All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Priory Of The Orange Tree 
Samantha Shannon
Bloomsbury ANZ
2019, 830p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

From the internationally bestselling author of The Bone Season, a trailblazing, epic high fantasy about a world on the brink of war with dragons–and the women who must lead the fight to save it.

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction–but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

I remember my excitement around The Bone Season when it was released and how much I enjoyed it. I bought the second book but I’m yet to read it. There’s probably more books released in that series, who knows. One day I’ll catch up on it, maybe when it’s all been released. I’ve decided that sometimes, that’s the best way to go with series’.

But here we have a stand alone release from Samantha Shannon and it is a whopper, coming in at well over 800p in large paperback form. It’s a beautiful cover on a large, often unwieldy book which was, on occasion, hard to read because of its enormousness. Luckily, it’s a pretty engrossing story to keep you returning to it time and time again. I also had the added motivation of buddy reading this with Theresa from Theresa Smith Writes, otherwise this might’ve sat on my TBR shelf for a very long time! Thank you for keeping me accountable and pushing me to read this right away 😉

There are multiple narrators, mostly divided between east and west of a world split by differing faiths. One of the main players is Ead, lady-in-waiting to Queen Sabran the Ninth but who is really a mage sent to court under an alias in order to keep the Queen safe. Ead thwarts assassination attempt after assassination attempt on the Queen with no one’s knowledge as the powers at court attempt to get Sabran to finally choose a man to wed in order to conceive a daughter so that the line of her House might continue. It’s widely believed that the House of Berethnet keeps something called the ‘Nameless One’ from rising and that if Sabran does not further the line, destruction awaits.

Tané has risen from peasant to train to be a dragonrider but she makes a decision on the day of the ceremony that will come back and find her. All she wants is to be paired up with a dragon, to prove herself. There are plenty out there who would see her fail – she doesn’t come from a line of dragonriders, she’s pulled her way up through sheer grit and skill.

I really enjoyed this. It’s a complex but not confusing read, if that makes sense. There are multiple narrators but it’s quite easy to keep all of the different ones straight and their locations as well. Most of the narrators are women and strong women at that, creators of their own destinies, breakers of rules and traditions. Sabran the Ninth, Queen of Inys was for me, probably the most difficult of the characters to get a handle on – she’s portrayed mostly through the eyes of Ead and because she’s a Queen raised to be a Queen, she tends to brook no dissent in her ranks (except from Ead, who doesn’t tell her what she wants to hear but rather what she should be told). Sabran has long lived with the belief hanging over her head that the rule of the House of Berethnet, nearly a thousand years strong, is what keeps the realm safe. In order to continue that, she must marry, which is not something that excites her. The women of Berethnet produce only daughters, each one looking like their mother and given one of a handful of names, ensuring a rule of consistency in pretty much all manners. Sabran’s mother was still murdered though, despite the numerous protections around her, so the safety of Sabran is placed above all else with people tasting her food, trying on her clothes, sweeping her chambers, even sleeping by her side. I enjoyed the way her relationship with Ead developed in that Ead was an outsider and had to work her way up through cunning and correct behaviour (but also through her personality of not necessarily pandering to Sabran) to get to the position where she was able to enjoy the favour of the Queen and also be in a better position to keep her safe and help her. The discoveries mean that Sabran has to really go through quite an evolution of faith, let go of things she’s held as true her entire life and without Ead I don’t think she would’ve been able to do that.

I love books with dragons and this has honestly made me realise that I don’t read enough of them! Surely there must be loads of books with dragons out there, I’m definitely going to have to try and find some more. In this there are different types of dragons – and some areas don’t distinguish this, believing them to be all evil servants of the Nameless one. However where Tané is from, dragons are revered and to be paired with one is the ultimate honour. The riders develop a deep bond with their dragon – and I absolutely loved the way that Tané and her dragon interacted. The devotion from Tané towards her dragon was limitless and she was willing to put herself in peril and sacrifice herself time and time again.

There’s no denying the size of this story and at times, it does feel a little bogged down, with characters needing to travel between places for information or by way of getting back to somewhere else. But at times I think this is a logistics issue, in that characters need to get to places and it takes them time to get there, it’s not necessarily a plot issue. But for most of the time, my attention was riveted to this story and I think that’s high praise for an over-800p book. It was the sort of story were I could put it down if I needed to and when I picked it up, I slipped right back into the story again, without missing a beat. It was also the sort of story where you could probably power through it in a sitting or two, if that’s your thing. A few years ago, I could’ve easily slogged through this in a day but with kids and stuff to get done, it’s a rare event that I can get through something of this size in that short a time these days!

I also appreciated the conciseness of the ending, which makes it a complete story but also leaves a few things open in that I guess you can speculate on the character’s futures. It’s not super perfect with everyone all tied up and there’s more a ‘happy in the future, when things are done’ rather than happy forever, right this second onwards at the end. I liked that. It felt real.

8/10

Book #46 of 2019

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Review: Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread
Helen Oyeyemi
Picador
2019, 291p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories–equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel” to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can–beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

Perdita Lee may appear to be your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make. Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far-away (and, according to Wikipedia, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. In fact, the world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval–a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.

Decades later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value. Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, it is a true feast for the reader.

Haha, what even is this book about?

I don’t know. I like a dash of magical realism – I’m a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen. But I have to admit, this I think, was perhaps a bridge too far for my personal tastes? I hadn’t heard of Helen Oyeyemi before receiving this but I was really quite intrigued by the premise and the cover. The cover of this book is stunning. The gold is foil and it contrasts so nicely with the more subdued background.

