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Review: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

The Dinner List 
Rebecca Serle
Allen & Unwin
2018, 273p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

We’ve been waiting for an hour.’ That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends with in her utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You. 

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetisers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.

This was such an interesting book and a really great take on the ‘people you’d love to invite for dinner, living or dead’ type of thing. It made me think a lot about who my five people (or however many) people would be. It’s really difficult to think of a straightforward list and whether or not I’d fill it with all people I know or take the opportunity to add in famous people, living or dead.

I have to admit, this book was different to what I expected. When you pick up a book where someone is experiencing dinner with their ‘list of five’, where one is Audrey Hepburn, I thought it would be this light and almost fluffy story but it’s much darker than I expected and there were was a very unexpected twist that I didn’t see coming until it was upon me. It was one of those things which made everything make sense and all of a sudden I felt I understood the whole thing just that little bit better.

Sabrina is 30 and lives in New York. Years ago, she and her best friend, her college roommate Jessica made the list of the 5 people that they’d invite to have dinner with if there were no restrictions and over the years, Sabrina has edited her list. She chooses Audrey Hepburn, who played her namesake character and whose movies Sabrina loves, her father who left the family when Sabrina was very young, a former college professor, her former fiancé and love of her life and of course, Jessica.

Now’s probably the time to admit I’ve never seen an Audrey Hepburn movie. I don’t watch a lot of older films (to be honest, I don’t watch a lot of movies in general) so I cannot tell if her portrayal feels accurate or if it adds something to the story that only Audrey Hepburn can. Her role was almost more of a charming facilitator that allows Sabrina to explore some of the issues she has with her guest list, particularly that of her father Robert, who left her mother and Sabrina never saw him again. This abandonment has had a great impact on her and when Robert haltingly explains his story, Sabrina often struggles to accept his version of events, especially if they contradict anything her mother has ever told her. She feels betrayed by many of Robert’s life choices and I think jealous and envious of what she missed out on, not having him as a father figure in her life.

The reason they are all there is Sabrina’s love affair with Tobias, which has been long and somewhat complicated. That they both loved each other fiercely is never in doubt but I feel as though I related very much to Sabrina’s friend Jessica’s theory of relating relationships to a garden – you need flowers to grow and you need waterers, or caretakers, to care for them and ensure that they do. Jessica describes both Sabrina and Toby as flowers, which means that neither in the relationship are nurturers so despite their deep love for each other, their relationship is not without a myriad of problems and it doesn’t mean that they were actually good for each other. The deeper the story gets into their relationship the more this seems to become apparent as they diverge in what they want and how they feel they should be moving forward the older they get. It took me a little bit to settle into the way this story was being told, but once I was there, I ended up becoming so invested in the story and I think that’s why I was ultimately so shocked, even though I probably shouldn’t have been.

Overall I enjoyed that this took me much deeper than I expected to go and I think it posed some interesting questions and theories about life and relationships and working for/at them. It’s not always enough to just let them happen – it’s so easy to drift apart from people and kind of shrug your shoulders at it and say that is what happens when people get older and things change. It can be any sort of relationship, not just a romantic one and this book explores quite a few different types. It was very well done and it made me think over a lot of things. The sort of story that sticks with you for a while after you finish it.

I’m still not 100% decided on my list! Going to have to fix that.

8/10

Book #160 of 2018

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 18th September

It’s time for another Top 10 Tuesday. Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now has a new home with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. This week our topic is……

Top Books On My Fall Spring TBR

I’m Australian, so we are (finally!) heading out of winter and into some warmer weather for spring and I am so excited for it. Even though it’s a bit of a late spring here (it doesn’t really warm up until October/November) I’m definitely over the cold weather and I’ll take any sun I can get.

  1. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell. This will probably be my next read. I’ve been wanting to read it for a while but I was in a queue from my local library and it only just came in. I’ve liked her previous books and I’ve heard lots and lots of amazing things about this one from fellow bloggers and readers.
  2. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. Probably going to break my book buying ban for this one – I’ve read almost all of her previous books and she just keeps getting better with each one. This one should be hugely successful as well, especially coming off the back of the Big Little Lies mini series.
  3. Kingdom Of Ash by Sarah J. Maas. I still haven’t finished Tower Of Dawn yet. I started it just before I moved house and then never went back to it. To be honest I’m not super into that part of the story – I find Chaol incredibly boring and I really just want to get back to what’s happening with Aelin.
  4. Lethal White by ‘Robert Galbraith’. I’m so glad I actually haven’t been waiting too long for this, having just finished 2&3 in the Cormoran Strike series earlier this year. But the ending of 3 was so dramatic that I really can’t wait to see what happens next.
  5. An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris. I only just came across this when I was browsing upcoming releases but it sounds really interesting. An alternate history story, set after Franklin Roosevelt is assassinated. This sounds awesome and I’m definitely adding it to my wishlist.
  6. Becoming by Michelle Obama. Um, yes please.
  7. Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin. Might as well see what’s delaying the final A Song of Ice & Fire books and occupying George’s attention. This is a deadset brick, looking like being over 700p so might have to roll this one over into the summer TBR as well!
  8. A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tehereh Mafi. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Shatter Me series but this is something completely different and I think it looks really interesting. It’s set in 2002, just after 9/11 and revolves around a 16yo Muslim girl living in that aftermath.  
  9. Fight Or Flight by Samantha Young. I just discovered this too and it looks exactly my sort of thing – a woman flying home is delayed by volcanic ash. She has a first class seat stolen by a Scotsman and then they have a whole different sort of layover. Seems fun and I do like a meet cute. Or a meet-loathe with chemistry. I’ll take either really *shrug*.
  10. Mr Nice Guy by Jennifer Miller & Jason Feifer. This is a he said/she said style written by a married couple about a guy sleeps with a sex columnist and discovers her column is about their disappointing encounter. He writes a rebuttal and the magazine publishes it and makes an arrangement between them – they’ll sleep together every week and each write about it.

