All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Steam And Sensibility by Kirsten Weiss

steam-and-sensibilitySteam And Sensibility (Sensibility Grey #1)
Kirsten Weiss
Misterio Press
2017 (originally 2014), 168p
Copy courtesy of Red Coat PR via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Steam rising. California Territory, 1848. Gold has been discovered, emptying the village of San Francisco of its male population. Steam-powered technology is still in its infancy.

At 19, Englishwoman Sensibility Grey has spent her life tinkering in her father’s laboratory and missing the finer points of proper British life. But when her father dies in penury, she’s shipped to San Francisco and to the protection of an uncle she’s never met.

The California Territory may hold more dangers than even the indomitable Miss Grey can manage. Pursued by government agents, a secret society, and the enigmatic Mr. Krieg Night, Sensibility must decipher the clockwork secrets in her father’s final journal, unaware she’ll change the world forever.

Magic, mayhem, and mechanicals. Steam and Sensibility is a pre-Steampunk novel of paranormal suspense set in the wild west of the California gold rush.

I don’t read enough steampunk. I say that about things a lot….I don’t read enough mystery or crime or fantasy…..and now steampunk. But it’s true. I really don’t read enough steampunk. What I read, I always end up really enjoying and it always makes me make a note to find more books like it. But then that somehow gets lost in a pile of other books. I see a lot less steampunk novels, so I need to make more of an effort to seek them out.

Sensibility Grey is 19 and has recently just lost her father. She’s being sent to San Francisco, to her uncle only when she arrives and disembarks from her ship, he isn’t there. Several other people are though – a mysterious woman who claims to be a government agent, a dandy who claims to have her uncle and seems to want something he’s convinced Sensibility has in return, and a mysterious man. Sensibility needs to decide quite quickly what she’s going to do in this strange place where there are hardly any men. The men are all off making their fortune on the goldfields leaving behind a town of mostly women and a state not too far from anarchy.

From the moment Sensibility touches her feet on land, the book is fast-paced with plenty of action as one thing after the other seems to happen. It’s a game of cat and mouse between Sensibility and the government agent against the dandy, who wants the papers Sensibility rescued from her father’s things before the creditors took everything. Her father was a brilliant scientist who seems to have discovered something very important and a secret society will stop at nothing to have the notes on his work. They are heavily encrypted but no one knew her father and his work better than Sensibility herself, who grew up tinkering in his workshops. She’s actually very talented although she doesn’t yet see what she is capable of. Sensibility believes she can decrypt the papers although she’ll need some time, which they might not have as the dandy keeps threatening her uncle’s life.

I really liked Sensibility. She’s very young and she’s also very out of her comfort zone and she’s also grieving the loss of her only parent. I’m not sure what happened to her mother but it’s quite clear that it was the two of them for a very long time and his loss has definitely devastated her but in that sort of English young lady “well we must go on” sort of way. She is also learning that there was a whole side of her father that she never knew, that he was connected to this secret society, who are most decidedly nefarious. Sensibility is never quite sure who she can trust as it seems that there are plenty of games being played and some bluffing back and forth but I think she knows who she wants to trust.

This has an original publication date of 2014 and there are actually two further books in this series already published. I enjoyed this enough to definitely pick those up and see what is next for Sensibility and the friends she made.

7/10

Book #30 of 2017

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Review: My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

my-not-so-perfect-lifeMy Not So Perfect Life
Sophie Kinsella
Bantam Press
2017, 390p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Katie Brenner has the perfect life: a flat in London, a glamorous job and a super cool instagram feed.

OK so the truth is that she rents a tiny room with no space for a wardrobe, has a hideous commute to a lowly admin job, and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t really hers. But one day her dreams are bound to come true, aren’t they?

Until her not-so-perfect life comes crashing down when her mega-successful boss Demeter gives her the sack. All Katie’s hopes are shattered. She has to move home to Somerset where she helps her dad with his new glamping business.

Then Demeter and her family book in for a holiday, and Katie sees her chance. But should she get revenge on the woman who ruined her dreams – or try to get her job back? Does Demeter – the woman who has everything – actually have such an idyllic life herself? Maybe they have more in common than it seems.

And what’s wrong with not-so-perfect, anyway?

I really enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s books. I’ve read quite a few and most of them are just those perfect sort of books for a fun break, something that makes you laugh and you can zip through it.

I think a lot people will be able to relate to Katie Brenner. She’s a country girl, grew up on a dairy farm but her dream has been to live and work in London for as long as she can remember. And now she’s doing it, but it’s not quite what she expected. She works in “branding” and in a way she’s trying to rebrand herself from Katie into Cat. Except it’s not going quite as smoothly as she would’ve liked…she keeps stumbling over what her name is when asked and sometimes she takes a little too long to respond to being called Cat. Her job involves mostly admin or data entry stuff, not pitching any of her great ideas and her boss even has her do things like dye the roots of her hair. Her commute to work is hideous and she shares a tiny, cramped flat with two other people.

