All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Amber And Alice by Janette Paul

Amber And Alice
Janette Paul
Bantam (Penguin Random House AUS)
2017, 389p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Take a hilarious road trip into the Australian outback in this witty romantic comedy, with an enticing family mystery thrown in!

When Amber Jones wakes up in her sister Sage’s speeding car, with no idea how she got there (though the hangover is a clue), all she wants to do is go home. But Sage is convinced a road trip to Alice Springs will finally answer the burning question: who is Amber’s father? Because nine months before Amber’s birth, her late mother Goldie made the same trip . . .

Armed with just a name and Goldie’s diaries, Amber agrees to search for a man she’s never met in one of the world’s biggest deserts.

And that means spending two weeks in a convoy of four-wheel-driving tourists and camping in freezing desert nights. To make matters worse, her fellow travellers hate her and the handsome tour leader Tom thinks she’s an alcoholic.

But slowly the desert starts to reveal its secrets – and Amber must decide which horizon to follow…

I love road trip books – they’re an autobuy for me so when I read the blurb of this one I knew I had to get it. The thought of doing this sort of trip really intrigues me and it’s definitely something I wouldn’t mind doing in the future. But Amber, our main character, wakes up with a thumping hangover in a car with her sister, heading to a meeting point for a tour to Alice Springs. Despite declaring last night (under the influence) that she was up for it Amber is horrified and wants to leave immediately and make her way back to Sydney. Her sister Sage won’t hear of it though, begging Amber to stay on the tour, dangling a choice piece of information in front of her that this trip might lead to answers about her father, a man Amber has never met and has no information on other than his name.

Amber rather spectacularly lost her job after a drunken rant at an event the previous night so really she has no commitments. A childhood spent mostly on the road with her nomadic mother though has made Amber somewhat of a driven workaholic where she had goals and worked towards them. Her career is important to her and until her meltdown, which has gone “viral”, she’d been very successful in her chosen field. She wants to be looking for another job, not gallivanting around the country with her hippy sister….but the carrot of finding out more about her father is too hard to ignore.

Amber gets off on the wrong foot with pretty much everyone on the tour – she makes a less than ideal first impression and is bad tempered, her reluctance to be involved obvious. Even when she tries to do the right thing it doesn’t really work out, whereas Sage seems to slip in effortlessly. The good looking tour leader Tom also seems to think she’s an alcoholic, based off what he’s seen so far and the two are always struggling to keep up, often making the rest of the group late setting off.

I really enjoyed a lot of the aspects of this novel – I loved Amber, flaws and all. I sympathised with her, because although some people would thrive on that sort of upbringing, it wouldn’t be for me and I understood how she’d become because of it. Her mother was a frustrating figure and Sage was definitely more like her than Amber. Amber had always felt the odd one out in her family, Sage was a copy physically of their mother as well whereas Amber didn’t look anything like anyone in her mother’s side of the family and her mother always refused any information on her father which led to her feeling isolated. It’s why the thought of being able to find anything on him at all from this trip to Alice Springs, is so attractive, so much so that she agrees to stay with the tour (after several false starts).

I do have the say that the character of Sage drove me nuts….from pretty much the first page but what she does at a point on the tour to Amber infuriated me. So much so that I had to put the book down for a while because it made me want to throw it. It felt quite contrived unfortunately, I could see it coming from the time they arrived in Coober Pedy. It just felt like the flakiest, most stereotypical thing a character like Sage could do in order to frustrate Amber and also throw her together with Tom in a more intimate manner. And yet there’s very little payoff because the romance in this book is very low key and doesn’t really kick off until the book is almost over – I’d have liked a bit more to be honest. There are some nice interactions between Tom and Amber but it does feel like it takes a bit of time to get where it’s going.

Overall though I did really enjoy this – loved the setting, travelling west through New South Wales to South Australia and then up into the Northern Territory.  I enjoyed the different characters taking part on the tour and the little quirks and quibbles that came up from spending so much time together in such a way. As I mentioned I really liked Amber as well and hoped that she got the information that she was after. Only Sage annoyed me and I would’ve liked a bit more in the romance stakes but those are quite small quibbles really. This book had humour and charm – Janette Paul is better known as Jaye Ford, writer of crime suspense/thrillers but she could definitely carve out a nice rural niche for herself too, if she chose to.

7/10

Book #107 of 2017

Amber And Alice is book #35 of the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge

 

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Review: Lake Hill by Margareta Osborn

Lake Hill
Margareta Osborn
Bantam
2017, 320p
Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

All her life Julia Gunn has been weighed down – first by a controlling father, then by a staid older husband, and always by a long-buried secret from her teenage years.

Now she’s going to do something for herself.

Except en route to a new life on the coast at Lakes Entrance she finds herself – courtesy of a rockslide – stuck in the remote mountain town of Lake Grace.

Yet maybe fate is on her side. Because Lake Grace is home to Rick Halloran – ex-rodeo king, sculptor and grazier – and the man with whom she enjoyed a brief, unforgettable romance twenty years ago.

Not only that, but Julia has dreamed of running her own cafe, and she’s just spotted a For Sale sign outside the prettiest little tea-room by the lake . . .

Julia is finally on the verge of the life she’s always wanted.

Then her long-buried secret knocks at the door . . .

