All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Missing, Presumed Dead (Audiobook) by Mark Tedeschi QC

Missing, Presumed Dead: The double murder case that shocked Australia
Mark Tedeschi QC
Simon & Schuster AU Audio
2022, 9hrs, 47min
Personal purchased copy via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: It was the double murder case that gripped Australia, and former Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC is finally able to share all the shocking details.

Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan were both happy, healthy, affluent, middle-class women from conservative, loving families.

Such women are hardly ever among the ranks of the missing. They were not hitchhikers, or associates of drug dealers, or unhappy with their family relationships, or suffering from mental health issues. Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan came from different parts of Sydney, mixed in quite different circles, and led completely different lives. They had never met each other, and if they had, they would have had little in common. In fact, Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan had one thing in common – they both knew Bruce Allan Burrell.

The disappearance without trace of these two women caused massive police investigations and resulted in sensational trials that gripped the nation of Australia. This book explores the intricacies of those investigations and delves into the twisted, tortuous processes of the legal proceedings, while exploring the dark recesses of the mind of Bruce Burrell.

I’d very much doubt that there’s a person of adult age in the early to mid 2000s in Australia that doesn’t recall these two murders, both of which were prosecuted without police ever finding the bodies. I remember both these cases particularly well for quite a few reasons, one of which being my family had a pretty personal connection to one of the victims and their family.

Both women that disappeared were wealthy, happy, well adjusted women – one an elderly widower but still living a very active life and with quite a large investment portfolio, the other a wife and mother, married to a very wealthy man which enabled her to also live a certain sort of lifestyle. Both disappeared, one without a trace and one in an orchestrated kidnapping where there was a ransom note issued. No traces of either woman have ever been found and the man convicted of both their murders, Bruce Burrell, died some six years ago of cancer without ever having given up even the slightest shred of information.

This book is written by the Crown Prosecutor in both trials against Bruce Burrell, one for the kidnap and murder of Kerry Whelan and the other for the murder of Dorothy Davis. It’s a pretty deep dive into not just the circumstances surrounding both disappearances but also the trials themselves – mostly the trial for Kerry Whelan, which takes up a considerable chunk of the book and includes large parts of the opening address, evidence presentation and closing address. As I mentioned, I’m pretty familiar with this case and I’ve watched a couple documentaries on it too but this still included stuff I didn’t know before (especially about the elderly man that disappeared without a trace). It’s very methodical and precise, as you would expect something that is written by a prosecutor to be, taking you step by step through each disappearance, the ways in which police investigated and came to the conclusion Bruce Burrell was responsible, the ways in which they pursued him and then how they got both cases to trial, without any bodies. Or without any actual direct evidence – it was all circumstantial but they had quite a lot of it and when put together, it made a pretty convincing case.

This was very thorough and it was incredibly easy listening – I actually got through it in 2 days which is excellent for me with an audiobook that is almost 10 hours long. I find non-fiction much easier to listen to and this was something I was already incredibly interested in and I found the more it dug deeper, the more interesting it became. The little things that never got out or weren’t made much of in the press because they weren’t that important in the scheme of things when two people have been murdered for such awful reasons. Not that there is really many good reasons to murder someone, but killing a little old lady because she wanted her $100k back that she loaned you and the wife of your former boss because he’s rich and you’re not and you were crap at your job and he fired you SEVEN YEARS AGO are indications of such a gross entitlement to what other people had that it’s actually hard to find the words to describe how heinous it is.

The only negative is that this book sometimes gets quite repetitive – quite a lot of statements are repeated multiple times, verbatim, throughout the book which maybe I might not have picked up on so much reading but when listening, became very obvious. Certain things and events and conversations are also rehashed multiple times as well. It just became quite noticeable and I don’t think that this is a particularly long book either. Perhaps the reiteration was deliberate to emphasise some things but it more just felt like ‘I’ve heard this before, why am I hearing it again?’. That was really my only quibble in reading this, those bits really stuck out and maybe that’s how it is in a trial, things getting repeated to you constantly so that it sinks in and this does include a lot of the addresses to the jury. I’ve never been a juror in any sort of case, let alone one with this type of notoriety. That is a pretty minor thing though and I still recommend this if you’re interested in a really deep dive into a case, how it’s done from beginning to end, especially in the circumstance of there being no body.

7/10

Book #146 of 2022

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Review: The Widow Of Walcha (Audiobook) by Emma Partridge

The Widow Of Walcha
Emma Partridge
Narrated by Jo Van Es
Simon & Schuster
2022, 12hrs 20min
Purchased personal copy via Audible

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The Widow of Walcha is a shocking true story about death, love and lies in the small NSW town of Walcha.

All farmer Mathew Dunbar ever wanted was to find love and have a family of his own. That’s why, just months after meeting Natasha Darcy, the much-loved grazier didn’t hesitate to sign over his multi-million-dollar estate to her.

When Mathew died in an apparent suicide soon afterwards, in a stranger-than-fiction twist, Natasha’s estranged husband – who she was once charged with trying to kill – was the first paramedic on the scene after the murder.

