All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell

The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Retirement Village
Joanna Nell
Hachette AUS
2018, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s never too late to grow old disgracefully…

The life of 79-year-old pensioner Peggy Smart is as beige as the décor in her retirement village. Her week revolves around aqua aerobics and appointments with her doctor. The highlight of Peggy’s day is watching her neighbour Brian head out for his morning swim.

Peggy dreams of inviting the handsome widower – treasurer of the Residents’ Committee and one of the few eligible men in the village – to an intimate dinner. But why would an educated man like Brian, a chartered accountant no less, look twice at Peggy? As a woman of a certain age, she fears she has become invisible, even to men in their eighties.

But a chance encounter with an old school friend she hasn’t seen in five decades – the glamorous fashionista Angie Valentine – sets Peggy on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. Can she channel her ‘inner Helen Mirren’ and find love and friendship in her twilight years?

This is probably not something I’d have chosen to pick up without receiving it for review. Peggy is around my grandmother’s age, both are 80-odd. One actually lives in a retirement village that sounds quite similar to the one Peggy lives in, the other still lives in the home she and my grandfather retired in, although she’s on her own now. My parents face challenges with both their mothers – my dad’s mother, the one in the retirement village is coming to a time where she’s no longer able to live independently. She’s forgetting if she’s eaten, she’s forgetting to take her medication, she doesn’t turn the gas off when she’s finished. Dad has to make that call that she’s going to need more assistance to keep her health. And my mother is at the stage where she devotes several days a week to my grandmother’s needs and care that enable her to continue to live in her own home. Both my parents are actively involved in the lives of their mothers, from taking them shopping or to doctor’s appointments or just spending scheduled time with them each week. I live interstate now but whenever I visit, I make sure to spend decent time with both, ensuring that my kids are part of their worlds.

That seems to be something that’s quite missing from Peggy’s world. Her children are both grown with their own lives – at one stage Peggy was minding her grandchildren so that her daughter-in-law could return to work but it seemed to escalate to the point where it was too much for her. When she mentioned that she might like to cut back a bit, it was withdrawn completely and now it seems that Peggy operates her life a bit on the outer from her children, who swoop in to check on her level of senility and attempt to make decisions for her without actually listening to or observing her in her environment. I understand from what my dad is going through that it’s actually quite hard to have to make that call and he’s doing it with the discussion and input from my grandmother.

Peggy is a widow, still missing the companionship and presence of her husband but she’s not dead yet so her eye has landed on Brian, a handsome and pleasant widower who also resides in the retirement village. It seems that Brian is a bit of a hot commodity and Peggy doesn’t rate her chances. She sees herself as unglamorous and frumpy and when Angie Valentine, a childhood friend of Peggy’s arrives looking incredibly well preserved and confident, Peggy is even more downhearted. Angie seems determined to rekindle their friendship and takes it upon herself to also give Peggy a makeover, teaching her how to dress for her shape. On one hand, I quite liked the dynamic between Peggy and Angie. They were very different and had lived very different lives – Peggy having been married to pretty much her only boyfriend for over 50 years and Angie having been married four times. Angie does encourage Peggy to get out there, to do a bit more, enjoy life a bit more as well. Which is good, because although she has her medical issues (doesn’t everyone who gets to 80?) Peggy is still remarkably healthy and capable of living a fulfilling life, something that her children definitely need to realise.

However, and this is kind of a big thing, the way the story actually went with Angie……I didn’t like it. It wasn’t for me. I thought it was just a bit…..cruel, actually, that Angie would come back for that particular reason and there was also a bit of a cop out with one of the main characters involved no longer around and not able to give their side of the story. Also Peggy took the entire thing remarkably well pretty much immediately which didn’t really wash so much with me. I guess when you’re 80 there’s no point holding a grudge but honestly, a bit more internal debate probably would’ve been a bit more realistic, for me anyway. I just really didn’t enjoy this whole portion of the book and it seemed a bit out of step with the rest of it. It also seemed a long time to be revealed and is all dealt with quite swiftly, which threw off the pacing a bit for me.

Overall I did enjoy most of this book but I didn’t fall in love with it. It was quite sweet and I appreciated the insight into an older protagonist and the challenges they face with maintaining independent life and their health. But I can’t ignore that I didn’t like the second part of the book.

6/10

Book #170 of 2018

 

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 9th October

Welcome back to another edition 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. Featuring a different bookish related theme each week, this week we are talking…..

Top 10 Longest Books I’ve Ever Read

For the purposes of this, I’m only going to include individual books – not bind ups (such as the LotR series in 1 volume or the box set of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, which Goodreads lists as the longest book I’ve ever read!). I’m also going to include the books from A Song Of Ice & Fire as one entry otherwise they’d be basically half this entire list. I’m also relying on Goodreads’ page count to be accurate, because I’m not hunting down all these books to check!

