All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Double Review: The Diablolic & The Empress by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1)
S.J. Kincaid
Simon & Schuster UK
2016, 403p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Nemesis is a Diabolic. Created to protect a galactic Senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The girl who has grown up by her side and who is as much as sister as a master. There’s no one Nemesis wouldn’t kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the galactic court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.

She must become her.

Now one of the galaxy’s most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corruption and Nemesis has to hide her true abilities or risk everything. As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns that there is something stronger than her deadly force: the one thing she’s been told she doesn’t have – humanity. And, amidst all the danger, action and intrigue, her humanity might be the only thing that can save her, Sidonia and the entire Empire…

I had seen this book around since its publication last year but I’d never gotten around to really checking it out until I received a copy of The Empress, the second book in the series, for review. I decided to give it a go and picked up a copy from my local library.

It’s set in a futuristic world where most of the population now lives in space on various constructions and vessels. Technology is restricted, but at some stage alternatives to humans were developed called diabolics, mostly as servants and protectors. They look human and can ‘bond’ to a human but they are lethal killing machines and generally don’t possess the human emotions or empathy. However, the more time they spend with humans, the more their brain ‘learns’ so it’s difficult to know what is possible. All diabolics were ordered destroyed but Nemesis was one of the lucky ones. She’d bonded so much with her owner Sidonia, a Senator’s daughter that the family agreed to hide the fact that she hadn’t been destroyed so that Nemesis might go on protecting her charge. The Senator is at odds with the ruling family over his scientific beliefs and when Sidonia is summoned to the galactic court, her mother sees immediately that this is a way to punish the family and concocts a plan to disguise the fact that Nemesis is a diabolic and send her in her place.

For that, Nemesis must act human. Cleverness can hide the features that distinguish her from humans, as most people tend to alter their real selves anyway but Nemesis must be able to interact with various people without causing suspicion. When she meets Tyrus, the Emperor’s nephew who is believed to be mad, the fact that diabolics can’t feel as humans do is sorely tested. Tyrus is different and in him, Nemesis sees a future for the empire….and for her.

I enjoyed this – I was surprisingly way more into the journey of Nemesis and Tyrus than I thought I would be. They go through a lot in this book. Tyrus thinks Nemesis is Sidonia and she thinks he’s probably insane. I loved the character of Tyrus, loved their interactions and Nemesis’ examining of her “diabolicness” and what her connection with Tyrus means.

I did feel that the book had an extraordinary amount of twists and turns, so much so that by the end I was a bit fatigued with all the plans and crossings and double crossings and backstabbing taking place! Once I finished this though, I was really looking forward to The Empress and seeing what happened.

6/10

Book #182 of 2017

The Empress (The Diabolic #2)
S.J. Kincaid
Simon & Schuster UK
2017, 378p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.

Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?

Second books in a series. Hmmm. They can be a bit of a struggle.

After finishing the first one, I went right on to this one but I have to admit, I did struggle with it a little bit. I think because the first book spent so long building something and then this one just went and blew it apart and when things like that happen in second books, it tends to really bug me. I know that when it’s a series, there’s an arc and you have to spin it out for several books and nothing is easy and there’s got to be personal conflict etc. But sometimes, you can just see something coming a mile away and it feels really contrived and inorganic and like a complete 180 for a character.

A large part of the book revolves around Tyrus wanting Nemesis for his Empress but there is a strong resistance to that because Nemesis isn’t human. A Diabolic can’t be an Empress. Tyrus isn’t willing to take no for an answer though and this is an issue when it comes to him exerting his control and dominance as the new Emperor.  There’s quite a lot of politics in this volume and probably even more twists than in The Diabolic. The ending….well the ending pissed me off and also upset me! I wasn’t expecting that at all and I was actually quite cranky about it too. I found myself cursing the fact that I read them both before the next volume was out because I really need to know what happens next and whether or not certain characters can be redeemed or if what has happened is the end of something. Surely not? Surely there must be some sort of master plan from the Grand Planner of them all, some reason why this happened and it’ll all be made clear and then the grovelling can start. Because there needs to be grovelling. Lots of it.

I wasn’t sure what to rate this because even though I had some err, issues, with the way things played out there’s no denying that it was a heck of a journey getting there. I wasn’t sure I liked it as much as The Diabolic – apparently The Diabolic was originally a stand alone and reading it, that made a lot of sense. It clearly could’ve been. And then obviously a decision was made to go on with it so then there needed to be a plot. But however I felt about that, there’s no doubt that it’s made me pretty desperate for the next book to see what happens. So in that case, I guess it did it’s job as the second book, even though I finished it annoyed!

6/10

Book #184 of 2017

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Review: The Attraction Equation by Kadie Scott

The Attraction Equation (Love Undercover #2)
Kadie Scott
Entangled Publishing
2017, 197p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

FBI agent Max Carter lives his life by a strict set of rules—rules that don’t allow for distraction, deviation…or a relationship. But tell that to his matchmaking mama. To avoid yet another set-up, he announces he has a girlfriend. And now has to produce said girlfriend at Christmas dinner. Maybe Santa has a suitable actress in that red bag of his…

Gina Castillo is about to break her building’s iron-clad “no pets” policy to give her little brother the perfect Christmas gift—a dog. Too bad Max, the most inconveniently sexy tenant in the building, catches her red handed. Gina expects to be evicted, but instead finds herself blackmailed into playing the role of his girlfriend.

