All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Turtles All The Way Down
John Green
Penguin Random House UK
2017, 286p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

I’m not a die-hard John Green fan. In fact I’ve only read one of his books, The Fault In Our Stars but I really liked it. I hadn’t gotten around to reading his backlist yet and I also didn’t really know this was coming out until it basically dropped and I was pretty curious. It’s been 5 years since his last book. And I have to be honest – if I hadn’t found a bookshop selling it for a “special” price I probably wouldn’t have bought it. RRP is $27.99 and I know it’s a hardback and all but….nope. I wouldn’t have paid that and I’m not afraid to admit it.

I think the biggest thing I noticed about this book is that the plot is really, really flimsy. So flimsy it’s almost not even there. There’s the vaguest of ideas of main character Aza and her best friend Daisy searching for a missing super rich businessman, Russell Pickett, a fugitive with the idea of collecting the $100,000 reward. They use a tenuous connection that Aza has with the man’s son Davis in that they went to camp together years ago when they were like, 11 or something. I really disliked the plot, especially the part with the money which I found incredibly unrealistic, insulting and pretentious.

But – I did mostly like the characters. In particular I really liked Davis and I felt a lot for him and his brother Noah who were going through something very difficult. Not only is their father missing but their whole future hangs in the balance given the complicated instructions of their father’s will. At the same time, even though their father is a terrible father, Davis admits that’s it better he be there than not, especially for Noah. As the days roll on and there’s no sign or word from Russell Pickett, it becomes less and less likely that the boys will ever see their father again.

The main character Aza suffers from crippling anxiety specifically revolving around germs and contracting things that will kill her, such as C diff. She has a complicated ritual of treating an infection that doesn’t exist in a cut and then opening it up again just to be certain. She becomes so concerned about her possibility of contracting something that will kill her that she begins doing something incredibly dangerous in an attempt to destroy any potential bad bacteria. Even something as simple as eating for Aza is a complicated spiral of thoughts about bacteria and chewing and what is happening in her body when she eats. She mistakes grumbles in her stomach that signify she is hungry (or presumably that she is digesting food) for signs of terrible illness like C Diff and constantly reads about cases online, comparing the symptoms those patients have to her own. Despite the fact that she’s on medication, she doesn’t take it consistently, not wanting to believe that she needs to take medication to be her ‘true self’ and also because she doesn’t think it’s working. However she’s not taking it correctly so it’s hard to know whether it would work or not. From what I’ve heard/read, Aza’s experience is very similar to John Green’s experience with anxiety, particularly in the way that he writes her spiraling thoughts and how difficult it is to extract yourself from them, even though there’s a part of you that knows what the thoughts are telling you aren’t true. Aza knows she doesn’t have C diff but what if she does? And that’s all it takes. I think it was amazing how this was written and now I know why it felt so authentic and also, so exhausting and confusing to read. Because if it’s exhausting to read about it, I can’t even imagine how exhausting it is to actually live it. #OwnVoices are always a positive thing in literature and removing a stigma from mental health issues, showcasing it in fiction and also people like John Green being open about their own struggles help to shine a light and also indicate that it can be something that anyone can experience at any time in their lives, no matter what else is going on. So for that, the book is certainly important to the readership.

But there’s just so much else that’s so hard to ignore. Overly eloquent but yet awkward teens stargazing and holding hands and talking about their thoughts in relation to W.B. Yeats’ poetry, especially The Second Coming. I studied Yeats in year 12 (an embarrassingly long amount of time ago now) and that poem as well and I can remember bits and pieces: the ever-widening gyre part, falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart etc. It’s quite a heavy handed piece of imagery. But mostly I just wanted more from the plot. A lot of it felt like filler – the stuff about the lizard, the fan fiction, etc. I get the references, they just seemed to take up a lot of pages in what is quite a slim book. There were times when I was honestly a tiny bit bored, turning pages waiting for something to actually happen. When I finished it, I really agonised over what to rate it because I was struggling to really decide how I’d felt about it. I didn’t love it. I admired parts of it, particularly Green’s brutal honesty about mental illness, anxiety and OCD. I liked Davis and the situation he and his brother experienced tugged at my heartstrings. But I also struggled with a lot of it as well and then end left me feeling a bit dissatisfied. I don’t expect a perfect ending by any means, but I wanted a little more. Which I think kind of sums up my whole experience with this book.

6/10

Book #171 of 2017

 

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Review: Her Outback Surprise by Annie Seaton

Her Outback Surprise (Pickle Creek #2)
Annie Seaton
Entangled Publishing
2017, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Angie Edmonds is content with life in her small town. Being alone doesn’t bother her. Really. Until Liam Smythe, the man who broke her heart, shows up at her vet clinic with an injured puppy. Unfortunately, he’s just as irresistible as she remembers. In an attempt to prove to him that she’s moved on, somehow a little white lie begins…

When Liam returns to help run the family farm, his enjoyment of the slow life in Spring Downs surprises him. After all, he’s used to the thrill of chasing the next big story. Running into the girl he’s never been able to forget is unexpected, and he’s shocked to learn she’s getting married–to someone who’s not him. She’s off-limits, but Liam can’t stop thinking about the gorgeous vet and what could have been. But convincing her he’s changed will be harder than finding a needle in a haystack.

