All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Shape Of Us by Lisa Ireland

The Shape Of Us
Lisa Ireland
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Four different women. The same big problem. One magical solution?

Mezz is overweight and overworked: she’s convinced it’s only a matter of time until her husband starts to stray.

Jewels is fat and fabulous, but if she wants the baby she craves, the Tim Tams have to go.

Ellie’s life looks perfect to her London friends on facebook: she keeps her waistline out of the photos and her loneliness to herself. 

Kat will do anything to keep her daughter Ami happy and safe. If she can just lose that baby weight, she’s usre Ami’s dad will stick around. 

In this heartwarming, heartbreaking story, four women who meet online in a weight loss forum learn that losing weight might not be the key to happiness, but believing in the ones you love -and yourself- just might be. 

It’s hard to know where to start with this amazing book. I’ve read Lisa Ireland before, she’s an author of several rural romance novels but this is a step into the women’s fiction or “life lit” genre that has become one of my absolute faves to read. It’s the story of four women who have little in common other than joining a weigh loss initiative (called WON or Weight Off Now!) and coming together in the section on the forum for those who have 30+ kg to lose. After a condescending couple of posts from a WON-veteran who is at her “goal weight” after losing far less than any of the four women have to lose, they take their burgeoning friendship off the official forums to a private blog where they can talk freely.

The way in which these four women develop a friendship really spoke to me. I have been an internet addict since around 1998, when we first got dial up (oh the days) in my parent’s house. Over the years I have made so many great friends online – some of whom I’ve been friends with for over a decade and a half and we’ve still never met physically. Others I’ve met in person as well and catch up with or hang out with on a regular basis. I enjoyed the way several of the women didn’t really intend to “get personal” with the others but the blog becomes an outlet for them to spill out things from their personal lives which they perhaps cannot share with anyone else. Mezz has insecurities about her fit husband straying with one of the Lycra-clad “Pony-tails” at school drop off, Jewels has insecurity issues against her seemingly perfect sister, Ellie finds herself alone in a country not her own with a partner she may never be able to truly be a family with and Kat just wants to give her beautiful daughter the dream childhood she never had after the Bosnian war, with a home of her own. All of their lives kind of start to come apart in different ways even as the women are knitting together this strong, honest friendship which isn’t without its imperfections as they all try different things in order to lose those kilos.

I’ve read books tackling weight loss issues before and so many of them involve characters finding the “magic” combination that works for them but this book serves up some grim realities when it comes to the statistics for losing weight and keeping it off. I felt that each of them had reasons for wanting to lose weight that revolved around another person – Mezz wanted to feel as though her husband would find her attractive again, having no idea that it wasn’t her size that was keeping him distant from her, Jewels has been told to lose weight in order to get pregnant so it’s her desire for a child that fuels her but her love of baking makes it quite difficult for her to even get started, Kat wants to keep her boyfriend and Ellie likewise is determined to look better for her fit other half. What I enjoyed was the realism that sees them struggle, fail, backslide, try radical things etc. It felt genuine, including the usage of one of those fad shakes/cleanse things where you consume only a certain brand of liquids and it can only be bought through a consultant that feels almost like some sort of cult. What the underlying message is for these women is that they need to come to terms with themselves, the problems in their lives and ‘love the skin they’re in’ before they will ever be happy. Losing weight isn’t going to magically make the other problems they have go away. Mezz will still feel as though people look sideways at her and ask what her husband sees in her, Jewels will still feel as though her sister steals the spotlight….unless they have that self confidence to stand in their own spotlight.

I was forewarned about the darker turn the book takes in the final quarter or so as it’s a topic I often struggle with but I felt as though it was very well handled and really did help to not only cement the way in which the women had built this friendship but also explore the different ways in which they dealt with such a serious topic. It was really heartbreaking and it’s something that I think about a lot, it’s probably my greatest fear. I had a lot of admiration for the character it concerned – actually she was probably my favourite of the four although I loved them all to be honest.

This is a superbly written, very powerful book that I think will find a home on many people’s favourites shelf. I know it definitely has on mine. It’s the sort of book where I’m still thinking about the characters days later, mulling things over in my head and reflecting on different parts of the story. Definitely one that will stick with me.

9/10

Book #74 of 2017

The Shape Of Us is book #23 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The North Water by Ian McGuire

The North Water
Ian McGuire
Scribner
2016, 326p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A ship sets sail with a killer on board….

1859. A man joins a whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. Having left the British Army, his reputation in tatters, Patrick Sumner has little option but to accept the position of ship’s surgeon on this ill-fated voyage.

But when, deep into the journey, a boy is discovered brutally killed, Sumner finds himself becoming a reluctant detective. Soon he will face an evil even greater than that he had encountered at the siege of Delhi, in the shape of Henry Drax: harpooner, murderer, monster…

Well, this book was interesting.

