All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Times Are Changing!

It’s not often I post personal stuff here but this is (sort of?) about books so I thought, why not?

Recently my husband and I got the phone call that people who rent, dread. A call from a valuer looking to get a time to come and go over the property because the owners would like to sell. We have lived in this house for eight years. That’s quite a long time in terms of being a tenant. Our oldest son wasn’t even 2 when we moved in here, he will soon be 10. And our youngest son was born while we were living here. It’s the only home he’s ever known.

Neither my husband nor I were keen to really see out the sale of the house. You can’t be a book blogger without owning far too many books that pile up around the house and we’re also quite private people. The idea of having to vacate our house every Saturday for people to look through it wasn’t exactly palatable. Nor was the idea of having to hide all our stuff for attractive photos to be taken. And you have no control over who buys the house and what they might want to do with it, so we thought it’d be better to go while we were able to make that decision than be asked to leave by a buyer who wanted to occupy. Thankfully we weren’t under lease and were free to start looking around for somewhere else to live. It’s a bit of a tough market around here now – when we first moved out here, real estate agents were begging you to submit applications. There were way more houses than people wanting to live in them. But we’ve been through quite the population explosion, thanks to a lot of those cheap houses. And when we went to look at a few houses and saw 15, 20, even 40 (!) people at some of the inspection days, we were quite daunted. We weren’t confident of getting somewhere and even though we had a bit of time, with no real exit day, we wanted to be settled somewhere new quite quickly.

Well, we got a house! And we get the keys next Monday. So from then on I’m going to be super busy moving as much of the small stuff as possible before a removalist comes to do the bigger stuff, probably the following weekend. Our new house is in a super location, easily within 5min walk of our children’s school (whereas the place we are now is a few kilometres away) and close to shops, etc. It’s not quite as big as this house but this house is kind of impractical in some ways anyway and we don’t use all of the space. And I’m super keen because the master bedroom is at the back of the house. All the houses I’ve lived in, it’s been at the front with a huge window and I hate people seeing into my bedroom. So I never open the blinds! But with this house that won’t bother me because the window overlooks the backyard and is nice and private.

Which brings me to the books bit of this post really. Since we discovered we’d be moving, I decided that the time had come to really look at my book collection objectively. It’s long since outgrown the bookcases we have. Books are literally stacked up everywhere in unattractive piles and the clutter is starting to annoy me. So I decided that this would be a good excuse to do quite a savage cull. I culled a bit last year but I still kept a lot that I hadn’t read for “one day” and books that I thought were okay. Now, if I can’t see myself reading it again, if I didn’t love it, it goes. If it’s a series book and I didn’t care enough to read the rest of the series, it goes. If it’s something I haven’t read in 10 years, it goes. I’ve already created two huge piles – one to donate and one for people I know to go through and see if there’s anything they want. It’s surprisingly therapeutic and I’m not feeling at all sad about it. A move is as good an excuse as any to go through all the crap you’ve accumulated in almost a decade and get it well sorted. I’ll be going through every room in the house – kid’s bedrooms, spare room, bathroom cabinets, kitchen, master walk in robe and ensuite. This house has a study that houses my older son’s PS4, the new house does not have a study so he gets the PS4 in his room, which makes him exceedingly happy. Although he probably will be less happy when he hears the rules surrounding that particular privilege. The kids also want to try sharing a room – but I have zero hope of that being successful. My older son is a night owl, constantly awake hours past his bedtime, even though he’s not allowed to be doing anything. Despite the late nights, it’s rare he sleeps in past 6.30 and is often up around 6. My other son enjoys his sleep a lot more and often sleeps 1.5hrs later than his brother. If they were to share a room successfully, I could turn the other bedroom into a playroom/library but the chances of that are….really quite low. Even something as simple as going an having a shower often turns into 30+ minutes of stupidity and mucking around and I’ve no doubt that bedtime would be similar.

Things will no doubt be a little quiet around here while I sort out culling, packing, moving, unpacking and then cleaning this house in preparation to hand the keys back. I have so many books to read but I’m pretty sure my time to devote to them is going to be greatly reduced, however I do have a few commitments that I will be making sure are honoured as well as hopefully managing the odd post every few days. I have a few things sitting there, just need to get them completed and posted. We are already sorting out getting utilities and extras like internet moving – my husband needs the internet for work anyway, so it’s not something we can really be without for more than a couple days. Hopefully it’s all sorted well before we are there “permanently”.

Wish me luck! Moving is one of my favourite but also least favourite things in the world. A new house is really exciting but it’s such hard work getting everything done!

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Review: The Last Of The Bonegilla Girls by Victoria Purman

The Last Of The Bonegilla Girls
Victoria Purman
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 415p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The war is over, but her fight for a new life in Australia is about to begin…

1954: When sixteen-year-old Hungarian Elizabeta arrives in Australia with her family, she is hoping to escape the hopelessness of life as a refugee in post-war Germany, a life where every day was lived in fear.

Her first stop is the Bonegilla Migrant Camp on the banks of the Murray in rural Victoria, a temporary home for thousands of new arrivals, all looking for work and a better life. There, Elizabeta becomes firm friends with the feisty Greek Vasiliki; quiet Italian Iliana; and the adventurous Frances, the daughter of the camp’s director.

In this vibrant and growing country, the Bonegilla girls rush together towards a life that seems full of promise, even as they cope with the legacy of war, the oppressive nature of family tradition and ever-present sorrow. So when a ghost from the past reaches out for Elizabeta and threatens to pull her back into the shadows, there is nothing that her friends wouldn’t do to keep her safe: no action too extreme, no confidence too dark.

