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Review: Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

Death In Her Hands 
Ottessa Moshfegh
Jonathan Cape
2020, 258p
Copy courtesy Penguin Books AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

While on her daily walk with her dog in the nearby woods, our protagonist comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground with stones. Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.

Shaky even on her best days, she is also alone, and new to this area, having moved here from her longtime home after the death of her husband, and now deeply alarmed. Her brooding about the note grows quickly into a full-blown obsession, as she explores multiple theories about who Magda was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and the fog of mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But is there either a more innocent explanation for all this, or a much more sinister one – one that strikes closer to home?

In this triumphant blend of horror, suspense, and pitch-black comedy, we must decide whether the stories we tell ourselves guide us closer to the truth or keep us further from it.

This is the first book I’ve read by Ottessa Moshfegh but I’ve heard good things said about My Year Of Rest and Relaxation and another title of hers, Eileen was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Not going to lie, I picked this because it happened to be the shortest book on my reading stack at the time and I didn’t start a book until late in the day, so I wanted something I’d be able to finish in the same day. I did finish it….but to be 100% honest, I’m not really sure what happened here.

The protagonist is a woman named Vesta, a widow in her 70s who, after the death of her husband, sold their house and moved across the country to a remote cabin near a lake, with just her dog Charlie for company. To be honest, I’m not really sure what her motivation was for moving so far away from the town she’d lived in for so long – perhaps the point was to move as far away as she could. Her days are very regimented. She wakes, washes, walks her dog Charlie in the woods around the property/lake, comes back and eats the same breakfast almost every day of the week, etc. She goes to town to shop once a week and to be honest it’s a rather pitiful existence. At one stage she details the ingredients of her shopping basket-for-one-plus-dog and it’s very sad.

It starts off quite well. Whilst walking Charlie one day, she comes upon a note, neatly pinned to the ground with rocks, claiming that Magda is dead but that whoever wrote the note did not kill her. Looking around, Vesta does not see any indication of anyone having been there, nor of something like the ground being disturbed, whether by fight or the burial of her body. She takes the note and returns to her house… and then begins to deeply obsess over it.

From then on, almost her every waking thought is dedicated to this Magda and what happened or did not happened to her by some known or unknown perpetrator. She constructs an entire existence for Magda, invents a heritage, job, friends, lovers, etc. Every interaction she has with people from then on (not that there are many) revolve around how these people might have been connected to Magda and what they might know. She believes she has reason to not trust the police, so she doesn’t take the note to them. Instead she googles (well, ask Jeeves’) random things like “is Magda dead” and “how to solve a murder” and then fills out some sort of questionnaire based around how to write a murder mystery. Over time, Vesta also reveals more and more about her marriage and the oppressive situation that she seemed to have been living whilst her husband was still alive. It starts with comments that could be well meaning, if a little patronising and then completely unravels from there.

I’m no good at the metaphysical. I don’t enjoy it. I didn’t like doing the metaphysical poets at school and reading this book has just confirmed for me that it’s never going to be my thing. Perhaps someone with more experience reading Moshfegh might better wade through this unreliable narrator and be able to sort the fantasy from the reality but for me….I had no idea what was going on most of the time. This is a steam of consciousness that becomes slowly more unhinged and perhaps the year of isolation coupled with being free of what seems to be a rather domineering and indifferent former husband, has slowly broken Vesta’s mind. Perhaps, given some of her late husband’s comments, her mind was already quite fragile anyway. There’s some religious overtones (a possible victim named Magda, a police officer that Vesta suspects of multiple things who seems to be called Ghod) but my lack of religious knowledge doesn’t allow me to dive any deeper than that.

I had a lot of trouble figuring out what year this was supposed to be (or even what decade). I actually considered it might be some time ago, because Vesta mentions not bothering with a TV or connecting a landline but then she travels to the library to use a computer and the internet so it’s obviously much more modern than that. The book is set in what I’d call “generic small-town America” because it could be anywhere but feels like a state which might be unkindly described by those who do not live within it. Vesta muses much on how kids are fat and unhealthy these days, how there’s little in the way of fresh produce in the town, no playgrounds for the children. She seems rather preoccupied with fat people and describes them in very cutting ways.

I’ve no idea what is real and what is not – I suspect most of what occurred here was within Vesta’s mind but it’s possible there were things that did actually happen, who knows. I also have no idea what happened in the ending….or why it happened? There are no answers, or very few answers, or if there are a lot of answers I was so bored by Vesta’s constant stream of mishmashed thoughts that I failed to discern them. This seems like an in-joke from the author that only vastly clever people might get, I finished this book and am still none the wiser for what really happened and honestly? It feels like the whole thing was a waste of my time.

Book #124 of 2020

 

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Review: A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

A Longer Fall (Gunnie Rose #2)
Charlaine Harris
Piatkus
2020, 304p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Lizbeth Rose is hired onto a new crew to transport a crate into Dixie, she sees it as an easy protection gig. Dixie, the self-exiled southeast territory of the former United States, might be just about the last place she wants to visit, but the job itself is straightforward . . . until their cargo is stolen and her journey turns into a massacre.

Up against a wall in Dixie, Lizbeth has to go undercover with an old friend to retrieve the crate. Forces across three territories will be racing her, for what the crate contains is something powerful enough to spark a rebellion, if she can get it back in time . . .

I requested this for review probably towards the end of last year and then somehow never got around to reading it. I go through stages of reading digital copies and lately I’ve been reading quite a lot. I’ve also decided to try and go back and read NetGalley books I requested but never made time for. I have a lot of books from way back that I’ll probably never get to but there’s a few (like 20 or so) from the last 4 or so years that I am going to make an effort to complete, maybe just a handful a month. And I chose this one first.

