All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: In Bed With The Beast by Tara Sivec

In Bed With The Beast (Naughty Princess Club #2)
Tara Sivec
Swerve (St Martin’s Press)
2018, 305p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A tale as old as time: she needs a place to stay, he’s a grump with a secret and an extra room…can love find a way?

Meet the Naughty Princess Club, a series from USA Today bestselling author Tara Sivec that brings readers to Fairytale Lane and the hilarity—and romance—that three women fall into once they decide to strut their stuff and bring on their own happily ever after.

Living in her overprotective dad’s basement, shy Belle lives her life through books. Being a part of the Naughty Princess Club is the first adventure she’s ever had, plus she desperately needs the money to save one of her favorite places – the local library.

But when her new friends and new business gets her kicked out of her dad’s house, Belle is rescued by the surly Vincent “Beast” Adams who invites her to be his house guest until she gets back on her feet. Despite his attitude problem and long list of rules, Belle finds herself warming to the muscled man with a penchant for growling and starts seeing a gentle side to him that wasn’t there before.

Yet there’s a room that Beast keeps locked and Belle keeps getting hints that Beast is hiding something…can a nerdy librarian tame the beast or will their romance be over before it has a chance to blossom?

As is my way, I requested this book without realising it was the second in a series. In fact I didn’t really realise until I was a little way into it and figured that Cindy and PJ must’ve been the topic of a previous book. However there was enough info in this one for me not to feel lost, as it was recapped how the Naughty Princesses began and where they were at in their journey.

Belle works at the local library, which is struggling. So much so that they get a paltry few new books a month and Belle dreams of the days where she used to open up boxes and boxes of books. As well as her professional life being a struggle, her personal life is no better. She still lives at home, in the basement of her very overprotective father’s house and still has a curfew. When she gets herself kicked out, Belle is too polite to tell her friends, dossing down in the library until she is rescued by the ‘Beast’ – PJ’s enforcer/doorman at his club. He’s a man of few words, an intimidating presence but Belle isn’t afraid of him. In fact in their two previous encounters, she’s boldly stood up to him, something she generally doesn’t ever do.

Belle and the Beast, aka Vincent Adams, are definitely opposites. Belle is quite young and has led a very sheltered life. She’s a bit naive and until meeting the other naughty princesses, didn’t seem to have many close fiends. She spouts random facts when she’s uncomfortable or nervous and can be awkward in social situations. Beast is a tank, a man of few words with a gruff and taciturn exterior and most people are incredibly intimidated by him. Despite that outward persona, Beast has a good heart and a generous streak and it’s clear he does want to help Belle, despite the fact that he’s a bit secretive with a potential ulterior motive.

I really enjoy the stripper side of this book – all three of the naughty princesses are learning the craft. Cindy (from book #1) is their only party performer so far, having mastered her routine and it’s Belle’s turn in this book. She spends a lot of time in her head but has to learn to let go and embrace another side of herself. What I also really like is that the men don’t want to change them. PJ accompanies Cindy on her gigs (actually it kind of turns him on to do so) but he doesn’t want her to do something else. Beast agrees to help Belle become more confident with her sexual side, teach her to flirt or at least interact with the opposite sex without being awkward and the two of them have good chemistry. It’s the sort where Belle can’t see his interest because she doesn’t know how to interpret the signs, but for the reader it’s quite obvious.

I loved this, it was just perfect for a fun, quick read with some good banter and a very different story. In fact as soon as I’d finished I went and bought the first book and read that too. I can’t wait for Ariel’s story – she and Eric have already had some moments, so should be good to see their story play out. I am really enjoying the connection to fairytales and seeing them in a modern day setting. I’m really glad I discovered this series – and author. I’ll be checking out her other books too.

9/10

Book #92 of 2018

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May Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 15
Fiction: 14
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 2
Books On My TBR List: 4
Books in a Series: 9
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 2
Male/Female Authors: 0/15** – 2 books are by “Robert Galbraith” but we all know that’s really J.K Rowling so I’m not counting them as books read by a male author.
Kindle Books: 5
Books I Owned or Bought: 5
Favourite Book(s): On The Right Track by Penelope Janu, The Art Of Friendship by Lisa Ireland, Staying: A Memoir by Jessie Cole, At The Stroke Of Midnight and In Bed With The Beast by Tara Sivec.
Least Favourite Books: Nothing really rates a mention this month!
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 0 – because this is the year of no challenges!