Two lies plus one dog should equal a hot mess of a holiday, but attraction and Christmas magic might just defy the rules…

As seems to be my way, I didn’t realise that this was part of a series when I requested it but it was perfectly fine as a stand alone. The previous couple do appear but you don’t really need to know their entire background story. My Kryptonite is an opposites attract story between a free spirit type of woman and an uptight or repressed type of man so this one sounded right up my alley.

Max is an FBI agent specialising in finance analysis and he definitely prefers things to be done a certain way. He lives his life by a very strict routine and he tends to restrict his romantic interactions to very brief encounters. He never tells women what he does or invites them to his apartment. Max thinks that people will only want to change him.

In contrast, Gina is a very creative type working multiple casual jobs to supplement her income. She’s subletting an apartment on the same floor as Max and her first interaction with him is when he catches her attempting to take the dog she’s purchased as a present for her younger brother out for a toilet break. The building forbids pets and Max is very much a rules person but there’s something about Gina’s manner that leads him to assist her, rather than dobbing her in.

The two of them are clearly very different and their interactions are quite humorous. Gina is pretty laid back and she enjoys trying new things. In meeting Gina, Max sees an opportunity. He won’t tell anyone about her having the dog if she will pretend to be the girlfriend he lied to his mother about having in an attempt to stop them from constantly trying to fix him up with people. It’ll be Christmas dinner, then after that he can tell his family that they’ve broken up and it’ll all be quick and painless.

Famous last words. There’s an attraction between them as well, which definitely complicates Max’s simple idea. Gina is such a personality that he enjoys spending time with her, even when she wants him to do things like try a new coffee place or put up Christmas decorations in his apartment. He finds himself doing things with her that he’s never done before and wanting her around for much more than just a one night stand. But at the same time he still believes that because of the ‘way he is’, it would only end badly – either she’ll try to change him or she won’t be able to accept him for what and who he is.

I’m not sure if Max is specifically OCD, he’s undiagnosed and at the beginning of the novel shows no interest in seeking help for his rigidity and the discomfort he feels if this is disrupted. He’s content with his life, even though he doesn’t share it with anyone. It isn’t until he meets Gina and begins spending time with her and realises that she is someone he’d like to be around in a permanent way, that he realises he may need to do a few things in order to compromise and be in a meaningful and long term relationship.

I did enjoy this but I also found parts of it significantly frustrating. Both Max and Gina get mad at the other for basically doing the same thing  and also for things that are a fundamental part of them. Gina is impulsive and a bit crazy, she’s always going to want to do those out there things and Max is a neat freak who is probably always going to want to tidy up and have things in their place etc. At times Max was a bit of a struggle for me because he does these impulsive things that kind don’t marry up with his personality (such as tell his family he has a girlfriend and then blackmail a stranger into portraying her) and then he self-sabotages what he has with Gina in the most bonehead of ways. Gina in many ways, has the patience of a saint.

This was cute but I didn’t love it. It was entertaining though and I’d probably check out another book in the series.

6/10

Book #185 of 2017

 

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Review: Another Woman’s Husband by Gill Paul

Another Woman’s Husband
Gill Paul
Headline Review
2017, 439p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two women, divided by time, bound by a secret…

1911. Aged just fifteen, Mary Kirk and Wallis Warfield meet at summer camp. Their friendship will survive heartbreaks, continents, and the demands of the English crown, until it is shattered by one unforgivable betrayal…

1997. Rachel’s romantic break in Paris with her fiance is interrupted when the taxi in front crashes suddenly. The news soon follows: Princess Diana is dead. Trying to forget what she has witnessed, Rachel returns home, where the discovery of a long-forgotten link to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, will lead her to the truth of a scandal which shook the world…

I still remember where I was and what I was doing when the news broke that Princess Diana had died in a car accident in France. I was 15, it was a Sunday morning and I was having breakfast at my grandparent’s place. We used to go there every Sunday morning while my brother played a round of golf at the course that was 5m away from their place. My grandmother would cook bacon and eggs and inevitably there’d be some news/sports show on and I remember they did the “breaking news” thing. That’s 20 years ago now but I still remember it pretty vividly. I also remember that what came after it was just….mind boggling. Perhaps being so far removed from it over here in Australia and also not at all a monarchist, I was baffled by the outpouring of hysteria that seemed to come from millions and millions of people.

I’m a big fan of a historical and contemporary blend and this book fits that situation perfectly. Half the story follows Mary Kirk from the point in her life meeting Wallis Warfield (who would later become Wallis Simpson) at a summer camp. Mary is from a well-to-do east coast USA family and although Wallis is compelling, her family situation isn’t the greatest and they don’t possess a lot of wealth. Mary is Wallis’ gateway into society and the two form a very strong friendship even though Mary’s family aren’t entirely approving of the connection.

I know who Wallis Simpson is – someone abdicated for her, that’s something that most people would know I would imagine. But after reading this book, I didn’t realise how much more there was to her life story and I found that element of the book fascinating. I was definitely really invested in the historical aspect of the story and Mary and Wallis’ intense friendship that was rife with betrayal later on and ended very acrimoniously. I discovered that Wallis Simpson has a memoir and there are also many other accounts of her life written by others and I’ve added a few to my wishlist because I found this account of her life so interesting that I’d love to read more. This is told from Mary’s point of view so it’d be really keen to read something more focused on Wallis because it seems like her life was incredibly fascinating and there was so much more to it than I knew. I liked Mary as well, was astounded at her patience sometimes with Wallis and really wanted her to get what she wanted out of life.

