All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Layover by Lacie Waldon

The Layover
Lacie Waldon
Putnam
2021, 320p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: After ten years as a flight attendant, Ava Greene is poised to hang up her wings and finally put down roots. She’s got one trip left before she bids her old life farewell, and she plans to enjoy every second of it. But then she discovers that former pilot Jack Stone — the absurdly gorgeous, ridiculously cocky man she’s held a secret grudge against for years — is on her flight. And he has the nerve to flirt with her, as if he doesn’t remember the role he played in the most humiliating night of her life. Good thing she never has to see him again after they land….

But when their plane encounters mechanical problems, what should have been a quick stop at the Belize airport suddenly becomes a weekend layover. Getting stuck on a three-hour flight with her nemesis was bad enough. Being stranded with him at a luxury resort in paradise? Even with the sultry breeze and white sand to distract her, it will take all the rum punch in the country to drown out his larger-than-life presence.

Yet the more time Ava spends with him under the hot Caribbean sun, the more she begins to second-guess everything she thought she knew about him… and everything she thought she wanted from her life. And all too soon, she might have to choose between keeping her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds….

An unexpected tropical layover with her nemesis turns a flight attendant’s life upside down in this witty, breezy debut romantic comedy about life — and love — 30,000 feet above the ground.

This was a bit of a mixed bag.

Firstly, I did really enjoy the setting, which is a mixture of planes and Belize. Although I’ve read some reviews from people who have been to Belize who seem to think that the author played fast and loose with the geography in Belize but I haven’t been there so that’s not something I’d notice. But I really enjoyed experiencing Ava’s perspective as a flight attendant, her routines, the things she does, etc. That was really fun and I liked their layover too. Seemed like a really nice perk of the job, to occasionally be granted things like 24hrs in a tropical paradise. Also I think the author did a great job showcasing how Ava’s unusual upbringing had impacted on her as an adult, how it had shaped what she wanted in life (or what she thought she wanted) and how a job like the one she had, even though it took her to different places all over the US and other destinations, might’ve been a comfort to her with routine and certain things being the same.

What I didn’t like? Honestly, pretty much everything else.

It was at times, difficult to be in Ava’s head. She keeps complaining about how her two friends away from work seem to find her so incredibly unreliable because of her job which means she’s often on call for a flight. Girl, you need new adult friends. You’re in your late 20s (I think?) and no one is in college anymore. People have jobs and commitments and occasionally can’t make it to drinks or dinner or catch ups. And it’s not like her job is a surprise, her friends know she is a flight attendant who is often on call. Surely even though she often has scheduled off-time, it must be known that occasionally, she would be called into work to cover a flight. And if that she missed a dinner or catch up, this would not be the end of the world and make it next week or whatever. Also, for some reason, Ava keeps her personal and professional life strictly separate and doesn’t make friends with her flight attendant colleagues or tell them about what she has going on in her personal life. Or that this is supposed to be her last flight. Which is super weird.

And then there’s Jack. The love interest of this story who is incredibly annoying but also, so is Ava. The scene where they “race” each other to deliver the drinks/snacks is super cringeworthy and was probably worthy of both of them being written up. They bicker and fight like little kids. Ava believes Jack did something to her a couple years ago, so that’s why she strongly resents him, plus she’s listened to some rumours about him. But just 24hrs later or something, she’s basically ready to spend her whole life with him, despite the added complications of what is actually going on Ava’s personal life because Ava conveniently forgets to tell Jack that actually, until very recently, as in like, hours ago, she was engaged. And that’s kind of spoilers I guess because the blurb doesn’t mention it but you find out on the first page or so anyway.

A lot of this is unfortunately, just lazy writing. Everything is so rushed – Ava starts off the book admiring her perfect life and how it’s about to be her last flight and she’ll “settle down” with her wonderful lawyer fiancé but then the book just dribbles out information about how actually it’s not that perfect and she’s having thoughts and he doesn’t want to listen to change anything and Ava, why didn’t you wait until you were back home to sit down and discuss this like adults? Instead you’re like that meme of the guy with his girlfriend whose attention is caught by the girl walking the other way. Although I don’t technically think what happened here is cheating, it skates close enough to the line for things to be messy about just how free and clear Ava really is, plus the fact that she kept her status from Jack is a bit dodgy I think. Also Jack’s backstory is not what I expected but it felt like it was written purely to make the reader like him more and for Ava to realise how wrong she was to believe rumours and it honestly didn’t actually feel like something that a real person would put up with.

There’s also so much left unresolved at the end – Ava’s feelings about her parents and upbringing are not adequately addressed, nor are her friendships. I did like Gen and Pilot Paul as well as Captain Ballinger. Much more than Ava and Jack actually.

5/10

Book #195 of 2021

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Double Review: The Silence Of The Girls & The Women Of Troy by Pat Barker

The Silence Of The Girls (The Women Of Troy #1)
Pat Barker
Penguin Books UK
2019, 325p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Queen Briseis has been stolen from her conquered homeland and given as a concubine to a foreign warrior. The warrior is Achilles: famed hero, loathed enemy, ruthless butcher, darkly troubled spirit. Briseis’s fate is now indivisibly entwined with his.

No one knows it yet, but there are just ten weeks to go until the Fall of Troy, the end of this long and bitter war. This is the start of The Iliad: the most famous war story ever told. The next ten weeks will be a story of male power, male ego, male violence. But what of the women? The thousands of female slaves in the soldiers’ camp – in the laundry, at the loom, laying out the dead? Briseis is one of their number – and she will be our witness to history.

My husband is a really difficult person to buy presents for. He will always say ‘nothing’ and never give any suggestions, there’s never anything he wants and he’s not really into any hobbies or anything where you can use those. One thing that always goes down well, are books though (there’s a reason he’s my husband!) and I know he loves Pat Barker. He raved about a trilogy of hers he read and when The Women of Troy was published, I started seeing these two books everywhere so I decided to buy them as part of his birthday present. I’ve never read her before but the more I saw of these, the more I thought I’d definitely like them. I read faster than him, so yes, I did steal them to read before he can.