Perdita is a 17yo girl living in England with her mother, an apparent expat from the country of Druhástrana, a country that no one really knows where it is and only three countries every acknowledge its existence and now two of those countries have revoked that. Apparently it’s maybe somewhere near Czechia or maybe Hungary or whatever but it has entirely closed borders and you can’t get in or out without some truly drastic measures being taken. Perdita’s grandmother escaped with her daughter (Perdita’s mother) Harriet. Now Perdita has taken the chance to visit her mother’s homeland.

I think I quite enjoyed the set up for this, the story of Harriet and Perdita in London and what Perdita does in order to visit her mother’s homeland……then it delved into Harriet’s past as a child/teen in this mysterious place of Druhástrana and somewhere in that section I think, is when I felt that this book and I kind of started to part ways. Things just started to get a bit too strange and I couldn’t really figure out where it was going…..or why. My knowledge of Hansel and Gretel, which people are saying this is retelling of, is a bit vague but there is a lot that just simply doesn’t seem to fit. I try not to read reviews of books I’ve read until after I’ve written my own review but I did glance at reviews on Goodreads and it seems a 50/50 split of people praising its brilliance and amazing writing and people who like me, were a bit confused what was going on and felt the story was a bit over their heads.

Reading is always your milage may vary and I think for me this was a good indication of how much magical realism I enjoy – more a pinch than the whole dumped in amount. There were too many things here that I felt weren’t particularly adequately explained and just ignored away because it was magical realism and didn’t require an explanation. Which okay, fine for some probably but it made it too difficult for me to really sink into the story because I was always wondering about things. And the story kind of petered out about halfway through and went from heading somewhere to just…..not. I didn’t understand why Perdita did what she did and what it achieved, or didn’t achieve. The writing was good, excellent even but the story was just lacking for me. It was super quick, which was in its favour (especially as I read this during a break from slogging through an 830p book) and it was difficult…..but I did find that I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck was going on and why something was either happening or not happening.

Safe to say, this isn’t my sort of story. But it seems that Helen Oyeyemi has a lot of fans and her books are widely praised so I might be tempted to try something again and see if perhaps I enjoy her style more on further exploration. And if not, well then I’ve given something a go.

5/10

Book #44 of 2019

I discovered upon finishing this that I can use it towards my Reading Women Challenge. Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria so I’m ticking off category #3. It’s the 7th book completed for the challenge out of 26.

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Review: Hunter by Jack Heath

Hunter (Timothy Blake #2)
Jack Heath
Allen & Unwin
2019, 424p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Timothy Blake, ex-consultant for the FBI, now works in body-disposal for a local crime lord. One night he stumbles across a body he wasn’t supposed to find and is forced to hide it. When the FBI calls Blake in to investigate a missing university professor, Blake recognises him as the dead man in his freezer.

Then another man goes missing. And another.

There’s a serial killer in Houston, Texas, and Blake is running out of time to solve the case. His investigation takes him to a sex doll factory, a sprawling landfill in Louisiana and a secret cabin in the woods.

As they hunt the killer together, FBI agent Reese Thistle starts to warm to Blake – but she also gets closer and closer to discovering his terrible secret.

Can Blake uncover the killer, without being exposed himself?

A confounding, intriguing and wildly suspenseful thriller from the bestselling and acclaimed author of Hangman

As is my way, I didn’t realise this was the second in a series when I picked it up. To be honest it didn’t really matter – this probably reads pretty fine for not having the background knowledge, it’s all explained pretty well. And I actually got the shock of exactly what Timothy does with dead bodies in his ‘disposal’ job for one of Houston’s most ruthless crime lords. This was clearly revealed in the first novel and the reader is supposed to go into this book already knowing what Timothy does…..but I didn’t know so yeah, that was pretty much a shock. It’s definitely unusual!

Timothy lives a very solitary life – the only time he seems to venture outside is when he gets called to come and pick up another body. All that changes when his former partner from the FBI gets in contact with him, asking for his help consulting on a case. This complicates Timothy’s life a lot – part of the reason he retreated from the FBI was to keep FBI agent Reed Thistle safe (from him). The two have known each other a long time, since they were both children in a flawed foster care system and Timothy is torn between his desire to keep Thistle safe and also his curiosity in solving the crime and his desire to spend more time with her. Even though he’s been warned off by his own crime boss (probably warranted, given the body that Thistle is searching for is actually in his freezer and there’s an entire FBI task force dedicated to the goings on of the crime lord) Timothy seems unable to let it go. Only the further into it he gets the more danger he’s in. Especially as things seem to be warming up between him and Thistle and she keeps coming to his house. One day, she’s going to look in the freezer. And then what is he going to do?

Timothy is unusual. Of course he’s unusual. And it’s not just because of what he’s doing with the bodies either. He’s weird in other ways. He’s incredibly socially introverted and he seems to really have trouble in day to day casual interactions. Look, part of that might be his paranoia about his ongoing activities and the fact that he’s frightened of being discovered so he keeps interactions to a minimum. But even in the course of his investigations working with Thistle as a consultant, he really struggles to interact with people. It’s not that he doesn’t get results – maybe putting people off is all a part of his strategy, because getting them awkwardly off side definitely seems to result in him picking up information that they might otherwise not have been able to. He also doesn’t really seem to care for rules or laws either (duh, I guess) and kind of does whatever he wants in the moment, not worrying about little things like warrants and proper procedure.

I enjoyed this a lot – I found it sufficiently creepy to make me glad I read it during the day time and not at night when I’m home alone. I really liked the development of the investigation and how they started off looking at one thing and then it completely morphed into something else. There’s also the complications with Timothy’s crime lord boss, who doesn’t really like being disobeyed and his growing relationship with Agent Thistle, which has a million and one complications.

