All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Emma’s Baby – Abbie Taylor

Emma was a happy, carefree young woman with a degree, a job she didn’t much care about but a job nonetheless, friends, a nice flat and a social life. She’s travelled, spending a year in Sydney after finishing University, been for a holiday to Europe with her friends from University. All this changes when she finds out that she’s pregnant. Having been in denial for several months, she’s five months gone before she realises that she’d better start dealing with it. The father has left her, gone back to his ex-girlfriend and her flatmate wants to move in with her boyfriend. Their lease is up in one month and Emma must find somewhere to live.

We find all this out in flashback as the book starts with Emma and her 13 month old son heading home after a day out. Ritchie is tired and restless and wants to hop out of his buggy (pram/stroller/pusher/etc) and walk for a while. He’s wearing a little harness so Emma thinks nothing of lifting him out and standing him on the train platform with her as it pulls into the station. She helps Richie onto the train before attending to getting the buggy and herself on when the doors close on her. She is left holding Ritchie’s leash – he standing inside the train, her on the platform. As the train begins to move, she begins to run after it, saved from being pulled down after it by a thoughtful gesture from a bystander, tackling her to the ground and yanking her out of harms way before the train can rip her off the platform and down underneath it. Desperately Emma gets the next train to the next stop where a kindly looking older woman (who was on the previous train in the same carriage as Ritchie) is waiting with him. She is so relieved to have him back, so thankful, that she can barely speak. The woman takes her for coffee, surreptitiously taking control of everything. Encouraging Emma to go and wash her face from where she was hurt being tackled to the ground, Emma does so. When she returns, the woman – and Ritchie – are gone.

From there Emma is catapulted into a nightmare. The police are called and are at first, skeptical if she is even the mother of a child. When it is established that she has a son, they are less inclined to believe that some snatched him and more likely to believe that she has harmed him herself. Only Rafe Townsend, the young man who tackled her to the ground at the platform, believes her. He calls to return her bag, which she left behind with him when she caught the next train and asks if there’s anything he can do. He’s a former police officer and he lends her his assistance and more importantly, some support.

Support is something that Emma sorely lacks. She is 100% doing this alone. She has no family, her friends have drifted away, caught up in their own lives and not interested in hers now, she had to leave her job, she lives alone with Ritchie in council-type housing. She sees no one, does nothing except spend her days with Ritchie. Although he wasn’t a particularly difficult baby, she is slowly being worn down by the monotony of it all, the routine, the sheer mindlessness. She is a woman who is basically, crying out for help and doesn’t receive it. She tells her GP that she has frustration and anger and pent up aggression and that she has thought it might be possible that she would harm Ritchie. Her GP does absolutely stuff-all about this until the police come knocking for background information on Emma and Ritchie’s medical records, and then she tells them. Instead of helping her get some support and possibly some medical assistance, (all her GP does leave a note for a social worker but the social worker is on leave at the time, something the GP doesn’t chase up). So her cries for help go completely unanswered and even though she doesn’t actually do anything to harm Ritchie, all this does is make the police think she’s completely out of her tree and has probably killed her kid and stashed him somewhere.

I’m not a single mother and in fact, I’ve had it pretty easy. I’ve got a partner who was pretty willing to do 4am feeds, to change nappies, to settle and soothe and to take the baby and say to me ‘go to bed, you need sleep/go outside and get fresh air/go shopping and get out of the house/etc’. Despite this, I did feel for Emma and her isolation. I live interstate from my family, my partner does work long hours several days a week, and during busy times for him, can work 7 days a week for 10-12hrs a day. I don’t have friends with small children down here, and I can spend a lot of time alone with my son. I get the frustration. I get that every day can feel like Groundhog Day and that sometimes you just want to scream. You want to put them in a little box and put that box on a shelf and go out and have a life for a while and then come back and get them out of the box. But life doesn’t work like that. I can’t imagine that extra step, what it must’ve been like for Emma, to have absolutely no one. I think it would be very very easy to start to slide a dangerous slope of depression in that situation. And it’s only surprising that she didn’t start to crack up sooner. Abbie Taylor did a brilliant job not only describing that but making you feel it. And the way she wrote Emma’s grief when Ritchie is taken, her guilt at having felt like she has failed him as his mother, her despair is real and poignant without verging into overdone. The frustration when she isn’t believed. There are a few incidents in the book where you have to suspend disbelief and just go with it in the name of the story, but overall it’s a pretty good novel. What makes it is just how well Taylor nailed that description of a lonely single mother.

8/10

(Book #55 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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Road To Paradise – Paullina Simons

It took me longer than usual to finish this particular book because I started it before we moved house and then put it aside to pack and move. It ended up in a random box and I only found it yesterday.

Oh yes, and there was the fact that I hated it.

