All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling (Graceling Realm #1)
Kristin Cashore
Gollancz Books
2008, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing.

Feared by the court and shunned by those her own age, the darkness of her Grace casts a heavy shadow over Katsa’s life. Yet she remains defiant: when the King of Lienid’s father is kidnapped she investigates, and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap the old man, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced man whose fighting abilities rivalled her own?

The only thing Katsa is sure of is that she no longer wants to kill. The intrigue around this kidnapping offers her a way out – but little does she realise, when she takes it, that something insidious and dark lurks behind the mystery. Something spreading from the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king…

I’ve heard some pretty amazing things about this series and I remember the excitement when the third novel, Bitterblue was published. I snapped it up during an iBooks sale ages ago for YA books that were first in a series and it’s sat on my iPad ever since.

Katsa is almost a form of the King’s justice – her Grace is a maiming or killing power discovered accidentally when she was a child. She’s worked for years to hone her skill so that she doesn’t just kill everyone she touches and her uncle, the King of their nation often sends her out to reprimand his subjects that have displeased him. Katsa is an orphan, was raised to be comfortable but hasn’t experienced much affection. She holds herself apart from most people other than her cousin, the King’s son and heir and a few key people. Katsa spends her spare time as part of an underground movement helping people, perhaps to help with some of the guilt she feels over doing things for the King. When they rescue someone from a neighbouring Kingdom, Katsa meets a young man with mismatched eyes that indicate he is also Graced. He’s a brilliant fighter and surprises her by reappearing in her life.

Prince Greening Grandemalion of Lienid, aka Po asks to train with Katsa while they look for information for who kidnapped his grandfather. Po’s Grace is slightly more complex than it first appears and the two of them put on sparring matches that entertain many. It’s only after Katsa gets the strength to break from the bonds that her uncle has over her that they set out to solve a mystery of a one-eyed King and investigate a perculiar power.

There’s a lot of female empowerment in this novel. Katsa is seriously skilled at fighting and there’s probably a rare situation that she cannot fight her way out of. She cares nothing for dresses or doing her hair and instead prefers practical clothes that allow her to move freely. She’s trapped by her uncle, as children who are Graced are often at the mercy of their rulers, used in any way that benefits that monarch. Katsa doesn’t enjoy the tasks he sets for her at all and constantly tries to find creative ways around inflicting damage on people who are just trying to protect their loved ones, or who have redressed their mistakes in other ways.

Po is fully supportive of Katsa and all that she feels that she needs in order to be free and I loved how he didn’t want her to give herself to him, to become his wife if she didn’t want to. In fact he was quite happy to give himself to her however she would take him. Katsa, who has been owned in a way, by the King, has no desire to ever marry and be owned by yet another male. She doesn’t ever want children. She reiterates this throughout the novel several times and the ways in which two different suitors react to her claims is marked. Few people understand Katsa and her desires, her thoughts and her feelings but Po gets her. As the youngest son in a large tribe (I think he has 6 older brothers) he has little responsibility and will most likely never become heir or King and doesn’t seem very interested in living a traditional life. His Grace does cause quite a lot of conflict between him and Katsa – in fact Po is the one person where Katsa is sort of at a disadvantage and I also understand her feelings on finding out what his Grace actually entailed. But at the same time I really liked the dynamic it created between them, that Katsa who was quite closed off, didn’t have that really with Po.

I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s another one where I only own the first book and now I have to go out and buy 2&3! I loved the characters – Katsa and Po are perfect, together and separately and their adventure is both intriguing and full of danger and suspense. They rescue a lovely little person and I’m looking forward to hopefully catching up with those three characters in the future. This was good fun and worth every bit of the hype I’ve heard surrounding it.

8/10

Book #139 of 2017

Graceling is part of my involvement in #TheReadingQuest Challenge, hosted by Aentee @ Read At Midnight with all the cute artwork created by CW @ Read, Think, Ponder. It’s my second category on my Mage pathway ticked off – Read The First Book In A Series.

My updated stats! 10 more experience points gained for finishing and another book and 35 more health points for 350pages.

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Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)
Victoria Aveyard
Orion Books
2015, 383p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart. 

I bought this book way back in February on the recommendation of an author friend of mine and it’s sat on my shelf ever since. I was actually glad to have an excuse to read it – in signing up for the challenge I tried to include books that I feel fit the overall theme of a fantasy/quest type reading challenge, particularly given the character path that I took (Mage). I don’t always gravitate towards fantasy, my reading is significantly dominated by contemporary general fiction and romance.

Mare is a “red” (meaning she has red blood) and lives in relative poverty in a small village. Her three older brothers have been conscripted and soon Mare will be too when she reaches her 18th birthday. Only her younger sister will escape the fighting, having a coveted job sewing for Silvers. In a society where Silvers are special, privileged and wanting for nothing, the Reds fight their battles for them and are kept far down the chain.

All that changes when a chance meeting with a stranger leads to a job for Mare and from there, she’s revealed to have exceptional abilities that she should not have. Silvers are gifted with abilities – controlling fire, water, earth, reading minds, exceptional strength. Reds don’t have these gifts (part of the reason they’re considered lesser) so Mare is an anomaly, something that threatens the very structure of society.