And I say that in a good way. It’s one of those books where I’m not sure I could say wow, I absolutely loved that, because it’s a gruesome, twisted, savage book. In more ways than one. I picked it up to read on a lovely sunny day when I had a few hours to kill before I had to pick my kids up from school. It was the words ‘Arctic Circle’ that drew me in. I love anything set either there or Antarctica – I find both landscapes pretty fascinating and will pretty much pick up anything to do with them.

This is a very brutal book, everything about it is brutal. The men are coarse, and with the exception of Patrick, seemingly uneducated and borderline savage (some have definitely crossed that line). The language, whilst perhaps quite accurate for the characters, is confronting and the actions even more so. The ship Volunteer is heading out for a whaling expedition but the tide is turning. There are faster, cheaper methods of heating now and blubber is becoming a thing of the past. The captain of the Volunteer, a man who already lost a ship and most of a crew is dubious of his current crew, put together by a sly man with an ulterior motive. Among them are Henry Drax, a man who has zero morals and pretty disgusting proclivities, and Patrick Sumner, a surgeon fresh from discharge from the Army after conflict in Delhi. Sumner is the odd man out here – he’s a surgeon, he’s more polished and civilised than the others on the ship and he’s unwilling to turn a blind eye to bad behaviour when he’s presented with the evidence of it. Sumner for sure does have his faults – an addiction to laudanum, a dubious departure from the Army, a vague story about an inheritance coming to him that is probably untrue, but he’s a world apart from some of the other men on this ship.

The book is rife with lavish descriptions of the harpooners clubbing baby seals, skinning them, shooting polar bears and harpooning whales. To be honest, it’s not for the fainthearted. The actions of the men and the resulting horrific effects on the animals go on for pages and pages and it makes for uncomfortable reading. It can be hard to immerse yourself in a time so different to the one you live in, when normal actions for that time are so objectionable to the current time. The men are crude, tormenting animals for sport and entertainment, chuckling to themselves over distress or savage self-defense.

Despite this, I found the story itself of the voyage of the Volunteer fascinating. The machismo power plays, the ulterior motives, trying to piece together what was really going on. There were definitely some unexpected moments, things that happened that made me really interested to see where it was going. And when everything seems hopeless, I was hooked to see how any of the men might get themselves out of what had happened. Patrick was an interesting narrator. I’m not sure I admired him – I felt sorry for him, when his story unfolded. I think he’d certainly been through quite a lot, some really horrible stuff and then he was betrayed. I wasn’t sure if the laudanum came from his injury or was for some other reason and I’m not sure it’s ideal to have the ship’s surgeon dependent on substances either but at least he cared for people’s welfare and well-being. His meddling did actually end up making things worse in a way but it came from the right place and he was determined to see that the right person was punished for it. The other men on the ship were happy to believe the first person accused but Patrick wasn’t so complacent and he never gave up investigating, asking questions until he had the right man. From there things really escalate and the pace is fast and really kept me hooked.

Part of my desire to read on was I think, a need to see that person punished. To make sure that justice was served in the end, because it could’ve gone either way for a large portion of the story. So I really wanted to see that out to it’s natural (or unnatural!) conclusion.

So like I mentioned earlier….I’m not sure I can say I really enjoyed this book. But I certainly found it really intriguing and I was kept interested the whole way through. The subject matter and most of the characters make for some depressing reading at times and it’s very gory and there’s a lot of usage of my least favourite word but I’m sure it’s authentic to the time and setting. But it’s set in a harsh and unforgiving part of the world too, so I’m sure that to survive, you have to have some sort of harsh, unforgiving side. It’s not for the weak or faint at heart – kill or be killed, do what it takes to survive or perish. The atmosphere is superb – McGuire definitely nails that be it the rough taverns before setting sail, the close quarters of the ship or the vast whiteness of the North. So a lot definitely impressed me and I think this one is a prime example of a book I can read and appreciate the quality of writing, attention to detail, skill of setting, etc, even if it isn’t precisely the kind of story I enjoy reading and would naturally gravitate towards.

7/10

Book #73 of 2017

 

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Review: Lord Of Chance by Erica Ridley

Lord Of Chance (Rags To Riches #1)
Erica Ridley
Self-published
2017, 300p
Copy courtesy of the author via NetGalley

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Disguised as a country miss, Charlotte Devon flees London, desperate to leave her tattered reputation behind. In Scotland, her estranged father’s noble blood will finally make her a respectable debutante. Except she finds herself accidentally wed to a devil-may-care rogue with a sinful smile. He’s the last thing she needs…and everything her traitorous heart desires.