I had less interest in the modern day story. I thought Rachel was great and loved the job she had. Rachel ran a vintage clothing store but really classic, often designer pieces that she picked up at estate sales or dispersals that she often fixed to restore to mint condition herself. She was really into her fashion and it was interesting reading about that. But her fiance was a complete twat and I spent most of the book wishing she’d come to her senses regarding his selfish behaviour and find someone who appreciated her more. And because a lot of that modern story revolved around Princess Diana, I found my attention wandering sometimes during it. I just don’t find Princess Diana all that interesting. I’m actually nearly the same age as the Princess when she was killed in the car accident and although I do see it as a tragedy that two boys lost their mother so soon, that she isn’t around to see them grow up, experience her grandchildren etc, that’s kind of the extent of my feelings about her life. I was never really into the Queen of Hearts ideal or the way that she was portrayed a lot of the time, nor am I a conspiracy theorist. The insertion of the characters into the scene of the accident did make me feel a bit uncomfortable though.

Despite that, I did really enjoy this book overall. As I mentioned, the historical component was fantastic – really enjoyed that and it’s made me determined to learn more about Wallis Simpson and her life and the circumstances that led to a King abdicating the throne just so he could marry her. I also liked the way it all tied together and Rachel’s determination to find some answers for her friend, and her loyalty to her fiance even after the way he’d behaved. A very enjoyable story and I will also look for other books by Gill Paul to read at some stage.

7/10

Book #174 of 2017

 

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Review: The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns

The Greatest Gift
Rachael Johns
Harlequin AUS
2017, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mother: female parent of a child

Mum: the woman who nurtures, raises and loves a child

Radio host Harper Drummond lives for her career. Every day she meets fascinating people doing extraordinary things, but has begun to wonder whether there could be something more for her out there. She’s financially secure, happily married to Samuel and has a great group of friends – what more could she want? It’s only when she interviews one special couple that she starts to think about whether she could make a different kind of contribution.

Claire and Jasper Lombard are passionate about their thriving hot air balloon business and know they’re lucky to find such joy in their work and in each other. But while Jasper has accepted that he will never be a father, Claire has found it hard to come to terms with her infertility. She doesn’t want Jasper to regret choosing her over a child in the years to come. Is there a way to give themselves a real chance at being a happy family? Can they find someone who will give them the greatest gift? Or will it come at a greater cost?

Where do I even start with this book? There’s a reason why books by Rachael Johns take up one of the largest sections when my books are arranged by author on the shelves!

At first glance, Harper Drummond and Claire Lombard would have little in common or to draw them together. Harper is a focused career woman, 34 and living and working in Sydney. She works as a radio host, interviewing a wide variety of people – famous people but also interesting people. She does a lot of research and clearly loves her job. She’s married to Samuel, a lawyer who works long hours with the aim of obtaining partnership at his firm. Very early on in their relationship, Samuel and Harper agreed that they never wanted children. They were very happy having a life where they were free to work long hours, socialise and not have much in the way of commitments. They’re even too busy for pets, so there’s no way they’d be able to fit a baby into their lives.

Claire on the other hand, has always wanted to be a mother but a childhood illness stole her fertility. Now she knows that in order to live her dream, she’ll need a very precious gift from someone. But in Australia those gifts are hard to find – egg donation and surrogacy for profit are illegal in Australia and anything done must be altruistic. Claire wants to carry and nurture a baby so surrogacy isn’t the best option for her. Instead she needs someone who might be willing to donate a piece of themselves to her so that she might live out her dream of becoming a mother. Harper is struggling with finding a way of leaving her mark, of doing something to make a difference and so these two women are brought together by a desire to change something.

This book is made to be discussed. It would be such a fabulous option for book clubs or groups of friends. There’s just so much in here that is perfect for a bit of spirited debate. I find egg donation and altruistic surrogacy really interesting because I once offered to be a surrogate mother for a friend of mine and I truly believe I would’ve done it, had circumstances played out in a way that would have allowed it. There’s a lot to unpick about the legal rights and what happens if one person suddenly wants to play more of a role than was previously agreed or circumstances change drastically in the case of the people accepting the donation. Rachael Johns really goes about this book meticulously but also with warmth and sympathy towards all the parties involved. When I was reading this I would find myself frequently pausing just to stop and think about things that the book was throwing up – what would I do in that situation? What would my husband think/say/do if I wanted to do something that was happening? How would we go about it? I found it so interesting on so many levels but this book will also tug at your heartstrings. There’s a lot of emotion in the story, all brilliantly told without feeling overly dramatic. This book is a reminder that life can be cruel but also deliver the greatest joy.

I feel as though I say this in every review of a Johns book but with each new novel she really does grow as a storyteller and writer. As she moves more into the women’s fic/life lit genre she is really tackling some powerful issues and examining different parts of society and life experiences. This book is beautifully written, a page turner from the get go but for me it was just definitely the way the book made me think about my own beliefs and the ability I had to so easily put myself in the characters shoes that really made it such a good reading experience.  I love a book that can really make me consider my thoughts and opinions on various topics and ones that spark a good conversation. This is a fantastic read – definitely a must for Rachael Johns’ fans and if you haven’t tried her books yet then this one would be an excellent place to start.