Despite Timothy’s…..job, I found him kind of sympathetic. I actually felt quite sorry for him in a lot of ways and I liked him. He’s intelligent and amusing, although awkward and I like the way his mind works. I think it seemed like he’d had a pretty awful childhood. I’m not sure exactly why he does what he does, for that I probably need to go back and read the first book and fill in the gaps, but for the sake of being able to read this without feeling too confused, it was perfectly fine. It ended in the most interesting of ways – Timothy is in a world of trouble in probably two ways but it’s also possible he’s not the only one and maybe he’s the predator rather than the prey? It could go either way. I definitely do want to read the first book and I’m really quite interested to see where it goes after this too.

The only thing – can we get a solution for Timothy’s riddles? He makes a bit of pocket money on the side solving people’s riddles that they send him and there’s one at the beginning of each chapter. I’m a bit of a dope or something because there were a few in here that I had no idea what the answer was and I really would’ve liked to know. I don’t have a cryptic, analytical brain and I’d be staring at the page of each new chapter for five minutes wondering what the heck the answer was. In the end I had to stop reading them and finish the book first and then go back and read them all. I’ve no idea if they were relevant to what was actually happening or not or just completely random.

8/10

Book #41 of 2019

 

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Review: The Death Of Noah Glass by Gail Jones

The Death Of Noah Glass
Gail Jones
Text Publishing
2018, 320p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The art historian Noah Glass, having just returned from a trip to Sicily, is discovered floating face down in the swimming pool at his Sydney apartment block. His adult children, Martin and Evie, must come to terms with the shock of their father’s death. But a sculpture has gone missing from a museum in Palermo, and Noah is a suspect. The police are investigating.

None of it makes any sense. Martin sets off to Palermo in search of answers about his father’s activities, while Evie moves into Noah’s apartment, waiting to learn where her life might take her. Retracing their father’s steps in their own way, neither of his children can see the path ahead.

Gail Jones’s mesmerising new novel tells a story about parents and children, and explores the overlapping patterns that life makes. The Death of Noah Glass is about love and art, about grief and happiness, about memory and the mystery of time.

Today is International Women’s Day and also the day where the Stella Prize Shortlist will be announced. Checking in, I’ve read six of the longlist with another 2 in my possession to read. Another is on request at my library but I have to wait my turn and the other 3 I can’t seem to access. Watch those 3 make the shortlist this afternoon!

To be honest I probably wouldn’t have been interested in reading this if it hadn’t made the longlist and I’d made the decision to try and read as much of the longlist as I could. It’s not something I’d probably be interested in but sometimes you have to take the plunge and try something new. There’s plenty of times where that works out and you find something new to love and things that you like that you didn’t know existed.

I won’t say that precisely happened for me with this book. I started it when I really just wanted to get back to reading something else and I gave it 100p to grab me. I got to the 100p and it was just okay. I didn’t hate it but I wasn’t loving it however it was enough for me to keep pushing through to finish it.

The book begins with the funeral of Noah Glass, who was found facedown in the pool of his apartment complex, having suffered a heart attack. The coroner has ruled it natural causes and now his two children, Martin and Evie, attend his funeral in Sydney. Martin lives in the city but Evie has made the trip from Melbourne. The two siblings are surprised when Martin receives a phone call from a local detective, asking them to pop in. Apparently during a trip to Sicily that Noah made just prior to his death, he’s somehow managed to get caught up in some sort of art heist and is a potential suspect. Martin finds himself travelling to Sicily himself, looking for answers to half-there questions.

Some aspects of this I enjoyed. To be honest I wasn’t at all into the art theft (or whether or not there was an art theft and if so why and what happened) but I did like Martin’s trip to Sicily and his attempts to find out what had happened. It’s not the easiest of investigations and Martin really has no idea what he’s doing and seems to be getting played at every turn. I also really enjoyed the story of Noah’s upbringing (his father was a doctor in a leprosy community in Western Australia) and his marriage to Martin and Evie’s mother and the children’s upbringing. Martin and Evie also had quite a complex sibling relationship and this was well portrayed.

But I think because I wasn’t particularly interested in Noah’s movements in Italy and what had happened there, nor was I particularly interested in the job Evie gets in Sydney, I didn’t love this book. I didn’t really connect with the story and it seemed like just when I was feeling a flicker of interest in a thread, it was gone and we’d moved onto something else. I don’t know anything about art and I really don’t care to know anything about art to be honest. I’m not interested in painters or sculptors and what techniques they used or how this defines this particular art movement or style or whatever. I felt the most interesting part of the novel was Martin and Evie’s sibling relationship but they were wrenched apart when Martin decided to travel to Italy and Evie chose to remain behind. They are reunited later in the novel but it all felt a bit too late for anything else to really happen. Also….the ending really left me feeling a bit disappointed. It felt anticlimactic and a bit slapdash and I found myself thinking ‘is that it’? Which is never really a positive. I think I was expecting a bit more of a mystery thread/storyline. It’s such a quiet book that I often found my attention drifting a bit.

Some lovely writing (particularly about Martin and Evie) but unfortunately that wasn’t really enough for me. It was just okay.

5/10

Book #42 of 2019

The Death Of Noah Glass is book #20 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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Review: Islands by Peggy Frew

Islands
Peggy Frew
Allen & Unwin
2019, 307p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

There was a house on a hill in the city and it was full of us, our family, but then it began to empty. We fell out. We made a mess. We draped ourselves in blame and disappointment and lurched around, bumping into each other. Some of us wailed and shouted; some of us barely made a sound. None of us was listening, or paying attention. And in the middle of it all you, very quietly, were gone.

