All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Completely by Ruthie Knox

Completely (New York #3)
Ruthie Knox
Loveswept
2017, 252p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Beneath her whole “classic English beauty” appearance is an indomitable spirit that has turned Rosemary Chamberlain into something of a celebrity mountain climber. But after an Everest excursion takes a deadly turn, Rosemary is rescued by her quick-thinking guide, New York native Kal Beckett. Rosemary’s brush with death brings out a primal need to celebrate life—and inspires a night of steamy sex with the rather gorgeous man who saved her.

The son of a famous female climber with a scandalous past, Kal Beckett is still trying to find himself. In the Zen state of mind where Kal spends most of his time, anything can happen—like making love to a fascinating stranger and setting off across the world with her the next morning. But as their lives collide in the whirlwind of passion that is New York City, the real adventure is clearly just beginning. . . . 

This is the third and final book in the New York series, connected by the middle story to a previous book from Ruthie Knox. In this book, Rosemary is the ex-wife of Winston, from book  2. After their divorce she decided that she was going to do things for herself after a long time of simply being a wife and mother or as she describes it, “wallpaper”. She joins a group of women for something called the Seven Summits – climbing the highest peaks on the seven continents beginning for some reason, with the highest mountain in the world, Everest.

So the book opens with Rosemary at Camp Three high up Everest but a tragic avalanche further down the mountain below her means that her trek is cut short and she’s air lifted off the mountain and back down to Lukla. With her is Kal Beckett an ‘ice doctor’ known as Doctor Doom by the climbers and Sherpas. Kal is half Sherpa himself and his mother is a well known climber with a shadow in her past. Kal keeps an eye on Rosemary, spying that she’s about to come unhinged and the two of them spend a night together losing themselves in life.

I have to admit I expected the Everest climb to be a larger portion of the book and I was looking forward to that. Instead Rosemary heads to New York very early in the story, deciding she needs to see her daughter after that scare on the mountain. Kal is conveniently from New York and after he is robbed, the two of them fly to New York together after the night they share. Perhaps their shared experience makes everything so much more intense but it still feels very quick – this book takes place over the space of less than a week and because of that, even though they do spend quite a bit of time together, I still never really got the feeling that I got to know a lot about Kal. I felt I knew more about Rosemary from the previous books and because we’re in her head but even still some of her motivations feel a bit rushed and like they weren’t really thought through. I was really hoping that most of the book would take place during Rosemary’s climb however and that perhaps the fallout would be in New York. Instead we are treated to Rosemary running around after her daughter, who I remember as pretty bratty from Winston’s book but she really steps it up here. I get that she’s a teenage girl with some abandonment issues but she’s incredibly privileged and has chosen to distance herself from her mother (and possibly her father) as punishment. It was hard to really like Beatrice at all and I really hope she doesn’t end up getting her own book because I can’t imagine being in her head.

Winston and Allie make a couple of appearances in this book and then Allie seems to randomly adopt Rosemary and as Beatrice is working on a film with Allie’s mother the two worlds seem to collide but it doesn’t really feel very smooth. It feels a bit forced, especially in moments like when Allie’s father and Kal start having a random deep and meaningful conversation. It’s a quirky family and when they’re all together in one scene, it begins to feel a little too much. And it takes the focus off of Kal and Rosemary. They declare love quite easily but then the book kind of limps on for another 50+ pages where there seems to be conflict inserted for no real reason other than maybe the book seemed a bit short and the author should stretch it out a bit. A lot of made of the fact that Kal and Rosemary are so very different and how could they ever work which is interesting because they’ve been a “thing” for about five minutes but the sex is fabulous, they seem to enjoy talking to each other and how will they know if they never actually try it? Kal seemed like he needed a lot more work as a character as well – his mother is a Sherpa and his father white, so that part was really interesting and that combination is not one I’ve ever come across in fiction before and I enjoyed learning about the history and the role of the Sherpas in climbing Everest and how they view tourism, etc. But at the same time it seemed like Kal had gaping holes in his character and he seemed almost bland and deadpan. I never got much from him, not about the avalanche, his past, his fears for the future, just a blank expression and a tightening up.

This one just didn’t live up to my expectations unfortunately.

5/10

Book #161 of 2017

 

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Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas
Walker Books
2017, 438p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

There are two ways I go after finishing a book: I either write the review right away, sometimes because it’s due the next day or because I want to get it done quickly before I forget anything, or simply because I feel like getting it done. The other way is that I mull it over for a while, thinking about things that I enjoyed, or found thought provoking or that affected me. Sometimes a book makes me angry and I want to see if that dissipates after a few days. Sometimes I adore it and I want to see if that fades or if it lasts.

When I finished this one, it was definitely a book to mull over. To think about, to allow the themes and messages to wash over you. It’s an important book, published on the crest of a very difficult time. It has been well hyped in the online book blogging world and although I purchased it a few months ago, I didn’t pick it up until my participation in the The Reading Quest Challenge. It was my “free choice” book and I think the only contemporary novel I chose with no fantasy or sci-fi elements.