I’ve read a couple of books lately that have referenced mythology or are retellings and I’ve read The Song of Achilles and know enough of The Iliad to have a bit of an idea of this – but I’ll readily admit, I’m not that knowledgable. The Song of Achilles, and probably most other retellings and reimaginings are more from the male and fighters’ points of view and this one is primarily focused on the women, most notably, Briseis. A Queen, she watches as her city is sacked by Achilles and his fighters, sees her brothers cut down. Then she’s given to Achilles as a reward, expected to serve him when he requires, knowing he murdered members of her family.

This is a stark showcasing of the lack of agency these women have – they are traded like cattle, raped by their captors, expected to work as servants, often starved or kept in appalling conditions. Their situation depends on how high their ‘owner’ is ranked, their own place within that person’s household and how kind their owner/captor might be. When a city is sacked, all the males are killed, right down to toddlers and babies. Pregnant women are killed, just in case the baby they carry might turn out to be a boy. The women are taken as slaves, given out to the men as rewards and can sometimes even be passed around.

For Briseis, she’s somewhat ‘lucky’ as Achilles doesn’t particularly abuse her nor treat her unkindly. He almost seems barely aware she even exists although Briseis ends up a pawn in a game between Agamemnon and Achilles as they each jostle for power. But Barker portrays her as a keen observer who sees all that goes on around the camp, especially in regards to women and their plight in these times of war. She’s also a leader, although at times it feels reluctantly. As Achilles’ concubine, she is afforded a level of status that other women do not enjoy and although there are women that would no doubt exploit this, Briseis is not one of them. She uses her position to help others when she can, or make things easier for them. When she was given to Achilles, she was treated kindly by Patroclus’ concubine and it’s something that she remembers and pays forward every time.

I found this so compelling, this is a brutal story in so many ways with the war and destruction and fighting and politics. It was so interesting to read it from a woman’s perspective, slightly on the outside. They don’t go to fight, they wait to see who comes home and who wins decides their future. They’re very much these passive bystanders really, in their own lives. But they get small wins sometimes, moments where they achieve.

8/10

Book #208 of 2021

The Women Of Troy (Women Of Troy #2)
Pat Barker
Penguin Books UK
2021, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.

The women of Troy.

Helen – poor Helen. All that beauty, all that grace – and she was just a mouldy old bone for feral dogs to fight over.

Cassandra, who has learned not to be too attached to her own prophecies. They have only ever been believed when she can get a man to deliver them.

Stubborn Amina, with her gaze still fixed on the ruined towers of Troy, determined to avenge the slaughter of her king.

Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore, as if she could make her cries heard in the gloomy halls of Hades. As if she could wake the dead.

And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles. Once again caught up in the disputes of violent men. Once again faced with the chance to shape history.

This picks up pretty much where the first book left off but also contains some scenes from other points of view that show what was happening when the Greeks hid inside the horse given to the Trojans. I think if people know anything about this story, they know the Trojan horse, given as a gift and then in the dead of night, when the Troy citizens were sleeping, the Greeks poured out of the belly of the horse and slaughtered them all, finally taking Troy. All the women are taken back to the camp – Priam’s widow, Hector’s widow, some of Priam’s daughters and of course, the infamous Helen who was married to Melenaus but eloped with or was abducted by, Paris. The face that launched a thousand ships and started a war. I actually didn’t realise that the horse isn’t included in The Iliad and mostly dates to the Aeinid by Virgil.

I enjoyed this book as well but perhaps because I read it right after the previous, it felt a little repetitive in places, like it felt the need to rehash things that had happened in the previous book. I might’ve needed that if it’d been some time since I read the first book but because I read them one after the other it definitely felt very noticeable.

Achilles is dead but before he perished, he gave Briseis in marriage to one of his most trusted men, Acimus. Briseis is also pregnant with Achilles’ child, which if those with such gifts are to be believed, it will be a boy. This marriage has protected Briseis, she is firmly secured by it and her pregnancy, treated with respect by most and allowed to move around quite freely. She takes it upon herself to help the women of Troy, showing them kindness and compassion, helping them prepare themselves for when they are summoned by their new ‘owners’ or negotiate tricky situations, diffuse spats. Briseis however, is drawn into a dangerous place when a woman instructed to be her companion as she moves around the camp, blatantly disobeys an order given by Achilles’ son Pyrrhus. It was actually the one time when I thought Briseis displayed terrible judgment, even though she was trying to help. It was obvious Amira wasn’t going to stop and Briseis telling her to and then following her only led to both of them being caught doing something that was definitely forbidden. That was an interesting look at morals and doing what’s right, versus self-preservation. Some would do anything to stay alive, others….well, what is even the point of staying alive for some of these women? They have no freedom, some of them are starved and horrifically abused, they’ve seen everyone they love just about, murdered in vicious fashion, including babies and children who are male. Mothers of sons, like Andromache…..what reason does she have, to go on? Especially when given to Pyrrhus.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Helen here as well, I think she’s such an interesting figure and can be seen in many ways. Is she an orchestrator, a manipulator of men who always seemed to come out unscathed or was she a victim too? I’m not really sure and I’m not sure Briseis knows either. At times she admires Helen, at others she seems to find her deeply frustrating. Although Briseis visits her, she doesn’t seem to form the bond with her that she does with some of the other women like Hecuba and seems to realise that with Helen, perhaps you can’t trust what you’re being presented with. In a way I liked that Helen was very much relegated to the background – she’s a well known, very visible character in this story and many of the other women, who provide a focus in this book, are not so well known generally.