This is a curious series. It’s set within an alternative history – Franklin D. Roosevelt was assassinated and then a flu pandemic wiped out the Vice President and large swathes of the population, leaving America vulnerable. Basically it was carved up – Canada took a large slice of the North. Some eastern states banded together and swore allegiance back to Britain. Mexico encroached as well. The traditionally southern states became Dixie. Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico banded together and Russia took California and Oregon. There’s also magic, primarily performed by Russian grigoris who are regarded with fear and suspicion in a lot of places.

The main character is Lizbeth Rose a “gunnie” – a guard of sorts, who works with a crew paid to protect their cargo, whether that cargo be goods or people. In the past, Lizbeth has helped with people who want to cross over the border to or from Mexico. In the last book she lost her crew and was the sole surviving member. In this book she’s working with a new crew, guarding a crate on a train. They are ambushed, the train is hijacked and the cargo is lost. Stuck in Dixie, which requires women to dress as ‘ladies’ and act demure, Lizbeth is determined to find out who is responsible for the deaths in her new crew and also, retrieve the cargo. She runs into the Russian grigori Eli Savarov who hired her in the previous book. To comply with the regulations in this still segregated version of the south, they must pretend to be married as they investigate together, which helps keep Lizbeth safe (in terms of keeping with the customs of the area, not as in physically safe as there isn’t much that she can’t handle) but also brings about a new danger…..in terms of Eli himself and her growing feelings for him, which she doesn’t want to acknowledge.

I like the characters in this – Lizbeth is great. She’s confident and capable and willing to adapt to a lot of situations. She is also loyal and determined to ‘finish the job’ they were hired to do, even when she’s the only one left who is physically capable of doing so. She’s also a stone cold killer basically and won’t hesitate to wipe someone out that she deems to be a threat. When she’s shoehorned into long skirts and dresses, pantyhose and shoes definitely not the boots she is used to, it’s quite amusing to hear her internal disgust. She misses her jeans….however, as the story rolls on, she comes to almost like the skirt, especially how much cooler it is, in that sort of climate, which was quite funny. I also like Eli, although I feel that there’s still a lot about him that we don’t know (and that Lizbeth doesn’t know either) and even though he can be secretive and frustrating, I still like the way that they work together. Lizbeth has all of the physical skills but Eli is a relatively powerful magician (I think?) and they do complement each other in different ways.

But for me, the actual plot of this was a big ol’ mess. It opens with a load of action on the train and then it just completely stalls when they’re in Louisiana, wandering around the city of Sally, going to cafes and restaurants and eating ice cream and trying to collect information. It just feels really slow and plodding and I was super bored for part of it. It got to the stage where I stopped caring what was in the trunk that Lizbeth had been guarding on the train and it felt like I was never going to find out anyway. And then it finally was revealed and…….yeah. I don’t know. Harris is triggering the civil-rights movement in her new America, which relies an awful lot on white people to happen. I found it not executed terribly well and what should’ve been the most important part of the book actually felt more like it had the least care. I had endless descriptions of everything Lizbeth wears and eats and details of who she speaks to but this felt so…..glossed over.

And then there’s the ending. Which was quite disappointing for me. This is book 2, I felt like there should’ve been some progression in a matter or two, from book 1 but this doesn’t feel like there was any. And I know this is supposed to be a trilogy and there’s still a third book to come but a lot of this felt up in the air and will need serious resolution in book 3. And it just doesn’t feel like this series will do serious resolution. I’m not sure if I’m curious enough to see what finally happens when the 3rd book comes out. Maybe we’ll get to visit the Russian portion and find out about Eli. Hopefully, anyway.

6/10

Book #123 of 2020

 

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Review: In The Line Of Ire by Camilla Chafer

In The Line Of Ire (Lexi Graves Mysteries #13)
Camilla Chafer
Audacious
2019, 234p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

When Private Investigator Lexi Graves receives an expensive bag from her new husband, she’s delighted… for all of five seconds. That’s exactly how long it takes her to realize it’s a fake. Then another fake bag turns up, along with an outraged mall manager that is desperate to find the culprit before the mall’s impeccable reputation for selling quality goods is tarnished. When the initial investigation takes a murderous turn, Lexi knows she has no time to lose.

Going undercover would be easy if Lexi could convince anyone to talk. Then the FBI and Solomon Detective Agency collaborate to track down the culprits, and Lexi is further tasked with exposing the master mind behind the recent flood of fake goods. The counterfeiters, however, are smart enough to cover their tracks and the suspects are all seemingly innocent. Yet, one of them is a murderer… and ready to strike again.

I’ve been reading this series for close to six years now. This one came out last year but I got a bit behind, so I only picked it up recently, once I remembered that it was already published. I half thought there’d probably be another one by now but it seems that #14 won’t be out until next year.

Lexi and Solomon have returned from their honeymoon (that having occurred between the last book and this one) and now it’s back to work. When Solomon gifts Lexi with what he thinks is an expensive bag which turns out to be fake, it plays into a case that Solomon has been approached about. The local mall has had several instances where people have claimed to have purchased genuine designer bags only to be given knock offs instead. At first the mall powers that be suspect the complainants are the one running the scam but Solomon’s gift to Lexi makes it obvious that is not the case. In order to investigate, they go undercover with Lexi working as a retail assistant at a big department store within the mall, in the accessories department. And Delgado will be working as a security officer so that he would be close by and able to reach Lexi quickly, should she require assistance. It would also give him a chance to see if anyone from that department might be in on helping get stock in and out in an unusual manner. Of course, on her first day at her new “job”, Lexi runs into Maddox, because the FBI are also running an undercover operation investigating the same thing, but aiming for the person at the top of the scheme. As well as that, Lexi also picks up another case from a single mother who feels that someone is frequently invading her house when she’s not home. She keeps finding things moved, sometimes the kettle is on the stove, once there was even a cup of coffee made perfectly to her preferences, waiting for her. As of yet things don’t seem sinister but the woman is understandably disturbed. Lexi vows to find out who is invading her personal space and why.