Who hasn’t want to “glamourise” their life a bit? I think that there’s a bit of a trend at times for this on Instagram where it’s really easy to portray only a tiny part of your life….a beautiful brunch in a cafe, a fun night out with friends, a stunning sunset. The life that Katie posts on Instagram is filled with awesome things, but she’s not the one actually doing/experiencing them and no one is any the wiser to the fact that she’s got her budget down to such an art that even one meal out could ruin it for the week. She doesn’t really have any friends and she just doesn’t know how to progress at work.

Things get even worse when she is let go from her job in a very humiliating way. She can’t tell her father that she’s been fired because there has been some strain in their relationship about London and he’s very protective of her. However it does free up some time for her to help her father and stepmother in their new business venture, which is something that plays to her strengths and when her former boss books in with her family for a holiday, Katie sees opportunity….for revenge.

I have to admit, I did find a lot of what Katie did amusing. It was also quite childish in a way, to seek revenge like that on someone that wronged her, make a fool of Demeter. But I think that’s also something people can understand. When people humiliate you, you sometimes want them to experience what you did at their hands. From the outside Demeter’s life seems so perfect to Katie. But when she actually begins talking to Demeter, she finds out that no matter what your position, be it lowly admin staff or boss, things might not always be as they seem. Demeter had her own problems and Katie realised that a higher salary and rank at a company didn’t suddenly mean that Demeter had a magic life. Everyone has problems.

I really liked Katie and found that she was very relatable. She was a country girl who had tried to stamp that out of herself for a more polished London look but mostly she was trying to be something she wasn’t for other people as if to justify her even being in the city in the first place. The Katie at the farm was much different…..because she was back in her comfort zone. But she had to go back I think, to realise that part of her was never going to go away and that she could make it a part of her London life.

This book is classic Sophie Kinsella – plenty of laughs with a down to earth main character and just a little bit of romance as well. It’s very feel good and I also really loved the way that Katie reworked her Instagram at the end of the book. Now that is a life.

8/10

Book #28 of 2017

 

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Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

pachinkoPachinko
Min Jin Lee
Apollo
2017, 485p
Copy courtesy of Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Yeongdo, Korea 1911.

In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.

Every now and then you read a book which serves to remind you how little you truly know about something and for me, Pachinko was one of those books. I know next to nothing about Korean history and little about their culture as well. I haven’t read many books set in Korea or by Korean authors. This was a chance to learn a little about both in a multi-generational story that takes in Korea’s annexation by Japan, the devastating Second World War and the split of Korea thereafter into North and South Korea.

Sunja is just a teenager when she falls pregnant to a married man almost twice her age. Although he offers to house her and provide for her as his “Korean” wife, Sunja had no idea that he was already married and is insulted and offended, refusing his offer. Fearing ruin, she is surprised when one of the lodgers at her mother’s boardinghouse, a young Christian missionary named Baek Isak offers to marry her. He believes that things happen for a reason and it is Gods will that he show Sunja kindness, offer her a good life and save her from ruin. A sickly child, Baek Isak unexpectedly made it to adulthood and didn’t expect he would ever marry. He still feels that he will leave Sunja a young widow but this would be preferable to ostracism. The young couple move to Japan where Isak’s brother works in a factory.

What follows is a life of struggle in many ways. Money is always scarce and Sunja soon learns that Koreans are horribly looked down upon in Japan. All the bosses are Japanese, all the landlords are Japanese. If Isak’s brother and his wife hadn’t been able to purchase a tiny property, they would never have been able to find somewhere to rent as no one will rent to Koreans. Where they live is almost like a slum area, people crammed in together in high numbers but in small spaces. As things worse, Sunja and her sister-in-law are offered a surprising lifeline. This means defying Isak’s brother and going out to work but he is forced to swallow his pride and allow it in order for the family to live.

Sunja’s two children are very different, with her eldest being very bright and studious and her younger shunning learning and finding himself headed down a path for trouble in his teens before he is rescued and put to work for a man who owns numerous pachinko parlours (from what I could gather pachinko is kind of like a cross between an arcade game and a poker/slot machine). During their teens it seems as though the two boys could not be more different. The eldest is set for a prestigious college although securing the funding for the tuition might lead to selling his soul. The youngest who leaves school early, surprises by rising up the ranks rapidly and showing a real aptitude for the business. As the years roll by, the lives of the brothers diverge and then come back together in the most surprising of ways.

I had very little idea of the racism that existed in Japan towards the thousands of Koreans who ended up there either just before the war, searching for opportunities denied to them in an impoverished homeland, or because of the war. Sunja’s children are faced with mockery and bullying, the only way to survive is to be as Japanese as possible. Even faking it, changing their names to ones that sound Japanese and not Korean, speaking faultless Japanese, etc. There are jobs that Koreans would never be hired for simply for being Korean-born. Or even just having Korean parents.

