All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: How To Be Second Best by Jessica Dettmann

How To Be Second Best 
Jessica Dettmann
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A hilarious and heart-warming debut that captures the dramas, delights and delirium of modern parenting. This is Marian Keyes meets Allison Pearson, with a dash of Caitlin Moran.

Going from one child to two is never all that easy for a family, but when Emma’s husband simultaneously fathers a third child three doors up the street, things get very tricky, very fast.

No longer is it enough for Emma to be the best wife and mother – now she’s trying to be the best ex-wife, and the best part-time parent to her ex’s love child, and that’s before she even thinks about adding a new bloke to the mix.

Set in an upwardly mobile, ultra-competitive suburb, this is a funny, biting, heartwarming modern comedy that looks at the roles we play, how we compete, and what happens when we dare to strive for second-best.

I’m going to preface this review by saying that I’m a second wife – although I didn’t come by my husband the way that Helen, the second wife in this story, did. My husband had been separated from his first wife for years when we met.

It was very difficult for me to buy this scenario I’m afraid. Emma’s husband cheated on her before she got pregnant with their second child and then all throughout that pregnancy. In fact Emma and the woman Troy was cheating on her with, were pregnant at the same time. Both had daughters born within weeks of each other. And not long after both girls were born, Troy left Emma to go and be with Helen, his 26yo Pilates instructor. Fast forward three years and Emma is some sort of unpaid nanny to Troy and Helen’s daughter, ferrying her to her activities (swimming, dance, ballet, French and who knows what else). She has twin beds in her own daughter’s room because Helen and Troy’s daughter sleeps over so often. They’re basically raised as twins where one of them goes away sometimes and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this lack of boundaries isn’t sustainable forever. And Helen does not reciprocate with the care of Emma’s children in the slightest either.

This was weird. I can understand that the kids are siblings and fostering a relationship between them is important. But to be frank, it isn’t Emma’s job to foster it. She’s not the common parent. Troy is. Sure, she can support it and encourage it but it isn’t on her to be the one that handles the day to day parenting and organisation of it. That is going above and beyond in uncomfortable ways. The fact that she does it all unpaid (okay Troy is slightly more generous with the child support than he needs to be but big deal) is even more ridiculous. Emma is such a pathetic doormat that I couldn’t stand her about 20 pages into the book. Troy and Helen are forever buggering off to here and there, piking out on their weekends with all three kids and forever dumping their own kid on Emma every five minutes. They live three doors down from Emma (which is also weird – there’s convenience for shared parenting and then there’s just living in each other’s pockets) but yet Troy is barely a blip on his kid’s radar and his child with Helen spends pretty much all of her time with Emma (or “Memma” as she calls her). Emma takes her to all these activities that her own child doesn’t even do, spending half her life sitting around waiting. Troy is a constantly enabled manchild – instead of being told to man the heck up and parent his own children, all of them. The book never went into what both Emma and Helen had seen in him because he’s presented as a total douchebag who is only vaguely even aware that there are children that exist that might be connected to him. Boundaries are a great thing and it seemed like they were never established, as Troy divorced Emma and married Helen. I don’t even know how this sort of scenario would evolve. The little girls are only three when the book starts – why does Helen spend so little time with her own child? And who had the bright idea that Troy’s first wife might be the ideal nanny? I understand that civility is a good aim and Emma’s constant justification is that it’s to make the kids happy. She’s so busy trying to be perfect, the best mother and ex-wife, that she doesn’t seem to realise that she may actually be harming them more than helping them. To be honest, the kids have been victimised by fostering this very unsustainable half-sibling relationship that isn’t regular at all. By the time Emma loses her shit around page 200 and something, it’s been far too long coming and all I could wonder is how it got that far and how anyone thought it was going to be able to go on until the kids were teenagers. They were always going to have to be pared back in their time spent together, because Emma isn’t the mother of one of them! Did everyone think this would just go on forever? What happens if Troy and Helen have another child? Is Emma just going to basically adopt that one too?

Don’t even get me started on the romance. Emma is so clueless. I really loathe when people do to others what has been done to them, like it didn’t hurt them. Like it’s different when they do it. It isn’t.

I realise I’ve been pretty savage on this and maybe that’s because of my own situation. But the thing is, I’m not even Emma! It’s not like my husband had an affair and left me and now I’m contemplating what it’d be like to be basically raising his child with his new wife. I’m more like Helen in this scenario, minus the cheating and I still can’t wrap my head around it. Being a first time mum is hard and sometimes you feel like you’re not doing a good job but passing it off to your husband’s ex-wife seems a bit extreme. Even agreeing to move into the same street. How uncomfortable for everyone. I think this for me, just came off as awkward rather than funny and I spent most of it just wanting Emma to seriously grow a backbone. It improves when she does but it was a bit too late and I also don’t really feel as though the ending resolved things as definitely as it should for moving forward. It just throws in a life threatening event to smooth everything over and *shrug* Done.

5/10

Book #6 of 2019

How To Be Second Best is book #2 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019.

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Top 10 Tuesday 15th January

Welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday, originally created by The Broke & the Bookish and now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. This week our topic is…..

