All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Lost Man 
Jane Harper
Pan Macmillan
2018, 362p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Timesbestseller Jane Harper.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.

So Jane Harper has written two books I’ve really enjoyed, revolving around a police detective named Aaron Falk. This is a stand alone but I was already pretty confident I was going to like it and that was before I went to see her at an event at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville last week. I bought the book at the event and even though I’ve got a million other books ahead of it in my pile, sometimes you just have to forget about the pile and go for the one that you want to read the most.

The Lost Man is set around 1500kms west of Brisbane, in Queensland. Unforgiving territory, relentless temperatures, dry and dusty land sparsely populated and home mostly to cattle on stations the size of entire European countries. In this story the local police officer is responsible for an area pretty much the size of Victoria, so when Cameron Bright is found dead in the outback at the base of an unmarked stockman’s gravesite, the local authority is several days away and someone else is sent to investigate.

That doesn’t fill Cameron’s brothers, Nathan and Bub, with much confidence. This is a bizarre situation. Cameron spent his entire life in this area and he knows how to survive. The fact that he seems to have abandoned his perfectly working car in 45 degree heat (113*F) is not something an experienced local would ever do. You stay with your vehicle and your supplies, you call for help be it via radio or flare and you wait. Cameron isn’t like Nate – he’s married, with two children, running a thriving property. A far cry from Nathan, the town outcast, who was messily divorced, barely sees his only teenage son and struggles to break even on a patch of land not worth a pinch. He had no reason to do this on purpose and yet with someone of his knowledge, the other option is even worse to consider. What happened to Cameron that he ended up dead from dehydration 9km away from his car?

If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be compelling. It’s not filled with action. Instead it’s a slow burn, character driven novel that just makes you want to know what happened. How it happened and why. With every page, Harper peels back a little more about this Bright family – they’re kind of like an onion. There’s just so many layers to them, mysteries and secrets and hidden betrayals and conflicts. Nate is the main character, we spent the time in his head learning about his life and we see most of the other characters through his eyes. Nate has not had an easy time of it, not growing up and not in adulthood either. He’s a loner, spending almost all of his time running his property on his own, often going months without seeing his own family. Although technically they live “next door”, I think it’s still a drive of several hours for him to reach the house he grew up in that Cameron now lives in with his young family and also Nate, Cameron and Bub’s mother. Nate has been ostracised from the small but tight knit society for a mistake he made years ago and it’s a role he seems to somewhat relish, hiding himself away and not realising just how many people are quite worried about him. I get the feeling that most people thought that perhaps it would be Nate who met a gruesome end, not Cameron. He’s somewhat determinedly stubborn, kind of wallowing in his isolation and the wrongs of his life, including this failed marriage and his struggling relationship with his teenage son Xander. When he does come back to the family after Cameron’s death, it’s fraught with tension with most members, including Bub, the brother 12 years younger than him that he really barely knows.

The area where Jane Harper roughly sets this book is around 31 hours drive or 2200kms from where I live. Most Australians will probably never see terrain the likes of this, unless they undertake a deliberate drive through the outback, taking in parts of remote Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. I’ve never experienced it but this book brings it into such brilliant colour. The heat, the unrelenting flatness and vastness of the landscape, the isolation and loneliness, the sheer mechanics of living in such a place. Having enough food to last months, because you get deliveries 2-3x a year and hey, there’s no supermarket within a thousand kilometres. The fact that despite the terrain being mostly desert, it still floods due to the rainfall up north, which I did not know. Even knowing about it is not to live it and this book gives an understanding of what that sort of life might be like, for just a brief snapshot. I think it’d be difficult to truly understand the isolation without living it and there probably are few people truly cut out for it.

I always say this – but the ending? I did not see it coming. And it blew me away, the slow puzzle coming together, the staggering reveal, the explanation, the heartbreaking finality of a choice made. It was brilliantly done. This is my favourite novel from Jane Harper yet and I want it to be 2019 already so there can be another one.

9/10

Book #191 of 2018

Advertisements
Leave a comment »

Looking Forward To 2019 – Reading Challenges Part 1

I started this blog in 2010 and for pretty much every year, I’ve participated in reading challenges. Probably only that first year, having started the blog in May, and this year, have been challenge free. I made the decision to go challenge free for this year because I’d done quite a lot of challenges and I was getting a bit burnt out. I’ve enjoyed the freedom and the lack of having to check for books to make up requirements but at the same time, I’ve also missed being part of challenges. So that’s why next year I’ll be getting back into doing some!

Recently on instagram I came across the Reading Women Challenge hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I read a lot of women and I’m always looking to kind of broaden my representation as well and this seems like a really good way to do that. 

I’m really quite excited about this. Now some people probably have a list of books picked out for a challenge before the challenge even starts but I actually haven’t done that. Although I do have a Jhumpa Lahiri book that’s been on my shelf for a little while and I think a Jesmyn Ward one too, so there’s the bonus ones sorted. But in terms of the rest I’m probably going to wing it or search around for recs….some I won’t know until I get a book and think that it’ll be a good fit for a category. I see some categories that I’ll be able to check off easily (romance, children’s, historical, etc) but others will definitely require some searching out, which is half the fun! Finding new authors, exploring new locations, learning new things. This challenge feels really comprehensive in that there’s such a broad range of topics but that they can also be adapted in many different ways and you can probably be as adventurous as you like with it, or stick to a lot of familiar things too.

