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Review: People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper

People Who Knew MePeople Who Knew Me
Kim Hooper
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

People who knew me think I’m dead.

Emily Morris got her happily-ever-after earlier than most. Married at a young age to a man she loves passionately, she is building the life she always wanted. That is, until her husband’s business fails and her mother-in-law becomes chronically ill, causing cracks to appear in her marriage. To cope, Emily throws herself into her work.

That’s when she falls in love with her boss.

That’s when she gets pregnant.

Just as Emily is finally ready to make the choice between the two men, 9/11 splits the world apart. Amid this terrible tragedy, Emily sees an opportunity to remake herself.

But fourteen yaers later, a life-threatening diagnosis forces her to deal with the legacy of what she left behind.

Told in alternating time periods, People Who Knew Me is a riveting debut about a woman who must confront the past in order to secure the future.

I bet most people born after 1990 can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the Twin Towers being hit by planes on September 11th, 2001. I know I can. I was in my dorm room at university listening to music and working on an assignment when one of the guys banged on my door. You’ve got to come out and see this, he said. They had the TV on in the common room when they cut into whatever midnight timeslot crap was playing (I’m in Australia, so this was late at night) and went live to the footage from New York. Half my floor was up, the rest wandered out in dribs and drabs and we sat there and watched it all unfold most of the night and the next day. Some of that footage I’ll never forget, as long as I live.

In this novel, Emily has kind of backed herself into a corner. She and her husband Drew have been having troubles for a long time, they barely see each other due to circumstances that are really beyond their control and Emily has begun an affair with her boss. She keeps promising him that she’ll tell Drew about them but she never does. On 9/11, Emily is told to take the day off, sleep in and therefore she’s not in her office on the 101st floor when the plane hits. Emily sees a way out of well, everything. Pregnant, unsure who the father is and struggling to see the way forward, she leaves behind Emily Morris in New York and emerges as Connie in California. For fourteen years, “Connie” lives with her daughter Claire. Only a devastating diagnosis forces her to face the lies she’s told and the secrets she’s kept for her daughter’s welfare.

I’m afraid I’m going to bring a bit of a prejudice into this review, although I’m clearly stating it. When I read the synopsis of this, I was immediately intrigued – someone faking their own death and reinventing themselves is pretty interesting. I wanted to see what it was that had made Emily go to such lengths. The book is told in a back and forth style between Emily/Connie in the present day and the events in her history that led to her making this decision. I quite enjoyed this telling but there were many things I did not enjoy.

This bit is my prejudice because this book turned into Another Cancer Book. They’re everywhere at the moment, it’s like they’re following me. I’ve honestly had enough of cancer in my real life – my dad had cancer a few years go, my husband has had two tumours removed in the past two years, one from his kidney and another from his lung. A couple months ago a friend of mine died at just 38 after a very short battle with a very aggressive cancer. Everywhere I turn, there it is. Our life now revolves around 3-monthly MRIs to ensure it hasn’t returned. I read to get away from cancer. And it seems that it’s getting harder and harder to do. I almost put this book down when Emily/Connie got her diagnosis. All I could think was oh please, not again. I understand that so many people face cancer these days that it’s obviously going to be featured and explored in books a hundred different ways. At the moment though, I just don’t want to read any of it.

However I persevered because I wanted to get to the bottom of why Emily left New York and in the end, the reason was kind of disappointing to me. I felt as though a lot of her behaviour over the course of the novel when she’s married and still living in New York, was pretty selfish. She had a lot to put up with, I certainly don’t deny that. And her husband Drew had certainly had his selfish moments as well. But a lot of what Drew did later in their marriage was mired in love and duty as well and even though it impacted on Emily’s life greatly I don’t think she ever acknowledged the sacrifice Drew was making too. There is of course, also a big debate that could be had about the American health care system and the strain it puts on the families of people who don’t have health insurance. Some of what Drew and Emily had to deal with is incomprehensible to me as an Australian, where our health system is very different.

Ultimately I found Emily a coward. Choosing to fake her death and flee to the other side of the country to avoid a potential outcome just didn’t really sit well with me. Especially with the whole 9/11 thing, so many people perished in that. It felt somewhat tasteless to use such a monumental tragedy as a way to change her life because she didn’t have the guts to speak to her husband about what she’d been doing and what the potential outcomes might have been and maybe she didn’t want to be married to him anymore. I did wonder if Emily had been sure of the outcome, if she would’ve left….or if she would’ve just stayed in New York and gone on pretending, going through the motions.

This left me a little unsatisfied. I would’ve liked a bit more of Connie’s life in California, I never really got the feeling what it was like for her to start again, cut off from everyone and raise a child pretty much singlehandedly. She seemed to have the perfect house + job combo fall in her lap but I’m sure there must’ve been trying times when Claire was a baby where she struggled to cope alone. Instead she seemed to sail through life up until the diagnosis, the only thing that made her reconsider some of her actions and tell Claire about her father. If she’d never been diagnosed, it never would’ve occurred to her to stop depriving her daughter of the father that was still living or her ex-husband (current? there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s never examined, like the fact that Drew has since married again since Emily’s “death”, a marriage that is surely invalid/bigamous/illegal/whatever now that he knows that Emily is still live…..it’s not discussed) of a child. You could argue that he wasn’t being deprived, because he never knew of her existence and perhaps that’s true. But Claire certainly knew that she had a father although she believed him to be dead. Ugh, there’s just too much here. Claire actually takes all of this news rather well, far better than Connie/Emily actually deserved.

