All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Beach Read (Audiobook) by Emily Henry

Beach Read
Emily Henry
Narrated by Julia Whelan
Penguin Audio
2020, 10hrs 13m
Purchased via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

loved this.

I had some audible credits and I had an email that one was going to expire so I went and had a bit of a browse. My original intention was to purchase a non-fiction title or two for a challenge I’m participating in but I ended up choosing three romance/women’s fiction type of reads. I’d heard excellent things about this and I’ve actually had it requested through my local library for months but because of covid no one is actually returning library books so I’m not making any progress in the queue. So I decided to grab it because I just felt like listening to something sweet and funny and this would hopefully fit the bill. Normally I have mixed results with audiobooks – I zone out a bit, get frustrated because I can read them myself in a fraction of the time and normally I have my best results listening to books I’ve already read and loved. But this? I couldn’t get enough of it. I listened to it in a day and a half and the narration was excellent.

January Andrews is a romance author currently experiencing writer’s block. A year ago her father died and at his funeral, she discovered something about him that blew her whole relationship with him apart. He also left her a cabin she never new existed and so she’s spending the summer there because she’s behind on her deadline, her relationship ended and she’s broke. She needs to finish and sell a book. And while she’s there she’ll clean up the cabin and sell that too. Once she’s there she discovers that her next door neighbour is Augustus Everett, literary fiction writer and January’s former college nemesis. They could not be more different – January adores romance and happy ever after and Augustus writes about the bleak misery and impotence of life. However they’re both struggling at the moment and so a swap is proposed: Gus will write a happy ever after and January will turn her hand to a more literary type of novel. They’ll also take each other along on research trips for their respective genres.

This was just….so fun. I loved the banter between Gus and January, who both write very different types of novels. January has always felt that Gus looked down on her sort of writing, like he wasn’t respectful of it and she’s very quick to bristle when she feels he may be mocking her. Her takedown of literary fiction and the sort of books Gus writes was amazing and “coldly horny” is now my new favourite description. They have a great chemistry but it wasn’t just about the challenge for them to write each other’s type of novel. Both of them also have a lot going on in their personal lives (and have always had a lot going on in their personal lives) so this book also does get quite deep and dark when it dives into each of their issues and their opening up to each other about secrets and painful emotions and in Gus’ case, learning to trust. The latter part of this book in particular dug quite deep into a lot of emotional issues, grief and fear and rejection and pain. January is grieving her father – not just him being gone but also grieving the idea of the loss of the man she thought she knew. What she found out about him has made her question everything and it’s causing her a huge amount of hurt. She’s putting off things as well, such as reading the letter from him that she was given after his death. The bet with Gus gives her a way to “write through her pain”, changing the situation but working into a book, as it wouldn’t really fit with a book she would normally write. I think it’s quite therapeutic for her.

This was 100% my type of book. It was exactly the sort of read I was looking for and the narration was just so good as well. I also just saw a post about Emily Henry’s next book which is coming out in January I think – and it also sounds exactly like my type of read. I cannot wait for it!

9/10

Book #207 of 2020

 

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Review: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings 
Sayaca Murata (translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
Granta
2020, 247p
Copy courtesy Allen & Unwin

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mind-blowing, dark and wild, the new novel from Sayaka Murata – author of bestseller Convenience Store Woman – asks: how far would you go just to be yourself?

Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what.

Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?

Yikes, where to start with this.

Firstly (and I don’t often do this but I feel this book warrants it) – trigger/content warning for: child abuse, physical and mental abuse, child sex abuse, graphic content, horror, gore, cannibalism.

This book starts off simply enough – Natsuki is a young girl who spends each summer at the home of her grandparents deep in the mountains. She loves this time, she gets to see all her relatives, especially her cousins and her favourite cousin, Yuu. Natsuki and Yuu are quite close (bonding over a shared view that they are aliens who do not belong) and I think Natsuki’s desire to ‘marry’ Yuu reflects a longing to escape her life. Her mother is incredibly abusive towards Natsuki, both emotionally and physically. She’s very concerned with Natsuki’s sister’s fragile health and that child is given priority. Summer at the family house is Natsuki’s dream, she longs for it each year. There’s a lot happening to her, she’s also being preyed upon by a teacher at her school, which, when she tries to tell her mother, results in being beaten and screamed at for lying. I found that stuff really hard to read as it all takes place from Natsuki’s point of view and she’s very young, she doesn’t really understand what is happening. She comes up with this plan to basically take back her body but it ends badly when the adults discover it.

The book skips forward then, to when Natsuki is now 34 and married in a marriage of convenience. It’s all to maintain appearances, to be part of what Natsuki calls ‘the Factory’ – where you are born, you grow up and get married, have a child or children to contribute and then the cycle repeats all over again. Anyone who doesn’t conform is questioned relentlessly and Natsuki experiences this to a degree as she and her husband are yet to produce a child for ‘the Factory’.