Recently I read and really enjoyed Annie Seaton’s Porter Sisters trilogy so I jumped at the chance to read this one when it was offered to me. I didn’t realise at the time but it’s actually the second of a quartet revolving around four cousins who are “called home” by their grandparents to help take care of the family farm. In the first book, which I haven’t read, the cousins come to an agreement that Liam will stay on and take care of the farm whilst their grandparents enjoy a well deserved holiday. This book begins in London where Angie is leaving to come back to Australia after her visa has run out. She and Liam have been in a relationship for about two years and she wants him to come with her but Liam is far too busy with his job to consider such a thing. Then we skip to recap Liam being called home and cover the decision to stay on, which is probably done more in depth in the first book but was definitely more than enough for me to catch up on what is happening. Fast forward to Liam having been on the farm for a while and he discovers a puppy on his farm. It doesn’t belong to him and appears to have an injured leg, so he takes the dog to a vet in town. Expecting the same vet he’s always known as having the practice, Liam is surprised when he realises that the vet is Angie. And Angie is equally stunned when she realises that her former partner has returned to Australia, something that he wouldn’t do with her.

I found this a really relaxing and enjoyable read. I liked the setting although I did find that Liam seemed to have a lot of free time on his hands for someone who seemed to be almost singlehandedly running a farm! But the small town community feel was definitely there and I found the vet practice to be a fun and interesting setting too. A large portion of the conflict in the book revolves around the fact that Liam believes that Angie is dating someone and in order to protect her heart, it’s a misconception that she doesn’t correct. However the two of them have a very difficult time staying away from each other. They seem to be attempting to do the just friends things but both of them are still very invested. Angie doesn’t want to get involved again because she feels this is a stop gap for Liam, a brief period before he chases his career again and heads for a big city. Angie doesn’t want to be left behind – breaking up with Liam the first time was very painful for her and very difficult and she doesn’t want to have to go through that all over again. And so for a while she allows Liam to continue thinking that she has some vague boyfriend living somewhere else. She knows that she does need to tell him the truth eventually but I sort of didn’t blame Angie for not bothering to correct Liam in a way. She wanted him to return to Australia with her but Liam was too caught up in his career however he did drop that when his grandparents recalled him to the family farm. But to Angie, some year later finds Liam back in Australia – he’d been back for quite a while and hadn’t let her know (presumably because he believed her with someone else).

Liam is a bit pushy for someone who believes that Angie is dating someone else, probably seriously. He’s always trying something – definitely the sort of guy who doesn’t let a chance go by! If Angie had of actually been dating someone I would’ve found it off-putting but she knows she isn’t. Liam does come across as quite torn, despite his taking chances. He frequently muses to himself about her boyfriend but he can’t seem to help himself when it comes to her. Their coming back together is sweet and low key, rather than sizzling hot romance. They do fit well together though and both of them have moved on and changed from what they were in London. For Angie, who doesn’t have a family, she’s come to realise that she could be an accepted part of a big and loving one as Liam’s cousin has definitely taken her under her wing and wants to include her in events and celebrations. And Liam makes a change from big shot city career guy to a slower pace and a reorder of his priorities and what he wants out of his life. When he realises that he could lose Angie all over again, he’s spurred into action.

I liked this – a very nice rural read to escape into for an afternoon. I’ll be looking to finish the series for sure.

7/10

Book #169 of 2017

Her Outback Surprise is book #52 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Pool House by Tasmina Perry

The Pool House
Tasmina Perry
Headline Review
2017, 465p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A summer to die for

To Jem Chapman, it’s the chance of a lifetime. An invitation to join a group in an exclusive Hamptons houseshare, who could say no? But when she discovers what happened last summer, Jem can’t help but feel a chill.

A young woman was found drowned in the house’s pool. The housemates said Alice was troubled. She’d been drinking. She couldn’t swim…..

A secret worth killing for

As Jem gets to know her glamorous new housemates, she realises each has something to hide. What really happened last summer? And who would go to any lengths to keep a person quiet?

This book was so good!

Jem is a young woman in her thirties who moved to New York with her husband Nat from England a few months ago. Nat is a super ambitious and very good looking associate editor at a men’s magazine who saw this move to New York as an opportunity. Jem had her own catering business in England but hasn’t been able to find any work in New York and is becoming lonely, especially with the long hours Nat works and his dedication to appearing at pretty much anything he can. When a colleague of Nat’s invites them to come in on a houseshare in the Hamptons with them, Jem has reservations. For one, she doesn’t really know these people and isn’t sure they’ll have much in common with wealthy-for-generations New Yorkers and the house will be something they’ll use mostly only at weekends and eat up all their savings. But Nat is determined to take the next step in New York society and so Jem gives in, hoping that the relaxed atmosphere might help them reconnect. It isn’t until it’s too late that Jem finds out that they’ve been asked to replace another couple, David and Alice, after Alice’s tragic death. Not only did Alice die but she also died in the pool at the Hampton’s house. When Jem finds out that Nat knew about Alice, she can’t believe he wouldn’t tell her such a thing but it seems that Nat will do anything it takes to get involved in this group and become a part of them and their influential, connected circle.

