All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Top Ten Tuesday 11th August

Welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, it now lives with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. There’s a different literary-type theme each week and today we are talking…….

Top 10 Books I Loved But Never Reviewed

1. The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

I enjoyed this one a lot, I’m not sure why I never got around to reviewing it!

2. The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary

This was actually one of my favourite reads of 2019. But sometimes I find it harder to review books that I absolutely loved, it can be hard to do so without completely gushing over the top! So I never ended up writing a review for this one.

3, 4 & 5. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, P.S. I Still Love You and Always & Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han. 

I came late to these, I didn’t read them until after the first movie dropped on Netflix. I read the first one, watched the movie and then read books 2&3 and I think they’re adorable. I really loved all the books and I think the first 2 movies are cute as well.

6. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

I love this whole trilogy (and there’s another book coming, I’m so excited about that). After I read Graceling and Fire it actually took me quite a while to read this and I must’ve started it at least 3 times and put it down before I’d read very many pages. But when I finally completed it I absolutely adored it….but I never reviewed it.

7. A Court Of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas

I came to these late too I think, the first two books were already out when I bought them. I didn’t love the first book and actually, I hated Rhys throughout most of the first book and I’d already heard/read/seen a lot of the stuff around from people deep into this fandom……that he was going to be endgame. So I was honestly not sure at all how I was going to feel going into this but I ended up loving this book so hard, lol. And even though I’ve since read a lot more Sarah J. Maas and liked them varying amounts, I re-read this last year and still loved it.

8. Traitor To The Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

I loved this whole trilogy. I bought the first one because I adored the cover – knew nothing about it really. Just loved the storytelling and everything about this.

9. The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante

I read these late too. I think the fourth one had just been translated into English when I began the first one and I ended up binging the entire lot. But there were already thousands of reviews of these ones and although I thought they were brilliant and compelling, I didn’t feel I needed to review them. Pretty much everything had probably already been said!

10. Every Breath by Ellie Marney

This trilogy is one of my absolute favourites but I don’t think I reviewed any of them because I wasn’t sure I could do it without gushing everywhere about every single little thing in this series! I have re-read these (or bits of them) loads of times and I adore Rachel and Mycroft. Their tension is through the roof. Ellie Marney has a new book out next month and I can’t wait.

I actually thought I reviewed most books I read and for the most part, this is true. But I definitely discovered one year (2016) where I had a lot of books that I read that I did not review and there were a few reasons for that. 2016 wasn’t a great year and I spent the time reading cheap books I found on Amazon and iBooks, some of which I definitely had nothing to say about. And I definitely went through a big blogging slump as well, but since then I’ve reviewed pretty consistently and that’s why most of these are books I’ve read several years ago. There are other books as well, like the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin where I read them only a few years ago after the TV show started. At the time I didn’t see the need to review them, pretty much everyone has read them or has watched the TV show that has even a flicker of interest in them but if this next book ever comes out, I’m kind of going to be sorry I didn’t jot down my thoughts on them! Especially as I’ll have to separate out the happenings in the books with the happenings in the TV series’ as they started to diverge a bit.

There’s probably loads of other books I loved but didn’t review – I only had to scroll back through to 2014 I think, to find the 10 that could make up my list.

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Review: The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

The Last Migration
Charlotte McConaghy
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 272p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A dark past. An impossible journey. The will to survive.

How far you would you go for love? Franny Stone is determined to go to the end of the earth, following the last of the Arctic terns on what may be their final migration to Antarctica.

As animal populations plummet and commercial fishing faces prohibition, Franny talks her way onto one of the few remaining boats heading south. But as she and the eccentric crew travel further from shore and safety, the dark secrets of Franny’s life begin to unspool. A daughter’s yearning search for her mother. An impulsive, passionate marriage. A shocking crime. Haunted by love and violence, Franny must confront what she is really running towards – and from.

The Last Migration is a wild, gripping and deeply moving novel from a brilliant young writer. From the west coast of Ireland to Australia and remote Greenland, through crashing Atlantic swells to the bottom of the world, this is an ode to the wild places and creatures now threatened, and an epic story of the possibility of hope against all odds.

This book was absolutely stunning.

I didn’t really know much about this but both Arctic and Antarctic in the blurb? Yes please! The book begins with Franny Stone in Greenland where she has successfully managed to tag three Arctic Terns to track in what is believed to be probably the last migration of them ever. This is set in a not-too-distant sort of future that could also be now where large swathes of creatures have been declared extinct, including lots of birds. Fish stocks in the seas have diminished to the point where there won’t be enough to fuel the birds in order to make the trip from the top of the Earth to the bottom. This is Franny’s last chance – she must convince a boat to allow her on board to track the Terns and Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani (Innuit for raven) is the only one, when she promises him one last bounty.

The book is told back and forth in time – Franny’s present is her desire to track the birds on their last migration and she’s willing to do pretty much anything to make it happen. But to understand why she’s there, you need to know about her past and the book fills in the gaps over the course of the story. She’s Irish Australian and has spent time in both countries. Franny’s sole consistent thing in life has been the sea – she swims in it all year round, seems almost impervious to the cold and it’s such a part of her it almost forms her identity.

The more we dive back into Franny’s past, the more it’s mired in pain and loss and suffering but yet she continues to go on. She’s also experienced a great love, found someone whom it seemed she could truly be herself with, even with the desire she has that she cannot control, to wander. She always returns though. When it becomes obvious that something is missing in the present, you have to wait for the past to fill it in for you, to understand why Franny is where she is and why she is so desperate to do this. What it means to her.