In Margareta Osborn’s 5th full length novel we head to the beautiful Gippsland area in eastern Victoria where Julia Gunn is on her way to a new life. Having been widowed young, only in her thirties, she’s resigned from her job and has decided to move to Lakes Entrance and buy a cafe/tearoom. Only fate intervenes and she finds herself stranded in the mountain town of Lake Grace – not quite where she wanted to be, but lovely nonetheless. Especially when she spots something for sale that will work perfectly with her dream.

Lake Grace is also the home of Rick Holloran, Julia’s first….well, everything. Many years ago they shared a brief romance as teenagers before Julia’s strict pastor father whisked the family away to another town. Julia has never forgotten Rick, nor what eventuated from that romance. When they cross paths again, a lot of the chemistry they experienced as teenagers is still there.

I’ve always wanted to go visit that part of Victoria – I’ve never been. The coastline is stunningly beautiful and there’s some lovely high country too. Julia has left Melbourne behind after the death of her much older husband and is determined to finally be able to live her own life. Having been dominated by first her controlling and abusive father and then to a much lesser extent, her husband, who always had certain expectations, she no longer feels that pressure and can finally just be herself. Live her own life.

Julia has definitely been through some difficult times and now, even some twenty years later, they still weigh quite heavily on her. A fresh start won’t banish those thoughts but I think that for Julia it’s the first step in perhaps moving forward. Fate lands her in Lake Grace and she is regarded with suspicion for being a journalist at first – Lake Grace is highly protective of some of its residents for reasons that are probably very genuine and admirable but at the same time, Rick Halloran in particular is well, a bit of a jerk to her. He doesn’t recognise her immediately, although he’s aware that she’s familiar and he’s too caught up in assuming that she’s a journalist come to harass him.

Those with the Halloran seal of approval are welcomed with open arms though and the community rallies behind Julia after that first awkwardness to help her once she buys the tearoom with the intent to reopen it. Julia makes a friend in Rick’s much younger sister as well as the locals who run the pub and work for Rick in various capacities. As well as this, there’s the budding friendship with Rick himself, which definitely has potential. Julia has something that she knows she needs to confide in him, but she fears his reaction.

There are a couple of good twists in this book and a little bit of mystery running through the story too which was good. It creates good conflict for Julia and Rick as they are attempting to establish their relationship. Certain things in his past have made Rick….well, a bit of a control freak to be honest. He’s quite bossy and he likes basically having what he says goes. Both his sister and Julia are grown ups and don’t need to be told what to do and I thought it was good that they called him out on it. Rick definitely needed to learn to ‘let go’ and step back a bit!

I really enjoyed this story, particularly the way that all of the characters came to life and played an important role. I do have to admit that in the scene where they were all introduced in the local pub, I found it a tad overwhelming – but as Julia got to know them all properly, I did too. I really liked the character of Ernie, the town’s retired doctor who offers to help Julia out in the kitchen, hiding a talent for some baking. Many of the characters had sadness or secrets or something that just added to the whole picture of the town that Osborn had created here. I also liked the way that Julia really found something of herself in Lake Grace, a place to settle and call home and an occupation that made her happy. There was romance but it was never really the strongest feature of the novel – it was about Julia and her journey, coming to terms with what had happened in her past, trying to make her peace with it and move on to a stronger future. There were people she’d met along the way that were clearly going to be a part of that future but her individual journey was for me, the strongest part of the book and this was well represented.

8/10

Book #98 of 2017

 

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Blog Tour Review: Girl In Between by Anna Daniels

Girl In Between
Anna Daniels
Allen & Unwin
2017, 311p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lucy Crighton has just moved in with some gregarious housemates called Brian and Denise . . . who are her parents. She’s also the proud mother of Glenda, her beloved 10-year-old . . . kelpie. And she has absolutely no interest in the dashing son of her parents’ new next-door neighbour . . . well, maybe just a little.

When you’re the girl in between relationships, careers and cities, you sometimes have to face some uncomfortable truths . . . like your Mum’s obsession with Cher, your father’s unsolicited advice, and the fact there’s probably more cash on the floor of your parents’ car than in your own bank account.

Thank goodness Lucy’s crazy but wonderful best friend, Rosie, is around to cushion reality, with wild nights at the local Whipcrack hotel, escapades in Japanese mud baths, and double dating under the Christmas lights in London.

But will Lucy work out what she really wants to do in life and who she wants to share it with?

Girl in Between is a warm, upbeat and often hilarious story about life at the crossroads. Featuring an endearing and irrepressible cast of characters, it will have you chuckling from start to finish.

This debut from Anna Daniels takes the reader firstly to the Queensland town of Rockhampton where 32 year old Lucy Crighton has moved back in with her parents after a failed relationship. She’s broke and has decided that her future lies in writing the next great Australian novel so she’s taking some time to complete her first draft.

I’m a couple of years older than Lucy, not really enough to make a difference, so we’re kind of the same age but to be honest, it didn’t feel that way. It felt like Lucy read quite a bit younger than 32 – she seems directionless, like someone who had just graduated from university at 22 or so and didn’t know what to do next. Bumming around in her parent’s house, having to scrounge around in their loose change for enough money to go out and buy herself a coffee was sort of more sad than funny. I know that sometimes circumstances force people to go back rather than forward but for a large portion of the story Lucy seems content to just….drift like this. She doesn’t really look for work all that actively, she doesn’t look to move out or regain some independence. She is gifted a trip overseas and then goes to London because her best friend does. For a girl in between everything she sort of gets a lot of things.