I thought both of these were wonderful – and now I have to raid my husband’s collection of Pat Barker books because I definitely need to read more by her.

8/10

Book #209 of 2021

The Silence Of The Girls and The Women Of Troy both count towards my participation in the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. They are books 34 & 35 so far.

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Review: Echoes Of War by Tania Blanchard

Echoes Of War
Tania Blanchard
Simon & Schuster AUS
2021, 457p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Set in Mussolini’s Italy amid great upheaval, this is the story of one woman’s determination to find her place in a world that men are threatening to tear apart. Another heart-rending novel inspired by a true story from the bestselling author of The Girl from Munich. 

Calabria, Italy, 1936

In a remote farming village nestled in the mountains that descend into the sparkling Ionian Sea, young and spirited Giulia Tallariti longs for something more. While she loves her home and her lively family, she would much rather follow in her nonna’s footsteps and pursue her dream of becoming a healer.

But as Mussolini’s focus shifts to the war in Europe, civil unrest looms. Whispers of war are at every corner and her beloved village, once safe from the fascist agenda of the North, is now in very real danger.

Caught between her desire to forge her own path and her duty to her family, Giulia must draw on the passion in her heart and the strength of her conviction. Can she find a way to fulfill her dreams or will the echoes of war drown out her voice?

This is the second Tania Blanchard novel I have read and I have enjoyed both of them enormously. She is definitely becoming one of my favourite historical fiction authors and I appreciated this somewhat unique perspective of World War II.

Giulia is a young girl living in Calabria, right at the “toe” of Italy. Her family has a small farm that provides for their livelihood but Italy is going through a time of upheaval with division between the north and south and the ambitions of Mussolini, who wants to create an empire, increase Italy’s territory and provide more land to farmers. There’s also the brewing situation in Europe with the rise of Hitler and Mussolini’s treaty with him, which seems almost certain to drag them into more wars.

Giulia is sixteen and has already shown that she has some gift as a healer, like her maternal grandmother. Her father though, is very against this and wants her married off and settled, against Giulia’s will. He’s very much a “I am your father and my word is law and you will obey” type of figure, which causes a lot of problems between him and Giulia. She wants to learn her craft and be apprenticed with her grandmother – she’s not interested in marriage and babies and keeping a home. It’s arranged that she will go to a monastery and study with a healer there but her father will think she is having some instruction on manners and behaving herself.

I’m old enough to be Giulia’s mother but reading this sent me right back to being this indignant teenager and wanting to defy my parent’s every command. Of course they didn’t want to marry me off to some random guy their age, unlike Giulia’s father but it was the same vibes. I felt for Giulia because she had so much that she wanted to achieve and her ambition was stifled so often by her father. And he’s very much a product of his time and location, the authoritarian Italian father whose job it is to see his daughters are taken care of but he was so focused on this one thing, because unfortunately in this time, girls had no protection without being married. They get to sixteen or so and they leave their father’s homes and go straight to their husband’s homes and start producing babies. Looking back now, it’s a bleak life, especially in times of hardship when feeding big families becomes difficult. Her father believes a lot of what her grandmother does is “witchcraft” and he’s not really willing to listen to reason.

I haven’t read a lot set in Italy during WWII – most of what I end up reading is very much focused on German/French/British settings and I was surprised tor read just how much damage retreating German troops did in parts of Italy after Italy “flipped”sides and declared war on Germany. Italy was a country that had overstretched itself before the beginning of this war, with conflicts in Africa from pacifying Liberia and invading Abyssinia/Ethiopia and also sending troops to assist in the Spanish Civil War. I think Italy hoped that Britain would be convinced to sue for peace early on, preventing a long and drawn out battle but the way events went didn’t go that way and the country suffered heavy losses, particularly in the invasion attempt of Russia. In the book, both Giulia’s brother (and his friends) as well as their father are conscripted to join WWII forces, even though her father is in his 40s. A younger brother also seeks to avoid conscription towards the end of the book, by hiding in the surrounding mountains, along with others of a similar mindset who also wish to rout out the Germans.

There’s a lot that gets included in this – it’s really a coming of age story of Giulia as she gains confidence in herself and her abilities as a healer and although I’m not at all religious, I enjoyed her various times at the monastery and the friends she made there. I loved her spirit and her standing up for herself against a future she didn’t want at a time when she was very much powerless in controlling her own destiny. She somehow persisted and made it work. Her and her siblings also had really good bonds as well and that was nice to see. They supported each other. And there is a love story in this as well, which is very sweet.

I still have one book by Tania Blanchard on my TBR pile and another book by her unread and I really have to try and prioritise them! The two I have read are so much my type of thing, I’m sure I’ll love the ones that are unread also. I highly recommend this.

8/10

Book #206 of 2021

This is book #88 of my participation in The Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2021

It’s also book #32 of my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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It’s A Book Haul!

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a book haul post but I’ve picked up quite a lot of books recently. Some I’ve already read and the reviews might even be up, others the reviews are scheduled and many I haven’t read yet. Because that is my way.

Firstly…..

Yikes, ignore how dusty my desk is there!

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I actually bought this after reading The Monster of her Age by Danielle Binks (which is in the picture below) which references it – the main character buys a copy in the novel. I have never read this and it’s been on my radar for a while as I’m curious and I absolutely adore these clothbound hardcover classic editions.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life by Robert Dallek. My husband actually read this a couple of years ago and loved it. I’ve read a lot about FDR in fiction but nothing in terms of biography. I actually found this on a discount site (apart from Frankenstein, the bottom 4 books come from the same discount book site) and added it on a whim, originally intending to gift it to my husband as part of his birthday not realising he’d already read it. When he told me I decided to keep it for myself.

How To Argue With A Racist by Adam Rutherford. The author is a British geneticist who dispels many race-based myths. I thought this would be interesting – I’ve collected quite a few books on race and racism lately, to try and better educate myself.

