take orders again. She flees her parents and the prison of their expectations for the place of friendship and freedom: Paris.

Paris in 1921 is the city of freedom, the place where she can remake herself as Kiki Button, gossip columnist extraordinaire, partying with the rich and famous, the bohemian and bold, the suspicious and strange.

But on the modelling dais, Picasso gives her a job: to find his wife’s portrait, which has gone mysteriously missing. That same night, her old spymaster from the war contacts her – she has to find a double agent or face jail. Through parties, whisky and informants, Kiki has to use every ounce of her determination, her wit and her wiles to save herself, the man she adores, and the life she has come to love – in just one week.

Full of witty banter, gorgeous frocks, fast action and skulduggery galore, April in Paris,1921 is playful, charming, witty, sexy, and very, very entertaining – and Kiki Button, the fearless, beautiful and blonde-bobbed Australienne ex-Army nurse, gossip-columnist-turned-detective, and reluctant spy, is a heroine to win hearts.

I have some mixed feelings about this one.

I love the idea. The 1920s are an interesting time – the war is over, it was a time of regrowth, some decadence, etc. It’s still a bit early for the threat of Germany to rise (although there are rumblings) and there was good clothes, music, dancing, eating, drinking, laughing etc. I don’t really care about Paris as a setting – someone told me recently that Paris sells books and I know it’s super high on a lot of people’s wish lists and loves. But I don’t really have much of an interest in it and I’m not drawn to it, so that part of the story didn’t really fill me with excitement.

Kiki (short for Katherine) is an Australian woman who has fled her wealthy family back to Europe, landing in London to link up with a friend whom she hopes can help her out with a job. Kiki’s father wants her to find a suitable husband and he’s cut her off from the family funds until she does. So Kiki gets herself a job as a sort of gossip columnist in Paris, attending lavish parties and writing about them for a London paper. It’s a whirlwind of dresses, cocktails and beautiful people.

But Kiki also has a bit of a secret past in the war. She worked as a nurse but also as a spy for an enigmatic ‘handler’ type who immediately knows when she’s back in Europe and sends her a message. He’s holding something over her head in order to get her to comply with his wishes for her to flush out a mole within his ranks.

Kiki is exhausting. I found the constant whirlwind of dances and drinking and events and socialising trying to be honest. They wake up late, meet in a cafe and drink and eat then go home and get dressed up for some event or other and spend more time drinking until the wee hours before stumbling home to bed and repeat forever. I’m not really into drinking, I get super bored reading about characters where all they do is drink from the time they get up. I find it incredibly tedious and although it’s probably true to the time it just becomes very repetitive and I tend to lose focus on the more important aspects of the story.

The spying plot was really interesting but it got bogged down a lot in Kiki’s phone interactions with her handler Fox which basically involves them quoting Romantic poetry at each other. I’m not sure why that’s a thing – Fox seems like one of those “cruel to be kind” type people who breaks someone before rebuilding them in his own mould. Kiki definitely has a lot of mixed feelings about Fox. She claims to not want anything to do with him and that if not for the blackmail she wouldn’t but there’s no denying she gets a rush from the spy work and that she’s quite good at it. Kiki is much more intelligent than she probably gets credit for – perhaps that’s all part of it. The pretty blonde partying Australian woman, the last person you’d suspect. I really liked reading about Kiki investigating, planning, extricating herself from situations, putting everything together. That was really enjoyable. By far the best part of the book. Despite the fact that I don’t really enjoy the character of Fox, I want to know more about him (not in relation to Kiki, just in general). Kiki does suffer in this book from the “everyone they know falls in love with them” sort of thing – even Fox, it would appear. This seems the first in a series, because several things go unresolved at the end, so I’m sure Kiki will reappear in another adventure in the future.

I liked parts of this but I found some sections a little bit of a struggle. However I think I’d probably read another Kiki book just to see where things go.

6/10

Book #103 of 2018

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Top 10 Tuesday 19th June

Welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday, created and formerly hosted by The Broke & The Bookish and now living with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. Our topic this week is:

Top 10 Beach/Pool Reads!

It’s a little hard for me to think of books for this at the moment. It’s winter here and we’ve just come off a 4 day cold snap, the coldest June weather for years. And we had several days of rain. Today the sun is at least shining but we are probably still in single digit temperatures which for some of you northerners with regular snow, might not be much to complain about. But in a country famed for its good weather, it’s definitely something we are feeling. So…..these are the top 10 books I wish I was reading by a pool or at the beach right now. For beach/pool reads I like light but engrossing reads as well as books I can really sink my teeth into that I don’t often have time for in day to day life. Also books that may have passed me by when they first were published. So here’s a few I’m yet to read, but wishing I was…..