Despite her reservations, Jem is taken in by the beautiful house and it’s excellent kitchen. At first the group seem fun and welcoming and the summer looks good. But Jem can’t get the thought of Alice and what happened to her out of her head and finds it strange that none of the others want to talk to her. This was someone they spent a summer with and they seem to have wiped her from their minds without a care in the world. It makes her curious and when she meets someone locally who also finds it a bit out of the ordinary and also a bit strange how quickly the investigation was wrapped up, Jem finds herself doing a bit of investigation.

This story had me intrigued from the very first page. We begin with a prologue from Alice’s point of view that takes place the night of her death and then switch to Jem for the majority of the set up. Then we go back to Alice and get to know her a little bit more, learn her connections to the other people in the house at the Hamptons and what exactly was going on in her life and it becomes more and more clear that numerous people might have had motive to do Alice harm in some way. The relationships are quite complicated with marital infidelity happening everywhere and people having secrets, some of which would have dire consequences if they were to come to light. It becomes a bit of a tangled web and I was having a lot of fun trying to decide who would’ve benefited the most from Alice quietly disappearing into the pool in her drunken stupor.

This is a bit of a glimpse at how the super rich live – paying tens of thousands for a quarter share in a holiday house for the summer that most of them will only use two days a week, three at most as they’re still working in the city. It’s art gallery events, product launches, designer labels, gym sessions and discreet work being done. It’s a foreign world and Jem is very much a down to earth girl from England who wasn’t wealthy growing up and isn’t particularly interested in being super rich or being accepted by this inner circle even if she doesn’t admit to herself that some of it is nice. Jem cares far more about a person she never met than any of the people who actually knew Alice did and the fact that she’s not willing to sacrifice herself in order to be part of this group causes real cracks in her relationship with Nat, who definitely does want to be a part of it. Nat is very ambitious and has shed his poor background with scholarships and working hard and he wants to go all the way to the top. He’s still a long way from the serious money of this crowd but he wants to be accepted, shoehorn his way up to the top levels of New York society. Jem and Nat have very different goals in life and the more she talks about the things that she desires, the more he tries to put her off and the two of them drift apart.

I thought Jem was a really well fleshed out character in that she was a very middle class person thrust into a very upper class situation and she had a lot of struggles over that. It was impossible not to enjoy some aspects – a very beautiful house in a sought after location, invites to interesting and fun events and after months of being lonely, the thought that maybe she might be able to make some friends and be part of something, feel at home. She has been mostly exploring New York on her own without really meeting anyone to hang out with, or finding a job. Being in the Hamptons leads to an interesting part time job and the chance that maybe she could find her place but it is also a world that she’s not accustomed to, dominated by money (which she doesn’t have) and very misleading. I don’t want to give anything away but I also admired the way that the author handled a friendship between a woman and an older man, which was done respectfully and positively. So many times I’ve seen the older man – younger woman dynamic demonised in fiction with the men painted as mid-life crisis jerks and the women as vacuous trophy wives and stereotypical gold diggers. It doesn’t have to be this way and this book definitely showcases that and I liked that.

Really enjoyed this. I’ve read a couple of Tasmina Perry’s long in the past but she has a very extensive backlist that I’m looking forward to exploring.

8/10

Book #168 of 2017

 

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Review: Dear World by Bana Alabed

Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story Of War And Plea For Peace
Bana Alabed
Simon & Schuster UK
2017, 206p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“I’m very afraid I will die tonight.” —Bana Alabed, Twitter, October 2, 2016
“Stop killing us.” —Bana Alabed, Twitter, October 6, 2016
“I just want to live without fear.” —Bana Alabed, Twitter, October 12, 2016

When seven-year-old Bana Alabed took to Twitter to describe the horrors she and her family were experiencing in war-torn Syria, her heartrending messages touched the world and gave a voice to millions of innocent children.

Bana’s happy childhood was abruptly upended by civil war when she was only three years old. Over the next four years, she knew nothing but bombing, destruction, and fear. Her harrowing ordeal culminated in a brutal siege where she, her parents, and two younger brothers were trapped in Aleppo, with little access to food, water, medicine, or other necessities.

Facing death as bombs relentlessly fell around them–one of which completely destroyed their home–Bana and her family embarked on a perilous escape to Turkey.

In Bana’s own words, and featuring short, affecting chapters by her mother, Fatemah, Dear World is not just a gripping account of a family endangered by war; it offers a uniquely intimate, child’s perspective on one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history. Bana has lost her best friend, her school, her home, and her homeland. But she has not lost her hope–for herself and for other children around the world who are victims and refugees of war and deserve better lives.

Dear World is a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit, the unconquerable courage of a child, and the abiding power of hope. It is a story that will leave you changed.

When the most recent war began in Syria, Bana Alabed was just 3 years old. Today she’s 8 and although she and her family have escaped their country of birth for a neighbouring one, they long for the day when they might be able to return to a peaceful place and get on with living their lives in the place they still call home.

I will fully admit to ignorance about a lot of world issues and the war in Syria is one of them. I know it’s going on but I only have the vaguest of understandings as to why. And I feel as though there are certain conflicts that sometimes get lost as the media focuses on other things. The information is out there but whereas some atrocities will dominate the 24 hour news cycle for weeks, others will be a one liner down the bottom of the screen or deep in the pages (online or paper). So when I was told about this book I figured it would be a good opportunity to be provided with a unique look and a platform to jump off from when it came to Syria.

