All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: One by Andrew Hutchinson

One 
Andrew Hutchinson
Vintage
2018, 256p
Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Love can rule your life. Change your personality. Your everyday existence can be shaped by the opinion of one person. It seems crazy – so why do we do it? Why do we let the thoughts of someone else govern our decisions and actions?

He had his heart broken by his one true love, and cannot see a way forward in life. Having alienated himself from his family and friends, he works nights and shuns normal society. But not even disrupted sleep and depression can explain the strange behaviours that will suddenly take over him. It all escalates on an unassuming night, when he returns home to find a woman asleep in his driveway. Waiting.

One probes the extremes we go to for love; the extent of emotional influence; the scars we leave on each other. The novel asks, who do you become when you’re driven to obsession?

Fast-paced, immediate and perceptive, One is the highly original second novel from a young Australian writer establishing himself as a major talent.

You know how when you had to read a book for school and then the teacher gave you an essay question or something on it and you’re basically blank? Like did any of this even happen in the book? That’s kind of how I feel about this book.

The narrator works nights in a factory sort of job and seems to have removed himself from much in the way of society. When he finds a woman asleep in his driveway (although, is she?) the night takes a definite strange turn and the narrator finds himself trapped in a sort of Groundhog Day as he returns again and again to that point in his driveway and the woman asleep. How things play out each time is a little different and eventually he figures out what must happen to move the scenario forward. This leads to him and the woman on a road trip and making the narrator confront many aspects of his character and understand and accept the things he has done.

I came very close to DNF’ing this book because it’s just not my sort of thing and reading it felt like so much work. It started off quite promisingly, I was curious about the woman and the situation that unfolds when he agrees to drive her back to her home but then it just got a bit weird and it kept getting weirder but the thing that kept me going was that it wasn’t very long and maybe I’d get a lot of answers at the end and there’d be a lightbulb moment that would make it all worthwhile. You do get some answers but the end just really raised more questions for me and felt quite unsatisfying. But mostly what I didn’t really like about this book was that it made me feel well, distinctly unintelligent. Like I just wasn’t smart enough to get it, to really see clearly what is happening and how it’s profoundly examining the results of an obsession, the way it changes a person’s character except I really didn’t know if it did because the before wasn’t really clear.

Pretty obvious that this just is not my sort of book. The writing itself is good, there were times when I was quite liking bits of it but it was the whole put together that just didn’t really connect with me.

Book #71 of 2018

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Review: Killer Intent by Tony Kent

Killer Intent
Tony Kent
Elliott & Thompson Ltd
2018, 496p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Britain’s elite security forces seem powerless when an audacious attempt is made to assassinate a former US president in London. This becomes the spark which ignites a chain reaction of explosive events that will see old political sympathies rekindled and personal loyalties betrayed.

Joe Dempsey, a deadly military intelligence officer who witnesses this botched assassination, soon realises that this is just one small part of a complex and dark conspiracy, and only he can stop it. The fallout draws both Dempsey and CNN reporter Sarah Truman into parallel investigations, each compelled to discover the sinister truth behind these violent events. All too quickly they are running out of time as the future of the British government is crumbling. Thrown into these events is Michael Devlin, a Belfast-born criminal barrister with a secret past.

It’s a life or death race against the clock. Dempsey, Devlin and Truman are forced to work in the shadows and call on forgotten loyalties before a lethal showdown presents a devastating finale…

I don’t naturally gravitate towards this sort of story but occasionally it’s good to mix it up with something I don’t normally read and this has some big wraps on it so I decided to give it a go. It’s set in England, beginning at a highly public event featuring not only England’s Prime Minister but both the current and a former President from the United States. Obviously security is complicated and it’s a mix of top British security and the American Secret Service having to work together. Things go horribly wrong with an assassination attempt on a former President, throwing everything into chaos.

From there the story splinters into about four parts – Joe Dempsey works for the British agency DDS – Department of Domestic Security. He’s a former military man, a highly trained and gifted operative who has worked as a sniper or “fixer of problems”, among other things. Dempsey recognises some of the work on the botched assassination attempt as someone from his past, someone he definitely needs to take care of. Sarah Truman is an American journalist living and working in London and she alone holds a key piece of information that could blow a government cover up wide open. Her investigations lead her to Michael Devlin, a criminal barrister from Belfast, making both of them targets. They flee to Michael’s home town for both protection and information, uncovering the kind of conspiracy terrorist plot that could shock the world. And then there’s the enigmatic “Joshua”, a gun for hire who is held fast to his task by the one pulling all the strings.

Terrorism is not something anyone is unfamiliar with these days and it makes a great backdrop for this story although Tony Kent swerves away from the the more commonly portrayed scenarios of the Middle East or Russia. Instead he elects to use ‘The Troubles’ for his story, increasing the tensions again between England and Northern Ireland. It’s made for some aggression as England’s current Prime Minister is seen as ‘soft’ on the IRA-style terrorists, releasing prisoners and mediating, rather than taking a hard uncompromising line that England is not to be trifled with. It’s clear that England has sent a lot of military personnel to Northern Ireland and many have been lost. The event at the beginning of the book is to thank military servers for their sacrifice and emotions are running on high.