I’m super excited about this list actually. But I am a good list-maker and then sometimes I end up going in a completely different direction. Hope you all have something to be excited about for your fall (or spring, for the Southern Hemisphere peeps) reads.

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Review: The Killing Of Louisa by Janet Lee

The Killing Of Louisa
Janet Lee
UQP Books
2018, 272p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

To lose one husband may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like murder.

Louisa Collins was hung in New South Wales in 1889. She was tried four times for the alleged murders of her two husbands. In three of those trials the juries could not agree that she was guilty. At her fourth trial the testimony of Louisa’s young daughter, May, contributed to Louisa’s conviction.

Intimately reimagined from Louisa’s perspective, with a story that just might fit the historical facts, this clever and compelling novel visits Louisa in her prison cell as she reflects on her life and the death and loss that have dictated her fate.

Will she confess? Or was an innocent woman brutally hanged?

For once, I’m kind of glad of my lack of historical knowledge. Because although I was kind of peripherally aware of this story before I picked up this book (only in the way that I knew it’d been the subject of a non-fiction book), I didn’t really know the full story. This is a fictionalised re-telling of the story of Louisa Collins, the last woman hanged in New South Wales, in 1889. Her story is perhaps not an unusual one, for most of her life. She was born into a family that were mostly poor, who moved around so that her father could work on properties and farms. A friendship with the son of her father’s boss when she was a teenager led to his mother, the lady of the house, securing her a job at a solicitor and his wife’s house in town, thereby separating them before any attachment should form. Louisa enjoyed her job cleaning and looking after the Missus, a woman bereaved. She was close to the Cook, close to the gardener and her life was disrupted when local butcher Charlie asked for her father’s permission to marry her. He was older, in his thirties to Louisa’s eighteen and she didn’t even know him. But in this time, it was not a woman’s choice for how she lived her life – and when her father granted permission, that was it.

For a time Louisa’s life went somewhat well – Charlie was quite successful, there were children, a home that she was able to make nice. But then came money issues, the losing of the business, many more children and all of a sudden it was many mouths to feed and not much money to do so. When Charles dies of a mysterious ailment, the marriage is all but over and it isn’t long until Louisa marries again, a man much younger than her. Their infant son dies and then so does Michael Collins, from yet another mysterious ailment that leads to Louisa’s arrest for his murder. She is tried four times – three times resulting in a hung jury before the fourth trial seems to finally grant the Crown the answer they want. She is sentenced to hang but Louisa never quite believes that it will happen, always believing she will be granted a reprieve.

For me, it was so telling that all of the key players were men. The judge, the lawyers, the jury, they were all men. A lot of the case seem to result on testimony from Louisa’s 10 year old daughter, about things that were mostly circumstantial. She wasn’t asked to speak herself and she was subjected to the indignity of having not only her ex-husband’s body exhumed but also that of her tiny infant son. She’s separated from her children (granted minimal access visits) and mostly spends her time attending yet another trial. After her guilty verdict, she’s separated from the rest of the prison population into isolation and is guarded at all times.

Louisa’s life is constantly shaped and defined by external factors. As a child, this is somewhat normal, we are all subject to the whims of our parents, who often have to move for work, etc. As a teenager she’s removed from her family to work, which assists her family but leaves her isolated and having to learn an entirely new role. No sooner does she find her footing there when she’s told she’ll be married and to a man she’s barely spoken to. From there her life is shaped by him, the decisions that he makes in which she has no input. She is tasked with caring for their growing brood of children and is frank about the times she escapes into social drinking, to be away from the tasks of cleaning, cooking and simply caring. Perhaps the only thing Louisa actually chooses to do for herself, is marry Michael Collins. And you can argue that she was manipulated into that too. She was not highly educated, she was tired and had been trapped in a marriage that wasn’t her choosing and wasn’t ever particularly happy, for many years. For a man such as Michael Collins, whose motives appear dubious even through the eyes of Louisa, she would’ve been easy pickings.