Starr is a 16yo African American girl living with her somewhat complicated family in a dangerous neighbourhood. Her mother is a nurse and her father runs a convenience store in the heart of the neighbourhood but both have scrimped and saved to send Starr and her siblings to a school in a different suburb where Starr is one of the only black students. She’s straddling two worlds – the lower socioeconomic one where she lives, where her parents work, where there are rival gangs who control territory, where her house is surrounded by a fence and where they huddle in a room with no exterior walls whenever the streets start to fire up. And then there’s the Starr at school, who talks a different way, who plays a different role.

Starr’s experience of her black unarmed friend being shot dead by a cop during a “routine traffic stop” mirrors any number of real life scenarios. A quick google will probably turn up a dozen from the past few years. At first her parents attempt to protect her, to hide the fact that she was there and Starr finds it difficult to talk about too, even with people from her neighbourhood. But then she makes a brave decision to speak out, to attempt to get justice for Khalil and anonymity won’t last forever. As the area becomes more and more dangerous with gang warfare and protests against the police, Starr’s parents have to make a painful choice.

I’m not black, or even American so I’m not going to weigh in on the racial divide. There are far better informed and relevant people than me who have plenty of interesting and informative things to offer. But for someone who is curious about the issues and is interested in what it might be like to experience some of this, this book feels like a great portrayal of life in a poorer neighbourhood rife with issues. Starr’s father was a former gang member who was able to do what’s almost impossible – buy his freedom out of the gang to ‘go straight’ and lead a relatively normal life. The character of Starr’s father is amazing and I absolutely loved the talks that he and Starr had about life. He has great insights and a really snappy delivery. While he and Starr’s mother obviously want the best for their children, busting their asses to send them to a good school in a nearby suburb, he also wants to stay ‘within’ their neighbourhood, to have them understand where they come from. I loved Starr’s whole family and they felt very genuine in their relationships with each other and also with their surroundings. The portrayal of life in their area is frank – the good (camaraderie, close knit groups, a community that comes together and does everything they can to assist in times of need) and the bad (gangs, violence, drugs, danger).

What happens to Khalil is something that’s made the news any number of times and the ways in which spin is introduced is familiar too: oh he was a gang banger I’m sure, he was probably a drug dealer, guy was reaching for a gun, wasn’t doing what he was told, why was he even out in the night anyway, etc etc. It goes on, the excuses and justification for the use of excessive force and Starr is forced to listen to people talk about what happened when they weren’t there and she was. There’s an inherent distrust of the police already and the way in which she goes in to making her statement and also speaking out, giving her side of the story has a sort of fatalistic air to it. I think deep down she knows that there won’t be justice in the way that the neighbourhood demands and that the fallout will be brutal.

This is a brutal, raw, honest, powerful story that left a mark on me. Starr’s struggle with her identity and her grief leaped off the page. But it epitomises more than just Starr’s struggle – it’s also the struggle against a vicious cycle of poverty where crime and pressure to join gang activity feel like the only way out. The struggle for education, for college opportunities in the hope of a better future, in fitting in with different people, in learning not to ignore casual racism, especially when it comes from someone who is supposed to be your friend. Speaking up and speaking out. But it’s also about not forgetting where you came from and all that made you who you are.

This book is amazing – I’d recommend it to anyone.

9/10

Book #153 of 2017

 

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Review: The History Of Bees by Maja Lunde

The History Of Bees
Maja Lunde
Scribner
2017, 337p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

England, 1852. William is a biologist and seed merchant, who sets out to build a new type of beehive one that will give both him and his children honor and fame.

United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper fighting an uphill battle against modern farming, but hopes that his son can be their salvation.

China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao’s young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident, she sets out on a grueling journey to find out what happened to him.

Haunting, illuminating, and deftly written, The History of Bees joins these three very different narratives into one gripping and thought-provoking story that is just as much about the powerful bond between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity.

At first glance these three stories have little in common other than bees. William in 1852 England is inspired to finally rise from a deep depression to build a new type of beehive, something innovative that will take the world by storm. This will not only grant him the academic prestige and praise that he craves, able to converse with his peers without feeling like a failure, but also finally he hopes to impress his son Edmund. William’s single minded dedication to trying to make Edmund proud of him and inspired by him means that he completely overlooks a more intelligent mind within his family, someone who supports and encourages him and possesses ideas and innovations of their own.

In 2007 America, George comes from a long line of bee farmers. He builds all his hives by hand, eschewing a more modern way of ordering them in bulk. His way takes time and effort he can ill afford to spare. His wife is losing interest in the farm, constantly dropping hints about friends who have retired to Florida and the lifestyle they are enjoying there. But George will not hear of it, determined to pass the farm onto his disinterested son who has just gone off to college and is discovering that there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t revolve around the bees.

And then there’s Tao in 2098. Between George and Tao, something catastrophic happened across the world and now the bees are gone. In China, people like Tao hand paint the pollen, hours and hours a day of back breaking work. In her free hours she tries to drill numbers and the like into her three year old son, trying desperately to keep him from a future that mirrors hers. One day Tao gives into her husband’s more laid back style, agreeing to a picnic that has incredible consequences.

