All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

Dark Rise (Dark Rise #1)
C.S. Pacat
Allen & Unwin
2021, 464p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The ancient world of magic is no more. Its heroes are dead, its halls are ruins, and its great battles between Light and Dark are forgotten. Only the Stewards remember, and they keep their centuries-long vigil, sworn to protect humanity if the Dark King ever returns.

Sixteen-year-old dock boy Will is on the run, pursued by the men who killed his mother. When an old servant tells him of his destiny to fight beside the Stewards, Will is ushered into a world of magic, where he must train to play a vital role in the oncoming battle against the Dark.

As London is threatened by the Dark King’s return, the reborn heroes and villains of a long-forgotten war begin to draw battle lines. But as the young descendants of Light and Dark step into their destined roles, old allegiances, old enmities and old flames are awakened. Will must stand with the last heroes of the Light to prevent the fate that destroyed their world from returning to destroy his own.

I was very excited when I saw this book was coming out because I really loved the Captive Prince trilogy – much more than I anticipated when I picked up the first book. I found it really addictive and the story of Damianos and Laurent so compelling and the backdrop of political intrigue and war was so well done. For fans of that series, I think you are really going to enjoy this one.

The setting is a little more familiar to readers, being London although in the 1800s. It’s a world where magic once was but is no longer, for the most part. There was a great battle previously, between a Dark King and the Lady – a very good vs evil type of battle but now, some of the players are about to rise again. Someone seeks to raise the Dark King and are looking to completely exterminate anyone who has the blood of the Lady.

Will is a teenager who remembers spending years on the run with his mother. He is told to seek out an order who will protect him and it isn’t just protection he finds but friendship and knowledge. Will is preparing for an epic fight, to be able to defeat those that seek to raise the Dark King – and possibly the Dark King himself, should they fail. It’s the sort of fight where they seem hopelessly outnumbered and there are twists and turns in the plot that flip everything you think you know upside down.

Anyone who has read Captive Prince knows that C.S. Pacat is a master of the slow burn and this looks to be no exception. This book contains mostly set up – introducing the reader to their key characters and planting some small seeds to build the anticipation and expectation for what we know will be coming and I am so here for it. I am a big fan of the slow burn, the building of intensity and feelings until the tension basically snaps. I can’t wait to see how things develop with this part of the story because it just has so much potential.

Will has spent so much of his time on the run that he basically hardly knows anything at the beginning of the book, only that he is running from people who want to kill him, the same people that killed his mother. So Will is on a journey of discovery and at the place of refuge, he basically learns about the battle that book place, the Dark vs Light and the plan to raise the Dark King again as the reader does. The world building is good in that it gives the reader time to settle into the timeframe and the parts of the world that are “regular” that C.S. Pacat has chosen before she infuses it with fantasy and magic and potential battles that could destroy humanity. I had a huge amount of interest in the time where the previous battle took place and I feel like there’s a lot of that time period which could still be explored in much more detail in future books. Particularly after the twist at the end of the book, which definitely isn’t entirely unexpected but still flips the main trope in this book on its head. This world could be so richly detailed and I’ve no doubt that it will be expanded upon and delved into, history wise in future books and I’m really looking forward to seeing that development – the development of everything because I know just how much things will evolve and move forward and it will be glorious. Inject this slow burn into my veins.

I also really enjoyed some of the other characters – not really going to say minor as one was a POV character and one is definitely going to evolve into main character status. A little word of advice though – don’t really get attached to anyone in this book. Things….happen.

An excellent start to the series and I am super keen for book 2.

9/10

Book #169 of 2021

Dark Rise is book #73 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

The Spanish Love Deception
Elena Armas
Self-published
2021, 487p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}: A wedding. A trip to Spain. The most infuriating man. And three days of pretending. Or in other words, a plan that will never work.

Catalina Martín, finally, not single. Her family is happy to announce that she will bring her American boyfriend to her sister’s wedding. Everyone is invited to come and witness the most magical event of the year.

That would certainly be tomorrow’s headline in the local newspaper of the small Spanish town I came from. Or the epitaph on my tombstone, seeing the turn my life had taken in the span of a phone call.

Four weeks wasn’t a lot of time to find someone willing to cross the Atlantic–from NYC and all the way to Spain–for a wedding. Let alone, someone eager to play along my charade. But that didn’t mean I was desperate enough to bring the 6’4 blue eyed pain in my ass standing before me.

Aaron Blackford. The man whose main occupation was making my blood boil had just offered himself to be my date. Right after inserting his nose in my business, calling me delusional, and calling himself my best option. See? Outrageous. Aggravating. Blood boiling. And much to my total despair, also right. Which left me with a surly and extra large dilemma in my hands. Was it worth the suffering to bring my colleague and bane of my existence as my fake boyfriend to my sister’s wedding? Or was I better off coming clean and facing the consequences of my panic induced lie?

Like my abuela would say, que dios nos pille confesados.

The Spanish Love Deception is an enemies-to-lovers, fake-dating romantic comedy. Perfect for those looking for a steamy slow-burn romance with the sweetest Happily Ever After. 

I’ve seen this around billed for fans of The Hating Game which is one of my favourite romances of all time. And from reading the blurb, this definitely sounded like something that has all the things I adore: an enemies to lovers, the fake dating trope, the grumpy/sunshine dynamic. It’s all there. And it’s pretty cheap – $4 on Amazon, I believe (Australian). So it seemed a good investment.

