All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl
Zakiya Dalila Harris
Bloomsbury
2021, 368p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and the micro-aggressions, she’s thrilled when Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events cause Nella to become Public Enemy Number One and Hazel, the Office Darling.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realises that there is a lot more at stake than her career. 

I haven’t seen Get Out, the movie that the blurb references, but I have to admit, I sort of did expect this to be a little more Devil Wears Prada than unexpected horror movie. Definitely a false assumption there.

Nella is mid-20s and two years ago, secured a job at Wagner Books, a New York publishing firm. Nella wanted to work at Wagner because years ago, they published her favourite book which was both written and edited by Black women. Nella is the only Black person employed at Wagner Books and she’s had a lot of ideas about starting conversations and improving the diversity, most of which have fallen on deaf ears. She’s disheartened until the arrival of Hazel, another Black woman. Nella is hopeful they can be friends, maybe even make some change together. More importantly, they can be sounding boards to the other’s frustrations about being employed in a minority situation. When Nella has to raise some issues of sensitivity in a book her boss is editing, it backfires on her. And when she expects Hazel to be supportive, instead Hazel does the opposite. That, combined with the mysterious messages she’s receiving, make Nella convinced Hazel wants her out. Especially as Hazel has become the company darling in a record amount of time.

I honestly don’t even know how to classify this! It starts fairly straightforward – Nella’s day to day life at Wagner, her frustrations, her desires, her dreams. The problem with being a Black woman at pretty much an all-white company and expressing her “Blackness”, negotiating office politics, always treading carefully and almost trying to conform to what other people expect or want of her. When Nella reads a manuscript from one of Wagner’s most successful authors and has huge issues with a portrayal of a Black character, she agonises over speaking her mind about it. As a woman who is Black, Nella should be listened to, instead her boss fobs off her wanting to talk about it and Nella has to go into a meeting with the author himself (a white man) and the reaction is pretty much what you’d expect. As Nella and her friend Malaika discuss, white people don’t like it when they feel they are being accused of being racist. And even though that’s not what Nella is saying, it’s what the author hears – and quickly he goes to being the victim in the conversation, even though Nella is put in an impossible situation and as a Black woman who is basically performing a sensitivity read, she’s largely ignored. The same thing happens in several other meetings about the same book.

I really enjoyed the first portion of the book – Nella negotiating her workplace, the micro aggressions, her insecurities as well as the friendship with Malaika and her inner thoughts about her white boyfriend Owen. Then at about 70% the book pivots and takes on a whole new genre-bending direction. I kind of don’t even know what to say about it because it’s really hard to talk about this portion of the book without delving into spoiler territory. However I will say that the first 70% is this slow burn novel about relationships and negotiating the workplace as a Black woman in a predominantly white world, about trying to build friendships and be allies and learning about how to speak up in the “right” way (ie the way the white people will be able to cope with what is being said) but the last 25-30% was paced in an entirely different way and it was a bit of a whiplash effect. There are several other points of view introduced throughout the narrative but it takes too long for the “reveal” and for me, the ending was entirely unsatisfactory.

I found it incredibly interesting to read Nella’s point of view about being a Black woman in a really white world – publishing has faced a lot of criticism lately about its level of diversity both in employment and also with authors being published. I’m not Black, so this is not my experience, which is why I was interested to read about it, to see the differences and what Nella faces from other coworkers, her boss, etc. The issue of including diverse characters but not as caricatures, I really was interested in all of the publishing side of the novel. And perhaps, if I’d known a little more about the change in direction, known to expect it, I’d have appreciated that as it was inserted into the plot. I was left with so many questions!

I think a lot about this was clever and very imaginative and Harris is probably an author to really watch.

6/10

Book #95 of 2021

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Review: The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

The Bombay Prince (Perveen Mistry #3)
Sujata Massey
Allen & Unwin
2021, 342p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: November, 1921. Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and future ruler of India, is arriving in Bombay to begin a four-month tour. The Indian subcontinent is chafing under British rule, and Bombay solicitor Perveen Mistry isn’t surprised when local unrest over the royal arrival spirals into riots. But she’s horrified by the death of Freny Cuttingmaster, an eighteen-year-old female Parsi student, who falls from a second-floor gallery just as the prince’s grand procession is passing by her college.

Freny had come for a legal consultation just days before her death, and what she confided makes Perveen suspicious that her death was not an accident. Feeling guilty for failing to have helped Freny in life, Perveen steps forward to assist Freny’s family in the fraught dealings of the coroner’s inquest. When Freny’s death is ruled a murder, Perveen knows she can’t rest until she sees justice done. But Bombay is erupting: as armed British secret service march the streets, rioters attack anyone with perceived British connections and desperate shopkeepers destroy their own wares so they will not be targets of racial violence. Can Perveen help a suffering family when her own is in danger? 