It’s during this section when things take…..a bit of a turn. There’s some earlier magical realism, where Natsuki has a small hedgehog toy as a child that she believes is from a different planet, which actually seems to be a coping mechanism for her life as this ostracised child who doesn’t feel she fits in or belongs. And I suppose a lot of what follows could be the result of the deep trauma she experienced during that childhood but let’s just say the book definitely goes places that I did not expect it to go. I’ve read Sayaka Murata’s first novel, Convenience Store Woman and I really enjoyed it. I only read it this year and I see similarities between that book and this one: both have main characters in their thirties who do not really conform to the expected views of society. Both are in marriages of a convenience. There’s a lot about the ‘system’ in Japan and how women’s bodies aren’t really their own and how they are all cogs in a machine to drive society forward, to keep things moving.

This book gets dark, very dark. There was a lot of content that I felt uncomfortable reading, because I don’t generally choose to read books of this type and it wasn’t something I expected, going in. It’s toward the end though, so I had already read most of the book so I finished it, so I’d find out what happened. A lot of the latter part of the book feels quite unhinged, referencing Natsuki’s mental state, as her and her companions further descend into this belief that they’re really aliens from another planet who are just inhabiting Earthly vessels and doing what Earthlings do.

I felt like this book started off really well. The feeling of ostracisation that Natsuki experienced within her own family, her desire to escape, even the toy hedgehog being from another planet, I could understand it as a child’s desire to believe in something better for themselves. The sexual abuse is disturbing (and I was concerned how dismissive everyone was of it) but I felt it gave Natsuki reasons for her desire to escape the life she was living. But the deeper I got, honestly, the less I enjoyed it. I found the ending really gratuitous and I’m not even entirely sure how much was real and how much might’ve been a mental psychosis induced fever dream. Maybe it was all real and all of them descended into madness together at the same rate as a result of the different traumas they experienced as children, as people who didn’t fit into neat boxes as adults. Maybe none of it was. I honestly don’t even know. Reading it as it was presented, I didn’t enjoy it.

4/10

Book #203 of 2020

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Review: Mind The Gap, Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Mind The Gap, Dash & Lily (Dash & Lily #2)
Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Allen & Unwin
2020, 248p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Timed to coincide with the Netflix release of DASH AND LILY, Mind the Gap, Dash & Lily serves up a new helping of love, friendship and Christmas as best-selling authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan send Dash and Lily to England – to find their futures, and hopefully find each other again as well.

After Dash gets accepted into Oxford University and Lily stays in New York to take care of her dog-walking business, the devoted couple struggle to make a long-distance relationship work. And when Dash breaks the news that he won’t be coming home for Christmas, Lily makes a decision: if Dash can’t return to New York, she’ll just have to go to London.

It’s a perfect romantic gesture… that spins out of Lily’s control. Soon Dash and Lily are feeling more of a gap between them, even though they’re in the same city. Will London bring them together again – or will it be their undoing?

This wonderful holiday read will delight readers from start to finish.

I knew it’d been a really long time since I’d read Dash & Lily’s Book Of Dares but I didn’t know it was a whopping 10 years! I remember how much I enjoyed it and how cute I thought it was and when I saw this I thought it would be really fun to revisit Dash & Lily and see what they’re up to now. There’s actually a second Dash & Lily book that somehow passed me by. I haven’t read that but it really doesn’t matter.

Dash and Lily are doing the long distance relationship thing. Although Dash was accepted to a university in New York, he was also accepted to Oxford, in England and that’s his dream. Lily encouraged him to accept the offer, even though she knew it would separate them. Lily herself was accepted to the same college her mother and all the other women in her family went to, much to her surprise but she’s taking a gap year and building her dog walking business and branching out into dog-related crafts. It’s actually going really well and now she’s not sure she wants to go to college at all, but that will horrify her family.

Lily decides to go to London for Christmas to surprise Dash when he tells her that he won’t be coming back to New York. They’ve been struggling a bit as Dash isn’t one for the more modern forms of communication. However when she arrives, Lily realises that the surprise might not have been the best idea. This Dash is not the Dash she knows and soon Lily wonders if the gap has become too big….even when they’re both in London.

Both Dash and Lily are struggling with the idea of the future. Dash had a sort of grand idea that he’d come to Oxford and it’d be like some timeslip or something and everyone there would be engaging in intellectual discussions in front of roaring fires or something. But instead they’re normal teenagers, just like everywhere else, checking Instagram and the like on their phones. Coming to the first exam session, he’s feeling quite disillusioned and a bit anxious, like perhaps this wasn’t what he wanted after all. And for Lily, she knows that the college she applied for and was accepted to, isn’t where she wants to go. She’s got some ideas, some of them a bit more out there than others but she also knows that her family are going to revolt. They’re already upset with her for choosing to be with Dash in London instead of in New York with them.

I had honestly forgotten how protective of her Lily’s family were and how much they seem to baby her and the snark of her cousin and brother. It’s been a decade after all! By contrast Dash’s family are quite distant, although he’s built a good relationship with his grandmother, who lives in London. He’s very surprised to see Lily and it doesn’t go very smoothly at first. They have some trouble communicating, Lily feels left out of this new life, left out of how Dash is feeling. And Dash – he was actually quite rude in the first part of the book. Lily’s family are pretty horrible to him though and he sort of just has to let it roll off and even though they’re just eighteen with lots of life left ahead of them before the whole “settling down” thing, it’s something that needs to be addressed so that Lily doesn’t feel so constantly attacked and in the middle. Their actions towards Dash are really quite childish.

