All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Ones You Trust by Caroline Overington

The Ones You Trust 
Caroline Overington
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 336p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Emma Cardwell, celebrity mum and host of top-rating morning TV show Cuppa, seems to have it all: fame, money and a gorgeous family. But when her little girl disappears from day-care – captured on CCTV footage at a nearby shopping centre leaving with someone Emma has never seen before – her world is turned upside down.

As the minutes tick by, and pressure mounts, every part of Emma’s life comes under examination. Is this a kidnapping, the work of a crazed stalker, or an obsessed fan? Is somebody out for revenge or is this something closer to home?

And there is the aching question: how much do we really know about those who care for our children . . . and about the people we love?

This book was…..wow!

I’d heard good things before I started – I knew a couple of people that had already read it and were really singing its praises and I’ve loved several of Caroline Overington’s previous books so my expectations were probably quite high going in, which can sometimes be a bit of a problem. However not in this case.

Emma Cardwell works as a morning TV host (like Sunrise or Today if you’re Australian, or maybe a Good Morning America sort of thing) and she is at the studio at the crack of dawn and often works late into the afternoon and then has events to attend, publicity to create. She has recently been ‘papped’ and had unflattering pictures of her taken on a beach which have been splashed across news pages, making for cruel remarks and jibes about her steadily creeping weight, making her quite vulnerable and fearful of her position in front of the entire country on camera every morning. She and her husband have three children, the youngest of which is only about eighteen months old and attends a day care. They employ a nanny for school drop offs, pick ups and various other tasks, including the day care run. One day Emma is home late and when she goes in to say goodnight to her youngest child, Fox-Piper, she isn’t in her cot. No one picked her up from daycare that day……

Emma is frantic and her position as a well known public face basically means that this story runs 24/7. There’s CCTV footage discovered from the mall that the daycare is in, of Fox-Piper with someone that no one in the family can identify. But as of yet there’s been no demand, no communication. The police know that those first 24 hours are absolutely critical. So far they have no real leads and the chaos of Emma’s position in the media is only complicating matters.

This is just a masterfully told story. It’s a biting insight into television and the role ‘ageing’ (and by that I mean 40s & onwards) women are dealt. It shows how everything is an opportunity for promotion and the micromanaging of television presenters and what goes on behind the scenes (I found the role of Maven absolutely fascinating and also slightly horrifying). There’s the pressure of ratings and constantly being in competition with a similar show on a rival network and always feeling that hanging over you, the constant need to always perform well, better than that other show. When Fox-Piper goes missing, it becomes the lead running story and there’s plenty of theories and judgemental commentary because Emma is a public figure and she’s the breadwinner of her household, working what would probably be termed very unsociable and definitely not friendly hours for having a family. On paper her and her husband Brandon, an American look to have the perfect marriage, raising their three beautiful children and living the dream in a fantastic home. But not everything is as it seems!

This book hauled me in from the first page and kept me hooked the whole way through. I found the mystery element really interesting (who had Fox-Piper, why, how on Earth did they get her out of her daycare without being one of the approved people etc) but I also just really liked the social commentary and exploration of human nature. The dynamics in Emma and Brandon’s relationship, Emma’s working relationship with her male cohost, the role of the producer and publicity and how the wheels of TV kept turning in a never ending war for ratings and success and the way in which audiences were often manipulated. Emma was presented as likeable and sort of ‘girl next door’ – not so beautiful or thin that she was intimidating, a career woman who worked hard but who was also an amazing wife and mother. The sort of woman you’d like to have as a good friend.

The writing, plotting and pace are impeccable. And I’m notorious for not guessing twists and endings but – wow. The twists in this I did not see coming at all and they blew me away. Just when you think you kind of have it figured out, there’s something else that happens and it just steps it up a whole other gear. It went in so many places that I didn’t expect going into it and the end! So, so good. Horrifying in a way, but still. So, so good.

Loved this. Caroline Overington has written a lot of good books in her time and I Came To Say Goodbye holds such a special place for me but I think this is her best yet.

10/10

Book #129 of 2018

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Review: Starting Over by Susanne Bellamy

Starting Over (Mindalby Outback Romance #2)
Susanne Bellamy
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 183p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mindalby, a small town, a community, a home. But when the mill that supports the local cotton farmers and employs many of the town’s residents closes unexpectedly, old tensions are exposed and new rifts develop. Everyone is affected and some react better than others, but one thing is certain: living on the edge of the outback means they have to survive together, or let their town die.

When fashion designer Serena Quinlan arrives in Mindalby for the annual cotton festival, she is hoping to do two things: meet local leather worker Paul Carey and check out all the 50–year–old men to see if they might be her father. She doesn’t expect the explosive attraction she feels towards Paul, nor the untimely and unwanted arrival of her ex–fiance. When her search for her father leads to unexpected results, Serena will be torn between the past she came searching for and the possibility of a future she never expected.

This is the 2nd book of 4 that I received in a bind up and I was quite looking forward to continuing with this series after I enjoyed the first one so much.

The story revolves around Serena, a fashion designer who arrives in Mindalby for two reasons – one to meet a leather worker she wants to work with and two, to see if she can track down her biological father. Conceived at a music festival in NSW years ago, Serena has been raised alone by a single mother but her mother’s illness a short time ago has really motivated her to find her father, despite the few sketchy details that her mother has.

