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Review: Unnecessary Drama by Nina Kenwood

Unnecessary Drama
Nina Kenwood
Text Publishing
2022, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: From the author of the much-loved It Sounded Better In My Head comes a deliciously entertaining new rom-com, set in a run-down student share house in Melbourne.

Eighteen-year-old Brooke is the kind of friend who not only remembers everyone’s birthdays, but also organises the group present, pays for it, and politely chases others for their share. She’s the helper, the doer, the maker-of-spreadsheets. She’s the responsible one who always follows the rules—and she plans to keep it that way during her first year of university.

Her new share house only has one rule: ‘no unnecessary drama’. Which means no fights, tension, or romance between housemates. When one of her housemates turns out to be Jesse, her high-school nemesis, Brooke is determined she can handle it. They’ll simply silently endure living together and stay out of each other’s way. But it turns out Jesse isn’t so easy to ignore…

Channelling the screwball comedy of New Girl with an enemies-to-lovers twist, Unnecessary Dramais a joyful story about leaving home, dealing with the unexpected complications of life, and somehow finding exactly what you need.

Aaah where was this book when I was 18/19 and navigating moving out and all that kind of stuff?

I’m well out of the age demographic of young adult – actually, my oldest child is basically in that demographic now. But I still love reading YA now and then and it’s surprising sometimes, how often I still find one that speaks to me. And this book just gives me so much to identify with, both back when I was the same age as the characters and even now.

Brooke has finished school and is about to start university in Melbourne. She’s a highly anxious person, the sort of person that is always worried about looking after other people, making sure the vacuuming is done and that there’s a nutritious meal in the fridge. She’s living with Hannah and Jesse, her former high school best friend turned nemesis and it’s a lot to navigate. She’s trying to make new friends and just….deal with life.

There’s a great bit in this book about where Brooke talks about why she doesn’t drink and the Various Excuses she has to give people to excuse her from drinking like: taking antibiotics, doing a cleanse, etc and I felt this in my soul. I’ve never really enjoyed drinking, nor am I very good at it. I always skipped the drunk part and seemed to get right to the ok, I’m going to vomit a lot now. Alcohol also triggers a chronic illness I have but explaining this to people, that you don’t like drinking or don’t like hangovers or simply don’t want to, has never been a good enough excuse. Ever. People always try and convince you, saying you just need to drink more, or drink this instead or do this or that and it’s so boring when people don’t drink. I wish I could say that it stopped but it doesn’t seem to and I was questioned often in my 20s and 30s as to why I wasn’t drinking or didn’t want to drink. I’m 40 now and I haven’t actually faced a social situation that brings this up yet but honestly, I don’t see it changing. If you are at a gathering or a party and politely refuse an alcoholic drink, there are almost inevitably questions. And like Brooke, I have cycled through a myriad of excuses and reasons and I’m not even particularly social. Normalise not drinking, for whatever reason. Australia has a huge binge drinking culture and it definitely seems to garner a lot of sideways glances and ‘but why?’ when you tell people you don’t drink or don’t feel like drinking.

I really enjoyed the romance in this – Brooke and Jesse were best friends in high school but then Something Happened and they stopped talking. It has haunted Brooke ever since and Jesse moving in definitely brings a lot of that back up again. And then you find out Jesse’s feelings on what happened as well and…..look, Jesse did a horrible thing. For sure. But I liked the way that it played out and honestly, I felt like it was so believable. Teens make mistakes. They do and say stupid things to save face, to look cool, to save themselves from embarrassment and ridicule. This deals with the fallout of that and two people navigating their way back to friendship….and maybe more. It involves coming to terms with what happened in the past, understanding it and being able to move on and for the longest time, Brooke doesn’t even want to talk about it. Which, I also get. But she needs to hear him out in order to ever have the chance to actually move forward and the two of them….there’s definitely something there that needs exploring but it can’t be done effectively until Brooke has dealt with the past. And Jesse too, because Brooke isn’t the only one haunted by it.

This was super cute and I thought it was a great read with a sweet romance and even though Brooke’s relationship with her family is mostly in the background, the interactions that are showcased all serve to show why she is that responsible one, the one that worries about things. I really liked Nina Kenwood’s previous novel, It Sounded Better In My Head as well and I feel like she’s an auto-read now.

8/10

Book #189 of 2022

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Review: The Tilt by Chris Hammer

The Tilt (Ivan Lucic & Nell Buchanan #2)
Chris Hammer
Allen & Unwin
2022, 488p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A man runs for his life in a forest.
A woman plans sabotage.
A body is unearthed.

Newly-minted homicide detective Nell Buchanan returns to her home town, annoyed at being assigned a decades-old murder – a ‘file and forget’.

But this is no ordinary cold case, as the discovery of more bodies triggers a chain of escalating events in the present day. As Nell starts to join the pieces together, she begins to question how well she truly knows those closest to her. Could her own family be implicated in the crimes?

The nearer Nell comes to uncovering the secrets of the past, the more dangerous the present becomes for her, as she battles shadowy assailants and sinister forces. Can she survive this harrowing investigation and what price will she have to pay for the truth?