I enjoyed this book a lot – it’s very fast paced and at the beginning you wonder where it’s all going but it begins to tie all the threads together in a really compelling way. In the way of action novels, everyone is pretty much amazing – Joe Dempsey is one of the greatest soldiers that Britain has ever produced, matched only by his nemesis and it’s clear the two are heading for a showdown. Sarah is full of courage. She endures some truly physically and mentally exhausting and traumatising events in this book but manages to pull herself together each time and keep going. She’s motivated by the truth and the story and it’s lucky that she falls in with Michael Devlin, who is definitely more than just a barrister who happens to be from Belfast. Michael also has mad skills of course and even better than that, mad connections which enable him to not only acquire the information he seeks but also protection and security, helping keep both Sarah and him alive. The three of them are really entertaining characters with a good dynamic – Sarah and Michael work well together and Joe has the ability to put pieces of a cover up puzzle together at an alarmingly fast rate and insert himself into any situation anywhere in order to take control and help bring everything under order. The cat and mouse game between him and his nemesis/former mentor was really well done and it was sort of surprising to me that I liked that character, even though he was doing some horrible things.

I’m not sure if we’ll see any of these characters again – it could go either way. I’d be happy to read another book featuring any combination of the characters in this one but if not, there’s definitely enough here to give the reader an idea for how things may go in the future for most of the players. This is a super exciting action packed debut that details a lot of things incredibly well (politics, terrorist organisations, conspiracy theories, cover ups, military secrets to name just a few) and I’m definitely going to keep Tony Kent on my radar for the future.

8/10

Book #72 of 2018

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Review: Making Peace by Fiona McCallum

Making Peace
Fiona McCallum
Harlequin AUS
2018, 362p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Does one simple act of kindness have the power to completely turn someone’s life around?

It’s been a year since Hannah Ainsley lost her husband and parents – her whole family – in a car crash on Christmas morning. Despite her overwhelming loss, she’s worked hard to pull the pieces of her life together with the help of a group of dear, loyal friends. But while Hannah is beginning to become excited about the future again, she’s concerned that her best friend and talented artist Sam is facing a crisis of her own. It’s now Hannah’s turn to be Sam’s rock – can she save Sam’s dreams from unravelling?

When Hannah returns to work after her holidays, she can’t settle. She’s loved her job for a decade, and it’s been her lifeline during her grief. But something’s changed. She’s changed. And for all this time she’s avoided knowing the details of the accident or investigation – what would be the point, she’d thought, when nothing will bring her loved ones back? But after a chance meeting, it’s all there in front of her – and, like ripples in a pond, it extends beyond her own experiences. Could knowing be the key to her recovery? Could her involvement be the key to someone else’s?

This is the sequel to Finding Hannah but it could probably stand up well enough read alone in most ways. It’s been a year since the tragic incident that changed Hannah’s life – a year of grieving intensely and now it seems that Hannah is ready to put a foot forward and although she’ll never forget what happened to her or those she lost, her life must go on. She’s still very young (32 I think) and has a lot of opportunities ahead of her.

Hannah finds herself caught up in her best friend Sam’s crisis and I think she probably embraces the fact that now it gets to be her that is the strong one. Sam and some of Hannah’s other friends provided strong shoulders for Hannah to lean on during her tragedy and now she gets to repay that in a way, by being there for Sam and helping her out. Not only does Hannah be a sounding board for Sam and a support base but she’s also a motivator. Sam is a gifted artist but lacks confidence in her own work. Hannah and their other friend Jasmine get to really push Sam, trying to make her see her talent and embrace it, wield it with confidence. She could really make something of it, if only she could believe in herself and her abilities. But Sam’s self-esteem has taken a pretty severe beating and that seems to be leaking into all areas of her life so Hannah has to take it upon herself to step up for Sam and help encourage her and push her to live up to her potential.

One thing that really came through in this book for me was the whole “build your tribe” thing. It’s become a bit of a hashtag on social media etc but it’s an idea I’ve always liked. Hannah had some of her tribe taken from her but she still has some other real core members, such as Sam and Jasmine (the wife of her boss). In this book, Hannah finds more people and befriends them, building relationships with them and bringing them into her tribe. It creates a group of women who are unfailingly supportive of one another, who would drop anything when one of them needed something and who can always be counted on for a sympathetic ear (but also a bit of a kick in the pants when required) or a good catch up. Hannah has an incredibly forgiving nature, something which is expanded upon greatly in this book. She has a capacity to see the whole picture, even when it’s about something that altered her entire life and her generous heart is definitely a huge part of this story. It probably also greatly enhances her ability to be able to move forward and begin to heal, even as she’ll never forget. Hannah does occasionally feel a bit too forgiving….in ways where she gets a bit too involved with things that don’t really concern her…but it all seems to work out very well. This is a very positive book in that pretty much all of the interactions and events are beneficial and there are not any real conflicts or setbacks, other than the one that Sam experiences, which even though she is a victim of, it’s not really about her as such. It’s part of the other main component of this novel, which is the ripple effect.

