All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Break by Katherena Vermette

The Break 
Katherena Vermette
Allen & Unwin
2018, 350p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Stella, a young Metis mother, lives with her family by the Break, an isolated strip of land on the edge of their small Canadian town. Glancing out of her window one winter’s evening Stella spots someone in trouble; horrified, she calls the police. But when they arrive, no one is there, scuff marks in the compacted snow the only sign anything may have happened.

What follows is a heartbreaking and powerful tale of a community in crisis as the people connected to the victim, a young girl on the edge of a precipice, begin to lay bare their stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou is a social worker grappling with the end of a relationship. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre with no one to turn to. Officer Scott is a Metis policeman caught between two worlds.

A powerful family saga, Katherena Vermette’s urgent, acclaimed and multi-award-winning novel shines a light on the fear every woman carries within her―fear of male power and violence―and on the love and empathy shared by all women.

When I read the blurb for this, I knew I had to request it because of my obsession with books set in remote communities. This is a harsh environment in the grip of a Canadian winter, a small town filled with poverty, gangs, drugs and violence. In the middle of the night, young mother Stella is home with her children while her husband works the night shift. Seeing to the baby at around midnight, she glances out the window and sees a violent act being committed on ‘the Break’, a strip of land separating houses. Although Stella calls the police, it’s an old seasoned cop and young new one pair and the older one doesn’t take her report very seriously. It was dark, Stella is a Métis (halfbreed native), it probably wasn’t as bad as she thought it was. Just some gang punch on that she mistook for something else.

But Stella isn’t wrong and there is a victim. What follows is a revolving narrative of people connected to her – various members of her family, the perpetrator and also, the young cop, who is Métis himself, struggling to fit in in an environment that doesn’t respect his kind, has preconceived ideas about them all and where he struggles to make himself heard by his older partner who is only a small amount of time away from retirement in Florida.

This book was so harrowing. There are quite a lot of characters and the family tree is a bit complex so I was quite grateful for the diagram of the family tree at the beginning, which I kept referring back to. It’s very atmospheric – set in the midst of a Canadian winter, a small, isolated town, it’s hard to imagine cosy here in my Australian summer! These girls, young as they are, going to gang parties perhaps unknowing what they are really getting in to. The violence that occurs is horrific – perhaps all the more so because of who the perpetrator is. And the reasoning why. What is done to the victim, you wonder what people have seen to even think of something like that.

This book is an intergenerational story, women living alone, having raised their children mostly alone. Even Stella, who is married (but not a Métis) seems to do most of the parenting on her own and her husband seems reluctant to engage with her family or even the fact that she is who she is, dismissing her claims of seeing something as something in her mind ‘because of her past’. Men it seems, are an inconstant in this world, coming and going, but what the women do have is each other – their family and the friends that they have adopted into their world as family. Family is very important, overseen by the matriarch they refer to as Kookoo. Despite the losses, the faded relationships, the struggles they are tight knit and come together to support each other, particularly the mother of the young victim.

I found the only real main male character, that of young Officer Scott, to be really interesting. He’s very new on the job and he is in two minds about having indicated that he was Métis on his application, because of equal employment. He didn’t want the job because of his heritage, but because they thought he could do it. His partner is an old white man, very set in his ways about the native population and not at all afraid to voice those opinions, generally to his young partner’s face. Officer Scott really wants to look into Stella’s claim more but is constantly dismissed by his older partner, told that it’ll be nothing. When the victim emerges, finally they have the old man’s attention but without much to go on from the victim’s testimony, they have to work together in order to piece together the story of what happened that night and who did it. They need to get this person off the streets before they harm someone else, possibly with a fatal outcome next time. Slowly, grudgingly, Officer Scott earns his partner’s respect for his dedicated policing but I think it comes as a backhanded compliment because he’s ‘not like other Métis’. I don’t think Officer Scott will change his partner’s mind about the Métis, more than he will come to view Officer Scott as an anomaly – successful in spite of his background.

At times this is not an easy book to read, both for its large cast of characters and its difficult subject matter. But it’s worth it because Katherena Vermette weaves a complex story very, very well. Her writing is simply beautiful and despite the savage violence that occurs, she handles the topic very well, without being gratuitous or gory. It’s the sort of book where the story lingers in your mind for a long time. Even though the family was quite large, I feel as though all of the characters have remained fresh in my mind now. This is a powerful debut novel, gritty and stunningly portrayed. Can’t wait to read something more from this author in the future.

9/10

Book #35 of 2018

 

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Review: White Night by Ellie Marney

White Night
Ellie Marney
Allen & Unwin
2018, 367p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In Bo Mitchell’s country town, a ‘White Night’ light-show event has the potential to raise vital funds to save the skate park. And out of town, a girl from a secretive off-the-grid community called Garden of Eden has the potential to change the way Bo sees the world. But are there too many secrets in Eden?

As Bo is drawn away from his friends and towards Rory, he gradually comes to believe that Eden may not be utopia after all, and that their group leader’s goal to go off the grid may be more permanent – and more dangerous – than anyone could have predicted.

A wonderfully compelling novel from the acclaimed author of the Every series.

I love Ellie Marney. I would probably read her grocery list. Who am I even kidding, I would definitely read her grocery list. The Every series is one of my favourites of all time. In fact recently the teenage daughter (mad reader) of a friend of mine came to my house for the first time and was going through my YA shelves for something to borrow and I was like none-too-sublety pushing the Every series. She took all 3 of them and I saw her the next day at school, already almost finished one. Because that’s what those books do to you!