An intriguing idea but a lot of it just didn’t really work for me and a few holes left me with far more questions than I find enjoyable.

6/10

Book #145 of 2016

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Review: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

A Curious BeginningA Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1)
Deanna Raybourn
Titan Books
2015, 320p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

London, 1887. Veronica Speedwell intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime. But fate has other plans. When Veronica thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, he offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker – a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. When the Baron is murdered, Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

That’s the briefest blurb I’ve ever seen.

I was a big fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series so although I was sad when that series came to a close I was quite happy when I read that Raybourn was writing another mystery series set in Victorian times. She writes the sort of characters I enjoy and she can orchestrate chemistry between them like nobody’s business. Surprisingly I kind of forgot about this book coming out until I stumbled across it during a late night iBooks session. iBooks is dangerous – so very dangerous. I’ve been buying a lot of books there recently and when I saw this I clicked the button and sent it straight to the top of the TBR.

Veronica Speedwell is an independent woman in her mid-20s who has just buried the last of her 2 guardians, elderly spinsters who raised her. She knows nothing of her origins and now that her guardians are gone, she seeks to travel the world having adventures. Speedwell is a lepidopterist which means she studies butterflies and she enjoys travelling abroad to find and capture new specimens. Before she can depart however she is saved from an intruder by a gentleman who seems to believe her in grave danger. Because he wishes to take her somewhere Veronica was planning on going anyway, she goes with him, only for the gentleman to leave her with a dear friend of his, a taxidermist and natural historian by the name of Stoker. However the mysterious gentleman, who knows who Veronica’s mother was, never returns and is murdered in his study. Stoker and Veronica flee London and suspicion, determined to find out themselves why he was murdered….and what the secret of Veronica’s heritage is.

I will say that I think this book was mostly a win for me….mostly. I like Veronica, I think she’s fun and I really liked Stoker. I love Raybourn’s men and Stoker clearly has some demons and a few hidden secrets which will be delicious when they come out. The chemistry in this opening installment was good, nothing too overt but it’s simmering nicely. Both are quick witted and the banter can be very amusing. Both are very intelligent and share similar interests and it’s easy to see that there really are a lot of options for how this fledgling partnership can progress.

However – there’s no denying that some of the book felt a bit weak. In particular I often felt Raybourn was trying to beat me into submission with how progressive Veronica is. She’s a Victorian lady – the era of chastity and whatever, but Veronica is remarkably modern in her views on sexual relationships, the opposite sex and feminism. I’m not saying that there were no women feeling and acting this way during this time but it seems to be reiterated throughout the book a little too often to feel natural. Veronica is constantly reminding us that she’s had lovers, she’s experienced, she’s traveled all over the world despite being quite young and travel being slow and difficult in these times. She’s capable of taking care of herself, there are many instances during her travels where she’s had to do this or that and to be honest, it did get a little bit wearying. She’s different. I get it. It might’ve felt less jarring if Veronica didn’t wax quite so lyrical quite so often. The dialogue at times often felt very modern and there was far too much of it. Dialing back a little and revealing Veronica’s thoughts and actions over a bit more time might’ve made it feel like she wasn’t trying to shout down everyone she met.

I love a story where two characters are forced to go on the run – it’s all the better if they’re forced into sharing a room or bed due to circumstances….I don’t know why, it’s just one of those things that I really enjoy. I find putting two characters in a room together shakes things up nicely and helps identify whether or not the chemistry is really there or if it’s being forced. So that part of the story really did work for me, which was good as it takes up quite a large portion of the book as they hide out in a couple of different places in order to avoid both people who seem to want Veronica as well as London’s finest, who have decided that Stoker makes a very convenient suspect. The mystery started off promising but I kind of found that it went some pretty strange places and if this sort of thing continues in each book, Veronica is in danger of becoming a bit of a Victorian Mary Sue.

I think this was a pretty decent start and I see a lot of promise…..but I also think that there’s a possibility that it will murder itself with too much witty banter and snappy dialogue, like it’s an 1800’s episode of Gilmore Girls if the mysteries aren’t a bit meatier in the future. I like it enough to continue and I really want to see where it goes with Stoker and Veronica. The first book in the Lady Julia series wasn’t the strongest either and it found its footing more as it went on, so I hope this one is the same.

7/10

Book #144 of 2016

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Review: The Blue Bath by Mary Waters-Sayer

Blue BathThe Blue Bath
Mary Waters-Sayer
St Martin’s Press
2016, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Kat Lind, an American expatriate living in London with her entrepreneur husband and their young son, attends an opening at a prestigious Mayfair art gallery and is astonished to find her own face on the walls. The portraits are evidence of a long-ago love affair with the artist, Daniel Blake. Unbeknownst to her, he has continued to paint her ever since. Kat is seduced by her reflection on canvas and when Daniel appears in London, she finds herself drawn back into the sins and solace of a past that suddenly no longer seems so far away.

When the portraits catch the attention of the public, threatening to reveal not only her identity, but all that lies beyond the edges of the canvases, Kat comes face to face with the true price of their beauty and with all that she now could lose.

Moving between the glamour of the London art world and the sensuous days of a love affair in a dusty Paris studio, life and art bleed together as Daniel and Kat’s lives spin out of control, leading to a conclusion that is anything but inevitable.