Hello, I’m back! It feels like forever since I sat down and wrote a blog post but it’s really only been about a week I suppose. Which is actually quite a long time for me to go without visiting this little space. But I’ve been suuuuper busy packing to move, actually moving and then unpacking. There’s still quite a bit to go, there’s a few carloads of junk still at the old place which we need to sort out this week and I also need to arrange my bookshelves and reshelve my books. But apart from that, we are pretty much done with the move and it’s been great so far. Except when we moved in on a Saturday and had no gas connection until Monday (it was supposed to be done Friday) which meant no heating, no hot water and no stovetop for 2 days. And it’s been lovely and cold in Melbourne, so yeah, that was fun. Watching TV at night time under 2 quilts because the house was about 10 degrees! But everything is all sorted now.

May was still a pretty decent reading month, despite everything that went on. I managed 15 books. I don’t think I read a book after the 26th May, just had far too much to do. And my books were all in massive piles anyway. Thankfully I was super organised with my blog tour post for the wonderful Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett. I got that read early and my review scheduled so it was all ready to go to kick off the tour on the 1st June. If you haven’t checked that review out (and there’s an Aussie only giveaway of a signed copy!) then definitely go have a look over here.

And so it is June. Here’s my pile of books:

 

It’s quite large, isn’t it? I am not sure if I’ll make it through all of them this month but I’ll try! I’m particularly looking forward to The Kiss Quotient, I’ve heard quite a few good things about that one. I’ve never read Lauren Weisberger…..I’m not sure if you need to have read anything else by her before reading this, they seem to inhabit the same world. Will have to investigate. The Book Ninja should be good too. Basically lots of good books here, fingers crossed my unpacking and sorting demands let me get through a good number of them!

Thursday of this week I am off to see Lisa Ireland and Sally Hepworth at a local event, which should be amazing. I would count both among my favourite authors and I’ve been lucky enough to meet Lisa on several occasions as well. One good thing about pulling all my books out was that I was able to set aside the ones I wanted to take with me to get signed, as I found them all when I was transporting them to the new house.

Hope you all had a wonderful reading month in May. If you’ve read anything on my June pile, or you intend to, feel free to let me know 🙂

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Blog Tour Review: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett & ***GIVEAWAY***

Starry Eyes
Jenn Bennett
Simon & Schuster
2018, 419p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best-friends-turned-worst-enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern-day version of the Montagues and Capulets. But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to try to make their way to safety. But as the two travel deeper into the rugged Californian countryside, secrets and hidden feelings surface. Soon it’s not simply a matter of enduring each other’s company, but taming their growing feelings for each other.

So last year Jenn Bennett cemented herself firmly onto my ‘contemporary YA authors to watch’ list with Alex, Approximately which I absolutely loved. So when I heard that she had a new book out this year I signed up a very long way out to read it and I’m super glad to be kicking off the blog tour for Starry Eyes.

Zorie And Lennon were close ever since Zorie moved in across the street from Lennon. Childhood best friends, Lennon helped Zorie with the grief she was feeling losing someone and the two of them became inseparable. And then, about a year ago, their feelings changed slightly. Some of those feelings became a little more than friendly but it all blew up over Homecoming and they haven’t spoken since. Fate throws them together in a group camping trip and when their group of 6 becomes a group of 2, Zorie and Lennon have the first opportunity in a long time to hear each other out and find out what went wrong.

Oh my gosh, this book ticks so many of my boxes. I’m a huge, huge fan of a pairing being forced together, whether it be by accident or design, especially if it’s in an isolated location. Lennon and Zorie are part of a larger group going “glamping” during a school break. It’s the first real time they’ve been in each other’s company since things went wrong the previous year on Homecoming night and both of them are definitely finding it difficult. But apart from that, the threads of their old friendship (and maybe a little else) are still there. Even when they’re not trying, they’re connecting with each other but it’s not until they’re alone with days of hiking and camping stretching out in front of them, that they really get down to picking apart what what wrong and how it happened.

I love the setting for this novel. I’m not into camping at all but for some reason I really love reading books set in the wilderness. For this book, it creates a real aura of intimacy between Lennon and Zorie. Prior to the trip away, they have very limited interactions and they are full of awkward hostility but also a simmering…..something. And then once they are forced to really communicate and can’t just run away from each other, or brush things off or think that they hate each other (mostly Zorie trying to convince herself that she hates Lennon) you see the depth of the friendship they would’ve had, the strength of their feelings and wonder just how it all went so wrong.

