All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

The Last Namsara (Iskari #1)
Kristen Ciccarelli
Gollancz (Hachette UK)
2017, 416p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Destroyer. Death bringer. Dragon slayer. I am more weapon than girl.

Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she’s sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the wicked deed she committed as a child – one that almost destroyed her city and left her with a terrible scar.

But protecting her father’s kingdom is a lonely destiny: no matter how many dragons she kills, people still think she’s wicked.

Even worse, to unite the fractured kingdom, she must marry Jarek, the cruel commandant. As the wedding approaches, Asha longs for freedom.

Just when it seems her fate is sealed, the king offers her a way out: her freedom in exchange for the head of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard. 

And the only person standing in her way is a defiant slave boy…..

This is another book that has had quite a buzz about it on the internets and I couldn’t resist the cover, which I really love. I knew nothing about it going in except dragons! I am currently interested in reading more books featuring dragons. There’s a dearth of dragon-related books in my life.

So. Overall, this is a familiar premise, in a way. Asha is the daughter of the king but she’s also feared and reviled by the general public having made some sort of mistake in her past that led to the almost razing of the kingdom and the deaths of people. In order to redeem herself she slays dragons, bringing their heads to the king. She’s betrothed to her father’s commandant, a cruel man whose patience is being tested as Asha ducks his advances. He wants the binding ceremony to happen soon but Asha’s father gives her an out – bring him the head of the biggest dragon, the one responsible for that incident in the past and he’ll dissolve the betrothal and grant her freedom.

But it’s never that easy, is it? Especially when Asha realises that perhaps what she’s been told about the dragons, about her father, about her mother about everything isn’t really as it seems. There’s a slave boy who challenges her beliefs, a potential revolution in the works and lots of other exciting stuff happening in this book. There’s also a lot of old mythology, stories that are woven into the present day through dreams, experiences and knowledge passed down. I found the concept of the stories, of telling the dragons stories, really quite interesting. And I loved the way the interactions with the dragons evolved as Asha came to a different sort of understanding. She’s given ‘challenges’ to accomplish and through these, her eyes begin to open at what sort of life she has been living and why.

There’s a romance in this but it’s a very slow burn. Technically Asha is a princess (although she doesn’t seem to be called one?) and she’s also betrothed but she has no regard for the man she is supposed to marry. There’s a lot of agendas going on and some underhanded dealing and lots of lying and double crossing. But Asha meets a slave boy who actually belongs to her betrothed which complicates things a lot, especially when Javek notices her interactions with him. I liked the slow burn because there’s so much going on here that romance didn’t really feel as though it should be the primary focus. Instead it simmers along underneath the surface, complicated by a lot of different factors. It worked for me and I liked Torwin and his straightforward manner. Asha could be hot and cold, very unpredictable at times and sometimes completely irrational. But she also goes through a lot in this book, her entire life as she knows it is basically blown off its axis and she has to adjust to so many new truths.

I didn’t know this was a series when I first started it although I probably should have. It’s really rare to find stand alone books in this genre these days – they’re almost always a trilogy or something. This isn’t a short book and it did drag a little for me in patches. Asha spends a huge amount of time sneaking around in and out of the kingdom and it seems as though the story repeats itself a couple of times without anything really happening as she tries to figure out how to escape her binding ceremony. It picked up a bit towards the end but ultimately it did feel padded out in places so I’m not sure how it’ll play out for me in multiple volumes. Also if I had one other nitpick it was the lack of subtlety to the characters. Characters like Javek were so evil they were sort of laughable and I couldn’t really take them seriously. He was like a caricature of a person. And then others were so good that they barely had a single fault.

So overall I did like this. It was a good read, kept me turning the pages although it felt unnecessarily long. But I did find a few issues with it and I’m unsure if it’ll hold my interest over future installments. For me the strength was in a lot of the stories/mythology connected to the past and the quests for Asha.

7/10

Book #189 of 2017

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Review: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun Is Also A Star
Nicola Yoon
Corgi Books (Penguin Random House UK)
2016, 344p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

So a while ago I asked for a few recommendations on twitter because I felt like buying a few books. A few people came back with this one so I bought it during one of my book buying sprees. I picked it up to read on a whim this month because I’ve basically been so sick that I find it hard to concentrate but someone told me the way this book was written would help with that.

And it did! I loved the way this was written. It’s divided up into both Natasha and Daniel’s points of view but there are also other chapters or segments that are devoted to minor characters that enhance the story that are almost like a narrator coming in over the top of the regular story to give the reader more information. I could see this being amazing if a movie were ever to be made of this book with the picture pausing and then someone coming in over the top to basically be like, things were not going to plan.

Basically the bulk of this story takes place over a single day in New York City where teenagers Natasha and Daniel meet by chance. Natasha is on her way to an important appointment to hopefully change her life, Daniel is killing time before an appointment he cares little about. He sees Natasha and is drawn to her immediately, compelled to talk to her. Natasha is a more practical girl but Daniel challenges her to open her mind to the possibility of something special.