I’ve read a couple of Paullina Simons books before and I’ve enjoyed them a lot, so I thought this would be quite an engrossing read. The blurb on the back of the book sounded interesting, especially as I’m a bit of a road trip fan and what the two girls were undertaking sounded like fun. Basically the story starts out with Shelby Sloane, who was raised by a woman not her mother. When Emma, that woman, gives her a car for her birthday, she decides to undertake a road trip across America from New York to California, to find her mother, who abandoned her at a young age. Her former good friend Gina hears about the trip and decides to convince Shelby that she should come along to get to Bakersfield, California in order to hook up with her former/sort of boyfriend Eddie who looks like developing a wandering eye if she doesn’t get there soon. Shelby isn’t really interested in Gina coming along but she is a practical girl who sees that a second person to share the driving and expenses would be very helpful.

What Shelby doesn’t realise until the trip is underway, is that not only does Gina not have her license, but she’s promised to ‘stop in’ to visit several relatives along the way, delivering things to them. Each relative is not on their way, not on the planned route that Shelby has oh-so-carefully mapped out. I’m sure these interludes are supposed to be humorous diversions, full of too-crazy relatives and dogs. Lots of dogs. But mostly they’re just annoying and show Shelby early on as a girl who has absolutely no backbone. This information is going to be very.very.important later on.

{{contains **SPOILERS**}}

Cue later on and they stop to pick up a hitchhiker. Having seen her once and ignored her, they see her again, an oh-so-impossible distance for her to have covered later, and this time, they stop to pick her up, despite their previously agreed No Hitchhikers policy. The girl, Candy is young but ‘worldly’. How worldly Shelby and Gina have no idea until they realise that every trucker on the interstate is tracking them and reporting back to someone who is looking for Candy. Candy claims that there is no doubt that if the person who is looking for her, finds her than she’s dead – they’re probably all dead.

Did I mention that Shelby is driving apparently, the only yellow 1966 Shelby Mustang? Soooo inconspicuous, no? What basically follows is a LOT of driving to random parts of America that Candy decides she needs to go to, and lots of bitchy bickering between three teenage girls. They need to stay off all the interstates because of the truckers reporting their every move, so they take back roads and scenic routes through Nowheresville, America in what feels like 739 states. They take Candy here, they take Candy there, all along the same argument over and over, “let’s just ditch her” and “no, we can’t do that, what’ll happen to her?” Imagine that for about 300 pages and that’s the latter half of this book. And although Candy’s story is seriously screwed up and does inspire some sympathy she is so GODDAMN UN-BLOODY-LIKABLE that my sympathy lasted mere minutes. She doesn’t CARE that she has endangered the lives of these other two girls, she doesn’t CARE that she is the reason later on in the book that all their money gets stolen. She doesn’t CARE that Shelby is the only one who can actually drive and therefore must do all of the driving and is exhausted. She doesn’t CARE that they have to take 2, 3, 4, 10x longer to get to places because they can’t use the interstates.

And her answer to getting money? They should all go out and hook, because that’s what she’s been doing when they’ve needed cash! What, Shelby doesn’t want to? How bloody inconsiderate of her, after all Candy has done for them to get money! Ahh but Candy, you’re the reason they have NO money! And her reaction to that is oh well, now I’m going out to work so we can have some money. So be grateful girls! Ugh! I seriously just could NOT tolerate her. I don’t care how messed up her life was, it’s not an excuse to treat other people like shit, especially people that are trying to stop you getting killed and forgetting their own missions to drive you all around bloody America, which let’s face it, is not exactly small is it?

There’s also quite a bit of religious arguing in this book as Candy’s father is a trappist monk who raised her for the first 11 years of her life before she had to go and live with her mother (when all her life went to hell). They go visit the monk father in… I want to say Iowa, but to be honest, all the towns and states and roads all blurred into one for me after a while, and I’m not American so I don’t know them well enough for them to stick. It really could’ve been anywhere and I am not interested enough to thumb back through the book and find out where it is. Gina can’t understand how Candy can be religious after all the things she has done and Candy just seems to like to argue merely to frustrate Gina and the arguments go around and around and it seems the person who ends up the most frustrated, is me, the reader.

The ending also bothered me majorly. I really loathe books that blah-blah-blah for 300+ pages and then BAM! Action! Last several pages! But The Big Thing happened Offscreen/Offpage so it’s kind of like Shelby goes somewhere, to do something, for Candy (again!) and then she comes back and then it’s kind of a ‘while she was gone, this happened and we’re really going to tell you nothing about it except that it happened’. I feel like I was incredibly let down. What I got was 300 pages of bickering girls when really, what might’ve been more interesting is what happened to Candy after Shelby actually left. Did Candy {{even more **SPOILERS** here}} deliberately send Shelby away so she could steal her car, hock it and disappear with all their remaining cash because she had no use for Shelby now? Or did she try to draw the person chasing her away from Shelby? I find it hard to believe it could be the latter, because if so, why did she not just do it earlier?