I did struggle a little with Finding Hannah and the quietness of the story, I kept looking for more. But with this one I thought I was more aware of how the story would go so I didn’t have those expectations and I was able to enjoy this a lot more. It’s a journey of healing and friendship and creating your own destiny. Hannah is obviously a much more confident person in this book, time has helped her even though what occurred is always going to leave a permanent scar. It was good to see Hannah providing support for others and strengthening her circle of friends, creating her own family. The title of this book is very apt.

8/10

Book #69 of 2018

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Review: Miss Valentine’s Love Emporium by Louise Reynolds

Miss Valentine’s Love Emporium 
Louise Reynolds
Self-published
2018, 131p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

When jaded city divorce lawyer Ethan Taylor arrives in rural Carters Crossing to take his widowed grandmother to a Valentine’s Day gala, he meets free-spirited Lexie Valentine.

Whimsical, sweet and funny, she’s just the kind of impractical woman he doesn’t need in his life.
Lexie is hiding a pain that only her belief in the power of love can heal but to Ethan, love is the first misstep on the inevitable treadmill to his office and a date with the divorce courts.

But as the magic of Valentine’s Day starts to work its charms on Ethan, so does the intriguing Lexie. Can Ethan open his heart to love before it’s too late?

I’m actually reading this quite late – it’s the most perfectly little Valentine’s Day sort of novella but the fact that I read it almost two months later doesn’t change anything. This is a really sweet story, great for a quick read when you just want something that you know is going to be feel good.

Ethan Taylor is returning to the tiny town of Carter’s Crossing, where his grandmother lives in order to escort her to a gala he really knows nothing about. Ethan is a lawyer in the city, a divorce lawyer actually and he claims to have no time for Valentine’s Day – or love. He’s seen too many people sitting across the table from him, carving up their assets and severing their bonds. But on his way down the tiny main street, he spots Lexie Valentine in the window of what used to be the local Emporium. He stops to help her and Lexie is just the sort of va-va-voom that makes Ethan look twice. But when he learns a bit more about her, he finds himself becoming suspicious of just what she’s doing in Carter’s Crossing.

Lexie is a bright and vivacious young woman with a romantic streak a mile wide and a huge heart. She cares about everyone in Carter’s Crossing and the Valentine’s Day Gala is her way of thanking them for accepting her, taking her in, protecting her. Carter’s Crossing is like many rural towns in Australia (and probably the world) – in a way it’s slowly dying. As less and less people farm the land, families sell up and head for where there are jobs, opportunities. Half the shops on the main street are empty. But there’s still a very strong sense of community and that comes through very clearly. Especially when it’s made very clear why and how Lexie came to be in Carter’s Crossing.

At first glance Ethan and Lexie seem like opposites. Ethan seems like a slick city lawyer, a cynic to the core but prod around a little and there’s definitely a few chinks in that armour. And Lexie seems like a starry-eyed romantic dreamer but she has secrets and hidden depths too.

I really enjoyed this. Despite the fact that it’s quite short, the characters feel fully fleshed out and the town clearly portrayed. Most people have known a place like Carter’s Crossing at some stage in their lives – I know I have. Ethan and Lexie play off of each other so well, they have a real spark and their interactions are really fun. I loved the way so many people rallied around Lexie to support her Gala and also to support her when it was clear she needed it most. Including Ethan, who has only known her a very short amount of time.

I often struggle to connect with novellas and shorter stories because I always want more but this one left me feeling very satisfied.

8/10

Book #70 of 2018

 

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Review: The Secrets We Keep by Shirley Patton

The Secrets We Keep
Shirley Patton
Harlequin AUS
2018, 312p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A mother’s secret, a father’s betrayal, a town on the edge…

When social worker Aimee arrives in the mining town of Kalgoorlie, she is ready for a fresh start. Her colleagues Lori and Paddy seem friendly, and she is also drawn to one of her cases: the Steele family, whose future looks particularly bleak. But Aimee has a dark secret and as the past reaches out towards her once more, she realises that somehow her secret is connected to this unfamiliar but harshly beautiful town and its inhabitants.

As she strengthens her ties with the local community — especially with the vibrant Lori, stoical Kerry and wise Agnes — she finds herself questioning earlier decisions. Can she reveal her secret, even if it is not hers alone to share?

A compelling novel of the transcendental love of children and the truth’s unwillingness to stay hidden.

It was the setting that made me want to pick up this book. Kalgoorlie is not somewhere I come across too often and I realised after a couple of pages that it’s set during the 1980s which was an interesting time. Aimee has just arrived to take up a social worker position. She’s definitely running from something but the tight knit community embraces her and she finds herself making strong connections. Lori from her office becomes a great friend, inviting Aimee into her large and boisterous Italian family, making sure that Aimee always has someone to spend special days with. Aimee throws herself into her casework as well, becoming close to the Steele family – dad Paul, mother Kerry and daughter Amber. They will need a lot of help and support over the coming months and it will be up to Aimee to provide much of it.