  1. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. My version is apparently 1232p – actually it’s a beautiful version. One of those clothbound hardbacks, they’re all so gorgeous. I read this a few years ago in a read-a-long with another blogger friend and I was surprised just how much I enjoyed it. There’s no denying that it is indeed, quite wordy and Hugo loves a tangent to be sure. But it’s quite a good read.
  2. A Song Of Ice & Fire: A Game Of Thrones, A Clash Of Kings, A Storm Of Swords, A Feast For Crows & A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin. These range from 837p (A Game Of Thrones) to 1184p (A Dance With Dragons) so that puts Dance as my second longest book. It’s actually my least favourite of the series – bit long and rambly and contains several of my least favourite plots, whereas 4 is a much better book. But the series as a whole – still fabulous. Hurry up and bloody finish it George.
  3. The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody. The final book in the Obernewtyn series if you’re in Australia. I get heaps of people telling me it’s not the last one, but they’re American and the series is numbered differently over there as they kept splitting the big books in two. The Red Queen is a pretty whopping 1120p. And so concludes one of my favourite ever series’ and definitely the series I spent the longest amount of time reading.
  4. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I was 12 when I read this and you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever re-read it. I’ve seen the movie a few times though, most recently a couple of years ago. It’s just a book that has never really left me although I should re-read it and see if it holds up to how 12yo me felt. Actually I remember that when I was 12, Rhett Butler didn’t interest me much. However when I re-watched the movie a few years ago, 30-something me was super into Rhett!
  5. Riders by Jilly Cooper. 919p. Haha, The Rutshire Chronicles. I was obsessed with these in the 90s. All that sex and horse racing! Jilly Cooper does know how to write a terrific bonkbuster. It’s been a while since I read some of these but this one, Rivals, The Man Who Made Husband’s Jealous, Appassionata, Score, Pandora etc were such good fun.
  6. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. 850p. Look, to be honest, the less said on this one the better. I wasn’t a huge fan and I know I’m in the minority but I had a lot of issues with this book and I don’t like Jamie. There, I said it!
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. 837p. Another surprisingly enjoyable read! I actually was expecting this to be a bit of a slog but it was really good. Tolstoy is prone to the odd tangent, much like Hugo but the storyline was very compelling. Weirdly like the week before I read this, I read a book that spoiled the ending for me!
  8. The Passage by Justin Cronin. 766p. Seeing this here just reminds me that I am still yet to read City Of Mirrors despite buying it when it came out a couple of years ago. Also I saw Justin Cronin at the Melbourne Writers Festival and he is hilarious.
  9. Temple by Matthew Reilly. 763p. Hmm, I think this is the one set in Peru. Matthew Reilly books are all very very fast paced with a lot of action and things that are exploding. Think of the movie you’ve seen with the most explosions and then make about 200 more things explode and you’re probably getting close.
  10. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. 756p. Really? Okay, I didn’t realise this book was that big. *shrug* I’ve only read it once and it was…..weird. I didn’t actually mind some of these when I read them. I could see the issues, but they were strangely compelling and are probably the books that actually got me reading YA again but this one…….yeah, it’s quite weird. Even when I was enjoying the rest of them, I thought this one in particular was badly written, plotted and full of terrible ideas. Also…. Renesmee will never not be the worst thing ever. The end.

So there’s my top 10 longest books read, ignoring bind ups and box-sets. There was a time when I sought out the biggest chunksters I could find, wanting bang for my buck. Now with a lot of books to get through, sometimes I’ll actually deliberately avoid something that’s ginormous! But there’s nothing like sinking into a big, meaty story and knowing that you can live in that world for a long time!

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Review: Dressing The Dearloves by Kelly Doust

Dressing The Dearloves
Kelly Doust
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Failed fashion designer Sylvie Dearlove is coming home to England – broke, ashamed and in disgrace – only to be told her parents are finally selling their once-grand, now crumbling country house, Bledesford, the ancestral home of the Dearlove family for countless generations.

Sylvie has spent her whole life trying to escape being a Dearlove, and the pressure of belonging to a family of such headstrong, charismatic and successful women. Beset by self-doubt, she starts helping her parents prepare Bledesford for sale, when she finds in a forgotten attic a thrilling cache of old steamer trunks and tea chests full of elaborate dresses and accessories acquired from across the globe by five generations of fashionable Dearlove women. Sifting through the past, she also stumbles across a secret which has been hidden – in plain sight – for decades, a secret that will change the way she thinks about herself, her family, and her future.

Romantic, warm, and glamorous, moving from Edwardian England to the London Blitz to present day London, Dressing the Dearloves is a story of corrosiveness of family secrets, the insecurities that can sabotage our best efforts, and the seductive power of dressing up.

I absolutely adored this.

