All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart

Digging Up Dirt (Poppy McGowan Mysteries #1)
Pamela Hart
Harlequin AUS
2021, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Renovations are hell. And that’s before you find the body beneath the floorboards. An intriguing mystery from a stylish new voice in crime fiction, for readers of Kerry Greenwood and Holly Throsby.

When your builder finds bones under the floor of your heritage home, what do you do? For TV researcher Poppy McGowan, the first step is to find out if the bones are human (which means calling in the cops and delaying her renovations) or animal (which doesn’t).

Unfortunately, ‘help’ comes in the form of Dr Julieanne Weaver, archaeologist, political hopeful, and Poppy’s old enemy. She declares the bones evidence of a rare breed of fat-tailed sheep, and slaps a heritage order on the site. The resultant archaeological dig introduces Poppy to Tol Lang, the best-looking archaeologist she’s ever met – and also Julieanne’s boyfriend.

When Julieanne is found murdered in Poppy’s house, both she and the increasingly attractive Tol are considered suspects – and so Poppy uses her media contacts and news savvy to investigate other suspects. Did Julieanne have enemies in the right-wing Australian Family party, for which she was seeking preselection, or in the affiliated Radiant Joy Church? Or at the Museum of New South Wales, among her rivals and ex-boyfriends? And who was her secret lover?

Can Poppy save herself, and Tol … and finally get her house back? 

This was…..okay. I think for me, the strength was really the setting. I really like inner-Sydney and sometimes books focus a lot on different areas of Sydney and they become too commonly represented in fiction. But Annandale is a fun suburb and Poppy’s job working at the ABC takes her around the city, to places like Luna Park and I feel like the feel of Sydney really came through. I was also interested in the renovation process, as Annandale is quite an old suburb and it seems like there’s a lot of things that could complicate the renovation, should there be a discovery of historical interest. Even the fact that the bones are sheep, not human, doesn’t let Poppy off the hook immediately. There are apparently, types of sheep that would be very interesting to historical societies!

Where I didn’t really enjoy this book, was the heavy themes of politics and religion and the combination thereof. I think the big church is kind of supposed to be like Hillsong? It had all the markers: a charismatic pastor who might be not quite what he seemed, his submissive and obedient wife and the perfectly turned out and well behaved children as well as a few people connected quite high up and the fact that they were dipping into pushing “family values” in politics where the only values they care about involve one white man, one white woman joined in holy matrimony before Jesus and the obligatory few children, all of whom attend church, wear purity rings and etc. As well as that, Poppy’s parents are devoted Catholics and expect Poppy and her siblings to all be virgins up until they marry (it’s 2021 and Poppy is like, 30 but okay Mum and Dad). Poppy is expected to attend Mass whilst living under their roof and all of that about religion just makes me feel very uncomfortable. Just let people make their own choices. Poppy is pretty clear in this about believing in God but it definitely seems like she’s forced into certain aspects of her parent’s beliefs. Also she sees herself as the disappointment of her family: she’s not married and her parents all seem infinitely surprised when she turns out to be good at her job or does well getting a plum interview. I also wasn’t sure how realistic that was, a researcher elevated to basically getting all the amazing interviews surrounding this murder and not one actual news reporter has any questions for Poppy about that.

There’s also a lot of weirdness about the romance. Poppy has a boyfriend, Stuart but he’s very boring and also turns out to be a liar and when Julieanne arrives to look at the bones, she brings her latest boyfriend, Bartholomew Lang (known as “Tol”). There’s this attraction between Poppy and Tol but his girlfriend is found dead in her house, which you’d think, might be a bit of a dampener, they’re also both “persons of interest” but they just keep having moments and both are quite flippant about dead Julieanne. I know she and Poppy were not friends and she and Tol were only together a few weeks or months but yikes, some of it just felt really, really cold. And I was not really keen for them to be a couple. Tol is also supposed to leave to go back on some dig overseas so I don’t know if he’ll return in future books – why do I feel like he’ll return just enough to mess up anything Poppy might have going with anyone else. Be one of those characters that pops in and out, when he is in-between digs, just doing enough so that Poppy maintains an interest in him.

I would be interested in reading the next instalment of this, hopefully without the religious and political overtones (sometimes, some of the issues with the conservative political party, felt mentioned really often) just to see whether it was the particular story itself that didn’t work for me or the character of Poppy as well because at the moment, I’m not really sure.

Didn’t love this one, didn’t really dislike it. It’s just in the middle.

5/10

Book #174 of 2021

Digging Up Dirt is book #75 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr

Please Don’t Hug Me
Kay Kerr
Text Publishing
2020, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A funny-serious own-voices story about what happens when you stop trying to be the person other people expect you to be and give yourself a go.