Recently I must’ve read about 4-5 books that center around the premise of you can fall in love with anyone by asking them 36 or so questions and maintaining eye contact for a certain period of time. This book uses this as well, although for time constraints, Daniel and Natasha do not use all of the questions and instead pick and choose some key ones to ask each other. They do this whilst moving around New York City – from a music store to a restaurant and karaoke place to Daniel’s father’s hair shop to Natasha’s appointment and various other places. They separate and come together, argue and connect. Daniel is a hopeless romantic who believes in love at first sight. Natasha is a realist who knows she most likely has less than 24 hours left in New York. What could the future possibly hold for them?

Daniel is the son of Korean immigrants and the pressure is on to get into a good school and become a doctor. Doctors are where it’s at. For many years he’s lived in the shadow of his older brother, who strongly dislikes him and enjoys making his life a misery. With his brother home on academic probation from his prestigious university, Daniel finds himself in the unexpected position of favoured child, but it’s not a role he’s sure he wants, especially as he is having second thoughts about his future. He doesn’t want to be a doctor but his chosen interest would never be acceptable to his conservative parents who have worked so hard to give their children the sort of opportunities they never had. Daniel should be doing things to prepare for this important meeting he has but instead he finds himself more interested in Natasha.

I’ve read some criticism of the way Daniel approached Natasha (followed her) and spoke to her when she didn’t really want to interact with someone and I can understand how on some level, that isn’t ideal. However for me, I don’t think he really crossed the line into weird or creepy or stalkerish. He does talk to her and she isn’t too keen at first but Daniel does have a kind of harmless charm that comes across and I think Natasha does genuinely enjoy shooting him down at first, as they argue positions based on their philosophies of hopeless dreamer and cynic. Natasha is quite confident Daniel’s experiment won’t change anything for her.

I enjoyed this a lot – I think I really liked the immigrant/child of immigrant experience. Daniel has always had a lot of pressure on him about getting good grades, going to a top college (only a few options) and becoming the holy Asian grail, a doctor. Probably marrying another doctor of Korean or Asian background and producing more little Korean American doctors. It is not a future that interests Daniel and despite his romantic nature and the way that he challenges Natasha, it is her that challenges him to tell his parents that their future is not what he desires and to accept the consequences of that if he wants to carve out his own life. I also couldn’t help but feel really sorry for Natasha, who through no fault of her own had a deportation to a place she couldn’t remember hanging over her head. She was also seemingly the only one trying to really change it – busting her ass to try and change it actually and I loved the complicated intricacy of her relationship with her father.

This was a fun read – I liked the ending. Definitely going to add Nicola Yoon’s other book Everything, Everything  to my TBR now! I appreciated the unique element of this storytelling and the freshness of the voices.

8/10

Book #188 of 2017

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Top 10 Tuesday 28th November

Haven’t dipped into Top 10 Tuesday for a little while but I always love the seasonal topics so I’m pitching back in. As always, Top 10 Tuesday is created by The Broke & the Bookish featuring a different literary topic each week. This week it is……..

Top 10 Books On My Winter Summer Reading List

{being in Australia, I need to alter this topic slightly}

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I bought this recently because so many people everywhere have been saying the most fabulous things about it. I was going to read it right away but then I decided to put it on my shelf for the summer holidays when I have no school pick ups etc.
  2. What Happened by Hillary Rodham ClintonBought this one the same day as the one above actually. I feel as though I’m going to need a bit of time to really get into it and ponder over it so it’s gone onto the summer shelf as well.
  3. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail HoneymanI have heard a lot of really good things about this too – I almost picked it up on audio the other day but I decided I’d rather read it in print first. A lot of people whose opinions I trust a lot have really sung its praises and it sounds really interesting.
  4. Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend. This looks fun! It has a bit of a buzz around it and it might be something that I can read with one of my boys too, who is always looking for something new and now that he’s allowed to read more ‘mature’ books he’s eyeing off the older MG and younger YA stuff on my shelves.
  5. Tower Of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas. I’ve had this a little while and I’ve been in two minds about it. Chaol isn’t my favourite character but I’m also keen to see where things go so it’s kind of been sitting on the shelf for a while. Going to finally get around to it during the summer holidays.
  6. Six Of Crows (& Crooked Kingdom) by Leigh Bardugo. Had these two for a while as well, been saving them. Also books that have had lots of good things said about them and they’ve been recommended to me a lot by different people.
  7. Cake At Midnight by Jessie L. Star. This is a January review book that looks like a perfect beach or pool read and I’m looking forward to picking it up when the time comes.
  8. Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra. This one is for an online book club I’m a part of. It’s the December read and the discussion will take place in January.
  9. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I don’t even remember how long ago I bought this now. Ages. I’ve probably put it on various reading lists a dozen times and never gotten around to it, mostly because of the fact that it’s a brick. But hopefully this summer I get to finally tackle it. Apparently it’s very traumatising but also amazing.
  10. Anatomy Of A Scandal by Sarah Vaughan. Another January review book. This is a thriller/mystery about a husband and father charged with a terrible crime and the wife that wants to clear his name vs the prosecutor who wants to see him pay. Sounds good!