I have been enjoying this series so much – this is the third instalment and the first two were excellent so I was really looking forward to this one. It’s set in a tumultuous time in India where there’s unrest about British rule and there’s also a lot of differing religions and ethnicities and clashes are becoming more common. The Prince of Wales, Edward VIII is visiting and this causes a lot of feelings. A female student from a local university who is expected to turn out to watch the Prince’s parade approaches Perveen and asks if there would be repercussions for her study if she were to not show up. When that same student is found dead just after the Prince passes by, Perveen knows that it’s her duty to get the answers. She only spoke to her briefly but she admired her and she and Perveen are from the same religious background and so Perveen and her father offer to advocate for her family during the inquest and make sure they can do their burial rites as quickly as possible, which is very important in their customs.

I know so little about India in this time and this is just a bit of a snapshot although Perveen and her family are very wealthy and privileged so there’s definitely a lot that is not particularly showcased here. But even they are dramatically affected in the riots that spring up after the Prince’s procession and are forced to leave their family home for the safety of a hotel after there is looting and violent behaviour. Perveen herself also is accosted by young men who would’ve done her harm, if not for the intervention of someone else, which allows her to escape to safety. But although she’s very shaken up by the experience, she doesn’t allow it to prevent her from continuing her investigating and her advocacy for the young student, especially when her death is ruled a homicide.

In the previous book, a little seed of…something…was planted and there are huge complications involved with it but I got pulled into it anyway. I was hoping that we’d see that person again and this book grants my wishes and even advances it a little, although the complications remain/are increased. Perveen is not a free agent to do as she wishes, for many reasons, not least the customs and restrictions of her time and the fact that she’s a woman. She is the first female solicitor but she still faces a lot of prejudice and derision from many corners, although she also has a lot of people accept her services. But her father is definitely a man who respects tradition and custom and the way he treats Perveen and her brother differ markedly. Her father is an interesting character, there are times when he’s very strict and almost cutting to Perveen but there are other times when he’s very patient and teaches her law things and his pride in her achievements is evident. Apart from her father and the restrictions of her religion and class and position as a female, Perveen also has another reason why she cannot get involved with a man and until this is resolved (which seems unlikely to be anytime soon in India’s current situation) she’s prevented from any official attachment. I really enjoyed this development in the novel as well as the indication that there will definitely be more to come in the future.

This is a hugely interesting political time and it’s one I don’t know much about but I feel it’s explained really well and you get to see a small snapshot of what it was like for those that lived (albeit in a particular set of social circles) at this time. It was also an insight into university life in this time as well, the challenges and peculiarities of it, especially in regards to its female students.

I really enjoy Perveen as a character and her interest in justice and her determination. She manages to find ways to do things, despite the restrictions often placed on her and she sees things that others do not. She’s also good at getting people to confide in her and trust her as well.

Another really great book in this series and I’m keen for more.

8/10

Book #94 of 2021

The Bombay Prince is book #18 for my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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Review: The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn

The Last Reunion
Kayte Nunn
Hachette AUS
2021, 364p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley/personal purchased paperback copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Five women come together at a New Year’s Eve’s party after decades apart, in this thrilling story of desire, revenge and courage, based on a brave group of Australian and British WWII servicewomen

Burma, 1945. Bea, Plum, Bubbles, Joy and Lucy: five young women in search of adventure, attached to the Fourteenth Army, fighting a forgotten war in the jungle. Assigned to run a mobile canteen, navigating treacherous roads and dodging hostile gunfire, they become embroiled in life-threatening battles of their own. Battles that will haunt the women for the rest of their lives.

Oxford, 1976. At the height of an impossibly hot English summer, a woman slips into a museum and steals several rare Japanese netsuke, including the famed fox-girl. Despite the offer of a considerable reward, these tiny, exquisitely detailed carvings are never seen again.

London and Galway, 1999. On the eve of the new millennium, Olivia, assistant to an art dealer, meets Beatrix, an elderly widow who wishes to sell her late husband’s collection of Japanese art. Concealing her own motives, Olivia travels with Beatrix to a New Year’s Eve party, deep in the Irish countryside, where friendships will be tested as secrets kept for more than fifty years are spilled.

Inspired by the heroic women who served in the ‘forgotten war’ in Burma, The Last Reunion is a heartbreaking love story and mystery by the international bestselling author of The Botanist’s Daughter and The Silk House. It is also a tribute to the enduring power of female friendship.

Can’t believe it took me so long to read this! I had an eBook review copy but I own the rest of Kayte Nunn’s books in paperback so I had to buy one to match them and it’s sat on my shelf for a couple of months. I’m trying to read from that shelf every so often, trying to balance out my reading a bit.

Anyway this is mostly a dual timeline, taking place partially in 1945 and partially in 1999 with a small scene from 1976. In 1945, it details the story of Bea and a bunch of other women who join the Women’s Auxiliary Service (Burma) known as the Wasbies. They run a sort of canteen where the men can get sandwiches, cakes, treats and tea as well as purchase little luxuries like cigarettes, razors, creams, soaps etc. They’re imperative for boosting the morale of the men and the women also provide a social aspect, attending dances and being friendly faces. The women become very close as they get closer and closer to the front lines and see and experience things that will change them forever. Most are from privileged backgrounds, some have husbands or brothers serving in the war.