In the big picture, the mid-1980s is not that long ago. But for some instances in this book, it feels much, much longer ago in history. It’s set around the beginning of things like environmental concern and mining regulation. The location also allows the author to explore the treatment of local Indigenous communities and the evolution of attitudes towards them and their rights. They have some passionate advocates in this novel, including Aimee herself as she is given clues about what is happening and why in one of the communities. Aimee tries to learn one of the local languages and communicate with the Indigenous population and takes the opportunities presented to visit some of the communities and learn as much as she can. I really enjoyed Aimee moving to take up the new job and getting herself settled in Kalgoorlie. She develops a good rapport with the Steele family which I thought was great and having the point of view of Kerry Steele gave the reader a lot more insight into their situation and what they were facing. It was a tragic position to be in, complicated by a secret that the Steeles also had that they didn’t really want to face but were given a bit of a timeline where they felt they had to. I also really enjoyed the strong friendship that developed between Aimee and her colleague Lori, who had lived her whole life in Kalgoorlie. Lori was from a somewhat traditional Italian family but she hadn’t gone that traditional route of getting married when she finished school and had children, like her sisters. Her family were big and loud and super fun and they added a lot of colour and character to the story each time Aimee was in their company.

As well as the narratives of Aimee and Kerry, we also get Aggie, an elderly lady who reads tea leaves. Although I liked Aggie and her close relationship with Jack, her next door neighbour (Jack, Aggie and Aggie’s late husband Frank had been friends for decades) I have to admit that the story surrounding the tea leaves wasn’t really my sort of thing. I could kind of get on board when it was just the tea leaves as a bit of….fun at a girls night type thing but then it goes quite a bit deeper with Agnes noticing that someone has the same gift she does and teaching them to harness it. It becomes quite a large part of the story and although I did enjoy the bond that built up between Agnes and the person she’d designated her successor, the actual fortune-telling/second sight/whatever you want to call it with spirit guides and chakras just isn’t something I’m particularly interested in or enjoy reading about. I ended up skimming some of those sections. Perhaps I’m too much of a cynic for that part of the storyline but I definitely found it hard to really sink into it.

I guessed part of Aimee’s dark secret quite early on, she alludes to it several times. As unpalatable as it is, it’s pretty clear what she is referring to and I definitely understood why she’d gone to Kalgoorlie and her motivations for being in such a remote place. What she has been through is very painful and traumatising and she makes reference several times throughout the book that she probably needs more help, or to talk to someone, in order to process it, especially when she realises that her time in Kalgoorlie has actually brought her closer to her secret, not further away, in some respects. Aimee was a very strong character, to come through all she had endured – it was her motivation for becoming a social worker and it was obvious she did everything she could for her cases, often probably going above and beyond. I enjoyed her journey in the Kalgoorlie, which was in some ways, quite bittersweet. The decision she made at the end of the novel felt the same way – truly a way forward but not without some pain.

An enjoyable read with a really interesting setting.

7/10

Book #68 of 2018

 

 

 

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Review: Those Other Women by Nicola Moriarty

Those Other Women
Nicola Moriarty
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 434p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Poppy’s world has tipped sideways. The husband who never wanted children has changed his mind. The trusted childhood best friend has betrayed her. And the new friend from work, Annalise, insists she need to let loose.

At least Annalise is on Poppy’s side – she has no interest in having kids either. After they create a private Facebook group dedicated to women like themselves who don’t have or want kids, the memberships soar, and Poppy feels like she’s in control again. Then things take a nasty turn. They have a mole – someone in their group isn’t who she says she is.

But Poppy and Annalise aren’t the only ones who are fed up. Their colleague, Frankie, is tired of being judged at every turn: by colleagues when she leaves early to pick up her kids, by stay-at-home mums when she can’t volunteer at school, and by her own children for missing events. Her frustrations are complicated by a secret she’s keeping, and she doesn’t know how much longer she can pretend everything is fine.

As the online hostility between parents and non-parents spills out into the real world, things begin to slide disastrously, dangerously out of control, exposing carefully concealed secrets and lies that will have a devastating effect on these three women’s lives.

It feels like as a mother, the judgement is never ending. Vaginal or Cesarean birth? Breast feeding or bottle? Going back to work or SAHM? Your child is too loud, too outgoing, too annoying, your child is too quiet, is there something wrong with them? It’s a cycle to get trapped in, well into your children becoming adults. It seems every choice you make will be scrutinised and judged – mostly by other mothers, but not always.

And then there’s the choice not to have children. That can bring about plenty of judgement. Prominent women who have chosen not to are constantly questioned on it – Julia Gillard is a prime example. In this book, Poppy and her friend Annalise don’t want children. Annoyed they’d be disqualified from joining a local Facebook group because of that choice, they create their own. Strictly for women who are not parents and do not want to be. That bit is important. This isn’t a group for people who are trying but just haven’t fallen pregnant yet, or who want to some day. It’s for women who have all made the same choice, for whatever reason, not to ever have children. It’s for discussing the best quiet cafes, or bars where there are no kids running around. For discussing the best way to dispatch nosy questions from family members or friends who want to know why they don’t want children. What starts as something to bring like minded people together somehow quickly escalates into something of a war with the women in the mothers group.