Journalist and author Emma Partridge travelled to the cool and misty town of Walcha in the Northern Tablelands of NSW in the months after Mathew Dunbar’s death, drawn by the town’s collective worry that Natasha was going to get away with murder. Partridge spent months researching the case, interviewing Mathew’s friends, family and Natasha herself in an attempt to uncover her sickening web of lies and crimes.

The Widow of Walcha is about one of the most extraordinary criminal trials in Australia’s history and reveals Natasha’s sickening crimes against those she claimed to love, fuelled by her obsession with money.

This was wild.

Audible recently lured me back (I swapped my Audible sub for a Kindle Unlimited sub late last year I think) by offering me 2 months with the first one being free and the 2nd for 0.99c. My favourite thing to listen to on audio is non-fiction and as soon as I saw this book, I knew it had to be the first one I’d get. I remember this case really well, mostly because I grew up a few hours east of Walcha and had one memorable trip there when I was 18, with 2 of my close friends, where we stopped there for lunch on our way to Armidale to check out the University of New England as a study prospect. One of the friends I was with ended up getting her degree there but the other one and I opted for other choices. Hearing Walcha make the news in this way was incredibly jarring and I kept an eye on the case the whole way through.

But this is just…..so much more than I remember reading about in the newspapers at the time of Matthew Dunbar’s death and also the trial of his partner, Natasha Darcy. Honestly, the deeper you get into this story the weirder it is and the more you wonder how the absolute heck Natasha didn’t get a longer jail sentence prior to seizing the opportunity with Matthew Dunbar, a comfortably wealthy grazier, owner of a large property by the name of ‘Pandora’. By all accounts, Matthew was shy and not successful in relationships although he longed for a family of his own, his father having died and left him the property and him being estranged from his mother. Natasha, with her three children, provided an instant solution to his longing and at first, all was well. But Natasha’s spending and mood swings soon made Matthew unhappy – and when he was found dead in his home (let’s not even get into the fact that the first responder was Natasha’s “sort of estranged” husband, the first man she attempted to dispatch), Natasha said that he’d been depressed and suffering. Had tried to kill himself before.

Not everyone was convinced.

What follows is just…..an incredible story. A woman who had already tried to kill one partner. Had fleeced another of his credit card and gone on a shopping spree, spending thousands. Had already had two previous stints in jail. What she said from one person to another could be the opposite. And when, later on, when Natasha was charged with the murder of Matthew Dunbar and faced trial, the crown prosecutor spent multiple hours reading out all the incriminating searches on her mobile phone: things about getting away with murder, making it look like a suicide, how to poison someone without detection, and laughably, after police visited her after Matthew’s death and indicated they’d like to see her phone, ‘can police see search history’. The answer to that Natasha, is yes. Yes, they can. And they did.

This is just such an example of how someone saw opportunity and exploited a lonely man who wanted something that it looked like she could provide. And the thing is, she could’ve had a very comfortable life with Matthew. By all reports he was a nice, generous, hardworking man with a beautiful, successful property who seemed determined to give her what he could. But she wasn’t interested in that. Quite a short time after becoming involved, she convinced Matthew to make her the sole heir to Pandora, should anything happen to him. During their relationship, she spent indiscriminately, so much so that Matthew, for the first time in his life, was suffering financial stress and wondering how he might continue to pay his bills. You got the feeling that part of her plan was for Matthew to actually take his own life and if that failed, then her plan to make it look like a suicide would be enacted.

Emma Partridge (originally a crime reporter for a NSW newspaper, who switched to reporter for TV station Channel 9 sometime during the evolution of this story) has done an amazing job here, travelling to Walcha and speaking to so many people, fleshing out history, trying to track down people from Natasha’s past and sort the truth from the lies. In fact, I listened to this in two days – it’s over 12 hours long, so that should tell you just how invested I was. With every new reveal came a new level of incredulity that Natasha was actually still walking around in society. Thankfully, now she is not.

Excellent. Highly, highly recommended.

9/10

Book #131 of 2022

As an aside: this is narrated by Jo Van Es, who as soon as I heard her start talking, I recognised as the narrator for the Australian version of the TV show “Gogglebox”. She does an absolutely fantastic job.

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Review: The Midnight Library (audiobook) by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library
Matt Haig
Narrated by Carey Mulligan
Penguin Audio
2020, 9hrs 9m
Free monthly book via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

I have heard quite a lot about this book since it was released. It seems to be quite divisive – people either love it, or they really really do not. It was a free Audible book one month last year not long before I cancelled my subscription I think so I’ve had it sitting in my library for a little while. Having listened to a David Attenborough audiobook recently, I have found that my enthusiasm for them has increased again and I picked this one from the un-listened to books in my Audible library to try.

Nora is mid-30s and is not having a good time of it. She loses her job, is estranged from her brother, cancelled her wedding mere days before it was due to take place, lost her dad as a teen and her mother died after an illness several years ago. When her cat dies, it’s kind of the last straw for her. So much has happened and Nora finds herself completely overwhelmed with sadness and despair and makes the decision that she doesn’t want to live anymore. Instead she finds herself in the Midnight Library, filled with books and every one of those books, is an opportunity. A chance for her to live a different life, based on one thing she might’ve done differently. Not cancelled her wedding, for example. Or given up swimming as a teenager when she was predicted to be an Olympics prospect.