I don’t have a problem with Maddox but I also no longer see the point of him turning up in every book and running some sort of undercover FBI gig alongside pretty much anything that Solomon and Lexi might also be investigating. Also the first interaction between Maddox and Lexi made me feel a bit uncomfortable, considering she’s married now. Maddox is her ex and it felt a bit weird, her thoughts on him. It makes me wonder how she’d cope if an ex of Solomon’s turned up and he had the same relationship with her that Lexi has with Maddox. Solomon never gives Lexi, or even the reader, cause to believe that he’s ever anything but 100% devoted to her but every time Maddox turns up, it never seems like the same from Lexi. It’s not that I think anything will happen between them as such – they are well over and Lexi is married to Solomon now, it’s more the suggestion of the author of keeping Maddox in the picture, with a few flirty scenes and comments and it just seems really unnecessary. It kind of makes me dislike Maddox and just want him to go away whenever he turns up in the story – although there is a funny scene later in the book where Maddox and his FBI partner are invited to dinner at Lexi’s parent’s place and experience the utter chaos that is Lexi’s mother.

For me, this was not the most interesting instalment in the series – I was meh on the case surrounding the handbags, although it does give Lexi an opportunity to be the expert here as it seems there’s nothing she doesn’t know about designer bags and she can spot a fake at a hundred paces. This is definitely more her forte and it’s interesting to see her tackling a subject where she’s the expert and knows more than the others on the team. I was more interested in the other case she picked up, regarding the young single mother and whoever was infiltrating her house – and why. I actually don’t mind the cases that give Lexi a chance to work alone, to sift through all the options and decide on the course of action herself. She does pull in Solomon to help her with something but for the most part, it’s all Lexi and it gives her a chance to display how she’s growing into the job that Solomon offered her all those books ago.

This was entertaining but not my favourite in the series.

7/10

Book #122 of 2020

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Top 10 Tuesday 7th July

Hello and welcome to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday, hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. There’s a different bookish/literature themed topic each week and this week we are talking…..

Top 10 Authors I’ve Read The Most Books By

This is actually not something I ever keep track of really. I know there are a few authors where I’ve read a lot of their books but I couldn’t tell you offhand how many. I’ve had to do a bit of research and to be honest, I’m still not 100% sure this is accurate or in the right order, but we’ll see how we go!

1. Janet Evanovich. 26 books

I really love a series so quite a few authors on my list will be significantly higher if there’s a series that’s lasted a long time that I’ve managed to get into. For a long time, Janet Evanovich was my favourite author and I loved this series. I’m talking 15/20 years ago now. I think this series is about to release #27 but I actually haven’t read at least the last four books. I’ve read a few of Evanovich’s other books but not until around the time I started to fall out of love with the Stephanie Plum series. For me, a lot of her books are the same, no matter who the leads are. And I’ve had enough. But the long time I spent loving this series and author means that as far as I can tell, she’s the author I’ve read the most books by!

=2. Rachel Caine. 21 books

Once again, a strong series of close to 20 books in the Morganville Vampires makes Rachel Caine #2. I’ve also read a handful of her other books as well and there’s a series she’s written about the Great Library that I still intend to read, just haven’t gotten around to yet. It sounds like something I’d really enjoy.

=2. Robyn Carr. 21 books

Another big series here. I read all of the Virgin River series and I’ve also read a couple from other series’ too but scrolling through all her books on GR, I’ve noticed that I am a long way behind and there’s a lot I have not read. I kind of dropped off after reading pretty much all of these in a pretty short time. Most of the Virgin River series was done by the time I discovered it so I was able to read them all quite quickly and then moved on to the Thunder Point series, or whatever it was called, but that did not hold my interest for very long.

 

 

=4. Richelle Mead. 20 books

This has made me wonder – what is Richelle Mead doing now? I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a book from her. Was the last one that Age of X thing? I don’t know. Anyway the 6 Vampire Academy books, the 6 Bloodlines books, the Succubus series and at least 1 Age of X book push Mead into equal third place on my list. And I still have a couple of hers that I never got around to – the Glittering Court series and one other series as well, that escapes me right now.

=4. Rachael Johns. 20 books

Rachael Johns is a very popular Australian author who wrote rural romance and then branched out more into women’s fiction. She now continues to write both of those as well as some other more category-type romance books and I’ve read almost everything she’s written. Given her first book was published in about 2011 or 2012 or so, she’s been very prolific in that time!

=6. David Eddings. 18 books

When I was in high school here, about 14/15, I went through this massive fantasy stage. And I read pretty much everything David Eddings had ever written. I had no idea what I was doing and half the books were missing from the school library, so I read The Mallorean before The Belgariad and then read the Elenium and The Tamuli. I’ve also read a couple of other Eddings’ books and he was my first real introduction to fantasy epics.

=6. Kathy Reichs. 18 books

I have a love/hate relationship with the Temperance Brennan series, which is 19 books (but I’ve not read #18). I’d been done with it for quite a while, for me the quality of each book had really gone downhill in the mid-teens but then I received a copy for review of the newest one. I didn’t enjoy it. The earlier books, when they were good, they were very good. But the more it goes on, the more whiny Temperance seems to become, the more drama there is between her and Ryan and look, you guys are 50 years old. Not teenagers. I doubt the number on this author is going to climb much higher to be honest.

8. Cathryn Hein. 14 books

Cathryn Hein is another amazing Australian author also writing mostly rural-style romances, with lots of rolling green hills, horse girls and lovely guys. I’ve read pretty much everything she’s written I think, except maybe a couple that were eBook only and enjoyed every single one. It’s hard to choose a favourite but I think the one I’ve used the picture of here, is probably the one I love the most. Some of the later books are connected through being set around the same town but can be read stand alone.

9. Charlaine Harris. 13 books

11 of the Sookie Stackhouse books + 2 of the Gunnie Rose books. I really loved the Sookie Stackhouse series, but I’m still yet to read the last 2 books. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever will. I know how it ends and even though I knew the ending I wanted wasn’t really logical, I don’t have much interest in how it did end. Most of it leaked online pretty early so I know enough.