I loved everything about this. The wildness of the setting (well the various settings, really) – from Franny in Greenland talking herself onto the boat, to the journey down the coast towards Antarctica, suffering through absolutely brutal storms. There was a beauty in reading this, the descriptions were so vivid. It felt like I was there, as inept as Franny about boats, learning to tie knots and keep machines running, feeling the swell and sting of ocean spray. And in the backstories, there’s beautiful settings as well, from the coast of Ireland to remote Scotland to coastal country Australia. The love of nature and wild environments runs through this book as does the fear that it is slowly being destroyed. This is the future we could be staring down at some stage – already there are so many species of animal that are close to being extinct in the wild and probably many more that we have destroyed without even knowing it. There’s a statement that runs through this, that these animals that have been around for thousands of years, have learned to live and adapt to everything……except humans.

It isn’t just the descriptions of the natural world that excel in this story – it’s the depiction of the characters and their interactions with each other as well. Franny is so raw and full of pain and determination and hope and wonder at what she’s experiencing, but it’s not just her. The crew of the Saghani are an eclectic mix of souls, I loved their mistrust of Franny’s worming her way onto the boat at first, the way they worked her hard because an unskilled person is a liability. But slowly, they came to understand what she was doing and why, be affected by it as well and protect the journey until almost everyone was willing to do whatever it took for Franny to make it all the way to where the terns would be. It was a beautiful evolution, that journey on the boat. Likewise all Franny’s previous interactions and relationships with people make a mark on her that’s clear to see in the present day, the reasons why she’s doing what she’s doing.

I squeezed this in the day of Charlotte’s event for the Melbourne Writers Festival and I’m so glad I did. Because even though the session contained no spoilers, the book was so fresh in my mind and I think it really helped me appreciate it even more. There was so much about what was said (and I hope to have my summary of that session posted soon) but definitely one of the things that the author said was that even though this was a book full of characters that had experienced such grief and pain and even though so many species of the Earth’s wildlife had been declared extinct, there was also a huge element of hope in the story and I saw that and felt it.

I wish I had better words to describe this, it gives me the same feelings I got reading Where The Crawdads Sing last year. One of those books that worms its way in and you find yourself thinking about it over and over in the days, weeks and even months to come. Charlotte McConaghy also described her forthcoming work in the session and I absolutely cannot wait for that book.

10/10

Book #160 of 2020

The Last Migration is book #56 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: The Secret Life Of Shirley Sullivan by Lisa Ireland

The Secret Life Of Shirley Sullivan
Lisa Ireland
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 336p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘Elderly. Is that how the world sees me? A helpless little old lady? If only they knew. I allow myself a small smirk.’

When Shirley Sullivan signs her 83-year-old husband, Frank, out of the Sunset Lodge Nursing Home, she has no intention of bringing him back.

For fifty-seven years the couple has shared love, happiness and heartbreak. And while Frank may not know who his wife is these days, he knows he wants to go home. Back to the beach where they met in the early 1960s . . .

So Shirley enacts an elaborate plan to evade the authorities – and their furious daughter, Fiona – to give Frank the holiday he’d always dreamed of.

And, in doing so, perhaps Shirley can make amends for a lifelong guilty secret . . .

When Lisa Ireland began writing this book, The Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care had probably been announced, so aged care was already quite a talking point in the country. However since this book would’ve gone to print, the coronavirus has swept most of the globe and in many places, the elderly in aged care facilities were particularly vulnerable. Here in Melbourne at the moment, aged care is a disaster, responsible for many of the deaths we have experienced in recent times and things have been so bad that private aged care has had to be taken over by government health organisations, at least temporarily. I’ve no doubt there’ll be a lot that comes out of both the Royal Commission and the inquiry into the response to the virus and even though the aged care facility that Frank, Shirley’s husband resides in in this book is neither accused of neglect nor experiencing a pandemic, it’s still very easy to see why Shirley would want to ‘bust’ her husband out.

Frank has dementia – good days and bad, some where he recognises Shirley and some where he doesn’t. This is a death sentence but Shirley doesn’t want Frank to experience his final days in this Sydney aged care centre that their daughter chose. They spent their married lives in Geelong and she wants to take him home, take him back to the places that meant the most to him. She’s constructed a very elaborate plan that will hopefully enable them to get far away from Sydney before it’s even discovered they are missing and from there, she takes further steps to avoid being detected, such as switching cars and changing up the way that they are travelling. Fiona, their daughter, means well but she isn’t listening to Shirley about what is best for Frank, neither does she think that Shirley is capable of making such decisions. And so Shirley feels forced to do things this way. To basically kidnap her own husband and become a fugitive, avoid detection in order to make it some 12 hours south.

Shirley is a force. She’s 79 years old and her whole life has been uprooted in the last couple of years. I’ve done a journey similar to the one she undertakes quite a few times (although I’ve gone a different way) and it’s a tough trip, let alone for a sole driver who is also responsible for another person. Frank is relatively far into his diagnosis and he does require constant care and watching. But Shirley lets nothing stop her, she’s determined to ‘free Frank’ and take him home, so that he might be surrounded by the things that are familiar to him, rather than being locked up in a dementia ward of a relatively soulless aged care facility.

This book is part present day, part historical story where it goes back in time to fill in Frank and Shirley’s backstory – how they met and began dating, the early years of their marriage, the troubles they had having children as well as societal expectations, the wave of feminism and Shirley’s feelings about what she wants vs what is expected of her at the time. Frank and Shirley married in the 1960s – times were changing but slowly. When Shirley makes a friend, a single woman who has carved a career for herself, Frank is suspicious and distrustful of someone not married by choice. This book examines a lot of things, including a particular kind of crippling grief. Shirley is told to basically snap out of it, get back to caring for her husband, home and daughter, rather than dwelling on what has happened. It’s heartbreaking, reading a lot of her struggle and realising how many women had their grief and shock and pain brushed aside during this time. Shirley also has another inner battle, where she cannot confront who she really is and must hide it away for many reasons. It is because of this that she also feels like she might owe Frank as well, that now she must dedicate these waning years to his care, to make him as comfortable as possible surrounded by what is familiar. It’s such a beautiful sentiment and even though it won’t be easy (Frank swings between calm and complicit to often difficult and agitated when things are new or strange to him) and Shirley, although fit and healthy after a medical incident a little while ago, is still an older person where this will certainly be an effort for her.