I can only imagine there’ll be plenty more titles added to this list over the coming weeks or so but this is what I have so far, for books that I want to get to over the summer break. Starting in about 3.5 weeks, my kids have 6-7 weeks off school and I’m hoping the weather is good for plenty of trips to the beach, pool or parks for picnics and stuff. All of those are prime reading locations!

Even though most will be digging out books to read in the depths of winter, I look forward to checking out the other lists and finding a few more to add to mine!

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Review: Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

Without Merit
Colleen Hoover
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

I’ve only read one Colleen Hoover book before and it was years ago. I remember being underwhelmed but I’ve heard so much about how her writing and stories have improved and this sounded really interesting with quite a bit publisher push so I decided to give it a go.

Merit’s life is a bit of a mess. Her family is dysfunctional in the extreme – they live in an old converted church that her father purchased from his nemesis. Her mother (divorced from her father, agoraphobic) lives in the basement and never ventures out. The rest of the family – her father, his new wife, their young child together, Merit, her twin sister Honor and their brother Utah live upstairs. It’s not an ideal situation and it seems that there’s plenty of friction within the family.

For me, the biggest problem is that there’s just too much going on in this book. Merit is suffering from depression and anxiety (although is unaware/unwilling to examine it) and she spends a lot of time retreating into herself, skipping school and generally just avoiding as much as she can. Apart from that there’s also sexual assault, agoraphobia, hypochondria, other forms of mental illness, terminal illness and the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis. It makes it really hard to connect to any part of the story because it’s always skipping to something else and addressing the next issue. There’s so many that for me, none of them felt examined in depth or given the amount of page time that they deserve. I especially did not like the way in which the sexual assault was treated. This was something that had plagued the victim for years, had really affected them and when they finally decided to blow open the secret it seemed to take one conversation for everything to be resolved and forgiven and I didn’t think that was at all acceptable or realistic. The perpetrator may have been “confused” but they were by far old enough to know that what they were doing was wrong and predatory behaviour and just plain not okay. And the fact that it was ignored for so long by them was ridiculous. And the reaction of almost jealousy by someone who wasn’t preyed upon? Really? Just….no. Nope. And then there was the tangled mess of what was really happening between Merit’s parents and his new wife situation which was just a few too many twists and turns for me. Add in the new wife’s brother to stir the pot in a way that seems far too obvious and there were so many things that were just clunky and too heavily handled. It really lacked the finesse to gently air out these serious subjects and the emotions and tangled relationships involved here. Especially as it felt like it only took about 2-3 conversations to sort out most of these issues and a whole bunch of stuff could’ve been solved if the family had not kept so many weird secrets and tried to shove things under the rug.

I was excited about this because it had been talked up so much to me, but ultimately it just wasn’t my sort of read. I kept wanting more – so much of it just kept hinging on the fact that no one communicated and all these people were living these separate lives despite all being under the same roof. And there were a lot of people living under this roof. The only character I really probably liked was Sagan and half the time he felt too good to really be true and why on earth was he bothering with Merit and all this mess when she was so horrifically bad to him? Because she was. Absolutely awful. Part of it stems from a misunderstanding when they meet, where Sagan seems to believe that she is her twin. But it continues on for so long.

Ultimately this was disappointing and will probably be my last crack at a Colleen Hoover book, even though I still have one that I bought ages ago on my iBooks. I just don’t think her ways of telling a story are for me.

4/10

Book #180 of 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Last Girl by Nadia Murad

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against The Islamic State
Nadia Murad
Virago Press
2017, 306p
Copy courtesy of Hachette AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In this intimate memoir of survival, a former captive of the Islamic State tells her harrowing and ultimately inspiring story.

Nadia Murad was born and raised in Kocho, a small village of farmers and shepherds in Northern Iraq. A member of the Yazidi community, she and her brothers and sisters lived a quiet life. Nadia had dreams of becoming a history teacher or opening her own beauty salon.

On 15th August 2014, when Nadia was just 21 years old, this life ended. Islamic State militants massacred the people of her village, executing men who refused to convert to Islam and women too old to become sex slaves. Six of Nadia’s brothers were killed, and her mother soon after, their bodies swept into mass graves. Nadia was taken to Mosul and forced, along with thousands of other Yazidi girls, into the ISIS slave trade.

Nadia was held captive by several militants and repeatedly raped and beaten. Finally, she managed a narrow escape through the streets of Mosul, finding shelter in the home of a Sunni Muslim family whose eldest son risked his life to smuggle her to safety.