This book does get off to quite a slow start and I’ll admit that I struggled with it at various times throughout, particularly with the narratives of both William and George. William constantly seeks to impress people that either cannot/will not be impressed or basically aren’t deserving of the effort. It’s obvious from the first appearance that William’s son Edmund is a wastrel, coddled by his mother who willfully ignores a probable addiction issue. This was such a highlight of the attitudes of the time – William pours so much into thinking about and trying to impress his only son, barely interested in his various daughters. And in his own way, George is the same in 2007. He wants to much for his son to take over the farm, to continue on the work of generations that he’s blinded to the fact that things are changing. His son is in college, finding his feet, discovering his own interests in life. These two fathers just want to connect with their sons in the ways that they know how and find themselves rebuffed in different ways or struggling to really express themselves and what they desire for their sons in the future. George can’t understand college, or an English degree, his life has been the farm and bees. He nostalgically remembers a time he took his son, then very young, across the country to a farm that paid for the bees to pollinate his blueberries and he seeks to recreate that trip, hoping it will help bring them together and envisage a shared future. Instead George faces catastrophe and ruin when a mysterious phenomena begins sweeping the world.

In Tao’s life, we glimpse how that phenomena impacted the world. Now she works pollinating by hand as there are no bees left to do the job (fun fact: in this book, Australia was the last country to fall). Tao’s son is still very young and like William and George she has hopes and dreams for him, that he live a particular life. She wants him to be smart, to escape the grind of back breaking work for poor pay and little benefits. To always be poor, to be constantly scrimping and saving for the future (it seems that 2098 China does not have a pension plan). When her son is taken by the authorities, Tao is spurred into action, giving up everything she and her husband have worked for in order to find if not him, than answers. Tao finds more than she bargained for, her love for her son and her desire for answers taking her to a ruined city and showing her the true devastation of her country. From her son’s accident may come a place of hope, even of regeneration, even if life will never be the same again.

I find Tao perhaps the easiest character to connect with and I enjoyed the author’s interpretation of what China in 2098 with no bees might be like. It was bleak and we aren’t sure what the rest of the world is like because it seems that Tao doesn’t really have much access to outside information. I really appreciated the way the story began to knit the three parts together towards the end, particularly when Tao begins her investigation and research and watches a documentary on beekeepers who went through the catastrophe.

I didn’t know a huge amount about colony collapse disorder before reading this book and it’s one of those things – since I finished it, I’ve seen it referenced twice and heard it once in a TV show. I’ve done a bit of reading and I was surprised to discover just how much I don’t know about bee farming and how big the market of “renting” bee colonies is by farmers, who rely on them to pollinate their crops. It’s huge business and produces a large amount of the world’s food supply. Without bees, surely we would all face a future similar to Tao’s – climbing trees to delicately brush pollen, struggling to get enough done to produce enough food for everyone.

In the end I did like this book and the various messages it was attempting to convey but at the times it did feel quite slow and sometimes the switch between narratives pulled me out of the stories, made me wish I was still with the previous character. I was always looking forward to Tao’s story, followed by George but I had little interest in William’s story, even though I understood its role in the future stories. I just found William’s inability to really see quite tedious.

Some really beautiful parts in this story, some others didn’t work so well for me. A bit of a mixed bag but I’d try another book by Maja Lunde in the future. This was originally published in Norwegian in 2015 and I didn’t see a translator listed in my copy so perhaps the author translated the work herself. I read that it’s her first adult novel (definitely an ambitious one) so I’d still be interested in what she produces next.

6/10

Book #160 of 2017

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Review: Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer

Secrets Between Friends
Fiona Palmer
Hachette Books AUS
2017, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Best friends Abbie, Jess and Ricki are setting sail on a cruise ship, rekindling the excitement of a school excursion they took ten years earlier to the historic port town of Albany, the oldest city on the stunning turquoise coastline of Western Australia. But are they truly prepared for what this voyage will reveal?

Ricki, a dedicated nurse, harbours a dream she hasn’t chased. Is she actually happy or stuck in a rut?

Jess, a school teacher and single mother to little Ollie, had a tough upbringing but found her way through with the help of her closest male friend, Peter. But Peter has bought an engagement ring and is ready to propose to Ricki . . .

Abbie had it all: a career, a loving boyfriend and a future, but a visit to the doctor bears scary news. Her world is tumbling down and she feels adrift at sea.

This is Fiona Palmer’s first foray away from her strong background of rural fiction/romance and more into women’s fiction. Jess, Abbie and Ricki have been best friends since school and Jess and Peter have been best friends since childhood. Peter and Ricki are now dating and the three girls thought it’d be fun to celebrate their ten year anniversary graduating from high school by revisiting Albany, a place they went to for a school trip. They decide to take a cruise – a few days of fun and cocktails. Their girls trip gets derailed slightly when Peter decides to come with them and use the trip as a way to further his romance with Ricki.

Firstly, I loved the setting. Fiona Palmer has been setting her books in rural Western Australia for a long time, which I always enjoy but it was quite fun to board a cruise ship with the characters. I’ve never been on a cruise ship before but the idea of a short cruise is appealing. I’ve never visited WA either so perhaps that is why I always enjoy visiting it so much in fiction. It’s a way to experience it.

Each of the women are hiding secrets – some more serious than others. Abbie is hiding a lot about her life and in particular about something that she’s just discovered which is hanging over her head on the cruise. Ricki is feeling a bit restless, perhaps not even realising what the problem was until someone reignited feelings in her about her job and about her life. And Jess, well Jess is carrying two intertwined secrets which definitely threaten two of the friendships she holds dearest.