This is quite a long book, almost 500p and covers 4 generations. It was the sort of book that for me, required slow and thoughtful reading so that I could take in as much as possible about the life and habits of the characters and not miss anything. Sunja is a tireless workhorse, as is her sister-in-law. Despite not meeting until when she and Isak arrive in Japan the two women forge a relationship that is perhaps closer than that of sisters. They are working constantly and when they are not working they are tending those that need it – injured husbands, dying relatives, etc. Because this is also a book that is underscored in tragedy. No matter the generation. I don’t think there is anyone in here who doesn’t experience terrible loss and cripplingly difficult times. There is poverty, war, disease, imprisonment, depression and fear but underneath all that is a determination to keep on going. To stoically accept these things and just…..keep going.

I found this book so interesting, it was the sort of book that it was so easy to become fully immersed in the lives of these people, their ups and downs, the dark tragedies and horrible sacrifices. But along with all of that, there was a lot of love and devotion, although perhaps not expressed demonstrably, as seemed to be the way. There are numerous mentions of not “spoiling” children with praise and affection (several characters break this rule but even when they do, their displays are very low key). It is a quiet sort of love, hidden inside but nurtured fully.

8/10

Book #27 of 2017

 

 

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Review: The Ninth Grave by Stefan Ahnhem

ninth-graveThe Ninth Grave (Fabian Risk #2)
Stefan Ahnhem
Head Of Zeus
2017, 551p
Copy courtesy of Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two countries in the grip of winter…

On the coldest day of the year, Sweden’s Minister for Justice steps out of Parliament House and into a blizzard – and disappears. That same night, across the Baltic Sea, a Danish celebrity finds a stranger lurking in her snow-bound home.

Two killers stalk the streets…

One is a srugeon who carefully dissects his victims. The other is a brutal predator who targets women. Police in Stockholm and Copenhagen are closing in on their suspects. But as winter darkens and more people die, their investigations begin to unravel.

Sometimes murder is just the beginning…

I was super keen for this next installment in the Fabian Risk series. The first book, Victim Without A Face ended at a pretty interesting place and I was really excited to see what happened next. So I was a bit confused when this began and Fabian was somewhere else. It took me a little while to realise that although this is book 2, it’s set before book 1. The events in this novel are how Fabian came to be back in his hometown at the beginning of the previous book, it explains more of the situation between Fabian and his wife….and also gives a better idea about the ‘other woman’ situation.

Fabian is called in to discreetly investigate the disappearance of the Swedish Minister for Justice, who stepped outside in a blizzard. There was a car waiting for him but the Minister disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. Meanwhile in Denmark, young female detective Dunja has been given the lead on an investigation into the brutal murder of the wife of a Danish television star. Much to her colleagues chagrin, Dunja has been placed in charge by her sleazy boss, whom she suspects might have ulterior motives.

It doesn’t seem possible that the disappearance of a Swedish politician and the savage murder of a woman in Denmark could be linked. But as the bodies keep piling up, soon both Fabian and Dunja, working different cases, discover that the victims are each missing something. In this case, it’s what is missing that helps complete the full picture.

It’s so nice to get a lot of the backstory that set up Victim Without A Face. You can tell that Fabian is under a huge amount of pressure, both at home and at work. His wife Sonja is an artist who is working day and night to finish her latest pieces in time, leaving Fabian to do the bulk of the parenting at home. Given that Fabian is out at all hours doing his job, this doesn’t generally work too well. The oldest child Theodor is about 13 in this novel and there are clearly some inklings that things are amiss with him. Their daughter Matilda is younger and her creatively artistic drawings for school depict the cracks that are running through the marriage of Fabian and Sonja. Most of the time Matilda is left in the care of a negligent babysitter or her distant older brother as Fabian searches for evidence, follows up hunches and takes women out to dinner. Fabian is the sort of person that is always going to get results in the cases he investigates but probably not without large amounts of collateral damage, some of that being the emotional development of his own family.

The plot is intricate….very intricate but it’s woven together incredibly well. As well as Fabian and Dunja, the reader is also treated to the thought processes of some of the victims as they struggle to piece together what is going on or in some cases, accepting their fate as perhaps a debt owed. Something that has finally caught up with them. That was really interesting and as the story unfolded and the pieces came together, it suddenly took on a whole new meaning. I don’t mind a non-linear timeline and I really liked the extra points of view. There are even some chapters that take place from the perspective of the killer(s) although it’s up to the reader to interpret who in particular is responsible for what.