All through this book, I just wanted to slap all of them, and I really hate disliking protagonists like that. I don’t want to read about people I think are borderline stupid in every freaking decision they make. I want to like the main characters, to cheer for them, to want them to triumph. A bit of adversity is welcome, even embraced, but all the roadblocks put up on this journey just got too much. Every single person Candy went to see who was supposed to help her, screwed her over. Every time they went somewhere else at Candy’s request it just led to more delays, more wasting of time, more arguments, more frustration. It’s not often I want to throw books at the wall, but with this one, I was sorely tempted more than once. I started off not liking Gina, for her lack of consideration at the beginning of the trip but by halfway through the book I was severely cheering for  her every time she suggested they leave Candy by the side of the road to fend for herself. She was clearly more than able – far more able than Gina and Shelby, middle class girls who’d never left their comfortable lives before, were. That being said, why did they pick her up in the first place? Because she was young, and they saw her twice and Shelby felt guilty. Why? She was nothing to do with them and she made it from the first place she saw them, to the second, faster than they did.

I think Candy was severely overdone. Just too much all round. Shelby was one of the most pathetically weak characters I’ve ever come across, the way she was so easily manipulated by Candy and ends up ridiculously attached to her in some kind of unbelieveable crazy almost Stockholm Syndrome.

I finished it because I wanted to see if who was chasing Candy actually caught them. But I got ripped off there too, as it all happened while Shelby was on some fools errand and we were with her narrative the whole time. So all in all, it was a very disappointing read from an author whose books I have really liked in the past. Massive let down.

2/10

(Book #43 of my 2010 50 Book Challenge)

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The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson

I read a review for this book somewhere on the Internetz and thought it sounded interesting so I added it to The List. The List is kept in a notebook which lives with me while I’m surfing around and I jot down books I’d like to read or check out further. So I added The Gargoyle and then stumbled across it during Booktopia’s latest sale so I snapped it up.

Every now and then, one of those novels comes along. Something that’s different from anything else you’ve ever read before. It might not be the most brand new, unique idea in the world, but it’s new to you. That is what The Gargoyle was like for me. I loved it, from the very first page. It is not really the sort of book I could see myself loving (for reasons I shall explain) but it proved me wrong upon pretty much every level.

Our narrator is never named, so I’ll just refer to him from now on as The Narrator. The book opens with a reflection upon his accident. He’s driving in a car, bottle of bourbon between his legs, when suddenly, he sees (or more importantly, thinks he sees) a hail of flaming arrows coming at him. He swerves, stuff happens, he goes down an embankment/cliff type thing and whoosh! up goes the car in flames. The bottle of bourbon provides a lovely accelerant and The Narrator turns into a crispy critter. Only the car tipping into a nearby creek saves his life. But he suffers absolutely horrific burns (some classified as ‘fourth degree’) to most of his body and if you’re of faint heart, you may want to skip the next few pages. It is rather graphic in its description of his injuries and the treatment and I have to admit, my stomach flipped a couple of times, especially during the description of using some sort of razor to slough away dead flesh and the agony that inflicted but anyways. That bit is really just filler.

The Narrator was beautiful before the accident, something he is preoccupied with, as he is a mess of charred and scarred flesh now. He’s now a monster, grotesque. His physical perfection is nothing but a bitter memory. He is missing fingers, toes and more importantly, his penis. Given that he was an actor in pornographic films, he is of the opinion that his life is over now and his days are spent constructing elaborate fantasies of the perfect suicide, which he will put into practice upon his release from hospital. His friends from the porn industry fall away, he has no family, no significant other. There’s no one he is close to. His life really does seem quite hopeless and pathetic, when one day, in hospital, he has a visitor.

Marianne Engel is a little different, from the beginning. She’s dressed in a hospital gown, her hair is wild, she talks like she knows him. She tells him “this is the 3rd time you have been burned” and that she (and him, really) are both 700 years old. She’s dressed in a gown, but not the ones the visitors wear in the burn units – she’s a patient and her wrist bracelet ID’s her as a psychiatric patient.

From the appearance of Marianne, the story changes and the book centres around her visits to the burn ward. She comes often, even after she is released from the psych ward, and when she’s not working ‘freeing the gargoyles’ – sculpting little creatures from blocks of solid stone. She tells him stories, love stories, from Viking Iceland, Victorian England, Japan and of course, ‘their’ own back story – how they met in 14th century Germany after he was burned ‘the first time’  and while she was being raised in the famous monastery Engelthal, and all that followed after that.