I think we can all relate to this a little. I’m sure everyone out there has had the thought of “what might my life have been like, if I didn’t do X or if I’d done Y instead”. I know I have many times. Every decision we make alters the path of our life just a little and the chance to see what might have happened if we changed some decisions, is fascinating. The idea is that if Nora finds the perfect life, a life she desperately wants, she needs only think that and it will be so. But if she finds herself disappointed in the life she is “trying”, she will fade out of it, back to the Midnight Library to try again.

I actually really enjoyed this. I felt really sorry for Nora in the opening scenes, where she relates some of the things that have recently happened and the learning of the death of her cat. For her, it’s the last straw in just, a lot of things. For Nora, I think that the death of Volts, her cat, is the thing that makes her realise that if she were to disappear, not exist anymore, who would care? Who would notice? Her family is gone or she is estranged from them. She’s lost her job. She has no partner, her best friend is half a world away and they don’t really talk anymore. Volts was the creature that depended on her for his existence and now that he is gone…..what is there for her?

Nora tries many lives, she becomes many things. She experiences heady success in several different fields, she has marriages (some of which are happy, others that are seemingly not). She lives lives where she helps others try and realise their dreams. And in each life, she finds that her choices still have impacts. Nothing is perfect. She can’t seem to find that perfect life and there are several slight…flaws in this plot, which means that it is going to be very difficult for Nora to find one in this manner. Firstly she drops into the life with no prior knowledge of it after she made the choice that led to it, so she is in some circumstances, married to a man she doesn’t know or has a child she’s never seen before. It’s very difficult to embrace a life you partially don’t remember. And also, disappointment is a part of life. You can experience dissatisfaction or disappointment at times in your life and it’s still an amazing life. BUT this kind of exists for a reason within the story, helping Nora to see what life is really for her, I guess.

Are the messages sometimes a little heavy handed? Yes, probably. In order to “leave” the Midnight Library, Nora has to realise something and realise it before something else happens in her “original life” her root life, I think the book refers to it as. And at times it does feel like it hammers home a few things with the subtlety of a sledgehammer but to be honest, it didn’t really bother me. The way that Nora is in the book, she needs to have these things repeated, she has to understand things about her root life and what it means if it never happened.

I found this really easy to listen to although the narrator is a little bit flat at times in a way. It’s a book with quite a lot of emotion (it made me cry in the very early part of it) and despair and at times I felt that was reflected but the further I got in the book, the less I noticed it/heard it. And maybe that was my reaction to it too, but it did feel a bit monotone at times. But apart from that (and also the way the narrator pronounced grasshopper when doing an Australian accent) I really enjoyed the audio experience.

This was a lovely book to read, I enjoyed Nora’s journey learning a lot of things about herself and choices and does the perfect life even exist? And if it does, is it the life we want? I’d definitely like to read some more Matt Haig.

8/10

Book #55 of 2022

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Review: David Attenborough: The Early Years (Audiobook) by David Attenborough

David Attenborough: The Early Years Collection
David Attenborough
Narrated by David Attenborough
2017, 10hrs 9min
Purchased personal copy via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher}: David Attenborough, Britain’s voice of natural history, narrates his early adventures in Indonesia, New Guinea and Northern Australia. 

David Attenborough first appeared in front of a television camera in the 1950s when, together with London Zoo’s Curator of Reptiles, Jack Lester, he persuaded the BBC to mount and film an animal-collecting expedition. The result was Zoo Quest. Specially recorded for audio, David Attenborough’s early adventures are sometimes life-threatening, often hilarious and always totally absorbing. The warmth and enthusiasm that have made him a broadcasting legend are instantly apparent here as he recounts this magical journey. 

This collection includes three volumes from Attenborough’s chronicles of his early expeditions: 

In Zoo Quest for a Dragon, Attenborough tells of the crew’s hazardous boat trip with a gun-smuggling captain and the terror of erupting volcanoes. He also depicts for the listener some of the incredible sights he and his team witnessed – breathtaking butterflies, taking tea with Charlie the orangutan and the voyage to the little-known island of Komodo to capture the elusive Komodo dragon. 

Quest in Paradise describes his next animal collecting and filming trip to New Guinea, home of the exotic birds of paradise. David tells of his adventures during the trip: being an onlooker at a formal lovemaking ceremony, seeing the skills of ritual ax making, trying to master pidgin English and witnessing a ‘sing sing’ at which hundreds of tribesmen came together from all parts of the country. 

In Quest Under Capricorn, David Attenborough ventures to the Northern Territory of Australia. In his first expedition to the other side of the world, he meets Aborigines, goes walkabout in the bush, and learns the craft of the artists of Arnhem Land. 

Also included is David Attenborough in His Own Words, a collection of interviews taken from the BBC radio and TV archives. 

I feel like when I can’t decide what to listen to on audio and my credits are piling up – when in doubt, just go with a David Attenborough. He narrates all his books and I just find him so incredibly soothing to listen to. His voice has long been a huge part of the reason I find his documentaries so engaging and listening on audio without the images of what he’s talking about holds my attention just as well.