Charming rake Anthony Fairfax is on holiday to seek his fortune…and escape his creditors. When an irresistible Lady Luck wins him in a game of chance—and a slight mishap has them leg-shackled by dawn—the tables have finally turned in his favor. But when past demons catch up to them, holding on to new love will mean destroying their dreams forever.

I’ve read a few of Erica Ridley’s Dukes of War series and this book, the first in a new series, is very loosely connected to that in that the hero Anthony is the brother of one of the heroines from that series. This was a little different to what I expected….some of that was in a good way but some of it was also in not so good a way.

Anthony Fairfax needs to earn himself an obscene amount of money to pay back the creditor who purchased his debts. If he doesn’t, he risks going to jail. He finds himself in an inn in Scotland playing cards – hopefully the distance will help him evade his creditors until he has the means to repay them. What Anthony doesn’t bargain on is Charlotte Devon, whom he invites into the game. She promptly wins his entire pot and then to make matters worse when he tries to play the gentleman, an obscure Scottish law means they’re married….for real.

This is awkward for many reasons – they don’t even know each other. One night playing a couple of hands of cards is the extend of their interaction. Also Anthony’s precarious financial position could have negative repercussions for Charlotte – as his wife, her property is considered his. She could also become a target if Anthony cannot repay his creditors within the deadline. And for Charlotte, there’s plenty she hasn’t told Anthony about her background, which for many people would definitely be reason for rejection.

What I liked was that both Anthony and Charlotte are quite different to a lot of characters in historical romances. Anthony, although apparently referred to as rakish, didn’t really display much rake behaviour and he’s not rich. Not at all. He’s very kind and considerate, not at all arrogant or lordly, he doesn’t try to boss Charlotte around or tell her that she can’t do this or that. He’s also very adamant about nothing she owns being used to pay his debt or taken from her and when he hears of her background, he’s incredibly judgement-free. Probably few people in his circumstances would’ve been and I’m not entirely sure how realistic his attitude was but it was refreshing nonetheless. His family is quite unconventional (his sister was almost nine months pregnant when she married in her book) so perhaps it wasn’t that unlikely.

Charlotte was in Scotland on her own searching for her father, whom she’s never met. I think this could’ve been explored a bit more – she had very little information, what was she going to do, attempt to search every tavern in Scotland? I also would’ve liked more about her card playing, which is a rather big part of the beginning of the book as it serves to bring them together and then just basically disappears. Despite the fact that Anthony and Charlotte are both kind of down on their luck when they meet – Anthony owes an astronomical amount of money he doesn’t really have much chance of being able to repay, Charlotte wants to meet the father she’s never known despite really possessing no knowledge of him, there are a lot of things that kind of fall into their laps in order to wrap up the novel and it felt unbelievably convenient, especially as they happened pretty much simultaneously.

This was a pleasant read but I didn’t love it. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and the pacing felt a bit off, especially towards the end. I didn’t really feel any chemistry between Anthony and Charlotte (it’s a very chaste romance, the sexual chemistry felt like it was at 0 and even the romantic chemistry was lukewarm at best) and there were a few loose plot threads. Just okay for me. Not quite as enjoyable as the other books I’ve read by this author.

5/10

Book #71 of 2017

 

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Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, Approximately
Jenn Bennett
Simon & Schuster
2017, 388p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bailey “Mink” Rydell has met the boy of her dreams. They share a love of films and talk all day – Alex is perfect. Well, apart from the fact that they’ve never actually met… and neither of them knows the other’s real name.

When Bailey moves to California to live with her dad, who happens to live in the same town as Alex, she decides to use her sleuthing skills to find him. But tracking someone down based on online conversations alone proves harder than Bailey thought, and with her irritating but charismatic colleague Porter Roth distracting her at every turn, will she ever get to meet the mysterious Alex?

This book was freaking adorable.

I could totally relate to Bailey because I am also the type of person that would want to go in to meeting someone I’d talked to online armed with knowledge. Bailey used to live with her mother but when she moves to California to live with her dad, she’s armed with plenty of information about her online friend ‘Alex’ so that hopefully she can track him down and just check him out in person before they meet properly. She knows that he works for a family business and a few other things but it isn’t until she attempts to pin down precisely where that is that she realises it’s not going to be as easy as she thinks.

Bailey calls herself the ‘Artful Dodger’ – she avoids conflict and confrontation almost obsessively. She has a reason perhaps, for being this way. And to be honest, it’s probably about the best reason there ever could be for someone fearing confrontation. She could just tell Alex, whom she has a real connection with online, that she’s moved to California. He wants to meet her, he’s asked her many times. But what if the online groove doesn’t translate to the offline? What if it’s awkward and weird? Better that she scope things out first….if ‘Alex’ isn’t who he claims to be or if things look strange, then he never need know she moved to California.