  1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. I’ve had this book on my Wishlist for ages. I’ve heard lots of really amazing things and I think it’d be great to sit somewhere sunny and while away a few hours with this.
  2. The Night Market by Jonathan Moore. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat so reading this type of thriller in the broad daylight is a much better option for me than on a cold and rainy winter’s night when I’m home alone!
  3. This Love Story Will Self Destruct by Leslie Cohen. This just sounds like fun.
  4. Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. Yeah I still haven’t read this. I recently moved house and I’ve not read much during that whole process. I need somewhere on a remote beach where I can set up and not have to move until I finish this.
  5. I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara. Not something I’d generally choose for a beach/pool read but I’m so interested in this that it has to go on the list.
  6. Children Of Blood And Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Another one that’s been on my Wishlist for ages but I haven’t been able to make time for.
  7. A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness. A friend of mine leant me this and the next one an embarrassing amount of years ago and I’m still yet to read them. Sorry Margaret! Anyway when I was moving I discovered these and moved them to my “TBR I want to get to” shelf. Fingers crossed.
  8. The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough. This is massive. It’s funny that I’ve never read this, given it’s such an Australian icon! It’d be perfect for a few days beside a pool.
  9. No Limits by Ellie Marney. I love Ellie Marney but I am still yet to read Harris Derwent’s book. I need to sort this out too.
  10. The Out Of Office Girl by Nicola Doherty. I just found this on my 2016 Wishlist and it seems exactly the sort of thing to read on holiday beside the pool or on the beach.

While most of you enjoy summer and warmer weather I’ll have to live vicariously through your TBR’s and beach recommendations until the warmer weather comes back here again!

 

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Review: The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

The Book Ninja
Ali Berg & Michelle Kalus
Simon & Schuster
2018, 337p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sometimes love means having to broaden your literary horizons.

Frankie Rose is desperate for love. Or a relationship. Or just a date with a semi-normal person will do.

It’s not that she hasn’t tried. She’s the queen of online dating. But enough is enough. Inspired by her job at The Little Brunswick Street Bookshop, Frankie decides to take fate into her own hands and embarks on the ultimate love experiment.

Her plan? Plant her favourite books on trains inscribed with her contact details in a bid to lure the sophisticated, charming and well-read man of her dreams.

Enter Sunny, and one spontaneous kiss later, Frankie begins to fall for him. But there’s just one problem – Frankie is strictly a classics kind of gal, and Sunny is really into Young Adult. Like really.

A quirky and uplifting love letter to books, friendship and soulmates.

Sometimes a book sounds so perfect for you on paper that it’s almost inconceivable to realise that it isn’t. And for me, that was this book. Based on the blurb, I thought I would absolutely love this. I’d heard a lot of really positive things too and I’m a big fan of the Books On The Rail project, which the authors are involved in. But when I began this, I discovered that unfortunately for me, it was not to my liking at all.

And I have lots of reasons why – the first one was the main character’s book snobbery when a handsome man comes into the bookstore she’s working in. Her and her friend make bets with each other about where in the store people will go, a guess to their literary tastes. When this man buys a young adult fiction book, the main character Frankie is horrified. Why would he be buying something from that section, he’s a grown man? I mean young adult fiction has its place and all but surely it’s something people you know, grow out of right? And then they start reading real books, like the classics, literary fiction, clever fiction. He’s so attractive but she can’t possibly be attracted to a person who still reads young adult fiction, despite not being a young adult anymore!

Oh hell no. So I was set against Frankie from then to be honest. Her name is ridiculous (Frankston. And if you’re thinking hey, that’s kind of a colourful suburb in south-east Melbourne, why would anyone call their kid that then ding ding ding you’re a winner. She is named after Frankston. Because she was conceived on the Frankston train line. And that’s {a} far too much information and {b} gross. Keep your business off of public transport). Luckily she can be nicknamed Frankie. What if her parents had been on the Upwey line? Or Werribee? Pakenham? Craigieburn? Ugh.

Quirky can be good, but there’s such thing as too much quirky and this book has it in spades. Everyone is quirky. Frankie is quirky, her best friend is quirky, the best friend’s husband is quirky, Frankie’s mother is most definitely quirky. The random teenager that comes and hangs out is quirky. The love interest is quirky. The randoms that find the books Frankie leaves on the trains and contact her for a date are quirky. There’s so many ‘quirky’ people in this book that I was just craving someone regular who wasn’t an acrobat or afraid of bananas or a stalker.