I’ve been blessed in that I’ve never really had a close family member fall victim to Alzheimers. I’ve had more distant family members have the disease but they were not ones that I spent a lot of time with. However, I feel that Lisa Ireland has done an amazing job with the character of not just Frank here but also Shirley as well. There are some truly beautiful scenes in this book where Frank, unaware of whom he is speaking to, waxes lyrical on his wife and their younger years and how he felt/feels about her. He believes himself to be a much younger man, still in his prime and his thoughts and feelings come to him sometimes, quite powerfully. Other times he’s much different, forgetting things he was told not long prior and requires constant vigilant watching and the ravages of the disease are obvious. It’s obviously very upsetting for Shirley, seeing this happen to him but her plan motivates her and it’s a powerful thing, for someone to have such a determination to accomplish something, giving her focus. Without this, her life in Sydney is not particularly fulfilling – having spent pretty much her whole life in Geelong, it was a huge upheaval to have to move and neither she nor Frank appear to be thriving.

There’s so much available for discussion here, the role that aged care plays and how it might be improved upon is just the beginning. Dementia patients and how they are treated is like a subset of that as well, because keeping them safe in aged care often means keeping them behind locked doors with little to stimulate them mentally or physically and although the staff may be passionate they are often overworked and underpaid with too much to do and not enough time to do it. But there’s also so much about Shirley’s early life as well, that brings up discussions on the role of friendships and how important they are, feelings about children, family, expectations vs societal pressure and how someone can love in different ways and be torn in many directions.

I think this book is brilliant – funny and heartwarming to balance each time it’s also devastatingly sad and thought provoking about women’s issues. Shirley is a beautiful, strong, complex character (my grandmother is also a Shirley, can confirm, they are very headstrong!) and Frank is – well, Frank will win your heart even though you might not love him for his 50s and 60s husband/wife views at some stages in the book. He’s realistic though, and I adored how much I felt connected to the setting of this book as well. I don’t live in the area anymore but when I first moved to Victoria we lived close to Geelong and spent a lot of time there. Everything was familiar to me, I know where the suburb Frank and Shirley bought their house is, where they ate their take away on Eastern Beach shorefront, the streets mentioned, where Frank worked. I felt like I could imagine their lives, even though they were taking place years before I came to the area.

This is one of my favourite books of 2020.

9/10

Book #155 of 2020

The Secret Life Of Shirley Sullivan is book #53 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

 

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Review: Confessions Of A GP by Benjamin Daniels

Confessions Of A GP
Benjamin Daniels
The Friday Project
2012, 384p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Benjamin Daniels is angry. He is frustrated, confused, baffled and, quite frequently, very funny. He is also a GP. These are his confessions.

A woman troubled by pornographic dreams about Tom Jones. An 80-year-old man who can’t remember why he’s come to see the doctor. A woman with a common cold demanding (but not receiving) antibiotics. A man with a sore knee. A young woman who has been trying to conceive for a while but now finds herself pregnant and isn’t sure she wants to go through with it. A 7-year-old boy with ‘tummy aches’ that don’t really exist.

These are his patients.

Confessions of a GP is a witty insight into the life of a family doctor. Funny and moving in equal measure it will change the way you look at your GP next time you pop in with the sniffles.

Honestly, I thought this would be a humorous read with some serious undertones about the difficulty of being a GP, especially in regards to the NHS and funding etc, but it wasn’t really at all like that, for me.

I actually found this pretty condescending, patronising and overly snarky, like the author was trying way too hard to be funny but it just came off more like he was being a jerk. There are descriptions of patients that are downright rude and disrespectful – a chapter titled ‘Kirsty the tranny’ comes to mind immediately, which seems incredibly blind, even with this being published close to 10 years ago. There’s also quite a bit of fat shaming, particularly in the case of a man who was housebound due to his large size. Daniels describes him as “fucking enormous” and later details events trying to get the man out his house whereby they seem to invite half the neighbours around under the guise of “helping” (how could they) but more just seems like a chance to gawk.

There are some rather sweet stories, whereby you can see the importance of community medicine and the role of the GP, even when it’s time wasting in a way. There are elderly people where the GP might be pretty much the only contact they have with the outside community and it can be their lifeline. Daniels details patients that visit him almost as therapy and even though that might take up time better allocated elsewhere, it’s so important to some people in the community for their overall health and wellbeing, as the GP can just be someone to listen to them. He makes quite a few house calls as well, which seems an important part of his job and these can be for a variety of reasons – to respond to a suicide warning, to administer morphine to a woman dying of breast cancer, to check over an elderly man who has fallen and was discovered by a neighbour. There is also a chapter that details the procedure of “granny dumping” which is families admitting elderly relatives to hospital around Christmas so that they may be able to go on vacation or have a ‘peaceful’ time without having to keep a constant eye on a relative who may need round-the-clock care.

