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Review: In At The Deep End by Penelope Janu

in-at-the-deep-endIn At The Deep End
Penelope Janu
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2017, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

What woman doesn’t love a real-life hero? Harriet Scott, for one. The fiercely independent daughter of famous adventurers, she grew up travelling the world on the environmental flagship The Watch. So when Harriet’s ship sinks in Antarctica and she has to be rescued by Commander Per Amundsen, an infuriatingly capable Norwegian naval officer and living breathing action hero, her world is turned upside down.

Like their namesakes, the original Scott and Amundsen who competed to reach the South Pole first, Per and Harriet have different ways of doing things. Per thinks Harriet is an accident waiting to happen; Harriet thinks Per is a control freak. But when Harriet realises that Per is the only one who can help her fund the new ship she desperately wants, she is forced to cooperate with him.

Per refuses to assist unless Harriet allows him to teach her to swim. But there is more to Harriet’s terrible fear of water than meets the eye. Can Harriet face her fears and come to terms with the trauma and loss of her past? And will she begin to appreciate that some risks are well worth taking—and that polar opposites can, in fact, attract?

Eek, where to start?! This is one of my favourite reads so far this year. The sort of book I keep on hand for when I’m bored or need a bit of a pick me up. I can open it to anywhere and just start reading and sink back into the story.

Harriet is such an interesting character – her parents were environmentalists and adventurers, travelling the globe and taking Harriet with them. She never went to school, instead her education was conducted out in the field. She’s passionate about a lot of things, especially continuing the work of the Scott Foundation. Harriet provides a very public face, giving the public donating their money something to connect with. Her life has always been public and it’s something she’s used to, although she does have her boundaries.

By contrast, Commander Per Amundsen is controlled, methodical and unimpressed with what he sees as Harriet’s impetuousness. Forced to work together for mutual benefit, the chemistry between Harriet and Per is off the charts. Harriet isn’t always an easy person to be around – she struggles with a very real and terrifying phobia and often she lashes out when dealing with that. It’s clear that whatever happened to Harriet to bring on this phobia was incredibly bad and it’s still affecting her many, many years later. Some of those scenes….poor Harriet! I’ve never experienced anything quite like that before, I felt for her. And I admired her, because no matter how horrific it was, she kept going. Although she has tried avoidance tactics before and probably given up ever finding a way to overcome her fear (and she is kind of manipulated into trying again) she shows a real determination and her willingness to put herself through what had to be a sort of hell showed a real personal strength. And that is Harriet in a nutshell probably….a vulnerable centre but strong and feisty.

This book has a lot of its story grounded in environmental issues and climate change. Harriet is an environmentalist and geography teacher who works tirelessly to raise awareness for environmental issues and Per is a scientist and naval officer who is going to drill ice cores in the Antarctic to find out information about climate changes. I really liked these aspects of the book – their interest in the environment is both a big part of who both Harriet and Per are. It also gives them something in common, albeit they approach their fields in very different ways.

There was just so much I loved about this….the opening scene is all action and definitely hooks the reader in but after that it’s almost more a journey of emotional strength and connection. Per and Harriet have scenes together that aren’t exactly what you’d call romantic in terms of what Per is helping her achieve but they do actually build a real bond underneath the awkwardness and some sexual tension. Harriet isn’t particularly experienced either so quite often she misses Per’s interest in her or mistakes it for something else. Per is really my sort of character  – I do love the tall, dark and silent type, the ones who come across as a bit abrupt at first but underneath are full of heart. He’s a little bit serious, a bit standoffish at times and I thought the Polarman references were cute and fun. Per speaks Norwegian a bit but you’re not left hanging, wondering what he’s saying because Harriet is always asking him how to say things and what is the meaning of what he just said, etc.

There are just books that tick all your boxes and come along at the right time and this is one of them. For me it was just a really well executed story with two main characters that sizzled and some good supporting characters as well. I cannot wait for Penelope Janu’s next book……especially as it’s going to feature Per’s identical twin brother! But while I wait for that, I think I’ll be re-reading this one a few more times!

9/10

Book #3 of 2017

 

 

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Thoughts On: No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani

No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison
Behrouz Boochani (translated from Farsi by Omid Tofighian)
Picador
2018, 374p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Where have I come from? From the land of rivers, the land of waterfalls, the land of ancient chants, the land of mountains…

In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was illegally detained on Manus Island. He has been there ever since.

People would run to the mountains to escape the warplanes and found asylum within their chestnut forests…

This book is the result. Laboriously tapped out on a mobile phone and translated from the Farsi. It is a voice of witness, an act of survival. A lyric first-hand account. A cry of resistance. A vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile.

Do Kurds have any friends other than the mountains?

This book has been on my radar for a while but it wasn’t until it won a couple of Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards that I ended up picking up a copy. It’s unusual in that obviously, due to being detained on Manus Island as part of Australia’s policy to deter asylum seekers from trying to arrive by boat, Boochani isn’t an Australian citizen. Which is a prerequisite for consideration in the Premier’s Lit Awards. However, they granted entry under special circumstances and this novel won the non-fiction prize ($25k prizemoney) and also the overall Victorian Prize for Literature ($100k prize money). And while he earns these prestigious awards, Boochani is still on Manus Island.

This is the sort of book that it’s hard to say ‘oh I loved it’ or something like that. It’s the story of someone’s extreme suffering and hardship. Boochani is a Kurdish journalist who fled Iran in fear for his life, making his way to Indonesia. He was unsuccessful in his first attempt to come to Australia by boat and was forced to return to shore. His second attempt nearly ended in disaster. The boat capsized but they were rescued by a fishing boat and transferred to a British tanker who then called in the Australian Navy. Boochani was taken first to Christmas Island and then transferred to Manus in 2013. He’s been there ever since.