Check out the challenge page for more info and some recs. The challenge runs from Jan 1st – Dec 31st 2019. And if you have a book to recommend that you think will fit one of the challenge prompts, definitely let me know.

1 Comment »

Review: A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery Of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)
Deborah Harkness
Viking Penguin
2011, 579p
Copy borrowed from Marg @ TheIntrepidReader.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

I borrowed the first two books in this series an embarrassing number of years ago from Marg over at The Intrepid Reader. By best guess it was somewhere around 2012/13 and they’ve been sitting on my shelves ever since. Moving house made me reorganise all my books and I ended up putting them into a bookcase I keep for books that have been on my TBR a while but that I want to get to sooner rather than later. When I started seeing ads for the tv adaptation of A Discovery Of Witches coming soon I figured that it might be a good time.

It starts so promisingly – in fact I was so engrossed that I almost forgot to go and pick up my kids on Friday afternoon. Diana is the last in a long line of witches but due to a tragedy in her past, she doesn’t use her powers – or so she thinks. One day unwittingly she calls up an ancient manuscript in the library at Oxford. The manuscript has been spelled and no one has been able to catch a glimpse of it in a long time…..and all three of the supernatural creatures, vampires, daemons and witches are all desperate to get their hands on it. Because she was able to summon the manuscript (although she sent it back without realising its power and the fact that it was sought after) she now finds herself followed by a little variety of creatures, including ancient vampire Matthew Clairmont.

I love a lot about this book – the backstory of daemons, vampires and witches, the divide between the three different ‘species’ and the Covenant that prevents them from intermarrying or relating. I liked Diana’s background and how what happened to her parents informed her decision as a young adolescent in terms of her magic and the further we got into the story, the more we learned about that magic and how her parents had played a role in it too. This is a multi-layered story and each new reveal, each layer peeled back built and expanded upon the story really nicely. I was really intrigued by the idea of the spelled manuscript and Diane’s innocent ability to call it because she didn’t really know what she was doing or understand what she was even accessing.

Where the book kind of loses it for me (and this is unfortunate because it becomes a rather large part of the story) is the romance. Matthew is a 1500year old vampire and he’s basically a grown up Edward Cullen. This is Twilight for big people. He follows Diana, he breaks into her room to watch her sleep, he’s ridiculously possessive (wrapped up in vampire bullshit and hierarchy and being obeyed and whatever) and he’s bossy and orders her around and wants to protect her from all the other weirdos stalking her but he’s just as big a weirdo as the rest of them. They fall in love ridiculously fast, instalove on steroids and it’s because theirs is a special snowflake sort of love which is going to forever change things for the species’ because of course it is. He spends a lot of time growling at the back of his throat and refusing to have sex with Diana in case he loses his mind and kills her or something I suppose. And then for -other- reasons.

On one hand, there is so much about this that is just a really great, detailed and intricate story. The history is awesome, the settings are fantastic and I like a lot of the secondary characters and the way things are pieced together and the different species’ around Diana and Matthew are coming to terms with working with each other in order to figure out the manuscript and also because there’s kind of a war coming about Matthew and Diana being in love. But this is also quite a long book….there’s a lot of pretty extraneous stuff in here about what Diana wears, what she eats, what she drinks and the author seems to really like wine because Matthew likes wine and he’s been alive for over a thousand years so he’s super rich and knows a lot about wine and has an extensive wine collection and we get a lot of stuff about the wine he likes and why and where it’s grown and he makes Diana smell things and tell him what she smells which is a bit weird. Also Diana takes an awful lot of naps. Like, a lot of naps.

It took me four days to read this book – for a lot of reasons. Like I mentioned, it’s long. I also was quite busy over the weekend as it had been my husband’s birthday on Thursday and we had family over on Saturday, plus swimming lessons, shopping and that sort of stuff. I’ve also been in a bit of a reading slump and keep picking books up and putting them down without opening them. I think it’s partially just ‘that time of year’ where you’re getting to the end, everyone is getting a bit tired, the kids have plenty of things on and Christmas is looming (and I still haven’t done a single thing about that, not a present bought, not a single thing organised, oops). I did enjoy it, despite my skepticism on the romance and the Matthew character as a whole. And I’m ready to watch the tv show now when it airs, which is actually this Thursday evening. I also have the second book here and I am definitely planning to continue on with the series because the historical and witchcraft stuff is so interesting to me. I’m hoping it might be a bit less kinda angsty than this one, but we shall see.

7/10

Book #189 of 2018

4 Comments »

Man Booker Shortlist #4 – Not A Review: Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman
Anna Burns
Faber & Faber
2018, 368p
{Not} Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.

Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

So, part 4 of my 6 part Man Booker Shortlist series. By the time I’d posted my first review, the winner had already been announced – which is this title, Milkman. I had planned to leave the winner until last. I thought it might be a good idea to read the other five first and then cap it off with the one that the judges had chosen for the prize. But it was one of the first few to come in for me at the local library and it also had another request on it, so I couldn’t renew it. I had to read it last week in order to return it by it’s due date.

Okay. This might be one of my briefest reviews because here’s the thing – I didn’t finish this book. I actually DNF’d it ridiculously early for me – it was about three chapters in. I don’t DNF a lot of books, once I kind of start something I tend to finish it. Or I skim read it. But I couldn’t really skim read this. It wasn’t a skim reading sort of book.

The reason I DNF’d it, is because it actually felt like it hurt my brain to read it. Sentences that take up half a page or more, paragraphs that run for 1-2 pages. No one has a name. It’s all Someone McSomebody, Maybe Boyfriend, First Sister, First Brother-in-law, the Milkman. I had no idea who was who, to be honest. There was nothing to tether me to the characters. And in fact all I can remember from what I read is that the main (unnamed) character went for a jog. And some creeper (the Milkman) ran beside her.

Sometimes you know right away that something isn’t going to be for you. I knew from the second page with this book. I was struggling with it right away, but I persevered for a while because I’d read some really good reviews and I figured once I got past that first bit and settled into the way it was written, got used to it, I might start enjoying it. And that may have happened. But after struggling through three chapters (which took me about an hour, I might add) I decided to give up. And just accept that whatever the judges saw in this book to longlist it, shortlist it and award it the prize, I was never going to get to the stage where I would be able to see it.

Because I DNF’d this, Goodreads actually counts it so I’m including it in my count here but because my GR goal is 200 books, I’ll read 201 now, because I don’t actually consider this a completed book towards my goal.

Unfinished = unrated.

Book #186 of 2018

 

4 Comments »

Thoughts On: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage 
Tayari Jones
Algonquin Books
2018, 308p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-illusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel.

That would have to be one of the briefest descriptions I’ve seen in a while.

I added this book to my Wishlist way back in January of this year. I think sometime around the end of last year/beginning of this I read some feature about books to look out for coming in 2018 and made a note of the ones I wanted to read. I do that all the time – I have a wishlist for each year on Goodreads but honestly, don’t ask me how many books make it off the wishlist to the read list. When I remembered my local library existed for requesting Man Booker shortlisted books, I decided to add this one in too.

Roy and Celestial have been married for about eighteen months. They are both college graduates, each striving to have more than the generation before them. They come from different backgrounds as well – Celestial with college educated parents and from Georgia and Roy from country Louisiana. Roy has a good job which allows Celestial to stay at home and work on her art, steadily making a name for herself. They have the usual challenges in a marriage – in-laws, the pressure to provide grandchildren, etc. But it’s when Roy is arrested and convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, that their marriage faces the ultimate test. Roy is sentenced to 12 years for a rape that his own wife gave him an alibi for.

A large part of this book is letters between Roy and Celestial that they exchange whilst he is in prison. The letters highlight the hopelessness of their situation and the struggle of being a couple separated by incarceration. Although Celestial knows Roy’s innocence and never doubts him (she was with him the entire time in question), she’s a young woman barely married who is suddenly almost like a widow and after a few years the strain of not having a husband longer than she had one is too much and she writes Roy a Dear John style letter to let him know that she will no longer consider herself married. For Roy, this is the ultimate kick in the teeth, because not only has he been denied his freedom but now his own wife has abandoned him at his lowest point.

Roy’s tale is horrible and his trial seemed little more than a farce. There’s no DNA evidence, his own wife takes the stand to claim he was with her, he has no motive, no criminal history, but he’s black. And the court system in southern America is awash with racism and corruption. I’m not at all qualified to comment on the racial profiling in crime or the treatment of young, black men in the system but we all read the news. There’s no shortage of high profile cases that shout out loud how it’s different for those young black men. How police shoot first and ask questions later, the lack of any real consequences for such shootings. The sheer numbers of those African Americans who are incarcerated. There’s no doubt that Roy is a victim of his appearance. Both Roy and his wife believe that his accuser was raped that night. And Roy had crossed paths with her earlier in the night. When she points him out, that’s it. He’s arrested and charged and sentenced with very little in the way of actual evidence. Celestial’s family is quite wealthy (new wealth, due to a patent her scientist father sold) and they keep the fund open for appeals, trying to get Roy justice all too late.

When Roy is finally released, his conviction quashed after serving five years, so much has happened. Celestial has moved on and with someone Roy knows. He wants his wife back but after five years apart, after the way prison has changed Roy and the way being left on her own has changed Celestial, is it going to be possible for them to find their way back to the before?