The Empire Of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty. Final book in the Daevabad trilogy. I’ve read both the first two and really enjoyed them and was waiting for this third one to come out in a format that matched my previous 2. I thought this book actually did but then it arrived and I realised it was still the larger edition. Oops.

The Mirror And The Light by Hilary Mantel. Final book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy. I’ve only read the first one, Wolf Hall and that took me 10 years after buying it, to finally finish. I did really like it though, once I got past the first maybe 200p. I have both the 2nd and 3rd now and will pick them up eventually.

October 9th was Love Your Bookshop Day here in Australia, where people are encouraged to get out and support their local bookshops. Now I couldn’t do that is Melbourne was still in lockdown at the time so I did my best to support some bookshops by purchasing online. I bought from 4 bookshops: one with a branch immediately local to me, one about 20 minutes drive away that I have visited on numerous occasions, my favourite bookshop to visit in Melbourne when I go and also one I’d never purchased from before. The books below are all from those purchases:

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. I’ve already read and reviewed this one – an odd little story but I liked it. I’ll definitely be interested in reading her other books.

The Layover by Lacie Waldon. I’ve also already read and reviewed this – didn’t love it. It was just okay for me.

Circe by Madeline Miller. I’ve been meaning to pick this one up for a while. I really loved The Song of Achilles and recently I’ve picked up books like Ariadne and even The Silence of Scheherazade which are retellings or reference ancient mythology, both Greek and otherwise and it reminded me that I needed to buy this.

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel. I don’t remember where I first saw this but I’d added it to my Goodreads wishlist and so when I was buying books at this time, I scrolled that wishlist looking for inspiration. This was a good price and this sounds really good although also quite emotionally harrowing.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Both this and Transcendent Kingdom have been on my to-buy list for a little while. This starts in 18thC Ghana with sisters, one of whom is shipped off as a slave to America. I cannot wait to read this one.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I am quite late to Donna Tartt. I only just read The Secret History this year – I really loved it so I had to buy this. It’s quite a chunkster, so not sure when I’ll get to it….maybe over the summer.

The Monster of Her Age by Danielle Binks. Another I’ve been meaning to buy since it came out a couple months ago. This is Danielle Binks’ second novel and I really loved her first. I’ve also already read and reviewed this and thought its was very good. I also got a cute little enamel pin from the bookshop I purchased this from.

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune. One of my most anticipated books. Already read it. Adored it. Sobbed in it.

I drank my cup of tea before I realised I’d forgotten to take photos of these two, haha.

The Silence of the Girls and The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. I actually bought both of these for my husband for his birthday. He’s a big Pat Barker fan, has quite a few of her novels and I’d been seeing these everywhere as The Women of Troy had just been released. Quite a few people I know also recommended these to me, out of nowhere and they do seem like something I’ll enjoy based on some of the other books I’ve included here! So I’ve stolen them from him and I’ll be reading them first.

If you’ve read any of my new purchases, let me know. What should I prioritise? I’m hopeless at making decisions!

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Review: Under The Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Under The Whispering Door
T.J. Klune
Tor Books
2021, 373p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with.

Every time I finish a book from T.J. Klune, I am not okay.

I don’t know how he makes me care so much about things. It’s incredible really – it happened in The House In The Cerulean Sea and it happened again here, where there was arguably, an much less likeable character in the beginning. When we meet Wallace Price, he’s firing someone. A long time employee who is going through some hard times, which Wallace doesn’t care about. She made a mistake, so he’s firing her. A few days later, Wallace finds himself watching his own funeral, attended by the fellow partners of his firm, out of obligation rather than anything else, and his ex-wife. Who is definitely not really mourning his loss. Unable to understand what is happening at first, the one person at his funeral that Wallace doesn’t recognise, tells him he’s dead. And she’s the Reaper here to take him to what comes next.

Wallace has to go through the stages of grief, about his own death. Disbelief, anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance, etc. They’re all there. He’s taken to meet the “ferryman”, someone who helps those who have passed cross over into what comes next. Hugo is definitely not what Wallace expects, although I don’t think he knew what he was expecting if anything. Hugo runs a tea shop and the first thing he does when someone new who has recently passed arrives, is serve them tea.

And that was just another reason to fall in love with this book – I’m a huge tea person, I drink tea every day, I have multiple varieties of tea and a lot of teacups and mugs and teapots. Tea for me, is super serious stuff and I like learning about it. The idea of going to a place that serves so much tea, is a dream. Hugo is very serious about tea as well and he also takes the responsibility of choosing the…ghost’s…? first cup of tea incredibly seriously. It’s a respect thing and he has an intuition.

Hugo is adorable. His grandfather is adorable. Wallace becomes adorable over time and for two characters who actually cannot touch, they have so much chemistry it’s unbelievable. This book is so sweet in many ways, it’s also funny, heartbreakingly sad, it runs the gauntlet. I cannot imagine how it must’ve felt for the author to write this book – he lost his partner about five years ago to illness and Wallace meets a grieving ghost named Cameron in this book that feels so deeply personal. Cameron lost the person closest to him and never recovered and has not been able to accept moving on. He’s considered lost to the spiritual world until Wallace finds a way to reconnect him to it, and learns his story. It’s honestly devastating. I cried so many times reading this book, there’s just so much emotion poured into it and it leaps off the page.

Wallace’s journey is just a ride. Like he’s not at all likeable, he’s a workaholic, pedantic, a stickler for details and obviously expects perfection. He has no friends. His marriage ended and he barely seemed to blink. He knows nothing except work and has no idea how he’s viewed by others. His view of himself is how he feels others must see him too and it’s a cold wake up call to realise that is not the case. Through spending time with Hugo and the crew at the teashop, Wallace learns about living – which is kind of funny because he’s already dead. Watching him realise the other things that are important, that mean something….that there’s much more than just work and nice suits, is so enjoyable. And so sad because it comes at a time where he can no longer utilise what he has learned, he cannot take these lessons and become a better human with balance in his life and perhaps even carve out love, a family. Instead he’s simply kind of marking time until he’s ready to take the next step, to leave behind all that has become so dear to him and it’s a terrible situation.