The conditions are horrific. There’s really no other way to describe them. You wouldn’t expect animals to live in some of the conditions people in these prisons (and that’s what they are) do. And it’s not just the poor sewage, lack of decent or even adequate amounts of food, the sweltering heat, the bugs, the overcrowded conditions. It’s even the denial of little, simple pleasures that would help make this awful incarceration bearable even for a few minutes. Boochani tells of a time where some of the people on Manus sat down at a white table and drew a backgammon game on the tabletop. The prison guards stomped over and crossed it out, confiscated the bottle tops or whatever it was they were playing with and scrawled ‘no games allowed’ across the table top. That’s just such an asshole move, exerting authority for authority’s sake. Even prisoners guilty of terrible crimes in Australia get games, books, TVs, leisure time and exercise equipment.

Boochani is eloquent – probably even incredibly more so in Farsi, I’m guessing. Maybe even more so than that in Kurdish. This book was constructed painstakingly by him writing text messages in WhatsApp, which were then translated. It’s the first translated book I’ve read where there’s a 35 page introduction by the translator which talks of the intricacies in translating Boochani’s original words. He’s a poet as well, so part of this story is told in his poetry. The translator has clearly put a lot of effort into his process, choosing each word with the utmost care and the result is beautiful in English as well.

Perhaps many of those on this warship are like me/
Perhaps they discovered courage/
Discovered it within the valley of dread/
With minor apprehensions/
Within major horrors/

Perhaps they discovered the courage to combat the waves/
The inevitable war the only way forward.

I make no secret of my own politics, never have. I wanted them all brought here before I read this book and it only just cements it, how terrible the journey is, how awful what they find at the other end. Most of the people trying to reach Australia seem to have an idealised version of it – paradise. And perhaps it is, compared to what they are fleeing. But some of them will never know, shunted from one island to the next, repeatedly told they’ll never make it to Australia but they’ll be happy to cover the cost of the airfare back ‘home’. Which is ironic, given most people probably no longer have a home. There’s mind games played by the guards and those in charge – revolving around food, drinks, phone call access. There’s no air conditioning, just fans that struggle against the heat but sometimes the power is cut, just to remind them that they can withhold even that. The bathroom/shower conditions are truly stuff of nightmares, with prisoners often forced to wade through waste ankle deep. There are countless ways detailed in this, in which people are repeatedly stripped of their dignity, for daring to want something better. For daring to want to go somewhere that they will feel and be safe. Only to find at the end they’re achieving probably neither of those things. In his acceptance speech for receiving the Literary Awards (well worth a read), Boochani talks of the ways in which he kept images in his mind of who he was, which helped him “uphold his dignity and keep his identity”.

There are so many times I wish I had the words to more adequately describe pieces of work like this. It feels not enough, no matter what I say. With this book, I think it’s the way of delivery just as much as the actual story it’s telling. I read it so carefully – I even tabbed it with sticky notes, because I didn’t want to forget anything. But when it comes to sitting and down and writing thoughts on it, I looked at the book, at the many, many sticky notes poking out of it, things I wanted to include, quotes that I thought were amazing, important things that happened and thought, well it’s impossible to include everything. It really is. This is a book that has important things to say on almost every page.

One day, in the future, some politician will be making a formal apology for what happened to the people taken to places like Manus Island and Nauru. The policy and treatment of these people is a stain on this country’s soul.

10/10

Book #24 of 2019

 

 

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Review: Lawson’s Bend by Nicole Hurley-Moore

Lawson’s Bend
Nicole Hurley-Moore
Allen & Unwin
2019, 321p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In the hot summer of 2008, a tragic accident at the lake on the outskirts of Lawson’s Bend forever scars the townsfolk. At an end-of-year celebratory campout, several students from the local high school drown and Henrietta Bolton loses her best friend, Georgie, to the murky waters. Unable to accept this as an accident, Henny runs from the small country town vowing never to come back.

Stephen Drake has never left. Instead, he’s tried to settle down, working with his dad on their small farm. Stephen had dreams of a different life but after the night at the lake, nothing seemed important anymore.

Years later, Henny is forced to return to Lawson’s Bend when her beloved mother dies. Henny’s plan is to finalise her mother’s estate, sell the house and get the hell out of town as quickly as possible. But there is Stephen…

Ever since they were kids Stephen has had a soft spot for Henny and it was he who saved her life that night amid the panic. Yet he never had the courage to tell her just how he felt. But now she’s back in town, Stephen wonders if he has a second chance.

Henny got the heck out of her country town a decade ago after a terrible tragedy. She’s spent her time since that drifting from job to job, travelling, not really doing much. When her mother dies suddenly, Henny is forced back to Lawson’s Bend for the funeral and also to pack up the house and make some decisions. There are some people still in town that never left – people she went to school with who have made their lives in the small central Victorian town and Henny is pleasantly surprised to be reconnecting with some of them. However when there’s another tragedy at the reservoir Henny realises that she still has unanswered questions about what happened all those years ago. She wants to find out the truth – about what is happening now and also what really happened back then and why some people’s accounts don’t seem to add up.

