All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Fortune’s Son by Jennifer Scoullar

Fortune’s Son (The Tasmanian Tales #1)
Jennifer Scoullar
Pilyara Press
2018, 412p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Heads you win. Tales you die …
Can one man’s revenge become his redemption? 

Young Luke Tyler has everything going for him: brains, looks and a larrikin charm that turns heads. The future appears bright, until he defends his sister from the powerful Sir Henry Abbott. His reward is fifteen years hard labour on a prison farm in Tasmania’s remote highlands.

Luke escapes, finding sanctuary with a local philanthropist, Daniel Campbell, and starting a forbidden love affair with Daniel’s daughter, Belle. But when Luke is betrayed, he must flee or be hanged. 
With all seeming lost, Luke sails to South Africa to start afresh. Yet he remains haunted by the past, and by Belle, the woman he can’t forget. When he returns to seek revenge and reclaim his life, his actions will have shattering consequences – for the innocent as well as the guilty.

Set against a backdrop of wild Tasmania, Australian Gold and African diamonds, Fortune’s Son is an epic saga of betrayal, undying love and one man’s struggle to triumph over adversity and find his way home.

This was a wonderful, multi-layered story that was engrossing from the very first page.

Luke Tyler is a teenage boy, coming to get his sister from her place of work, at the mansion of a local rich man. When he sees her being horribly mistreated, he comes to her aid, passionately defending her in a situation where he and his family can never be the winners. Sentenced to hard labour, he is taken to a prison farm in a remote and cold part of Tasmania. There’s not enough food, the labour is backbreaking. But Luke is smart and able to use his intelligence to get ahead, until a bizarre incident leads to his escape deep into the wilderness.

Luke is resourceful, determined and clever. He’s able to survive in situations not many could, using the knowledge imparted to him by Daniel Campbell, a man he had spent time with as a boy and the father of Belle, a girl that means the world to him. When he gets the chance to work with Daniel again, albeit under a different persona to avoid detection as a wanted man, he takes it to improve his knowledge and work to protect the beautiful Tasmanian wilderness.

Australia has a very unique flora and fauna but when Europeans ‘arrived’ in this country, they logged huge amounts of old growth forests for farmland and various other reasons and attempted to replicate their regimented English rose gardens. For a lot of the part, the climate is highly unsuitable to their preferences and a lot of our native species were decimated during this time of happily chopping anything down that stood in the way. This book is almost like a love letter to the Tasmanian wilderness and the character of Daniel Campbell is a man well ahead of his time, buying his property for the sole purpose of preserving the wildlife corridor. He enjoys cataloguing the local species and studying them but only to gain information and understanding and Luke is a willing pupil. A strong presence in this book is that of the Tasmanian tiger, a species now believed to be extinct (that’s the official classification, although there are occasionally claims of {unproven} sightings). The Tasmanian tiger was largely believed to be responsible for the loss of large amounts of sheep, being referred to as a vicious wolf that hunted in packs. There were bounties for tiger pelts and the combination of encouraged hunting, the introduction of dogs and destruction of their habitat all contributed to their disappearance. It’s become almost like a mythical creature to modern day Australians, I remember studying them in school and becoming fascinated by them. It was really interesting to read about them in this book, to get a little glimpse of them as wild creatures and how they fit into their environment.

This is also a story of enduring love between two people of unequal status and class and the complications of such a love. Belle and Luke were childhood friends, the innocence of youth chaperone enough as Belle also loved nature and learned from her father, Daniel Campbell. The Campbells were also somewhat progressive parents, raising Belle to be independent, to experience nature and make her own decisions but when she got older, that freedom only went so far and her mother took some drastic actions to protect Belle and make sure that her future would be secure. Despite the many troubles that befall them, both Luke and Belle’s love for each other isn’t diminished by distance or separation. You couldn’t help but want for them to find each other again, to be able to be together and just…..live.

I found myself hooked by Luke’s story from the very beginning. Watching him grow from a brash but honourable teenager determined to protect his sister to a grown man who makes the most of himself in a far away land was a really enjoyable journey. I loved the devotion to the land in the Tasmanian setting and that continued when the book focused on South Africa. There’s also a strong focus on workers and their rights as well, and the differences between the haves and the have nots. I haven’t read a huge amount of books set in Tasmania, especially during this time period as well, and it’s also not a place I’ve ever been to (although I really want to go) so I loved how strongly the setting presented. This was the sort of story which has so many different elements that it should appeal to a really broad audience. I can’t wait to read the next book, The Lost Valley. 

9/10

Book #118 of 2018

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Review: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark 
Michelle McNamara
Faber & Faber
2018, 328p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer – the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised California for over a decade – from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

‘You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.’