We move away from the world of the Every series to rural Victoria and Bo, a high school student. It’s the beginning of a new school year and Bo will have school, sporting commitments and chores at home to juggle. Bo has this great family unit – he loves and admires his dad, respects him. His father is tough on him, making sure he knows that school and chores at home have to be a priority. His socialising is restricted and when Bo’s father gives a directive, it’s expected to be followed. Bo also has a younger brother at the local primary school and the family will welcome a new sibling in a couple of months.

This book encapsulates so much of my teenage years. Both my parents were quite strict as well – I’m the oldest and with everything I did, my parents were breaking new ground and they always erred on the side of caution. My brother enjoyed so much more freedom than I did – for me it was a constant struggle to prioritise things so that I could attend all the events I wanted to but also be seen by my parents as ‘making an effort’ school-wise in those later years. Bo finds himself pulled in many directions, especially when new girl Rory (short for Aurora) starts at his high school and things start to fall apart at home.

Along with balance, there comes fitting in. Rory is different – she lives in Eden, a commune style property on the outskirts of town where the residents live off the grid, growing most of their food and bartering or exchanging for other needs. They’re vegetarian and until now, Rory has been homeschooled. She’s an easy target for some of the teens at high school, who always enjoy making fun of what’s different and what they don’t understand. Eden has a somewhat shady reputation around town but when Bo visits with Rory he finds himself nodding along to their charismatic leader about chemicals in food and a more idyllic lifestyle. Bo has a social conscience, so I think he wants to believe in a better way – fresher, home grown food. Less processed food. Less chemicals. I think he’s also quite surprised and impressed by the amount of freedom that Rory has, which is in contrast with the rules and running things by his parents sort of upbringing that Bo has had. As a teen, that sort of thing can sound heady… tasting freedom for the first time, or seeing the freedom of others, can put a lot of ideas in a mind. Rory has been raised in such a different way that so many of the most basic things of Bo’s existence are foreign to her and their exploring of each other’s worlds is really interesting.

Bo also has to deal with a family situation which weighs a lot on his mind. I really loved the exploration of Bo’s father as a person – what had shaped him. Bo is forced to accept that no one is perfect and that his father is human, a person who has made mistakes and is now having to rectify them. His father’s background was very interesting and this was done very well. Marney writes family relationships in all their beauty and ugliness in such believable fashion. It was so refreshing to see such a caring family unit who were so present in Bo’s life – and how he felt when suddenly, that unit changed. I also really liked to see Bo agonising over his elective choices. There was a class he quite wanted to do but it would’ve meant swapping out of a class that people would’ve expected him to take. There’s a lot in this novel about perceptions and Bo really needing to take the plunge and be who he wants to be, not what other people think he should be or even what he thinks he should be, based on the fact that he’s a teenage boy.

For me, this was a book where I read it and thought yes, I loved this, it was great but in the time after reading it, mulling it over, thinking about the review, thinking about different aspects of the book, I’ve come to realise how cleverly it weaves so many things topical to teenagers but without overcrowding the story. Teens will see themselves represented here, in so many different ways. How awesome was Sprog as the unlikely, devoted and determined hero? Yep you could argue that the Eden ending was predictable but it doesn’t mean that the impact is lessened…..nor that it’s unrealistic. In fact history will tell you that it’s alarmingly believable.

A gripping, multi-layered story that has reserved a spot on my favourites list.

9/10

Book #31 of 2018

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 20th February

It’s Tuesday so that means it’s time for another edition of Top 10 Tuesday. Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now has a new home at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week we’re talking….

Top 10 (ok, 11) Books I’m No Longer Interested In Reading

Okay. I’m kind of more going to be listing a few types of books or different tropes that I’m not really interested in anymore and then a couple of specific books or series’ in the 2nd half of the list.

  1. Cancer books. I’m so over every other book I pick up hitting me with a cancer storyline. Look I know that authors want to tackle realistic issues and cancer is a real life thing. Trust me, I know. I see it enough in my real life to know that it’s not what I want because most of the time, I read to escape real life. Enough people around me are dying of cancer and being diagnosed with it. I really am just not interested in reading about it anymore.
  2. Love triangles. Some people love a good love triangle. And I think that they can work. But the tired old ‘woman torn between two men’ thing is really boring to me now, especially seeing as I have the worst habit of picking the wrong man to cheer for and then feeling distinctly dissatisfied!
  3. Asshole Alphas. Over the top ones where they boss women around, don’t listen, do what they want and just generally act in frustrating ways. I’m not keen on men that force their attentions on women and there are plenty who don’t listen in books when a woman says no.
  4. Sexual harassment in the workplace. I read a book recently where a character had to wake up her boss each morning and he’d be deliberately naked when she came in. Nope. Moving on.
  5. Books With Stasi/Nazi/Problematic heroes. Well actually, I was never interested in reading these and I didn’t even know they were a thing until recently, so it bears mentioning.
  6. War Storm by Victoria Aveyard. I think this is the last in the Red Queen series, I’m not sure. But I really just don’t care anymore about what happens next. The end of book 3 was enough for me to ‘nope’ my way out of this one.
  7. What’s left of the Fever books by Karen Marie Moning. Please get away from me with Dani and Ryodan. It’s creepy beyond belief.
  8. Forthcoming Black Dagger Brotherhood books. I’m officially done with this series.
  9. Anything more from Sylvia Day. I’ve read a lot of her books. All the Crossfire series. About a half dozen others. I received quite a lot for review over a year or so and they’re pretty much all the same. The stories aren’t different enough for me to want to explore anything else.
  10. Forthcoming Stephanie Plum books. Done with this one too. Have been for a while. It was once one of my absolute favourite series but I just cannot deal anymore (probably see point #2).
  11. Forthcoming Temperance Brennan books. Although I enjoy the mysteries and details in these, the back and forth stupidity between Tempe and Ryan just violently murdered any desire I had to read these books, along with far too much time devoted to both of their unlikable children.