But secrets have a way of making themselves known and lies have a way of changing everything they touch. Can the Bonegilla girls defeat their past? Or has it finally come to claim them?

These days, one in 20 Australians have links to Bonegilla, a migrant centre where those new to the country after WWII were trained and processed before being allocated jobs. According to the website about the Bonegilla experience, more than 300,000 migrants passed through its doors between 1947-1971, mostly from European backgrounds with little to no English. In The Last Of The Bonegilla Girls Hungarian Elizabeta, Greek Vasiliki and Italian Iliana are all there at the same time, waiting for their fathers to be granted jobs or for them to have adequate accomodations so that they can go and live with them. Along with Frances, the daughter of Bonegilla’s director, the four of them bond. Only one of the three migrant girls speaks any English and so Frances takes it upon herself to teach them, better equipping them for their new home once they eventually leave Bonegilla.

What follows is a story that follows all four girls for decades as their lives diverge and come back together time and time again. They move to different states, they get married, have children, keep secrets. Sometimes their communication wavers but their bond is always there. What’s also very strong is the experience of being new to a country, one very different from the old one. The Europeans face the weight of parental expectations in many different ways, expected to marry within their culture and often to men they barely even know. This is at odds with practices in their new homes and the girls were young enough when they came to Australia to become accustomed to its way of life and the differences between that and how their parents expect them to be.

My husband is a first generation born Australian (I’m a seventh) but he was born a bit later than the setting for this story and surprisingly enough, did not face that sort of pressure to marry someone from his cultural background. In fact neither he nor his brothers married Italians although one branch of cousins moved from a small country town to a suburb in Melbourne and they all married Italians, some of which may have been family facilitated. I felt that this book really addressed those sorts of issues really well – that family conditioning, the time from their original country and always wanting to make their parents happy and do what they wanted, versus the time they had spent in Australia and a bit more of a taste of freedom. I enjoyed the way the book would skip forward and check in at various points in the women’s lives. It enabled the reader to keep up with all of the important moments, the ups and the downs but without getting bogged down in the day to day of four women.

Australia has always liked to think of itself as an enlightened country, with strong protests against any racism but ask anyone who came from somewhere ‘different’ and they’ll probably tell you another story. Part of the reason my husband never learned his parent’s language is because that was just another thing that made you a target at school. Elizabeta certainly notices looks and whispers when she speaks German and all of the girls are harassed and insulted one day during a trip from Bonegilla to the shops. A lot is made of ‘assimilation’ as well, getting them to slide seamlessly into Australian society and this is something that has always interested me. What is a successful ‘assimilation’? Is it speaking English? Is it having a job and contributing to society? Is it just abiding by the laws of the country or the laws and the customs? Why is this such a desired thing? People from other countries bring their experiences and knowledge with them and there are many things you’d never want to be forgotten or left behind. So much of Australia’s actual ‘culture’ is because of the many cultures that have come here to make up our current identity. I enjoyed the inner debate this book presented to me as I put myself in the character’s shoes, trying to imagine how I’d feel in those new and unfamiliar situations and torn between the ways of the old country and that of the new. It was so admirable how in the days of pre-internet and mobile phones, these four women kept in contact over so many years and didn’t allow those friendships to fade into nothingness. All of the women are so clearly defined too, which can be difficult sometimes with books that switch back and forth between characters. This was another really entertaining read from Victoria Purman.

8/10

Book #91 of 2018

 

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Review: Staying by Jessie Cole

Staying: A Memoir
Jessie Cole
Text Publishing
2018, 257p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

As children, Jessie Cole and her brother Jake ran wild, free to roam their rainforest home as they pleased. They had each other, parents who adored them, and two mysterious, beautiful, clever half-sisters, Billie and Zoe, who came to visit every holidays. But when Jessie was on the cusp of adolescence, tragedy struck, and her happy, loving family fell apart. This beautifully written, heartbreaking memoir asks what happens to those who are left behind when someone takes their own life. It’s about the importance of home, family and forgiveness—and finding peace in a place where we’ve suffered pain.

It feels like a very long time since I was introduced to Jessie Cole’s work and in some ways, it is. I first read something by her in 2012 and was blown away by the imagery in her writing. Her first two books, Darkness On The Edge of Town and Deeper Water are incredible but it’s been a little while so I was very pleased when I read that there was something new coming. Different to her other books, Staying is a memoir of her childhood.

Jessie and her younger brother Jake had quite a free-range upbringing on her parent’s property in northern New South Wales which was basically part rainforest. That forest was their playground and they spent their days exploring it, playing in the river and observing the range of wildlife that populated it. Clothing was optional and Jessie has fond memories of the social gatherings that went long into the night. During the school holidays, her father’s daughters from his first marriage would come to stay. They were older, more glamorous it seemed from their Sydney lives and the family of four would become a family of six.

This book reads somewhat like a fictional story, two children in this beautiful, ideal, hippy-ish sort of setting, running wild in the sunshine. If it wasn’t for that first few pages, which ominously warns the reader of the darkness to come, I’d imagine no one would suspect the turn this story would take.