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called the Golden State Killer. Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark – the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death – offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic – and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I’m not sure if I heard of this book first or if the arrest of the Golden State Killer brought it to my attention. I didn’t know much about the case, given that it’s American and decades old. But I definitely remember reading about there finally being an arrest this year and going and researching the story. It’s amazing to think that this person offended so frequently and yet police in several different jurisdictions had so little to go on.

This book feels really bittersweet to read. It’s the result of so much hard work on the part of Michelle McNamara, a dedicated writer who must’ve logged thousands of hours following leads in a case that had been cold for years. Unfortunately she never lived to see either the publication of this book, nor the arrest of the suspect as she died in her sleep during the writing of this book, which was finished off by several people working from her notes. It’s an incomplete story in itself, as it was published before the arrest was made but it’s so comprehensive and thorough.

This was an offender who raped more than 50 women, committed at least 12 murders and was responsible for about 100 burglaries. For months, he terrified areas in California in three separate crime waves as he targeted neighbourhoods on the regular, stalking his victims and knowing their routines before striking. He always woke his victims in the middle of the night, when they were in bed, often shining a flashlight into their eyes, gaining the upper hand immediately. He became unconcerned if the women had husbands or partners in the room with them, making the women tie the men up at gunpoint, often placing plates on the males’ backs (he’d have them laying facedown in bed) and saying he’d shoot the woman if he heard the plates move. It’s interesting that these three different crime waves were given different nicknames by the investigating officers and it was some time before they were all connected and people began to realise that it had been the same person responsible for all of these incidents.

The crimes spanned from 1974-1986. Over the years several suspects were questioned and then cleared. But it wasn’t until the DNA obtained from some of the crime scenes was uploaded into a genetic database that police were able to make a match. That raises an interesting thing all on its own – these ‘find my ancestor’ type sites are popping up everywhere. You submit a DNA cheek swab and it goes into a database that can match you up with relatives with common ancestors from generations ago, all over the world. But now it’s also a valuable tool for police as well – by submitting DNA from unsolved crimes, the actual person doesn’t even need to be in the online database. Just people that are related to them.

But for me, reading this, it wasn’t really about the killer himself, it was more about Michelle McNamara and the efforts she’d gone to in order to bring this perpetrator to justice. The book is so incredibly thorough – it’s not written in a grisly way, despite the fact that it covers some truly heinous crimes. I’d recommend it not be read if you’re at home alone at night though! It’s an investigative masterpiece on many levels and the writing style is straightforward but intimate and with real warmth. It almost feels like discussing it with a friend, like going through all this information and piecing it together and wondering just how it went so long without this person being caught.

Michelle McNamara clearly spent years of her life dedicated to this. She had files and boxes that she combed over, she used the internet, connecting with other amateur sleuths online. It’s really actually quite sad to read this and get to the section of the book that mentions that she died and that it was completed from her notes – so much hard work. So much dedication. And yet the arrest came when she wasn’t able to be present for it, to add that final chapter to her work. I don’t often read a lot of true crime. I find it quite depressing to be honest, although my husband enjoys true crime documentaries and I occasionally watch some with him. But this is the kind of true crime that interests me. This methodical, dedicated approach. I was engrossed in this book – I could not put it down. I don’t really believe in the afterlife but I hope that Michelle McNamara, somewhere, knows that the job is done.

9/10

Book #117 of 2018

 

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Review: The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

The Trauma Cleaner: One woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster 
Sarah Krasnostein
Text Publishing
2017, 272p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife…

But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.

A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his loungeroom. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.

Sarah Krasnostein has watched the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead—and the book she has written is equally extraordinary. Not just the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, but an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.

I’d been really interested in this book since it was published late last year. It won several awards, including the Victorian Prize for Literature in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. I saw it on sale on iBooks and snapped it up – to be honest I am having to buy more ebooks these days because I simply don’t have the room to keep expanding my physical book collection. So when I see a good iBooks sale, I use it as an excuse to pick up books I’ve had on my radar.

Sandra Pankhurst owns a cleaning business that specialises not only in crime scenes or situations where someone has died at home, but also helping clean up hoarder houses. Her secret is not just in knowing what chemicals to use to get rid of whatever the issue is – blood, human waste, rotting food etc, but also in her sympathetic and non-judgemental manner. Sandra manages to connect with people who struggle to let others in to their home, who struggle to let go of the urge to keep things. I was really interested in her job. It’s difficult work in many ways and Sandra seems to maintain a poised demeanour and a sympathetic manner even as she’s wading through their waist deep garbage.