Okay so as well as things I did like about the story, there were a few things that I did have trouble with. Some of those revolved around the secrets, which seemed strange. I mean, I understood why some things were kept secret, as difficult as those were but the reasoning behind keeping some of the lesser secrets kind of confused me. Also – there’s some people that behave quite horribly and I didn’t really find it okay because “both of them did it”. That’s not good reasoning to me, especially as they were unaware of each other doing it and it felt quite uncomfortable to read. It’s also a bit of a deal breaker for me generally, depending on the circumstances but I didn’t feel as though these ones felt like enough. One element of the story felt almost too good to be true, like a convenient out for the other to occur in a way. And some of the fallout felt quite one sided, like some of the issues on both sides weren’t really discussed or explored, it was really more focused on one particular side and the people involved in that situation.

I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone but I did have some trouble connecting to or liking some characters because some of their actions were so dramatically unpleasant and unnecessary. But I did admire the friendship between them and the fact that it was built to withstand an awful lot and that they were remarkably understanding about each other’s secrets and indiscretions – but I wasn’t sure if that understanding came from a place of love and friendship or because several of them were doing the same thing and couldn’t really be angry. A lot of drama certainly came out during this brief cruise though, that’s for sure!

All in all this was a bit of a mixed bag for me – loved the setting and some elements of the story. The idea of the four of them going on the cruise was a lot of fun and a perfect place for secrets to come out because they can’t really escape, they have to face each other and sort things out. But some of the secrets made it difficult to really care about the characters, who were being a bit selfish and unfair to those that they cared about. And I wasn’t really expecting a part of the ending, which had some bittersweet elements to it. If you’re looking for a full and total HEA this might not be the sort of story that you’re after.

7/10

Book #155 of 2017

Secrets Between Friends is book #47 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Top 10 Tuesday 12th September

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme created and hosted by the girls at The Broke & the Bookish featuring a different literary theme each week. This week is a throwback freebie and one of the suggestions was top 10 books from the year you started blogging so I thought I might go with that one! I started in May of 2010 so that should give me enough time to find 10 good reads.

Top 10 Books I Read In 2010

  1. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I actually read this before I started this particular blog. Somewhere in the depths of the internet is a short paragraph review I did on it for my personal blog. I started off just writing short reviews for each book on my original blog but soon they were taking over and so I decided to start a blog just for reviewing books and this blog was born. I’ve never re-read this book although I’ve always planned to. I’ve since met Lionel Shriver at the Melbourne Writers Festival and gotten my copy signed. I find her fascinating to listen to, even if she is a very controversial figure at times.
  2. The Passage by Justin Cronin. Gosh has it really been this long since I read this book? I remember the hype when it came out and how much I loved it. And I was lucky enough to get an ARC of the second book The Twelve and read that early as well and it was just as good. And now I look at my TBR shelf and I see The City Of Mirrors sitting there, unread. Probably because it’s been so long since I read the first two, I feel like I have to read them again before reading the third one. Also if you ever get a chance to go and listen to Justin Cronin, then definitely do so because he’s very funny and a great speaker.
  3. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. After Kevin I picked up this at the library and absolutely loved it. It’s a very different sort of story but it’s equally as engaging and I really enjoyed the whole Sliding Doors aspect.
  4. Forget You by Jennifer Echols. Eeek, this is still one of my favourite books. In fact I re-read it earlier this year and became kind of obsessed with it all over again. Zoey is shallow and clueless but still endearing and Doug is just so many shades of awesome wrapped in snark. I will forever heart this.
  5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I have only read this once – from my library. But I remember it so well and the Speak Loudly campaign on twitter after someone described this book as “filthy” and “soft core pornography” and wanted it banned. This is a book that every  teenager should read.
  6. The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa. I’d forgotten how much I liked this until I just re-read my review! It’s made me remember now.
  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Loved this. God this list is making me want to re-read so many books.
  8. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. This book was so beautiful and unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything else by this author, I must look to see if he has another book.
  9. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This was so, so good. I really didn’t love Mockingjay and the whole ending but the first book? Awesome.
  10. Dead In The Family by Charlaine Harris. One of my favourites of this whole series which reminds me, I still haven’t read the final two books. And I’m honestly not sure if I ever will. Maybe it just ended with this book for me.

What an interesting trip down memory lane. So many books here that I’ve realised I’d love to read again. I always enjoy doing stuff like this and it also is the reason why I created this blog in the first place – to revisit books I’ve read and have my memory jogged.

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Review: How To Marry A Marquess by Stacy Reid

How To Marry A Marquess (Wedded By Scandal #3)
Stacy Reid
Entangled Publishing
2017, 279p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lady Evie Chesterfield is a darling of the ton who refuses to become engaged. She’s been desperately in love with her brother’s friend, Richard Maitland, Marquess of Westfall, since forever. But the dark, dangerous marquess only sees her as a friend and refuses to marry any woman. When circumstances change and Evie has no choice but to take a husband, she decides to convince London’s most notorious gentleman to marry her by seducing the scoundrel.