Today, Nadia’s story – as a witness to the Islamic State’s brutality, a survivor or rape, a refugee, a Yazidi – has forced the world to pay attention to the ongoing genocide in Iraq. It is a call to action, a testament to the human will to survive and a love letter to a lost country, fragile community and a family torn apart by war.

I’ve read a couple of really interesting memoirs from war torn regions recently, mostly centering around Middle Eastern countries but I would say that this one would be by far the most harrowing of them all. Nadia was born and raised in northern Iraq in a small village named Kocho where the population identified as Kurds rather than Iraqi. They spoke a different language among themselves and are of the Yazidi religion rather than being Muslim. Kurds are mostly gathered in an autonomous region in Iraq known as Iraqi Kurdistan but they also populate parts of surrounding countries such as Turkey. A large population has also developed in Germany when the country accepted many refugees.

In 2014, the Kurdish peshmerga which is the military of Iraqi Kurdistan, were defeated by ISIS and the terrorist organisation swept in and decimated local villages. They recruited boys young enough to radicalize to their cause to fight for them, brutally executed men and elders who wouldn’t convert to Islam and rounded up all the girls as sex slaves. Part of the ISIS ‘accords’ as such means that they do not see those from other religions such as Yazidi as even people and therefore, rape is allowed as an act of war. Sex slaves are almost like a reward for services rendered to the regime. Nadia was taken as one of these women to be a slave to ISIS militants.

Nadia witnesses and experiences some truly horrific things. They hear the gunshots that kill her brothers, possibly also her mother. She and her sisters, cousins, sisters-in-law etc are bundled into buses and taken to Mosul where they are basically offered up to ISIS soldiers of rank. It takes Nadia a while to understand what her future will be – she complains when a guard on the bus touches her inappropriately only to laughed at. She is no longer a person, she will just be a thing for them to use as they see fit and pass around when they grow tired of her.

I am so far removed from this sort of life, it’s ridiculous. It is a harsh reality to read Nadia’s story and realise that things like this are still going on in the world and people are treated in such ways. Whole villages herded into a building and ruthlessly executed or rounded up for agendas. It’s a genocide of the Yazidi people, an attempt to wipe them out of Iraq either by murder to by forced conversion to Islam. Despite her forced conversion to Islam and the systematic attempt to wipe out her people, Nadia never forgets her Yazidi heritage, even when she’s terrified to let it show after her escape from her captives and her journey from Mosul into Iraqi Kurdistan. She’s also so terrified that what she’s experienced will change the way she’s seen by her people (the Yazidi are a conservative people, sex before marriage isn’t accepted, and even though Nadia’s experiences were with violence and force, she’s still reluctant to talk about it, lest it diminish her).

Despite the brutality of this book, there is hope in it too. After her captor leaves her alone in a house, Nadia escapes. By sheer chance she chooses the right door to knock on – a kind Sunni family who are not a part of the ISIS regime and are willing to help her escape, rather than just return her. They risk their lives, their safety in doing so and their gentle and compassionate actions are a truly bright spot in this dark story. They keep her hidden while they make arrangements to get her into Iraqi Kurdistan so that she might reunite with a brother who went there before the massacre of her village. After Nadia arrives in Iraqi Kurdistan, she discovers an operation that seeks to rescue Yazidi girls from captivity and slowly, a few familiar faces make their ways to the refugee camp. There are stories of tragedy as well, those that don’t make it back to the remnants of their family and safety.

Nadia has such a strength and determination to not only survive, but escape. She doesn’t accept her fate and she takes brave steps in a strange and hostile place in order to desperately try and get away, even though she knows that the odds were probably in her favour to be returned and beaten by her captors. She was lucky that her strength and determination and luck played out that she met a family who risked so much to help her but it was absolutely crucial that she take those huge risks herself as well. Since her escape, Nadia has told her story many times, including in front of the UN. She was named a Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking and now works with Yazda: Global Yazidi Organisation helping to bring recognition to the genocide of the Yazidi people and also work to reunite Yazidi people taken by ISIS back with surviving family or community members as well as providing aid, information and support to the Yazidi people.

I read this book because I want to educate myself on these stories, these events that take place in the world from the point of view of those that experience it. It’s not an easy story to read in terms of it being such distressing subject matter and there’s such a large feeling of unfairness that hangs over the entire thing. Nadia should’ve enjoyed a life in her village with her family, living her dream of becoming a teacher or whatever it was that she wanted to do, getting married and having a family if she so chose, safe in the place she’d grown up. But she may never be able to permanently return to her village and her role in life is different now. She speaks for others and her story has definitely led me to read more about the Yazidi people as well as the genocide. I recommend this to everyone, these stories need to be known.