I really enjoyed both the background and family of both Zorie and Lennon. It was really refreshing and positive to see Zorie’s incredibly deep bond with her stepmother and the desire she had to really protect her stepmother from being hurt and the love her stepmother had for her as well. She came into Zorie’s life when Zorie was an older child but the two had really managed to build something very special that was really lovely to read and experience. Neither Zorie nor Lennon have a birth dad/birth mother family but they have close and believable relationships with the adults in their lives. Often relationships between teens and parents in YA are absent (as are the actual parents) but in the two books I’ve read by Jenn Bennett there’s been some really sensitive crafting of family units and time taken to explore the changing relationships between parents and teens as the teens move toward adulthood and those adult type relationships and interactions.

I love angsty romance and there’s nothing more angsty than best friends turned enemies with all of the feelings. I really liked the way this story kept me guessing as to what had happened between them. We are in Zorie’s head from the beginning so her hurt and pain is really obvious but Lennon isn’t so much of an open book. There are only hints and suggestions that he’s not quite as unaffected by their separation as Zorie seems to think. She doesn’t seem to be able to view him objectively because she’s so hurt and her pride seems to prevent her from seeking him out to get an explanation, until she really has no choice but to talk to him. And I found that believable – no one is going to seek out the person that hurt and humiliated them and potentially set yourself up for more heartache. And when they are together, it’s not easy. There’s a lot for them to both unpick, the hurt feelings and resentment and some of the hardest stuff is still to come.

I am so happy that this book lived up to the high expectations I had after reading the previous one. It was such a good exploration of teens stretching their wings, seeking that freedom and I loved the camping and hiking setting. It was such a great backdrop to frame Zorie and Lennon relying on each other and letting go a lot of that resentment and negativity in order to get through being left alone and to where they wanted to go. They work really well as a team but there’s still plenty of angst and deep feelings to wade through. I have several in Jenn Bennett’s backlist to get through but I think I’m kind of saving them for the time I’m going to need them most.

9/10

Book #95 of 2019

You can check out the rest of the stops on the tour HERE

About Jenn Bennett:
Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of several young adult books, including ALEX, APPROXIMATELY and STARRY EYES. She also writes romance and fantasy for adults. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs. Visit her at www.jennbennett.net.

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***GIVEAWAY***

Thanks to the truly fabulous people at Simon & Schuster Australia, I have a signed copy of Starry Eyes to give away. To enter simply fill out the form below – open to Australian residents only.

 

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Review: A Place To Remember by Jenn J. McLeod

A Place To Remember
Jenn J. McLeod
Head Of Zeus
2018, 467p
Copy courtesy Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A man loses five years of his life. Two women are desperate for him to remember.

Running away for the second time in her life, twenty-seven-year old Ava believes the cook’s job at a country B&B is perfect, until she meets the owner’s son, John Tate. At twenty, the fifth generation grazier is a beguiling blend of both man, boy and a terrible flirt. With their connection immediate and intense, they begin a clandestine affair right under the noses of John’s formidable parents.

Thirty years later, Ava returns to Candlebark Creek with her daughter, Nina, who is determined to meet her mother’s lost love for herself. While struggling to find her own place in the world, Nina discovers an urban myth about a love-struck man, a forgotten engagement ring, and a dinner reservation back in the eighties. Now she must decide if revealing the truth will hurt more than it heals…

A new Jenn J. McLeod novel is always cause for a celebration for me so I’ve kind of been keeping this one for a rainy day. I started reading it last week to take a break from the craziness and it was such a good story to get engrossed in and just while away some peaceful hours.

Ava Marchette is in her late 50s when she comes across an article about artist John Tate. She is transported back thirty years in time, to when she was a young woman in her late 20s, working for the Tate family on their cattle property Ivy-May. Ava had fled a difficult home life and although she hadn’t finished school, she was an accomplished cook with a dream to one day study in Paris. Although there’s a connection between her and John Tate, heir to the vast property, it’s clear that to Mrs Tate at the very least, Ava is not an option for her son. It’s a world she doesn’t inhabit and they have plans to join their property with the one next door, with John earmarked for Katie, the neighbour’s daughter.