I really enjoyed the setting of this book – Lawson’s Bend is somewhere not too far from Bendigo (which is a couple hours from where I live) and even though I’ve not really been up to that way it’s familiar enough to me to remind me of plenty of places I have visited and spent time in. It’s quite clear that the town was deeply scarred by what happened to the kids at the reservoir almost a decade ago – three teens drowned, including Henny’s best friend. When her visit back to Lawson’s Bend coincides with a 10 year memorial ceremony and sculpture being unveiled, Henny suddenly begins reexamining that time and asking a lot of questions, especially after another incident. She even begins wondering about her own mother’s death and how it suddenly occurred in an area that she was intimately familiar with and visited every day. Henny starts asking questions of the locals, stirring up memories – and there’s definitely someone who isn’t happy with her inquisitiveness.

Which, to be honest, I could kind of understand on a smaller scale. A lot of the people are still very upset by what happened and have tried to move on. Henny isn’t particularly subtle with her amateur investigation and even when variously people tell her that she’s upsetting people, Henny doesn’t really care. I think I’d have liked to see a little more sensitivity in her attitude to be honest. I mean I know she was badly affected too and she’s the only person that at the moment, seems to see a few issues but you kind of have to show a bit of compassion and understanding to people who maybe just have been trying to move on with their lives and do the best they can. Having her come along and stir things up would no doubt be quite upsetting but Henny doesn’t seem to really care about that at all. Or she cares a bit but ultimately it doesn’t change anything, she just keeps bulldozing her way along.

Henny connects again with Stephen Drake, who had a crush on her all those years ago in high school. Stephen stayed in town working on his family’s farm due to several circumstances and he sees Henny’s arrival as a second chance. If she will give him a go. Henny keeps telling him that she’s not sure Stephen is her type. He’s a nice guy and she tends to go more for the bad boy type. But as Henny begins reevaluating her life and what she actually wants, suddenly a life in Lawson’s Bend – and with Stephen – doesn’t seem so unlikely. I really liked Stephen as a character, he’s a genuinely nice guy who has always really cared for and about Henny and even though he doesn’t really believe that things are suspicious the same way Henny does, he tries to be supportive. He’s also the voice of reason in their fledgling relationship when it seems like Henny doesn’t really understand how to interact after an argument. His relationship with his father is really nice too. I enjoyed the scenes with the two of them a lot.

This was an enjoyable read with a bit of intrigue.

7/10

Book #22 of 2019

Lawson’s Bend is the 5th book read and reviewed for The Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

 

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Review: Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Remind Me How This Ends
Gabrielle Tozer
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 338p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s the summer after high school ends and everyone is moving on. Winning scholarships. Heading to uni. Travelling the world. Everyone except Milo Dark. Milo feels his life is stuck on pause. His girlfriend is 200km away, his mates have bailed for bigger things and he is convinced he’s missed the memo reminding him to plan the rest of his life. Then Layla Montgomery barrels back into his world after five years without so much as a text message.

As kids, Milo and Layla were family friends who shared everything – hiding out in her tree house, secrets made at midnight, and sunny afternoons at the river. But they haven’t spoken since her mum’s funeral. Layla’s fallen apart since that day. She pushed away her dad, dropped out of school and recently followed her on-again-off-again boyfriend back to town because she has nowhere else to go. Not that she’s letting on how tough things have been.

What begins as innocent banter between Milo and Layla soon draws them into a tangled mess with a guarantee that someone will get hurt. While it’s a summer they’ll never forget, is it one they want to remember?

It pains me to write this, but I struggled with this book.

I was really looking forward to it. I loved Tozer’s The Intern and was really excited about this. The cover is lovely and it was getting glowing reviews everywhere. I couldn’t find it in a nearby bookstore so I even ordered it in. I was so keen that I even started it pretty much right away.

It’s a split male/female point of view – Milo has just finished school, missed the cut off to apply for university because he didn’t know what he wanted to do and as a result, is still stuck in his small country town while his girlfriend and friend have moved away to bigger cities and are experiencing all that university has to offer. When he goes to visit Sal, his girlfriend, he’s rendered insecure by the raucous friendships and the closeness that Sal has developed with her fellow residentials. Sal seems to be changing rapidly but for Milo, a lot of things are still the same.

He runs into an old childhood friend named Layla who moved away some five or so years ago and Milo hasn’t seen her since. Layla is in a position similar to Milo’s in a way in that her life has become somewhat static. She’s moved out of home and is living with her boyfriend Kurt, who seems to be delving deeper into the seedier side of life for an income. Layla finds herself back in the town that is the source of so much pain for her but a bright spot is reconnecting with Milo. They were such good friends back in the day and gravitate towards each other once more now that Layla has returned. The only thing is that their friendship seems to have….become a bit more complicated, which is a bit awkward as Milo has a girlfriend and Layla has a boyfriend.

On one hand, I do find a bit of what this book explores very interesting and that is the post-high school period. A lot of pressure is placed upon year 12 students to know what they want to do, to have it all sorted out and even if you don’t, apply for something, apply for anything because once you’re in you can always switch later. Milo doesn’t know what he wants to do – he has not a single clue. He just knows that he doesn’t want to waste time and so he spends his days working in his parent’s bookshop and avoiding talks on his future. His parents seem very keen to have him do something. If he’s taking a gap year, they’re already on his back about maybe buying a house, studying this or that, doing something. His tactic is to attempt to avoid really and it doesn’t really seem like his father would listen anyway.

Where I struggled was with the actual characters themselves and their interactions. Milo – to be 100% honest I found him bland and uninteresting, lacking in anything remotely resembling a personality. He passively sits by and watches every thing else going on around him with little regard or interest in well, pretty much anything. He even ended up in a relationship with Sal more by accident than out of any real feeling for her and he seems to view the disintegration of their relationship after she moves to university with detachment.