So that’s my list. To be honest I usually focus more on what I want to read rather than what I don’t so I wasn’t sure how I’d go with this list. But when I got started, it turned out I found plenty of things to mention!

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Review: The Rules Of Backyard Croquet by Sunni Overend

The Rules Of Backyard Croquet
Sunni Overend
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 354p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Disgraced fashion prodigy Apple March has gone into hiding, concealing herself within the cashmere and silk folds of a formerly grand fashion boutique – the hanging of blouses and handling of difficult patrons now her only concern.

But when her sister Poppy needs a wedding dress, old passions are reignited … along with threats from her past.

As Apple finds herself falling for someone she shouldn’t, her quest to re-emerge becomes entangled in a time she wants forgotten, and life unravels as quickly as it began to mend.

From the cool heart of Melbourne, to Paris and New York, in an effervescent world of croquet, Campari and cocoon coats, can Apple prevail over demons past to become the woman she was born to be?

I really enjoyed The Dangers Of Truffle Hunting by Sunni Overend so I was pretty keen to try this – which is actually her first written manuscript and was self published several years ago but is now being traditionally published with the same publisher as Truffle Hunting.

Apple has been working in a fashion boutique in Melbourne for years – after scandal ended her study at a prestigious fashion college. Apple spends her days straightening up the store, dealing with the demanding owner, who is still living in the store’s couture past and gossiping with her work colleague. It isn’t until her sister Poppy gets engaged and begs Apple to make her a wedding dress that she realises she can’t keep hiding who she is anymore. She’s buried the creative part of herself so far down after humiliation and horrible accusations but it’s still there. She still has vision and she knows that she can create something incredibly fabulous for her sister.

Apple is so traumatised by what happened to her years ago, as an impressionable young woman. It’s a humiliation in two parts – an unwise affair where she didn’t know who she was dealing with and an accusation on her artistic integrity that led to her dismissal from the college where she was studying. She has been licking her wounds for years, immersing herself in being a sales assistant working for someone else in a job that basically means she’s in a holding pattern. Those in her life, particularly her sister Poppy are desperate to see her design again, to make things again. In terms of Poppy, she’s not afraid to push, trying to shake Apple from the comfort zone she’s surrounded herself in.

Apple’s unreliable car breaking down led to a meeting with heir to a jewellery empire Charlie and they cross paths again some time later while Apple is on a work trip. She is drawn into Charlie’s circle – his friends including Noah, who makes it clear he’s pretty interested, and also Charlie’s fiancee Heidi, a relationship that has existed since their teen years. Charlie is a delight, introducing Apple to such a different world – croquet games, charity events, fashion auctions. His younger sister Jill is good fun, although several in the circle are clear players with little respect for others. Apple ends up tangling with Noah, who is interesting but not as interesting as Charlie and the two of them don’t really have the connection that Apple and Charlie have had. It’s quite different reading a book where the characters with the most chemistry are clearly involved with other people for at least part of the book but at the same time I’ve never needed celibacy to believe in a pairing. Apple and Charlie are charming together – their interactions are quite sweet at first. Charlie is engaged to the quite frankly awful Heidi, who has no filter and tends to say whatever rude thing pops into her head, especially when she’s been drinking. It’s the sort of rich thing where they’ve known each other forever, their mothers were friends and they’ve been in a relationship since their teens. Both of them have changed and evolved though and neither seem particularly enamoured with each other anymore. Charlie’s whole family were lovely and I liked how Apple interacted with each of them.

I’m not a big fashion person – I like clothes but I’m not into expensive brands and couldn’t tell you Chanel from Gucci. But I enjoyed a lot of the fashion in this – the creativity of it, the struggle to make your mark in something. Apple has great vision and not only that, but when she decides that she’s stifled herself for long enough, she also has great determination. She still struggles with the feeling that her name is mud, bottling out of several opportunities because of old foes but when she finally decides to take her reputation back, she’s pretty damn amazing. She has grace and maturity as well, to apologise to someone she unwillingly and unknowingly wronged in the past and to move forward in the best way she can. I really enjoyed her friendship with Jackson, originally her colleague at the store, who also believes in her. Jackson is outrageous but awesome and she gives a lot of character to the book. A lot of this book is set in Melbourne and it’s almost like a love letter to the city – Melbourne prides itself on being fashion conscious, a bit hipster, with lots of black, good coffee and people not afraid to go to the opening of an envelope. In fact sub in polo for the croquet and you have just about every elite Melbourne summer event of recent years.

I found this book so light and fun and engaging but also…..in contrast, there was quite an amount of depth as well. It’s such a look at what’s important, being who you truly are inside and not letting things get in the way. Also I have such a soft spot for the ending. I love me a good reunion-type of scene!

Loads of wit and fun – definitely like this as much as Truffle Hunting. I think Sunni Overend is writing unique stories and I can’t wait to read more. Actually, I also really like the way the publisher has styled the titles to match and the cover designs are similar too. They’re very striking and will look great on a shelf….a whole row of them.

8/10

Book #33 of 2018

 

 

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Review: The Last Train by Sue Lawrence

The Last Train
Sue Lawrence
Allen & Unwin
2018, 342p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

At 7 p.m. on 28 December 1879, a violent storm batters the newly built iron rail bridge across the River Tay, close to the city of Dundee. Ann Craig is waiting for her husband, the owner of the largest local mill, to return home. From her window Ann sees a strange and terrible sight as the bridge collapses, and the lights of the train in which he is travelling plough down into the freezing river waters.