Erin is looking forward to Schoolies, at least she thinks she is. But things are not going to plan. Life is getting messy, and for Erin, who is autistic, that’s a big problem. She’s lost her job at Surf Zone after an incident that clearly was not her fault. Her driving test went badly even though she followed the instructions perfectly. Her boyfriend is not turning out to be the romantic type. And she’s missing her brother, Rudy, who left almost a year ago.

But now that she’s writing letters to him, some things are beginning to make just a tiny bit of sense.

If I had to think of one word to describe this book, I think it’d be “raw”.

I’d had it on my radar for a while, mostly for the cover I think. Who doesn’t love a cinnamon donut? I wasn’t sure why the cover was cinnamon donuts, but it turns out that when our main character Erin has a bad day, her best friend brings her hot cinnamon donuts from a donut chain here in Australia called Donut King (who do absolutely excellent hot cinnamon donuts). This was something I could definitely get behind. I know donuts would definitely make a bad day better for me.

Erin is autistic and at the moment, she is going through a time. She’s in her final year of school, navigating everything that brings and means especially with her diagnosis, which means that situations that are not stressful for others, or that they enjoy, are not something that Erin enjoys. She only really has one proper friend, the rest of the group are just friends with her best friend and seem to regard Erin as an inevitability and generally treat her with indifference ranging to hostility. Erin doesn’t enjoy parties or large social gatherings but she’s saving for schoolies anyway, because it’s sold as this defining experience – the reward of all your 13 years hard work. Losing her job doesn’t help with this and for some unknown reason, Erin is writing open letters to her older brother Rudy.

Erin and Rudy are clearly very different – Rudy comes across through Erin’s letters as a larrikin, a life of the party sort, the type of person that everyone loves to have around, who pulls pranks and occasionally gets in trouble – maybe pushes the envelope a bit. He’s also a source of conflict in the house, due to his mother’s enabling and protecting of him when he does things like drop out of TAFE (technical college) and the like, versus their father’s frustration with him. For some reason, Rudy isn’t around anymore and Erin’s writing to him is a form of therapy as some sort of anniversary approaches. There’s a couple of possibilities for Rudy’s absence from Erin’s life and it’s not until well into the book that the reason for Rudy not being there for Erin to talk to is revealed.

Everything in this book is told from Erin’s point of view in one of her letters to Rudy: her life at school, her at times tenuous friendship with her best friend, the fracturing of her family, her struggles with the world around her and her anger at Rudy for not being there anymore to make things better. It’s very powerful to read a lot of Erin’s thoughts and things that happen to her from her own point of view, particularly things where she doesn’t understand what she could’ve done differently to achieve a different outcome or understand the outcome itself.

Throughout the book, Erin finds strength to stand up for herself in certain circumstances, such as against her boyfriend Mitch, who treats her with condescension verging on gaslighting, as well as choosing options that make her comfortable rather than her doing things because her friend wants to. She develops a voice, perhaps through writing the letters and getting some clarity whilst writing them. We also learn what happened to Rudy and how/why he isn’t around anymore and the impact that has had on everyone in and around Erin’s circle and especially, how that has impacted on Erin herself and how the letters are helping her process all of her feelings.

This is a quick read but very powerful. It’s an own voices story, with the author also being autistic and I think that it really shows in Erin’s character, that this comes from a place of deep understanding. There’s such an openness in the letters, perhaps because she’s writing to someone that she really cares about and through those letters, you get a good idea of the sibling relationship Erin and Rudy shared, despite being quite different. The things they knew about and confided in each other, the small ways in which Rudy tried to help Erin during difficult times, when things had become overwhelming for her. It all contributes to make the story of what happened, all the more deeply effective.

Despite the often dark tones, I felt like the ending of this book had a hopeful, uplifting sort of feel as well. Erin really did grow as a character throughout the course of the book and had learned in some ways, to express herself and put herself first in terms of what she wanted to do for herself and there were some positive signs for her family as well.

Would definitely recommend.

8/10

Book #172 of 2021

Please Don’t Hug Me is book #74 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: The Five Year Plan by Jodi Gibson

The Five Year Plan
Jodi Gibson
Brio Books
2021,
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: At 33, Demi Moretti’s five-year plan is on track. She’s moved in with her boyfriend Wil, and is waiting patiently for her father to retire so she can take over the running of the family café.

But when her father blindsides her by handing the café to her older brother Nick, and she suspects Wil might be cheating on her, Demi’s five year plan crumbles like crostoli.

Determined to get things back on track, Demi travels to Italy to learn more about her Italian heritage, and to give her and Wil some much needed space. And also in the hope that while she’s away, her father will come to his senses.

But her travels don’t go to plan either. Long held family feuds, a love triangle from the past, and an unexpected new friend in Leo, all come together to make Demi question everything – especially her five year plan.

Will Demi get her plan back on track?

Or will she realise that sometimes fate has other ideas?

The Five Year Plan is contemporary women’s fiction novel with a touch of humour and a lot of heart. It will appeal to readers who want to be whisked away from their day to day life and immersed in a feel-good story of food, travel, and romance.