Top 10 New Authors I Read In 2018

  1. Holly Black. I read both The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King in 2018 and am madly obsessed with this series. I’d never read Holly Black before even though I’ve been seeing her name around for quite a few years. I really do need to go back and read some of her backlist while I wait for The Queen Of Nothing.
  2. Holly Ringland. I read Holly’s debut novel, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart and it was one of the few books I gave a 10/10 to last year. It’s such a beautiful story and Holly’s writing is just…..incredible. She’s an Aussie living in England (or at least spending a lot of time there) and I hope this book has a lot of success in overseas markets too. And I can’t wait to read whatever she comes up with next.
  3. Dervla McTiernan. The Rúin, first in the Cormac Reilly series gets Dervla McTiernan into my list. I loved this book – and I have the second one, The Scholar sitting on a pile here waiting for me to get to it. It’s an Irish detective series and it just has such atmosphere and Cormac is so interesting.
  4. Jenny Han. Of course 2018 was the year I read To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, P.S. I Still Love You and Always & Forever, Lara Jean. These books had been on my radar for a while but the Netflix adaptation was the push I needed to finally read the first one, because you have to read the book before watching the movies! This is a super cute series and hopefully they make the other 2 and they’re just as good.
  5. Gail Honeyman. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine made a big impression on me last year – such a powerful story. I really loved it and I am super keen to read Gail’s next book, whenever that may be.
  6. Kelly Rimmer. The excellent Before I Let You Go had me hooked – such an interesting book that explored a really tricky legal restriction and a moral dilemma really well. Kelly has another book coming out very soon, in March I think and I will definitely have that top of my pile.
  7. Helen Hoang. The Kiss Quotient was brilliant. Super funny and really engaging, exactly the sort of book I like to read. And I’m really excited for The Bride Test. I have so many books I’m really excited for this year, from authors that I love so it’s really looking like being such a good reading year!
  8. Christian White. Author of The Nowhere Child. If you’re not Aussie, keep a look out for this one in 2019, because it’s getting published in other markets and it is amazing.
  9. Michelle McNamara. It’s really unfortunate that I’ll never get to read another piece of investigative non-fiction from Michelle McNamara because sadly she passed away, even before her book on the Golden State Killer, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark was published. She did such an amazing job and the way it was written was really incredible.
  10. Hillary Rodham Clinton & Michelle Obama. I’m putting these two together so I can a) fit both of them into my list and b) because they are quite similar in that they are former First Ladies who wrote memoirs. The one I read from Hillary Clinton was What Happened, detailing her loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 election and I read Michelle Obama’s Becoming, a story of her life before and in the White House. I love them both. I hope Michelle Obama writes more in the future and I have other books from HRC to read.

And there’s my list of new authors I enjoyed the most in 2018!

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Review: No Stone Unturned by Julie Moffett

No Stone Unturned (Lexi Carmichael Mystery #11)
Julie Moffett
Carina Press
2019, 374p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Geek girl Lexi Carmichael thought getting engaged would mean calmer days ahead. But when Slash’s past brings up more questions than answers, she’s not going to let anything–or anyone–drive them apart.

Getting engaged is supposed to be a fun, exciting time in a girl’s life. But things are never that easy for Slash and me. Instead, someone is threatening to expose Slash’s past–a past so secret, even I know very little about it.

Before I can get used the weight of Nonna’s antique ring on my finger, he’s on his way to Rome…and we’re farther apart than we’ve ever been. Still, I have no intention of sitting at home and letting him take on the Vatican by himself.

With a little expert-level hacking, I learn Slash is keeping secrets from me. Big ones. Dangerous ones. In fact, the more I dig into Slash’s past, the more I discover things about him I never knew–things that eventually pit us against each other.

From Rome to the Amalfi coast to the highest levels of the Vatican, we both race to discover the truth. No matter what I find, we’re officially a team now, so I won’t let him face this alone. Even if I don’t know if our relationship can survive it.

For the most part, I really enjoy this series. I discovered it a lot of years ago now and I think we get around 2 instalments per year and there are a lot of things that I really appreciate about it. Firstly, how good Lexi is at her job. She’s super awkward and dumb stuff happens to her all the time but she has a really analytical mind and she’s always ready to drop whatever it is she’s doing and help someone. I love her ability with computers and the way she thinks. Also I like her and Slash and how steady they’ve been for the last 7 or so books. It can be rare in a series to have that romantic consistency and not have the main character torn between characters or in a perpetual state of relationship flux.

In this book however, Lexi and Slash face probably their greatest test when someone from Slash’s past starts sending him messages about things he’s done and threatens to spill some secrets, things that Slash doesn’t particularly want Lexi to know. He has a very highly classified past and has definitely done some things that he’d prefer Lexi never have to find out about. There’s also a lot about his background and his unusual upbringing as well that Slash himself doesn’t even know about but he’s about to get some of the answers in the course of investigating just who it is that is threatening to expose him and why.