I really enjoyed the simple way in which this story was told – from Louisa’s perspective and very matter of fact. She seems resigned to the system, even as it betrays her and although she stays steadfast in her belief that she won’t actually be executed, due to the fact that she’s a woman, she seems to accept the inevitable with a stoicism. To be honest the last part of this is quite horrific and apparently mirrors the real life events and after reading so much about Louisa I actually felt quite connected to her and quite emotional about her fate. I spent quite a bit of time googling more about her after this and there’s a book that I’m definitely going to read that further explores the events.

Louisa Collins ended up with a band of women that fought for her right to live and protested the ways under which she was convicted. It would still be some time before women had more rights in Australian society but it seems that her treatment was the kickstart of something. And the end of hanging women in New South Wales at least.

9/10

Book #159 of 2018

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Review: Jinxed by Amy McCulloch

Jinxed (Jinxed #1)
Amy McCulloch
Simon & Schuster UK
2018, 323p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lacey Chu has big dreams of becoming a companioneer for MONCHA, the largest tech firm in North America and the company behind the  “baku” – a customisable smart pet that functions as a phone but makes the perfect companion too. When Lacey finds out she hasn’t been accepted into Profectus – the elite academy for cutting edge tech – it seems her dreams are over. Worst of all, rather than getting to choose one of the advanced bakus, she’s stuck with a rubbish insect one. 

Then, one night, Lacey comes across the remains of an advanced baku. Once it might’ve been in the shape of a cat but it’s now mangled and broken, no sign of electronic life behind its eyes. Days of work later and the baku opens its eyes. Lacey calls him Jinx – and Jinx opens up a world for her that she never even knew existed, including entry to the hallowed halls of Profecus. Slowly but surely, Jinx becomes more than just a baku to Lacey – he becomes her perfect companion. But what is Jinx, really? His abilities far surpass anything written into his code or built into his motherboard. He seems to be more than just a robotic pet. He seems … real.

I’m so excited to see a YA series centred around STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with a female protagonist. Lacey Chu has set very high goals for herself. In the future, where having a cell phone is the distant memory of grandparents, the game was changed with the ‘baku’, a smart pet that both acts as a companion and functions in the way that a smart phone would. Created by Monica Chan, she revolutionised not only personal technology but the way of life. She created entire cities where people live, are educated and work at her company. There are hospitals, shops, entire communities. Lacey lives in one of these and she’s just applied for a prestigious college where graduates are guaranteed a job with MONCHAN and Lacey wants to be a companioneer, one of the highest levels of employment working on the creation and fixing of the baku.

Lacey has quite a complex background (her father worked for MONCHAN but disappeared when she was a child) and when Lacey is rejected from the elite academy, she has no backup plan. Everything she wanted in life hinged on her getting a place there. Now that she’s not been accepted, instead of getting a level 3 baku (something like a dog or a cat) she’s stuck with a level one (a bug or a butterfly). Baku are social status markers, just like anything else. The higher you rise within the company/society, the more amazing your baku gets to be. And the lower you are on the totem pole, the more basic it is. Lacey was top of her school and she’s been tinkering with building and fixing things her whole life. She has the skills – and when she finds a strange baku, the likes of which she’s never seen before, although it’s badly damaged, she decides to fix it.

This book really mirrors the sorts of anxieties and stresses that teens face and amplifies them in a futuristic setting. Lacey is lucky that her mother has a job that allows them to live within the community but they are not high ranking. This leads to her being looked down on and often bullied by someone much higher up than she is, who is also perhaps not as smart as Lacey but seems to think they should just get everything they want because of who they are. Lacey has struggles with friendships – she has a best friend who has not applied for the same academy as Lacey and the two of them begin to drift apart when their lives diverge. It can be a really hard task to maintain friendships when you all move on to different things and become drawn into different circles. Perhaps most interestingly at all is the baku that Lacey discovers. When she painstakingly fixes it, she discovers that it’s not like other baku – it seems to be capable of independent thinking and movement, which a normal baku should not be. They should be responsive and obedient and although capable of communication with their owner, not independent thought. This leads both Lacey (and the baku, Jinx) to wonder who created it….and why. And how Lacey came to find it.

I did enjoy this a lot – I liked the world created and the idea of cities within cities was really interesting. Living and working closely cuts down on commute so there’s little traffic congestion. I really want to know more about Lacey’s father but it’s just the first book so there wasn’t a lot of information here. Her mother never talks of it and although he seems to be a well known figure (not sure if it’s for his work, the fact that he disappeared or both) there seems to be no way that Lacey so far, can find out what happened. I did feel that the story kind of lost its way around half to two thirds of the way through – it was getting bogged down in the baku battles (which I have to admit, weren’t the most interesting part of the book for me) but then it picked up quite a bit towards the end. The book changes direction and it becomes quite clear that there’s something very odd going on at MONCHAN and Lacey has stumbled right into the middle of it, inadvertently. So I’m definitely keen to read the next book in the series and find out what happens next, because the ending definitely leaves you hanging and wanting more.

7/10

Book #158 of 2018

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Review: Dangerous Echoes by Leisl Leighton

Dangerous Echoes (Echo Springs #1)
Leisl Leighton
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 143p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Blue lights in the red dust…Echo Springs on the edge of the outback – a town where everyone knows your name, and your business. But the wholesome country living and welcoming community aren’t what they used to be. Echo Springs has a dark underbelly, and it is seeping ever outward.