As Ann manages the grief and expectations of family and friends, amid a town mourning its loved ones, doubt is cast on whether Robert was on the train, after all. If not, where is he, and who is the mysterious woman who is first to be washed ashore?

In 2015, Fiona Craig wakes to find that her partner Pete, an Australian restaurateur, has cleared the couple’s bank account before abandoning his car at the local airport and disappearing. When the police discover his car is stolen, Fiona conducts her own investigation into Pete’s background, slowly uncovering dark secrets and strange parallels with the events of 1879.

This was an interesting book….and I mean that in two ways. The first way is interesting as in really compelling. It starts with the most amazing scene of Ann Craig, awaiting her husband’s return from a visit to his aunt. There’s a raging storm and she quite literally sees the train her husband should be on plunge into the river when the bridge collapses. There are no survivors and the conditions are quite impossible. Basically all loved ones can do is wait until the bodies start to appear.

Ann and her husband do not have a happy marriage and her primary concern is fear for her future when she sees the train go into the river. Although married to a wealthy man, she has no wealth of her own. But as the days pass and his body is yet to be recovered, it has to be questioned if he was even on the train. And if he wasn’t, then why not? And where is he?

In the modern day part of the story, Fiona Craig discovers that her Australian partner Pete has vanished. She’s already lost one partner, her husband, to cancer. And now Pete, who has wormed his way into not only her heart but that of her young son as well, has left too, but voluntarily. Fiona has to move back in with her parents and finds that she cannot let the idea of Pete go. She’s determined to find out where he went and why he left them.

Both of these stories start off in ways that suck you straight into the story. I started reading this before I had to go pick up my kids one day – my husband was at work so I had to take a bus to get them and I honestly could not put it down and ended up taking it with me on the bus to read and also reading it at the school while I waited for them to finish. Both of the stories were such great mysteries – was Robert really on the train? Is he dead? If not, why wasn’t he? Where is he? He must know of the train’s demise and that his family thinks he’s possibly dead. And why would Pete just vanish from such a happy life? Good relationship, excellent job that was really starting to get him noticed. Fiona is so completely baffled – it seems they had no real issues leading up to Pete’s abrupt departure although when she starts to look into it, contacting previous work places etc, she is told some things that really make her questions what Pete has told and and also the sort of person that he was.

And then there’s the other sort of interesting that this book was….which was a bit less positive in that both of these mysteries had such great set ups for me, they also both had really disappointing conclusions. In the case of Ann, her story escalates so quickly it’s almost dizzying and then some of the most important stuff happens off the page and you only get one scene that kind of wraps everything up and tells you her fate but in a kind of unsatisfactory manner. In Ann’s actions, I can well understand her motivation. Women had so few rights in those days, even over their own children. And for all her faults, Ann did love her children. It’s quite sad that she did something so desperately to preserve her relationship with them that in the end, didn’t have the intended effect. Her planning was poor however and I found her resolution probably realistic but quite disappointing and a little depressing.

The resolution of Pete was probably for me, the weakest part of the entire story. I was really looking forward to some answers about Pete and it seems as if we get some and everything is resolved – only for once again, something to be alluded to and then it skips forward to an ‘after’ and the explanation is both disappointing and lacking in any impact whatsoever. It should’ve been a very powerful part of the story but instead I had to go back and read it again because I thought I’d missed something major – but no, it was just basically that vague. It left me kind of shaking my head because it had been such a good chunk of this story and the ideas were there but….the execution just left me wanting more. A lot more.

I did enjoy this – loved the setting, loved the way the two mysteries were woven. I just think that the resolutions needed a bit more thought and just a little bit more page time. But it was still a good read.

7/10

Book #28 of 2018

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Blog Tour Review: Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard

Goodbye, Perfect
Sara Barnard
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When I was wild, you were steady . . .
Now you are wild – what am I?

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend. Not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts.

As the days pass and things begin to unravel, Eden is forced to question everything she thought she knew about the world, her best friend and herself.

I found this to be a really interesting book that gave me a lot of topics to mull over.

Eden and Bonnie are best friends and have been for a long time. Eden was generally considered the wild one – adopted after time in foster homes and being in and out of her mother’s care, she has occasionally acted out. Bonnie, on the other hand, was the excellent student who was focused on getting excellent grades for her GCSE’s. When Bonnie disappears less than a week before their exams start, no one is more surprised than Eden. After all, they’re supposed to be best friends. And now Eden finds out that not only has Bonnie had a secret boyfriend for some months, but that secret boyfriend is also one of their teachers.

The police and probably both Bonnie and Eden’s parents are convinced that Eden most likely knows where Bonnie is and they want her to confess. But for Eden, loyalty is important and Bonnie’s friendship is not something she’s going to risk. At all. Eden may not understand why Bonnie has entered into a relationship with a man much older than her and a teacher but she’s not going to rat her out.

One of the interesting things that I think this book addresses is in the media coverage of Bonnie’s disappearance. She’s reported missing and once it’s discovered that she’s run off with her music teacher, a man in his mid-20s, there’s a large print and screen media campaign to try and flush them out. A lot of the focus is on the fact that Bonnie is a “good girl” – quiet and studious, not the sort of person who would do this sort of thing. What even is a good girl? Bonnie is a teenager, subject to whims and desires and you could argue that her very character made her somewhat an ideal target for what is essentially, a man in a position of power preying on someone more vulnerable. Bonnie is so studious, so focused on her exams and getting good grades and doing this or that, that the strain begins to show in the months leading up to her disappearance. But the focus of the media is on her ‘goodness’, the fact that she’s been raised right, from a good family, like this somehow makes her exempt from crushes or even rash and reckless actions. And this is something you see quite often in real life – girls and women are dissected in terms of good or bad behaviour and held up and judged accordingly. I had no doubt that if it were someone like Eden that had run off with her teacher, the media coverage would most likely have had a very different focus – capitalising on her ‘troubled’ upbringing, her mother’s issues, the fact that she was taken into care and no doubt that no matter how much love and devotion her adopted family had lavished on her, she couldn’t escape her roots. Bonnie’s mother even levels a similar sort of accusation at Eden at one stage during the book.