This book was…..weird. And a further reminder why infidelity books so rarely ever work for me.

I thought this one might be an interesting exploration of what it might be like for someone to be confronted with a past great love that was never truly resolved, perhaps delve into a struggle. But to be honest, it wasn’t really like that at all. Kat’s husband is pretty much absent throughout the entire novel, you don’t get a chance to meet him or care for him, he might as well not even exist. And the flashbacks of Kat and Daniel’s relationship years ago in Paris didn’t really do much to persuade me it was a great love. It was poorly executed, bringing visions of an unhealthy attachment between two characters who had little idea about anything and wasn’t presented in a way where either character had much going for them.

In the present day, Kat hears that her long-ago lover is having a showing and decides to go. There she’s confronted by paintings that are entirely of her – parts of her, that make up a whole. In their state, just pieces of her on each canvas, it’s not immediately obvious who the girl on canvas is but the more time Kat begins to spend with Daniel, the more likely it will be and everything she has will be lost.

Characters do stupid things left, right and centre in this novel. Kat going to the showing itself wasn’t totally stupid because I think it’s somewhat normal to be curious about a former flame that you haven’t seen in a long time but it also wasn’t really the wisest thing to do either. And if you turn up and find out that some guy has only been painting you for the past 20 years, just hundreds of canvases featuring different part of you, isn’t that, I don’t know….. a little ok a lot creepy? Kat seems to find it fascinating, that for the last two decades her former love has been so obsessed by her and their relationship and the end of it that it’s all he’s been able to successfully paint. With her husband conveniently out of the country and their son even more conveniently away on holiday at his paternal grandparent’s, Kat feels free to indulge in pretty much any sort of behaviour that she likes and doesn’t seem to at all think about the consequences. Or even really care about them, to be honest.

But the weirdness of that is nothing compared to the ending of the novel. It actually really annoyed me in a way – I found it incredibly random and it seemed to make so little sense. Even worse, Kat never really had to face the choice she needed or, nor the consequences of her actions – all of that was taken away from her. I really dislike books that leave me feeling unsatisfied and unfortunately this one was definitely that type of book. Daniel and Kat are not only unlikable but they’re also uninteresting. I found nothing about Kat’s personality intriguing or even notable. She seemed removed from so many things – her marriage, the renovation of her home, even her affair with Daniel in a way. The only things that seemed to humanise her at all were her son (when he was there, but not enough to actually make a decision about what she was doing) and her feelings about her mother. Everything else just made Kat seem like a selfish robot, doing whatever it was she felt like with little regard for others.

4/10

Book #139 of 2016

 

 

 

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Review: No Strings Attached by Julie Moffett

No Strings AttachedNo Strings Attached (Lexi Carmichael #8)
Julie Moffett
Carina Press
2016, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Oops, I did it again…

Leave it to me, Lexi Carmichael, to become a target for an elite organization of cyber criminals simply by being in the wrong place at the right time. As if I weren’t already freaking out about planning my best friend’s bachelorette party, I now have to keep my eyes peeled for people trying to kill me.

After accidentally intercepting a dangerous hack into the NSA and discovering the involvement of a foreign country in said hack, things begin to get seriously complicated. Diplomats, danger and spies, oh, my!

With Slash and my loyal friends by my side, I’m in a race against time to stop a team of sophisticated hackers on a deadly mission. My team of geeks is brilliant…but derailing an international plot for revenge will take everything we’ve got.

There’s something to be said for a comforting series. The sort where each new installment is exciting and you know what you’re mostly going to get but that’s the drawcard. This is such a series for me. To be honest, the previous book was probably for me, the weakest installment but this one? This is definitely one of the best so it was awesome to see such a strong return to form.

Lexi is so much fun and I love that in this book, she really shines. She’s smart, that’s always reinforced in each book but I think this one is the best example of the fact that Lexi can and will step up and lead when she has to. She doesn’t need to play second fiddle to Slash and his amazing coding/hacking abilities, she’s right up there with him and when Slash is incapacitated for part of this book, Lexi effortlessly finishes what the two of them started.

This book also has some great growth for Slash and Lexi’s relationship. Slash’s suggestion of how to deal with the cyber threat doesn’t sit well with Lexi and I think that highlights the differences in their personalities. Lexi is a sunny personality, the light side and she retains that despite all that has happened to her in the previous books. Slash is more a darker personality – which is I think, why he’s drawn to Lexi in the first place. She has that sort of innocence and positive outlook on the world that he needs and the two of them balance each other out very well in this book. They have some really good discussions about their work and the sort of action they might need to take. I have also really enjoyed Lexi’s growing confidence in Slash’s feelings for her and her understanding of how relationships work. She doesn’t seem to require so much assistance from Basia these days to analyse every single thing (thankfully!) and she appears more comfortable with the intimacies of sharing your life with someone. She still queries things and there’s an internal thought process but Slash has gone from someone she was kind of in awe of to her boyfriend. The guy she loves, not an untouchable figure that she can’t quite believe wants to be with her. I really appreciate that their relationship is steady and that there aren’t constant flirtations with other characters or weird break ups and getting back together.