I think this book does a good job at looking at both sides of a choice and analysing how people can make snap judgements or get the complete wrong idea from just a snapshot in time, a comment, etc. Poppy and Annalise dislike questions on why they don’t want children and feel judged by others for not wanting them – the slight look of pity, the ‘you might change your mind one day’ condescending remarks, etc. But that does not exclude them from making plenty of snap judgements themselves. The way in which they look at women who work in the same company as they do, but who have children, was very eye opening. They are constantly rolling their eyes, making snide remarks or taking bets on who will ask for time off in order to attend family commitments. Both of them look at a situation at work, make an assumption and then treat that person accordingly. They tend to paint all the mothers in the other group (possibly even in Sydney) with the same brush – women who take their little chaos-wreaking darlings everywhere without a care or thought for anyone else, sitting idly back while their children run wild, destroy cafes and restaurants and ruin people’s day.

As a mother of school aged children, I tend to only socialise with other mothers – it’s who I know. Women roughly the same age as me with kids roughly the same age as mine. Everyone in my family has kids, almost everyone in my husband’s large (Italian Catholic) family has kids. I don’t have many childless friends and if they are childless then I haven’t actually asked them why because I never feel like that’s something I should ask (and after reading this book, I’m so glad I haven’t). Some are women who are older than me who will never have children but whether that’s by fate or choice, I don’t know. I have a few childless acquaintances on facebook but not the sort of people I would catch up with in person. When I do meet with friends, it’s kid-friendly places – parks, cafes with playgrounds, etc. Something for everyone so that if I sit and have coffee or a chat, the kids are occupied. I try to avoid fancy places and would never take my kids to a bar. Because of this I don’t really have to think of the logistics of meeting people who don’t have kids and what they feel is an ideal catch up versus what I feel is necessary so this was a really interesting part of the story for me. I also don’t have many options in the way of care for my kids – my family live interstate, my husband’s family are 1.5 hours drive away, not exactly convenient for a quick few hours of babysitting. So if I can’t take my kids somewhere and my husband has to work, I don’t go. It’s a part of life with having kids and I can understand that for someone who doesn’t have children, a friend who is constantly rescheduling or cancelling on you can be irritating and leaving them feeling like that person isn’t really interested in meeting up. On the flip side, those without kids often don’t realise the sort of organisation that comes with kids – when they’re little it’s feeding and sleep schedules and when they’re older it’s sporting commitments, therapy appointments, etc. You can’t just go and do something on the spur of the moment very often.

In this book several of the women are forced to confront some of their prejudices and some of the judgements they’ve made about other people, especially wrong ones. It actually plays out in a really clever way and Moriarty works in an underlying message of trying to let it go, not let the choices of others be something to criticise or feel defensive about your own choices. For both sides to accept each other and try to foster conversation and support for all women, not just between those who have kids or those that don’t.

I found this really compelling – absolutely did not predict some of the things that happened and I really liked the way everything was told, with Poppy, Annalise and then bringing in Frankie, a character that the reader had only seen through Poppy and Annalise’s eyes. It really worked in terms of showing the reader how easily things can be misconstrued and how that can result in people getting it wrong and then acting on those wrong assumptions. Frankie was actually for me, probably the most interesting character in the book, once it got into examining her work and home life.  I think that this is definitely one of those books that is like a ‘break out’ book for the author. Unputdownable!

9/10

Book #66 of 2018

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Review: The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart
Holly Ringland
Fourth Estate
2018, 373p
Copy courtesy Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength.

After her family suffers a tragedy when she is nine years old, Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her estranged grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. But Alice also learns that there are secrets within secrets about her past. Under the watchful eye of June and The Flowers, women who run the farm, Alice grows up. But an unexpected betrayal sends her reeling, and she flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. Alice thinks she has found solace, until she falls in love with Dylan, a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story about stories: those we inherit, those we select to define us, and those we decide to hide. It is a novel about the secrets we keep and how they haunt us, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. Spanning twenty years, set between the lush sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, Alice must go on a journey to discover that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.

What a stunning book this is.

And I mean that in two ways. The first is visually – it has one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen in a long time. Those gorgeous Australian native flowers look amazing on that black. Some of my favourites are there too and it just makes you want to pick it up and touch it. And then when you start reading it’s even better.

Alice is a young girl at the beginning of the book, living with her mother and father in an isolated coastal house. Her mother finds solace in her garden. Alice’s innocent eyes paint a picture of her upbringing – she’s homeschooled, forbidden to leave the property and frequently the house seethes with the tension of her father’s anger. But there’s also her mother, who provides Alice with as much as she can given her own situation. When everything changes for Alice, her paternal grandmother comes for her, a woman that Alice has never even met. Grieving, shattered and traumatised, Alice goes to live on a native flower farm owned by her grandmother which provides refuge for women. Gradually she begins to learn her heritage and the language of flowers, something that has been passed down throughout the generations of females on her father’s side.