Bana and her family lived in Aleppo (now somewhat more famous than it was because a presidential candidate blanked on what it was when asked on television what his solution would be). Her father was a lawyer and her mother an English teacher who was going to law school when the war began. The high level of education her parents have as well as her mother’s proficiency in English enabled her mother to set up a twitter account which describes the war through the eyes of Bana. The account is in Bana’s name and some of the words may even be hers but her mother manages the account for her and tweets in English in order to reach a bigger audience.

Bana’s twitter account (and probably this memoir) is not without its critics who attack it for being propaganda and questioning whether or not Bana really even understands what she’s tweeting given her youth. Searching her name on twitter brings up an awful lot of hatred, the most recent revolving around the fact that she was photographed meeting Colin Kaepernick and also accusations that her father is either a member of an Al Qaeda group or has ties to them. It now seems like there are an awful lot of conflicting reports about the family and to be quite honest, it’s difficult to ascertain which is the truth and which is bits of information and guesswork knitted together in order to further an agenda.

That doesn’t change what has been happening in Syria and the amount of civilians that have been killed of displaced in the civil war. The Syrian government has been accused of using chemical weapons, of targeting schools and hospitals repeatedly and also “double bombing” where they’d bomb an area just attacked in order to target aid workers and responders to the first attack. Syrian children should be spending their days in schools rather than sheltering in basements avoiding conflicts. There are reports of widespread electrical and water shortages as well as food shortages as roads into the city were slowly cut off. Both sides have been accused of atrocities and there’s probably a grim reality for most Syrian Aleppo civilians of living in rubble, lining up for basics and making numerous trips to basements to shelter. And if this book highlights that for people, then it’s doing its job. It might be sad to suggest that children are being used as propaganda but children being targeted is something people can relate to, no matter what. Sometimes, be it right or wrong, people need to be able to put a ‘face’ to something, to understand by identifying with someone and for many people, Bana could be that person. She now resides in Turkey, having been granted citizenship and thanks to this memoir and the notoriety of her twitter account, has the chance to travel extensively and shine a light on the war on Aleppo. Maybe she’s the next Malawa. Maybe she isn’t. There will always be criticism, there will always be two sides to every story, there will always be people who seek to discredit or tear others down and assert that their morals/values/beliefs are better than someone else’s. It might be sad to suggest that an 8yo child is a tool of her parents and the UN to promote propaganda but what’s even sadder is that there’s a situation where this is possible and spending more than half her very young life living in a warzone is definitely the worst.

7/10

Book 167 of 2017

 

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Review: Cover Up by L.A. Witt

Cover Up (Skin Deep Inc #3)
L.A. Witt
Swerve
2017, 251p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After ten years of blissful marriage, Navy Pilot Nate Chandler is divorcing his cheating husband. Single for the first time in years, Nate is numb to all emotion and kisses any chance of another relationship goodbye.

Not only is Nate struggling to get through this divorce, but his body is branded with a permanent reminder of his failed marriage: a matching tattoo with his ex. Searching for a place to cover up his old tattoo, Nate finds himself at the Skin Deep, Inc., where he meets the young and charming cover-up tattoo apprentice, Lucas Brandt.

From just flirty glances to steamy hot encounters, Nate and Lucas dive headfirst into a fling of hookups. But worried that he’ll forever be Nate’s “cover up” rebound relationship, Lucas fears that their love won’t be anything more than just skin deep. What was once just a casual attraction, Lucas now hopes to turn into a real relationship. But will he be able to convince the still tender-hearted Nate to fall in love again?

I don’t read a lot of m/m romance but every now and then I’ll spy one where the blurb really catches my eye and this one was definitely one of those. I really liked the idea and given the state of my country at the moment it was nice to read a book where gay marriage was so normal and an accepted part of society (mostly) rather than something that needs to be endlessly debated and the subject of a postal vote. This sounded interesting and pretty hot and I didn’t mind that I hadn’t read the previous two books. Even after reading it, I know the two couples that featured in the books preceding this one but I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything, nor did I really feel that anything would’ve been spoiled for me if I wanted to go back and read those first two books.

There were things I liked about this but there were also some things that didn’t really work for me. Firstly, Nate is still super raw when he goes to see Lucas about getting the matching tattoo he got with his estranged husband covered up. It’s a very recent break up and he’s heartbroken. So even though it’s originally supposed to start out as just a fling, something to get him back out there, it still feels very soon for someone as upset as Nate. He kind of seems like he should still be wallowing. He was betrayed by his husband, catching him in their bed with another man (bit of a cliche, that, it amazes me how many people in fiction bring their lovers into their marital or relationship bed!) and now they’re going through what seems like a very traumatic and painful divorce for Nate. He definitely married thinking it would be for life and his hurt and level of emotional instability comes across very well, even when he’s trying to conceal the fact that he has a boner for his young-looking tattoo artist.