Even though the book is told from the perspective of Eden, who knows nothing about Bonnie and Mr Cohn before they disappear, I think the author did an amazing job of showing how it developed and how Eden found it so completely unbelievable that Bonnie could find herself in this position….Eden is in a position to listen to people who explain to her about grooming. I felt that Eden’s relationship with her adoptive family is amazing. It’s clear she still has a standoffishness to her, particularly towards her older adopted sister. Eden’s adoptive parents already had a child of their own when they adopted both Eden and her younger biological sister and Eden struggles with feelings of inadequacy compared to her adoptive sister. There are times when she also refuses her adoptive mother’s overtures too but it’s very clear how protective she is of Eden but also how careful she is around her so as not to disturb their still developing relationship. It’s a very unique family environment which is handled with great care.

I really enjoyed this and the thought processes I had while reading it. I am way beyond teenage years but not so beyond that I couldn’t understand Eden’s reasoning for several of her decisions. I could also see the other side too so those sorts of internal debates were an added experience.

8/10

Book #25 of 2018

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Review: Off Limits by Clare Connelly

Off Limits
Clare Connelly
Harlequin Dare
2018, 182p
Copy courtesy of Harlequin AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“I want to taste you tonight.”

With chemistry this hot, it’s worth getting burned…

Billionaire Jack Grant is totally off-limits to Gemma Picton. He’s wild, deliciously dangerous…and her boss. When working late turns X-rated, it’s better than her wildest imaginings—and Gemma’s imagined a lot! But Jack has major emotional baggage, so when Gemma starts wanting to heal his heart as well as enjoy his body, she knows she’s in big trouble…

I read a lot of Mills & Boon novels from the time I was probably 11 or 12. My nan had a subscription and I started off only being allowed to read the ‘Sweet’ ones (no sex) or ones my mother had read and deemed ok. But I was a very fast reader, far faster than my mother and eventually she got tired of me pestering her if I could read this book or that and just let me read whatever. I was still developing my reading tastes at the time and just wanted to read anything that was handy. It took me a while to decide what I enjoyed and soon I learned to cherry pick based on author or plot, knowing that I’d enjoy some more than others.

I haven’t read much M&B in the last decade or so. I’ve read the odd one that’s caught my eye and when I heard they were launching a new category, I was curious. I was offered the chance to read one of the first titles from this new imprint and so I thought I’d give it a go.

The boss-employee trope is not one of my favourites and this one is made a bit ickier when I realised that Jack seems to work from home and Gemma is his ‘in house counsel’. To be honest, I don’t even know what that means but I’m pretty sure no one’s job description should involve waking up their naked boss. I found that scene (which is actually the opener) really distasteful and it made me query why it should be deemed okay just because Jack is super hot. Gemma works for Jack. He should be expected to conduct himself in a professional and respectful manner and deliberately being naked when she comes to wake him up (because Jack is a billionaire that’s apparently too lazy to get out of bed on time on his own) is not at all what constitutes respectful and professional. If Jack were old and saggy, or big and threatening or well, basically anything other than hot with cut abs and a tattoo and an Irish drawl, it’d be gross that Gemma was expected to put up with that. For me, it’s still gross. Gemma is an intelligent, capable, professional woman. But the sight of a butt turns her into a quivering wreck. Romances can still be sexy and not play with what really is a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. I got the feeling Jack enjoyed making Gemma wake him up naked because he thinks she’s all buttoned up and icy. She’s at work, Jack. Not on a Girls Gone Wild vacation.

It just went downhill from there. Jack is an asshole with what are supposed to deep seated issues but when the story finally spills out it falls really flat and doesn’t seem to warrant the attitude Jack has towards well, everything. There’s more unprofessional behaviour (orgasms in the board room like 2 minutes before people walk in for a meeting. Really? You think people wouldn’t notice? And even grosser, you think people wouldn’t be able to smell it? Sex and even some forms of foreplay leaves a pretty obvious calling card).  Jack’s insistence on keeping things separate is also rubbish, considering he really has no idea what boundaries are and how one should probably respect them. His attitude towards women is pretty horrendous as well (mostly fucktoys for his amusement, since his wife’s death has left him so devastated).

I just don’t feel like this was deep enough for me. I never really felt the connection between the characters, or the chemistry. I couldn’t see at all why Gemma would be so interested in Jack. He treated her with such disrespect, even in regards to her work. She was the only one who had stayed in the position since his wife died, you got the feeling the list of departed was rather long. Either because he’d shagged them or just been hideous to them. Or maybe because they didn’t care to wake him up naked. I don’t know. But Jack wasn’t an attractive person, his bitterness and brooding just seemed like a convenient excuse not to be mature about things. Gemma’s background was interesting and perhaps it explained why she stayed all that time but it wasn’t explored in a deep enough way. About the only highlight in this story was her relationship with her grandmother, which was excellent. Both believable and witty.

This was quick but it was unfortunately quite a disappointing read.

3/10

Book #27 of 2018

 

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Blog Tour Review: Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson

Differently Normal
Tammy Robinson
Hachette NZ
2018, 344p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure, DIFFERENTLY NORMAL is about first love and the sacrifices you’ll make for the ones you hold close. For fans of Nicholas Sparks and Jojo Moyes.