The plot in this one was super fun and involved Lexi doing a lot of things that didn’t feel like as much of a stretch as some other novels (rescuing people in Africa, traipsing through an Indonesian jungle, etc). I found it just as action packed, despite the fact that it all takes place close to home and it just felt like a more accurate reflection of their jobs and Slash’s vague role at the NSA. This book lifted the curtain a little on that and definitely gave a strong idea of what his career might be like moving forward, as well as how their relationship will advance too. I’m not sure how long the series is going to keep pretending that Lexi works with/for Finn, she is hardly ever there! She always manages to get herself involved in something crazy. Finn as a character has really dropped off too but to be honest I don’t think that really matters for the series at all. The core group for me is Lexi, Slash and the Zimmerman twins. I don’t even find Basia a necessary part but given she’s Lexi’s best friend and that she’s marrying a Zimmerman, I’m sure she’ll always continue to be around.

The next installment is due out in January next year (another thing I like, you’re never waiting super long for the next one) and I’m pretty excited about some of the directions that the series has gone in. This one is definitely my favourite and I think, the best written of the series.

9/10

Book #130 of 2016

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Review: The Twisted Knot by J.M. Peace

Twisted KnotThe Twisted Knot (Constable Sammi Willis #2)
J.M. Peace
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A marked man. A damaged cop. A town full of secrets.

After her abduction and near death at the hands of a sadistic killer, Constable Samantha Willis is back in the uniform. Despite being on desk duty, rumours reach Sammi that someone in Angel’s Crossing has been hurting little girls, and before long a mob is gathering to make sure justice is served.

So when a man is found hanging in his shed, the locals assume the pedophile has finally given into his guilt. That is, until Sammi delves further into the death and uncovers a dark family secret, an unsolved crime and a town desperate for vengeance.

This is Australian police officer J.M. Peace’s second novel featuring Constable Sammi Willis after last year’s A Time To Run. After the traumatic experiences of that novel, Sammi is back at work – but she’s been on desk duty since her return, not quite ready to take that step of strapping on her gun belt and getting into a police car. Her colleagues are mostly supportive of her – her boss in particular but there are officers that believe Sammi should no longer be a cop if she can’t do all facets of the job, including having someone’s back in a sticky situation.

The station receives an anonymous note alerting them to the fact that a man suspected of being a pedophile some years ago, is now abusing someone else. The residents of the small town of Angel’s Crossing are fired up – the police couldn’t make any charges come to fruition last time and the victim was left suffering as a result. The town is determined that not happen again – either the police do their jobs or the town will do it for them. And it won’t be pretty.

It was good to see that Sammi is still struggling with what happened to her – both with her work and also at home too. Things with her boyfriend, although they’re still together and he’s supported her through her ordeal and the aftermath, are not the same. Sammi goes to work but she spends her days behind the desk, assisting when a member of the public comes in to make a complaint or inquiry that requires a police officer. Even thinking about putting on her gun belt is almost enough to send her into a panic but she still feels that she will get there, one day.

The story is an emotional one – a member of the small town was accused of horrific things years earlier but it was difficult to gather enough evidence for charges. Understandably there were many people who were furious and not just the victim’s family. It’s a terrible thing to think that a predator might be living in the town, especially in one as small as Angel’s Crossing. Now years later, there are rumours that the offender is at it again but unless there’s a victim that comes forward, willing to make a statement, the police are restricted by what they can do, something that the town doesn’t take too well.

As a parent, it’s easy to sympathise with the family of the victim and understand how the people would want the threat removed from their town. But the police are struggling because they can only work within the constraints of the law. Sometimes it means they can’t do anything at all, sometimes it means that they have to do things they don’t want to do. Sammi and her boyfriend have several discussions involving this and how as a police officer in a small town, you not only have to sometimes ignore the gossip surrounding a suspicious character but you also have to ignore what you know about someone as a friend. You have to approach everything as a police officer looking at the evidence, not as a mate knowing someone or by rumours and gossip. It’s an interesting dilemma, exploring what it’s like to investigate people you know personally or that people you are close to know personally.

The first book was about Sammi desperately fighting for her life. Her life is not in danger in this book so it’s obviously slower paced. I think it’s more about Sammi’s healing from that event, about her getting her confidence back to do her job to the best of her ability. She needed something to give her a bit of a kick to get her to actually leave the station and become a fully operational cop again, not just one who was chained to a desk. She was taking her time, not going to go back out until she was ready but I’m not sure that day would ever have come without some motivation and also, a bit of necessity. Sammi’s mind still works like a police officer’s and she knows that there are things she has to do and overcoming the fear of leaving the station and being out there where there could potentially be a situation she might freeze in is a big mental thing for her.

A point is made in the book a few times that being a cop isn’t all fun stuff – it’s not all car chases and beers with the boys after work. There’s paperwork (lots of paperwork apparently) and there’s also the message that something can happen every time you step out the door to do your job. You have to be ready for that, even in a small town like Angel’s Crossing. This for me, was a more thoughtful police procedural, giving the reader a bit of an insight into the ins and outs of day to day policing, not just the big crime solving stuff. I liked that.

A very polished second installment.

8/10

Book #138 of 2016

AWWC2016The Twisted Knot is the 31st book read this year for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

This review is a part of the blog tour for The Twisted Knot. Check out author J.M. Peace’s website for the other spots on the tour and make sure you visit!

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Review: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

When Michael Met MinaWhen Michael Met Mina
Randa Abdel-Fattah
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 360p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Before Mina, my life was like a completed jigsaw puzzle but Mina has pushed the puzzle onto the floor. I have to start all over again, figuring out where the pieces go.

When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.

Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre.

Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.

They want to stop the boats.
Mina wants to stop the hate.

When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.

A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.

This novel has almost impeccable timing, dropping just before the country went to the polls on Saturday in a federal election. As I write this, there’s currently no result, with both major parties not yet having enough seats to form a government. During the 8-week election campaign (and honestly, for the years before that) there’s been a big thing about Stop The Boats. The refugees. Asylum seekers. Using their life savings to ‘jump the queue’ and pay a guy in usually Indonesia with a dodgy, leaky boat that may or may not even make it to Australian shores. For quite a while now there’s been a big thing about stopping the boats, turning them back, making out like those coming here are a threat to our sovereignty and safety. The Islamophobia slowly building has been gently (and not so gently) fanned in some directions too. Hello Queensland, thanks for re-electing Pauline Hanson. The 1990s called – they want their racist back. I we thought we’d moved on and maybe evolved a bit, but apparently not.

In When Michael Met Mina, Mina is such a boat person. She and her mother arrived by boat when she was a child after fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mina has just been granted a scholarship to a prestigious school in Sydney’s North Shore and so her family move from Auburn, where they’ve lived since being released from detention into the community, to Lane Cove in order for Mina to easier attend that school. It’s a brave move, considering Mina’s stepfather had a flourishing restaurant in the west and they had a community they felt safe, happy and comfortable in. Lane Cove is a bit of a different sort of vibe and Mina’s stepfather has to start again, opening an Afghani restaurant from scratch.

Michael is the son of the founder of the Aussie Values party – they don’t hate refugees, sometimes they even feel sorry for them. They just don’t want them coming to Australia and especially not doing that queue jumping thing by arriving by boat. Michael has been raised in such an environment but he’s never really questioned what he believes in, just gone along with what his parents believe in….until he meets Mina.

This book is a snapshot of society – Mina is the side who thinks that it’s not a crime to flee persecution, genocide, terror and fascism and begin a new life elsewhere. Michael, and mostly Michael’s parents are the right-wing side of politics, making some of the right noises but really just being about not wanting anymore boat people for reasons they can’t really articulate beyond “queue jumping” and “not assimilating” where they make “assimilating” sound like some sort of Jeudo-Christian brain-washing. If they do come here then they can leave their mosques, their halal food and their head-coverings behind, speak English and not band together in their ethnic groups. But mostly, it’d probably just be better if they didn’t come here, really.

Michael has been relatively sheltered, cast in the shadow of his parent’s political beliefs and he never really has a reason to query his own thoughts until he meets Mina, hears some of her views and begins to wonder just what he himself might think is right. At times Michael is a bit dense – thoughtless, perhaps, having heard one thing all his life and not maybe realised how that or variations of that, might sound when repeated to someone who went through what Mina and her mother did. And although Michael’s parents advocate peaceful, intelligent debate not everyone in their party is so inclined – and some of the acts are truly quite sickening. They’re paired with some examples of scaremongering, shoddy reporting, the sort of thing that you actually do see on commercial current affair tabloid shows or read in Murdoch newspapers all the time.

Despite the fact that I have little in common with Mina, we share similar beliefs, so for me it was easier to identify with her than it was with Michael. But I’m not a teenager anymore either and I’ve seen plenty around of all ages who share the views of Michael and his parents. In fact, a casual glance at my facebook feed after the election generated as much depressing reading as it did hopeful reading. But it is Michael that is the character that shines in a way, because he is the one that experiences so much growth. He goes from tolerating his friend, a purveyor of casual racism and sexism, to standing up against it, from blindly following what his parents believe to searching for his own beliefs. He visits a place he’s unfamiliar with really (Auburn, which the book kind of makes sound like Outer Mongolia, lol) and thinks about the plight of people, thinks of them as more than people who just arrive on a boat. He becomes horrified by some of the things his parents say and the things that some of them in their group do.

I really enjoyed this book and the pairing of Michael and Mina. The switch between points of view, which can often be difficult, felt well executed and I liked the friend that Mina makes at her new school. It’s the sort of book that would do well to be on a school curriculum to help showcase a different, more personal and relateable side of an important issue. And it’s something that could resonate all over the world as Australia isn’t the only country having the immigration debate by far. I loved Mina’s family and felt that the author did a great job of conveying how they felt about probably never being able to ‘go home’. That it was never in their lifetime going to be safe for them and even though they had gone through hell to find somewhere else, somewhere they could live in happiness and (relative) peace, it wasn’t as such, their home. Not in the way they wished. Sometimes I feel like there’s this thing that everyone should feel grateful to be in Australia….and I’m sure people do. But on the flip side, for many they’re here because they simply can’t be where their home is. And no matter how dangerous it might be, it’s still home. And many people have left behind loved ones, be they alive or not and their ties there are still very strong. It’s a delicate balance, portraying those sorts of feelings. I particularly loved the character of Mina’s Baba…..he seemed like a truly amazing man.

9/10

Book #137 of 2016

This review is part of the When Michael Met Mina blog tour. Make sure you stop and check out all the other posts on the tour.

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June Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 11
Fiction: 11
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 0
Books On My TBR List: 1
Books in a Series: 6
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 5
Male/Female Authors: 0/11
Kindle Books: 7
Books I Owned or Bought: 3
Favourite Book(s): The Paris Secret by Karen Swan and When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Least Favourite Books: At Any Price by Brenna Aubrey
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 4

June was quite a bit different to May – only managed 11 books throughout the month which is a pretty moderate total for me. I think I ran out of the sort of books that I was binging on – they became harder to find. No new series’ to get into this month!