In 1999, Aussie ex-pat Olivia is working as an intern for an art dealer and she goes to meet Beatrix for her boss, because the elderly widow has indicated she has something very valuable to sell. A freak snowstorm and an illness traps Olivia in the country with Bea, which leads to her hearing a lot of Bea’s story and attending a reunion of the Wasbies, where many things come to light. And Olivia will make choices about her own future as well, inspired by the somewhat crotchety old lady she’s come to admire.

I found this book so fascinating. The opening scene is intrigue and then both timelines are so equally interesting. I loved reading about Bea signing up for the Wasbies, wanting to contribute, meeting the other women and them forming bonds. There’s plenty of description of their duties as well as the conditions of their surroundings and also the local area – the oppressive heat, the insects, etc as well as the other challenges. It really gives you a clear picture of what it must’ve been like to be involved in the war this way, from the long days preparing and serving often hundreds of men, to the jungle setting. I don’t know much about Burma (which is now known as Myanmar) – it’s pretty limited to the invasion by Japan in WWII, which tore the country apart and the Burma Railway, which was responsible for the deaths of large numbers of Allied war prisoners. It was interesting to see it from a different perspective, not of a prisoner but from someone who was working in a different role, providing comfort and support in the best way they could, to fighting troops. They’re all women that volunteered, some of them giving up quite comfortable lives well away from war zones, in order to help and do their part, to try and give the men a bit of cheer and comfort in what were incredibly horrible times.

In 1999, Olivia is lonely in London, she’s been working non-stop in an industry where it’s hard to get a good position and there’s a lot of competition. Her boss is demanding and thinks nothing of sending her on a trek to visit Beatrix a couple days before Christmas. By now Bea is in her 70s, living alone in a crumbling pile and she desperately needs money to fix the roof, which is why she’s considering selling something that means the world to her. She’s equal parts brusque and caring, tender and abrupt and it’s clear to Olivia she has a lot of stories to tell, which Olivia would love to hear. Especially about her time with the Wasbies and the other women. Olivia gets a chance to meet those remaining from the group and even more chance to understand what sort of things they experienced back in Burma, where some of the dangers weren’t from the local surroundings at all.

I really enjoyed the friendship that built between Olivia and Bea, built in such a short time but with such genuine warmth and feeling. Olivia hasn’t really made any connections since she moved to London from Australia but in meeting Bea, it gives her opportunity to make several different ones, some of which give her personal happiness and others which give her the courage to make decisions to further her career.

And the ending? So wonderfully satisfying.

9/10

Book #93 of 2021

The Last Reunion is book #40 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

It also counts towards my participation in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021 and is the 18th book completed.

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Review: Echolalia by Briohny Doyle

Echolalia
Briohny Doyle
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Set in a fictional regional city beset by drought, Echolalia follows a family in the advent and aftermath of unspeakable tragedy, the narrative moving fluidly between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’. When we first meet Emma Cormac, she’s a young mother barely coping with her three children under five; Emma in the After is a broken women with no familial ties, struggling through a twelve step program.

Before, Barbara Cormac is as much CEO as matriarch, the relentless pursuer of financial and social success for her family; After, she is reduced to the keeper of what was, and what could have been. Before, Clementine is a wilful four year old; After, a fragile young artist returning obsessively to the same dark subject. In the Before, Arthur is a not-yet verbal, difficult child. In the After, he is finding his neuro-atypical way at MIT. And in the Before, Robbie is a baby, the longed for male heir and hope for the Cormac legacy. He hasn’t survived into the After. 

As the central mystery at the heart of the novel-what happened to baby Robbie?-unfurls, Echolalia swings readers to align and realign ourselves with different characters, provoking tough moral questions of culpability and forgiveness. It explores, with clear eyes but unwavering empathy, what might drive a mother to do the unthinkable.

Doyle touches on environmental anxieties, the refugee crisis, class-consciousness, and inter-generational rifts. Echolalia is a portrait of a woman, a family, and a country in crisis. It is a deeply moving and memorable story and Briohny Doyle is a real talent.

This is a hard book to review.

It’s one of those books where I didn’t love it, but I didn’t dislike it either. It had a lot of really positive points – the writing was really good. And a lot of the relationships were written really well. But there were also some things that I really struggled with and made me feel a real disconnect from the story.

Emma and Robert seem like they have it all. Robert is the prize son of the richest family in town, the heir, the golden child. He and Emma met at university and although she’s from the same area, she’s not from the same social circle or background. They marry and get to starting a family and building a huge family home that overlooks what was a beautiful lake – the drought however, has reduced it to a dustbowl. For a while, everything is idyllic. They welcome daughter Clem and then that’s followed by a son – however all is not well as their son is non-verbal and shows some worrying traits. After they get a diagnosis that squarely places the blame on Emma, it’s another quick pregnancy, which results in the healthy son and heir to continue the Cormac dynasty.

Where I think the book excels, is the portrayal of Emma in the before, as she clearly struggles through parenting 3 children, one of whom is non-verbal and requires certain concessions, one of whom is still a baby under 12 months and is still incredibly needy and the last of which, is a 4yo girl who is beginning to parrot Emma’s mother-in-law, the formidable Pat.