I’ve never been to London, so I can’t really say if it gave that ‘feeling’. But I did find it some sort of miracle that Lily was able to secure a room at Claridges’ of all places with zero notice over the Christmas period. You’d think they’d be booked out well in advance. But anyway. This was cute without really being anything spectacular. I was surprised how unlikeable I found Dash at first although I feel like the book did establish why he was feeling this way. I enjoyed Lily as a character and I could relate to her indecision about her future. Lily felt pressured, buttonholed into something that probably wasn’t going to be for her. She’d bought some time and was developing something that really worked for her (it was good money, even if it didn’t seem like her parents took it seriously) but she needed to be able to express herself to them about her future, even if she hadn’t exactly figured it out yet. Lily’s mother seems very manipulative though. The whole cancelling Christmas thing? Again, childish.

This is probably a perfect Christmas read when your mind is busy with other things like family and food and holiday preparations and you just want something that isn’t going to take too much space in your brain, with people that are familiar. It was good to revisit Dash and Lily and see how they’re doing in that next stage of their lives, which is a really important one, full of finding out things about yourself and what you want.

I am really looking forward to the Netflix series of Dash & Lily – that should be super fun.

7/10

Book #201 of 2020

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Top 10 Tuesday 20th October

Hi and welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl, it features a different bookish or literary themed topic each week. This week it’s……

Books I Read Because Someone Recommended Them To Me

To be honest, the answer to this is basically “oh so many”. I find that bookworms are always ready, willing and able to push their favourite books on others and I know that I’m no exception to that. Whenever I discover that anyone I know is a reader, I immediately try to find out what they like to read and suggest things that I think they may enjoy and I love when people do the same for me as well. For a long time, I only had 1-2 book-loving friends but the book blogging community has opened up a lot of ways for me to discover new books, which has been loads of fun.

1. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. 

In 2010, I met Margaret from The Intrepid Reader on twitter. During a discussion about our local libraries, we suddenly realised (well she did, I’d just moved here) that we were talking about the same library and we live about 10-15 minutes away from each other. We met in person and have attended lots of bookish events together, caught up for brunches and dinners and swapped recommendations for many, many books. Marg introduced me to Susanna Kearsley, particularly recommending this book and I’ve since read almost everything Kearsley has to offer and loved them.

2. The Lady Julia Grey Series by Deanna Raybourn. 

Also because of Margaret! I just checked and I read this in November 2010, so it honestly must’ve been one of the first things that Marg recommended to me. I really enjoyed this series, #3 is one of my favourite books.

3. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell.

Thanks to Danielle Binks, aka Alpha Reader who gave it the most glowing of reviews. I immediately knew that it was something that I would love and I was right. I’ve since read pretty much everything else that Rainbow Rowell has to offer as well and I’m waiting for Any Way The Wind Blows with a lot of anticipation.

4. The Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody.

Thanks to Natalie, who was my best friend in grades 5 and 6, until I moved away halfway through grade 6. We used to exchange actual letters (early 90s, before email) and she was one of the few reading friends I ever had before blogging. I had another one in high school, we both read a lot of horse books. Anyway, Natalie recommended this series to me in 1997, I’ve talked about it loads of times. It’s remained one of my longest-standing series, in that it took until just a few years ago for the final book to be released.

5. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owns.

Because of Theresa at TheresaSmithWrites – she actually sent me a copy of this one, as she had one spare and it’s one of my favourite books – it was I think, my #1 book in 2019.

 

6. Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar

Also recommended to me by Danielle Binks who suggested I grab a copy at a blogger event at Penguin AUS many, many years ago now. This is an incredible book and I love it. It also has development funding for a film, which would be amazing to see.

7. The Girl In Steel-Capped Boots by Loretta Hill.

Also because of Danielle Binks and Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out, another fabulous Australian blogger. I remember they both had awesome reviews of this book and it put it very high on my Wishlist and I ended up adoring it. In fact Loretta Hill wrote a lot of really wonderful books set in various locations in Western Australia, the early books focusing around mining up in the north of the state.

8. The Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon.

I read this with Theresa in a pretty casual read-a-long where we both started around the same time and took periodic breaks to talk about what was happening, what we were enjoying, etc. This was a mammoth of a book and it was quite fun to have someone to read along with.

9. The Virgin River Series by Robyn Carr.

I binged these many years ago now, also thanks to Margaret from The Intrepid Reader! She was also binging them at the time, perhaps for the second time and thought I would enjoy giving them a go, because I do love a good series.

 

10. Once by Morris Gleitzman.

Because of my oldest son. He’s 12, although I read this last year when he was 10 or 11. He’s a very capable reader, he’s in an advanced reading “focus” group at school and reads well above his age but he’s not exactly an enthusiastic reader. So when he read this and couldn’t stop talking about it, he also asked me to read it so he could hear my thoughts on it. And I couldn’t say no to that, so I read this as well. This is a very powerful series from the point of view of a young Jewish boy during WWII.

