All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Ready, Aim, Under Fire by Camilla Chafer

Ready, Aim, Under Fire (Lexi Grave Mysteries #10)
Camilla Chafer
Self-published
2017, eBook
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {courtesy Goodreads.com}:

When Private Investigator Lexi Graves’ police lieutenant brother, Garrett, asks her for help on a missing persons cold case he’s been instructed to close, she’s happy to poke around. After all, it won’t take long to prove if the woman he’s checking up on is an impostor or the real deal. 

Garrett isn’t convinced that Debby Patterson, who skipped town ten years ago, is the same happy, family-conscious woman who has finally returned home. Her parents are thrilled to welcome her back so there is no reason to think she isn’t. But just as Lexi begins her investigation, a friend of the family approaches her with some suspicions. Before Lexi can find out what is worrying her, the woman is murdered. Coincidence? Or something more dangerous?

Solving a murder and proving a missing person’s identity, Lexi must put everything she’s learned to the test. Perhaps, by solving one crime, she can solve the other and determine, once and for all, who is the real Debby.

I love this series, I do. But this is not my favourite installment of it.

The mystery is pretty good. Lexi’s brother Garrett, a detective, asks her for help with a case that has bugged him about a missing woman who vanished 10 years ago and was reported by her landlord of all people. Her parents always seemed relatively unconcerned and over the years they received sporadic postcards and emails from their daughter who claimed to be travelling her way around overseas. Then one day she just returned, but Garrett still has questions and he wants Lexi and her non-threatening presence and different way of looking at things, to cast an eye over it and see if she picks up on anything or gets to the bottom of it. When a woman who claims that the woman who returned is not the one who vanished and is then murdered before Lexi can interview her properly, it definitely seems like there are people with secrets to hide.

So that part is fine, I always like the way Lexi goes about things. This seems to be the only thing she really works on in this book and it’s pro bono. She is mostly working on it alone, so to be honest Solomon isn’t a large part of this book. However Maddox is back, creeping around in odd locations for some reason or other and he and Lexi have a conversation that’s probably been brewing since book 2 or 3. The thing is, Lexi and Solomon have had conversations brewing since probably book 5 or 6 and they just don’t ever seem to happen. Lexi is by nature, pretty nosy. And she’s been curious about Solomon for a while and Maddox only hammers home these things that she doesn’t know about him. I’m not sure Maddox’s motives are pure though, in fact I think it’s probably a sneaky handed way to make Lexi doubt her engagement but the fact is, there’s so much that Lexi and the reader don’t know about Solomon. And that kind of works while he’s the man of mystery on/off love interest but not really when they’re engaged to be married. They live together. And they’ve never had a conversation about his life before she met him in book 1? It’s starting to wear a little thin and even after Maddox raises these points, Lexi only attempts a half-hearted conversation with Solomon about where he met some of the other employees of the private detective agency and he smoothly switches the topic after a few vague answers. She’s aware that he’s doing it, she makes mention of it but she doesn’t actually call him on it or pursue her line of questioning. I’m unsure why…..either she’s too chicken to ask because she fears the answer or she fears Solomon flat out refusing to share with her. Either way…..it doesn’t bode well.

I like Solomon – if you want to “ship”, then I’m team Solomon and Lexi. I find Maddox a bit boring and well, a bit of a twat. But at the same time, there’s only so long you can spin out mystery (see: Manoso, Ranger) before it starts to get tedious. Solomon has evolved throughout the books and he’s always been quite obviously into Lexi so his reluctance to share anything about himself with her doesn’t suggest much for their relationship long term, despite the fact that they’re living together and engaged. He doesn’t have to suddenly become super chatty and confide his life story but I think it’s probably time they actually had an adult conversation of some description that didn’t involve work and wasn’t ended by one of them using avoidance tactics. I’m not even sure if Lexi knows how old he is. She’s just vaguely described him as “older than her”.

As I mentioned, I like this series. But I’m ready not to be drip-fed and have some real information shared and see Lexi and Solomon working more in a partnership rather than him just checking in. Not my favourite of the series but it’s a solid story. The mystery saves it.

6/10

Book #93 of 2017

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Review: The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

The Cows
Dawn O’Porter
Harper Collins
2017, 435p
Copy courtesy of Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

COW n. /ka?/

A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.

Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.

Tara, Cam and Stella are three strangers living their own lives as best they can – although when society’s screaming you should live life one way, it can be hard to like what you see in the mirror.

So when a shocking event ties invisible bonds of friendship between them, one woman’s catastrophe becomes another’s inspiration and a life lesson to all.

Sometimes it’s ok not to follow the herd.

The Cows is a powerful novel about three women – judging each other but also themselves. In all the noise of modern life, they need to find their own voice.

Hmmm.

I’m kind of in two minds about this book.

I enjoyed parts of it. I thought a lot of what Cam, who is a “lifestyle blogger” (a term I really dislike) had to say was quite interesting. She was childless by choice, having no intention to ever have children. She was comfortable with her decision, even ecstatic about it. She enjoyed her life, she was quite well off due to her blog having hundreds of thousands of subscribers and she constantly had to defend her choice both on the blog and in public. People always seemed to feel that there was something wrong with her for not wanting children, that she was selfish because that’s a woman’s job, right? To continue to populate the Earth and all that. Her mother was the worst offender, constantly pressuring Cam and wondering where she herself went wrong because Cam didn’t want children. Despite the fact that Cam’s three sisters all had children and she wasn’t lacking in the grandchildren department, Cam’s mother constantly questioned Cam’s decisions and attempted to convince her that she wasn’t really happy with her choices. I found it insulting that she was questioned if she was a lesbian because she wasn’t interested in having children. Why are those two things linked? There are plenty of lesbians that have children and I’m sure there are plenty more that want children. And some that probably don’t.