There’s a subplot in this book revolving around Frankie’s best friend Cat, who owns the bookstore Frankie works in with her husband Claud. Cat is pregnant and I don’t want to spoil this subplot but it actually made me rage. It annoyed me so much I had to put the book aside and take deep breaths before I picked it up again. Actually I considered DNF’ing this more than once but one of the things that kept me going was actually what would happen with Cat. Well why did I bother? Because after dominating parts of the story, the reveal and resolution all happens in about a paragraph “off page” and is kind of hastily recounted to Frankie in a few sentences and that’s it and why did it take up so much page space then? Ugh. It’s horrid, it made me hate Cat. Honestly Frankie was such an enabler of Cat’s bad behaviour, she never once said to her WHY THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THIS, THIS IS HORRIBLE and instead just kind of petted and soothed her or whatever and it made Cat’s husband look completely stupid, despite supposedly being a very intelligent man. I felt incredibly sorry for him, this was passed off as almost a little funny joke, like ha ha ha he doesn’t notice this very obviously noticeable and important thing that will probably break his heart BUT HOW COULD HE NOT and okay I’m getting angry again even just writing this review. It’s not funny. I didn’t find anything about that whole story funny, it was cruel and shallow and actually chronically UNFUNNY.

But I think the biggest problem I had was the hypocrisy. It was everywhere. Frankie finds a photo of the YA reader (did I mention his name? It’s Sunny Day *eyeroll*)  with another woman as the screen lock photo on his phone after they’ve been dating a little while. She flips out, conveniently forgetting that she’s also dating a bunch of randoms behind his back who are finding the books she leaves on public transport, as fodder for her blog. The photo turns out to be from a bunch of years ago and is another hugely improbable part of this book. And the ending? Is just far too ridiculous for words.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this.

2/10

Book #101 of 2018

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Review: On The Right Track by Penelope Janu

On The Right Track 
Penelope Janu
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A traumatic past, a charismatic stranger and a family legacy … Golden’s quiet country life is about to get messy …

When the diminutive but fiery Golden Saunders falls from her horse and smashes her leg irreparably, and her racing family is disgraced by a corruption scandal, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom.

Then the enigmatic Tor Amundsen, United Nations diplomat (read: spy), arrives on the scene and proves her wrong. His investigation into her family pulls her back into a world she had escaped, and the branch of the family she has tried to avoid at all costs. Tor is infuriated and frustrated by the impossible mixture of fragility and fierceness that is Golden, true, but he is also strangely protective of her.

Golden wants no part of it. Men have pushed her around her whole life. The last thing she needs is an arrogant, irritatingly handsome man telling her what to do. But it turns out Tor has a way with animals, children and, well, Golden…

Before too long, she finds their overwhelming attraction is overriding her good sense, and as they are both pulled deeper into the murky world of dirty money, things are about to get messy, and Golden’s small, quietly ordered life will change beyond recognition…

Can Golden overcome her fears and the shadows of the past and reach for a new kind of future? Will she ever be able to get her life back on the right track?

Last year one of my favourite books was In At The Deep End by Penelope Janu. The hero of that book Per, a Norwegian Navy Commander has an identical twin brother named Tor, who works for the United Nations. When I discovered that Tor would be featured in Janu’s next book, it went straight to the top of my wishlist.

In On The Right Track we meet Golden, a speech therapist who works with children and uses her horses as part of their therapy. She lives alone in her grandfather’s old house, studiously attempting to avoid most of her family and the fancy dinners her politician stepfather is insistent she attend. When Tor Armundsen arrives to investigate race fixing rings with links back to Golden’s (deceased) jockey father and her grandfather, her quiet life is turned upside down and she finds herself drawn back into a world she had stepped well out of.

Golden is such a contradictory character. She’s incredibly strong in some ways – as a teen she suffered a terrible injury and still bears the ramifications of that today. It’s affected her quality of life to the point where she can’t do the things she loves at the level she wishes she could and she’s also quite self conscious of the way that it looks and the way that she can rely on supports to get around when her injury is playing up. She has a mental strength too, in that she’s spent a lot of time carving out a life for herself, a life that she wants, that makes her as happy as she can currently be and resisting the attempts of her family to draw her back into a more fancy, affluent society lifestyle. But Golden is also incredibly fragile, haunted by the allegations surrounding her father and the toll it took on her beloved grandfather, the man who basically raised her.

So much in this book just…..broke my heart about Golden. She’s been through so much and her family (mostly her stepfather at the behest of her mother) put so much pressure on her, almost to…..change herself. Not be what makes her, her. They want her to fit in, to tow the line and for Golden not to remind her mother so much of the circumstances of her very existence. I felt a lot for Golden throughout this entire book, the way she was emotionally manipulated and financially bullied, the way that people tended to believe the worst of her, either due to her ‘flakiness’ living all alone on a property with just her horses or because of her connection to her father, a man who is not alive to defend the allegations levelled at him. Likewise her grandfather is no longer alive also and Golden still has a lot of feelings about what happened when he died. What people do to her in this book is unbearably awful at times and I had to stop and almost like, take deep breaths at times because I found myself getting so annoyed about how she was being treated.