I could fill many posts on this topic! But here’s just a few of them! This was fun so I definitely think I’ll cover this topic again at some stage, I didn’t touch on books I read because of my husband or my Nan, nor did I cover all the books some of the people I actually did mention in this post, have recommended to me!

 

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Blog Tour Review: Trust by Chris Hammer

Trust (Martin Scarsdale #3)
Chris Hammer
Allen & Unwin
2020, 480p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

He violated her past and haunts her present.

Now he’s threatening their future.

She breathes deeply, trying to quell the rising sense of panic. A detective came to her home, drugged her and kidnapped her. She tries to make sense of it, to imagine alternatives, but only one conclusion is possible: it’s her past come to claim her.

Martin Scarsden’s new life seems perfect, right up until the moment it’s shattered by a voicemail: a single scream, abruptly cut off, from his partner Mandalay Blonde. Racing home, he finds an unconscious man sprawled on the floor and Mandy gone. Someone has abducted her. But who, and why?

So starts a twisting tale of intrigue and danger, as Martin probes the past of the woman he loves, a woman who has buried her former life so deep she has never mentioned it.

And for the first time, Mandy finds denial impossible, now the body of a mystery man has been discovered, a man whose name she doesn’t know, a man she was engaged to marry when he died. It’s time to face her demons once and for all; it’s time she learned how to trust.

Set in a Sydney riven with corruption and nepotism, privilege and power, Trust is the third riveting novel from award-winning and internationally acclaimed writer Chris Hammer.

Martin Scarsden is back – this book is set about 18 months after the events in Silver and Martin is putting the finishing touches on another book. He and Mandy have settled in their clifftop home and have been working hard to make it what they both want. Liam is now a happy toddler and for a while, things are good. Until one day on the beach when Martin picks up a call from Mandy only to hear a scream on the other end before it cuts out. When he rushes back to the house, she’s gone – and an unconscious man he recognises as a police officer is there instead. Why is he here? Where’s Mandy? What happened here? As Martin gets ready to move heaven and earth to track down his partner, he gets a phone call from Max, his old boss at the Herald. He’s got a big story and he needs Martin on this. Preoccupied with Mandy’s mysterious disappearance, Martin fobs him off…..until it’s too late and he realises that everything is connected.

I read all three of these novels close together and sometimes that can actually be a bit of a negative. Characters and plots have to be really strong to stand up to taking up a lot of a person’s reading time and this series definitely fits the bill there. This one is action packed, moving from the northern NSW coastal town of Port Silver to inner-city Sydney. The city is one of my favourite places in the world and it’s captured really well here, with Martin’s local neighbourhood featuring, his favourite cafe as well as his moving around various suburbs in the process of his many investigations which begin to all tie together. There’s also rather a lot of Martin and Mandy having to deal with personal things – over the past while, Martin has begun to open up to her, confiding in her about his troubled childhood and presumably, various other things. However the events that unfold after Mandy’s kidnapping are a painful reminder for Martin that as open as he’s been with Mandy recently, it seems that she has not been reciprocating. He learns that she was engaged previously, a man and romance she’s never mentioned. And now he’s turned up dead.

All of the books in this series are really enjoyable with fast pace plots, multiple twists and turns, plenty of dead bodies and a protagonist in Martin who has a nose for a story and will not let go until he finds the truth. I felt like this book had the best pacing of all three. It’s clever, it takes something and develops it over the entire book with twists and turns but also I think, taps into something that it isn’t too hard for regular people to believe exist: a different life and set of rules for the wealthy and privileged. Despite its length, there were no flat spots in the story, bits where I thought the characters were just spinning their wheels waiting for the next development. Each page moves everything forward, each new character appears for a reason, often not the one I first suspected. And to my delight, we also have the state’s most overworked homicide detective, Morris Montifore: once again back to investigate with his perennially bored and hostile offsider Ivan Lucic. We also get a few cameo appearances from friends, like Jack Goffing as well. I actually really enjoy the role that Montifore plays – during the previous two investigations, I think he and Martin have come to a place of understanding and mutual respect even though their two very different jobs sometimes place them at odds with each other. In this book, their professional relationship is definitely tested, but not in the way that I would’ve thought actually.

I’ve never quite been sold on Mandy as a character, until this book. After Scrublands I didn’t actually expect her to reappear. She’s always felt too much in the thick of the action, but given her past and the way this story developed, the reason for it, it felt right this time. Like she had a purpose for always being there and a purpose for wanting to know the truth. I think it also rips open a lot of things for her and Martin to actually get to know each other better, because even after all this time there were still obviously too many secrets between them.

The deeper I got into this, the more I enjoyed it. I don’t know what the plan is for the future, but I would read many more Martin Scarsden books!

9/10

Book # 110 of 2020

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Double Review: Scrublands & Silver by Chris Hammer

Scrublands (Martin Scarsden #1)
Chris Hammer
Allen & Unwin
2019, 491p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In an isolated country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.

A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town’s secrets stay buried.