I enjoyed quite a lot about this book even though the core of it is certainly nothing new. But there were elements of it I found refreshing, such as the structure of the gifts the Silvers possess and how they’re generally family dominant. They’re gifted with only one particular ability and train to harness it. Mare is significantly behind when her ability is discovered and is tossed into a rigorous training and learning regime, with her newness to her ability being tempered by her raw talent. Mare is powerful and different, her gift manifesting in a slightly different way than usual, perhaps a hint of her otherness. She’s idealistic, desperate for a cause but I really liked that she used the small bargaining power she had to better her family, to attempt to improve things for them. I thought that her family were very interesting and wish they’d been around for more of the story. Her father in particular is quite an interesting character.

This is a bit of a love triangle with Mare torn between two princes – the one the royal family has decided to wed her to in order to keep her close and his older brother, the heir. Despite the fact that Mare seems to want to connect with her seemingly sweet and idealistic prince, she can’t help but be drawn to his brother, who has had duty and expectation drummed into him. I’m never a big fan of love triangles (I also have a habit of picking the wrong one….. so often!) but this one wasn’t too bad to be honest. It didn’t feel like a love triangle so much because she was forced into an engagement with a person she didn’t know and she wants to feel loyalty to him, given she’s supposed to be marrying him and it seems they share similar ideals and wants. I wasn’t really into this prince throughout the story, I have to admit I preferred the heir but despite the ending of this particular book I’m not sure what the endgame is.

The first part of the book feels a bit slow but I enjoyed the pacing past the halfway mark and the ending was explosive and unexpected. I am definitely going to read the next book (I don’t own the next 2, which is probably a good thing as I will finish this challenge before purchasing them I think) because I’m quite keen to see what happens next for Mare and where the rebellion goes.

7/10

Book #138 of 2017

 

Red Queen is part of my involvement in #TheReadingQuest challenge hosted by Aentee @ Read At Midnight. The awesome artwork is by CW @ Read, Think, Ponder. I am working on the Mage path and Red Queen ticks off the category of Read A Book Set In A Different World.

Here are my updated stats! All characters start with 10 EXP and 10 HP. I gained 10 Experience points for completing my first book and 38 health points (1pt per 10pages read).

Next up: Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

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Review: The Independent Member For Lyne by Rob Oakeshott

The Independent Member For Lyne
Rob Oakeshott
Allen & Unwin
2014, 392p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Passionate, vivid and immediate, and full of insights, this is Rob Oakeshott’s honest and real story of life in Australian politics. From his apprenticeship in the NSW parliament to the last days of the Gillard government, he tells it as it was.

When the results of the 2010 federal election became known, no party had a majority in the House of Representatives; it was the first hung parliament for forty years. So, both the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, set about wooing the Independents – Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie – and Adam Bandt of the Greens. In the end, Julia Gillard stitched together an agreement to form government. When it was announced, famously there was talk of a ‘kinder, gentler polity’. That lasted for about one day.

Rob Oakeshott, in this very candid and compelling memoir, relates the events leading up to this agreement and what happened thereafter when he and Windsor, in particular, proved themselves to be stauncher supporters of Julia Gillard than many of her party colleagues. He remembers moments of celebration and incidents of perfidy. But above all, we get to meet close up and personal the man who played such an important role in the forty-third parliament.

In 1996 when I was 14, I went to a Careers Expo at the local RSL club. It was all about showcasing options for young people and at the time, my town didn’t have a university. You had to go almost three hours south or four hours west or a few hours north to do that. I got my nails done, got lots of pamphlets and got to meet the newly elected state member for my electorate……Rob Oakeshott. At the time he was about 25 and quite popular with the gaggle of teenage girls at the Expo, who followed him around like ducklings after their mother. He didn’t look at all like the politicians we were used to! Some time later Rob Oakeshott switched and was elected the member for Lyne, the Federal seat of the same area. He had started off as a National Party member but had ultimately left that party and decided to become an independent. Two years later in 2010 he would become one of the most important keys in a hung election as two sides desperately struggled to make a government.

After reading The Road To Ruin recently, which touched on how Abbott had struggled and then ultimately failed to form that government in 2010, I remembered that I’d bought my former local member Rob Oakeshott’s book ages ago and it was sitting on my iPad. I grew up in his electorate – we moved there when I was 11 in 1993, before he was elected and I left for University in 2001. I still return around once a year and keep relatively up to date with local issues via my family who all still live there. I thought it might be an interesting time to tackle Oakeshott’s book and see what he had to say about negotiating with Abbott and Gillard. Funnily enough at the time of that 2010 election, I lived (and still do) in Julia Gillard’s local electorate.

Oakeshott enjoyed incredible popularity in the Lyne electorate despite leaving the party that had dominated the area for years – he quite obviously liked the lifestyle and had a lot of passion for bringing the area up to date. It’s changed significantly in the thirty years my grandmother has been living there – when we used to visit her on holidays in around 1989-90, they only had two television stations! We moved there in 1993 and it was still almost a sleepy coastal town that only really came alive at Christmas time when the population swelled with holiday makers. Now it’s busier than ever with a growing population (one of the fastest growing areas in New South Wales) and a need for facilities and infrastructure that match its growth. In 2010 he was passionate about climate change and NBN (the National Broadband Network) and those were the two areas that Abbott claimed that he would not budge on. Abbott was a noted climate skeptic with a focus on coal energy and once described the science of human-caused climate change as “crap”.