Serena and Paul have an instant attraction (they meet when Paul is kind of erm, exposed) and the banter flows but there are quite a few complications from the beginning. Like most of the town, Paul is preoccupied by the cotton mill closure and what it means for his extended family, especially his troubled younger brother who isn’t coping well with having his cotton held hostage. Both Paul and Serena have quite a lot going on and their strong attraction takes them both by surprise. Serena is just also coming out of a break up as well but the pull between them is hard to ignore.

I really enjoy the way thing are going with the town in this book….the town feels consistent between the two volumes and this one expands upon some of the hardship and difficulties that it’s facing with the closure and limbo of the mill. Tempers are fraying and people are starting to struggle as bills go unpaid and crops face being lost. Paul isn’t strictly a farmer but his family farm and he has financial interests tied up in it so he’s also invested in the outcome of the mill. He also created some leather panels for an event that he now thinks he might not be paid for, which was supposed to be something that turned his finances around.

Serena is using the excuse to meet Paul (randomly, she’s been asked to design some clothing for a town event) to come to Mindalby because it’s where her mother thinks her father might still be living. It’s a bit awkward to be trying to track down your father without even having a name to go by. It leads to a lot of weird situations where she thinks various people might be her father and they all bring severe complications to her burgeoning relationship with Paul. Also her ex-fiance is in town for some reason and seems bent on causing trouble and confusing Serena with mind games.

While I enjoyed the town journey I wasn’t as invested in Paul and Serena – it felt a bit too instalove for me and some of Paul’s early remarks left me feeling a bit icky. They didn’t even know each other so I just found some of that a bit distasteful, a bit ‘old romance’ rather than the type I enjoy reading in 2018. And all of the drama surrounding just precisely who Serena’s father was felt a bit contrived – like the only early options were really the ones that would create the most amount of drama and there are no other men in this town of the right age but it also wasn’t particularly convincing either. Just felt a bit like filler to pad the story out a bit and create some conflict between Paul and Serena when there was probably already enough going on.

This was okay – I enjoyed it for the town development but overall, I wasn’t particularly invested in the romance part.

6/10

Book #135 of 2018

{alternative cover when purchased singly}

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Review: The Rules Of Seeing by Joe Heap

The Rules Of Seeing
Joe Heap
Harper Collins
2018, 416p
Copy courtesy Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Nova is 32 years old and she is about to see the world for the very first time.

Nova can do many things. She can speak five languages. She can always find a silver lining. And as an interpreter for the Metropolitan Police, she can tell when someone is lying just from the sound of their voice.

But there’s one thing Nova can’t do. She can’t see.

When her brother convinces her to have an operation that will restore her sight, Nova wakes up to a world she no longer understands. Until she meets Kate.

As Kate comes into focus and their unlikely friendship blossoms, Kate’s past threatens to throw them into a different kind of darkness. Can they both learn to see the world in a different way?

This book was such an interesting and thought provoking read.

Nova has been blind from birth. She lives a very active life, working as an interpreter for the Met and navigates her environment with skill. When her brother informs her of an operation that could give her sight, Nova is in two minds but ends up undergoing the operation. When she wakes, everything she once understood has been turned upside down.

This book gave me so much to think about in terms of what it might be like for someone who has never been able to see, to suddenly be able to do so. Nova has a lot of difficulty in terms of spatial awareness and judging distance and the size of objects relative to how far they are away from her. Colours and small objects are hard to distinguish between – she has no frame of reference for basically everything. She has no idea how to read people’s expressions and everything becomes a bit of a minefield. I thought this was all described and showcased from Nova’s point of view so admirably. Nova is a very confident blind person but with her sight she lacks a little something sometimes, as she struggles to negotiate an entire new world. She doesn’t change exactly, but you can tell it’s a much bigger thing that she anticipated.

Nova meets Kate, a woman recovering from a brain injury. Kate has anxiety resulting from her ‘accident’ that left her hospitalised and she also struggles with a new world that she has to negotiate. Kate does a lot of pretending that certain things aren’t happening. We don’t get much of a glimpse into her life in the before, so I’m not sure if the behaviour she starts to experience is normal or if it’s something that escalates out of nowhere. I think from a few bits and pieces that it was something she was already experiencing and also escalating in a way where she almost doesn’t seem to be noticing. She seems quite isolated – before Nova she only seems to have one friend and her family appear distant with priorities lying elsewhere than her.

I liked Kate and Nova’s separate stories, I was drawn into their situations and watching how they negotiated their new and strange worlds. But as those worlds collided, I’m not sure that I was really….buying it? And the book definitely began to get more darker as it went on, which was not something I was expecting going into it at all. To be honest, it felt like the tone changed a little too much in the latter part of the book too abruptly. That’s not to say that things somewhat similar to this don’t happen in real life – they do. But it felt like I started out reading one book but then I finished a very different book and the two of them didn’t exactly seem to mesh seamlessly.