There’s a romance running through this, it’s by far not a dominant part of the story and the good part is it doesn’t really define Lucy, nor does she sacrifice anything for it the way that she did in the past, giving up her job in television to follow her boyfriend only for him to break up with her. However I didn’t love the character of Oscar. At first he seems great but then something is revealed about him that changed my opinion of him. He drifts in and out of Lucy’s life as he visits his mother next door and then turns up when Lucy is living in London, seemingly finally getting her life together. It seemed like quite a selfish thing to do to be honest and didn’t endear him to me at all.

I did really enjoy quite a few of the supporting characters, especially Lucy’s parents who are believably quirky and quintessentially laid-back country Australian. A lot of the references and interactions in the parts set in Rockhampton are very Aussie – playing the drinking games with the clothesline, the references between QLD and NSW State of Origin rivalry. They’re the type of thing that almost every Australian is going to be familiar with and there’s a sort of comfort in that, seeing your own experiences recognised and realised on paper. To be honest, I didn’t dislike Lucy…..I found her frustrating at times but she was also quite endearing at times too. I couldn’t help but cheer for her in a way, I wanted her to find her true passion, to get herself back together because it just seemed like the more time she spent drifting, the more unraveled she became. Moving to London and working in a bookshop actually gave her a lot of grounding and it seemed like she was the most settled there. She found a tribe, fellow employees at the bookstore, one of the flatmates in her share house. I liked the time in London, it was probably my favourite part of the book.

I was in two minds about this book for nearly the whole time I was reading it. As I mentioned, I liked Lucy at times but she frustrated me as well and some of the humour wasn’t really my humour. I didn’t do any laughing out loud although the were a few amusing moments littered throughout. The idea of finding yourself is probably one that a lot of people can relate to but there were times when I thought Lucy was more waiting for things to find her, rather than attempting to find what she wanted for herself in a proactive manner. There were some good friendships and an interesting rivalry between Lucy’s mother and another woman in Rockhampton as well, which was something a bit different. But some of the core stuff didn’t really work for me and I was quite put off by some aspects of the romance.

Somewhere on the fence on this one! Didn’t love it but I didn’t dislike it either. I’d recommend it to Aussies who enjoy a bit of cultural humour.

6/10

Book #86 of 2017

Girl In Between is book #30 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017

This review is part of the Girl In Between blog tour. Make sure you check out the other stops on their relevant days!

Girl In Between is published by Allen & Unwin and available now, RRP $29.99

Follow author Anna Daniels on social media:

 

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Review: The Secret Science Of Magic by Melissa Keil

The Secret Science Of Magic
Melissa Keil
Hardie Grant Egmont
2017, 314p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A captivating novel about two extraordinary teens, and the unsolvable problem of life after high school.

Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?

In life and love, timing is everything.

This is Aussie author Melissa Keil’s third novel and I’ve read both her previous and enjoyed them so buying this one was a no-brainer. I was really intrigued by the premise.

Sophia is an incredibly intelligent year 12 student but she struggles with interactions and social situations. She only really has one friend and there are a lot of things that seem to trigger anxiety. Sophia is at the age where high school is almost over and it’s time to make decisions about the future – what university to apply to, what course to do. Her friend intends to study overseas and seems to want to make sure that Sophia is going to be okay when she’s not around. But Sophia is fixated on Russian mathematician Gregori Perelman who declined to accept a famous award and is now a recluse. She seems to view him as a potential caution for child prodigies in a way, perhaps fearing that she may one day face the same fate if she doesn’t understand why he chose to turn his back on prizes and mathematics and drop off the face of the planet.

Joshua isn’t a genius and he’s interested more in history and magic than science and maths. But for years he’s had a crush on Sophia and admired her from afar. Timing is everything and Joshua has decided that now is the right moment. He’s going to show his hand, so to speak. But that’s going to be hard to do when you haven’t even really interacted.

On the surface, this book is very cute but there’s an awful lot of deep and clever stuff going on below that surface. Sophia is really very interesting – she’s incredibly smart, very advanced and can do things effortlessly that other students cripple themselves studying over. However, in order to push her out of her comfort zone slightly, she found herself talked into taking drama in order to perhaps get her to express herself or tap into some hidden feelings or emotions. She’s often accused of being quite emotionless, almost robotic and even her own brother says it’s weird she never cries. She struggles to even connect with and confide in her best friend and doesn’t even seem to notice that her best friend has some concerns and issues that she’d like to talk about. It’s not deliberate though and she spends a large amount of time trying to figure out her brother’s thoughts and perhaps discover the reason he seems to resent her so much and she’s very upset when she realises that she’s been hurting her best friend’s feelings. But there is no denying that Sophia doesn’t process things in quite the same way as others and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will connect with that, as well as with the demanding pressures of school, either by oneself or family.