The way this novel unfolds is second to none. The story telling (the actual novel itself and Marianne’s stories within the story) is superb. I was sucked in from the first page. I’m not much of a mystic – I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, I don’t believe in re-incarnation, or God’s work, or anything like that. If I’d known more about this book than I did, I probably would never have read it. I tend to avoid novels that deal with God or mysticism, or faith, in any capacity. And yes, I know I probably miss some wonderful novels that way, and indeed, would’ve missed this one. But I didn’t know enough to avoid it and I’m all the richer for that!  This novel deals with God and faith in that Marianne talks a lot of the time she (supposedly/apparently) spent in the monastery and the faith she had at that time, and faith indeed is a long running theme. Faith in love, faith in trust, faith in what will be, will be. And even though religion was a major theme in this book, and in the stories Marianne tells, I didn’t find that detracted at all from anything. The stories Marianne tells The Narrator are incredible – compelling and touching and wonderful. And so is the overall story wrapped around the tales.

Is Marianne insane? Is all of this an elaborate fantasy of hers, lived out in her mind? Is she drawn to The Narrator because of his burns and how ingrained burns are in this fantasy? Or is she for real –  were they tragic lovers so long ago? I think the book gives you plenty to decide for yourself, whether you choose to believe in the impossible, or revel in the fact that it’s the fantasy of a paranoid, deranged, mentally ill woman. Although her diagnosis remains fluid The Narrator reads up as much as he can on both schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder to better try understand this woman he becomes so intimately entwined with. We only have his narrative to go on and he makes no secret of the heavy amounts of morphine he’s using at the time, and that he’s not entirely in his own right mind. I found the way The Narrator’s depression was written was awesome – although the end was a little too heavy handed for my tastes.

A really wonderfully written piece of literature. This is why I read books – to escape in the full, whole hearted way into other worlds that I did whilst reading this novel. If you like your novels a little off kilter, a little different and your imagination allows you to suspend some disbelief (and you’re not easily nauseated), read this book. Read it now!

8/10

(Book #42 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Sizzling Sixteen – Janet Evanovich

I -really- wanted to like this book. I’ve written before on how this used to be one of my favourite series and how I would wait the year in between books with anticipation and then devour them when they came out. They made me laugh out loud and I liked all the characters. However, that was a couple of years ago now and I’ve been disappointed in the last probably 4 books and I actively disliked Finger Lickin’ Fifteen. So it was with great apprehension and still a little bit of hope, that I opened this book yesterday afternoon after finishing East of Desolation.

Sigh. It did have potential. For starters, it actually had a plot, and not a bad one at that. Stephanie is forced to search for her cousin Vinnie when he’s kidnapped by people he owes money too. The debt starts at about $750,000 so because they have no hope of ever actually being able to pay that, they decide to kidnap him back. Of course on the way they discover that it’s simply more than Vinnie owing his bookie.  And the debt keeps growing until it’s at $1.3m.

Unfortunately for every good bit, or clever or funny bit, there were two or more lame or eye-rolling or just plain ridiculous bits. Someone, somewhere must’ve told Janet Evanovich at some stage that “animals are funny! More crazy animal moments! Fit in as many as you can! People love that shit. Oh and add farting. That’s funny too!”

Well, it mostly isn’t. I’m 28yrs old, and I’m female. If ever I found farting, or fart jokes funny, I was probably still of an age that was a single figure. Most people who find farting and fart jokes funny are teenage boys and let’s face it, they’re not the primary audience of the Stephanie Plum novels. Thankfully this one contains no where near as much farting as Finger Lickin’ Fifteen but it does contain no less than 4 moments involving ridiculous, gratuitous use of animals as a humorous diversion. Well, they weren’t funny. At least not to me anyway.

The Good:

  • There was a plot. It was workable. And for the most part, it was entertaining.
  • Ranger. I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s pretty much the only reason I keep reading. I -love- the character of Ranger. Every time I smiled during this book, it was a scene Ranger and Steph were in together. I’ve given up on the dream of anything more actually happening between them but hey. At least the chemistry was back this book, which was sorely lacking from the previous book.
  • Lula wasn’t as obnoxious in this book as she’s been in previous books. Although she was a continuous presence, in fact barely a scene occurred without her in the first 2/3 of the book, she wasn’t as overbearing as she has been of late in the novels and it didn’t annoy me that she was constantly there.
  • Did I mention Ranger?
  • Ranger.

The Bad:

  • Animals! Animals! Animals!
  • The word farting. Again!
  • Once again, too much build up with Ranger for no actual pay off. Plot contrivances come up to stall the way
  • The excessive amount of junk food. The first third of the book spanned about 2 days and there were 3 stops for donuts, a pizza order and a stop for fried crispy chicken. Jesus! No one can actually eat like that. And then there were many more stops for donuts. It was annoying.
  • Lula’s stupid diets. I’m so over them and they’re not funny.
  • Stink bombs. See farting in lack of how funny they actually are.
  • The ‘heist’. Just…no.
  • Still too much Lula, even if she wasn’t as annoying. She’s gone from being a peripheral character to far, far too much front and centre.
  • The Hobbits. Also no… Just no.