It’s a debate that has circled for probably as long as the first woman chose not to have children. Why? What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you want children? I don’t really understand the back and forth to be honest, I don’t care at all if someone has children or doesn’t, it’s none of my business. But there are people that think it’s “weird” and you only have to look at the musings around women like Dame Helen Mirren and of course the former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, referred to as unfit for leadership because she was “deliberately barren”. It was different to hear so much from a woman who wasn’t interesting in having children and was ready to defend her choice. I admired Cam and I think she was probably the most fleshed out, genuine character. Definitely my favourite.

I felt sorry for Stella but to be honest that only went so far. She’d had a very tough time, losing her mother and then her twin sister to vicious cancers. Stella also carries the BCRA gene as well which according to the book, gave her something like an 85% chance of developing either breast or ovarian cancer. They are some scary, scary odds and as things slowly fell apart for Stella, she became more and more unhinged, taking part in some truly horrible deceptions. She had some terrible choices to make and as I said, I did feel for her. I don’t know what it’s like to be in that situation. She faced being childless but not by choice as well as having the things that many identify as making them feminine/female etc, removed. Stella has apparently, great breasts but in order to reduce her risk of cancer, it’s likely she’ll have to undergo a complete mastectomy which is for someone who is in their 20s, an incredibly confronting experience. I felt that Stella really neglected herself in her grief – some counselling might’ve helped her not sink to the lows that she does. She’s very hung up on the loss of her sister, seeing herself as the more boring, less fun twin that no one really cares about now that her sister is gone. But at the same time Stella has also alienated herself from everyone, with the exception of one of her friends and her boss Jason, both of whom end up being on the receiving end of Stella’s deceptions and lies.

Of the three women, I found Tara’s story the least enjoyable and to be honest, the least convincing. Tara is filmed masturbating on a train (she believed the carriage was empty) and it goes “viral”, losing her her job, making her a laughingstock and causing various people to question her capability as single mother to her daughter. I don’t think it’s okay when you involve (even inadvertently) other people in your sexual activities. I don’t care about people masturbating but to be honest, doing it in public on a train on a Friday night? Hardly the most private location in the world, is it?  Why would you want to?  That’s not to say that I didn’t feel like Tara was demonised too much – she was. Psychologists on TV questioning her sanity, a chopped up television interview, everyone everywhere having witnessed her private moment, including her parents. But her private moment wasn’t private, it was public, although she didn’t deserve to be filmed without her permission. Tara is lucky not to be charged and to be honest I found her steadfast refusal to apologise a bit offputting. To be honest that whole scenario rang false for me, it just didn’t feel believable that there would be no one on a train on a Friday night and that even if someone had assumed they were alone, that they would perform that act, confident that their alone status wouldn’t change. Likewise I also found it rang false that the one person who was looking for Tara didn’t see that video due to an “internet ban”. It took over so much more than just the internet. The ending wasn’t really successful for me either, for similar reasons.

This book raised some interesting questions but there was a of circling around the same debate as well as a few situations that just didn’t really feel believable or genuine.

6/10

Book #92 of 2017

 

 

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Blog Tour Review: Girl In Between by Anna Daniels

Girl In Between
Anna Daniels
Allen & Unwin
2017, 311p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lucy Crighton has just moved in with some gregarious housemates called Brian and Denise . . . who are her parents. She’s also the proud mother of Glenda, her beloved 10-year-old . . . kelpie. And she has absolutely no interest in the dashing son of her parents’ new next-door neighbour . . . well, maybe just a little.

When you’re the girl in between relationships, careers and cities, you sometimes have to face some uncomfortable truths . . . like your Mum’s obsession with Cher, your father’s unsolicited advice, and the fact there’s probably more cash on the floor of your parents’ car than in your own bank account.

Thank goodness Lucy’s crazy but wonderful best friend, Rosie, is around to cushion reality, with wild nights at the local Whipcrack hotel, escapades in Japanese mud baths, and double dating under the Christmas lights in London.

But will Lucy work out what she really wants to do in life and who she wants to share it with?

Girl in Between is a warm, upbeat and often hilarious story about life at the crossroads. Featuring an endearing and irrepressible cast of characters, it will have you chuckling from start to finish.

This debut from Anna Daniels takes the reader firstly to the Queensland town of Rockhampton where 32 year old Lucy Crighton has moved back in with her parents after a failed relationship. She’s broke and has decided that her future lies in writing the next great Australian novel so she’s taking some time to complete her first draft.

I’m a couple of years older than Lucy, not really enough to make a difference, so we’re kind of the same age but to be honest, it didn’t feel that way. It felt like Lucy read quite a bit younger than 32 – she seems directionless, like someone who had just graduated from university at 22 or so and didn’t know what to do next. Bumming around in her parent’s house, having to scrounge around in their loose change for enough money to go out and buy herself a coffee was sort of more sad than funny. I know that sometimes circumstances force people to go back rather than forward but for a large portion of the story Lucy seems content to just….drift like this. She doesn’t really look for work all that actively, she doesn’t look to move out or regain some independence. She is gifted a trip overseas and then goes to London because her best friend does. For a girl in between everything she sort of gets a lot of things.