9/10

Book #190 of 2017

 

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Review: The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec

The Temporary Bride: A memoir of love and food in Iran
Jennifer Klinec
Virago Press
2014, 270p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“A relationship was a mathematical formula: the correct variables of age, beauty, morality and finances were entered and the output was a successful, peaceful marriage. It couldn’t be, therefore, that their Iranian son could feel desire for someone six years his senior, someone who didn’t come to him pure and untouched. I was an amusing visitor from another world and soon enough I should return to it, fading quietly into an anecdote …”

In her thirties, Jennifer Klinec abandons a corporate job to launch a cooking school from her London flat. Raised in Canada to Hungarian-Croatian parents, she has already travelled to countries most people are fearful of, in search of ancient recipes. Her quest leads her to Iran where, hair discreetly covered and eyes modest, she is introduced to a local woman who will teach her the secrets of the Persian kitchen.

Vahid is suspicious of the strange foreigner who turns up in his mother’s kitchen; he is unused to seeing an independent woman. But a compelling attraction pulls them together and then pits them against harsh Iranian laws and customs. 

Getting under the skin of one of the most complex and fascinating nations on earth, The Temporary Bride is a soaring story of being loved, being fed, and the struggle to belong.

I can’t remember where I first heard about this book but I knew I had to read it. I couldn’t find it anywhere locally and my library didn’t have it either so I ended up ordering it from overseas. I read it before I got sick but I’m so behind in reviews that I’m only just getting around to writing this, almost three weeks later.

This is a memoir of a woman named Jennifer who lives in London who ditches her boring corporate job to launch an intimate cooking school in her flat. She sources all the ingredients and designs the menus herself and people pay to come and learn how to cook interesting dishes. She’s always looking for ways to absorb more food knowledge and tries to travel extensively learning about the food of different nations. But when she goes to Iran, her life changes.

I’ve only read a few books set in Iran so I was really interested to learn some more about the dynamics and culture. Iran is a fascinating place to read about, it has been through a lot of changes in the past 50/60 years and its fair share of wars, economic recession and civilian oppression. I loved Jennifer’s portrayal of her time there, learning local dishes from a woman who would eventually become her mother-in-law. It actually gave me what I thought was a very clear picture of what it might be like to travel through Iran.

I’m not overly sure about the relationship however. It reads as somewhat awkward – Vahid tends to say whatever pops into his head perhaps because English is his second language and he doesn’t understand what’s tactful, perhaps because he’s a man and he can say whatever he likes, I’m not sure. There are times when he insults Jennifer quite horribly and it’s clear he’s very confused by the sorts of feelings he’s having toward her. He’s a virgin, as is traditional there until marriage and she isn’t, which is an interesting dynamic. There were times when I thought some of their interactions were quite sweet and other times when I was like why is she doing this? What on Earth does she see in this guy? She doesn’t seem to really give him much thought in that way until he begins to query his weirdness around her (which I think is supposed to perhaps be sexual desire). I would’ve also liked a bit more in depth talk about their culture divide, because that’s glossed over quite a bit, especially in the latter part of the book when it becomes clear that they’re not just temporary. The title of the book comes from a sort of marriage in Iran that allows a man to take someone to wife for a specified time and then dissolve it, which they undergo in order to be able to travel together and spend time together unchaperoned. Some parts of the country are more conservative than others and even after this temporary marriage is granted, they are often stopped and questioned extensively by police as to why they’re together and what they’re doing in public.

I loved the food components of this and also Jennifer’s talk about her childhood. She had a very interesting one, living on her own in different countries from a very early age and teaching herself to cook different meals. Her love of food is something that really dominates this book and I love reading about food, watching cooking shows etc so that part was really fantastic for me. There’s lots of descriptions and talking about food and I admired her for changing her life and doing something she’s really passionate about and also having that mindset where she’s always wanting to learn more, explore different cultures and their dishes.

But I think I wanted the same level of devotion to her relationship. Eventually Vahid moves to England after some time of her returning to Iran and also the two meeting in different countries and that covers like a paragraph in the book (the epilogue) when I really would’ve liked to read more about their situations being reversed and him being in the new place with very different ways of life to what he was familiar with. I know it is her story, rather than his but I think it’s something that would’ve been interesting. The journey of him coming to live with her in England permanently.

Still, I really enjoyed this. Gave me I felt, quite an interesting insight into life in present day Iran from the point of view of a Westerner and also Jennifer’s obvious devotion to food and preparing it.

7/10

Book #179 of 2017

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Double Review: The Diablolic & The Empress by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1)
S.J. Kincaid
Simon & Schuster UK
2016, 403p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Nemesis is a Diabolic. Created to protect a galactic Senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The girl who has grown up by her side and who is as much as sister as a master. There’s no one Nemesis wouldn’t kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the galactic court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.

She must become her.

Now one of the galaxy’s most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corruption and Nemesis has to hide her true abilities or risk everything. As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns that there is something stronger than her deadly force: the one thing she’s been told she doesn’t have – humanity. And, amidst all the danger, action and intrigue, her humanity might be the only thing that can save her, Sidonia and the entire Empire…

I had seen this book around since its publication last year but I’d never gotten around to really checking it out until I received a copy of The Empress, the second book in the series, for review. I decided to give it a go and picked up a copy from my local library.