Distracting Bailey from her task of tracking down Alex without him knowing about it, is Porter Roth, her gorgeous but incredibly annoying colleague at her new summer job. Porter definitely gets Bailey’s back up, so much so that she finds herself lashing out when normally she’d stay quiet. Despite the fact that he sometimes infuriates her, she also finds him very intriguing…and the more she gets to know Porter and spend time with him, the less she thinks about Alex, the less they talk online.

Oh, Porter. I have a bit of a crush on Porter – ok, it’s quite a large crush. A surfer good enough to go pro who works two jobs, who put his own life at risk in a terrifying situation to save someone else…..what’s not to love? Okay he can be a bit of a ass at times, he’s a teenage boy. They do that. The thing about Porter is that he provokes a response in Bailey, be it a positive one or a negative one and I’m not sure many people have been able to do that for a few years. She seems to have been drifting, not really having any real close friends due to moving schools several times for different reasons. Alex is probably the closest thing she has to a real friend but their interactions are online, mostly about the classic films they both love although there are more personal things sprinkled in there. They’ve never confided their biggest secrets to each other though…..

I loved Porter and Bailey together. All of their interactions made me squishy inside, be they good or some of the ones that are a bit angry or painful. The way in which they click is obvious in so many ways – in fact far more ways than Porter and Bailey at first realise especially Bailey. She does seem to kind of put Porter in a box after their first interaction or two that seems to prevent her from ever considering him as an option despite several things that fit right away – he’s the right age and he also works two jobs.

The reader doesn’t really get to see Bailey’s life in New Jersey and Washington DC before she moves to California but it seems like the move really does help her grow as a person and shake off perhaps the lasting effects of a trauma she experienced some years ago. She makes a good close friend in Grace, a girl she works with who also goes to the school that Bailey will be starting at in the fall. She meets Porter and becomes friends with him with the whole ‘something more’ hanging over them. She has a great relationship with her dad which read as so genuine and real and again the reader doesn’t see her relationship with her mother prior to her move but it seems it’s not great afterwards. It seems as though in California, Bailey has found a place where she fits in. A home.

When I was reading this book, my husband stopped me and said, “You’re really loving that, aren’t you?” and I said yes, but how did he know? Apparently he’d been watching me and I had this {probably} super dopey smile on my face all the time because there are just so many super cute moments. Porter and Bailey have this amazing back and forth chemistry where they have some really feisty, argumentative type interactions interspersed with some really sweet (or sexy) ones. The whole thing is just super feel good adorable and I loved it a lot.

*Note to self: Find the old movies mentioned in this book and watch them.

**Note to self: Buy everything else that Jenn Bennett has ever written.

9/10

Book #68 of 2017

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Review: Twist by Kylie Scott

Twist (Dive Bar #2)
Kylie Scott
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 272p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When his younger brother loses interest in online dating, hot, bearded, bartender extraordinaire, Joe Collins, only intends to log into his account and shut it down. Until he reads about her.

Alex Parks is funny, friendly, and pretty much everything he’s been looking for in a woman. And in no time at all they’re emailing up a storm, telling each other their deepest darkest secrets… apart from the one that really matters.

And when it comes to love, serving it straight up works better than with a twist.

Love with a modern ‘twist’.

The second book in the Dive Bar series is here and the wait is definitely worth it. This book focuses on Joe, bartender at Dive Bar and Eric’s brother. Joe set up an online dating account for Eric but quicker than a match burns out Eric lost interest. Joe only meant to go in and shut it down for him but then he saw a message from Alex Parks, graphic designer and home renovation enthusiast. He couldn’t help responding and the two of them built a really solid friendship, confiding secrets, sharing dreams. Then Alex makes a snap decision to ‘surprise’ her online friend by showing up to his birthday at Dive Bar….only to discover that Eric literally has no idea who she is and all this time she’s been conversing with his brother Joe.

Alex is hurt, humiliated, angry. She hates being lied to and she wants nothing more than to get the heck out of town as quick as possible and forget this ever happened. But Joe, the person she has been conversing with, wants her to stay, so he can explain, so he can make her see that everything they were sharing is still real.

This book gave me all the happy feels. I loved returning to this world, catching up with the characters from Dirty and getting to know Joe a lot better. Alex was super kick ass but with a bit of an appealing vulnerable side as well. She has the guts to take a risk, to travel across the country without warning to meet Eric, a guy that she’s really ‘clicked’ with online. But with all online interactions comes a risk – and Alex discovers that actually she’s been talking to Joe, Eric’s bear of a brother who reminds her of a giant lumberjack.