There’s a romance running through this, it’s by far not a dominant part of the story and the good part is it doesn’t really define Lucy, nor does she sacrifice anything for it the way that she did in the past, giving up her job in television to follow her boyfriend only for him to break up with her. However I didn’t love the character of Oscar. At first he seems great but then something is revealed about him that changed my opinion of him. He drifts in and out of Lucy’s life as he visits his mother next door and then turns up when Lucy is living in London, seemingly finally getting her life together. It seemed like quite a selfish thing to do to be honest and didn’t endear him to me at all.

I did really enjoy quite a few of the supporting characters, especially Lucy’s parents who are believably quirky and quintessentially laid-back country Australian. A lot of the references and interactions in the parts set in Rockhampton are very Aussie – playing the drinking games with the clothesline, the references between QLD and NSW State of Origin rivalry. They’re the type of thing that almost every Australian is going to be familiar with and there’s a sort of comfort in that, seeing your own experiences recognised and realised on paper. To be honest, I didn’t dislike Lucy…..I found her frustrating at times but she was also quite endearing at times too. I couldn’t help but cheer for her in a way, I wanted her to find her true passion, to get herself back together because it just seemed like the more time she spent drifting, the more unraveled she became. Moving to London and working in a bookshop actually gave her a lot of grounding and it seemed like she was the most settled there. She found a tribe, fellow employees at the bookstore, one of the flatmates in her share house. I liked the time in London, it was probably my favourite part of the book.

I was in two minds about this book for nearly the whole time I was reading it. As I mentioned, I liked Lucy at times but she frustrated me as well and some of the humour wasn’t really my humour. I didn’t do any laughing out loud although the were a few amusing moments littered throughout. The idea of finding yourself is probably one that a lot of people can relate to but there were times when I thought Lucy was more waiting for things to find her, rather than attempting to find what she wanted for herself in a proactive manner. There were some good friendships and an interesting rivalry between Lucy’s mother and another woman in Rockhampton as well, which was something a bit different. But some of the core stuff didn’t really work for me and I was quite put off by some aspects of the romance.

Somewhere on the fence on this one! Didn’t love it but I didn’t dislike it either. I’d recommend it to Aussies who enjoy a bit of cultural humour.

6/10

Book #86 of 2017

Girl In Between is book #30 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017

This review is part of the Girl In Between blog tour. Make sure you check out the other stops on their relevant days!

Girl In Between is published by Allen & Unwin and available now, RRP $29.99

Follow author Anna Daniels on social media:

 

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Review: The Secret Science Of Magic by Melissa Keil

The Secret Science Of Magic
Melissa Keil
Hardie Grant Egmont
2017, 314p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A captivating novel about two extraordinary teens, and the unsolvable problem of life after high school.

Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?

In life and love, timing is everything.

This is Aussie author Melissa Keil’s third novel and I’ve read both her previous and enjoyed them so buying this one was a no-brainer. I was really intrigued by the premise.

Sophia is an incredibly intelligent year 12 student but she struggles with interactions and social situations. She only really has one friend and there are a lot of things that seem to trigger anxiety. Sophia is at the age where high school is almost over and it’s time to make decisions about the future – what university to apply to, what course to do. Her friend intends to study overseas and seems to want to make sure that Sophia is going to be okay when she’s not around. But Sophia is fixated on Russian mathematician Gregori Perelman who declined to accept a famous award and is now a recluse. She seems to view him as a potential caution for child prodigies in a way, perhaps fearing that she may one day face the same fate if she doesn’t understand why he chose to turn his back on prizes and mathematics and drop off the face of the planet.

Joshua isn’t a genius and he’s interested more in history and magic than science and maths. But for years he’s had a crush on Sophia and admired her from afar. Timing is everything and Joshua has decided that now is the right moment. He’s going to show his hand, so to speak. But that’s going to be hard to do when you haven’t even really interacted.

On the surface, this book is very cute but there’s an awful lot of deep and clever stuff going on below that surface. Sophia is really very interesting – she’s incredibly smart, very advanced and can do things effortlessly that other students cripple themselves studying over. However, in order to push her out of her comfort zone slightly, she found herself talked into taking drama in order to perhaps get her to express herself or tap into some hidden feelings or emotions. She’s often accused of being quite emotionless, almost robotic and even her own brother says it’s weird she never cries. She struggles to even connect with and confide in her best friend and doesn’t even seem to notice that her best friend has some concerns and issues that she’d like to talk about. It’s not deliberate though and she spends a large amount of time trying to figure out her brother’s thoughts and perhaps discover the reason he seems to resent her so much and she’s very upset when she realises that she’s been hurting her best friend’s feelings. But there is no denying that Sophia doesn’t process things in quite the same way as others and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will connect with that, as well as with the demanding pressures of school, either by oneself or family.