Her life is equally tragic and fascinating. An abused and lonely childhood, treated little better than a dog, made to sleep outside and disconnected from the rest of the family. Sandra was born Peter and adopted through the Catholic Church and raised in Footscray. Peter’s gentle personality seemed to irritate both parents – Peter’s father used his fists and Peter’s mother used distance. It wasn’t until Peter was older, married with two sons that there was a sudden realisation what was different. Peter left the family and began the process of transitioning to a woman. During this time there was little work for transgender people other than sex work, and although Sandra (it seems that Sandra went through several names before settling on one identity, changing it each time her former wife Linda seemed to catch up with her) did plenty of sex work, both in Melbourne and also in Western Australia, she also managed to hold down several standard jobs and was even married to a man who was aware that she wasn’t born a woman, for fifteen years.

As much as her life is incredibly interesting, Sandra is a very unreliable narrator which means there are large gaps due to things she doesn’t remember or doesn’t care to. She’s used a lot of drugs in her time and has experienced traumas as well and all of these things create gaps, whether they be accidental or purposefully, in her memory. It gives you an incomplete picture and the fact that Sandra seems to constantly disconnect from things – most notably her wife and children – can make it difficult to truly connect with her. She’s so kind and sympathetic to her clients but at times seems completely unable to sympathise with her own children and acknowledge that although she left her former wife everything when she was Peter, left their marriage, she also left her with no money and no way to support herself and nor did she contribute to the upbringing of her children, either financially or emotionally.

Although I enjoyed this and loved reading about not only Sandra’s job but her journey as an early transgender person, I have to admit that the choppy timeline didn’t really work for me. I’d have preferred a more linear story rather than going back and forth in time and returning to previously mentioned stories to finish them off. It just made things a little confusing and although I found Sandra an interesting person, she wasn’t perfect by any means. However at times she’s often presented in this really idealised light and a lot of the narrative is devoted to this portrayal. I’d have liked more about her job – I found a lot of that really intriguing. She’s doing things that not many people could bring themselves to do and she’s doing it with keeping dignity for those that have died and those that are still alive. A bit more balance to the story, of Sandra and her job, would’ve definitely been to my liking.

7/10

Book #115 of 2018

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Review: The Geography Of Friendship by Sally Piper

The Geography Of Friendship
Sally Piper
UQP
2018, 251p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

We can’t ever go back, but some journeys require walking the same path again.

When three young women set off on a hike through the wilderness they are anticipating the adventure of a lifetime. Over the next five days, as they face up to the challenging terrain, it soon becomes clear they are not alone and the freedom they feel quickly turns to fear. Only when it is too late for them to turn back do they fully appreciate the danger they are in. As their friendship is tested, each girl makes an irrevocable choice; the legacy of which haunts them for years to come.

Now in their forties, Samantha, Lisa and Nicole are estranged, but decide to revisit their original hike in an attempt to salvage what they lost. As geography and history collide, they are forced to come to terms with the differences that have grown between them and the true value of friendship.

As soon as I read the description for this book, I knew I had to read it. It’s not a long blurb but just even from that brief paragraph you can tell that there’s going to be a lot going on in this book.

As young teens at high school, Lisa, Samantha and Nicole were close friends, always having each other’s backs. They may have fallen in with each other out of a sort of necessity but they became close, their personalities complimenting each other. Sam is a people pleaser, Lisa arrogantly aggressive and Nicole went from being home-schooled by her parents with high expectations to high school and Lisa and Sam helped ease the way. Sometime after they finish school the three girls decide to go on a five day hike through wilderness, following a specific trail. They are highly excited about their adventure, something that is meant to start the next phase of their lives.

In the present day, Lisa, Samantha and Nicole are in their forties. They haven’t spoken in about twenty years but Samantha still knows the voice on the other end of the phone before she identifies herself. Lisa arranges a meeting between the three of them, telling them that she wants to go back. Do that hike again, face the fear and confront the demons of what happened that first time around. They all find themselves agreeing, perhaps all needing something out of revisiting that territory.

The two stories run side by side so the tension of the first trip builds as the second trip hits the same stops and marks that define the first. It’s the sort of thing where from the beginning of the girl’s first trip, you can see the danger that is coming. What starts off as a confrontation leads to an aggressive sort of stalking, taunting and deliberately trying to inflict fear into the three young women. It’s a depiction of the sort of toxic masculinity that has been so talked about lately – men who cannot handle women who say no, stand up for themselves, won’t be bullied, won’t be cowed. One of the women in particular is very defined by her anger and she’s not afraid to clap back, despite the two others wishing that she wouldn’t and that she’d stand down. Perhaps they see the danger of it and the societal pressure of backing down, apologising, smoothing things over in an attempt to ward off any repercussions. But the third woman either doesn’t or doesn’t care, determinedly wanting to show that they are not afraid and will not be intimidated.