Which probably brings me to Tor. I wonder if it’s hard to write identical twins in different books and make them noticeably different. Per and Tor do have some similarities but they are also full of differences, although they both find and fall in love with women who really challenge them and their perceptions. Tor is quite suspicious in the beginning – he believes that Golden’s family are crooked and that she’s most likely hiding plenty of information from him. I really liked their interactions, it gave Golden an opportunity to showcase her strength – despite doing what Tor wants so she can clear her family’s name, she tends to do what she wants when she wants and Tor has to fall in around some of that. They have a lot of arguments and Golden tends to keep a lot of things from him as I don’t think she trusts him. They have both have trouble looking at things objectively – Tor has probably seen a lot to make him assume people are always innocent or taken advantage of and Golden is passionate about believing her family to be good. Honestly, the relationship Golden had with her grandfather was amazing and it’s highlighted so brilliantly despite the fact that he has passed away long before this novel even begins. It’s a very special bond that the two of them had and he was clearly a lovely, lovely man. The more Tor spends time with Golden the more he appreciates the true goodness of her, the small pleasures she takes from her work and her horses. It took Tor a little time to grow on me, but he so did. Especially when he was one of the few people in her life who didn’t want to change her and by the end of the book I felt he really understood so much about her and what would make her truly happiest.

Also there’s a cute little scene in here with Per and Harriet which is super perfect because it’s just enough to show you what they’re up to and it makes my heart happy. It’s the perfect length because it doesn’t take the focus off Tor and Golden either. I do kind of have a question though…..who is the third girl in the waiting room? Let’s hope that in 2019, we find out!

This book was a perfect follow up for me and it gave me all of the same heady feels as In At The Deep End.

9/10

Book #83 of 2018

 

 

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Review: Burning Fields by Alli Sinclair

Burning Fields 
Alli Sinclair
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 352p
Copy courtesy of Harlequin AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

1948. The world is struggling to regain a sense of balance after the devastation of World War II, and the sugar cane-growing community of Piri River in northern Queensland is no exception.

As returned servicemen endeavour to adjust to their pre-war lives, women who had worked for the war effort are expected to embrace traditional roles once more.

Rosie Stanton finds it difficult to return to the family farm after years working for the Australian Women’s Army Service. Reminders are everywhere of the brothers she lost in the war and she is unable to understand her father’s contempt for Italians, especially the Conti family next door. When her father takes ill, Rosie challenges tradition by managing the farm, but outside influences are determined to see her fail.

Desperate to leave his turbulent history behind, Tomas Conti has left Italy to join his family in Piri River. Tomas struggles to adapt in Australia—until he meets Rosie. Her easy-going nature and positive outlook help him forget the life he’s escaped. But as their relationship grows, so do tensions between the two families until the situation becomes explosive.

When a long-hidden family secret is discovered and Tomas’s mysterious past is revealed, everything Rosie believes is shattered. Will she risk all to rebuild her family or will she lose the only man she’s ever loved?

I really enjoy Alli Sinclair’s books and this one is no exception. In some ways quite a lot of this story is not unfamiliar to me, even though I’ve never lived on a cane farm or in northern Queensland. But I grew up in northern NSW and holidays we took were often to southern QLD. Up around the border is a huge cane growing area and the fields and smell of the burning cane are really familiar to me. Also, as I’ve mentioned many times before, my husband is a first-generation born Australian. Like the Contis in this book, his family are from Sicily and both his parents came here in the 50s after WWII had ended but when attitudes towards Italians could still be deeply hostile. My mother-in-law has been quite upfront about some of the negativity she experienced working in a shop in a small country town. She was only a very young girl during the war, but for many people that didn’t matter.

Rosie Stanton has been living and working in Brisbane but has now returned to the family farm. One of her brothers is confirmed lost in the war, the other believed to also have been killed. Rosie has a head for figures, a way with mechanics but her father doesn’t seem to want her back on the family farm, constantly urging her to return to Brisbane. Rosie is desperate to help however, hurt by her father’s rejection of her and her skills. If she was a man, surely her father wouldn’t be treating her like this. He doesn’t want her anywhere near his workers, anywhere near the books. But Rosie is nothing if not determined and she’s passionate about making the farm her life.

Rosie meets Tomas Conti on the bus back to her family town. The Contis have purchased the farm next door to Rosie’s family and Tomas is late joining them. The two hit it off quite well although there are some complications in the form of her father’s hostility towards Italians and Tomas’ Nonna, who warns Rosie off falling for her grandson. Rosie wonders if it’s because Nonna doesn’t find her good enough for Tomas because after all, who is good enough for their grandson in a Nonna’s eyes?