I really liked the character of Joshua, for many reasons. I found the interest in magic a bit dorky, but an endearing sort of dorky and I loved the fact that although Joshua seemed perhaps a loner at school without any friends, away from school he had quite a developed social life and friendship circle. It’s a good way to stress that high school isn’t everything and that you don’t need to be popular there in order to be happy. Plenty of people find their tribe outside of the people they know merely through the circumstances of going to the same school and Joshua never seemed to particularly care about the fact that he didn’t have friends at school. He actually seemed quite comfortable in his own skin. He does face pressure from his father to choose a university course and there’s no doubt that he feels this but he doesn’t really seem to let it bother him too much. I liked his relationship with his sister as well and I thought that the little tricks and things he did in order to catch Sophia’s attention were quite cute. Although a lot of his crush was based before they had any real interaction, it deepened after he spent time with her and got to know her properly, quirks and all. In fact Joshua liked Sophia because of the way she was, her essential personality which was off putting to some people, was really engaging and appealing to him. He didn’t care about her blunt way of speaking, abruptness and sometimes awkwardness and he really admired her intelligence. And realising that she cared about Joshua didn’t change Sophia but she did grow throughout the book. She learned that she can fail and the world keeps turning.

I really enjoyed this and fans of Melissa Keil’s first novel will enjoy a little cameo appearance in this one. I know I did!

8/10

Book #88 of 2017

The Secret Science Of Magic is book #32 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: The Beast Of Hushing Wood by Gabrielle Wang

The Beast Of Hushing Wood
Gabrielle Wang
Puffin Books
2017, 180p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

By the award-winning author of The Wishbird. A powerful magic realism story about Ziggy Truegood, a young girl who has a premonition that she will drown on her 12th birthday.

Ziggy Truegood lives in a tiny town deep in Hushing Wood, where strange things are happening. The townspeople are fighting, Ziggy feels like something is hunting her, and her beloved woods have become dark and hostile. When exotic Raffi and his grandfather arrive in town, Ziggy finds herself strangely drawn to them. But are they there to save Ziggy, or are they the hunters?

Thought-provoking and engaging, The Beast of Hushing Wood is a lovely blend of action, fable and magic realism.

I’ve been reading a bit more middle grade fiction of late as that’s the stage my oldest son is about to head into and I’m curious to see some of what’s around for this demographic that isn’t about bums. It’s a bit of a tricky age, especially as my son is an advanced reader but perhaps slightly immature. “Baby books” bore him but he struggles to find middle grade books that hold his interest so I’m always keen to try and find something that might interest him. Although I quite enjoyed this, I’m not sure he would to be honest. I get the feeling he’s too literal to embrace the whimsical side of this book!

Ziggy lives with her mother in a small town that borders a wood. The town is quite insular, suspicious of outsiders. Ziggy’s father was an outsider who ended up leaving and Ziggy’s two brothers went with him. Ziggy misses them all terribly and she hopes to visit them someday but her mother’s fear of leaving the town at the moment makes that impossible. Ziggy spends a lot of time in the woods near her house and doesn’t fear them as many others do. She also spends time with grandfather, a wise man who is now in a home because his mind is slipping.

Ziggy has begun having the same dream every night, that she will drown on her twelfth birthday which is in in the coming weeks. She has confided this to her two closest friends but not to anyone else and seems to be mostly struggling to deal with this on her own. At around the same time we meet Ziggy, a new student named Raffi comes to the school and Ziggy is immediately suspicious that he might have something to do with her dream.

Ziggy is a fun character, she’s brave and funny but with vulnerability to her too. I liked her affinity with the forest and her lack of pretense. She dresses differently to the other girls at school and acts differently but she stays true to herself. There are a lot of themes in this book that revolve around that sort of thing – being different, bullying and ostracisation at school, small town small mindedness, that sort of thing and I think that a lot of children within the 10-13 year age range would find things to identify with.

I enjoy magical realism so I liked the way that was woven into the story and there were some really interesting things happening but the build up felt better than the pay off, like it all rushed toward a conclusion in a way and the the conclusion took up a very small amount of page space. I have never read Gabrielle Wang before and the world of middle grade fiction is new to me. I didn’t even really read it when I was at the age it’s aimed at – I was always aiming to read higher. I feel like I need to learn more about it and books like this are a really good place to start. I’d love to read some more from this author, particularly The Wishbird.

I found this book quite a nice story, tackling some pertinent themes but there were times when I definitely wanted a little more from it – a fleshing out of characters, some supporting information or even just another conversation. The illustrations are cute, simple and yet somehow detailed as well and would probably serve to break up the text for struggling readers and give them a visual.

6/10

Book #83 of 2017

The Beast Of Hushing Wood is book #28 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

 

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Review: The Scent Of You by Maggie Alderson

The Scent Of You
Maggie Alderson
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 499p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Perfume blogger Polly is in crisis. Will her husband’s absence break her … or make her? A novel of perfumes, exploring life, love, loss and forgiveness – Maggie Alderson’s new bestseller.

Are you still married if you haven’t seen your husband for months?

Polly’s life is great. Her children are away at uni, her glamorous mother – still modelling at eighty-five – is happily settled in a retirement village, and her perfume blog is taking off. Then her husband announces he needs some space and promptly vanishes.

As Polly grapples with her bewildering situation, she clings to a few new friends to keep her going – Shirlee, the loudmouthed yoga student; Guy, the mysterious, infuriating and hugely talented perfumer; and Edward, an old flame from university.

And while she distracts herself with the heady world of luxury perfume, Polly knows she can’t keep reality at bay forever. Eventually she is forced to confront some difficult truths: about her husband, herself and who she really wants to be.