Richard Maitland decided long ago that he wanted nothing to do with love. So when the gorgeous, off-limits Evie asks him for lessons in seduction, Richard knows he’s playing with fire. Despite Richard’s determination to protect her from his dastardly reputation, he is tested at every turn by his need for the infuriating, but enticing, Lady Evie. Before too long he is faced with making an impossible choice…

Eek, I can’t believe I missed this book being published! I’ve read the first two and Lady Evie actually plays quite a pivotal role in that first book when she deliberately sends her friend Lady Adeline into the wrong room in her large house. Readers also got to witness a few interactions between Lady Evie and the rather bitter Marquess of Westfall and so since that first book, I’ve been waiting for this one.

Evie and Richard first met when Evie was just about to turn sixteen and although he was attracted to her, Richard has always been careful to keep his distance, something that grow more difficult as time goes by. The two of them developed a friendship in which Richard has helped Evie spurn several unwanted suitors. The darling of the social season, Evie was expected to make a good match in her first year but she’s seen off titled man after titled man in order to always keep her eye on the prize she really wants – Richard.

When they met, Richard was but a lowly second son but the death of his brother has elevated him to Marquess and so now he might be considered a good match – if he didn’t have so terrible a reputation. Richard doesn’t restrict his company to the Ton and often consorts with the lowest of the low, for personal reasons. He’s very passionate about the inequality that exists and scorns the attitudes of the upper class in regards to those considered below them. In not marrying Evie he’s part protecting her from his reputation and the cutting she would surely endure day after day and part protecting himself. When he was young, Richard had his heart broken by a woman with aspirations and he vowed never to put himself in so vulnerable position ever again.

Evie eventually gets to the stage where she decides that enough is enough and that she can’t avoid other suitors forever and that this dance she and Richard have been doing for years has a shelf life. I really liked Evie, I found her quite refreshing and I liked the fact that her and Richard were actual friends which in this time and setting is probably not at all realistic as I don’t think young, unmarried ladies ever really had a chance to become friends with men, especially bachelors with dubious reputations. Although Richard was friends with her brother, which did give them circumstances in which they would come together but they do seem to manage to create this friendship that no one really protests too much and get these opportunities to get to know each other quite well.

Richard was a difficult character at times – I understood and admired some of his views and his dedication to them but sometimes he was just really judgemental and assumed things without even asking questions. In some way it was nice that he wanted to protect Evie but in other ways he was actually really quite horrible to her when he gets her to question her privilege. Evie is super willing to be educated and she’s curious and interested in the things that Richard has been doing but instead of attempting to gently educate her and answer her questions, he quite often goes on the defensive and attacks her for her ignorance. It’s a defense mechanism but sometimes it just made me want to kick him.

I did enjoy Evie and Richard’s journey but I’m not sure it lived up to my expectations and sometimes that’s the way it goes when you are so, so keen. I kind of had some sort of thing that I wanted from those few interactions in the previous story and it didn’t play out at all the way that I expected and that’s not to say that it wasn’t a good story, I think I just expected Richard himself to be a bit different, given the way he appeared previously. Stacy Reid does really quite excel at writing the grovelling male though, after he has done something to hurt the heroine and this book is no different. There’s always a lot of feels towards the end of the book! I do really like this series and I’ll be looking for the next one.

7/10

Book #154 of 2017

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Wrap Up: #TheReadingQuest Challenge

So today is the 10th of September, the last day of #TheReadingQuest Challenge. It’s almost lunch time here and I don’t anticipate reading another book for this challenge so I’m going to go ahead and wrap up what I read and my points.

I chose the Mage character path after some consideration – it was the path that I thought I could best tackle based on the books I had on my TBR pile and I’m happy to say that I read all five books required to tick that off as complete. I also read books that counted towards 4 side challenges which brings me to 9 books read in total over the 4 week period of the challenge. Here are the books I read for the challenge:

So I read 8 physical books and one eBook. The five books I read for the Mage character path were:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Read the first book in a series 352p
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Read a book set in a different world 383p
Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller – Read a book based on mythology 352p
Akarnae by Lynette Noni – Read a book that contains magic 436p
Illuminae by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – Read a book with a one word title 599p

And the four side challenges I completed:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Read whatever you want 438p
City Of Ashes by Cassandra Clare – Respawn: Read a book you previously dnf’d 411p
Fire by Kristin Cashore –  Expansion challenge: read a companion novel 384p
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – Grind challenge (500+ pages) 659p

I really enjoyed participating in this challenge. Sometimes my TBR bookshelf is so big that I just lack focus and can’t decide what to read and occasionally I just end up not picking up anything. Creating a specific, focused TBR pile before the challenge and having it sitting there made it much easier and I found I had renewed enthusiasm for tackling books on my shelf that I might not have actually even looked twice at when looking for something to read.

For this challenge, 7 of the 9 books I read have been sitting on my TBR shelf for months. Some for even years. I think I bought the first few Mortal Instruments books when I was pregnant with my youngest son and he’s about to turn six this month! I also read one library book and one book that I purchased because of this challenge – I’d read Graceling and after completing that I bought Fire and Bitterblue immediately. Now I’m kind of annoyed because as you can see in the pic above, my copy of Graceling is an eBook and I really want a physical copy to match the other two in the series.