There was so much I enjoyed about this but the role of women was definitely at the forefront. Rosie is so clever and capable and she really wants to be involved in the family farm but the way in which her father shuts her down time and time again is so frustrating and hurtful for her. Actually her father was making me really frustrated but his sharpness about her not being involved was so at odds with other parts of his character that I was really wondering what was going on. I loved the way it played out, that all was not as it seemed, and that there was so much more to it than Rosie herself realised. She had lots of progressive ideas and was a really proactive person. I found her determination to save the family farm and her tenaciousness really admirable and it really did seem that Rosie would be able to accomplish whatever she set her mind to. She has endless patience with both her parents as well, no matter how frustrating and upsetting they are.

I liked her friendship with Tomas as well, the two of them seek each other out as a way almost of winding down and their walks and talks are really enjoyable. Tomas’ past is not unpredictable but that didn’t lessen the impact and it’s obvious how it has affected him. But I also liked that a lot in this book seemed to symbolise new beginnings – Rosie is undergoing a new beginning even though she’s returning to her childhood home. Tomas is undergoing a new beginning by moving across the world to an entirely different country. Rosie’s parents face a new beginning where they must finally share the knowledge they’ve carried for years and Rosie and Tomas are potentially embarking on a new and shared beginning.

This was a really lovely read, a great way to pass an afternoon.

8/10

Book #101 of 2018

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Review: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

The Rúin (Cormac Reilly #1)
Dervla McTiernan
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 388p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s been twenty years since Cormac Reilly discovered the body of Hilaria Blake in her crumbling Georgian home. But he’s never forgotten the two children she left behind…

When Aisling Conroy’s boyfriend Jack is found in the freezing black waters of the river Corrib, the police tell her it was suicide. A surgical resident, she throws herself into study and work, trying to forget – until Jack’s sister Maude shows up. Maude suspects foul play, and she is determined to prove it.

DI Cormac Reilly is the detective assigned with the re-investigation of an ‘accidental’ overdose twenty years ago – of Jack and Maude’s drug- and alcohol-addled mother. Cormac is under increasing pressure to charge Maude for murder when his colleague Danny uncovers a piece of evidence that will change everything…

This unsettling crime debut draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland and asks who will protect you when the authorities can’t – or won’t. Perfect for fans of Tana French and Jane Casey.

Okay so I don’t live under a rock. I have heard the buzz around this book for months now and I even requested it off NetGalley a little while ago. So I’m not sure how it is that I only just got around to reading it. I’ve been meaning to but you know how it is. Too many books, too little time! But finally it ended up top of the pile and the hype is real.

Cormac Reilly is a detective who applied for a position in Galway which is kind of a demotion from the specialist terrorist branch he was working prior, but it’s something he chose for personal reasons. Since his arrival at the station he’s mostly been working cold cases and not getting anywhere. There’s a bit of an air from some of his colleagues although Cormac is happy to see a friendly face in Danny, someone he knows from very long ago.

Then Cormac finds one of his very first cases has come back – that of Hilaria Blake, which was Cormac’s first dead body as a young, green rookie. An overdose, Hilaria was ruled an accidental death and Cormac never quite forgot her two children – 15yo Maude, who kept everything together, and 5yo Jack, who had some horrific abuse and injuries. Now, some twenty years later, Jack is dead, an apparent suicide and Cormac’s superiors want him rechecking into the Hilaria Blake case.

This book had me hooked from the first page. It begins in the past, with a young Cormac being sent on what he believes is a call out for a domestic issue. It’s much more than that and his inexperience shows in several different ways during what follows. It seems a straightforward overdose but it’s not until years into the future that some doubts are cast on the events of that day. And the apparent suicide of Jack Blake, who despite a troubled first few years had been taken in by a loving family after the death of his mother, raised in a good home, had a degree and good job, a happy relationship, friends, hobbies….it just doesn’t seem right to those closest to him that he would do that and with no warning. It’s the return of Jack’s sister Maude to Ireland and her absolute conviction that Jack wouldn’t take his own life that pushes an investigation forward, despite the obvious reluctance of some of the officers. It was actually kind of disturbing to see how easy this was written off, despite several glaring inconsistencies – they didn’t even order a toxicology report.