I really enjoyed this and the way it made me think. I love epistolary novels as well although this is not entirely epistolary. After that it’s split into three points of view – Roy’s, Celestial’s and her new lover. They’re three people who are just really struggling to get what they want – in some cases to even know what they want. Roy has such a firm view of the way things should be. Celestial is his wife and that’s that. She didn’t divorce him that whole time he was inside. His key still fits in the door after he gets out. I think for Roy, if he and Celestial can just make their way back, then he might be able to feel like things are going to get back to ‘normal’ for him – as much as they can be normal after being jailed for 5 years for something he didn’t do. Celestial is torn between the fact that she moved on when she thought the situation was hopeless but also her loyalty to Roy for what he has suffered. It’s messy and even ugly at times and honestly? I’m not gonna lie. I wanted Roy and Celestial to make it. To take back their relationship and erase all the damage that had been done, the ways they had been wronged. It would’ve felt like vindication. But even while I was thinking that, I was questioning if that was the best choice for them both, after everything that had happened.

One thing I really liked in this book was the relationship between Roy and his father (Big Roy). Just the way they connect, in that sort of awkward manly way that shows deep feeling but not outright declares it. Everything Big Roy did for Roy as a child, the ways in which he loved Roy’s mother. Those family dynamics were so wonderful – how they strive and sacrifice for each generation to have more than the one before it. I also liked Roy’s relationship with Celestial’s father (he exchanges a couple of letters with him in jail as well) and the way that evolved and their steadfast support of him during his time in prison. Everyone who knew Roy never questioned his innocence, even if they weren’t there like Celestial was.

This was well written and thought provoking. It’s not necessarily about the legalities of being wrongly incarcerated, I think it’s more about the collateral damage. What Roy missed out on, what he lost, whilst being inside. The way that some relationships fell apart and yet others didn’t. Or were perhaps made somewhat stronger for his experience.

8/10

Book #188 of 2018

3 Comments »

Review: Return To Rosalee Station by Mandy Magro

Return To Rosalee 
Mandy Magro
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 310p
Copy courtesy of Harlequin AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bestselling Australian Author returns to the world of her debut novel, Rosalee Station, with a new tragic and harrowing story of love and second chances, set deep in the heart of the Australian outback. Can they find the path to forgiveness and healing, or will grief keep them apart forever?

After eight years of marriage, Sarah Walsh had thought she and Matt would be together forever. But when a fatal accident serves up the cruellest punishment any mother could face, their relationship falters. Sarah is helpless as Matt flies off the rails – she braves one last–ditch attempt to try and make him see they need to work together to get through the heartache. But will it be enough? And what about her – how does she go on alone?

Reeling from devastation and guilt, Matt gets the wakeup call he needs to save his marriage before it’s too late. But the way forward is littered with obstacles, and he can see it’s only by returning to the outback beauty and isolation of Rosalee Station that he has any chance to reclaim the man he once was. But will this separation end up costing him everything?

In her latest release, Australian rural romance author Mandy Magro revisits a familiar location and couple. Matt and Sarah’s meeting and courtship was detailed in her 2011 release, Rosalee Station. Now I haven’t read Rosalee Station but I honestly don’t think that matters because it skips forward a significant amount of years – Matt and Sarah have now been married for 8 years but 12 months ago the couple suffered a devastating and traumatic loss. Because of this, their marriage is slowly breaking down, exacerbated by Matt’s descent into alcoholism due to guilt because he blames himself for the accident that stole something precious from them.

The thing is, whilst it may have been an accident, the resulting consequences are actually undeniably Matt’s fault. He was careless, probably doing something he’d done a million times as a child and probably even as an adult without thinking twice. And maybe 99.9% of the time you can do such a thing and be fine. But there’s always that chance something will go wrong – and when it does, it turns Matt and Sarah’s lives completely upside down. They are shattered and broken. I don’t know the rules of driving around farms but I honestly couldn’t believe that Matt didn’t face some sort of legal repercussion – he was the driver, he was responsible for his passengers, including a minor who isn’t able to make these decisions for themselves.

Moving on. It’s a year later and Matt and Sarah are in a bad place. Matt drinks every night and Sarah has had to take drastic action in the form of kind of an ultimatum but he finally seeks help. He decides that in order to really make this work, he has to leave Sarah and their own farm and return to his family’s farm, the titular Rosalee Station. Sarah is really upset by this, she wants to be able to help him through it but Matt is adamant he needs to do this without her around.

I commend Mandy Magro for tackling alcoholism and also for examining a couple who have had the heady highs and are now experiencing the worst of the lows. It’s interesting to me, to read about a couple going through a bad time and how they work through it together and come out of it. That kind of didn’t happen here as Matt removes himself from the marital home to deal with his problems and they don’t really part on the best of terms so they don’t even really have much in terms of communication. They are essentially living these two separate lives with the outcome hanging on if Matt can kick the drink. The thing is, I don’t really think Matt does anything to address the reason why he drinks. He refuses counselling and intends to just go cold turkey. His GP convinces him to fill some prescriptions for medicines that will help him with his withdrawal symptoms and at first he even refuses that. Matt’s expectations seem unrealistic and I guess that’s quite true of a lot of people that need to break out of an addiction cycle. The thing is, I don’t think just going “I’m not going to drink anymore” is enough when you are drinking for the reason that Matt is. That reason isn’t just going to magically go away without being actually examined, dealt with and moved past. Or at least moved past enough to function as a human being without using alcohol as a crutch because it’s not something that people just ‘get over’ and move past.