I found Layla more interesting – actually I felt sorry for Layla in a lot of ways. But some of those ways really didn’t get much clear resolution which I felt was unfortunate. I’d have liked one scene with Layla and her father, a bonus if he actually acknowledged the ways in which his actions had made her life somewhat difficult over the past few years. Layla has very much been left to raise herself in a way and it gets to the stage where she really needs help but feels that she can’t ask for it. Her hand ends up being forced and it works out in such a way that you wonder why she was reluctant in the first place. I felt that her relationship with her boyfriend was somewhat inconsistent – well more that he was inconsistent, attempting to be supportive sometimes and at others being completely absent, uninterested and dismissive.

But what I most didn’t ‘feel’ about the story was the sort of budding romance between Milo and Layla. I just didn’t feel that any of their interactions had chemistry. The friendship was nice, but it never really seemed believable any further than that for me. What I did like? Was the ending. It felt like that’s the way it should’ve gone, that it was the right way to go for both of them, who still had much to work through.

A mixed bag unfortunately – for me this just did not live up to the hype.

6/10

Book #75 of 2017

Remind Me How This Ends is book #24 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Blog Tour Review: Words In Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

words-in-deep-blueWords In Deep Blue
Cath Crowley
PanMacmillan AUS
2016, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is a love story.
It’s the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.
It’s the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she’s back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.

This is my first Cath Crowley book although bloggers I know have sung the praises of her Graffiti Moon for a long time. It’s one of those books that speaks to a reader in so many ways, an interwoven tale of love, grief, friendship and books. What more could a reader want?

Rachel is 18 and has just failed year 12 after a devastating personal loss ten months ago. She’s moving back to Gracetown, a fictional suburb in north Melbourne where she lived up until three years ago, when she moved close to the sea. She was to start a job at a cafe in a hospital but after it falls through her aunt gets her a job at the second hand bookstore owned by the parents of a boy who was once her closest friend. She will be cataloguing all the books but it will mean working with Henry, who Rachel stopped writing to after she moved away.

For Henry, there is so much confusion. Rachel, his best friend, stopped talking to him. Amy, the girl he loves won’t stop messing with his head. She’s broken up with him again but she always comes back. And now Rachel is back too, working at the bookstore. She is suffering but whatever is causing her pain, she keeps silent on it. And now Henry’s mother wishes to sell the bookstore, which is barely breaking even and he has to decide which way his vote should go.

This is a book that will stay with you. The characters of Rachel and Henry are superb. They share the narrative and each is clearly defined. Rachel’s grief is palpable, almost leaping off the page to punch you in the face. Her loss is substantial and it’s coloured with a ‘what if’ guilt that haunts her. She loved Henry when she lived in Gracetown previously but he chose red-haired, manipulative Amy. Despite his desperation over Amy, an unlikable character in the extreme, Henry is still lovable and his dedication to the bookshop is….incredible.

Which brings me to the setting. Oh, the setting of this book. It’s like my spirit animal. I love all bookstores, they’ve been my happy place for as long as I can remember – from a 7/8yo going to Bookworld before it was bought by Angus & Robertson, picking up the next Baby Sitters Club or Thoroughbred series book to now. Second hand bookstores are just as good, the potential in there is unlimited. You never know what sort of gem you might find in there. Living in a town without a real bookstore is a struggle these days – if I want something I have to order online and wait or travel 40min in either direction to find a proper bookstore. The setting of Howling Books is such a beautiful place – this novel is littered with literary references, classical and contemporary. In the bookstore is a section called the Letter Library where patrons can read a book from the shelves there and leave notes, etc in the margins, or letters to other readers, but they cannot buy those books or remove them from that part of the store. It forms such an incredible part of the novel, which includes letters exchanged between the characters. Not just Rachel and Harry but also between Harry’s sister George and several others as well as letters and comments from Harry’s parents to each other which gives the reader such insight into their personalities and also their predicament with selling the store. It’s a good location on a big block and it will fetch such a price that all of them will financially comfortable. However for that they will trade away the bookstore and for Harry, George and their father, this is indeed a heavy price to pay.

I really enjoyed the story of George, Harry’s sister and her evolving relationship with Martin, a guy her age who is also hired to catalog the store contents. George is a prickly sort, ostracised and bullied at school and Martin, who used to date her nemesis, faces a hard road in winning her over. The character of Martin was adorable and some of his letters and moments with George were a real highlight.

Words In Deep Blue is really beautiful coming of age story, thoughtfully exploring love and grief in some of their purest forms. It’s not just about romantic love either, it’s deeper than that with homage to friendship, literature and home. I enjoyed every second of it and am putting Graffiti Moon on my ‘must acquire’ list straight away.

8/10

Book #172 of 2016

This review is part of the Words In Deep Blue blog tour. Please make sure you check out the rest of the stops listed below for some awesome reviews and author interviews.

a-cathcrowleydates-1

 

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Review: Endless Knight by Kresley Cole

Endless KnightEndless Knight (The Arcana Chronicles #2)
Kresley Cole
Simon & Schuster
2013, 336p
Read from my local library

Evie has now fully come into her powers as the Empress. She understands what she’s capable of and she understands the game that is being played. Everyone who has been reincarnated as one of the Tarot cards are in a battle to the death with the winner being granted immortality. She’s taken out one of the players already, although only because he threatened her. However there’s no denying that when her Empress persona takes over, Evie finds it almost impossible to stay in control. The Empress wants to inflict pain and suffering and it’s very difficult to pull herself away from that.