I’ve never read Maggie Alderson before but this book caught my attention immediately when it arrived because I love perfume. I’m not in any way knowledgeable like Polly, the main character is. She runs a perfume blog and gets invited to a lot of exciting events and launches for fragrances and is really quite well known. Her mother was a very famous model decades ago, for houses like Dior and has always had a very large perfume collection but favoured some signature scents. Polly always associated several scents with her mother – her going to a party perfume for example and she’s taken this into her everyday life. She seemed to have a very developed sense of smell, picking out a seven or so ingredient elements in a perfume very easily. I found this really interesting, so I googled the perfume I’m wearing today. According to the website, it has topnotes of pomegranate, coconut water and boysenberry, heart notes (I don’t even know what that is) of butterfly orchid, honeysuckle and blooming magnolia and base notes of blonde woods, skin musks (that sounds kind of gross to be honest) and gilded amber. And if I’m completely and utterly honest the only things I really pick up are the coconut and orchid. Maybe a touch of the boysenberry, now that I know what it is. I love perfumes though, I’ve got about a half dozen which is nothing compared to someone like Polly but I found that I really do have a bit of a “pattern” for how I choose to wear them. I have my at home perfume, which is one I just spritz on when I’m not going anywhere, maybe just the school run. I have my perfume that I wear when I’m going out but not really anywhere special, just to the shops or maybe out to brunch. I have my expensive perfume which I wear occasionally when I’m going somewhere nice, my “night” perfume which I wear out to dinner and my summer perfume which I wear only really during the warm months. Then I’ve got my “something different” perfume for when I’m bored of all of those and feel like something new. My perfumes aren’t really expensive and I don’t have  a “signature”. I buy whatever intrigues me at the time but I get the association of scents with people. My mother wears Opium and I can’t smell it without being transported back to my childhood.

So obviously this book has a lot about perfume in it as running the blog, going to events etc is part of Polly’s job and she identifies so strongly with scents that it makes up a large part of her life. But it’s not all there is to it – Polly’s personal life is in a bit of a crisis. A few days before Christmas, her husband David disappeared, leaving only a note telling her that he needed time alone and not to contact anyone or basically talk about it. Having been married for 24 years with two grown up children both at university, Polly is feeling the sting of the empty nest and David’s disappearance has only amplified that. As well as running the blog, Polly also teaches yoga each morning at her home and the loneliness she’s feeling leads to her forming friendships with several of the women who frequent her class. Through visiting her mother in a very posh retirement village (but not as we would know it) Polly has also reconnected with a former college friend, and these things all provide a distraction for her, a way to ignore the fact that her husband has vanished without warning and she doesn’t know where he is.

I found myself getting really invested in the mystery of “where is David and what is going on?” as the book progressed. At first it seems like it might be the stereotypical mid-life crisis, leaving the wife and family and taking off for a life of no responsibility or perhaps on a long work trip where he probably could be in contact but didn’t want to. But the more that you read into the story, the more that it becomes something else and when it all unfolded it was definitely something that I didn’t at all suspect and I definitely appreciated the fact that it was something unexpected and really different to anything else I’ve read where a character finds themselves in a situation similar to Polly’s. I also really liked her relationship with her children – she was very close to them and loved them very much but it felt like a realistic exasperation at times as well as pain when she finds that one of her children has been placed in a difficult position by her husband David. I felt as though Polly’s reaction to that felt very raw and real but also liked that once she had calmed down and thought on it, she didn’t hold a grudge and she was able to be a support for her children as well as they were to her, through David’s disappearance. Their family unit felt really tight but also genuine.

Some of the supporting characters were a bit too quirky – mostly the perfumer Guy, who might be brilliant but seemed to be unable to distinguish social cues and interactions and to be honest, some of his behaviour was a bit creepy and I felt like I couldn’t discern whether or not he’d end up a lifelong friend or someone that Polly ended up taking a restraining order out on. But I also felt like Polly enabled some of his outrageous behaviour as well, or wasn’t firm enough with him when he crossed boundaries and was generally acting in ways that could be seen as inappropriate. I noticed that Polly really was quite non-confrontational across the board. She preferred to retreat and calm down before facing people again, rather than just tell them that what they were doing was upsetting her etc. I could relate to that, it’s the way I tend to be too because I’d rather just avoid having to talk to people when they’re doing something that makes me angry or upset or uncomfortable.

I really enjoyed this book – loved learning more about perfumes and what goes into making them and the way in which different perfumes are included in families. It was also really fun to read about a blogger who had turned a passion into something much more and I’ve never read about perfume before. I spent about an hour after I finished the book googling the perfumes I have and learning what was in them and I’m pretty sure I’ll be googling perfumes I want to buy, seeing if they have anything in common with the ones I already own and like.

Definitely going to be looking for more Maggie Alderson books to read in the future. Not only did she take something that’s a part of my everyday life that I never thought about before and made me think about it and also enjoy thinking about it, but I also really liked the way she wrote relationships and friendships of all varieties.

8/10

Book #84 of 2017

 

The Scent Of You is book #29 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Top 10 Tuesday May 9th 2017

Welcome to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday, created and hosted by the girls at The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different book-type theme each week. This week we are talking…..