I did enjoy this but what I thought was going to be a 5-star read for me at first, did not pan out that way and there are a few reasons why….

Firstly – okay, The Hating Game thing. There are a lot of similarities. Like a lot. Both Josh and Aaron are physically similar. Big, intimidating men in terms of height and physique, well over 6 feet and muscly. They are similar in looks too, with both being dark haired and much made of their blue eyes. Catalina in this book, is small in stature, like Lucy in THG and there’s a lot of references to how big Aaron is and how small Catalina is. They work together and a misunderstanding right at the beginning where Lina makes a peace offering and Aaron reacts badly, leading to Lina feeling angry and rejected and disliking him, is also, very similar. There’s an offer of help and a fake date to a wedding. And Aaron is so painstakingly obviously head over heels in love with Lina, in the same way that Josh was in love with Lucy and had been from the very beginning. I dislike comparing books but these two have a lot of very, very similar things going on. And the further I got into the book, the more I kept noticing, more than I’ve listed here. Honestly, the similarities just went on and on and I started to get quite a bit uncomfortable with just how similar many aspects of the plot and descriptions, even the banter, etc, was.

Secondly, this is a hella slow burn and if that’s your jam, if you like things to draw out so long until it snaps…..I think I read a review which said no one even kisses here until like, the 300p mark. I read this on my kindle and I didn’t realise it was almost 500p when I started it but I did definitely notice from about the 50% on point that it was taking a long time to read and I read pretty quickly and this book should’ve been wrapping up at the point where things are finally starting to happen. For me, the tension went on just a bit too long and the whole ‘there was only one bed’ wasn’t taken advantage of in the way that it could/should have been. By the time it happened, the bubble had about burst and then the love scenes felt a bit cringey with some very over the top dialogue and then that dialogue continues throughout the rest of the story. It felt overdone, to be honest. The chemistry leading up to it was good, especially around the wedding…..but the actual breaking of the tension was a bit lacking, for me personally. If I could never read the sentence “or do you want me to claim it with my cock?” again, that would be excellent, thank you.

I don’t know how to rate this….. It’s one of those books where the more I think about it, the more I am wondering exactly what I’m rating it for. Am I rating it because it’s very similar to a book I’ve already read and loved and the aspects of this book that remind me of that book, are what I liked? I don’t know. I also loved Lina’s friend Rosie from work and how she keeps blatantly pointing out what she sees about Aaron (which Lina refuses to listen to, because Lina is dumb when it comes to that) and I’m quite interested in the fact that she’s getting her own book because I want to see if there’s something original in that. It’s difficult to ignore all the similarities this story has with a much-loved book, for me.

I think I need to stop thinking about this because the more I do think about it, the less I like it.

5/10

Book #161 of 2021

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Review: The Banksia House Breakout by James Roxburgh

The Banksia House Breakout
James Roxburgh
Ventura Press
2021, 315p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: When Ruth Morris is moved into Banksia House by her workaholic son Michael, she is eighty-one years young, mourning her loss of independence, and missing her best friend Gladys terribly.

So when she learns Gladys is dying a state over in Brisbane, Ruth is determined to say goodbye. Enlisting the help of her fellow residents, Ruth makes a daring departure from Banksia House alongside renowned escape-artist Keith, and her formidable new friend Beryl.

The journey from Sydney is far from straightforward, featuring grimy hotels, hitchhiking, and a mild case of grand theft. This unlikely trio finds themselves on the trip of a lifetime, where new connections blossom amidst the chaos. But the clock is ticking and Gladys awaits – will they make it across the border in time?

In this joyous and captivating read, debut author James Roxburgh delivers a heart-warming tale that will have you cheering for Ruth from beginning to end.

There’s definitely a trend towards books with older protagonists at the moment. This month alone I had 3 for review. I’ve not read a lot of books narrated by people of this age – Ruth is 81, a widow and has just been basically forced by her son Michael to sell her home of 50+ years and enter the Banksia House Retirement Home. She has a little bit of a rough time settling in and when she hears that her best friend of a lifetime is on borrowed time 12 hours north in Brisbane, Ruth is desperate to get to her to say goodbye. But with her son too busy with work and dismissive of her concerns, it’s up to Ruth to take matters into her own hands and what ensues is a crazy road trip north.

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this one is because I know that stretch of coast so well. I’ve lived in Sydney, Newcastle and Port Macquarie and we spent most holidays of my childhood, driving to the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast. The roads have improved over the years and it’s a much easier drive now than it was back when I was a child but it’s still gruelling, especially for people in their 80s, when there’s only one driver.

It’s a very…..incident packed road trip and I’ll admit that at times, I found it to be just…too many things happening in such a period of time. The humour wasn’t necessarily my sort of humour although there’ll be plenty of people that enjoy the hijinks the elderly people get up to. It namechecks some lovely places along the coast, such as Forster and Coffs Harbour (mentions to the Big Banana and Marine Conservation Centre) as well as places like Yamba and Byron Bay. There’s a bit of a detour out west inadvertently after a wrong turn at what has to be the biggest round-a-bout in the world (seriously, how did that happen, haha, there’s a huge difference between the road they should’ve taken and the one they did).