Helen and John are too preoccupied with making a mess of their marriage to notice the quiet ways in which their daughters are suffering. Junie grows up brittle and defensive, Anna difficult and rebellious.

When fifteen-year-old Anna fails to come home one night, her mother’s not too worried; Anna’s taken off before but always returned. Helen waits three days to report her disappearance.

But this time Anna doesn’t come back …

A spellbinding novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Charlotte Wood and Georgia Blain, Islands is a riveting and brilliant portrait of a family in crisis by the breathtakingly talented author of House of Sticks and Hope Farm.

A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, which ended up being shortlisted for the Stella Prize. I was attempting to read the shortlist that year and I think of all of them I read, Hope Farm was probably my favourite. So I was quite excited to see a new book from her and I was quite interested by the premise.

This is the breakdown of a marriage and how it affects not only the two people within the marriage, but also their children. Joh and Helen met at university, married and had two daughters, Junie and Anna. They spend a bit of time at what they refer to as ‘the island’, where John’s mother lives. I’m assuming it’s Phillip Island, down in the south east of Victoria (somewhere I have never been despite having wanted to go since I moved to Victoria 13 years ago. I’m finally going next month!). The couple separate after Helen has an affair, after long periods of obvious discord and it has a severe impact on not only John but also the two girls.

John does not cope well with the marriage breakdown and that is incredibly evident to the two girls. Anna isn’t able to visit John because she doesn’t deal well with his inevitable breakdowns. Junie moves out of her mother’s house and in with her father because she can’t deal with Anna. As Anna delves into her teen years, she becomes more and more rebellious with skipping school, smoking dope and spending time hanging around people in the city. One day, Anna goes out and doesn’t go home again. Helen is somewhat used to this, it seems Anna has disappeared a couple times before for a day or two and come home. But this time, she doesn’t. And those crucial early hours are lost, as she isn’t reported missing until several days later. By then, it’s like she just vanished.

Like the breakdown, John doesn’t take Anna’s disappearance lightly either. He’s consumed not just with grief, but with the search for answers, undertaking his own investigation. He tracks people down that Anna may have had even just the most brief interaction with in passing and questions them, getting names of dubious characters and takes off to follow up vague suggestions and sightings like ‘she went to Geelong’ or ‘caught a bus to Sydney’. For John, it is an obsession, to the point where it’s possible he may come to some harm – if not at his own hand, at the hands of someone who may tire of his questions.

John feels so representative of a man with a missing child, for me. He’s unhinged in his desperation and it felt so real, that non stop search for answers. The more time that ticks by, the less likely you are to get a positive outcome and it seems like John is racing against time, trying to find that crucial clue he needs to solve the mystery and find his daughter. It takes over his whole life to the point where he needs help in order to deal with things, I think. It’s possible that John has needed help for quite a long time. I think I actually felt the most sort of connection to John, which was not something I expected. I had a lot of sympathy for him – his mother is a domineering personality who made it clear she didn’t like his wife. His marriage didn’t last and he was devastated by that and by Helen’s boyfriends after their split. He had trouble relating to his daughters at times, unable to keep himself from spilling out his unhappiness and grief and then Anna disappeared. I found things like Helen moving out of the family home and John moving in a year or two after Anna’s disappearance, so that someone would be there if she came home, very sad. You could imagine him living there, waiting for that door to open and Anna to reappear.

This is mostly a story about women, so it’s sort of odd that I feel I related to and sympathised most with John. I found Junie difficult to get to know although the descriptions on her art and how she ended up back on the island as an adult were very good. I found Helen a bit flighty and not particularly interesting, nor did I get much of a handle on her thoughts and emotions after Anna’s disappearance. I do feel as though the narrative of this was cluttered up a bit with the points of view from a few other people connected only briefly or in passing with the family and I’m not sure it added a whole amount to it, for me personally.

I did enjoy this but I think I was looking for a little more resolution at the end. I know life doesn’t often work that way but I did fee a bit unsatisfied at the finish.

7/10

Book #40 of 2019

Islands is the 19th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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Review: Home Fires by Fiona Lowe

Home Fires
Fiona Lowe
Harlequin AUS
2019, 487p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/AM Publicity

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

From the bestselling Australian author of Daughter of Mine and Birthright. When a lethal bushfire tore through Myrtle, nestled in Victoria’s breathtaking Otway Ranges, the town’s buildings – and the lives of its residents – were left as smouldering ash. For three women in particular, the fire fractured their lives and their relationships.

Eighteen months later, with the flurry of national attention long past, Myrtle stands restored, shiny and new. But is the outside polish just a veneer? Community stalwart Julie thinks tourism could bring back some financial stability to their little corner of the world and soon prods Claire, Bec and Sophie into joining her group. But the scar tissue of trauma runs deep, and as each woman exposes her secrets and faces the damage that day wrought, a shocking truth will emerge that will shake the town to its newly rebuilt foundations…

With her sharp eye for human foibles, bestselling author Fiona Lowe writes an evocative tale of everyday people fighting for themselves, their families and their town – as only this distinctively Australian storyteller can.

Summer has just come to an end (not that the weather thinks so, as we just finished a stretch of 37-40*C days that extended into March) and there are currently bushfires burning down in the south east of Victoria. Bushfires are an inescapable part of life here and the threat and fear of them is something most people can relate to, even when they have no personal experience.

Eighteen months ago, the lives of many populating the small town of Myrtle were changed when a bushfire took lives, houses and businesses. Those left behind are still struggling to recover. Claire lost several of the people dearest to her and now feels the pressure in her relationship with Matt, who just wants to pretend everything is fine. Josh and Sophie lost their dream forever home and insurance laws mean they don’t have the cash to rebuild. Bec and her husband are doing just fine financially, given he’s busy rebuilding everyone’s lost homes and developing land but the state of their marriage is a dark secret. Community leader Julie sees an opportunity to bring the women of the next generation together and strengthen friendships and the town.

