All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Country Girl by Cathryn Hein

The Country Girl
Cathryn Hein
Harlequin AUS
2017, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bestselling Australian author Cathryn Hein returns with a moving and uplifting rural romance about facing hard truths and moving on in pursuit of life.

After landing a major cookbook deal, star food blogger Tash Ranger swaps city life for the family farm. But Tash’s homecoming is bittersweet, for now she can no longer avoid seeing her best friend Maddie, who was severely injured in a riding accident and unable to communicate. No one knows that Maddie and Tash had a deep falling out and with every visit Tash must pretend to be the friend everyone believes her to be.

Patrick Lawson, Maddie’s fiancé, battles despair and hope daily as Maddie lies imprisoned in her body, gradually losing his faith in her recovery. When Tash returns to Castlereagh Road with her joy and boundless appetite for life, he realises finally what his loved ones have been trying to tell him for months – that Maddie wouldn’t want him to throw his life away. It’s time to move on. But letting go is no easy feat, especially if moving on means Tash. He’s a country boy and she is a star on the rise with ambitions that could propel her out of reach.

Can these two friends step out of the shadow of Maddie’s tragic life and accept love, or is the past forever destined to dictate their future?

Tash Ranger has made her career as a food vlogger, her good recipes and camera presence building her a steady following. In an attempt to keep her output fresh she’s moving back to her family farm – the Urban Ranger goes (back to the) country! It’s the place Tash grew up and she’s remodelling her grandfather’s old flat for cooking and filming. She has lots of ideas about fresh, local produce but it’s not supposed to be a permanent thing. Her mind is always ticking over, thinking of new ideas, keeping her output new and innovative.

Tash knows Patrick Lawson as first the boyfriend and then later the fiance of her childhood best friend Maddie. A shocking accident means that Maddie is no longer the person she was, but Patrick has remained loyal to her. He still visits her every day and he intends to keep his promises to her. This is severely complicated by Tash’s return and the reactions that Patrick has whilst around her. It starts off as overprotective as he seeks to stop Tash from doing the very thing that injured Maddie and he is very adamant about it. Tash however, is not really into being bossed around by Patrick, nor is she incapable of making her own judgements. Tash challenges Patrick and isn’t afraid to tell him off and despite their rocky start when Tash arrives back in town, they keep crossing paths.

I’m not going to lie – I had some reservations about this pairing before I started the story. Tash knows Patrick as her best friend’s boyfriend. It’s true that Maddie isn’t the same anymore and won’t ever be the same. But I was wary about the whole “best friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend’s best friend’ sort of thing. It’s not an entanglement I usually enjoy although the circumstances in this story were very different. And the way it was handled definitely won me over. Patrick is so obviously such a tortured soul. He’s still so young but he’s stuck by Maddie, even though they will never be able to have that life together that they’d planned anymore. He’s so determined to keep his promises, despite the fact that other people are concerned about him an want him to embrace his life. The way that the attraction between him and Tash unfolds felt really natural and that like Patrick was ready to move on, he just had to make that conscious decision to actually do so, which he was struggling with because he had made promises to Maddie. I have to admit, Patrick didn’t endear himself to me at first – there’s an incident towards the beginning of the story that’s a bit hard to take although I know the logistics of why Patrick wanted to do something but ultimately the fault doesn’t lie where he was trying to place it. He needs something to blame though, and that’s the easiest option. There’s also how bossy and arrogant he was with Tash, but she puts him in his place relatively quickly and once he kind of settled down a bit and realised no one had a death wish, he began to grow on me. I thought that his internal struggle was very well written and I could really feel his pain and indecision. The desire to do what he’d promised versus the possibility of a more fulfilling life with someone who was in a position to love him in return.

I absolutely loved Tash’s job as a food vlogger and the devotion to her creations in this story. There’s lots of amazing meals described – Cathryn Hein is a pretty enthusiastic cook so I wouldn’t be surprised if most are these are some of her favourite dishes! Tash spends quite a bit of time with her grandfather starting up the farm’s vegetable garden too and I loved their chats – her grandfather goes kind of “viral” which was cute. He was a fantastic character, a cheeky older man who in some ways reminded me of my own (sadly gone now) grandfather. Mine could be cheeky as well and enjoyed a story over a veggie garden. I think if I’d asked him to help me revive one he’d have been in on that before you could blink.

The Country Girl definitely won me over, which is no surprise really because Cathryn Hein is one of my favourite authors and her rurals are always sweet with a bit of a sassy twist. I went from my original slight skepticism to fully on board with Patrick and Tash because I think they were bringing out the best in each other as well as showing each other that they had options.

8/10

Book #203 of 2017

The Country Girl is book #59 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Raelia by Lynette Noni

Raelia (The Medoran Chronicles #2)
Lynette Noni
Pantera Press
2016, 448p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“Life is full of crossroads, Alex. Full of choices.”