There’s obviously a lot about friendship in this book, it’s in the title after all. When the three women meet up again in their forties, they haven’t been friends in over twenty years. They seem to have very few close friends. Their lives have gone in different directions: Lisa is divorced from a volatile marriage and wondering what the effect it has had on her daughter is, Samantha is still married and the mother of three boys but she’s questioning whether or not her marriage is still alive. And Nicole has never married and has no children. The events of that first hike has shadowed their lives, haunted them each separately and this second hike is a chance to free themselves from its chains and also reconnect with each other. In the first hike, their friendship is tested when the pressure of being watched, being followed, being targeted begins to take its toll. They struggle with the fear and the threat of that probable confrontation hanging over their heads and so they turn their aggression and stress on each other. Their different personalities become the thing that butts up against each other as they cannot agree with how they should go about getting out of this.

I found this a really engrossing read although sometimes I did struggle to pick which timeline we were in as they do mirror each other quite closely and a few times it took me a little bit to figure out whether we were still in the present or had switched back to the past. I really enjoy the way the author built tension in both timelines – not just the tension of the person following them and intimidating them but also the tensions in their friendships and the tensions of the past coming to the present. The atmosphere is brilliant and I’m not a hiker at all and have no experience in this sort of environment but it felt like I was there, trudging through this forest (I’m very unfit, so I’d probably be Samantha, lagging along at the back while others were ahead), the blisters, the heat, the isolation, everything.

I really enjoyed this – will definitely be adding Sally Piper’s other book Grace’s Table to my wishlist and keeping an eye out for her future releases.

8/10

Book #116 of 2018

 

 

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Mini Reviews {3}: What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Every now and then these posts are so good to clear a few books that I don’t really have enough to say about for longer style reviews.

Recently I saw that historical romance author Sarah MacLean posted a few recommendations on twitter of books she’d enjoyed. I love quite a few of Sarah’s books so I downloaded a couple of the recs, the ones that sounded like I might like them the most. Because I’ve been quite stressed out the last week and a half, I’ve been churning through a few books on my iPad rather than review books because I just didn’t have the thinking capacity for many review books.

Double Down (Vegas Top Guns #1)
Katie Porter
Self-published
272p, 2018 (originally 2012)
Purchased personal copy

This was okay. Ryan Haverty is an instructor pilot for the US Air Force based in Nevada. He’s out with some friends one night when he sees a waitress that triggers his dormant fetish by wearing nylons with the seam down the back of the leg. The attraction between them is mutual and the waitress, Cassandra Whitman seems to really share his passion for role-play and dressing up.

The conflict revolves around Ryan’s conflicted feelings about his fetish and his paranoia about being caught because of his job. Apparently he confessed his desires to someone he cared about in the past and was ridiculed and savaged for them so now he keeps that part of his personality clamped down tight. Cassandra really makes that impossible and as much as he enjoys and craves the games, they generally come with an awful lot of self-loathing after.

This was entertaining and I liked the dynamic between Ryan and Cass and now they brought out these different sides of each other. I didn’t really find the conflict did much for me, especially as a large amount of time of it we’re in Ryan’s head and he gets a bit wearying about something that happened when he was in college.

6/10

Book #111 of 2018

The Devil’s Submission (Fallen #2)
Nicola Davidson
Entangled Publishing LLC
114p, 2017
Purchased personal copy

I would’ve liked this a lot more if it’d been longer. The idea was really interesting – Grayson, Lord Deveraux (referred to as ‘Devil’) and his wife Lady Eliza Deveraux became estranged after only a few months of marriage. Eliza resides at one of the country houses whilst Devil remains in town. However her mother begs her to go and request something of her husband and Eliza is pressured into returning.

The reason they’re estranged revolves around Grayson’s sexual…..proclivities and the fact that there was a misunderstanding around the sort of behaviour he prefers from his wife. Grayson was attracted to Eliza because of her bossiness, her assertiveness, the fact that she wasn’t a demure English miss. She was the sort of woman that he thought might be able to indulge him in his preferences and give him what he desires. But then Eliza began acting like precisely the sort of woman he didn’t want to marry – submissive, demure, boring.

I’ve read so many romance novels with a BDSM element and they 99% revolve around the male as the Dom and the female as the submissive role. This was incredibly refreshing because it turns that upside down and it’s a historical as well, which gives a really interesting dynamic. The trouble is, this book is far too short. It’s a novella really and it’s just not enough time to really explore Grayson’s preferences and his admitting to his wife what he wants and her assuming the role he needs. The bones were there and I enjoyed reading this because I thought Grayson was really interesting and he and Eliza had such a fabulous dynamic. I just wanted more. This could’ve been explored so much more in depth and I think it would’ve been amazing.