There is a lot going on in this story – each of the characters have been affected by the fire and it’s still playing a role in their lives all these months later. Claire and Julie both lost people they love. Claire was supposed to be getting married on the day the bushfire tore through the town and she now bears a large burden of guilt about that. She hasn’t been able to reschedule the wedding and now Matt, her fiance, is pressuring her to have a baby, like they’d planned in the ‘before’. Matt is a tough character to really feel sympathetic to here. The two of them got together in somewhat dubious circumstances, Claire has experienced the backlash of that with Matt’s family, she doesn’t have a support structure of her own and so she’s vulnerable and finds it difficult to express herself for fear of losing what she still has. Matt has what seems like an overly controlling streak, taking it upon himself to track Claire’s cycle, run his mouth about things best kept private between a couple and just generally be completely oblivious to what is troubling Claire. The thing is, it’s not at all a stretch of the imagination to understand what makes Claire reluctant to do some of these things but Matt is the quintessential ostrich. If he cannot see it, it isn’t happening. He doesn’t support Claire in the face of his family, he talks at her rather than to her. That’s not to say Claire is without fault either. She’s super busy in her job but she uses this to avoid her other commitments or chooses it over them. She also cannot talk to Matt about what she wants but this is borne out of fear. Matt says some truly awful things to Claire in this novel, which I do not believe he ever seriously and genuinely apologised for, nor were they dealt with to the level of which they deserved. I appreciated the counselling angle but Matt went into it with completely the wrong attitude and it takes quite a while for him to begin listening and understanding. Claire is pretty quick to forgive hime actually.

Bec wasn’t a character I warmed to in the beginning but I think she probably ended up being my favourite one. Bec is the sort of person who presents one way and it’s a bit pretentious but then you realise just why and how she comes across this way and that part of the novel was very well done. This is insidious and not the sort of way that it’s often portrayed and Fiona Lowe does a great job escalating it throughout the story until Bec is in such danger and the things that are happening to her are so horrific. The tension builds alarmingly well and Lowe chooses a ‘town hero’, someone where it wouldn’t be easy for Bec to be heard because he’s got that ‘good bloke’ wrap that people are so fond of labelling men with, even when they do the most awful things.

I quite enjoyed the rest of the characters – Josh and Sophie were very interesting and that was another great look at how the strain of the fire had continued to have financial and emotional impacts well after it had burned out. Josh and Sophie are struggling – Sophie has had to go back to work, something moving to Myrtle was supposed to avoid so she could devote herself to their two small children. She’s finding it very hard because Josh does things in a different way to her – not wrong, just different. And that’s a really good thing to explore I think, because I know of couples who argue over how things get done, depending on who is the ‘at home’ parent because they have different standards of cleanliness and what they expect the non working parent to be able to achieve in a day. Sophie also doesn’t realise what is truly happening with Josh, because he’s never told her and that is well done too. Sophie and Josh’s situation also explores just how difficult it can be to rebuild after such a devastating incident – it’s not just a simple matter of the insurance company going oh yes, here’s the value of your house, good luck. Bushfires often mean changing classifications, changing standards and building and industry codes. And that means rebuilds cost more money.

I do feel as though this book, which comes in at close to 500p, is a fraction too long and some of the back and forth jumps in time felt a bit all over the place and I actually think I would’ve preferred a linear narrative. Apart from that and the character of Matt, who just wasn’t at all my sort of thing (nor were his family, who were also thoughtlessly insensitive and could be quite rude), the rest of this book was a satisfying read with a very realistic experience to what I think it must be like, rebuilding and recovering after a fire. It’s not easy, it leaves lasting effects and this reflects that in many ways.

8/10

Book #39 of 2019


Home Fires is the 18th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Review: The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber

The Glovemaker 
Ann Weisgarber
Mantle
2019, 287p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In the inhospitable lands of the Utah Territory, during the winter of 1888, thirty-seven-year-old Deborah Tyler waits for her husband, Samuel, to return home from his travels as a wheelwright. It is now the depths of winter, Samuel is weeks overdue, and Deborah is getting worried.

Deborah lives in Junction, a tiny town of seven Mormon families scattered along the floor of a canyon, and she earns her living by tending orchards and making work gloves. Isolated by the red-rock cliffs that surround the town, she and her neighbors live apart from the outside world, even regarded with suspicion by the Mormon faithful who question the depth of their belief.

When a desperate stranger who is pursued by a Federal Marshal shows up on her doorstep seeking refuge, it sets in motion a chain of events that will turn her life upside down. The man, a devout Mormon, is on the run from the US government, which has ruled the practice of polygamy to be a felony. Although Deborah is not devout and doesn’t subscribe to polygamy, she is distrustful of non-Mormons with their long tradition of persecuting believers of her wider faith.

But all is not what it seems, and when the Marshal is critically injured, Deborah and her husband’s best friend, Nels Anderson, are faced with life and death decisions that question their faith, humanity, and both of their futures.

I knew nothing about this book before I received a copy but the cover intrigued me from the first glance and as I’ve mentioned quite a few times before, I’m really fascinated with the polygamist lifestyle so this was always going to be up high on my list.

Deborah was raised in a polygamist family, with her father having two wives. However she and her husband Samuel are not practicing themselves, having moved to a remote location occupied by only a handful of other families, who are all Mormons. Apart from one family (who are questioning their decision) the town families do not practice polygamy. In fact they’re not particularly devout in the ways of the church at all, which has resulted in the church sending Deborah’s sister and her husband to the town with the intent of bringing them all back into the flock.