There was a lot I really enjoyed in this – primarily the way in which the author dealt with a character like Nova being given sight after never having it before. They took it in ways I hadn’t even thought of, things that had never occurred to me and I really enjoyed thinking about things that I’ve never had to think about before. Nova’s notes on ‘the rules of seeing’ are fantastic, clever, insightful, amusing and like this whole part of the story, thoughtful and thought provoking. Likewise, I was intrigued by Kate’s story, the mystery of the white paper and whether or not she’d be able to piece her memories back together and draw on her own strength. But I did feel that it dragged on a tiny bit and took me just to places that I was not expecting to go in a demonstration of ‘that escalated quickly’. I felt it raised issues that are relevant though, such as protection in employment and having trouble getting police support and intervention but didn’t really explore them too deeply. And then after the slower pace for much of it, it suddenly became very fast-paced towards the end, building suspense I did not expect to be experiencing! It’s very very clever though, in lots of different ways and I’ll read anything else Joe Heap comes up with.

7/10

Book #134 of 2018

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Blog Tour Review: The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

The Botanist’s Daughter 
Kayte Nunn
Hachette AUS
2018, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

I really love dual narrative historical and contemporary stories and this one was unputdownable from the start. Elizabeth, technically a ‘spinster’ in Victorian England, is begged by her ailing father to continue his work in botany and find a miracle plant with believed healing properties. He desperately wants it found before his rival and nemesis does, who will surely sell it to the highest bidder. Although a somewhat privileged and cosseted woman, Elizabeth undertakes a long voyage by sea to South America with just her maid Daisy. Once there, she must keep her identity and mission a secret so as not to attract the attention of her father’s rival, who it seems, will do anything to make the discovery before anyone else does.

I really enjoyed the historical aspect of this novel. It seems that in this time the study of botany and foreign plants was quite a thing and Elizabeth’s father undertakes many voyages to bring back and cultivate foreign species. He has no sons so rather than risk his rival discovering this secret, incredible plant first, he begs his younger daughter to do it for him after his death, sending her on an amazing adventure in a very different place to what she is used to. Elizabeth will find true courage and strength of character on her journey as she endures many different hardships but she will also find great love and happiness as well.

Elizabeth is not without her flaws and she’s secretive and impetuous and singleminded in her task. She certainly doesn’t make things easy for herself and her dangerous expedition places people in danger other than just herself. I liked her but at times I just wanted her to be honest about herself and her task and take people into her confidence and give herself I don’t know, some back up? A bit of assistance? She’s got guts though – to travel such a way with only a maid to a place she’s unfamiliar with and doesn’t know much about is amazing. I love that she was a botanical artist too and very talented at it.

Anna inherits a house from her grandmother in the present day and finds a mysterious box within the wall behind a bookcase that will send her on another incredible journey to discover the identity and truth of the person behind it. Anna is also incredibly interested in botany and has studied at university although perhaps hasn’t truly developed her career due to tragedy. A lot of the time, Anna feels like going through the motions of existing – she works, she goes to the gym every Saturday, she meets her sister and mother for dinner. She doesn’t actually really seem to embrace life and still seems very stuck on something terrible that happened. Finding the box gives Anna a purpose and it’s also a vehicle for her to overcome her fears and do something she should’ve done a long time ago.

This book definitely took me places I did not expect when I picked it up. I was surprised how dark it got during some parts, which added a whole new depth to the story. It’s told with obvious passion and I found myself really into the evocative descriptions of life in both Victorian England and South America. Kayte Nunn paints lush portrait of the landscape, the social life and the people – even the voyage from England is vividly rendered, with poor Elizabeth suffering nearly the whole way. This was the sort of story that you could just sink right into and not come up for air until you were finished. I found both timelines really fascinating and was invested in both Elizabeth and Anna. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know…..and the more I found out, the better the story became.

This is a truly beautiful story that meshes two very different timelines together admirably and takes the reader on a journey around the world from inner city Sydney to the beauty of Cornwall and the intriguing forests of Chile. Even though it focuses very much on botanical matters, you don’t have to have an interest in these to enjoy it and it weaves the information in perfectly. It’s definitely a must-read for all fans of historical fiction and I would happily recommend it to anyone.

9/10

Book #133 of 2018

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Review: The Book Of Ordinary People by Claire Varley

The Book Of Ordinary People
Claire Varley
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 407p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A grieving daughter navigates the morning commute, her mind bursting with memories pleading to be shared.

A man made entirely of well-cut suits and strictly enforced rules swims his regular morning laps and fantasises about his self-assured promotion.

A young lawyer sits in a fluorescent-lit office, typing indecipherable jargon and dreaming of everything she didn’t become.

A failed news hack hides under the covers from another looming deadline, and from a past that will not relent its pursuit.

And a young woman seeking asylum sits tensely on an unmoving train, praying that good news waits at the other end of the line…

In this charming, moving and affectionate novel, Claire Varley paints a magical portrait of five ordinary people, and the sometimes heartbreaking power of the stories we make of ourselves.

This was an absolutely beautiful book and I loved it!

It’s the story of, as the title says, five ordinary people. They’re all living in Melbourne, in close proximity to each other and at first glance, as you meet each of them, they don’t seem particularly connected, with the exception of the two lawyers. But the further you read, the more you realise how their lives are intersecting, without them even knowing it.