6/10

Book #113 of 2018

By Her Touch (Blank Canvas #2)
Adriana Anders
Sourcebooks Casablanca
412p, 2017
Purchased personal copy

This was my favourite of the three. Clay Navarro is an undercover agent who spent a long time infiltrating a motorcycle gang and the resulting takedown didn’t net all of the members so now he’s in hiding until the trial. He doesn’t trust anyone and so he finds himself in a remote town to see dermatologist Dr Georgette Hadley who specialises in laser tattoo removal. Clay has plenty of ink, both some he got voluntarily in order to infiltrate and fit in and some he was given against his will when his cover was blown. He needs to get the more offensive stuff removed.

Clay (who is using a different name) has a lot of conflicted feelings over the motorcycle club and I thought they were excellently done. In order to be successful undercover you have to live and breathe your role, become that person. In the club he had acceptance, he had brothers. The lines became quite blurred for him and now that he’s on his own, he’s really struggling. He hasn’t been provided with much in the way of support because he cannot trust anyone – he knows someone ratted him out and that person probably came from within his own department so he’s off the grid. He finds a sort of….peace under George’s hands, despite the pain of the laser removal.

I found myself really invested in Clay and George. They are not without their issues – Clay is one scary looking dude when he rolls up to George’s practice and she’s in there alone. She has to take a huge leap of faith in order to trust him and treat him and the way in which they fulfil something in each other is really well done. I loved Clay’s push-pull factor. He’s still super messed up, his head is all over the place but with George, he has glimpses of a future. Their development felt very natural with a lot of steps back for every steps they make forward and the confrontation you always knew was coming was shadowed and executed really well.

I really liked this and I want to read the others in the series.

8/10

Book #114 of 2018

All of these books helped me feel connected to reading when I was struggling to really focus on anything. The idea of opening a book felt exhausting but for some reason picking up the iPad and reading 50-odd pages didn’t seem as much of an effort. I’m not sure why that is to be honest. Perhaps it’s psychological. Perhaps it’s because so many of my eBooks are these type of romances that I can sink into pretty easily.

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Top 10 Tuesday 10th July

Welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday, originally created and hosted by The Broke & The Bookish and now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. This week is one of my favourites.

Top 10 Books Read So Far In 2018

  1. Eleanor Elephant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I absolutely loved this book. I really adored Eleanor’s voice and her negotiating of the world around her and her struggles to come to an understanding of what had occurred in her life. The friendship she builds is very sweet and this book is just beautiful and heartbreaking and amazing. Can’t wait to read another book by Gail Honeyman.

2. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. I’d heard a lot about this in the couple of months before its release and so I added it to the wishlist and for me, it lived up to its expectations. The second half of this book was incredible and the ending….. left me so desperate for the second book!

3. Graevale by Lynette Noni. I love this series more and more with each book. This is the most recent instalment and there’s just one more to go – dying to see how it all ends.

4. The Diary Of A Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. I just really liked this. It’s kind of like my dream job and the notes Bythell keeps are so funny. He’s very sarcastic, which probably isn’t to everyone’s taste but I really enjoyed his observations about his job running a 2nd hand bookstore and his notes on his quirky regular customers.

5. The Break by Katherena Vermette. This was a really powerful story set in Canada during the grip of winter. I love books set in remote locations, the more so the better. Alaska, eastern Russia, northern Scandinavia, bring it on. It’s even better if the winters are long and savage. But I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this story of the politics of the Metis community (half native indigenous Canadian) and the police. Super gritty, very real.

6. Hero At The Fall by Alwyn Hamilton. The third and final book in the Rebel of the Sands series and it was everything I was hoping for (even though it deliberately ripped my heart out like three times and made me freak out).

7. The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland. Hands down my favourite book this year – beautiful story, even more beautiful writing, the sort of book that sticks with you forever. Look how beautiful that cover is! This is like a love letter to Australian native flora.

8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer & Annie Barrows. I know, this book came out forever ago and I only just read it this year when I received a copy of this movie tie-in edition just before the movie was released in Australia. I read it in a couple of hours and I absolutely adored it. It’s such a beautiful book. All those characters…. My heart broke for so many of them. The day after reading this I went to see the movie with my husband (sobbed through it) and it did it justice.

9. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. Loved this! Such a fun romance that contained a character on the spectrum, diverse characters and I really liked the  attention paid to consent as well. It was funny and sweet and quite different to lots of other romances I’ve read. Looking forward to the next romance from Helen Hoang.

10. The Nowhere Child by Christian White. I just read this last month and it’s already on the way to being huge. It won an award last year for an unpublished manuscript and it’s such a polished and intriguing story! I was hooked from the first page and I’ve literally been recommending this one to everyone I know!