Returning for a second year at Akarnae Academy with her gifted friends, Alexandra Jennings steps back through a doorway into Medora, the fantasy world that is full of impossibilities. 

Despite the magical wonder of Medora, Alex’s life remains threatened by Aven Dalmarta, the banished prince from the Lost City of Meya who is out for her blood. 

To protect the Medorans from Aven’s quest to reclaim his birthright, Alex and her friends seek out the Meyarin city and what remains of its ancient race.

Not sure who—or perhaps what—she is anymore, all Alex knows is that if she fails to keep Aven from reaching Meya, the lives of countless Medorans will be in danger. Can she protect them, or will all be lost?

This is the second book in the Medoran Chronicles – I read the first a couple of months ago during the The Reading Quest challenge and had enjoyed it enough to pick up books 2&3 not long after. I have to say, this book is definitely a step up in both writing and story, although it starts a bit clunkily.

Alex is back at Akernae Academy for her second year and this time, she’s brought her parents, having confessed everything to them. With them kept occupied by the Library, Alex is free to resume her studies and continue attempting to figure out a way to rid herself of the obsessive attention of Aven. Inadvertently co-opted into a special class against her will, Alex is kept busy with challenges and tasks that tend to reveal more than she bargained for. It’s also agreed that she needs to make a trip to the Lost City of Meya, where Aven is banished from by his royal family to inform them of his actions. That trip also reveals far more about herself than Alex is ready to hear and the implications of it threaten her life even more.

I was really into this story – I like Alex and the little band of friends she has collected along the way at Akernae and the adventures really ramp up in this installment. I loved Hunter’s class and the way in which that all worked out. The tasks that Hunter devises for them are dangerous but exciting and the way in which the students work together and don’t attempt to outdo each other or try and ‘win’ and seek approval from Hunter works for me. I also liked the developments with Kaiden and hope there’s lots more of him in book 3.

The city of Meya and its inhabitants were not a disappointment and I think their contributions to the story are going to be considerable and memorable. Alex has a way of making those around her feel at ease, even when she’s an intruder and she has the ability to connect with many simply by being herself. She grows a lot as a character in this book, although she still has plenty of insecurities and self doubts. But you can see the confidence she is slowly gaining as she betters herself in her combat classes and learns new fighting techniques. A big showdown is coming and Alex will have to be prepared for it.

I was warned that I’d want to have #3 on hand when I finished this because there’s a bit of a shock at the end that leaves the reader hanging. My good forward thinking means I do already have #3 and I am so glad that I do because I did not see what happened coming until very late in the book. It’s a devious twist and gives Alex and her friends something else to focus on – a new very important mission that is tied into the overall mission but this definitely personal. I was tempted to roll straight onto #3, but I am making myself wait just a couple of weeks until the publication date for the 4th book is a little closer. That way it won’t be so long to wait for that one. Spacing them out just a little, but still keeping them read close together, which helps preserve the detail and intricacy of the world and the story.

I feel as though this was a big step up for this series. The first book had a lot of set up about the world and about Alex fitting in to Akernae and adjusting to all the new things she was seeing and experiencing. This book still has a bit of that, as Alex discovers more new things, especially about herself, but she’s also finding her groove in her classes, in her social surroundings. She has the comfort of her parents who are ‘there but not there’ in that she can go and visit them but they aren’t an invasive part of the story. Her friendships develop and grow, including a few more and when the time comes I feel as though Alex will have a strong band of willing supporters behind her. I’m sure there’s still lots to find out about her and I’m looking forward to those reveals.

8/10

Book #198 of 2017

Raelia is book #58 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Top 10 Tuesday 12th December

Welcome back for another Top 10 Tuesday installment, created and hosted by the crew at The Broke & The Bookish. This week’s topic was pretty hard, I have to say. I thought I’d go through and pull out my 5-star reads and go from there but when I had about 6 already and wasn’t out of January 2017 yet, I had to revise it and picked books that were published this year. So here are my:

Top 10 Favourite Reads Of 2017

  1. Letters To The Lost by Brigid Kemmerer. This book gave me all the feels! Lots of pain and heartache but there’s a really lovely story too. I loved Declan and was fully invested in him and Juliet. I think I read this book at just the right time, I was looking for something which had plenty of emotion and this definitely delivered.
  2. Alex Approximately by Jenn Bennett. Eek I loved everything about this! Bailey and Porter are so much fun and this is just so cute. There’s heaps of old movie references  (that I’ve been meaning to check out and have forgotten about) and so much cuteness. I’ve reread this one a time or two and even just talking about it now makes me want to dig it out again.
  3. Traitor To The Throne by Alwyn Hamilton. Oops, never got around to reviewing this one but I loved it. So much happening, the pace was super quick and there was lots of heart-racing stuff going on between Amani and Jin with some huge reveals.
  4. Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito. This book blew my mind. I absolutely loved it. A Swedish crime novel centreing on a court case in the aftermath of a school shooting. Make your own mind up about Maja, the detached teenage girl narrator. Definitely need more by this author!
  5. Begin End Begin edited by Danielle Binks. Unfortunately I never got around to reviewing this one either – not sure I could’ve done it justice. It’s a love letter to Australian young adult fiction, a collection of short stories by prominent authors such as Jaclyn Moriarty, Gabrielle Tozer, Alice Pung, Lili Wilkinson, Will Kostakis and Ellie Marney. I’m not generally a fan of short stories but this book might’ve won me over. Some of them are truly brilliant and indicative of the amazing #LoveOzYA community we have here.
  6. See You In September by Charity Norman. I love a good cult book. This was about a young English woman, Cassy, who headed off on a holiday overseas. She was supposed to be back in September (hence the title) to begin her next year of University but instead becomes involved in an off-grid cult in rural New Zealand. It’s a divided narrative of both Cassy and also her parents and their desperate attempts to bring her home.
  7. Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland. What’s not to love about a story set in a bookstore in York with a heroine named Loveday Cardew? It’s charming and sweet but also very intense with some deeper and darker themes than you’d first expect.
  8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Not much I can say about this book that than if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? Go, read it now!
  9. The Last Girl by Nadia Murad. A memoir of a Yazidi woman who saw her whole village in northern Iraq invaded by ISIS, the men killed, boys taken as recruits, young women kidnapped and forced to be sex slaves for soldiers. Very powerful.
  10. The Burden Of Lies by Richard Beasley. I read this just the other day and seriously fell in love with it. It’s the second in a series about Peter Tanner, a criminal defense lawyer and he is the best. End of story.

This is always one of my favourite TTT topics because I always love seeing what everyone has read and adored during the year. It makes my TBR explode generally but what else are we book bloggers here for if not to enable each other?!

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Review: You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me (Audiobook) by Sarra Manning

You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
Sarra Manning
Narrated by Julie Maisey
Whole Story Audiobooks
2011, 18hrs 15m
Purchased personal copy from Audible

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Sweet, bookish Neve Slater always plays by the rules and the number one rule is that good-natured fat girls like her don’t get guys like gorgeous, handsome William, heir to Neve’s heart since university. But William’s been in LA for three years, and Neve’s been slimming down and re-inventing herself so that when he returns, he’ll fall head over heels in love with the new, improved her.

So she’s not that interested in other men. Until her sister Celia points out that if Neve wants William to think she’s an experienced love-goddess and not the fumbling, awkward girl he left behind, then she’d better get some, well, experience.

What Neve needs is someone to show her the ropes, someone like Celia’s colleague Max. Wicked, shallow, sexy Max. And since he’s such a man-slut, and so not Neve’s type, she certainly won’t fall for him. Because William is the man for her… right?

Months ago when I was sick I signed up to an Audible membership, downloaded a book with my free credit and then promptly forgot about it until recently. I logged in to discover I had 4 credits and a twitter conversation with a couple of bookish friends led to a very firm recommendation of this book. I read the blurb, decided it was definitely my thing and downloaded it immediately. I found it a good way to pass the time on school pick up days, particularly the days I have to leave early. I can get in a good hour. This is my first time reviewing an audiobook because I’ve never really completed one properly before. The one I listened to when I was sick I’d already read before so skipped to a lot of my favourite parts. I also kept falling asleep whilst listening and would wake up hours later to find it still going.

That never happened with this one. I’d listen to it for an hour during school pick up and an hour at night and it took me about 8 days to finish it. On the last day I must’ve listened to about four hours though, because I was so keen to find out what happened and how things were going to be made right again. This book had sooo many feels!

Neve has, over the past few years, lost an awful lot of weight. A lot. She is determined to be a size 10 (at the time of the book she’s about a size 14) before William, her crush from Cambridge returns to England from his posting in the United States. William doesn’t know about Neve’s losing weight exercise and she’s determined to wow him when he arrives back and sees the new her. She’s sure that that’s all it will take for her to finally get their relationship to the level she craves. There’s a bit of  problem – Neve hasn’t really been in a relationship before and she doesn’t really know how/what to do. She needs to practice so enter her sister Celia’s boss Max, a manwhore type who doesn’t do relationships either, so there’ll be no real feelings involved. Should be simple……

What follows is a hilariously entertaining, heart wrenching and thought provoking story. This book is so much fun but it’s way more than that. Neve is a bit of a mess – she’s cripplingly insecure, probably a product of being relentlessly bullied in school by a woman who is now married to her brother and still wages a hate campaign against her every day until Neve feels like an intruder in her own home. She is very intelligent with a degree from Cambridge but most of her family are uninterested in her life, mistaking her work at an archive for being at a library. Neve seems to believe that all the stars will magically align for her once she reaches that size 10 and as the book advances and William’s return date draws closer and she’s still somewhere around a 14, Neve is willing to go to any lengths to shed those last few pounds. It seems as though Neve might never be happy with her weight because when she looks in the mirror, she struggles to see how far she’s come. She still sees herself as the fat girl, ignoring her progress, seeing herself as bigger than she is. She’s been working hard for years, portion and calorie controlling her meals and working out with a personal trainer. The results are there but sometimes, Neve can’t see them at all. She just keeps thinking of that magic size 10 but even if she were a size 10 she probably wouldn’t believe it. Her image of herself is very distorted.

