All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Top 10 Tuesday 5th February

Welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now lives with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. This week our topic is:

Top 10 Upcoming Releases I’m On The Fence About

1. Chains Of Gold by Cassandra Clare. Do I really want to get into another Shadowhunter trilogy? I’ve read TMI, I’ve read TID, I’m about to start on TDA at some stage. I sort of am getting to the stage where I feel if you’ve read one of these, you’ve kind of read them all. They just repeat various plots in different timelines with characters who are quite similar but have different names. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, because I mostly do. I’m just not sure I need to read anymore? Although this cover is lovely. So we’ll see.

2. The Red Scrolls Of Magic by Cassandra Clare. Oh look, it’s more from this world. Cassandra Clare is really going at this for all that it has, isn’t she? The thing is, Magnus is actually my favourite character from the entire universe and this is about him so…… Although the blurb sounds a bit meh, I do quite like Marcus and Alec but I like them a lot more when they’re all angsty and having issues. I’ll probably read this before I read Chains Of Gold.

3. Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell. I was on the fence about Carry On before it came out and I ended up enjoying it. I’m not sure I’m keen for more though. I also don’t know about this cover either, tbh.

4. The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh. I am actually behind reading this author. I’ve read The Wrath & the Dawn and really liked it and I still have to read The Rose & the Dagger as well as her other duology. I’m just not sure if I want to read about vampires.

5. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. Do I? I don’t know! I’m probably going to have to.

6. I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella. I have to admit, I really like the sound of the blurb for this one – except the main character’s name is “Fixie” and that is ridiculous. Even if it’s a nickname. However, I have this weird relationship with Sophie Kinsella books. The ones I love, I absolutely adore. However the other ones……oy. And I never know what I’m going to get until I’m part way in. So every single time it’s a random draw.

7. The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren. Okay, people have been singing Christina Lauren’s praises lately, the last few releases especially but I read a couple a little while ago and they really didn’t do much for me. Maybe they’ve switched plots a bit, and I need to give some of their more recent work a go.

Honestly, this is all I have this week. I don’t tend to be on the fence about a lot of books – I either want to read something or I know it probably isn’t for me. Sometimes I get sent books that I give a go, not thinking I’ll be super into them and sometimes I end up loving them. So often I’ll decide to read something on a whim not sure if I’ll love it or not but I don’t tend to look at lists of books and wonder if I’m so-so on them.

I try to surround myself with books I know I really want to read, rather than worrying about the ones I’m not sure about!

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Review: Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Ayesha At Last 
Uzma Jalaluddin
Corvus Books
2019, 339p
Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A big-hearted, captivating, modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice, with hijabs instead of top hats and kurtas instead of corsets.

AYESHA SHAMSI has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been overtaken by a demanding teaching job. Her boisterous Muslim family, and numerous (interfering) aunties, are professional naggers. And her flighty young cousin, about to reject her one hundredth marriage proposal, is a constant reminder that Ayesha is still single.

Ayesha might be a little lonely, but the one thing she doesn’t want is an arranged marriage. And then she meets Khalid… How could a man so conservative and judgmental (and, yes, smart and annoyingly handsome) have wormed his way into her thoughts so quickly?

As for Khalid, he’s happy the way he is; his mother will find him a suitable bride. But why can’t he get the captivating, outspoken Ayesha out of his mind? They’re far too different to be a good match, surely…

So the second I heard about this, I knew I would have to read it. A modern day Pride & Prejudice but featuring Muslim characters and set in Toronto. And I’m happy to say that it lived up to all of my expectations and was an entertaining but also thought provoking read.

Ayesha is approaching 30 and has recently taken her first job as a substitute teacher at a local high school. Teaching is not her passion but it’s a good, solid career and it will help her support her family. Ayesha has the soul of a poet and often performs at poetry nights but she’s not sure she can make that a career. She’s part of a large family that have all moved to Toronto but Ayesha’s mother and grandparents do not really see the need to arrange her marriage or pressure her in any way. Her younger, flighty cousin has just entered the marriage market and is determined to cultivate 100 proposals.

In contrast, Khalid is a much more conservative Muslim, devoting large portions of his day to prayer and visiting the local mosque often. He’s strict in his dress as well, which causes a problem with his new boss who has a very stereotypical view of Muslims. His friends think he should lighten up a bit, relax the dress sense and live a little but Khalid finds comfort in his routines and after what happened with his sister, he’s happy for his mother to choose his bride.

Things get so complicated when Khalid and Ayesha meet and both of them experience that spark of chemistry. They are not at all compatible – Ayesha enjoys freedom as someone who is basically a spinster in her community and she’s not the sort to give up her career or anything like that if she were to marry. Khalid knows his mother would never approve of Ayesha either and it should not work.