I did read a couple of really good books and they were very different. The Paris Secret dealt with an apartment in Paris that had been shut up since the Second World War and was crammed full of valuable artifacts and artwork. And When Michael Met Mina, an Aussie YA novel that’s incredibly timely given we are going into a federal election tomorrow and that a lot of the issues in the books, such as asylum seekers and refugees are a hugely debated topic at the moment. I highly recommend both of them!

Hoping for a bit more out of July.

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Review: Front Page News by Katie Rowney

Front Page NewsFront Page News
Katie Rowney
Penguin Books AUS
2016, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cadet journalist Stacey McCallaghan is struggling to find anything newsworthy to report on in the small country town of Toomey. Front-page stories consist of the price of cattle and lawn bowls results, and Stacey spends more time laying out the crossword than covering actual news.

Until the first dead body turns up.

While the local police fumble the investigation, ambitious Stacey is just pleased to have something other than cattle sales to write about. Plus, she now has an excuse to spend more time with the arrogantly attractive Detective Scott Fitzgerald. But when Stacey shows up at one crime scene too many, she moves to the top of the most wanted list. Stacey must uncover the truth before anyone else gets hurt – or the police put her behind bars.

Light-hearted and laugh-out-loud funny, this charming novel will have readers falling in love with the surprisingly deadly town of Toomey.

Pretty much all books require some sort of ‘just go with it’ mentality. There’s always things you have to conveniently ignore: the missing parents in YA books. The random who solves crimes in pretty much every crime novel ever. Impossibly implausible romantic situations. It’s really individual how much you can get go, just to enjoy the story. Sometimes it’s easy. And sometimes it’s really, really hard.

I had a hard time placing a lot of faith in the main character. She’s not even 22 and despite claiming to have had ‘numerous’ gap years she’s somehow found herself a cadetship (presumably armed with a journalism degree?) at a newspaper in a country town. As a crime reporter. Did I mention it’s a small town? Of less than 2000 people? How is there even a need for a crime reporter? Well apparently there’s something happening that keeps the police force of 10 busy. It’s an employee per 200 people! Interesting – my local command boasts a population of some 200,000 and only 111 police. Strikes me as somewhat unlikely really. It’s like the local newspaper which seems to have about the same amount of people working for it as the police station. Including another cadet who covers all of the local sports. How is there enough work to enable two full time cadets? There’s a lot of complaining about how little money they earn but…..I don’t even know how either of them have jobs.

Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. The local police force of 10 (there might be 10 apparently but only 3 are really important, so forget about the other 7) boasts a Detective in his mid-20s, who seemed to get this Detective badge based in a town even smaller than this one. He voluntarily wears a police uniform and drives a marked cruiser because he prefers it. For people who enjoy wearing uniforms, there is a whole hierarchy of ranks that involve wearing a uniform. I’ve never come across a detective anywhere in reality or fiction that didn’t wear dress clothes or a suit. I’m not even sure I’d believe a cop in uniform who introduced himself as detective. Our first glimpse of Detective (what? Constable? Sergeant? I’m not sure) Scott Fitzgerald isn’t exactly reassuring either – he pukes at the crime scene but our fearless heroine does not because she’s seen loads of dead bodies already in her illustrious career. In the two months Stacey has been in town, she talks of Fitzgerald mostly ignoring her unless he’s briefing her at a crime scene for her paper – honestly, how many crime scenes could she possibly have attended? Apparently there has been “loads” of fatal crashes and even an airplane crash. This town has the potential for more disaster than Mt Thomas. Channel 7 must be three minutes away from setting up a film crew. That must be why there is even a detective? When a murder occurs in a tiny town, aren’t homicide detectives usually called in from a bigger station in order to investigate? Scott Fitzgerald is literally no PJ Hasham, unfortunately.

Honestly, it goes on. The town has a racetrack, which only provides more oddities: jockeys arriving to stable horses (they don’t do this), racing occurring far more frequently than would be likely in such a location, racing starting at an odd time, inconsistencies with betting for such a location, inconsistencies with the rules about betting in general, inconsistencies with the rules in owning a horse, etc. Because I grew up around racing, I found these really annoying.

There’s a kind of romance that begins between Stacey and Detective Scott but if I’m completely honest, it at times unsettled me. There’s a scene where he pulls her over and I think it’s supposed to be a bit cute, like he’s being all bad cop and whatever but it comes across as creepy. Really, really creepy. He hauls her out of the car for not having her license on her and stands over her – it’s reiterated throughout the story that Stacey is quite petite and it’s framed to make him seem quite physically intimidating and he spends the entire scene being a giant douche, which she feels is in retaliation for ‘baiting’ him earlier. He even admits to wanting to give her a bit of a ‘hard time’ which could be taken as wanting to have a bit of fun with her, but the scene isn’t written to be amusing – at least I didn’t feel it was in any way amusing. It was awkward….