Joe is a delicious sweetie who made a very big mistake unintentionally and now he really really wants to fix it. Even though he pretended to be Eric physically in that he just didn’t tell her that he was Eric’s brother, he was still himself in messaging her, in sharing things with her. He’s so contrite and so earnest that it’s hard not to feel for him, even though what he did was a bit wrong. In his defense though, I don’t think he ever expected that Alex would get on a plane and just turn up! It goes to show that you should probably watch what you give away online…Joe told her all about Dive Bar and the people in his life so when Alex shows up, she proves to them that she has a very good background knowledge of them all and she’s not just some psycho stalking Eric, when he claims that he doesn’t know her.

Because things in person got off on such bad footing, their relationship almost has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Although she was attracted to the personality of Joe, she was focused on the physicality of Eric. It’s interesting that the more Alex gets to know Joe in person, the more she finds him attractive – and the less effect Eric’s looks have on her. Alex wasn’t really on the dating app for anything permanent and she has some commitment issues but the longer she stays in town, the more things deepen. Kylie Scott has the most unique ways of developing and nurturing a friendship between her characters as well as a relationship that has sizzling chemistry. I loved the way that Joe sucked it up and apologised to Alex and then tried to do everything he could to explain and make it up to her and the way that their online connection carried over, despite the fact that Joe was a different physical person to the one that Alex thought she’d been talking to.

I’m sure a lot of series’ readers appreciate glimpses into the lives of past couples and the closeness of the characters in the Dive Bar series is great for this. We get to catch up with Vaughan and Lydia and of course the heartbreaking story of Nell and Pat continue in this book and despite the fact that it’s very much in the background (still think it should’ve been its own book) it’s an incredibly powerful part of the story. Nell and Pat are responsible for some of the most stomach-dropping angst I’ve read in ages. I love their story though and it’s amazing what has been done with the smaller amount of page space devoted to them.

Once again Kylie Scott has proven that she’s the worthy of the vote of Australia’s favourite romance author because she’s delivered another incredible story that flips everything I think I prefer upside down. Before reading this, I’d have said Joe wasn’t my sort of guy….after reading this? Yes to Joe. Yes to everything about Joe. He’s the sort of character that would win over any woman – not just Alex.

Bring on Chaser, the third installment in this series. Eric doesn’t look the most redeemable character based on his actions so far…..so I’m pretty keen to see how that plays out.

9/10

Book #65 of 2017

Twist is book #21 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Locked Box by Eve Dangerfield

Locked Box
Eve Dangerfield
Liquid Silver Books
2016, eBook
Free on Amazon Kindle

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Julia Bennett isn’t having a great day. Funding for her video game is low, her day job is sucking her dry, and to cap it all off she’s locked in a police station with the very handsome, extremely married guy she’s been avoiding at all costs.

Max Connor isn’t having a great year. He’s getting divorced, his best friend is squatting in his house, and his inappropriate crush on the IT girl is getting way out of hand. And that was before he locked the two of them in an evidence room. Surrounded by three decades’ worth of drugs, guns, and floppy disks, Max and Julia are forced to confront the heat that lies between them with dangerous, funny, and occasionally toe-curlingly sexy results.

Ok so this was fun!

I downloaded this based on a tweet from Kat @ Book Thingo, master of all things romance. Despite having approximately one zillion and one books to read, I couldn’t resist this one because it has some of my favourite things. I am a one-click demon for a story that involves the hero/heroine being forcibly stranded or locked in somewhere together.

Locked Box is a smart, well written story about Julia, a 24yo IT worker who works at a small police station. Asked to organise some confiscated computer paraphernalia in the evidence room, some mistakes lead to her being locked in there for a long weekend with Max Connor, the sexy cop she’s had a crush on. Although Max is in the process of getting a divorce, somehow Julia has managed to miss hearing this piece of office gossip and she’s determined not to act on the attraction – she doesn’t want to be that person, even if it’s going to prove almost impossible in such tight confinement.

Julia has some commitment issues – she was raised by an alcoholic mother who had a succession of boyfriends that drew police attention. Her dad left when she was young and hasn’t played a role in her life since. She’s never had a real relationship and thanks to her proximity to her sister’s bedroom, she also knows that she’s never had really good sex in her whole life.

Max is 33 and kind of stuck. He’s still at the same small station, his marriage has ended and his best friend, a 16yo boy in a 32yo body has crashed his place apparently to provide “company” but mostly to just provide a mess. He’s been fighting an attraction to the IT girl for the longest time – way too long and it makes him uncomfortable because she’s younger than him. Faced with not being able to remove himself from any temptation, Max discovers that Julia is a perfect match for him in more ways than one.