I really, really enjoyed this. Khalid is a character that is unflinchingly Muslim. He’s very devout, he dresses in a very traditional manner and he is very rigid in his ways as well. Definitely a very Muslim Mr Darcy. He’s also of course, prone to judgement as well. His mother is a very domineering sort of woman, who sees choosing Khalid’s bride as a way of maintaining control over him. Khalid doesn’t care how his actions look to anyone, he is who he is. He’s also a bit socially awkward so when his new boss comes in with assumptions and begins a campaign to try and basically force him out, he doesn’t really know how to negotiate the situation. I think that part of the story was very interesting – Khalid’s boss is representative of how a lot of uninformed white people feel about seeing Muslims who continue to practice their religion openly and frequently, who choose not to shake hands or touch women, who grow beards and who don’t conform to the social norm in terms of dress. Khalid is a South Asian Muslim but his boss assumes he’s Middle Eastern (because that’s where all Muslims come from of course), saying he can go back there to where he belongs if he doesn’t like the tasks she’s setting for him (which are not in his job description) completely ignoring the fact that he’s Canadian of South Asian origin.

Few people get the chance to know Khalid well but he’s hard working and very reliable and capable of humour. Definitely a bit straight-laced but he’s helpful with a good heart and a few little hidden depths. He takes some getting used to, to allow his character to really show. I really enjoyed his devotion to cooking and how it makes him feel – and the fact that he feels as though this is a piece of himself he has to hide away. Ayesha isn’t a good cook and doesn’t enjoy it and has no real time for the traditional meetings of families in arranging marriages. She doesn’t care to fulfil a quiet role being seen and not heard. I really loved her relationship with her grandparents, particularly her grandfather who is a very interesting man. Her cousin is extraordinarily tedious (a modern day Lydia), indulged and spoiled, beautiful and lazy. She is happy to put her hand up for something and then leave Ayesha to do all the work. She’s also happy to deliberately hurt her cousin’s feelings as well. The stuff about Ayesha’s own parent’s marriage was really interesting too and I think her perceptions of that had definitely influenced the way she herself felt about marriage and the role it played.

This was highly entertaining but also didn’t shy away from highlighting discrimination and ostracisation in the workplace. I enjoyed the humour and the differing family relationships – Khalid’s family was much different to Ayesha’s and her immediate family was different to that of her uncle, etc. This all blended together really well.

8/10

Book #18 of 2019

 

I’m counting this towards my 2019 Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’m ticking off prompt #11: A book featuring a religion other than your own.

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January Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 21
Fiction: 20
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 4
Books On My TBR List: 4
Books in a Series: 10
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 9
Male/Female Authors: 1/20
Kindle Books: 4
Books I Owned or Bought: 6
Favourite Book(s): Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Least Favourite Books: Nothing rated below a 3 this month
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 8

I feel as though January brought back my reading mojo after a pretty quiet November and December. There’s something about January that just feels like reading time. Last January I had a good reading month too, something about kids being on holidays, lazy warm summer days, I don’t know. I always feel like January is a good ‘reset’.

First month of the year also resulted in the first 10/10 rating for 2019 – Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend it. It’s such an amazing book in ways I cannot describe properly without ruining things but go ahead and check it out. Also I didn’t rate anything below a 3/5 on Goodreads and for such a high total of books, that’s a pretty damn good month. I’m using this spreadsheet to track my reading and it’s working out really well. I like being able to see at a glance via the pie charts what my percentages of ARCS/bought/library books are or how many books by POC I’ve read. It also helps keep my Reading Women Challenge organised as well, as I can see immediately which prompts I’ve ticked off, as there’s a tab for that.

Challenge update – I’m currently doing 2 challenges for this year: the Reading Women Challenge and the Australian Women Writers Challenge. In January I finished 8 books that counted towards a challenge and I think it was an even split. 4 for the RWC and 4 for the AWWC. I’m going to have to pick the pace up for the AWWC because I think I signed up to read/review 80 books for it this year and so far, that is not the sort of pace that is going to get me there!

Moving onto February. Here’s my TBR pile and it’s a bit of a whopper:

So there are 12 books on this pile but I’ve actually already read 2 of them (the reviews will be posted this month). I am more excited (and scared) than I can say about Vardaesia by Lynette Noni. I’m so ready to find out how this ends but I know there’s probably likely that everyone I love will not make it to the end alive. Also What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume! Jenna is so amazing and this is her debut novel and I can’t wait to get to know Maisie and learn her story. Also The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan takes us back to Cormac Reilly and I am totally here for it. The rest look like a good mix to keep things from getting too similar as well.

I also have a few other books I have an interest in reading this February – some for my RWC of course and I also bought 2 books today actually. One is the 2x winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards: No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, which won both the non-fiction title and the overall literary award. The amazing thing is that Boochani has been on Manus Island since 2013 and wrote the book basically by text message in Farsi. He was given special dispensation to enter the awards as he’s not an Australian citizen or permanent resident, which is a requirement. I have actually been curious about this for a while (I follow him, or whoever tweets for him on Twitter) and the announcement of these awards was enough for me to head out and pick myself up a copy. I also picked up Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi which I have seen lots of people praising highly.

