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Review: A Lifetime Of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

A Lifetime Of Impossible Days 
Tabitha Bird
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 395p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Meet Willa Waters, aged 8 . . . 33 . . . and 93.

On one impossible day in:

1965, eight-year-old Willa Waters receives a mysterious box containing a jar of water and the instruction: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’ So she does – and somehow creates an extraordinary time-slip that allows her to visit her future selves.

On one impossible day in:

1990, Willa is 33 and a mother-of-two when her childhood self magically appears in her backyard. But she’s also a woman haunted by memories of her dark past – and is on the brink of a decision that will have tragic repercussions . . .

On one impossible day in:

2050 Willa is a silver-haired, gumboot-loving 93-year-old whose memory is fading fast. Yet she knows there’s something she has to remember, a warning she must give her past selves about a terrible event in 1990 . . . If only she could recall what it was.

Can the three Willas come together, to heal their past and save their future . . . before it’s too late?

This book has been on my TBR bookshelf for quite a while. I’ve been wanting to read it but I knew I’d have to be in the perfect mood to be able to do so, having been warned that it does contain reference to some pretty dark stuff. The perfect day came recently when I spotted it and somehow just knew that it was the right time.

This is an ambitious debut, taking in three different times in the life of Willa, who is 8, 33 and 93 in this novel. At 93, she urgently posts two boxes: one to her childhood self and one to “middle Willa”, who is as the name suggests, in the middle. The boxes contain “one ocean: plant in the backyard” and when both 8yo Willa and 33yo Willa do so (33yo Willa reluctantly/inadvertently), the mango tree in the backyard allows the three Willas to travel between the timeframes. For 93yo Willa, she’s desperate to “go back” and fix things in her life, change the outcome. For 8yo Willa, it’s the chance to get away from the lurking danger and if she’s successful, it may change the way that 33yo Willa feels and the damage she is about to do to her life.

This is a really difficult book to review because the three Willas cross in and out of each other’s times and interact in different combinations a lot of the time. However despite this, you get a clear picture of each of them and where they’re at in their lives – and in terms of the later Willas, how they got there in a way. The youngest Willa is defiant and angry but also desperately scared and traumatised as well. She’s blocked out a significant event and is struggling with the meaning of that as well as trying to protect her younger sister. Middle Willa has carved a life for herself away from her childhood home but she struggles with the events that shaped her. When her son spills the jar of water, “planting” the ocean, her life as she knows it shifts and changes and it takes her a while to find her equilibrium with what is happening. At first Middle Willa doesn’t want anything to do with the mango tree or the ocean that allows the Willas to interact with her each other, much to the frustration and anger of Super Gumboots Willa, the 8 year old. All the Willas are brilliantly rendered but I think 93yo Willa for many reasons, sticks with me. It’s her determination, her single-mindedness to do this, even though she’s at a time in her life where she’s very forgetful. She has to write everything down so she doesn’t forget and as the story unfolds, it’s clear that some of the things she’s forgotten are perhaps her mind’s way of coping with what has happened. She’s trying to avoid going into an assisted living facility (nursing home) at all costs even though it’s becoming apparent that she’s a bit of a danger to herself on her own. Her interactions with her carer and also her daughter and son are so powerful and set the scene of her age and determination so well.

There’s a creeping darkness in this book, it’s not immediately obvious although there’s things that 93yo Willa wants to change but it takes a while for everything to be revealed, what Willa has been through and how it affected her life, the life of her younger sister, the lives of her children, her husband, her grandmother. The bond young Willa shares with her grandmother is an incredible one and it’s clear that her grandmother is perhaps the biggest and most positive influence in her life. Willa’s mother is not in a good place, struggling with grief and coping with violence and at times she seems to demand too much of her daughters and I can’t decide if she wasn’t able to face the reality of their situation or just didn’t want to. The scenes from Middle Willa’s life seem to suggest probably the latter.

It took me a little while to settle into the story and the changing narrative of the three Willas and the ways in which they were popping in and out of each other’s specific times but when I did, I found myself really invested in this powerful novel and the story of Willa trying to help her younger selves so that they might live better lives. It’s really well written with strongly defined characters and despite some of the subject matter, there’s such a feeling of hope about the story, like you feel like anything is possible. Will definitely read more by Tabitha Bird in the future.

8/10

Book #198 of 2020

This is book #76 read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: The Improper Bride by Lily Maxton

The Improper Bride (Sisters Of Scandal #5)
Lily Maxton
Entangled: Scandalous
2016, 292
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cold, arrogant, and demanding Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton, would never dally with a mere servant. But when Henry is injured in a horrible fire, his pretty housekeeper Cassandra nurses him back to health, throwing them together day and night. As he slowly heals from his burns, their friendship blossoms, and the class walls between them start to crumble. Cassandra is surprised by glimpses of a kind and thoughtful man beneath her employer’s hard façade—and even more surprised when she develops tender feelings for him. But anything between lord and servant is impossible…and besides, as a widow, she knows love only leads to heartbreak.