As well as getting a lot more insight into Fabian and his family dynamic here, likewise we are treated to equally the same amount of Dunja’s backstory. She was one of my favourite characters in the first book and I really saw here how much she has put up with in order to have and hold her job. Her boss is an odious creature, her two colleagues resentful when she is put in charge, one so much so that his attitude towards her nearly results in her death when he ignores her call for help. There’s no doubt that Dunja is actually incredibly capable of running the investigation, despite the hindrances from her boss and her colleagues. However they assume she’s been put in charge because her boss either is sleeping with her, or intends to use his decision as leverage to be sleeping with her. They ignore her when she suggests that a closed case doesn’t feel ‘right’ and that there’s more to it. She has good instincts and after book 1 I’d hoped she’d be working with Fabian. Now I’m even more sure that it needs to happen.

The first two books in this series have both been winners for me. It’s been a while since I’ve started a new Nordic crime series but this reminds me why I’m such a fan of them. I know there’s a third book but I’m guessing it’s going to be a year or so before we see it released in English…..which isn’t fair because I’d really like it now, please.

8/10

Book #26 of 2017

Antique Maps of the WorldMap of EuropeNicolas Visscherc 1658

Antique Maps of the WorldMap of EuropeNicolas Visscherc 1658

This is the first book I’m counting for my European Reading Challenge 2017! It is mostly set in Sweden but also includes Denmark.

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Review: Close To Home by Lily Everett

close-to-homeClose To Home (Sanctuary Island #5)
Lily Everett
St Martin’s Paperbacks
2017, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The best journeys take us home….

When Tessa Alexander came to Sanctuary Island, she left behind a marriage to a man who didn’t love her the way she loved him. When she finally found the strength to set them both free, she discovered friendship and self-acceptance in her adopted hometown. Now she’s settled into a quiet life on her own—never expecting to see her husband again.

Johnny spent almost two years deep undercover, unable to let his wife into his cold, dangerous world. He’s shaken to the core when he comes home to find her gone. It’s painfully clear that Tessa is no longer the timid young woman he married—she’s become a force of nature, a brave and determined beauty. Johnny can’t let her go without a fight so he sets out to seduce his own wife. But will passion alone be enough to convince Tessa that her new life should include a second chance at happiness with a man who must learn to believe in love?

Whoops, I did it again – picked a book that I didn’t know was part of a series. However this one stands up perfectly well on its own and I don’t feel that I lost anything for not having read the previous books in this series.

Johnny works for the ATF and has just returned from two years deep undercover to find out that his wife of eight years has left him a “Dear Johnny” letter. Despite the fact that their marriage was unconventional, Johnny isn’t willing to let it go like that so he tracks her down. He finds that Terri, his shy and timid wife has morphed into Tessa, a woman with a different haircut, a big laugh and a confidence that was missing before. She seems determined that although she’s grateful to Johnny for helping her years ago when she desperately needed it, she’s okay now. And that they should go their separate ways. But Johnny asks for a month while he attends a therapy program designed to help him transition from undercover back into reality.

Johnny had one of those massive hero/saviour complexes. He rescued Tessa, then known as Terri as a terrified teen and even married her to help her before shipping out with the army. After several deployments he joined the ATF, working undercover operations and pretty much everything he does revolves around helping and protecting people. I know he’s just come back from a very long and dangerous mission but Johnny sees danger everywhere even in the tiniest town in the world. He meets a new person in town (Johnny himself is new in town) and immediately assumes the guy is some kind of criminal because he has watchful body language and a military demeanour. Instead of assuming that maybe he’s burned out or has retired, he wonders if he’s used his military skills to segue into crime but he bases this on nothing just his instinct. If this is Johnny’s instinct at work, it makes me worry for the skills of the ATF division, frankly.

Despite the fact that Johnny and Tessa were married for eight years, he spent most of those away either on deployment or undercover so their marriage, which began as one of convenience and help for Tessa, wasn’t even a real marriage, something that I found a little hard to believe. I couldn’t really see the point of having it unconsummated for so long other than to exacerbate Johnny’s hero complex. He has this view of Terri (as she was back then) of being this precious, fragile flower and perhaps she might’ve been when they first met. But she began to put herself back together but his view of her really didn’t change until after she left him and he was confronted with the new Tessa who wasn’t afraid to state her opinions and was willing to go out there and find happiness. I think Tessa felt that Johnny would stay with her forever in the platonic marriage they had for all time out of loyalty, obligation and a need to protect her, so she chose to leave him so that they both might find something truly deeper than that. Whilst Johnny might’ve wanted Tessa (even when he didn’t touch her) he had said he wasn’t open to the whole love thing and Tessa wanted that. Johnny had to learn the hard way that his feelings for Tessa ran deeper than what he was willing to acknowledge.

I think this story was okay – I would’ve liked more background to their marriage and I’m glad Tessa took it upon herself to carve out a life without relying on Johnny. But I think that ultimately Johnny’s obsessive need to protect and save really got on my nerves. There was an attempt to give it a good background but it came too late in the story and was brushed over too quickly, as was how he was going to move on from it. I think I was more interested in the secondary story which sets up the couple in the sixth book, I kept waiting for them to reappear.