I bought this book last year after hearing some really wonderful things about it – my husband read it and loved it so on the strength of that, I also bought the sequel, Silver. And now that the third book Trust is about to be released, I’m finally getting around to reading the first two. In this book, Martin Scarsden is a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald and he’s been sent to the small Riverina town of Riversend to write a piece one year after the local priest opened fire on some of his congregation, shooting five people dead before being shot dead himself by a local police officer. Martin’s piece is supposed to be about how the town is coping, how it’s put itself back together after such a tragedy but he’s barely in town five minutes before he begins finding and noticing things that don’t seem to add up. There’s definitely a much bigger story here but even Martin couldn’t have guessed just how big and intricate it would become.

This is set in a country town during a terrible drought and the summer is searingly hot. It brings the danger of fires, the town is struggling for water – and other things. The town is pretty much dying with only a few struggling businesses left. Martin is a former foreign correspondent who now has PTSD from an incident in Israel/the Gaza Strip. He seems lucky in that people seem to want to talk to him, despite an aversion to journalists but a lot of them have ulterior motives and seem to be relying on Martin to uncover things that have been kept hidden or seem suspicious.

There are loads of twists and surprises in this – it’s far more complex than a priest who murdered members of his congregation because he may’ve been about to be outed as a pedophile. There’s a lot going on in this country town and with each piece of information Martin unfolds, the story gets even more intriguing. It’s full of secrets and people who aren’t who you think they are and mysterious hermits. I really enjoyed the story and found it really hard to put down. There were things that I was just really keen to know and I wanted Martin to uncover all the answers. I’m really looking forward to picking up Silver and seeing what is next for him to unwittingly investigate.

8/10

Book #202 of 2020

Silver (Martin Scarsden #2)
Chris Hammer
Allen & Unwin
2019, 576p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

For half a lifetime, journalist Martin Scarsden has run from his past. But now there is no escaping. He’d vowed never to return to his hometown, Port Silver, and its traumatic memories. But now his new partner, Mandy Blonde, has inherited an old house in the seaside town and Martin knows their chance of a new life together won’t come again. Martin arrives to find his best friend from school days brutally murdered, and Mandy the chief suspect. With the police curiously reluctant to pursue other suspects, Martin goes searching for the killer. And finds the past waiting for him.

He’s making little progress when a terrible new crime starts to reveal the truth. The media descend on Port Silver, attracted by a story that has it all: sex, drugs, celebrity and religion. Once again, Martin finds himself in the front line of reporting. Yet the demands of deadlines and his desire to clear Mandy are not enough: the past is ever present. 

Book 2 finds Martin unwillingly back in his home town of Port Silver, on the north coast of NSW. The town doesn’t hold good memories for him and he hasn’t been back since he was a teenager but his partner Mandy has inherited a house there and she wants to move there….which means Martin is moving there too. Port Silver reminded me of a few places close to where I grew up, on the NSW Mid North Coast. My town was bigger than that of Port Silver – it was probably what certain people wanted Port Silver to become.

Once again. Chris Hammer writes a setting so vividly, it’s like you’re there. In the first novel it was a drought stricken town ravaged by bushfire and desperately needing rain. In this book it’s a town on the coast which is occasionally battered by violent summer showers and thunderstorms. There’s the smell of salt in the air and honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted fish and chips more than I did when reading this! It’s a backdrop I’m incredibly familiar with. My teenage years were less eventful than Martin’s, but….let’s just say there were some similarities and who hasn’t raced a trolley down a steep hill or off a bridge into the river……

This is another mystery full of twists and turns with Martin’s partner Mandy in the crosshairs for a murder. Martin is desperate to free her and there’s also the familiar buzz of getting the story. He lost his job in the last book but he is in the right spot at the right time here and if he nails it, there could be future offers again. Martin has to decide what’s more important to him – his career and chasing the story or Mandy and the future they are supposed to be building together.

I do love the mystery elements, the crimes and Martin’s sneaky investigative skills. I like the way he works with or against cops, depending on his/their mood and how they’re treating him but I’m not always sold on him and Mandy as a couple. They spend so little time together (as Martin is always racing off trying to find things out to exonerate her or because he’s got the buzz of a story) that when they do, it doesn’t feel natural. They’re still a relatively new couple and it seems they were apart before this as Martin finished the book he was writing on the events of the first novel and so a lot of their interactions are them trying to find some sort of equilibrium I guess and often results in Mandy storming off somewhere or other. Martin feels like a bit of a nightmare as a partner but I’m not sure Mandy’s any better so who knows. Maybe they’re perfect for each other!

These are chunky reads perfect for a binge and I’m really looking forward to diving into Trust.

7/10

Book #206 of 2020

 

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Review: Return To Virgin River by Robyn Carr

Return To Virgin River (Virgin River #19)
Robyn Carr
Harlequin MIRA
2020, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Kaylee Sloan’s home in Southern California is full of wonderful memories of the woman who raised her. But the memories are prolonging her grief over her mother’s recent death. A successful author, Kaylee hoped she could pour herself into her work. Instead she has terrible writer’s block and a looming deadline.

Determined to escape distractions and avoid the holiday season, Kaylee borrows a cabin in Virgin River. She knows the isolation will help her writing, and as she drives north through the mountains and the majestic redwoods, she immediately feels inspired. Until she arrives at a building that has just gone up in flames. Devastated, she heads to Jack’s Bar to plan her next steps. The local watering hole is the heart of the town, and once she crosses the threshold, she’s surprised to be embraced by people who are more than willing to help a friend—or a stranger—in need.