I really liked the character of Joshua, for many reasons. I found the interest in magic a bit dorky, but an endearing sort of dorky and I loved the fact that although Joshua seemed perhaps a loner at school without any friends, away from school he had quite a developed social life and friendship circle. It’s a good way to stress that high school isn’t everything and that you don’t need to be popular there in order to be happy. Plenty of people find their tribe outside of the people they know merely through the circumstances of going to the same school and Joshua never seemed to particularly care about the fact that he didn’t have friends at school. He actually seemed quite comfortable in his own skin. He does face pressure from his father to choose a university course and there’s no doubt that he feels this but he doesn’t really seem to let it bother him too much. I liked his relationship with his sister as well and I thought that the little tricks and things he did in order to catch Sophia’s attention were quite cute. Although a lot of his crush was based before they had any real interaction, it deepened after he spent time with her and got to know her properly, quirks and all. In fact Joshua liked Sophia because of the way she was, her essential personality which was off putting to some people, was really engaging and appealing to him. He didn’t care about her blunt way of speaking, abruptness and sometimes awkwardness and he really admired her intelligence. And realising that she cared about Joshua didn’t change Sophia but she did grow throughout the book. She learned that she can fail and the world keeps turning.

I really enjoyed this and fans of Melissa Keil’s first novel will enjoy a little cameo appearance in this one. I know I did!

8/10

Book #88 of 2017

The Secret Science Of Magic is book #32 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: The Beast Of Hushing Wood by Gabrielle Wang

The Beast Of Hushing Wood
Gabrielle Wang
Puffin Books
2017, 180p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

By the award-winning author of The Wishbird. A powerful magic realism story about Ziggy Truegood, a young girl who has a premonition that she will drown on her 12th birthday.

Ziggy Truegood lives in a tiny town deep in Hushing Wood, where strange things are happening. The townspeople are fighting, Ziggy feels like something is hunting her, and her beloved woods have become dark and hostile. When exotic Raffi and his grandfather arrive in town, Ziggy finds herself strangely drawn to them. But are they there to save Ziggy, or are they the hunters?

Thought-provoking and engaging, The Beast of Hushing Wood is a lovely blend of action, fable and magic realism.

I’ve been reading a bit more middle grade fiction of late as that’s the stage my oldest son is about to head into and I’m curious to see some of what’s around for this demographic that isn’t about bums. It’s a bit of a tricky age, especially as my son is an advanced reader but perhaps slightly immature. “Baby books” bore him but he struggles to find middle grade books that hold his interest so I’m always keen to try and find something that might interest him. Although I quite enjoyed this, I’m not sure he would to be honest. I get the feeling he’s too literal to embrace the whimsical side of this book!

Ziggy lives with her mother in a small town that borders a wood. The town is quite insular, suspicious of outsiders. Ziggy’s father was an outsider who ended up leaving and Ziggy’s two brothers went with him. Ziggy misses them all terribly and she hopes to visit them someday but her mother’s fear of leaving the town at the moment makes that impossible. Ziggy spends a lot of time in the woods near her house and doesn’t fear them as many others do. She also spends time with grandfather, a wise man who is now in a home because his mind is slipping.

Ziggy has begun having the same dream every night, that she will drown on her twelfth birthday which is in in the coming weeks. She has confided this to her two closest friends but not to anyone else and seems to be mostly struggling to deal with this on her own. At around the same time we meet Ziggy, a new student named Raffi comes to the school and Ziggy is immediately suspicious that he might have something to do with her dream.

Ziggy is a fun character, she’s brave and funny but with vulnerability to her too. I liked her affinity with the forest and her lack of pretense. She dresses differently to the other girls at school and acts differently but she stays true to herself. There are a lot of themes in this book that revolve around that sort of thing – being different, bullying and ostracisation at school, small town small mindedness, that sort of thing and I think that a lot of children within the 10-13 year age range would find things to identify with.

I enjoy magical realism so I liked the way that was woven into the story and there were some really interesting things happening but the build up felt better than the pay off, like it all rushed toward a conclusion in a way and the the conclusion took up a very small amount of page space. I have never read Gabrielle Wang before and the world of middle grade fiction is new to me. I didn’t even really read it when I was at the age it’s aimed at – I was always aiming to read higher. I feel like I need to learn more about it and books like this are a really good place to start. I’d love to read some more from this author, particularly The Wishbird.

I found this book quite a nice story, tackling some pertinent themes but there were times when I definitely wanted a little more from it – a fleshing out of characters, some supporting information or even just another conversation. The illustrations are cute, simple and yet somehow detailed as well and would probably serve to break up the text for struggling readers and give them a visual.

6/10

Book #83 of 2017

The Beast Of Hushing Wood is book #28 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

 

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Review: The Scent Of You by Maggie Alderson

The Scent Of You
Maggie Alderson
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 499p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Perfume blogger Polly is in crisis. Will her husband’s absence break her … or make her? A novel of perfumes, exploring life, love, loss and forgiveness – Maggie Alderson’s new bestseller.

Are you still married if you haven’t seen your husband for months?

Polly’s life is great. Her children are away at uni, her glamorous mother – still modelling at eighty-five – is happily settled in a retirement village, and her perfume blog is taking off. Then her husband announces he needs some space and promptly vanishes.

As Polly grapples with her bewildering situation, she clings to a few new friends to keep her going – Shirlee, the loudmouthed yoga student; Guy, the mysterious, infuriating and hugely talented perfumer; and Edward, an old flame from university.

And while she distracts herself with the heady world of luxury perfume, Polly knows she can’t keep reality at bay forever. Eventually she is forced to confront some difficult truths: about her husband, herself and who she really wants to be.