….but not as awkward as the scene in which Detective Scott and “Sarge”, who is, I think, the dude in charge of this bustling little station, haul her in for questioning over the various homicides that are occurring in the town. They base this on such flimsy police work as: she is new in town and the murders occurred after she arrived. She was present at a lot of the crime scenes (several of which they called her or informed her about them) and because she likes to run so therefore she’s fit and could, realistically, heft grown unconscious men….? Really, I almost stopped reading at this point because she’s a 21yo midget who weighs about 50kg and she runs, which presumably gives her impressive cardio endurance but probably does little for brute strength. What they believe to be a possible motive for Stacey being the murderer is pretty ridiculous and they should probably have all handed in their badges for stupidity.

The culprit is quite easy to guess, as soon as the reader is able to connect the victims. A random story inserted into the plot at some stage makes it even easier to connect all of the dots…. I actually feel that the villain was kind of the most interesting thing in a way. It did make sense and the way in which that was done was interesting, which shows how much potential this book could’ve had if there were less details about the small town, all of which seemed to conflict with it actually being a small town. If you’re going to set your book in a tiny town, sometimes you have to deal with the things that are inconvenient, such as minimal facilities. I’d have liked a lot more about the eventual culprit – more scenes with them in it, more background, and some more information after the fact.

Unfortunately I found too many things about this book distracting to really enjoy it. I kept stopping and wondering if that would really be likely (or in some cases, knowing that it actually wouldn’t) and although I like that this is a different take on the new adult genre, it did make it a bit hard to take Stacey seriously as she has so little life and journalistic experience and yet basically solves all of the things. The fact that she ended up becoming a suspect (well, person of interest, I’m not sure she was ever a serious suspect which makes the interrogation scene even more uncomfortable) just seemed to suggest that all of the police in town were barely worthy of wearing a uniform and keeping a community safe. The romance didn’t work for me either – the groundwork is a bit sloppy and the two of them spend a lot of time bickering like siblings in a manner that’s both childish and unprofessional. But to be honest, pretty much everything both of them do is unprofessional.

4/10

Book #129 of 2016

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Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

Paris SecretThe Paris Secret
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

With stunning locations and page-turning tension, The Paris Secret is an intense and gripping tale from bestselling author Karen Swan.

Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.

High-flying fine art agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to assess these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and discover who has concealed them for so long.

Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren’t all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family’s affairs – but just what is he hiding?

I picked up this book yesterday afternoon as I’d been struggling with the other book I was reading. I was trying to decide if it was my mindset or the book – given that I ended up burning through this in pretty much one sitting, I think I got my answer.

From the first page, I was hooked. The idea is so fascinating – and not at all fanciful. An apartment, kept locked and left untouched from the time of the second World War. When it is finally opened, it contains hundreds of paintings, sculptures and artifacts. A veritable treasure trove! Art agent Flora is called in to evaluate and organise the collection. She knows that these paintings could be worth exorbitant amounts (especially two or three), should all the paperwork be in order.

It doesn’t take long before she hits a wall. Several of the paintings trace back to a dealer that worked for the Third Reich in the war which means that they were quite possibly acquired by force or worse, tainting the line of ownership. However even Flora is utterly unprepared for what her digging will uncover – not just for the powerful and wealthy Vermeil family, who own the apartment and the paintings found within, but also for herself personally.

This book is quite loosely based on a real discovery of an apartment filled with artwork and the like in Paris and it was such a fun story! I know nothing about art – nothing at all. I can probably name three paintings in the entire world, barely know Monet from Manet and have zero knowledge on styles and times of famous painters but this book make Flora’s job seem like the most fascinating one in the world. She spends a lot of time travelling acquiring pieces for her wealthy clients and the thought of discovering and cataloging such a collection as the one found in the apartment in Paris must’ve been like discovering Aladdin’s cave.

Flora rarely stays long in one place – she doesn’t even have a place to call her own. She lives her life moving around chasing the perfect piece but when she does have some down time she spends it with her parents at their country estate in England or with her friend in Paris. She’s never been in love – never cared when a man walked away, never missed anyone or rued their leaving. She meets Xavier Vermeil, the son of her clients with the apartment in less than flattering circumstances, although she’s already been clued in by her Parisian friend about Xavier and his sister Natascha. They are typically spoiled and rich, causing scandal after scandal, partying their way through exotic locales with their parent’s money making everything slide off them like Teflon. Flora has run ins with both of them, with Xavier and Natascha making it clear they don’t want Flora anywhere near their family and that she isn’t needed. Flora isn’t employed by them though and so she remains to do her job, even when she begins to uncover some very unsettling things.

There’s a simmering….awareness, I suppose, between Flora and Xavier but it doesn’t really ever become a dominant part of the story. In fact you could almost argue that at times it feels as though it could’ve been a bigger part. The focus is always on the artwork, the apartment and the story behind how it came to be that way and why it was left untouched for so long. There are so many twists and turns, some things I really didn’t expect and others I was able to piece together as Flora did.

I absolutely loved this book – I think there are only two real quibbles with it and the first is merely the repetition of brand and designer names. I know Flora runs with a wealthy set and her clients are super wealthy as well and obviously so are the Vermeils. But constant dropping of names like Dior and Valentino and Chanel and whatever got a bit tedious as I don’t really care about what dress that I can’t afford any random character was wearing at any given time in the story. It may have been to set the scene, but I already knew everyone was well off and that there were a lot of rich playgrounds going to be featured. Adding in the brand names to a certain piece of clothing or pair of shoes doesn’t do much except make me stop and google that so I can see what it looks like and I can’t be bothered doing that when I’m reading.