Hopefully February is as successful a reading month as January.

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Review: 99% Mine by Sally Thorne

99% Mine 
Sally Thorne
Piatkus
2019, 368p
Copy courtesy Hechtete AUS via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Crush (n.): a strong and often short-lived infatuation, particularly for someone beyond your reach . . .

Darcy Barrett found her dream man at age eight – ever since, she’s had to learn to settle for good enough. Having conducted a global survey of men, she can categorically say that no one measures up to Tom Valeska, whose only flaw is that he’s her twin brother’s best friend – oh, and that 99 percent of the time, he hasn’t seemed interested in her.

When Darcy and Jamie inherit a tumble-down cottage from their grandmother, they’re left with strict instructions to bring it back to its former glory and sell the property. Darcy plans to be in an aisle seat halfway across the ocean as soon as the renovations start, but before she can cut and run, she finds a familiar face on her porch: house-flipper extraordinaire Tom’s arrived, he’s bearing power tools, and he’s single for the first time in almost a decade.

Suddenly Darcy’s considering sticking around – just to make sure her twin doesn’t ruin the cottage’s inherent magic with his penchant for chrome. She’s definitely not staying because of her new business partner’s tight t-shirts. But sparks start to fly – and not just because of the faulty wiring. Soon, a one percent chance with Tom is no longer enough. This time around, Darcy’s switching things up. She’s going to make Tom Valeska 99 percent hers.

Two and a half years ago, or thereabouts, I read Sally Thorne’s debut novel, The Hating Game and it became an absolute favourite. I re-read it obsessively – I absolutely adored those characters. I’ve been waiting quite eagerly for her next book although I know it obviously won’t be another The Hating Game. However the weight of expectations plays a role in how we feel about books, so I’m stating upfront that quite possibly that has contributed here.

I didn’t love this. I actually really struggled with it and considered DNF’ing it more than once. It’s not the writing per se, I think for me the biggest problem I had was just the characters. I didn’t connect with either of them (the main two, Darcy and Tom). I found Darcy very abrasive and overly, deliberately quirky, which is something I never enjoy in a character. So much is made of how ‘different’ she is – her hair, her dress, her jobs, her inability to settle down, her free spirit. She’s also very forward and a lot of the way she thinks/talks/acts towards Tom made me think vaguely of sexual harassment and objectification. I tried role switching, making it like Darcy was a man, thinking/saying etc these things towards a female character and it made me pretty uncomfortable. Darcy also has a heart condition, which is referred to every other page or so but don’t ask me what it is because the book never makes it clear because Darcy mostly ignores it. It’s serious enough that she should be having regular visits to her cardiologist but she doesn’t bother because she doesn’t want to know, and she’s a free spirit etc. Everyone keeps talking about how this heart condition could literally kill her but she just pretends it isn’t there for almost the entire book and then at the end it’s fixed mostly off page almost as a by-the-way type of thing, which was a bit weird.

Tom is mostly pleasant, although sometimes his character seems inconsistent. At first he’s this super nice, shy, blushes-at-everything-Darcy-says sort of guy but at some stage he Hulks out into some possessive, over-protective Alpha male when the book tries to make it super obvious that Darcy can handle herself (she works in a bar frequented by types that need handling) except when she can’t and needs help. There’s a lot of unnecessary drama surrounding Tom’s quote on the renovation and how he’s Darcy’s twin brother’s best friend and the whole ‘my sister is off limits’ thing has never really done it for me. Darcy’s brother is mostly a jerk until suddenly he’s completely not and the random way he turns out to have a relationship with someone is really bizarre. In fact, if I had to think of one word to describe this book, it’d probably be random. Things just happen randomly, things are randomly not explained, the entire conflict for the last part of the book makes no sense and I found the resolution very weak.

There were parts of this that I did enjoy – some of the banter was funny, I liked the home renovation stuff (I enjoy reading books set around that sort of thing) and I really loved Darcy’s friend and her underwear business. That was amazing. But I think for me the book needed more scenes to share the background of Darcy, Jamie and Tom, flesh out their childhood and teenage connection. It didn’t really seem to translate well to the current day setting without that and I just wanted a bit more. I didn’t really feel much chemistry between Darcy and Tom unfortunately and they just weren’t a couple that I felt myself passionately behind. This just wasn’t my sort of story.

6/10

Book #194 of 2018

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Review: The Suspect by Fiona Barton

The Suspect (Kate Waters #3)
Fiona Barton
Transworld Publishers (Random House UK)
2019, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The New York Times bestselling author of The Widow returns with a brand new novel of twisting psychological suspense about every parent’s worst nightmare…

When two eighteen-year-old girls go missing in Thailand, their families are thrust into the international spotlight: desperate, bereft, and frantic with worry. What were the girls up to before they disappeared?