=10. Marian Keyes. 12 books

In the early 2000s, I was a huge Marian Keyes fan. I still am really although to be honest, I don’t read her as much now as I did 10/15 years ago. She’s written some truly amazing books, especially this one here and Rachel’s Holiday. I still own all of her books – they’ve made it through several bookshelf culls even though I haven’t looked at one in quite a while.

=10. Maria V. Snyder. 12 books

Fun fact? I’ve read all 12 books in 2020! I owned about 9 and have done for many years – I even went to see Maria V Snyder at an event here in Melbourne in about 2011! And I hadn’t read any of them but then when we went into that lockdown/stay at home orders, I decided to read a few books that I’d owned for a long time. Poison Study was one of them and I got so into it that I ended up reading that entire series and then a few other books by Snyder as well!

*I haven’t included anything I read as a child, such as The Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley High etc as I cannot remember which ones I read or even how many were written by the one person. A lot of those series were ghost written and who knows how many were written by the same person.

*Nora Roberts was also brought to my attention by Marg from the Intrepid Reader, however I only have 10 books listed on Goodreads as books read by her. I know it’s way more – could be double, possibly even into the 20s, but I read a lot of them in my teens and early twenties, before I joined Goodreads and I don’t remember which ones I’ve actually read. I didn’t keep any of them either, so none of them have really stuck in my memory, so I’ve left her out.

 

 

 

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Review: Love By The Book by Melissa Pimentel

Love By The Book 
Melissa Pimentel
Penguin Books
2015, 336p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

An American living in London, Lauren is intelligent, beautiful and loves to party. So why can’t she convince a man she isn’t after something more serious than scrambled eggs and goodbye in the morning?

Determined to snare some regular male affection, she embarks on a project: each month she will follow the rules of a different dating guide – from refusing to pay the bill to chatting up every man in her path – and will switch seamlessly to the next book at the end of each month.

Lauren’s love life is about to get scientific . .

I’m reading a lot of books lately which sound excellent but there’s always been something I find a bit lacking in the execution and this one was another one where I enjoyed parts of it…..but found other parts not quite so palatable.

Lauren is from Portland, Maine but fled to London and works as an event coordinator for a science museum. She is tired of guys ghosting her and dud dates so she decides to spend a month utilising a ‘method’ of dating from several quite famous books on the subject. Some are even Victorian-era, so filled with concepts outdated in the 21st century but that doesn’t stop Lauren from trying to adapt them to more modern times.

Some parts of this were quite entertaining – Lauren isn’t afraid to make a bit of an idiot out of herself in order to fulfil the requirements of whatever “method” she is following that month although she also throws other people under the bus sometimes too, which wasn’t as fun. There are some interactions with men that are quite amusing but….I also found a lot of it quite exhausting. Lauren is almost 30, which is not exactly over the hill and still young enough to enjoy going out and partying etc but the idea of endlessly going to bars and restaurants and parties for the sole purpose of trying to meet someone did occasionally feel a bit dizzying. Depending on which rules she’s following, some of the interactions/dates are really brief too, so there are many cases where it hardly seems worth it.

I know that in this book, Lauren has to “kiss a lot of frogs to find her prince” type thing but there’s a whole run of guys that are just basically….lost causes. Just zero point of them. From Adrian the commitment phobic journalist to the 42yo bike mechanic none of them seem in any way a decent prospect – not for anything. Not for a relationship (which Lauren claims not to want) and not even for a regular, reliable shag. They are constantly ghosting her, cancelling on her, etc. And whilst Adrian is perhaps the most amusing (because he’s such a douche) he’s also the one she seems to have the hardest time letting go of and….why? What was it about him that had her unable to cut him off, because he was a complete moron. But yet time and time again he’d bob up (when she stopped paying attention to him) and she’d be sucked right back in. It was a bit stupid.

There’s a character introduced that I really liked, that actually seems a potential option for Lauren, and they have some really interesting conversations and interactions. However their role in the book is really quite brief, which was a bit disappointing, when there’s endless pages devoted to some of the other men she’s determined to date or practice her rules on. And look, you could argue that this person plays a smaller role because Lauren isn’t intending to date them, so she doesn’t think to practice the methods of each book on them – also because they express such disdain for it that it would be pointless. But I think that it would’ve been nice to actually see a bit more from them towards the end, at least a date maybe….considering all the other dates I had to wade through Lauren going on.

There’s a bit of a long-running thread throughout the book of why Lauren left Portland and her hometown and it takes quite a while for it to be revealed and I was expecting something quite dramatic, however it didn’t really feel that way in the end. It was a bit anticlimactic really and didn’t at all live up to the thoughts I’d come up with on why she’d chosen to basically run as far away as she could.

This was published in 2015 and presumably set around then too and Lauren does use Tinder as one of her “methods” of meeting people and going on dates. But there were things that made it feel somewhat older, most notably that Lauren and pretty much everyone else smoke cigarettes almost constantly, which you rarely, if ever, see in books these days. I actually see it so rarely in books that are set in the 2000s that I actually had to check.

This was okay – there were several pretty amusing parts and I really did like the only character that I saw as a genuine option for Lauren, long term. I just wish they’d devoted a bit more time to it rather than dedicating a lot of time to everything else and presenting that person as an option only in the last chapter or so.

6/10

Book #121 of 2020

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Review: The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan

The Spanish Promise
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan UK
2019, 384p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Charlotte, a wealth counsellor who knows from personal experience the complications that a sudden inheritance can bring, helps her clients navigate the emotional side effects of sudden wealth syndrome. When she is asked by Mateo Mendoza, heir to a huge Spanish estate, to fly to Madrid to help resolve an issue in his father’s will, she’s confident it will be straightforward. The timing isn’t great as Charlotte’s due to get married the following week, but once her client signs on the dotted line, Charlotte can return to her life in London and her wedding, and live happily ever after. Marrying Stephen might not fill her with excitement, but she doesn’t want to live in the fast lane anymore – safe and predictable is good.