But where I think this book shines is the way it looks at agency and how it can be stripped from the elderly. Even in the cases where the reasoning behind it is not necessarily malicious and that the person who is granted Power of Attorney, etc, believes they are doing the right thing it can be incredibly limiting and crushing on. Particularly when the POA uses the excuse of protecting them from themselves, even when they’ve shown no indication that they might be deteriorating in mental ability to think for themselves.

This is what happens to Ruth. She does have a fall and so her son believes that the best thing to do is to sell her home in Ryde and put her in a nursing home where she can move through the levels of care as required. This is against what Ruth wants but Michael is far too busy and stressed about his own life to listen and her other son lives overseas and is happy to go along with what Michael has suggested. Not only is he oblivious or uninterested in how Ruth feels about moving and how much she misses the idea of her house, he’s not happy to facilitate her going to see her oldest friend when she learns that he’s dying and then he deliberately obstructs her when Ruth takes matters into her own hands.

I think the thing that concerned me was that someone like Ruth, should be allowed to come and go as she pleased. She’s still physically and mentally healthy – the idea of her “running away/escaping” from the nursing home seemed wrong somehow. She should’ve been allowed to go out any time she liked, not kept locked inside. I didn’t realise she was in an area that specified such a high level of restriction, considering her health. What would’ve been more suitable for her would’ve been an independent living apartment or something, where she could’ve moved into the nursing home later when she was perhaps not so mobile and required more assistance. But this was another thing Michael seemed unwilling to consider, wanting to wash his hands of anything. He’d “done the right thing” by placing her somewhere to be looked after, ignoring the fact that this was not what Ruth wanted. And when she tries to explain things to him, he is uninterested and frustrated with her lack of just….doing what he tells her. Both my parents have filled POA roles for their own parents and it’s made me realise what an important role it is and how it can be abused, both blatantly and deliberately as well as inadvertently as well. In particular, Michael’s opinion on what POA meant about Ruth’s money, was very wrong to me.

Although most of the action actually takes place away from the nursing home, this book also includes the staffing issues and also how elderly people can be vulnerable even within a place that should be safe to them. There’s been a lot about nursing home care lately, especially with the Royal Commission into Aged Care and the impact that the corona outbreak had on the community also. The decision for a family member to go into one wouldn’t be easy and there’s a lot to consider with unfortunately, cost being one of the biggest determining factors. These days, many aged care homes are run for profit as businesses, leading to the inadequate staff to patient ratios and sometimes indifferent care. It’s also a low paying industry as well with a high turnover of staff.

I enjoyed this – a lot of humour on the surface but there’s a lot of serious undertones that I feel could provoke many conversations about how family members can and should be cared for in their older years and how we might be able to do better.

7/10

Book #162 of 2021

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Review: David Attenborough: The Early Years (Audiobook) by David Attenborough

David Attenborough: The Early Years Collection
David Attenborough
Narrated by David Attenborough
2017, 10hrs 9min
Purchased personal copy via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher}: David Attenborough, Britain’s voice of natural history, narrates his early adventures in Indonesia, New Guinea and Northern Australia. 

David Attenborough first appeared in front of a television camera in the 1950s when, together with London Zoo’s Curator of Reptiles, Jack Lester, he persuaded the BBC to mount and film an animal-collecting expedition. The result was Zoo Quest. Specially recorded for audio, David Attenborough’s early adventures are sometimes life-threatening, often hilarious and always totally absorbing. The warmth and enthusiasm that have made him a broadcasting legend are instantly apparent here as he recounts this magical journey. 

This collection includes three volumes from Attenborough’s chronicles of his early expeditions: 

In Zoo Quest for a Dragon, Attenborough tells of the crew’s hazardous boat trip with a gun-smuggling captain and the terror of erupting volcanoes. He also depicts for the listener some of the incredible sights he and his team witnessed – breathtaking butterflies, taking tea with Charlie the orangutan and the voyage to the little-known island of Komodo to capture the elusive Komodo dragon. 

Quest in Paradise describes his next animal collecting and filming trip to New Guinea, home of the exotic birds of paradise. David tells of his adventures during the trip: being an onlooker at a formal lovemaking ceremony, seeing the skills of ritual ax making, trying to master pidgin English and witnessing a ‘sing sing’ at which hundreds of tribesmen came together from all parts of the country. 

In Quest Under Capricorn, David Attenborough ventures to the Northern Territory of Australia. In his first expedition to the other side of the world, he meets Aborigines, goes walkabout in the bush, and learns the craft of the artists of Arnhem Land. 

Also included is David Attenborough in His Own Words, a collection of interviews taken from the BBC radio and TV archives. 

I feel like when I can’t decide what to listen to on audio and my credits are piling up – when in doubt, just go with a David Attenborough. He narrates all his books and I just find him so incredibly soothing to listen to. His voice has long been a huge part of the reason I find his documentaries so engaging and listening on audio without the images of what he’s talking about holds my attention just as well.