This is a stunningly written piece of work. It’s such a vivid picture that it wasn’t hard for me to imagine the sort of property that Jessie and her family lived on. I grew up in an area just a little south of where Jessie did, with a similar landscape (although mine was less rural). But because of that, I can connect to this setting, I know the types of trees, the wildlife. The weather and the lack of any real winters but still with those crisp mornings where the grass crunches under your feet. And the beach is always never too far away, white sand and an unpredictable Pacific Ocean. The rain – at times, the seemingly endless rain. And even though quite frankly there are parts of the wildlife that scare me silly (mostly spiders, cockroaches, etc) you can’t help but want this sort of life. At least, the idyllic picture of it.

But this story is about much more than those early years. It’s about those that are left behind after a tragedy – a tragedy that had no warning, no reason, that was impossible to understand. It affected the entire Cole family deeply, in a myriad of ways that changed the entire dynamics of their family. This is an emotional story (I keep using story, but that’s not exactly the right word because this is actual true, this is all something that happened to someone in real life), it cannot help but be an emotional story because it’s about grief and loss and loneliness, heartwrenching events. But even though there is so much of that sadness, it doesn’t take over the book to the point where it becomes saturated or overwhelming. It is honest, open and raw and yes, there is great sadness. But it’s somewhat balanced out by love, strength, a quest for understanding. It’s a whole picture, ugliness, lack of answers and all. Nothing is sugar coated, not the grief, not the portrayal of what it does to some family members, not the examining by others of their own actions. I found one part really interesting after the second of the two tragic events – several of the characters have conversations with each other where they talk about interactions or moments just before or leading up to that second tragedy and each of them remember it differently, their own contributions dominating and not really having any memory of what others have contributed. It seems that guilt is a powerful force, raising its head and having them each pondering blame or contribution – their own, not that of others. We all think we could probably do something to prevent such tragedies in the aftermath. But the reality is different.

This is a powerful, beautiful story about life in all it’s ups and downs. The writing is so phenomenal – I’ve always struggled to describe Jessie Cole’s fictional writing in a way that does it justice and it seems that I’m having the same issue with the writing in her memoir. It has such depth and character, sympathy and reflection as well as capturing the highs of an innocent childhood and the grief of both suddenly and slowly losing people who mean the most. I feel like I ran the gauntlet of emotions just reading this but I was never not thinking about what it must have been like to experience it first hand. It’s so incredible that Jessie Cole has been able to write about this. It’s so sensitively handled, very personal of course but without judgement.

9/10

Book #89 of 2018

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Review: Paris Syndrome by Lisa Walker

Paris Syndrome 
Lisa Walker
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 310p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Can romance only be found in Paris, the city of love?

Happiness (Happy) Glass has been a loner since moving to Brisbane and yet still dreams about living in Paris with her best friend Rosie after they finish Year Twelve. But Rosie hasn’t been terribly reliable lately.

When Happy wins a French essay competition, her social life starts looking up. She meets the eccentric Professor Tanaka and her girl-gardener Alex who recruit Happy in their fight against Paris Syndrome – an ailment that afflicts some visitors to Paris. Their quest for a cure gives Happy an excellent excuse to pursue a good-looking French tourism intern also called Alex. To save confusion she names the boy Alex One and the girl Alex Two.

As Happy pursues her love of all things French, Alex Two introduces Happy to her xylophone-playing chickens whose languishing Facebook page Happy sponsors.

But then sex messes things up when, confusingly, Happy ends up kissing both of the Alex’s. Soon neither of them is speaking to her and she has gone from two Alex’s to none …

I had honestly never heard of Paris Syndrome until I read this book. And when I first started it, I didn’t actually know it was a real thing until I finished the book and did a little bit of research online. But apparently it’s a thing – a feeling of let down or shock that Paris in reality is not the romanticised city of their thoughts. It’s classed as a mental disorder.

Happiness (aka Happy) Glass dreams about going to Paris. She and her best friend Rosie have always planned to go. Happy recently moved from Sydney to Brisbane with her mother and she’s feeling a bit lonely and isolated over the summer holidays before school starts. It’s a bit hard to immerse yourself in all things Paris in Brisbane, but Happy gives it her best shot, winning a French essay competition, dressing in her Amelie outfits and getting a job at a cinema playing French films. Winning the essay introduces the two Alexes into Happy’s life and also a Japanese professor who identifies Happy as having a significant risk of Paris Syndrome.

I have to admit, the Paris thing passes me by. I’m not particularly enamoured by it, I don’t seek it out, even in books. But that’s mostly because unlike most people, I don’t really have a strong desire to travel (which is good, because I’m unlikely to ever really get the chance to do extensive overseas travel). There are no real cities I feel a connection with, no places that I long to visit. But I do know that Paris has that certain something for many people and it’s certainly up there as a top destination. And I know people that have been to France and Paris in particular and had mixed reviews of the city. Paris is certainly a very romanticised location, in literature and film. It seems that everyone there is effortlessly cool, wearing haute couture to go pick up their croissants and macarons, wandering along with the Eiffel Tower in the background at night. But nothing can be like that all of the time, so I can understand that the reality might be quite different. And that it might be a let down to people who have really strong feelings about the Paris lifestyle.