There’s lots of sex in here and it’s very detailed so if that’s your thing that part of the book should make readers pretty happy. I was hoping the relationship aspect would get the same attention but I really didn’t feel like it did. Everything felt very fast, like these two guys barely even knew each other. It is supposed to be a once off, then a fling but then it seems like they’re spending a lot of time together, when their various jobs allow and it’s clear it’s more than just sex but we just don’t get a lot of the emotional investment, such as them really talking about their feelings etc. Lucas was having a bad spell before Nate and he’s also clear at the beginning that he doesn’t want a relationship. Randomly he’s already been divorced twice despite the fact that he’s in his late twenties and even though he kind of talks about both his marriages it’s in passing and quite brief and just didn’t really add a lot of the narrative. Both of Lucas’ marriages were to women and although he readily admits to being bi I’m not sure if Nate is his first actual relationship with a man versus just hooking up with them or including them in threesomes with one of his former wives.

At some stage in the book it becomes very clear to Nate that he still is yet to really deal with his divorce and his feelings for his estranged husband and that he should probably get around to doing that if he wants a real future with Lucas and so off he goes to do that and it basically takes one phone call, a meeting in a cafe and feels done with. That aspect felt quite rushed and also unrealistic because even if you find yourself moving on, I’m sure that a 10 year partnership and marriage that ended in cheating and divorce isn’t quite so easy to just get over. Given this is obviously a huge part of Nate’s life, it felt like it should’ve been a more dominant part of the story. Much more, given it’s really only just happened before this book begins. It felt like Nate should’ve had quite a bit more to work through before he could really take that genuine next step with Lucas from “fwb” to in an actual committed relationship for the long haul. I wouldn’t have minded examining Lucas’ past a bit more either, that felt glossed over as well. A lot of this felt packed with filler sex scenes and because of that, the rest of the story did suffer. I’m all for lots of spice but I do also like it to be balanced out.

All in all it was a quick and entertaining read but did leave me wanting more from it.

7/10

Book #166 of 2017

 

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Review: The Love Experiment by Ainslie Paton

The Love Experiment (Stubborn Hearts #1)
Ainslie Paton
Carina Press
2017, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Can you fall in love in thirty-six questions?

The closest rookie lifestyle writer Derelie Honeywell gets to megastar reporter Jackson Haley is an accidental shoulder brush in The Courier’s elevator. That is, until the love experiment: a study designed to accelerate intimacy using thirty-six questions and four minutes of sustained eye contact.

As far as Derelie is concerned, Jack Haley has always been a man best imagined in his underwear. He’s too intimidating otherwise. But participating in the love experiment is her make-or-break chance. With another round of layoffs looming, Derelie knows holding on to her job means getting the story no matter what. Even when the what is kissing Jack like a maniac.

Jack Haley has zero interest in participating in a clickbait story. He didn’t plan on finding Derelie smart and feisty and being mesmerized by her eyes. He certainly had no intention at all of actually falling in love with her.

The conclusion to this experiment? Thirty-six questions might lead to love, but finding the answer to happily-ever-after is a lot more complicated.

As soon as I read the synopsis for this, I had to request it. I absolutely loved the premise and thought it sounded like such a fun idea. It encompasses a lot of the things that I really enjoy in terms of romance books and I thought the idea of the 36 questions was really interesting. I’ve actually come across a few people/books that have mentioned that lately but this is the first book I’ve read that actively includes it.

Derelie (rhymes with merrily) is a small-town girl who moved to Chicago not that long ago and works writing for the online site for a newspaper. Mostly what they term as “clickbait” articles – top 10 things you didn’t know were hot this summer, etc that get people clicking on them and helping keeping the site views ticking over. She’s quite desperate to prove herself so when the paper looks like it might be laying more people off there’s nothing she won’t do to keep her job – even participate in a fluff story to see if any two people thrown together can build something using the 36 questions. The fact that her partner is set to be Jackson Haley is equal parts exciting and intimidating. He’s the paper’s hot shot who brings down corrupt companies and champions the wronged. He doesn’t even know that Derelie exists and he’s definitely not keen to do this piece. In fact he actively tries to get out of it.

I really loved the set up and the early dynamic between Jackson and Derelie. Jackson is kind of a legend in the city, he’s uncovered numerous stories that have put people in jail or seen them removed from their jobs and that comes with positives and negatives. He’s a pretty stand offish sort of person, very businesslike and tends not to get involved with people. With Derelie at first he’s quite brisk and often uses her to do things revolving around his story and tends to dodge answering the questions seriously. He reads like he has quite a few intimacy issues but…..the questions start to work and there’s an attraction between Jackson and Derelie that builds. Jackson can be quite cynical and he clearly had a less-than-ideal upbringing which still impacts on him in the present day. Derelie doesn’t seem to be cynical and had an entirely different upbringing so sometimes they’re like total opposites but they do really work together.

Jackson works for the print aspect of the paper and Derelie primarily for the online blog version and there was some interesting stuff about the current state of journalism in the age of the 24hr news cycle and everyone possessing a smart phone to upload things to various places on the internet as they happen. Journalism is definitely evolving rather fast and I know that most people now (myself included) tend to get their news online. I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper – occasionally I might read one when we are at a cafe and they’re sitting there but not often. In among the fun of the experiment and Derelie and Jackson answering the questions and getting to know each other there was also a pretty serious look at the state of uncertain employment when it comes to journalism. Which kind of led to the final conflict between Jackson and Derelie and I have to admit, I didn’t love it. It felt a little out of place with the rest of the book and changed the focus. I loved reading about them answering the questions and getting into discussions where little pieces of themselves would slip out, almost with them being unaware of it.