Aida is a young asylum seeker from Iran, waiting. Waiting for the news of a letter that will tell her that her application to extend her visa has been approved. After having been in camps, released into the community, a large amount of asylum seekers were suddenly told that they had to reapply. Now their lives are in limbo, waiting for that piece of paper that tells them yes they can stay or no, they cannot. Aida lives in a small 2 bedroom house with Elham, also an asylum seeker and Elham’s daughter Niki who attends the local kinder and is struggling, perhaps because of her disrupted upbringing. Aida and Elham are not really friends at first but their bond strengthens. Aida’s story was without a doubt the one that I found the most powerful in the book, her chapters were always the ones I looked forward to the most because she was the one that I really felt had the most to lose in the book. She’s well qualified in Iran but here she finds herself taken advantage of, paid minimal amounts cash in hand because who is she going to complain to? Aida soldiers on, day by day and I just wanted her to get her letter telling her that her application was successful already.

Although I think I connected the most with Aida’s story, I enjoyed reading about the other characters too – Rik, a disgraced journalist who has isolated himself from everyone he knows, writing puff pieces on residents who “love living in the northern suburbs”. Rik is clearly suffering some sort of PTSD and you don’t realise his true identity right away. And then it becomes about discovering what happened to him, why he’s doing this to himself. Evangelia is a Greek Australian who is still mourning the death of her mother and wants to desperately write her story only she can’t seem to find her mother anywhere she looks. Evangelia’s story included a really in depth look at the Greek mourning traditions, the stories and the responsibility and role of the eldest woman in the family. She struggles in comparison to her elder sister Lydia, the two constantly at odds and bickering about everything. Evangelia and her husband own a gyros shop which is a constant source of stress for many reasons. And then there’s Nell and “DB” – they both work in a law firm. Nell is young and being mentored by DB, who dreams of a promotion and writes breezy, humblebrag letters to someone called “Jonesy” about how amazing his life is even as it starts to fall down around him. DB becomes obsessed with money, status, class and impressing the boss. Having a big house in a particular area, despite the fact that it makes life harder when his wife wants their son to attend a community kinder closer to her parents place in order for them to be able to care for him while DB and his wife are still at work. When Nell comes up with a partnership idea with a community legal firm, DB learns a lot about what he’s prioritising and how it’s affecting his life.

I loved the glimpses into these totally ordinary lives of ordinary people. People who are struggling with the day to day of juggling family and work, dealing with feelings of grief, isolation and even recovering from trauma. I love the connections between all the characters that kept appearing and how their circles intersected constantly over the course of the novel. But ultimately I kept coming back to Aida’s story and how it must be indicative of thousands of people at the moment who just want to escape a place of oppression and find somewhere to live freely. Her and Elham and Niki. I think the scene where they collect Niki from kinder and the nervous teacher tries to explain that Niki might need some assistance is the one that just stuck with me the most. Elham doesn’t speak English so Aida has to translate for her and there’s just so much fear and nervousness from Elham as she struggles to understand. I’ve had a child that needed extra assistance at kinder – occupational therapy was recommended for my youngest to help with his fine motor skills and it was over a 6 month wait for a public facility. To go private is expensive and there are many people who simply cannot afford that it when you’re struggling to make ends meet. Many times by the time the child gets into the programs, they are almost ready to start school or have started school and are no longer eligible and then you have to try other things. This complication must be amplified into the thousands when you don’t speak fluent English yet and are not skilled at navigating things like doctors appointments. Simple things like advocating for your child become an impossibility and this can be how children fall further behind.

This was a really thought provoking read and I enjoyed every page of it.

8/10

Book #132 of 2018

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Review: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

Bellewether
Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark
2018, 512p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren’t such easy things to keep.”

It’s late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.

Part history, part romance, and all kinds of magic, Susanna Kearsley’s latest masterpiece will draw you in and never let you go, even long after you’ve closed the last page.

I’ve been a big fan of Susanna Kearsley’s books every since Marg introduced me to The Winter Sea quite a few years ago now. I was very excited to receive a review copy of this one some months ago but I was actually patient and waited until close to the release date to read it. Last weekend I had a truly lazy day, staying in bed all day to read this. I didn’t realise upon starting it how long it was. It’s definitely a hefty read.

It’s a dual narrative, historical and present day. In the current timeline, Charley is a curator who has recently moved from Canada to Long Island, New York for family reasons. She’s taken a job curating an exhibition at the Wilde House Museum which is undergoing renovations. It’s the former home of a war hero and the museum will celebrate and honour his life. Charley finds herself soon drawn into an intriguing mystery as locals tell her the strange stories that surround the house – that of a ghost and of a tragedy that happened many years before.

In the past, Jean-Phillipe de Sabran is a French Canadian lieutenant fighting in some war I honestly don’t know anything about. I’m not American or Canadian and this war takes place before the British “arrived” in Australia (therefore schooling never bothered to cover it) so I have to admit, I’d never actually even heard of this war. I’ve talked at length in various reviews about how bad my historical knowledge is and this is another example! This is prior to American independence anyway and Jean-Phillips along with another man seem to be some sort of very gentlemanly prisoners of war where they are billeted with American families. Apparently American/British prisoners of war were billeted with French families in Canada or something, it’s all very civilised. Jean-Phillipe doesn’t speak English but the man he is billeted with does, so he acts as a translator although Jean-Phillipe often finds this frustrating as he feels his fellow lieutenant is not translating everything, or with accuracy. Jean-Phillipe is also French Canadian whereas the other man is French French and this itself seems to suggest that they are very different and that the French French lieutenant looks down on the French Canadian Jean-Phillipe. The daughter of the house, Lydia, has reason to be resentful of soldiers of the opposing side and she’s dead against the men being billeted in her own home. Despite this, Jean-Phillipe is quite taken with Lydia and he wishes to get to know her.

