All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Blog Tour Review: Catch Us The Foxes by Nicola West

Catch Us The Foxes
Nicola West
Simon & Schuster AUS
2021, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Ambitious young journalist Marlowe ‘Lo’ Robertson would do anything to escape the suffocating confines of her small home town. While begrudgingly covering the annual show for the local paper, Lo is horrified to discover the mutilated corpse of Lily Williams, the reigning showgirl and Lo’s best friend. Seven strange symbols have been ruthlessly carved into Lily’s back. But when Lo reports her grisly find to the town’s police chief, he makes her promise not to tell anyone about the symbols. Lo obliges, though it’s not like she has much of a choice – after all, he is also her father.

When Lily’s murder makes headlines around the country and the town is invaded by the media, Lo seizes the opportunity to track down the killer and make a name for herself by breaking the biggest story of her life.

What Lo uncovers is that her sleepy home town has been harbouring a deadly secret, one so shocking that it will captivate the entire nation. Lo’s story will change the course of her life forever, but in a way she could never have dreamed of. 

This is a book that is going to really divide readers. It’s interesting, it’s twisted, it’s equal parts clever and frustrating and it’s definitely one where if you know someone that has read it, when you finish you’re definitely going to be hitting that person up to dissect it in great detail. For many, this will be a love it or hate it book.

It starts with Marlowe “Lo” Robertson about to do an appearance to promote her book about the murder of her best friend Lily Williams, which occurred about seven years earlier. Lo discovered Lily’s body in the stables of the carnival at the local show and is shocked when her father, the local police chief, asks her to keep quiet about what she feels are very important details. When someone delivers Lily’s journals to her, Lo is horrified to discover that the town might be hiding something incredibly sinister – and that some of the most powerful citizens are in on it.

This book is full of twists and turns that will make you query everything. Whenever you think you have the mystery figured out and you definitely know what is happening now and who is doing what, you’ll read something else two pages later that will recalibrate everything and then you’re definitely sure that you know what is happening! There’s a lot about this that is written really well – it’s very much a story where you can’t trust anything anyone is telling you and the narrator becomes more unreliable as the book goes on. The fact that this is a ‘book within a book’ allows the author some liberties with the telling and it’s the sort of story where you need to query everything you learn because chances are, it’s going to be completely different in a few pages anyway!

I enjoyed this – and I found it a riveting read that definitely kept me engaged and I very much wanted to learn what the truth was, and what had really happened to Lily and why. Because there were quite a few scenarios presented and each one would’ve brought about a very different outcome for many of the people we were introduced to in the book. But…..I did have a few issues with the story and I felt that there were things that felt a little glossed over or didn’t perhaps have the sort of impact that they should have.

Firstly, I’m pretty surprised the author chose to use a real place as the setting in this book, because she’s not kind to it. There’s very little positivity in the portrayal of the town at all – and it’s a well known town, quite popular with tourists and day trippers (both of which also attract some scorn) but the worst of it is probably reserved for some of the powerful men in town and the rampant misogyny and blatantly homophobic behaviour. And then of course there’s the suggestion of potentially sinister behaviour happening and everyone turning a blind eye to it, or being complicit. I thought something of this nature would’ve been better in a made up town, even if it was clearly based on a particular town. I just thought it was an odd choice, and I know small towns can be incredibly constricting and difficult – the amount of desperation from Lo in wanting to get out (then why didn’t she?) and the criticism of those that didn’t, felt weirdly bitter without much in the way of actual reason.

The other thing that made me really uncomfortable was the ending – not because of the way it ended, I was all for that choice and the twists and turns that got the reader to the final answer. It was more the fact that the author took something heavily stigmatised and had her characters pretend they weren’t, in order to use it as a scapegoat that benefited them and suited their narrative and allowed them to continue on. Now I mentioned this to a blogger friend of mine who suggested it may have been a commentary on how such things are still stigmatised and even when people are saying not to, there’s still a strong trend towards burying it or using it if possible and that could be the case – the author could be using this a social commentary on this. Or they could not be. It just detracted from everything for me – I think you’re supposed to think how cold, but all I could really think was how unnecessary to make this thing your cover for the big bad.

Occasionally I had trouble believing that Lo was in her 20s – the narration often made her seem quite a bit younger but I don’t know how much of that was the writing or it was what the author was intending. The nature of the the way the story is told means that as I said, you can’t take anything imparted to be anything other than the intentional way that the story was chosen to be presented. It makes for an odd read at times, as you try to pick out what might not have occurred precisely the way you’re being told it did.

A very different read – I don’t think everyone will enjoy it but I thought that for the most part, it was engaging and clever and full of twists and turns that will mean you won’t know what happened until almost the last page. And even then you’ll question what you know!

7/10

Book #117 of 2021

Catch Us The Foxes is book #50 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021 – and with this title, I successfully complete the goal I set for myself, to read 50 books. I’m pretty sure I can get to 80 before the year is out.