The second thing was the scandal that befalls Flora’s family. This is hinted at very early on but it’s drawn out for the unknowing reader and only revealed towards the end so that it almost coincides with something that Xavier is telling Flora during one of their rare conversations. It seemed to only serve as yet another piece of conflict to keep Xavier and Flora apart a little longer and it did feel a bit clumsy – both the actual story behind Flora’s family member and the reaction to it as well as the way in which it was resolved. It wasn’t enough to change my feelings on the story and how much I enjoyed it, I’m just not sure it was really necessary, especially as Flora spends so much time away from her family in the books. We don’t really get the chance to truly know her brother so I was pretty ambivalent to his problem and like I mentioned, it seemed like it was more about Flora and Xavier than him, which is a bit awkward.

Both of those are minor and didn’t affect at all my enjoyment of the story, the setting and the characters. It’s probably one of my favourite reads of 2016 so far, the atmosphere and the way in which the author teases out secrets and deftly weaves together the past and the present is quite masterful.

9/10

Book #136 of 2016

 

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Review: Out Of The Ice by Ann Turner

Out Of The IceOut Of The Ice
Ann Turner
Simon & Schuster AUS
2016, 368p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When environmental scientist Laura Alvarado is sent to a remote Antarctic island to report on an abandoned whaling station, she begins to uncover more than she could ever imagine.

Despite new life thriving in the icy wilderness, the whaling station is brimming with awful reminders of its bloody, violent past, and Laura is disturbed by evidence of recent human interference. Rules have been broken, and the protected wildlife is behaving strangely.

On a diving expedition, Laura is separated from her colleague. She emerges into an ice cave where, through the blue shadows, she is shocked to see an anguished figure, crying for help.

But in this freezing, lonely landscape there are ghosts everywhere, and Laura begins to sense that her own eyes cannot be trusted. Is her mind playing tricks? Has she been in the ice too long?

Back at base, Laura’s questions about the whaling station go unanswered, blocked by unhelpful scientists, unused to questions from an outsider. And Laura just can’t shake what happened in the ice cave.

Piecing together a past and present of cruelty and vulnerability that can be traced all around the globe, from Norway, to Nantucket, Europe and Antarctica, Laura will stop at nothing to unearth the truth. As she sees the dark side of endeavour and human nature, she also discovers a legacy of love, hope and the meaning of family. If only Laura can find her way…

Out of the ice.

When I first heard about this book a few months ago, I absolutely knew I had to read it. I love books set in Antarctica. Doesn’t really matter what they’re about, anything set there immediately goes straight on my wishlist. There’s something so fascinating about it – the isolation, the harsh landscape, the protected wildlife. The fact that really, it’s close to us but utterly foreign. The people that have died, trying to conquer it. It makes for one of the best settings, in my opinion.

Laura is an environmental scientist assigned to a station in Antarctica when she is unexpectedly sent to an abandoned whaling station, a forbidden area. Charged with an impact study to see if it could be opened up as a tourist prospect, Laura is alarmed by the strange happenings on the base nearby as well as some signs of life in a place that supposedly hasn’t been touched in fifty years. She’s even more disturbed by the fact that the local protected wildlife, which should be curious about her but not alarmed, are terrified and overprotective, going so far as to attack her. That suggest to Laura that they’ve been given reason to be afraid of humans…..something very strange is going on, Laura is sure of it. However Antarctica has a way of getting to you, of making your mind play tricks so Laura needs someone she can trust. Her colleague Kate and her boss Georgia are two likely candidates. If there’s something sinister going on, they will find out.

This book had me hooked from the very beginning, when Kate and Laura are observing a penguin colony. Penguins are my absolute favourite animals and the idea of doing what Kate and Laura were doing, observing them in their habitat, following them through their mating and breeding cycles sounds so amazing. Especially as the penguins are not particularly frightened of humans – they have no reason to be. Their predators are in the ocean and the scientists have never given them cause for fear. From there the book just escalates as Laura is sent to do the study on the abandoned whaling station, something that weighs heavily on her. Antarctica has a bloody history, slaughtering many species almost to extinction – in some years, the numbers of a particular species killed could be as many as 25,000. Even today the Japanese for example, still attempt whaling in Antarctic waters, ostensibly for “research”, despite numerous actions by other countries such as Australia, and organisations that seek to protect them. In fact according to this article, Japanese whalers killed over 300 minke whales in the 2015-16 season, including 200 pregnant females.

When Laura spots some signs of life at the abandoned whaling community, I was really intrigued – especially after what she thinks she sees behind a wall of ice: a face, begging her for help. I have to admit that I really did not pick the direction in which the book was heading and the more that Laura managed to uncover, the more horrifying the situation became. In order to get the answers she needs, Laura does have to leave Antarctica and for me, I did feel that once the action relocated, I really was just hanging out for the time that it returned down south. I know that she needed to find the answers elsewhere and that included travelling to Nantucket and then Venice before she could return to Antarctica with the knowledge she needed to create the full picture as well as how to go about exposing it.

Out Of The Ice was an unputdownable thriller that took me in unexpected directions with some truly expert twists. The beauty of Antarctica was showcased wonderfully, with a bit of a glimpse into a bloodied past. I wasn’t 100% sure on the ending…for me it did feel really neat and perhaps a little unlikely but I think it attempted to give the reader a sense of satisfaction and closure. All in all, a very good read and one I enjoyed a lot.

8/10

Book #128 of 2016

AWWC2016

Out Of The Ice is book #28 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

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