This is an account of some of Attenborough’s earliest expeditions – the first one was to Africa and isn’t covered here so I feel it probably is elsewhere and I’ll have to look for that one. It was a roaring success and enabled Attenborough to convince his employers at The BBC to fund another expedition, this time to Indonesia in search of the Komodo dragon. Because it’s also the 1950s, expeditions like this were how zoos got their exhibits and Attenborough and his crew are also charged with the capture of species to bring them back. Obviously this is not the done way anymore (and this is acknowledged in the recordings) but it does make for very interesting stories when Attenborough recounts things like being given a days old baby bear and having to teach it how to feed. Not long later, someone brings them a young orang-utan and Attenborough spends a lot of time with it as well. In further travels to New Guinea, someone gives him a blue-eyed sulphur-crested cockatoo which he becomes so fond of that despite the fact London Zoo would desire it, Attenborough elects to keep it himself. The third journey talked about in this audiobook is to the Northern Territory in Australia, to visit and film the wildlife of Kakadu.

Although this was recorded in 2017, Attenborough has chosen to read them as he originally wrote them, in the 1950s and early 60s. Because of that, there are probably a few terms or descriptions used that aren’t common now but what struck me was how much Attenborough’s attitude to native peoples was so well established that long ago and how he was thinking then, are the ways people are thinking now. This is particularly true in the Australia expedition where he talks about how white Australians have tried to tame the Northern Territory, trying to farm it or plant it and how they’ve largely failed and the only people who can live in this arid expanse without assistance, are our native Indigenous Australians and how they worship and respect the land, which was probably not an overly popular opinion. I also did not know that during this time, there was a very large population of introduced buffalo in the Northern Territory which have now been removed due to the damage they were wreaking on the land. Attenborough and his crew, a cameraman and sound recorder, undertook several expeditions to attempt to film them.

I have never seen some of these earliest documentaries – actually I’ve no idea if they’re still on rotation or if the footage is available anywhere to watch but I would love to see the shows produced from all three of these expeditions, having listened to this book I’d love to see what I just heard described in such vivid and wonderful detail. So now that is my next mission, to see if I can watch the footage from these trips and then after that, I plan to listen to all of Attenborough’s audiobooks in chronological order.

As well as the three books narrated here, there’s a collection of small snippets in the end of “Attenborough in his own words” taken from interviews over the years, including with Michael Parkinson and others and these are also well worth a listen. Attenborough is such an incredibly interesting person, the things he’s done in his life are incredible to hear about and he has such a natural gift for imparting knowledge in his stories. Picking his brain must be an amazing experience. He also does a very passable Australian accent, which many people cannot achieve.

Very enjoyable. But I feel as though anything from David Attenborough is a guaranteed good read/listen/watch.

8/10

Book #158 of 2021

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Review: Well Played (Audiobook) by Jen DeLuca

Well Played (Well Met #2)
Jen DeLuca
Narrated by Brittany Pressley
Penguin Audio
2020, 8hrs 20min
Purchased personal copy via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Another laugh-out-loud romantic comedy featuring kilted musicians, Renaissance Faire tavern wenches, and an unlikely love story.

Stacey is jolted when her friends Simon and Emily get engaged. She knew she was putting her life on hold when she stayed in Willow Creek to care for her sick mother, but it’s been years now, and even though Stacey loves spending her summers pouring drinks and flirting with patrons at the local Renaissance Faire, she wants more out of life. Stacey vows to have her life figured out by the time her friends get hitched at Faire next summer. Maybe she’ll even find The One.

When Stacey imagined “The One,” it never occurred to her that her summertime Faire fling, Dex MacLean, might fit the bill. While Dex is easy on the eyes onstage with his band The Dueling Kilts, Stacey has never felt an emotional connection with him. So when she receives a tender email from the typically monosyllabic hunk, she’s not sure what to make of it.

Faire returns to Willow Creek, and Stacey comes face-to-face with the man with whom she’s exchanged hundreds of online messages over the past nine months. To Stacey’s shock, it isn’t Dex—she’s been falling in love with a man she barely knows.

I really enjoyed Well Met, the first book in this series which dealt with Emily joining the local renaissance faire when she was new in town, because her niece wanted to and each minor sign up had to be accompanied by an adult one. There she met Simon, the control freak in charge of the faire and I thought that Simon and Emily had great chemistry. Stacey befriends Emily when she’s new and shows her the ropes and the two become close. So I was pretty excited when I realised book 2 would centre around Stacey.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love this as much as I loved the first one. Stacey is 27, still lives in an apartment above her parent’s garage and her life is stagnant. About six years ago, she gave up a dream opportunity because her mother had a medical episode and she stayed behind in her hometown to care for her. Her mother is fine now but Stacey is still stuck in this mindset that something will happen if she leaves – just like last time. It doesn’t really make any sense and she is stuck in a job that doesn’t excite her, watching people she went to high school or college with, celebrate milestones on Facebook. When Simon and Emily get engaged, it jolts Stacey and she realises she wants to find The One. A drunken message to her faire hook up for the past two summers generates a surprising response – who knew Dex was so deep?