Brilliant forensic pathologist, Erika Hanson, fled from Echo Springs as a teenager, leaving behind a past of tragedy and pain. But when local police announce they’ve found her beloved brother’s body in a meth lab explosion, she knows she must return to clear Peter’s name and find out what really happened. Because Peter would never get involved with the drug tag sweeping across the small town of Australia and destroying lives.

Hartley Cooper has a past with Erika Hanson, but that’s not going to keep him from doing his job. He’s seen what grief can do, and denial is only the first step. But Erika is convinced that Peter can’t be involved, and her meticulous, professional skills start to convince Hartley as well. When Erika’s digging and questions get too personal, the town turns against them, Hartley knows Erika might run again. But this time he’s ready. And he’s not going to let her go.

Recently I received another bind up from Harlequin Australia, comprising of the first four novels in a new series, Echo Springs. All set in the same small town located in western New South Wales, this series revolves around a local police station and some of the regulars that come into contact with it. In this first book, forensic pathologist Erika Hanson returns to Echo Springs, something she never thought she’d do, answering an SOS from her brother Peter, who needs money. When she arrives she’s told by her teenage friend and now local police officer Hartley Cooper that Peter’s body has been found in a meth explosion.

Please be aware, the following two paragraphs contains some mild ***SPOILERS*** but I need to explain why I feel the way I do.

Erika is a woman who appreciates order and structure and she’s very sure of herself and her beliefs. There’s no way Peter would have undertaken to produce meth, even though he was a brilliant chemist. It’s not being considered a homicide and there’s currently no local pathologist so Erika takes it upon herself to autopsy her brother’s body. She doesn’t trust anyone else to get the answers she needs to discover why her brother would’ve gotten involved in such a thing and she’s certain that foul play is involved, despite Cooper’s insistence that it isn’t.

I’m not a forensic pathologist and I don’t claim to know anything about being one but I had a lot of difficulties with the way that this story went. Firstly, I don’t believe that anyone would be (or ever should be) allowed to perform an autopsy on their own brother’s dead body, no matter how calm and professional (and ‘unusual’) they are. Not when there are other options, and there are other options, they just require a wait. Also Erika is qualified in a different state and has no actual right to undertake this job but all it takes is one phone call to her boss in Melbourne to change everything. Why are there even rules then?  Especially considering she does the autopsy before she even gets permission, breaking into the hospital morgue (where she is for hours) to do it. I had serious issues with this – I don’t think it was okay at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if this sort of thing in real life would render any evidence void in a court case. This did not make me admire Erika’s dedication, it made me consider her reckless and careless of procedure, which seemed at odds with the way her character was written. It made it seem like the rules do not apply to her and that she can just do whatever she likes, running roughshod over local authority and going over their heads to her boss in Melbourne to get her own way. Also the cops are so determined to rule this an accidental explosion in the meth lab, they don’t even wait until the fire investigation officers complete their report. It takes them about three minutes to realise it’s not just an unfortunate side effect of cooking a dangerous drug and that actually, the fire was 100% deliberately lit. This is not at all a surprise to the reader.

End ***SPOILERS***

Apart from a lot of the procedural things that bothered me, I didn’t mind the way this story set up the series. There’s something going on in the town, that’s definitely going to play a role in future books and I do like the feel of the town. I’m interested in seeing some of the other characters in their own books, most notably two of the police officers. I do think that this book got a bit bogged down in the middle and that there was just a lot of explanations about things going on and the momentum stalled a bit but it picked up again by the end. It’s definitely not a large book so at times the pacing felt a bit uneven. As I mentioned, I didn’t warm to Erika, I felt that a lot was done to kind of get the reader to feel sorry for her and it was true that she’d experienced a lot of trauma and horrible treatment as a child which has definitely affected her deeply. It seemed important that she find her peace with Echo Springs and that chapter of her life and being summoned back by Peter, even though things did not turn out quite the way she expected, has given her the opportunity to do that and given her the chance to reconnect with Hartley.

Ultimately though, there were a lot of things in this that made me a bit uncomfortable when reading them so this was a mixed bag.

5/10

Book #157 of 2018

Alternative cover when purchased singly

 

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Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

The Clockmaker’s Daughter
Kate Morton
Allen & Unwin
2018, 592p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

What a book this was.

I’ve only read one Kate Morton book before although she’s one of Australia (and probably the world’s) most loved authors. Her books have sold millions of copies. I have two more of her books on my TBR shelf and the second I saw this one’s beautiful cover I knew I would have to read it. I dedicated a whole weekend to it – it’s a thick read, coming in at close to 600p. And every single one of those pages is beautifully written and serves the ambitious and sprawling story.