9/10

Book #175 of 2017

The Greatest Gift is the 53rd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Her Outback Surprise by Annie Seaton

Her Outback Surprise (Pickle Creek #2)
Annie Seaton
Entangled Publishing
2017, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Angie Edmonds is content with life in her small town. Being alone doesn’t bother her. Really. Until Liam Smythe, the man who broke her heart, shows up at her vet clinic with an injured puppy. Unfortunately, he’s just as irresistible as she remembers. In an attempt to prove to him that she’s moved on, somehow a little white lie begins…

When Liam returns to help run the family farm, his enjoyment of the slow life in Spring Downs surprises him. After all, he’s used to the thrill of chasing the next big story. Running into the girl he’s never been able to forget is unexpected, and he’s shocked to learn she’s getting married–to someone who’s not him. She’s off-limits, but Liam can’t stop thinking about the gorgeous vet and what could have been. But convincing her he’s changed will be harder than finding a needle in a haystack.

Recently I read and really enjoyed Annie Seaton’s Porter Sisters trilogy so I jumped at the chance to read this one when it was offered to me. I didn’t realise at the time but it’s actually the second of a quartet revolving around four cousins who are “called home” by their grandparents to help take care of the family farm. In the first book, which I haven’t read, the cousins come to an agreement that Liam will stay on and take care of the farm whilst their grandparents enjoy a well deserved holiday. This book begins in London where Angie is leaving to come back to Australia after her visa has run out. She and Liam have been in a relationship for about two years and she wants him to come with her but Liam is far too busy with his job to consider such a thing. Then we skip to recap Liam being called home and cover the decision to stay on, which is probably done more in depth in the first book but was definitely more than enough for me to catch up on what is happening. Fast forward to Liam having been on the farm for a while and he discovers a puppy on his farm. It doesn’t belong to him and appears to have an injured leg, so he takes the dog to a vet in town. Expecting the same vet he’s always known as having the practice, Liam is surprised when he realises that the vet is Angie. And Angie is equally stunned when she realises that her former partner has returned to Australia, something that he wouldn’t do with her.

I found this a really relaxing and enjoyable read. I liked the setting although I did find that Liam seemed to have a lot of free time on his hands for someone who seemed to be almost singlehandedly running a farm! But the small town community feel was definitely there and I found the vet practice to be a fun and interesting setting too. A large portion of the conflict in the book revolves around the fact that Liam believes that Angie is dating someone and in order to protect her heart, it’s a misconception that she doesn’t correct. However the two of them have a very difficult time staying away from each other. They seem to be attempting to do the just friends things but both of them are still very invested. Angie doesn’t want to get involved again because she feels this is a stop gap for Liam, a brief period before he chases his career again and heads for a big city. Angie doesn’t want to be left behind – breaking up with Liam the first time was very painful for her and very difficult and she doesn’t want to have to go through that all over again. And so for a while she allows Liam to continue thinking that she has some vague boyfriend living somewhere else. She knows that she does need to tell him the truth eventually but I sort of didn’t blame Angie for not bothering to correct Liam in a way. She wanted him to return to Australia with her but Liam was too caught up in his career however he did drop that when his grandparents recalled him to the family farm. But to Angie, some year later finds Liam back in Australia – he’d been back for quite a while and hadn’t let her know (presumably because he believed her with someone else).

Liam is a bit pushy for someone who believes that Angie is dating someone else, probably seriously. He’s always trying something – definitely the sort of guy who doesn’t let a chance go by! If Angie had of actually been dating someone I would’ve found it off-putting but she knows she isn’t. Liam does come across as quite torn, despite his taking chances. He frequently muses to himself about her boyfriend but he can’t seem to help himself when it comes to her. Their coming back together is sweet and low key, rather than sizzling hot romance. They do fit well together though and both of them have moved on and changed from what they were in London. For Angie, who doesn’t have a family, she’s come to realise that she could be an accepted part of a big and loving one as Liam’s cousin has definitely taken her under her wing and wants to include her in events and celebrations. And Liam makes a change from big shot city career guy to a slower pace and a reorder of his priorities and what he wants out of his life. When he realises that he could lose Angie all over again, he’s spurred into action.

I liked this – a very nice rural read to escape into for an afternoon. I’ll be looking to finish the series for sure.

7/10

Book #169 of 2017

Her Outback Surprise is book #52 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Pool House by Tasmina Perry

The Pool House
Tasmina Perry
Headline Review
2017, 465p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A summer to die for

To Jem Chapman, it’s the chance of a lifetime. An invitation to join a group in an exclusive Hamptons houseshare, who could say no? But when she discovers what happened last summer, Jem can’t help but feel a chill.

A young woman was found drowned in the house’s pool. The housemates said Alice was troubled. She’d been drinking. She couldn’t swim…..

A secret worth killing for

As Jem gets to know her glamorous new housemates, she realises each has something to hide. What really happened last summer? And who would go to any lengths to keep a person quiet?

This book was so good!