But it isn’t Dex messaging her, it’s Daniel, his cousin and manager. Which the reader knows immediately but for some reason, it takes Stacey about a year to realise. The thing is, when she realises she’s mad for about five minutes that he allowed her to think she was messaging Dex but then she decides oh well, it doesn’t matter which McLean she was messaging, she really likes whichever one it was so it’s fine and she wants to work things out with him. Daniel sort of apologises for this thing that he does, pretending to be someone else but it’s really not that much of an apology. And then Stacey just kind of hurtles herself into this relationship even though it doesn’t feel like they ever really discussed the whole cat fishing thing properly. And then there are just moments in this where I think because of this lack of clearing the air, there are misunderstandings and then Stacey overhears something pretty upsetting and instead of actually being a grown up about it, Daniel basically was like oh well oops, you found that out, I’ll just be leaving now. And it’s up to Stacey to chase him down and sort of beg him to take her back even though he was the one that lied to her and misled her (again).

I didn’t really like Stacey that much as a character, her obsession with social media, her complaining about her stagnant life – it got a bit much. She made no attempt to change anything though, not even a little bit. Not even her renaissance outfit, until Emily changes hers and Stacey gets upset because she thought they were “doing it together” even though Stacey made no actual moves to change anything. Daniel had promise as a character but his apologies were weak and his running away was stupid and he just seems so passive about everything. I think too much of the book was their texts and emails but that didn’t showcase enough of the foundations of a relationship and it felt like they didn’t have any chemistry. And then renn faire only goes for like, four weekends, so there’s all this drama and talk of love and it just feels like it wasn’t long enough in person for them to build something really lasting.

This was pretty short for an audio, so it was easy enough to get through and I enjoyed the little appearances by Simon and Emily, although I missed them as main characters. I’m still curious about the third book but I’m not sure I want to invest another 8 hours of my time – it’ll be much quicker if I read it.

Unfortunately, this was just okay for me, neither character excited me and some of the conflict felt very weakly resolved.

5/10

Book #106 of 2021


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Review: Meet Cute (Audiobook) by Various

Meet Cute 
Jennifer L. Armentrout, Katie Cotugno, Nina LaCour, Ibi Zoboi, Katharine McGee, Sara Shepherd, Meredith Russo, Dhonielle Clayton, Emery Lord, Jocelyn Davies, Kass Morgan, Julie Murphy, Huntley Fitzpatrick, Nicola Yoon.
Listening Library
Narrated by Caitlin Davies, Dara Rosenberg, Bahni Turpin, Betsy Struxness, Kyla Garcia, Sullivan Jones.
2018, 9hrs 42min
Listened to via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Whether or not you believe in fate, or luck, or love at first sight, every romance has to start somewhere. MEET CUTE is an anthology of original short stories featuring tales of “how they first met” from some of today’s most popular YA authors.

Listeners will experience Nina LaCour’s beautifully written piece about two Bay Area girls meeting via a cranky customer service Tweet, Sara Shepard’s glossy tale about a magazine intern and a young rock star, Nicola Yoon’s imaginative take on break-ups and make-ups, Katie Cotugno’s story of two teens hiding out from the police at a house party, and Huntley Fitzpatrick’s charming love story that begins over iced teas at a diner. There’s futuristic flirting from Kass Morgan and Katharine McGee, a riveting transgender heroine from Meredith Russo, a subway missed connection moment from Jocelyn Davies, and a girl determined to get out of her small town from Ibi Zoboi. Jennifer Armentrout writes a sweet story about finding love from a missing library book, Emery Lord has a heartwarming and funny tale of two girls stuck in an airport, Dhonielle Clayton takes a thoughtful, speculative approach to pre-destined love, and Julie Murphy dreams up a fun twist on reality dating show contestants.

This incredibly talented group of authors brings us a collection of stories that are at turns romantic and witty, epic and everyday, heartbreaking and real.

My last audiobook was non-fiction so I decided to switch back to fiction – alternating helps keep it interesting I think. I chose this one because it was an anthology and I thought that would suit the way in which I listen to audiobooks, which is generally an hour or so at night, in bed. So I thought it would be good as I’d be able to listen to a story pretty much each night and that’s about the way it’s worked out. Sometimes I listened to two, depending on the length of the first one and what time I went to bed. It’s also a good way to keep reading when I have a headache.

I picked this one because I recognised most of the names and have also read a few of these authors – Jennifer L. Armentrout, Nicola Yoon, Huntley Fitzpatrick and Julie Murphy. I really appreciated the diversity and representation in this – there’s a range of genres, characters from different backgrounds and of differing sexual preference and there’s a transgender character, written by a transgender author as well.