A lot of this story is bogged down in the day to day rituals and life – lots of descriptions about showering, breakfast, car drives, farm work, etc which does tend to take away from the more serious topics. Once Matt makes the decision to stop drinking, I thought there would be quite a bit more about that but it’s not as dominant a part of the story as I thought it would be. The thing is, alcoholism is a disease and it’s something someone like Matt will probably fight on and off (ie some days it’ll be easier, others much harder) for the rest of his life. Anytime something bad happens, he will have to control that instinct to drink it away. A lot of this is kind of glossed over because Matt doesn’t really talk about his drinking. I’m also not sure how serious he really was at times, because he stays somewhere he knows there’s a bottle of spirits. There were a few instances of Matt’s behaviour that felt like actual red flags for me – such as his reaction to Sarah going to a rodeo for her birthday as well as his thinking about Sarah when the two of them are separated. At times he seems almost resentful of the fact that she isn’t constantly calling to check on him or praise him or whatever, seemingly forgetting that he told her he could only do this a thousand kilometres away from her. I think Sarah was quite patient and she really did try to show him that she loved him but she also had her limits as well. I think it’s very difficult to know how you’d be in this situation unless you were actually living it but there were times when I felt like Matt seemed quite a lot of work. He was very resentful, full of self-loathing and guilt which is also why I questioned how successful he’d be without some sort of counselling to deal with those feelings and move forward. This could’ve been an opportunity to address men and seeking that sort of help. I actually feel like the book opted out of addressing some of the harder parts of Matt’s journey and it also gave us kind of like a “magic ending” which doesn’t show the ongoing effort.

Whilst I think this was a great idea, for me it did miss with the execution. There are so many things that just didn’t work for me – the dialogue is very over the top – if it’s not excessively flowery declarations of love and the like, everyone sounds like Alf Stewart and Steve Irwin had love children and populated this novel with them. The level of ocker is…..distracting. Very distracting. And I just think I expected a more in depth look at going cold turkey quitting a pretty hardcore drinking habit and addressing the sorts of things that led to that and this book didn’t really deliver on that for me. It was more about the day to day things and even though I knew Matt was going through a very difficult time, I didn’t warm to him as a person. I had sympathy for him, because he made a mistake and was going to have to deal with it for the rest of his life. But I didn’t like him. And some of his behaviour seemed a bit problematic to me, like when Sarah feels bad for saying she’ll go to the rodeo with her sister-in-law because she knows that Matt won’t like it. It felt like a very surface story and didn’t dig anywhere near as deep as I think it should have.

5/10

Book #187 of 2018

Leave a comment »

Top 10 Tuesday November 6th

Welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday now resides with Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. There’s a different bookish themed topic each week and today we are talking…..

Top 10 Backlist Titles I’d Like To Read

  1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. I read To The Bright Edge of the World, Ivey’s novel after Snow Child and absolutely loved it. And I know that The Snow Child would be right up my alley. Both Ivey’s books are set in Alaska and it’s one of my absolute favourite settings in books/tv shows/movies/anything. And I even own it, so there’s really no excuse for not having read it yet! I just….haven’t.
  2. The Dark Swan Series by Richelle Mead. I’ve read the Vampire Academy series and loved it. I didn’t mind Bloodlines but I didn’t love it as much as VA. I also read and adored the Georgia Kincaid succubus series and loved that too. I’ve heard good things about this particular series’ of Mead’s but I’ve never gotten around to it. One day!
  3. Amie Kaufman’s Backlist. I’ve read Amie’s books that she’s written with Jay Kristoff (The Illuminae Files) but I haven’t read anything she’s written alone or with Megan Spooner. I do own the first book in the Starbound series though and I am very keen to try more of her work.
  4. The Will Trent Series by Karin Slaughter. I’ve been hearing good things about this for years but until this year I’d never read a Karin Slaughter book. The one I read, which I was sent for review, was a stand-alone. I do have the first in the Will Trent series on iBooks but I don’t want to start reading until I have access to them all.
  5. Connie Willis Books. I’ve read 2 Connie Willis books – Crosstalk and Bellwether and I loved them both. I really want to read the Oxford Time Travel series and the All Clear series.
  6. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I really loved Little Fires Everywhere and I actually picked up a copy of Everything I Never Told You in an iBooks sale. I honestly don’t know how I’m ever going to actually find the time to read all the books I want to in my lifetime….but I’m going to try.
  7. V.E./Victoria Schwab’s Backlist. I’ve only read one of her books but it was so interesting and I really enjoyed it. She’s an author that I definitely hear so many good things about concerning a couple of her series’. I need to find a way to fit in the other books of hers that I need to read.
  8. The Witches Of Eileanan Series by Kate Forsyth. I’ve read a lot of Kate Forsyth’s more recent books, historical fiction with amazing retellings but I haven’t read a lot of her more older stuff. The first book in this series came out in 1997 and I think there’s about 6 books. Witches, dragons, magic. Sounds fun! And I love the way she writes, there’s always a love story and such attention to detail.
  9. Maria V. Snyder BooksOkay remember how like 6 or so years ago, Maria V Snyder was kind of everywhere in YA releases? I actually even went to see her at an event here at my (then) smallish local suburban Melbourne library. I have literally a pile of books by her that head into double figures and I have actually not read any of them. A lot of people rec the Poison Study series to me in particular.
  10. Traci Harding Books. Last year a publisher sent me a Traci Harding book for review. I didn’t know anything about her, hadn’t ever read any of her books. I absolutely loved the one I was sent and when I looked her up, I discovered that she has a pretty huge backlist. I actually have another book by her for review that’s out in December although it’s connected to a series I’ve never read……it’s a prequel though, so maybe I could start with this and then actually go into that series.