Gripping and atmospheric, The Tilt is a stunning multi-layered novel by the acclaimed and award-winning author of the international bestsellers Scrublands, Silver, Trust and Treasure & Dirt.

Chris Hammer just keeps delivering incredible books. This was so freaking good.

I’m pretty deep into assignment season at the moment for university and a lot of the time the reading I am having to do for that is taking preference. I read this over a couple of days but only because I made sure to do my assignment stuff first – this is the sort of book that normally, I would have devoured in a single sitting even though it is almost 500 pages. Because almost every single chapter ended with such a reveal or on such a cliffhanger that it was almost impossible to put it down. I never do this but one time I made myself put it down in the middle of the chapter, because I knew if I got to the end there’d be some incredible event that would drive me forward and keep me reading.

I loved Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan together in the previous book, Treasure & Dirt and was thrilled to see them return here. Nell is a freshly minted homicide detective now and she and Lucic have been put together as a pair to service a pretty large area in western New South Wales. Their first case is a body found after a regulator in the Murray River is blown up – the body has clearly been there a long time and it’s the sort of case where even if they can solve it, everyone involved is probably dead. But during clean up, another body is unearthed and even though this one is also not recent as such, it’s a lot more recent than the first one….

We learn so much about Nell in this as the investigation basically takes place in her hometown and over the course of the story her background (not just hers, also her mother’s as well as her grandfather’s) is trickled out. Each section is as engrossing as the previous and it was one of those books where every time it switched to a different time I’d be disappointed to leave one behind but then I’d become so invested in the new one! This builds in the most intriguing way, the pieces slowly coming together – sometimes in ways where you expect but other times, things are a definite surprise and give you a bit of a lightbulb moment as things that didn’t seem connected or important, suddenly become incredibly so.

The working relationship between Lucic and Buchanan is a complex one and there are several incidents that highlight this. Lucic is mostly off somewhere else for a portion of the book, leaving Nell in charge and she is very keen on proving herself, wanting to develop her professional skills and take charge of an investigation, see it through. Which is why I think she remains interested in the first body discovered, continuing to look for an answer. Things get a whole lot complicated for Nell after the identify of the second body though.

I’ve read all five of Chris Hammer’s fiction books now – the three Martin Scarsden ones and now the two in this series and his attention to detail in crafting towns (maps! I love the maps) is second to none and the quintessentially Australian feel he captures is the same. Scrublands really connected me to remembering how it felt to live through a drought and unrelenting heat wave and Silver made me reminiscent of my time spent living on the coast. This book encompasses mentions of a La Niña weather pattern, which we are experiencing right now, rivers full to bursting across large parts of the country (in many cases, they’ve already burst). As well as that, there’s just the feel that small towns bring, the places you get a newspaper or order a coffee, a local pub.

Likewise there is as much detail in crafting the characters as well, their histories and interactions and little quirks. I really enjoyed Ivan and Nell’s interactions in Treasure & Dirt and although they do spent a lot of this book separate, quite a lot is conveyed about their current working relationship. I hope that we get to see them work another case in the future and Hammer also introduces a character here that I feel will probably also make another appearance in a future book – this series provides ample opportunities for spin offs, using people that Martin or Ivan or Nell meet in their regular duties. Also if you’ve read the Scarsden books, you’ll note a familiar face appearing here as well.

This was crime perfection for me. Loved it! Cannot wait for more.

10/10

Book #179 of 2022

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Review: The Proxy Bride by Zoe Boccabella

The Proxy Bride
Zoë Boccabella
Harlequin AUS
2022, 432p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: In 1939, Giacinta sets sail from Italy to Australia. Decades later, a granddaughter discovers the true story of her family… A stunningly crafted novel of family, secrets and facing adversity.

Imagine marrying someone you’ve never met …

When Sofie comes to stay with her grandmother in Stanthorpe, she knows little of Nonna Gia’s past. In the heat of that 1984 summer, the two clash over Gia’s strict Italian ways and superstitions, her chilli-laden spaghetti and the evasive silence surrounding Sofie’s father, who died before she was born. Then Sofie learns Gia had an arranged marriage. From there, the past begins to reveal why no-one will talk of her father.

As Nonna Gia cooks, furtively adding a little more chilli each time, she also begins feeding Sofie her stories. How she came to Australia on a ‘bride ship’, among many proxy brides, knowing little about the husbands they had married from afar. Most arriving to find someone much different than described.

Then, as World War II takes over the nation, and in the face of the growing animosity towards Italians that sees their husbands interned, Gia and her friends are left alone. Impoverished. Desperate. To keep their farms going, their only hope is banding together, along with Edie, a reclusive artist on the neighbouring farm and two Women’s Land Army workers. But the venture is made near-impossible by the hatred towards the women held by the local publican and an illicit love between Gia and an Australian, Keith.

The summer burns on and the truth that unfolds is nothing like what Sofie expected …

I enjoyed this book so much.