This is an account of some of Attenborough’s earliest expeditions – the first one was to Africa and isn’t covered here so I feel it probably is elsewhere and I’ll have to look for that one. It was a roaring success and enabled Attenborough to convince his employers at The BBC to fund another expedition, this time to Indonesia in search of the Komodo dragon. Because it’s also the 1950s, expeditions like this were how zoos got their exhibits and Attenborough and his crew are also charged with the capture of species to bring them back. Obviously this is not the done way anymore (and this is acknowledged in the recordings) but it does make for very interesting stories when Attenborough recounts things like being given a days old baby bear and having to teach it how to feed. Not long later, someone brings them a young orang-utan and Attenborough spends a lot of time with it as well. In further travels to New Guinea, someone gives him a blue-eyed sulphur-crested cockatoo which he becomes so fond of that despite the fact London Zoo would desire it, Attenborough elects to keep it himself. The third journey talked about in this audiobook is to the Northern Territory in Australia, to visit and film the wildlife of Kakadu.

Although this was recorded in 2017, Attenborough has chosen to read them as he originally wrote them, in the 1950s and early 60s. Because of that, there are probably a few terms or descriptions used that aren’t common now but what struck me was how much Attenborough’s attitude to native peoples was so well established that long ago and how he was thinking then, are the ways people are thinking now. This is particularly true in the Australia expedition where he talks about how white Australians have tried to tame the Northern Territory, trying to farm it or plant it and how they’ve largely failed and the only people who can live in this arid expanse without assistance, are our native Indigenous Australians and how they worship and respect the land, which was probably not an overly popular opinion. I also did not know that during this time, there was a very large population of introduced buffalo in the Northern Territory which have now been removed due to the damage they were wreaking on the land. Attenborough and his crew, a cameraman and sound recorder, undertook several expeditions to attempt to film them.

I have never seen some of these earliest documentaries – actually I’ve no idea if they’re still on rotation or if the footage is available anywhere to watch but I would love to see the shows produced from all three of these expeditions, having listened to this book I’d love to see what I just heard described in such vivid and wonderful detail. So now that is my next mission, to see if I can watch the footage from these trips and then after that, I plan to listen to all of Attenborough’s audiobooks in chronological order.

As well as the three books narrated here, there’s a collection of small snippets in the end of “Attenborough in his own words” taken from interviews over the years, including with Michael Parkinson and others and these are also well worth a listen. Attenborough is such an incredibly interesting person, the things he’s done in his life are incredible to hear about and he has such a natural gift for imparting knowledge in his stories. Picking his brain must be an amazing experience. He also does a very passable Australian accent, which many people cannot achieve.

Very enjoyable. But I feel as though anything from David Attenborough is a guaranteed good read/listen/watch.

8/10

Book #158 of 2021

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Review: Where The Road Leads Us by Robin Reul

Where The Road Leads Us
Robin Ruel
Sourcebooks Fire
2021, 253p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Jack is on the verge for leaving for college, but before he does, he wants to track down his estranged brother, Alex and find some closure in the wake of their father’s death. Meanwhile, Hallie has just found out some upsetting news about a friend in Oregon, and she has a small window to go see him before it’s too late.

Jack and Hallie are practically strangers. They shared a class together years ago and haven’t seen each other since, though they have more in common than they’d ever imagine. And when fate puts them into the same rideshare to the bus terminal, it kicks off an unconventional and hilarious adventure that may lead them to their own true selves…and maybe to each other.

I love a good road trip book and this caught my eye because I quite liked the cover. It wasn’t exactly as I expected but it ended up being a quick and easy read that passed the time.

Jack is graduating from high school and it’s also his 18th birthday but he wakes alone, his family fractured and elsewhere. Then his girlfriend breaks up with him, stating that it’s better to have a clean break now than fall prey to the statistics of long distance relationships. It gets to be too much for Jack and all of a sudden the thoughts are crowding his brain about whether or not the future mapped out for him (paid summer internship in New York followed by enrolment at Columbia University) is really what he wants. He decides to track down his brother Alex, whom he hasn’t seen in years and see if he can at least try and repair something there, before leaving California.

Hallie and Jack had a creative writing class a few years ago before Hallie left school due to illness. Due to some circumstances, they end up at the bus station together and then on a wild ride to track down Jack’s brother in San Francisco after Hallie’s attempts to get to Oregon to visit a person she connected with online, someone who understood what she’d been going through because they were too, fell through in the saddest of ways. They spend only about 24 hours together but it’s a powerful time, both of them sharing things with each other and building something. But Hallie is reluctant to exchange contact details – she has some problems that she needs to get through first and she’s a “if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen” type of person. She’s willing to leave it up to fate if they cross paths again.

I originally thought this might be a road trip book where they went to Oregon to see Hallie’s friend. But instead they end up travelling from LA to San Francisco with a ride share driver and it’s a fun adventure with their car getting stolen, some dog napping, an attempt at stopping a wedding and Jack trying to find the brother he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years. The last time he saw Alex, he was in a very bad way and Jack’s family has kind of disintegrated since then. Jack is really struggling – his mother is off on a book tour, as she’s a successful self-help author, missing not only his high school graduation but also his birthday. His father died relatively recently and that is definitely something that Jack has not dealt with and he’s still obviously experiencing a lot of grief. He’s confused about his future and just who it’s really for – is he doing it because it’s what people want or expect of him? What about what he wants? And then there’s Alex and discovering that his parents have known where Alex is, despite what they told him.

There’s a lot of quite heavy stuff in here and it’s sort of balanced out by fun things that happen when they’re driving but this book is definitely tackling quite a lot of serious topics: cancer, death of a family member, drug addiction, parental distance and almost abandonment, death of a friend, mortality, end of a relationship, it’s pretty much all here. It isn’t a long book but there certainly is a lot of story in it.