Although broken down into segments, the book does occasionally flit from topic to topic almost like you’re having coffee with Oakeshott (which he’d probably pay for) and he’s talking to you and relating things as he remembers them. There’s a lot of policy and information, not my strong point but it certainly came across to me that Oakeshott is very thorough, clever and knowledgeable. He didn’t strike me as a “game player” although this was the criticism leveled at him during the 17 days it took him and his fellow independents to decide who they were going to give confidence and supply to. It actually seems like he leaned towards Abbott really and attempted to negotiate with him but was unable to get the response or confidence that he needed in order to make that decision. Gillard on the other hand seemed more willing, more open to negotiation and actually more in line with a lot of Oakeshott’s policies. Like many others who have personal experience with her, he describes her as warm and funny, very enjoyable to be around and that she wasn’t best portrayed with prepared speeches.

Oakeshott attracted a lot of attention and criticism in the days leading up to his decision and in the after. He was a former National Party member in a seat that prior to his independence, had ties to the National Party for forever. He’d gone with Labor and Oakeshott had been concerned how that would go over in his electorate. In actual fact one of my grandparents railed on the decision to me one day when I was visiting a couple of months after the election. The right wing friendly press were savage on him, radio was savage to him and I’m sure he was probably bemused and a bit baffled by it. The seat of Lyne had probably never held so much national interest before and may not ever again (well that’s probably a certainty. For the last election, the Federal lines were redrawn and Lyne now sits in the southern part of where it was, with it’s old seat mostly swallowed up by the division of Cowper, a ridiculously large and populous electorate that now encompasses both Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie). Despite retiring, Oakeshott decided to throw his hat into the Cowper ring at the last minute……probably if the old Lyne still existed, he’d have smashed it. As it was with the bigger area, he lost to the incumbent of Cowper but still managed to turn a safe seat into a marginal one. Chances are all his votes came from the southern part of Cowper, all those old Lyne residents who remember everything he did in office. Because I think there are few who would claim that he didn’t passionately serve his area and serve it well.

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would – perhaps because I have a connection to the area although very little is about the area itself. It’s more about the reasoning for the decision, the events that led to him making that choice, almost a justification perhaps, of why he ultimately went with Gillard when it was probably expected that he’d go with Abbott. Oakeshott is at times, brutally honest about mistakes and blunders he made but ultimately I think he believes he made the right decision for his electorate.

7/10

Book #137 of 2017

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Eye Of The Sheep by Sofie Laguna

The Eye Of The Sheep
Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin
2015, 308p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“Ned was beside me, his messages running easily through him, with space between each one, coming through him like water. He was the go-between, going between the animal kingdom and this one. I watched the waves as they rolled and crashed towards us, one after another, never stopping, always changing. I knew what was making them come, I had been there and I would always know.”

Meet Jimmy Flick. He’s not like other kids. He finds a lot of the adult world impossible to understand – especially why his Dad gets so angry with him. Jimmy’s mother Paula is the only one who can manage him. She teaches him how to count sheep so that he can fall sleep. She holds him tight enough to stop his cells spinning. It is only Paula who can keep Jimmy out of his father’s way. But when Jimmy’s world falls apart, he has no one else to turn to. He alone has to navigate the unfathomable world and make things right.

Sofie Laguna’s first novel, One Foot Wrong received rave reviews, sold all over the world and was longlisted for both the Miles Franklin and Prime Minister’s Awards. In The Eye of the Sheep, her great originality and talent will again amaze and move readers. In the tradition of Room and The Lovely Bones, here is a surprising and brilliant novel from one of our finest writers.

Usually I have a disinterested relationship with prize winners. There’s been very few that I’ve read and really loved but I had heard so many good things about this book from so many different corners and the cover was so lovely that I decided that I absolutely had to give it a go. It appears that August is the month of reading books that have been on my TBR shelf for some time. I chucked this in the car and read it a few chapters at a time at school pick up. My kids’ school is super busy and if you want a good park you’d better get there 30-40m before school even ends. That’s perfect because it gives me some good reading time (and some amusement watching people attempt to reverse park). This is definitely a book to challenge that distant relationship.

Jimmy Flick is definitely an unusual sort of child. He doesn’t really read social cues, he has trouble expressing his emotions adequately and reading tense situations and he tends to kind of explode when he can’t really process what is happening. His father Gavin works in Altona at some sort of plant and doesn’t really possess the patience to cope with Jimmy’s differences. Frustrated with aspects of his life, Gav often seeks solace in the bottle. Days his dad drinks beer aren’t too bad but Jimmy and his brother Ned know that when their dad reaches for the Cutty Sark in the cupboard, it’s going to be a bad night and they’re best to make themselves scarce. Because the narrative is Jimmy’s and he’s a 6yo child with learning and processing difficulties, he’s not really aware of what is happening between his mother and his father after his father has been at the bottle too much. His innocence of the situation makes it all the more hard to read.