As the name suggests, each of the stories revolve around a “meet cute” between two characters. For example, there’s two teens (a popular girl who is the Queen of her school and a not-popular boy from an outlying farm who only shows up to school sometimes) who are hiding in a bathroom when the police bust a party with underage drinking. There’s a teenage girl just starting her new job trying to fix a customer service issue and she discovers that her client is very pretty. There’s futuristic stories, sci-fi stories, contemporary, several f/f stories and one where there’s a female and MTF transgender character. For the most part, I really enjoyed them. I think my favourite was The Unlikely Likelihood Of Falling In Love about a student who lives in Brooklyn but goes to school in Manhattan who sees a boy on the subway going the other day. For a maths assignment on statistics, she calculates the likelihood of seeing him again, with such variables as her wake up time, the train running on time and not being diverted, etc. It was really cute. I also adored Oomph by Emery Lord, a story of two teen girls who meet in an airport after both have been in New York for different reasons. They had such fantastic chemistry and honestly, would’ve loved to read an entire story about “Margaret Carter” and “Natasha Romanoff”. The setting was just great too, I enjoy forced proximity stories. I haven’t read Emery Lord before, nor Jocelyn Davies, who write The Unlikely Likelihood Of Falling In Love but I’ll have to investigate their full length releases.

There were a few that were just so-so but there were none I disliked, which doesn’t happen very often when I read short stories. A few were a little frustrating in that they felt they were just getting to the good part and then they ended, but that’s a common find for me, when it comes to this format!

I enjoyed this. I’ll be sure to look for more collections like this in the future, as audiobook options.

7/10

Book #47 of 2021

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Review: Love Your Life (Audiobook) by Sophie Kinsella

Love Your Life 
Sophie Kinsella
Recorded Books
Narrated by Fiona Hardingham
2020, 14hrs 45min
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Call Ava romantic, but she thinks love should be found in the real world, not on apps that filter men by height, job, or astrological sign. She believes in feelings, not algorithms. So after a recent breakup and dating app debacle, she decides to put love on hold and escapes to a remote writers’ retreat in coastal Italy. She’s determined to finish writing the novel she’s been fantasizing about, even though it means leaving her close-knit group of friends and her precious dog, Harold, behind.

At the retreat, she’s not allowed to use her real name or reveal any personal information. When the neighboring martial arts retreat is canceled and a few of its attendees join their small writing community, Ava, now going by “Aria,” meets “Dutch,” a man who seems too good to be true. The two embark on a baggage-free, whirlwind love affair, cliff-jumping into gem-colored Mediterranean waters and exploring the splendor of the Italian coast. Things seem to be perfect for Aria and Dutch.

But then their real identities–Ava and Matt–must return to London. As their fantasy starts to fade, they discover just how different their personal worlds are. From food choices to annoying habits to sauna etiquette . . . are they compatible in anything? And then there’s the prickly situation with Matt’s ex-girlfriend, who isn’t too eager to let him go. As one mishap follows another, it seems while they love each other, they just can’t love each other’s lives. Can they reconcile their differences to find one life together?

Hmm.

I have mixed success with Sophie Kinsella books – the ones I like, I absolutely love. But there are some others that just….really do not work for me and sadly, this one fits more into that category.

Ava is working on a novel and has booked herself into a retreat in Italy. It’s all very anonymous, the participants are encourage to ‘choose the name they want’ for themselves and focus on their writing, not on getting to know their fellow participants. Ava meets “Dutch”, who is shuffled into the writing group when the retreat he actually booked, is cancelled. Ava (known as “Aria”) and Dutch are immediately attracted to each other and embark on a pretty passionate affair. Ava makes up a whole life for Dutch and they’re so enamoured with each other that when the retreat is over, they vow to continue their relationship in the real world. But now they have to actually get to know each other and it turns out that they have very little, if anything at all, in common. Ava loves her dog Harold to an almost alarming degree and her flat is a riot of colour and “rescue” furniture. She’s a vegetarian. Dutch, whose real name is actually Matt works for his family’s very successful company in a high ranking role, has an apartment that’s incredibly sleek and modern with artwork that Ava finds quite terrifying. He loves a good steak or burger and believes firmly that dogs sleep in the kitchen – not on the bed.

I didn’t mind the beginning of this – although I do have to admit, Ava was a character that I didn’t really warm to. She’s okay in the beginning and some of the retreat was actually quite fun and I enjoyed some of the interaction between her and Dutch. But when they’re both back in London, Ava becomes incredibly irritating. I love dogs. I had dogs growing up – my parents had 3 in succession, each living to be over 10 years old. I had 2 dogs myself, with my husband who have since passed on (now we have a cat). I’m a firm believer that they’re part of the family and for the most part, should be inside unless they prefer otherwise. But Ava and her dog Harold, were something else entirely. Harold needs a bit of training and Ava thinks she is Harold’s “friend” not his owner. Basically Harold runs the show and gets whatever he wants no matter what that is and Ava expects Matt to fall into line with that, like her rules should fly at his place as well, which was selfish and irritating. I also really dislike it when vegans or vegetarians attempt to convert those around them. I’m neither but I eat a lot of vegetarian dishes and probably only eat meat maybe 2-3x a week these days. But although you can perhaps suggest occasionally having meals that are more vegetarian based I find it really off-putting when people try to convince, manipulate or guilt or outright demand that those around them give up meat. Ava’s not incredibly militant about it but she does go on about it for enough time that it got very irritating and if I was Matt, I’d be looking to go out and hook myself up with a huge Angus burger. It felt very much like a lot of the sacrifice was expected from Matt – he should be changing his diet and he should be letting Harold do whatever Ava wanted him to do, because Ava’s way was always the right way and everyone else should just do that.