Given that Ranger makes up 3 of the good points about the book, there was really more negative than positive. All in all, this was an improvement on several of the previous books, but it’s definitely not of the calibre of 1-10. I think the time has come for this series to end definitively. Evanovich is clearly busy with several other projects and churning one of these out per year seems to be taking a toll. The quality has been way down with many fans questioning as to whether or not Janet Evanovich is still actually even writing them, or if they’re being ghosted. To be honest, there are several instances in books 11-15 where I have stopped reading and thought ‘where the f*** did that come from?’ It just didn’t sound…right. Sizzling Sixteen at least feels like it was written by Evanovich. But it’s a tired old formula that severely needs some time and some vamping, or to be put to bed. Either take your time with the next novel and make it good or make it the last.

4/10 (3 points for the plot, 3 for Ranger. 2 deducted for unnecessary use of animals)

(Book #40 of my 50 Book Challenge)

****EDIT!!**** PS…I just remembered… What the heck happened to Vinnie running up PPV porn charges in Ranger’s apartment in the book? The back of the book blurb clearly states this and yet…the scene never happens. Vinnie is never kept at Ranger’s apartment or even in his building! That is beyond sloppy. The scene was either edited out/deleted, or it was thought about and never written into it and they just kept the blurb for the back of the book. I’m taking another point off for that. That’s laziness beyond belief.

3/10

(Book #40 of my 50 Book Challenge of 2010)

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East of Desolation – Jack Higgins

If nothing else, this book taught me that Greenland is a part of the North-American Continent! This book takes place entirely in Greenland and I thought it’d be a pretty interesting country for my 2010 Global Reading Challenge! Of course, I assumed it was part of Europe for some reason – maybe because it’s semi under Danish rule, maybe because my geographic knowledge is flawed and I thought it a lot closer to the European mainland than it actually is. It’s actually quite a long way! And it’s pretty close to some of the island parts of north eastern Canada, so I guess that’s why it’s classified as part of the North American Continent.

Anyway. Onto the book. Joe is a charter pilot working in Greenland for the money. He flies in supplies to remote areas, mechanical parts to oil rigs and drilling operations, charters for tourists who want to see the parts unreachable by commercial airlines. The story sort of dithers for a bit, about a famous actor named Jack who is currently hunting polar bears in some remote part of Greenland. Joe makes weekly supply runs to his boat for cash and when a mysterious woman arrives, asking to be taken to Jack, Joe flies her out too. She’s ‘a lot of woman’ to quote the book (several times) and Joe is attracted. It seems she is too, but things hit a bump when she splashes vodka into his virgin Bloody Mary and makes him vomit everywhere. Joe’s an alcoholic who had therapy that makes it impossible for him to drink now – it causes immediate upchucking.

When he arrives back from that trip out to Jack’s boat, the story moves up a notch. Joe has more people waiting to see him, insurance agents who paid out on the death of two pilots in a wreck in (yet another) remote part of Greenland. They want to fly up to the wreck and ascertain that the dead pilots are actually the ones they paid out sums on. Joe it seems, is reluctant to charter them up there, claiming he can’t put down his plane as he can only land on water or tarmac, not ice, as he doesn’t have ski’s on, and at this stage of the year, it’s all still frozen up there. He recommends a pilot friend, who still has ski’s on his plane to do the job and that friend flies up for a brief look but comes back reporting unable to land, that there was no where he could put down. Unfortunately for Joe, someone mentions that the ice has broken up and he can land on the lake, so he’s forced to fly the group up there.

From there the book kicks up a gear as it becomes obvious that pretty much no one is what they seem. The insurance people are satisfied that the people they paid out on are the people in the plane, but it’s obvious they’re looking for something in the wreck. Joe finds ski marks from a plane, so he knows that his friend was obviously able to put his plane down close to the wreck, despite claiming otherwise. What is the big mystery and what does it have to do with the stunningly beautiful ‘widow’ of one of the dead pilots from the wreck?

All in all, this wasn’t a bad little afternoon read. The characters were a bit two-dimensional though: the aging screen star, the beautiful stranger, the sinister insurance agents, the grieving widow and it was a bit slow in the beginning but once everything got going it was suitably fast enough with plenty of action peppering the last third of the book. There’s some foreshadowing in the very first page of the book but somehow when it all comes out, it’s still interesting and you can kind of believe the coincidence.

6/10

(Book #39 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Vodka Doesn’t Freeze – Leah Giarratano

I’d been wanting to read this book for a while, as previously mentioned, because I’d seen a very large spread on the author in the newspaper. The author sounded extremely interesting and the books even more so. Despite the fact that there are 4 books in this series, the article focused a lot on this first one, Vodka Doesn’t Freeze and the research that went into it. The author interviewed pedophiles and child sex offenders and is a clinical psychologist, an expert in psychological trauma.