But these chapters that I found interesting, informative or sweet are sprinkled in with a lot that I found snarky and mocking, especially as some of the things the author chose to mock or treat as though it was funny, weren’t really worthy of it. I’m sure there are plenty of things that are amusing or frustrating etc, in being a doctor but there were a lot of stories where it felt like that focus was misplaced or misdirected and it made my enjoyment of this book definitely not as high as it could been. The chapter about the overweight man in particular and Daniels’ reaction to his medical problem (which although unpleasant, he didn’t respond to in a professional way at all and handballed it to a community nursing organisation) as well as the description of having to remove him from his house and the chapter on the transgender person (and there are more chapters too, these were just the 2 that stuck in my mind the most) made me really want to dislike the author and put the book down. I did finish it because it honestly didn’t take very long. I’ve since learned that there are more of these but I definitely do not have any interest in reading any of them. I do not want to read anything else in this author’s judgemental voice.

4/10

Book #138 of 2020

 

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Review: Matilda Next Door by Kelly Hunter

Matilda Next Door (Outback Brides Return To Wirralong #1)
Kelly Hunter
Tule Publishing
2020, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When a long-anticipated holiday takes an unexpected turn…

Aussie farm girl Matilda Moore kicks off her dream trip to London by flat-sitting for her childhood friend. But London is daunting, crowded and noisy, and that’s before Tilly finds a baby on the doorstep. There’s a note attached: “Henry, if you’re reading this, please know the worst has happened.”

Probability expert Henry Church has finally returned home to Wirralong, Australia, to see his grandparents when he gets a phone call from Tilly that breaks every statistical analysis. The probability of him being the father is marginal. Plus, he knows nothing about caring for a baby. Emotions and socializing are even bigger mysteries. He begs Tilly for help—can she cut her holiday short and bring the baby to Wirralong?

Tilly will do almost anything for her childhood best friend, but falling in love with him and his motherless baby is an emphatic no. Out of the question. Or is it?

Recently I got the chance to read and review all the books in this series – there are 4, by Kelly Hunter, Fiona McArthur, Cathryn Hein and Barbara Hannay. I believe there was a previous quartet, also centred around the country Australian town of Wirralong but honestly, it isn’t necessary to have read those. Although I think I’d like to, given how much I enjoyed this.

Matilda, aka Tilly, grew up on a country farm, next door to where Henry Church came to live with his grandparents at age 8. Tilly is three years younger and patiently she befriended Henry, wearing down the wall he’d already constructed around himself. However when Henry was 18 he left Australia, having scored himself a scholarship to a prestigious British university. He has rarely returned – until now. He’ll be back for a month but Tilly will be in London for most of that, using Henry’s flat as a base and also undergoing a cooking class at a prestigious hotel. Her dream holiday turns out to be not at all what she expected, even before someone dumps what is apparently the 6 month old daughter Henry didn’t know existed, onto her after the death of the little girl’s mother.

This was my jam in so many ways. I love opposites attract stories and Henry and Tilly definitely fit that brief. Henry is quite reserved – he’s not actually British but he’s lived over there for quite a while and he feels British, in the way of his mannerisms and being sort of ‘uptight’ but not in a bad way, just in a way where it seems he never really learned to open up. His mother obviously had her problems, he doesn’t know his father and upon his mother’s death, he came to live with his maternal grandparents, the same ones that his mother had fled from. His grandfather is a lovely man, deep and thoughtful but seems to have been completely cowed by his sharp-tongued wife. Henry’s grandmother is now in the early grip of dementia and Henry has returned to Australia to see that right now, his grandparents do need quite a bit of assistance. By contrast, Tilly is open and a great people person – however she sees herself as lacking in sharp intelligence, which Henry has in spades.

This is also friends to lovers, as Henry and Tilly have known each other a very long time and were friends, although they haven’t really been friends as such, as adults. Henry has spent almost all of his adult life in the UK and also hasn’t been one to keep in contact. When Tilly arrives back in Australia with his child, Henry also knows that he’s probably going to need some help and Tilly isn’t really keen to return to London. So they are raising this child together, learning everything together and it definitely enhances the thoughts that they’ve both had about each other over the years. Henry was always very aware of the fact that he was several years older than Tilly though and when he was still in Australia, anything more than friendship was not an option. Now they’re both adults – the attraction is there, the bond is there however there are concerns, about whether or not the child is bonding them in a way they wouldn’t normally, if Henry plans to stay in Australia, as well as whether or not he can embrace deep feelings – and express them, which is definitely something he has struggled with, but also not been given the opportunity. Tilly gives him that.

What I really enjoyed about this is that the conflict is not overly dramatic in this story. There were issues but it wasn’t turned into a huge plot point that dominated the latter part of the story. Things happened, they sat down and talked them over in due course and moved on from them. And at the moment, that’s something that I really appreciated. The pacing of this story was actually very consistent – there was humour (the stuff about Tilly wearing Henry’s shirts whilst she was in his flat was hugely amusing to me) but also a lot of seriousness but mellow in a way, which gave me a really soothing reading experience. I particularly liked the complexity of Henry’s relationship with his grandparents, particularly his grandfather and the bumps that they have to iron out as Henry seeks to assert himself about the realness of his feelings.

This was an excellent first book and I am now looking forward to all the rest in a big way.

8/10

Book #152 of 2020

Matilda Next Door is book #50 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020 – and that means that technically, I have ‘completed’ this challenge as 50 books was the goal I set myself for this year. I knew I’d read more but I tend to underquote myself sometimes, in order not to feel anxious about them! I will still keep adding each book I read by an Australian woman author to my count and continue to participate in the challenge.

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Review: The Christmas Party by Karen Swan

The Christmas Party
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan
2019, 480p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Declan Lorne, the last remaining knight in Ireland, dies suddenly, an ancient title passes with him. But his estate on Ireland’s rugged south-west coast is left to his three daughters. The two eldest, Ottie and Pip, inherit in line with expectations, but to everyone’s surprise – and dismay – it is the errant baby of the family, Willow, who gets the castle.