So there’s my 10….but I probably have a few I should give honourable mentions to: Cake At Midnight by Jessie L. Star, The Three Of Us by Kim Lock, The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth, Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer, Five Years From Now by Paige Toon, On The Right Track by Penelope Janu, The Art Of Friendship by Lisa Ireland and Staying by Jessie Cole.

It’s been a good reading year so far……and today will be a good opportunity to find some books to make the second half just as good, if not better!

 

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Blog Tour Review: A Month Of Sundays by Liz Byrski

A Month Of Sundays
Liz Byrski
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

For over ten years, Ros, Adele, Judy and Simone have been in an online book club, but they have never met face to face. Until now…

Determined to enjoy her imminent retirement, Adele invites her fellow bibliophiles to help her house-sit in the Blue Mountains. It’s a tantalising opportunity to spend a month walking in the fresh air, napping by the fire and, of course, reading and talking about books.

But these aren’t just any books: each member has been asked to choose a book which will teach the others more about her. And with each woman facing a crossroads in her life, it turns out there’s a lot for them to learn, not just about their fellow book-clubbers, but also about themselves.

Liz Byrski has written a beautiful novel about the joy and comfort reading a good book can bring to us all.

It’s hard to find something more appealing than a book that celebrates books and that was a large part of the reason I jumped to read A Month Of Sundays, the 10th fiction novel from Australian writer Liz Byrski. It centres around four women who have been part of an online book club for over a decade, meeting regularly via Skype regularly to discuss their chosen book. They have always kept those conversations focused on the books and know relatively little about each other’s day to day lives. That changes when Adele invites the three other women to spend several weeks with her in the Blue Mountains while she house sits. A very organised person, Adele also requests they each bring a book special to them that will help the other women understand the person they are better.

All of the women are in their sixties or early seventies and they’re also all experiencing periods of change in their lives. Some of those changes are health related and the downsides of getting older, some are to do with transitioning to the next period of their lives and some are due to events of the past that are still haunting them. These are not things that they’ve ever discussed with members of the book club before but with their staying together in the same house, slowly they begin to confide their stories.

I haven’t been to the Blue Mountains for many years but it’s a beautiful setting for such a retreat. There are long walks to take, lookouts to see and the surroundings are full of beauty and the local shops quirky and interesting to explore. But what I really loved about this story was the talk of the books the women had chosen and the way in which their discussions explored the character of the women and their issues, fears and traits. I haven’t read any of the books that the women chose to bring and share as saying something about them but I found myself adding them to my Wishlist and looking them up, to learn more about them. It also made me think about what book I would take in that sort of situation. I think that for someone who reads as much as I do, it’s hard to narrow it down like that. It’s not a favourite book (although that would actually be just as difficult probably) but a book that also helps the others reading it understand something fundamental about the person who has chosen to share it. It would have to be a book that I identified with strongly as exploring something relative to me or that was deeply a part of my personality. It’s not an easy decision and to be honest, I still haven’t decided! I had such fun thinking about it though, books that I’ve read at various parts of my life. I love a book that references other books (and there’s plenty of that in here, not just the four books the women chose) and one that pays homage to a love of literature and how it can bring people together, engage spirited debate and build a strong friendship between four women.

I’m a lot younger than the women in the story and quite a lot of their concerns and issues are not mine but it didn’t mean that I couldn’t connect with them and all of their stories. They are all quite different and their budding friendships are not without their troubles as they get to know each other but as their little holidays rolls on they share so much about their lives, both past and present and they confide their fears for the future. I felt for each of them in their various situations – I think of them all I probably related to a combination of Judy and Adele. Their ways of dealing with things are quite similar to my ways and I can see myself possibly becoming something like Judy, quite isolated.

All in all this was a charming and thought provoking read that I enjoyed a lot. It’s written with warmth and humour but with an exploration of quite serious issues facing women who are at this stage in their lives.

8/10

Book #112 of 2018

Thanks to Pan Macmillan AUS for inviting me to be part of this blog tour! A Month Of Sundays is out now, RRR $32.99. You can check out Liz Byrski’s website here

 

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June Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 14
Fiction: 14
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 0
Books On My TBR List: 4
Books in a Series: 3
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 10
Male/Female Authors: 1/13
Kindle Books: 5
Books I Owned or Bought: 4
Favourite Book(s): The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, The Rúin by Dervla McTiernan and The Nowhere Child by Christian White.
Least Favourite Books: One Small Thing by Erin Watt
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 0 – because this is the year of no challenges!