I found all of the historical stuff quite interesting but I have to admit that at the same time, it felt quite slow. There’s a lot of information to process in both timelines as well so at times this is quite a dense read. It takes rather a long time for things to ‘progress’ in the historical portion of the novel. Neither Lydia nor Jean-Phillipe speak the other’s language and their interactions are so minimal, I just never really got to the point where I think I got invested in their future. I would’ve liked to become invested in it, but I don’t know, it just wasn’t enough for me. We are privy to both their thoughts and I enjoyed that but their interactions are so limited. I suppose despite really not speaking each other’s language they learn each other’s true characters by observation and Lydia does have to overcome a rather large (and understandable) prejudice to see the sort of man that Jean-Phillipe is and that’s admirable. But it still left me wanting.

I quite enjoyed the modern day story. Charley is undertaking something quite challenging, both at work and out of it. Her appointment was not unanimous and she deals with animosity of several members of the board and has to prove herself and her theories at every meeting. I really liked her and I also thought her eventual love interest was wonderful. There’s a brief connection in this story to a character from a previous Kearsley book and I do wonder if we might see that character in a book of their own one day. Charley’s family situation is interesting as well and I admired her for stepping up at a time of grief to really try and shoulder responsibility and provide support and stability.

I did enjoy this and it’s meticulously researched and written but I just didn’t find myself drawn into the historical aspect with the same intensity as with prior Kearsley novels. Perhaps it was because I was lacking in knowledge myself, perhaps it was because the interactions just weren’t enough for me. The modern day story definitely kept me involved though and I found that I really loved the little ‘twist’ at the end. That way very well done.

7/10

Book #131 of 2018

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Review: I Had Such Friends by Meg Gatland-Veness

I Had Such Friends 
Meg Gatland-Veness
Pantera Press
2018, 275p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Charlie Parker dies, it affects everyone who knew him. Everyone, that is, except for seventeen-year-old Hamish Day, the boy who lives on a cabbage farm and only has one friend.

But Hamish soon finds himself pulled into the complicated lives of the people left behind. Among them is Annie Bower, the prettiest girl in school. As he uncovers startling truths about his peers, his perspectives on friendship, love, grief and the tragic power of silence are forever altered.

This is a contemporary debut #LoveOzYA novel focusing on Hamish who is 17 and in his final year of high school. Hamish is on the fringe of society in school – he really only has one friend, a boy named Martin who tends to be the butt of everyone’s jokes. Although Hamish isn’t really bullied like Martin is, he’s mostly ignored. As Hamish will readily admit, he hasn’t been himself for a while. Not since the incident that changed his family forever.

There was quite a bit to like about this book. Hamish felt like a really genuine voice. He’s on that cusp of adulthood and he’s struggling with his life choices. His parents are farmers and things have been tough. They work very long hours and Hamish seems to feel that he’ll be expected to take over the family farm but that’s the last thing that he really wants. He has no interest in farming and seems to resent the farm (cabbages – who even likes cabbages?) and wants to move away from their rural area to go to university.

The book opens with the aftermath of the death of Charlie Parker, a popular football player at Hamish’s school who was killed in a car accident. There’s a sort of vigil held at the school for Charlie so that the students may share memories of him and mourn the loss of their classmate. It’s always tough to be honest, that first death of a peer. When I was about Hamish’s age, a boy I’d gone to school with (he’d actually left the year before) was killed in the same way. Even though we weren’t close friends, it still hit very hard, that example of our mortality. Even now to be honest, I really struggle when I hear of people my own age dying. Even though Hamish doesn’t really grieve Charlie Parker as such, his death definitely changes Hamish’s life.

This book went in some directions that I did not expect and that was a pleasant surprise. I thought the evolution of Hamish’s strange friendship with Peter Bridges was quite well done. Peter is notorious in their small town – football player, wrong side of the tracks, troubled home life and he was Charlie Parker’s best friend. Previously Hamish would not have had anything to do with Peter Bridges but Peter seeks him out for reasons that are quite a mystery to Hamish for a little while. And Hamish seems bored – bored with the same routine at school, bored with his one friend, bored with heading home to the cabbage farm. He seems to latch on to the idea of letting loose a bit, cutting school to go to the beach with Peter Bridges. It’s something different and perhaps he also enjoys being the one that’s sought out, like Peter Bridges could choose anyone to go hang with but he’s choosing Hamish. And then there’s Annie – formerly Charlie Parker’s girlfriend, prettiest girl in school. All of a sudden Hamish’s life is very different to what it was before….and perhaps also from how he thought it would go.