Everything that happens in this book is told through Jimmy’s eyes. He provides the insight into his parent’s marriage, his father’s struggles, particularly after losing his job and the tension in the family as his older brother Ned grows bigger and stronger and less tolerant of Gav’s ways after being at the bottle. But it isn’t until something terrible happens to Jimmy that the entire family dynamics alter drastically and Jimmy and his mother are left on their own. His mother is unwell (chronic asthma) and is also floundering with the decisions she has made. Her illness is getting worse but so is her ability to cope with it and she withdraws, keeping her and Jimmy isolated from the world with some devastating consequences.

This book broke my heart in so many ways. Jimmy’s childlike (well he is a child, but his narrative reads younger and less aware than a child of his age, as he grows in the novel) makes everything so heightened, be it his father’s alcoholism, his mother’s illness and the terribleness that comes after. Jimmy is so beautifully portrayed – his innocence, his struggles to deal with things like school and even tense situations at home and the methods Paula (his mother) has developed for coping with his outbursts and for calming him down. Her devotion to Jimmy is never ending and he is the catalyst for a decision that changes everything.

Despite his difficulties…or perhaps because of them? Jimmy is such a brave character. It doesn’t appear that he really processes danger or difficult situations and because of this he can be easily manipulated but he also throws himself into things anticipating the reward at the end. Jimmy’s journey is truly devastating at times, he loses so much and his ability to express how he feels is severely stunted so no one around him is really grasping the severity of his situation (or they don’t care, which in some cases, is also quite possible). This book made me feel so much – I was so sad for Jimmy and at times it also made me blisteringly angry for him as well.

The writing is beautiful and clever – it takes a little while to get used to being in Jimmy’s head (perhaps a bit longer for me because I was reading this in snatches every day) but once you settle into the rhythm it’s such a genuine voice and it enhances the story incredibly. Sofie Laguna has a new book due out next month and after this, it’s a must read for me.

8/10

Book #133 of 2017

The Eye Of The Sheep is book #43 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Road To Ruin by Niki Savva

The Road To Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government
Niki Savva
Scribe Publishing
2016, 326p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Kevin Rudd was given no warning, but even he lasted longer than Abbott. Julia Gillard had plenty of warnings, but even she lasted longer than Abbott.

Abbott ignored all the warnings, from beginning to end — the public ones, the private ones, from his friends, his colleagues, the media.

His colleagues were not being disloyal. They did not feel they had betrayed him; they believed he had betrayed them. Their motives were honourable. They didn’t want him to fail; they wanted the government to succeed, and they wanted the Coalition re-elected.

Abbott and Credlin had played it harder and rougher than anybody else to get where they wanted to be. But they proved incapable of managing their own office, much less the government. Then, when it was over, when it was crystal-clear to everyone that they had failed, when everyone else could see why they had failed, she played the gender card while he played the victim.

In The Road to Ruin, prominent political commentator, author, and columnist for The Australian Niki Savva reveals the ruinous behaviour of former prime minister Tony Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Based on her unrivalled access to their colleagues, and devastating first-person accounts of what went on behind the scenes, Savva paints an unforgettable picture of a unique duo who wielded power ruthlessly but not well.

This is not usually my sort of book. For a start, I don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction of any description and I generally don’t pick subjects I don’t like. I’m not a Tony Abbott fan by any description, nor am I an (Australian) liberal voter (for the Americans, it’s basically our equivalent of Republicans). But I had to admit, after all the turmoil in Australian politics from 2007 onward, I was curious. Abbott was a ruthless Opposition leader during a tumultuous Labor period and he finally wrested victory in a 2013 election after Labor had become a joke of in fighting and trading the leadership (and therefore, the Prime Ministership) back and forth like a couple of kids arguing over a toy. It was widely believed that a change would bring stability and consistency back.

All of the LOLs because after Abbott sat back and watched as Labor imploded as he waged a vicious campaign, it turned out that the top job wasn’t as easy as the whole pointing out what the top person was doing wrong. Abbott was, quite frankly, probably even more of a disaster than Rudd and Gillard put together. Disclaimer: I like Julia Gillard. She was actually my local member and although there was a savage backlash against her after the leadership spill, I do wonder what might’ve happened if she’d just been left alone to get on with it. Instead she was constantly undermined by Rudd, savaged by Abbott and the Press about personal things as well as professional and little attention was paid to the things she was doing/wanted to do. Instead all the focus was on when she would lose the leadership, if there was going to be a challenge, how come she wasn’t married, why was her partner a hairdresser (that’s weird, isn’t it? No, not really homophobic press), why didn’t she have any children (that’s also weird, hey? Also, not really) and she’s got a big ass and wears horrible clothes.

A brutally efficient Opposition Leader, Abbott proved woefully inadequate as a Prime Minister, dithering around doing little and delegating to his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin. This book examines just how dysfunctional the two of them were as a pair and how it brought down their government and led to the situation where a spill for the top 2 jobs (PM and Deputy PM) was enacted and Abbott was shown the door. For all his talk, Abbott lasted less time in the top job than either Rudd or Gillard and arguably had a much kinder time due to the influence of a press sympathetic to the right wing (thanks Rupert Murdoch, Alan Jones et al). Despite numerous warnings from well, just about everyone, Abbott steadfastly refused to sack his Chief of Staff, an apparently domineering woman prone to temper tantrums, screaming abuse, sulks and methods that isolated Abbott from almost everyone, including key members of his party and backbenchers who had concerns. She ran an office where everything had to be routed through her and often concerned herself with things like picking flowers or meals for banquets, meaning that important paperwork piled up on her desk and nothing got done. If someone offended Credlin or she didn’t like them, then that person wouldn’t get an audience with the PM. Quite often Abbott made people apologise to Credlin after she had screamed at them or after she had gotten angry about something.