It’s set in a futuristic world where most of the population now lives in space on various constructions and vessels. Technology is restricted, but at some stage alternatives to humans were developed called diabolics, mostly as servants and protectors. They look human and can ‘bond’ to a human but they are lethal killing machines and generally don’t possess the human emotions or empathy. However, the more time they spend with humans, the more their brain ‘learns’ so it’s difficult to know what is possible. All diabolics were ordered destroyed but Nemesis was one of the lucky ones. She’d bonded so much with her owner Sidonia, a Senator’s daughter that the family agreed to hide the fact that she hadn’t been destroyed so that Nemesis might go on protecting her charge. The Senator is at odds with the ruling family over his scientific beliefs and when Sidonia is summoned to the galactic court, her mother sees immediately that this is a way to punish the family and concocts a plan to disguise the fact that Nemesis is a diabolic and send her in her place.

For that, Nemesis must act human. Cleverness can hide the features that distinguish her from humans, as most people tend to alter their real selves anyway but Nemesis must be able to interact with various people without causing suspicion. When she meets Tyrus, the Emperor’s nephew who is believed to be mad, the fact that diabolics can’t feel as humans do is sorely tested. Tyrus is different and in him, Nemesis sees a future for the empire….and for her.

I enjoyed this – I was surprisingly way more into the journey of Nemesis and Tyrus than I thought I would be. They go through a lot in this book. Tyrus thinks Nemesis is Sidonia and she thinks he’s probably insane. I loved the character of Tyrus, loved their interactions and Nemesis’ examining of her “diabolicness” and what her connection with Tyrus means.

I did feel that the book had an extraordinary amount of twists and turns, so much so that by the end I was a bit fatigued with all the plans and crossings and double crossings and backstabbing taking place! Once I finished this though, I was really looking forward to The Empress and seeing what happened.

6/10

Book #182 of 2017

The Empress (The Diabolic #2)
S.J. Kincaid
Simon & Schuster UK
2017, 378p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.

Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?

Second books in a series. Hmmm. They can be a bit of a struggle.

After finishing the first one, I went right on to this one but I have to admit, I did struggle with it a little bit. I think because the first book spent so long building something and then this one just went and blew it apart and when things like that happen in second books, it tends to really bug me. I know that when it’s a series, there’s an arc and you have to spin it out for several books and nothing is easy and there’s got to be personal conflict etc. But sometimes, you can just see something coming a mile away and it feels really contrived and inorganic and like a complete 180 for a character.

A large part of the book revolves around Tyrus wanting Nemesis for his Empress but there is a strong resistance to that because Nemesis isn’t human. A Diabolic can’t be an Empress. Tyrus isn’t willing to take no for an answer though and this is an issue when it comes to him exerting his control and dominance as the new Emperor.  There’s quite a lot of politics in this volume and probably even more twists than in The Diabolic. The ending….well the ending pissed me off and also upset me! I wasn’t expecting that at all and I was actually quite cranky about it too. I found myself cursing the fact that I read them both before the next volume was out because I really need to know what happens next and whether or not certain characters can be redeemed or if what has happened is the end of something. Surely not? Surely there must be some sort of master plan from the Grand Planner of them all, some reason why this happened and it’ll all be made clear and then the grovelling can start. Because there needs to be grovelling. Lots of it.

I wasn’t sure what to rate this because even though I had some err, issues, with the way things played out there’s no denying that it was a heck of a journey getting there. I wasn’t sure I liked it as much as The Diabolic – apparently The Diabolic was originally a stand alone and reading it, that made a lot of sense. It clearly could’ve been. And then obviously a decision was made to go on with it so then there needed to be a plot. But however I felt about that, there’s no doubt that it’s made me pretty desperate for the next book to see what happens. So in that case, I guess it did it’s job as the second book, even though I finished it annoyed!

6/10

Book #184 of 2017

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Review: The Attraction Equation by Kadie Scott

The Attraction Equation (Love Undercover #2)
Kadie Scott
Entangled Publishing
2017, 197p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

FBI agent Max Carter lives his life by a strict set of rules—rules that don’t allow for distraction, deviation…or a relationship. But tell that to his matchmaking mama. To avoid yet another set-up, he announces he has a girlfriend. And now has to produce said girlfriend at Christmas dinner. Maybe Santa has a suitable actress in that red bag of his…

Gina Castillo is about to break her building’s iron-clad “no pets” policy to give her little brother the perfect Christmas gift—a dog. Too bad Max, the most inconveniently sexy tenant in the building, catches her red handed. Gina expects to be evicted, but instead finds herself blackmailed into playing the role of his girlfriend.