Overall I really enjoyed this – it was a super fun story. I liked both Derelie and Jackson and I think they were awesome together. They had a lot of chemistry, even when Derelie was intimidated by him and Jackson was trying to do anything to get out of the assignment. I loved Derelie’s determination – she really would not take no for an answer and did not accept Jackson trying to weasel his way out of it. Also the questions are listed at the end of the book, which is nice – should you want to find someone and try the experiment with them!

7/10

Book #165 of 2017

 

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Review: The Cull by Tony Park

The Cull (Sonja Kurtz #3)
Tony Park
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 411p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

One mission … countless enemies.

Former mercenary Sonja Kurtz is hired by business tycoon Julianne Clyde-Smith to head an elite squad. Their aim: to take down Africa’s top poaching kingpins and stop at nothing to save its endangered wildlife.

But as the body count rises, it becomes harder for Sonja to stay under the radar and she is targeted by an underworld syndicate known as The Scorpions.

When her love interest, safari guide and private investigator Hudson Brand, is employed to look into the death of an alleged poacher at the hands of Sonja’s team, she is forced to ask herself if Julianne’s crusade has gone too far.

From South Africa’s Kruger National Park to the Serengeti of Tanzania, Sonja realises she is fighting a war on numerous fronts, against enemies known and unknown.

So who can Sonja really trust?

This is Tony Park’s 14th novel and the third one I’ve read. Sonja Kurtz has been a featured character in two of Park’s other novels (one of which I’ve read, The Delta and also An Empty Coast). Although I have read the first book she appears in and have a good idea of her background to be honest it’s not entirely necessary to have read the others before this one because this book does a great job explaining Sonja’s story in a clear way but without taking up too much time from this story.

Sonja is back in Africa working to train local women as an Anti-Poaching unit when they are ambushed by a group of poachers who are surprisingly well armed. As a result, Sonja is offered a job by an incredibly wealthy businesswoman named Julianne Clyde-Smith, who wants to take down the poaching kingpins ravaging the African wildlife one at a time. Employed to do “reconnaissance” it isn’t long before Sonja realises that there’s definitely a lot more to this job than meets the eye and that she might be being used. The body count is rising, the trails are getting infinitely more complicated, Sonja might be on opposing sides with her lover Hudson Brand and she’s not entirely sure who it is she should be trusting.

I love books set in Africa – mostly around South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe etc but I think that’s mostly because the majority of fiction set in Africa that I’ve read has taken place around that part of the continent and this one is no exception. Centered around the areas of large animal conservation reserves, Sonja crosses countries in her mission, occasionally having to dodge authorities due to incidents in her mercenary past. I really loathe big game hunting – people posing with guns and carcasses of elephants or giraffes or lions, beautiful creatures that should be left alone. And I have even more disdain for poaching and witch doctor rubbish that puts tens of thousands of dollars black market value on rhino horns and elephant tusks with little regard to the animal’s pain or suffering or the vast numbers in which they have been and are being slaughtered. So to be honest, I’m all for Sonja and her team and their epic array of weapons executing lethal force, but there are some cases where poverty makes poaching schemes seem easy money to locals. Julianne’s idea is to go after those at the top, dismantling entire operations from the head down. Tony Park lives part of the year in Africa and seems well versed in the various laws and intricacies of operations that might span different countries. There can be different rules for engagement when protecting property and presumably the wildlife within it – in some cases Sonja has to wait until she’s fired upon by poachers and then can she defend herself. She also has to deal with corruption in law enforcement positions, rangers and police paid off to turn a blind eye. A little bit of looking around led me to this article on the dangerous reality of being an anti-poaching ranger.

I really love Sonja as a character – she’s incredibly kick ass with all of these amazing skills and there’s pretty much nothing in terms of combat that she cannot do. But at the same time she’s also a bit awkward with people and leads a rather solitary life. She’s kind of in a relationship with Hudson Brand but she also doesn’t really quite trust him yet and can’t talk to him about what they’re doing or to clarify either of their feelings. She’s the sort of person who will walk away without asking a question, rather than put herself out there for a moment and present herself as vulnerable to another person. There’s a few misunderstandings that create some friction for Sonja and Hudson. I haven’t read the book where they met but after this I definitely plan to go back and add it to my TBR pile because I find them really interesting together. Hudson is a former CIA agent so he has mad skills of his own and now he works as a safari guide and sometime private investigator. I don’t know if there are plans to include them in future books but I’m sure there’s still plenty of ways in which they could reappear.

I found this to be a really engrossing read from the first page – I loved the setting and felt like I was learning more about the poaching situation and the lengths that are needed in order to try and present a defense to it. There were some really good secondary characters (especially Tema, she was fantastic. Park certainly writes very strong, independent female characters) and the story had a few twists and turns, some of which I guessed and some that were a surprise.