Pat is a very capable woman, who definitely likes her social status and likes to project the image of this very perfect family who has everything. Emma not being able to cope is definitely not in her vision for her son and nor is a child that is anything less than perfect. Pat’s snide mutters that the middle child Arthur not “be coddled” and just understand the fact that he has to learn and deal with things is a very outdated view on a child that has a medical diagnosis and clearly has some challenges that need to be dealt with. He is still non verbal at almost three and Emma has tried to teach him sign language. He also cannot abide noise of any kind and will scream incessantly if there’s anything loud and Emma has transformed his room so that he cannot hurt himself on anything. Robert, Emma’s husband, sees this as entirely unnecessary and although I sort of got the feeling he wasn’t trying to be a bad husband or father, he clearly doesn’t want to understand or concede to Arthur’s differences and he’s a distant dad in the way of 1960s types of parenting roles. In fact if this book didn’t mention a mobile phone screen and drop a brand name or two, I actually would’ve thought this was set in the past, so traditional is the Cormac family. It’s got huge “dad works 9-5 and does little parenting while mum stays at home, pops out babies and keeps the house” vibes.

I also really liked the way that Doyle portrayed the relationship between Pat and Emma. Pat is “helpful” – turning up most days, feeding the children, trying to feed Emma, who is still breastfeeding the third baby, a demanding child. Pat is this busy matriarch who has risen really high in social status and is definitely pretty determined to keep it. She doesn’t seem to like or approve of anything that might threaten that and her attitude towards Emma is definitely not one of sympathy. More like one of “pull yourself together and snap out of it” clearly missing that Emma isn’t able to do that and she has some real deep issues going on. Pat is either “tough love” or just scathing and maybe she thinks she’s helping, trying to shock Emma into functioning again but honestly, Emma gives off some real signs that she’s in a situation she can’t just snap out of and no one really seems to recognise it or want to. Or they think she’s like this deliberately for some reason, Robert’s internal thoughts get less and less supportive the more the book moves on. It’s clear this is not what he signed up for. No one really seems to sense where things are going until it’s way, way too late and then there’s only disgust and horror and anger, no attempts at understanding. And that’s not completely outside the realms of reality, because women who do what Emma do are not large in number but they do seem to attract the most amount of hatred.

However the back and forth didn’t really work for me, I didn’t find it seamless or smooth and a lot of the time it felt jarring and confusing, I already knew what happened, the book tells you before you even begin it, but I just wanted to know how it happened and the why and the circumstances and it was drawn out for the longest time. The After segments fell quite flat for me, they weren’t as compelling as those in the Before and I disliked the jump back and forwards in time. It’s actually a technique I often enjoy in literature but it can be difficult to achieve in a way that feels organic and not just like it’s an attempt to dribble out information and in this book, it felt lacking in some way. Disjointed and not whole.

Things I felt were done really well, others I felt just didn’t work for me personally. But overall, an interesting and strong story that just lost its way a fraction towards the end.

7/10

Book #92 of 2021

Echolalia is book #40 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: The Vet From Snowy River by Stella Quinn

The Vet From Snowy River
Stella Quinn
Harlequin AUS
2021, 408p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Vera De Rossi no longer believes in love …

And thanks to her ex-boyfriend- she’s also broke, jobless, and staring down the barrel at a court case that could land her in prison. Turning to her talent for baking, Vera opens a cafe in Hanrahan, a cosy tourist town in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains.

Josh Cody, once Hanrahan’s golden boy, escaped sixteen years ago with gossip hard on his heels and a pregnant girlfriend in tow. Now he’s back: a qualified veterinarian – and a single dad with a lot to prove. A new start and a grumpy teenage daughter … it’s a lot to juggle, and there’s no room in his life for further complications. But that’s before he walks into The Billy Button Cafe and meets its prickly owner …

Reeling from the past, Vera has no intention of being sidetracked by the hot vet with his killer smile. But fate has a way of tripping up our best intentions and between a stray cat and a busybody with a heart of gold, this is a town – a family – unlike any other. And, whether Vera wants it or not, is there anything a family won’t do to help one of its own?

Funny, feel-good and entertaining, a stellar romance debut from an award-winning new talent. 

After finishing Spring Clean For The Peach Queen I really felt like another rural romance to read and this one was the only one that’s on my June TBR pile that fit the bill. I didn’t really know much about it but the setting intrigued me – the snowy mountains have been popping up a little in rural fiction recently and I was keen to get into this one and see how it was.

Vera De Rossi is new in the small town of Hanrahan and she’s opening a cafe which she helps will provide enough income to pay for her aunt’s fees at a hospice. Vera has definitely had a rough time of it lately and she has a court case pending over her head, the outcome uncertain. Josh Cody grew up in Hanrahan and is back after 15 or so years away, to work in a veterinary practice with his sister. There’s definitely an attraction between Josh and Vera but Vera is very reluctant to become involved: she can’t trust her judgement at the moment and she’s been let down (and believes she’s let people down) so her self-confidence and esteem is at rock bottom. She’s prickly but that doesn’t put Josh off at all.