I really love dual timelines and this one was no exception. The book is split between two different times, the first one being Sofie in 1984. She’s sixteen, it’s the long Christmas holiday break but her mother is making her go and stay with her widowed grandmother, rather than allow her to stay at home whilst her mother is at work. Although Sofie loves her grandmother, she’s resentful of this, believing that she’s old enough to be left alone. Her grandmother is also quite strict, with rules about boys and going out and what Sofie can and cannot do. However, Sofie does find herself connecting with her grandmother on a deeper level, learning of her journey to Australia, the circumstances thereof and those early, hard years in a new country with an often hostile population during the Second World War.

Gia, Sofie’s grandmother, tells Sofie of key moments in her life and the book flashes back for the reader to get a firsthand look at her experience as a “proxy bride” and leaving her family to come halfway around the world to a man she doesn’t know who is now her husband, living on a pretty remote farm and facing discrimination and racism from members of the local community. Sofie and her other Italian friends, as well as a neighbour, band together as best they can when their men are interned during WWII (as were many Australians of Italian and German descent, probably Japanese too like in the US) as well as a love story, one that makes Sofie wonder even more about her unknown parentage and the father that died before she was born.

I’ve heard stories quite similar to this from my MIL, who came to Australia as a young woman after WWII, but with it still very fresh in people’s minds. She wasn’t a proxy bride but ended up in a small Victorian town living and working with her sister and sister’s husband, taking care of their children and helping in their milk bar. Like the Italians in this book, my MIL, her sister and brother-in-law tended to keep very much within their own ex-pat community, socialising with other Italians, marrying them, their children growing up together and often doing the same thing. These marriages were sometimes arranged between families and other times it happened organically. Like Gia in this book, my MIL is also a quite strict Italian Catholic who attends church multiple times a week. She’s also an excellent cook (her chicken schnitzel is second to none) and sticks very much to traditional foods from her homeland, dishes her family probably cooked and ate regularly. My FIL has passed on now but my husband is certain there was never a day in his adult life where he didn’t eat pasta at least once. They had an extensive vegetable garden, growing more than enough produce to feed themselves and enough Roma tomatoes to make and bottle at least 200 longneck beer bottles of passata sauce every year. They provided for not just themselves but various members of the extended family. My FIL also made incredible pizza in their wood fired indoor stove, the likes of which I’ve never tasted anywhere else.

So for me, even though I am not Italian, nor is my family recent to this country (we probably date back to the invaders, to be honest), I still felt very connected to this story because it was so rich with experiences I have had shared with me from my MIL and the food, although slightly different to what my MIL makes (she’s Sicilian) is similar enough that it also brings lots of memories of dinners and events at their house. I also spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother growing up as well – Christmas holidays at her house before we moved to the same town and I went there very often after that. I actually connected with Sofie, because I remember being on that cusp of adulthood and wanting so much freedom but still not being quite there yet and having to do things that you feel you are far too old for, her chafing against her grandmother’s stricter rules and her impatience at her superstitions were also quite easily understood. I also felt very sorry for Sofie for not having the information on who her father was and how that had affected her. Although I sort of understood in the end, why her mother hadn’t told her, it still felt incredibly unfair to her not to have this information (not even his actual name) and to be ignored, cut off or redirected whenever she asked about it. And the secrecy led to something awkward for Sofie as well, which could’ve been much worse.

I enjoyed both timelines immensely. I love the rapport of the women in the past, how they banded together and worked hard to keep things afloat when the men were taken, how they supported each other and stuck together throughout incredibly tough times and how they faced disgusting behaviour with honestly, much more grace than I could imagine myself having in the same situation. It’s hard though, because they knew they held no power in their predicament and any complaint they might’ve made would be ignored, any retaliation a sign that they were fascists or whatever. It made me actually feel quite sick and angry reading how the women were treated (particularly by one man) and I’ve no doubt it’s an accurate portrayal of what some people experienced.

This was engrossing and kept me very invested throughout the twists and turns, both in the past and in the present. I loved the recipes in the back too, of the dishes that are cooked throughout the story, that was a really nice and touch and I’m sure many people would enjoy giving some of those a go!

8/10

Book #176 of 2022

This is book #40 of my 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader.

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Review: The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart

The Butcher And The Wren
Alaina Urquhart
Penguin Random House AUS
2022, 256p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: An addictive and chilling debut thriller from the co-host of True Crime podcast Morbid.

In the Louisiana bayou, a methodical killer with a taste for medical experimentation is hard at work completing his most harrowing crime yet, taunting the authorities who desperately try to catch up.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller is the best there is. Armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of historical crimes and years of experience, she’s never encountered a case she couldn’t solve.

Until now.

As case after case lands on Wren’s examination table, she is sucked into an all-consuming cat-and-mouse chase?- on the tail of a brutal murderer, getting more brazen by the day…

I have questions.

I have never listened to Morbid, the apparently famous true crime podcast that this author is known for being the cohost of. To be honest, true crime really isn’t my thing to listen to in terms of podcasts although I do occasionally listen to true crime audiobooks. But I think that plotting a fictional crime novel and researching and narrating a true crime podcast are two very different things and yeah, this book definitely is an example of that.