I loved the way this book made me question things over and over again. Did Hilaria really just accidentally overdose or was something more sinister going on? What motive does Maude have for returning now, of all times? If she is involved, as some of the officers believe, then why is she pushing so hard for an investigation into his death? There are so many little things that all begin to pull together and when the full picture becomes clear it was a pleasant surprise how many things I didn’t predict or only just got there as the book was revealing it. The atmosphere is also really well done in this book – Cormac is new to Galway, isolated as well. His partner works long hours, his colleagues are mostly hostile or wary. There are rumours circulating about him and why he’s there, it seems that no one really trusts him. The only exception is an old friend named Danny but Cormac is quick to realise that Danny himself is the subject of a lot of wariness as well and he can’t help but wonder why that is and at some of Danny’s quite odd behaviour. There’s so much mystery and intrigue and the stories have so many layers going on.

This was really clever, an unputdownable read and I can’t wait for the next Cormac Reilly novel. It’s just a shame that the wait is so long before I’ll get to spend time with him again!

9/10

Book #100 of 2018

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Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient 
Helen Hoang
Allen & Unwin
2018, 314p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases–a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice–with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan–from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he’s making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

There was a little bit of a buzz around this book in the months prior to its release which really made me interested. I love romances that are a little ‘outside the box’ and this one definitely qualifies. Stella is incredibly intelligent and she loves her job. Her mother keeps on at her about a husband and babies and Stella decides that if she’s ever going to be able to have a proper relationship than there are some areas that she definitely needs some practice in. She’s not a virgin but she’s inexperienced and her interactions so far with the opposite sex…..have not been good.

And so she hires Michael, a man working as an escort one night a week. She decides she wants to hire him exclusively over the course of several weeks in order to have him teach her not just about the sexual side of things, but also the romantic side. Basically, Stella wants ‘the girlfriend experience’.

Stella is sweet and funny and smart and very straightforward. She has Asperger’s or ASD, which she does not disclose to Michael at first, not wanting to be defined by it. Having been criticised for some of the characteristics that make up her personality, she wants Michael to help her without him knowing about some of her social and emotional difficulties. When Michael agrees to help her exclusively over a number of weeks, Stella basically draws up a checklist of the things they need to tick off and when. It’s an outrageously funny scene but also highlights the differences in the way Stella thinks about the timeline of ‘learning’ to be a significant other.

Michael’s nighttime profession is not something that sits easy with him but is more something that at the moment, he feels forced into because of the money. He has rules and he’s aware that such a profession can follow him at other times in his life. He desperately tries to keep the two separate, which is why he is at first, reluctant to help Stella with her larger girlfriend project. But then he agrees and it is all of a sudden so much more than just a straightforward physical transaction.

What I like about this book is that things aren’t easy, there isn’t just one awkward moment and then things become so much smoother and Stella immediately has 56 orgasms and loves sex and intimacy. It’s much more than that. Stella isn’t particularly comfortable with a lot of the sexual aspects and it’s not something that just goes away with the magic of Michael’s awesome sexual skills. They both have to work on getting her comfortable and feeling involved in it and enjoying it. Michael doesn’t want her to just endure it to learn things, he wants her to actually enjoy herself and learn what works for her. Likewise there are some weird moments in the “girlfriend” lessons too. Michael learns a lot about Stella and she learns a lot about him. They start really seeing each other and the more time they spend with each other, the more things develop. And also, there are some really awkward interactions that she has with his family but I love how Stella did her research and looked into the customs of Michael’s Vietnamese mother and also owned her own mistakes and did her best to make amends when things went a bit awry. Things are not so smooth for Michael either, being pulled in several different directions at once, struggling with his feelings about the necessity of his “nighttime” job and also the lack of creativity and inspiration in his “daytime” job. I really loved that Michael bucked the trend of a lot of romance book heroes. He’s mixed race (Vietnamese and Swedish), he works as an escort, which would generally be a big no no and he had a less than “traditionally masculine” career and passion. Stella is incredibly successful in her career and would out earn him considerably.

I loved the way this whole story was handled. It’s a blend of humour and seriousness, steamy and sweet. I really loved both the main characters, separately and together and I also liked the minor characters, especially Michael’s huge and busy family. I can’t wait for Helen Hoang to release her next book, which will involve a character mentioned a few times in this one.

9/10

Book #99 of 2018

 

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Review: One Night Wife by Ainslie Paton

One Night Wife
Ainslie Paton
Entangled Publishing LLC
2018, 322p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Finley Cartwright is the queen of lost causes. That’s why she’s standing on a barstool trying to convince Friday night drinkers to donate money to her failing charity. Hitting on the guy on the next stool wasn’t part of her plan. Still, hot but grumpy venture capitalist Caleb Sherwood might just be her ticket to success.

Professional grifter and modern-day Robin Hood, Cal Sherwood is looking for a partner for a long con. Sexy Fin, doing her best Marilyn Monroe act for her cause, has the necessary qualifications. By the time he cuts her free, her charity would be thriving, and she’d have helped him charm billions out of arrogant, gullible marks to fund his social justice causes.