There was a lot about this that I really liked – the idea of Josh returning to his hometown, the veterinary practice setting and Vera opening the cafe. All the baked treats and meals described in this sounded absolutely delicious and the character of Graeme, who becomes Vera’s barista/front of house person was amazing – I thought he was fabulous. I also really liked Poppy, Josh’s daughter and also the way in which Josh and Poppy’s mother had a really great relationship. Josh’s relationship with Poppy too felt realistic and fraught with the tension of parenting a teenage girl and negotiating feelings of abandonment. The animals were excellent little characters in their own right – Jane Doe and all her pups as well as the stray cat that befriends Vera.

But there were a few things that I thought needed some work, plot wise – such as the development of the relationship between Josh and Vera. Josh’s first move felt very premature and there were times he came across as a bit pushy when Vera was giving some clear signals that she wanted him to back off. Even if her thoughts were conflicted, Josh should listen to what she was saying. There were times when Josh came across a bit younger than I think he was supposed to be, almost like an eager puppy. Also there’s a bit of the later part of the book devoted to a sort of sabotage attempt on his and his sister’s business and it kind of flares up and then fizzles out and goes no where but there’s a bit about Hannah, Josh’s sister in this book and whatever she may have going on or not going on with a high school friend of Josh’s. So perhaps there’ll be another book about those two and there’ll be more about that in the future because I felt like it took up quite a bit of page time for something that felt well, honestly, a bit like filler. It felt like drama for drama’s sake rather than advancing the plot in a meaningful way.

Overall I mostly enjoyed this, especially parts surrounding the building of the community and Vera’s journey in the cafe and her growth as a character. But I didn’t really love Josh and I think some of the pacing in the relationship needed a little bit of work, for me it just felt a bit rushed, especially because of Vera’s personality. I liked this and found it enjoyable but I didn’t love it. However, if there does turn out to be a book about Hannah I’d definitely read that because I found whatever was or wasn’t going on with her, interesting and I’d like to know more.

6/10

Book #91 of 2021

The Vet From Snowy River is book #39 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Spring Clean For The Peach Queen by Sasha Wasley

Spring Clean For The Peach Queen
Sasha Wasley
Pantera Press
2021, 471p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Twelve years had passed since the last Harvest Ball.

I was just eighteen when my hometown crowned me their Peach Queen with a blossom coronet. And I was eighteen when I left.

One tanked career, one badly timed glamour shoot and one dead boyfriend later, thirty-year-old Lottie Bentz is finally going home.

Back in the orchard town of Bonnievale, Lottie embarks on a radical declutter of her life, Marie Kondo-style. She casts out everything that got her into trouble: her phone, socials, make-up and a tendency to tell little white lies – to herself and others. But home has its own issues, not least Lottie’s staunchly feminist mother, who is furious with her.

When Lottie lands herself a place to stay in exchange for helping kindly Mrs Brooker try out the Kondo method, it seems like the perfect farm escape. That’s until Angus, Lottie’s former Peach King and heir to the Brooker orchards, makes it clear she’s not welcome – especially when Lottie’s declutter begins to stir up long buried memories and half-truths.

As Lottie finds her way back to herself, can she use her talents to coax Bonnievale and the Brookers out of the past? After all, everyone deserves to feel love, hope and the occasional spark of joy.

A deeply moving story about forgiving, finding joy and falling in love with life again. 

I absolutely loved this book.

Recently, just before I read this, Melbourne entered Lockdown 4.0 after a corona outbreak – a 7 day “circuit breaker” to keep people from moving around until everyone who had potentially come into contact with a positive case had been put into isolation and tested. Many people have mixed feelings about lockdown but I arm myself with lots of books and get ready to hole up for the duration. I decided to document my “ISO reads” on instagram and this was the second book I read during the isolation period.

Lottie (known as Charlize in her city acting life) is back in her hometown, reassessing her whole life. She was caught up in a terrible incident and the fallout has been invasive in the press and now Lottie isn’t sure what she wants to do but she thinks she’s done with acting. She was the last Peach Queen in her hometown and she finds herself on the committee to stage the event again, after a 12 year gap.

There’s just so much about this that I loved – Mrs B! The mother of Angus, who was the Peach King to Lottie’s Peach Queen, who opens her home to Lottie when she feels she cannot live at home, due to discord with her staunchly feminist mother, who doesn’t approve of a lot of Lottie’s choices. I loved the way Lottie and Mrs B developed this beautiful rapport, bonding over the art of tidying up. In Mrs B, Lottie finds true acceptance of who she is and the space to work through the ‘list’ she has created of things she wants to change or cut from her life. I saw what was happening to Mrs B before Lottie does but I thought the whole way it played out felt so realistic, especially from the points of view of Angus, her son and Lottie.

Ah Angus. I loved Angus and Lottie too. I felt like they had so much chemistry – it’s a slow burn, both Lottie and Angus have had things happen that make them gun-shy. Angus has some hang ups and has made some vows and Lottie isn’t sure what she really wants or where she’ll be in the future. But they find common ground a lot and I really loved the way Lottie’s presence definitely gives Angus some sleepless nights about his “policy” and the fact that sometimes, he really cannot hide how much he’s into her and how conflicted he is. Angus has buried a lot deep down but he feels he can be himself around Lottie, he likes her “no faking, no lying” vow and I appreciate the things they tell each other, the lack of artifice.