Top 10 Things I Want More Of In Books

  1. Chick Lit Minus The Designer Labels. I really like chick lit. I find them great for when you just want to kick back and read something light and enjoyable but I find that so many chick lit books obsess over Jimmy Choo shoes and Prada handbags or whatever, stuff that’s really out of reach for most people and in fact should be out of reach of pretty much all of the characters. A character can like clothes and shoes, I can just do without the constant namedropping of the same designer brands.
  2. Epic Fantasy Sagas. When I was in high school, I discovered David Eddings and pretty much slayed his backlist in a year. I’ve read a Song of Ice and Fire (well as far as you can currently go) and I’d really love more stuff like this. Chunkster series’ with a wide range of characters, an overall quest, etc. It’s probably out there, I’m just not sure where to start – if you have some recs, throw them at me!
  3. Rural YA. Most YA I read tends to be set in cities (not all, but most) and if it’s Australian those cities are generally Melbourne, Sydney or some sort of vague construction that resembles one of those. I’d love some set in remote QLD or maybe northern WA or the Top End. Something a little different. Likewise for overseas YA….how about rural Montana or Alaska or something? Homesteader YA fiction. That’s something I’d like to read. Can someone write that?
  4. Characters That Aren’t Super Hot. Every now and then I read a book where the characters aren’t conventionally hot and are perhaps even a tad awkward looking and it always makes me think hey, this is actually realistic. Hot is different to different people and it’s certainly possible to find someone more attractive as you get to know their personality. More of that…..less girls that aren’t aware of their stunning beauty and perfect figures and guys that have messy hair and crooked smiles.
  5. More Books Set In University/College. Basically more of Kirsty Eagar’s Summer Skin. I spent several years living in a university residential college and I’m telling you that time is ripe to be tapped. I’d love to see this represented way more – moving out of home for the first time brings a lot of its own challenges and there’s lots of navigating new friendships, relationships, etc. I’d love to see more of this.
  6. More Overseas YA. This kind of ties in with more rural YA but instead of it all being either AU/US/UK I’d love to read some YA set in African countries or South American countries or maybe even places like Kazakhstan or Russia. Places that are super different to where I live. I know that translation can be an obstacle and I’ve no idea how big the markets even are in those countries. But it would definitely interest me.
  7. Glimpses Into The Lives Of Characters I’ve Previously Read. I love it when characters from an authors past story make a cameo. It doesn’t have to be a big one, but I’d love to pick up a Jennifer Echols novel and find that Doug and Zoey from Forget You are now coaching the swim team at the high school of the characters in the new novel or something.
  8. Enemies To Lovers. Eek. I love this so much. More books like The Hating Game by Sally Thorne where the characters banter back and forth but underneath there’s loads of sexual tension.
  9. Different Forms Of Travel. Books that take place on a train like the Indo-Pacific or Ghan in Australia or the Trans-Siberian Railroad or a cruise ship or even a Greyhound Bus. Places where characters can talk and connect and I get to live vicariously through the descriptions of scenery.
  10. A Reversal Of The Helpless Female Trope. Okay in romance novels, the girls are always all swoon, I cannot think when he touches/kisses me even though the rest of the time he is being a giant douche canoe. I would like to see the male helpless and rendered shushed by a kiss or some sexual contact. I always feel like men dominate a lot of sexual interaction in books, would love to see that reversed more often.

Those are just a few of the things I would love to see more of. If you have something that you feel fits any of these categories then definitely let me know!

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Review: Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

Quicksand
Malin Persson Giolito
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 406p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The air is hazy and grey with gunpowder smoke. Everyone has been shot but me. I haven’t got so much as a bruise….

There were six of them in the classroom, people who do not usually hang out together. Five were students, but they weren’t sitting in neat rows that morning, listening intently to their tutor. No. Their normal day – indeed their lives – were about to be irrevocably destroyed…

Who were they? Why were they there, in that particular room at that particular time? And why, nine months later, is 18-year-old Maja Norbert standing in a courtroom, flanked by lawyers, reciting under her breath:

You are innocent until the courts have ruled that you are guilty… 

The front of this book declares it the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year. I’m not sure if that’s an award or just a proclamation but when I picked it up, I have to admit I thought hmm, another jaded police detective probably with an alcohol problem, a divorce and maybe an internal investigation hanging over his head.

Nope. Oh no. This is not that book. At all.

Maria “Maja” Norberg is a student at an exclusive school in a wealthy neighbourhood in Sweden. Her parents are a mix of old and new money and Maja has had a privileged upbringing that includes international holidays abroad and just about everything she could ever want. She catches the eye of Sebastian Fagerman, son of a billionaire, the kind of wealth that people can only dream about, even Maja’s family. Sebastian is a law unto himself – repeating his senior year of school due to flunking out last year, he throws lavish parties inviting anyone that takes his fancy, consumes loads of drugs and introduces Maja to a life of cruising on his father’s boat and never ever having to wait in a nightclub queue.

For a while, everything is wonderful. But Sebastian’s darker side becomes more and more apparent, cluing Maja in on a troubled boy with mental health problems and a brutal father who either cannot or will not care for his son. It ends with Maja left in a room of people, the only one not shot. Was she a willing participant? Was it a murder-suicide pact gone wrong and she changed her mind at the last minute? Or is it something more sinister, was Maja just a pawn in a game that was always going to end this way?

The book is narrated solely by Maja and is broken down into parts, mostly focusing on her trial with flashbacks to flesh out her relationship with Sebastian, her friendship with her best friend Amanda, her family life, the complicated friendship with fellow student Samir and Sebastian’s troubled relationship with his father Claes.

It would be easy dismiss Maja and her friends as spoiled little rich kids – and there’s no doubt that for the most part, they are. But the author takes the time to go deeper than that, to examine the pressures and stresses of teenage life when not living up to expectations. In his father’s eyes, there’s no doubt that Sebastian is an epic f*ck up, not even close to living up to his older brother who is away at university in America. In some ways I think Sebastian is a self-fulfilling prophecy. He believes what his father tells him and then he does his best to live up to that reputation. There are several cries for help in this book that mostly go ignored – except by Maja.