Despite the fact that I’m Australian and there probably isn’t a building here older than just over 200 years (or maybe because of?), I’m so into the whole crumbling manor houses that date back to the 1400s or whatever, that populate English novels. There’s something about those graceful old buildings, even as they’re falling into disrepair that’s so romantic and I just sort of long to live in one. Yes they come with crippling upkeep and taxes and whatever and there’s only so much Heritage Trust money to go around but just the idea of living in some 60+ room stone mansion with different wings and sculpted, stately gardens harks back to a completely different time. I love books that take these and give them modern day issues and contexts and this book does this so well.

Sylvie grew up in such a place, a manor that has been in her family for generations. Now she’s returning to it after her foray into New York fashion went horribly wrong, determined to regroup and rebuild her life. She’s surprised to discover that her parents are finally selling the manor as the debts mount and the money runs out and more and more needs replacing. Although Sylvie supported the idea, freeing up her parents to enjoy the later years of their life in comfort, when her mother asks for help clearing out the attic, Sylvie finds generations of clothes belonging to fashionable Dearlove women, most of them designer, all of them beautiful. It inspires her and although she’s suffering from crippling self-doubt, Sylvie slowly comes to understand the importance of the manor to their family, it’s history and the secrets it keeps and she suddenly decides that they must do anything they can to protect it.

I’m not hugely into couture myself but I enjoy reading books set in the fashion world. Sylvie was a hot designer, snapped up for big money in America after a hugely successful range. However she finds herself let go, burned out, struggling with self belief and inspiration until she finds the clothes in the attic. Her friend encourages her to use the clothes as a way to generate income but it takes Sylvie a little time to figure out what the right method of earning money from the clothes should be! I loved the descriptions of the outfits and the fact that the story took you back to some of the times where those outfits were worn, by the generations of Dearlove women who came before Sylvie.

Sylvie’s great grandmother Lizzie is a very strong character in this novel – she’s very elderly now, almost bedridden, which shocks Sylvie although it probably shouldn’t. I think it’s more because of the sort of character she was – a very opinionated, strong minded woman. The book takes you back in time to key moments in Lizzie’s life and how those shaped the woman she became – or perhaps how the woman she was actually shaped those moments! I can’t say that I liked Lizzie, in fact the more I found out about her, the less I liked her. She was very much a product of her privileged and wealthy upbringing and the family name and reputation were everything to her, so much so that she was willing to sacrifice her happiness and that of her sister in order to preserve it. Although I’m not sure Lizzie would’ve considered it a sacrifice for herself…..it was everything to her, seen as her ‘duty’, something she chose to do willingly and was super invested in making sure her sister played the role too. I really liked the character of Lizzie’s sister and her struggle with what Lizzie wanted her to do vs her own desire for a life she chose, a life that would make her happy.

This was a compelling story – well several compelling stories woven together! Loved the different generations and their individual struggles and just the whole manor house setting. I found myself completely invested in Sylvie’s change of heart and her desire to suddenly save it, preserve it and keep it in the family. When it was placed up for sale it was obvious that the only people or corporations likely to buy it would tear it down and build entire housing estates on the land, or something like that and at first Sylvie thought she was fine with it but when it comes to the actual reality, she’s not so keen to let it happen. And so she must find a way to save the house, secure the funds to restore it and work out a way to make it profitable. I really liked the way this played out and the way that Sylvie found purpose again in a place she had kind of avoided.

9/10

Book #168 of 2018

 

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Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers 
Liane Moriarty
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 493p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The ten-day retreat at boutique health-and-wellness resort Tranquillum House promises healing and transformation. Nine stressed city dwellers are keen to drop their literal and mental baggage and absorb the blissful meditative ambience while enjoying their hot stone massages. They are all on a path to a better way of living. Or at least a better waistline . . .

Watching over them is the resort’s director, a woman on a mission to reinvigorate these tired bodies and minds. But to what lengths will she go to achieve her goal?

These nine perfect strangers have no idea what’s about to hit them.

This review is probably going to be a bit of a mess.

Firstly, I haven’t been able to read much lately. Before I read Nine Perfect Strangers yesterday, the last book I managed to read was back on the 26th September, because for I kept getting savage headaches whenever I was trying, be it on my iPad or in physical form. I’d read the last few September books through thumping headaches and then took a few days off to try and get them to go away. I remembered I was probably a little while overdue for an eye exam and so I went to get my eyes checked out. Turns out, I do need new glasses and my eyes were having a lot of trouble focusing on anything up close, which makes me concentrate harder….which causes headaches. So. I got to go through the whole process of picking new frames and all that fun stuff. I got glasses when I was 11 because I couldn’t see the board in school anymore but weirdly, during this eye exam, one of my eyes’ distance vision had actually improved.