I just wanted them so much to have their happy ending. For Wallace to have his second chance, And look, it’s a bit kind of predictable, what needs to happen for Wallace to get that but I did not care. I was hear for it, in all it’s predictable glory because I wanted it to end that way more than anything. And it was so satisfying, especially because reading this book put me through the wringer. I’ve been experiencing a lot of grief myself lately, as a friend of mine recently passed away at the age of 44 and I’m struggling a lot with dealing with the sheer unfairness of it all. This book was cathartic in lots of ways, it gave me a reason to cry (not that I need one, I’ve cried plenty over my friend the past two weeks) but also took away some of the horror of death for me. Maybe T.J. Klune found the same comfort in making it humorous in someways, beautiful in some ways. I’m not sure – but I know it helped.

9/10

Book #204 of 2021

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Review: Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

Us Against You (Beartown #2)
Fredrik Backman
Translated by Neil Smith
Atria Books
2021, 448p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.

Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.

So it’s hockey season again and my team kicked off with 4 wins in a row before falling to Boston but that’s the kind of dream start they haven’t had in years. And so I thought well, what better time than now to pick up this, which has been sitting in a box with the rest of my library books, for like, 4 months. I read Beartown last April and adored it. Like I’m not sure I can express how much of that crazy hockey town ended up in my heart but as I mentioned in my review of that book, it’s about so much more than just hockey.

And this book is the same. Beartown, both the town and the club, hit a terrible low but they thought they were on the way back until they get word that the council decides there’s no point funding two hockey clubs and that they’ll close Beartown down and direct all the funding to their greatest rivals. For those players that left Beartown and ran to Hed, this news is amusing in the extreme but for all the people for whom Beartown is their very existence, it’s a crushing blow.

This and Beartown are the only two Fredrik Backman books I’ve ever read so I’m not sure if all his books are written this way, but he has quite an unusual style of writing where he tosses in foreshadowing and even sentences that indicate where a person might end up in 2, 5 or 10 years time or what might happen regarding any given situation in the same way. It keeps you on your toes a bit because he might be talking about three characters in the present and then say something like “but they don’t know that in two years one of them will be dead, one of them will be in jail and the other one will be in the NHL” or something like that. And it’s up to you to kind of fill in how that might go. When it comes to characters like Maya, I really liked these throwaway lines because it told you that she continued to survive, that she found her way back to her passion and was able to shape her future around it. Likewise with a character like Amat, you know he’s going to end up in a certain place and that any struggle he’s going through now, is going to pay off. He’s going to be able to do what he wants for his mother, provide her with a better life.

I really loved the character of Benjy in Beartown and his amazing family – his widowed mother and his three older, very tough sisters all of whom keep an eye out for Benjy and provide a different role in his life. In this book, Benjy definitely goes through the wringer again, the poor guy. I felt for him so much and spent a large portion of the book completely terrified for him. This really does show the often small-mindedness of remote towns as well as how easy social media and cell/mobile phones make it to bully people and say things that most people wouldn’t have the courage to say face to face. Especially to someone like Benjy, who is Beartown hockey team’s biggest enforcer. Both Maya in the previous book and Benjy in this one receive hateful text messages from anonymous and hidden numbers and it’s honestly hard to fathom people sitting down and typing out such disgusting things about a trauma (Maya) and a secret (Benjy). I liked how Maya gave Benjy some support when he goes through what she went through, gives him some courage to continue to front up to school and stare down everyone, including those that are probably behind some of the messages.

Once again, if you dig into this book, you can see just how much Fredrik Backman showcases relationships between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between friends, between the team members, between the team and the new coach, between the townspeople and the GM of the hockey club, honestly there’s just so many examples. But for me, this book has the most perfect example in Ann-Katrin’s story, Bobo’s mother. Bobo is one of the team, he’s a big teen but a slow skater and knows his days on the team are about over. He works in his dad’s garage and takes care of his younger siblings and Ann-Katrin works at the hospital and has made friends with Fatima, Amat’s mother. What happens in this book shows the many ways people deal with tragedy and grieve, how small towns come to help, how they remember, how they honour. It made me cry more than once! If what happens to Maya and Benjy is the worst of small towns, what happens with Bobo’s family is the absolute best of them.

I love this as much as I love Beartown and I’m so glad there’s a third book coming out. And I still must read everything else Fredrik Backman has ever written.

9/10

Book #194 of 2021

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Review: It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

It Happened One Summer (Bellinger Sisters #1)
Tessa Bailey
Avon (Harper Collins)
2021, 419p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Tessa Bailey is back with a Schitt’s Creek-inspired rom-com about a Hollywood “It Girl” who’s cut off from her wealthy family and exiled to a small Pacific Northwest beach town… where she butts heads with a surly, sexy local who thinks she doesn’t belong.

Piper Bellinger is fashionable, influential, and her reputation as a wild child means the paparazzi are constantly on her heels. When too much champagne and an out-of-control rooftop party lands Piper in the slammer, her stepfather decides enough is enough. So he cuts her off, and sends Piper and her sister to learn some responsibility running their late father’s dive bar… in Washington.

Piper hasn’t even been in Westport for five minutes when she meets big, bearded sea captain Brendan, who thinks she won’t last a week outside of Beverly Hills. So what if Piper can’t do math, and the idea of sleeping in a shabby apartment with bunk beds gives her hives. How bad could it really be? She’s determined to show her stepfather—and the hot, grumpy local—that she’s more than a pretty face.