The narrative switches between Jack and Hallie, giving you insight into their background and how they’re arrived at the places they are today as well as exploring the present and their impromptu road trip together. I enjoyed their interactions and how the fact that they didn’t really know each other that well (but obviously remembered sharing a class together) allowed them to be free with each other, to tell each other things without embarrassment or reluctance, I guess. Jack is supposed to be going to Columbia after the summer and doing the internship in New York before that so for the most part, they do think that they’re unlikely to see each other again after this although they arrange to meet again in six months time at a specific place the went to, just to see if it’s meant to be, which was an idea I really liked.

For the most part, I enjoyed this even if I did feel at times that the narrative felt a little crowded, which for me meant that a lot of things were not really explored in a way that felt adequate. Even Jack’s conversation with his mother toward the end of the book felt like it left a lot to be desired and I understand that this is not the sort of book that is going to have a nice neat ending but there still felt like so much was unsaid and ignored. Like Jack’s mother’s actions in leaving him alone at that time in his life, her opinions on what he wanted for his future. I also didn’t love the way the interaction with Alex went, although maybe it felt realistic of someone who had been removed from a family – still it felt like Alex was kind of bottling out on something.

This was a quick read and even though it was heavy, it still felt easy to sink into. The humour in it wasn’t particularly my sort of humour but it did help the overall feel of the book to lift the mood at times and prevent the reader from getting too weighed down by a lot of the topics.

I only read this yesterday but already I’m struggling to really remember how I felt about things that happened. Perhaps it just inundated me with so many things that I couldn’t really connect to them because there were so many. I enjoyed it as a read but I don’t feel it’s a book that will stick with me.

6/10

Book #154 of 2021

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Top 10 Tuesday 21st September

Hi everyone and welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday is now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl and features a different book or literature themed topic each week. This week we are talking:

Books On My Fall Spring TBR List

It’s finally spring here in Australia! Actually it’s technically been spring here for 3 weeks as we change seasons on the first, and we have already had a couple of glorious days here in Melbourne (as well as some that remind us winter isn’t quite done with us yet).

Before I start with this new list, I always like to take a look at my previous seasonal TBR and look at how many I read from that – this time I only read 5. So not the best strike rate – some of the books I am waiting for at my local library, which has been closed for returns while we’re in lockdown, so if you’re in line for a book someone has checked out, you won’t be getting it until the library reopens and everyone can return their books. Others I intended to buy and just didn’t get around it it because bookshops aren’t open and I need to make sure I get the correct edition that matches my others in a series and not any random one they send me!

Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

This is my next read and actually, by the time this post goes up I may have already finished it as I need to post a review of it on the 28th. I’m quite excited to read this – I loved C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince series, way more than I ever expected to when I first started reading it. This should be hopefully, just as addictive.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

One of my most anticipated books – the eBook is out but I’m waiting for the print, which for some reason is not available to me until October. But this sounds like something written exactly to my specifications so I really hope that I love this as much as it seems like I will.

The Eye Of The World by Robert Jordan

Okay, this one might be a little ambitious, given it’s what? 800+ pages? But I’d like to give it a go. When I was about 14/15 I got quite into epic fantasy, David Eddings and the like. My school library had this series, but every time I was browsing, I could never find book 1. It always seemed to be checked out. Then I forgot about it but now this is going to be a TV show and I’d like to read the book before I watch it. And maybe I’ll be able to rediscover my love of those epic chunky fat tomes.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

I saw someone talking about this series recently and I ended up getting the first one from my library (they have a delivery service at the moment, for books you request). I’m looking forward to this, it seems like something I’ll enjoy.

The Silence Of Scheherazade by Defne Suman

I saw this on instagram I think and the cover caught my eye immediately. I ordered it a couple days later and it’s definitely going into my spring TBR. It starts in 1905 in the city of Smyrna and follows the fates of four families. This looks stunning.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

This is my audiobook. I’ve heard really great things about how good the audio is of this one and picked it up recently to listen to over the next little while. I don’t listen to audiobooks very often but it’s something I’ve been trying to increase a little more – I have to pick them carefully though. I’m hoping this one holds my attention!

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

I’ve really enjoyed all of Sally Hepworth’s previous books and I love the sound of this one! It’s out next month – I don’t love this cover (it’s the Australian publisher’s cover) and prefer the American one though. I think it looks much better.

The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley

I love Susanna Kearsley’s books and it feels like a few years since I last read one! I just snagged a copy of this (thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks, via NetGalley) and it’s out in just under 2wks so I will definitely be getting to this one pretty soon. This is also connected to books I’ve previously read (a while ago now though!) so that should be fun!

The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Have heard some amazing things about this book and it’s also one I currently have checked out from my local library. Very keen to read a book depicting representation of Native Americans and their customs etc but in a contemporary setting, with a mystery. Hoping I love this!

Atomic Habits by James Clear

I’ve been growing my little collection of non-fiction recently and trying to read more of it and I’ve heard some really excellent things about this. I definitely have some good habits I want to build and some bad ones that I’d like to move away from! Quite interested to see if I find this helpful – as a rule, I’m not really much of a self-help book person but I’m curious about this.