For Maddy, life is all about routine. It has to be, to keep her sister with autism happy and healthy. With just Maddy and her mother as Bee’s full-time carers, there’s no time in Maddy’s life for complications like friends, let alone a boyfriend. So when Bee joins a new Riding for the Disabled stable and they meet Albert, the last thing on Maddy’s mind is falling in love.

Some things, she’s about to learn, are outside of our control. Albert has resigned himself to always being a disappointment to his strict father. When he meets Maddy, he gets a glimpse of what being part of a family can be like, and of the tremendous sacrifices that people will make for the ones that they love.

DIFFERENTLY NORMAL is a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss, because sometimes it takes letting someone else in to discover who you really are . . .

This is the first Tammy Robinson book I’ve ever read. I think it’s her first traditionally published title but she has quite an extensive backlist available on Amazon. At first glance of the cover I didn’t realise that this is actually very much a YA/NA story. Both Maddy and Albert  have recently finished high school. Both are also working – in Maddy’s case it was easy to take the full time job at the place she worked at through school. It’s close, she needs the money to contribute and she can work her shifts around her mother’s work so that one of them is always around to care for Maddy’s sister Bee, who is intellectually disabled. In Albert’s case, he fell into a job after he volunteered at a stable and now he’s scraping together enough money to get out of the house he’s grown up in, away from his father’s domineering personality and non-stop criticism. Nothing Albert does pleases his father and although he knows he shouldn’t bother, Albert still can’t help but crave some sort of approval.

Albert and Maddy meet when Maddy takes Bee to the stables where Albert works for Bee to do Riding for the Disabled therapy. Albert is pretty attracted to her from the very beginning but Maddy has her life quite mapped out and she’s got no time for a boyfriend. They don’t tend to understand just how much time taking care of someone like Bee requires. Albert sets out to prove her wrong though – he likes Bee as well and he’s happy for Maddy to bring Bee along when they meet up if it’s her turn to be looking after her. And slowly, Albert wins Maddy over.

Both Albert and Maddy have lives that I would say don’t fully satisfy them although in Albert’s case it’s more openly obvious. He enjoys his work at the stables and he feels as though he could be good at it, moving into other areas and so do his superiors. Nothing is ever good enough for his father though, who is judgemental and verbally abusive. Through Albert’s eyes you watch the disintegration of his parent’s marriage as his mother retreats further and further from her life and his blustering father either remains oblivious or blames his mother’s discontent on Albert’s inability to make something of his life. It’s not difficult to understand precisely why Albert wants to leave so badly. No one would want to stay in that environment.

Conversely, Maddy knows that leaving isn’t really an option for her. Her mother can’t cope with Bee’s needs alone and work as well. Respite care is difficult and not always reliable and despite the restrictions Bee places upon her life, Maddy genuinely loves her sister and wouldn’t have it any other way. She has natural frustrations about not being as free as other people – she sees to have very few friends, knowing that her inability to be spontaneous and also make plans have led to people drifting away. But Bee is her first priority and that’s an incredibly admirable thing. Maddy, Bee and their mother are a tight family unit – they have struggles, generally of the money variety and it does seem without saying it that their mother does feel the stresses and pressures of single parenting with one child being severely autistic.

I found myself quite charmed by the burgeoning relationship between Albert and Maddy. Both of them feel like very genuine characters who talk and act in a way you’d expect teens to and their relationship also develops in a realistic way as well. They share a lot of themselves with each other. For Albert, Maddy’s family might not have a lot of money but there’s a love and warmth that has always been missing from his own. Maddy and her mother do work as a team, both of them always prioritising Bee often to the detriment of themselves. Maddy has hopes and dreams of her own but has accepted them as unrealistic with her life. Although often a bit prickly, Maddy has a strength and maturity far beyond her age.

To be honest, the only issue I had with this book was the ending. I wasn’t particularly expecting that direction, especially as there’s a swerve and then another one but it just didn’t really work for me as far as having the sort of emotional impact on me as a reader that it should have. I wasn’t entirely sure why some of the drama happened what I would term as ‘off page’ either because that contributed to the disconnected feeling. It was used as a catalyst for change too, but why did it need to be? Probably some of those changes should’ve been made long ago.

A promising start and I appreciated the dedication to portraying a family struggling to make ends meet in various jobs whilst also caring full time for a disabled family member. There was a cute romance with promise but I felt as though the tightness of the story lost its way toward the end.

7/10

Book #29 of 2018

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Review & Author Q&A: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner

Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband
Barbara Toner
Penguin Random House AUS
2018, 373p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Adelaide Nightingale, Louisa Worthington, Maggie O’Connell and Pearl McLeary threw caution to the winds in the most brazen way imaginable, disgrace was inevitable.’

It’s September 1919. The war is over, and everyone who was going to die from the flu has done so. But there’s a shortage of husbands and women in strife will flounder without a male to act on their behalf.

And in the southern NSW town of Prospect, four ladies bereft of men have problems that threaten to overwhelm them.

Beautiful Louisa Worthington, whose dashing husband died for King and Country, is being ruined by the debts he left behind.

Young Maggie O’Connell, who lost her mother in childbirth and her father to a redhead, is raising her two wayward brothers and fighting for land she can’t prove is hers.

Adelaide Nightingale has a husband, but he’s returned from the war in a rage and is refusing to tackle the thieving manager of their famous family store.

Pearl McLeary, Adelaide’s new housekeeper, must find her missing fiancé before it’s too late and someone dies.