The book opens with the murder of a man on a high point overlooking a pool where plenty of children play. The digital camera nearby and the fact that his fly is open give a pretty good clue that he’s not there to catch some rays. He’s the first of a series of similar murders. All are unhealthily interested in small children. All are violently bludgeoned or stabbed to death. And all are linked to a psychologist in outer western Sydney who was treating victims of all of them. Something isn’t quite right with the psychologist either – could she be the killer? Turned crusader after years of hearing trauma after trauma and having perps walk on lack of evidence? Is it a victim of an attack? A relative of a victim? There are questions and Jackson needs to find answers.

Detective Jill Jackson is a flawed protagonist who at times, seems to barely keep it together. The victim herself of a chilling and traumatic kidnapping as a child, she fights the demons that haunt her everyday by keeping to extremely strict routines (OCD), working out until she drops and barely eating enough to exist. This case touches her personally, more than it would most. From a raped transvestite that she befriends, she gets information on a group of pedophiles in Sydney who meet up to swap videos, photos and occasionally, participate in sessions with victims.

It’s a subject that raises a lot of hackles and thankfully, Giarratano keeps the descriptions of meetings and encounters with children to a bare minimum, working on the less is more type theory. She saves her best writing for the delving into Jackson’s psyche and the construction of her character. She is beautifully multi-layered and you get glimpses of her many facets: the businesslike detective. The sibling that’s full of regret. The drive to protect herself, physically, from any threat – real or perceived. The interest she has for her partner, that she cannot bring herself to ever act upon. She’s a wonderful character and I’d read the remaining books in this series for that alone, even if the writing wasn’t as tight and well done as it is.

There is one thing that I have come to view with a bit of frustration though, and that is protagonists doing stupid things. They usually involve not waiting for back up and going into situations unarmed, without back up and without much of an idea. It happens quite often in the Kathy Reichs novels, made worse by the fact that Temperance isn’t even a cop. Even though Jackson is, I did find it a tad ludicrous that she would go into that mansion alone where there were a whole heap of ‘persons of interest’, in the dark, unarmed, when her parter and a whole team was probably no more than 20-30 minutes away. It happens so often these days on TV also. I’m a veteran of Crossing Jordan, CSI, CSI:NY, Cold Case and countless others where people think nothing or running headlong into danger without a second thought and mostly in real life, it’d get you a bullet in your head for your trouble.

But that moment aside, I enjoyed this book immensely, despite the absolutely stomach-churning themes. It was amazingly well put together, pacy and interesting. I read it in one sitting before dinner, page-turning anxiously so that I wouldn’t have to put it down to eat. I’ll definitely be picking up the other books in this series. Giarratano, with her experience, sure knows how to put together nasty bad-guys and well thought out good guys.

8/10

(Book #38 of my 50 Book Challenge)

This book counts towards my 2010 Global Challenge!

The Medium Challenge
Read two novels from each of these continents in the course of 2010:
Africa
Asia
Australasia: #1: Vodka Doesn’t Freeze, by Leah Giarratano. Set in Sydney, Australia.
Europe: #1: Cold Granite, by Stuart MacBride. Set in Aberdeen, Scotland.
North America (incl Central America)
South America
Try to find novels from twelve different countries or states.

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The Passage – Justin Cronin

What to say about The Passage? I’ve been busting to read it after reading first Raych’s review and then Trish’s review and countless other reviews on countless other blogs. I probably added my own hype to it after all of that and eventually, it was going to have to be one hell of an epic book to live up to it.

Good thing it did then.

It’s hard to even try to describe what happens in this book, but I’ll try without giving too much away. The US Army are conducting an experiment regarding a virus that will grant super-fast healing, longevity of life and probably all sorts of other things which they think will be useful in war. Imagine being able to have your best soldiers never die and able to heal themselves in hours, or maybe even minutes! They’re at the state where they need to test on some humans and who do they choose?

Inmates on death row, that’s who.

Inmates who are due to die by needle or other method soon, who have no one. No relatives, no visitors, no one that will notice when they leave their prisons without actually facing that death sentence. There are 12 of them and they are injected with the virus in a secret facility in Colorado. But let’s just say that the virus does not entirely work out as planned. The death row inmates escape by coercing the workers who observe them to open the doors to let them out. And basically, all chaos breaks lose. And like lots of people have said, the word vampire isn’t really used, but due to the fact that the escapee’s feed on blood (any blood, but human does just fine) and can create more of themselves, you see the similarities. And those sons-of-bitches move like wildfire! It isn’t long before most of the country has been infected, or exposed and people either dead or turned (described as ‘taken up’ in the books). Some flee into remote parts, others try to band together to figure out a way to survive. But the fatalities and those who are taken up, the numbers are astronomical.