6/10

Book #24 of 2017

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Review: The Immortal Bind by Traci Harding

immortal-bindThe Immortal Bind
Traci Harding
Harper Voyager
2017, 368p
Copy courtesy Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The adventure of a lifetime… or two, or three

When Sara is gifted a beautiful antique chair as a wedding present, she is completely unaware that it is one of a unique pair. On the other side of the world, the chair’s twin is presented to a reclusive artist, Jon, as a birthday gift.

The two new owners are thrust into a mind-expanding adventure through the ages – medieval East Anglia, Scotland, France and India. In each instance they experience significant junctions in their lives past, to remember and redress ripples of karma they set in motion, and thwart an evil entity that still threatens their present day lives.

Their journey exposes a cursed love affair spanning one hundred thousand years and ten thousand miles. Only the full realisation of their own short comings will prevent the tragic reoccurring outcome of their immortal bind.

They say you should never judge a book by its cover. But I think most, if not all readers are guilty of it in some way. I know I certainly am and I as soon as I pulled this book out of the packaging, I wanted to read it. Before I’d even glanced at the blurb. The colours are ‘my thing’ – those beautiful greens and blues. It looked mysterious.

In the present day, clothing designer Sara and artist Jon are both gifted antique chairs by the people closest to them. Sara lives in Australia, Jon in England. Both love their new gifts….but are stunned to see that the chairs appear to possess magical powers, causing each to sleep and dream vividly when both are sitting in them. The dreams take place in very different time periods and places but the general story is always the same – star crossed lovers kept apart by an evil character who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. In each dream, Sara and Jon play the roles of the young lovers and they are surprised to recognise people they know playing various bit parts.

Both Sara and Jon soon realise that these are no dreams…..and that they are the current manifestations of an ancient curse. The only way to escape the vicious cycle that repeats every few hundred years is to end the curse. First they will have to discover how to do that…..when they haven’t even met in this life and are separated by thousands of kilometers and pursued by a creature who is determined to finally possess what has eluded him for over thousands of years.

This book definitely lived up to my expectations from its pretty cover! I was hooked from the first page and I found every single part of the story so well constructed and they were all expertly woven together. I know very little about a lot of the background of some of the timeframes but it really didn’t matter. I found that each time Jon and Sara experienced another “dream” I kind of cared little about where and when it was taking place and more about the people within it. Each one is really heartbreaking and frustrating as well. After the first one or two you know that any more ‘dreams’ they experience can really only end one way and that unless they figure out the messages in the dreams and discover a way to break an ancient curse, then their current incarnation will end the same way as all of the previous ones.

There’s something so incredibly romantic about the idea of having a soul mate that you are destined to come across in reincarnation. I am not sure if it doesn’t happen in every lifetime or if there is a gap between everything aligning for the recincarnations…..there are remarks made that there’s a wait of another couple hundred years before it will happen again and in the current life, Jon and Sara couldn’t be more far apart. They aren’t in a relationship, they haven’t even crossed paths. Everything seems stacked against them in this time period, even more so than in all the rest. Of course less romantic is the part of the story that sees someone who will stop at nothing in order to prevent you from being with your soul mate but that adds the suspense element.

With each story showcasing a previous life, I found that I became more and more invested in Jon and Sara finally getting to live a life together, even though these two people hadn’t actually met yet! Both of them had already suffered so much in other lives and when they dream about them whilst sleeping in the chairs, they experience it as if living it all over again. I also really enjoyed the role that their best friends played – both in this life and in the previous manifestations. In each, the role was a little different and it seemed to grow and evolve as well. I appreciated the trust and belief that the friends had in Jon and Sara too, some without even seeing proof of the “weirdness” of the chairs!

This is the first book by Traci Harding that I’ve read and I loved it! It has such atmosphere and so many elements….romance, history, mystery, fantasy, friendship, a bit of suspense. I’m definitely going to have to look for more of her books – she has quite an extensive backlist, some 20 or so books! It’s always good to find an author that you’ve enjoyed and discover that they have so many more books! There are a few series’ too and I love a series so I’m pretty excited. As a reader it’s good to step out of your comfort zone every now and then, try things that you might not normally gravitate towards.

8/10

Book #23 of 2017

aww2017-badge

The Immortal Bind is the 9th book for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

before-you-forgetBefore You Forget
Julia Lawrinson
Penguin Random House AUS
2017, 235p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does; her best friend has stopped talking to her; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.

At times funny, at times heartbreaking, this is an ultimately uplifting story about the delicate fabric of family and friendship, and the painful realisation that not everything can remain the same forever.

A brief blurb for a rather brief book.