My biggest problem is…who are these people? Why should I care about them? We’re thrown almost straight into an example of medical examiner Wren Muller doing her job and teaching juniors although she does it in a bit of a…..smug sort of way but we don’t learn anything about her over time. Having finished the book, I know 3 things about Wren Muller: 1. She’s a medical examiner. 2. She’s married to a guy named Richard. 3. I cannot say the third thing, because it’s a spoiler. But I don’t really know anything about her as a person. Who is she? What is she like as a person, where is she from, how did she get to be where she is, how did she meet her husband, how long have they been married, what does he do? It’s the same with the local detective who is working this case with her, trying to solve the murders whilst Wren is getting the pertinent information from their bodies. It’s almost like I was dropped into this series (and based on the ending, I assume it’s going to be a series) midway through and this wasn’t told to me because it was covered in the previous books I hadn’t read. But in this book, there’s pretty much nothing to make me care about Wren or connect to her as a person, to know what makes her tick, what her little quirks are, what she’s like at work or away from it. She’s literally a blank, human shaped space. Her husband is the same. The detective is the same.

A little more time is given to shaping the character of our serial killer but even that’s lacklustre. It honestly feels like a smash of many “evil” characters from crime novels. He’s the sort of character that it’s emphasised how he has control and isn’t going to rush or do dumb things like other serial killers which is how they ended up getting caught…and then almost immediately after this, he does dumb things by a) changing up his MO and b) basically announcing his identity. And then there’s this random bit towards the end where Wren tells the detective oh yeah, you need to look into this person, I think this is the key to his identity/real name and the cop is like oh right, we already know.

What? Yeah okay, whenever you’re ready.

I’ve never been to New Orleans but a casual look through a lot of reviews from Americans, particularly those familiar with New Orleans says that this book definitely isn’t it in terms of how it’s portrayed. If you’re going to ground a book in a very well known city that is definitely famous for a certain “vibe” and certain landscape features and particular things, then probably you should try and nail that, otherwise just set it somewhere made up, where none of it matters for accuracy.

Also the book gives this big old bait n’ switch ending but doesn’t explain how on earth that was accomplished and who is the person left there? Please do not end a book like that. I’m not going to be reading anything else in this series because my experience with this was that it just wasn’t a well written or constructed story. There was a part in the middle that I thought had potential but then it trailed off again and lost its way and I just feel like this was a clinical description of events with zero character development or description that makes you feel like you are there, like you are involved. I saw someone who said it was like a movie script, that awaits the actors to add the actual personality and that is 100% what it feels like.

3/10

Book #175 of 2022

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Review: The Paris Mystery by Kirsty Manning

The Paris Mystery (The Charlotte ‘Charlie’ James Series #1)
Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin
2022, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: 1938 Paris. The last sigh of summer before the war.

As Australian journalist Charlotte (Charlie) James alights at the Gare du Nord, ready to start her role as correspondent for The Times, Paris is in turmoil as talk of war becomes increasingly strident.

Charlie is chasing her first big scoop, needing to prove to her boss that she can do this job as well, if not better than, her male counterparts. And the best way to forge the necessary contacts quickly is to make the well-connected British expats Lord and Lady Ashworth her business. Lady Eleanor knows everyone who counts and at her annual sumptuously extravagant party, a circus ball, Charlie will meet them all.

On the summer solstice eve, the circus ball is in full swing with the cream of Parisian society entranced by burlesque dancers, tightrope walkers, a jazz band and fireworks lighting the night skies. But as Charlie is drawn into the magical world of parties, couture houses and bohemian wine bars, secrets start to unravel, including her own. Putting a foot wrong could spell death …

In this magnificent new beginning to the joyful Charlie James series, Manning beguiles with glamour and mystery set in pre-war Paris.

This is the first in a new series from popular historical fiction author Kirsty Manning and it was an enjoyable read that I think could develop in a promising way.

Charlotte “Charlie” James knows the advantages of having a nickname that makes her sound like a man and she isn’t afraid to use it when applying for a job in Paris as a correspondent for The Times. She’s leaving Australia and some personal tragedy behind and focusing on a new life in Paris, making a name for herself and making sure that people will take her seriously. She gets an interview with Lady Ashworth, famous for her parties and that means Charlie is front and centre when someone is murdered at Lady Ashworth’s ball.

This is set pre-WWII although the rumblings of trouble are already brewing. Most people are still in a state of denial that there could be another war though, especially so soon after the first one. As such, the life in Paris is one of decadence and fun, a playground for wealthy Parisians and ex-pats alike. Charlie finds herself drawn into this world, gifted beautiful gowns to wear to exclusive parties and events. She’s also thrown straight into the deep end for work, with the murder immediately giving her a story to sink her teeth into. If she gets it right, she’ll impress her boss…..

Charlie manages to cut a deal with the local police inspector – she’ll help him by providing access to the photos their exclusive photographer took of the scene without him needing things like a pesky warrant, if he keeps her in the loop information wise. I really liked the scenes between Charlie and Inspecteur Bernard, they had a nice rapport and given this is a series, I’m sure there’ll be ample opportunity for them to work together in the future. As of yet we don’t know much about him, but…who knows?