I’m not really interested in whether or not they were having an affair (ugh) because their personal life isn’t my business. But never before had a Prime Minister and his CoS had a relationship like those two did. She fed him from her plate, fixed his hair and make up, accompanied him on holidays and basically guarded his office like an over zealous guard dog. She tried to do everything but the jobs she was doing are not meant for one person, they’re meant for many, which meant that a lot of things began to slide. It created a toxic working environment and atmosphere and Abbott was told many times, if you do not sack her, you will end up losing. He either could not or would not believe it…..right up until Malcolm Turnbull trounced him in a vote for leadership of the Liberal party and therefore, the Prime Ministership. He seemed to operate under some sort of delusional bubble that everything would be fine – he was the meme of that person you see going “This is fine, this is fine, totally fine” as the entire world goes up in flames around them. He is basically Ross from Friends in the episode “The One Where Ross Is Fine”.

Niki Savva was once an advisor to Peter Costello (former Treasurer in John Howard’s lengthy Liberal government reign) and she seems firmly entrenched in the Liberal Party and its ideals so at times this book seems somewhat sympathetic, even as its critiquing Abbott’s mistakes. There’s also no opportunities lost to take a few snide shots at the previous Labor government and its leaders as well. However the book is still quite savage on Abbott and Credlin with plenty of named sources who were prepared to talk and offer up some examples and stories about what life was like under this regime in the office and I’ve read that zero of the claims made in the book have been publicly disputed since its publication. There’s no comment from either Abbott or Credlin themselves, although Savva does include instances when one or the other or both called for her dismissal from writing a column in a national newspaper and his requests to her to stop criticising his Chief of Staff whilst Abbott was still in power. It seemed throughout this novel that Abbott’s primary concern was always Credlin – who was criticising her, who was upsetting her, who was not respecting her. He deferred to her time and time again like a nervous child checking with his mother for approval before doing anything. Ultimately it seemed that he rated her above his desire to be Prime Minister because he failed to heed the warnings and his devotion to her cost him the thing he had worked so hard to obtain.

I enjoyed this. Even if it was just for the perverse pleasure of reading about the downfall of a politician I didn’t like and whose values I do not share.

7/10

Book #134 of 2017

 

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Review: The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

The Reason You’re Alive
Matthew Quick
Picador
2017, 226p
Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After sixty-eight-year-old David Granger crashes his BMW, medical tests reveal a brain tumor that he readily attributes to his wartime Agent Orange exposure. He wakes up from surgery repeating a name no one in his civilian life has ever heard – that of a Native American soldier whom he was once ordered to discipline. David decides to return something precious he long ago stole from the man he now calls Clayton Fire Bear. It might be the only way to find closure in a world increasingly at odds with the one he served to protect. It might also help him finally recover from his wife’s untimely demise.

As David confronts his past to salvage his present, a poignant portrait emerges: that of an opinionated and goodhearted American patriot fighting like hell to stay true to his red, white, and blue heart, even as the country he loves rapidly changes in ways he doesn’t always like or understand. Hanging in the balance are Granger’s distant art-dealing son, Hank; his adoring seven-year-old granddaughter, Ella; and his best friend, Sue, a Vietnamese-American who respects David’s fearless sincerity.

Through the controversial, wrenching, and wildly honest David Granger, Matthew Quick offers a no-nonsense but ultimately hopeful view of America’s polarized psyche. By turns irascible and hilarious, insightful and inconvenient, David is a complex, wounded, honorable, and ultimately loving man. The Reason You’re Alive examines how the secrets and debts we carry from our past define us; it also challenges us to look beyond our own prejudices and search for the good in our supposed enemies.

I’ve had a few days off from writing reviews because I’ve been sick and when I sat down to do this one, I thought to myself that I really didn’t pick an easy one to tackle. This is a really, really difficult book to talk about and define. To be honest, it’s even hard to express whether or not I liked it.

I did. I think I did. I appreciated quite a bit of it but at the same time, it’s also very jarring. The protagonist, David Granger is a Vietnam veteran who, according to him, did a lot of savage killing and saw and did terrible things during that conflict. He talks a lot about “buying the bullet”, a military term which basically means you’ve accepted that you’re going to die. How it happens isn’t really important. Believe that it will happen and it will. It’ll find you, somehow. David isn’t ready for that yet but he acknowledges that upon waking from his operation that something he did in Vietnam still haunts him and perhaps the time has come for reparation.

David has a lot of offensive views and terms for people. He’s what you would probably describe as a stereotypical gun toting Republican redneck but he’s also quite wealthy, having done very well for himself in a career in banking after he returned from the war. He constantly horrifies and angers his son Hugh, a liberal leftie who married a European woman and considers himself tolerant and embracing of people of all walks of life. David recounts several instances where Hugh has been horrified at his racist father….