Jem is a young woman in her thirties who moved to New York with her husband Nat from England a few months ago. Nat is a super ambitious and very good looking associate editor at a men’s magazine who saw this move to New York as an opportunity. Jem had her own catering business in England but hasn’t been able to find any work in New York and is becoming lonely, especially with the long hours Nat works and his dedication to appearing at pretty much anything he can. When a colleague of Nat’s invites them to come in on a houseshare in the Hamptons with them, Jem has reservations. For one, she doesn’t really know these people and isn’t sure they’ll have much in common with wealthy-for-generations New Yorkers and the house will be something they’ll use mostly only at weekends and eat up all their savings. But Nat is determined to take the next step in New York society and so Jem gives in, hoping that the relaxed atmosphere might help them reconnect. It isn’t until it’s too late that Jem finds out that they’ve been asked to replace another couple, David and Alice, after Alice’s tragic death. Not only did Alice die but she also died in the pool at the Hampton’s house. When Jem finds out that Nat knew about Alice, she can’t believe he wouldn’t tell her such a thing but it seems that Nat will do anything it takes to get involved in this group and become a part of them and their influential, connected circle.

Despite her reservations, Jem is taken in by the beautiful house and it’s excellent kitchen. At first the group seem fun and welcoming and the summer looks good. But Jem can’t get the thought of Alice and what happened to her out of her head and finds it strange that none of the others want to talk to her. This was someone they spent a summer with and they seem to have wiped her from their minds without a care in the world. It makes her curious and when she meets someone locally who also finds it a bit out of the ordinary and also a bit strange how quickly the investigation was wrapped up, Jem finds herself doing a bit of investigation.

This story had me intrigued from the very first page. We begin with a prologue from Alice’s point of view that takes place the night of her death and then switch to Jem for the majority of the set up. Then we go back to Alice and get to know her a little bit more, learn her connections to the other people in the house at the Hamptons and what exactly was going on in her life and it becomes more and more clear that numerous people might have had motive to do Alice harm in some way. The relationships are quite complicated with marital infidelity happening everywhere and people having secrets, some of which would have dire consequences if they were to come to light. It becomes a bit of a tangled web and I was having a lot of fun trying to decide who would’ve benefited the most from Alice quietly disappearing into the pool in her drunken stupor.

This is a bit of a glimpse at how the super rich live – paying tens of thousands for a quarter share in a holiday house for the summer that most of them will only use two days a week, three at most as they’re still working in the city. It’s art gallery events, product launches, designer labels, gym sessions and discreet work being done. It’s a foreign world and Jem is very much a down to earth girl from England who wasn’t wealthy growing up and isn’t particularly interested in being super rich or being accepted by this inner circle even if she doesn’t admit to herself that some of it is nice. Jem cares far more about a person she never met than any of the people who actually knew Alice did and the fact that she’s not willing to sacrifice herself in order to be part of this group causes real cracks in her relationship with Nat, who definitely does want to be a part of it. Nat is very ambitious and has shed his poor background with scholarships and working hard and he wants to go all the way to the top. He’s still a long way from the serious money of this crowd but he wants to be accepted, shoehorn his way up to the top levels of New York society. Jem and Nat have very different goals in life and the more she talks about the things that she desires, the more he tries to put her off and the two of them drift apart.

I thought Jem was a really well fleshed out character in that she was a very middle class person thrust into a very upper class situation and she had a lot of struggles over that. It was impossible not to enjoy some aspects – a very beautiful house in a sought after location, invites to interesting and fun events and after months of being lonely, the thought that maybe she might be able to make some friends and be part of something, feel at home. She has been mostly exploring New York on her own without really meeting anyone to hang out with, or finding a job. Being in the Hamptons leads to an interesting part time job and the chance that maybe she could find her place but it is also a world that she’s not accustomed to, dominated by money (which she doesn’t have) and very misleading. I don’t want to give anything away but I also admired the way that the author handled a friendship between a woman and an older man, which was done respectfully and positively. So many times I’ve seen the older man – younger woman dynamic demonised in fiction with the men painted as mid-life crisis jerks and the women as vacuous trophy wives and stereotypical gold diggers. It doesn’t have to be this way and this book definitely showcases that and I liked that.

Really enjoyed this. I’ve read a couple of Tasmina Perry’s long in the past but she has a very extensive backlist that I’m looking forward to exploring.

8/10

Book #168 of 2017

 

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Review: Dear World by Bana Alabed

Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story Of War And Plea For Peace
Bana Alabed
Simon & Schuster UK
2017, 206p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“I’m very afraid I will die tonight.” —Bana Alabed, Twitter, October 2, 2016
“Stop killing us.” —Bana Alabed, Twitter, October 6, 2016
“I just want to live without fear.” —Bana Alabed, Twitter, October 12, 2016

When seven-year-old Bana Alabed took to Twitter to describe the horrors she and her family were experiencing in war-torn Syria, her heartrending messages touched the world and gave a voice to millions of innocent children.

Bana’s happy childhood was abruptly upended by civil war when she was only three years old. Over the next four years, she knew nothing but bombing, destruction, and fear. Her harrowing ordeal culminated in a brutal siege where she, her parents, and two younger brothers were trapped in Aleppo, with little access to food, water, medicine, or other necessities.

Facing death as bombs relentlessly fell around them–one of which completely destroyed their home–Bana and her family embarked on a perilous escape to Turkey.

In Bana’s own words, and featuring short, affecting chapters by her mother, Fatemah, Dear World is not just a gripping account of a family endangered by war; it offers a uniquely intimate, child’s perspective on one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history. Bana has lost her best friend, her school, her home, and her homeland. But she has not lost her hope–for herself and for other children around the world who are victims and refugees of war and deserve better lives.