The book starts with Slash and Lexi’s engagement party, something that Lexi has been coerced into doing. She’s still not at ease in social situations, even when she knows everyone that is going to be there and the situation is only made worse when her mother starts immediately harassing her about wedding details and producing grandbabies. Lexi and Slash just got engaged and even thinking about the wedding right now is too much of a distraction for her – I think it’s almost a relief when Slash is targeted with a message, because it gives her something else to focus on and that is providing support for Slash in any way that she can, letting him know that he’s not alone anymore and she’ll be there for him. For Slash, who comes across as supremely confident, it seems that Lexi is his Achilles heel – he’s constantly worried that she’ll find out about him and that’ll cause her to leave him, when she learns what he’s done in his past.

A large portion of the book is in Italy and revolves around the Catholic Church and the Vatican which is not particularly my sort of thing because I have a lot of issues with the Catholic Church and the blind eye they’ve turned to instances of extreme abuse. There’s just a lot about most organised religion that I really don’t enjoy and I’m not a big fan of reading about it either. But it’s an integral part of the storyline here and Slash was raised in Italy, a country that is heavily devoted to Catholicism and he also worked for the Vatican. There’s some nice stuff that ties into Slash and Lexi’s meeting with the Pope in the third book, No Place Like Rome as well and it’s always good when a series keeps consistent to those prior stories. I like a series that builds, rather than each instalment feeling stand alone.

There’s so much more that the reader knows about Slash now after this book. Before this he had been a mystery for so long – each book had built on that mystery until, to be honest, he was almost barely human. But this book strips it back a bit and lets us get a glimpse of him as a real person with insecurities and fears and a burning desire to know more about his past. His love for Lexi has always been a very strong part of him and his acceptance of her for who she is, weirdness and awkwardness and all but in this book we get a look at the opposite – Lexi’s steadfast support of Slash and her willingness to accept him for all he is, shady past and all. I think this will make them feel more “even” in the future – there’s no longer that feeling that Lexi doesn’t know much about Slash’s past or that he has these secrets and she’s realised that he could be just as vulnerable as she could. Progression!

8/10

Book #4 of 2019

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Review: A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea
Tahereh Mafi
Egmont
2018, 297p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

If you’ve ever been curious what it might have been like being a young {female} Muslim in America in a post 9/11 world then Tahereh Mafi is here with the answer. This is set quite soon after 9/11 and the protagonist is a young woman, who moves around with her Iranian-born family quite often as their parents search for better opportunities. This lifestyle (and probably a combination of other factors) means that Shirin has never particularly developed close friendships and she tends to go through school not seeing or hearing anyone around her. She chooses to wear a headscarf (she isn’t required to, or forced to by her parents, it’s something she seems to have given a lot of thought to and has made that decision based on her own feelings) and in the time after 9/11 it’s basically a target on her back.

Despite being born in America, Shirin is told countless times to go back to where she came from. There are remarks, either oblique or outright made about terrorism, because every Muslim in the world must be the same, right? In class she is subjected to one particularly humiliating moment that the teacher attempted as a ‘leaning process’ but it’s grossly miscalculated and quite unprofessional. More than once her headscarf is the reason for physical violence and/or humiliation and the best people can do is shrug and say maybe you shouldn’t wear it.

For me, this book’s greatest strengths were in the family relationships and Shirin’s view of the world and her experiences. Shirin has a great relationship with her older brother and although it’s not explicitly discussed at length, it’s certainly obvious how her brother’s treatment by other students is different from what Shirin herself experiences. He makes friends easily it seems and mostly what seems to draw people’s attention is the fact that Shirin wears a headscarf. It doesn’t seem to be about her just being Muslim – but about her looking different, about her taking a symbol that white people believe oppresses women and having the audacity to wear it in public. She doesn’t seek to ‘fit in’ or conform and I think her lack of that is what makes her even more of her target. Not that it’s her fault at all – it lies with those who don’t bother to see past what she wears and ask her what it represents to her. And Shirin does experience some truly horrific behaviour from her fellow students and for the most part, there’s a blind eye turned. Shirin doesn’t even confide in her parents, who lived through times far more volatile and dangerous than a bit of high school bullying! She knows they wouldn’t be sympathetic. I found her parents quite refreshing – they are present within the book but not overly and although Shirin doesn’t enjoy the same freedom as her brother, as long as she’s with him, her parents don’t seem to keep too many tabs on her. They aren’t overly interested in the ins and outs of their children’s lives, save for the fact that they get good grades.

The romance in this was fine – I didn’t mind Ocean. At first I thought he wasn’t particularly deep (ironic) but as the book progressed and we learned more about him, he began to show a little more character and become something more than just a nice guy who smiled and wanted to get to know Shirin. I enjoyed the mixed race dynamic and the fact that it wasn’t particularly an issue for Shirin, who is quite blunt in saying no her parents won’t approve of him but not because he is white – simply because they wouldn’t approve of anyone. However we never really get Shirin’s parents reaction to it? Perhaps they never end up knowing. I liked the fact that her brother Navid was protective of her but not to the extent where he was like ‘no one will touch my sister’. His reaction to the drama surrounding Shirin and Ocean was actually quite amusing most of the time. And there is rather a lot of drama surrounding Shirin and Ocean. At times it felt like we were trapped in this cycle a bit too long – Shirin liking Ocean but backing off but liking him but backing off and oh gosh just put the guy out of his endless misery already. I also found the ending sort of believable but in a way also vague and bit unsatisfying? Like there could’ve been a bit more to the story?