“No one asked if I wanted to save Sebastian, but you all blame me for failing….”

I had conflicted feelings about Maja at the beginning – her narration is detached, like this is happening to someone else. I had a brief wondering if she was a sociopath, so removed from the situation did she seem. But as the narrative unfolded and she revealed more and more about the disintegration of her relationship with Sebastian, the amount of pressure people put on her to ‘fix him’, to ‘be there for him’ became apparent. Maja is just a teenager, she’s not emotionally mature enough for this sort of thing and also as she states several times during her story, it wasn’t her job. She was essentially not only girlfriend to Sebastian but also both parents, keeper, psychologist, behavioural expert. And although a few people noticed changes in her, they didn’t seem to explore them, or wonder what they could do to help. In many ways, they left her to it, a failing on many levels.

This book is more than just a portrayal of rich, privileged teens and how that all came unraveled. It’s also a social critique, with a look at the immigrant situation in Sweden as well as the inequitable distribution of the world’s wealth. It’s done in a way that blends it seamlessly into the story in a scene where Maja and Sebastian’s class welcome a guest speaker. The talk is also attended by various fathers from the school and the children have pre-approved questions to ask at the end. One of them goes “off the cuff” in a question about wealth and the “social problem” of immigrants and it’s one of the most interesting scenes in the book.

I appreciated the way that the narrative made me really debate in my mind whether or not Maja was guilty. I honestly didn’t know for sure for the longest time whether or not she had been a willing participant or not….. She’s a slightly unreliable narrator as her views are coloured by the feelings she has for the people in them and as she’s also the only narrator we get, the reader has to decide how much faith they’re willing to place in her words. And at the end, it’s still a choice the reader has to make – was the decision reached the right one?

For me, this book was absolutely brilliant – it made me think about so many things. I actually took a few days to read it, because I was mulling so many things over in my mind. I even stopped to discuss bits and pieces of it with my husband, the different social, moral and psychological questions that it raised as I was reading it. I found it a very interesting take on a troubling and difficult topic to tackle and I would love to read more by this author in the future.

9/10

Book #82 of 2017

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Review: The Hot Guy by Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris

The Hot Guy
Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris
Bonnier Publishing AUS
2017, 311p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Adam, a serious cinema nerd, has no idea that he is the Hot Guy – a man so ridiculously attractive there’s a Facebook group dedicated to seducing him.

Cate, a sports publicist who loves to crack a joke, is feeling down about her newly single status when her friends suggest the perfect pick-me-up: a night with the Hot Guy.

But that one night leaves both Cate and Adam wanting…

Is a genuine connection possible with a guy this phenomenally smokin’?

It’s not very often I have to do this but unfortunately, I did not like this book. At all.

In fact, I spent a large portion of the time wondering if I was being trolled. It’s presented as a funny romcom, however it’s neither funny nor romantic. I wasn’t sure if it was a biting attempt at satire? Is it serious? I don’t know. The ‘humour’ is ridiculously over the top and more often than not, in incredibly poor taste.

Exhibit A: one of the main characters Cate, works as a sports publicist for some sort of sporting complex that is vaguely and ambiguously described and staffed by people who seem to hate sport. In the beginning of the book, the stadium is named Sambo Stadium, after the nickname of some long-retired legendary sportsperson. Cate spends a large portion of her day returning emails to outraged Americans at the use of what is a slur towards people of African American (and possibly Native American) heritage. Other examples include describing a character to be as hot as a thousand Hiroshimas on a sunny day and various KKK references and even some stuff about Hitler.

The plot. The description is actually what interested me in the story but it just didn’t seem to play out well, perhaps because of the portrayal of women in this book. Cate is maybe the least offensive character in the book but she spends far too much time cracking unfunny jokes for her personality to be adequately explored and what there is isn’t really all that likable. It seems that cracking jokes and hating sport is all there is to Cate but her friends are unsupportive and nasty at best, constantly telling Cate that there’s no good that can come of dating the ‘hot guy’ because he’s so much hotter than her and will eventually realise that and leave her. Really?

There are so many things that I think could have worked in this as a bit of a playful tongue in cheek look at Melbourne and culture. Firstly, it’s the man that’s objectified in this story but it’s done in such an over the top and insensitive way that it just becomes annoying (women kidnapping people? whole stadiums of women chasing a man?) rather than a reversal of roles. Secondly, there’s a mockery of “sports” even though the sports are never named which could’ve also been a great take on Melbourne’s obsession with dominating the sporting arena but it descends into jokes about dodgy facilities and land swimming. The opportunity to explore sporting figures being granted plum jobs with organisations goes begging as well, instead it’s just more used as filler or an attempt at more jokes. The same goes for the lavish descriptions of movies (including one ridiculously over the top one that seems to poke fun at indie cinema, perhaps Australian cinema but also descends into bad taste referencing Hitler). It was so terribly unfunny it was almost embarrassing to read. There are so many references and jokes crammed into this book that it means that the relationships suffer….the characters suffer. Adam is so ridiculously hot, so hot, he’s very very very goodlooking and he works in a cinema and wants to be a director and that’s pretty much all I know about him because we don’t get time to explore him. He seems perfectly nice, a bit boring and bland as well as terribly naive. He’s always so surprised when the women he brings home run out the next morning with lame excuses. It goes on way too far with even his parents providing ways for women to escape his bedroom in his childhood home. Likewise with Cate, I never really felt like I knew too much about her other than her obsession with being unable let anything pass without attempting crack some sort of gag about it and her hatred of sport. It seems like Cate is the first woman not to rush out of Adam’s apartment the next day and they fall into a relationship because of it, good sex and the fact that Adam laughs at her jokes, something that seems to be quite rare for Cate to find. The only reason she doesn’t leave is because she doesn’t know about the ‘rules’ of sleeping with the Hot Guy and that there’s a whole facebook page and queue. I didn’t really understand how this could work. Women were patiently waiting their turn to sleep with him? Cate queue jumps (because she doesn’t even know) and the way in which this is reacted to by these women is quite frankly, ridiculous.