And there we are!

10 of the books I am hoping to read this season…..let’s see how I do!

If you’ve read any of these (or would like to) please let me know in the comments.

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Thoughts On: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History
Donna Tartt
Penguin Books
1993 (originally 1992), 624p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher}: Truly deserving of the accolade ‘modern classic’, Donna Tartt’s novel is a remarkable achievement – compelling and elegant, dramatic and playful.

Under the influence of their charismatic Classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality, their lives are changed profoundly and for ever as they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

Where to begin?

I’m entirely convinced I’m one of the last people in the world to read this novel. During this lockdown, I’ve been watching a lot of Booktube and the Dark Academia vibe is quite popular there. A lot of people list this book as a definitive book for that whole inspiration and I ended up getting it through my library and being able to keep it for a long time because of the lockdown. I picked it up because I was looking for something to focus on before getting vaccinated (I don’t have needle phobia but I like to not think about it) and this definitely required my concentration but it’s a very absorbing story.

It’s narrated by Richard, who transfers from his college in California to Hampden University in Vermont. He’d taken Greek and discovered a bit of an affinity towards it but upon arriving at Hampden is told he won’t be able to take Greek as the professor there chooses only a few students and apparently has carte blanche to do pretty much what he likes. Richard becomes aware of the chosen students, who are quite well known around campus: the very scholarly Henry, Francis, the twins Charles and Camilla and also a man known as Bunny. It is Bunny that Richard ends up meeting first and he becomes drawn into this group and also, accepted into study under Julian, the enigmatic professor who will instruct them on all their classes.

You know very early on (the prologue tells you) that one of the students in this group will be murdered by the other five but it takes a very long time to get to the why. We get Richard’s point of view as he becomes involved with them and the strangeness of them. Richard is not wealthy but most of the others are from wealthy backgrounds or give off the impression of having access to money. Richard takes great pains to hide his background from them, his working class and disinterested parents who don’t understand his choosing to study the classics.

I really like books set during university, especially on campus and in residential halls and I honestly feel like there aren’t enough of them. I lived in a residential hall on campus for two years and it’s a really interesting time in life. There’s so much freedom, often for the first time but there’s still the protection of being part of the university and having in place, residential advisors who provide varying degrees of discipline and care. Richard lives in a dorm and so does one of the others from the group but the rest live off campus in various types of accomodation and take off for weekends at Francis’ aunt’s country house that she only uses in the summer or something. There’s a lot of drinking (so much drinking) and speaking to each other in Greek when they don’t want people to understand what they’re saying (kind of necessary if you’re covering up a murder) and very, very complex relationships between most of them.

I think a lot of people can relate to Richard wanting to fit in at this new university. He tries to dress the way that some of the others do, he tries to give off vibes of being wealthy but not talking about it. When everyone leaves for the winter, Richard needs to earn money so he needs to stay working but the residential halls close as they’re too expensive to heat. Instead of admitting his problem to anyone, he desperately tries to hide it. He doesn’t just want to fit in with them looks and study wise, keep up with them and their conversations, but he also wants to fit in with their group. He wants to be part of that close knit thing they have going on, to be invited to their houses and apartments and included in their jaunts to the country and confided in. He has a quite different relationship with all of them and in the end, Richard becomes a core part of this group but in ways where I often wondered if he realised that at any moment, he might be a potential fall guy.

Richard is often an unreliable narrator – he lies a lot to the group about himself and his background and admits that later on, the group often found him so enigmatic as to be intimidating, which for Richard, is something he cannot really imagine. It’s difficult to imagine he confides everything to the reader and he seems careful in the way he portrays the group as well. For example, the one that ends up dead is often very much portrayed as a villain, a user, a manipulator and the others as more sympathetic, in that this is their last and only option to protect themselves from someone who would seek to use something hanging over their heads, to destroy them.

Is this pretentious? Yes. They’re studying Greek and Latin and the classics. Is it a lot of drinking, drug taking, and wondering how on earth they actually complete their assignments? Also yes. But I found it so compelling! I really got sucked into the charisma of the characters and their weird friendship, the strange dynamics that were often at play, the idea of late nights and academic conversation. And of course, whether or not they’d get found out. The writing is slow and meandering and many people might not like that but it didn’t bother me in this story. I never felt like I was spending too much time in this story at all and even as long as this was, there was so much left unsaid and unanswered.

I really enjoyed this – and now I’m off to order a copy of The Goldfinch because I have to read more Donna Tartt.

8/10

Book #168 of 2021

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Review: The Last Bookshop In London by Madeline Martin

The Last Bookshop In London
Madeline Martin
HQ Fiction
2021, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Inspired by the true World War II history of the few bookshops to survive the Blitz, The Last Bookshop in London is a timeless story of wartime loss, love and the enduring power of literature.

August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and blackout curtains that she finds on her arrival were not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.

Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.

This was just so incredibly delightful.

I added it to a huge book buy on a whim, just based on the title. I do like historical fiction and I thought the idea of this revolving around a bookshop sounding interesting.