Henry is changing, as well. His close brush with death has opened his eyes to his self-imposed emotional isolation…and has urgently reminded him of his duty to marry a well-bred lady and produce an heir. Determined to do right by his family name, he immediately begins searching for a suitable bride. But Cassandra is the only woman who is never far from his mind or his heart. Contrary to everything he’s been taught to believe, he realizes his lovely housekeeper might just be his perfect match. Now, if only he could convince everyone else of that. Especially Cassandra…

This was also recommended in the thread I read on the romance subreddit where someone wanted books where grumpy, cold heroes fall in love with sunshiney heroines (aka Slytherins falling in love with Hufflepuffs). I’d disagree that this fits the bill of that last one. Cassandra doesn’t really seem like a Hufflepuff in my admittedly very limited Harry Potter knowledge. And although the hero was arrogant, it was more just he was completely oblivious to those lower in class to him, as people of the aristocracy pretty much always were.

However, Henry is quite badly burned in a fire and during his long convalescence his physician tells Cassandra, his housekeeper that if she can, she should find something to occupy his mind, lest he sink into a depression. Cassandra has an idea to get Henry to teach her a foreign language and once he gets past his incredulity that someone of a lower class might seek to learn something, he sort of agrees. The more time they spend together, the more attractive he finds her and even though the fire has made him feel his mortality and the need to further his line, the one woman he wants is one he feels he can never have (at first) given how far below him she is.

Cassandra is Not Like Other Housekeepers. She’s quite young, about 32, which although “old” in terms of women of marriageable age, is young for someone in such a position. She’s a widow and Henry is enamoured by her hair and her eyes. She also doesn’t mind telling him when he’s been rude or lacks manners, especially towards the staff. Henry doesn’t see the need to know their names or to thank them for “doing their jobs” – they should be invisible and carry out his every whim. Which was pretty much how most people seemed to feel about their household staff but Cassandra takes it upon herself to educate Henry that his staff are also people albeit not as privileged as he is, particularly when one of the maids seems to have potentially been taken advantage of.

This was okay. I feel like it doesn’t really address the actual reality of someone like Cassandra marrying so far above her station. She was a housekeeper, Henry is heir to a Dukedom. It would’ve been quite the scandal and this is something that absolutely concerns her whereas Henry, when he decides what he wants, is more like ‘meh, who cares?’ but there’s not really much of an insight as to the actual ways in which this marriage would’ve also made Cassandra’s life difficult as much as it would’ve made it easier. Being snubbed, gossiped about, treated rudely, cut by people etc are things that absolutely do have an impact on a person and it’s likely that any children they had would also have felt the touch of that scandal as well as the opinions of the aristocracy. As a Marquess, Henry would probably be relatively untouched by scandal, apart from the gossip but it’s hard to believe Cassandra finding place among the Countesses and Duchesses of society. Which fine, they might not wish to spend much time within it but the book for the most part, glosses over that sort of thing. Dukes, would-be Dukes etc, marrying below them is not an uncommon theme in historical romance and I suppose the reality of it isn’t particularly romantic but it’s something a lot of books mention and then immediately forget, or the charm and vivaciousness of the former housekeeper or poor person wins everyone over in the first five minutes of their introduction to society.

Because I spent a lot of time thinking about this, I wasn’t really that invested in the story. Henry’s evolution of arrogant, dickish Lord of the Manor who doesn’t know the name of his servants or care about their existence as long as they jump when he snaps his fingers to the complete opposite felt quite rapid and the duel at the end seemed really out of left field. This was fine in terms of it held my interest so that I finished it but I didn’t love it and wouldn’t seek out any more.

5/10

Book #186 of 2020

 

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Review: The Minute I Saw You by Paige Toon

The Minute I Saw You 
Paige Toon
Simon & Schuster UK
2020, 400p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Some people believe that it’s possible to fall in love simply by gazing into another person’s eyes . . .

When Hannah and Sonny meet, a spark ignites that is hard to ignore and impossible to forget. Weeks later, their paths cross again, but Sonny appears distant and reluctant to meet Hannah’s eye. It soon transpires that Sonny is at a crossroads. He’s committed to making serious life changes – ones that can’t and won’t include romance.

Hannah has her own reasons for wanting to keep their budding friendship platonic. Plus, she’s only in town temporarily, housesitting for her uncle. But as the summer hots up and the chemistry between them intensifies, Hannah and Sonny discover that there’s more to each other than meets the eye…

It’s not every month that I finish the TBR I set for myself. But in September I did and with a few days to spare. So I decided to take some time to read a few library books and a few random books that grabbed my attention before I got stuck into my October TBR. I really like the few Paige Toon novels I’ve read and somehow I missed this one when it was released earlier in the year. It was available on the app my library uses to loan eBooks so I decided to give it a go.

Hannah is a newish dispensing optician at the optometrist Sonny has gone to for most of his life and they meet when he comes for a regular eye test. There’s a load of chemistry and he’s leaving to go back to Amsterdam in a couple of weeks, which suits Hannah – she doesn’t do relationships. But when Sonny comes back to pick up his glasses, he’s like a different person and the chance of them hooking up vanishes. Hannah is surprised that she doesn’t stop thinking about him and surprisingly, they run into each other several times by chance in the next few months. The chemistry is there again but Sonny is troubled and he’s made a few vows to try and get to the bottom of the reason that he cannot form meaningful relationships. He and Hannah decide to try a supportive friendship instead, with no physical activity. That will be something new for Sonny, who seems to have treated women as a never-ending procession of one night stands. Sonny is committed to these changes that he’s making and Hannah is only in England temporarily anyway – she plans to leave again as soon as the uncle she’s housesitting for returns from his extensive overseas holiday. The only thing is, that chemistry won’t go away. And the deeper their friendship becomes, the more they learn to trust each other and confide in each other.