I think if you enjoy Paris and if you enjoy the details of beautiful couture and glittering parties even more, then you will enjoy this book. I was more intrigued by Charlie’s past, what she had left behind in Australia and how that had unfolded and how it had made her feel. I was also interested in her path forward, what she intended to do now and hopefully we get to explore her character in more depth in future books. I think that Charlie has a lot of potential in the future to become an incredibly interesting main character, particularly as this book is quite close to WWII so future books could likely delve into Paris during the time that WWII breaks out. She has a strong nature and she’s good at her job and has a bit of a knack for uncovering things and she doesn’t really take any crap from anyone so that really does make the possibilities for the future quite endless.

This was a decent start to the series but for me it focused a little too much on the clothing and parties and the like and although the mystery was interesting, it was at times, overshadowed by other intrigues and interactions. The first in a series can be hard though, all the introductory stuff is out of the way now and I hope the next book is a bit meatier even though this does seem to have a bit of a light-hearted charm to it. I will definitely read the next one though, to see what is in store for Charlie and the new friends she has made in Paris.

7/10

Book #174 of 2022

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Review: Wildflowers by Peggy Frew

Wildflowers
Peggy Frew
Allen & Unwin
2022, 329p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A compassionate and surprisingly funny novel that is impossible to put down and even harder to forget, from the award-winning author of Islands.

They were still who they always had been, still those sisters, but on this afternoon, in this car, driving with the windows down between cane fields under a deepening sky with purple cut-out mountains in the distance, they were wearing it so lightly, their bossiness and flakiness and wildness; they were wearing it like they used to, like it was supple, slippery, not completely fixed. Like it could be taken off.’

In the car Meg had been laughing too. Meg and Amber laughing in the front and Nina in the back hiding secret tears of hope behind her sunglasses. They had been close then, the three of them, together in that moment of lightness…

Meg and Nina have been outshone by their younger sister Amber since childhood. They have become used to living on the margins of their parents’ interest, used to others turning away from them and towards charismatic Amber.

But Amber’s life has not gone the way they all thought it would, and now the three of them are together for the first time in years, on the road to a remote holiday rental in Far North Queensland, where Meg and Nina plan on helping Amber overcome her addiction. As good intentions gradually become terrifying reality, these sisters will test the limits of love and the line between care and control.

I’ve read Islands and Hope Farm by Peggy Frew and enjoyed them both so I was very interested in this one. It deals with the power of addiction and how that affects not just the addicted person but also the closest to them, in this case, Amber and her two sisters, Nina and Meg.

Amber was always the golden girl growing up, the one that strangers exclaimed over, how beautiful she was, how talented. When Amber gets into acting as a child, her parents, a very laid back pair, are not equipped for this world and the consequences it ends up having on their youngest daughter. Amber is still a teen when she falls into heroin addiction and this morphs into a prescription pill addiction in her twenties. Meg, the oldest and the bossiest, has the idea to take Amber away and do a forced detox in a remote location and although Nina, younger than Meg and not as confident, isn’t as keen, she finds herself strong-armed into agreeing. This is told in a flashback form, the book picks up after that attempt and explores the fallout on Nina in particular, who finds herself coping with what they did in the most unexpected of ways.

I have to admit, I thought most of this book was going to revolve around the ‘intervention’ of sorts that Meg organises where she and Nina take Amber away to a rural location in order to detox her in an attempt to get her to kick her drug habit once and for all but that telling doesn’t occur until a significant portion into the book and when it is told, it has already happened and we know the outcome, in a way.

I think that this book does really capture the ways in which those closest to an addict experience not just grief but also frustration and anger. Meg is such a formidable character, she’s exactly the sort of person that could pull off an intervention in a way (also acknowledging that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to do this if the person themselves doesn’t want the help, that’s the big first step) but Nina isn’t really built for it. She’s academically gifted but seems a bit flaky, untethered, unsure of what she wants out of life. She has a Masters degree but has a lot of part time jobs or jobs that she is overqualified for. She seems kind of content to be honest, to distance herself from Amber and Amber’s problems and maybe that’s the way in which she deals with it. Meg doesn’t really allow her to do that – after the intervention, Nina is avoiding Amber’s calls about something and Meg tracks her down despite Nina trying to hide from her, and persists in the way that Meg doggedly persists in everything.

Where the book didn’t really work for me was – it spends a lot of time explaining the unusual things Nina is doing to cope with something but….I didn’t kind of really understand her behaviour. Why that was how she was coping. It didn’t really seem linked to what she was dealing with in any way and I don’t know why she started doing it or why she kept doing it and it takes up such a large portion of the book and it just seemed so…….unresolved in the end for me. It just feels like Nina had a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms and she almost seemed in need of help as much as Amber did.

I have mixed feelings about this! I think the writing was incredibly good but I sort of felt like I wanted it to dig deeper in a lot of ways? There was quite a bit of page count devoted to things from the girls’ childhood and I understand some of that backstory is needed to set the scene, the dynamics etc and explain how perhaps, all this came to be but I wanted some more in the present, especially towards the end, regarding Nina.