This book is pretty hot – Julia aggressively owns her sexuality and once it’s established that Max is no longer married and is getting a divorce, it’s really only a matter of time until the chemistry wins. I enjoyed their banter and their game of ‘two truths and a lie’ which they play whilst hocking into some contraband moonshine-type stuff. I really liked that the author took time to construct ways in which to explore their characters, get them to share things about themselves prior to giving into the sexual attraction. It’s obvious that the chemistry is off the charts between them and that they both are interested in similar things but this gives the reader a bit of a chance to see just how something deeper could be established. Max is greatly interested in Julia’s work outside of her IT job – she and a friend are trying to get enough funding to get a first person female-oriented shooter game made. It sounded pretty awesome and I would’ve liked to hear a lot more about it. Julia does talk about negative backlash from male gamers and trolls online which you can apply to women attempting to do pretty much anything considered by males to be a “male dominated” industry, profession or past time. It’s nothing I haven’t seen towards feminists on twitter etc and I think it was an important thing to address regarding her secondary profession, which is something she wants to become her primary source of income at some stage.

If I had any criticism, it’s that the dialogue is a tad bit cringy at times (Max’s ginormous dick makes up most of those) and the fact that the bdsm element wasn’t really needed or desired on my part. The sex scenes were hot enough and I didn’t mind the fact that Max was super bossy during sex but quite a bit different when they weren’t interacting in that way but I just get bored of so many books I pick up having that bdsm element to them that’s almost like bdsm by numbers. They all pan out the same way with the same kind of scenes and triggers and it just feels really repetitive. The whole “say my name” is really porny and it just kind of makes me laugh and pulls me out of the moment. I understand that it gave Max some conflict in his marriage and the fact that Julia not only accepted that part of him but also complimented it with her own desires, I’m just over reading about that same thing so often. I also didn’t think the age gap was that big a deal but it was something Max freaked out with a lot and it went on for a bit. But they are just little personal preferences really and probably would only add to the story for some.

There’s a book featuring Julia’s sister Ashley, who features in this story and I think I’d like to read that, especially as Max and Julia appear too. Think I will add that to my wishlist.

8/10

Book #66 of 2017

Locked Box is book #22 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Letters To The Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Letters To The Lost
Brigid Kemmerer
Bloomsbury ANZ
2017, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither of them knows that they’re not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. This emotional, compulsively-readable romance will sweep everyone off their feet.

Oh wow. This book gave me all of the feels!

And it was exactly what I needed. A few books I’d read recently were alright but didn’t really provoke a reaction in me one way or another. I didn’t die hard love them but I didn’t dislike them either. But I was left wanting more and so I decided to try something a bit different to what I’d been reading and I remembered that I had this waiting on my kindle. I really have enjoyed the previous Brigid Kemmerer books that I’d read so I figured it was a good time to crack this one.

Perfect, perfect choice. This book had so much emotion in it and to be honest, mostly what comes up off the page is pain. Both Juliet and Declan are both suffering so much. In many ways what they are grieving is very similar. Juliet’s mother recently (as in a few months ago) was killed in an accident and the way that Juliet connects with her now, is to write her letters. She always did this as her mother was a photographer who travelled the world, only now Juliet leaves the letters on her mothers grave. Declan is also grieving the loss of a parent who is not dead but almost might as well be. Declan isn’t also just grieving, he is furious and guilty and torn up inside. His family is in upheaval and he feels that he no longer has a role, a place there and that tears him up as well.

A little while ago Declan did something stupid that resulted in court-ordered community service and now he works at the graveyard where he finds one of Juliet’s letters to her mother during clean up before mowing. Unthinkingly he writes back and when Juliet discovers that someone has read her private letter, she’s incensed, so she writes back. Despite that, they connect – perhaps through some shared suffering. Soon they have moved on from leaving letters on the grave to creating anonymous emails and chatting and emailing that way. They both go to the same school and could choose to confide their identities but they instead decide to remain anonymous, probably preferring the freedom it gives for them to be completely honest. But being in such close proximity means that they can’t stay anonymous forever – what will happen when Juliet realises that the person she’s been confiding in is Declan Murphy, the guy who is kind of douchey to her at school? In person, Declan’s first response often tends to be anger or aggression – frustration coming out generally about other people’s perceptions of him. I really appreciated the moments with his English teacher who has seen glimpses of something in Declan, something much more than just an angry lack of interest in his school work and she really pushes him to let his natural intelligence come out. She’s not turned away by his tough facade and she’s one of the few people that really seems to see Declan as something more.

Juliet seems to feel that people want her to ‘move on’ now, begin to act ‘normally’ again – but she can’t do that. She’s not sure she’ll ever be able to do that. It felt like it was probably a bit too soon for people to be expecting that of Juliet, but perhaps by trying to immerse her in things, such as her photography, they figure they might help her healing process. Toss her in at the deep end and eventually she’ll learn to swim type of thing. Juliet feels sick at the thought of even picking up a camera but her teacher is able to well, bribe her really and it’s through those small actions such as photographing things for the school year book, going to a school dance, that spark moments and interactions. Some make her furious – but they make her feel things other than grief. She’s been struggling to connect with her father since her mother died and his talk of selling her mother’s cameras has her so incensed that he could even consider it. For Juliet I think her cameras are her mother’s essence, that one thing that she can still tangibly have/hold/etc in her life that represent her.