Junction is a very remote town and they often get travellers through in the kinder months, generally men who are fleeing the law and seeking an even more remote location which is a safe haven for those practicing polygamy. Deborah is surprised when she receives a traveller to her door in January, one of the harshest months. With Samuel still not home, Deborah is nervous but not enough to turn the man away. She gives him shelter for the night and then puts him the way of her brother-in-law, Samuel’s brother who will help him reach the place he seeks. The man lets slip that he’s being pursued, which means he brings trouble to their small town from those who won’t understand that although they’re Mormon, they’re a different type of Mormon.

Deborah and Samuel have been married a long time but they’ve never been blessed with children (something that I think a lot of the more devout people of their faith find a little suspicious). Samuel’s job often takes him far from home in the warmer months so Deborah does seem to spend a lot of time on her own. She has her brother-in-law and the more recent arrival of her sister and her family in the town has given Deborah some more company – and also responsibility, as her sister is expecting her third child in five years and Deborah provides a lot of practical assistance. When Samuel is late, Deborah doesn’t worry at first, but as the days tick on, she cannot help but be concerned. Samuel is knowledgeable and can take care of himself but she also hasn’t heard from him at all and as the weather worsens, the dangers increase.

So Samuel is no where to be found when the stranger knocks on Deborah’s door and brings trouble. Even though she knows he is more than likely being pursued, Deborah doesn’t turn him away. But even she could not have predicted just how much trouble this stranger would bring to their tiny town, when the Marshall arrives along behind him. They are a tiny town, only a handful of families, all of whom have seemingly moved there to find peace and a more temperate version of their religion (apart from Deborah’s sister and her husband, tasked with bringing them back into the more devout fold). I really liked the idea of the small, mostly self sufficient community, who rely on Samuel’s trips to places far and wide to bring back supplies for them a lot of the time. It was obviously a very inhospitable place in winter – my knowledge of Utah isn’t great, but I know there’s mountains that have snow on them probably year round and it looks like it has the potential to be seriously cold. As an Aussie, my idea of cold is probably pretty lame. But the author does a good job of making me feel like I was there with Deborah, trying to erase any signs of the stranger from the snow in her yard and trudging to her sister’s place, or to her brother-in-law’s place.

Deborah and her brother-in-law Nels have to make some very difficult decisions in order to protect themselves, the stranger and their way of life. Deborah is then burdened with an extremely difficult task and this is something else that Ann Weisgarber really showcases well – the story of the stranger, why he is running and from who, the threat the Marshall brings to the town and their way of life and the prejudice he holds about them, as well as how the decisions they make affect them and what they must do in order to live with the choices they’ve made and be comfortable with them.

The narrative is mostly Deborah’s, with a few chapters from Nels’ perspective and also some letters that Samuel has written Deborah from the road. The book goes back and explains how Deborah and Samuel met and came to be married and I really liked the little glimpses of their relationship. I found myself hoping that Samuel had just been inexplicably delayed and would stroll into town at the end to much fanfare and full of stories.

I am really interested in polygamy and all the opinions about it and reasons for it. It has a lot of darkness in its past, relating to abuse and oppression of women and children and marrying pretty young teens off to old blokes to be their 15th wife or whatever, which is pretty terrible. But I find it really interesting in a modern setting – mention the word and I’ll read any book, watch any tv show. I honestly don’t get the hate for it that some people have today, and the way they regard the people who practice it as second class citizens. As long as there is no abuse and all the adults are consenting, I’m more of a live and let live type of person. It’s not my choice, but that’s not to say it can’t work for some. I find the mental and social aspects of it really interesting, particularly the relationships between sister wives, rather than the relationship between the husband and all his wives. I think in this book, I would’ve liked a bit more about Samuel and Deborah’s decisions to move away, not practice polygamy, to lessen the grip the church has on them. But overall, I really enjoyed this – I liked the characters and the way they interacted, I liked the low-key threat to their lifestyle and what they’d chosen and eked out for themselves and I liked the setting. It was a very interesting novel and it’s definitely put Ann Wesigarber (who has previously been Orange Prize Longlisted) on my radar.

8/10

Book #38 of 2019

Going to count this one towards my Reading Women Challenge 2019 for the 20th category, a historical fiction book. It’s set in 1888. It’s the 6th book completed for the challenge.

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Review: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Four Dead Queens
Astrid Scholte
Allen & Unwin
2019, 418p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Four Queens. A divided nation. A ruthless pickpocket. A noble messenger. And the murders that unite them.

Keralie Corrington is a talented pickpocket. She steals for the black market in her quadrant. Her nation is divided into four regions, each strictly separated from the other. Four queens, one from each quadrant, rule as one.

When Keralie steals a particularly valuable item from a messenger, she discovers she’s intercepted instructions to murder the queens. Hoping to find the culprit, Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt. But with Keralie and Varin each keeping secrets – and the lives of the queens hanging in the balance – everything is at stake. And no one can be trusted in a world full of ruthless thieves, black markets, a golden palace, daring heists, royal intrigue, noble messengers, forbidden love, four queens – each with a secret, and, of course, murder.

An enthralling fast-paced murder mystery where competing agendas collide with deadly consequences, Four Dead Queens heralds the arrival of an exciting new YA talent.

I had been hearing a lot about this book for what seemed like months in the build up to its release. It had a lot of buzz generated about it and it was enough to have me putting it on a list of books I was anticipating greatly in the first half of 2019. A stand alone fantasy title, Four Dead Queens has everything going for it – an eye catching cover, an intriguing premise and a release into multiple markets.