Dear World is a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit, the unconquerable courage of a child, and the abiding power of hope. It is a story that will leave you changed.

When the most recent war began in Syria, Bana Alabed was just 3 years old. Today she’s 8 and although she and her family have escaped their country of birth for a neighbouring one, they long for the day when they might be able to return to a peaceful place and get on with living their lives in the place they still call home.

I will fully admit to ignorance about a lot of world issues and the war in Syria is one of them. I know it’s going on but I only have the vaguest of understandings as to why. And I feel as though there are certain conflicts that sometimes get lost as the media focuses on other things. The information is out there but whereas some atrocities will dominate the 24 hour news cycle for weeks, others will be a one liner down the bottom of the screen or deep in the pages (online or paper). So when I was told about this book I figured it would be a good opportunity to be provided with a unique look and a platform to jump off from when it came to Syria.

Bana and her family lived in Aleppo (now somewhat more famous than it was because a presidential candidate blanked on what it was when asked on television what his solution would be). Her father was a lawyer and her mother an English teacher who was going to law school when the war began. The high level of education her parents have as well as her mother’s proficiency in English enabled her mother to set up a twitter account which describes the war through the eyes of Bana. The account is in Bana’s name and some of the words may even be hers but her mother manages the account for her and tweets in English in order to reach a bigger audience.

Bana’s twitter account (and probably this memoir) is not without its critics who attack it for being propaganda and questioning whether or not Bana really even understands what she’s tweeting given her youth. Searching her name on twitter brings up an awful lot of hatred, the most recent revolving around the fact that she was photographed meeting Colin Kaepernick and also accusations that her father is either a member of an Al Qaeda group or has ties to them. It now seems like there are an awful lot of conflicting reports about the family and to be quite honest, it’s difficult to ascertain which is the truth and which is bits of information and guesswork knitted together in order to further an agenda.

That doesn’t change what has been happening in Syria and the amount of civilians that have been killed of displaced in the civil war. The Syrian government has been accused of using chemical weapons, of targeting schools and hospitals repeatedly and also “double bombing” where they’d bomb an area just attacked in order to target aid workers and responders to the first attack. Syrian children should be spending their days in schools rather than sheltering in basements avoiding conflicts. There are reports of widespread electrical and water shortages as well as food shortages as roads into the city were slowly cut off. Both sides have been accused of atrocities and there’s probably a grim reality for most Syrian Aleppo civilians of living in rubble, lining up for basics and making numerous trips to basements to shelter. And if this book highlights that for people, then it’s doing its job. It might be sad to suggest that children are being used as propaganda but children being targeted is something people can relate to, no matter what. Sometimes, be it right or wrong, people need to be able to put a ‘face’ to something, to understand by identifying with someone and for many people, Bana could be that person. She now resides in Turkey, having been granted citizenship and thanks to this memoir and the notoriety of her twitter account, has the chance to travel extensively and shine a light on the war on Aleppo. Maybe she’s the next Malawa. Maybe she isn’t. There will always be criticism, there will always be two sides to every story, there will always be people who seek to discredit or tear others down and assert that their morals/values/beliefs are better than someone else’s. It might be sad to suggest that an 8yo child is a tool of her parents and the UN to promote propaganda but what’s even sadder is that there’s a situation where this is possible and spending more than half her very young life living in a warzone is definitely the worst.

7/10

Book 167 of 2017

 

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Review: Cover Up by L.A. Witt

Cover Up (Skin Deep Inc #3)
L.A. Witt
Swerve
2017, 251p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After ten years of blissful marriage, Navy Pilot Nate Chandler is divorcing his cheating husband. Single for the first time in years, Nate is numb to all emotion and kisses any chance of another relationship goodbye.

Not only is Nate struggling to get through this divorce, but his body is branded with a permanent reminder of his failed marriage: a matching tattoo with his ex. Searching for a place to cover up his old tattoo, Nate finds himself at the Skin Deep, Inc., where he meets the young and charming cover-up tattoo apprentice, Lucas Brandt.

From just flirty glances to steamy hot encounters, Nate and Lucas dive headfirst into a fling of hookups. But worried that he’ll forever be Nate’s “cover up” rebound relationship, Lucas fears that their love won’t be anything more than just skin deep. What was once just a casual attraction, Lucas now hopes to turn into a real relationship. But will he be able to convince the still tender-hearted Nate to fall in love again?

I don’t read a lot of m/m romance but every now and then I’ll spy one where the blurb really catches my eye and this one was definitely one of those. I really liked the idea and given the state of my country at the moment it was nice to read a book where gay marriage was so normal and an accepted part of society (mostly) rather than something that needs to be endlessly debated and the subject of a postal vote. This sounded interesting and pretty hot and I didn’t mind that I hadn’t read the previous two books. Even after reading it, I know the two couples that featured in the books preceding this one but I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything, nor did I really feel that anything would’ve been spoiled for me if I wanted to go back and read those first two books.

There were things I liked about this but there were also some things that didn’t really work for me. Firstly, Nate is still super raw when he goes to see Lucas about getting the matching tattoo he got with his estranged husband covered up. It’s a very recent break up and he’s heartbroken. So even though it’s originally supposed to start out as just a fling, something to get him back out there, it still feels very soon for someone as upset as Nate. He kind of seems like he should still be wallowing. He was betrayed by his husband, catching him in their bed with another man (bit of a cliche, that, it amazes me how many people in fiction bring their lovers into their marital or relationship bed!) and now they’re going through what seems like a very traumatic and painful divorce for Nate. He definitely married thinking it would be for life and his hurt and level of emotional instability comes across very well, even when he’s trying to conceal the fact that he has a boner for his young-looking tattoo artist.