Evie decides it might be time to approach the games a bit differently and call a truce. After all, they’re bigger than the game, they can decide not to kill each other. She’s already in an alliance with the Fool, who guides her way, the Moon and the Magician and she’s sure there are other players out there that she can convince they can work together.

With the possible exception of Death.

Death has been speaking to Evie for a while now. And when he kidnaps her and takes her back to his stronghold, Evie knows that if she wants to escape, she’s going to have to employ some unusual methods. Death and Evie have a past that she can’t remember and he can’t forget. She’s also the only person Death can touch, skin on skin contact without killing them. And Death wants to touch her.

Although Evie has feelings for Jack, the Cajun boy from her hometown, there’s no denying that the more time she spends with Death, the more she is drawn to him. She begins to learn, remember, bits and pieces of their history and what they have shared over the years. The love….and the betrayal.

I read the first book in this series, Poison Princess as part of the Simon Pulse 30 Days of Reading promotion in December but it was during the time I was taking a break from blogging so I never ended up writing a review for it. I didn’t realise that not long after I finished that, the third book was due out and promos began popping up on my instagram inviting followers to comment if they were #teamJack or #teamDeath. Given Death was a psychopath who killed her in her dreams and spoke to Evie in her mind about killing her and how good it would be, I was sort of surprised that so many were showing their love for him. I figured that book 2 would be “Death’s book” and I was willing to be converted.

Well, that didn’t happen. In actual fact, I find Death kind of boring. Blah blah he’s so old and tormented, being immortal and all. He never gets to touch people so he’s all alone with no friends. He’s like the original whiny emo with a side of sadistic murderer thrown in. He has an annoying habit of referring to Evie as “creature” when he speaks to her and I really don’t get why he didn’t just kill her to begin with. He talks of ‘this lifetime’ as the one time he decided not to show her any mercy but that’s pretty much what he does. He takes her to his home, gives her food and clothing, allows her free rein (mostly, although some areas are off limits and he has incapacitated her powers). Despite the fact that he’s thousands of years old, all Evie has to do is put on some workout clothes and dance and he’s panting around after her like a horny teenager. All the while he claims he cannot be seduced but it’s pretty clear, that yes he can and will. The thing is, as their history becomes more and more clear, I get the feeling I should’ve been swayed more towards him. He’s endured a lot at the hands of the Empress’s past incarnations but I really didn’t care. He spends so much time running away from Evie that the chemistry feels lackluster and disappointing.

Look, Jack is kind of a douche too. I get that. But he’s an 18yo boy from a terrible area who has had an awful home life and been treated like dirt probably his whole life. He’s insensitive at times and this book reveals that he kept some pretty big secrets from Evie. Which she gets all super angry about despite the fact that she was keeping things from him. Jack has his flaws for sure. But I find them interesting when they’re together, even when they’re fighting. The chemistry is there when they’re squaring off and it’s there during the more gentle moments too. I feel as though the Death thing was being forced – oh there is history and betrayal and she’s the only one that can tame the killing machine. I feel as though this book played all of Death’s cards whereas Jack still has a lot up his sleeve, such as precisely who is and what role he has to play in the Arcana. I’m pretty sure he’s not just an average boy and that he does have some sort of deeper involvement.

It’s kind of weird when you don’t ‘get’ a coupling. I wonder if there’s something wrong with me or if I just tend to really go for the first guy that comes into the picture? I don’t know. I mean I’m Team Ranger in the Stephanie Plum books so I guess that isn’t true. But I really don’t get all of the love for Death. He has about as much personality as the average household pot plant for me. Gosh knows Evie isn’t perfect either, she’s spoiled and silly and jumps to conclusions and all the rest. She’s done a bit of growing and she clearly has a lot more to do. But I just don’t really see a future for them. Kind of hard to be happily ever after with a guy who kills everyone he touches and wants to kill all your friends.

The third book has been released now and I find myself torn about reading it. I actually tried to find a few spoilers around to see if it was going to end the way I wanted it to or if I was going to go through the whole thing only to get to the end and go argh! But there’s not really much around. Guess I’m just going to have to bit the bullet and see what happens.

6/10

Book #10 of 2015

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Review: Deeper Water – Jessie Cole

Deeper WaterDeeper Water
Jessie Cole
Harper Collins AUS
2014, 337p
Copy courtesy of the author

Mema lives a sheltered life, at home with her mother in a remote cottage deep in bushland. Homeschooled, Mema has rarely ventured beyond the farm, making only brief journeys to the small town nearby and the markets where she and her mother sell their pots.

During heavy summer floods Mema is out tending to a cow who is about to give birth when she sees a car washed off a bridge and into the creek. Thinking quickly, she is able to encourage the driver to smash the window and she helps him get to shore by extending a large branch for him to hold onto. Mema takes him home as there is no where else for him to go. Hamish, an environmental consultant from the city is a fish out of water in the small cottage which loses power in heavy storms, that doesn’t have a computer or the internet.

Hamish has to stay at the cottage with Mema and her mother until the waters recede and he can get to the nearby town. Mema shows him what her life involves – bodyboarding down the swollen creek, exploring the local bush and running in the rain. Sheltered as she has been, Mema has never really spent much time with a man before and he opens up a whole new world of feeling and intrigue for her.