Keralie is a pickpocket, working for a notorious figure in her quadrant. She thieves items to be sold and when her boss challenges her to steal from a messenger, Keralie realises that there’s much more going on here than just a simple theft. When she realises what she’s stolen, Keralie teams up with the messenger she stole the item from, Varin Bollt, who is from another of the quadrants. She’s determined to prevent what she saw from happening….but sometimes, when things have been set in motion, it’s hard to stop a runaway train. And Keralie is going to realise just how much she’s being used in this scenario.

So I found the world building in this really interesting. The realm is divided into four quadrants and each quadrant focuses on a particular thing – and only that particular thing. So one grows food and shuns technology and provides all the food for the entire population. Another sector focuses on technology etc. Each sector is ruled by a Queen and all the Queens remain in the capital. The throne for each sector is passed down through the female line and as long as this system has been in place, there have always been daughters to inherit upon the death of a Queen. However when Keralie foresees the deaths of the four Queens it’s widely believed that all four are without heirs, which would thrown the entire realm into complete chaos.

Keralie is from Toria, the quadrant that values commerce and Varin is from Eonia, the quadrant that values medicine, technology and harmony. They are two very different quadrants and Keralie and Varin are two very different people. Keralie grew up in a fishing family but had zero interest in taking over from her father. Instead she learned to become a thief, working for a man who runs like a black market auction house. Childhood is very different in Eonia than in the other quadrants and Varin has had everything in his life mapped out for him. The two of them learn a lot about each other and life in other quadrants and perhaps how keeping everything so separate has had its negatives.

I really enjoyed Keralie, who is a complex character filled with mixed emotions about her upbringing and her time as thief and her ties to her childhood friend. I also appreciated her conflicted thoughts on her realisation of just how much she’d been manipulated and what exactly she had witnessed. I felt as though this was really quite well done and it was definitely a direction in the story that I had not been expecting. I liked her interactions with Varin and what they learn from each other and the pros and cons from the other’s way of life. It opens up a lot of dialogue about the dissection into quadrants and what that has resulted in.

We also get the perspective of each of the Queens and how each of them have their own secrets and thoughts on the way in which they must rule. I actually would’ve liked to know a bit more about the more day to day lives of the people living in the quadrants – we visit two of them in Toria and Eonia but the other two, Archia and Ludia are only described and we don’t actually get to experience them as such. We get a good example of life in Toria from Keralie and Varin gives a bit of an insight into life in Eonia and the Queens themselves kind of provide information on the other two, but it might’ve been nice to see properly I think.

Although this was enjoyable, there were times it felt a bit like it was attempting to do a bit too much and therefore, some of the aspects suffered a bit. There was sort of a semi-romance blossoming but its not given the time and attention it needs to allow the reader to really connect with it and the ending is a bit ambiguous and left a bit up in the air. Also there’s not really enough detail in the creation of the plot to kill the Queens, I don’t think. The culprit is easy enough to guess but the methods were a nice surprise, although once again it’s neatly tied up in ‘vague technology no one knows anything about’ which means that they can do things that really don’t require proper explanation which felt a tiny bit lazy.

On the whole, this was a very interesting read that I liked a lot with maybe a few tiny nitpicks here and there that detracted from the overall story (but nothing major). I would be very interested to see what Astrid Scholte comes out with next.

7/10

Book #37 of 2019

Four Dead Queens is the 17th book read and reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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February Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 17
Fiction: 15
Non-Fiction: 2
Library Books: 4
Books On My TBR List: 3
Books in a Series: 5
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 13
Male/Female Authors: 1/16
Kindle Books: 0
Books I Owned or Bought: 2
Favourite Book(s): The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence, No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume, The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan, Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee, Vardaesia by Lynette Noni.
Least Favourite Books: Man Out Of Time by Stephanie Bishop
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 14

February was another good reading month for me – both in terms of numbers and also how much I enjoyed the books I read. I rated my 2nd and 3rd book 10/10 for the year (No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani & Vardaesia by Lynette Noni) and 4 others I rated 9/10. Which honestly might be a record for me! It’s not often I would have 3 books rated 10/10 in the second month of the year!

In February the Stella Prize Longlist was announced and I decided that I would try and read as many of the titles as I possibly could. I’ve attempted to read the shortlist before a couple of years ago but this is the first time I’ve tried to tackle the longlist. I’d already read one before it was announced – The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, which I really liked. With the help of my local library I was able to access another five titles really quickly, of which I’ve read 4 – Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee, The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo, Man Out Of Time by Stephanie Bishop and Bluebottle by Belinda Castles. I have Too Much Lip by Melissa Lushenko on my TBR bookcase and another 2 books, Little Gods by Jenny Ackland and The Erratics by Vickie Laveau-Harvie on request through my library. That leaves 3 others I think, which my local library system doesn’t appear to have. Watch all those 3 make the shortlist, haha.

After getting off to a bit of a slow start in my Australian Women Writers Challenge in January, I bounced back in February by reading a whopping 13 books that qualify towards the challenge. I actually read 14 by Australian women in February but one was a re-read that I reviewed for the challenge years ago. Considering I put it upon myself to read 80 books for this challenge this year, I’m going to have to keep up the pace! March so far does not have too many books by Australian women authors on it but I’ll have more Stella books to read and there’s always a few late arrivals and last minute additions, so it’ll be one of those months where I just see where the pile takes me.