I liked the way this made me think. I can’t imagine what life was like for Muslims in America – or even people that looked like they might be Muslims – but this was a good way to examine that and how some people reacted in ways that completely dehumanised the ‘other’. The behaviour in this book isn’t limited to other students either – adults are also some of the perpetrators for the most selfish reasons possible. And it’s 17 years since 2001 and this book is still applicable, with the Islamophobia and xenophobia that are still so prevalent today.

Also the breakdancing stuff was very fun – an unexpected and enjoyable part of the story.

8/10

Book #3 of 2019

 

I’m counting A Very Large Expanse Of Sea towards my Reading Women Challenge 2019. I’m ticking off category 24 – A YA title by a WOC. It’s the first category completed.

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Review: The Wicked King by Holly Black

The Wicked King (The Folk Of The Air #2)
Holly Black
Hot Key Books
2019, 322p
Copy courtesy Allen & Unwin

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her, even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

This is my favourite current series.

Last year I read The Cruel Prince not knowing much about it, just knowing that everyone had it on their list of most anticipated for 2018. And I was reading it, thinking okay this is good, this is nice but it’s not super action packed….oh, wait a minute. Things are happening. And they’re happening fast. Okay, that was a ride. It’s been a year since then and when a copy of The Wicked King arrived on my doorstep just before Christmas, I knew there was no waiting until the new year to read it. I had to know what happened next.

And for the most part, The Wicked King follows a somewhat similar pattern. It opens about five months after the conclusion of the previous book, Cardan is ruling Faerie and remains tied to Jude in the bargain she struck with him. His resentment of that bargain is growing and he seeks ways to strain against it just as Jude seeks ways to rein him in. Life in Faerie has been one big party since Cardan’s coronation but soon there are whispers of a threat and Jude has to get the council of advisors to take her seriously, which is much harder than it sounds, given she’s a mortal in an immortal world and she betrayed several of the members including her father figure who wouldn’t mind the throne for himself.

The cat and mouse game between Jude and Cardan is a thing of beauty to read. As much as they seek to one up each other, to gain and hold power, there’s just this fascinating undercurrent running through their every interaction. And I know that these fae are tricky and dismissive of humans and there’s no rainbows and sunshine here but it doesn’t stop me craving more between Cardan and Jude. I love the intrigue, I love the mind games, I love that it’s all just a little bit messed up. I love how it always makes me believe there can be more…….only to burn it down and tear it to shreds in the next chapter.

Jude continues to be fascinating and complex, stretched thinner and thinner as she takes measures to make sure that no one can destroy her, a mortal with so many weaknesses that she must conceal, that she must defeat, in this world. She trains, she observes, she plots and schemes. I really enjoyed her relationship with Madoc. She watched Madoc murder her parents but then he took her with him, back to the land of Faerie and raised her, pretty much raised her in his image. Perhaps of the three, Jude is the most like him, having taken in his lessons on warfare and strategy and outthinking and defeating your opponents. Jude learned well enough to thwart Madoc in the previous book and now their relationship remains fractured as Madoc struggles to reassert his position at Court and he’ll probably throw anyone under the bus to do it, even Jude. But he was also her father figure for many years and I think Jude wants his acknowledgement and approval that she’s clever, that she listened and absorbed. Jude has a brilliant mind, she’s always thinking, always plotting, always trying to be ahead of the Fae knowing that her life and position depend on having power, having control of Cardan and keeping the pieces moving on the board.

The Cruel Prince ends with Jude pulling one on Cardan and for the most part of The Wicked King it sort of seems like Cardan has accepted his fate of a year in Jude’s service albeit reluctantly and with attempts to humiliate her if the opportunity arises. For all the experience of having read the first book, I still didn’t see the end coming here. It’s one of those moments and a testament to Holly Black that she could extract the same reaction from me at the end of this book that she did with The Cruel Prince. It’s one of those books that you race through, devouring greedily and then after it’s done and you’re in a state of shock and awe and frustration that the next one is again a year away, you know you have to go back and re-read it at a slower pace, to absorb everything slower, and more carefully. To read them both together too now, while I await The Queen Of Nothing, a title which makes sooo much sense after finishing this book.

Slayed again.

9/10

Book #203 of 2018

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Review: Flight Risk by Michael McGuire

Flight Risk
Michael McGuire
Allen & Unwin
2018, 294p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Disgraced former pilot Ted Anderson works for a top-secret government organisation set up to investigate terror-related incidents. Sent to Jakarta to find out as much as he can about the pilot of a vanished Garuda flight, he discovers a flight simulator in the pilot’s apartment.

When the investigation turns sour, Ted escapes to New York as further disaster strikes.

Another plane disappears from the sky. Then another. Three planes and hundreds of passengers and crew, vanished, without a trace. Panic is widespread and the world is teetering on the brink.

Still no one has come forward to claim responsibility.

At an eerily deserted JFK airport trying to get a flight back home, Ted witnesses a suspicious exchange between an airport cleaner and a nonchalant airline pilot. He follows the pilot to his destination: a Ukraine International Airlines flight, due to leave in an hour.

All his instincts tell Ted that this is the next plane to go down. But what on earth can he do? Take the flight and face almost certain death? Or fly back home and wait for the news headlines?