In the last four years, I’ve reviewed a lot of books. Sometimes the words come easy, sometimes I have to coax them. The reasons for the writers block can be varied but I honestly think this is probably the first time I haven’t really known what to write because the book is so beautifully written and I’m not sure how to convey that accurately. It’s now almost two weeks since I read this book, having come down with the flu the day after I finished it. I normally like to write the review as close to finishing the book as possible, so everything is fresh in my mind. However perhaps with this book, time to reflect on it and mull it over in my mind is a bonus, rather than a disadvantage.

Mema is a truly unique character, sheltered from the outside world in many ways. She spends most of her time at her family’s isolated cabin where there’s no television and no computer. Mema’s mother earns just enough money for them to survive by selling the clay pots she makes and Mema contributes too, making mugs and smaller items to sell at markets. There’s an innocence to Mema that’s so utterly charming, she has a really interesting way of looking at nature and the environment. Her surroundings are precious to her and she has love for everything that makes up nature, even the ugly parts that no one else cares for, such as cane toads which are known pests. Seeing the world through Mema’s eyes was somewhat of a revelation as she takes the time to really see and experience what is happening around her. She takes pleasure from the simplest things – running as fast as she can manage in the rain, body boarding down the creek swollen in the floods. Her childlike enthusiasm and wonder is infectious and city boy Hamish finds himself rather swayed by her even as he doesn’t really understand her.

If this book was a romance, Hamish would turn his back on his city life and live happily ever after in the bush with Mema, building them a cabin or something. But that isn’t the way this story unfolds – there’s much more realism in this story. Hamish is trapped with Mema’s family and he is intrigued by her but at the same time it is quite obvious that Mema is innocent in so many ways, not used to men at all. Mema, although aware of her own ability to self-pleasure, has never connected this to another person before and the arrival of Hamish triggers her sexual awakening and feelings involving other people, wanting to be with another person in a way that she hasn’t before. Mema isn’t unaware of sex and she’s certainly aware of her own mother’s reputation surrounding it, but it’s not something that she seems to have ever been interested in for herself, before Hamish.

It’s hard to accurately describe how vivid the writing is in this novel. Every nuance of the bush is so easy to picture – I experienced running in the rain, the bodyboarding down the creek, even Mema pulling Hamish to safety and then searching for the cow had calved, like I was there myself. Mema’s small cabin that she shares with her mother and occasionally her sister and her sister’s two children is wonderfully depicted, right down the the occupants that occasionally invade the shower and freak Hamish out so much. Mema’s friendship with the troubled Anja is full of an unexpected depth and intrigue. I felt a real connection to Mema and her observations about life – she has older brothers who have all left home, some of which they no longer even hear from anymore and yet Mema remains, not quite ready to leave the nest. The world beyond doesn’t seem to interest her as much as her own surroundings do. Hamish shakes her comfortable existence, offers new experiences and feelings and paves the way toward a new future.

I read Jessie Cole’s first novel, Darkness On The Edge Of Town and was impressed by it but this novel showcases her evolution and advancement as a writer. It’s the sort of book that you wish went a bit longer, just so you could keep reading it and experiencing it.

9/10

Book #163 of 2014

AWWW2014

Deeper Water is book #61 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

Check out the book trailer for Deeper Water here:

 

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Review: Billabong Bend – Jennifer Scoullar

Billabong BendBillabong Bend
Jennifer Scoullar
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 289p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Nina Moore loves her local area with a passion. The beautiful Bunyip River and the marshlands on its banks are home to some rare and wonderful wildlife and she wants to preserve and protect it all. As her parent’s only child, she has taken over their farm and is slowly turning it organic and away from some of the more harsher farming techniques and produce. But her real dream is to purchase Billabong Bend, a nearby property that has fallen into some disrepair since one of the owners died and the other went into hospital. Billabong Bend is a wildlife corridor and Nina would love to see it carefully managed so that it may flourish. However she knows that others have their eye on the property too, albeit for much different reasons to hers.

When her childhood sweetheart Ric Bonelli returns to the local area, it complicates Nina’s life. She and Ric haven’t seen each other since they were fourteen, meeting down by the river for stolen moments. Their fathers have been bitter enemies for a long time and Nina doesn’t care for the way Ric’s cotton farming father works the land. It’s in direct opposition to how she believes the area should be treated. Ric disappeared to Italy when his mother left his father but now he’s back – and with his young daughter in tow. It doesn’t take long for old feelings to rekindle, despite the fact that their families complicate things dramatically and that Nina is in a long-term relationship. Nina can see a future for herself, Ric and Ric’s daughter on the river, caring for the land and seeing the birds and wildlife flourish.

But then a tragic disappearance has Nina and Ric on opposite sides as they struggle to figure out what has happened. When Nina finds out that she may lose her beloved Billabong Bend to the one thing she cannot bear to see happen to it, cotton farming, she blames Ric for the betrayal. But has he jeopardised everything? Or can they put everything aside for one more chance at becoming a family and finding a sustainable and gentle way to work together?

Billabong Bend is the third novel from Jennifer Scoullar that I have read – they’re rural romances in a way but there’s a much deeper underlying message in each one. The author is quite clearly very passionate about the environment and conservation issues and this shines through in her work. In this novel set in northern New South Wales, most of the properties are close to a rare marshland flanking a river. Droughts and unsustainable farming as well as growing crops not entirely suited to the area (such as cotton) have led to problems with the water supply and farmers stooping so low as to “steal” more than their fair share of water. Nina is a ‘modern’ type of farmer – she’s passionate about the environment and protecting it and she puts it first, not the potential yield and money. She’s been switching to organic products and she’s keen to try new ventures such as pressing her own oil with a local co-op. She has dreams for what she can do with Billabong Bend and she’s been trying for years to get the evidence she needs of rare birds nesting there to prevent it from being destroyed.