This was an easy read romantic comedy about family, food and love.

Demi is in her 30s and she’s had a five year plan that she believes is coming together. It’s something that she’s been really focused on and then when it falls apart, she’s a bit lost. Instead of being able to get her family’s Melbourne cafe, her dad tells her that he wants to give it to her older brother, for tradition, as he’s the eldest son. Then her relationship with her boyfriend Will falls apart and as a reaction, Demi leaves for Italy, where her parents come from but haven’t been back to since coming to Australia. Her plan is to learn about the food, to work in the family trattoria there and soak up the culture.

Firstly, I loved the parts of the story set in Italy. I’ve never been overseas but I’ve mentioned often that my husband’s family are from Sicily so Italy is somewhere that interests me. He’s not interested at all in seeing it but I’d happily add it to my list if I won lotto! I think the descriptions of the food and the area where Demi’s family live are amazing and this book will definitely make you hungry and probably long for an overseas holiday, somewhere warm and beautiful. Especially after the last almost two-years, where most people, especially where I live, had done a whole lot of staying at home.

I thought that this book needed a bit more oomph – Demi seemed such a passive character. She doesn’t push things with her parents, or her brother, she doesn’t raise her concerns or speak her mind about her true desires. It’s the same with her boyfriend and when she’s in Italy, she’s passive there as well. She feels like one of her cousins doesn’t like her but never really tries to find out what the problem might be. And when the handsome man she meets and has a connection with turns out to belong to a family hers is mortal enemies with, she’s quite meek about that too.

This has kind of a Romeo & Juliet feel about it – Demi meets a man at the airport and later sees him again on the plane and thinks he’s handsome and nice. She expects to never see him again except he turns up in the same Italian village she’s visiting and then ends up being from a rival family. It’s some sort of animosity that stretches back generations and seemed to start over something ridiculous but everyone is very serious about it and at first they are able to successfully keep their budding holiday romance a secret but then her family find out and are horrified – even though Demi is only there temporarily. It’s all very dramatic, with lots of emphasis on being loyal to family despite Demi never having met these people before and knowing absolutely nothing about this blood feud.

The pacing felt a bit uneven in places – quite slow then lots would happen, then it would throttle back again. But overall I enjoyed it and felt like it was a nice, relaxing read to settle into during this lockdown. It made me desperately crave some orrecchiette and a trip to breathe in some salty ocean air.

6/10

Book #165 of 2021

This was book #72 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2021

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Review: Montana by Fiona McArthur

Montana (Lyrebird Lake #1)
Fiona McArthur
Self-published
2020, 213p
Freebie via iBooks

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}: The Midwives of Lyrebird Lake – where every day brings a miracle.

Montana Book 1

For midwife Montana, finding out she was pregnant was the best moment of her life. But days later she was widowed. Nine months have passed, her daughter is born, and Montana knows she needs a fresh start.

Dr Andy Buchanan is building services at Lyrebird Lake Hospital and he wants Montana for the new maternity unit. He can’t get the beautiful new mum out of his mind.

Lyrebird Lake is the perfect place for Montana to build a new life – with Andy?

And then there’s the magical myth of the lyrebirds… 

Sometimes, you just crave a quiet read, and this book fit the bill perfectly. And I don’t mean quiet in a negative way at all – sometimes, I prefer a read with lower level conflict and less drama, just as a relaxing read or a palate cleanser, especially after quite a few high stakes or depressing reads. And I always enjoy Fiona McArthur’s books – her main characters are almost almost midwives, which I enjoy reading about and the quiet, slower pace of them is soothing.

Montana lost her husband tragically just after finding out she was pregnant. Nine months later, her daughter was born and Montana is restless. An opportunity to move north to the rural community of Lyrebird Lake presents itself and Montana grabs it. There she can relax into being a new mother but with support around her and also the opportunity to establish a maternity unit at the small local hospital. It would mean local women getting to birth close to home, rather than having to travel to a bigger hospital. Also tempting for Montana is Dr Andy Buchanan, who has experienced loss just like she has and who is making her wonder when the right time to move on is.

This was just a really nice calming sort of read, it was easy and quite quick but despite that, the pace was slower, very mellow. The characters are still well-fleshed out though and there was enough time to really develop the area of Lyrebird Lake and give the reader an idea of who they might expect to see books about in the future. I’ll definitely keep these books in mind for times when I need something to chill out with.

6/10

Book #164 of 2021

This is book #71 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: You Had It Coming by B.M. Carroll

You Had It Coming
B.M. Carroll
Viper
2021, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: WOULD YOU SAVE THE MAN WHO DESTROYED YOUR LIFE?

When paramedic Megan Lowe is called to the scene of an attempted murder, all she can do is try to save the victim. But as the man is lifted onto a stretcher, she realises she knows him. She despises him. Why should she save his life when he destroyed hers?