6/10

Book #173 of 2022

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Review: Moon Sugar by Angela Meyer

Moon Sugar
Angela Meyer
Transit Lounge Publishing
2022, 256p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/Quikmark Media

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Mila can’t shake her grief for the life she thought she’d have. She’s broke, childless, and single. But her developing relationship with Josh, a ‘sugar baby’, opens her eyes to new possibilities.

Then Josh goes missing on a trip to Europe – a presumed suicide. Mila, and Josh’s best friend Kyle, are devastated, yet they suspect something is amiss. Together, they feel compelled to trace Josh’s steps across Budapest, Prague and Berlin, seeking clues in his last posts online.

Yet is there one mysterious factor Mila hasn’t considered?

Is running toward danger the only way for Mila to meet her true capacity? Or will it mean yet more loss? 

This genre-defying stunner asks how we might make the most of our power in the face of fear, loss, and the unknown. It celebrates our ability, despite great challenges, to be intimate with others and with the world.

I think this one is a case of it’s not the book, it’s me.

I really liked the sound of this and there were definitely parts of it that I enjoyed. The main character Mila is about my age and she’s at a place in her life where she’s questioning a lot of things. A ten year relationship ended not that long ago, she’s living kind of week to week. She’s lonely and so she develops a relationship of sorts with a guy named Josh, who is younger than her, that she met on a specific website. Mila perhaps has deeper feelings for Josh than he does for her – she knows he sees other people and that like Mila, those people pay for his time and attention. But she doesn’t care. And when news filters through that Josh has gone missing in Europe, Mila feels the need to travel overseas to the place he was last seen and get some answers because she doesn’t believe that this could be an action that Josh would ever take.

Also in the book is Kyle, Josh’s quiet best friend who like Mila, doesn’t think that Josh would ever do what the police have indicated. He was suppose to meet up with Josh in Europe and he decides to go anyway. He and Mila cross paths and decide to investigate together, tracking down people Josh spent time with and slowly unravelling a mystery that goes much deeper than either of them could’ve expected. That something Josh and Mila did on a whim that has opened them both up danger….and infinite possibilities.

Whilst I can appreciate the quality of the writing in this story (because it is very good, there were passages that made me stop and really admire them) and there were elements I enjoyed, ultimately I think it just had too many things in it for me to really settle back into the story. And that’s definitely just a me thing, I was expecting it to go one way or another way and it just ended up involving a bunch of very different ways and I’m not sure I gelled with it. I liked the exploration of Mila as a character, her fears and insecurities, her worry about her parents and how much responsibility she might need to take on for their care in the future, but to be honest, I never really felt like the book gave the reader enough about the character of Josh for me to really actually understand Mila’s desperate overseas journey. Josh felt so skimmed over and so esoteric that I never cared about him as a character, and was only mildly interested in whether or not his fate was as described and when there were reveals about him, they really only seemed to distance me further from the story, not pull me in.

This particular book wasn’t really for me but I’d read another Angela Meyer book in the future because I did like the writing and there’s every possibility another book of hers might work better for me.

6/10

Book #172 of 2022

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Review: The Opal Miner’s Daughter by Fiona McArthur

The Opal Miner’s Daughter
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Random House AUS
2022, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Obstetrician Riley Brand leaves the city behind to go in search of her mother, who’s taken leave from her marriage to pursue a passion for opal mining in the dry backblocks of an old mining town. Accepting a short-term posting as a fertility expert in Lightning Ridge, Riley plans to assist women pursue their baby dreams in remote and regional areas, while at the same time helping to rekindle her parents’ love for each other.

The small dusty community is a far cry from her polite medical practice on the North Shore of Sydney, but the down-to-earth locals soon welcome her into the fold with their Friday night social gatherings. But no one is more welcoming than enigmatic doctor Konrad Grey, the GP who’s working alongside her.

When an employee of their medical practice confesses she’s hiding an unexpected pregnancy, Konrad and Riley are thrown together in challenging and wonderful ways.

A moving and heartwarming story about new life and new loves, about the treasures to be found above and beneath the surface of a small country town, and about the important choices women must make in life.

I really enjoy Fiona McArthur’s books – I always love the rural settings, the characters and the stories that revolve around obstetric and natal medicine. Her characters are always doctors and midwives and I find the challenges of that in a rural and remote setting super interesting. This book is no exception, being set in Lightning Ridge, which is a famous opal mining town in north west New South Wales. Riley is a obstetrician in Sydney who takes a locum GP role (and adds a consulting clinic for her speciality) in order to seek out her mother, who has, in her retirement, left Riley’s father behind in Sydney and is working an opal claim. Riley’s first instinct is to talk some sense into her mother, to get her to give up this dream and go back to her life in Sydney with Riley’s father.

But then Riley arrives in town and discovers just how much her mother is thriving. And she also discovers just how much the town needs her, someone with her specialist training. There are a lot of women in the local and surrounding areas desperate for an appointment with Riley and she sees just how much she can help, when she’s working with Konrad Grey in the GP practice. Ooh a little fun aside – Konrad’s parents live in my home town which was fun to see. Despite it being a super popular coastal town, it doesn’t turn up in books very often. It’s not urban enough for a big city setting but it’s also not small enough anymore, to really qualify as rural.