Kaylee’s world is expanding in ways she never dreamed possible. And when she rescues a kitten followed by a dog with a litter of puppies, she finds her heart opening up to the animals who need her. And then there’s the dog trainer who knows exactly how to help her. As the holidays approach, Kaylee’s dread turns to wonder. Because there’s no better place to spend Christmas than Virgin River.

Well it’s been a long time between books for the Virgin River series – book #18 was released in 2012. I binged this series big time back then, thanks to Marg @ The Intrepid Reader. Robyn Carr moved onto other series’ but the popularity of Virgin River on Netflix perhaps, means we get to travel back to that small town in California and catch up with some favourites as well as get introduced to some new people.

Kaylee Sloan is heartbroken at the devastating loss of her mother. It’s affected her whole life. Upon her mother’s death she inherited her mother’s house but Kaylee isn’t ready to live in it yet. She’s also behind in finishing her latest book for her publisher so her intention is to escape to a cabin in Virgin River, a place she spent time at growing up. It will give her privacy to grieve and peace and quiet to meet the deadline hanging over her head. Her plan is scuppered though when the cabin is on fire as she arrives. Kaylee’s revised plan is to travel a little further out, but popping into Jack’s Bar & Grill means that Jack is pretty sure he can find her a rental that will suit.

In Virgin River, Kaylee finds more than just a place to hole up away from the world so that she can finish her book. As a writer she also finds herself fictionalising her life, which is a new genre for her, it’s good therapy and after a while, she thinks she might actually have something. She also finds a community – she’s welcomed by Jack and his wife Mel and embraced by the other locals who step in to help her find somewhere to stay, introduce themselves and offer up things they have or make or produce that she may need. Kaylee finds a tiny kitten and rather than surrender it to the vet to go to a shelter, she decides to adopt it. And even though she’s deathly terrified of dogs, she also finds a mother and her puppies in the woods and makes the decision to rescue them as well, with the help of dog trainer and her somewhat casual landlord, Landry. Kaylee and Landry bond during their time of shared proximity, having meals together and sharing tidbits of their lives. Landry has also experienced the grief of losing a parent and he’s further down the road than Kaylee and can offer some insight on the healing and moving forward process. He’s also determined to help Kaylee with her fear of dogs as well and it isn’t long before their friendship is burgeoning into something more.

It was really good to return to Virgin River! And this is a book that makes sure it gives you a glimpse of as many previous couples as possible – if they’re still living there, then chances are they appear in this book at least once, even if it’s just the briefest of mentions! Mel and Jack are prominent of course and Bree, Jack’s sister. There’s also Colin and Jillian, as well as quite a few others. Kaylee really embraces joining the local community, even though her grief is very raw and it’s affecting her day to day life at times. She and her mother were very close, she was an only child (on her mother’s side, her father has married again and has other children from other marriages) and her untimely death has left Kaylee so bereft. Slowly however, Kaylee finds herself learning to cope with her loss, taking comfort in a life that she’s building in Virgin River. She’s not sure if it’s the sort of place she would live permanently but it’s certainly a soothing balm – and the fact that Landry is there definitely doesn’t hurt! I really enjoyed Kaylee and Landry together, they had this laid back, easygoing kind of relationship, there’s not a dramatic conflict or anything. Landry does have a bit of baggage that needs resolving and his situation was a bit unusual but he’s a kind, caring and gentle person. They went well together also – you could see them building something together. They both worked in creative fields and enjoyed a quiet life, meals at home and the like.

There’s something very comforting about returning to a familiar place with familiar people like Virgin River. Everything is still kind of the same – Jack has a bit of grey in his hair but he’s still manning the bar and meddling in things when he can, Preacher is still cooking, Mel is still the most random midwife. I really need to get watching Virgin River on Netflix before season 2 drops and sink back into the world a little more.

8/10

Book #204 of 2020

 

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Review: Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould

Perfect Tunes
Emily Gould
Scriber UK
2020, 270p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The perfect song. The biggest dream. The love of her life.

It’s the early days of the new millennium, and Laura has arrived in New York City’s East Village in the hopes of recording her first album. A songwriter with a one-of-a-kind talent, she’s just beginning to book gigs with her beautiful best friend when she falls hard for a troubled but magnetic musician whose star is on the rise. Their time together is stormy and short-lived – but will reverberate for the rest of Laura’s life.

Fifteen years later, Laura’s teenage daughter is asking questions about her father, questions Laura does not want to answer. Laura has built a stable life in Brooklyn that bears little resemblance to the one she envisioned all those years ago, and she’s taken pains to close the door on what was and what might have been. When her best friend – now a famous musician – comes to town, opportunity knocks for Laura for a second time. Has growing older changed who she is and what she most wants? After all the sacrifices and compromises she’s made along the way, how much is she still that girl from Ohio, with big talent and big dreams?

Funny, wise and tender-hearted, Perfect Tunes explores the fault lines in our most important relationships, and asks whether dreams deferred can ever be reclaimed.