Thank God these desperate ladies have a solution- a part-time husband who will rescue them all. To find him, they’ll advertise. To afford him, they’ll share . . .

I loved the idea of this book. Post-WWI Australia is not a setting I encounter a lot and I was very intrigued with it. It was a very strange time – whilst men were away at war women had to take on roles they would previously not have done. There were men who had not gone to war (Australia did not have conscription for WWI and therefore all that signed up were volunteers) found their jobs given to returning soldiers or that those soldiers had returned to reclaim the jobs they’d had before they left. There had been the Spanish flu epidemic on the tail end of WWI and many areas had been drastically affected by both. Whereas flu generally killed the elderly or the very young, this one killed those in the prime of their lives.

All four of the women are struggling, in different ways. Louisa is now a widow and is also being targeted about her husband’s debts. Although Adelaide’s husband returned, he’s struggling and isn’t interested in her claims that the family general store is being ripped off by the manager. Maggie is very young, left to raise her hellion little brothers and Pearl is new in town. She’s taken a job as a housekeeper but her real reasons for being in Prospect, NSW are to try and find her wayward fiancé, who returned from the war and disappeared.

As women in 1919, they are restricted by social expectations and also aren’t particularly taken seriously. Adelaide can’t get anyone to listen to her about the general store manager, the men that Pearl must talk to in seeking her fiancé won’t give her any answers. Louisa has her own problems and Maggie needs a firm hand to help her pull the boys into line. And perhaps get back the land that is rightfully belonging to her family. The idea of hiring a man to ‘share’ between them is a great one, albeit scandalous, should anyone ever find out the man’s true reason for being in town. A man will be able to do the things that they as ladies cannot do, conduct conversations that they cannot indulge in. Unfortunately, the choice is entrusted to someone else and they send them…..Martin Duffy.

From first glance it’s appallingly obvious that Martin Duffy is not the man that any of the ladies need. He doesn’t have the confident and assured manner to deal with many different types of people but that doesn’t matter to several of them, who rather fancy that Martin Duffy could become less of a figurative husband and more of an actual husband. Although Martin does do his best to investigate the various problems the four ladies are happen, he’s rather inadequate for the task. I think some of the story does fall a bit flat because it relies a lot on the premise that these four women have faith in him to help them out. Their attitudes towards him are quite interesting – and there’s a lot of bickering over who has the greater problem and needs him to sort it out for them first. The women are not what you’d call friends – they’re from different walks of life, different social classes, they have various feuds and foibles between them and at times their relationships really do reflect this is a forced situation. Four women who need a man to sort something for them in a world where they cannot reliably do it for themselves. Of them all, Pearl is the most capable. She really only needs a man to accompany her to the railway construction sites in order to try and get some information from the men working there to find if her fiancé has been through this area. She is able to keep Adelaide’s house, mind her child and be the voice of reason at almost every turn. Maggie is young and panicked, saddled with a stressful situation and judged by quite a few of the locals. Adelaide came across as high strung but she had the right idea and I did find the journey for her and her husband very interesting – I wish a bit more could have been spent on it. Louisa was the character I had the most trouble connecting with and there were a lot of…..unresolved issues with her story. My favourite part of the story was Pearl and her love interest.

I did feel a little of this story was left unfinished but in the below Q&A with author Barbara Toner there’s a bit of information that helps with that feeling!

7/10

Book #20 of 2018

And now……10 Questions with Barbara Toner

Q1. Hello Barbara and welcome to my blog. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me. To start, could you share your road to publication?

This is the twelfth book I’ve had published and I wrote it without finding a publisher first because I wanted to take my time with it.  Once a book has been commissioned (as the sequel to Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband has been) then there is a deadline and this creates an urgency, which can he helpful but not necessarily.  When I was more or less happy with it, I gave it to my agent, who offered it to Bantam who offered us a deal. But if you mean how was I first published, then I did write a commissioned book. I’d just had my first baby and was looking for some guidance on combining motherhood with a career. When I couldn’t find it, I decided to write it and Double Shift, A Practical Guide For Working Mothers was commissioned.

Q2. Let’s talk writing! Are you a meticulous planner or a wing it and see where things go writer?

Bit of both. I do a lot of thinking before I start and I make a long list of everything I know about the book I think I want to write. This is very helpful for brain sorting.  With some books I’ve stuck very closely to the original outline but with this book I knew where I was headed but that was it. I   worked out the twists and turns as I went along.  There was a lot of plotting because I had four heroines whose stories needed to be entwined.

Q3. Is writing a full-time occupation for you or do you balance it with other work?

It’s full time. I spent most of my life combining books with journalism and that was easily done and very rewarding.

Q4. Is there anywhere you prefer to write (such as a study/office or café) and anything you consider essential for the mood, such as coffee/tea or music?

Mostly I write at my desk in my study. I work for about five hours a day with a break for lunch.  I get up and wander about as often as I can remember or when something in the plot is bothering me.  Usually I do a couple of hours revision before lunch and three hours new work in the afternoon.  No tea, no coffee, no music.

Q5. How much research did you have to do for the 1919 small town setting for Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part Time Husband?

I did quite a lot of reading about rural NSW in 1919.  This helped me with the political and social landscape but   then I only fact checked when the need arose. I’ve almost certainly made mistakes in the interests of a good story for which I apologise to anyone offended by them.

Q6. What made you include the walers in the story? Was there a prior interest or something that just came up?

The curious thing about the walers was that I wanted Louisa to be under siege and was tantalised by the idea of   horses being delivered to her in the dead of night.  I was well into the book before I came across the walers and they fitted perfectly into the plot that was unfolding for her.

Q7. You’ve written both non-fiction and fiction titles. For you, how different (or similar!) are the processes?