Why her? Something unknown – something terrible – made her turn her back on her family three years earlier, escaping to Dublin and vowing never to return. So when Willow quickly announces she is selling up, her revenge seems sweet and the once-close sisters are pushed to breaking point: in desperation, Pip risks everything to secure her own future, and Ottie makes a decision that will ruin lives. It’s each woman for herself.

Before moving in, Connor Shaye, the prospective new owner, negotiates throwing a lavish party at the castle just days before Christmas – his hello, their goodbye. But as their secrets begin to catch up with them, Ottie, Willow and Pip are forced to ask themselves which is harder: stepping into the future, or letting go of the past?

This was the last Karen Swan available on my library’s eBook borrowing app that I hadn’t yet read – well actually there’s one more, but I own a print copy of that, so I’ll be reading that version. So after I borrowed this, I went and requested a bunch of others in print form, from my local library, which will be delivered to my home. I’m still enjoying this journey throughout this author’s entire backlist, and this one was close to one of my favourites. It’s also one of the few I’ve read that did not contain a historical component to the story, focusing purely on a present day story in Ireland.

Declan Lorne was the last remaining knight in Ireland, a title that would only pass to a male offspring. He had three daughters, so the title will die with him, however he can leave the vast estate divided up between his children. It’s a crumbling pile, in need of close to a million euros spent on it in order to really restore it to its former glory. To everyone’s surprise, the main house does not go to oldest daughter Ottie, who has managed the estate in recent years. She gets a small slice, with the home she lives in and the land to run her business, as does middle sister Pip. But it’s the youngest daughter Willow, who gets the castle. Willow who left for Dublin years ago and basically hasn’t been back. Everyone is stunned, especially Willow but she quickly reasons that her father assumed she’d be the only one who would do what needed to be done – sell the castle. Rid themselves of the albatross around their neck that it has become. And that is exactly what Willow decides to do, contacting someone who showed interest in the castle previously. And before it’s sold, it’s leased out to host a party.

All of the sisters seem to have secrets, so the title is quite apt. Willow fled the local area years ago and seemingly either doesn’t return, or returns very seldom. She isn’t there for her parent’s lavish wedding anniversary party and it’s obvious that it was something that drove her away however no one seems to have ever sat down and genuinely asked her what it was that made her flee. Ottie is incredibly busy trying to run the estate, trying to get it out of the hole it’s in. She has a glamping business and is also keeping a very significant secret from everyone, including her sisters. And Pip has dreams – at the moment she runs a horse riding business around the local area but her real dream is in breeding. However there’s no cash for that, even though Pip has a small plan she wants to put in place in order to kickstart this dream. A bad judgement leads her to risk her life for it and everything goes wrong.

There’s a distinct lack of communication that runs through this book. Willow inherits the castle and decides to sell it for numerous reasons but it’s the longest time before she even has a conversation with at least one of her sisters that confirms that she will be selling it in a matter of weeks. Ottie has never told her sisters her own big secret, which has been going on for years. Willow hides an even bigger secret that shook her very existence, which she’s never confronted the relevant people with and the truth of it will break her heart again. And the sisters’ mother, it seems like she has a lot of secrets too and is in such a fragile state that she’s barely capable of a conversation, nor is she able to understand precisely why Willow decides to sell the home. Her attitude about moving to the Dower House, which she was left in Declan’s will, got incredibly tiring after a while.

There’s a potential romance, for each of the sister’s and they’re all quite different. I liked all of them, particularly I think, Ottie’s. It was pretty obvious what was going on with Ottie in the beginning of the book and she seemed to be the only person who couldn’t see someone for how they truly were. She had to make that realisation herself though, had to have everything ripped away so that she would see the real person, not the person she thought existed. Ottie had a lot of issues with not being born a male, which honestly, were pretty pointless. It’s not something she could control and her dad learned that the value of a daughter was just the same as the value of a son, even if he couldn’t pass down the title to one of them. I do feel however, that it took a huge portion of the book to get to the titular party and at times it did feel like things were dragging. Also some of the romances could’ve used a bit more time, Pip’s especially I think. But apart from that, I did really enjoy this one and I loved the idea of the crumbling castle, the desperate situation and the fact that they needed a miracle.

8/10

Book #140 of 2020

 

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Review: Deadman’s Track by Sarah Barrie

Deadman’s Track 
Sarah Barrie
Harlequin AUS
2020, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A tragic accident, a terrible crime, an unknown threat …

Scarred by a recent tragedy on Federation Peak, Tess Atherton is reluctant to guide a group of young hikers in the wild Tasmanian winter, but it seems safer than remaining amid the violence that threatens them in Hobart. Little does she know that she has brought the danger with her …

Detective Senior Sergeant Jared Denham is closing in on a serial killer, but someone doesn’t want him getting to the truth and the case is becoming personal. He already owes Tess his life, and wants to return the favour – but when it comes to enemies, Jared may be looking in the wrong direction.

Time is running out, and death is stalking them both …

This book is connected to Sarah Barrie’s two previous novels, Bloodtree River and Devil’s Lair but can really be read stand-alone. Tess, the main character in this one is a sister to two of the previous main male characters and has appeared before but this is the first time she really takes full focus. She works guiding guests from the family eco-lodge and other tourists on guided hikes around Federation Peak and surrounding areas. She also works with search and rescue and at the beginning of this book she experiences a tragedy after someone she is guiding doesn’t listen to her instructions and is determined to do something when the conditions are too dangerous. Her experience has a marked effect on her and she is struggling with some of the aspects of her job, particularly the parts that revolve around heights. All of this is a normal experience but it’s giving her boyfriend Aaron a chance to smother her. Suffering a crisis of confidence, Tess isn’t sure whether or not Aaron is right and maybe she should be just letting him dictate her future.