Two lies plus one dog should equal a hot mess of a holiday, but attraction and Christmas magic might just defy the rules…

As seems to be my way, I didn’t realise that this was part of a series when I requested it but it was perfectly fine as a stand alone. The previous couple do appear but you don’t really need to know their entire background story. My Kryptonite is an opposites attract story between a free spirit type of woman and an uptight or repressed type of man so this one sounded right up my alley.

Max is an FBI agent specialising in finance analysis and he definitely prefers things to be done a certain way. He lives his life by a very strict routine and he tends to restrict his romantic interactions to very brief encounters. He never tells women what he does or invites them to his apartment. Max thinks that people will only want to change him.

In contrast, Gina is a very creative type working multiple casual jobs to supplement her income. She’s subletting an apartment on the same floor as Max and her first interaction with him is when he catches her attempting to take the dog she’s purchased as a present for her younger brother out for a toilet break. The building forbids pets and Max is very much a rules person but there’s something about Gina’s manner that leads him to assist her, rather than dobbing her in.

The two of them are clearly very different and their interactions are quite humorous. Gina is pretty laid back and she enjoys trying new things. In meeting Gina, Max sees an opportunity. He won’t tell anyone about her having the dog if she will pretend to be the girlfriend he lied to his mother about having in an attempt to stop them from constantly trying to fix him up with people. It’ll be Christmas dinner, then after that he can tell his family that they’ve broken up and it’ll all be quick and painless.

Famous last words. There’s an attraction between them as well, which definitely complicates Max’s simple idea. Gina is such a personality that he enjoys spending time with her, even when she wants him to do things like try a new coffee place or put up Christmas decorations in his apartment. He finds himself doing things with her that he’s never done before and wanting her around for much more than just a one night stand. But at the same time he still believes that because of the ‘way he is’, it would only end badly – either she’ll try to change him or she won’t be able to accept him for what and who he is.

I’m not sure if Max is specifically OCD, he’s undiagnosed and at the beginning of the novel shows no interest in seeking help for his rigidity and the discomfort he feels if this is disrupted. He’s content with his life, even though he doesn’t share it with anyone. It isn’t until he meets Gina and begins spending time with her and realises that she is someone he’d like to be around in a permanent way, that he realises he may need to do a few things in order to compromise and be in a meaningful and long term relationship.

I did enjoy this but I also found parts of it significantly frustrating. Both Max and Gina get mad at the other for basically doing the same thing  and also for things that are a fundamental part of them. Gina is impulsive and a bit crazy, she’s always going to want to do those out there things and Max is a neat freak who is probably always going to want to tidy up and have things in their place etc. At times Max was a bit of a struggle for me because he does these impulsive things that kind don’t marry up with his personality (such as tell his family he has a girlfriend and then blackmail a stranger into portraying her) and then he self-sabotages what he has with Gina in the most bonehead of ways. Gina in many ways, has the patience of a saint.

This was cute but I didn’t love it. It was entertaining though and I’d probably check out another book in the series.

6/10

Book #185 of 2017

 

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Review: The Drifter by Anthea Hodgson

The Drifter
Anthea Hodgson
Penguin Random House AUS
2016, 354p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cate Christie is a party girl, unable to commit to anything, until she is involved in a tragic accident that changes everything. To escape her guilt and her parents’ bitter disapproval, Cate leaves Perth for her aunt Ida’s isolated farm in country Western Australia.

Henry is a drifter, a young swagman-like character who wanders onto the Christie family property and takes up residence in a disused shed. With secrets of his own, the last thing he wants is to get tangled up in Cate and Ida’s lives.

Against their own better judgement, the fates of Cate and Henry and Ida inexorably intertwine and they learn to face the realities of life, death and letting go.

A witty, charming and moving debut rural romance about what makes a good death and, more importantly, what makes a good life.

Recently a friend recommended this to me with the claim that it was the ‘perfect rural’. I thought I definitely had to try something that had attracted such high praise because I’m always looking for good rurals, I find them really perfect for when I am either in a reading slump or can’t decide what to read next. My local library had it sitting on the shelves so I thought I would check it out and now I am definitely going to have to buy my own copy for my keep shelf because I absolutely loved this.

Cate is a party girl, living up life in the city in a blur of nights out with her friends and temporary jobs that don’t really go anywhere. She’s about the experience and her parents have expressed their frustrations at her lifestyle but Cate doesn’t care because she’s too busy having fun. Until a tragic accident sends her fleeing the city to her aunt Ida’s isolated farm. When Cate arrives she realises that her idea to stay at the farm and ‘help out’ might not be such a bad one. Aunt Ida is clearly struggling with some things and she could definitely use a hand around the place. And someone to deal with the fact that there’s a stranger bunking down on the property.