The process is very different.  Factual books require meticulous research and a lot of analysis then cross-checking of the information.  Fiction for me is largely about dreaming a world into existence and making it both accessible and compelling to people other than yourself.

Q8. For some fun…….what 3 things would you want if you were stranded on a desert island?

Laptop, wi fi and water. I’d be utterly useless.

Q9. What 5 books or authors would you recommend?

Authors:  EM Forster, Patrick de Witt, Elizabeth Strout, William Thackeray, Richard Pike Bissell

Q10. And lastly…..what’s next for you? Can you share anything about what you might be working on or have plans to?

As above am currently writing the sequel to this book, set in the same place about the four ladies ten years later.

Thanks once again for joining me on my blog! ~Bree

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Review: Irresistible You by Kate Meader

Irresistible You (Chicago Rebels #1)
Kate Meader
Pocket Star
2017, 400p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Hot in Chicago series author Kate Meader returns with her all new, scorching Chicago Rebels hockey series. Three estranged sisters inherit their late father’s failing hockey franchise and are forced to confront a man’s world, their family’s demons, and the battle-hardened ice warriors skating into their hearts.

Harper Chase has just become the most powerful woman in the NHL after the death of her father Clifford Chase, maverick owner of the Chicago Rebels. But the team is a hot mess—underfunded, overweight, and close to tapping out of the league. Hell-bent on turning the luckless franchise around, Harper won’t let anything stand in her way. Not her gender, not her sisters, and especially not a veteran player with an attitude problem, a chip on his shoulder, and a smoldering gaze designed to melt her ice-compacted defenses.

Veteran center Remy “Jinx” DuPre is on the downside of a career that’s seen him win big sponsorships, fans’ hearts, and more than a few notches on his stick. Only one goal has eluded him: the Stanley Cup. Sure, he’s been labeled as the unluckiest guy in the league, but with his recent streak of good play, he knows this is his year. So why the hell is he being shunted off to a failing hockey franchise run by a ball-buster in heels? And is she seriously expecting him to lead her band of misfit losers to a coveted spot in the playoffs?

He’d have a better chance of leading Harper on a merry skate to his bed…

I collect freebies and bargains from iBooks all the time. I can’t even remember when I bought this or how much I paid for it but at a guess it was either free or under $4.99. I chose it on a whim the other day and I’m so glad I did because I thought it was such a fun read and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series (which I now have to buy).

Harper has just inherited ailing NHL team the Chicago Rebels after her father dies. There’s plenty of catches – her two sisters are her co-owners, one of which she barely knows. There’s some caveats on performance as well, just another way for Harper’s father to reiterate that he doesn’t think she can do this, all the way from the grave. Desperate to yank the team up through the table in its division, Harper has traded in Remy DuPre, a veteran of years of experience but who has never won the Stanley Cup. This is it for Remy, his final year and he wants that silver. He is none too happy to be shunted off to a team that doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell and he’s not afraid to show it. If Harper wants him to pull this team together, she’s going to have to give him something he wants in return…..

NHL isn’t super big here – we only get a couple games shown each week and it’s pretty random what they are. But I have a few American and Canadian friends who are dead into it and for fun I picked a team to follow based on the age old method of “choose the one with the jersey you like the most”. That for me, was the San Jose Sharks. I’ve kept up with how they’re doing, watched a few games (other teams) but I have to admit, I still don’t know all the rules, etc yet. However I do quite enjoy the sport so I was pretty confident I’d like the setting for this and I was right.

I love the premise – Harper has a lot of issues stemming from not only her doubting father, who made no secret of the fact that he seemed to regard the hockey world as a male one and that Harper would never be able to make her mark on it, but also a violent relationship from her past. There’s the added complication of having to work with her sisters to make the team a success. They share only a father in common, all having different mothers and having been raised in very different circumstances. But they must work together in order to inherit and they must make the team a success. It’s slow going and Harper is a bit of a control freak and also, Remy DuPre has her stuck between a rock and a very hard place.

Remy is of Cajun background, which I loved. Haven’t come across too many in romance books before – I’m sure they’re out there, I just haven’t read many. He was very polite but first in a kind of ‘fuck you’ sort of way because he resented being traded in to the Rebels and wanted to play hardball to get what he wanted. The attraction between him and Harper is pretty immediate but Harper is already facing issues with being a woman in a very male dominated world. If it got out that she, as CEO, was sleeping with one of her players, she feels it’d be a disaster – the end of her. But she can’t resist either – the chemistry is pretty sizzling and I really liked Remy. Yes he’s a super hot veteran ice hockey player but he’s not a stereotypical jock. And I understood his anger at being traded – he’d already missed several chances to win the Stanley in his career and this was really his final chance. His anger is directed towards Harper but almost in a polite, gentlemanly style way. He’s pretty good at getting what he wants but things become complicated for Remy when he has to question just what is the most important thing for him.

The romance was great in this – Harper is kind of uptight and driven, she definitely needs a bit of chilling out and Remy provides those slower vibes (as well as loads of hot sex to relax her too!). He’s got a lot of hidden depths and he’s a really interesting character. He’s very open about when he finishes playing he wants to settle down, have a family. He’s the sort you can see as a stay at home dad! But as much as I did enjoy the romance aspect, I also really liked the arc that’s going to continue over the series, which is Harper and her sisters trying to turn this team around. Harper spends time getting to know her sisters in this book and therefore, so do we. Both her sisters have their own books coming up – I’m pretty keen for the next one which involves middle sister Isobel and an icy Russian player the Rebels picked up to be their left winger. Right now, these are perfect reads to break up my review copies.

8/10

Book #25 of 2018

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