A lot of people have been urging me to read this and although I have a tonne of October books I should be getting to, I picked it up yesterday on a whim. I didn’t plan to read the whole thing – it’s almost 500p and I wasn’t sure I would get through it but turns out, I did. It was….not what I expected.

Firstly, the pacing is quite slow for probably at least the first third of the book. You get a few different view points cycling back and forth, mostly Frances, a 50-something romance writer who has just had her latest book rejected. She’s twice divorced and has just been the victim of a brutal ‘break up’ which is not what it seems. She’s on her way to a 10 day retreat in country New South Wales and she’s having a lot of thoughts and what seems like some severe issues of hypochondria. Then eventually we get introduced to the others who are going to be on the same retreat as Frances – the Marconi family (Dad Napoleon, Mum Heather and daughter Zoe), married young couple Ben and Jess, grumpy Tony, beautifully handsome Lars and tired mother Carmel. They’re all looking for something at the retreat – to lose weight, to distract themselves, to gain clarity, to get some counselling, to learn new healthy habits. What they get is…..not what they bargained for. A bit like me with this book.

Firstly, the characterisation is amazing here. Most of them are rich, fully realised and come with an array of issues and baggage that’s believable and written really well. Liane Moriarty does relationships and entanglements so well, she does baggage and complicated emotion so well. I really enjoyed learning about each and every one of them but I had a really special liking for the Marconi family. Why they are there at first is a bit of a mystery and with each reveal their story gets more heartbreaking. It’s done so well and there’s such elements of grief and frustrating and anger and rage. They’re a tight family but they’re also broken. I thought Ben and Jessica were really much more than they were initially presented to be – Jessica an instagram wannabe who had sculpted her looks, unaware of the only person that didn’t find it an improvement was her own husband. And Ben, obsessed with his car always going on about the damn car, it’s just a car Ben (ok it’s a very expensive car but still). But the further I got into it, the more I appreciated their story as well and the stresses of what had changed their lives. Lars seems shallow at first but develops hidden depths (his choice of career) and Tony evolves as well. Probably Carmel is the character I felt got the least amount of attention and grew the least during the stay and her story was the least interesting to me.

But for me, this book escalates into the complete weird and I have issues with it, because I don’t think it fully dealt with the consequences of its own storyline. It’s very difficult to talk about without spoiling also, but I felt as though there was this big “thing” that happens and everyone is furious and then they are just…not. And there’s a lot of glossed over stuff at the end which really minimises the invasive exploitation of people’s trust. I also found a lot of the scenes during this portion of the book quite heavy handed – Frances’ in particular! Perhaps because she’s a romance author and Liane Moriarty is an author, it just seemed like it was a lot of unloading on the industry and it didn’t feel at all subtle. There were some funny moments but a lot of it I just read feeling a bit awkward, like I’d walked into the middle of someone’s private rant. I also have no way of knowing if any of these experiences the characters go through are realistic (and I’m not going to find out, because that’s just not something I’m interested in) but they all seemed so pointed. I was really quite annoyed at the way some of the characters were quite rightfully outraged at the abuse of their trust but then it just…..faded into nothing? I mean it probably became obvious that there were some serious issues going on with the person controlling everything behind the scenes but it just came off a bit clunky for me, like it was okay in the end because they magically dealt with their issues.

As a conversation piece? This book is brilliant. There’s so much to talk about – and I’ve had two good conversations about it already. It’s great for book clubs, great for people who really enjoy picking a book to pieces (and I don’t mean that in a negative way, in a way that analyses everything that happens in great detail) and those who like to mull over everything and savour it. Because Liane Moriarty is clever – really clever. She’s great with characters, she’s great at drawing you into a story. There’s a reason I read this in an afternoon, even with my nitpicky issues with some of it. Because even though it starts a bit slowly, there’s a period of investment in these characters (particularly the Marconis for me, that story is utter perfection). But I didn’t care about all of them and at times I found Frances, who seems to be the ‘main’ one, even though there are numerous characters who all narrate, quite tiring. I feel as though the book really nailed the whole retreat thing but then just took it that step further and it was weird, but not……without some grounding in possibility. Dangerous as all heck though. I wasn’t overly sure about the character of Masha in the end. I felt as though that downward spiral might’ve been a bit rapid but that’s just me. It felt like the first part of the book was, as I said, very slow, but then the end of the book had a disjointed and rushed feeling which may have been deliberate, to emphasise the ordeal the characters were going through. I kind of think that a few characters could’ve probably been trimmed in order to spend more time on the ones remaining – although yes, I know she does characters well, there were a few that probably could’ve vanished from the narrative and it honestly wouldn’t have made any difference to the story. And it would’ve given more time to focus on other characters, including the one that I think did need it, which was Masha.