This was a lot different to how I expected it to be! At first Hannah and Sonny have this great chemistry but it doesn’t really go anywhere and when they reconnect, it’s in a way where Hannah’s new friend and her boyfriend know Sonny – and the friend is quick to warn Hannah off him. Sonny seems like a quintessential manwhore, shagging his way through anyone that’ll have him. But a little further on, after Hannah and Sonny decide to be friends, some of the reasonings behind Sonny’s inability to form relationships and lack of connection to women, begin to emerge and finally, he confesses something to Hannah that sheds a lot of light on a lot of things. Sonny’s feelings about this were so well written – they are complex and he’s a seething mix of emotions over it. Hannah is incredibly supportive of Sonny after this confession, being there when he needs it and also respecting his space when he can’t hang out due to his feelings on certain days, even though she misses and worries about him. She encourages him to confide in others, so that they might better understand him as well, even as she is hiding things from him herself. Hannah drops a few hints in the book about her own issues and inability to form meaningful relationships and when her truth comes it, it was also 100% not what I expected and I found her story really interesting. And heartbreaking.

The Minute I Saw You is a love story about two people who struggled with giving themselves completely to another person, for different reasons. Through Sonny’s “vow”, Paige Toon was able to give them a way to create and explore this deep friendship until finally, they realise that they are basically in a relationship. That against all odds, they’ve managed to build something really amazing and that if they just keep on doing what they’re doing, they’ll be fine. It doesn’t have to be this big ‘deal’ to go from their type of friendship, to officially being a couple. They establish huge amounts of trust between them, the sort of secrets they share are the type in which, shared to the wrong person, could seriously inflict incredible psychological damage, which is actually something that Hannah already knows personally.

I really enjoyed this, especially how both Sonny and Hannah learned that they could establish a home rather than moving around the world for work, or travelling to escape the ways in which they’d been hurt. This has reminded me that I really need to read more by Paige Toon, she still has so many books on her backlist that I haven’t read.

8/10

Book #196 of 2020

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Review: Second Chance Lane by Nicola Marsh

Second Chance Lane (Brockenridge #2)
Nicola Marsh
Harlequin AUS
2020, 364p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When the past crashes into the future, there’s more than hearts on the line.

Natasha Trigg leads a simple life in small-town Brockenridge. She works at the roadhouse, has good friends, and at the centre of her world is her daughter, Isla. She knows dumping musician Kody Lansdowne thirteen years ago by misleading him about her pregnancy was best in the long run. She drove him away so he could achieve his dreams but has always felt guilty. When a matchmaking Isla invites a surprise new neighbour to dinner, Tash and Kody come face to face once again…

Now a bona fide rockstar, Kody’s in hiding to sort through the mess his life has become after a concert resulted in devastation. The last thing he needs is discovering he has a child. Especially as it means the one woman he’s never been able to forget is now permanently part of his life. Pity he’s so furious with her…

For Jane Jefferson, who has deliberately fooled townsfolk into believing her reputation is worse than it is for years, a second chance is something she thought she’d never get. Reconnecting with friendships she thought lost forces her to face the question: do past mistakes define you forever?

While navigating the troubled waters of forgiveness, friendship and love, will these three Brockenridge residents discover everyone deserves a second chance?

This is the second novel in Nicola Marsh’s Brockenridge series, centred around a rural Victorian town up in the Murray region. Both books have dealt with people who have grown up in the town, left and returned although Tash was away a much shorter time than Ruby from the first book. Tash was the daughter of very strict religious parents and it was a relief to escape to Melbourne to do a nursing degree. Tash was passionate about her chosen career but meeting Kody at a gig ended up changing everything. After a whirlwind romance, Tash found herself pregnant right on the verge of Kody and his band being offered the biggest break and so she makes the ultimate sacrifice in order for Kody to live his dream.

Now it’s 13 years later and Kody is riding the crest of a wave in his career but at their most recent gig, a terrible thing happened leaving him a mess. He’s holed up at a bandmate’s country property, trying to work through it when he realises that his next door neighbour is Tash….and her 13yo daughter. Their 13yo daughter. Kody is incensed that she kept this from him but he wants to get to know Isla and establish a relationship with her. That means also getting closer to Tash again as they negotiate this new role of co-parenting.

This was a really nice read, I ended up finishing it in one sitting in just a couple of hours. It was good to return to Brockenridge again and catch up with Ruby and Alisha and Harry and learn more about Tash and her young daughter Isla. Tash has raised Isla alone with very little in the way of assistance from anyone. She has made friends back in Brockenridge, returning when she was pregnant, hoping for support from her family despite their strict religious beliefs. When that wasn’t forthcoming, Tash got on with it alone and she’s proud of her daughter. With Kody’s shock arrival in town, Tash realises that everything is about to change – she’ll have to tell Isla the truth about her father and facilitate a relationship between them. And she’s well aware that if Kody chooses to, legally he could make things very difficult for her. And she can’t compete with Kody’s money and lifestyle.