But Carlos Mendoza’s final bequest opens up a generation of secrets, and Charlotte finds herself compelled to unravel the mystery. As Charlotte digs deeper, she uncovers the story of a family divided by Spain’s Civil War, and of a love affair across the battle lines that ended in tragedy.

And while she is consumed in the drama of the Mendozas, Charlotte’s own tragic past catches up with her, threatening to overturn everything in her life she’s worked so hard to build.

I continued reading my way through Karen Swan’s backlist and had chosen another summer inspired setting, with a lot of this taking place in Madrid and Andalusia. However, this was unfortunately, my least favourite so far and I actually found myself really struggling to stay connected to either of the stories in this one.

In the present day, Charlotte works as a ‘wealth counsellor’, helping people manage the emotional stresses that wealth, especially sudden or unexpected wealth can bring. She often works with a bank helping their clients and is called in when that bank gets word that one of their biggest clients, an ailing man in his 90s in Spain, plans to give away almost all of his fortune, totalling some 750m pounds. This would devastate the bank and his family, especially his son, are none the wiser for why he would be giving his entire fortune away. Whilst the lawyers will try to combat in one way, Charlotte is being brought in to speak directly with the intended recipient, to make her realise the enormity of what could be coming her way and attempt to manage her down.

Charlotte grew up wealthy and seems to have experienced some of the issues that come from never being refused anything, never having anything be a struggle. However the way in which this is imparted is at times, convoluted and vague. I didn’t really enjoy her as a character and for the first time, I didn’t enjoy the romance either. I actually thought Charlotte and the person that was eventual endgame were incredibly toxic to one another and had inflicted numerous amounts of pain and suffering on each other (particularly by Charlotte towards the person) and he’s incredibly resentful of it and seems to want to hurt her in the present day when they are thrown back into each other’s company. I honestly couldn’t see them functioning as a healthy couple and didn’t enjoy any of their interactions together. In the flashbacks, Charlotte is shallow and teasing, in the present day he is snarly and bitter. Charlotte is also engaged to be married as well (actually she’s supposed to be getting married in like a week) but her utter disinterest and disengagement from her wedding was really strange, yet she couldn’t see that her behaviour was a bit unusual. She had no excitement, no real interest in anything to do with the wedding, she was clearly going through the motions and was making a conscious decision to marry this person to potentially avoid the pitfalls that had befallen someone she knew but there’s not enough about her background to really flesh this out in the proper manner. Also some really crucial stuff happens off the page and that’s never a favourite of mine.

The historical section also dragged in places for me. It started off quite interesting – Spain in the 1930s was a very tumultuous time. The country was heading towards a civil war that eventually took place from 1936-39. The first few scenes introducing the Mendoza family from almost 100 years ago were enjoyable but as I got deeper into the book, I got less interested and pretty soon I was just skimming a lot of those sections and getting back to the modern day plot, even though I wasn’t particularly enamoured with that either. I just found that I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery of why 98 year old Carlos Mendoza was giving away his hundreds of millions of pounds and how it was going to be resolved. I enjoyed the Spanish setting and thought that was rendered well, in both timelines though.

I think it stands to reason that when you read a lot of books by the one author, you will find at least one that isn’t your personal cup of tea. And that’s definitely happened with this book. I normally appreciate the jobs and characters and romances that are a little unusual but in this case, it just seemed like nothing really worked for me. Charlotte was bland in the present, vacuous socialite in the past, her attitude towards her marriage was bizarre and her past was definitely not explored enough for me, particularly the stuff with her father. The romance felt like it had more problems than it would solve, which is the first time I’ve felt this way. And the historical stuff didn’t keep me interested.

5/10

Book #119 of 2020

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June Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 20
Fiction: 17
Non-Fiction: 3
Library Books: 8
Books On My TBR List: 3
Books in a Series: 5
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 8
Male/Female Authors: 1/19
Kindle Books: 9
Books I Owned or Bought: 5
Favourite Book(s): The Year The Maps Changed by Danielle Binks, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen narrated by Rosamund Pike
Least Favourite Books: Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 9

In a lot of ways, June mirrored May for reading. In both months, I read 20 books – 17 fiction and 3 non-fiction. Almost half the books I read for the month were eBooks and for the first time, I also listened to an audiobook – actually, two audiobooks! One day I logged into Audible for something and I noticed that I had 6 credits that’d probably been sitting there for ages. So I ended up getting the audiobook of Pride & Prejudice which I had chosen for a read-a-long event and also Obernewytn by Isobelle Carmody, which is the first book from a series that has been one of my favourites for over 20 years. The audio of P&P was amazing – I enjoyed it hugely. Rosamund Pike does an excellent job narrating and conveying the humour that is rife within the story. She does fantastic versions of several voices and even though she’s in the 2005 adaptation as Jane, I actually got a lot of 1995 BBC version vibes from her reading, particularly around the voices of Elizabeth and Mr. Collins. For me, the BBC version is the superior, particularly in the casting of Elizabeth and Darcy. The second audiobook was read by the author and I’m not experienced enough with audiobooks to know if this is a good thing or a bad thing in general but I do know that Isobelle Carmody did a fantastic job narrating Obernewtyn. The good thing about the author themselves narrating, particularly a fantasy/sci-fi/post-apocalyptic novel is that they know exactly how everything should be pronounced, how every individual character’s accent and way of speaking should be enunciated. I very much enjoyed listening to this favourite and Carmody reads all her books on audio so I’m definitely going to move on to The Farseekers, book 2 in the Obernewtyn Chronicles. The first Obernewtyn book is quite slim, Elspeth is around 14 and I think it probably straddles that upper middle grade/lower young adult and so it only came in at 6hr, 44m. By the time I get to the last in the series, that book will be over 40hrs to listen to as they increase exponentially in size with each volume. I know now that for me to to really enjoy an audiobook, it actually has to be a book I’ve already read! Otherwise I just zone in and out too much.