Subject 13, a six year old girl, the last one taken for the experiment was given the virus but she didn’t turn into one of the creatures. She escapes the facility with the FBI agent whose job it was to bring in the Subjects. He takes her to a camp he spent summers at as a child and they live there for a while and then all of a sudden it’s almost a hundred years later and the story picks up in California, in one of the colonies built as a fortress against the creatures (referred to usually as flyers, jumps or smokes). There are walls all around the compound which the jumps cannot breach in a single leap. Because of their sensitivity to light, the creatures tend to move only at night. So at sundown, the compound powers up huge lights that keep everything bright as day, blocking out the dark and the shadows that they move in. Trouble is, their batteries are running low and the engineer/lightsperson thinks it’ll be 1 year, 2 at the most before their lights go out. And when the lights go out, they will come.

The young girl, who was 6 nearly 100 years ago when this all started, now only looks about 14. She finds the compound in California and the engineer discovers a chip in the back of her neck broadcasting a signal reading If you found her, bring her here. The signal comes from Colorado so several of the people from the compound make the decision to trek across the wasteland country to where the signal is coming from. Because she just might be the key to saving whatever humanity is left.

This book is addictive. I’ve just given the most barest summary I possibly can, because it really just has to be read. There is so much going on, but it never gets confusing. The story unfolds in a way that feels cliff-hangery (is that a word?) even when it’s just backstory or explanation. I started reading it at night and it was hard to find a place to stop and go to sleep, because it just kept making me turn the pages. And at 750-odd pages, you need that. I don’t think there was ever really a moment for me when I thought ‘hmm, this bit is unnecessary, it could’ve been removed’ or ‘this section is rambling on a bit’. The jumps are creepy and scary without being silly and laughable. There are times when I actually held my breath reading this book. I wanted to know so much more, get so much further into the story and into this devastated world, but I also never wanted the book to end.

If I thought waiting to get my hands on this book was bad – waiting for the sequel to come out is going to be so much worse.

9/10

(Book #37 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Scarecrow – Matthew Reilly

Scarecrow is the third novel in Matthew Reilly’s  Capt. Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield series. I’ve read the first one, Ice Station and it reads like a Hollywood action blockbuster. Lots of blowing things up, rapid-fire shoot outs, miraculous escapes from impossible situations and plenty of blood and gore. I was expecting this one to be pretty much the same and it was. And then some!

A list is compiled of 15 targets, all of whom must be dead by 12 noon New York time 26th October. The list is comprised of the worlds most deadliest commandos, spies and terrorists. They all have a whopping price of 18.6m on their heads. Bring any head to a castle in France and you’ll get your reward. And don’t even think about trying to fake one, because that won’t go down well. The men on the list all have one thing in common and that skill could stop a group of power hungry billionaires from owning the world.

Shane Schofield is of course, on that list. He’s blissfully unaware of that fact as he drops in to Siberia on a mission that turns out to be a fake. A set up. A trap so that Schofield’s head can be collected. Unfortunately for the bounty hunters after him (and there are many, from all over the world) Schofield isn’t really into having his head removed from his body. And he’s got all sorts of skills and weapons at his disposal to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Exiting Siberia in a plane he steals from one of the bounty hunters out to kill him, he flies to Afghanistan where his girlfriend Elizabeth “Fox” Gant is leading her own mission into Taliban caves. She’s at risk from the bounty hunters who would take her in order to lure Scarecrow, and of course, this is what happens. Everyone all sort of arrives in Afghanistan together (although that’s not all about Gant, there’s also two people who is on the list in the caves, a British SAS soldier and a high ranking Taliban officer-type person, whatever they’re called). An angel of sorts arrives also, and he’s on Scarecrow’s side. The ‘Black Knight’ is a former Delta, black listed and on the most wanted list. For some reason, someone is paying him to keep Schofield alive and combat those who want him dead and his head on a stick. There’s some spectacular shooting with lots of fancy weapons and some nifty warfare tricks that I’m not even sure exist yet. And then Scarecrow and Co escape in yet another plane. And that’s not even remotely the most ridiculous thing in this book.

Let’s be frank. The book is ridiculous. On all sorts of levels. There are hijacked planes, people sliding down fuel lines from one plane to another as they are refueling in the air, there are people parachuting out of things or into things, ejecting from planes, several different types of submarines, escaping from being squashed by a 100,000 tonne tanker sinking to the bottom of the English channel and there are literally, billions of bullets fired. People are decapitated, shot, stabbed, thrown out of planes, beheaded by a guillotine, eaten by tiger sharks, microwaved to death and burned alive by boiling oil. I don’t think there is a method of killing someone that has been overlooked in this novel. There are Russian fighter planes. Huge sea tankers. Lamborghini Diablo’s. Choppers of every description. Fighter planes from every corner of the globe. A billionaire secret society. Warheads. And probably a hundred more things that I’ve neglected to mention.