Lottie has a really difficult relationship with her mother, who always tends to be quite judgemental of her choices, especially one posing for a magazine. I really felt for Lottie, every time she felt the brunt of her mother’s snubbing of her after she returned to town. It was so uncomfortable at her family home that she took up an offer to basically stay in a decrepit caravan, because it was more welcoming. I think in the end the two of them did come to an understanding about each other but yeah, I still really felt for Lottie for a lot of the book because it’s obvious she’s quite upset at the broken relationship and that she feels like she can’t really do a lot to repair it and that it has to come from her mother, when her mother is ready.

This one has definitely earned a spot on my favourites shelf and I can see myself re-reading it in the future. I’ve really like Sasha Wasley’s other books too so she’s definitely an autoread author for me.

9/10

Book #90 of 2021

Spring Clean For The Peach Queen is book #38 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Magpie’s Bend by Maya Linnell

Magpie’s Bend
Maya Linnell
Allen & Unwin
2021, 350p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A pitch-perfect rural romance of community and family from the bestselling author of Bottlebrush Creek.

Lara McIntyre and journalist Toby Paxton are thrust into the limelight when an accident puts the beating heart of their community in jeopardy.

The small country town of Bridgefield can’t manage without their general store and post office, but Lara can’t stomach the idea of out-of-town buyers running it into the ground either.

With the help of the close-knit community, they rally together to save the general store. Featuring a black tie ball, a fun run, a magpie called Vegemite and a snake-chasing kelpie called Basil, Magpie’s Bend is a story about rural lives, family, love and letting go.

This is third book by Maya Linnell focusing on the McIntyre sisters. Some of Lara’s story was revealed in previous books but you could also read this stand alone as well. Lara is a nurse, living in the Grampians in rural Victoria. She has a teenage daughter Evie who has just gone to boarding school in Ballarat and Lara finds herself missing her terribly. Her life gets busier when she finds the older owner of the local general store hurt. Lara administers first aid while the one man behind the local newspaper assists and then, when she realises Mrs Beggs will have to sell the store, Lara can’t bear to see it fall into the hands of people not from the area who don’t understand it. She rallies to organise a roster of volunteers to keep it up and running whilst Mrs Begg is in hospital and then comes up with an idea of how the town might be able to purchase it and keep it running, rather than see it turned into an American diner or vegan cafe.

I have really enjoyed both the previous books and this one was no exception. I like the whole McIntyre family, I think they’re wonderful, which is great because we get to catch up with the characters in the previous two books: Penny and Tim and Rob and Angie. Lara’s family often have big gatherings and everyone comes along and it’s wonderful. The sisters are different, but close and share some similarities.

During helping Mrs Beggs, Lara meets Toby Paxton, photographer and journalist who runs the local weekly newspaper. I also really liked the character of Toby. Both Lara and Toby are divorced parents of teenage girls. Toby sees his daughter Holly regularly, the rest of the time she lives with her mother in Ballarat. Evie’s father is no longer in her life but due to her enrolment at boarding school, Lara now only sees Evie sporadically but they speak all the time on the phone. I thought the parenting roles were written really well – the children are older, which means their presence is less in the story but it was enough to get the ideas of the challenges of single parenting or parenting with someone you are no longer married to. Both Lara and Toby are attracted to the other but Lara’s past definitely makes her wary and she’s in this town in the long haul, whereas she doesn’t know if Toby will be sticking around or heading for a more prestigious job in the future.

I also enjoyed the local community aspect – the idea of the town purchasing the store to keep it running as it is, a local general store and post office. It’s a pillar of the community (it also made me really want a meat pie, for reasons people will understand once they’ve read it!). I also was intrigued by the idea Lara came up with about the space above the store – that was excellent.

I follow Maya Linnell on instagram and she’s a wonderful baker (and gardener) and often posts pictures and videos of the things she makes and grows. Her characters often enjoy baking too and this book is ripe with descriptions of baked goods – Lara stress bakes which I think a lot of people could probably relate to. Also one of the sisters, Diana has a green thumb and grows incredible flowers – I’m sure Diana’s book will be next because there’s been some intriguing little tidbits dropped about her in the books so far. I’m keen to know more.

I thought Lara and Toby went really well together and the slow pacing of their developing attractions definitely worked because of Lara’s history. I liked how much they had in common and how they built things during running together and also brainstorming ideas about the store and Toby helping by writing articles for the newspaper. I always really appreciate when you can see characters building a friendship as well as see their physical attraction because it’s so easy to picture the life they build together that’s more than just chemistry. You really did get the feeling Lara and Toby had created something incredibly strong.

Maya Linnell continues to write lovely heartwarming stories that draw you in, featuring wonderful little communities and characters that you would want to know. I can’t wait to read her next one.

8/10

Book #89 of 2021

Magpie’s Bend is book #37 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

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Review: Falling by T.J. Newman

Falling
T.J. Newman
Simon & Schuster
2021, 288p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: You just boarded a flight to New York.

There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard.

What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped.

For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die.

The only way the family will survive is if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane.

Enjoy the flight.

What an absolutely fascinating premise for a book.