I also tried new things during this challenge – people have long been singing the praises of the Illuminae Files to me but I had not made the plunge because I wasn’t sure if they’d be my thing. I picked up the first one at random from the library but without this challenge to assign it to, it’s possible I’d have just returned it unread because I have so many other books sitting around. Now I’ve read the first two (in a matter of a couple of days) and am eagerly awaiting the third book, which still doesn’t come out for months.

I shouldn’t need an excuse to tackle books from my TBR but sometimes I just do need something to push me to choose something that’s been published for a while versus something that has just been, or is about to be released. It’s made me realise just how many books I buy and hoard without reading. And once I do finally tackle some of them through something like this, I remember why I bought them in the first place and wonder why the heck I let them sit on a shelf unread for so long. So I’m trying, trying harder to incorporate books I’ve owned for a long time and not read yet, into my monthly TBR piles. I’m aiming to start small, one book that I’ve owned for 6+ months but I found that balancing review copies with books for this challenge during the four weeks had the added bonus of keeping my mind refreshed.

Once again, a huge thank you must go out to Aentee from Read At Midnight for creating and hosting this challenge. I’ve had a fabulous time participating and I would love to do something like this again in the future, should it ever happen. Also big thanks to CW from Read, Think, Ponder who created the amazing artwork for the challenge and allowed people to use it to make their own character cards, etc. Here’s my final board:

I’m going to keep an eye on it. There are books I have that fit quite a few of these categories and even though the challenge is ending today, I might use these categories here as motivation for pulling future reads off my TBR shelf.

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Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire (Graceling Realm #2)
Kristin Cashore
Gollancz
2010, 384p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

She is the last of her kind… It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.

Exquisitely romantic, this companion to the highly praised “Graceling” has an entirely new cast of characters, save for one person who plays a pivotal role in both books. You don’t need to have read “Graceling” to love “Fire.” But if you haven’t, you’ll be dying to read it next. 

I loved this book.

I read Graceling recently and immediately ordered both Fire and Bitterblue. The second book, Fire only features one common character with Graceling and actually takes place well before Graceling but I just love this world. I honestly wish there was a dozen books to read from Kristin Cashore set in this world. It’s just amazing.

So in this book we have Fire, who is what is loosely termed as ‘monster’. Monsters can be any species and they look physically similar but they are…..more. Just amazingly more. Brilliantly coloured. So you might have a glossy, perfect, purple horse. That’s a monster horse. Or a stunningly beautiful blue monster kitten. Fire’s father was a monster (in more ways than one) and the offspring of monsters and humans are always monsters. In Fire’s case she’s so amazingly beautiful that she renders almost everyone who comes into contact with her dumb with her beauty. Strangers will profess love for her or want to marry her. They’ll want to touch her. In some cases, they will also want to hurt her. Her hair is one of her monster features, being an incredibly bright myriad of red, orange and pink hues. She keeps it mostly bound up in a headscarf so as not to distract people and seeks to cover herself as much as possible. She learned early that people will not always take no for an answer and she has to protect herself.

Fire can also slip into people’s minds and manipulate them. Her father was incredibly cruel and she has always taken care never to use her power to hurt people. She may redirect their interest or seek to gentle their thoughts if they think to hurt her or even throw themselves at her and she loathes doing even that. Fire is a young woman in heartbroken conflict about her gifts and her desperation to never use her power to hurt anyone. Her father enjoyed hurting people and was corrupted by a desire for power. He helped ruin the previous King and tried to kill the King’s youngest son Prince Brigan, a warrior with abilities far beyond his young years, many times. But now her father is dead and although the Prince Brigan looks at Fire with a deep distrust, he does not seem affected by her monster beauty. His mind is a closed book to her, strongly guarded and she need not fear his reaction to her. What he does do is bring out her guilt about her father.

Fire is no Katsa – she can’t physically fight, she’s not even particularly strong. She has some pretty severe mental hang ups as well about her abilities and about being a monster. She was raised in relative isolation with few friends and people are mostly in awe of her or scared of her and what she could do. Her mind is a mess of guilt and loathing both of herself and her gift. She has daddy issues for days that just get bigger and bigger the further you get into the novel. Since I finished this book I read a lot of criticism about Fire, that she was pathetic and weak and not worthy of being a main character. But I actually appreciated that about her – that she began the book isolated and unwilling to explore what her gift could do and as the book progressed, she learned. She realised she could be useful without being cruel, that she could use her gift without it meaning that she would turn into her father. I actually found her quite likable and when she was away from her home, she really began to grow into herself. She made friends, connections with guards, princesses, children.

There is a love story in this and though it’s understated, it’s seriously perfect. I adore it. It just has so many things that I find enjoyable to read – I will admit that I’m a total sucker for a story where there’s distrust and possibly even dislike that has to be overcome. A bond takes time to develop and this book does this with careful, sweet scenes that bring two people closer together. They have so much in common – both are conflicted about the uglier side of what they can do and fear that it’ll be reason for each other to look at them in horror. I loved their quiet conversations, the way in which they opened themselves up to each other. I also appreciate Kristin Cashore’s open mindedness about relationships and the focus not necessarily being on marriage.