Journalist Kate Waters always does everything she can to be first to the story, first with the exclusive, first to discover the truth–and this time is no exception. But she can’t help but think of her own son, whom she hasn’t seen in two years, since he left home to go travelling.

As the case of the missing girls unfolds, they will all find that even this far away, danger can lie closer to home than you might think…

I read the first book in this series, The Widow several years ago now but somehow I missed the second book, The Child. And in fact I was only aware of this one because the publisher offered me a copy. It goes to show how hard it can be sometimes, to keep up with new releases and track a series. Having really enjoyed The Widow and liked this one as well, I am definitely going to have to go back and check out The Child.

Journalist Kate Waters gets the heads up that two young girls have gone missing over in Thailand. They’re supposed to be on the trip of their lives after high school, before getting on with the rest of their lives. It has been meticulously planned and facebook and social media and texting allow the girls to check in every day. When a few days go by with no word, when the girls were supposed to contact their parents to open their school results and their social media has gone dead, the alarm is raised.

This brings in Detective Bob Sparkes and he and Kate have always had quite an amicable working relationship. Kate perhaps feels attached to this case because her own son has dropped out of Uni and disappeared to the other side of the world (Thailand also, to be exact) to ‘find himself’. They hear from him rarely and I think this sort of thing is Kate’s worst nightmare. And something she probably this about every day.

This escalates from a missing person case where mostly people are trying to reassure the parents that kids do this all the time. They get distracted, forget to update their social media. Probably just took off somewhere on an adventure and forgot to inform anyone. And that is probably something that might’ve been the case years ago but in this day of social media where you can basically update your life in real time and communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world in seconds, it’s more difficult to believe. There aren’t too many places you can’t get wifi these days and even remote places in Thailand provide the perfect instagram opportunities. The reality of the girls’ disappearance is far grimmer.

There’s a large portion of this book devoted to the Thai police’s deliberate incompetence in an investigation which results in the UK having to step in and basically take over and start everything from scratch. This just delays everything, means that crucial evidence is probably lost and gives the parents of the girls even more distress. It seems like the Thai police are bought and paid for and they’re willing to write off foreigners as easy come, easy go. Without the dedication of Kate Waters (who ends up personally connected to the case when it seems as though her son may be involved somehow) and Bob Sparkes, it seems as though the parents would never have gotten the answers they needed to help.

Which makes me wonder how often something does go wrong overseas for travellers and how it might just be easier to write it off as an accident or this or that and close the case, rather than highlight the dangers of travelling to what is a highly popular tourist area. Lots of people go to Thailand from all over the world – it’s famously cheap, there are many beautiful beaches and there’s also a lot of interesting cultural stuff as well.

Kate is a journalist who becomes the story in this and I found that part to be very well done. Because of her experience, she’s able to recognise the tricks her colleagues are pulling on her in order to get her comfortable and try and get the story. She suddenly gets to experience what it’s like to be relentlessly door knocked and having people invading her privacy and printing things about her family. Digging into her son’s past – in fact they dig up things about her son that Kate and her husband don’t even know. They’re forced to recognise that much of what he’s told them has been a lie and they really have no idea what he’s been up to the entire time he’s been overseas. Likewise much is made of the ‘social media life’ – where you can make everything look perfect, portray that you are having a fabulous time, that everything is amazing so that all the people at home are envious and don’t realise that the reality can actually be very different. This is what happens with the two girls – because one of them has so many #livingthelife posts, her parents don’t realise that things are going wrong until she completely disappears. It takes time to gather the information they need, because no teen on holiday ever tells their parents what’s really going on!

I really enjoyed this, especially the multiple view points. I felt that way of telling it gave such a good overall picture and the reader was never really left waiting for other characters to finally stumble on things. I also liked the swerve and the way in which Kate was forced to examine her career and what it’s like to be on the other side of a press barrage. I appreciated her professional relationship with DS Sparkes and how that was tested once it became clear that Kate’s son was somehow connected but also how they worked through it, both realising that their jobs are somewhat easier when they cooperate, trade information and work together respectfully.

I honestly need to keep better track of this series! Time to go back and read The Child.

8/10

Book #17 of 2019

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Top 10 Tuesday 29th January

Welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now lives with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It features a different bookish theme each week and this week we are talking……

The Top 10 Recent Additions To My TBR List

1. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. Sent to me by a fabulous fellow blogger. Fun fact – we own a lot of Barbara Kingsolver novels but I’ve never actually read her before. Maybe I shall start with this one and work my way backwards through them all! This sounds really good so I’m thinking I might start this next.

2. Not Bad People by Brandy Scott. Sent to me by the publisher (Harper Collins AUS). This is recommended for fans of Liane Moriarty (which I am) and Robyn Harding (who I don’t know). It’s about three women who have been friends for decades whose innocent act may have caused a terrible tragedy.

3. Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare. The final in the Infernal Devices series. I’m actually enjoying this series quite a lot – it’s full of drama in Clare’s style but it’s…….less annoying drama. And it’s only 3 books long which is perfect. Stretching TMI out to 6 books made it feel like a bit of a slog and the constant back and forth with Jace and Clary was exhausting. This feels much better.

4. The Map Of Salt And Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. This is a dual timeline narrative – a modern day refugee from Syria and a medieval adventurer who is apprenticed to a renown mapmaker. I find this interesting because in the modern day timeline, the family move from New York back to Syria to be closer to their family after the death of the husband/father. I am curious what that might be like as an experience, whereas generally I am reading about the journey being leaving a war torn country for somewhere considered safer.

5. The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi. Okay seriously, this cover. And the picture doesn’t do it justice because it’s gold foil in reality and it’s amazing. I’m barely even sure what it’s about but I’ve been hearing amazing things about this everywhere and so I’ve decided that I have to read it. Obviously.

6. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie. Added this on a bit of a whim. I like the cover and I’m looking for some more fantasy to read. Meddling gods, blood sacrifices, fun and games, right?

7. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane. It’s Mhairi McFarlane. Enough said.

8. Siege And Storm by Leigh Bardugo. Okay, so many years ago I read the first book in this trilogy, Shadow And Bone. And I never got around to finishing it. I really do need to do some catching up in this universe (likewise I’ve read Six Of Crows but not Crooked Kingdom). Although to be honest I probably have to go back and read the first one again too, before this.

9. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth. I’m really looking forward to this. All of Sally’s books are amazing.

10. One In A Million by Lindsey Kelk. I’ve read quite a lot of Kelk’s books but somehow this one kind of eluded me when it came out. I picked it up recently in an iBooks sale. See how I go.

Now let’s see how many of these I actually read in the coming months!

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Review: Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander

Half Moon Lake 
Kirsten Alexander
Bantam (Penguin Random House AUS)
2019, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Inspired by the true story of a missing child who when eventually found was claimed by two mothers, Half Moon Lake is a captivating novel about the parent-child bond, identity, and what it really means to be part of a family.

On a summer’s day in southern Louisiana, 1913, Sonny Davenport wanders away from his family’s vacation home at Half Moon Lake and doesn’t come back.

John Henry and Mary Davenport search for their child across the state and throughout the South. John Henry offers an enormous reward for Sonny’s return. Mary turns to spiritualists and occultists. Tom McCabe, a reporter at The St. Landry Clarion, becomes unhealthily attached to Mary and John Henry. After years of crushing disappointments following hope, Sonny is found with a peddler in Alabama. But the Davenports’ joy at finding their son is cut short when another woman, unwed domestic worker Grace Mill, claims the boy is hers.

As the two mothers fight to claim the child, people choose sides, testing loyalties, the notion of truth, and the meaning of the word family.

Half Moon Lake is a work of fiction. There is, however, a fascinating true story that inspired the novel – that of American boy Bobby Dunbar.

I wasn’t aware of the Bobby Dunbar case before I received this book but it makes for some fascinating reading. And it’s truly a great inspiration for a fictional story. It’s 1913 in America’s Deep South – there are rumblings in Europe but America is far removed from all of that. The Davenport family are wealthy and successful, well known in their small town. They are spending the summer at their lake house and John Henry is an enthusiast of the Scout teachings. He’s determined that his boys enjoy freedom to learn and survive and so the three of them – George who is 7, Paul who is 6 and young Sonny who is 4 – head into the woods alone for some fun and games. The problem is, only George and Paul return and there is no sign of Sonny. A search turns up nothing and eventually the Davenports are forced to return to their house. Going on with their lives is impossible and John Henry spends his time criss-crossing the southern states, following up leads and sightings. Mary spirals downward, lost in her grief, willing to do anything that might be able to help her find her boy.

Over one hundred years ago, trying to find a missing child is a very different campaign. There isn’t TV and social media to spam the entire country with pictures. There isn’t a way for people who claim to have a sighting to snap a quick picture and send it to the police. Instead John Henry and the Sheriff must travel (usually by train) to each location where there’s a credible sighting, something where the person gives them information that means it might be more than just a hoax. For two years it comes to nothing, until apparently, Sonny is found with a tramp or drifter. Or is he?

Likewise, there’s no way to confirm that the found child is Sonny. Not beyond his parents looking at him and going well yes, that’s our child. But it’s been over two years and Sonny would’ve aged from 4 to 6 and spent most of that time on the road probably without regular food, perhaps with rough treatment. These days it would be confirmed with a simple DNA test and there’d be absolutely no room for error but the word of John Henry and Mary seems to be enough. When someone else comes forward and claims the child as hers, the court case against the tramp also expands to include who will be given the right of custody to the child but it’s another example of everything that is wrong in a have and have not society. John Henry and Mary are wealthy and extremely well regarded in their society. The man who was found with the child who may or may not be Sonny is a drifter and the woman who claims that he is her child is an unwed mother of two. You get to see all sorts of lawyer’s tricks and the judge is enough to make anyone despair of anything remotely resembling a ‘justice’ system.