This is such a wonderful, engrossing story. I was struck from the very beginning what an old soul Alice appeared to be in the beginning of the book when she’s just a young child. She’s lived a very difficult life, the whole household subject to the whims and rages of her father, a seemingly bitter man who can’t control his temper. When Alice goes to live with her grandmother, we learn the stories of the women of the family, from her grandmother’s own grandmother onward through the generations to Alice. It’s amazing how often certain things were repeated throughout most, if not all, of the generations and how the women had to come to rely on other women in various ways with Alice’s grandmother going as far as to provide a safe place for those that had needed it.

The book follows Alice into adulthood as she travels to the red centre of Australia, an entirely different landscape and it seems that Alice is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past as a powerful relationship takes a sinister turn. There’s a cycle in this book and you can see Alice seems powerless to escape it and you can’t do anything to stop her. This is such a compelling story, Alice’s narrative brings about a myriad of emotions – sadness and pity for that little girl, hope that she might be able to heal and find her own path, confidence in her ability to take care of herself, trepidation over some of her choices. I loved reading about the national park Alice came to work in and the respect to traditional cultures that was woven into the job and the book. You get the feeling that Alice was always going to be unable to escape the cycle until she knew the stories, something that her grandmother June had been reluctant to talk about. It’s understandable why she didn’t want to, especially when Alice was younger and had plenty to deal with already but when Alice was older, there should’ve been a few honest conversations. June obviously couldn’t bring herself to do that, despite her promises.

This is one of my favourite books of the year. It’s beautifully written, a tragic and yet somehow still uplifting story that keeps you turning the pages in the hope that Alice will find her place, her balance. The stories from the past just invite you to sink right into them and the flowers encircle everything, tying it all together. No matter the landscape, be it Alice’s childhood home close to the sea, June’s flower farm or the middle of Australia, Holly Ringland brings it all vividly alive. Her characters are incredible, every one of them and I’m not sure I could’ve wanted anything more from this book.

Put Holly Ringland on the auto buy list for the future.

10/10

Book #62 of 2018

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Review: The Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton

The Love Coupon (Stubborn Hearts #2)
Ainslie Paton
Carina Press
2018, eBook
Copy courtesy of the author/publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

How many coupons does it take to fall in love?

Flick Dalgetty knows what she wants and how to get it, which is why she’s about to start her dream job in Washington. Until then, she needs somewhere to crash, and Tom O’Connell’s place is her sole option. He’s a repressed, antisocial ogre…but man can he kiss.

For Tom, being around Flick is like being too close to the sun. Her untamed energy is overwhelming, and he’d spontaneously combust if he had to live with her long-term. Housemates with benefits—and an expiration date—suits him just fine.

Then Flick gives Tom thirty coupons, each entitling him to one obligation-free activity, from bowling and bubble-bathing to morning delight, removing all the guesswork from being incompatible partners and shifting their fling into high gear.

Now the problem is their arrangement is drawing to a close, and they might be falling in love—and there wasn’t a coupon for that.

I was a pretty big fan of the first novel in this series, The Love Experiment so I was pretty keen to read this, especially because the blurb contains two of my favourite words in a hero: repressed, antisocial. I don’t know what it is but sign me up for an uptight type, especially when the female love interest is a more forward personality. I just really enjoy reading that dynamic. It’s much more interesting to me than the manwhore/virginal female pairing.

Tom’s room mate moved out when he took a job overseas and although Tom knows he needs a new one in order to have the level of financial comfort he prefers, he definitely does not want Felicity ‘Flick’ Dalgetty as his room mate. She’s chaos and Tom is organised, clean and tidy. He doesn’t like mess and Flick is sure to be a whirlwind tearing through his apartment. But she does only need a room for three months before she takes a job interstate and eventually she wears him down.

At first their interactions are minimal – Flick leaves early and is generally in her room when Tom returns from work. But eventually their paths start crossing a little more often. Tom offers to share his cooked meals with her and they share conversations which lead to a kiss. I really liked the chemistry between the two of them. Flick has a great, refreshing attitude towards a fling and she’s very confident in herself, which was fantastic. Tom often has doubts (although I think his reasons are fine) and he at times attempts to retreat a bit, perhaps a bit afraid of truly being able to let go. This book takes time to explore both Tom and Flick’s backgrounds in a really in depth manner and you can see how where they’ve come from has shaped their interactions with others. Flick’s relationship with her family I found really interesting – and also a bit puzzling. In some ways I understand why she continues to do what she does but to be honest the majority of my thoughts were wondering why she even bothered. There’s only so much someone should be expected to endure before making decisions for their own good.