In the present day, Elodie Winslow is an archivist in London who discovers a leather satchel containing a framed photograph and a sketchbook. She is inexplicably drawn to both – the beautiful woman in the photo radiates beauty and life. The sketchbook contains pictures of a house Elodie finds very familiar to her although she’s sure she’s never been there. Elodie is a lovely character, struggling under the tasks of organising a wedding that seems to have little to do with her. It’s so easy for her to fall into looking into the photograph, the satchel and sketchbook, under the guise of it being her job but it becomes so much more than that for her.

This book contains a many different time periods and a large cast of characters but they all blend seamlessly together into one cohesive story. There are characters introduced that seem relatively unimportant but then later on things click together and what began several hundred pages ago with a chance meeting is suddenly the reason for something else or strengthens a connection between two previously unrelated characters. This is such a well constructed story, the sort where those 600p feel like nothing. I’m normally quite a fast reader but I found myself deliberately slowing down with this book, savouring every word and sentence. This is almost not just one story but many mini stories within a story, through generations, all of which are connected to the house, Birchwood Manor.

Birchwood Manor has such presence in the story, for all of those who come into contact with it. For Edward in 1862, it’s a place of refuge and inspiration, where he can complete his masterpiece with his muse and his other artistic friends can take advantage of the fantastic light and picturesque surroundings. For others it’s an idea of progressive change, a romantic honeymoon sighting, a port in a storm, a friend during a time in need. I love the mystical elements that were wound into the story in connection to the house and the sort of ‘guardian’ that watched over the house and its occupants throughout the years. I ended up feeling such a connection to the keeper of the house and was so invested in what had happened to them, which takes quite a long time to be revealed but this isn’t a negative thing because Morton paces it so well and builds the atmosphere and tension so admirably. Each time we slipped into a different decade or time period, I would be immediately swept up with new characters and a new situation just as fervently as I was with the previous ones. Each different incarnation of the house is so fascinating that I never felt that reluctance or regret I sometimes feel in time slip novels when the narrative switches.

These are the most difficult reviews to write, when you love a book so much. It’s hard to find the right words. But everything about this book is a masterpiece. I am so impressed by just how much there was woven into it, how many threads and characters that all came together in so many different ways to create this story as a whole. There are sad elements, for children abandoned or lost and exploited, there are romantic elements for unlikely artistic connections, there are some spooky elements as well as mystery, mayhem and murder! There’s honestly something for everyone in this book and the atmosphere evoked is like nothing I think I’ve ever read before. This was an immersive reading experience with such beautiful writing that it’s something I wish I could immediately start over and read again. It’s the sort of book where you message people midway through to gush about how incredible it is. I cannot recommend this one enough – I want to see what everyone I know thinks of it!

10/10

Book #156 of 2018

Kate Morton. Photo credit – Davin Patterson

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is out now from Allen & Unwin RRP$32.99

 

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 11th September

Welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, TTT now has a new home with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. There’s a different book-related topic every week and this week it’s……

Top 10 Hidden Gems!

Quite a lot of my hidden gems are probably going to be Australian, which don’t always get a look in overseas due to publishing complications and stuff like that. I went through my rated 5 stars on GR shelf and picked out a few that I thought didn’t have as many ratings or reviews as they deserved.

  1. Dark Horse by Honey Brown. Honey Brown is an Australian author who writes amazing dark suspense thrillers usually set somewhere remote. This one is one of my favourites but to be honest all her books are fabulous. The pacing is awesome and there’s always an unexpected twist or two to really shake things up at the end.
  2. The Revivalist Series by Rachel Caine. I thought this series was so much fun – dark and a bit grim but with some humour and a pretty interesting romance. It doesn’t get as much attention as a lot of Caine’s other work. It’s a trilogy and they’re quick but well written reads.
  3. Hate Is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub. Sarah is an author and journalist with Lebanese family background and in her debut YA novel she explores that in a modern context with this book set in Sydney. I absolutely adored this story, these characters have stayed with me for years and I still think about them.
  4. The Madame Espionage Series by Carol K. Carr. I think this Victorian-set series featuring a former prostitute and now brothel owner India Black was severely underrated and I’m so sorry it never got to play out as long as it should and give readers some closure. There are four books I think, and a few novellas and they centre around the unlikeliness of India being pulled into espionage work for the Prime Minister and her relationship of sorts with French, the enigmatic spy who attempts to ‘handle her’ as such, but India cannot really be handled. There was so much interesting stuff about to happen with French but sadly, the publisher declined to publish any more and now I’ll never know.
  5. The Lexi Graves Mysteries by Camilla Chafer. I discovered this series quite back accident on iBooks and it remains one of my happiness discoveries. There’s at least a dozen volumes now (I think there were 8 or so when I first found it) and although these are over the top and a bit silly, they’re just so fun to read that I don’t care. They’re just perfect for when you actually want something relatively formulaic in that you know there’ll be a mystery, Lexi will nearly be killed at least once but everything will all be okay in the end. I like her dynamic with Soloman. It all just works for me.
  6. See You In September by Charity Norman. This is such an interesting novel surrounding the dynamics of a modern day cult and how someone could be drawn into something like that on the other side of the world. It also really focuses on the family of a person who falls victim to this sort of lifestyle and how that impacts on them. It’s brilliant and I really really loved it.
  7. The Nichelle Clarke Crime Series by LynDee Walker. Another random discovery on iBooks. Nichelle Clarke is a crime reporter for a Richmond Virginia newspaper and she’s forever stumbling into -situations-. I love that Nichelle is amazing at her job and has such good instincts and dedication. And there’s Joey, a mysterious, probably-high-up-in-the-mob type who turns up with information or a warning.
  8. The Art Of Friendship by Lisa Ireland. Lisa is such an amazing Australian author and her last two books (this one is her most recent, the one before it is The Shape Of Us) have been incredible, really stepping it up and exploring issues affecting adults. This one looks at friendship and how we might cling to those teenage and childhood friendships for the sake of consistency and the familiar even after we might long have outgrown each other.
  9. In At The Deep End by Penelope Janu. Penelope is another Australian and her books make me feel like she’s writing specifically for me! You know when you find an author and everything in their books just kinda ticks your boxes? I feel that way about Penelope’s writing and characters and this one even has Antarctica in it, which is one of my obsessions.
  10. The Medoran Chronicles by Lynette Noni. These are quite popular in Australia – it’s a young adult fantasy series set in a parallel world. The first book was good but for me, the next three books have really done a lot to just build on the world that Noni has created and develop the storyline into something really impressive. There’s just one book left to go (released in Jan 2019 I think) and it’s equal parts anticipation and terror because I think there’s going to be some real heartbreak. I’d love to see these become even more popular and gain a broader audience.