As in the first novel, there’s a secondary story here too, with a romance component. Readers will remember Jane as Ruby’s teenage antagonist and we get a lot more of her story in this book, which helps shed light on why she was the way she was in high school and how she’s doing now. I always enjoy a good redemption story and thought Marsh did a wonderful job of bringing Jane to life and giving the reader some insight into her childhood, the reasoning for her behaviour and even as an adult. There are things that shape us that we find hard to let go of and I enjoyed the way she and Murray interacted. It took up just the right amount of page time although there were times when I thought Murray might’ve needed to let go the things that happened some 13 years ago!

Back to Kody and Tash and I thought that Kody definitely had every right to be angry at Tash for the lie she told him and the fact she denied him 13 years of getting to know his daughter, of being a parent. Even though Tash was doing what she thought was the best thing to do at the time (something Kody does later acknowledge to himself) it doesn’t change the fact that she definitely took a choice away from him, even if she was doing it to benefit him. He also got to come in and be this famous figure to Isla which gave them somewhat of an idealised relationship – it didn’t feel at all like a parent-child relationship and perhaps they might never have that. I thought it was a bit rough when he asked for all the holidays when trying to work out custody – Tash deserved ‘downtime’ with Isla as well, rather than just parenting her through all the school year and doing the harder yards only for her to be able to have holidays with Kody and spend all her “fun time” with him. I was surprised there wasn’t an attempt to negotiate this but Tash seemed too fearful of trying to counter-offer in case Kody brought in lawyers when she could ill-afford to fight legally. Even though all of this wasn’t particularly relevant in the end I think Tash felt too guilty really, to try and balance things out a bit more.

This was enjoyable and I feel as though the next Brockenridge book might already be in the works!

7/10

Book #199 of 2020

This was book #77 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 6th October

Hello and welcome to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created & hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now lives with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl and features a different book or literary themed topic each week! Our topic today is…..

Book Covers With Fall Spring Vibes

It’s spring here in Australia! And we had our first 30 degree (Celsius, because inevitably there will be one person that goes “but 30 degrees is cold”) day of the season on the weekend. Of course it’s now 13 degrees because, Melbourne but those first couple of really warm spring days tell you that the light is shining at the end of the winter tunnel. I don’t really theme my reading to coincide with the seasons (a lot of them are backwards for me anyway, winter books at Christmas time etc), nor do I generally really notice “seasonal” covers unless they’re particularly pretty. One thing I noticed was that well, these covers are all going to be quite similar because when I think spring, apparently I think of one thing.

1. All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

This cover isn’t really done justice by the picture here. The colours are awesome and the more you look at it, the more you notice hidden in it. It’s crammed with Australian native wildflowers.

2. The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

These are also all Australian native flowers – Waratah down the bottom there, Sturt’s desert pea up top left and many others. I adore this book as well, it’s all about flowers and their meanings.

3. The Lost Summers Of Driftwood by Vanessa McCausland

Yes, this book is about summer but the flowers just make me think spring. And it arrived with dried rose petals falling out of the envelope, which was really awesome.

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

This is the first time I’ve ever seen this cover. I love it!

5. The Keeper Of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

This book actually has a couple of covers that are very spring like!

6. The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh

I honestly don’t even know what season lavender grows in and this book is set in a different hemisphere anyway but this book just gives me definite spring vibes. It looks much prettier than the crops of canola that grow near here and give me horrific hay fever!

7. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

I haven’t read this one and I chose it over including the cover for The Clockmaker’s Daughter, which is floral because I was trying to choose a few different spring-type covers. This sort of makes me feel like when everything is beginning to flourish again after winter and it’s super green but still a bit damp from the winter weather.

8. The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

Some birds as well as flowers this time!

9. Bottlebrush Creek by Maya Linnell

I always think of spring as like renovation season as well – the time to get started on any big projects so you have as much time as possible to get things done before winter. The characters in this book buy a property to renovate it and it’s on land and this whole book is a spring vibe!

10. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

I really love Sarah Addison Allen’s books and I probably could’ve chosen more than one to fit this theme (or any other season) but I felt like this one definitely has a lot of spring feels! It’s the growing season after all (but this garden is a little bit different).

To be honest, this was a little harder than I anticipated – a lot of the covers are quite similar, because apparently flowers are the dominant thought when it comes to spring. I feel like it might be the hardest season to capture in book covers – fall has loads of covers, there are heaps of winter/snow covers out there and probably even more beach/summer themed ones. But I got there in the end!

 

 

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Review: Here Is The Beehive by Sarah Crossan

Here Is The Beehive
Sarah Crossan
Bloomsbury ANZ
2020, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

it happened,
again and again
and
again and again and again.

Together
apart.
In love
in aching.

Tangled
unravelling.

Ana and Connor have been having an affair for three years. In hotel rooms and coffee shops, swiftly deleted texts and briefly snatched weekends, they have built a world with none but the two of them in it.

But then the unimaginable happens, and Ana finds herself alone, trapped inside her secret.

How can we lose someone the world never knew was ours? How do we grieve for something no one else can ever find out? In her desperate bid for answers, Ana seeks out the shadowy figure who has always stood just beyond her reach – Connor’s wife Rebecca.