As I said before, I spent most of the time trying to figure out if I was supposed to actually read this as a serious romantic comedy or if it was some sort of attempt at a blistering satire that is mocking all it is portraying. And in the end, I’m honestly still none the wiser. It falls short of the mark no matter what but perhaps whatever it is, I’m just not cool enough or smart enough to get it because I get the feeling that the book was mocking the reader as well.

The Hot Guy was a hot mess for me. And not a good kind.

1/10

Book #78 of 2017

 

 

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Review: Those Pleasant Girls by Lia Weston

Those Pleasant Girls
Lia Weston
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 327p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Evie Pleasant, nee Bouvier, is back in town. In a figure-hugging skirt, high heels and a pin-up hairdo, she’s unrecognisable from the wild child who waged war on Sweet Meadow in her youth.

She’s made a promise to herself: ‘No swearing. No drinking. No stealing. No fires.’

Trailing a reluctant 16-year-old daughter and armed with cake making equipment, Evie’s divorce and impending poverty has made her desperate enough to return to Sweet Meadow to seduce her former partner-in-crime and start again.

But the townsfolk have long memories and the renegade ex-boyfriend is now the highly-respected pastor. Evie’s cakes have a job to do.

Everything hasn’t exactly gone to plan lately in Evie Pleasant’s life. She’s finally divorcing her husband and while the settlement gets hammered out (something Gabe is being deliberately obstructive on) she’s taken their teenage daughter Mary and gone back to the house of her youth, left to her after the death of her mother. Turns out that Evie was quite a notorious figure around the small town of Sweet Meadow and some of those residents have long memories. Evie will have to make many apologies for fires, thefts and other childish pranks but she’s willing to do that in order to achieve her goal – seducing her childhood best friend who just now happens to be pastor of the local church.

Evie has had to reinvent herself….in with pencil skirts, heels and up-dos, out with lazy trackies and swearing. She has to prove that she’s worthy of the community and especially that she’s worthy of its pastor. Nathan might have been her partner in crime years ago but now he holds a position of responsibility in the community, leading a church that is struggling in both facilities and cashflow. Evie attempts to win over skeptical townfolk with her delicious baked treats, attempting to woo them to her side so that she might become more involved in the town. The only trouble is, whilst Nathan might’ve been a solid plan in her head, are they really even suited? And does Evie want to be this new version of herself forever?

I really enjoyed this book. Evie was such a fun character – a bit scatty at times and so focused on her “goal” that she often couldn’t see what was right in front of her face, but I do admire her for sucking up a lot of things and going back to a place that she knew wasn’t going to be easy. Evie seemed to have had quite a charmed life with her former husband (until the negative couldn’t be ignored anymore) but now she’s faced with starting over, attempting to provide for herself and Mary, who is also struggling to fit in. Evie joins committees, she thinks of fundraising ideas, she swallows her pride and applies for jobs in stores she once terrorised years ago.

I loved the character of Mary, Evie’s teenage daughter who has also had her life uprooted and had to move to a town where she recognises immediately that she will struggle to fit in. Evie wants her to make “girlfriends” but instead Mary falls in with other misfits Travis and Mini D. She finds herself harbouring a crush on Zach, the boyfriend of the head of the cliquey girls group and like most teenagers, doesn’t heed any of the warnings that come her way about him. That felt like such a genuine teenage experience though, in more ways than one. Mary is also struggling with her feelings for her father – she accepts his actions and behaviour are the reasons for why she is where she is but she also loves him and wants his attention and for him to be proud of her. At the same time, she is also irritated with herself for wanting that when it seems as though her father is living his own life with little regard for her wellbeing. He’s dragging the settlement out (for reasons that aren’t really explained) and doesn’t seem to be contributing to the cost of Mary’s care. Mary was quite a complex character, well fleshed out and with a sharp humour that I enjoyed. She had an unusual interest in horticulture (with a good background given for the reason for this) which gave her the opportunity to herself connect with a few members of the town. Mary was the sort of person who was always going to make a mistake but also be the stronger for it.

There’s a fair bit of quirk in this book and not all of it will work for everybody I don’t think – not all of it worked for me. But a huge amount of it did and I found it quite funny. Some of the characters are ridiculously over the top and very tongue in cheek but I enjoyed it. There’s a tiny sliver of sweet romance in there as well.

My only complaint is that I feel some things could’ve been a bit better fleshed out……Evie’s relationship with her parents, the resolution of her marriage to Gabe, just to name a couple. But overall I thought this was a nice easy read to pass an afternoon with a cast of fun characters.

8/10

Book #80 of 2017

Those Pleasant Girls is book #27 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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