I have to admit, I’m not sure about this book. On one hand…..there were parts that I really enjoyed. It’s very Australian and it took me straight back to being in year 12 in high school. The pressure of final projects, exams, assignments, shifting friendships, exploring parties, etc. I liked Amelia quite a lot and when it was about school I enjoyed her narration.

However, I have to admit……the part about the story concerning Amelia’s father, who is experiencing incidents of memory loss and angry outbursts, I didn’t feel the same way about it. I think it was definitely very interesting to read about that in a YA novel and in some ways the novel painted a very good picture of what that scenario would be like.

But…and this is a big but….it felt like Amelia was very removed from the whole situation. This may have been deliberate. But I felt that a teenage girl would internalise more her thoughts and feelings about what is happening. I thought she would talk more to her mother about it. I know there were also things going on with her best friend which didn’t give her that outlet either (I disliked the best friend, not sure her problems were enough to redeem her from being an ultimately selfish and vain teen, she felt very much like one of those ‘one sided’ friends that everyone knows well) so I felt like Amelia should’ve had a lot of stuff ready to pour out of her. It’s like she shelves it, puts her head down and gets on with life, almost like it isn’t happening. And like I said, that might’ve been an external coping mechanism but it felt like Amelia was disconnected from it, almost like it was happening to someone else. And because of that, I felt disconnected from it as well.

This stripped back style might appeal to a lot of people but I found myself always wanting more from Amelia. More about her feelings on her father’s diagnosis, more discussion with her mother, more of her standing up for herself with her friend, more with the boy next door. Because there are some really meaty issues at play here and Amelia herself is a very likable character. She’s funny and a bit awkward and she does show a lot of strength and resilience. I just would’ve liked to know more about what she was really feeling, having to deal with a lot of things at once.

6/10

Book #20 of 2017

aww2017-badge

Before You Forget is the 7th book for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: In At The Deep End by Penelope Janu

in-at-the-deep-endIn At The Deep End
Penelope Janu
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2017, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

What woman doesn’t love a real-life hero? Harriet Scott, for one. The fiercely independent daughter of famous adventurers, she grew up travelling the world on the environmental flagship The Watch. So when Harriet’s ship sinks in Antarctica and she has to be rescued by Commander Per Amundsen, an infuriatingly capable Norwegian naval officer and living breathing action hero, her world is turned upside down.

Like their namesakes, the original Scott and Amundsen who competed to reach the South Pole first, Per and Harriet have different ways of doing things. Per thinks Harriet is an accident waiting to happen; Harriet thinks Per is a control freak. But when Harriet realises that Per is the only one who can help her fund the new ship she desperately wants, she is forced to cooperate with him.

Per refuses to assist unless Harriet allows him to teach her to swim. But there is more to Harriet’s terrible fear of water than meets the eye. Can Harriet face her fears and come to terms with the trauma and loss of her past? And will she begin to appreciate that some risks are well worth taking—and that polar opposites can, in fact, attract?

Eek, where to start?! This is one of my favourite reads so far this year. The sort of book I keep on hand for when I’m bored or need a bit of a pick me up. I can open it to anywhere and just start reading and sink back into the story.

Harriet is such an interesting character – her parents were environmentalists and adventurers, travelling the globe and taking Harriet with them. She never went to school, instead her education was conducted out in the field. She’s passionate about a lot of things, especially continuing the work of the Scott Foundation. Harriet provides a very public face, giving the public donating their money something to connect with. Her life has always been public and it’s something she’s used to, although she does have her boundaries.

By contrast, Commander Per Amundsen is controlled, methodical and unimpressed with what he sees as Harriet’s impetuousness. Forced to work together for mutual benefit, the chemistry between Harriet and Per is off the charts. Harriet isn’t always an easy person to be around – she struggles with a very real and terrifying phobia and often she lashes out when dealing with that. It’s clear that whatever happened to Harriet to bring on this phobia was incredibly bad and it’s still affecting her many, many years later. Some of those scenes….poor Harriet! I’ve never experienced anything quite like that before, I felt for her. And I admired her, because no matter how horrific it was, she kept going. Although she has tried avoidance tactics before and probably given up ever finding a way to overcome her fear (and she is kind of manipulated into trying again) she shows a real determination and her willingness to put herself through what had to be a sort of hell showed a real personal strength. And that is Harriet in a nutshell probably….a vulnerable centre but strong and feisty.

This book has a lot of its story grounded in environmental issues and climate change. Harriet is an environmentalist and geography teacher who works tirelessly to raise awareness for environmental issues and Per is a scientist and naval officer who is going to drill ice cores in the Antarctic to find out information about climate changes. I really liked these aspects of the book – their interest in the environment is both a big part of who both Harriet and Per are. It also gives them something in common, albeit they approach their fields in very different ways.