Grace Bennett comes to London to stay with her mother’s oldest friend, after her mother’s death and the discovery that her uncle now owns the home she lived in. He, his new wife and their children mean there’s no room for Grace now and so she and her best friend Viv leave their small town behind and move to London in order to find work. Grace doesn’t have a letter of recommendation, so her mother’s friend Mrs. Weatherford, kind of bullies a bookshop owner she knows, a Mr Evans, into giving Grace a position. Originally it’s supposed to just be for six months so that Grace can obtain a letter of recommendation from the owner and move on to another position. She’s not really a reader and the shop is a mess – dusty and unorganised. She doesn’t know much about selling books but she does know about keeping a tidy shop from working for her uncle, so she busies herself with that.

This is right on the brink of war and carries into the time of the Blitz, where bombs rained down on London every night. The author does well to capture not just the fear and the terror of such a thing, but also, the day to day exhaustion of it. Always having to run to bomb shelters, nights of disrupted and poor sleep, the routine of going through the blackouts and those that patrol to make sure no light can be seen. The somewhat mind numbing routine is broken up with instances of true devastation and the difficulty of picking up the pieces.

I loved all the characters in this – Grace and the way she comes to love books, the gruff Mr Evans and his reluctance to employ Grace and how their working relationship develops in the most wonderful ways, poor Mrs Weatherford and the horrible grief she experiences and how she picks herself up and keeps going. And Viv with all her good humour and desire to do something more. Although Grace knew Mrs Weatherford from her being friends with her mother, she only saw her sporadically. Mrs Weatherford was happy to open her home to not just the daughter of her oldest friend, but also that daughter’s friend as well. Having lived through the Great War, she is pessimistic about the future and starts gathering supplies well before the rationing is imposed.

It takes a little while for books to establish themselves in Grace’s life but when they do, she’s a devoted convert. She takes one she’s reading to a shelter with her during an air raid and after explaining what it’s about to some of the others in there, they ask her to read. After that, Grace reading becomes a regular thing as all the people in the shelter, which is quite a large one at a tube station, become invested in the story. Grace, always looking for ways in which to improve the bookshop she’s working in, also begins offering a story hour at the shop, where she’ll continue reading.

The way in which Grace and Mr Evans slowly form a friendship, was so beautiful to read. He’s an older man, quite set in his ways and he’s definitely not a big fan of some of her actions at first. His bookshop is away from the more trendy locations, those closer to the publishers and I don’t think Grace thinks too much of it at first. She even takes a little excursion to look at some other shops on the fancier streets and see how she might implement some changes. A chance encounter with a handsome customer leads to him recommending a book to her and although it’s perhaps a chance to share something with him that leads to Grace reading, she takes to it with enthusiasm. There’s a lot of classics referenced here, some of the more popular ones and it’d be quite easy to track down most of the books mentioned if you haven’t already read them, to read what Grace reads, particularly the ones she reads aloud. Eventually though, Mr Evans comes to see how much Grace has done for his shop (and for him) and the trial becomes permanent and they become very close.

This book was just the perfect read at the perfect time. I loved everything about it – the focus on the bookshop as the central location really worked for me and the ways in which businesses had to try and thrive during such a difficult time. Grace could’ve been caught up in ugly competition but she chose to go a different way when that opportunity arose and I really appreciated everything about this. The characters, the relationships, the portrayal of London during this time, it was one of the better books I’ve read that actually gave an impression what it must be like to live through these bombings. There are probably books just as good out there, I just haven’t read a lot that stay in London during this time.

Really loved this!

9/10

Book #160 of 2021

Book #27 of the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader

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Review: The Raffles Affair by Vicki Virtue

The Raffles Affair
Vicki Virtue
Penguin Random House
2021, 291p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The classic whodunnit gets a modern makeover.

Fresh from a gruelling three-month assignment in East Africa, beautiful former MI6 agent Victoria West arrives at Raffles Hotel in Singapore to attend her friend’s wedding. But Victoria’s plans for a relaxing break end abruptly with news the groom has been kidnapped. Warned not to contact the police, Victoria sets out to find him. But in this glamorous setting nothing is quite what it seems. 

As the deadline to pay the ransom draws near, events take a deadly turn. Victoria suspects murder. But which of the wedding guests did it? They all have a motive… and a talent for lying. With time fast running out, Victoria must untangle the web of domestic squabbles, red herrings and false alibis before it is too late.

I actually didn’t really read much about this before I opened it so I was expecting it to be a historical fiction until the main character was using an iPad in the opening line! It very much has a classic feel about it, very “well-to-do people living the high life in the colonies” type of feel.

It’s set in the Raffles Hotel Singapore and I strongly urge anyone who isn’t familiar with it to google it. It’s a very grand building and the home of the “Singapore Sling” which was created there at the Long Bar in 1915. The hotel is also quite famous for the artistic types it has attracted over the years, the likes of Joseph Conrad and William Somerset Maugham. The hotel now also offers a writers in residence program and this book was written during one of those programs.

In this story, Raffles is the setting for a glamorous wedding. Main character Victoria is formerly with MI6 and has flown into Singapore from East Africa to attend the wedding of her best friend Peyton. It’s to be a small affair, only a few family members and very close friends of the bride and groom and it’s been kept under wraps from any press which means when the groom disappears and there’s a kidnap ransom note, Victoria is immediately suspicious.