So June was a bit of a slow month, but I knew it would be. We moved into our new house on the 1st/2nd and spent a large portion of the month unpacking and sorting out the new house as well as dealing with the handover of the old house. Also my husband had some health issues come up which resulted in surgery being scheduled for the 29th June, which was something we were pretty consumed with in the latter part of the month. He’s still in hospital now, which is part of the reason why my June wrap up is being posted so late. His recovery will probably be a process, so I think July will be quiet as well.

But I did make my way through 14 books and some of them were very good reads. I finally got around to reading The Rúin and I know, I’m months behind pretty much everyone else but it definitely lived up to the hype. I really enjoyed it and I’m definitely looking forward to another Cormac Reilly book in the future. I also absolutely loved The Nowhere Child by Christian White which was amazing!

Because of my feeling that I won’t get a lot of reading time in July, my pile is small:

My first read will be A Month Of Sundays by Liz Byrski as I am part of a blog tour for that one – my post will be up on the 6th. I’m also doing a blog tour for The Desert Nurse as well. I’ve never read Karin Slaughter before but she’s one of those authors that I always see around so it will be good to finally try one of her books. I won Suicide Club in a give-away from the publisher and Second Sight is Aoife Clifford’s second novel and seems like an intriguing mystery/crime.

So that was my reading month of June! I hope to be able to post semi-regularly during July but it might be a little quiet depending on when my husband comes home and how he’s going to be. Fingers crossed I get to at least read through my TBR.

If you read something amazing in June, or if you’ve read something from my TBR here, feel free to let me know in the comments!

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Review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

The Nowhere Child 
Christian White
Affirm Press
2018, 306p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘Her name is Sammy Went. This photo was taken on her second birthday. Three days later she was gone.’

On a break between teaching photography classes, Kim Leamy is approached by a stranger investigating the disappearance of a little girl from her Kentucky home twenty-eight years earlier. He believes she is that girl.

At first Kim brushes it off, but when she scratches the surface of her family background in Australia, questions arise that aren’t easily answered. To find the truth, she must travel to Sammy’s home of Manson, Kentucky, and into a dark past. As the mystery unravels and the town’s secrets are revealed, this superb novel builds towards a tense, terrifying, and entirely unexpected climax.

Inspired by Gillian Flynn’s frenetic suspense and Stephen King’s masterful world-building, The Nowhere Child is a combustible tale of trauma, cult, conspiracy and memory. It is the remarkable debut of Christian White, an exhilarating new Australian talent attracting worldwide attention.

This book was incredible.

The Nowhere Child is the 2017 Victorian Premier’s award winner for an unpublished manuscript. Previous winners of this award have become very successful bestsellers and this one has every chance of doing the same. It’s so compelling tapping into a fascination with unsolved mysteries and cold cases and combining that with a literary style.

The book is split into two timelines. The first is the present day where Kim Leamy, a thirty year old woman living and working in Melbourne is approached by a complete stranger and tells her that he believes she is Sammy Went, who went missing as a 2yo in rural America some 28 years ago. The book also delves back in time to during Sammy’s disappearance, revolving around the day or two leading up to it and then the aftermath. When the stranger first approaches Kim, it’s easy for the reader to dismiss his claims, just as she does. After all, who would expect that a woman on the other side of the world would be some long lost child from rural America? If what she’s being told is true then Kim would have to question everything she’s ever known about herself, about her identity and also about her mother.

But faced with some evidence and a few cryptic comments from her stepfather, Kim needs to find out the truth and so the story moves across the ocean to America and the isolated town where the Went family lived. This is a really intriguing mix of small town prejudice and secrets, a powerful religious sect and the mystery of how could a little girl just vanish into thin air? The police had no leads, there was never a body and nobody saw anything. Sammy simply was there….and then she wasn’t. And for her family, nothing was ever the same again.

This book was addictive. It tapped into one of my worst fears – that something would happen to one of my children like this. I remember when William Tyrell disappeared like it was yesterday. He’s the same age as my youngest son and it happened close to where my parents live just before we were about to visit them. Nothing stirs the population quite so much like a missing child. Sammy Went goes missing prior to the internet’s existence but it seems that everyone has a theory but nothing to support any of it. Was it her mother who didn’t seem to be coping after her birth? Was it her father, who definitely seems to have something to hide and a vaguest of alibis? Was it an opportunist who saw a chance to snatch a tiny girl for their own satisfaction? And if Sammy Went is now Kim Leamy, how on earth did she end up in Melbourne, Australia?

This book just gives you so many questions as you get further into it. White takes the time to flesh out the characters of Sammy’s family nicely in the flashbacks, showcasing snapshots into the marriage of her parents and the struggle within the family where one member was deeply into religion and the others were not. I’ve not heard much about the religious groups that use snake handling as part of their church services but I did a bit of reading after I finished this book to add to what had been included here. And to be honest, the rattlers weren’t the creepiest part of the church in this book. Christian White does a fantastic job of really amping up the tension surrounding the practices and devotions of the church that Sammy’s parents are both involved and not involved in.