Not going to lie – I skim-listened to quite a bit after Ava and Matt realised that things were not as rosy back in London and picked it up again a few chapters from the end. I did enjoy some of the supporting characters: Ava’s eclectic bunch of friends, especially Nell and Matt’s flatmates, who are responsible for a few of the laughs. I especially enjoyed Nell and Topher and their character arc. But the level of involvement from Ava (the whole “but I love him”) from knowing him like a week and actually knowing nothing about him, not even his name, just wasn’t really something I was able to connect with. Chemistry yes, I get that. But loving someone, like the sort of deep love Ava seemed to believe they had, didn’t feel very likely when they not only didn’t know the most basic of information about each other, but weren’t even in a real life scenario. It was a glamorous location away from jobs and commitments (Harold), families, friends, etc. Everything was paid for, it’s easy to throw yourself into something but for it to be the depth that Ava was proclaiming? Didn’t feel likely. I did like that after things were not so smooth back home that they found a way to work through that but sometimes it was more like, well why?

Okay to listen to but I’m glad I borrowed it.

5/10

Book #35 of 2021

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Review: Just Another Silly Love Song (Audiobook) by Rich Amooi

Just Another Silly Love Song 
Rich Amooi
Tantor Audio
Narrated by Tim Paige & Stephanie Rose
2021, 6hrs 59min
Purchased via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two rival radio personalities. Lori Martin is a positive and upbeat DJ, known for playing love songs and dedications. Ben Baxter dishes out no-nonsense, in-your-face relationship advice. Total opposites. Never in a million years would they want to work together.

Fired for losing her cool after her boyfriend breaks up with her on the air, Lori surprisingly receives a job offer for the coveted morning show at the radio station across town where Ben works. She thinks she’s replacing him but finds out they want to team up Lori with her archenemy to set the air waves on fire and boost ratings. Financially strapped, she can’t turn down the job.

While their on-air fireworks and explosive chemistry make for great listening, what in the world will happen after work hours?

This was……okay. Mostly. I had some issues, primarily with the narration but also with the writing, plot and character development.

In terms of the narration – I’m pretty new to audiobooks and I don’t really know how they’re recorded. I assumed that the book was read in full by the narrator, for tone and context but this one felt like the female narrator in particular, recorded things repeated throughout the book once and then that one way of saying it was just dropped in wherever it came up in the next. The emphasis was exactly the same in every instance of small fragmented sentences like “I laughed”, “I smiled” or “I smirked”. It actually felt very jarring and a lot of the time, the tone felt….off…..in the section. It is really hard to explain. Either these parts were just recorded once or the way the narrator said it every single time was exactly the same, with no deviation in tone or which syllable was being emphasised. Also because I noticed this, I also noticed how often those three aforementioned sentences appeared within the book. Lots. And I mean lots. If I were reading this, characters would be doing all of those things multiple times on almost every page. No one smirks that often.

In terms of the plot – Lori works a nighttime love songs and dedications radio show….or she does until her boyfriend breaks up with her on air and also manages to trash the radio station’s main sponsor, who happens to be listening and demands Lori be fired. And Ben is “Dr Tough Love”, a morning show host for a rival station, who tells his callers the truth, no matter how blunt. His ratings have stagnated and the show want to mix it up and draw in female viewers, who tend not to listen in. So when Lori is fired from her nighttime gig, she’s called up by Ben’s station and immediately offered a job cohosting his show. Lori and Ben have had one interaction over a parking spot where they both buy their coffee but Lori is aware of Ben’s show and thinks his advice is bogus. And Ben cannot stand Lori’s saccharine love songs show and definitely does not want that stuff played on his show.

The radio station loves their arguing and the fact that Lori doesn’t let Ben get away with anything. She’s a more reasonable voice when Ben’s primary advice is for people to dump their partners and move on. Their boss Kyle sends them to have lunch “on the station” so they can get to know each other a bit better and play off each other more on air but it only really takes that one lunch for these enemies to realise that they actually have quite a bit in common and that Ben’s Dr Tough Love is really just an on air persona that is used for comedic effect. This for me, felt like a really fast development, considering the animosity both had had, prior to that lunch. And even that animosity felt quick, they fought over a car space. How is drive through coffee not a thing in San Diego? Anyway. Ben doesn’t really want a cohost but the radio station plays Tough Love with him, basically tell him it’s cohost or they’ll be letting him go. Their first show or two is kind of awkward, there’s a lot of bickering and ignoring the caller on the line so they can fight with each other (actually that kind of continues even after they stop disliking each other off air). Some of their interactions are funny, others felt a little childish.