This is a really sweet coming of age novel but with several quite serious undertones. Happy is a strong and likeable character, but she does seem at a bit of a loss, struggling up in Brisbane, removed from her best friend Rosie. There are also some family issues that weigh upon her as well. It’s quite fun watching her interacting with the two Alexes, both the male French one who finds her intriguing and also the female gardener Alex who raises chickens and has a far more interesting backstory then was apparent at their first meeting. Also her relationship with her boss Kevin and its evolution over the course of the book is a highlight, it is really enjoyable. The deeper I got into the story the more I realised just how much Happy was going through. Seventeen is such a strange age – not quite an adult but in that place where you’re starting to make decisions about your future, about what you want to do as you move into adulthood. Happy has had several very big things happen to her in quite a short amount of time and it takes a while for all of these things to be revealed which makes the impact felt all the more. Lisa Walker examines not only that cusp of adulthood, but how someone at that stage processes grief and deals with devastating events as well as issues of sexuality. Happy ends up kissing both Alexes and then has to decide what she really wants and how to go about getting it.

I really enjoyed this book – I found the Paris Syndrome stuff quite interesting but I enjoyed the friendships and relationships so much. Happy is just such a lovely character that you want the best for her, that she sort through these things in her head and find the things that make her truly ‘happy’. This has a lot to offer – for lovers of Paris and even those that aren’t beholden to the City of Light. The strength of the character relationships and interactions and the deft way in which Lisa Walker balances the different issues make this the sort of read that will leave a mark.

8/10

Book #87 of 2018

 

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Review: The Art Of Friendship by Lisa Ireland

The Art Of Friendship 
Lisa Ireland
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 387p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

We all expect our friendships from childhood to last forever…

Libby and Kit have been best friends ever since the day 11-year-old Kit bounded up to Libby’s bedroom window. They’ve seen each other through first kisses, bad break-ups and everything in-between. It’s almost 20 years since Libby moved to Sydney, but they’ve remained close, despite the distance and the different paths their lives have taken.

So when Libby announces she’s moving back to Melbourne, Kit is overjoyed. They’re best friends – practically family – so it doesn’t matter that she and Libby now have different …well, different everything, actually, or so it seems when they’re finally living in the same city again.

Or does it?

As an adult, friendship feels like such a tricky thing. Far more so than when I was a child. I’m not really sure what it is – perhaps it’s moving interstate as an adult without knowing anyone. I still have friends from my high school years but we are spread out all over the globe now, contact restricted to liking each other’s photos on facebook. I would imagine that were some of them to suddenly move close to me, it would be almost like getting to know them all over again. And I’d imagine that there’d probably be a few teething problems, much like Libby and Kit experience.

Libby and Kit became close friends through proximity, which is often how you meet and become friends with someone as kids. Their friendship survives attending different high schools and Libby’s moving away to Sydney during the university years. Although they do get to see each other in person each year during a Boxing Day tradition, the majority of their interactions have been by phone, letters, emails. They are also leading quite different lives – Libby is married with a son and Kit is quite determinedly single with a job she devotes herself to. Libby has never really carved out a career niche for herself and has no regrets leaving her job behind to move to Melbourne.

I loved so much about this book – firstly, it’s set pretty close to where I live! Libby moves to an area not far from where I am now when she’s a child and when she moves back as an adult to an exclusive new development ‘community’ it’s not unlike where I live, in a way, which is in a newly developed area of what used to be market gardens and farmland. A lot of what Libby sees around her is familiar to me and like Libby, I’ve never really known what I’ve wanted to do with my life in terms of a career. And although I don’t think I’m quite as involved a parent as Libby, I understand that reaction to protect your child, to perhaps look for the excuses and to automatically assume that they’re the victim. I think that’s only natural, to a certain extent. But Libby definitely goes a lot further with this than I believe that I would! I really liked the way Libby’s issues with her son played out, especially as it bled into her friendship with Kit – entrusting her with his care but then being very upset with the way Kit had handled things, which angers Kit.

I think both Libby and Kit feel as though it will be easy to pick up this friendship when Libby moves back to Victoria but the reality is very different. Libby is living in a rather exclusive area, a gated community with its own golf course, country club and it comes with the wives of her husband’s work colleagues, who demand her social inclusion in events and planning. Kit has moved, she’s still in the western suburbs but not this new version. She has little time for Libby’s new friends and the lives they lead and seems confused about Libby’s lack of focus and desire to find a job. One of the incidents I felt best demonstrated a divide in their personal lives was when Kit suggested they return to Paris for their 40th birthdays. Libby immediately says she needs to discuss it with her husband and think about the implications of leaving their son and Kit can’t believe this, derisively wondering why she needs to ask her husband’s permission. She doesn’t, but I was curious that was the conclusion she jumped to. If my husband made a snap decision to go overseas without consulting me to work out logistics (even if money wasn’t an issue at all) I would be really annoyed. Likewise I wouldn’t do the same to him. We discuss everything, even if it’s just me going to the football with a friend or him needing to go to a work dinner. Kit seems to see Libby’s husband as quite controlling or demanding from the outside looking in. Which to me, was interesting – is that what marriage looks like to people that aren’t and don’t really do relationships? Who don’t have to….not answer to someone else, but at least think about them and consult them or use them as a sounding board for decisions and opinions.

I think this was a really strong, believable look at the world of adult friendships – not only negotiating that entire world of them but also making them, keeping them and trying to hold onto those ones that have been important to us for years. The characters are sharply realistic – down to earth but also flawed. This book is mired in the day to day routines of busy people and the juggling that involves as well as the various domestic issues that come into play. And it’s also not a neat and tidy finish either….there’s no magic solution for the fact that these two people are very different to how they were as children, nor for the fact that some horrible things get said. Instead I would describe the ending as ‘cautiously optimistic’ and I feel as though that’s a really good choice, in keeping with the story that has been constructed. Life isn’t neat and tidy, it’s messy and full of awkward moments, broken connections and tough times. Lisa Ireland’s last two books have absolutely excelled at portraying that uncertainty and I’ve loved them both.