Tom and Flick bounce off each other really well and although they both sometimes touch a nerve with their frank questions, they’re very equal. I really liked the idea of the coupons and how fun Flick made some of them, as well as sexy. I got the feeling Tom lived a very ordered life, did the same things every day and Flick was definitely more about having fun, being spontaneous and even though the coupons mean things are decided in advance, Tom can redeem any one he chooses and a lot of them are fun and sort of casual so it pushes him to do things he wouldn’t normally do and open himself up to new experiences, both in bed and out. The coupons were such a cool idea and added so much to the story, I only wish they’d been introduced a little earlier as it’s quite far into the book when they appear. Most of them do get described but I do wish it could’ve been in greater detail and time spent on all of them as they are quite an important part of Flick and Tom’s growing relationship.

From the very beginning it’s clear that this is just supposed to be a fling, because Flick is leaving in three months to go to a new job interstate and Tom has a plan, which results in him being promoted sooner rather than later. This is a romance novel so you know it’s going to end differently to that but I loved the fact that I couldn’t pick how it was going to go. Both Tom and Flick had careers that were very important to them and Tom was on the property ladder and was very focused on his future and how he wanted things to go. The chemistry between them was so strong both sexually and emotionally that I was incredibly invested in the outcome. Both of them compliment the other in lots of ways – Tom takes care of Flick in a way that she hasn’t really experienced. Not a “boyfriend protecting the little woman way” but in a more nurturing, feeding her and providing stability sort of way. And Flick encourages Tom to live a little, explore his feelings, indulge. Relax the rules, enjoy things. There’s a balance there and it works, although small things can tip that balance out and result in struggle.

I loved this….perfect blend of characters that for me were both likeable and interesting. Their journey was a fun one to go on and I’m looking forward to the next in this series.

8/10

Book #61 of 2018

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Review: Inked by Anne Marsh

Inked (Hard Riders MC#2)
Anne Marsh
Harlequin DARE
2018, 168p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bankers and bad boys don’t mix

So why is she getting under his skin?

Harper, a buttoned-up banker, is a tattoo virgin before Vik draws her first ink. And once the bad-boy biker lays his hands on the beautiful canvas of her body, he’s addicted! Harper says the two of them could never mix outside of the bedroom—but she’s finding that she wants the feeling of Vik’s touch to last forever.

I read this on a whim and didn’t realise it was the second in a series until after I finished it but it didn’t matter. The books will all centre around different characters in the same motorcycle club and although the hero from the first book does appear a couple times in this one, it doesn’t talk much around his story and you can easily read this first without spoiling anything.

Harper is a banker who caught her boyfriend cheating and has now decided on a whim to get a tattoo and so she strolls into the shop where Vik works. They’ve actually met before…..but Vik doesn’t remember her however he’s pretty interested in her now. Harper doesn’t know what she wants to get tattooed on her so she lets Vik choose and so he designs something that he thinks fits her and where she’s at in her life.

From there they segue into a sort of friends with benefits arrangement (read: booty calls) where they talk about a lot how neither of them want commitment. Harper just wants to live a little after the souring of her previous relationship and although Vik’s father wants him to find a good woman and settle down, Vik’s motto seems to be ‘here for a good time, not a long time’ and he’ll just take as many women as he can find, thanks. Although once he meets Harper, that kind of dries up.

This was….okay I guess? Nothing ground breaking. Vik is annoyingly smirky and cocky and he’s more playboy than aloof biker. It annoys me when people go and get tattoos without even knowing what they want though. You’re inking something permanently onto your skin and you can’t even be bothered to choose what it is? Also this tattoo seems elaborate but is completed in one session and there’s no aftercare and the next time Harper even looks at it , it’s perfectly healed. Magic.

I wanted to explore the fact that they’d already ‘known’ each other (and I do meant that in every sense) but it’s kind of glossed over? Harper remembers it quite well but Vik has zero memory of it whatsoever and she makes no real attempt to enlighten him as to when/where it was and it’s basically never mentioned again. She doesn’t seem particularly insulted that he doesn’t even remember her and Vik is keen to make amends by making it up to her. It’s fine, pretty standard, I never really felt like they had much chemistry though. Vik doesn’t really come across as very deep – I think the relationship with his father and the way his father was urging him to settle down was an attempt to show the man behind the MC but it didn’t really do much. I did like that he took care of his father but I was a little confused about whether their lifestyle was 100% legit these days.

Harper was fine, a bit bland. She’s some sort of investment banker or something who manages other people’s money (and does it very well, which was good to see). Her break up happens before the book starts and there’s no real interaction with her ex – I thought there might be something for closure but it doesn’t happen. Just a scene where she tries to steal her cat back which goes a bit awry.

Harper and Vik spend most of the book assuring themselves that they’re not in a relationship and it’s just this or that with no strings attached but it’s pretty obvious that it’s not just this or that and that there are some strings attached. It takes Vik a ridiculously long amount of time to figure out what’s going on and he was just so annoyingly stubborn about it for no good reason that it got a bit tedious towards the end. Perhaps because this is really short and although they do spend time together out of bed, it’s not much so it did feel a bit of a stretch that there were these powerful feelings already. Especially for two people who hadn’t wanted anything more and in Vik’s case, didn’t really seem to have had many, if any, proper relationships. Could’ve probably done with a bit more fleshing out.