Jess Foster is on her way home when she receives a text from Megan. Once best friends, the two women haven’t been close for years, not since the night when they were just the teenage girls whom no-one believed; whose reputations were ruined. All Jess can think is, you had it coming.

Now Megan and Jess are at the centre of a murder investigation. But what secrets are they hiding? Can they trust one another? And who really is the victim?

Perfect for fans of C.L. Taylor, Lucy Foley and Lisa Hall, You Had It Coming is a thrilling tale of suspense and dark secrets.

This was another book I added on a whim in my department store book haul. I’ve read Ber (aka B.M) Carroll before, many years ago and I’ve heard amazing things about the book she wrote before this one.

It starts off about the shooting of a defense lawyer William Newson and who might’ve wanted to kill a successful man. Was it connected to a previous case? His divorce? For the investigating officers, it means going back through what he had done, who he had represented and the outcomes and what they dig up provides more questions than it does answers.

But primarily, the book dives into a look at how sexual assault is defended in court, the outcomes, the difficulties in the investigations, and the fallout of such court cases. William Newson was a man who believed passionately in the law and that everyone was entitled to a fair and just trial – which is why he represented people who were accused of crimes. This book also showcases the way in which he chose to defend some of those people, particularly those accused of rape and sexual assault. Twisting the narrative, turning the accused into the victim and turning the accusers into liars.

William Newson saved reputations and ruined lives. In his quest for a fair trial, he didn’t seem to care what he said about the person who had experienced the crime. It’s something that comes up time and time again in a look at sexual assault – trial by media does it too. What was she wearing? Had she been drinking? Did she actually say no? Was she just embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to find out what she’d done? Did she regularly lie to her parents? Is she a known troublemaker? Is the boy/man accused from a good family and wealthy background? Are they a promising student? We’ve all seen it, read it, heard it before.

This book isn’t about that sort of trial, although flashbacks of it are included cleverly within the book. Instead, it’s more about the ‘after’ – what happens after the not-guilty verdict is returned? How do these women, who have stepped forward to make the accusations, cope? How does it affect their lives, their relationships, their friendships even? What is the fallout for their family as well (as we discover in this book, when the accused is from a rich and powerful family, the answer to that can be ‘significant’).

I really enjoyed the way this was told: from the viewpoints of Megan and Jess, two of the women who, as girls, had faced William Newson in a court room and came out on the losing side. It’s been ten years since then and life has taken them in very different directions and the shooting of Newson brings them back together. It also puts them and members of their family, or those closest to them, firmly in the frame as potential suspects. As well as the viewpoints of Megan and Jess, we also get the viewpoint of the investigating officer, Detective Sargeant Bridget Kennedy who balances her busy job with being a wife and mother of two teenagers. Bridget often feels pulled in different directions and experiences guilt when her job keeps her away from home for long hours, leaving husband Shane to pick up the slack. Sometimes, before chapters focusing on either Megan or Jess, we get quotes from the statements William Newson made during the trial, focusing on picking apart their claims or on discrediting them. It’s very effective, rather than including the whole trial.

I thought the characters were excellently portrayed here – there was a lot of complexity to them, not just the main characters but also the secondary characters as well. The families had interesting dynamics and in many ways you could see how many of them had been impacted by the result of the court case that Megan and Jess had been involved in. I also really appreciated the direction the story took towards the end. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I liked how much it made me think and reassess who could be a victim.

Clever and enjoyable and definitely one that would provoke a lot of conversation.

8/10

Book #163 of 2021

You Had It Coming is book #70 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

Dark Rise (Dark Rise #1)
C.S. Pacat
Allen & Unwin
2021, 464p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The ancient world of magic is no more. Its heroes are dead, its halls are ruins, and its great battles between Light and Dark are forgotten. Only the Stewards remember, and they keep their centuries-long vigil, sworn to protect humanity if the Dark King ever returns.

Sixteen-year-old dock boy Will is on the run, pursued by the men who killed his mother. When an old servant tells him of his destiny to fight beside the Stewards, Will is ushered into a world of magic, where he must train to play a vital role in the oncoming battle against the Dark.

As London is threatened by the Dark King’s return, the reborn heroes and villains of a long-forgotten war begin to draw battle lines. But as the young descendants of Light and Dark step into their destined roles, old allegiances, old enmities and old flames are awakened. Will must stand with the last heroes of the Light to prevent the fate that destroyed their world from returning to destroy his own.

I was very excited when I saw this book was coming out because I really loved the Captive Prince trilogy – much more than I anticipated when I picked up the first book. I found it really addictive and the story of Damianos and Laurent so compelling and the backdrop of political intrigue and war was so well done. For fans of that series, I think you are really going to enjoy this one.

The setting is a little more familiar to readers, being London although in the 1800s. It’s a world where magic once was but is no longer, for the most part. There was a great battle previously, between a Dark King and the Lady – a very good vs evil type of battle but now, some of the players are about to rise again. Someone seeks to raise the Dark King and are looking to completely exterminate anyone who has the blood of the Lady.