This was a really fun topic to think of recommendations for and I can’t wait to hopefully discover some hidden gems to add to my TBR after checking out all the other lists!

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Review: The Wolf Hour by Sarah Myles

The Wolf Hour 
Sarah Myles
Allen & Unwin
2018, 337p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A searing contemporary thriller about an Australian family in crisis against the backdrop of war-torn Africa.

Thirty-year-old Tessa Lowell has a PhD in psychology and is working in Uganda to research the effects of PTSD and war on child soldiers. She joins a delegation travelling across the Congolese border, deep into the African bush, for peace talks with Joseph Kony, notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. 

At the camp Tessa meets thirteen-year-old Francis, already an experienced soldier and survivor of shocking violence. The talks stall, and the camp is attacked by other rebels who take Tessa. Isolated in an increasingly volatile situation, she tries to form a bond with Francis.

In Melbourne, Tessa’s parents are notified of the kidnapping, but learn there is little that government agencies can do. Desperate, they contact their son Stephen, an astute if manipulative businessman based in Cape Town. He agrees to search for his sister but has other reasons to contact the rebel forces.

As Tessa’s time runs out, her family begins to fracture. Her parents arrive in Uganda to hear awful news about what she has endured. They also learn the devastating truth about the kind of man their son has become. Only they have the power to stop a terrible injustice. But at what cost to their family?

I knew that I had to read this as soon as soon as I read the description. I absolutely love books set anywhere in Africa and I’m pretty certain I’d never read one set in Uganda before. I was really interested to get a glimpse into that country and this had the promise of potentially being quite a frightening read, given the main character is kidnapped by rebels.

Tessa Lowell is 30, from Melbourne and she’s in Uganda researching the effects of PTSD on child soldiers kidnapped and turned into soldiers. Everyone hears about how rebel groups sweep through villages, taking all the available male children, raping and killing the women and then burning what’s left behind. These children are indoctrinated into killing at heartbreakingly young ages, given machetes and machine guns and are taught to dehumanise others. For Tessa, the interest for her is in how they cope in the aftermath. She’s working in a refuge centre observing children who have escaped this life and how it impacts their emotional wellbeing. She’s confused that some seem to cope better than others and she’s trying to find a reason why.

I wasn’t sure what to think of Tessa’s decision to insert herself into the group going to meet for peace talks with Joseph Kony, because it seemed incredibly foolish. She’s told that her safety cannot be guaranteed, that she’s both white and a woman and this is incredibly dangerous but she’s determined to go anyway. When she strikes up a conversation with a young rebel named Francis, she mentions that she’s a doctor – she has a PhD, she’s not a medical doctor but Francis doesn’t know the difference and Tessa finds herself kidnapped and taken to a rebel camp and ordered to treat a man dying of gunshot wounds.

Back in Melbourne are Tessa’s parents, Neil and Leigh, who are devastated and terrified to learn of their daughter’s kidnapping. So far no demands have been made so there can be no negotiations and they don’t even know where she is. So they call on their son Stephen, living in South Africa and running a business that seems dubious at best, begging him to do what it takes to get Tessa back. This will open up their eyes to what their son is really doing over there.

I felt for Neil and Leigh. I think it’s very hard to be a world away from your children, be they grown and living their own lives, especially when they are living and working in places where there are different sorts of dangers to the ones familiar at home. Australia is a long way from anywhere and early investigation is crucial so they beg Stephen to go to Uganda and try and find Tessa, knowing that it’s going to take them probably two days to get there. I found their struggle to accept what Stephen was doing very realistic and the questioning that Leigh in particular did, was very well done. There was a lot of that internal debate, was this their fault? Had they contributed to this being the path that Stephen had decided to take? Was there something in his character that they’d fostered or nurtured? That sort of parental struggle was also handled in different ways – Neil’s at first reluctance and then complete capitulation into fury versus Leigh’s emotional look for answers. They had a lot to deal with in a very short time with both their children and it places real strain on their marriage.