Peeling away the layers of two overlapping marriages, Here is the Beehive is a devastating excavation of risk, obsession and loss.

I don’t read a lot of novels in verse. Although I’ve actually read two this year pretty close together, which is unusual for me. I’m generally the type of person who wants more in my storytelling and sometimes I find verse a difficult medium to get stuff of meaning across. But I’ve read Sarah Crossan before and I’d heard good things about this and I was curious. Also it was available through my local library’s app for eBooks so instant gratification for the win.

Ana is a lawyer, working seemingly in wills and inheritance laws and she meets Connor at work, when he comes to her to have his will drawn up and trust funds for his three children. For the last three years, they’ve been having a very on/off affair. Ana seems ready to leave her life – she’s also married, with children. But Connor does not at all seem in the same place. He continually says that he cannot leave his wife and Ana often loses her patience with this. One of them will say it has to end, they’ll separate for a while. But eventually, they’ll come together again and things will resume. One day, Ana finds out that Connor has died when his wife calls the office to request how to go ahead with his will. Ana is gobsmacked and at first, thinks it’s some sort of joke. How could this be? She was speaking to him on the day he died. Actually, just beforehand. But the reality then sinks in and Ana is lost, set adrift in a world of pain and grief that she can’t even confide to people in, because no one she knows, knows about the affair. Ana seeks out Connor’s widow Rebecca, ostensibly to provide practical help and advice, but to also snatch a little bit more of Connor while she can.

I think that in this case, the verse format helps convey Ana’s broken frame of mind, the messiness of her emotions and her grief. She’s completely blindsided by the news that Connor is dead and it’s only because she was also his lawyer that she even finds out when she does. She has a lot of feelings that she struggles with, the disbelief that he is gone is primary but she must “soldier on” so to speak, keep turning up to work and getting things done because no one knows that she has any reason not to. And it’s not something she can really tell people either, she can’t request leave from her boss or tell her best friend why she’s losing weight, not doing well. No one knew (except one friend of Connor’s) and because of that Ana must wade through the fog herself, reminiscing about their relationship. It’s through these memories that we learn how they met, how they first began the affair and the tricky back and forth of it.

Everything about this is destructive. Connor and Ana’s relationship is destructive, even when it’s at its height. By the way it began, it’s full of drama and fighting and making up and accusations and demands and jealousy. And I felt like all of that was conveyed really well. The reader knows that Connor is married immediately but it takes a little while for the author to reveal that Ana is as well, and that she has children. The way Ana treats her husband is really pretty vile in this – and I know we’re getting a snapshot in time, especially when she’s not in a terribly good place. But she couldn’t make it any more obvious how she feels a lot of the time and the affair she’s conducting with Connor is ruining so many of her other relationships. She seems to place him above all others. It doesn’t feel grandly romantic, it feels secretive and sly and incredibly, incredibly toxic. Connor is dead and now all we get are Ana’s remembrances but it was hard to warm to him. Connor seemed like the guy that quintessentially wanted it all – the wife in the lovely home, the three kids…..and then the mistress on the side. He never seems like he’s ever going to leave his wife, no matter what and Ana keeps trying to force him to. She even threatens to call his wife and tell her. This is all consuming in Ana’s life, it seems more obsession than love, I’m not sure if it’s an escape? But if it is, it doesn’t seem to be a very enjoyable or peaceful one.

The ending felt very sudden, and ripped me out of the story at what felt like a key point in both Ana’s development personally and also within her marriage. I wanted to know what happened next – even though it’s not really what the story was about. But that was honestly, the part that I was the most invested in and it was when the book ended, which felt disappointing. But in terms of conveying the messiness and chaos of Ana’s emotions, I think the format was used in a really clever way. I just wanted her to take responsibility for some of the mess in her home life and it seemed like the story ended just as she was about to do just that.

6/10

Book #194 of 2020

 

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Review: This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

This Tender Land
William Kent Krueger
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 450p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

For fans of Before We Were Yours and Where the Crawdads Sing, a magnificent novel about four orphans on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression, from the New York Times bestselling author of Ordinary Grace.

1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.

When I had a free trial of Scribd for a while, right at the beginning of the whole global pandemic/lockdown situation, I saw a few of this author’s books on there but until I received this one for review, I’d never read any. This was a beautifully written novel, a coming of age type of story about a pair of siblings, orphaned and sent to live in a boarding school for Native American children due to overcrowding in the state orphanage. It’s a cruel place where they are “loaned out” to local farmers to learn the value of hard work, where although they eat three meals a day, the food is thin and tasteless, barely enough to keep young boys growing and satisfied. There are cruelties as well, regular beatings with a strap and a dark room where punishment is metered out. And Odie, our main character, sees a lot of that room. And a lot of beatings. After an ‘incident’, Odie, his brother Albert, their friend Mose and a young girl named Emmy are forced to flee, using the canoe from Emmy’s place to sail down the Gilead River, heading for the Mississippi.