Will is a teenager who remembers spending years on the run with his mother. He is told to seek out an order who will protect him and it isn’t just protection he finds but friendship and knowledge. Will is preparing for an epic fight, to be able to defeat those that seek to raise the Dark King – and possibly the Dark King himself, should they fail. It’s the sort of fight where they seem hopelessly outnumbered and there are twists and turns in the plot that flip everything you think you know upside down.

Anyone who has read Captive Prince knows that C.S. Pacat is a master of the slow burn and this looks to be no exception. This book contains mostly set up – introducing the reader to their key characters and planting some small seeds to build the anticipation and expectation for what we know will be coming and I am so here for it. I am a big fan of the slow burn, the building of intensity and feelings until the tension basically snaps. I can’t wait to see how things develop with this part of the story because it just has so much potential.

Will has spent so much of his time on the run that he basically hardly knows anything at the beginning of the book, only that he is running from people who want to kill him, the same people that killed his mother. So Will is on a journey of discovery and at the place of refuge, he basically learns about the battle that book place, the Dark vs Light and the plan to raise the Dark King again as the reader does. The world building is good in that it gives the reader time to settle into the timeframe and the parts of the world that are “regular” that C.S. Pacat has chosen before she infuses it with fantasy and magic and potential battles that could destroy humanity. I had a huge amount of interest in the time where the previous battle took place and I feel like there’s a lot of that time period which could still be explored in much more detail in future books. Particularly after the twist at the end of the book, which definitely isn’t entirely unexpected but still flips the main trope in this book on its head. This world could be so richly detailed and I’ve no doubt that it will be expanded upon and delved into, history wise in future books and I’m really looking forward to seeing that development – the development of everything because I know just how much things will evolve and move forward and it will be glorious. Inject this slow burn into my veins.

I also really enjoyed some of the other characters – not really going to say minor as one was a POV character and one is definitely going to evolve into main character status. A little word of advice though – don’t really get attached to anyone in this book. Things….happen.

An excellent start to the series and I am super keen for book 2.

9/10

Book #169 of 2021

Dark Rise is book #73 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Cutters End by Margaret Hickey

Cutters End
Margaret Hickey
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A scintillating crime thriller, set in the South Australian outback town of Cutters End. A mysterious death on New Year’s Eve 1989 leads to a shocking murder investigation 32 years later…

A desert highway. A remote town. A murder that won’t stay hidden.

New Year’s Eve, 1989. Eighteen-year-old Ingrid Mathers is hitchhiking her way to Alice Springs. Bored, hungover and separated from her friend Joanne, she accepts a lift to the remote town of Cutters End.

July 2021. Detective Sergeant Mark Ariti is seconded to a recently reopened case, one in which he has a personal connection. Three decades ago, a burnt and broken body was discovered in scrub off the Stuart Highway, 300km south of Cutters End. Though ultimately ruled an accidental death, many people – including a high-profile celebrity – are convinced it was murder.

When Mark’s interviews with the witnesses in the old case files go nowhere, he has no choice but to make the long journey up the highway to Cutters End.

And with the help of local Senior Constable Jagdeep Kaur, he soon learns that this death isn’t the only unsolved case that hangs over the town… 

The Australian outback is such a perfect setting for a crime novel. It’s probably the perfect setting for crime in real life. There are parts of this country where it’s probably possible to go days, maybe even weeks, without coming across another soul. There are no doubt, loads of places to bury a body and have it not be discovered for years – maybe never.

This is a dual timeline beginning in 1989 with Ingrid waiting for her friend Joanne so they can continue hitching north from South Australia into the Northern Territory and Alice Springs. It’s incredibly hot, dusty and bored of waiting, Ingrid accepts a lift. And then in 2021, a strange case of “accidental death” from that time period in 1989 is reopened and Acting Inspector Mark Ariti is put in charge of examining whether or not the correct decision was reached all those years ago. He’s chosen because he went to school with both Ingrid and Joanne and there’s feeling that perhaps they know more than they let on all those years ago.

I was a bit young, but from what I can remember, hitchhiking used to be pretty common in the 80s. And probably into the 90s. I definitely feel that Ivan Milat most likely is the reason it definitely became less popular but I forget that it probably was very prevalent, even in these remote areas – maybe especially in them, where other modes of transport were few and far between. The idea though, of a couple of girls just out of school hitchhiking their way up the middle of the country is, in this day and age, very troubling. And for good reason.