There was just so much I loved about this….the opening scene is all action and definitely hooks the reader in but after that it’s almost more a journey of emotional strength and connection. Per and Harriet have scenes together that aren’t exactly what you’d call romantic in terms of what Per is helping her achieve but they do actually build a real bond underneath the awkwardness and some sexual tension. Harriet isn’t particularly experienced either so quite often she misses Per’s interest in her or mistakes it for something else. Per is really my sort of character  – I do love the tall, dark and silent type, the ones who come across as a bit abrupt at first but underneath are full of heart. He’s a little bit serious, a bit standoffish at times and I thought the Polarman references were cute and fun. Per speaks Norwegian a bit but you’re not left hanging, wondering what he’s saying because Harriet is always asking him how to say things and what is the meaning of what he just said, etc.

There are just books that tick all your boxes and come along at the right time and this is one of them. For me it was just a really well executed story with two main characters that sizzled and some good supporting characters as well. I cannot wait for Penelope Janu’s next book……especially as it’s going to feature Per’s identical twin brother! But while I wait for that, I think I’ll be re-reading this one a few more times!

9/10

Book #3 of 2017

 

 

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Review: The Golden Child by Wendy James

golden-childThe Golden Child
Wendy James
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 334p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Blogger Lizzy’s life is buzzing, happy, normal. Two gorgeous children, a handsome husband, destiny under control. For her real-life alter-ego Beth, things are unravelling. Tensions are simmering with her husband, mother-in-law and even her own mother. Her teenage daughters, once the objects of her existence, have moved beyond her grasp and one of them has shown signs of, well, thoughtlessness …

When a classmate of one daughter is callously bullied, the finger of blame is pointed at Beth’s clever, beautiful child. Shattered, shamed and frightened, two families must negotiate worlds of cruelty they are totally ill-equipped for and Beth must face the question: Just how well does she know her children?

This novel made me never want to have high-school aged children.

Obviously that’s not an option. My children are 8 and 5, they’re going to get there at some stage. Probably far sooner than I would like. But this book made me desperately want to slow time to a crawl, to put off that inevitable stage. It terrifies me, how much bullying has escalated in this day and age of social media and anonymous keyboard warriors. It terrifies me that schools make all the right noises but struggle to really understand what is happening and effectively control it, now that so much of it happens out of school hours and grounds.

At the beginning of the story, Beth lives in America, her husband having been transferred there for work. Her girls seem a dream – younger daughter Charlie is pretty and popular. Older daughter Lucy doesn’t have Charlie’s popularity and circle of friends but is smart and sweet. When Beth’s husband Dan gets a transfer back to Australia, there are mixed feelings. It’s to Newcastle, his home town and where his mother still lives. Not Sydney, Beth’s town. Beth’s home. For Beth, coming back to Australia isn’t going the way she had it planned out in her head.

Unable to work in America as she doesn’t have a greencard, Beth runs a sort of “Mummy blog” and I think this novel pokes gentle fun at the “image” of blogging – the light, breezy posts about life, the quirky antics of children, the effortlessness of it all as well as the regular band of people offering comments in the form of unsolicited advice, their personal experiences/opinions or criticisms. As “Lizzy” on her blog, Beth is able to portray her life the way she wants and I suppose that’s the thing about blogging. There are a plethora of them out there, each one more beautifully constructed than the last. Away from “Lizzy”, Beth’s life is slowly coming apart at the seams. She feels Dan becomes a different person when around his mother, a capable woman that Beth feels doesn’t like her. It’s in that way that many of us feel about our in-laws I suppose….a “feeling”, more on what isn’t said than what is. The children are resentful about leaving, find their new house which is in need of renovation, unappealing and are going through the awkward stages of beginning a new school, of being outsiders. For Charlie, now wanting to be known as Charlotte, it’s a cool assessment of the social hierarchy and mentally calculating how to fit in where she wants to.

Reading a book like this makes me examine my own behaviour as a teenager in high school. There’s no doubt I did some things that, looking back now, I wish I hadn’t. I experienced taunting by other students – I wouldn’t call it bullying because it wasn’t prolonged and overall, I had a mostly positive experience with good friends. But there were definitely times I wished I could change schools (briefly) or that someone else would change schools to make my life a bit easier! I think that sort of stuff is normal – put a few hundred teens together in a relatively small environment and you’re going to get personality clashes and people who fight for dominance. It’s when it goes beyond that, the systematic and relentless targeting of someone, coupled with horrible messages like “kill yourself” that it’s a whole other level. Kids have a pack mentality too, which can lead to people participating in things because others are, for recognition, for a desire not to be singled out themselves and when they isolate a weakness in someone, they can be utterly brutal. Saying things they don’t mean, just words unaware of how seriously they will be taken. I also find that at that age, they don’t seem to connect very well with serious events, which may perhaps explain a few offhand reactions to the serious event that happens in this book.