An underlying question is how far will someone go in order to make the person they love happy? How far will they go to ‘fix’ their family and try and make it whole again, even at the expense of others? To lose a child would be such a heartbreaking thing I cannot even imagine it – but to lose a child and not know what happened to them. Is that even worse? To imagine all sorts of horrors – Louisiana is swamp territory so there’s the prospect of alligators. A general theory during the search for Sonny that he was snatched up by a tramp near the railway line and there’s all sorts of terrible places a parent’s mind could go with that. And then there’s just not being able to find him and the reality of leaving him behind. Is it possible that you’d do anything to fill that void, even claim someone else’s child despite having a little niggle of doubt that it’s your own son? Two years is a long time and a sighting after that must’ve seemed like a miracle. Mary is a desperate woman who isn’t whole without Sonny. And John Henry seems to be the sort of man who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants, something that is made very clear by the end of the book. He seems this unassuming sort of man in the beginning, although he’s clearly full of privilege in the way of white, wealthy men. This becomes more obvious in the way that he doesn’t see anyone who doesn’t fit into his bracket – they don’t matter, they’re barely even human.

I really enjoyed this – the cover is moody and eye catching and I think the story captures the setting well. It was a very different time in so many ways and this is all reflected with skill. Kirsten Alexander is a promising novelist to watch and I’ll be very keen to read her next offering.

8/10

Book #16 of 2019

Half Moon Lake is the 3rd book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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Review: Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Everything Here Is Beautiful
Mira T. Lee
Viking
2018, 358p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two Chinese-American sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth.

Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them?

Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, an immigrant story, and a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness. But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone—and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all.

I picked up this book from my library because it was recommended by the Reading Women Challenge Goodreads group as a really good title for one of the prompts, which was read a book with a woman who has a mental illness. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, so I was looking for a fiction title for that prompt (and pretty much all prompts) so when this one was so easily accessible to me, it seemed a good choice.

Miranda and Lucia are sisters, born to a mother that emigrated to America from China after the death of her husband. She raises the girls on her own, and they could not be more different. Miranda has always been the responsible one, the older one who has protected Lucia and always looked out for her. Always given her a place to crash when she needed it. Miranda went to college, got a degree and was into a good job. Lucia also went to college but she’s also a free spirit, spending years travelling after her degree, through places like Ecuador. Teaching English in Central America, that sort of thing. Miranda is skeptical when Lucia gets married – is skeptical about a lot of Lucia’s decisions and life.

Because Lucia is mentally ill. She has stages, where the illness overwhelms her and she cannot cope. She is often institutionalised against her will and it’s an ongoing battle to find the right sort of medication and to get her to take it. This book I felt, was a really good look at several aspects of both being mentally ill and caring/loving someone that is. Miranda is often forced to make difficult decisions, to advocate for her sister when she is hospitalised because she’s just a number and the goal seems to be getting her stable enough to get her out of there, even if that’s not the best course of treatment. Miranda finds that people don’t want to listen to her when she tells them what sort of medications haven’t worked for Lucia or what she won’t take for various reasons.

The mental illness that Lucia lives with, is something that will never be cured. She’s told this, given the statistics at what her success rates will be (or not). The likelihood of her being hospitalised again. It requires constant monitoring, medication and vigilance from those around her, who have to observe her behaviour and check for any changes, any signs that she may be entering another phase where it requires more treatment. Her illness sometimes motivates the choices she makes, the goals she prioritises. I feel as though the author does a fantastic job of portraying Lucia’s illness and how it creates chaos not just in her life, but in the lives of those around her. She struggles with things that she thinks is real, trying to do the right thing but it turns out to be horribly wrong, neglectful and dangerous.

The parts of the book that I felt were really good where when Lucia is hospitalised for her illness, sectioned against her will in order for her to get some treatment. The way in which people view mental illness and the way in which they go about treating it is really interesting – and pretty much grossly inadequate. Lucia is just one of many in what are probably overcrowded wards where the aim is to just get them ‘well enough’ to be discharged with a bunch of pamphlets to manage their own illness. Self help groups, counselling groups, out patient care, psychologist appointments. It’s quite overwhelming for most people I think and the idea is that they learn to manage their own illness, which is a good aim. But I think it’s difficult to expect that at times, when there are medications that have savage side effects and dosage is such a tricky thing that it can take so long to get correct. You can tell that some of the staff in the hospitals are anxious to help, to do their best and others are disinterested. Miranda has difficulty getting the attending doctor to even speak to her and at one stage, has to file some sort of injunction about medication. No matter what Lucia does, Miranda drops everything in her life and comes whenever she feels she needs to. Even when Lucia is resentful, vicious and screaming at her to get out of her life. Miranda is a study in patience and exasperation and it’s clear how much that her dedication to Lucia affects her life. Even when she’s living on the other side of the world, her constant monitoring of Lucia and her readiness to always go to her rescue definitely creates ripples in her own life.