8/10

Book #162 of 2017

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Review: Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell

Untidy Towns
Kate O’Donnell
University of Queensland Press
2017, 298p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Seventeen-year-old Adelaide is sick of being expected to succeed on other people’s terms. She knows she just has to stick it out at school for one more year and then she’ll be free. Instead, she runs away from her fancy boarding school back to her sleepy hometown to read and dream.

But there are no free rides. When Addie’s grandad gets her a job at the local historical society, she soon finds out that it’s dusty and dull, just like her new life. Things change when she starts hanging out with Jarrod, a boy who seems full of possibilities. But it turns out he’s as stuck as she is. And Addie realises that when you want something in life, you’ve actually got to do something about it.

A heartfelt tale about love, friendship and finding your own way.

I hadn’t heard of this book before it popped up on my doorstep but I was immediately intrigued. It arrived packaged so beautifully, wrapped in paper that looked like the old Melbourne to Warrnambool train timetable, with a postcard, a little button and a page marker that looked like a V-line ticket before Myki became a thing. For pretty much the entire time I’ve lived in Victoria I’ve also lived on the Warrnambool line although I’m close to Melbourne so really it’s another line by the time it gets to me. But for about six months my husband caught the train to and from Warrnambool twice a week and his family also live in Colac, which is on that line so it’s one of those areas that I’m pretty familiar with.

Adelaide is 17 and only has something like 8 months of school to go when she realises that she can’t do it anymore. She walks out of her Melbourne boarding school and gets on a train bound for home. She seems paralysed, suddenly having a crisis of confidence with the weight of expectation. All her life she was referred to as the smart one who would go far, there was talk of medicine and law and all of a sudden she seemed to realise that she didn’t know anymore what she wanted. She just knew that she couldn’t stay at the school a moment longer, nor did she want to enroll at the local high school. It’s unacceptable that she do nothing so her grandfather negotiates a job for her at the local historical society of her small town.

With so much expectation placed on teens sitting their year 12 exams, it feels authentic to read about a teen who chooses not to do it that traditional way anymore, to give herself some time to breathe and decide what she really wants, rather than applying for what people expect and marking time doing a degree that she doesn’t want to do. I admired her for that, because I don’t think it’s the easy option that some people might assume, especially when you return from a fancy Melbourne boarding school. So many people would be asking that dreaded question about “what do you want to be” or “what are you doing when you finish school” and at 17, half the time you don’t know. You don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life, if what you’re passionate about now will be the same thing you’ll be passionate about at 25, 45, 65. Sometimes, like Addie, you just can’t decide at all what it is that you want to do and she doesn’t seem to want to waste time when she doesn’t know. To be honest I could say so much about the school system and the pressure of deciding what you want to do and competing with the entire state for the chance to be able to do it. So much riding on a score.

I really enjoyed reading a YA novel in a small town setting. I’ve read so many centred around the cities of Melbourne and Sydney that it was really nice to be in a tiny town with a very different feel, atmosphere wise. There’s a university in Warrnambool that seems within commuting distance but for many, furthering their education requires moving to Melbourne, so do many job prospects other than continuing on the family farm. Addie has to address the fact that she kind of distanced herself from her old friends when she moved to Melbourne to go to school but it isn’t long before she slips back into a group to socialise with, a group that includes a boy named Jarrod.

And so there is a romance in this book and it’s funny and sweet and really awkwardly authentic. The two of them are cute together but both of them make mistakes and have to negotiate getting to know each other in this tiny town with parents and grandparents and family reputations. I liked how present Addie’s family were. Her mum was great – definitely far more laid back than my parents would’ve been if I’d told them I was jacking in school in year 12 with so little time to go! But Addie’s mother, whilst being remarkably accepting, also manages to get Addie to agree to what she wants as well in a way that doesn’t involve drama. I also really liked Addie’s evolving attitude towards the historical society throughout the book, as well as her role and how she views the people that give their time to it. This book reminded me that adults can be very present in a YA novel and have a wonderful positive impact on the younger characters.

I think this is a beautifully written book. It beautifully showcases life in a small town for teenagers but I really enjoyed the relationship aspect of the book – family, friendship and romantic. All are wonderfully done and this book definitely left me wanting more from Kate O’Donnell.

8/10

Book #164 of 2017

Untidy Towns is book #50 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Baby Doctor by Fiona McArthur

The Baby Doctor
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Michael Joseph
2017, 331p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House Australia

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘The right people turn up in your life at the right time if you let them.’

Sienna Wilson is living her dream in the city – a rewarding obstetrics job in a leading hospital, an apartment with a view, and handsome Sergeant McCabe on call whenever she needs him. The last thing she wants is a posting to investigate a medical mystery in a remote outback town.

But on arrival in Spinifex, Sienna is brought to life in new and exciting ways. In a community riddled with secrets, she meets troubled young barmaid Maddy, and tough publican Alma, both with their secrets to hide.

As they draw strength from each other, new friendships, new loves and new babies are born, proving that when strong women join forces, they can overcome even the greatest odds.