In June, I finished my ARC pile and got to everything on my TBR pile for the month except for one book – Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I just found that I wasn’t quite in the mood for it. So I’ve got it sitting on my desk until I feel like cracking it open. I still am really keen to read it but I know it’ll be like Wolf Hall in that it will require quite a bit of focus and I’ve found that I just don’t have that at present.

In terms of life outside reading – well. It’s been a bit up and down! My kids went back to school for 3 weeks, none of which was a full week! They’re on winter break now which I’m sort of relieved about given that cases of coronavirus have been steadily rising here in Victoria. Yesterday we registered the fourth highest total since it began and for the first time, there was a case that has resulted in a school in my local council area having to be deep cleaned. It’s not the school my children go to and it’s a couple km away but things have been getting a bit more complex since the government relaxed restrictions, allowed children to go back to school and things to start opening up again. It’s clear that there are a lot of people who haven’t taken things seriously – big family gatherings, going out when they’ve been feeling unwell or even awaiting test results. I know in terms of the world we are still really low in cases and much higher testing numbers are always going to result in higher numbers of confirmed cases. But given we are going into winter and a lot of indication seems to be it thrives in winter, we obviously all still need to be very cautious and continue to practice social distancing and avoid large groups. Given that it’s holidays here, it’s going to be quite easy for us to revert back to “isolation mode” and it things continue to worsen here, it’s likely that the schools might close again. Given my husband is definitely high risk and soon needs to have an operation, I wouldn’t be upset if that happened.

Challenge check in!

Australian Women Writers Challenge: 42/50

Read Non Fiction Challenge: 6/12 {technically complete, upgraded the challenge to the top level and trying for all 12}

Reading Women Challenge: 12/26

Now my TBR this month is going to be a bit different – I’ve actually got 2. One is the ARCs I’ve been sent for this month that I want to read, the other is some books I’ve chosen to read for personal development/education/understanding etc. Obviously last month the #blacklivesmatter movement exploded after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, which sparked massive protests around the globe, including here in Australia. It’s given a lot of people the motivation to think about things from a different perspective and for me personally, the chance to address the fact that I know I have more work to do in terms of the number of books I read by authors of colour. At the moment, it’s around 10%. I made quite a lot of purchases in June (me and the rest of the world it seems, because a lot of the books I ordered went out of stock and have quite long wait times). So far I’ve received 2, there are 2 more on the way to me and 3 that are still pending, awaiting new deliveries of those books. Some should be arriving this week to be mailed out but one won’t arrive until mid/late July. Most of what I ordered was non-fiction, but I did also grab a couple fiction titles as well. I probably made twice the amount of book purchases in June that I’ve made for the whole year! I also had a book sitting waiting for pick up at my local library (which is still not open) but they’ve implemented a delivery service and dropped it off to my house, which I thought was awesome! And it’s about the last female Aboriginal in Tasmania, so fits in with my goal this month to read more books by and about people of colour. Hopefully in each monthly TBR I can dedicate space to some of those books – the fact that books will be arriving over the next couple of months probably, will definitely help with that. July also incorporates NAIDOC (National Aborigines And Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week however this year it has been moved to the 8-15th November, due to coronavirus and the fact that it has severely limited the types of observances that can be held during such an event.

So here are the ARCs I was sent

And also, the other books I’ve chosen:

The top one is a book I’ve owned for many years, the middle 2 are the recent purchases that have arrived and the bottom one is the library book they delivered.

This is a pretty ambitious TBR, bigger than ones I’ve constructed for myself in recent months and I’m aware that it might be too ambitious, particularly as the ARCs are all of a pretty solid size and there’s not much scope here for the lighter books I’ve been chasing lately. But these piles combined make up about half the books I read in a month, so that does give me some room to balance them out with some others from the library or ones that I’ve had stashed on my iPad for years. I will be reading a NetGalley book or 2 as well hopefully as I try to lower the amount of titles I still have that are unreviewed.

This turned into a really long post! I hope you all had a lovely reading month for June. What will you be reading in July?

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Joint Review: The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

The Silk House 
Kayte Nunn
Hachette AUS
2020, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Australian history teacher Thea Rust arrives at an exclusive boarding school in the British countryside only to find that she is to look after the first intake of girls in its 150-year history. She is to stay with them in Silk House, a building with a long and troubled past, where the shadows hide more mysteries than she could ever imagine.

In the late 1700s, Rowan Caswell leaves her village to work in the home of an English silk merchant. She is thrust into a new and dangerous world where her talent for herbs and healing soon attracts attention.

In London, Mary-Louise Stephenson lives amid the clatter of the weaving trade and dreams of becoming a silk designer, a job that is the domain of men. Arriving in the market town of Oxleigh, she brings with her a length of fabric woven with a pattern of deadly plants that will have far-reaching consequences for all who dwell in the silk house.

My fellow blogger friend Marg, from The Intrepid Reader and I have quite similar tastes in books. We have read and loved a lot of the same ones and are frequently discussing books, recommending them to each other and in the past, we have often reviewed books together, hosting 2 part discussions. We haven’t done that for a while but seeing as we both read this title almost at the same time, we thought we’d revive it! Marg has the first part of the discussion and I’m hosting the second part. So pop over to her blog first and read that one before you read this one here.

Marg’s thoughts are in black and mine are in purple.

M: I could actually quite relate to that aspect of the story because in my final year of high school I went to a school that was all boys until that last year when about 20 girls were allowed.800 boys ranging in age from 5 to 18, and 17 or 18 year old girls.  What could go wrong. I don’t know how long that arrangement lasted for. It was for a while before I started but they don’t do it anymore!

To be honest I thought that there was probably more that could have been used in the story. Instead the uncomfortableness around this kind of change was only really touched on, and even then it was in relation to the other teachers and staff in the school and not so much with the students.