I’ve never read Maggie Alderson before but this book caught my attention immediately when it arrived because I love perfume. I’m not in any way knowledgeable like Polly, the main character is. She runs a perfume blog and gets invited to a lot of exciting events and launches for fragrances and is really quite well known. Her mother was a very famous model decades ago, for houses like Dior and has always had a very large perfume collection but favoured some signature scents. Polly always associated several scents with her mother – her going to a party perfume for example and she’s taken this into her everyday life. She seemed to have a very developed sense of smell, picking out a seven or so ingredient elements in a perfume very easily. I found this really interesting, so I googled the perfume I’m wearing today. According to the website, it has topnotes of pomegranate, coconut water and boysenberry, heart notes (I don’t even know what that is) of butterfly orchid, honeysuckle and blooming magnolia and base notes of blonde woods, skin musks (that sounds kind of gross to be honest) and gilded amber. And if I’m completely and utterly honest the only things I really pick up are the coconut and orchid. Maybe a touch of the boysenberry, now that I know what it is. I love perfumes though, I’ve got about a half dozen which is nothing compared to someone like Polly but I found that I really do have a bit of a “pattern” for how I choose to wear them. I have my at home perfume, which is one I just spritz on when I’m not going anywhere, maybe just the school run. I have my perfume that I wear when I’m going out but not really anywhere special, just to the shops or maybe out to brunch. I have my expensive perfume which I wear occasionally when I’m going somewhere nice, my “night” perfume which I wear out to dinner and my summer perfume which I wear only really during the warm months. Then I’ve got my “something different” perfume for when I’m bored of all of those and feel like something new. My perfumes aren’t really expensive and I don’t have  a “signature”. I buy whatever intrigues me at the time but I get the association of scents with people. My mother wears Opium and I can’t smell it without being transported back to my childhood.

So obviously this book has a lot about perfume in it as running the blog, going to events etc is part of Polly’s job and she identifies so strongly with scents that it makes up a large part of her life. But it’s not all there is to it – Polly’s personal life is in a bit of a crisis. A few days before Christmas, her husband David disappeared, leaving only a note telling her that he needed time alone and not to contact anyone or basically talk about it. Having been married for 24 years with two grown up children both at university, Polly is feeling the sting of the empty nest and David’s disappearance has only amplified that. As well as running the blog, Polly also teaches yoga each morning at her home and the loneliness she’s feeling leads to her forming friendships with several of the women who frequent her class. Through visiting her mother in a very posh retirement village (but not as we would know it) Polly has also reconnected with a former college friend, and these things all provide a distraction for her, a way to ignore the fact that her husband has vanished without warning and she doesn’t know where he is.

I found myself getting really invested in the mystery of “where is David and what is going on?” as the book progressed. At first it seems like it might be the stereotypical mid-life crisis, leaving the wife and family and taking off for a life of no responsibility or perhaps on a long work trip where he probably could be in contact but didn’t want to. But the more that you read into the story, the more that it becomes something else and when it all unfolded it was definitely something that I didn’t at all suspect and I definitely appreciated the fact that it was something unexpected and really different to anything else I’ve read where a character finds themselves in a situation similar to Polly’s. I also really liked her relationship with her children – she was very close to them and loved them very much but it felt like a realistic exasperation at times as well as pain when she finds that one of her children has been placed in a difficult position by her husband David. I felt as though Polly’s reaction to that felt very raw and real but also liked that once she had calmed down and thought on it, she didn’t hold a grudge and she was able to be a support for her children as well as they were to her, through David’s disappearance. Their family unit felt really tight but also genuine.

Some of the supporting characters were a bit too quirky – mostly the perfumer Guy, who might be brilliant but seemed to be unable to distinguish social cues and interactions and to be honest, some of his behaviour was a bit creepy and I felt like I couldn’t discern whether or not he’d end up a lifelong friend or someone that Polly ended up taking a restraining order out on. But I also felt like Polly enabled some of his outrageous behaviour as well, or wasn’t firm enough with him when he crossed boundaries and was generally acting in ways that could be seen as inappropriate. I noticed that Polly really was quite non-confrontational across the board. She preferred to retreat and calm down before facing people again, rather than just tell them that what they were doing was upsetting her etc. I could relate to that, it’s the way I tend to be too because I’d rather just avoid having to talk to people when they’re doing something that makes me angry or upset or uncomfortable.

I really enjoyed this book – loved learning more about perfumes and what goes into making them and the way in which different perfumes are included in families. It was also really fun to read about a blogger who had turned a passion into something much more and I’ve never read about perfume before. I spent about an hour after I finished the book googling the perfumes I have and learning what was in them and I’m pretty sure I’ll be googling perfumes I want to buy, seeing if they have anything in common with the ones I already own and like.

Definitely going to be looking for more Maggie Alderson books to read in the future. Not only did she take something that’s a part of my everyday life that I never thought about before and made me think about it and also enjoy thinking about it, but I also really liked the way she wrote relationships and friendships of all varieties.

8/10

Book #84 of 2017

 

The Scent Of You is book #29 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Those Pleasant Girls by Lia Weston

Those Pleasant Girls
Lia Weston
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 327p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Evie Pleasant, nee Bouvier, is back in town. In a figure-hugging skirt, high heels and a pin-up hairdo, she’s unrecognisable from the wild child who waged war on Sweet Meadow in her youth.

She’s made a promise to herself: ‘No swearing. No drinking. No stealing. No fires.’

Trailing a reluctant 16-year-old daughter and armed with cake making equipment, Evie’s divorce and impending poverty has made her desperate enough to return to Sweet Meadow to seduce her former partner-in-crime and start again.