….but is David really a racist? That’s one of the questions that the book poses. David is offensive, certainly. He stereotypes people as well, makes snap judgements and is horrifically politically incorrect. He refers to his closest friend Sue as “genetically Vietnamese” because she was adopted and raised by American parents after the war. But as the narrative unfolds it’s clear that he possesses a wide variety of interactions with people and is accepted by those of many different cultures and backgrounds. He comes across as far more able to converse with and relate to people than Hugh is, despite the differences is their values and opinions. David is abrasive to be sure – he says what he thinks and really possesses no filter. At times I was honestly horrified at some of the things he said but there were other times when he really surprised me with thoughtful and insightful opinions and observations. It’s clear he’s very intelligent and some of his observations are also bitingly funny.

Respect for those who have served and are serving is a big thing for Americans, more so than it is here. They’re much more vocal about thanking people for their service when they meet current or ex-military people and David has a lot to say on military life and culture particularly with integrating back into society. There are people that can’t do it, he witnesses several people who go down the paths of drugs and destruction but David himself single-mindedly applied himself to becoming something. His father was also a veteran (of WWII) and he talks about how they connected as men and soldiers after he returned from serving in Vietnam, how he understood his father much better after he’d served in a war. Hugh, David’s son hasn’t served and I think that David feel some of the disconnect comes from the fact that Hugh could never really understand the things he has seen, done, experienced. Likewise he cannot relate to a lot of Hugh’s life with his foreign wife, although he does adore his granddaughter.

David loved his late wife and his thoughts on her show a compassionate human who is capable of deep feeling. In fact the parts where David talked about his wife and their story were some of the most beautiful parts of the novel. Even as he realises and laments his wrongs, David embraces their time together, the way that he felt for her and the ways in which he did help her. When he decides that he must go on a road trip and confront the man he wronged in Vietnam, which is both surprising and gifts him something remarkable that helps him with a bit of his own peace.

As much as this is an interesting book in today’s climate there are times when I felt like the struggle of David was a bit too much. Ignore the words and he’s a man of diverse friendships, to the surprise of Hugh, who despite his ‘liberal views’ seems fully entrenched in a white world with white friends and a fear of the unknown. However at times the rhetoric made it hard to embrace David’s seemingly diverse lifestyle of black brothers, gay spin instructors and genetically Vietnamese surrogate daughters. This book is clever – it seems to be encouraging people to look beyond the words and examine the actions. David says all the wrong things but makes all the right moves. Hugh says all the right things but doesn’t really seem to back it up. But sometimes? The words are hard to ignore.

The PTSD and soldier camaraderie and connection are wonderfully done and really help flesh this story and the character of David out and I actually found the mystery of what David had done to Fire Bear and his journey to repair the damage really quite engaging. The result was surprising and heart warming as well, both for David and me!

All in all this is a hard book to judge but I think it’s cleverly done. I found myself liking David, despite a lot of his internal narrative, despite thinking that I wouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean that I was okay with a lot of what he was saying either, so it was a bit of a struggle! Ultimately though, David’s story was interesting enough to keep me invested – mostly the personal stuff, his struggle to connect with Hugh and keep his granddaughter in his life. Some of his methods were a bit off the wall but I could see why he was trying to do these things.

7/10

Book #132 of 2017

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Signing Up For…….#TheReadingQuest Challenge

Recently I came across #TheReadingQuest Challenge on twitter and decided to check it out. It looked like a lot of fun, definitely quite different to the challenges I’m already signed up for and I thought it might be a good way to both a) push myself out of my comfort zone and b) help tackle some of the books on my TBR. I’m not going to go into all of the details, for that you can visit the awesome host Aentee at Read At Midnight for that. She has a very comprehensive sign up post here which provides you with everything you need to know.

Basically the challenge runs something like a video game combined with book bingo. You choose a character and move around the board based on that character, ticking off books in categories. There are side challenges and other characters that you can look into after you complete your initial challenge. For books completed you gain XP and HP just like a video game character would. Firstly, choose your character (the character illustrations are from CW at Read, Think Ponder).

 

Here’s the board….

I have chosen the Mage character. So my journey is the dotted yellow one and here is my tentative list of books for the Mage’s journey (subject to change because I can be indecisive like that):

  • Read a book with a one word title: Illuminae by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman
  • Read a book that contains magic: A Gathering Of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
  • Read a book based on mythology: The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  • Read a book set in a different world: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
  • Read a book first in a series: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

The blue squares in the middle are side challenges and I have a couple of ideas for these….although I haven’t yet decided on a book for every category.

  • Potions {a book concocted by 2+ authors}: Team Human by Justine Larbaleister & Sarah Rees Brennan
  • Multiplayer {buddy read a book}:
  • Grind {book w/ 500+ pages}: The Diviners by Libba Bray
  • Time Warp {book set in the past or future}: The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth
  • Open World {read whatever you want}: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Respawn {read a book you previously DNF’d}: City Of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
  • Expansion {read a companion novel or short story}:
  • Mini game {read a graphic novel, novella or poem collection}:
  • Animal companion {book referencing an animal in the title}: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

The challenge runs from August 13th – September 10th. To be honest I’m not sure I’ll get through all the books I have listed here – it’s a pretty huge stack (I’ll put a picture on my twitter and instagram, I am 1girl2manybooks on twitter and @breelletee on insta).