It’s hard for me to imagine children being swept up in this sort of world. My oldest son is 10 and my younger son will turn 7 next week. They are probably right at the age that kids are taken and it’s heartbreaking. They are exposed to such horrifying violence and will also commit it themselves and I understand Tessa’s desire to study the after effects of such a life. It’s not easy to imagine people who have been soldiers in an army from such a young age just settling back into village life again and that’s made quite clear at the end of the book. I wanted to read a little more about Tessa’s work, see what she was coming up with and what she might be working towards in the future.

This book was not really the type of read that I expected – I thought the kidnapping might actually take up a greater portion of the story but it’s a relatively small part to be honest. There’s a lot of focus on family relationships and the connections that bind people together through blood even though they might not be connecting in other ways. Tessa and Stephen seemed to have a very fractious sibling relationship – periods of camaraderie but also antagonism. Most of that appeared to be Stephen, who wasn’t a particularly enjoyable character to read. He seemed to have quite a large sense of entitlement and was willing to exploit what he could in order to get himself ahead in terms of money and wealth. Tessa is almost the opposite, wanting to help these communities heal from the ravages of war and destruction. I also felt that I was left with more questions than answers at the end, so I’m not sure if that was intentional (because life is messy and full of answered questions) or perhaps this will be addressed in a further book.

I found that this was a really fast, engrossing read – it took me no time at all to tear through it and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a thoughtful exploration of family strain during a difficult time, of secrets coming to light and a place far removed from what I’m used to. I enjoyed the insight.

8/10

Book #155 of 2018

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Review: Kiss The Girl by Tara Sivec

Kiss The Girl (The Naughty Princess Club #3)
Tara Sivec
Swerve (St Martin’s Press)
2018, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A struggling antiques collector finds herself falling in love with a millionaire playboy; but can she ever be a part of his world?

Meet the Naughty Princess Club, a series from USA Today bestselling author Tara Sivec that brings readers to Fairytale Lane and the hilarity—and romance—that three women fall into once they decide to strut their stuff and bring on their own happily ever after.

While her friends have broken free of their insecurities, Ariel Waters is struggling to come out of her shell. Her ex-husband took away her voice and her self-confidence, and Ariel is drowning under a sea of debt to afford the alimony she has to pay him. She refuses to ever fall for a man’s charms again, and is determined to make her own way.

When her house and her beloved antiques are taken by the bank after too many missed payments, Ariel finds herself adrift until the infuriatingly charming Eric Sailor comes to her rescue. Although she can’t stand the millionaire playboy, Eric’s kindness and unconditional support reveal hidden depths and a love that Ariel never imagined she could find.

But there are outside influences who will stop at nothing to keep them apart; can Ariel and Eric weather the storm and find a way to be together?

This is the third and final novel in the Naughty Princess series and I absolutely loved the first two so I was really looking forward to this one, especially as we’d seen glimpses of Ariel and Eric’s dynamic throughout the other two books. Eric had made plain his interest and Ariel had made equally plain that she didn’t want anything to do with the playboy so it was always going to be full of sparks.

The previous books have detailed some of Ariel’s struggles but she hits rock bottom at the opening of this novel, as sheriffs move in to take her house because she’s behind on her mortgage payments, crippled by the alimony she has to pay her ex-husband. Forced to leave her beloved antiques behind, Ariel is thrown a lifeline by the one person she doesn’t want to be indebted to – Eric Sailor, part owner with PJ in the strip club. Both Cindy and Belle have danced at the club and are now booking parties through the Naughty Princess Club but Ariel, despite being the most outwardly confident of them all, has yet to take that step. She claims to be holding back to let them find their groove but it’s clear that there’s a lot more to Ariel’s story.

In previous books I had wavered in liking Ariel – she’s funny and very straightforward, often brusque and sometimes quite rude. In this book, her own story, she’s even worse, dialled right up and unfortunately I found her a bit difficult to read at times. She’s always swearing, which is fine, I swear a lot but I don’t construct whole paragraphs out of just swear words, some of which don’t even really make sense when put together. A lot of Ariel’s speeches are angry speeches and her swearing and I have to admit, it got quite wearying.

I’ve long wondered about Ariel’s marriage, which has only been vaguely referenced prior to this. Finally the answers are given and it definitely wasn’t what I expected but definitely made a lot of Ariel’s hang ups kind of fall into place and make sense, such as the reason why she hasn’t danced yet. I really enjoyed the character of Eric and how supportive he was of Ariel (and how appreciative) but at times he just appeared almost too good to be true in a way. He doesn’t make any mistakes and to be honest, he’s pretty removed from the main conflict even though it’s about him in a way. I wasn’t a big fan of the main conflict, I don’t think it makes a huge amount of sense in the contemporary framing and everyone in this story is an adult and should be able to be given the chance to make their own decisions, rather than have them made for them. So that didn’t really work for me and seemed only thrown in because Eric, the way he was written, was never going to do anything in this story to create any conflict between him and Ariel directly.