I did expect there to be more about the sister relationship but they do spend most of the book half a world apart and honestly, sometimes they are barely in contact. A lot of that closeness seemed to be before the book began, when Lucia was turning up and crashing on the floors of the various places that Miranda lived. There’s a glimpse of their childhood at the beginning and then they’re both adults, graduated college, after Lucia’s travels and most of their relationship is hinging on a connection that we didn’t really get to see. I can’t help but admire Miranda for her constant prioritising of Lucia, her readiness to always be willing to step in and help in any way she can. Lucia is a difficult character to get a grasp on, she’s like smoke, always drifting and changing shape, impossible to hold. Her struggle is an every day thing and the desperation with which she wants to get her life back, get a job doing something meaningful to her, is very well portrayed. I enjoyed this, I feel like it helped me get a better understanding on a lot of the things surrounding mental illness, including the treatment and the stigma towards people who are open about their struggle, or who are trying to get their lives back in order.

8/10

Book #15 of 2019

Counting this towards my Reading Women Challenge – filling prompt #2, A woman with a mental illness.

 

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Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

An Easy Death (Gunnie Rose #1)
Charlaine Harris
Saga Press (Simon & Schuster)
2018, 306p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In a new trilogy that presents a chilling alternate history of the United States where everyone believes in magic—but no one is sure whether they can trust it.

Gunnie Lizbeth Rose has been hired by a pair of Russian sorcerers as both their local guide and muscle through the small towns of East Texas as they search for a distant relative of an infamous sorcerer whose bloodline can help save their emperor-in-exile as an ever-increasing number of assassins tries to stop them.

After the assassination of FDR in the 1930s, the US collapses and is picked off by the UK, Canada, Mexico, and Russia. We find ourselves in the southwestern states now known as Texoma. It is here that the gunnie Lizbeth Rose tries to piece out a life, running security on runs from Texoma, across the border to Mexico where work and prospects are stronger. When two Russian magicians come looking for a man named Alex Karkarov, they hire Lizbeth to find him or his family, but there are problems: The man they’re looking for is dead, but he has a daughter they now need to find, as an ever-growing set of sorcerers and gunnies do not want them to succeed. It’s a good thing Lizbeth is a deadly gunfighter; too bad she hates sorcerers, even the ones she has to learn to rely on.

I picked this up on a whim from a display at my local library when I was in picking up books I’d requested. I have only read one series by Charlaine Harris and I didn’t finish it – the Southern Vampire Mysteries/Sookie Stackhouse books. I loved it for the first 10 or so books. I remember I bought the first 6 or 8 in a box set and binged them over 4-5 days. And I enjoyed the first few seasons of True Blood, the HBO adaptation. But around book 11 or so, I think the series started to fall apart for me and I still am yet to read the last 2 books, although I do own them. But I know how the series ends and the ending wasn’t my preferred ending and I really don’t feel the need to bother right now. Maybe one day in the future I’ll pick those last 2 books up. But considering Charlaine Harris assassinated the character of my favourite person in the books steadily over the last few volumes, I doubt it.

So this is a new series, set in a fractured America after the assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt and a vicious strain of influenza wiped out not only the Vice President but also a good deal of the population. That left their armed forces weak and a bunch of other countries swept in and took great chunks of America for themselves. Canada took a bite out of the north. A few eastern states banded together and randomly swore allegiance back to Britain. The southern states became Dixie. Mexico encroached from the south. And for some reason, a Russian Tsar came along and took a part of the west coast.

Lisbeth Rose, a 19yo woman lives in the part of America now called Texoma, an amalgamation of parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico. She makes her living as a ‘gunnie’, running with a crew who take people from Texoma across the border to a more prosperous Mexico where jobs and food are easier to come by. It’s her job to pick off bandits before they attack but when her entire crew is lost on a disastrous run, that leaves Lisbeth at a loss. So she accepts a job from two Russians magicians referred to as Grigori. The Russians are often viewed with suspicion in other parts of this fractured America – Harris rewrites history to save the Russian Tsar and evacuate him and his entire family to the western coast of old America, which they take over and establish as the HRE – Holy Russian Empire. The two Russians, a woman named Paulina and a man named Eli, are searching for a particular man and his brother who can help their Tsar.