There’s lots of sex in here and it’s very detailed so if that’s your thing that part of the book should make readers pretty happy. I was hoping the relationship aspect would get the same attention but I really didn’t feel like it did. Everything felt very fast, like these two guys barely even knew each other. It is supposed to be a once off, then a fling but then it seems like they’re spending a lot of time together, when their various jobs allow and it’s clear it’s more than just sex but we just don’t get a lot of the emotional investment, such as them really talking about their feelings etc. Lucas was having a bad spell before Nate and he’s also clear at the beginning that he doesn’t want a relationship. Randomly he’s already been divorced twice despite the fact that he’s in his late twenties and even though he kind of talks about both his marriages it’s in passing and quite brief and just didn’t really add a lot of the narrative. Both of Lucas’ marriages were to women and although he readily admits to being bi I’m not sure if Nate is his first actual relationship with a man versus just hooking up with them or including them in threesomes with one of his former wives.

At some stage in the book it becomes very clear to Nate that he still is yet to really deal with his divorce and his feelings for his estranged husband and that he should probably get around to doing that if he wants a real future with Lucas and so off he goes to do that and it basically takes one phone call, a meeting in a cafe and feels done with. That aspect felt quite rushed and also unrealistic because even if you find yourself moving on, I’m sure that a 10 year partnership and marriage that ended in cheating and divorce isn’t quite so easy to just get over. Given this is obviously a huge part of Nate’s life, it felt like it should’ve been a more dominant part of the story. Much more, given it’s really only just happened before this book begins. It felt like Nate should’ve had quite a bit more to work through before he could really take that genuine next step with Lucas from “fwb” to in an actual committed relationship for the long haul. I wouldn’t have minded examining Lucas’ past a bit more either, that felt glossed over as well. A lot of this felt packed with filler sex scenes and because of that, the rest of the story did suffer. I’m all for lots of spice but I do also like it to be balanced out.

All in all it was a quick and entertaining read but did leave me wanting more from it.

7/10

Book #166 of 2017

 

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Review: The Love Experiment by Ainslie Paton

The Love Experiment (Stubborn Hearts #1)
Ainslie Paton
Carina Press
2017, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Can you fall in love in thirty-six questions?

The closest rookie lifestyle writer Derelie Honeywell gets to megastar reporter Jackson Haley is an accidental shoulder brush in The Courier’s elevator. That is, until the love experiment: a study designed to accelerate intimacy using thirty-six questions and four minutes of sustained eye contact.

As far as Derelie is concerned, Jack Haley has always been a man best imagined in his underwear. He’s too intimidating otherwise. But participating in the love experiment is her make-or-break chance. With another round of layoffs looming, Derelie knows holding on to her job means getting the story no matter what. Even when the what is kissing Jack like a maniac.

Jack Haley has zero interest in participating in a clickbait story. He didn’t plan on finding Derelie smart and feisty and being mesmerized by her eyes. He certainly had no intention at all of actually falling in love with her.

The conclusion to this experiment? Thirty-six questions might lead to love, but finding the answer to happily-ever-after is a lot more complicated.

As soon as I read the synopsis for this, I had to request it. I absolutely loved the premise and thought it sounded like such a fun idea. It encompasses a lot of the things that I really enjoy in terms of romance books and I thought the idea of the 36 questions was really interesting. I’ve actually come across a few people/books that have mentioned that lately but this is the first book I’ve read that actively includes it.

Derelie (rhymes with merrily) is a small-town girl who moved to Chicago not that long ago and works writing for the online site for a newspaper. Mostly what they term as “clickbait” articles – top 10 things you didn’t know were hot this summer, etc that get people clicking on them and helping keeping the site views ticking over. She’s quite desperate to prove herself so when the paper looks like it might be laying more people off there’s nothing she won’t do to keep her job – even participate in a fluff story to see if any two people thrown together can build something using the 36 questions. The fact that her partner is set to be Jackson Haley is equal parts exciting and intimidating. He’s the paper’s hot shot who brings down corrupt companies and champions the wronged. He doesn’t even know that Derelie exists and he’s definitely not keen to do this piece. In fact he actively tries to get out of it.

I really loved the set up and the early dynamic between Jackson and Derelie. Jackson is kind of a legend in the city, he’s uncovered numerous stories that have put people in jail or seen them removed from their jobs and that comes with positives and negatives. He’s a pretty stand offish sort of person, very businesslike and tends not to get involved with people. With Derelie at first he’s quite brisk and often uses her to do things revolving around his story and tends to dodge answering the questions seriously. He reads like he has quite a few intimacy issues but…..the questions start to work and there’s an attraction between Jackson and Derelie that builds. Jackson can be quite cynical and he clearly had a less-than-ideal upbringing which still impacts on him in the present day. Derelie doesn’t seem to be cynical and had an entirely different upbringing so sometimes they’re like total opposites but they do really work together.