But….it’s not my favourite book from Liane Moriarty. It might not even be in my top 3. And that’s interesting because I feel there are so many authors out there where you love each new book even more than the previous. And this isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the reading experience – I did, but it was a very up and down experience. There were times when my attention wandered a bit early on, there were times later in the piece where I was invested but the weirdness of the way the story and I ended up with more questions than answers at times, and a vague sense of dissatisfaction about some of the resolution. However I’ve no doubt that it’ll be made into a TV show or a movie and it’ll probably be very good – it is a story that might be well suited to a visual depiction. I find it a bit hard to rate it, because I didn’t love it. Didn’t dislike it. Read it really quickly but not super intensely…..however the thing that I think tips it for me is that it’s a book you can discuss endlessly. There honestly is so much to talk about and pore over and it’s one of the things I enjoy most about reading. So.

7/10

Book #169 of 2018

 

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September Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 19
Fiction: 19
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 1
Books On My TBR List: 4
Books in a Series: 8
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 11
Male/Female Authors: 2/17
Kindle Books: 4
Books I Owned or Bought: 3
Favourite Book(s): The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton, The Killing Of Louisa by Janet Lee, Dressing The Dearloves by Kelly Doust.
Least Favourite Books: Roommating by Noelle Adams and Samantha Chase, Echoes Of The Past by TJ Hamilton.
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 0 – because this is the year of no challenges!

See ya, September! Feels like I barely registered your existence which is weird, because we did things in September. It was my youngest son’s 7th birthday and my mother was here for a week to spend it with him and we did plenty of thing while she was here, including a trip to the zoo, where she’s never been before. It’s also been school holidays the past week but that’s been a bit of a bust so far unfortunately because my husband has worked 6 days of the past 8 or 9. I also have to fill the rest of the time with boring things like dental appointments, eye appointments and haircuts before the boys go back to school.

Still managed 19 books for September which I’m really happy with because I didn’t read much at all when my mum was here. It was a pretty good reading month – 3 books were 5-star reads for me and I had a bunch of 4s too. Lots of keepers.

The October arrivals were steady and this is going to be a big month……

Look at all the goodness!

And apart from these, I also have two purchases I made recently that I really want to read – Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty and Lethal White by ‘Robert Galbraith’. Plus I once again decided to try and read the Man Booker shortlist (seriously, why do I do this?) and so I requested the lot from my library. Three of the titles have come in – The Long Take by Robin Robertson, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan and Milkman by Anna Burns. I don’t know when the winner is announced but guaranteed it’ll be before I probably read any of them! I don’t know anything about them, I just decided on a whim one day to request them all. We’ll see how that goes!

Hope you all had a fantastic reading month of September. If you’ve read anything from my October pile (or the Man Booker shortlist, lol) then please let me know!

 

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Review: The Bogan Mondrian by Steven Herrick

The Bogan Mondrian
Steven Herrick
UQP
2018, 240p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘There are worse things than school.’

Luke sleepwalks through his days wagging school, swimming at the reservoir and eating takeaway pizza.

That is until Charlotte shows up.

Rumour is she got expelled from her city school and her family moved to the Blue Mountains for a fresh start.

But when Luke’s invited to her house, he discovers there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

This is an example of how being a book blogger expands my horizons. This is not a book I’d have probably picked up on my own but I received it for review and I thought I might pass it onto my son. He’s 10 and in grade 4 but has been assessed as reading at an 8th grade level – however he doesn’t get to read everything at that level. His teacher and I tend to coordinate on what we think is still appropriate, given his age. So I decided to read this one first before I handed it over and I ended up enjoying it a lot.

Luke comes from the council housing side of town – he lives with his overworked mother, his father having passed away from cancer. Luke’s father seemed a larger than life character, a gambling man. Always with a hot tip at some track or other. Sometimes those hot tips panned out and the rewards were rich. But those times were brief and more often than not, the tips didn’t pan out and that’s life with someone who lives for the flutter. When Charlotte moves to his school from the city, they cross paths one day and Luke is surprised when Charlotte tells him that there are worse things than school. After all, what doe she have to worry about, with her big house on the other side of town and her father with his high paying city job?

But Charlotte has a confession about her ‘perfect life’ that allows Luke to see that trouble can be found anywhere, not just on his side of town. Charlotte’s situation is grim and Luke wants to help her but isn’t sure how. It’s clear that Charlotte desperately wants help – almost everything she does is a cry for help. She’s a very volatile character, prone to emotional outbursts which is confusing for Luke but he doesn’t give up on helping her.