All lists like this do is further reinforce that I just have so many books that I want to read and so little time to fit them all in. I can barely keep up with the books I have for each month, let alone going back and fitting in ones from years ago! I am trying to make a more conscious effort to ‘go retro’ – especially over the summer break here, where I hope to read mostly books that are backlist or have been on my shelves for a long time.

 

20 Comments »

Review/Feature: Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater

Well Read Cookies
Lauren Chater
Simon & Schuster AUS
2018, 175p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This gorgeous, whimsical gift hardback celebrates beloved works of literature in the shape of beautiful iced biscuits. Feast your eyes on 60 mouth-watering classics in full colour from Jane Austen and Mary Shelley to Tolkien and F. Scott Fitzgerald, modern masterpieces by Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Geraldine Brooks and Melissa Ashley, and beloved children’s tales by Dr Seuss and J.K. Rowling.

With all the tender love and care of a true book lover, author and baker extraordinaire Lauren Chater shows you how to translate your favourite books to the plate – and start making your very own sweet morsels of edible art. Filled with beautiful photographs and insider tips on achieving cookie nirvana, now you can have your books and eat them too.

Lauren Chater is the founder of the popular blog, The Well-Read Cookie, and author of the acclaimed historical novel The Lace Weaver.

This book combines two of my favourite things – books and food, specifically sweet food. I’m a big cookie/biscuit fan. But food inspired by books? That’s even better so I was really keen to see just what books had inspired author Lauren Chater to bring out her artistic side in the form of shaped and decorated cookies. Thanks to the wonderful people at Simon & Schuster AUS, I have permission to share some of the photos of my favourites and the accompanying pieces that go along with those photos in the book.

Firstly I do want to say that there are decorations for all types of skill levels here and it’s quite easy to start with something more simple and then work your way up to some of the more complicated pieces. Although I do bake, including biscuits, I’m not really a decorator and my freehand drawing skills are woeful but I think with practice, I could probably accomplish quite a few of these. Some of them though……some of them are seriously, seriously clever and intricate and they look like they take a little bit of skill. There’s also several recipes (one of which I will be sharing here also) included at the back of the book.

The first one I knew I had to share, is one of my favourite books and has been since I was a child. I have kids of my own now and they have loved it too and it’ll probably always be a favourite in our house. I don’t think it matters how old you are, this book is a timeless classic and I can honestly see these decorated cookies as being a hit at any birthday party. The book is of course…..The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

Are these not the cutest? I absolutely love them! I showed these to my kids too and they got a huge kick out of them, it’s perhaps something we will try as a school holiday project. You could have so much fun with these, making not only the tiny caterpillar from the beginning of the story but everything he eats and how big he is at the end plus his metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly! Here’s what Lauren had to say on this book…..

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle

Why are children so obsessed with books about food? From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Possum Magic, food and literature continues to be an utterly magical combination. What is it that makes us go gaga for Suessian green eggs and ham and dreamy Sendak-style aeroplane doughnuts? Psychologists suggest food is associated with memory, so perhaps when parents read to children from picture books which feature fantastical feasts and pleasant picnics, a love of food is absorbed along with the language.

Nowhere is this combination of edibles and idioms more apparent than in Eric Carle’s classic tale of gluttony and greed, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Brimful of fruit, condiments and sweets, it’s the ultimate guide to a week’s worth of overeating, but it’s also a lesson in growth and transformation.

The compulsion of the caterpillar to consume everything in sight is an instantly recognisable childish trait. The mere whiff of a pickle takes me straight back to my school days, and whenever the words ‘chocolate’ and ‘cake’ are mentioned together, I find myself reaching for the fridge – because, as everyone knows, the perfect accompaniment to a Matilda-style Bruce Bogtrotter chocolate cake (thank you Roald Dahl) is a slice of Swiss cheese.

When I was making these hungry caterpillar cookies, my children offered very helpfully to cut the holes out of the ‘fruits’ instead of what they usually do, which is squirt the icing straight into their mouths. I recommend using the bottom of an icing tip to get a good-sized hole and piping an outline around the hole first before you flood so that the icing doesn’t drip down inside. You’ll need a 1.5 mm tip for the caterpillar’s details.