I was hooked on this story from the very first page and I think it’s one of my favourite books of the year so far. It kept me guessing the whole way through, about so many different facets of the story. I really love the writing, which is so evocative. This whole book has the most amazing atmosphere, I’ve never been to America and but I felt like I was right there, a part of this community when Sammy Went disappeared.

Highly recommend this one.

9/10

Book #109 of 2018

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Review: Liar’s Candle by August Thomas

Liar’s Candle 
August Thomas
Simon & Schuster AUS
2018, 310p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

SHE IS THE WOMAN WHO KNOWS TOO MUCH …

Penny Kessler, a young intern at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, wakes up in a hospital on the morning of July 5th to find herself at the centre of an international crisis. The day before, the Embassy had been the target of a devastating terrorist attack that killed hundreds of Penny’s friends and colleagues. Not only has a photograph of Penny emerging from the rubble become the defining image of the event (#TheGirlwiththeFlag), but for reasons she doesn’tunderstand, her bosses believe she’s a crucial witness.

Suddenly, everyone is desperately interested in what Penny knows. But what does she know? And who can she trust? As she struggles to piece together her memories of the event, she discovers that Zach Robson, the young diplomat she’s been falling for all summer, went missing during the attack. Now his boss at the CIA, Christina Ekdahl, wants people to believe that Zach was a traitor. Only one person stands in her way: Penny. And Christina will do anything to silence her.

In a race to keep from being killed and to uncover the truth, Penny reluctantly partners with Connor Beauregard, a rookie CIA officer on his first overseas assignment. But the two won’t survive unless they can outwit – and outmaneuver – everyone from the Turkish president and his daughter to Islamic extremists, to the US State Department, to the CIA itself.

This is the first in an exciting new thriller series and I really enjoyed it. Penny Kessler is an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey. She speaks fluent Turkish and although she’s excited about her role, she spends most of the time trying to impress her boss with little result. When a bomb explodes at a party thrown by the Embassy, Penny becomes a symbol of hope for the world. Many people are killed and Penny, stumbling out of the chaos with an American flag quickly ends up on the covers of newspapers around the world.

The powers that be are so desperate to talk to Penny they have her doctors forcibly wake her, convinced she knows something about what happened. Penny is dazed and confused, not sure why people are demanding so many things of her. Soon Penny becomes trapped in a tug of war between countries as she’s taken against her wishes (and that of the United States) to the house of the Turkish Prime Minister to ‘recuperate’.

Convinced that this cannot be a good development, Penny must escape from a heavily armed compound and find Zach. She’s certain that he knows something and that his disappearance isn’t a coincidence. Standing in her way are the very people that should be protecting her.

I thought this started off with a great hook and the reader is encouraged to identify with Penny right from the very beginning due to her vulnerable state and the way that she is treated by the very people that should be looking to protect her. Instead they seem to feel that Penny was ‘in’ on this act of terror and want to bully information out of her, despite the fact that she can’t even think straight let alone give them much information. You become even more invested in Penny when she proves herself to be smart, capable and resourceful, even when she’s placed in a position of weakness and vulnerability.

It was great to read a thriller where the focus is on a female main character, with a male ‘offsider’ rather than the reverse and also a pairing where there is no romantic or sexual tension at all. Despite not having any formal training in espionage, evading capture or anything like that, Penny, a regular old intern and college student, manages to successfully pull off a number of escapes, infiltrate a militant group of possible terrorists and generally just move around Turkey without being captured. As with most thrillers, the plausibility of some of these events is dubious but it’s so entertaining that it doesn’t really matter. I found a lot of the plot regarding the truth behind the bombing quite believable actually – which is a bit scary!

I really enjoyed the setting – Turkey is not a place I have visited too often in fiction and it’s such an interesting country, straddling two continents, a strong Muslim population and the current regime has strengthened Islamic ties and has also gone backwards in things like freedom of press (the lack of which plays a role in this novel). It shares a border with Syria and is the largest host of Syrian refugees. Actually after finishing this book, I fell down a Wikipedia hole researching Turkey and it’s development, the Syrian crisis and the amount of refugees that have crossed its borders as well as Turkish attitudes towards the United States. I’ve read several memoirs of people who have fled Syria by crossing the border into Turkey and either being granted temporary protection status there and stayed, or using Turkey as a gateway to another European country.

This was a great start to a series, introducing the reader to a likeable protagonist and giving a fast paced action packed read that has definitely made me keen for the next book featuring Penny Kessler, out next year. I’m really interested to see what path she chooses next and what that will bring.

8/10

Book #108 of 2018

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