I could relate to Neve, because we all have our insecurities. I’ve not been as big as her but even scenes where she doesn’t want Max to see or touch a specific part of her, were incredibly familiar to me. I struggle to assert myself as well. Neve has people walk all over her in this book. At work she’s insecure about being kept in the dark about something, immediately assuming the worst. She struggles to retaliate to her sister-in-law Charlotte’s bullying, or her sister Celia’s more dominant personality. Even shopping with her mother brings about difficulties in making herself heard and she hasn’t addressed a family issue from years ago, preferring to bury all these issues deep and soldier on.

Max is an interesting bad boy. He’s shallow at times, self-absorbed and has intimacy issues that could fund a shrink’s retirement but he’s also generous, thoughtful and Neve’s biggest champion throughout most of the book. Max doesn’t care about Neve’s size, other than he wants her to be healthy and enjoy life. He doesn’t urge the dieting or encourage her to drop more sizes, he’s rather appreciative and supportive of Neve as she is. I couldn’t help but love Max. He’s by far not perfect – he’s a bit of a dill in his first scene and there are several fights between him and Neve later in the book where oh, does Max hit below the belt. But I can see why he is doing it whereas Neve really can’t. For so long, Neve is so focused on William that she doesn’t see how this ‘pancake’ relationship (Neve’s term, referring to a batch of pancake batter where the first pancake is always a tester and generally thrown out) has grown and developed in the most natural of ways. Max and Neve may have started out as an experiment so that Neve could have relationship experience when William lobbed back into town but it becomes so much more than that. They both have things to teach the other, especially about their individual insecurities.

I loved this soooo much. It’s totally changed my mind about audiobooks and in the time I’ve finished this, I’ve already read another Sarra Manning book (eBook this time, simply because I wanted to devour it quicker) and I’ve ordered 2 more (paperbacks). I want to read all her books immediately. Thank you to Jenna and Diem for the recommendation!

9/10

Book #197 of 2017

 

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Review: The Burden Of Lies by Richard Beasley

The Burden Of Lies (Peter Tanner #2)
Richard Beasley
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 448p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cocaine. Construction. Corruption.
The unholy trinity of Sydney

Self-made property mogul Tina Leonard has already lost her business, her home and custody of her children because South East Banking Corporation left her bankrupt. Now it appears she is being framed for the murder of her banker Oliver Randall, a senior executive of the corporation. Her motive? Revenge for ruining her life and her business.

When maverick lawyer Peter Tanner is brought in to represent Tina, he bends the law to learn the truth. Was the real killer employed by the bank to silence Randall, who knew too much about their corrupt clientele and business dealings?

As Tanner digs deeper the truth is harder and harder to find. Drug dealers and dodgy cops are a breed apart from corrupt corporate bankers, who’ll do anything to keep their names in the clear.

Who really silenced Randall? Tanner gets more than he bargained for as he tangles with craven bent banks and a client who can’t talk, and danger lurks far too close to home.

Bestseller Richard Beasley’s latest sharp-edged, gritty Peter Tanner thriller.

I’m not sure how I missed the first Peter Tanner book – Cyanide Games which was released last year. I read one of Richard Beasley’s other novels, Me & Rory Macbeath a couple of years ago and loved it so it’s definitely my loss that I didn’t discover the wonder that is Peter Tanner a year earlier.

Oliver Randall was a banker that had it all – a big salary and a lifestyle “taking care” of big clients that involved parties, girls, coke. When he’s executed six months after serving time in jail, Tina Leonard is charged with orchestrating the crime. Oliver Randall cost her everything – her home, her business, even her children. And it seems the perfect sort of revenge. But Tina claims that Randall was better use to her alive than dead. Peter is called in to represent Tina and it’s his job to present a different truth to the prosecution.

This book had me absolutely hooked  from the start. I love Peter – he’s a bit of a loose canon but that’s what I like about him. There’s a scene with him, a hedge fund manager and a cricket bat that might be one of my favourite scenes, maybe ever. Because I haven’t read the first one (yet – I bought it immediately after finishing this and I’ll be catching up asap) I had to piece together a few things, what makes Peter so….well, Peter. He’s definitely got a few self-control issues and he doesn’t play the straight faced lawyer listening to his client’s bullshit. Sometimes he snaps back and when he does….it’s just great. But Peter isn’t all flashy outbursts, there are a lot of sides to him – widower, father, son. I get the feeling that in reading this book, I barely scratched the surface of Peter.