The ‘boarding school’ is tough to read about – some of these children are orphans, like Odie and Albert, who are actually the only two white children at the school. The others are taken from their homes on reservations and the like by the government, who rounded up Native American children to ‘better them’ in some sort of backward philosophy to make them white: “Kill the Indian, save the man”. It’s all very Stolen Generation type thing, the children are not even treated with any sort of kindness or respect: the Native American children have their hair cut, they aren’t allowed to converse in their languages or practice their cultural beliefs. There’s at least one ‘teacher’ in charge that the children know to avoid being alone with at all costs – beatings aren’t the only thing he enjoys torturing them with.

They are four young children on the run in a tough time. They have to be clever and resourceful, to think fast and on their feet and also, to know when to pick their battles. As four children, they aren’t always going to have the upper hand and the consequences of being caught by the authorities will be severe. More than anything, the three boys want to protect Emmy and she is a lot of the time, their primary motivation for the choices they make and the routes they take. They try to stick to the river as much as possible, to stay out of sight and lay low but that isn’t always possible. They meet many others on their journeys, some good interactions, some not so. Most of the people they meet leave a mark on at least one of them.

Odie as a narrator, sucked me into the story immediately. He was such a powerful voice, his frank portrayal of life at the boarding school and how the children did the best they could in what was a pretty grim situation. He wasn’t like his brother Albert, who cultivated an agreeable personality, who didn’t rock the boat. Odie was always in trouble, always on the receiving end of beatings and being locked in the punishment room. Every time it looks like something might go right for the brothers, there’s something else that comes along and ruins it. It’s to protect Odie that they leave and I loved their close knit protective togetherness. It’s not perfect by any means – Odie and his brother often disagree, sometimes they argue about what to do or where to go. These kids have to be clever, resourceful and courageous but they are also compassionate, trusting, loyal and fierce.

I haven’t read many books set in America during this time – the Great Depression. However this time left such a strong mark on those that lived through it or were the children of those that did and it’s inspired a lot of works that seek to explain this time and preserve it for those who didn’t experience so that they might understand what it was like. This is a classic coming-of-age type of story, a show of resourcefulness and courage and triumph over adversity. It’s children forced to be adults far too quickly in order to be free of violence and oppression and in the case of Mose, it’s the coming to terms with the systematic destruction of a people, of his people.

I found this a really engrossing read – William Kent Krueger has an extensive back list and is the winner of an Edgar Award for best novel – Ordinary Grace in 2014. I am definitely going to make an effort to seek out previous novels because I really want to read more of his work.

8/10

Book #193 of 2020

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September Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 25
Fiction: 24
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 3
Books On My TBR List: 6
Books in a Series: 8
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 12
Male/Female Authors: 4.5/20.5 (one book is by a male/female pairing writing under one name)
Kindle Books: 10
Books I Owned or Bought: 8
Favourite Book(s): Elsa’s Stand by Cathryn Hein, Road To Ironbark by Kaye Dobbie, The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker & The F Team by Rawah Arja
Least Favourite Books: Dreams They Forgot by Emma Ashmere, The Lying Life Of Adults by Elena Ferrante
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 14 (12 individual titles, 2 qualified for 2 different challenges)

Life…… Stage 4 lockdown continued throughout the month of September (until the 28th, where we entered the “next stage” but the new steps don’t affect us for a couple weeks) which means I didn’t leave my house really which means I did a lot of reading! My husband was home for the entire month (well almost, he went back to work on the 29th) recovering from the operation he had and my kids were also on school holidays for the last portion of September as well. The last week of school was a plethora of half days as they had zoom parent teacher interviews on two of the days and had half days for that and the last day of term is always a half day. But we do have some good news here in terms of Melbourne and its battle against corona – my kids will return to face to face schooling the week beginning the 12th October although it’ll probably not be full time and they may not even attend on the same days. Still waiting for more information there. And we have done amazing work getting the case numbers down so hopefully on the 19th October, we can move out of this and get back to some sort of “normal” life, although what that looks like I don’t know. Seems like whenever a place feels like it’s getting back to normal, a resurgence in the virus occurs, so we’re always going to have to live with some sort of concession to it I think, until there’s a vaccine. If there’s a vaccine.

So of the 25 books I read in September, 24 of them were fiction. I did manage to squeeze in one non-fiction title right towards the end of the month, which was Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I thought was beautifully written and very blunt in terms of describing a black man’s life in America and a lot of the complexities, grief and anger surrounding that. It’s written as a letter to his adolescent son, all the things he wants him to know. I’ve been mulling it over for a few days, it’s one of those books where I find it very hard to review!

Challenge check in!

Australian Women Writers Challenge: 75/50

Read Non Fiction Challenge: 7/12 {technically complete, upgraded the challenge to the top level and trying for all 12}

Reading Women Challenge: 16/26

Not as much progress as I would’ve liked in September! I did read 2 books towards my Reading Women Challenge but I didn’t read anything for the Non-Fiction Challenge. I’m still finding it hard to source what I am after there, as the online non-fiction selection through my library isn’t great and my library was closed throughout all of the month of September. I did see they’re gearing up to return to click & collect and also their delivery service, which I was taking advantage of before it had to cease when we entered Stage 4 restrictions, so hopefully I can use that in the future. I read 11 books towards The Australian Women Writers Challenge but that one is never an issue! It’s going to be pretty hard to finish both of these now, with only 3 months left in the year, so I’ll have to see how I go.

I did finish all the books I set for my September TBR, even The Thorn Birds! 