Here’s the March TBR pile………

I’ve already read 2 – Four Dead Queens and The Glovemaker, reviews of which will be up next week. I really enjoyed Peggy Frew’s last book, Hope Farm (which I actually read in a previous attempt to read a Stella shortlist) so I’m looking forward to Islands. There’s a few I don’t know too much about, that were surprises – Gingerbread has a beautiful gold foil cover and sounds interesting. And The Glad Shout is a hardback, which you don’t see too many of these days. My eldest got a kick out of seeing Hunter arrive in the mail, because that’s his name. Fiona Lowe’s new novel will count towards my AWWC. I don’t know much (ie anything) about The Artist but it’s another one with a cool cover.

So, this is somewhat of a small pile. I thought there was a lot more, but quite a few of the books I received for review during February were actually April titles, so they get to hang around and wait for the next TBR. So that gives me some room to add in a few things, like another couple of Stella books, and also this:

This is a mother of a book, at 830p in large paperback form. That cover though! I couldn’t resist buying this at the bookstore yesterday. I’m hopelessly behind with Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season series and the fact that this is almost a thousand freaking pages is intimidating and makes it hard to squeeze in but look, we’ll see how we go. I really want to read it – that cover is absolutely stunning (the photo does not do it justice) and I’ve been hearing lots of good things.

What’s on your pile for March? Let me know!

 

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Review: What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume

What I Like About Me
Jenna Guillaume
Pan Macmillan AUS
2019, 256p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

You know all those movies where teenagers have, like, THE SUMMER OF THEIR LIVES?

This summer is probably not going to be that.

Source: Everything that’s happened since yesterday …

The last thing sixteen-year-old Maisie Martin thought she’d be doing this summer is entering a beauty pageant.

Not when she’s spent most of her life hiding her body from everyone.

Not when her Dad is AWOL for Christmas and her gorgeous older sister has returned to rock Maisie’s shaky confidence. And her best friend starts going out with the boy she’s always loved.

But Maisie’s got something to prove.

As she writes down all the ways this summer is going from bad to worse in her school-assignment journal, what starts as a homework torture-device might just end up being an account of how Maisie didn’t let anything, or anyone, hold her back…

Argh, my heart after this book.

I’m 37 years old (holy crap, how did that happen) and I wish this was the sort of book I’d had around to read 20 years ago when I was roughly the same age as Maisie. This is everything I remember about my summer holidays and then some. It’s so refreshing to read a book set over the Australian summer, with one school year finishing and that seemingly endless 6 week stretch ahead of you before the next one begins. I grew up in a beachside town (it’s Australia, something like 90% of us live on the coast!) and this is so representative in lots of ways for me.

Maisie Martin spends every Christmas at the beach with her family and the family of Sebastian Lee, who in recent years, has become Maisie’s crush. Sebastian’s family live interstate so that window at the beach is really the only time they see each other. This year Maisie is missing her father (too busy with work to join them) and not speaking to her older sister after an argument so she brings her friend Anna along, fresh from a break up and needing some time away to heal.

Maisie is fantastic. She is contradiction in lots of ways – insecure yet not feeling like she needs to change. Too scared to wear a swimsuit to the beach but finds herself entering a beauty pageant where she’ll be on stage in various outfits in front of everyone. At the same time I was identifying with Maisie (for different reasons, I also didn’t like wearing bathers to the beach. I didn’t wear jeans but look, it was a close call) I was also admiring her for her determination to carry through after her impulsive blurting out that she would enter the pageant. I just absolutely adored Maisie – getting to know her through the diary entries she has to do over the holidays is such fun. Her style is so intimate, it feels like you’re the best friend she’s confiding in.

I have such praise for all of the relationships in this book. A lot of YA has missing or overly lax parental units but Maisie’s are a present part of this story and the dynamics are realistic and interesting. Maisie can sense that something isn’t right with her parents, they’re barely speaking to each other and yet she can’t seem to get anything out of her dad. Likewise her relationship with her sister is full of layers. Maisie is an unapologetically fat girl and her sister seems somewhat the opposite and has in the past, been very suggestive that perhaps Maisie…..do something about that. When her sister rolls up with a new girlfriend, Maisie experiences a lot of emotions about that. And it’s also a way for Maisie to see the path to acceptance.

Because that’s what this is. Maisie’s happiness with herself. Yep, there’s a super cute boy and he is attracted to her for who she is, in every single way and it’s totally swoon worthy and I loved it. The whole way it evolves is so organic and I loved how Maisie is unable to see what the reader can see. But Maisie is the star of this story and her journey towards accepting herself and even more than that, loving herself. The ARC of this book came with a postcard which invites the reader to detail 10 things they like about themselves on the back (making a list of things she likes about herself is something Maisie does multiple times in the story). Goddamn, it is hard. I think it’s this ingrained thing that we have sometimes, not to praise ourselves, or parts of ourselves. Clearly this is something, I still need to work on!

I just loved this book. It gave me such happy feels – but it also reminded me of those feelings of insecurity and inadequacy and the difficulties of navigating teen life. Friendships can be hard – Maisie’s friendship with Anna is complex and filled with bumps in the road. I really liked the friendship she develops with Leila and her crew and I think sometimes it really highlighted how her friendship with Anna was at times, not easy at all. But they are best friends and if two people want to work at something, then it can be fixed most of the time. Teenage friendships are a navigational minefield and it was nice to see that although there was discord, no one was a complete villain who only existed to cause problems for Maisie. Even now, as an adult, friendships are hard.

Sometimes, life throws you something where it’s hard to focus. Reading has always been my escape from that but lately there’s been a lot of depressing stuff popping up in my reading too. This is the sort of book I need to refuel and reenergise myself. There are complex things and genuine emotions but at the same time, it’s inherently good and pure and funny and makes me happy. More please!

9/10

Book #25 of 2019


What I Like About Me is the 7th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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