But the townsfolk have long memories and the renegade ex-boyfriend is now the highly-respected pastor. Evie’s cakes have a job to do.

Everything hasn’t exactly gone to plan lately in Evie Pleasant’s life. She’s finally divorcing her husband and while the settlement gets hammered out (something Gabe is being deliberately obstructive on) she’s taken their teenage daughter Mary and gone back to the house of her youth, left to her after the death of her mother. Turns out that Evie was quite a notorious figure around the small town of Sweet Meadow and some of those residents have long memories. Evie will have to make many apologies for fires, thefts and other childish pranks but she’s willing to do that in order to achieve her goal – seducing her childhood best friend who just now happens to be pastor of the local church.

Evie has had to reinvent herself….in with pencil skirts, heels and up-dos, out with lazy trackies and swearing. She has to prove that she’s worthy of the community and especially that she’s worthy of its pastor. Nathan might have been her partner in crime years ago but now he holds a position of responsibility in the community, leading a church that is struggling in both facilities and cashflow. Evie attempts to win over skeptical townfolk with her delicious baked treats, attempting to woo them to her side so that she might become more involved in the town. The only trouble is, whilst Nathan might’ve been a solid plan in her head, are they really even suited? And does Evie want to be this new version of herself forever?

I really enjoyed this book. Evie was such a fun character – a bit scatty at times and so focused on her “goal” that she often couldn’t see what was right in front of her face, but I do admire her for sucking up a lot of things and going back to a place that she knew wasn’t going to be easy. Evie seemed to have had quite a charmed life with her former husband (until the negative couldn’t be ignored anymore) but now she’s faced with starting over, attempting to provide for herself and Mary, who is also struggling to fit in. Evie joins committees, she thinks of fundraising ideas, she swallows her pride and applies for jobs in stores she once terrorised years ago.

I loved the character of Mary, Evie’s teenage daughter who has also had her life uprooted and had to move to a town where she recognises immediately that she will struggle to fit in. Evie wants her to make “girlfriends” but instead Mary falls in with other misfits Travis and Mini D. She finds herself harbouring a crush on Zach, the boyfriend of the head of the cliquey girls group and like most teenagers, doesn’t heed any of the warnings that come her way about him. That felt like such a genuine teenage experience though, in more ways than one. Mary is also struggling with her feelings for her father – she accepts his actions and behaviour are the reasons for why she is where she is but she also loves him and wants his attention and for him to be proud of her. At the same time, she is also irritated with herself for wanting that when it seems as though her father is living his own life with little regard for her wellbeing. He’s dragging the settlement out (for reasons that aren’t really explained) and doesn’t seem to be contributing to the cost of Mary’s care. Mary was quite a complex character, well fleshed out and with a sharp humour that I enjoyed. She had an unusual interest in horticulture (with a good background given for the reason for this) which gave her the opportunity to herself connect with a few members of the town. Mary was the sort of person who was always going to make a mistake but also be the stronger for it.

There’s a fair bit of quirk in this book and not all of it will work for everybody I don’t think – not all of it worked for me. But a huge amount of it did and I found it quite funny. Some of the characters are ridiculously over the top and very tongue in cheek but I enjoyed it. There’s a tiny sliver of sweet romance in there as well.

My only complaint is that I feel some things could’ve been a bit better fleshed out……Evie’s relationship with her parents, the resolution of her marriage to Gabe, just to name a couple. But overall I thought this was a nice easy read to pass an afternoon with a cast of fun characters.

8/10

Book #80 of 2017

Those Pleasant Girls is book #27 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Talk Of The Town by Rachael Johns

Talk Of The Town
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2017, 399
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lawson Cooper-Jones has two priorities in life – his son, Ned, and the survival of the dairy farm that has been in his family for generations. Despite the best efforts of the town matchmakers and the determined pursuit of local girl Adeline Walsh, Lawson’s heart belongs still, and only, to his late wife.

But when a flat tyre strands Lawson and Ned in nearby Rose Hill, he’s surprised to find a woman living alone in the old general store of the deserted town. Ned immediately forms a bond with the beautiful stranger called Meg, and Lawson is surprised to find himself captivated by her too.

Although shy at first, Meg starts to open up to him about the haunting secrets of her new home and, with Lawson unable to get her out of his head, they agree to investigate the history of the old building together. Soon they find their friendship has bloomed into something more.

But when meddling Adeline makes it her mission to uncover the truth about the newcomer and her real identity is revealed, Lawson and Meg’s budding romance comes crashing down. Can they both learn to forgive in order to claim a future for their damaged hearts?

Rural romance is such a palate cleanser for me. I’ve had a few books I didn’t really click with lately but I know when I pick up one of Rachael Johns’ books that that particular problem won’t be an issue.

Meg is a woman with secrets – from the beginning it’s obvious that she’s fleeing Melbourne due to some negative attention from the press and as a result she’s picked a very secluded place, a town that pretty much isn’t one anymore and only has two real residents. Even the thought of doing things like groceries and seeing other people gives Meg anxiety and she fears being recognised.

When a flat tyre brings dairy farmer Lawson Cooper-Jones and his young son Ned to her door, Meg doesn’t want to interact however she’s kind of forced to. Ned immediately takes a liking to her and there’s a flicker between Lawson and Meg too. If Meg could put her past behind her, she might find a way to carve a new life for herself.