9/10

Book #86 of 2018

 

 

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Review: Whisper by Lynette Noni

Whisper (Whisper #1)
Lynette Noni
Pantera Press
2018, 332
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Review {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“Lengard is a secret government facility for extraordinary people,” they told me.

I believed them. That was my mistake.

There isn’t anyone else in the world like me.

I’m different. I’m an anomaly. I’m a monster.

For two years, six months, fourteen days, eleven hours and sixteen minutes, Subject Six-Eight-Four — ‘Jane Doe’ — has been locked away and experimented on, without uttering a single word.

As Jane’s resolve begins to crack under the influence of her new — and unexpectedly kind — evaluator, she uncovers the truth about Lengard’s mysterious ‘program’, discovering that her own secret is at the heart of a sinister plot … and one wrong move, one wrong word, could change the world.

I love Lynette Noni’s Akernae series and it’s not finished yet so I was quite surprised when I found out she had another book coming out from a brand new series just a few months after the fourth in the Akernae series. I immediately added it to my wishlist, curious to see what else she’d been cooking up.

Subject 6-8-4 in a secret facility known as Lengard is only referred to as Jane Doe, because she won’t tell them her name. In fact she hasn’t uttered a sound since she arrived, over two and a half years ago. Every day she is put through a rigorous training regime, sits through psychological evaluation and is brutally experimented on. And every day she remains silent, no matter what tortures are inflicted upon her. But unexpectedly she’s given a new ‘evaluator’ – and a definitive window of time. If she doesn’t show them what they want to see, then they’ll cut her from the program. And she knows what that means.

‘Jane’ is hiding a terrible secret which is the reason she doesn’t speak. After so much deprivation (Jane is severely isolated, spending the time she isn’t training or being experimented on in a cell, fed a gruel that covers the nutritional needs she requires but is tasteless, etc), Jane is suddenly passed over to a new evaluator, a young man perhaps only a year or two older than she is. He’s kind to her, perhaps the first person to be truly so and it takes her by surprise. She’s also given some privileges, allowed to lead a more normal life away from her cell, wear regular clothes. When Jane finally does show her gift it’s not on purpose but it’s enough for them to see what they need to. And it’s enough for Jane to be set on a path that leads her to question again everything about the program she’s supposed to be involved in.

Okay, so. There’s no denying that there are a few ‘vibes’ in this book that feel a little familiar, that remind me of other bits and pieces of books. But there’s also some quite new and unique stuff as well. Firstly, the setting is amazing – utilising Sydney’s CBD in the most unusual and creative of ways and I really enjoyed that. Likewise the trip to Taronga Zoo really helps anchor the reader in the setting. If you’ve been to Sydney then you’re aware of where the zoo is, how you get there and the experience that involves. It’s a quintessential part of exploring the city. Also I found the idea of Lengard quite fascinating, even when there are some obviously sinister components to it. What they are doing to Jane is horrific and I was curious why it took them so long to try and different method. Jane has lasted over two and a half years being regularly tortured, it’s clear that she wasn’t going to crack under that particular pressure. But to deprive her of everything for so long – regular food, nice clothes, friendship and companionship may have been the long game in order to shower her with kindness all at once and break through her resolve.

Despite the strength she’s shown resisting breaking under torture, Jane is scarred on the inside. She has what she believes is the most terrible of secrets and she’s petrified of it coming out. She has no idea that her special ‘gift’ for want of a better word, can be harnessed and controlled and she has very little self confidence. It seems that a lot of trying to get Jane to reveal herself and then help her understand it in the aftermath, involved playing games with her head. A lot of it seemed counter productive to be honest and gives you the feeling that there are a lot of underlying motives and sinister scenarios, especially when Jane gets an introduction to a rebel group that she’s been led to believe are terrorists.

I liked this more than I liked the first Akernae book and I’ve come to love that series so much so that actually gives me a really good feeling about this because I think Lynette Noni’s books get stronger the further she gets into the series and the world. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff that has been set up here and the ending to this book felt really intense and definitely made me want to know what is going to happen next. Jane undergoes a lot of growth in this book and hopefully she will be stronger and with a lot more self belief, having potentially had a weight lifted from her. There’s the possibility for a love triangle in this, I’m not sure how far it’s going to go, at the moment it seems more the thought or suggestion, as everyone also has their minds on other things. I’m team Option #2, but I’m quite good at picking the ‘wrong’ one! I’m not a big fan of love triangles and it wasn’t too prevalent in this first book but it’ll probably bother me if it becomes something that dominates the story more in future books.

Overall I enjoyed this – it has a few wrinkles to iron out and there were times when it felt too much like something I’d read before but it definitely got better as it went on and I am keen to see where it goes from here.

7/10

Book #84 of 2018

 

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Review: As She Fades by Abbi Glines

As She Fades
Abbi Glines
Feiwel & Friends
2018, 262p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

On the night of her high school graduation, Vale McKinley and her boyfriend Crawford are in a terrible car accident that leaves Crawford in a coma. They were supposed to spend the summer planning for college, for a bright future full of possibility. Together. Instead, Vale spends long days in the hospital, hoping Crawford will awaken.

Slate Allen, a college friend of Vale’s brother, has been visiting his dying uncle at the same hospital. When he and Vale meet, she can’t deny the flutter of an illicit attraction. She tries to ignore her feelings, but she’s not immune to Slate’s charm. Slowly, they form a cautious friendship.