Detective Senior Sergeant Jared Denham started with a string of burglaries that escalated suddenly when two prominent, wealthy people were murdered on a yacht and a large amount of jewellery stolen. He is under enormous pressure to solve this murder and with it, the burglaries as well, especially as the deeper he goes, the more bodies he finds piling up. He’s getting close to Tess for a couple of reasons, the two of them crossing paths, making Tess realise that maybe she has other options and Aaron and his smothering ways might not be for the best.

This book was such a ride!

And I should be used to that by now, because I know how excellent Sarah Barrie is at crafting a book that takes the reader on a journey of suspense that lays careful groundwork, builds slowly but expertly until all of a sudden you realise that your heart is in your mouth and the atmosphere is frantic and dangerous and incredibly compelling as well. She excels at using the wilderness in Tasmania, the remoteness of parts of it as well as a living, breathing character as well that often works both with and against the main characters as they fight to keep themselves out of danger.

There are a couple of stories running parallel through the book for the most part, before they merge towards the end. Tess and her recovery from tragedy is one part of the story as well as her relationship with her boyfriend Aaron and how it’s not going particularly well. She’s been trying to feel things, wanting to feel things but it hasn’t necessarily been working and Aaron has been displaying a red flag or two as well which is concerning some of the people closest to her. Tess is close to both of her sisters-in-law – detective Indy and also Callie as well and they are supportive toward her as she works through the tough situation. Indy working with Jared also means that Tess and he cross paths quite often and they have an interesting rapport.

I enjoyed the story of Jared investigating the burglaries and how that scenario escalated sharply. Barrie constructs a situation where you can see a vulnerable person being taken advantage of, because they’re struggling to make ends meet and they have responsibilities that require money. They’re working what is no doubt a minimum wage job with little in the way of chance for progression but something that pays just enough for them to scrape by and provide the bare bones. It’s easy for many people to spot a weakness there and exploit it and not only that, to craft a situation where suddenly, that roped in person becomes not just an unwilling accomplice, but something much more dangerous. I felt a lot of sympathy for his person even though he was led astray into doing some incredibly terrible things. The situation was really not black and white and I thought this was addressed very well.

The latter part of the novel, which involves Tess leading a group on a hike through southern Tasmania and merges the story of Tess with the story of the burglaries, is amazing. Tess is experienced, although she was kind of roped into taking this job at a time of year when she normally would not have and it doesn’t start the best, with several of the young men not really being prepared to listen to her and thinking they know better. That soon becomes the least of her problems though as strange things start to happen, sinister things and it gets more and more terrifying. I spent most of my time reading this section in a high state of anxiety as things escalated and Tess is cut off from being able to communicate their terror and distress to the outside world. There are two potential perpetrators and the stress was real waiting for Jared to figure out who it was and whether or not they’d be able to orchestrate something in time.

This was brilliant. Absolutely loved it, another incredible romantic suspense from Sarah Barrie.

9/10

Book #148 of 2020

 

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Review: The Sister’s Gift by Barbara Hannay

The Sister’s Gift 
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two sisters, one baby and the best of intentions…

As a vibrant, young woman with a lifetime of possibilities ahead of her, Freya grants her sister, Pearl, the ultimate gift of motherhood. However, this comes at a hefty price – an unexpected rift in her family and the loss of the man she loves.

Decades later, Freya is divorced, childless and homeless, at rock bottom after losing everything she’s worked for. When her estranged niece, Billie, offers sanctuary, managing the family restaurant on beautiful Magnetic Island, Freya can hardly refuse.

Billie has never understood the tension between her mother and her aunt and now, with a newly broken heart, she is nursing a family secret of her own. All three women come together under the tropical Queensland skies, but can they let go of past regrets, or will old tensions tear them further apart?

A new Barbara Hannay book is always cause to celebrate and after the new lockdown restrictions, I decided that it would be one of my first August reads. I already know that August is going to be a month where I turn to books again, to entertain myself in the about 23hrs I am required to basically stay inside!

Many years ago, when Freya was a young woman, she gave her older sister Pearl the greatest of gifts. She sacrificed a lot for this, although she was happy and willing to do it. However Freya also made a choice for herself as well, something that alienated Pearl from her, made Pearl suspicious and nervous. And so although Freya offered up this gift for her sister, the backfire was it ended up destroying the closeness the sisters had once enjoyed, as well as Freya’s relationship. Now Freya is older, close to 50. She’s divorced and then her house burns to the ground. Lost and without anything to hold her to the place she’s made her home, Freya travels north to where she grew up to help her niece Billie, much to Pearl’s concern, who feels that all the secrets from a quarter of a century ago will spill out whilst Freya and Billie are in close proximity.

Whilst Billie’s parents are off enjoying a ‘grey nomad’ tour of Australia, Billie and Freya will run their bistro on beautiful Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville in northern Queensland. Freya grew up on the island but has since made her home away from it, helping to enforce the distance that Pearl has seemed to want in order to feel comfortable. Despite this, Freya and Billie share a close relationship, one where Billie feels comfortable opening up to Freya when she finds herself in a situation that she definitely did not expect to be in.

I loved the complex exploration of family relationships in this book and how decisions made can affect people in the long term. Freya and Pearl were once incredibly close, so close that Freya thought nothing of giving her the greatest gift. However despite that, circumstances ended with it driving a wedge between them, mostly due to Pearl’s insecurity. After the one decision she made that Pearl got so upset about, Freya has done the best she can to stay away, give them space and not continue to provide Pearl with other reasons to feel nervous and upset. However the situation suddenly brings Freya home, and Pearl at first, is not happy about it, fearing that the presence of her will topple the narrative she has chosen.