The story was excellent. I don’t know a lot about construction, or banking – or cocaine, I might add. So it was interesting to be caught up in this world, to experience a place where taking out hundreds of millions of dollars in loans is the norm. I can’t say I cared much about the demise of Oliver Randall but I was intrigued by his murder and whether or not Tina Leonard was the culprit, as was claimed by the killer or if she really was a convenient scapegoat for a far larger corporate machine. Beasley did a great job in teasing this out and having us see everything through Peter’s eyes. Sydney is such a fascinating city and provides a great backdrop for this story. There’s a lot of political stuff – greasing palms to get developments through, the idea of boutique vs cheap knock ups, casinos, etc. There’s a lot of money at play here and wherever there’s a lot of money there’s plenty of corruption. I also loved how it was about more than just business – there was a lot of family dynamics driving this story as well. Tina Leonard and her father and brothers have a fantastic backstory, something that adds a lot to her character. There’s also Tina’s sister, her husband as well as Oliver Randall’s ex-wife and their family dynamics too and of course Peter and the relationships he has with his son and his father. Both of those make up a large portion of who he is and I think the reader learns a lot about Peter as a person from those interactions and his thoughts and feelings about his family.

This is a tight, incredibly well written legal thriller that details the process of a court case and the way in which a lawyer goes about presenting an argument to the jury. I enjoyed this, but I will also admit that it made me a bit uncomfortable as well because I couldn’t decide if Tina was guilty or not. I did appreciate getting to read Peter in action because he’s obviously very good at what he does. He’s unorthodox and obviously incredibly frustrating for his opposing counsel but he’s clever and quick and very entertaining. He thinks in really interesting ways, outside of the box but he’s not without morals, despite all the jokes he cracks about the people he’s gotten off charges. I feel as though even he questions the validity of what he does at times, the people that might walk because he’s good at his job, just that little bit better than the other side.

I loved this. One of my favourite reads of this year and I can’t wait to go back and read Cyanide Games. Please let there be more Peter in 2018!

9/10

Book #196 of 2017

 

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Review: Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Our Chemical Hearts
Krystal Sutherland
Penguin Teen AUS
2016, 313p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him-at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl-she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

I actually received this last year but I think it was during a time when I wasn’t really reviewing and so it’s sat on my TBR shelf ever since. I picked it up on a whim the other day and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting in an afternoon. It’s not exactly what I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be a cute little romance but yeah……definitely got more than I bargained for.

Henry has never been in love but all this changes when he meets Grace, a new student who has transferred to their school. Grace and Henry are jointly chosen to edit the school paper and this leads to them spending time together outside of that and forming a friendship that on Henry’s side, is much more. It’s not a ‘typical’ relationship though – Grace has secrets, she is hot and cold, she clearly has a lot going on in her life. But Henry doesn’t care. He wants her anyway and continually puts himself through the wringer in order to do so.

I really enjoyed the offbeat character of Henry, his unusual family and his two friends, Lola and Murray. As an Australian, I found Murray a bit overdone – an Aussie who speaks like a combination of Steve Irwin and Alf Stewart from Home & Away, something that is apparently deliberate as an Aussie living in the US, he finds it ‘gets him the ladies’. I honestly can’t imagine that persona getting anyone any ladies, but anyway. It did add the occasional bit of humour tilted towards Aussies and I really liked Lola. To be honest I didn’t find Henry’s family particularly believable but I liked them anyway. They were fun and it was good to see parents feature so heavily in a story, as well as Henry’s older sister Sadie and her young son Ryan.

Grace was a far more complex character and her story is pieced out very slowly but it’s not hard to take a few guesses as to why she is the way she is, why she wears what she does, etc. It’s a very heartbreaking story and I couldn’t really blame Grace for a lot of her actions because I don’t think she was really fully responsible for what she was doing. She was not in any position to be able to give Henry what he wanted, not emotionally. And I think part of the problem was that Henry didn’t care – he would take her however, even with her hot and cold mood swings, her secrets, her obvious emotional distance and that wasn’t healthy for either of them. And yet that was believable because we’ve all done that. Well, I know I have. I’ve thought that either my feelings would be enough for both of us or their feelings would be or we’d ignore this or that and everything would be fine. It’s not though. Not really, not deep down.

This is an important exploration of teenage grief, an attempt to deal with a life changing tragedy and all the mistakes made along the way. I thought it was a very honest portrayal – no idealistic endings. Fair warning, if you’re a HEA only kind of person, this is not really the book for you. But it wouldn’t have been the sort of story it was with one. And I think the kind of story it is, is important. I didn’t love every page – there were times when I was frustrated, when Grace made me annoyed but then there were times when I also felt desperately sorry for her and thought that Henry ought to just leave things be. It’s a rollercoaster this book and I appreciated it. Krystal Sutherland has another book out now and I’d be interested in reading that for sure.