But just when he thinks he’s about to pull off the best con ever, his feisty new partner gets the upper hand.

A modern day Robin Hood style story, this was so fun! The beginning is absolutely fantastic. Finley Cartwright is a struggling actress who has started a charity with her best friend. The only problem is, her best friend’s father has recently been arrested on serious charges involving money and it’s going to be hard work to convince anyone to donate to a charity connected to that name. Finley is in a bar trying to rustle up some donations from the post-work drinks crowd when she gets a lesson in pitching from a grumpy man at the bar. When Finley runs into her odious ex on the way out, she’s humiliated enough to go back to the grumpy (but handsome) suit at the bar and get him to play along in a little charade.

The man at the bar is Cal Sherwood, a professional grifter. He and his family have long preyed on the rich and careless, swindling them out of money that they redistribute to various causes around the world. Their family ‘business’ is incredibly successful but a recent mistake by Cal has decimated his personal earnings and now he’s looking to build his stocks back up. When he meets Finley he seems a mutual opportunity. He will introduce her to the right people to get donations for her worthy charity and she can be his ‘one night wife’, a fake girlfriend role for various events. Usually this role is filled by someone from within his family’s business but Cal is desperate to convince his family that Finley can play her part.

Cal and Finley have some immediate chemistry, which the opening scene in the bar details really nicely. There’s a sizzling attraction between them but Cal has ideas and so this is definitely a slow burn romance. The desire is there, but Cal doesn’t want things to get messy and so he definitely tries to keep Finley at arms length for a large portion of the book. Finley has a more open sort of attitude to wanting to take things to another level because she’s completely unaware of Cal’s true reasons for bringing her in and how it will benefit him in the end. It can only ever be temporary and so he must keep his distance from Finley but the more time they spend together, the more he gets to know her, the harder that is.

I’m going to be honest and say I don’t -really- understand how Cal and his family do their thing. They seem to swindle very rich people out of large amounts of money by getting them to invest in…things that aren’t real? And then do the people just forget that they invested in these things? And not even worry when they don’t eventuate? Do start ups fail all the time and no one cares as long as they’re in on the one that explodes? I’m not sure, surely this is something that has a limited life span and Cal just can’t keep approaching the same people with amazing new things for them to throw money at, I don’t know. I get that they are funnelling vast amounts of money away from people who have acquired it somewhat dodgily like exploiting cheap foreign labour or through cheating I guess. And they put it toward good causes – Cal’s mother is very passionate about a number of causes (even our Great Barrier Reef gets a mention, as coral bleaching is one of the things she feels as though they must put money towards preventing/fixing) and I liked his family. But I have to admit, the logistics of them always getting money out of people were a bit mind boggling. Maybe these people are so rich they don’t even care and just happily throw money at whoever asks. Aren’t people who are so rich notoriously tight with it? But they happily toss it at Finley when Cal starts teaching her how to pitch. Soon she’s walking away with millions and millions in donations and I was a little bit blown away by how quickly that all occurred. It seemed unlikely that something so fledgling would get these massive donations and what was being done with that money was lost in the narrative of Cal and his long con and what his family were doing with their grifted billions. I wanted a bit more about where Finley’s charity was directing its money. Yes I had the basics – giving micro loans to women to help them improve their situations, but I wanted more. All of a sudden they have all this money thanks to Cal’s smooth game. Surely there’s only so much in charitable donations to go around and the amounts being thrown around in this book just seemed a bit….much.

So that part I felt a bit hazy on but I really enjoyed the relationship itself between Cal and Finley. The hook was amazing, they bounced off each other so well, but Finley doesn’t know everything about Cal. She doesn’t know he’s a con artist and that in helping her, he’s roped her in on his cons. So there’s good conflict too and the sexual tension is orchestrated nicely and with good pace. And I really liked the ending.

7/10

Book #98 of 2018

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Local Author Event: Lisa Ireland & Sally Hepworth

Last Thursday I went to one of the branches of my local library for an event with Australian authors Lisa Ireland and Sally Hepworth. I’ve seen Lisa before, she is a regular at my council library and launched her previous book, The Shape Of Us at another of the branches. I’ve read almost all of Sally’s books but this was the first time I’d had an opportunity to hear her speak.

Now I didn’t take any notes or anything, I did jot a few key things down on the Notes app on my phone but most of this is just going from memory so any mistakes are mine and I may miss things or recap their discussion slightly out of order. I will say however that Sally is a very organised person! After an event they did recently went over time by an hour, she had her phone set to a timer and cue cards and everything! Everything was going to be timed to the minute as the event started at 6.30 and the library shuts at 8 so definitely couldn’t risk running so far over!