I loved the characterisation in this – Luke, Charlotte, their friends, they’re teenagers just struggling to make their way. School is tedious and boring, their struggles with the principal almost a daily occurrence. Luke spends a lot of his time roaming his local area (the Blue Mountains) taking photographs and swimming at the reservoir. There’s rarely any food in the house, it seems his mother was never the cook and she spends a lot of time at work, probably just trying to make ends meet. Luke has such a nice relationship with some of his neighbours – he exchanges fruit and Italian insults with a man nearby and befriends the new owners of the local store, a Vietnamese-Australian couple who introduce him to banh mi and give him coffees. And then there’s Buster as well. Luke is not without his flaws and his grief is still quite obvious and raw but he’s a very likeable kid and the way he wants to help Charlotte is wonderful. I think perhaps Luke’s tendency to skip school and get in a bit of trouble is perhaps why Charlotte seeks him out in the first place, maybe wondering if he might help her in a different way. But Luke is smart as well and he ends up coming up with good ideas in order to help not just Charlotte out of the predicament.

I think this is so well done – it is such a good depiction of navigating high school and the ups and downs that everyone is facing and that the perfect façade can hide an ugly interior. There’s a frank portrayal of Charlotte’s issue that squarely places the blame where it should be intended and also highlights the difficulty than can come when the offender is one with money and power. I also liked the showing of Luke’s memories of his dad – the struggle of life with a gambler, even one who loves his family. Beautifully done.

7/10

Book #165 of 2018

 

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Review: Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson

Greenlight
Benjamin Stevenson
Penguin Random House AUS
2018, 359p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Four years ago Eliza Dacey was brutally murdered.
Within hours, her killer was caught.
Wasn’t he?

So reads the opening titles of Jack Quick’s new true-crime documentary.

A skilled producer, Jack knows that the bigger the conspiracy, the higher the ratings. Curtis Wade, convicted of Eliza’s murder on circumstantial evidence and victim of a biased police force, is the perfect subject. Millions of viewers agree.

Just before the finale, Jack uncovers a minor detail that may prove Curtis guilty after all. Convinced it will ruin his show, Jack disposes of the evidence and delivers the finale unedited: proposing that Curtis is innocent.

But when Curtis is released, and a new victim is found bearing horrifying similarities to the original murder, Jack realises that he may have helped a guilty man out of jail. And, as the only one who knows the real evidence of the case, he is the only one who can send him back …

Crime doco-dramas are becoming so popular – Making A Murderer, The Staircase etc. TV is such a powerful way of telling a story and it’s an easy way to tell a part of a story. In this book, Jack Quick is a producer who made a television series surrounding the murder of grape picker Eliza Dacey and the arrest and conviction of Curtis Wade. Jack’s television series is so powerful, is edited together so well that it actually sets in motion the events that quash Curtis’ conviction, making him a free man. Jack is inundated with letters from prisoners all proclaiming their innocence, wanting to star in his next production and tell their story. But Jack can’t think about another series when this story isn’t over yet. Not long after Curtis is released from prison, another victim with ties to him is found murdered in a way that mirrors the first killing. Is it a copycat? Is someone trying to make sure that Curtis goes back to jail? Or has Jack’s television show set free a cold blooded killer to continue his work?

I found this really interesting – especially the role that the media plays in influencing public opinion and the power of that public opinion. There’s always more than one way to tell a story and Jack admits to himself more than once that the way he’s edited episodes of his show are to tell the ‘best’ story. And by that he means the most interesting or the most controversial or the one that makes the local cops look incompetent. Not the one that’s the most true with the evidence and information that he has. The murder occurs in wine country, up in the Hunter Valley where the locals aren’t really used to such crime. There were some procedural issues certainly and fingers pointed very quickly at Curtis Wade with perhaps only flimsy evidence. Curtis was a newcomer in this tight, rural community. He was ‘new money’, considered tacky and brash, the distinction often made between him and them in the town.

After the second murder, Jack goes back to the scene of the original crime, searching for answers. He finds himself not particularly welcome but he persists. The longer he stays, the more he uncovers and these seemingly innocuous things lead to more and more information about the original murder, which allows Jack to finally begin to put the pieces together. You can’t fault his dedication – Jack has some very guilty thoughts about his television show and what it has potentially done in terms of Curtis Wade. Guilt is something Jack does quite well and he’s had a lot of practice, it seems. He’s a very complex person with some deep seated issues, including one that I don’t often read about in fiction and definitely not in adult men. I don’t want to spoil it but it felt very well done and also very well explained, when the reason for why Jack was a victim to what he was, came out. His conversations with his brother were very powerful for many different reasons – he uses them to pick through his thoughts, to play devil’s advocate, to rebound ideas. It’s an important part of his process, for reasons that their father cannot quite seem to grasp but he facilitates it nonetheless. Jack has seemed like a supporting character in much of his life – a younger brother trailing behind, a victim of an illness he has to fight every single moment to gain control over. In his role as producer, he’s not the star…..but he’s definitely the one with the control, picking and choosing what gets edited together to tell a story. It’s not a role he wears well and even in his determination to get to the truth, he seems more sidekick than hero.