This is such a fabulous world. Loved Graceling, I love this and now Bitterblue will be moved up my TBR pile because I can’t get enough.

9/10

Book #152 of 2017It actually wasn’t until I finished this book that I realised I could also count it towards my participation in #TheReadingQuest Challenge. Although the second book in the Graceling Realm series, Fire is more a companion to the other two books. It’s set in the same world but well before the other two and features only one common character.

My updated character card. 10ts added for another book completed and 38pts added for pages read. With just three days left in this challenge now, I hope to finish one more book.

Thanks as always to Aentee from Read At Midnight for hosting and CW from Read, Think, Ponder for the artwork.

 

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Blog Tour Review: We That Are Left by Lisa Bigelow

We That Are Left
Lisa Bigelow
Allen & Unwin
2017, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A moving debut novel about love and war, and the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, hope and despair.

Melbourne, 1941. Headstrong young Mae meets and falls head over heels in love with Harry Parker, a dashing naval engineer. After a whirlwind courtship they marry and Mae is heavily pregnant when she hears that Harry has just received his dream posting to HMAS Sydney. Just after Mae becomes a mother, she learns Harry’s ship is missing.

Meanwhile, Grace Fowler is battling prejudice to become a reporter on the afternoon daily newspaper, The Tribune, while waiting for word on whether her journalist boyfriend Phil Taylor, captured during the fall of Singapore, is still alive.

Surrounded by their friends and families, Mae and Grace struggle to keep hope alive in the face of hardship and despair. Then Mae’s neighbour and Grace’s boss Sam Barton tells Mae about a rumour that the Japanese have towed the damaged ship to Singapore and taken the crew prisoner. Mae’s life is changed forever as she focuses her efforts on willing her husband home.

Set in inner Melbourne and rural Victoria, We That Are Left is a moving and haunting novel about love and war, the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, and how servicemen and women are not the only lives lost when tragedy strikes during war.

I really enjoy historical fiction and have been particularly interested lately in fiction set around both WWI and WWII. It’s really nice to get an Australian perspective and this, Lisa Bigelow’s first novel uses her family experience and the loss of her grandfather aboard the HMAS Sydney to showcase the strength of the women left behind.

Mae is a young bride about to give birth living in the inner west of Melbourne. I found that the setting was a really fun part of the book for me because I live in the west (a bit further out than the featured Yarraville/Williamstown areas) but I loved getting a glimpse of what it would’ve been like in this area all those years ago. It was great to see such familiar places featured. When Mae gets word of the rumour that the HMAS Sydney has gone down with all on board, she immediately slips into a state of denial. She’s sure that Harry, if anyone, could survive such a thing and the fact that there’s talk the wrecked sub was towed to Asia with some survivors just feeds her belief that Harry will come home one day. She struggles to cope on her own, relying on the family that raised her, an aunt and her two uncles, all getting on a little bit in age now. They are close knit though and Mae also has a strong friendship bond with her neighbour, wife of a newspaper editor and mother to two young children.

Grace has moved from the country to Melbourne to work as an assistant to Sam Barton, editor of the afternoon paper The Tribune but what she really wants is to be a journalist. Her father ran a country Victorian paper and it’s been a part of her whole life. Grace composes headlines about her daily life in her head constantly as she negotiates the politics of her new workplace and  deals with handsome reporter Phil Taylor who is just becoming something more when he heads overseas to cover the war up close and personal. He is taken hostage during the fall of Singapore and word is slow. He’s been horrifically injured and Grace isn’t sure at times, if he’s even still alive or will ever return to her. And if he does, what will she face? Will he be a broken, shell of a man like her father, still damaged from his time in WWI?

It’s hard to believe, living in the age that I do, that there was a time when you had to wait weeks for word or information from another part of the world about something so serious as a submarine sinking or a hostage situation. In this case, Sam Barton, the newspaper editor, and presumably most of the reporters are aware of strong and probably credible rumours surrounding the loss of the HMAS Sydney but they don’t have permission to print the story just yet. And Mae is his neighbour, so that must’ve been quite an awkward situation for him as well as a stressful one for Mae, with these rumours circulating but no government word or confrontation. It’s an horrific state of limbo to be in. The lack of accurate information also leads to more swirling rumours that give Mae and probably others the hope that their loved ones could have possibly survived this. For Mae that leads to a real deluded state, where she absolutely refuses to believe that Harry could have died and that he is alive somewhere and will make his way back to her and their baby soon. Time rolls on though, with no credible information that anyone did survive and slowly others accept their loss and begin moving on with their lives. Mae isn’t able to do this though and she spends a large portion of the book assuring people and herself that Harry will be back one day. I found it quite sad because she’s a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, who should’ve been making the best of it and at times it was like she wasn’t living at all. Just merely existing and waiting for something that wasn’t ever going to happen.

Likewise, I found Grace’s situation very sad also. I felt like her story was very much unfinished at the close of the book and that a lot of the defining moments in her life might come later on. I admired her dedication and drive and the way in which she didn’t allow anything to stand in her way and that should’ve been celebrated by those that love her rather than viewed with suspicion and derision. If I had a criticism of Grace’s story it’d be that I just didn’t really buy the romance……the pacing was off too, it seemed to start off in one way, go no where for the longest time and then a few things happened and then Phil left to go overseas. I didn’t really get a chance to get to know Phil or experience any chemistry between the two of them at all and the skipping forward in time at the end of the book only further cemented that fact.