Billie and Freya are at very different places in their lives but there are some similarities. Both have come home after lengthy time away, Freya living her life elsewhere and Billie after travelling overseas. Both are not in relationships, Freya’s marriage having broken down and Billie’s holiday fling having ended. They fit together easily, working in the bistro and smoothing the way through any problems with competence. Both Billie and Freya have had an eventful couple of months leading up to their separate returns to Magnetic Island and it gives them a chance to stop and take a breath, decide what their next steps might be.

I enjoyed the setting here – it’s cold and miserable in Victoria and an escape for an afternoon to a tropical island accessible by ferry was a nice distraction. It gave me an idea of what it’d be like to be remote, in terms of being late term pregnancy and the challenges of that, being on an island where there’s only ferry access to the mainland, etc. Even just life, in terms of living somewhere where a lot of things are not easily accessible. At the moment, given what is going on in the world, it sounds like a wonderful way to be – but I’m aware that it would often be inconvenient also.

The romances were very appealing here as well – one is a second chance type and the other a chance opportunity that leads to something more. Both couples are connected by things they share and drawn to each other. There was a simplicity about most of the interactions between them but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t issues to explore either.

This was just the perfect read for me at this time – relaxing but also wonderfully intimate in its exploration of family relationships, the ups and the downs through life, decisions made and how that can shape things for many years. Freya and Pearl had a lot of settle between them and it didn’t really seem like that was an option until all the secrets between them were brought to light.

9/10

Book #154 of 2020

The Sister’s Gift is the 52nd book read and reviewed for The Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2020

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Review: Elsa Goody, Bushranger by Darry Fraser

Elsa Goody, Bushranger
Darry Fraser
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2020, 409p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

1896 Robe, South Australia

When Elsa Goody’s father and brother George die in quick succession she and her sister Rosie are in trouble. Pursued by an unpleasant suitor with dubious motivation, Elsa leaves for Victoria on the hunt for a fortune in gold coins that her brother has hidden. If Elsa can find it she will be able to save Rosie and herself from married slavery.

Their quest leads them on a cross-country journey to find the last man who saw her brother alive, Ezekiel Jones. But Elsa is not the only one looking for buried treasure. She and Rosie are beset by bushrangers and in the confusion Elsa is accused of being an accomplice. Luckily not everyone believes that Elsa is a criminal. When she finally catches up with Ezekiel, it’s clear that for him she can do no wrong.

But with everyone chasing her and bloody violence on the horizon, life is becoming increasingly complicated. Will she and Rosie ever manage to solve the mystery, find the gold and free themselves from a dark future?

This is the first book I’ve read by Australian author Darry Fraser although I have seen a few in the past. Australian historical fiction is something I haven’t read a huge amount of (although I do read quite a bit of historical fiction) and this is set in the late 1800s, starting in Robe, South Australia. Elsa is the youngest in her family – her elder sister is married, her two oldest brothers are dead, her mother has also passed and her third older brother George went seeking adventure. They receive news from a kindly stranger that George has died in Casterton, down in the Western Districts of Victoria. The news seems too much for their ill father, who passes almost immediately after. That leaves Elsa and her sister, whom she has never been close to. Rosie’s husband Frank is a lazy and cruel man and Elsa knows she’ll be vulnerable to marriage with a man she very much doesn’t want if they do not have a way to establish themselves as independent. Elsa decides to travel to Casterton to search for a rumoured tin of gold sovereigns that her brother had – if he had with him in Victoria, they need to claim it as part of his belongings. And in leaving, Elsa can escape the man who wishes to marry her. She also wants to seek out Ezekiel Jones, the man who wrote to them of her brother’s death, feeling a connection to him through the letter that she cannot really explain.

I really enjoyed this – I felt like Elsa was a really strong character, easy to connect with. She has a lot of mental fortitude, having to deal with the death of her beloved brother, followed almost immediately by their father and also, her sister Rosie. Almost 15 years separates Rosie and Elsa and they’ve never been close. Rosie is at first, against the idea of travelling to Casterton, especially as they’ll be two women travelling a significant distance on their own. Rosie swings between combative and supportive, she’s often short tempered and resentful. She was married at sixteen and it seems she’s probably never been happy in her marriage and I think she possibly resented the fact that Elsa did not marry and had reached her mid-twenties without being forced into it. She seems to feel that Elsa was cosseted and spoiled as the baby of the family, although it seems that Elsa was working the family farm for a significant period of time, after George, who was never interested in the farm, left. Their father was not well enough to work it. It’s mostly Elsa that keeps them going on the journey, although things do take a turn when they are not far from their destination and they are inadvertently caught up in a bushranger hold up on a coach.

I enjoyed the way the story was told, split between Elsa and her situation in South Australia and also Ezekiel on his farm in Casterton, which gives the reader the chance to understand his situation, meet his family and become familiar with them before the two stories merge when Elsa and Ezekiel meet. Ezekiel is a man who has known grief – who still experiences it and he has a lot on his plate. He is raising children on his own, he’s concerned about both of his brothers, for different reasons. His brother Nebo is an interesting man, who at first glance, seems like he might not be the sort of man you want to know. But there’s more layers to him than that, even though he has done things in the past, and plans things in the future, that are not really ideal. And Judah, the other brother, is even more grief-stricken than Ezekiel has been, taken to wandering on his own, leaving his property almost abandoned. But he’s back now and perhaps the brothers can finally work together.