Jackson works for the print aspect of the paper and Derelie primarily for the online blog version and there was some interesting stuff about the current state of journalism in the age of the 24hr news cycle and everyone possessing a smart phone to upload things to various places on the internet as they happen. Journalism is definitely evolving rather fast and I know that most people now (myself included) tend to get their news online. I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper – occasionally I might read one when we are at a cafe and they’re sitting there but not often. In among the fun of the experiment and Derelie and Jackson answering the questions and getting to know each other there was also a pretty serious look at the state of uncertain employment when it comes to journalism. Which kind of led to the final conflict between Jackson and Derelie and I have to admit, I didn’t love it. It felt a little out of place with the rest of the book and changed the focus. I loved reading about them answering the questions and getting into discussions where little pieces of themselves would slip out, almost with them being unaware of it.

Overall I really enjoyed this – it was a super fun story. I liked both Derelie and Jackson and I think they were awesome together. They had a lot of chemistry, even when Derelie was intimidated by him and Jackson was trying to do anything to get out of the assignment. I loved Derelie’s determination – she really would not take no for an answer and did not accept Jackson trying to weasel his way out of it. Also the questions are listed at the end of the book, which is nice – should you want to find someone and try the experiment with them!

7/10

Book #165 of 2017

 

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Review: The Cull by Tony Park

The Cull (Sonja Kurtz #3)
Tony Park
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 411p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

One mission … countless enemies.

Former mercenary Sonja Kurtz is hired by business tycoon Julianne Clyde-Smith to head an elite squad. Their aim: to take down Africa’s top poaching kingpins and stop at nothing to save its endangered wildlife.

But as the body count rises, it becomes harder for Sonja to stay under the radar and she is targeted by an underworld syndicate known as The Scorpions.

When her love interest, safari guide and private investigator Hudson Brand, is employed to look into the death of an alleged poacher at the hands of Sonja’s team, she is forced to ask herself if Julianne’s crusade has gone too far.

From South Africa’s Kruger National Park to the Serengeti of Tanzania, Sonja realises she is fighting a war on numerous fronts, against enemies known and unknown.

So who can Sonja really trust?

This is Tony Park’s 14th novel and the third one I’ve read. Sonja Kurtz has been a featured character in two of Park’s other novels (one of which I’ve read, The Delta and also An Empty Coast). Although I have read the first book she appears in and have a good idea of her background to be honest it’s not entirely necessary to have read the others before this one because this book does a great job explaining Sonja’s story in a clear way but without taking up too much time from this story.

Sonja is back in Africa working to train local women as an Anti-Poaching unit when they are ambushed by a group of poachers who are surprisingly well armed. As a result, Sonja is offered a job by an incredibly wealthy businesswoman named Julianne Clyde-Smith, who wants to take down the poaching kingpins ravaging the African wildlife one at a time. Employed to do “reconnaissance” it isn’t long before Sonja realises that there’s definitely a lot more to this job than meets the eye and that she might be being used. The body count is rising, the trails are getting infinitely more complicated, Sonja might be on opposing sides with her lover Hudson Brand and she’s not entirely sure who it is she should be trusting.

I love books set in Africa – mostly around South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe etc but I think that’s mostly because the majority of fiction set in Africa that I’ve read has taken place around that part of the continent and this one is no exception. Centered around the areas of large animal conservation reserves, Sonja crosses countries in her mission, occasionally having to dodge authorities due to incidents in her mercenary past. I really loathe big game hunting – people posing with guns and carcasses of elephants or giraffes or lions, beautiful creatures that should be left alone. And I have even more disdain for poaching and witch doctor rubbish that puts tens of thousands of dollars black market value on rhino horns and elephant tusks with little regard to the animal’s pain or suffering or the vast numbers in which they have been and are being slaughtered. So to be honest, I’m all for Sonja and her team and their epic array of weapons executing lethal force, but there are some cases where poverty makes poaching schemes seem easy money to locals. Julianne’s idea is to go after those at the top, dismantling entire operations from the head down. Tony Park lives part of the year in Africa and seems well versed in the various laws and intricacies of operations that might span different countries. There can be different rules for engagement when protecting property and presumably the wildlife within it – in some cases Sonja has to wait until she’s fired upon by poachers and then can she defend herself. She also has to deal with corruption in law enforcement positions, rangers and police paid off to turn a blind eye. A little bit of looking around led me to this article on the dangerous reality of being an anti-poaching ranger.

I really love Sonja as a character – she’s incredibly kick ass with all of these amazing skills and there’s pretty much nothing in terms of combat that she cannot do. But at the same time she’s also a bit awkward with people and leads a rather solitary life. She’s kind of in a relationship with Hudson Brand but she also doesn’t really quite trust him yet and can’t talk to him about what they’re doing or to clarify either of their feelings. She’s the sort of person who will walk away without asking a question, rather than put herself out there for a moment and present herself as vulnerable to another person. There’s a few misunderstandings that create some friction for Sonja and Hudson. I haven’t read the book where they met but after this I definitely plan to go back and add it to my TBR pile because I find them really interesting together. Hudson is a former CIA agent so he has mad skills of his own and now he works as a safari guide and sometime private investigator. I don’t know if there are plans to include them in future books but I’m sure there’s still plenty of ways in which they could reappear.

I found this to be a really engrossing read from the first page – I loved the setting and felt like I was learning more about the poaching situation and the lengths that are needed in order to try and present a defense to it. There were some really good secondary characters (especially Tema, she was fantastic. Park certainly writes very strong, independent female characters) and the story had a few twists and turns, some of which I guessed and some that were a surprise.

8/10

Book #162 of 2017

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