This was such an interesting example of how certain services that you can take for granted in the city can be almost impossible to access in a remote location and how far people can travel in order to access them when they are available. Riley initially offers two afternoons a week as an obstetric consultant and is booked out for weeks, leading for her to open after more afternoons. As well as that there’s also someone in the book who has a pregnancy with a complication that needs to involve a careful delivery plan and this story also shows how all the careful plans in the world can go out the window sometimes and nature dictates.

I thought the story of Riley’s mother Adelaide was great – Adelaide devoted herself to being a wife and mother and then late in life, began a career in nursing when Riley was old enough to not need quite so much attention. Now she’s retired, so is her husband Tyler but he’s content to stay at home and watch Netflix, go to the gym. Not so for Adelaide -she wants some adventure and so she’s out fossicking for opals and loving it. I thought it was arrogant of Riley at first, to make this journey out to the Ridge in order to get Adelaide to “see sense” and go home. Adelaide is a grown woman, capable of making her own choices and Riley does seem to freely admit she’s a bit of a golden girl in her dad’s eyes and he’s her hero, perhaps that’s why she can’t see why her mother has chosen to not leave him in the relationship sense, but leave him in the physical sense and do something for herself after years of looking after other people. Thankfully however, Riley realises quickly that her mother is enjoying herself enormously and it’s not for her to interrupt that and that parents must sort out their issues themselves.

This story also highlights mental health (it does contain references to suicide, if that is something that you are not comfortable reading) and I thought that perhaps there were characters left open for a revisit in the future, if Fiona McArthur so desires to come back to the Lightning Ridge setting. It was a delight to read, as her books always are – the perfect thing to break a drought of 2 weeks without picking up a single book.

8/10

Book #171 of 2022

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Review: Sixty-Seven Days by Yvonne Weldon

Sixty-Seven Days
Yvonne Weldon
Penguin Books AUS
2022, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: ‘We don’t say any words – everything has been said through two sets of eyes, two entangled souls and endless kissing.’

Evie has been raised in the heart of Aboriginal Redfern, by a proud trailblazing Wiradjuri family. She remembers so much about the previous world – the Dreamtime, the ancestors, and the knowing – but she also harbours a dark pain that is becoming almost too much to bear.

And then Evie meets James, a young man radiating pure love who fills her life with light. On the cusp of adulthood, with their whole lives ahead of them, they travel to Evie’s beloved country, the central west of New South Wales and the Riverina regions. Swimming in the waters of the Kalare, as known by the Wiradjuri, and in the Murrumbidgee, singing with her ancestors, listening to the spirits.

The new world created between Evie and James is one they did not know they were missing. Now they can’t leave it alone. They are no longer separate – they are one, they are whole together – until a sudden event leaves them seeking answers to one of life’s most eternal questions: is love strong enough to withstand anything?

An intense and mesmerising story of first love and longing, suffused with Wiradjuri Dreaming, family and culture, about a future dreamt and a future taken, by an important new voice in Australian fiction.

This is a book which celebrates and highlights Aboriginal culture in so many ways. Our main character Evie is 19, at university in Sydney studying Arts but toying with the idea of switching to psychology and so she’s taking some summer classes to see if she enjoys it. She’s part of a very close knit family that doesn’t just encompass her mother, father and two younger sisters but also all of her aunts, uncles and cousins which in her culture, are as important to her as parents and siblings. Her cousins are as close to her as her own siblings and she is as beholden to her aunts and uncles as she is to her parents. She also reveres her grandparents, great-grandparents and other Elders and the respect and love she has for them and their traditions are paramount in all of her interactions.

By chance, Evie bumps into James, a young Aboriginal man and they are immediately drawn to each other, it’s butterflies and immediate love for both of them. Despite their youth and it not being what either were looking for, Evie and James know that they want to be together forever even though they are concerned what their parents and other relatives will think about their young age and the fact that they have not known each other very long. They are both determined though and make their plans, getting everything all worked out before they decide to tell their families, making sure that they have all the answers to the questions that will no doubt be asked. Evie wants to finish her degree and James supports her in this and he’s almost finished his electrician apprenticeship. The young couple will be able to live independently but the blessing and love of their families is incredibly important to them and a part of this book is a tour they take of Evie’s country in rural NSW so that she can visit and introduce James to all the important people in her life who do not live in Sydney and make sure that James receives their blessing. You can tell how important this is to Evie, that James observe and respect her family’s customs and present himself to all those that matter to her so that they may know him and see him as Evie’s chosen partner.

Blended into this tale of exciting new love is a more serious topic that has plagued Evie for years, someone in her community who isn’t respectful and who Evie must not only avoid for her own safety and mental wellbeing but also she sees it as her role to protect others from going through what she did. This was handled incredibly well – Evie’s compartmentalising of this person, not even naming him in her mind, felt so genuine and real to me, her fear and horror came through so strongly. I felt like I could understand her choices and why she made them and how she also felt incredibly protective and determined to keep others safe. There is just more than one tale of tragedy woven into the story and it showcases Evie’s strength but also her right to grieve and how she will learn and grow in many ways.