I really enjoyed learning about the wildlife and Nina’s passion and enthusiasm was incredibly well portrayed, however the romantic aspect of this novel did fall a little flat for me. They haven’t seen each other in a long time and were only fourteen the last time they saw each other. I’d have liked more time with them getting to know each other and reestablishing that teenage connection and less time spent arguing and Nina flouncing off every time Ric did something she didn’t like or his father did something that she didn’t like. I understand that she’s passionate and that she feels very strongly about the environment but Ric had only just returned to the local area to reconnect with his father and introduce his father to his granddaughter. Punishing Ric for his father’s crimes and what his father was doing seemed very pointless to me and there was a bit of push-pull in the latter half of the novel where Nina feels betrayed and like it’s over or she never wants to see him again and then in the next chapter, they’re talking. I liked Nina, I liked Ric and I liked Ric’s headstrong daughter Sophie, who I think reacted to her situation the way most kids would… I especially liked the way that story line fully played out. However I definitely think that Nina and Ric’s relationship, so to speak, needed more work. For instance, Nina is actually in a relationship when Ric returns and it takes rather a long time for that to run its course and her boyfriend Lockie is a little inconsistent, character wise. He’s kind of an ass but then he’s not and then he is again but then he isn’t. It’s never quite explained why they’re in this relationship when both of them appear to be getting absolutely nothing out of it and they hardly even see each other.

As I mentioned, the conservation message is strong in this and that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I quite enjoyed that aspect of it, I think it taught me quite a lot. I’m a coastal girl, I don’t know much about farming and the different types and what sort of farming requires what sort of watering, etc. And I loved Nina – she’s a kick ass kind of girl, she’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in and the scene where she runs off poachers/shooters in the beginning of the book is fabulous. I loved her bond with Sophie and how she takes the little girl under her wing in a way and attempts to give her some stability and some things to be excited about in her new life, which is not working out exactly the way Sophie planned. A little more devoted to the romance and this would’ve been a perfect read for me.

8/10

Book #107 of 2014

AWWW2014

Billabong Bend is the 38th novel read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

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Review: Surrender To Temptation – Lauren Jameson

Surrender To TemptationSurrender To Temptation
Lauren Jameson
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 308p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

After she walked in on her boyfriend with another woman, Devon Reid vows to change her life. She quits her job so that she doesn’t have to see her former boyfriend anymore and she finds herself retreating to a small California town she has visited on vacation before. There, in the local restaurant she meets a man who incinerates her with a single look.

After a brief interaction, he hands her a business card and tells her that if she needs a job, she will find one there. Devon fronts up to Phyrefly Aviation for an interview and is placed in the accounting section. It isn’t until after she’s given a job that she realises the mysterious man from the restaurant is Zach St Brenton, owner and CEO of Phyrefly. A billionaire going places, Devon knows that Zach is hopelessly out of her league. That doesn’t stop her from wanting him though. And it doesn’t seem to stop him from wanting her either.

But Zach’s needs are different to what Devon is accustomed to. Zach isn’t satisfied by vanilla sex and demands his lovers give up full control to him. Devon isn’t sure she likes being told what to do, or surrendering her decisions to Zach, but she doesn’t want to lose him either. Even though they both want different things and she’s pretty sure only heartbreak will await her at the end, she decides to give herself fully to him and let him guide her experiences. And maybe, just maybe, she might be enough for him to want to stay.

When I first started reading this book, I was confused. I knew I’d read the first chapter before and I couldn’t figure out how given it’s a new novel that’s only just being published (I think it was published elsewhere, perhaps online or eBook, in several parts but I knew I wouldn’t have read it there). Finally I figured out that it was a sneak peak in a copy of another Lauren Jameson novel I read recently. The beginning of this novel is very promising – Devon is buying herself some lingerie in an expensive store in the hope that her boyfriend might sleep with her in a position other than the boring missionary. When in the store she hears something about him that trips her suspicion and she goes to his place, only to find him getting busy with someone else, who wears expensive lingerie from the same store – only in a much smaller size than Devon.

After she has fled, Devon crosses paths with Zach St Brenton, an undeniably attractive and rich man who unleashes a little of the inner bad girl in Devon. She wants to experiment with him but Zach runs hot and cold, tracking her down and pushing her away before finally admitting that he wants her but he isn’t sure she’d be into what he desires. He wants a submissive, someone who will hand him complete control. Zach desires to always be in control.

I’ve read several of these types of books recently and they all hinge around the Dom knowing that the woman wants to submit to him fully deep down, even if they don’t know it themselves yet. I don’t really know about this – it doesn’t really sit right with me because I thought that BDSM was about a mutual exploration of fantasy with the Dom desiring to control and the submissive keen to explore their willingness to give up that control. Expecting someone to give that up when they don’t even know they want to sounds a little backwards to me. And the thing that concerned me in this novel is that Devon, once she decides to do what Zach wants, has a safe word. Which is fine, it’s good. However, there are a few times in the novel when she clearly feels like she might want to use it but doesn’t because she knows she’ll never see Zach again if she does. That is not the right reason not to use your safe word! That bothers me because I’m not sure it’s what a safe, consensual BDSM relationship should be about if there is a safeword involved. I know there are couples out there who choose not to have one – the submissive gives up full control to the Dom, trusting them to know their limits and push them only as far as they can go, pain and pleasure wise. However if there is a safeword then a sub shouldn’t feel like they can’t use it for fear that the Dom will spurn them and run away. A Dom should guide a sub through all of the facets of the relationship, including giving them breathing space and time to regroup if they need it. Especially when they’re totally new to everything and didn’t come into the relationship with a desire to actively submit. They should also be able to refuse an act, should they not feel comfortable. It doesn’t mean they’ll never want to do it again. However I get the feeling that some think this is ‘topping from the bottom’ when really, all it does is make a safeword useless and ineffective. I do wish that these novels would portray the message that sometimes, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and unsure. And to say no, if that’s how you feel. And not be scared that the guy will leave you because you questioned his judgement.