I think this book did a great job of keeping the reader guessing about a lot of things – was Curtis the original killer? Was he the killer of the second victim? If not, who did kill that person and why? Was he framed for the original murder? The narrative swerves in quite a few different directions over the course of the story and there were times when I changed my mind on what I thought the endgame would turn out to be only to backflip pages later. The suspense was nicely built and I think the ending was a bit of a masterpiece. A lot happened that I did not expect, which was good. And funnily enough, I think this would actually make a great TV series.

8/10

Book #164 of 2018

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Top 10 Tuesday 25th September

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

Top 10 Books By Favourite Authors I Still Haven’t Read

  1. The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth. I’ve owned this for a couple of years and I still haven’t read it yet which is such a travesty because I love Kate Forsyth’s books so much. I have to admit, sometimes I just really struggle to fit in books that I’ve bought. Every year I try to say I’m going to add one a month to the TBR and every year I fail miserably. This one is so high up on my “bedroom TBR” (which is the pile I want to read the most). Maybe over the summer.
  2. Tower Of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas. Because what would a Top 10 Tuesday be without this book? I feel as though I’ve been including it every week lately. I’ve read all the other books, just need to get to this one.
  3. The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth. I love Sally’s books and she’s a lovely person too. I’ve had this one since it came out but I’ve never quite been able to bring myself to read it yet. I know just from the description that it would be such a tough read for me (one of my worst triggers) and I will have to be in the frame of mind where I won’t mind sobbing and probably panicking a lot. So far I haven’t quite found it yet – I may never find that right time of mind. Some books we just can’t read because of the subject choice.
  4. No Limits by Ellie Marney. I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten around to this one yet. Probably the same reason as most of the rest – just too little time to fit in every book that I want to read.
  5. The Break by Marian Keyes. I really do like Marian Keyes – some books I like more than others but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book by her and thought ‘hmm, didn’t enjoy that’ at the end. She has such warmth, humour and charm in her stories. This is her most recent, probably the only one of hers that I haven’t read yet.
  6. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. Oh my gosh, I loved Graceling and Fire and I don’t even know why I haven’t gotten around to reading this one yet. I’ve even started it twice and had to abandon it for other commitments – not even because I wasn’t enjoying it. I just love the way Kristin Cashore tells a story and her subtle romances.
  7. The Legendsong Series by Isobelle Carmody. Okay so part of this one is self-preservation. I started reading the Obernewtyn series by Isobelle Carmody when I was 14years old. The series officially ended in that form when I was about 33. So 19 years of my life I spent waiting for various books in the series to come out. I’ve started the Song of Ice & Fire series by George RR Martin and I feel sort of in the same boat with that one. So I’m waiting for this series to be finished before I start it and it seems as though that’s a good choice because I think the last book published came out in 2002. The final one is due out….at some stage. I don’t know.
  8. Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding. This is deliberate and it’s a book I’ll probably never read, simply because of the direction Fielding chose to take. I don’t really like investing myself in a certain thing only to have it snatched away from me and so I’ll be avoiding this one.
  9. Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It’s probably a bit of a stretch to call Eowyn Ivey a favourite author because I’ve only read one book by her – To The Bright Edge Of The World which I absolutely loved and got in a blind date with a book purchase. Funnily enough, I’ve owned Snow Child for way longer – it was bought several years before, when I was at a writers festival. It’s also set in Alaska, which is one of my favourite settings. I’ve no idea why I haven’t read this either.
  10. Department Q Series by Jussi Adler-Olsen. I’ve read the first 3 or 4 in this series, which is translated from Danish. I find it really hard to keep up with a series in translation – frustratingly they can be translated into English in the wrong order, can skip books, or can take years for the next in the series to be released. I really liked this series so I definitely need to get back into it and start hunting down the books I’ve missed.

My TBR pile is scarily large but these are just some of the ones by well known and loved authors that I have still somehow not gotten around to reading. I could do with a few more hours in the day!

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Review: Embers And Echoes by Daniel de Lorne

Embers And Echoes (Echo Springs #2)
Daniel de Lorne
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 110p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Blue lights in the red dust…Echo Springs on the edge of the outback – a town where everyone knows your name, and your business. But the wholesome country living and welcoming community aren’t what they used to be. Echo Springs has a dark underbelly, and it is seeping ever outward.

A suspicious fire on the edge of town sets Constable Ben Fields on a collision course with firefighter and one–time friend Toby Grimshaw. When the investigation takes a troubling turn that calls the two professionals’ integrity into question, the heat gets turned up on Ben and Toby’s unresolved history. Ben’s got something to prove, but his love for Toby could cost him – and Echo Springs – everything. Meanwhile, will Toby overcome the horrors of his past and find a new future with Ben – or will it all go up in flames?