To be one hundred per cent honest, the romance didn’t do a whole lot for me in the story – it was very instantaneous and I kept trying to remind myself that they were teens and this was probably how my first boyfriend and I spoke to each other (I’m old and jaded how haha) but where the story did really do well for me was the depiction of all of Evie’s extended family, the respect they had for their traditions and culture and the details of the Dreamtime. I honestly haven’t read a book that included this so much I don’t think and I really appreciated being able to see this in terms of a more modern setting, how people incorporate and respect and live those traditions that are tens of thousands of years old. I loved meeting all of Evie’s family members and experiencing her relationships with them as well and how important they were all to her. I would definitely read another story by Yvonne Weldon.

7/10

Book #147 of 2022

*This review was written on the unceded lands of the Bunurong/Boonwurrung and Wadawarrung/Wathaurong people*

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Review: The Keepers Of The Lighthouse by Kaye Dobbie

The Keepers Of The Lighthouse
Kaye Dobbie
Harlequin AUS
2022, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: 1882 

Laura Webster and her father are the stalwart keepers of Benevolence Island Lighthouse, a desolate place stranded in the turbulent Bass Strait. When a raging storm wrecks a schooner just offshore, the few survivors take shelter with the Websters, awaiting rescue from the mainland. But some of the passengers have secrets that lead to dreadful consequences, the ripples of which echo far into the future …

2020 

Nina and her team of volunteers arrive on Benevolence to work on repairs, with plans to open up the island to tourists. Also on the expedition, for reason of his own, is Jude Rawlins, a man Nina once loved. A man who once destroyed her.

But the idyllic location soon turns into a nightmare as random acts of sabotage leave them with no communication to the mainland and the sense of someone on the island who shouldn’t be there.

The fingers of those secrets from the passengers lost long ago are reaching into the present, and Nina will never be the same again … 

I really, really enjoyed this.

I love a dual timeline story and this delivered in every sense of the word. It’s mostly split into two, 1882 and 2020 with a few brief forays into about 2010 for clarification of a backstory.

In 1882, we have Laura, a woman in her mid 20s who lives with her father, her stepmother and baby brother on an island in-between Tasmania and mainland Australia. It’s her father’s job to man the lighthouse so that ships might navigate the dangerous waters of Bass Strait. Although the island is a creation of the author, it is loosely based on a real island. For Laura, the isolation doesn’t bother her. The only get supply drops every so often and she isn’t worried by the harsh conditions. She thrives on the lifestyle, helping her father in ways that aren’t common for ladies in this time, proving to be a hard worker and excellent swimmer. When a boat wrecks in the rocks just off the island in a terrible storm, Laura and her family do their best to rescue and help the survivors, unaware that they’re about to be thrown deep into a mystery.

In 2020, Nina is leading a team to fix up that same island, make it habitable and desirable for tourists again. She’s well aware that her boss is keeping an eye on her from afar and expects Nina to pull this off without a hitch, which could be an issue when she realises documentary maker Jude Rawlins, a former boyfriend that there is unfinished business with, has also wangled his way onto the island. But that’s not the biggest problem – when strange things start happening that reek of sabotage, there’s a possibility that someone else is on the island that shouldn’t be.

This was such an engrossing read from start to finish. I really enjoyed both timelines – in fact often so much I would not want to leave one when a chapter ended but then the second I started the other timeline again, I wouldn’t want to leave that to go back to the original one! Often in dual timeline books, I find myself preferring one over the other but in this case I was equally invested and really enjoyed sinking into both timelines. I have a bit of a romanticised ideal about what it must’ve been like to live on a remote island, even though I do not at all think I could cope with the weather in Bass Strait! I think it would definitely take a very strong person (or family) to be able to deal with such a task especially as there are no days off in those times, the lighthouse had to be manned. Now everything is managed with technology and there’s little to no need for lighthouse keepers. Laura is strong and confident, not swayed by other people’s opinions of how she should behave (even when they’re well meaning, not necessarily mean) and she knows the sort of life that she wants.

In the present day, Nina is under a lot of stress, both with the arrival of Jude, someone that she has a very significant past with, and professionally as well. The two are also linked, because Jude being there could definitely affect her being able to do her job. The two of them were in love over a decade ago and I think when you tear a couple apart like that, the reader needs to really be able to believe that the reason was something that was that bad, that at the time, one of them couldn’t see a way out of it. And that really was successful here, as Nina’s story unfolds over the course of her chapters, it becomes so apparent why she is still suffering so much and how much it still impacts her day to day life. And in the case of Jude, he comes off a bit antagonistic at the beginning but you can see that he still, is hurting deeply after all this time and he just wants answers. Both of them are thrown together to puzzle out the fact that someone who shouldn’t be there seems to be on the island which brings up a lot of old hurts and issues but gives Nina the chance to be strong and finally confess her secret to Jude.

I found both of the mysteries intriguing and this was paced so well – definitely a real page turner!

9/10

Book #138 of 2022

Going to include this one in my 2022 Historical Fiction Reader Challenge as at least half of it is set in 1882. It’s the 37th book read for the challenge.

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