So as the story picked up, I started to become more invested and wonder how it was going to play out. It was obviously building to something so I was interested to see how Hamish would negotiate these new complications in his life and the ramifications that they would have. As much as this novel showcases the often tedious monotony of living in a small town with not much to do, the ending also showcases the uglier side, of people fearing and hating what is different or what they don’t understand. There was opportunity for some real exploration of this issue but apart from being a brief catalyst it isn’t looked at in any real depth. At times it almost feels like there’s too much going on in this book, once all the issues come into play which means that some of them are more glossed over than others. And I really feel as though the ending came up very quickly and very abruptly without any real indication that this was how it might go. And that might be deliberate on the author’s part to show that this can happen in real life and people are left wondering and bewildered, not having seen it coming. But it honestly just felt like the author had the ending in mind but just wasn’t quite sure how to really explore the issues that lead to such an act and maximise the impact. I had to read it again in a ‘what?’ sort of way, not an ‘omg I cannot believe it!’ kind of way. I think I was just expecting a bit more from the ending: more power, more emotion, more impact, just more.

Despite the few reservations I had about the ending, I think that for the most part, this is a really interesting and well written story. Hamish is not really a sympathetic character in many ways for a bit of the novel and he’s portrayed in a refreshingly honest way, highlighting his flaws rather than trying to hide them. His home life is done fantastically – his struggling, worn down parents desperately hoping for a good crop, the differences between his mother and father, the family’s heartbreaking grief after their loss. Hamish’s struggle to deal with that loss is definitely a highlight of the story for me. I also enjoyed his acceptance of his true self though and the friendships he built. I think that Meg Gatland-Veness has written the sort of debut that could slot into a high school curriculum and I look forward to see what she produces in the future.

7/10

Book #130 of 2018

 

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Review: Cotton Field Dreams by S.E. Gilchrist

Cotton Field Dreams (Mindalby Outback Romance #1)
S.E. Gilchrist
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 220p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mindalby, a small town, a community, a home. But when the mill that supports the local cotton farmers and employs many of the town’s residents closes unexpectedly, old tensions are exposed and new rifts develop. Everyone is affected and some react better than others, but one thing is certain: living on the edge of the outback means they have to survive together, or let their town die.

Sasha comes to Mindalby to recover from a traumatic event, plan her next move, and seek out information to avenge her beloved uncle – the last thing she wants is a relationship. But when she meets local single dad, Cole, she can’t help but be drawn to his warmth and his humour, and his two engaging children. Cole says and does all the right things, and Sasha finds herself falling, but will all of her secrets destroy the relationship before it has a chance to begin?

Cotton Field Dreams is the first in a new series centering around the outback town of Mindalby, which relies heavily on the local cotton mill for employment. Sasha is a nurse, but after an horrific incident while she was working overseas, she needs time to recuperate and regroup. She applies for a job at the Mindalby cotton mill, just doing payroll. She’s not an accountant and she’s perhaps a bit under qualified for the job but she is successful anyway and moves to the small town.

When the mill closes abruptly, Sasha finds herself squarely in the firing line. She’s an outsider and she’s the person most people believe are behind the money. If there’s someone squirrelling money away or dodgy activities going on, Sasha is going to be just about everyone’s number one suspect. It seems that only Cole, a local single dad, might be willing to give Sasha the benefit of the doubt. But Cole relies on the mill just as much as many others in the town and he has two kids to provide for and a struggling farm to keep afloat. For the sake of everyone, Sasha is determined to get to the bottom of exactly what is going on behind the doors of the cotton mill.

Recently I received the first four books in this series in one volume (featuring the cover I’ve used here). I love a series that revolves around a small town, especially when the town is in Australia. So last Sunday, I spent a large portion of the day in bed reading the first book in this series. Although the bind up is huge at 800p, each individual novel is about 200p, a perfect size for a quick read.

This first book perfectly sets up the situation in the small town – it opens with the abrupt closure of the cotton mill, supposedly due to a safety issue but when people start making noises about not having been paid, it’s clear there’s definitely something else going on. And most of them seem to be looking firmly towards Sasha for information. Not only is she the person responsible for that job, there are some rumours that she’s friendly (very friendly) with the boss and might know a lot more than she’s letting on. Sasha is actually as much in the dark as everyone else but she does have a few secrets – she’s in town to recover from her ordeal yes but she also has an ulterior motive or two for why she picked Mindalby itself.

I really enjoyed Sasha’s character. She was a very determined woman, even though she wasn’t really expecting to really get very far I don’t think. She was in town for a reason and she wanted to accomplish something – the mill closing was a bit of a curve ball for sure but it just made her even more suspicious. I liked her burgeoning friendship with Cole, single dad and farmer and Cole’s family were fun, warm, loving and quite realistic. The chemistry between Cole and Sasha was good but both of them were also a bit cautious as well – Cole has his kids to think of and also Sasha’s actions and motives to at times, seem slightly suspicious. And Sasha has a career that’s a true calling and she’s never stayed in one place for very long so to get very involved with someone might be a mistake.

I feel as though this book showcases the best and worst of living in a small town. It’s a tight knit community which is struggling and there are people who’d do anything for you but there are also a few bad apples, that make it clear to Sasha just how much they resent her and feel as though she’s got something to hide. Poor Sasha cops quite a bit of poor treatment but she manages to remain stoic and soldier on, even offering to help workers that are under financial hardship with the closure of the mill. After all, she’s faced much worse!