Apart from that issue (which I do admit, is kind of a big one for me) the rest of the book was okay. There’s a decent amount of chemistry between the characters and I liked Devon’s backstory but I felt that her history could have been better explored. Zach is damaged, as so many of them are but I didn’t predict what had caused it and it was certainly different to what I’d read before. I also understood how that event might’ve led to him becoming the way he was, but like Devon, I do feel like more of the book could’ve been devoted to exploring this. A bit less sex and a bit more depth and I would’ve really enjoyed this. I like a well-written sex scene but not at the expense of character and plot development. This isn’t a long book (or series of short interludes) and it could definitely have carried a bit more of the heavier stuff to really flesh it out.

5/10

Book #68 of 2014

 

 

 

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Review: The Lost Girls – Wendy James

Lost GirlsThe Lost Girls
Wendy James
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 280p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When the journalist approaches her, Jane doesn’t want to talk and she’s not happy that her daughter gave out her contact details. But Erin, the journalist, is quietly persuasive and Jane finds herself believing that there might be some value in talking about her experiences. It’s to help others, she tells herself. Erin is making a radio documentary on the impact on a family when a member is murdered. It’s supposed to be a tool to help others work through their grief.

Jane finds herself talking about a time long ago, when she was 12 and her cousin Angie 14. Angie was on the cusp of being truly stunning, already beautiful enough to turn heads everywhere but with the promise that she was going to blossom even more in the years to come. Both Jane and her brother Michael worshiped Angie and battled for her attention during the summer holidays when Angie was spending time with them. Angie reserved a little time with Jane, watching a movie or something but then they would walk up to the shop a couple of blocks away under the pretense of needing to buy cigarettes or milk or bread for one of Jane’s parents. Jane would linger as long as she dared and then make her way home with the items. Angie would stay and play pinball with Michael and some of his mates. She was older, the boys wanted her hanging around them. They didn’t want Jane.

Then one day, Angie never comes home. A massive search turns up her body several days later in bushland nearby. It sends shockwaves through not only Jane’s family but also the small and tightly knit northern beaches community, who believe that such things don’t happen in their area. Although Jane tells herself that she dealt with what happens to Angie, that they all did, she begins to wonder when Erin questions them all, Jane, her husband Paul, her brother Michael, her mother Barbara, about what happened to her and how they felt. Each of them have a different version of Angie that they remember, but which was the real one? And after all these years, will they finally find out who killed her?

A couple of years ago I read The Mistake by Wendy James which cemented me as a fan of her books. I also read one of her earlier novels, Out Of The Silence which was an entirely different setting but rife with the same sort of complex relationships and mystery that marked The Mistake. When I heard about this one, I couldn’t wait to read it. And right from the beginning, this story had me utterly engaged. Blended in a mix of past and present, it gives you Jane’s perspective of that summer, one that is tainted with how she felt for Angie, how much she admired her and wanted her attention. Jane was 12, on the edge of being a teenager but still just that little bit left behind, that much younger than Angie, Michael and all of Michael’s friends. Angie was granted more freedom, something that she had absolutely no problem taking, hanging around with the boys, playing pinball, occasionally stirring them up a bit with her good looks and incredible body. Angie partially inhabits a world Jane doesn’t understand yet, won’t understand for a few more years. She wants to go home and watch Elvis movies, not sure why Angie wants to do something different.

Angie’s disappearance affected her whole family deeply. Jane was devastated, Michael inconsolable. Jane and Michael’s mother felt a crippling guilt that this had happened on ‘her watch’ when she’d convinced Angie’s parents to come and let her stay for a while. Jane’s father was a cop and they believe he was probably privy to far more information than the rest of them. Jane’s feelings for Angie and the way that she seemed to draw admiration from men even coloured her relationships, including the one with her husband when she first began seeing him. For a while Jane almost tried to become Angie, dressing the way that Angie had and lightening her hair. It is undoubtedly cruel when someone so young has their life snuffed out, doesn’t have the potential to become someone, life a full life and I think Jane tried to compensate for that.

I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the character of Erin in the beginning, unsure of what her motivations were. They become quite clear throughout her own part of the story – Erin is seeking a justice she feels that no one cares about and she thinks that Angie’s relatives might hold the key to her getting the answers she needs. What she doesn’t expect is to find herself liking them (and perhaps vice versa too) and that maybe knowing all of the answers is going to be more difficult than she imagined. I enjoyed where this one went because I love a book that presents an interesting moral dilemma – there are two sides in this one and it would be fun to argue the debate with another person who’d read the book! There are some who would find it black and white and others who would be able to see all of the shades of grey.

The Lost Girls shows Wendy James’s true gift with exploring family dynamics and the subtle ways in which tragedy can wreak havoc, ways that may not even manifest until years after the fact. The writing is deft, the story easy to sink into and the setting is so quintessentially Australian that so much is recognisable from just about any childhood, even in a different decade. Another great story and now the countdown starts again to the next release.

8/10

Book #58 of 2014

AWWW2014

The Lost Girls is book #22 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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