I was at university in 2001, when New York was in the news for months. This book begins just a little before that – Laura is from the Midwest but she’s finished university and has moved to New York to link back up with her high school best friend Callie, who went to university there. Laura dabbled in songwriting and has always longed to make music her career but it’s because of Callie that they get noticed. She turns heads and even though music isn’t really what she wants, it seems to be the only way Laura gets noticed. Through Callie she meets Dylan, guitarist of a band just about to hit it big. Dylan is moody and brilliant but occasionally dismissive of Laura’s musical ability. Just when they might get a big break, Laura is hit with two devastating things that impact her in the months after 9/11. She must make a choice and decide where a musical career lies in her priorities.

I think New York always makes for an interesting setting for these college or post-college novels – it has such atmosphere and I think it’s what people think of when they think of starving artist types trying to make it big in their chosen fields, be they writing, art, music, etc. It has a great music scene, especially at the time this novel is set where there were a lot of emerging bands in that garage rock style, playing gigs in dive bars and the like. The guy Laura meets is on the cusp of something big, they’ve been chosen to open for a highly successful band and they’re going places. What they have isn’t really a relationship and I think people will relate to that too. Dylan is not necessarily a bad boy as such but he’s got some issues: he’s pretty heavily into drugs and alcohol and it comes out later that there’s definitely some depression and maybe even deeper psychological issues in his family. He and Laura hook up and she’s aware of wanting more but not sure how to approach it. Her friend Callie says that she won’t/can’t change him and shouldn’t even bother. Just be happy with what it is, or move on. But before Laura can even make a choice about that, everything changes.

Laura goes from this carefree life working as a server in a bar earning tips, trying to make it musically, to having this responsibility. To not being able to make ends meet, dodging her landlord when she’s behind in the rent. But she doesn’t ever seem to really consider leaving New York, instead finding creative ways to make it work, teaching music and carving a market for herself. She’s mostly on her own, except when she begs Callie for assistance in emergencies and she has to watch as Callie achieves the recognition and success that Laura desired, despite not seeming to have the talent. For Callie it was charisma and being in the right place at the right time.

The story skips forward several times, settling when Laura is in her mid-thirties and struggling with her now-teenage daughter. I’m probably showing my naïveté here in parenting teenagers (my eldest is 12) but I found the behaviour concerning and everyone’s reluctance to address it even more so. There are some underlying issues but as the “difficult” child, she seems to get away with a lot, draw a lot of attention often to the detriment of others and pretty much seems to just do as she likes. I have to admit, when the narrative did skip forward to this section, I became less interested in the story. I was enjoying Laura struggling to find herself, to reconcile the idea of the direction her life had taken with her desire to play music and be successful, to be “discovered”. The domesticity of the more present day and the focus around her daughter was not as compelling plus the friendship with Callie, which had continued throughout the years despite the different trajectory their lives had taken, felt toxic and one-sided, like Callie was getting all the benefits and Laura pretty much none. And perhaps that had actually been the case the whole time but it seemed more amplified in the later years, when Callie would swan in from her exotic life, meet with Laura and want things from her, despite the fact that Laura was the one who was snowed under and busy, not living a hugely comfortable life. She was living the life Laura had dreamed of for herself and seemed almost irritated that Laura had made another choice and wasn’t there to prop Callie up when her shortcomings were showing.

This was ok but…..I actually thought there’d be more of a focus on music. It started off in that way but then became a more backseat part of the plot as Laura’s concerns changed to parenting and Marie’s behaviour. I found the first part of the novel much more interesting than the second.

6/10

Book #200 of 2020

I’m running out of time, so I’m using this book to check off #10 – About a woman artist. Laura is a singer/songwriter/musician who dedicates her life to it, even during hard times such as after Marie’s birth. It’s the 17th book read for the Reading Women Challenge of 2020, so I have 9 to go.

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Blog Tour Review: Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard

Letters From Berlin
Tania Blanchard
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 415p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Berlin, 1943

As the Allied forces edge closer, the Third Reich tightens its grip on its people. For eighteen-year-old Susanna Göttmann, this means her adopted family including the man she loves, Leo, are at risk.

Desperate to protect her loved ones any way she can, Susie accepts the help of an influential Nazi officer. But it comes at a terrible cost – she must abandon any hope of a future with Leo and enter the frightening world of the Nazi elite. 

Yet all is not lost as her newfound position offers more than she could have hoped for … With critical intelligence at her fingertips, Susie seizes a dangerous opportunity to help the Resistance.

The decisions she makes could change the course of the war, but what will they mean for her family and her future? 

Susanna Göttmann’s parents and brother were killed in a car accident but she was unharmed. She was taken in and raised by friends of her parents, her Onkel George, an aristocratic German and his wife Tante Elya, a Russian Jewish woman who had fled her homeland. There’s also their son Leo, who is a friend to Susanna during the hardest time in her life. The family live on a large property that provides well and when WWII breaks out, the fat contracts they have supplying things like timber, meat and produce keep them relatively removed from the harshness of war and protect Elya and Leo from being persecuted as a Jewish person and a mischling, a sort of slur used against what Germans call “half-breeds”, offspring of a German who is married to someone of the Jewish faith. Susanna’s parents were both well-to-do Germans and as such she is protected from the dangers of work or prison camps but she’s incredibly concerned about her aunt, a woman who was a mother to her and also Leo, who has become the great love of her life. He returns her feelings but to protect her, says nothing can come of it because of his status and the fact that things could change and he could be placed in a camp at any time. Instead, Susie accepts the help of a family friend who promises to protect her and her family if she agrees they are seen as “courting” – he’s quite high ranking with some power and influence and Susie sees this decision as a necessary evil to protect those she loves and who gave her a warm, loving home and upbringing after the loss of her parents and brother.