The one thing that you understand when you board a plane, is that basically, you’re placing your life in the hands of the pilot{s}. And I’ve watched enough episodes of Air Crash Investigation to know that sometimes, that trust is entirely misguided and a lot of those crashes? Are filed under “pilot error” in the records. This is a good way to ensure some people might never fly again as in this story, Captain Bill Hoffman is ready for a pretty standard flight LAX to JFK when he receives a message that someone has his family: wife Carrie, 10yo son Scott and 10 month old daughter Elise. And if he doesn’t follow specific instructions and crash this plane into a designated target, the man will blow up Bill’s family and his entire life along with it.

It’s an interesting moral dilemma – which do you choose? To save the lives of those that mean the most to you, the people you love more than anything, and therefore deliberately end the lives of 140+ others? Or maintain his professional integrity and safely land his plane, thereby sacrificing his family and destroying his life as he knows it anyway? And if he doesn’t comply with the demands, the man that has his family assures Bill that some sort of “back up” is on board the plane anyway, presumably someone who will carry out several of the tasks Bill is supposed to before crashing the plane and any steps he may take to save the plane may be sabotaged anyway.

I liked Bill – clearly a dedicated, competent pilot, the sort that picks up an extra shift when asked by a superior despite the fact that it’s his son’s opening Little League game and he promised he’d be there. This causes a little friction with his wife and when Bill leaves for the shift that includes the flight that will go so wrong, they’re out of sorts. After seeing evidence of his family in their terrible hostage situation, Bill has only minutes to decide which of the remote hijacker’s commands he will obey – and which he will not, risking retribution, should it be realised.

The author is a flight attendant (furloughed curing COVID-19) and the insider knowledge definitely helps drive this. A lot of cockpit and cabin procedure flesh out the situation, people charged with the job of keeping people safe 37,000 feet above the ground. The way in which they pull together as a team to accomplish things and the clear and concise ways that procedures and movements of the cabin and cockpit staff are explained, really help. It’s also written and paced pretty well (one thing aside, which I’ll mention later) and I felt like it definitely built the suspense and hooked me as a reader with the sense of impending doom and there were a couple of reveals later in the piece that felt really well done. Bill’s stress level increases but he also still, in a way, has a part of him that remains detached enough to plan and keep planning, even as he’s seemingly faced with one impossible choice with two terrible outcomes. It’s a short novel, which works in its favour I think, because even with that, there’s a part where the plot starts to drag, just slightly, around the time of the reveal of the real target of the plane.

However. Where it didn’t really work for me is the story of the hijackers and their motivation. I’m not American but even I knew the second one of them said their name, where it was going. And it’s at the moment, the ‘flavour of the month/year/decade/etc’ I guess and even though they’re “the bad”, there’s an attempt given to humanise them and try and get the reader to sympathise with them and look, in some ways, it almost works until you remember that there’s a bunch of random people on that plane who have nothing to do with anything and how does this make it any better? They may feel they have no other options but all this does is demonise their cause, for the average person at home who would read about this tragic accident on the internet or watch it unfold on CNN in real time, or something. It felt clunky, inconsistent at times (Sam’s behaviour with Carrie) and done before, many times, with only slight variation in specific geographical background. Unfortunately it’s too easy to do because America has had their fingers in so many foreign pies, where people live or die by the whim of whoever decides they’ll go in or pull out at any given time. The other thing that felt odd, and entirely off, pacing-wise, as I mentioned earlier, was the opening of the book which is quite horrifically gruesome but evident almost immediately that’s separate from the actual plot *and then he woke up* which….are people still toting this as a literary device? I’ve no doubt pilots have nightmares, this is not something you really need to establish.

Also the baseball scene is weird. Maybe you have to be American and overly patriotic to appreciate that. It’s very “band playing on while the Titanic sinks but”…..yeah, did not work for me.

This was an undoubtedly excellent premise and it’ll surprise no one I think, that the movie rights have sold. It has all the makings of a big budget Hollywood blockbuster: average, all-round American good guy dude with beautiful family and wonderful job faced with horrific moral dilemma with the ability for the movie to play out all the scenarios for the viewer’s pleasure in the pilot’s mind’s eye. And I did enjoy the read – as I said, the suspense was built well, I liked Bill and appreciated the dilemma and his inner thoughts. But there were some things that did not feel fresh and others that felt shoehorned into the plot a bit awkwardly.

6/10

Book #87 of 2021

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May Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 22
Fiction: 21
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 3
Books On My TBR List: 3
Books in a Series: 8
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 9
Male/Female Authors: 1/21
Kindle Books: 0
Audiobooks: 1
Books I Owned or Bought: 7
Favourite Book(s): Six Of Crows {re-read} & Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, The 99th Koala by Kailas Wild, Act Like It by Lucy Parker {re-read but listened to on audio this time}
Least Favourite Books: The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 9

May was a really nice reading month. Got through quite a lot of books – I think because even though it wasn’t winter yet, May felt like winter. It was pretty cold, few rainy days, just had those winter vibes. I did a lot of reading.