This was a great start to the series and I’m really keen to get stuck into the rest of them!

8/10

Book #126 of 2018

{alternative cover when purchased singly}

 

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Review: The Apology by Ross Watkins

The Apology
Ross Watkins
University of Queensland Press
2018, 248p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Adrian Pomeroy teaches English at an all-boys school ‘full of bullshit artists in blazers’. When he finds himself at the centre of an allegation that might end his career, his life starts to unravel in spectacular fashion. With a police investigation underway, Adrian turns to his detective brother for help, but Noel is battling crippling demons of his own.

As the repercussions of this one accusation lead to the implosion of Adrian’s family, he can no longer ignore the secrets buried in his own past. The Apology is an explosive and shocking portrait of the lies we tell ourselves and each other in order to survive.

This book packs a punch.

Adrian is a high school English teacher somewhere in western Sydney at an all-boys school. For the most part, the students seem apathetic but every now and then you get one that you think you might be able to make a difference with. After almost a decade in the job, Adrian is called into the principal’s office and told that there’s an allegation against him. It’s the sort of allegation that ends careers, means jail time and destroys lives. He’s placed on leave effective immediately and then has to deal with a police investigation and the fallout with his wife and family.

The narrative is split between quite a few characters – Adrian, Adrian’s brother Noel, Noel’s wife Wendy, the person who makes the allegations, Adrian and Noel’s mother Glenda, one of Noel and Wendy’s children, and Adrian’s wife. Noel is a police officer and he and his family live in Perth but they travel to Sydney to be there during Adrian’s time of trouble, which brings an awful lot of unresolved issues and childhood incidents bubbling to the surface.

There’s so much this book is addressing – adolescence and the struggle of identity and sexuality, family relationships and dynamics, childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, gender identity, it’s quite a list. But the way in which it is written makes each issue feel thoughtfully explored and even though this isn’t a long book, it doesn’t feel rushed or crammed full. Each of the characters are given ample time for the reader to gain insight into them, their thoughts and feelings, actions and their relationships to other characters. It’s messy and complicated at times, but what family isn’t?

The book seems deliberately ambiguous in the beginning as to whether or not Adrian might be guilty of what he’s accused of, like it’s encouraging the reader to make a snap decision based on what they know of Adrian so far (which actually isn’t much – and there are a couple of scenes that are enough to ask the question) but it is almost like it’s not about that. The allegations are simply a means to an end, a catalyst that brings Noel and his family back over the east coast and the issues between him and Adrian rising to the surface. I didn’t expect a lot of what unfolded over the course of the novel – there were definitely some surprise and it kept me guessing how things were going to pan out. Adrian has cause to feel very wronged by Noel from their childhood and it’s clear that there’s never been a discussion or conversation about what happened when they were both children.

I was in two minds about a lot of what happened in this book – and I liked that. It made me really think about a lot of things, such as the young teen that makes the accusation towards Adrian at the beginning of the book. It’s easy to go one way in your thoughts but then there’s more of a background and I think that there was a real struggle going on in that boy’s mind and the lines just got very blurred. It was almost like a cry for attention, to be noticed in some ways – that’s not okay and it’s not the right way to go about it and strict boundaries have to be in place for many reasons. But I still couldn’t help feeling for him and the mess of negotiating high school in that situation. I’m reluctant to say too much because it’d be really easy to spoil things about this book!

Forgiveness is a funny thing – sometimes you give it without even thinking about it. And other times it can be the hardest thing in the world to truly forgive someone for something that they’ve done. This book poses the question that how much is too much to forgive and I feel that there were truly some forgiving people in this story. It’s interesting that the person who often struggled in this story, was the one seeking or needing the forgiveness, not necessarily the person who had been wronged. Or maybe their struggle was just less obvious, something that they’d learned to deal with in a more effective way. Guilt can be a very powerful thing as well. The longer things are left, the more invasive they can become.

This book builds slowly but expertly, ramping up the tension with each new chapter and each new reveal and development. It’s a total page turner – there were so many things I wanted to know, so many things I wanted to see resolved. And like I mentioned, it went places I really didn’t expect. The ending isn’t perfect, but it’s an ending that the story seems to warrant. Not everyone is destined to come out unscathed.

I really enjoyed this and I’ll definitely be looking out for Ross Watkins’ next book.

8/10

Book #127 of 2018

 

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Blog Tour Review: The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

The Desert Nurse 
Pamela Hart
Hachette AUS
2018, 407p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits

It’s 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.

From the casualty tents, the fever wards and the operating theatres of the palace; through the streets of Cairo during Ramadan, to the parched desert and the grim realities of war, Pamela Hart, beloved bestselling Australian author of THE WAR BRIDE, tells the heart-wrenching story of four years that changed the world forever.

This was such a delightful, thought provoking story.