For me, this wasn’t a strong finish to the series, which is unfortunate. I found the first two much funnier and also, much sexier in terms of the chemistry between the two characters. I had thought I’d enjoy Ariel and Eric’s banter and dance but it was kind of over before it started and they were loved up really quickly before the book moved into the conflict from an external source. So all in all, this was a mixed bag for me. The writing is still good and I enjoyed the Naughty Princess idea a lot but Eric and Ariel as a couple just didn’t really do it for me.

6/10

Book #154 of 2018

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Review: We Three Heroes by Lynette Noni

We Three Heroes (Medoran Chronicles #4.5)
Lynette Noni
Pantera Press
2018, 367p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“We all have to do our part if we’re to survive the coming storm.”

Alexandra Jennings might be the hero of The Medoran Chronicles, but she would be lost without her three closest friends. They are her heroes, and like all heroes, they each have their own story.

Meet the real D.C. in Crowns and Curses and discover how she becomes the princess Alex once despised but now adores.

Follow Jordan on his healing journey in Scars and Silence as he struggles in the wake of being rescued from his living nightmare.

Walk beside Bear in Hearts and Headstones as he faces an unspeakable trauma while helping his world prepare for the coming war.

D.C., Jordan and Bear are the heroes of their own stories.

It is time for their stories to be told.

So while we wait for the final Medoran Chronicles book Vardaesia, coming in January 2019, this book helps both fill the gap in terms of time spent waiting and also in bits and pieces of the story. This isn’t about Alex – in fact she rarely appears and only really peripherally. It’s about her three friends, DC, Jordan and Bear and it’s their chance to tell their stories.

In the first story, we explore DC’s background and why she was the way she was when Alex turned up at Akarnae. It goes deep into her childhood as the Princess and showcases her loneliness and isolation and the betrayal from the one time she opened herself up to someone. DC learns some sharp lessons in this story, not just how to be a Princess, how to stand up for herself but also how to let go of the past and open herself up to the possibility of friendships. She’s now such a part of that tight knit set that it’s almost difficult to remember when she wasn’t but this short story really explores the vulnerabilities in her personality beneath the tough exterior that she cultivated when she enrolled at the school. Her relationship with her parents is supportive, loving and understanding and her parents are the rulers that DC aspires to be. I feel as though this did give so much more insight and understanding to DC’s character – her strengths and also her weaknesses.

The second story focuses on Jordan and his struggle to heal after what happened to him. He gets some assistance from an unexpected person and I really enjoyed the way that this was able to actually help Jordan focus on the why of what he did and how he could move forward from that without blaming himself any longer, without feeling that awful guilt. Unlike DC, Jordan does not have supportive and loving parents and they’re a big part of what has shaped him into the person that he is. He’s been adopted almost, by Bear’s parents, choosing to spend more time with them than he does with his own family because he doesn’t share their values and the way they are makes it difficult for him to be around them. Jordan has built his own family and they’re all there to support him after the terrible, horrible thing that happens to him. It’s not easy for Jordan to be able to speak about things that have occurred and I feel as though this was dealt with so accurately in terms of someone experiencing a trauma.

The final story is about Bear of course and this was a really interesting one. It definitely went in directions that I didn’t expect and maybe hadn’t considered before (and perhaps I need to go back and reread and see what I might’ve missed or what didn’t occur to me) but I really liked it. It seemed….right. I adore Bear’s family, they’ve opened their hearts and home to all of his friends – Jordan, needing a stable and loving environment and a refuge and Alex, who is so far away from her home and her own parents in the first book (and her parents aren’t exactly what you might call responsible and reliable anyway). So this was also quite heartbreaking and out of the three, is probably the one that triggered the most response in me. I really do like Bear as a character, he’s probably my favourite of the three. And of the three I feel like he probably has the most to deal with still ahead of him.

This was a perfect way to get to know some of the ‘sidekick’ characters a little better without relying on Alex’s point of view. All of them are definitely worthy of their own stories being told and they still have vital roles to play. This has made me even more hyped for the final novel, although there’s that apprehension and sadness too because it’s the final one. But this book gives Noni a chance to focus on the events that shaped these characters, that made them who they are and also on the aftermath of things that have happened to them, which the books revolving around Alex just don’t get time to focus on. All three of them are such important friends to Alex, they’re always there for her and always back her no matter what and this gives a different look at how those friendships formed and what they mean to each of these three as well, not just Alex.

Although these are fantasy novels, the issues tackled here are so applicable to the real world – bullying, loss, suicide, family struggles. There are so many people that will read this and recognise their own battles, their own troubles just framed in a different setting. They are all dealt with so admirably and this is the perfect mix of exploring those deep emotional issues but also throwing in exciting plot as well.

8/10

Book #153 of 2018

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