What I loved about this book was having a heroine who had made some real mistakes in her past. Meg has definitely been through some troubled times and made some bad choices as well. Her story unfolds in a way that I did not expect but I thought it gave her really believable motivation for wanting to be in such an isolated location and attempt to put her life back together.

Lawson is a single father who also runs a dairy farm and this book takes time to examine the issues facing farmers as well. It’s something that’s been quite front and centre in political and social headlines around the country. I also liked the glimpse into the workings of the farm as Lawson shows Meg around when their friendship develops. The two of them have a nice, easy chemistry and Lawson’s relaxed nature is perfect for putting Meg at ease and making her feel comfortable. Ned really takes to Meg and the two develop quite a rapport. Lawson’s widowed status is handled with gentle care as well, highlighting a believable kaleidoscope of emotions as he readies himself to move in and have feelings for a woman who is not his late wife.

What would a romance be without some conflict and the way in which this one develops is a real strength of the book. Meg has her secrets – she’s unprepared for the swiftness of her feelings for Lawson and misses several opportunities to confide in him about her past. These things have a way of coming out though and the parallel between Meg’s past and Lawson’s tragedy is a really clever piece of writing and I thought the way it played out worked very well. Meg has both reasons to tell Lawson and yet reasons not to and Lawson also inadvertently kept things from her too that made things all the more complicated when everything was laid bare. It’s not all about the romance though and some of the other relationships in this book are developed with care and sensitivity – in particular the friendship between Meg and her neighbour Archie who bond over shared experiences and regrets. Meg might’ve been seeking solitude when she originally arrived but she nurtures friendships in several directions, perhaps craving a return to a “normal” life, one where she doesn’t need to fear people knowing her past. Or knowing it and not judging her for it, understanding the circumstances that led her there and the fact that she’s changed now.

If she chooses, I get the feeling Rachael Johns could return to this setting she has created multiple times, the way she did with the Outback books. Already it seemed some small seeds were planted for a story involving Lawson’s sister. It’s definitely the sort of place that I believe a reader would be happy to return to – I know I definitely would!

8/10

Book #79 of 2017

Talk Of The Town is book #26 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster

The Hidden Hours
Sara Foster
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 367p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Keeping her secret may save her family.

But telling it may save her life.

Arabella Lane, senior executive at a children’s publisher, is found dead in the Thames on a frosty winter’s morning after the office Christmas party. No one is sure whether she jumped or was pushed. The one person who may know the truth is the newest employee at Parker & Lane – the office temp, Eleanor.

Eleanor has travelled to London to escape the repercussions of her traumatic childhood in outback Australia, but now tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. To her horror, she has no memory of the crucial hours leading up to Arabella’s death – memory that will either incriminate or absolve her.

As Eleanor desperately tries to remember her missing hours and uncover the events of that fateful night, her own extended family is dragged further into the dark, terrifying terrain of blame, suspicion and guilt.

Caught in a crossfire of accusations, Eleanor fears she can’t even trust herself, let alone the people around her. And soon, she’ll find herself in a race against time to find out just what happened that night – and discover just how deadly some secrets can be.

This is Sara Foster’s fifth novel and it immediately sounded intriguing. A death in a publishing house – so much potential!

The narrator Eleanor is young, early twenties and in London for the first time. Although her mother was English Eleanor was born and raised in Australia, including for some time on a relatively remote property while her father was building them a house. Pretty much immediately the reader is privy to the fact that there was some sort of traumatic event in Eleanor’s past, something that haunts her still and it’s for that reason that she’s in London, attempting to get her life back on an even keel. She’s staying with her mother’s brother Ian, a work-from-home architect whose formidable wife Susan is someone high up at the publisher where Eleanor has scored a job as an assistant. Eleanor attends the Christmas party hoping to get to know some of her colleagues and she wakes hungover and disoriented the day after, uncomfortably aware that she has some significant gaps in her memory of the night before. One thing she does remember though, was socialising with Arabella, the woman who was found in the Thames the next morning.

What follows is a convoluted attempt by Eleanor to retrieve her memories and make sure that it wasn’t her that killed Arabella, be it accidentally or otherwise and figure out who did, before she potentially becomes their next victim with what she can piece together. She seems to make a rather convenient scapegoat and as she stumbles around lurching from one disaster and troubled moment to the next, it’s honestly not hard to see why someone might want to use her that way. Eleanor is pretty much a mess. She’s intimidated by almost everyone. She has something quite important and she basically tells everyone she knows that she has it, even though it’s incredibly incriminating. She trusts people she shouldn’t for the weirdest of reasons and she deliberately puts herself in dangerous situations in misguided attempts to discover information like she’s a private detective.

As well as the current day story revolving around Arabella’s death and Eleanor’s missing memory, the book also contains flashbacks to Eleanor’s childhood and her father moving them into a shed on a piece of land while he builds their house. I wasn’t sure of the exact timeframe but it seems to be a task that seemingly takes much longer than anyone anticipated. Eleanor’s relationship with her parents, with her brother and her brother’s relationship with their parents is absolutely masterfully portrayed and this for me, was the highlight of the book. Particularly the orchestration of the family’s interactions with their elderly closest neighbour. I really felt a lot of dread about the way that things were playing out, because you knew from the beginning of the book that something really tragic occurs but it’s left unclear as to who it was and I sifted through several options. This part of the narrative was very strong with deliberate confusion and a real feeling of dread stitched into the story as it approached the climactic tragic event. I applauded the subterfuge, which felt refreshing.