Ezekiel and Elsa do have a connection right away – for Elsa, she was drawn to him from the writing of the letter, but for Ezekiel, it begins when she arrives on his property. I really liked all of their interactions and the way in which she immediately connects with his children as well, who are vulnerable in different ways. It’s obvious that all of them have felt the strain of losing their mother, but in particular, I feel the youngest two definitely showed more of that loss. Ezekiel was doing the absolute best he could and it was obvious how much he loved them and wanted the best for him. I enjoyed all the brothers in the end (even Nebo) and the ways in which they let people into their lives.

I enjoyed this glimpse into rural Australia in the late 1800s. Fraser wove women’s suffrage into the story with South Australia allowing the female vote, which Elsa is determined to do. I’d definitely be interested in reading future novels and might explore her backlist as well.

7/10

Book #142 of 2020

This is book #47 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2020

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July Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 26
Fiction: 21
Non-Fiction: 5
Library Books: 10
Books On My TBR List: 7
Books in a Series: 9
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 12
Male/Female Authors: 5/21
Kindle Books: 14
Books I Owned or Bought: 10
Favourite Book(s): Deadman’s Track by Sarah Barrie, The Farm At Peppertree Crossing by Lèonie Kelsall.
Least Favourite Books: Confessions of a GP by Benjamin Daniels
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 10 (technically 7 books but one counted towards 3 challenges)

Well, July was a month. We had about three weeks of June, where my kids went back to school and things began slowly opening up, with restrictions. The kids finished school and went onto winter break and as they did, the numbers of COVID cases began to escalate as it escaped into the community. From July 8, I think it was, greater Melbourne (which is where I am) went back into lockdown, essentially Stage 3, with only 4 reasons to leave your house: essential supplies, to give or receive medical care, work if it cannot be done from home and exercise within your suburb. The kids were granted an extra week of school holidays and then remote learning was to begin again. They’ve done two weeks of that so far and it’s a lot more face to face this time around, with zoom check ins every day and focus groups of 3/4/5 also doing zoom calls for things like reading and maths.

So I read a lot. The numbers are grim at the moment – Victoria has registered 3 days over 500 recently, including a 700+ and my postcode is the one with the highest amount of cases currently. We are staying very much inside here. My husband still goes to work, but his job is a solitary one and his industry has no confirmed cases. He travels in his car to work, he works alone in his room, he comes home. And for some overseas those numbers are tiny, I definitely get that. But they’re not tiny for us. It’s crept into aged care in Victoria and as everyone knows, once that happens it’s very difficult to get back under control and unfortunately the fatalities increase as those are some of the most vulnerable people in the community. This second stage of lockdown was originally scheduled for 6 weeks but given we are halfway in and registering our highest numbers of this whole illness being a thing, it’s pretty much a guarantee that lockdown will be extended and probably even tightened. (Edit #1 – Yesterday it was announced after I had written this post that we would enter stage 4 restrictions here in Melbourne for the next 6 weeks – there’s a nighttime curfew, restrictions on how far from home we can travel for food/essentials, how many people can go shopping/exercise etc).

My husband was supposed to be having surgery on August the 4th but last Tuesday the government announced that all surgery other than Cat 1 and the most urgent of Cat 2 would be suspended. My husband is Cat 2 but we don’t know how urgently they class it. Probably not very but at the moment getting an answer about it seems to be almost impossible. I suspect he’ll be told it’s been cancelled on the day, so right now we are in a bit of limbo about that. (Edit #2 – it will go ahead we found out this morning, but next Tuesday August 11th).

Reading is my escape and I certainly escaped plenty. I read 26 books in July, which is my equal highest total for the year (I also read 26 books in April). Well technically I read 24 books and listened to 2 audiobooks. I’ve been utilising my library a lot, both physical copies and those I can borrow electronically. The library has been excellent for allowing me to read books that fit with the mood I have at the moment, which is ‘please give me all the good feels’. However I’ve also been doing a bit of non-fiction reading as well though, which was one of the things I wanted to accomplish this year.

Challenge check in!

Australian Women Writers Challenge: 49/50

Read Non Fiction Challenge: 7/12 {technically complete, upgraded the challenge to the top level and trying for all 12}

Reading Women Challenge: 13/26

And with that in mind, and how much I’m turning to books at the moment, I have a lot of books to choose from, for August.

These were mostly sent to me and the top one was a purchase I made myself. As well as these books, I have been taking advantage of the fact that we can still request books through our local library system (even though it is shut) and if you fill out a form, they will collect and deliver your holds to you each week. I received a pretty decent sized delivery from them on Friday:

Quite a stash! Plenty of Karen Swan books, in order to continue my project of reading all her backlist. I’m finding her books quite comforting at the moment. Also grabbed a couple of Connie Willis books but I think there’s some others I should read before these – my library didn’t have them, so I will have to hunt around. I’m really interested in Ronan Farrow’s book as well. I requested the Kiley Reid way before even the first lockdown – for now, we can keep library books until like October or something, but you can return them if you like. Someone must’ve just recently returned this one.

I also have a significant number of eBooks, including about 6 or so review copies for the month of August also also some books I’ve borrowed electronically from my library. This month is also the month of the Melbourne Writers Festival, which I normally attend every year. This year it’s 100% online and anyone can attend – and the best thing is you can pay whatever you can afford, for tickets. If you can afford to make a donation, excellent. However if times are tough, most events (not sure about the workshops) can be booked into for free, which is an amazing thing at this time. A lot of people will be doing it tough, having lost jobs or put onto JobKeeper or had reduced hours so the fact that there are things that can be enjoyed for relatively little to no outlay, is awesome. I have booked into quite a few sessions and some of the eBooks I’ve borrowed from the library relate to those.

If you’re in Melbourne like me, or another area where the numbers are still a concern, then I hope you’re staying safe & at home as much as you can. If July was a good reading month for you, let me know – and also, your reading plans for August!

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