I did enjoy this but I thought that it might’ve been better to choose a woman as the main investigative viewpoint. Mark is, to be honest, the sort of character I’ve read in a thousand previous crime novels: middle aged, going ‘through some stuff’ in his marriage, certain things in his past that have contributed, etc. He’s on annual leave and is basically strong-armed into this with promises of potential to move up the ladder and not being sent back to where he was working before his leave. Mark had background with both Ingrid and Joanne, having gone to school with both and even been in a relationship with Ingrid for a time. I actually think that Senior Constable Jagdeep Kaur would’ve been an interesting perspective to read from, particularly as a character like Mark arrived from elsewhere. Her attitude towards him was quite amusing at times and she had some pithy comments about police hierarchy. It also kind of astounded me that as a cop, Mark once asked his wife in the present day if she’d ever felt afraid in the presence of a man or because of one. It seemed a terribly shortsighted sort of question in 2021 in general, especially from someone who had been a police officer for 20+ years. This book did have some really interesting things to say about violence towards women and the ways in which certain crimes were/would’ve been looked at by the police in 1989. Back then, it was very much an attitude that domestic issues were personal business and most people looked the other way when a woman had a black eye or a bruise. And in the present day, Mark’s wife is a lawyer attempting to prosecute violent husbands, often with disastrous results. How much has really changed?

I did really enjoy the setting of this, which is important in a rural crime novel. I haven’t read a lot set in South Australia, but the desolate country, dusty and barren landscape with its small towns and cast of characters, many of whom are probably hiding something or other, worked well for me. I wasn’t super taken with Mark as a main character though, mostly just because it felt like he had nothing else that set him apart from others in the genre. There’s a real emphasis on middle-aged male detectives who are either divorced or about to be or hanging onto a failing marriage grimly and wondering why whilst spending endless days and nights away doing the job. I did however, enjoy the dynamic between both Joanne and Ingrid and why things were the way they were.

A quick and easy read.

7/10

Book #157 of 2021

Cutters End is book #68 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Loving Lizzie March by Susannah Hardy

Loving Lizzie March
Susannah Hardy
Pan Macmillan AUS
2021, 368
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Life is not going to plan for failed fashion designer Lizzie March, until she finds herself pregnant to super-hot bad boy Jake Wheeler.

Convinced that he’s The One, all she has to do is make him realise that she is The One for him!

But is it possible she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places? Maybe everything she has ever wanted is right under her very own stilettos.

I picked this book up recently in an online sale and because I’m in (yet another) lockdown, I’ve been gravitating towards books that are somewhat more lighthearted: YA and adult romances, etc. I just really have a need for feel-good books right now and often things that feel like they’re going to be too heavy or take more mental capacity than I have to give, get pushed to the bottom of the pile. I added this one in because it seemed like the sort of book I was after and the cover was eye-catching and I thought it might be fun.

And it….kind of is. In places. But there are definitely other places where I feel like the particular brand of humour here is not my type. If you are really into the books where the heroine constantly makes a food of herself to the point where it’s amazing they can function as an actual, full grown, human adult, this book will probably be for you.

Lizzie is 30 and still working the same dead end call job she’s had for a decade or so, selling wine. She wants to be a fashion designer but a few issues back when she was trying to break into the industry has sapped her self esteem and now she seems to have given up. She’s not lucky in the love department either, although she recently had a one night stand with her hot supervisor Jake and now Lizzie is full steam ahead in turning it into a relationship. After a slight…mishap outside Jake’s house, Lizzie has to go to the emergency at her local hospital where she’s told that she’s pregnant. She doesn’t want to tell Jake right away, instead she wants him to be with her and fall in love with her so that it’s not just the baby.

Lizzie was occasionally, a little bit of a trial to read from. I mean the book opens with her basically stalking her one night stand, turning up outside his house and trying to peer in his windows when he doesn’t answer the door. Lizzie is absolutely a hot mess – she’s very self-absorbed and wrapped up in every single drama she ends up entangled in and look, Lizzie has a lot of drama. She has a very patient friend Clem who has been friends with Lizzie for a very long time and constantly puts up with Lizzie’s emergency phone calls when she’s working, Lizzie sounding off about her various disasters and it seems like Clem’s full time job is not lawyer but constant soother and sounding board for Lizzie.

When she finds out she’s pregnant, Lizzie is at least self-aware enough just to know that she’s completely unprepared and knows nothing about what’s coming. She really does try to improve that and put herself in a position where she does have more knowledge about what she’s going to need and what to expect and what this is like but she’s still horribly unprepared and knows this isn’t exactly a choice she’d have made right now. No one is really prepared for a baby I don’t think, but Lizzie’s lifestyle and emotional maturity level definitely make her seem less ready than a lot of other people but I think sometimes she was more levelheaded about that than she was about most other things in her life – especially men.

Lizzie does get the chance to grow over the course of the story, and she gets a few truths about the type of friend she has been to Clem and how she’s always dominated everything with her dramas leaving very little time left over for Lizzie to support Clem and be a good, kind friend to her when she needs it. Sometimes I wondered why Clem and Lizzie had stayed friends for so long because Lizzie really is terribly selfish and although she often has good intentions, she gets distracted by her own petty dramas and does not treat Clem very well. Her redeeming feature is that she is really upset when she realises this and does her best to make amends – although still managing to insert her dramas and need for sounding off and advice in as well.