Thank you to Aentee for creating and hosting – can’t wait to get started!

 

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Review: The Way Back by Kylie Ladd

The Way Back
Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin
2017, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

All she wanted was to escape. But why does she still feel trapped. A gripping psychological drama by the author of Mothers and Daughters and Into My Arms.

Charlie Johnson is 13 and in her first year of high school. She loves her family, netball and Liam, the cute guy who sits next to her in Science – but most of all she loves horses and horse-riding. Charlie’s parents have leased her a horse, Tic Tac, from the local pony club, but one day they go out for a ride in the national park and only Tic Tac returns…

Four months later, long after the police and the SES have called off the search, Charlie is found wandering injured and filthy, miles from where she was last seen. Her family rejoice in her return, but can anyone truly recover from what Charlie’s been through? When a life has been shattered, how do you put the pieces back together? 

I’ve read a lot of police procedurals and psychological thriller/suspense novels about the race to save someone from an abductor or a vicious serial killer. This isn’t one of those sorts of books.

Instead this book is more focused on the ‘after’ – the what happens after a young teenager is taken against her will and held captive for almost four months in a remote area of a national park by a reclusive and troubled man. That Charlie would return isn’t a question when the reader picks up this book (unless you don’t read blurbs, but in that case you’re probably not reading reviews either) but it’s more how she will return….mentally. How will she cope with what has happened and be able to move on? How will her parents and brother deal with what happened to her while she was taken and the resulting media frenzy that always accompanies such a thing.

Charlie is a horse-mad teenager who spends most of her free time at the stables where she leases a pony named Tic Tac. She’s just started high school and is struggling through the newness of that, of being a high schooler and the negotiating of new friendships, boys, etc. Charlie is a really strong character, she never stops fighting, despite the fact that she is the one in the position of victim, of vulnerability, of relying on someone else who is keeping her captive for the very basics to keep her alive. Still though, she is thinking, trying, planning even as she’s being beaten down and trapped and starved. She backs herself time and time again which for a 13 year old girl was amazingly brave.

Charlie’s parents experience an utter nightmare and the ways in which they cope with her disappearance (or the ways in which they don’t cope, I suppose) were quite fascinating to read about. Charlie’s dad is a fireman, a man of action and he never stops. He spends hours searching, making posters, just constantly doing things in order to get through the days where she’s missing. I found it really easy to put myself in their place, to examine what I would do in such a situation. To be honest I don’t think I’d be the active, always doing things type, always certain that there was still hope. I’d probably the one that fell apart but I guess that would work in my favour, as this book bitingly observes the Australian public like their women openly messily grieving, sobbing in public on television and looking like shit. No calm Lindy Chamberlain or even Rosie Batty types thanks – that makes people uncomfortable because they’re not doing grief “right”.

The role of the media in this book deserves a mention. The media can be a useful tool in a missing persons case in getting the word out to a huge number of people. In the current climate, social media and the immediacy of the 24/7 news cycle means that precious little time is wasted. Photos can be circulated state wide in moments and everyone is walking around looking at twitter or facebook – you don’t even have to be near a televison or watching the news. But the media is very much a double sided sword because they can also be incredibly invasive and unkind in some of the things that go to print, especially when they can’t get their hands on an exclusive story. Some of the media-related things that occur in this story are horrible – psychologically damaging to someone already psychologically damaged. It’s a frustrating element that I think people might not really think about – yes the person is home. Life can go back to “normal”….but it can’t. Because there are so many things that are preventing it from going back to normal and just one of those things are the media packs camped out on the lawns/at the front doors and the stories appearing in various glossies about “What Really Happened!” except they don’t really know what really happened and mostly what’s inside will be whatever some “source close to the family” made up that day. This book is such a thoughtful examination of the after (the title after all is, The Way Back) and it made me think about how detrimental it all must be to continue seeing versions of what happened, some of which bear little or no resemblance to the truth, everywhere you go for people who go through things like what Charlie and her family did. And it’s not just limited to abductions or cases where children are missing but anything really newsworthy. It makes it even harder to return to some sort of ‘normal life’.

I really enjoyed the characterisation in this – Charlie and her more introverted older brother Dan, their mother Rachael who balances hovering somewhat protectively with a full time job and the fireman/stay at home father Matt who is less concerned about homework and asking how things are going. The relationships were intimate but also realistic: the comfortable marriage not without its issues, the breakdowns, the love, the grief. All of the emotions were so well nuanced and made it so easy to connect with both the people and their stories.

Another clever, amazingly well written book from Kylie Ladd examining the intricate thought processes during an unthinkable event from every angle surrounding it.

8/10

Book #130 of 2017

The Way Back is book #42 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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July Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 16
Fiction: 15
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 1
Books On My TBR List: 3
Books in a Series: 9
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 8
Male/Female Authors: 0/16
Kindle Books: 7
Books I Owned or Bought: 7
Favourite Book(s): Empire Of Storms by Sarah J. Maas, The Day Of The Duchess by Sarah MacLean, Daring To Drive by Manal al-Sharif and Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland
Least Favourite Books: Wicked Designs by Lauren Smith
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 4

Another month gone. I feel like I say the same thing every wrap up but it’s true – this year just seems to be getting away from me. It’s actually kind of depressing. August already!