It was for me, far stronger than the modern day portion of the story which at times, failed to hold my interest. Arabella disintegrated into a bit of a cliche and by the end I barely even cared who had killed her and how/why it happened. Eleanor was a scatty, disoriented character that was hard to really identify with or place much faith in because she was so vague and frightened of her own shadow. I understand that what happened to her was frightening but it was concerning that she even allowed herself to be in this position. It seemed she was so glad for Arabella to notice her and talk to her that she would’ve gone along with anything and it could’ve had some really awful consequences for Eleanor as well as Arabella.

Loved the story set in the past, didn’t really love the one in the present day. Idea was good, just a few things in the execution let it down a bit for me. There seemed a lack of real suspense and urgency at the conclusion of the present day story as well, which made it feel a bit lacklustre. I wasn’t surprised at the conclusion, nor did I feel as though it had much of an impact.

6/10

Book #76 of 2017

The Hidden Hours is book #25 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Remind Me How This Ends
Gabrielle Tozer
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 338p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s the summer after high school ends and everyone is moving on. Winning scholarships. Heading to uni. Travelling the world. Everyone except Milo Dark. Milo feels his life is stuck on pause. His girlfriend is 200km away, his mates have bailed for bigger things and he is convinced he’s missed the memo reminding him to plan the rest of his life. Then Layla Montgomery barrels back into his world after five years without so much as a text message.

As kids, Milo and Layla were family friends who shared everything – hiding out in her tree house, secrets made at midnight, and sunny afternoons at the river. But they haven’t spoken since her mum’s funeral. Layla’s fallen apart since that day. She pushed away her dad, dropped out of school and recently followed her on-again-off-again boyfriend back to town because she has nowhere else to go. Not that she’s letting on how tough things have been.

What begins as innocent banter between Milo and Layla soon draws them into a tangled mess with a guarantee that someone will get hurt. While it’s a summer they’ll never forget, is it one they want to remember?

It pains me to write this, but I struggled with this book.

I was really looking forward to it. I loved Tozer’s The Intern and was really excited about this. The cover is lovely and it was getting glowing reviews everywhere. I couldn’t find it in a nearby bookstore so I even ordered it in. I was so keen that I even started it pretty much right away.

It’s a split male/female point of view – Milo has just finished school, missed the cut off to apply for university because he didn’t know what he wanted to do and as a result, is still stuck in his small country town while his girlfriend and friend have moved away to bigger cities and are experiencing all that university has to offer. When he goes to visit Sal, his girlfriend, he’s rendered insecure by the raucous friendships and the closeness that Sal has developed with her fellow residentials. Sal seems to be changing rapidly but for Milo, a lot of things are still the same.

He runs into an old childhood friend named Layla who moved away some five or so years ago and Milo hasn’t seen her since. Layla is in a position similar to Milo’s in a way in that her life has become somewhat static. She’s moved out of home and is living with her boyfriend Kurt, who seems to be delving deeper into the seedier side of life for an income. Layla finds herself back in the town that is the source of so much pain for her but a bright spot is reconnecting with Milo. They were such good friends back in the day and gravitate towards each other once more now that Layla has returned. The only thing is that their friendship seems to have….become a bit more complicated, which is a bit awkward as Milo has a girlfriend and Layla has a boyfriend.

On one hand, I do find a bit of what this book explores very interesting and that is the post-high school period. A lot of pressure is placed upon year 12 students to know what they want to do, to have it all sorted out and even if you don’t, apply for something, apply for anything because once you’re in you can always switch later. Milo doesn’t know what he wants to do – he has not a single clue. He just knows that he doesn’t want to waste time and so he spends his days working in his parent’s bookshop and avoiding talks on his future. His parents seem very keen to have him do something. If he’s taking a gap year, they’re already on his back about maybe buying a house, studying this or that, doing something. His tactic is to attempt to avoid really and it doesn’t really seem like his father would listen anyway.

Where I struggled was with the actual characters themselves and their interactions. Milo – to be 100% honest I found him bland and uninteresting, lacking in anything remotely resembling a personality. He passively sits by and watches every thing else going on around him with little regard or interest in well, pretty much anything. He even ended up in a relationship with Sal more by accident than out of any real feeling for her and he seems to view the disintegration of their relationship after she moves to university with detachment.

I found Layla more interesting – actually I felt sorry for Layla in a lot of ways. But some of those ways really didn’t get much clear resolution which I felt was unfortunate. I’d have liked one scene with Layla and her father, a bonus if he actually acknowledged the ways in which his actions had made her life somewhat difficult over the past few years. Layla has very much been left to raise herself in a way and it gets to the stage where she really needs help but feels that she can’t ask for it. Her hand ends up being forced and it works out in such a way that you wonder why she was reluctant in the first place. I felt that her relationship with her boyfriend was somewhat inconsistent – well more that he was inconsistent, attempting to be supportive sometimes and at others being completely absent, uninterested and dismissive.

But what I most didn’t ‘feel’ about the story was the sort of budding romance between Milo and Layla. I just didn’t feel that any of their interactions had chemistry. The friendship was nice, but it never really seemed believable any further than that for me. What I did like? Was the ending. It felt like that’s the way it should’ve gone, that it was the right way to go for both of them, who still had much to work through.

A mixed bag unfortunately – for me this just did not live up to the hype.

6/10

Book #75 of 2017

Remind Me How This Ends is book #24 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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