The biggest problem I had with this book is that it’s really slow. They’re travelling in a car for the most part, Lisbeth and the 2 Russians, but everything has to be examined – what Lisbeth wears, what guns she has, when she cleans them, what they eat, what every hotel room looks like, what every person looks like that tries to kill them, even what most people they just talk to in passing are like. It feels a very clinical telling, like Lisbeth honestly doesn’t have much of a personality other than being a stone cold killer. I don’t really detect any hints of affection from her to anyone in her life – not her lost lover, not the mother that raised her in difficult circumstances, not her stepfather, not the man she falls into bed with on this trip. She’s great with weapons, she’s super aware of her surroundings but that doesn’t stop her nearly dying every five pages. I also felt like the history was dolled out in really random spurts, like it would’ve been a bit better to get a clearer idea of what had happened. Lisbeth’s mother is a teacher, she’s educated and she gives the bare basics but not…..why. Why did Canada decide to help itself to a large portion of the north? It’s not like they have a reputation for that sort of thing or there had been border wars or whatever. Why did the eastern states return to British rule? Why did they pick the old California as the new Holy Russian Empire? It’s about as different from the Motherland as you can get. It’s this kind of vague thing in the background that isn’t explored enough for me.

The story felt a bit circular, like we were just repeating the same scenario over and over again – travelling to a new town, securing accomodation without raising too much suspicion, someone trying to kill them, searching for new information, leaving for a new town, repeat. This isn’t a long book – just over 300p but honestly, it took me almost 3 days to read it. I just felt like I wasn’t really getting anywhere a lot of the time, kept putting it down. One of those days I was actually out all day but it was the sort of book where I’d read 20-50p and then be like ok, that’s enough. Finally I sat down on Tuesday and was like, I just have to finish this book so I can move on. Find another book. And to be honest, the story never really picked up for me. It was the same flat level of storytelling the entire way through, which kept me disconnected from it. I was never really invested in Lisbeth and especially not invested in her and Eli, which is so random and felt really awkward, the way it was inserted into the plot.

Lisbeth doesn’t have the charm or likability that Sookie had, nor do any of the supporting characters have the easy mix of the Southern Vampire Mysteries. It’s hard not to compare an author’s series’ books but I do know that the first book in the Sookie series hooked me immediately, so much so that I read a bunch of them in a very small amount of time. This one? Did not. If I had a bunch of other books in this series, I probably wouldn’t even bother to read them. I can’t really see where it’s going to be honest and it doesn’t excite me. The world could’ve been more interesting I think, but I just didn’t really find it that well done. Like these things happened but meh, that’s all we are going to mention. I haven’t really read many Westerns or gunslinger type novels and perhaps there’s a reason for that – just not my thing I guess.

6/10

Book #14 of 2019

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Top 10 Tuesday 22nd January

Hello and welcome back to another instalment of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created and hosted by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now has a new home with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It features a different bookish related theme each week and this week we are talking…..

Top 10 Books I Mean To Read In 2018 But Didn’t Get To

  1. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. Seriously I’ve lost count of how many lists I’ve put Obsidio onto. I want to read it. I just haven’t actually picked it up yet. I know that once I do, that’ll be it, I won’t put it down until I’m done, it’s just finding the time and the headspace to be in that position.
  2. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. I really enjoyed Six Of Crows. I need to finish this. I’m hopelessly behind with a lot of Leigh Bardugo’s books, I still haven’t finished the first Grisha trilogy and everyone is really excited about a new one that’s coming out soon.
  3. Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin. Have you seen it? It’s a doorstop. Who knows when I’ll get around to it!
  4. Children Of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Heard a lot of good things about this but I’m not gonna lie – the behaviour by the author directed at Nora Roberts of all people, has really made me question how I feel about reading this. If you have a query or problem, maybe you approach that person, or your publisher in private and make your concerns known so that they can be addressed.
  5. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. I picked up a copy of this one on iBooks and I’ve had it for a little while now. I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it but just never got around to it. Maybe in 2019. Before #2 comes out? (Probably not. Let’s be realistic).
  6. The Rise & Fall Of Becky Sharp by Sarra Manning. I love Sarra Manning’s books! All the books of hers I own are eBooks but I actually wanted to buy a hard copy of this only I haven’t come across it anywhere. I’ll have to order it online.
  7. The Last Woman Hanged by Caroline Overington. Last year I read a fictionalised retelling of the story of the last woman hanged in Australia and it was really good. This book by Overington is a non-fiction account and I really wanted to read it to learn more. I own a copy, just need to you know, like everything else, find the time amid all the new releases etc.
  8. Circe by Madeline Miller. I loved The Song of Achilles although it took me forever to read that too! So it’s no surprise that I haven’t read this one yet.
  9. The Boat People by Sharon Bala. I really like the sound of this and even though this is about people reaching Canada, it’s really relevant to me as an Australian because of what our government does to people who arrive or try, to arrive by boat. This has reminded me that I really need to order a copy of this. I haven’t seen it anywhere locally.
  10. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Because it is even a Top 10 Tuesday list of mine if this book isn’t on it?
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