I don’t often read a romance where the woman is older, especially when the male is only twenty. It was quite refreshing to see and the two of them complimented each other well. It seemed like John could truly be himself around Ava, and indulge the love he had for cooking, something that wasn’t really fostered in the family station environment. John was expected to work the land, things like cooking delegated to hired help. An added complication to their blossoming romance is Katie, the almost eighteen year old next door neighbour who definitely dreams of being Mrs John Tate as soon as she comes of age. Katie comes with the added attraction of her adjoining land, although John doesn’t have any romantic feelings toward her. This is of little consequence to his formidable mother, who believes that Katie will make him a good wife and the two will build on the family dynasty.

Jenn J. McLeod takes the reader on some unexpected twists, including why Ava and John were separated, all those years ago so soon after declaring their mutual love for each other. I really enjoyed a lot of the intricacies of the story and the way in which characters were developed and fleshed out. Even Katie, somewhat an unsympathetic character for a very large portion of the book, has several reveals that made me see her in an entirely different light. I still don’t agree with a lot of her choices and motives but I can definitely better understand them, especially with the position she was in at the time.

Also woven into the story is that of Ava’s daughter Nina, struggling with finding her place in the world, and John’s son Blair. After Ava visits John’s family home after a thirty year absence and confesses her connection to the place to Nina, her daughter decides to see this place for herself and the man that made such a mark on her mother. After getting off to a somewhat rocky start when Blair mistakes the reason Nina is there, the two find some common ground. I really liked the character of Nina, who was not really sure what her role of place was. Her mother had this amazing company that she’d built from scratch, her brother had found his niche within it, as well as marrying and having a family but Nina had yet to find that satisfaction in either her personal or her professional life. This is something I quite identify with (the professional part) and it’s interesting to read about people who are struggling in that way. She has a job, it’s fine but it doesn’t seem to particularly fulfil her. But through her visits to Candlebark Creek, a seed is born.

I found this book really satisfying overall. It had such an intriguing premise upon reading the beginning – why have these people been separated for thirty years? How did this happen? And in going forward and getting the answers to all my questions there were surprises and clever twists along the way as well as a thread of hope. I loved the part about the mystery surrounding the ring and that was just another loose end from quite early on that played much bigger part later in the book.

Another fantastic read from an author who always delivers a really lovely story.

8/10

Book #96 of 2018

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Mini Reviews {2}: What I’ve Been Reading Lately

A few months ago I did the first of these posts where I wrote brief reviews for books I’d read that I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing in full. Sometimes now every book suits a full review so I thought I’d do a few more, given my time is a bit stretched right now.

Undone By You (Chicago Rebels 2.5)
Kate Meader
Pocket Star
2018, 184p
Purchased personal copy

I’m not sure why this is 2.5 in this series rather than 3, maybe it’s a bit shorter than the others, I don’t know. Dante is the General Manager of Chicago Rebels, the NHL team that populates this book. He’s a former player and openly gay, the only openly gay managing executive in the league. Dante is incredibly passionate about his job and he’s also confident in himself and his choices, even though they’ve cost him. He’s attracted to one of his players, Cade “Alamo” Burnett but Cade is younger and definitely not out. They might be able to have one night, but this is definitely not for the long haul. For lots of reasons.

I really enjoyed this. The seeds were sown in previous books and I’m just really liking this series. I don’t read a lot of m/m romance and this is delightfully over the top but there’s also a lot of really serious stuff in there too, such as negotiating being openly gay in what is a very brutal, macho, aggressively heterosexual world. There are plenty of bigots within the league, those who make jokes about backs to the wall when Dante walks into the dressing room. Dante has already been through the painful process of ‘coming out’ both to his family and publicly but Cade hasn’t done either. Dante knows what he wants and it’s not to be hidden away, a shameful secret. But Cade has to make his own choices about how he plans to live his life and Dante doesn’t want to be the only reason why.

This was quite thought provoking as well as fun and a nice addition. I can’t wait for book 3.

7/10

Book #85 of 2018

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2)
Robert Galbraith
Mulholland Books
2014, 455p
Read from my local library

I read the first in this series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, quite a few years ago. I think I borrowed this one from my library and maybe even began it, because the beginning felt very familiar. But I definitely never finished it. However recently, my husband and I started watching C.B. Strike, the BBC adaptation of the Cormoran Strike books. I really like the adaptation – Tom Burke is fabulous (loved him in The Musketeers, which I watched and tweeted with Marg from Marg Reads and Jenna, aka Bookish Belle/BuzzFeed) and Holliday Grainger is great as Robin. We watched the episodes that dealt with the first book and then I went to the library to pick up 2&3 to read before we watched the episodes relating to those.