A couple of years ago I read Red Sand Sunrise from Fiona McArthur and absolutely loved it so when I received this one in the mail I was very excited to see that it featured some familiar faces, namely obstetrician Sienna, who gets her own story here. Now working in Sydney, Sienna is summoned to the remote Queensland outback town of Spinifex by formidable local matriarch Blanche McKenna who wants Sienna to investigate an unusual occurrence in the area where three babies were born with the same birth defect. Location and timing are their only common factors and Blanche wants this investigated and fixed so that it doesn’t keep happening. She has the money to ensure that Sienna’s hospital employer are happy to see her go and it will of course bring Sienna closer to her sometime lover, Sergeant Douglas McCabe, who is the Spinifex local officer.

Sienna is the quintessential city girl with her designer clothes, high heels, harbourside apartment and reliance on technology and excellent coffee. She’s also a career girl who has worked hard to get where she is and has visions for her future and her department. The fact that she is granted a bit of bargaining power with her boss thanks to Blanche’s donation is one reason why Sienna is okay with heading north – and Sergeant McCabe might be another. Also I think the idea of a medical mystery (and the chance to perhaps solve one) intrigues Sienna and taps into her professional ambitions.

When Sienna arrives in Spinifex she has ideas of staying with Douglas that he quickly vetoes, saying it’s not a good look for his reputation and standing in the town. Instead accommodation has been arranged for Sienna at the local pub where she meets tough publican Alma, who enjoys a flutter on the ponies and hides a painful secret loss from her past, as well as worker Maddy. Sienna’s keen eye notices something about Maddy almost straight away and she hopes that when she employs the young woman to help her with data that Maddy might open up to her about her troubled situation.

Despite her lack of desire to be in a small town, Sienna does seem to settle in there quite well and scores herself an office with internet and an assistant in record time so that she can begin her research and her investigation. It’s a very unusual birth defect to occur three times so close together in such an area and Sienna has only some vague ideas she needs to see if she can hammer into possible genuine hypothesis. I found the mystery and Sienna’s research into it really interesting. It definitely went in directions that I did not expect, which was great.

I also really liked the character of Maddy, a shy young woman who is experiencing some shame at her situation and isolation. There are people there for her, Maddy just needs to be brave enough to ask for and accept the help that they would offer. She retreats into herself but her planning and preparation has to be commended. Maddy is very smart and I would seriously love to see her pop up again in a book in the future so that we can see how she is doing. Her journey was very important and tackles a situation that’s really a very unfortunately common scenario in Australia at the moment and Maddy could’ve easily become a more gruesome statistic. Maddy contributed a real balance to Sienna’s quite brash personality and Alma, the tough publican was another older woman who shines, which seems a common theme in Fiona McArthur’s books.

I did find it a bit funny that Douglas was so adamant about Sienna not staying there and about them not really showcasing that they were, if not in a relationship, then ‘intimately acquainted’. It felt a little bit outdated but this was a very small town – honestly I’m not sure if it was tiny town morals or Douglas himself. He and Sienna were very different but they did work together. I liked their interactions in the previous novel and it had developed nicely in the time between that book and this one. It was also great to catch up with Eve, Sienna’s sister again, as well as her mother-in-law, Blanche McKay. Made me want to read Red Sand Sunrise all over again.

Another really enjoyable rural romance from a very strong author who always creates a great story. I love the intricacy to this one, there’s so much more than what meets the eye and Fiona McArthur’s own background in midwifery really does give such a solid believability to the ins and outs of the plot as well as a focusing on issues in rural medicine, which I find really interesting and I don’t come across a lot. As soon as I finish one book, I’m always looking forward to the next one.

8/10

Book #163 of 2017

The Baby Doctor is book #49 in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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September Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 14
Fiction: 14
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 0
Books On My TBR List: 3
Books in a Series: 7
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 6
Male/Female Authors: 1/13
Kindle Books: 5
Books I Owned or Bought: 7
Favourite Book(s): Fire by Kristin Cashore & The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas,
Least Favourite Books: Her Husband’s Harlot by Grace Callaway
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 5

From one of my best reading months in August to one of my worst! 14 books is definitely low for me but my brother and his girlfriend came to visit for a week in the middle of the month and I don’t think I picked up more than one book the entire time they were here. It was the first time he’d actually visited me down here in about seven years so that was really good. And then just after he left, spring kind of arrived here in Melbourne and I ended up with a hideous sinus infection triggered by my allergies which came with the added benefit of massive sinus headaches so reading wasn’t really a possibility. Every year my hayfever and sinus infections around this time get worse and it’s basically hell on earth.

My tentative October TBR pile. I’ve actually already read The Baby Doctor and a review will go up for that one tomorrow. There’s only a small pile because apart from the top two books, the rest of them are all quite a decent size and I don’t want to end up with too big a pile. I also have a couple of books from NetGalley as well as books on my shelves and there’ll no doubt be a few random arrivals during the month as well to factor in. A new Rachael Johns is always something to be excited about! And there are a couple of others there that I don’t know much about yet although I’ve read Tasmina Perry before so I’m not entirely going in blind with that one.

The second week of school holidays has started here and I didn’t get much done with my kids in the first week due to the sinus infection so I’m hoping to be able to get out and do a few things in the few days we have left. The weather is supposed to be good so perhaps the zoo, a beach walk, etc will be happening. Definitely need to get them out of the house (and me too, to be honest).

Hope you all had a good September and happy reading in October!

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