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Blog Tour Review: The Eighth Wonder by Tania Farrelly

The Eighth Wonder
Tania Farrelly
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The Suffragette meets The Greatest Showman in this story ofpassion and courage, as a young feminist fights against the rules of society to find her place in the world.

New York, 1897. The richest city in the world.

Beautiful, young and privileged, Rose Kingsbury Smith is expected to play by the strict rules of social etiquette, to forfeit all career aspirations and to marry a man of good means. But she has a quietly rebellious streak and is determined to make her own mark on Manhattan’s growing skyline. When the theft of a precious heirloom plunges the Kingsbury Smiths into financial ruin, Rose becomes her family’s most tradeable asset. She finds herself fighting for her independence and championing the ideal of equality for women everywhere.

Enigmatic Ethan Salt’s inglorious circus days are behind him. He lives a quiet life on Coney Island with his beloved elephant Daisy and is devoted to saving animals who’ve been brutalised by show business. As he struggles to raise funds for his menagerie, he fears he will never build the sanctuary of his dreams … until a chance encounter with a promising young architect changes his life forever.

Just when Rose is on the verge of seeing her persistence pay off, the ghosts of her past threaten to destroy everything she holds dear. In the face of heartbreaking prejudice and betrayal, she must learn to harness her greatest wonder within.

From Fifth Avenue mansions to Lower East Side tenements and the carnivals of Coney Island, The Eighth Wonder explores the brilliance and brutality of one of the world’s most progressive eras and celebrates the visionaries who dare to rebel.

This book had a little of everything!

Rose Kingsbury Smith is young, beautiful, intelligent and her mother’s hope for their family. Although she’s known wealth and privilege growing up in New York, things have recently been getting tight financially and Rose’s mother Edith is desperate for Rose to catch a wealthy husband – preferably Chet Randall, and she’s determined to do everything she has to in order to orchestrate the match. But Rose would rather lose herself in architecture – she’s working as an apprentice with her father and it’s her passion. She has no desire to marry, to give up her independence and become a society wife and she definitely has no desire to marry someone her mother wishes to thrust upon her, with little in the way of feelings involved.

The opposite of Rose’s privileged upbringing, Ethan Salt grew up on the streets but a chance encounter with elephants walking across the Brooklyn Bridge mostly reformed the pickpocket and now he lives on Coney Island with an assortment of animals, mostly rescued from a life of pain. It’s his dream to build a sanctuary for him but Ethan’s reputation has preceded him and one of his animals is a lion that makes people nervous. There’s not a lot of donations forthcoming to fund his dream….and when Ethan and Rose cross paths, their connection stirs the ire of a man who would destroy them both.

I really enjoyed Rose as a main character – her determination and want to prove herself. She was so interested in architecture and making a difference, having her name be something people recognise and admire. Her mother was an awful society social climber, desperate to see Rose married to someone wealthy and influential, thereby stopping the family’s slow slide down the wealth scale. She was prepared to ruin her daughter’s life to achieve her goals (among other things) and her underhanded manipulation and bullying of her daughter was incredibly off-putting. It made me want Rose to stand up for herself and what she wanted – even if it meant the family wouldn’t be able to have servants or whatever else was so important to her mother. Rose and her father were definitely different – neither seemed interested in ascending the heights of Manhattan society and it seemed both would be pleased with enough to live comfortably and work to keep them engaged.

Daisy the elephant is a character in her own right in this novel and I enjoyed all of the scenes she was in, from the very first one as she is one of the elephants to cross the bridge, to the potentially devastating one. It made me think about how cruel to animals people have been (well, are still being, in many cases) and how accepted that behaviour was, how people viewed it as entertainment. Elephants are one of my favourite animals and although I’ve only seen them in zoos, the zoos of today at least try to mimic their natural habitats and provide them with space to roam, with the ways of cages and bars gone. Ethan’s love and care for his animals is wonderful to read – and even though he’s done things in his past that many people would probably not approve of, it’s a show of the haves vs the have nots…. what he had to do to survive. Even now he relies on donations from wealthy New Yorkers and is subject to their whims and trends in order to scrape together enough to care for his animals.

When Rose and Ethan come together, it’s the resurgence of a connection that was forged many years ago during a chance meeting. Ethan lives an unusual life and Rose definitely doesn’t want the sort of life that her mother would carve out for her. She wants to live her own life and I think despite his financial reliance on benefactors and donors, Ethan has a sort of freedom that Rose hasn’t experienced before. She cares about the same things he does, becomes devoted to the animals as well and wants to showcase her talents in a way that benefits everyone. And Ethan isn’t the sort of man who would want his wife at home overseeing staff, obviously, or having lunches with other important, influential wives. They both have things that they are passionate about and together, want to see each other succeed in those things. And help in any way that they can.