He does the unthinkable and gets on the plane.

This book was inspired by the mystery that is the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in 2014 when it abruptly vanished from radar. It’s a story that has gripped me for almost five years – how on earth could, in this day and age, a Boeing 777 just disappear? With radars and trackers and satellites and whatever else, how could it just vanish? There have been so many theories regarding MH370 – it was hijacked and crashed. It was hijacked but flown to somewhere remote – Kazakhstan, Diego Garcia, Africa. There was an explosive decompression which killed or incapacitated the crew and passengers as they were making a turn to return to Kuala Lumpur and then the plane just flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel. Or suicide by pilot in an act of deliberation in a remote area of the Indian Ocean somewhere between the west coast of Australia and Africa. It’s a large expanse of ocean, full of deep trenches, much of which is unmapped. There have been numerous attempts to find a wreckage of MH370 with no success from deep sea vessels. This article published a couple of days ago suggests that a piece of wreckage found off Madagascar is likely from MH370 and has been confirmed by Malaysia Airlines. So it’s out there somewhere. 

In Flight Risk, Ted Anderson is a former pilot who works as a government investigator, flying very much under the radar. The first plane disappears and Ted is deployed to Western Australia to check it out. The powers that be want to believe it’s just an accident or an isolated incident but then a second flight vanishes. And then a third. And Ted is suddenly right in the thick of a mystery that threatens to ground every flight in the world until it can be discovered just what is happening to these planes and why. Ordered to return to Australia, Ted is at JFK when he witnesses an unusual interaction. He could leave it, return home in disgrace and take his punishment. If he boards the plane he suspects will be the next vanished flight, he will most likely die…..but he boards the plane anyway.

There’s a lot of…..machismo in this book, which is to be expected I suppose. Ted spends a lot of the first part of the book in the air. He flies to northern Western Australia to investigate the first disappearance, then to Perth in order to head to Indonesia to further investigate, starting with the pilots of the plane that vanishes first. There he runs into a counterpart from America and the two of them have a sort of loose alliance/rivalry as they search for information on the pilot. To be honest, the only thing they don’t do is each whip it out and measure it. Both of them believe that something much more sinister is at foot than just a plane that malfunctioned and it seems that there’s others they need to convince of that, a job that gets a bit more easier when the second plane vanishes. Despite Ted’s gut screaming at him that there’s something going on, his boss doesn’t really seem to want to hear his thoughts, ordering him home after he hitches a ride with the American back to the USA. I guess luckily, Ted kinda does what he wants, not what his boss tells him to.

On one hand, I loved the set up for this – MH370 is a great basis for a story and it’s real. I also liked the direction that the author took the story in, with it not being the only plane and there being more and it all being connected. But I have to admit, I was kind of disappointed in the perpetrators, or the person pulling the strings because it just seemed like of all the choices…..  Yes, it’s a problem that the world is facing but at the same time, it’s beat up and demonised and basically blamed for every little thing that I think I would’ve appreciated a fresh take on the ‘evil’ – something new and unexpected and different. I think that the author tried a little bit of a twist but it wasn’t really much of one, for me. It seems to play in to everything Ted already thinks and doesn’t really get him to challenge his beliefs or force him to examine his prejudices and it just seemed……too easy. Like there’s one demon in the world at the moment and only the exploitation of that could be responsible for such a thing. I found Ted a bit of a cliche but I did appreciate his regret over his treatment of his wife and daughter and his determination to fix what he can after things go awry investigating the vanishing planes. I don’t know if this is a series? There’s some closure and direction for the future in a way for Ted but in terms of the orchestration of this event, there’s definitely some loose ends.

This was fast paced and quite a thrill ride – I think it would probably make a great big budget action flick. Like most books of this variety it involves the reader suspending their disbelief a lot and how much you can do that will shape your liking of the book. For me, it was the way I felt about the answer to the question of what happened to the planes. I didn’t mind the stunts and Ted’s previous training as a pilot came in handy but I wanted a bit more behind the reasoning.

6/10

Book #2 of 2019

 

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 8th January

Happy New Year and welcome to my first Top 10 Tuesday for 2019 as I missed last week. Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now resides with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. This week our topic is:

Top 10 Most Anticipated Releases For The First Half Of 2019

  1. Vardaesia by Lynette Noni. The Medoran Chronicles #5. Published next month but I already have a copy thanks to the fabulous publisher. I could read it now but I’m keeping it for closer to the release date. I like knowing it’s there. It’s the final book in a series and I always have such mixed feelings about that. I want to read it. But I’m also kind of scared. I don’t expect everyone to survive.

2. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan. Cormac Reilly #2. I loved The Rúin last year and I can’t wait to read this follow up. This is also out next month. There’s so much about this series (well the first book) that I enjoy. Although Cormac is in some ways, the quintessential detective protagonist, in other ways he’s not. It’s been a while since I really found myself a series like this and I hope it ends up with many books.

3. What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume. I’m excited about this for several reasons – firstly because I’ve known Jenna for a very long time now, probably since not long after I started blogging in 2010 and she’s amazing. I’m so glad to see her getting her own book published (I think she has a 2 book deal with Aussie Pan Mac) and this seems such an amazing example of our #LoveOzYA with body positivity and complex but well defined characters. This is out late Feb/early March and I cannot wait to be able to read it.

4. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane. love Mhairi McFarlane. She’s written two of my very fave contemporary fiction/romance type books – Who’s That Girl and It’s Not Me, It’s You both of which I have read and re-read so many times now. This is her newest book and I cannot wait to read it. She’s so funny but not in a slapstick way and her books are always so heartwarming. Sometimes sad, but always with all the feels.

5. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang. I loved The Kiss Quotient for lots of reasons and I’m very much looking forward to Helen Hoang’s next novel which is loosely linked to the first. Once again this is a strong representation of diversity and own voices and I think it’s going to be wonderful.

6. Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte. I’ve been hearing a bit of buzz about this for a little while now! A nation divided into four, each ruled by its own Queen. A pickpocket intercepts a comm whereby she sees all four Queens brutally murdered and now she looks to find who it was meant for, hoping that by that, she will find who murdered the Queens. This sounds so good and I’m really excited about it.

7. Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal. A retelling of Pride & Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan. This sounds amazing!

8. The Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. I’m hopelessly behind reading Samatha Shannon’s other books but like that stops me wanting more. I loooove the cover of this book – to be honest I’d buy it for that alone without having a single clue what it’s about. It’s a goddamn brick according to Goodreads – 896p but it sounds good. Sign me up for buying it and probably still having it on my TBR pile in 2020.

9. On The Come Up by Angie Thomas. I think a lot of people anticipate this one after how damn good The Hate U Give was.

10. The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth. Sally Hepworth is amazing. All her books are so freaking fabulous and I feel as though, going by the title, I may relate to this……

11. Internment by Samira Ahmed. A bonus title, because I’d finished my 10 but then I came across this one and just could not leave it out. A title where Muslim Americans are rounded up and placed into internment camps, much like the Japanese in WWII (and in Australia, Germans and Italians experienced the same thing). Speculative but also…..all to scarily believable given current climates.

Spoiled for choice in the coming six months I think. To be honest there’s probably plenty of books I’ve forgotten here and it was hard to keep it just ten eleven. I’m sure I’ll end up with plenty more for this list from everyone’s posts this week too!

 

 

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Review: The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper

The Arsonist: A Mind On Fire
Chloe Hooper
Penguin Random House AUS
2018, 251p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

On the scorching February day in 2009 that became known as Black Saturday, a man lit two fires in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, then sat on the roof of his house to watch the inferno. In the Valley, where the rates of crime were the highest in the state, more than thirty people were known to police as firebugs. But the detectives soon found themselves on the trail of a man they didn’t know.

The Arsonist takes readers on the hunt for this man, and inside the strange puzzle of his mind. It is also the story of fire in this country, and of a community that owed its existence to that very element. The command of fire has defined and sustained us as a species – understanding its abuse will define our future.

A powerful real-life thriller written with Hooper’s trademark lyric detail and nuance, The Arsonist is a reminder that in an age of fire, all of us are gatekeepers.

I’d say almost all Victorians capable of it remember what they were doing on the day that came to be known as Black Saturday – the 7th of February, 2009. It was the culmination of a week or so of unrelenting heat. I remember it vividly for a few reasons, one of which was because it was my birthday. And we were going out to dinner that night with various members of family. We’d been out in the morning to pick up some stuff (a cake I think) and it had already been ridiculously hot. We’d also recently installed air conditioning and as it moved into the early afternoon, it was basically useless and we assumed we’d massively wasted our money. As we drove over the bridge at North Geelong, we caught a glimpse of the temperature gauge – 49 degrees Celsius. Which explained why the air conditioning wasn’t really working. It’s the hottest day I’ve ever experienced but by the time we came out of the restaurant about three or so hours later, it was already down to 19 degrees in Geelong, the massive predicted cool change ripping through. Which should’ve brought relief in many ways but for some of the 400 fires burning throughout the state from a combination of heat, arson, electrical failures etc, it only brought a fresh direction and an injection of oxygen that allowed them to take on an entirely new path of destruction.

I’ve already read one book about Black Saturday – Kinglake 350 by Adrian Hyland, which focuses on the Kinglake-Marysville area. This book by acclaimed author (of both fiction and non-fiction) Chloe Hooper focuses on the La Trobe Valley in Gippsland and the devastation that occurred there from two deliberately lit fires close together, as well as the man accused of lighting them. Perhaps because of location, I knew a lot less about the Gippsland fires than I did about the ones closer to me, up Kinglake and Marysville way – or perhaps because those fires wiped out whole towns. It’s such a devastating day in the state’s history and it’s even worse when you read about the fires that were deliberately lit. It’s one thing when it’s nature – a combination of searing heat, two weather patterns, a 12 year drought that combine. But when it’s someone that takes advantage of those conditions to deliberately cause destruction, it’s hard to take.