Both Declan and Juliet’s stories were so tragic and both were full of a few of surprises. Declan’s story had more layers than I imagined and Juliet’s journey of discovery about her mother led to some uncomfortable truths but also gave her the opportunity to finally be able to talk to her father. I loved Declan and Juliet both in their interactions with each other (as themselves and as their alter anonymous egos) and I loved them separately. I felt that this had such a realistic tinge to it – nothing was ‘fixed’ magically – there were small improvements, ways forward but both of them still have a lot to work through. The chemistry between them was powerful in all forms – even in their negative interactions before they figure out who they’re talking to. Declan is the sort of guy I really like reading about, the misunderstood juvie contender. I’m glad he finally got some validation for his feelings and there was an attempt to make him see that he shouldn’t ever have been put in the position that he was.

I loved this book – it kind of put me through the wringer reading it but that was pretty much what I wanted. I thought that both Juliet and Declan were amazing characters, flawed and beautifully believable. I loved their interactions, really enjoyed the way in which they could be brutally honest, brutally themselves without hiding anything in the emails. I adored the supporting characters too – Declan’s teacher, Juliet’s best friend, her photography student rival and most of all, Declan’s best friend Rev who is getting his own book. This excites me so much because much is hinted about Rev but there’s still so much to learn. Bring it on. I can’t wait!

9/10

Book #62 of 2017

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March Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 24
Fiction: 24
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 4
Books On My TBR List: 7
Books in a Series: 10
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 13
Male/Female Authors: 3/21
Kindle Books: 10
Books I Owned or Bought: 9
Favourite Book(s): Promise Of Hunter’s Ridge by Sarah Barrie, Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare, Letters To The Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Least Favourite Books: Road-Tripped by Nicole Archer
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 8

March was a surprisingly good reading month that seemed to come out of no where. I knew I’d churned my way through quite a few books but even I was surprised by the total I managed. Plenty of those books I really enjoyed as well.

Here are the books that I’ve been sent so far for review in April. Apologies for the poor lighting I took this quite early in the morning and as we’ve recently changed our clocks back and the winter sun is coming, the morning sun comes in across my desk. Very excited for the new Sara Foster and also Twist by Kylie Scott, the second in her Dive Bar series. Actually I’m even quoted on the back cover of Twist – so that was amazing to see!

As well as review books, I have a few books I’ve bought myself recently in the last month or so that I’d really like to read soon……

Starting obviously with The Hate U Give because the amount of talk that book is generating is insane and I absolutely cannot wait to read it! I only managed to buy it on Friday of last week and I’ve been busy all weekend so I think it’s probably going to be the first book I pick up this week!

Hope you all had a fab reading month. If there’s anything you’ve read that I have listed here or anything that you want to read, let me know in the comments.

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Review: Finding Hannah by Fiona McCallum

Finding Hannah
Fiona McCallum
Harlequin AUS
2017, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Hannah Ainsley has the perfect life — an adoring husband, a close relationship with her parents, a wonderful job, and amazing friends. Best of all, it’s Christmas — her favourite day of the whole year! It’s a time to share with her family and friends, and enjoy the festivities.

But this year will be like no other. Tragedy strikes and Hannah’s world is shattered. If she’s going to cope, she’s going to need all the support she can gather and draw on every bit of her strength. Life will never be the same again but it’s soon clear she has no alternative but to pull together a future from the remaining fragments.

As Hannah heads towards the next festive season she will have to make a decision — should she stay with the people who have supported her or should she leave? Could the answer lie in a delayed gift?

Fiona McCallum’s most touching novel so far is a rich tapestry of deep emotions that is sure to capture the hearts of many.

This is another difficult book to review because there isn’t really a bunch of things that happen to construct the plot. It’s about a woman named Hannah who has everything going for her – wonderful parents, great husband who is also a best friend, job she enjoys, lovely house, good close friends. Then on Christmas Day almost everything she loves is taken from her and she’s left to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

This is an exploration of a deep grief, the sort of devastation that could easily destroy a person and from that standpoint it’s quite interesting because grief is something that is very individual and it’s something that people experience in very differing ways and to degrees. I haven’t experienced the sort of gut-wrenching loss that Hannah has, thankfully but perhaps because of that I did find it a little hard to immerse myself in the story because that’s basically it. Hannah learning to live again after her loss, learning to cope and take each day at a time, adjust to this new existence that has become her life.