Like I mentioned previously, a little of everything – the wealthiest and poorest of New York, obligation vs passion, breaking the chains that held women during this time, love, friendship, mystery, even a little bit of a sinister thread and threat to people’s wellbeing. It kept me very entertained – an excellent debut.

8/10

Book #114 of 2021

The Eighth Wonder is book #24 towards my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

It also counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021 and is the 47th book read so far.

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Blog Tour Review: The Missing Girl by Kerry McGinnis

The Missing Girl
Kerry McGinnis
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 326p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The darkest secrets are buried the deepest.

Meg Morrissey has just lost her job, and her partner to an overseas assignment, when she is called back to the family home of Hunters Reach in the picturesque Adelaide Hills. Her ailing grandmother, who raised her when she was orphaned as a child, has always been a formidable figure in her life, and this is hardly a welcome summons.

When Meg arrives at the ramshackle old homestead, she learns that the place is up for sale. She is expected to care for the property with its extensive garden, while packing up the contents of the house. As she begins the arduous work of bringing the grand old homestead back to its former glory, she is forced to examine the question that has plagued her all her life – why nobody loved her as a child.

As the house unfolds the history of an earlier age, it also spills out secrets Meg had never imagined – in particular, the discovery of an aunt she never knew, her mother’s twin sister, Iris. The discovery brings horror in its wake, as Meg learns the secrets of the missing girl and the truth behind a wicked heart where love simply never existed. The more she uncovers, the more questions she has. With her grandmother unwilling to share what she knows, Meg must seek out the truth for herself.

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Australian bush in summer, with the ever-present threat of bushfire at its back, this is a highly evocative story of secrets and betrayal.

I really enjoyed this.

It’s set in 1990 and I am always surprised by how different books set in 1990 feel. Many things have evolved so much since then, particularly technology. 1990 is an entirely different time, before the commonality of mobile phones, before the internet.

Meg is in her mid-20s and has successfully escaped a life dominated by people who didn’t care about her: her parents were always much more interested in each other than they were in her, their only child, and life was a rotation of boarding school and being left with her cold grandmother on school holidays. Her parents died when she was still relatively young and that meant her grandmother became solely responsible for her care. She did the bare minumin: Meg was fed, clothed and educated but she was always aware that there was never any love there and her grandmother was such a difficult woman that when Meg was able to leave, she did so without ever looking back. Now however, her grandmother has summoned her back to prepare her large house for sale and having recently lost her job, Meg doesn’t have a reason to say no and she can’t bring herself to either. She’s always been rather frightened of her grandmother and seemingly anxious to please her, despite this never being possible.

I found myself really drawn into this from the very beginning. I loved the setting (regional South Australia during the summer) with Meg cleaning out the old house, arranging to sell some of the antique furniture, dispose of her grandmother’s belongings and getting the garden into shape. Being back there brings the one person who did care about her as a child, Betty, back into her life as well as a taciturn man arranged to bring the garden up to scratch. The old house is beautiful and even though it’s not been the source of good memories for Meg, it does present an opportunity for her to be able to delve into the past and perhaps learn the answers to questions she’s always been too scared to ask.

Meg’s grandmother really is an unpleasant, bitter person and it’s not difficult to see why Meg hasn’t been back. Perhaps if I were Meg, I wouldn’t have even bothered to come back at all but Meg does feel some duty and she’s not doing anything else – and her grandmother, who is very wealthy, is willing to pay her. She’ll never be able to return to her home after a fall she recently took (she’s close to 89) and Meg’s partner, photographer Phillip is away on an assignment in Papua New Guinea. When Meg has to contact him, she has no phone number for him so she has to ring his editor with a message for him to relay to Phillip when Phillip gets in contact with his editor. Phillip often travels to remote places and without a 24 hour news cycle, Meg tends to remain blissfully oblivious of potential hazards of Phillip’s job. After a natural disaster, Phillip does turn up at the house to convalesce – and help in his own way, providing the sort of stoic, unwavering support, kindness and love that few people have ever shown her in her life.

I admired Meg for going back there and for having the courage to dig into the past for answers when the entire family had never treated her very well. What she discovers is a big shock – but also goes a long way to explaining quite a lot of her treatment (although to be honest, not all of it). No one should ever have to experience the sort of upbringing that she did and Betty provided the only solace in what was a very lonely and miserable existence. Some of the twists I guessed, others I did not and I appreciated each reveal as it came. The tension in the novel grows with the threat of a looming bushfire and as with many people it’s not until the danger is right on top of them that they realise just how serious the situation is.

I was really invested in Meg learning the story of her origins and past and her getting all the answers she needed that might help give her some closure – to be able to move forward without her life being shadowed by her feelings of abandonment and emotional neglect. And it was very well done, I ended up reading this in a single sitting.

8/10

Book #113 of 2021

This review is part of the blog tour for The Missing Girl with thanks the publisher, Penguin Random House Australia. Be sure to check out the others taking part and learn their thoughts on this story.

The Missing Girl is book #46 for the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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