Book two in the Echo Springs series takes two characters who appeared as minor characters in the previous books and gives us their story. Constable Ben Fields and Toby Grimshaw were friends as teenagers – even more than friends, just finding their feet and discovering how their feelings worked. But then tragedy struck, they were torn apart and Ben left town for close to a decade. He’s back in Echo Springs now after a relationship went wrong but he and Toby haven’t been able to see eye to eye. Ben feels hostility rolling off Toby whenever they’re near each other and so they remain distant, nodding in passing at best until someone begins setting fires in Echo Springs.

I feel as though for me, this was a better constructed story, even if the police procedural work was also a bit….odd. But that seems to be a theme in this series, that it’s used as conflict when Ben and his partner actually start looking at Toby as a possibility for setting these deliberate fires, one of which is in his own house and could have potentially killed him and his father. I wondered if part of it was Ben’s desire to provoke Toby or interact with him, that made him so desperate to haul him in for questioning. Ben seems a bit like a lovesick teenager, staring longingly at Toby from afar whereas in the beginning, Toby seems quite distant, avoiding Ben or deliberately avoiding interacting with him.

The deeper I got into the story though, the more I enjoyed it. I really liked Ben and Toby’s backstory and how that had impacted on their current day interactions. They had a lot of stuff to really deal with in terms of being able to move forward and one of them had to confess something in order to feel as though moving forward would be even an option for the two of them. I think that the chemistry between the two of them was very well done and the angst was believable as well. I also think this progressed the story in the first book really well and I’m super curious to find out what is happening in this town. For me, this was a strong instalment in the series. It’s my first book by Daniel de Lorne but I’d be happy to seek out more of his work.

7/10

Book #161 of 2018

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Review: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

The Dinner List 
Rebecca Serle
Allen & Unwin
2018, 273p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

We’ve been waiting for an hour.’ That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends with in her utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You. 

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetisers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.

This was such an interesting book and a really great take on the ‘people you’d love to invite for dinner, living or dead’ type of thing. It made me think a lot about who my five people (or however many) people would be. It’s really difficult to think of a straightforward list and whether or not I’d fill it with all people I know or take the opportunity to add in famous people, living or dead.

I have to admit, this book was different to what I expected. When you pick up a book where someone is experiencing dinner with their ‘list of five’, where one is Audrey Hepburn, I thought it would be this light and almost fluffy story but it’s much darker than I expected and there were was a very unexpected twist that I didn’t see coming until it was upon me. It was one of those things which made everything make sense and all of a sudden I felt I understood the whole thing just that little bit better.

Sabrina is 30 and lives in New York. Years ago, she and her best friend, her college roommate Jessica made the list of the 5 people that they’d invite to have dinner with if there were no restrictions and over the years, Sabrina has edited her list. She chooses Audrey Hepburn, who played her namesake character and whose movies Sabrina loves, her father who left the family when Sabrina was very young, a former college professor, her former fiancé and love of her life and of course, Jessica.

Now’s probably the time to admit I’ve never seen an Audrey Hepburn movie. I don’t watch a lot of older films (to be honest, I don’t watch a lot of movies in general) so I cannot tell if her portrayal feels accurate or if it adds something to the story that only Audrey Hepburn can. Her role was almost more of a charming facilitator that allows Sabrina to explore some of the issues she has with her guest list, particularly that of her father Robert, who left her mother and Sabrina never saw him again. This abandonment has had a great impact on her and when Robert haltingly explains his story, Sabrina often struggles to accept his version of events, especially if they contradict anything her mother has ever told her. She feels betrayed by many of Robert’s life choices and I think jealous and envious of what she missed out on, not having him as a father figure in her life.

The reason they are all there is Sabrina’s love affair with Tobias, which has been long and somewhat complicated. That they both loved each other fiercely is never in doubt but I feel as though I related very much to Sabrina’s friend Jessica’s theory of relating relationships to a garden – you need flowers to grow and you need waterers, or caretakers, to care for them and ensure that they do. Jessica describes both Sabrina and Toby as flowers, which means that neither in the relationship are nurturers so despite their deep love for each other, their relationship is not without a myriad of problems and it doesn’t mean that they were actually good for each other. The deeper the story gets into their relationship the more this seems to become apparent as they diverge in what they want and how they feel they should be moving forward the older they get. It took me a little bit to settle into the way this story was being told, but once I was there, I ended up becoming so invested in the story and I think that’s why I was ultimately so shocked, even though I probably shouldn’t have been.

Overall I enjoyed that this took me much deeper than I expected to go and I think it posed some interesting questions and theories about life and relationships and working for/at them. It’s not always enough to just let them happen – it’s so easy to drift apart from people and kind of shrug your shoulders at it and say that is what happens when people get older and things change. It can be any sort of relationship, not just a romantic one and this book explores quite a few different types. It was very well done and it made me think over a lot of things. The sort of story that sticks with you for a while after you finish it.

I’m still not 100% decided on my list! Going to have to fix that.

8/10

Book #160 of 2018

 

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