Extracted from Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater, published by Simon & Schuster Australia, RRP AU$24.99. Photography © Lauren Chater

I actually haven’t read this next book but honestly these cookies are so beautiful I couldn’t not choose them to share. These strike me as being a bit more ‘next level’.

These are so beautiful. The detail is incredible and you could really use decoration to give each cookie an independent look and feel, based on the amazingly colourful birdlife we have here in Australia. The book these are inspired by is The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley, which I vaguely remember being published a couple of years ago. I went and looked it up upon reading Well Read Cookies because I found these so amazing to look at and I think I might have to read it.

The Birdman’s Wife
Melissa Ashley

Books about taxidermy occupy a very unusual spot in literature. After reading Melissa Ashley’s debut novel, a vibrant reimagining of the life of 19th century artist Elizabeth Gould, I was keen to explore the dark side and find out if anyone else had been brave enough to write about this macabre topic.

My research led me to quite a few places (including the hilarious Crap Taxidermy – I recommend), but none of the books I read were as good as The Birdman’s Wife. Somehow, Ashley manages to get right under the skin (oops!) of her characters and inject the perfect amount of tension into the story of this little-known Australian artist. Bad puns aside, the book was an eye-opener into the way 19th century English migrants responded to the Australian landscape by attempting to study and tame its elusive fauna and wildlife – and thereby understand themselves. And thankfully, attitudes about the preservation of wildlife are changing as society develops a more respectful response.

I used a copper cookie cutter to make these delicate hummingbirds – which were painted by Elizabeth Gould and referenced in the book – and edible paint to create the watercolour effect of the feathers.

A few tips about using edible paint:

  • It’s best to apply edible paint sparingly using a good brush. If you use too much in one go, it creates pockmarks or holes in the icing which is not the look you’re going for.
  • I recommend a nice watercolour sable-hair brush if you can get it. Your cookies are works of art, like Elizabeth Gould’s, so you want the best quality brush you can afford!

Extracted from Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater, published by Simon & Schuster Australia, RRP AU$24.99. Photography © Lauren Chater

It’s pretty hard not to want to create some of these amazing cookies (and there are so many more in the book) so to get started, I can share Lauren Chater’s recipe for a basic vanilla sugar cookie:

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

makes around 16

250g unsalted butter, softened

1 egg

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

6 cups flour, plus extra for rolling out

1/2 tsp baking powder

STEP 1 Place softened butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and mix until smooth and light in colour (about four minutes).

STEP 2 Add in vanilla essence and beat in egg, until combined.

STEP 3 Slowly beat in the baking powder and flour, one cup at a time. After two minutes or so of beating the dough should start pulling away from the edge of the bowl and form a lump. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it on a lightly floured surface.

STEP 4 Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least four hours.

STEP 5 Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F). Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut out desired shapes. Place them on flat baking trays and put in freezer or the fridge for at least 20 minutes before baking to preserve shape.

STEP 6 Bake each tray for 18 minutes, turning halfway to ensure consistency.

STEP 7 Allow to cool completely before decorating.

Extracted from Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater, published by Simon & Schuster Australia, RRP AU$24.99. Photography © Lauren Chater

Honestly, if you love books and enjoy food, especially food that’s related to books, then I can recommend this. There’s so many interesting little tidbits in here about the books chosen, a lot of which I think are books many people have read and can connect to. If you’re part of a book club, so many of the ones included here would make such an awesome snack and there are ones like the caterpillars that would work so well for kids. Even some of the cookies which are based on books that aren’t children’s books, would be great for kids to try, such as snowflakes, dogs, witches and more. The pictures are all incredible (and all taken by the author!) but I loved reading about the books as well. I always find new ways to add books to my TBR and this book was honestly just one more way.

This was so fun and the sort of book you can go back to time and time again and always get something different.

8/10

Book #182 of 2018

Thank you to Simon & Schuster AUS and Lauren Chater for allowing me to use the photos, extracts and recipe!

5 Comments »

Man Booker Shortlist #3: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Everything Under
Daisy Johnson
Jonathan Cape
2018, 264p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Words are important to Gretel, always have been. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn’t seen her mother since the age of sixteen, though – almost a lifetime ago – and those memories have faded. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature.

A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel’s isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things, too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water – a canal thief? – swimming upstream, getting ever closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.

Daisy Johnson’s debut novel turns classical myth on its head and takes readers to a modern-day England unfamiliar to most. As daring as it is moving, Everything Under is a story of family and identity, of fate, language, love and belonging that leaves you unsettled and unstrung.

This was my third read from the Man Booker shortlist and it was….a bit of a mixed bag. I can’t say that I liked it and at the time of reading it, it was my least favourite but I’ve since read (or attempted to read, so stay tuned for that one) another one that was such a struggle it makes this seem like my favourite book in the entire world.