The character from the story before this piqued my interest and I thought about going to check that book out and I might do that but it’s only a novella like this one and from the same category. I’ve read two DARE novels now and I don’t think they’re for me. Whilst it’s a very quick and easy read, it’s a bit bland and for me there was nothing that stood out about it character or story wise unfortunately.

4/10

Book #60 of 2018

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Review: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman

I Have Lost My Way
Gayle Forman
Simon & Schuster AUS
2018, 258p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Around the time that Freya loses her voice while recording her debut album, Harun is making plans to run away from everyone he has ever loved, and Nathaniel is arriving in New York City with a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose.

When a fateful accident draws these three strangers together, their secrets start to unravel as they begin to understand that the way out of their own loss might just lie in help­ing the others out of theirs.

Freya is a teenager who found fame singing with her sister on YouTube. Her mother studied trends – what got the latest hits, what posting times were the best and carefully carved out a successful schedule. All her hard work has paid off and the sisters drew the interest of a professional, someone who is going to take Freya to megastar status. It’s what he does. Freya is laying down tracks for her first album when she suddenly loses her voice and the doctors have no answers.

Harun is from a Pakistani-American family with strict religious and cultural beliefs. He knows he doesn’t fit in and that if his family ever found out his secret he’d probably be disowned. His cousin thinks he has the perfect answer for Harun, something that will make his family proud of him. But Harun’s heart is broken and he can’t go through with the plan to become someone else.

And then there’s Nathaniel, who is experiencing New York for the first time. He’s travelling light and he doesn’t really know the city but Nathaniel is only here for one thing. He’s got the information he needs, that’s all that matters. Until his plans get derailed when he meets Freya and Harun in a freak moment that changes all three of their lives forever.

I really like Gayle Forman – If I Stay and Where She Went are two of my favourite books of all time, although not the sort I can re-read over and over. They just mess with my emotions too much! I also like Just One Day and Just One Year but not as much as her other two but she will always be an autoread for me because of those two novels I love so much.

I absolutely adored all the characters in this book – Freya is funny and feisty. She’s half Ethiopian and connected with her father as a young child, singing with him. She and her sister formed a duo for a while but now it’s Freya on her own and she’s estranged from her sister. I loved the devotion to her heritage and how Freya is connected to that side of herself and it’s important to her, even as it’s also a source of pain for her. She’s supposed to be recording a much anticipated debut album, having built herself a strong following on social media and YouTube but she’s frozen, having lost her voice. No one has any answers for her.

The diversity is strong is this novel, as not only is Freya half Ethiopian half Jewish but Harun comes from a Pakistani-American family. His family are close knit but traditional so Harun does not feel that he can truly confide in them and be his true self even though he wants to. He found happiness and then lost it and sees a future he cannot cope with stretched out in front of him. At one stage in the novel, the three of them end back at Harun’s for a big dinner and Freya connects with the food, as some of the spices and seasonings are similar to what she recognises in Ethiopian food. She doesn’t know how to make Ethiopian food herself but Harun’s mother offers to teach her how to make her food so that she can experience those familiar flavours and it’s such a lovely moment. Two people from different cultures connecting over shared aspects, even though they’ve only just met. And Harun’s mother offering to help her continue to experience that. And poor Nathaniel, not quite able to handle the heat in some of the spicier dishes, which was hilarious. And that’s how I’d be, or worse because I have the lowest tolerance for hot and spicy food in the history of the world.

Which brings me to Nathaniel actually, who my heart broke for repeatedly throughout this novel. The novel begins with the three teens meeting by accident in Central Park and then flashes back for each of them, showing the moments in their lives that led to them being in the Park at that particular time. With every flashback into Nathaniel’s life I felt for him more. His childhood is only touched on in brief moments but the way in which Gayle Forman paints these moments allows to read to imagine his years growing up themselves and it’s obvious just what a mental toll it has taken on Nathaniel and how he hasn’t really come to terms with what he’s had to deal with and the abandonment and also responsibility. He’s struggling and it’s up to two people that he just met today in order to shine a light.

Because this novel takes place over a day, which is something that Gayle Forman has done before, it’s possible it could feel rushed or unbelievable, that these three people would connect so strongly despite being so different. But it’s not the case. It works surprisingly well in this book. Freya, Harun and Nathaniel meet in such bizarre circumstances and all three of them are at a time in their lives where they’re struggling with something or other that they all seem to just connect and share things about themselves with these virtual strangers that they can’t seem to share with the others in their lives. Harun in particular. I was a bit skeptical when they first meet but their sticking together evolves so naturally that it just felt like something that should happen. They could’ve parted ways quite soon after meeting but one thing leads to another and soon they’re sharing meals, blowing up families, confiding secrets and trying to save each other from terrible fates. They care about each other and each other’s individual predicaments – Harun and Nathaniel want to help Freya find her freedom to sing again, Nathaniel and Freya want to help Harun be accepted and Harun and Freya want to help Nathaniel see that there’s more. It’s beautifully and believably written and I just wanted them all to be friends forever.

8/10

Book #59 of 2018

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