Lizzie also gets the chance to spread her wings in terms of her real passion and put into place a plan that will enable her to earn a living from something creative that she truly cares about and is seemingly very good at. All she needed was the motivation and an idea.

I would’ve liked a little more romance between Lizzie and her “end game” – they had a few interactions but nothing really hinting at romantic attachment until the end and I am not sure I really got to see enough to experience any chemistry considering some of their interactions were within a professional environment. It would’ve been nice to see them be able to explore that a little more in a different setting.

This was okay – it was entertaining although I did find Lizzie quite frustrating at times.

6/10

Book #145 of 2021

This is book #63 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Road Tripping With Pearl Nash by Poppy Nwosu

Road Tripping With Pearl Nash
Poppy Nwosu
Wakefield Press
2021, 264p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The summer is finally here, and Pearl Nash is on a mission to save her slowly disintegrating friendship with a whirlwind end-of-year road trip that is definitely absolutely most positively going to solve all her problems.

Except, instead of her best friend Daisy’s feet on her dash, suddenly Pearl ends up stuck in the middle of the desert beside Obi Okocha, a boy with a mega-watt smile and an endlessly irritating attitude. Tasked with delivering him to the most epic end-of-year party ever, located in a beach shack in literal middle-of-nowhere woop woop, Pearl Nash is certain that nothing could be worse than this.

She’s wrong.

Add in a breakdown, multiple arguments, an AWOL nana and a kiss that was most definitely a huge mistake, and suddenly Pearl has the perfect ingredients for the perfect disaster.

Road Tripping with Pearl Nash is a story about home and family, about breaking apart and fusing together, and, of course, about love. 

Recently I have read both Making Friends With Alice Dyson and Taking Down Evelyn Tait by Poppy Nwosu. They’re all set at the same school but you can read any one of them without having read the others as the characters, although some from other books may be mentioned, they don’t really interact.

Pearl Nash moved to the city four years ago and she’d been friends with Daisy that whole time. Daisy rescued her when she felt out of her depth. But in the last year, Daisy has grown up faster than Pearl, gotten a boyfriend and left her behind. Now Pearl feels like a consolation prize – Daisy is only interested in spending time with her when her boyfriend Lachlan is busy elsewhere and discovering that Daisy has left her to drive to a beach house party with Obi Okocha and gone on with Lachlan instead, Pearl is less-than-impressed. Especially as she and Obi do not get along and now she’s stuck with him in her ancient car.

I love road trips and I love road trip books. It has forced proximity, which is one of my favourite romance tropes so I especially like it when the people road tripping don’t really like each other (but then end up liking each other a lot). And that is definitely the vibe between Pearl and Obi.

They’re forced into travelling together when Lachlan and Daisy leave Obi at the petrol station where Pearl is supposed to meet them and he’s forced to beg a lift with her. She’s not entirely enthusiastic about it, because as I mentioned, they don’t get along. But she also can’t leave someone abandoned in the rain at a petrol station – as Obi plainly states, that’s how horror movies start and he’s a black man – he’ll be first to die! Obi has an obsession with true crime podcasts and he is very preoccupied about the ways in which people can die that include but are not limited to: being left alone at a service station, hitchhiking, camping in the desert, a drunken high school party and many other things. It adds a lot of humour to the story.

But at the core of the book is friendship: Pearl’s changing friendship with Daisy and how she feels about it as well as Obi’s friendship with Lachlan and the friendship between Obi and Pearl which is tentative at first and more because they’re forced together but soon they start choosing to stay together when they could’ve easily split up. Pearl looks at Obi’s actions in a different light and she seems through the bright smile he often uses. There’s no denying though, that these two say some really cruel things to each other and sometimes it feels like one step forward followed by two steps back.

This time in high school is such a difficult one, especially when like Pearl, you feel you’re being left behind by your best friend. But this situation also makes Pearl think about the fact that really, she’s put a lot of effort into her friendship with Daisy and it’s been at the extent of really making friends with anyone else and she might not be as alone as she thought she was. There are other options for her, people who don’t treat her as Daisy has begun to treat her: cancelling plans if her boyfriend calls, saying nothing when her boyfriend says offensive and nasty things about Pearl (often to her face and most definitely behind her back). If that is Daisy’s idea of friendship I think Pearl realises that she could do better than putting her life on hold for when Daisy is next free to hang out with her.

I also enjoyed Pearl’s family in this – in all their messy glory. They felt so real and I often feel that families are missing in YA novels – parents that make rules, annoying younger siblings. And look, Pearl and Obi are on a road trip so the family is absent for a large portion of the story but they are always in the background, particularly as Pearl has promised to look in on her Nana, who seems to have disappeared, worrying her father. There’s some great stuff about grief in this book too and how differently Pearl and her Nana see the time since Pearl’s grandfather died. The character of Pearl’s Nana is a bit of a hoot and in some ways, she reminds me of one of my grandmothers. It’s not that they have much in common, it’s more….their manner in some circumstances. My Nan is very forthright as well. We don’t meet Obi’s family but we get to glimpse a bit of their dynamic through his comments about them and it’s actually enough to give you quite a picture. And Pearl and Obi really did have lovely chemistry, when they weren’t trying to hurt each other.