As I write this, Melbourne is back in lockdown – we had a 7 day “circuit breaker” lockdown announced last week and it’s supposed to end in 3 days but I’m not 100% confident it will. We’re heading back into a danger time for the virus, the vaccination roll out has been slow here and hotel quarantine is still an issue. Lockdown doesn’t bother me (to be honest it’s not hugely different for me) but I’m in a privileged position to be able to say that. There are others where these conditions impact on them hugely and for their sake, I hope this is kept under control and we come out the other side soon. But if nothing else, lockdown does give me lots of opportunity to read and that’s a good thing, because my June reading pile is huge.

Challenge check in!

Australian Women Writers Challenge: 40/50

Read Non Fiction Challenge: 4/6

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge: 16/25

Well, I’m cranking my way through the Australian Women Writers Challenge – I could easily get to the target I set myself by the end of June. I did slow down a bit on the other challenges, adding only 1 to my total for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and none for my non-fiction challenge. However I’m in a comfortable position with both of those and have several in my June pile that will fit for the Historical challenge. I have one book out from the library that will contribute to my non-fiction challenge as well. As some of you might notice, I wiped out the fourth challenge I had intended to participate in, because I hadn’t read anything that contributed after five months and given it’s a challenge that contains 30-ish prompts, let’s just agree it was never going to happen! Maybe next year, because it is a challenge I enjoy. It’s just that because the prompts change, sometimes they fit and sometimes they just don’t work for me.

The June pile is reminiscent of the huge April pile I had.

So yeah, there’s 12 books on this pile but the bottom one is 1000p which is almost like 3 books in one! I knew that if I was going to be able to get through this, I’d have to start early so, I have actually read some of these already.

I also still have all my library books because even though they were due back, the library renewed them all due to the lockdown which works in my favour! Now I just need to fit them in, amongst all the books in this pile here. And also think about books I’ve bought recently (I just bought another one, because a store was offering free postage to people with a Victorian postcode while they were in lockdown).

If you’ve read anything on my June pile, be sure to let me know. I could do with a way to prioritise things!

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Top 10 Tuesday 1st June

Hello everyone and welcome to another Top 10 Tuesday! Hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl, it features a different bookish related theme each week. I skipped last week but this is a freebie week so we can choose anything we like or revisit a past topic. I thought I’d do a post that might help keep me accountable.

The 10 Books I Bought Most Recently That Are Still Unread

I buy a lot of books. Sometimes I buy them and read them right away. But a lot of the time…..I don’t. I also get a lot of books for review and there’s only so much time in the day. These are 10 books I’ve bought because I really want to read them but for reasons, haven’t yet. Hopefully I can come back and check this post later in the year and check them off!

  1. King Of Scars by Leigh Bardugo (King Of Scars #1)

Okay so I held off buying this for a long time because I was so behind on the Grishaverse. But the show on Netflix really motivated me to finish both Shadow & Bone finally, and also re-read Six Of Crows and finally read Crooked Kingdom. After I finished all those, I immediately bought this and the next book on the list (which I’m sure you’ll know what it is) and I’m very keen to get to these. I’m actually kind of glad I can read them together.

2. Rule Of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo (King Of Scars #2)

Of course it’s this one! I bought them together (the books are different sizes, which annoys me as in Australia, rather than hardback, our first release is a larger paperback, then the smaller format comes out generally 6-12 months later, so KoS is small, this one is large). But I’m really looking forward to these two. I want to see what is next for Nikolai.

3. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

I saw a promo post for this book on instagram and it just looked so stunning. Plus I really loved Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller (still have to read Circe) and this seems to have really similar vibes/if you like that you’ll like this type of thing. That cover though. It really is just beautiful.

4. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

I bought this for a specific reason but haven’t had to read it yet but I’ve read a couple other Kristin Hannah books and really enjoyed them so I’m quite keen to read this. I haven’t actually read probably her 2 most well known books (including the one made into a TV series) so I have quite a bit of work to do, backlist wise there.

5. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I’ve heard such amazing things about this! About Brit Bennet in general actually, because I wouldn’t mind getting The Mothers as well. I have to make time for this one in my near future.

6. Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

I hate this cover so much – the other one is so beautiful but this one was the one I could buy here in Australia but every time I look at it I’m just….ugh. But I adore this series, I’ve loved all the books so far and I really want to read this one. I felt like Bitterblue had a lot that was really unresolved.

7. A Song Of Wraiths And Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

I bought this one a little while ago and haven’t read it yet! I’ve heard some pretty good things from different parts of the internet and I’m really keen to read it as I’ve never really read anything based on West African folklore before.

8. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

I actually might need to buy the rest of this series before I read this because I’ve discovered that I really just like being able to roll from one to the next – but I’ve had this a little while and haven’t picked it up yet. Seems to be generally very well received though, so maybe I’ll start it and see if I like it enough to pick up the others (next day delivery for the win).

9. Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Thomas Cromwell #2)

Well it took me over 10 years to finally read Wolf Hall. I really enjoyed it though and went out and bought this not long after. Hopefully it takes me less than 10 years to finally read it!

10. All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

I bought this, Trent Dalton’s second book, after his first, Boy Swallows Universe was very well received and won a slew of Australian literary awards. I really like the cover (which I’ve included on a previous TTT list for covers with nature on them, I think). But I still haven’t gotten around to reading it yet!

Which of these should I read first? Any ideas?!

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