7/10

Book #195 of 2017

Our Chemical Hearts is book #57 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: In The Midst Of Winter by Isabel Allende

In The Midst Of Winter
Isabel Allende (translated by Nick Caistor & Amanda Hopkinson)
Scribner
2017, 340p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher}:

New York Times bestseller Isabel Allende returns with a beautifully crafted novel of struggle, endurance and friendship against the odds.

Amid the biggest Brooklyn snowstorm in living memory, an unexpected friendship blossoms between three people thrown together by circumstance. Richard Bowmaster, a lonely university professor in his sixties, slides on the ice and hits the car driven by Evelyn Ortega, a young undocumented migrant from Guatemala. But what at first seems an inconvenience takes an unforeseen and darker turn when Evelyn comes to him and his neighbour, Chilean academic Lucia Maraz, desperately seeking help. 

Sweeping from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala to turbulent 1970s Chile and Brazil, and woven with Isabel Allende’s trademark humanity, passion and storytelling verve, In The Midst Of Winter is a mesmerising and unforgettable tale.

Isabel Allende is a very prolific and well known author and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve only read one of her novels, Daughter Of Fortune and that it was probably almost 10 years ago now. I’m pretty sure there are a couple more on our shelves – I think my husband had quite a few of her books before we even met and it was at his urging that I read my one title.

This novel is released upside down here, as it takes place during one of Brooklyn’s biggest snowstorms and I read it during Melbourne’s record breaking November heatwave. Lucia Maraz is a Childean academic currently working in New York and she rents a basement apartment in a brownstone owned by Richard Bowmaster. Lucia entertained thoughts of a romance with Richard, who she knew in academic circles prior to moving to America but things in that area have been distinctly disappointing. It isn’t until Evelyn Ortega turns up on the brownstone’s doorstep the morning after Richard rear-ends the car that she was driving that thing take a dramatic turn as Richard and Lucia are drawn into Evelyn’s dire predicament.

Lucia is the driving force in helping Evelyn “deal” with the problem she has inadvertenly encountered and the three band together in order to get it done, sharing their stories along the way – and it is those stories that truly shine in this book, particularly Evelyn’s. A young girl who had two older brothers, one drawn into the gang life in Guatemala, Evelyn paid the price and so her grandmother and a local priest helped organise passage (illegally) to America, where her mother was living and working. Evelyn’s story is truly tragic and harrowing and the detailing of her arduous journey to reach America and the limbo that she was kept in for years is terribly sad. It said something that the woman was still able to function. She had a job in New York, working as a carer for a disabled boy and Evelyn, even in her distress at her situation, is still concerned enough to have Lucia check anonymously on her charge. She knows that her voice would never be heard – despite entering the country as a minor, her case was never heard while she was still underage and if she were to go to the police she’d likely be deported immediately, if she wasn’t jailed. There’s no doubt that Evelyn should’ve been granted asylum, given what she’d been through but I’m sure it’s exceedingly difficult for women like Evelyn to truly share what has happened to them. Perhaps she doesn’t even remember all of it, so traumatised was she after the event.

Lucia and Richard also share their stories and both of those were so interesting and contained many unexpected elements – especially Richard’s. I really loved the delving into the past for each of the three characters and showing how they’d come to be in that exact place that morning in Brooklyn. The fact that three people could come together and share the most intimate details of their lives, connected by a plan to help an innocent was such a fascinating idea. Loved, loved, loved that portion of the book.

What I didn’t really love so much was the way the actual plan played out. I understand why they (Lucia in particular) were helping Evelyn, because she was definitely an innocent victim in the situation and genuinely feared for her safety/life. But there was something a little distasteful about it and I can’t really go into why I found it distasteful without revealing precisely what they were doing. I just found myself really actually thinking about the implications of their plan for two people and it definitely made me uncomfortable. The longer it went on, the more it bothered me – and the ending really bothered me. Maybe it was realistic, I’m not sure. I was annoyed by the fact that it was brushed away as being unimportant. It just didn’t sit well with me when I closed the book and I didn’t really like feeling that way.

But the writing is amazing. And the histories of each character are so rich that I can forgive it for a lot of things.

7/10

Book #194 of 2017

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Blog Tour Review: One More Song by Nicki Edwards

One More Song
Nicki Edwards
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 381p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Harrison Baxter and Edwina Campbell lead completely different lives.

Much has changed for Harry since he escaped his home town of Yallambah ten years ago, headed for the bright lights of the big city. Now he’s the star of Melbourne’s hottest musical, chasing only the next standing ovation. Why bother going back to Yallambah to visit his parents when his father couldn’t care less about his success?

Meanwhile, nothing much has changed for Edwina in the last decade, which is exactly how she likes it. Eddie adores her career as a nurse and loves the Yallambah community – she can’t imagine living anywhere else. And even if she wanted to, she could never leave her beloved grandparents, who raised her and love her like their own daughter. She’s not going to abandon them in their old age. Not for anything.