Cate negotiates the stranger, Henry’s help around the farm for some of the more muscle jobs in exchange for staying in residence. Both Cate and Henry have secrets but almost against their will they build a friendship with a definite undercurrent and it is amazing. I loved both of them together so much. Cate is in a real state of almost breakdown and she’s suffering from both grief and guilt in equal measures. She is forced to reevaluate her life and decide if the way she’s been living is the way she wants things to be or is this a good reason to find something that she really wants to do? To make a commitment to something, instead of just drifting from one temp job to the next, banking enough cash for cute outfits and nights out. At first heading to the farm feels very much like Cate is hiding – avoiding her parents and their judgement and demands that she sort herself out as well as other people whom she feels she has caused pain. Cate’s journey of accepting the tragedy of what has happened and moving past it forms the backbone of the entire story. She’s able to find a place that she belongs, forge a new relationship with her Aunt Ida and truly get to know her and also get to know the farm and the local community. Cate becomes involved in the running of the farm and instrumental in bringing it back to life again and she also becomes part of the community as well, participating in bakes and church meetings. It’s a form of acceptance that I’m not sure she really had previously and it means a lot to Cate that even when some discover why she’s there in the first place, they still accept her and support her.

The characters in this novel are so full of life and realness (is that a word?). I loved the character of Aunt Ida and the way that she and Cate reconnect and her memories of her late husband. I feel as though she added a real dose of warmth and humour to the book and she was the sort of character that I believe many readers will identify with as she’d remind them of a grandmother or aunt or great aunt or someone that they know. Aunt Ida’s friends are also colourful and the sort of get-things-done country ladies that are probably the backbone of a lot of small towns. I liked the scenes with them all together, there was a real sense of camaraderie and devotion but in an understated kind of way.

And then there’s Henry. Man did I love Henry. He’s a mysterious, possibly even slightly shady character in the beginning, living in an unused outbuilding, helping himself to a spare fridge. He’s basically minding his own business but has helped Ida out in unseen ways but then finds himself confronted by Cate. Their abrupt interactions give way to something deeper and honestly, I was on board for the whole thing a ridiculous amount. They have oodles of chemistry and deep down, they have a lot in common. I had a fun time guessing Henry’s secret (as well as Cate’s actually) and thoroughly enjoying the ride of their relationship. They both made mistakes but there was also true acceptance between them.

This book made me bawl my eyes out like a million times, so maybe read with tissues! But it’s absolutely amazing, probably one of my favourite reads for the year. Can’t wait for Anthea Hodgson’s next novel, The Cowgirl. The good thing about it taking me so long to read this? I only have a couple of months to wait for that next book.

9/10

Book #178 of 2017

The Drifter is book #54 of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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October Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 18
Fiction: 16
Non-Fiction: 2
Library Books: 0
Books On My TBR List: 3
Books in a Series: 8
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 11
Male/Female Authors: 2/16
Kindle Books: 6
Books I Owned or Bought: 5
Favourite Book(s): The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns, The Drifter by Anthea Hodgson
Least Favourite Books: Kidnapped By The Alien Barbarian by Ella Mansfield
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 6

This wrap up has gone up a few days later than usual because for the past 3-4 days I’ve been absolutely wiped out by some weird flu virus thing that gave me all of the aches and painful joints that usually announce the arrival of a virus but none of the actual flu part. I spent nearly 48 hours in bed basically unable to move or find a comfortable way to lie that didn’t hurt basically everywhere. Today is the first day I’ve been able to get up and not feel like I was hit by a truck since Monday and it’s the first day I’ve been able to use my laptop since then too.

October was a decent reading month, 18 titles added to the tally which is good. My last book in October brought me up to 180 books read for the year. I can’t believe there’s only two months to go in 2017. It seems like only a few weeks ago that I was making plans for this year and now it’s nearly gone.

For November I think I have a grand total of 3 review books that I’ve received and so I plan to read a lot of my own books. Because I’ve been sick I haven’t bothered to actually make a TBR pile yet – I will probably do that over the weekend. I have a few recent purchases that I’d really like to get to this month like Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend and What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton. Plus there’s some not so recent purchases still hanging out on my shelves like A Little Life. It’s definitely time to start thinking about holiday reading. My kids only have about 6 weeks left of school.

Speaking of kids, in October I also read my first ever Harry Potter novel. I bought the boxset for my 9yo in an attempt to encourage him to read. His teacher is really pushing him to explore different books and challenge himself as he gets bored easily and so she helped him a choose a few books to read and one was a Harry Potter novel. I found a really decently priced boxset and he is now onto book 3 and I’ve finished the first book. Perhaps because I’m older reading it for the first time, I didn’t love it. I did enjoy it and I understand why kids see a lot in it. Harry is a likeable and also relatable hero but I wasn’t overly blown away by the writing. However because my son is very keen for me to read them too so we can talk about them and then watch the movies together, I will read on. I’m pacing myself because I don’t want to overtake him so I haven’t even started the second one yet.

I have a couple of really fun bookish events coming up in November which I’ll be posting more about as they happen. Hope you all had a great reading month for October.

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