Except it’s a small town and everywhere she turns, she bumps into Brendan. The fun-loving socialite and the gruff fisherman are polar opposites, but there’s an undeniable attraction simmering between them. Piper doesn’t want any distractions, especially feelings for a man who sails off into the sunset for weeks at a time. Yet as she reconnects with her past and begins to feel at home in Westport, Piper starts to wonder if the cold, glamorous life she knew is what she truly wants. LA is calling her name, but Brendan—and this town full of memories—may have already caught her heart. 

I’d heard good things about this and I was very keen to have a ‘feel-good’ read, a new romance to be invested in. I also adore an opposites attract and an LA party girl famous on the ‘gram and a grumpy Pacific Northwest fisherman seemed like that would fit the bill nicely.

And it did. There were elements of this I really liked. Piper is shallow and silly in many ways but I actually still found her quite endearing. There are times I cannot believe no human is ever that dumb (she didn’t know what a typhoon is, like what? Didn’t you go to school?) but I found her and her sister’s sojourn to Washington, banished by their rich-as-heck stepfather who is fed up with Piper’s embarrassing ways, quite a fun journey. Piper and Hannah have the best sibling relationship, anytime they were on the page together was absolute gold. Hannah definitely has hidden depths and I think her book might be fun.

I also enjoyed the interactions between Piper and Brendan early on. He’s a widower, fishing captain who definitely feels like Piper is a fish out of water here. Which she is. He’s also super attracted to her and doesn’t really like that at first, and I liked reading about that. They also do become friends first, after a rocky start but the hookup and particularly, the feelings from sexual attraction to love, are a bit fast for me personally. For a book that was really quite lengthy, the undying love and “baby’s” etc felt like they arrived very quickly. I would’ve liked a bit more time for the chemistry to be drawn out before they actually do anything. Piper is confident, which is cool but she also uses that as a distance move as well, in her attempts at first, to keep this thing between her and Brendan just sex. She plans to go back to LA as soon as her stepfather allows, so she’s willing to have sex with him but she doesn’t want anything else. This is a 28yo woman whose longest relationship was three weeks. I don’t think I buy that.

I have a friend who read this and she mentioned that she felt the sex scenes were not exactly in keeping of the tone of the rest of the book and having read it, I understand completely what she means. The sex scenes are honestly, not bad – they’re hot but there’s a lot of (quite average) dirty talk and the….feel of them….doesn’t necessarily fit the overall charm that the rest of the book had. It’s like going 0-100 really fast and not knowing how you got there and then when that’s over, just going back to being 0 again. It felt a bit jarring sometimes, like the scenes felt straight out of an erotica but the rest of the book was wholesome AF.

Also, the final act conflict is weak. There’s no getting around it. Both of them act ridiculously and it’s actually the one time where I felt Hannah acted stupidly as well. Piper lost her Piper-sparkle? What even is that? It’s a bunch of really minor misunderstandings that both of them blow out of proportion and it was also the one time where I felt like Brendan was completely irrational. Like for the most part, a few too many “baby” croonings aside, he’s the voice of reason, who acts like a normal person when Piper is living in La-La Land. But even though he acknowledges the seriousness of Piper giving up an entirely different life and moving to where he is permanently, the minute she hasn’t set every single thing about this into motion even though she’s only been there a few weeks, he flips out and acts like a spoiled little boy. It was honestly annoying and Piper’s response to it and then both of their responses to perceived slights after that, were not great. It felt lazy and half-hearted like oh this is a romance so we have to have a conflict, there’s been no time for anything of note to really come up, so here is this misunderstanding becoming the biggest deal in the most ridiculous manner. Although there’s plenty of things brought up in this book that are not resolved, most notably Piper’s relationship with her mother and stepfather which, to be honest, feels problematic at best.

All in all, I enjoyed this but it’s not like it’s a new absolute favourite. I felt there were times when the story felt confused about what it was and although I thought the set up writing and characterisation was good, it wasn’t great in the latter parts and that definitely impacted on my enjoyment. However I did like Hannah and Fox so I am interested in reading the next book.

7/10

Book #205 of 2021

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Review: The Monster Of Her Age by Danielle Binks

The Monster Of Her Age
Danielle Binks
Hachette AUS
2021, 272p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: In a neo-Gothic mansion in a city at the end of the world, Ellie finds there’s room enough for art, family, forgiveness and love. A coming-of-age story about embracing the things that scare us from the author of The Year the Maps Changed.

How do you ruin someone’s childhood? You let them make-believe that they are a monster. But sooner or later, the mask must come off…

Ellie Marsden was born into the legendary Lovinger acting dynasty. Granddaughter of the infamous Lottie Lovinger, as a child Ellie shared the silver screen with Lottie in her one-and-only role playing the child monster in a cult horror movie. The experience left Ellie deeply traumatised and estranged from people she loved.

Now seventeen, Ellie has returned home to Hobart for the first time in years. Lottie is dying and Ellie wants to make peace with her before it’s too late. But forgiveness feels like playing make-believe, and memories are like ghosts.

When a chance encounter with a young film buff leads her to a feminist horror film collective, Ellie meets Riya, a girl who she might be able to show her real self to, and at last come to understand her family’s legacy – and her own part in it.

A story of love, loss, family and film – a stirring, insightful novel about letting go of anger and learning to forgive without forgetting. And about embracing the things that scare us, in order to be braver.

I usually try to write reviews as soon as I’ve finished a book. I read so prolifically that I find if I wait, I end up having reviews pile up and forget the focus of some of what I want to say. But I finished this a little while ago now and I’ve been really struggling to sit down and write a review for it. And not because I didn’t enjoy it or anything like that – I actually think it’s an incredibly good book, well written and exploring family drama, the problems that can arise from child acting and the struggle of grief, even when you’re angry and betrayed. It’s just….hard to put all of that into coherent sentences at the moment. Some books are like that.