The story here is of a non-linear structure, going back and forth in time and revolving mostly around Gretel and her mother Sarah. During most of Gretel’s childhood they lived on a boat moored on a river and had almost nothing to do with anyone else. Gretel and her mother had their own language and when her mother abandoned her at sixteen to the ‘system’, it was a learning experience for Gretel that some of these words that were so part of lexicon were made up or adapted from mispronunciations of words that Gretel had done as a baby or small child. Perhaps this fascination with words led to Gretel’s career, working on updating the Oxford Dictionary entries. It’s a slow, methodical process, a solitary lifestyle that suits her just fine. She’s been looking for her mother ever since her mother left, constantly calling hospitals and morgues, dreading one day getting that call.

When Gretel finally does reconnect with her mother, Sarah is suffering Alzheimer’s and the writing around this was definitely my favourite part of the entire book. Johnson writes this with empathy but also with stunning frankness – the ugliness of this illness, the way it strips a person down of who they are and what they know. It was really well done and Gretel’s patience and determination to nurse her mother through this stage was admirable.

What didn’t work for me was the magical realism bit – or the rest of the book. Admittedly I only know the bare bones of the Greek myth it draws its inspiration from but I didn’t particularly find the unravelling mystery of the character of Marcus/Margot particularly interesting or shocking. Some of the events were later on but it also seemed a bit forced, like this didn’t seem a logical conclusion of the interactions. Perhaps that’s the magical realism kicking in, the mysterious creature they all fear which must be stopped, which they have their own word for. It just seemed like too much was happening, with the inclusions of Marcus/Margot/her family/Fiona and Gretel’s own interactions with them as well as the childhood story, the Bonak or whatever they called the river creature, the adult relationship between Sarah and Gretel.

Whilst I found this very easy to read and it’s not a long book so it only took about two hours, I struggled with it in other ways. Some of it is beautifully written and I appreciated that. There’s imagination here as well but this is not really my kind of magical realism. Perhaps the jumps back and forth in time and the vagueness contributed to that but half the time I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on and it seemed the book asked questions only to jump somewhere else and leave you hanging for a while before it bothered to answer them, which got frustrating. The whole thing of Marcus/Margot felt so drawn out it got ridiculous after a while. For me this was just okay but my primary interest was the relationship between Sarah and Gretel. To be honest, everything else was just a distraction.

4/10

Book #184 of 2018

 

Leave a comment »

October Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 17
Fiction: 16
Non-Fiction: 1
Library Books: 3
Books On My TBR List: 2
Books in a Series: 0
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 15
Male/Female Authors: 3.5/13.5
Kindle Books: 1
Books I Owned or Bought: 1
Favourite Book(s): The Girl On The Page by John Purcell, Lost Without You by Rachael Johns.
Least Favourite Books: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 0 – because this is the year of no challenges!

October was a solid reading month. It sort of feels like some of these books were a long time ago but at the same time, October just seem to fly by in the blink of an eye. I don’t like how fast this year is going, I feel as though it should still be about June but instead it’s 60 days until the end of the year.

I got through 17 books this month which would be close to what I would call my “average”. I only rated 2 books five stars with almost everything else getting a 3 or a 4 so it was a pretty decent month. I have been back into my local library, utilising it in order to complete my goal to read the Man Booker Shortlist and I read half of it in October. I’ve posted 2 reviews already with another to come tomorrow. They are sort of my “Friday specials” at the moment. I have two more books here from the list (including the winner) and I’m still waiting on the final one to come in.

You might notice I read only 1 eBook this month, which is quite unusual for me. However it’s probably going to be my highest total for a few months because in October my iPad died. Like, fully died. Just one day it was working perfectly fine and the next day it was giving me the dead battery screen, even though it had been plugged in all night. I gave it a hard reboot and it did start up with 100% battery but as soon as I put my code in, it died again. Dead battery screen. Repeat x a million. Now it won’t even hard boot. It’s four years old and has only had what I would describe as light to medium use. I mainly use it for reading at night or watching stuff in bed for an hour or two. I do have a kindle somewhere but it’s 8 years old (it does still actually work though, so credit to it for that I guess) and it’s super slow and I find it hinders my natural reading speed which is a bit annoying. I don’t think I’ll be using it much. I do intend to replace the iPad, just not right away. Have got Xmas and stuff to get through first and I’m still undecided about what model I want to get. I suppose it’s all going to depend on how much I actually want to spend. Sigh.

Onto November. I’m not sure if it’s the time of year or whatever, but my pile is undeniably little (for me) this month. These are my books for review:

One of these (the bottom one) is a series book and I don’t really like reading a book in a series if I’ve not read the others. I’ve got it in the pile but I’ll just see how I go. I’m not sure if it’s the sort of series where they work okay as stand alone or if lots of things build over each instalment. Hopefully the small pile will give me some time to finish these:

These are some chunky books. I’ve had Tower Of Dawn since it was released and I did start it way back in May before we moved house. I only got 140p in though because I find Chaol really annoying and this entire book basically revolves around him and his pity party of one. I do want to read it before Kingdom Of Ash though. And I want to get to Lethal White to find out what Cormoran and Robin are up to now that she’s {redacted}.

So I expect November to have a low-ish total for books read but hopefully I’ve finally managed to get through some of these books that I’ve had and wanted to read and haven’t been able to squeeze in. Until now!

Happy reading!

2 Comments »