Onto my October TBR:

No 735p behemoths in this pile!

Lots to be excited about though. Definitely looking forward to reading Monica McInerney’s new one and I’ve read the first couple of chapters of The Mother Fault and was loving it so I’m keen to get stuck into that one too. Also have a new Rachael Johns book and that’s always a guaranteed good read. I’m part of a publisher-organised blog tour for Letters From Berlin so look out for my post for that one on October the 14th. I’m also really curious about the Dash & Lily book – it’s been a long time since I read the first one (and there’s actually been one since, which I’ve not read) but it’ll be cute to revisit them before the Netflix series begins. I’m a bit on the fence about the Alice Hoffman – it’s apparently a prequel to Practical Magic which I’ve not read, nor seen the movie but given it’s a prequel….it’s probably not so bad.

Hope you all had a good reading September. The end of the year is coming up quickly, quicker than I’d like, it doesn’t feel like I should soon be preparing for Christmas. I’ve no idea what Christmas is going to look like this year, hopefully by then we can maybe snatch a couple of days away within the same state somewhere, which would be nice. If not, some day trips I guess? And visiting some people we haven’t seen since last year!

 

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Review: None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney

None Shall Sleep 
Ellie Marney
Allen & Unwin
2020, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Interviewing convicted juvenile killers for the FBI leads Emma Lewis and Travis Bell on the hunt for a serial murderer who targets teenagers. A riveting YA thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seat from start to finish.

It’s 1982, and the innovative FBI Behavioral Science section is breaking new ground. Emma Lewis and Travis Bell, two teenagers with valuable skills, are recruited to interview convicted juvenile killers for information on cold cases.

When they’re drawn into an active case targeting teenagers, everything starts to unravel. Over Travis’s objections, Emma becomes the conduit between the FBI and an incarcerated serial killer, nineteen-year-old Simon Gutmunsson, who is a super-intelligent sociopath. And although Simon seems to be giving them the information they need to save lives, he’s also an expert manipulator playing a very long game …

Can Emma and Travis stop a serial killer on the loose – or will they fall victim themselves?

This book was a ride! I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to crime/mystery/horror. Those type of books can give me a lot of anxious feelings – I have to really be in the mood for something psychologically suspenseful, something that builds tension to screaming point. I sort of guessed from the cover and description of this book that it was going to be something like that and so I immediately made a note that this one would be read in the broad daylight! It’s school holidays here in Melbourne at the moment and I’ve been reading bed for a leisurely hour or hour and a half every morning. It’s not something I normally do but I’ve been really enjoying it and this was one of the books that I started in bed in the morning and then finished in the afternoon.

Ed Cooper from the FBI has a bit of a groundbreaking idea. He wants to recruit young people, teenagers to interview criminals of around the same age. He hopes that by appealing to them on a level that they may feel more comfortable with, those criminals might give up information that helps the FBI and other law enforcement agencies understand what motivates teen killers, why they do what they do. The two teens he ends up with are Emma Lewis and Travis Bell, who have both been touched in different ways by horrifically violent crime. At first, Emma and Travis are just supposed to visit incarcerated convicted criminals who committed or started their crime spree as teens and interview them, get them to fill in a questionnaire, maybe get a few tidbits of previously unknown information. But then a gruesomely notorious criminal communicates with Cooper in a way that suggests he knows something….and Emma and Travis find themselves involved in a game of cat and mouse with a master manipulator that might help them solve a current case….or cost them their lives.

This is set in the early 1980s when the FBI Behavioural Science unit was probably a fledgling thing. These days, I suspect you wouldn’t get away with throwing teenagers into the paths of psychopaths, especially teenagers with deep trauma. And both Emma and Travis have definitely dealt with a trauma. Well, are both still dealing with it and this role that they undertake is only going to exacerbate it but both of them want to continue, even after Cooper throws them a curveball, even after they see things no one should ever see. They have a chance to help solve something and both of them want to do it.

This is a book that pulls you in from the first page, where you always want to know a bit more. A bit more about what happened to Emma, a bit more about what Simon did, a bit more about what is going on with the current case, a bit more about the interviews with the incarcerated criminals. It doesn’t use a lot of blunt imagery when it could have, instead it’s almost what it doesn’t say, that builds the story. You know the bare basics of what happened to Emma but you’re left to imagine the rest, to fill in the gaps about how it might’ve happened, what might’ve been done to her and the fallout of the aftermath. And that’s incredibly effective, especially if you have a pretty vivid imagination! Emma is strong and determined even as she’s also horrifically vulnerable, still a victim of what happened to her and maybe she always will be and I don’t mean that in a negative way. She’ll bear the scars of that inside for the rest of her life. Thats why I think, it’s so uncomfortable at times, to read her conversations with someone like Simon. Someone who sees the soft spots in a person and prods them relentlessly, even from behind bars.

This took me in directions that I didn’t really expect, some of the happenings actually made me react out loud – especially one, which I read 2-3x even though I knew I read it right, I couldn’t believe it was happening. I really enjoyed the way this built the tension, escalated the crimes in the current, open case and the ways in which Emma and Travis became more and more deeply enmeshed in things, especially Emma. I couldn’t put it down towards the end, had to know the way that everything was going to play out and whether or not these two kids would best the arrogant agent who tried to get rid of them.