The main character in the modern time line is Thea Rust. She is a former junior Australian hockey player who is now a teacher and hockey coach.  She has chosen to come to the school  for a number of reasons. The first is because this is the school that shaped her father’s life very strongly when he was a student there and she is hoping that being there might help her with dealing with his death. The second is that she needs to continue working on her history major, and she is hoping that this will be much easier in England compared to being based in Australia.

It isn’t long after her arrival that she began to notice strange things about the house – doors slamming, little piles of dirt on her floor, things not being left where she left them, that kind of thing.

Thea was thrilled when she learned that the Silk House is going to be her home, with it’s long and colourful history that she began to research. The house is definitely a character in the modern part of the story, which is something I love in these dual timeline type books, often because of the secrets held within the walls.

How did you feel about the secrets that this house held, it’s history and how it impacted Thea and the students who lived in the house with her?

 

B: I didn’t go to a boarding school but I did live on campus at a university in a residential hall, which feels similar. I lived in a building known as “A-Block” which was separated by a football field sized paddock, from the other university residential halls, which kind of led to us being socially insular. There were 3 floors, sixteen rooms to a floor. Look, for the first semester it was a fun experience. We were all between the ages of 18-25, a lot of us were experiencing freedom for the first time (which probably is the biggest difference to a boarding school). But after that? It began to wear quite thin, especially when you had an exam at 9am but the rest of your floor is running around drunk at 3am, trying to get a shopping trolley up 2 flights of stairs for reasons known to precisely no one. Like you, I think that the school setting could have been utilised more. Thea makes an effort to connect with the girls she is responsible for and there are some brief mentions of her having to be in class, or helping with a hockey practice but overall, the school wasn’t as much a presence in the story as I expected.

It’s definitely more about Silk House, which is mysterious from the very beginning. As you said, Thea notices strange happenings – a piano being played in the night, her belongings not being where they left them, etc. Now….normally I’m actually not really a fan of things that appear supernatural…..it has to be done in a certain way for me to enjoy it. But I did find this very intriguing. The way that it skips back and forth, constructing the happenings of the past and then bringing you back to the present so you can see the links slowly being established between what happened all those years ago and what Thea comes to realise she is experiencing, was very well done. 

I did not expect all of the secrets that the house reveals…..I actually did have inklings of one, it was just beginning to click together in my mind when Thea suddenly comes to the same realisation. But there’s another, I would say more shocking-type reveal that I did not expect but it worked really well for the story, it tied everything together and made all of Thea’s experiences suddenly make sense. 

This is not really a romance novel, but towards the end, Thea connects with another character in a way that seems promising. How did you feel about this plot development?

 

M: To be honest, that actually felt a bit under developed for me. It either needed to be a stronger thread introduced earlier and explored more or not there at all!

What did you think? And what did you think of the book overall. I gave it a rating of ⅘ and I intend to go back and read the authors other books now.

 

B: I tend to agree – I thought it was also a bit underdeveloped and there were things that were not really adequately explained after some early interactions. I definitely think it could’ve been a larger part of the novel, even just an extra scene or two would’ve really added to the overall development, I think. 

Overall? I really enjoyed the story. Both the present day, with Thea exploring her relationship with her father through her desire to work at the school and also the historical timeline with Rowan and her position in the Silk House as well as Mary Louise and her quest to be recognised for her designs at a time when it wasn’t believed women could do such things. The book took me on some unexpected twists and turns and I thought that Kayte Nunn did an excellent job conveying the atmosphere of a house with so much history. 

I gave this an 8/10 (⅘ on GR) – a wonderfully solid read. And yes, you should definitely go back and read her previous novels, they are excellent!

Book #118 of 2020

The Silk House is book #41 of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 30th June

Hello and welcome back to another instalment of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now lives with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It features a different bookish/literary theme each week and this week we are talking:

Most Anticipated Releases For the Second Half Of 2020

I can’t believe we are looking at the second half of the year already. I know a lot of people feel like 2020 has dragged, especially with various types of lockdowns and stay at home orders but for me, it has absolutely flown. I feel like the chunk I spent at home is basically….missing? Like it was just never there. It feels like it should still be about April. My kids are on winter break (only 2 weeks) but I can’t believe half their school year is done. It feels really weird.

Anyway! Onto books I am super excited about that are to be released in this second part of 2020.

The Survivors by Jane Harper.

Yes please! I have read and loved all of Jane Harper’s books – Force of Nature and The Dry are both excellent but The Lost Man was absolutely incredible. I am so excited for this next book of hers out September 22nd here in Australia but looks like it won’t be out until Feb 2021 for US peeps. Also, I adore this cover.

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth. 

Them Aussie authors with the goods at the moment! This next book from Sally Hepworth is out in October here but…..once again sorry US people, you’ll have wait until 2021, April this time. And awkwardly, the copy I have was sent to me by the US publisher but I don’t think I can wait that long to read it! I’ll probably buy a copy when this comes out in Australia, haha. Sally Hepworth writes excellent domestic dramas and this one sounds no different.

The City Of Zirdai by Maria V. Snyder

I read the first in this series, The Eyes Of Tamburah not that long ago. I actually already have a copy of this one (from the Aussie publisher) but the release date was pushed back to August due to COVID so now it fits neatly into this second half of the year category. The first book was really interesting – set in an underground city in a desert that feels quite reminiscent of the Australian outback (and may have been partially inspired by it).

Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin

I read the first in this series, Serpent & Dove just recently and I didn’t mind it. I found the relationship between the main characters quite intriguing – one is a witch in a time that fears and loathes them, the other a soldier in a religious order tasked with stamping witches out. They are forced into marriage and it’s a learning curve for both of them. The first book ended in a pretty intriguing way, so looking forward to see what happens next.

 

How The King Of Elfhame Learned To Hate Stories by Holly Black.