There’s a section of this book that details the stories of some of those that lost their lives – paragraph after paragraph of people who stayed behind to defend their houses and how that decision cost them. It’s honestly so hard to read. There’s the story of an older man who survived as the fire passed over his property but he lost his wife. He suffers burns to a significant part of his body and is hospitalised for weeks after the fire. His story is heartbreaking as he has to relive what happened over and over to give his statement, in front of his children who have lost their mother. This was a community that had seen much hardship over the years, not a wealthy community with mostly blue collar workers who struggled to make ends meet. For many of them, insurance wasn’t a priority.

This is not a cut and dried scenario. Police identified their main suspect relatively quickly and easily, which was unusual in a case like this when it could have been literally anyone. The accused is also possibly mentally disabled and most definitely has some form of learning difficulty. It’s possible that if he did it, he didn’t understand the consequences of his own actions. It’s possible he did – and is pretending he didn’t. It’s a really interesting situation and to be honest, nothing came across as clear cut and I’m honestly not sure it ever will. Regardless, he was convicted and is serving time in prison – a woefully inadequate sentence for the families of the affected. At times I was uncomfortable with some of the proceedings. This book is obviously more weighted to those that Hooper was able to talk to and gather information on and she wasn’t able to meet with the accused and at times he remains a bit of a mysterious figure. Both because of his learning difficulties (which seem to vary at different times, depending on who he is talking to and what situation he is in) and because there’s never really much in the way of illumination on the why. If he did it, was it because he didn’t understand what would happen? Or did he understand it and that was the entire point and everything that came after was an act? He was found fit to stand trial but there were times when I wondered about that, given the transcripts of his police interviews. There was also quite a bit in here about defending such a figure and the way in which the press bayed for blood when his name was released and how, even if he were granted bail, he wouldn’t ever be able to return to his home. In court, there were also victim impact statements read out that detailed how the aftermath of Black Saturday lasted well after the fires themselves were finally extinguished with marriage break ups, depression, anxiety, anger. There are fire fighters who weren’t able to work again after some of what they saw. It’s the sort of day that’s the land equivalent of the perfect storm and one you hope to never see again in your lifetime.

It’s always hard to say I enjoyed books like this, because it’s pretty grim from start to finish. But it’s fascinating and very well done. Chloe Hooper does this so well – I think I’m at the stage where I prefer her non-fiction work and I’m a person who doesn’t read a lot of non-fiction. But when I do, it’s stuff like this. It’s brilliantly done but also open ended in that there are things left a bit messy, a bit unknown. Because that’s life, isn’t it?

8/10

Book #1 of 2019

The Arsonist is my first title towards the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2019.

 

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Most Popular Reviews In 2018

For a bit of fun, I always like looking at what the most clicked-on reviews were for the year. Sometimes they are just ones I really don’t expect. Sometimes my top 10 for the week consist of reviews I wrote years ago that I don’t know how are still getting clicks. There’s one I wrote that tops the lists each year, still garnering tonnes of views even though it’s really old. In fact it still got 2000 hits in 2018. One day I’ll do a top 10 so far but for today, I’m just going to look at the reviews that were the most popular (ie got the most hits) that I wrote in 2018.

  1. A Court Of Frost & Starlight by Sarah J. Maas. Not a long book – in fact for Sarah J. Maas this was a positively minuscule novella released somewhere around mid-year. A little interlude between one trilogy and probably another, this was not exactly filled with plot but if you like seeing your favourite characters just…..doing things and not nearly dying, then this is fine. I honestly didn’t mind this, it wasn’t to everyone’s liking but anything Maas does is super popular (and also highly criticised) so I’m not surprised that this tops the list even though it’s so tiny.
  2. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty.  This was a book that divided a lot of people. I know some who loved it and thought it was her best ever. I wasn’t as convinced. I found this over long and quite weird in parts and it didn’t for me, really address its own consequences. But there’s no denying that this book raises a lot of talking points and I could see people seeking out a lot of opinions on it. I know I certainly went and read a lot of other reviews after my own.
  3. Whisper by Lynette Noni. First in a new series from the Aussie YA author of the Medoran Chronicles. This was interesting and like her other series, I suspect it will get better as it develops. I really enjoyed the setting and I’m looking forward to the next book.
  4. The Love Letter by Lucinda Riley. This one kinda surprises me. Riley does have a very popular series that she’s currently part way though (which I haven’t yet read, although I do own the first two) and this was an old book she wrote 20 or so years ago, re-released. I didn’t love it and I’m not sure it held up due to the advances in technology etc. It just made it seem very old fashioned.
  5. Off Limits by Clare Connelly. Oof. I did not enjoy this book at all, I had massive issues with it in a #MeToo era where thinly veiled sexual harassment is given a pass because the guy is hot.
  6. The Ones You Trust by Caroline Overington. One of my favourite books of 2018, hands down.
  7. The Nowhere Child by Christian White. Amazing. I hope this book is successful around the world. It’s so well written and such an intriguing story. It’s from a relatively small press here and from what I understand, will be published in various overseas markets this year.
  8. The Apology by Ross Watkins. Good to see another title from a smaller press making the list. I really enjoyed this multi-layered story – one of those books that you spend a long time thinking about later.
  9. As She Fades by Abbi Glines. Abbi Glines is just one of those authors that I’ve had to accept is not really for me. I’ve given her numerous tries now and I just don’t connect with her characters or enjoy them. Slut shaming ahoy, man whores who are treated like special snowflakes plus the “this girl is above all others” trope. Nope.
  10. Lost Without You by Rachael Johns. Makes the top 10 despite only being published 2 months ago.