This book harks back to a very old world sort of glamour – wealthy people (often behaving quite badly) wearing designer clothes, taking in cocktail hour and hosting elaborate dinners in their luxurious suites at one of the world’s most famous hotels. Although this appears to be the first book in a series, it mentions the last time Victoria was in Singapore quite often and the service she provided to the government and it seems she’s long been a regular there, used to excellent service and she knows the staff by name. This also gives her the ability to basically conduct an investigation when the groom is kidnapped and basically it seems like someone who is there for the wedding must be involved and the more Victoria inquires the more she uncovers that pretty much everyone there might have a motive for being involved in this.

Whilst I enjoyed the setting – the author really does capture the hotel, even for someone who has obviously never been there before, like myself – the mystery didn’t feel the strongest. I think the problem was we didn’t know James, the groom and Peyton, the bride, before Victoria arrives at the hotel and meets James, so there was no way to be invested in them, to feel sorry for Peyton when he disappears or to wonder at potential motives. Unfortunately, they seem quite obvious almost immediately and I think it would’ve been better to have a bit more ambiguity. Also most of his family are so unpleasant it’s all too easy to cast them in the role of villains immediately.

I haven’t actually read any Agatha Christie (not sure how that happened) so I can’t say for sure if that is the sort of vibe the book is going for but it’s the one I feel like it might’ve been emulating in a modern-day setting. It’s a quick read, paced relatively well and there’s enough skeletons in the closets of those in attendance for the wedding (except for Victoria, obviously) to give the reader reason to ponder over each one of them being the potential culprit.

If this does turn out to be a series, I’d be curious to see where Victoria goes next. I’d like to know more about her – we only get the bare minimum here and it feels like there’s definitely more that could be elaborated upon as she moves on from MI6 and travels.

6/10

Book #166 of 2021

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Review: The Secret Path by Karen Swan

The Secret Path
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan
2021, 409p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Every step leads me back to you.

At just twenty years old, Tara Tremain has everything: a trainee doctor, engaged to the man of her dreams—a passionate American biology student called Alex Carter. But just when life seems perfect, Alex betrays her in the worst way possible.

Ten years later, she’s moved on, with a successful career, good friends and a man who loves her. But when she’s pulled back into her wealthy family’s orbit for an unmissable party in the heart of Costa Rica, she finds herself flung into crisis: a child is desperately ill and the only remedy is several days’ trek into the heart of the jungle.

There’s only one person who can help—but it’s the man who shattered her heart a decade before. And how can she trust him, of all people? 

I read a lot of Karen Swan books I think, last year. I had missed this one being released but picked it up recently when I bought that stack of books on sale. The setting of Costa Rica intrigued me and I think regular readers of Karen Swan books kind of know what they’re getting when they pick one up.

Tara is the daughter of a very wealthy man and she’s at university studying medicine. She’s also met and fallen in love with Alex in a matter of months. They’re engaged and now she’s just confided in him how wealthy her family is and is ready to introduce Alex to them in order for them to tell her parents they’re getting married. Having hid her identity from him, Tara feels sure that he’s with her for her, not because her father is one of the richest men in the world, with that status beginning with a B. However when Tara is ready for Alex to talk to her father, instead she finds out something else – something so horrible that she turns her back on him without a second thought.

Ten years later, Tara is back in her favourite place, Costa Rica. She hasn’t been here in years, because here is where Alex is now and the sting of his betrayal is still fresh. But she’s here for a very special event for her father and she’s made sure to surround herself with friends for emotional support. She thinks she’s ready to come face to face with Alex again, even after all these years but nothing has prepared her for the reality. Especially when it turns out that she’ll need to rely on him for a dangerous trek through thick jungle.

Whilst I enjoyed quite a lot about this, particularly the Costa Rican setting, Tara’s career and the focus on environmental issues as well as modern medicine vs traditional methods, unfortunately, the romance did leave quite a bit to be desired. Tara and Alex had a very short-lived, very intense passionate affair and she was ready to spend the rest of her life with him. But then she discovered that he betrayed her in the worst possible way and the fallout of that has left deep scars on her. When she encounters him again 10 years later, she’s a successful surgeon, she’s in a relationship, she wants to prove to Alex that she’s all the better for being without him.

All well and good except the way in which Alex justifies and/or apologises for the betrayal is kind of lacklustre. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was going to actually fall in love with you” is hardly the most ringing of endorsements and it’s obvious at a) he doesn’t regret what he did and b) he’d do it again. When Tara hits him with just how deeply his betrayal cut her and the side effect of it (sort of, I’m not entirely sure the two are related but they certainly are in her eyes) he’s all sad about it but….not really? His “you have to forgive me because you just have to” is a terrible reason. All of this also comes quite late in the story as well so for me, there’s not enough of Alex trying to explain how he really feels and there could’ve been something about the past decade and it’s toll on him but….there doesn’t seem to have been any regrets to be honest. Alex was a very average person and I wanted better for Tara. Much better. Especially at the end. Also her boyfriend Rory, described in a very particular way by everyone completely does a 180 in character as soon as they arrive in Costa Rica and it’s clearly a very clumsy attempt to make the reader dislike him so that they want Tara to get back with Alex.

I enjoyed pretty much everything else, I just wish there’d been a better reason for what Alex did or more explanation (and definitely more apologising/grovelling about it). I’m not sure if we’re supposed to admire him for his environmental convictions but making your living for the past ten years off the father of the woman you betrayed, even if it was something you are very passionate about, made him very unappealing.

7/10

Book #151 of 2021

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