Ellie is 17 and is finishing up at her Melbourne boarding school. Her parents are in London and Ellie’s grandmother is in Tasmania, where Ellie was originally from. Reasons she’s at a Melbourne boarding school rather than in her hometown will become apparent later in the novel, but it begins with her mother calling her to tell her that her grandmother is dying and she should return to Hobart and say her goodbyes.

Returning to Hobart brings up a lot of complex feelings for Ellie, for a few different reasons. Ellie was born into a very prolific acting family. Her grandmother is one of Australia’s most famous actors and some of her rather many ex-husbands are equally famous, for tragedy or for accomplishment. Ellie’s parents are working in the London theatre scene and Ellie herself made one movie, with her grandmother, when she was younger – about 10. It became a cult horror classic but for Ellie, it’s the source of deep trauma and the reason her previously close relationship with her grandmother fractured and was never repaired.

I don’t really watch movies – just going to put that out there. Every year I set myself a goal to watch more – 20 in 2020, that sort of thing and every year I fail abysmally. I just rarely get engaged with that medium. So I’m no movie buff and the movies I dislike the most – horror movies. I’ll readily admit that I’m a wuss with anxiety and horror movies give me more nerves than I care to experience at a time when I’m supposed to be enjoying myself. So a lot of the movie references in this definitely passed me by and so did the enthusiasm for horror movies in the film club Ellie ends up attending in Hobart. But I will go ahead and blame Danielle Binks for the fact that I ordered a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein pretty much as soon as I finished this book (I don’t think she’ll mind).

What I did like, was the family drama and relationships. Ellie’s pain is so well written, you know that something has happened to her to make her feel this way, to instigate the rift between her and someone who was a much loved family member. In fact it’s perhaps because Ellie so loved her grandmother that her hurt is so much. It is a little while before what happens to Ellie is revealed and it’s quite horrific. At the time of this event, Ellie is about the age of my youngest son and I tried to imagine someone treating him the way Ellie was and I had to stop because it upset me so much. The fact that her grandmother brushed it aside must’ve been such a blow to her, that she wasn’t listened to or her story deemed significant. Everyone wants to feel validated by those they love the most, by those who should protect them and support them and Ellie’s feelings were very much invalidated by grandmother and even at their last meeting, Ellie’s grandmother is incapable of saying what she needs to in order to help begin to heal Ellie.

There’s a cute little romance in this – Ellie is bi, her love interest is queer and both appear to be ‘out’ to their families and friends and there are no issues or dramas with their attraction, no secrets needing to be kept (in that regard, anyway). Their discussions about films and art and museums and all that stuff are awesome. I also absolutely adored Ellie’s relationship with her step-grandfather Poe, who is not Ellie’s mother’s father but who was married to Ellie’s grandmother when her mother was quite small. They have managed to maintain this relationship despite them not being married anymore (or for a while, I think) and Poe is just a beautiful character and the bond he has with Ellie is so sweet. I’ve never been to Hobart but I know Danielle Binks did to research this book and it feels incredibly authentic and gave me what I feel is a very good picture of the city, despite the fact I’ve never set foot there.

I’ve heard the sophomore book is a difficult one but if it was for Danielle there’s no sign in the finished product. This is a strong, character driven novel that reimagines the Australian film industry and gives the reader a prominent family full of secrets to discover. Very enjoyable.

8/10

Book #196 of 2021

The Monster Of Her Age is book #85 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

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Review: The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

The Dark Hours (Harry Bosch #23, Renee Ballard #4)
Michael Connelly
Allen & Unwin
2021, 388p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: There’s chaos in Hollywood on New Year’s Eve. Working her graveyard shift, LAPD Detective Renee Ballard seeks shelter at the end of the countdown to wait out the traditional rain of lead as hundreds of revelers shoot their guns into the air. As reports start to roll in of shattered windshields and other damage, Ballard is called to a scene where a hardworking auto shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the middle of a crowded street party.

It doesn’t take long for Ballard to determine that the deadly bullet could not have fallen from the sky. Ballard’s investigation leads her to look into another unsolved murder-a case at one time worked by Detective Harry Bosch.

Ballard and Bosch team up once again to find out where the old and new cases intersect. All the while they must look over their shoulders. The killer who has stayed undetected for so long knows they are coming after him. 

I think I own the first 3-4 Harry Bosch books and I might’ve even read 1 or 2 of them. I haven’t read any from the series since and I didn’t know who Detective Renee Ballard was before going into this book but honestly? It doesn’t really matter.

This is set as the clock is ticking over to a new year in 2021. The pandemic is still a thing, the vaccinations haven’t been rolled out quite yet and Renee Ballard is working her night shift. Apparently in LA (and maybe other places) it’s a tradition on NYE to go out and shoot guns into the sky during the fireworks. Unfortunately though, all that gunfire and fireworks makes for the perfect cover when someone is shot during the celebrations and it’s definitely a deliberate, intentional shooting. This brings Ballard back into contact with retired Detective Harry Bosch, now working as a private investigator.

As well as working on the murder case, Renee is also working on another case where two men break into women’s houses and assault them. The attacks have occurred on holidays and with several more coming up, Renee is on high alert. They need to find these people and apprehend them before the violence escalates but she can’t find anything that links them together so she doesn’t know how they’re choosing victims.

I really enjoyed this – I will say that it took me a little while to settle into it. I’m not from LA, I’m not really familiar with the geography and different police departments and such for the first little bit was a blur of directions, driving, acronyms and mentioning of various organisations. But once I got a bit deeper into the story and things started happening I was drawn into the story in a big way.

The two crimes are both interesting, but I was definitely more invested in the sexual assault case that Ballard was working. As someone who has lived alone in the past, I find crimes like this both terrifying but also necessary in terms of being explored because while they can seem the thing out of worst nightmares, too crazy to be real, they are real and you only have to look at examples like the Golden State Rapist/Killer to see that sometimes, they’re very difficult cases to crack.