Despite the fact that it’s subject matter tended a bit towards the grim, I found We That Are Left to be a very enjoyable read, particularly for its showcasing of 1940s Melbourne and the surrounds. It’s a very promising debut and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Lisa Bigelow’s next book.

7/10

Book #150 of 2017

We That Are Left is book #45 of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017

This review is part of the We That Are Left blog tour. Please make sure you check out the other spots on the tour, featured below.

We That Are Left is published by Allen & Unwin, out now. RRP $29.99

Visit Lisa Bigelow’s website 

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Review: Akarnae by Lynette Noni

Akarnae (The Medoran Chronicles #1)
Lynette Noni
Pantera Press
2015, 436p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

With just one step, sixteen-year-old Alexandra Jennings’s world changes—literally.

Dreading her first day at a new school, Alex is stunned when she walks through a doorway and finds herself stranded in Medora, a fantasy world full of impossibilities. Desperate to return home, she learns that only a man named Professor Marselle can help her… but he’s missing.

While waiting for him to reappear, Alex attends Akarnae Academy, Medora’s boarding school for teenagers with extraordinary gifts. She soon starts to enjoy her bizarre new world and the friends who embrace her as one of their own, but strange things are happening at Akarnae, and Alex can’t ignore her fear that something unexpected… something sinister… is looming.

An unwilling pawn in a deadly game, Alex’s shoulders bear the crushing weight of an entire race’s survival. Only she can save the Medorans, but what if doing so prevents her from ever returning home?

Will Alex risk her entire world—and maybe even her life—to save Medora? 

Okay so originally I was going to read another book for this last category for my character path for #TheReadingQuest Challenge. But then I thought about this book and it’s actually been on my TBR shelf for longer and I saw one of the follow ups on social media recently so I thought I would swap the other book out and use this one instead. Although the people of Medora don’t use the word ‘magic’ for what they can do and some of the things that can happen, for Alexandra who is from Earth, it is definitely magic.

Alex has just turned 16 and is being dropped off at an exclusive boarding school while her parents go on an 8 month archaeological dig where she won’t be able to contact them. Instead of opening a door to the Principal’s office, she opens a door to literally another world, almost a parallel Earth but with differences. She is almost immediately confronted by someone who assures her that he’s been waiting for her and that together they will rule the world. It seems she’s stepped onto a school campus and so while she waits to figure out how to get back to her own world, she enrolls at Akarnae Academy, a school for the gifted. Although she struggles at the start, confused as to why the mysterious procedure has enrolled her in high levels of certain courses, Alex soon starts to settle in at Akarnae. She makes two solid friends who are with her every step of the way and it seems that the mysterious Library of the college is not only much more than it seems, but it has also Chosen her in some way. In fact Alex’s entire appearance in Medora seems to have a specific and important purpose and some of the choices she makes will be incredibly important. Actually the whole future of Medora could hinge on them.

On the whole, I found this quite an enjoyable story. It’s a little bit like Narnia – a young girl opens a door and finds herself in a completely different land and there are Things Happening. I didn’t mind Alex as a main character. She certainly has the ability to be beaten and to stand up and take it over and over again. She deals pretty well with her foray into a foreign world and doesn’t go into hysterics or constantly whine about wanting to go home. She does have moments of wondering if she’ll ever be able to, or will she see her parents again, which was normal but she didn’t spend the entire time thinking about ‘why me?’ and stuff like that. I liked the way she threw herself into her new school subjects at Akarnae, even when they seemed way above her abilities and the teachers were brutal. It actually seemed like a really fun school – unorthodox but fun. And the technology ideas were quite interesting. I enjoyed a lot of the secondary characters as well. I also really liked the idea of Medora and the set up and also Medora’s history. I found that really interesting and would’ve liked even more about that, which I suppose will come in future books as Alex herself learns more, especially in regards to her role for the future.

There were a few small quibbles – nothing major, the writing at time felt a bit simple and the dialogue could be a bit clunky. I think at times it was really like the friendship between Alex, Bear and Jordan felt a bit forced, like they were still getting to know each other but sometimes their interactions felt like they’d supposedly known each other for years. It didn’t always come off as natural and at times the jokes and ribbing felt a bit too much too soon. It’s also quite long but it’s not really jam packed with happenings, so a lot of it is kind of just repetitive stuff at the school and Alex continually getting hurt and going to the school’s medical ward. At times it felt as though the book kind of lost its way and meandered a bit. However these weren’t enough to turn me off at all and I’m quite keen to read the next book in the series, Raelia to see where it goes from here.

6/10

Book #151 of 2017

Akarnae completes my character path of Mage in #TheReadingQuest Challenge! It’s my 7th book read for the challenge so far. Hoping to fit one more in before it ends on the 10th.

And my updated character card. Another 10pts for a book completed taking me to 80exp total and 43 added to my health which is now at 328pts.

Thanks to Aentee from Read At Midnight for hosting this challenge and also CW from Read, Think, Ponder for the artwork.

 

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