Evelyn Northey is intelligent and driven and desperate to become a doctor. She has the means to do so, having an inheritance from her mother but the terms of her mother’s will mean that Evelyn does not come into her money until she either marries (and then it goes to her husband) or she reaches her majority. Until then it is controlled by her father and he is adamant that medicine is no place for a woman. They can make competent nurses and assistants when trained correctly but they are far too emotional to make the sort of decisions that medicine requires and he completely refuses permission for Evelyn to become a doctor and also to even get any formal nursing qualifications. She can assist him in his practice and that’s it. Unbeknownst to him, Evelyn is assisted by a doctor at the local hospital to get the qualifications she needs. Upon learning that her majority is 30 and not 21 as she first thought, Evelyn cannot face more years ahead working with her domineering father and so when war breaks out, she enlists in the army as a nurse.

World War 1 in terms of history, is not that long ago. Yes it’s 100 years and progress in many areas has been incredibly rapid since then – and this book showcases that one of those areas is women’s rights. Evelyn, as an unmarried woman, is forced to suffer under the authority of her father. He is against her fulfilling her dream to study medicine and become a doctor and no amount of attempting to reason has any impact on him. Evelyn makes up her mind quite early that she wishes to never marry – that will just give another man authority over her and he’ll also be given control of her inheritance from her mother. Having been completely ignored in her wishes, Evelyn has no desire to ever subject herself to that for a second time. Enlisting in the army as a nurse and being sent to Cairo to tend the wounded from places like Gallipoli gives her the first sort of freedom, even though she’s under army regulations. It’s a mix of foreign adventure but also terrible tragedy as they see young man after young man through terrible injuries and worse.

When she enlists, Evelyn meets Dr William Brent. Despite the obvious and immediate attraction between them that continues as they work together in Cairo, both firmly believe there’s no future in marriage for either of them. William is a polio survivor who walks with a limp and has an injured hip. He knows that quite often, polio survivors go downhill with age and he doesn’t want to subject himself onto a wife who may end up with a severely disabled husband. William is kind and supportive of Evelyn in all ways – he offers to help her with her Latin in order to her to fulfil her dream of studying medicine on her own and he seems exactly the sort of man who would not exert authority over his wife in the way that Evelyn’s father did over the women in his life. Evelyn and William are both so tempted but their insecurities, determination and fears hold them back. Evelyn can’t be sure that William wouldn’t change after marriage, want her to have babies and stay home, give up her medicine dream and William doesn’t want to take the risk of giving Evelyn someone to care for in a nurse/patient role rather than being husband/wife.

I absolutely loved this book, it was such a multi-layered read. On one hand, it’s showcasing the fight for equality and women’s rights and the struggle of being in a time where you’re beholden to the men in your life. Evelyn is lucky to have a brother that supports her and the two of them have a great relationship (he also enlists to fight) but her relationship with her father is damaged and broken by his inability to understand her. And even worse, he doesn’t want to understand her or even believe that he should try. I don’t read a lot of books that center around WWI but whenever I do, I always enjoy them so much. This is brutal in terms of showcasing nursing in a place that’s removed from fighting but inundated with serious casualties in a foreign and often challenging location. The pace is relentless but Evelyn thrives -it does amazing things for her confidence and self-belief. I loved her bond with William, how they could talk about anything and the support they each found. I understood Evelyn’s decision not to marry – it made sense for her at the time, given what she wanted out of her life. And I also understood William’s need not to be a burden in the future for someone but at the same time, these are both obstacles that can be overcome, for the right relationship!

This is the second Pamela Hart book I’ve read now (and the characters from the first one that I read, appear very briefly in this book) and there’s also a character in this that has her own book – so that’s now top of my wishlist! This was such a riveting read, I became really invested in Evelyn and her journey towards becoming a doctor – I kept hoping that she wouldn’t let go of her dream and would find a way to make it work, even without her father’s financial and emotional support. The struggle for equality really resonated with me too, made me think about how far things have come in the time since WWI (and how far there is still to go, in many ways). The characters in Hart’s stories are women doing their best to live their dreams, to break through constraints of society and become valuable contributors in the ways that they want to be.

Absolutely fabulous and highly recommended! Especially for anyone who has an interest in WWI, women’s history and feminism as well as a little romance.

9/10

Book #123 of 2018

AUTHOR BIO
Pamela is an award-winning author for adults and children. She has a Doctorate of Creative Arts from the University of Technology, Sydney. Under the name Pamela Freeman she wrote the historical novel THE BLACK DRESS, which won the NSW Premier’s History Prize for 2006. Pamela is also well known for her fantasy novels for adults, published by Orbit worldwide, the Castings Trilogy, and her Aurealis Award-winning novel EMBER AND ASH. Pamela lives in Sydney with her husband and their son, and teaches at the Australian Writers’ Centre. THE DESERT NURSE follows her bestselling novels THE SOLDIER’S WIFE, THE WAR BRIDE and A LETTER FROM ITALY.

AUTHOR LINKS
Website: http://www.pamela-hart.com/.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pamelahartbooks
Twitter: https://twitter.com/pamelahartbooks
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3064198.Pamela_Hart
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com.au/hart0760/

PURCHASE LINKS
AU
https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-desert-nurse-pamela-hart/prod9780733637568.html

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/the-desert-nurse-by-pamela-hart-9780733637568/#.WxTikkiFOUk

Kobo
https://www.kobo.com/au/en/ebook/the-desert-nurse

iBooks
https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/the-desert-nurse/id1345331000?mt=11

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Pamela_Hart_The_Desert_Nurse?id=mcJKDwAAQBAJ

 

 

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