So when Harry and Eddie bump into each other on one of Harry’s flying visits home, their instant mutual attraction seems as pointless as it is intense. There’s no way they could ever make it work.

Or is there?

This story has so many elements I find appealing – rural Victorian setting, Christmas, an opposites attract sort of deal. Both Harry and Eddie grew up in Yallambah but they are several years apart in age and didn’t really know each other before Harry left chasing his musical theatre dream. He’s now very successful and has just wrapped up Les Mis in Sydney and will have a brief break, returning to his home town before beginning the Melbourne run. Eddie on the other hand, still lives in her home town and is heavily involved with the community. She’s a nurse at the local hospital, a volunteer with the SES and after her nan needed medical attention and rehab in a nearer big town, she’s organising the local Christmas party. Her whole life is basically Yallambah and she doesn’t see anything wrong with that. In fact her relationship just ended because her boyfriend got a job in America and Eddie couldn’t see herself leaving her grandparents or her home.

The first half of the book felt a teeny bit slow for me but not unpleasantly. Harry is back in Yallambah almost against his better judgement and is shocked at the condition of his family home and the fact that his mother and sister seem to have been keeping a secret from him. Harry has a fractured relationship with his father – he’s the son, the one his father should be passing the family farm onto but Harry has carved out his career elsewhere and has no interest living on the land. His father in turn, doesn’t really understand Harry’s passion and the two barely speak. I really liked the complicated family relationships, the tensions and conflicts that felt refreshingly real. This book also tackles a medical issue that I have personally not seen addressed before and it does it very, very well. There’s a lot of frustrations and built up resentment that boils over during Harry’s visit as well as heart wrenching grief. The emotions are very well done here, some of these characters go through the wringer!

Eddie and Harry meet when her break up is quite fresh and both of them are well aware that their lifestyles are very different. The attraction between them is strong but they grow a friendship as well which I think is really important, given they and their lifestyles are so different. It gives the reader a real understanding of how they might function as a couple long term. Eddie and Harry pack a lot into their time spent together but there’s a lot of mutual support and a strong emotional bond as well as a physical attraction. I liked that the two of them had a bit of a different dynamic – Eddie is older, Harry is in musical theatre, not generally a profession of choice in a rural romance novel! Nicki Edwards really made these things work and the story had a very fresh feel to it – I was reading a lot of things I hadn’t seen done before, which is always a bonus in a strongly populated genre.

Eddie is a fantastic character, loyal and dedicated to her job, the town, her grandparents. So much so that she doesn’t seem to realise that they have their own ideas about the future. They raised her and I think she feels the need to repay that, to always be around if and when they need her. I enjoyed her role with the SES – it’s an organisation we all know about (State Emergency Service for the non-Aussies) who play such a vital role during times of struggle, especially revolving around things like natural disasters – freak storms, flooding, fire, etc. I appreciated the insight into the role of volunteering with them and what it was like for Eddie to be on call and to respond to a dangerous situation. I also liked the sense of small community (warts, busybodies and all!). This book has such an Aussie feel to it, capturing all the elements of our summer Christmas, the harsh realities of life in the bush but also community spirit and the way that people come together in times of grief and hardship.

I really enjoyed this story and found the ending deeply satisfying.

8/10

Book #193 of 2017

This review is part of the One More Song blog tour.

One More Song is book #56 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017

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One More Song is out now from Pan Macmillan AUS, RRP $29.99

 

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Review: Year One by Nora Roberts

Year One (Chronicles Of The One #1)
Nora Roberts
Piatkus
2017, 419p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It began on New Year’s Eve.

The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed—and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.

Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river—or in the ones you know and love the most.

As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.

In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.

The end has come. The beginning comes next.

I’ve been reading Nora Roberts for probably over 20 years. I’ve read a countless amount of her romances and although I haven’t kept up with the In Death series that she writes under the name of J.D. Robb, I’ve read a handful here and there. This is something very different yet again and I was intrigued from the time I first heard about it.

I’ve read a few books where an apocalyptic event wipes out a huge portion of the world’s population via some sort of hideous disease and this book starts the same way. It begins in Scotland, with a family who are flying back home to America and from there it sweeps the globe as people come in contact with infected people and take it with them overseas on holidays, for business, etc. It also appears that if you’re immune, you’re immune. Exposure results in a relatively quick downward spiral and so the people who are left standing at the end of a few weeks are generally believed to be unable to contract the disease, or if they do, it doesn’t affect them in the same way it does the majority. They begin to band together, creating camps, communities, learning to protect themselves against the threats that still remain.