I really enjoyed this. A wonderful read that was a lovely way to pass a morning in lockdown.

8/10

Book #152 of 2021

This is book #66 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Happy Hour by Jacquie Byron

Happy Hour
Jacquie Byron
Allen & Unwin
2021, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/DMCPR Media

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean growing wiser.

Gin in one hand, paintbrush in the other, Franny Calderwood has turned her back on the world, or at least the world she used to love. Having lost her husband, Frank, in tragic circumstances three years earlier, 65-year-old Franny copes the only way she knows how: by removing herself completely from the life she had before. Franny lives a life of decadent seclusion, with only her two dogs, Whisky and Soda, a stuffed cat, cocktails and the memory of Frank for company.

Then the Salernos move in next door. The troubled but charming trio – beleaguered mother Sallyanne, angry teenager Dee and eccentric eight-year-old Josh – cannot help but pull Franny into the drama of their lives. But despite her fixation with independence, Franny’s wisecracks and culinary experiments hide considerable trauma and pain, and when her eccentric behaviour has life-threatening consequences she faces a reckoning of sorts. Yes, Frank is dead, but did the woman he loved have to perish with him?

A story about one woman, two dogs and the family next door, Happy Hour is a hilarious and uplifting insight into grief, loss, true love and friendship.

This book packed a very emotional punch that I don’t think I was really expecting when I picked it up.

Franny is 65 and she’s grieving still. Three years ago, she lost her husband and best friend Frank, her person, in a horrible, senseless accident and she really has not dealt with it. Franny has withdrawn from life as she knew it when Frank was alive – she shuns her friends, tries to avoid her sister-in-law. Franny spends her days walking her two dogs Whisky and Soda and mixing herself drinks whilst painting and talking to the various photos of Frank she keeps around the house. When the Salernos move in next door Franny’s attempts to keep her distance don’t exactly go to plan and pretty soon they’re entangled in each other’s lives.

Franny and Frank had this incredible marriage. He’s been gone three years at the beginning of the book but you get a sense of who he was and the sort of life they had lived. Not without it’s low points but they truly seemed to be this incredible couple who loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company and their lives together. Frank was a social butterfly, enjoying hosting their friends in elaborate dinner and cocktail nights. Now that Frank has gone, the idea of socialising without him is too painful for Franny to bear. She has retreated from everyone in her life, actively trying to avoid them in elaborate schemes because she cannot bear pity from them about Frank or to be thrust into memories of times she can never get back. Franny is deep, deep in grief and her pain pours off the page. Having always enjoyed a cocktail and a good wine or champagne…..Franny definitely seems to be relying a bit on the drink to numb things.

The arrival of the Salernos shakes her out of her isolation a bit. Dee, a feisty teenager, and Josh a creative and gentle eight year old, both find that they enjoy spending time with Franny for different reasons. Dee enjoys her attitude (and her booze) as well as her beautiful and interesting vintage clothing. Josh is artistic and loves Franny’s studio as well as her two dogs. The two kids are going through a rough time as their parents have separated and they’ve had to leave their home. Everything is new and strange and different and their mother is working hard to provide for them as well as be a strength for them. It’s not without its complications but Franny’s involvement in their lives definitely gets her living again, rather than existing. She’s having people to cook for, she’s got someone to help exercise her dogs as well as teach art to and Dee loves clothes and sewing, something else Franny can contribute to. She also enjoys things like galleries and the ballet (another example I think, of the life she and Frank used to lead).

Franny wasn’t always easy but I loved her. I could understand her wallowing actually, her struggle with the grief. And her anger. I could understand that too as well as her hiding herself away. I don’t drink, so Franny’s imbibing was even more alarming for me but I understood it had been part of her life for a long time, albeit in a different way. I felt strangely protective of her, despite the fact that she’s blunt and forthright and would probably not consider herself in any way in need of protecting! But under that, I felt she had so much fragility and vulnerability and was angry for her at the contact made to her by {I don’t want to spoil it}. Never will I believe that forgiveness is something that should be put upon or demanded of victims and frankly, Franny gave the person making demands of her more than they deserved but probably not as much as they wanted.

I thought this was beautifully written with wonderful characters that will work their way into reader’s hearts for different reasons: Franny for her struggle, Dee for her courage and Josh for simply being Josh and not apologising for it and Sallyanne for always doing the best she can. I will be super keen to see another book from Jacquie Byron in the future.

8/10

Book #156 of 2021

Happy Hour is book #67 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

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