Then, Crawford wakes up… with no memory of Vale or their relationship. Heartbroken, Vale opts to leave for college and move on with her life. Except now, she’s in Slate’s territory, and their story is about to take a very strange turn.

I struggle with Abbi Glines books, one series in particular but I decided to give this a go because it was a stand alone and the premise sounded interesting.

Be warned, there’s going to be some vague ***SPOILERS*** throughout. I’ll do my best not to be too blatant with the story but there might be a few things that are spoilerish because it’s really hard to talk about this book because in essence it’s barely even a coherent story.

In the beginning, Vale is a recent high school graduate who was in a car wreck with her long term boyfriend Crawford. Vale’s injuries were superficial but Crawford is in a coma and Vale is spending pretty much every day of her summer break at the hospital being a devoted girlfriend. She appears to spend a large amount of this time in the corridor outside Crawford’s room because his mother is protective of him and there’s some sort of visiting ‘roster’ or something and Vale only gets afternoons with him. But even when it’s not her turn to be in with him, she’s outside because she doesn’t want to miss being there when Crawford wakes up. She’s not even sure that she wants to go to college because that was something they were doing together.

Vale meets Slate, a college friend of her brother’s who is also spending a large portion of summer break visiting someone in the hospital. Slate is the quintessential boring manwhore that populates Glines’ books, screwing his way through the general female population – even nurses on duty in wards cannot resist the chance to be a brief notch on Slate’s bedpost. Slate doesn’t do relationships or commitment, but soon he’s bringing Vale a coffee every morning. Soon they become friends which is weird because Slate doesn’t do female friends. Ever. And when Vale finally decides to go to college she attracts an awful lot of attention because she’s friends with Slate.

Everyone in this book is ridiculous. Vale is ridiculous. I understand that she’s upset about the accident, she wants to be there to support her boyfriend but she basically drops every other aspect of her life and devotes her entire existence to the hospital and Crawford….until she meets Slate. Everyone warns her off him because he’s gross and sleeps with everyone but he doesn’t try do that with Vale because she’s special. Until he does want to do that with Vale, but only in the respectful relationship way because she’s totally changed him. So yay! And Slate? Slate is utterly ridiculous. Women just drop their knickers whenever he walks by because he’s super hot. And he likes to have sex. Did I mention that Slate is ridiculously hot? Because he is. Totally hot. And he sleeps with a lot of girls. And there’s basically the grand summation of Slate’s character because he’s about as deep as your average rain puddle. There’s a half-hearted attempt at a tragic backstory but it just doesn’t work for me and Slate does not in any way feel a believable 19 or 20 year old guy. He’s like the ultimate author dream boyfriend creation. Nearly all the girls in this story are “sluts” who throw themselves at Slate or resent Vale because she’s “friends” with him.

And thennnnnn, there’s the “twist” in this book which really isn’t so much a twist as “a completely different story”. We discover that the story as we know it is not entirely accurate and so we have to start again and relive it in a different way and the second half is even worse than the first half. The thing is, part 2 makes part 1 make basically zero sense. It’s really jarring and not well done at all and the more you wade into part 2 the more you wonder why you had to sit through part 1 when it has no point. Or maybe that was just me. But to be honest, part 1 was actually a more enjoyable story than part 2 (which isn’t really saying much) but both were repetitive and stereotypical. I just feel like with Abbi Glines books there are so many things running through all of them – slut shaming women is a big one, as well as basically idolising guys who sleep around. And then there’s that classic thing of the male character who has never had a relationship before, never cared about someone before, suddenly changing their entire stance for that one person. Which is fine I guess, I’m sure it happens, but there’s rarely any insight given into why. In this book for example, I never really saw what made Vale so special that she caught Slate’s attention when he seems to be pretty much drowning in offers but when Glines never shows me what it is Slate sees or interprets and I don’t see it myself, it just makes the whole story very hard to buy. This is a guy who has been so adamant about not even being friends with females. Like, why? Because they’ll all fall mad in love with him and he can only offer them friendship? I don’t know. I mean he’ll happily shag his way through them but he doesn’t seem to really like or even respect any of them, apart from Vale. But then again, they’re mostly all portrayed as horrible bitches who will stop at nothing to get a piece of him, for status. So they can be ‘the one’.

Unfortunately this was bland, lacking in finesse, derivative and problematic. It’s not well written on the whole, although I felt that the part involving Slate’s family member was probably the best part of the story. And it’s no coincidence that the part I (sort of) liked was a part that didn’t revolve around Slate and Vale. And it was thankfully short. So I liked that too.

2/10

Book #80 of 2018

 

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Review: Five Years From Now by Paige Toon

Five Years From Now
Paige Toon
Penguin Random House
2018, 337p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘One day, maybe five years from now, you’ll look back and understand why this happened.’

Vian and Nell are thrown together at the age of five when Vian’s mother and Nell’s father fall in love. At first wary of each other, they soon become the best of friends. But five years later, they are torn apart and Vian moves to the other side of the world.

Fast-forward five more years to when Vian comes to visit, and Nell discovers that the boy she once knew is now ‘Van’ – a wild and carefree teenager. Chemistry crackles, but once again, they’re separated.

For the next two decades, Nell and Van meet every five years, but life and circumstance always intervene. Will they ever find true happiness? And will it be together?