Inject this into my veins. That is all.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

Sigh. I agonised about putting this one on actually, because I am not a fan of JK Rowling, especially lately. But I do love this series of books – I really want to find out what happens next. I think I might borrow this one from the library.

None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney

I love Ellie Marney! Her Every trilogy is one of my favourite YA trilogies in a long time. This looks definitely more thrillery and should be interesting. Hoping for a bit of her amazing chemistry – she writes the best sexual tension. Not sure how much room there is for that in this type of book but…..we’ll see.

In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk

I’ve liked most of the Lindsey Kelk books I’ve read and this sort of read definitely fits in with a lot of the books I’m gravitating towards at the moment.

Loveless by Alice Oseman

I’ve only read 2 of the Heartstopper volumes by Alice Oseman but I absolutely adore that series (and I don’t really read graphic novels all that often) and I’ve been wanting to try some of her other stories for a while. This is coming out super soon and it’s about a young woman beginning university and wondering why love is so easy for everyone else.

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi

I have to admit, it’s been some time since I read The Gilded Wolves and I don’t think I even wrote a review for it. So my memory on what happened is probably not the best and I may need to re-read that first one before reading this next instalment in the series. This series has the most amazing covers – they will look incredible together on a shelf.

Bonus (wishful thinking): Any Way The Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell

As far as I know, this book doesn’t have a release date and is more likely to be 2021 but…..I’m kinda hoping it might sneakily drop around the end of the year. I really want to know what happens next and I want all the wrongs that happened in Wayward Son to be righted, particularly the disconnect between Simon & Baz. Just let them be happy, Rainbow. That is all.

As always with these posts, I’m sure there are a ton of books that I’ve forgotten are being published within this timeframe! I’ll be keenly checking out everyone else’s lists to fill those gaps.

 

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Review: My Best Friend’s Royal Wedding by Romy Sommer

My Best Friend’s Royal Wedding
Romy Sommer
Harper Impulse
2020, 400p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cocktail waitress Khara Thomas never expected to trade the dazzling lights of Vegas for European aristocracy but as maid of honour in the royal wedding of the decade she’s forced into an unexpected spotlight when her best friend marries a prince.

Luckily for Khara, gorgeous but infuriating best man Adam Hatton is happy to show her the ropes. Khara knows Adam’s entitled rich guy type but as their connection grows she realises there’s more to this playboy than meets the eye. And when she learns his royal secret? She might just find that fairytales do come true…

I didn’t realise until I was well into this book that it’s actually part of a series and there’s a trilogy before it, one of which deals with Khara’s best friend Phoenix and how she met and ends up marrying the Archduke of some (made up) tiny European nation. You don’t really need to have read those in order to read this although the couples from two other books also show up at Max and Phoenix’s wedding. But this is Khara’s story of meeting Adam, who is also titled….and also entitled.

Khara and Adam originally meet when he’s part of a high-roller party at the Las Vegas casino where she works and when they meet again for Max and Phoenix’s wedding (Adam is to be the best man and Khara the maid of honour) he doesn’t remember her. Because she was just the person who was serving him once and Adam doesn’t notice people like servers, having been brought up in a position of extreme wealth and privilege. It’s not exactly love at first sight – although Adam finds her hot and wouldn’t mind, he’s frequently rebuffed by Khara who has better things to do with her time than sleep with entitled douche lords. However when Adam offers to help Khara feel more at home in the wealthy settings where there are rules, so that she won’t embarrass herself at the wedding, it leads to her seeing more potential in Adam, who was not supposed to be the heir of the tiny (also made up) European nation his mother hails from but now has that offer on the table.

This was….okay. It was interesting in the way it explored what it might be like to be raised in such wealth and privilege that it’s almost impossible for you to see what life for normal people is like. Adam wasn’t at all likeable for most of the book – he’s a bored playboy, sleeping with as many women as he can, accompanying his wastrel cousin around the world and eschewing anything remotely resembling responsibility. By contrast, Khara was raised by a single mother often without work, living in a trailer in Las Vegas. She has a huge chip on her shoulder regarding Adam’s wealth and privilege and they clash quite constantly for quite a lot of the book. Adam thinks she’s super hot and definitely wants to go there and although Khara also finds him attractive, she knows that she’d just be another notch on his rather overcrowded bedpost and also his personality is often quite garbage, plus she knows he doesn’t remember her from their previous encounter.

What I enjoyed about this was Khara digging deep into Adam to find parts of him that weren’t just playing up to an image, addressing the self-doubts he had, his reluctance to believe that he was worthy of or deserving of the role of heir to his country. He isn’t even likely to need to step in any time soon, as his uncle is still alive and well and probably only in his late 50s. She makes him think about how he might be able to enact change, how it might be to assume the role. I also liked that even though there’s an attraction between them, this is a slow burn in a way, with Khara constantly rebuffing his advances and turning him down for quite a lot of the novel which gives them a chance to actually get to know each other and learn things about the other and for Khara to see beneath his polished surface.

But. There was also a lot of the time where the interactions between Adam and Khara felt quite childish – a lot of bickering and arguing back and forth, Adam smirking and trying to hit on her and Khara thinking that he’s hot but…no. Not yet. Adam thinks he can impress people with his wealth and it seems like everyone he’s ever met in his entire life before has been impressed by his enormous…..wealth and all people care about is marrying him once it’s possible he might be the heir. It seemed unlikely that every single person in his “set” (most of whom are wealthy, privileged and sometimes even titled themselves) would be so impressed by Adam and his attitude towards money was quite obnoxious. At the other end of the scale was Khara who has inferiority issues from her poor background and who keeps saying that “people like her” don’t get to live the sort of life that Adam can offer, even after it’s quite obvious that he’s offering it. It gets a bit tiresome as it goes around and around for quite a while in this manner. Perhaps I’d have enjoyed the book about Max and Phoenix better, as they seemed a lot more likeable.

This was okay – a good enough read to pass the time. I’d be curious to read the three that came before this.

6/10

Book #120 of 2020

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