Renee is working with a fellow officer who has definitely lost empathy for the victims in sex crimes, which is something that I suppose happens after prolonged exposure. Victims stop being seen as victims, they’re just numbers in a steadily growing pile and it becomes about what they didn’t do vs what they did do, such as when one of the victims has a shower before reporting the crime. The ability to understand why someone might do that (or why people might not report these crimes at all) gets lost and Renee isn’t afraid to put sneering male officers or her jaded female co-worker in their places.

I liked Renee a lot – this is my first experience reading about her and she’s much more the main character now. I suppose Bosch has become older throughout the 23 books and moved into another area now, no longer working as an active police officer. I assume Ballard is the author’s way of keeping the police involved in the series and I think she’s an excellent character. So much so that I really want to go back and read the other books that she is in. She’s smart, dedicated, not afraid to break a rule here and there if it’s for the greater good. She sees a lot of problems within the force and I think she’s struggling for how best to deal with that. This is post Black Lives Matter and just prior to the exit of Trump and there’s the Defund The Police movement, resentment is high on cops at the moment and this is addressed repeatedly. They are spat on, abused, harassed, targeted, their every move watched because unfortunately, bad cops get a lot of press in America, especially when they keep shooting black people. It’s interesting to see it from the other side even though I don’t think it’s as simple as Ballard and some of her colleagues say either. If anything sometimes the things that happen in this book seem to create an even stronger argument for new organisations to undertake some of this work, like the checking in with victims of a crime.

I thought the ending was awesome – Ballard has loads of courage or zero self-preservation. Maybe both! I’m honestly not sure yet but I love it.

If you’re a fan of this series, I’m sure this will be a new favourite and if not – like me, who has very limited experience with this series? Well it’s definitely the sort of book that will hook you in and make you want to catch up. Definitely.

8/10

Book #203 of 2021

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Review: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Ariadne
Jennifer Saint
Wildfire
2021, 386p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

ARIADNE gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

Bought this book solely because of the cover. It’s stunning.

I also really liked The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller and thought I’d like to read some more books that were quite similar. I don’t know much about Ancient Greek mythology – just the basics really. Zeus, Hera, Hercules, stuff like that. So while I know the story of the Minotaur, I didn’t know much about Ariadne but I’m not really sure that’s a bad thing. I had no preconceived ideas about what might happen in this story, and so therefore, everything that did happen, was unexpected.

Ariadne is a Crete Princess, daughter of a feared ruler. In order to punish Minos, her father, it is her mother who suffers and bears a monstrous offspring which is half human, half bull. Despite the fact that her brother is hideous, Ariadne loves him and cares for him as a baby, until he grows too big and dangerous. Now he roams a labyrinth beneath the palace and as part of a deal Minos made with a rebellious Athens, they must send a slew of their young men and women every year, who are placed into the labyrinth as food to the Minotaur.

Desperate to escape the fate her father has chosen for her, marriage to a much older and loathsome man, it’s no surprise that Ariadne is drawn to the handsome Theseus, Prince of Athens and volunteer to be one of the sacrifices. But Theseus plans to defeat the Minotaur, something that has never been accomplished before. Sweet talked by Theseus, Ariadne gives him the information he needs and escapes with him, believing she’ll be his wife. Instead, Ariadne finds herself abandoned on an island to die, a victim in Theseus’s plot.

Ariadne recognises very early on that is women who pay for the sins of men. She sees her mother suffer, humiliated not for anything that she personally has done, but in retaliation for something her father did. Her mother becomes a shell of a human, broken by the experience. Ariadne expresses her reluctance to be married off to her father’s choice and is ignored. Her wishes aren’t relevant – she’s a Princess of Crete and her value to her father is what he can get in return for promising his young, pretty daughter to the highest bidder. It’s not a surprise really, when she’s taken in by the charming, handsome and young Theseus who seems so valiant and honourable. And when she’s betrayed by him, she realises that again, she’s paid for the sins of her father. He’ll spare her no mercy, she knows that, even if she can escape her island, which doesn’t seem likely.

As well as Ariadne’s point of view, this book also contains the point of view of Ariadne’s younger sister Phaedra, who is another victim in political manoeuvring. Her fate wasn’t known to me either (I did a lot of googling after I finished this book). I felt like Phaedra’s story highlights something quite interesting – she’s married off in the same way as Princesses are, in a political deal that is supposed to ensure peace. Her feelings are complex, give she knows the person she’s being married off to betrayed her and probably her sister too (although the extent to which he did this isn’t known to her until later). When she has children in this marriage, for some women that would be solace. Not so for Phaedra, who doesn’t relate to her children or really, the role of motherhood. Phaedra’s story is a sad one, as portrayed in this book, her search for love and inability to see that she’s looked in very much the wrong place. And how it ends…

Although Ariadne has awareness of the way women suffer, to be honest, it doesn’t really change the circumstances for her. She is still a pawn in the games of men, and in this version, it still decides her fate. In some ways, Ariadne’s one decision for herself, still means that she ends up with very little agency. If you know the myth then you know her marriage and the fact that it’s a prolific one with many offspring and whilst it at first seems quite happy, Ariadne ends up very worried about the direction her husband has taken and ultimately, that direction sweeps her along with it. All her awareness doesn’t end up helping her, nor does the fate of Phaedra.

I’m not sure this is as overtly feminist a telling as the promotion for it seems to suggest. I still really enjoyed it, probably because I had very little knowledge about this prior to reading it. Scholars or those who are well versed with it might not feel the same way, but this will always be the way with retellings I think. I thought the writing was good and the story kept me engaged, but I found the ending disappointing.

8/10

Book #198 of 2021

This is book #31 of the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

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