Despite the ridiculousness of it all, it was entertaining. The style is very fast paced, staccato like with very minimal dialogue and character development. The story is all told as an action sequence, with characters thinking during the sequences rather than pausing to regroup and plan. There is lots of onomatopoeia usage – BOOM! THUNK! KER-THUD! SMACK!  etc. The sentences are short, sharp, frequently interrupted like-

this-

and-

then BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!

Something explodes.

Basically, lots of things explode. An impossible number of things explode. Just imagine the most action packed movie you’ve ever seen and then make about 200 more things explode. And then you have this book.

**Mild Spoilers**

I have to hand it to Reilly for killing off a regular character in the Scarecrow books here, and in a pretty gruesome way. It’s easy enough to have these action books or movies where the ‘good’ side comes out wounded, but with no fatalities to the core team. This isn’t the case in this book.

Some books you read for the beautifully crafted writing style. Some you read for intricate and wonderful plots. Some you read for the amazing character development and the identity you can find with the characters. And some books you just read for fun. This book falls into the latter category. It’s far fetched, over the top, breathtakingly quick and action from go to whoa. I did enjoy it and I’d like to read Area-7 the middle Scarecrow novel which I haven’t got yet.

6/10 for providing me with an entertaining afternoon

(Book #35 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks

I finished The Last Song on Tuesday night and have sufficiently recovered from the thumping toothache it gave me from being so saccharine and sweet. Even after finishing it and mulling it over a bit, I’m still not entirely sure I liked it. I think I’m leaning very much towards no.

Veronica “Ronnie” Miller is 17 and going through that stage. She’s disrespectful to her mother, she goes out partying and clubbing in New York where she lives and she’s also had a slight run in with the law due to some shoplifting. And she’s less than thrilled when her mother packs her and her brother Jonah off to spend the summer in Nowhere, North Carolina with their dad. Their dad left three years ago and Ronnie hasn’t spoken to him since. And she’s definitely not interested in spending 3 months with him.

Ronnie is all types of attitude from the get-go. She meets a girl named Blaze at the local sort of carnival/fair on her first night and takes off with her and three older, trouble-written-all-over-them boys up the beach. She takes off the next morning refusing to tell her father where she was going and stays out until 2am. To be honest, if I’d have read this book when I was 17 and fighting for my own adult independence and freedom, I might have empathized with Ronnie a little. But quite frankly, she just struck me as a brat who needed a bit of a kick up the wazoo.

Essentially, The Last Song is a coming of age story about Ronnie growing some self-awareness and some self-respect but it’s done so fakely that I could just not get into it. Apart from the whole ridiculous storyline with Blaze and her semi-boyfriend Marcus, there’s Will Blakelee thrown into the mix. Will is rich. Will is handsome. Will becomes enamored with Ronnie and the purple streaks in her hair and her black nailpolish from the first moment he collides with her on Ronnie’s first night in town. They have several misunderstandings but it turns out that they like each other. They both think the other is different. They date. They fall in love! Oh no, Will’s rich and snobby mother doesn’t approve! Oh no, Marcus is lurking around causing trouble!

So many things happen in this book that just seem entirely unnecessary. The whole shoplifting thing with Blaze. The whole Marcus wrecking Will’s sisters wedding thing. And then of course, there is the Reveal That Changes Ronnie Completely. It’s such a trite, clichéd ending whereby girl learns the error of her selfish teenage ways and ascends the throne into adulthood over the course of about the last third of the summer. I usually like happy endings, and even though this one is kind of two parts sad with one part perfection, I was still extremely dissatisfied. I didn’t mind Dear John. But this story was just so full of nauseating moments that I just couldn’t really enjoy it. Even when Nicholas Sparks tries to make rebellious, evil characters, it doesn’t quite ring true. They don’t seem all that fleshed out – more like what he thinks antagonists should be. Even Ronnie at her wildest was pretty tame for a teenager. She went to all sorts of clubs in New York City and never even had a drink.

There was also far too much religion in the latter part of this book for me to stomach. Sparks seems quite religious, God and religion was a bit of a theme in Dear John too, but it was much more prevalent in this book. All the praying and the God’s way and God’s will at the end got a bit much for me personally. Some people might really identify with that but I find heavy handed religion pretty off putting in novels.

I hear a lot of criticism about Sparks about his novels being pretty cookie-cutter. After Dear John I thought that if they were all like that, it’d be quite possible those critics were right. But The Last Song stepped it up to a whole new level! This book is no different from a thousand teenage romance stories out there. I think that might do me for Nicholas Sparks – for the foreseeable future anyway.

3/10

(Book #33 of my 50 Book Challenge)
I just realised this book satisfies criteria for #6 of the What’s In A Name3? Challenge: Read a book with a musical term in the title.

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