This is my first Paige Toon book and I’m not sure how it is I’ve gone this long without ever having read her before. Now that I have discovered her, I’m going to have to explore her backlist and there are so many books! Which is both good and bad – good because yay, more books! Bad because how on earth am I going to find the time to acquire and read so many of these books?

But I will have to try because I absolutely loved this book. I read it in a single sitting and in such a short time – I could not put it down once I had gotten started. Normally I would be wary about a book that seemed to be about two people who belong together constantly finding obstacles in the way of them actually being together. But Paige Toon constructs this in an utterly believable way and negotiates the obstacles skilfully without the story ever feeling repetitive or contrived.

Nell and Vian meet when they are both just five years old. Their parents, Nell’s father and Vian’s mother are moving in together, having fallen in love. Due to the smallness of Nell’s father’s cottage, they will be sharing a room and their early hostility and wariness of each other fades away and becomes a tight bond. They are separated five years later after a tragedy and from then on, it seems they are destined to only come together briefly every few years as they negotiate their lives on opposite sides of the world.

Something Nell’s father says to her – “five years from now, you’ll understand why this happened” underpins the entire story with events occurring that the characters don’t have the capacity to understand in the current timeline, but with hindsight, will be able to grasp the deeper meaning of. It’s something I’ve thought about myself in my own life – something going wrong, or not to plan. But then later looking back and seeing that the moment or incident led to something else or set me on a path that changed my life. For Nell and Vian, there are key moments in their interactions with each other that shape their lives and although these moments cause pain, they are also the harbingers of joy and change.

I loved the setting and the relationships in this. The relationship Nell has with her dad is truly remarkable and it evolves in the most organic of ways. She’s an adoring child, a rebellious teen struggling to find her way, pushing against her dad’s understandable tendency to be quite strict. Then she enters her adult years and their connection strengthens again and her devotion to him is just wonderful to read. Likewise Nell has a tight group of friends that she meets at school and they stay close all the way into adulthood, despite attending different universities and moving away for jobs and family. And always, always there is the bond between Nell and Vian/Van which also evolves over the years.

This is a book that won’t be for everyone – it’s hard to classify and although it has strong romantic elements, it’s not a romance as such. It’s two people who love each other absolutely but it’s a very complicated love. There’s a lot of factors that come into play in order to orchestrate things this way, probably beginning with the way things play out when Nell and Van are 15. It gives both of them a false impression as to how they would be viewed and they are reluctant to really push in that situation, for what they want. But it’s something that with a few conversations, could’ve been cleared up. By the time these conversations are had, their lives have taken directions that it’s no longer ‘easy’. There are strong reasons, for both of them that I found 100% believable and it’s not difficult to understand why they make the decisions they do. It’s a compelling story from beginning to end and I was just so invested in the two of them. It kept me guessing.

This is a strong, beautiful and bittersweet book. Such an amazing introduction to Toon’s writing and I can’t wait to try a few more of her books.

9/10

Book #81 of 2018

 

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Review: A Court Of Frost And Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

A Court Of Frost And Starlight (A Court Of Thorns And Roses Series #3.1)
Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury
2018, 227p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The Winter Solstice. In a week. I was still new enough to being High Lady that I had no idea what my formal role was to be. If we’d have a High Priestess do some odious ceremony, as lanthe had done the year before.

A year. Gods, nearly a year since Rhys had called in his bargain, desperate to get me away from the poison of the Spring Court to save me from my despair. Had he been only a minute later, the Mother knew what would have happened. Where I’d now be.

Snow swirled and eddied in the garden, catching in the brown fibers of the burlap covering the shrubs My mate who had worked so hard and so selflessly, all without hope that I would ever be with him We had both fought for that love, bled for it. Rhys had died for it.

Sometimes I finish a book and think to myself ‘you know, I loved this so much, I’d read a book about this couple or this group just….going about their lives. Doing nothing in particular, just their daily routine, their conversations’. If you’ve ever thought that, in particular about Feyre, Rhysand and the rest of the crew then this is pretty much the book for you.

Because there’s not a lot happening here. It’s mostly the group preparing for the Winter Solstice, which is quite a celebrated holiday in the Night Court. It’s Feyre’s first one and she’s also worrying about the ins and outs of being a High Lady and her role as well. There’s the guilt that they all face because people, their subjects, for want of a better term, sacrificed people to the war. They are rebuilding, not just the city physically, but also mentally.

But there’s also a simmering threat….somewhere? With someone? They’re still trying to strengthen various borders, keep the peace, reestablish relations that have broken down severely since the time of Amarantha. So this is a bridging book. The first trilogy is complete, that war is complete. But there is more coming and this book also does a little bit to set that up as well.

Mostly the narrative belongs to either Feyre or Rhysand but there are also chapters devoted to Cassian and Nesta and from the excerpt in the back of the book, it seems the next one will revolve around them. Not going to lie, at the moment there’s a bunch of things I’d rather read more than Nesta and her inner dialogue of empty hatred. I’m way more interested in Elain and Lucien and their troubled mating bond. I’m way more interested in Amren in her current form and her relationship with the prince of the summer court. I’m way more interested in Mor and her complicated relationship with her family, her former betrothed, not to mention the tension with Az and her sexuality. It’s not that I dislike Nesta, I do actually like her determination to take no shit at all from anyone but that sometimes pushes her into just being truly horrible to people who don’t actually deserve it. The idea of being in her head for any length of time is not super appealing although I understand the idea that Nesta had this done to her against her will and loathes it – she will need to truly hit rock bottom before she can begin to heal.