I greatly enjoyed the story in this one – Strike is hired to find a “famous” writer by his wife and discovers that the disappearance comes at a time where a manuscript he wrote has been shopped around by his agent that pretty much lambasts everyone he knows in deeply obvious and recognisable ways. All of a sudden it seems that there might be a lot of people with motives for making the writer disappear. Once again I didn’t guess the way things went, which was lots of fun. And I really appreciate the dynamic between Strike and Robin.

8/10

Book #88 of 2018

 Career Of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3)
Robert Galbraith
Mulholland Books
2015, 492p
Read from my local library

The third Cormoran Strike book and the latest one currently published. I didn’t realise until I read this that it’s been over 3 years since J.K. Rowling published one of these. I think the first 3 came out in 3 consecutive years. Recently I read on twitter she’s apparently just finished book 4, so hopefully that’ll be out late this year or early next and then the TV adaptation can get to working on the next instalment.

This is both the one I found to be the most interesting, plot wise but yet it also felt really long and like it took quite a while to read, which is weird. Robin is sent a severed leg and when Strike is asked if he can think of someone who might do this, he comes up with 3 names and decides to investigate himself. There’s also a lot going on with Robin and her fiancé which dominates the book and a few things are finally revealed. A lot of people out there don’t want Strike and Robin to be anything other than professional colleagues, with Strike teaching her the ways of private investigation and I can understand that. Quite often delving into romance can ruin things – however I loathe Matthew, Robin’s fiancé and he needs to go away. I am into the “do they, don’t they” between Strike and Robin and there are a lot of really emotional interactions in this book, especially when Strike loses it at her for something she does regarding a case. And then there’s the ending. Ugh. I feel for people who read this three years ago and have been waiting to find out what the heck happens. But mostly, Matt you are a huge tosser. Be gone.

8/10

Book #90 of 2018

At The Stroke Of Midnight (Naughty Princess Club #1)
Tara Sivec
Swerve
2018, 261p
Purchased personal copy

I actually requested the second book on NetGalley and read that recently and although it wasn’t really necessary to go back and read the first, I enjoyed the second so much I decided to. They’re quick and really fun. Cynthia, Isabelle and Ariel (aka Cindy, Belle and Ariel…..) are in need of money for various reasons and after a miscommunication decide that stripping and performing at parties might be their best option. And so the Naughty Princess Club is born.

These books are just really funny and not to be taken seriously. What I really like about them is how they find men who don’t want to change them and aren’t bothered by what they do for a living because it’s just that – a job. In this one the chemistry between Cindy and PJ is loads of fun and takes them both by surprise. PJ is somewhat dismissive of Cindy, a housewife and mother of a teenager and that’s all the motivation she needs. There’s a lot of emphasis on the women finding their sexual groove and confidence, as well as letting go of worrying what people think of them and that whole keeping up with the Joneses mentality. I really liked the first 2 and can’t wait for the last one.

9/10

Book #93 of 2018

Beauty And The Geek (Gone Geek #1)
Sidney Bristol
Inked Press
2016, 233p
Freebie via iBooks

This one was just ok – Steven Kipper is a professor and Tamara Roh works in the gaming industry. They’ve been talking (and quite a lot more) online for quite a while without ever seeing each other’s faces. Until something Steven does means that Tamara has to seek him out in person to settle a misunderstanding. The chemistry from online translates effortlessly into real life but the road is not entirely smooth.

There were things I liked about this – their jobs were interesting. Tamara is apparently, “really hot” and also Asian so she gets a lot of “hot token Asian in gaming” comments and attitudes. Men mostly seem to want her for a trophy, not because they appreciate her. She’s very intelligent as well and getting to know Steven without him seeing her face gives her a kind of validation that he’s not just into her because she fulfils a fantasy. Steven also has a physical imperfection that many people have found repulsive and so it’s freeing for him as well to get to know a woman without them seeing his face.

The conflict was a bit lacklustre for me but I enjoyed the gaming world setting. I don’t think I’ll go on with the series though.

6/10

Book #94 of 2018

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Times Are Changing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Last Of The Bonegilla Girls by Victoria Purman

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

Book #91 of 2018

 

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Review: Staying by Jessie Cole

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10

Book #89 of 2018

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Review: Paris Syndrome by Lisa Walker

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

Book #87 of 2018

 

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Review: The Art Of Friendship by Lisa Ireland

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

We all expect our friendships from childhood to last forever…

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

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

Or does it?

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

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

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

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

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

9/10

Book #86 of 2018

 

 

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