The event was in support of both author’s most recent releases, The Art Of Friendship for Lisa and The Family Next Door for Sally. Both authors write around sort of similar themes, that exploration of relationships and friendships. They actually met only last year, which is surprising when you see how close they obviously are. They were both invited to do an event at a bookshop, by someone who thought their books would fit together well in terms of those themes. They talked a little about how that event had spawned their friendship which segued into how differently they write.

It seems that there is generally three types of writers: the plotter. The pantser. And the one in-between, the “plantser”.  Now Sally is most definitely a plotter. She’s organised, she knows the plot and often comes back and fills in the details about characters later. Lisa is a pantser – she generally knows about the characters but the plot might be something that comes together much later. Both of them use their opposite styles to bounce ideas off each other. Both said that their friendship has helped them perhaps refine and modify their writing style a bit so that they might be slowly meeting in the middle, a sort of “plantser”. Lisa shared some of the difficulties in being a writer when she mentioned that she’d recently trashed 45,000 words of a manuscript that she wasn’t getting along with. She shelved it for the time being, rather than continue with what she described as a “mediocre novel” and decided to work on something else. There was a noticeable gasp in the room when she said that – it’s about 40-50% of a standard paperback, so a huge amount of work! Made me wonder how many unfinished and partial manuscripts authors out there have floating around on hard drives or usb sticks!

In the book Lisa is working on now, she mentioned that she needs to take a road trip to decide where it might be set. She thought about Sydney, decided it was a bit far and changed her mind to maybe consider Canberra. That brought up a lot of research issues – what happens when someone commits a crime in Canberra (which she needs to know)? She had to investigate the policing and discovered it was the Australian Federal Police and all of a sudden that seemed like it might require a lot of research and plotting to get the details right so maybe she’ll set it somewhere else. I found that interesting too, in that it doesn’t have a setting yet and that is something that I guess can be dropped in later.

Sally comes from a Human Resources background and has no training in creative writing. She thought she’d write a book whilst she was on maternity leave and had nothing but her experience as a reader going into that process. As you do when you’re trying something new, she googled it and discovered some sort of method (I think she said the snowflake method but I’m not sure) which she’s never used again and has never seen since and can’t even remember now. She finished that novel but then wondered how she could get better/faster at the craft and became a little bit obsessed. She described her second finished novel as “dreadful” but her third was the first one that was actually published. Since then she’s written four more books and trusts the process a lot more now, and doesn’t need to refer back to craft books or style books quite so frequently. Some of her favourite authors are more “organic” writers (a term they used for a more pantser style, allowing the plot to develop as the writing process takes place), and she’s trying to incorporate that a little more into her writing.

The talk went for around 45m and then they opened up for a few questions. I can’t really remember the questions to be honest, although there was one about whether or not they’d ever write an idea that someone else had and came to them with and the answer to that was a no. Neither are interested in writing people’s memoirs or fictional ideas that other people have had, because they belong to someone else. This question actually ended up referencing Heather Morris’ The Tattooist Of Auschwitz which is the fictional embellishing of a real life story. One of the library employees interjected at this point to mention that Heather Morris would be doing an event at one of the branches in August, so I’m definitely going to see if I can get to that. I haven’t read The Tattooist Of Auschwitz yet but it’s been on my Wishlist for a while now.

Actually I do remember another question, which was about editing. So both Lisa and Sally talked through the process of structural and copy edits and how many times a book goes through the process before it’s published. They also mentioned how it comes to be that final copies can still contain typos and mistakes, despite being read through so many times. It’s something I’ve wondered before actually, so that was good to get a bit of insight into. Sally also mentioned that she has several different publishers, being quite popular overseas (fun fact: Sally’s first book was pitched to me by the American publisher, who offered it to me on NetGalley, long before I even knew she was Australian) and that she’s quite big in Texas, which is a very conservative state. Her American published baulked at a same sex kiss in The Family Next Door and it had to be taken out, which I found really interesting because it’s a really important moment in the book.

I think that is about it for my memory….there was time for signing directly after as well. I just want to say that this was one of the most fun events I’ve attended for a long time. It felt really laid back and casual and like two good friends chatting about their processes. They would finish each other’s stories or interject with remembered bits and pieces from past events they’ve done or interactions between them but not in a way that disrupted the flow of the event or meant that one person more dominated the conversation. It was a great mix of craft and life, sort of in keeping with the friendship theme of their books!

Kudos to my library for hosting! Seems they’re doing more and more events lately, which is great. Next week there’s another one, with Mark Brandi, author of Wimmera.

You can check out my review of Lisa’s The Art Of Friendship here and The Shape Of Us here.

And my review for Sally’s The Family Next Door is hereThe Things We Keep here and The Secrets Of Midwives here.

Once again, any mistakes or inconsistencies are due to my memory.

 

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