I do think if I’d read this as opposed to listening to it, I probably would’ve liked it more. Narration is such a key aspect for me, it really affects overall how I feel about a book. However I still don’t think I would’ve loved it. A lot of the changing opinions they had felt too rapid and it felt like there should’ve been a bit of a longer period for their relationship to evolve as they realised their initial thoughts about the other had been wrong. Also there’s a bit of drama with the evolving relationship, especially when it’s obvious they’re attracted to each other and the radio station doesn’t want them to like each other. I found the characters of Ben’s grandpa and Lori’s grandma a bit meh, particularly Lori’s grandma who is pretty much the standard grandma from every book I’ve ever read. “Sassy” and “full of life” and “bored with other people her age” and “liking hotties” type of thing.

All in all this was….fine. I listened to it all and didn’t feel the need to DNF it but I didn’t love it. If felt very predictable and quite cookie cutter – what defined either of Ben or Lori’s personalities? All I really learned about them was that they enjoyed where they lived and Ben donated to charity. There was really little else to them and they didn’t really have a lot of chemistry for me. I think that as a radio show, I could understand why they’d be found entertaining, playing off each other. But they weren’t really a couple where I felt invested in their outcome.

5/10

Book #20 of 2021

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Review: Him (Audiobook) by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

Him (Him #1)
Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy
Audible Studios
Narrated by Teddy Hamilton & Jacob Morgan
2016, 8hrs 04min
Purchased via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

They don’t play for the same team. Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions—can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend… and a big one to learn about himself.

This book came highly recommended from a friend of mine, in particular, this audio version. I’ve been experimenting with audiobooks lately, trying different ways of making them work for me. I have discovered that I do really enjoy listening to books I’ve already read and liked but for new books, I need to choose wisely when I listen. I’ve found that about an hour at bedtime, no longer, if I’m not going to bed super tired, does work. So this was the book I’ve been listening to for about the last 12 days or so.

Ryan Wesley and Jamie Canning are both gifted ice hockey players who attended a prestigious summer camp every year of their adolescence. They were room mates and best friends, spending summers together trying to light up the board (Wes) and keep the puck out of the net (Jamie). However four years ago, at the last camp before college, Wes ghosted Jamie after a little bet the two had. They then went to different colleges and haven’t seen each other since, even though Jamie has always wondered what happened, why Wes disappeared on him. Now as college seniors, both their ice hockey teams have made the college national championships in Boston, which will put them face to face for the first time in four years. Wes wants to say sorry but he’s aware that Jamie might tell him where he can shove it. But Jamie isn’t like that – he just wants his best friend back and buoyed by his response, Wes fronts up to the camp one last time to spend a summer with Jamie before he goes to the NHL. This time however, they’re coaches, not students.

This is narrated in my favourite way: dual narration, different voice for each character point of view and both the guys reading are fantastic. Narrators are so important for me, if I can’t settle into the voices, the book is no good. This was easier I think, because I hadn’t read it beforehand so I had no preconceived ideas of how I thought they might sound. Both Wes and Jamie get POV chapters here, beginning with Wes and his realisation that he’s going to run into Jamie again at the championships. Wes is gay – not exactly shouting it from the rooftops, not exactly hiding it either. His teammates in college all probably know but no one comments on it. He’s good enough to have already been offered a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs after graduation and Wes knows that once he enters the NHL he’s probably going to have to keep his private life very discreet. Jamie, as far as Wes knows, is straight. Wes has been in love with him forever and he has the serious guilts about what happened the last time the two of them were at camp together. But when the time comes for one last summer at camp….turns out Jamie might not be as straight as Wes thought.

This is a lot of filthy fun. It’s highly explicit but there’s a lot of chemistry between Jamie and Wes and it’s built well. Poor Wes is basically pining and look, I didn’t love him at first. He kind of comes off as a bit of a douche in his first couple of chapters, until it dives a bit deeper into the story and you get his background, his coming out, his feelings for Jamie. There’s a lot behind Wes’ tattoos and smart-ass side. Jamie is a bit more low-key, a bit more of a gentler character. Before that bet gone a bit haywire in the final year of camp, I don’t think he’d ever considered he might not be 100% straight. And when he does realise that his feelings for and about Wes are a bit more complex than dudebro friendship, Jamie works through it in a mature, kind of sensible, thoughtful manner. He tests himself, explores what might work for him and doesn’t dissolve into internalised homophobia freaking out. Actually I think Ryan is the one who is often freaking out on the inside because for him, Jamie is like his OTP. He thinks that when this is over and he heads to the NHL, he’ll only ever have this summer. That Jamie will be done with this little era of sexual experimentation and head back to his former life outside the bubble that is the camp.

I loved Jamie’s family in this. He’s from a big, noisy, Californian family of six kids and his parents are awesome, especially at the end of the book when they envelop Wes into their family. Wes got dealt a shitty hand in the family stakes and Jamie and his provide something that was definitely missing from his life. This works perfectly well as a stand-alone and it’s a strong romance novel so there’s a definite HEA. However there is another book called Us which deals with Wes in the NHL and his struggle between keeping his private life discreet and his teammates/the public finding out, I guess. As far as I’m aware, there’s no openly gay player in the NHL – much like other top level sports. I don’t really feel the need to explore that one any further right now, for me this had a good, strong ending that I found highly satisfying.

8/10

Book #15 of 2021

 

 

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