Despite her loss, Hannah still has very good people around her – a supportive boss and his wife, who becomes a friend, as well as a longtime family friend who lives across the road. There are also other wonderful people who provide her with strength, security, love and a sense of family. She is able to take time and space to breathe, reassess, decide what she wants to do. When she’s ready to go back to work, they welcome her although she feels the awkwardness of moments with colleagues who just don’t know what to say to her.

I think everyone has imagined themselves in various horrible scenarios at some stage or other – I know I’ve thought about how I would cope if certain things were to happen and these were things I had to think about realistically as well. They’re things you don’t want to think about but at the same time, they creep in. Books like this are a good way to explore that sort of fear I think, by identifying with characters currently experiencing tragedy. And I think that’s good because grief and loss are an important part of human nature.

But – and this is kind of a big but – I found myself wanting a bit more from this book. A bit more than Hannah just trying to put her life back together. It would probably make quite moving reading for many people but at the same time, it’s also a teeny bit repetitive and not very much really happens throughout the story after that initial tragedy. By the time I had read through 200-odd pages of that, I was ready for a bit more, a conflict or something meaty to flesh out the story. But obviously it wasn’t going to be that sort of story because it was very even in tone, a quiet kind of story, very much character driven rather than plot driven. It was about Hannah’s journey in self-healing.

Because of this, I did find that my attention wandered occasionally whilst I was reading it, especially during the New York section, which felt a bit jarring – I wasn’t sure why it was there because it felt like Hannah could’ve been anywhere. The essence or culture of New York wasn’t really coming across on the page and Hannah’s lack of real enthusiasm, a just ‘going through the motions’ might’ve taught her something but it seemed like such a long and expensive lesson to learn.

Ultimately this one was just an okay read for me – I just found myself seeking more from it and that’s probably on me.

6/10

Book #58 of 2017

Finding Hannah is book #19 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning

The Midsummer Garden
Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin
2017, 382p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {via the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.

1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists’ lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the chateau. But who will she trust?

2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn’t seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She’d thought that her fiance Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn’t make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she’s finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they’d discussed.

When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip’s kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.

I’ve had a bit of a run lately with books where I’ve struggled a bit to sit down and write the review because they’ve been books that I just unfortunately, didn’t connect with. I end up staring at my screen for far longer than I should or distracting myself with social media, etc.

In many ways, this book was another one of those. There are two timelines and they both sounded really interesting but I just wasn’t drawn into either story. In the modern day story, Pip is working on her PhD, planning a wedding and her fiance wants to buy out his parents winery, which has just had a very generous offer from a big company. When Pip wants to finish her PhD before the wedding and rethink an overseas trip, her fiance Jack can’t understand why it’s all about her when really, everything he is doing is affecting them both as well. Both Pip and Jack want things and quite frankly, their visions seem quite different. I couldn’t really understand why, after the break up, they both kept coming back together only to disagree on something (or the same thing) and part ways again. I think that if they’d actually parted ways properly it would’ve allowed the novel to have a clearer focus instead of always weaving in the reunions and conflicts with Jack. I didn’t enjoy the constant reappearance of Jack into the narrative and honestly felt like Pip was a more focused, settled person when she was on her own. She had the freedom to explore both her academic and cooking lives without the added pressure and judgement from Jack. Their relationship didn’t really seem like an equal one, both of them had their own goals and desires and at times, they seemed to really conflict.

The other story takes place in 1487 and I was kind of ambivalent about it. It was honestly hard to really get behind a female character that had so little power and autonomy. I know that this is probably historically accurate, servants belonged to the household and were subject to their whims and orders but there’s such a unlikeable character in this section that it’s almost comical. It became almost a chore to read through each section to find what sort of unfair, terrible thing would happen to Artemisia this time. The conclusion of this also seemed to escalate rather quickly! I wanted a bit more about the love story – the letters were a beautiful idea.

One thing I did really enjoy was the food component of this novel – in fact it was probably my favourite thing. Artemisia is a cook, preparing for the upcoming nuptials of the daughter of the house and the celebration is going to be lavish. She was taught a lot about herbs by the prior Abbott of the Chateau and the descriptions of what she uses are lovingly detailed. Likewise in the contemporary story, Pip works in a restaurant whilst completing her PhD and also travels overseas to work in a Michelin starred restaurant in Spain that specialises in molecular gastronomy. The love of food the characters have and respect they have in the preparation of it is something that’s very clear on the page and I loved reading about Pip digging for Tasmanian clams or tasting tapas in Spain. The locations were also depicted really well, from the icy waters off the coast of Tasmania to the hills of Tuscany. It’s just unfortunate that I found a lot of the character’s motivations a bit puzzling and I struggled to really connect to them and their situations.

6/10

Book #60 of 2017

The Midsummer Garden is book #20 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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