To be honest, this top 10 list reflects my reading as a whole. Quite a lot of Australian authors, a sprinkling of stuff from overseas and mostly female authors. There were a few titles that I was (pleasantly) surprised to see here and I like that it’s a mix of books I adored and books I had criticisms of.

 

 

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December and 2018 Yearly Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 10
Fiction: 9
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 2
Books On My TBR List: 5
Books in a Series: 4
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 5
Male/Female Authors: 1/9
Kindle Books: 1
Books I Owned or Bought: 3
Favourite Book(s): The Wicked King by Holly Black, Becoming by Michelle Obama
Least Favourite Books: Nothing rated below a 3 this month
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 0 – because this is the year of no challenges!

December was quiet – I kind of suspected it would be after my November wrap up. I had felt it winding down toward the end of the year, I wasn’t picking up as many books, or even feeling the urge to do so. I had Christmas and end of year school stuff to prepare for and I think I just appreciated not feeling pressured to get things read and reviewed. I read quite a few things this month just because I wanted to, books that been on my shelves for years. It’s made me reassess the way I read and think about making some changes for 2019. But honestly? That’s not the first time I’ve said that and books still sit on my shelf unread for years so *shrug* We’ll see how I go!

And the yearly wrap up……

Total Books Read: 206
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 113
Male/Female Authors: 18.5/187.5
Kindle Books: 56
Library Reads: 16
5-Star Reads: 46
Most Prolific Reading Month: January & August – 22 books
Least Prolific Reading Month: December – 10 books

Overall I’m pretty satisfied with my reading. I’m down slightly from last year, where I read 212 books but it’s not enough for there to be a significant change I don’t think. I still read just a bit more than 50% new authors but my eBook consumption dropped quite a bit, down to 56 titles from 82 last year, which is quite a difference I think. I’m not sure why that is to be honest. Did I receive/buy more print copies this year? Did I use NetGalley a lot less? Maybe not check out sales as often? I did go 4-5 weeks without an iPad after my one died – actually I only read 1 eBook in each of the last 3 months of the year, so even since I picked up a new one earlier this month, I haven’t really used it for reading. I read 2 library books in the first 6 months of the year but in the last 6 months, I read 14. That corresponds I think, with moving house and living closer to one of the branches, which is across the road from a shopping centre we now frequent. It’s suddenly easier to request books and pick them up knowing I’m going to be there at some stage, most weeks. We are very lucky to have an excellent library here and I really should be using it more than I have been, in recent times. So often I’m surprised when I search the catalogue for a book that I don’t expect to be there, only to be proved wrong and often they have multiple copies.

My reading is still heavily skewered towards female authors. Not even 10% of my reading is from male authors this year. I average around 1-2 titles by a male author per month – my best was 3.5 this year in October. In May I didn’t read a single title by a male author. I get sent a lot of books by publishers, some of which I request and plenty that are unsolicited. I generally find the unsolicited ones have a higher chance of being by a male author, but mostly I get sent a lot of female authors. Which may represent my blog and reading dynamic or may reflect how much those titles are wanting to be promoted by their publishers. Out of the 206 books I read this year, 77 were also by Australian female authors, so they make up over a third of my reading. Add in the 20 odd books I read by men and then the remaining just over 100 are women from different countries around the world, probably predominantly British and American with a sprinkling of authors of colour.

Over the course of the year, I rated 46 books 5-stars on Goodreads (equal to a 9 or 10 on my blog). Off the top of my head I think I only rated three books 10/10 this year – The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton, The Ones You Trust by Caroline Overington and The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland. Which means 43 books were rated 9/10. My best month for 5-star reads was April, with 7 and both October and December only had 2 each.

Looking ahead to 2019, here’s my first TBR – these are review books and it’s a small pile because I have some other books I want to get to in January. I’ve signed up for 2 challenges, one of which will be relatively easy to me (the Australian Women Writers Challenge) but I’m also doing the Reading Women Challenge and that requires some planning and acquiring books from the library etc. So I want to knock a few titles from that one off during the month – I already have quite a few options and there’s a great Goodreads group with heaps of selections and recommendations which is going to make it much easier to choose what titles to tick off which categories.

I’ve already read The Wicked King – there was no way I wasn’t reading that as soon as it lobbed into my mailbox! But I’ll probably skim it again when I’m ready to write the review next week. I’m part of a publisher blog tour for Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi and that’s a title that I can also use for the Reading Women challenge as well, if I choose. Flight Risk was one I requested, a story that is loosely based on the disappearance of MH370, something that has fascinated me. I’m an avid watcher of Air Crash Investigation and I love the way they piece together what happens in a crash. How in this day an age, a plane could just……vanish is incredible. The other 2 are unsolicited. So if I get to them, I do….if not, I’m not really going to worry too much about it. I have made some progress with my Mortal Instruments reading and I aim to finish the “original 6” by reading the last book about Clary and Jace and also start the Infernal Devices series.

Reading Goals!

I hope you all had a great 2018 and that 2019 brings amazing books to read and enjoy.

 

 

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