But I’m still here for it. I’m here for this entire series and everything that’s still to happen. They’re so inherently readable that I completely forget what I’m supposed to be doing when another book comes out. I find the Throne of Glass series the same (although I still haven’t read Tower Of Dawn). I think it was nice to take a breather with this book after the intensity of the previous ones and just….get a chance to see how everyone would live their lives if there were no hostilities, lingering threats or brewing border disputes. It’s a nice idea but I also can’t ignore the fact that I waited a year for this book, finished it in 90 minutes and now it’s probably another year to wait until the next one is released. I know I still have another Sarah J. Maas book to read and there’ll be another Throne Of Glass book later this year but…..this was a long wait for relatively little pay off and now another long wait. Did I enjoy this book? Absolutely. I thought it was really sweet. And that down time is nice, I mentioned that. But it’s undeniably short, a novella rather and even though it was a cute read, barely anything really happened. You could probably sum up this entire book’s happenings in a few pages in the next book and no one would know any different. But in terms of giving a glimpse into court life and how everyone is feeling after the events of the previous books, it is a nice accompaniment. Even though it sort of feels like nothing new for the series.

8/10

Book #62 of 2018

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Review: Melt by Lisa Walker

Melt 
Lisa Walker
Lacuna
2018, 278p
Copy courtesy of the author/publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Antarctica is getting hotter …

Summer Wright, hippie turned TV production assistant, organises her life down to the minute. And when her project-management-guru boyfriend, Adrian, proposes marriage — right on schedule — she will reach the peak of The Cone of Certainty.

At least, that’s the plan – until adventure-show queen Cougar Gale intervenes. Suddenly Summer is impersonating Cougar in Antarctica: learning glaciology and climate science on the fly, building a secret igloo, improvising scripts based on Dynasty, and above all trying not to be revealed as an impostor.

I cannot resist a book about Antarctica. It’s an area that fascinates me and I love reading books set there (not a huge amount in fiction, giving the limited population living on Antarctica at any given time) or watching documentaries about it. Also penguins are my favourite animal and look how adorable this cover is!

Summer Wright is a production assistant for a TV company and since meeting her boyfriend Adrian, has desperately tried to be the sort of girl that she thinks he wants her to be. She tries to be relentlessly organised but it almost never seems to work out. The TV company she works for are gearing up to produce a series of an outdoor adventure show in Antarctica when the host Cougar Gale has a fall and breaks her ankle. Apparently with a hair colour, some make up and if you squint a bit, Summer can pass as Cougar Gale…so the idea is to send her in Cougar’s place to host so that they don’t lose their slot filming. The only problem? Summer doesn’t know anything about Antarctica and her love of TV soap operas has her going hopelessly off script.

I absolutely loved this. It was so funny and cute. I see quite a bit of myself in Summer, although I wasn’t raised in the same sort of hippy, free-range style that she was, I’m the sort of person who tries to be organised but then messes up my whole planned out day because thirty minutes more sleep was way more appealing that getting up and doing some exercise. It really seems that Summer is trying to push herself to be this super organised, dedicated person mostly to please her boyfriend Adrian, a project manager who spouts a lot of jargon. Summer thinks Adrian might propose, thereby cementing her new life but instead he breaks up with her, leaving Summer reeling and then on her way to Antarctica before she can blink.

Summer is supposed to be pretending to be Cougar Gale, who kind of sounds like a female type of Bear Grylls maybe without eating bugs, but Cougar is also a glaciologist and Summer barely knows what a glacier is. So there are quite a few really funny scenes where Summer has to pretend she knows what she’s talking about or deflect before anyone can suspect. Cougar is also apparently a bit of a diva who takes no prisoners so Summer has to basically act like a huge bitch and demand all sorts of things. Every time she slips out of character, her cameraman has to remind her that she’s not down here as herself, but as someone else, even though Summer is hugely uncomfortable with putting people offside. Summer also has her own ways about how she wants this TV series to go and she wants to put her own spin on it. Complicating matters in several ways for Summer is climate scientist Lucas Nilsson, who is responsible for the crew during the time that they’re in Antarctica. It’s pretty obvious Lucas knows his stuff and Summer isn’t sure she’s fooling him at all. And then there’s noted climate change skeptic, Federal Minister for Science, Nathan Hornby and his ‘manager’ – who just so happens to be Adrian, Summer’s now ex-boyfriend. They’ve hopped on the Antarctica flight so that the Minister can really “get a feel” for what’s happening down there and how it might affect Australia’s agreement treaty to protect Antarctica. Summer is being pulled in an awful lot of directions at once and underneath that is the struggle for who she really wants to be. Summer has a dream inside of her that she is passionate about but she is putting a lid on it, in favour of who it seems that other people think she should be. Going the safe route.

This book also addresses a lot about climate change, structured around the TV show that Summer is down there to film so it’s information and debate woven into the story in a humorous way and it really works. Not only are there significant changes in Antarctica but there’s also been much documented information coming from the Arctic as well and it’s something that reflects real life. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to support climate change, but people still seem fixed on the small things. Like how one unseasonably cool day in summer negates the entire ‘global warming’ argument. Our former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, is a noted climate skeptic.  As Lucas points out in this book, ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ are very different things.

For me, Melt is a fabulous little melting pot itself, of humour, science, topical debate, an amazing location, the idea of being true to yourself and finding out what you really want, and of course a little pinch of romance. I wish I could find more books just like this one!

9/10

Book #64 of 2018

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