I’ve read Wendy James before, so I know there are always more layers to the story. The way in which the perspectives build a story here, construct something that you think is true and then tear it down is quite masterful. It made me question what I know about my children as their parent, what I know about their character. How much is what I see because I want to? If my kids ever got involved in bullying or taunting someone at school, how much would I know about it and would I be able to believe it? I look at them now, they have very different personalities. My oldest is incredibly social but a bit sulky and resentful when he doesn’t get things his own way and a typically dominant older brother. My youngest is heartbreakingly shy and lacks the self-confidence his older brother has in spades. I think about how I’d feel if they were a bully or one being bullied and this is the stuff people never tell you about when you have kids! About how you might stop worrying about if they’re feeding ok or sleeping enough or growing right or developing on pace but you worry about other things and honestly, it doesn’t get much better!

This was one of my most anticipated books for the first half of 2017 and I’m so impressed that it lived up to (and perhaps exceeded) all of my expectations. It’s a truly brilliant book both for discussion…or to reflect on yourself.

9/10

Book #15 of 2017

aww2017-badge

The Golden Child is book #5 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: A Chance Of Stormy Weather by Tricia Stringer

chance-of-stormy-weatherA Chance Of Stormy Weather
Tricia Stringer
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2016, 378p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Self-reliant Sydney girl, Paula, is looking forward to a new life in the country. Just married to sheep farmer Dan Woodcroft she can’t wait to escape her protective family and exchange her busy existence for a new life down on the farm in rural South Australia.

But life on the farm proves rather different to what she was expecting. Why does everyone talk about the weather all the time? Why does no one seem worried by the mice plague? And how is she supposed to feed all those shearers?

With Dan’s brusque Aunt Rowena to contend with, his gorgeous ex-girlfriend showing up with a grudge, and communication between her and Dan breaking down, Paula begins to question whether she can cope — is the life of a farmer’s wife is really for her? Forecast: stormy weather.

It was very interesting to start a book just after the wedding of the main character. City girl Paula and farmer Dan married after a very whirlwind romance and now Paula is moving away from Sydney to Dan’s property in South Australia. She doesn’t know anything about running a farm (or a homestead) and Dan seems to feel that she has a very traditional role to fill of doing up the house and providing food for himself and any workers that there may be coming to do jobs. This isn’t something that Paula is experienced in and her setting and the temperamental oven make it even more difficult.

I could be Paula, if I’d married a farmer. I don’t have any real experience with a rural lifestyle. I’ve lived in a semi-rural area and I’ve read a lot of books. But when it comes to the practicalities of it, I’m in the dark. I’d be exactly like Paula – struggling to cook hearty meals for men who expect a good feed, freaking out at the mice. When we moved into the home we live in now, we had some mice. Our house then was brand new, build in a new estate from land that had been market gardens. For the first 6 months we had mice constantly. I hated it. There was nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night to one scratching its way along the wall behind the bedhead. As annoying and disgusting as it was, we only ever had a few at a time. The mice numbers that Paula describes would probably have me fleeing.

Paula also feels left out of some of the farming – despite her qualifications in a relevant field, Dan’s Aunt Rowena won’t let her take a look at the farm’s books, which makes her feel useless and unwanted. It seems that the things she could help in she’s not allowed to, instead she has to focus on things that don’t really involve her particular skillset. Paula does make a big effort to involve herself and takes a part time job in the nearby town as well to do something for herself as well as earn some money. Most people are welcoming but there is one woman that puts her on edge, who seems to have some sort of history with Dan which makes Paula nervous.

A big thing in this book is the lack of communication between Paula and Dan. I think it’s a great show of realism because marriage isn’t the end of conflict between couples, nor are all couples suddenly able to share every single thought or concern they have with their partner for reasonable discussion. I know there are things that my husband does that annoy me greatly but sometimes I don’t tell him because a) I don’t want a fight or b) it’s petty on my behalf or c) to be honest I don’t want to know the answer to the question the discussion may involve/bring up/etc. There are also things that I’m feeling or thinking that I might stew on for a while. There are still plenty of opportunities for conflict and when Dan is away working long hours on the farm and Paula is at home either helping prepare meals for shearing or whatever with Aunt Rowena or fixing up rooms in the house, she probably has a lot of time to think on things. And when Dan gets home, probably the last thing he wants to do is have difficult discussions, so things have plenty of time to escalate and what could’ve been solved with a few minutes of honesty and discussion suddenly becomes a much bigger deal.

Dan was certainly keeping some secrets, things that seemed suspicious to Paula (and the reader) simply because everyone was so secretive so Paula had no real choice but to assume what was being hidden was negative. I think that Dan did have some good reasons for not perhaps confessing to Paula but it sure would’ve made things simpler if he had! But humans make flawed decisions all of the time and this was a well written example of how secrets can drive a wedge between a couple, no matter how new the relationship and how high the devotion.

I really enjoyed this new perspective on a rural.

8/10

Book #205 of 2016

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