I’ve read quite a few books set during World War II, it’s a period in time which is incredibly popular in fiction but I haven’t read a lot that focuses on Berlin itself, where a lot of people were still going about their lives. They’re removed from the fighting and although there are air raids, people are still doing things like going to the opera. Susanna is at college, something that many people don’t approve of as women should be looking to make good marriages and any women working will stop once Germany win the war anyway and all the men come home. For a large part, Susanna’s life is not particularly touched by the ins and outs of the war and probably if her aunt was not a Russian person of Jewish faith, there would’ve been even less impact. But although Elya’s protected by her status as someone married to a German, there’s always the chance this could be changed and more and more Jewish people are removed from the country. Susanna has such fear that something will happen to Elya and Leo and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to protect them, even though it means she’ll sacrifice the one thing she desires the most. I think because of this determination she has to do whatever she can to help protect them, it does mean that she overlooks some things or doesn’t want to see how potentially she has tied herself to someone who has ulterior motives in their offering of protection.

I started this intending to read just 100p because I knew my tour date was coming up soon and I wanted to get it started. I ended up reading the entire book in an afternoon/evening, because I couldn’t put it down. It really sucked me into the story and Susanna’s decisions kept me invested. You know from the prologue that a certain thing happens but not the how/why etc of it happening. Although Nazi politics are always horrifying to read about, the casual way they condemned people to dire conditions and fates, I find it really interesting how they managed to accomplish what they did. There’s quite a bit in this on the changing views of some in the village where Elya lives. She’s someone who has always been kind to the others, considered many of them friends and their property employed or benefited many as well but when Elya is ordered to wear the Star of David, marking her as Jewish, a lot of whispers begin about her life of privilege and how she should be deported with all the rest of them. It escalates to outright hostility and this is indicative I think, of how people turned on former friends and neighbours, maybe even reported them or dobbed them in out of fear or jealousy. No one wanted to be seen as consorting with Jewish people, lest it fall back negatively on them.  George and Elya were wealthy and even during the war for a large portion of time, didn’t particularly seem to be feeling much in the way of hardship which would definitely make some people feel angry. By dividing people, creating a clear us and them, you could change the way people thought about others who had previously been people they liked or admired, or at least stoke their fear enough for them to push those feelings aside. Of course there are people who didn’t agree with Nazi politics and this book has a strong resistance vibe to it, where people become involved with trying to help prisoners of war escape, or with plots to assassinate Hitler. But it’s scary when you realise how many people probably did support it, either enthusiastically or because they feared what would happen if they didn’t.

I really enjoyed this story, I found it incredibly gripping, the sort of book that has you hooked from the first page. It’s got a little bit of everything – danger, mystery, romance (including a sort of forbidden one), strong family relationships and loyalties set against the backdrop of a city and country going through a time of upheaval. I definitely need to read this author’s other books.

8/10

Book #205 of 2020

Letters to Berlin is book #78 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 13th October

Hi and welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now resides with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It has a different bookish or literature themed topic each week and this week we are talking:

Top 10 Books With Super Long Names (That I’ve Read Or Want To Read)

1. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Burrows.

One of my favourite books! I adore this. And do you know for ages, I never read it because I thought the title was so weird?! I didn’t read it until the movie came out and the Australian publisher sent me this copy with the film tie-in cover. I read it on a Sunday afternoon and the very next day, dragged my husband to see the movie and we both loved it too.

2. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time by Mark Haddon

I read this so long ago now. Over a decade and I barely remember it but I did enjoy it at the time.

3. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

I haven’t read this but I’ve heard some really amazing things about it and it’s been on my Wishlist for a little while now.

4. Aristotle & Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz 

Another one that I really want to read!

5. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

My husband has read this and really loved it and I’ve heard lots of other good things too. It’s on my TBR shelf!

6.  A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I’ve had this on my Wishlist since I read The Circle by Dave Eggers.

 

7. The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Loved this book when I read it! It was quite a while ago now (2012 I think!) but I thought it was so cute. I wonder if it’d hold up on a re-read? I haven’t loved a lot of Smith’s other books, maybe this was just her one hit wonder for me.

8. The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie by Alan Bradley

I’ve been curious about this series for a while! I’ve heard some good things.

9. Arkie’s Pilgrimmage To The Next Big Thing by Lisa Walker

This was a fun book about all the “big” things we have here in Australia – google it, we’re obsessed with building big things. The big pineapple, the big banana, the big merino. They’re everywhere!

10. The Strange And Beautiful Sorrows Of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

I love the title of this! The cover is pretty as well and it sounds interesting.

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