Really enjoyed this, which I expected as I always enjoy Ellie Marney’s books. This is grittier and even more of a mind game but it’s the sort of read that hauls you in and doesn’t let you go until it splits you out right at the end.

8/10

Book #192 of 2020

None Shall Sleep is book #75 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 

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Review: House Of Correction by Nicci French

House Of Correction
Nicci French
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 510p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Tabitha is not a murderer.

When a body is discovered in her hometown, Tabitha is shocked to find herself being placed in handcuffs. It must be a mistake. How could she possibly be a murder suspect?

She knows she’s not. 

Tabitha’s entire life is picked apart and scrutinised – her history of depression, her decision to move back . . . and of course, her past relationship with the victim. But most unsettling, Tabitha’s own memories of that day are a complete blur. 

She thinks she’s not.

As long-buried memories from her childhood come to light, Tabitha begins to question if she knows what kind of person she is after all. 

What if she’s only lying to herself?

I have read quite a few books by ‘Nicci French’ (the pen name for writing duo Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) and really enjoyed them all. Most of what I’ve read is from the Frieda Klein series but I’ve also read two stand alone books, of which this is the second one.

This begins with Tabitha in a remand centre after she’s been charged with a quite gruesome murder. She’s convinced it’s just a mistake, that the police will realise it soon and she’ll just be free to go. It takes a while for Tabitha to realise that this is serious, that this is not going away and that potentially, she could be in a place just like this one for a very long time. The victim was found in a shed on her property and it becomes clear that Tabitha is not telling the entire truth – not to her lawyer, not for the reader and not even to herself. She withholds key information and after her lawyer urges her to plead guilty due to diminished responsibility (that being related to the things Tabitha didn’t tell the lawyer), Tabitha fires her and decides that she wants to represent herself.

Obviously, she’s not a lawyer. She has no idea how to go about doing this and the prosecution doesn’t object as she’s basically handing them a victory on a plate. She doesn’t know how to complete the key things that she needs to do, she doesn’t understand the rituals but as she’s representing herself, she gets access to all the evidence and what the case is that the prosecution is building against her. It’s boxes of stuff, folders and files, statements, etc. She asks for and receives all the CCTV footage from the one camera in the small village where both she and the victim lived.

A lot of the problem is, Tabitha doesn’t really remember the specific day in question all that clearly. She lives alone, works from home, she’s had issues with depression in the past and has been medicated. A lot of the days feel the same and there are gaps in her memory – perhaps related to trauma, perhaps related to medication, perhaps related to her condition. A lot of her story is her relying on the fact that she didn’t do it because it doesn’t feel like something she would do. That’s not particularly reassuring for anyone and even Tabitha begins to wonder at times, if there are things she cannot remember. She certainly had means, motive and perhaps opportunity.

Tabitha’s not a particularly likeable or sympathetic character. She’s very prickly, aggressive, she certainly seems to have episodes of losing her temper and getting violent. I spent plenty of time having no real feel for Tabitha and after a while, I didn’t believe her incapable of her murdering someone in a frenzied rage, despite the fact that she seemed pretty apathetic on the day in question. She’s the sort of person that creates waves in a small village, that makes people not like her. She doesn’t “join in”, she’s not particularly friendly, she doesn’t seem to have made any overtures to people. She has moved back to where she went to school now that both her parents have passed away and she’s been getting a local to help her renovate the house. But apart from that, she very much “keeps herself to herself”, making only quick trips to the local shop for necessities and swimming the in the sea, which is something she does every day as a sort of therapy. The fact that Tabitha has made no effort to make friends with people makes it awkward when she has to write to them and ask them to visit her and perhaps even appear as witnesses for her during her trial. However she doesn’t let this bother her (sometimes I’m not even sure if she’s aware of it) and she goes about gathering her information, asking people questions. She doesn’t have to prove someone else murdered the victim, she doesn’t even really have to definitively prove that she didn’t. Really she just as to assert that the prosecution’s case doesn’t prove that she did. And if she can find a chink in the armour, that is all she needs.

I enjoyed this immensely. As difficult as Tabitha was at times, she earned my respect in the way she went about doing something that she really had no idea about. When the trial comes, it’s about as much of a disaster as you’d think with Tabitha speaking out of turn, addressing people that she’s not supposed to, objecting to things and demanding other things. The judge is pretty patient with her perhaps for the same reason – she kind of earns their respect by keeping on keeping on and her way of doing things might be a bit unorthodox but damned if she doesn’t turn up a few things that other people have missed. I’m not recommending this as an option for anyone charged with murder but Tabitha pokes holes in things and exposes where things can go wrong, where preconceived ideas can make a person assume something, where those who want a bit of recognition will be keen to give a comment or make a statement in order for some relevancy and where there can be gross negligence because of ignorance. She’s allowed a friend as support and she chooses her first cell mate Michaela, who turns out to be quite the surprise. I enjoyed the way this was told, where you never really knew what Tabitha might’ve done and why, how things became murkier in terms of the locals and what they said they saw or heard.

A great read and this never felt like it was 500p. It honestly felt like I finished it in the time it would take to read a 350p book and I always find that a pretty good indicator of how much I’m enjoying something!

8/10

Book #191 of 2020

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