For the first half of this book, it honestly didn’t feel like Roberts was bringing anything new to the post-apocalyptic table. It felt like reading an episode of The Walking Dead but instead of zombies, there are crusaders who want to take resources for themselves and distrust those in the surviving population who are ‘gifted’ in ways that are difficult to explain. The gift seems to manifest in either a good or evil way – it’s almost like witchcraft although there are othes that display traits of elves or fairies, even Lycans. That is touched upon briefly when gifteds are encountered in the storyline but it really only starts to seemingly play a prominent role in the latter half of the book. The first half is mostly dedicated to the disease wiping out half the world and the immune finding each other and banding together. A catastrophic invasion scatters them toward the end of the book and after that we follow only one main character, whereas previously we had followed several.

I was into the post-apocalyptic story because I love a good one of those. I am a big fan of the genre and I love the ways in which society can fall and be rebuilt. I enjoyed the journeys of the characters to find each other and the way they began a new civilisation and attempted to govern, working together as a group. Those with skills pitched in and those who didn’t found other ways to contribute. And there are always dissenters, wherever you go, whatever the circumstances so those that appreciated the anarchy of the world were included too. But…..

I’m not as convinced about the supernatural part of the story. It felt a bit clunky for me and it wasn’t explored any where near enough, especially with Lana and Max before the disease even begins. There’s no real explanation and some of the abilities that manifested just seemed really random. People fall into two camps – either good or evil. Those without gifts fall into either two camps – those ok with what they see and those that are really really not. The battle scene felt foreshadowed really obviously although I was surprised by one particular event. After that I’m just not sure I could buy a character being able to make it so far on their own, especially in their condition and the rest of the book felt a bit contrived. I was left wondering what had happened to the others from the town that had been built. I guess they will crop up at some stage in book 2 but it was a bit weird to leave them behind considering they’d been along for most of the ride in this book.

I know it’s just the first book and it will be built on and more explained and some of the groundwork was quite good. I’m really keen to know what’s happening in other parts of the world as well, although with communications mostly down this wasn’t an option in this book. Hopefully there’ll be some more info – even though I didn’t super love this, I think I’m interested enough to read the next one and see where it’s all going.

6/10

Book #192 of 2017

 

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November Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 14
Fiction: 14
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 2
Books On My TBR List: 2
Books in a Series: 6
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 9
Male/Female Authors: 0/14
Kindle Books: 6
Books I Owned or Bought: 4
Favourite Book(s): The Last Girl by Nadia Murad
Least Favourite Books: Snowed by Pamela Burford
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 2

To be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised that I completed 14 books for November because it feels like I spent the entire month basically sick. I ended up with bronchitis, another sinus infection, enough sinus headaches from that and hay fever to drive up shares in painkillers and for the first time in 35 years, I was diagnosed with a type of asthma, triggered mostly by my allergies. It means I now have a genuine “asthma plan” with my doctor, an inhaler, a bunch of things to look out for and a paranoia about the weird sound that happens when I breathe. It honestly feels like the last 3 months have just been a never ending cycle of getting sick with various different things, or differing versions of what is basically the same thing and I’m so over it. Please let this be the end!

I think the reading month reflected my general outlook or perhaps my health affected my reading because it was a pretty ‘meh’ month in terms of memorable or fantastic reads. I read a lot of okay books – books that were fine, didn’t annoy me, books that I was easily able to finish. But I only read one what I’d call one spectacular book, which was The Last Girl by Nadia Murad, the story of a Yazidi girl kidnapped to become an ISIS sex slave. It details her simple life before IS invaded her village, her experience after they take her and how she escaped and managed to reunite with several members of her fractured family. It was truly harrowing and inspiring and I learned a lot from it. Apart from that one, there were a few good books, solid 3.5/4 stars.

My kids have just 2.5 weeks left of school before their summer break and I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone! I’m looking forward to the break to be honest, hoping for some good summer weather in order to be able to go do a few things. We aren’t going away for this Christmas but I’m actually hoping to do a weekend or two away. There’s a couple of places I’ve been wanting to go for years and I’d love to tick some off over this break. We plan to take them swimming at the local pool 2-3x a week as their swimming lessons actually break for some of the holidays but we want to keep them in the water. We did this last year and noticed a huge difference when they resumed lessons in mid to late January. We go early, before it’s busy and basically have an entire pool to ourselves. My oldest is up to swimming laps and I’d love to see him have a crack at the big pool too. See how far he gets.

I also created a summer reading list. I admit that my success with created reading lists is 50/50 at best but I like the idea of them. It’s a good go to for the times I feel a bit lost on what to read and there’s a good mix in this one so I feel as though I could possibly have some success with it. Here’s the list I have so far….

It’s a big stack! But I have a few months and I’m hoping keeping them nice and visible on my bedside table will encourage me to pick them up, especially on mornings when the school run is no longer a thing. I don’t often read in bed anymore, but that’s what summer holidays are for!

Hope you all had a fabulous reading November! If you’ve created a summer reading list or if you’ve read anything on mine, let me know in the comments.

 

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