July was a good, steady reading month. 16 titles, probably three quarters of which I rated a 3/5 or better on Goodreads and I had 4x 5 star reads which is a pretty high amount for me!

Once again I have no TBR planned for August….I currently only have around 5  books for review so I’m really hoping to tackle a few of the books that I’ve had on my shelves for quite a while. The Melbourne Writers Fest also starts this month and I have to admit, I’ve had only a quick glance at the program. There are a few things I may attend but to be honest, it really doesn’t sound like I’ll be there for the 5-6 days that I have been at past festivals, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my parents will be visiting for the last 2 weeks of August and during that time it’s both my oldest son’s 9th birthday and my dad will also celebrate a birthday while they’re here as well. I anticipate that we will be doing quite a lot of stuff while they’re here, which won’t really leave much time for MWF. Secondly the money I would’ve spent at the festival ($200 on tickets, between $2-300 on books, plus extra for travel and meals etc) has been earmarked for something else a little more important. I may still try and squeeze in a session or two in the final weekend if I get time, but at the moment, doesn’t really look like happening. If so it’ll be the first time I haven’t gone since 2011 and I had a pretty good excuse that year….I was about 37 wks pregnant and on notice to pop at any time.

I came across something super interesting on twitter this week that I’m hoping to take part in, which begins August 13th. It’s a month long challenge and I’m hoping to have a post up about joining that this week. It’s definitely a challenge that’s outside of my comfort zone and I’m excited to try something a bit different. It’s been a while since I’ve participated in something like this but it should be good. I’m going to need to do some research too!

Hope you all had a great reading month for July!

 

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Review: Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland

Lost For Words
Stephanie Butland
Zaffre
2017, 343p
Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

THIS BOOKSHOP KEEPS MANY SECRETS . . .

Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never show you.

Into her refuge – the York book emporium where she works – come a poet, a lover, a friend, and three mysterious deliveries, each of which stirs unsettling memories.

Everything is about to change for Loveday. Someone knows about her past and she can’t hide any longer. She must decide who around her she can trust. Can she find the courage to right a heartbreaking wrong? And will she ever find the words to tell her own story?

It’s time to turn the pages of her past…

I loved this book.

Absolutely loved it, from start to finish. I was always going to pick up a book that is actually basically set in a bookstore! Loveday had what sounded like one of the world’s most relaxing jobs….tidying bookshelves, sorting through new donations/acquisitions etc. Now in her mid-20s, she’s been working at the second hand store since she was a teenager, first part time and then full time alongside its eccentric owner Archie.

Loveday is a very introverted person who doesn’t really socialise or do anything other than read outside of work. The book is split into different time frames – the present (2016), where Loveday meets a magician named Nathan, who comes into the store in response to a Found advert that Loveday placed in the window, Loveday’s childhood (1999) and a part of her past (2013). In the present, almost reluctantly, Loveday is dragged out of her comfort zone by the affable Nathan and an attempt to escape the incidents of 2013 lead her closer and closer to him but still she holds herself back because of 1999.

It takes quite a while for Loveday’s full story to unfold and it’s heartbreaking. I was honestly unprepared for how things went and I thought the author did an amazing job showcasing what a profound impact these things had on Loveday, things that trailed her well into her adulthood. The scars ran very deep beneath the surface and definitely affected her ability to relate to and interact with other people.

I really liked the character of Nathan. He’s so patient and kind, he knows that Loveday has some….things hanging over her and I think he’s just hoping for the day when she’ll feel like she will be able to tell him, confide these secrets that have shaped her. I liked that he pushed her out of her comfort zone but in really gentle ways, just suggesting things that she might like. At times it did feel as though Loveday didn’t appreciate the depth of what she had with Nathan but it’s pretty obvious that she’s deliberately holding herself back from thinking about it, that it’s probably not going to work out so why get too invested.

There’s a lot of warmth and light in this novel but there’s also a huge amount of darkness. Somehow the author manages to keep the overall tone of the book from being too devastating with the humour and charm of Loveday, Archie, Nathan and the bookstore itself, which is almost a living breathing character. I’m actually finding it really hard to review this book because all I want to say is that it’s beautiful and sad and happy and wonderful and it references books and it features books and ALL OF THE THINGS about this book are amazing. It’s just one of those books that totally spoke to me from the first page. I could be Loveday – not for the childhood thing at all, but in my 20s, the idea of working all day at a bookstore and then going home to read would’ve been my absolute jam. I’ve always trended towards solitude – even now, although I’m married with kids, I’m very much a homebody. Socialising can be so much of an effort and honestly I’d rather just be at home under a blanket on the couch with a book. Sometimes though, you agree to do something and you go and it’s pretty wonderful and you meet a nice person and that makes you think you can do things. Even when it feels a bit overwhelming.

This is the first Stephanie Butland novel I’ve ever read and on the strength of it she’s gone on the list of authors whose backlist I must immediately acquire and she’ll be an autoread for the future.

This is kind of a mishmash review, I always find ones where I love the books a lot for personal reasons quite hard to write. This book though, is for booklovers everywhere who know the power and refuge in words on page.

9/10

Book #128 of 2017

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