All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Deep In The Valley – Robyn Carr

In May or so of 2011, Marg over at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader introduced me to the Virgin River novels by Robyn Carr. There’s quite a few in the series so far and I think I read about 15 of them between May and December. There’s something rather addictive about them.

Marg picked up this book, Deep In The Valley through Inter-Library Loan and passed it onto me before the due date so that I could read it too. We agreed to do a joint review discussion on it – the first part is over at Marg’s blog here and I’m hosting the second part. My thoughts are in italics and Marg’s are red!

B: Right so basically we’re in a tiny town, which June grew up in. She’s the daughter of a doctor and now she’s the doctor herself, doing all manner of things from delivering babies to fixing up local marijuana growers suspicious looking wounds. As always, there is a woman in distress that the whole town pitches in to assist get back on her feet, a pastor with busy hands that the town is fed up with and an undercover DEA guy who has ‘love interest’ all over him. And June has hired a ‘city bloke’ to help her with the general doctoring but is skeptical about him lasting.For me the story was just -okay-. Nothing really stood out, perhaps because I felt like I’d read some of it before. I thought the romance was very underdone! I’m used to more interaction and more scenes between the two love interests! That was disappointing to me because I was quite excited about the whole undercover DEA agent thing. I thought it had some potential for some great scenes, maybe some angst and some tension….but there were depressingly few scenes, very little tension and no angst. Of course given this is a trilogy, that may come later, but things were both very easy and very light on in that department so far.I did rather like the city doctor who moved to Grace Valley, I thought he was an interesting character and the reveal of his background was done well, despite June’s totally lazy attitude towards checking his references! I also liked the town rallying to help Leah, the victim of domestic violence, get her life back on track because that’s such a typical Robyn Carr staple. Although that plot thread wasn’t without its issues either, such as the ridiculously unbelievable court case at the end. Did anything in the story stand out for you? Did it strike a better chord with you than with me?
M: Not really. This is probably the most disappointing read for me by Carr. It was the usual easy read but without the addictiveness of the usual Virgin River reading experience. Having said that, the completist in me couldn’t resist reading the next book in the series already.

Did you like any of the characters in particular, or was there one of the storylines that stood out for good or bad reasons? (Spoilers Ahoy!)There was one thread that left me shaking my head in particular and that was in relation to a young woman named Justine who was involved with the town minister who happened to be married. There was lots of drama relating to that particular issue which was fine. Even with the fact that she ended up be suffering cancer and not pregnant as she thought was fine. However, the closing scene of the book was Justine marrying a much, much older man. That relationship just seemed to come completely out of nowhere!

B: Not just older, but ….older. Wasn’t he in his late 70s? And Justine was 25 or so? That whole story left me with an icky feeling. Firstly yes, Justine was having an affair with the town sleaze, the pastor of all people, who tried it on with everything female in a 100km radius. Despite the fact that his wife was obviously suspicious of him, they took the moral high ground when the story of Justine suspecting her pregnancy came out, accusing the small town of running them off. Sam, the man Justine ended up marrying, stepped in to support her and although it turned out she wasn’t pregnant, they still ended up marrying randomly at the end of the book. Given you’ve read the next one, do they reappear? I’m curious….

M: Yes, they reappear. Most of the characters too. The second book is better, although I am pretty sure that there are a couple of things that will push your buttons!

B: I liked Jim (the undercover DEA agent) when he first appeared but I think it was far too obvious who he was and the reveal was done without any real tension. I might’ve found it a lot more interesting if June had really found herself attracted to someone that she thought was shady! Instead she pegs him as law enforcement so quickly that it’s laughable! Apart from that, no one really stood out for me. In fact if I had to think of a word that describes everything about this book, it’d (unfortunately) be average. Average writing, characters, plots, etc.

M: So, if we were to summarise, then the overwhelming reaction to this book is…it’s not Virgin River even though it does look a heck of a lot like it?

B: I can’t believe it’s not Virgin River! But yes…basically you’re right. It looks similar on the outside but it’s kind of like the poor man’s version on the inside. There’s a lot more to like in the VR books.

6/10 for me

Book #202 of 2011

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The Countess And The King – Susan Holloway Scott

Katherine Sedley was born to wealthy parents. Unfortunately her mother suffered from a form of mental illness that resulted in delusions and thinking that she was actually Queen Catherine, barren Queen of England, a myth that is perpetuated by her doctor, who humours and fawns over her. Often Katherine’s visits to her mother upset her so she has little to do with her – her upbringing is mostly done by governesses but her father also takes a large hand in her raising as well.

Sir Charles Sedley is a poet/playwright who spends a lot of time at the various courts of King Charles II and from the time Katherine is around 9 or 10 he begins to take her with him. Young Katherine already has a rather smart wit and swears, can play cards, reads more than just the scriptures. She is exceedingly plain though, a skinny and ungainly child with no real promise in the looks department. Her father keeps her from gaining a position at Court, as he wants more for her than to be a whore. He also wants more than just a match with any old rogue, who would have her hand for her considerable dowry and fortune. Given this fortune, he wants Katherine to be free to marry for love and happiness but Katherine is never really inclined towards marriage.

From a young age she catches the eye of the King’s younger brother, his Grace the Duke of York and they cross paths quite often in Katherine’s youth. It isn’t until she is older though that she becomes his mistress. The Duke of York is some 25 years older than Katherine, older than even her father and onto his second marriage. With Charles II having no sons, James is heir to the throne of England, which causes some problems among the people as he is a Papist, a practicing and devoted Catholic as is his second wife Mary Beatrice of Modena, niece to the Pope in Rome. The Duke of York has problems siring children too, having only two daughters surviving from his first marriage and a vast number of babies that don’t pass infancy with the current Duchess Mary.

Katherine and the Duke’s liaison is a long one, lasting throughout his downturn in popularity and consequent exile by the King in order to calm the population who fear a vast Catholic invasion and seizure of the Crown. There is clamouring for the introduction of an act that would remove James, Duke of York from the line of succession and replace him with King Charles II’s illegitimate son, even a bastard being preferable to a Papist.

But James does become the King and Katherine, who thought that her position as Mistress to him would be like the Duchess of Portsmouth’s role to King Charles, is stunned to find herself in a tangle of vast political webs with King James vowing to abolish the debauchery that was so rampant in Charles’ court and return to moral and chaste times. Katherine is offered the choice of exile to several locations but will she take them up on their ‘offer’ (more like a threat) or will she stay in London to try and win back the man she loves?

The Countess and the King was my third novel read for the 2011 Global Reading Challenge seventh continent, which was free choice. Whilst the two I read previously predominantly dealt with King Charles II and his rather lusty appetite, this one was more focused on his successor, the Duke of York, his younger brother, a practicing Catholic and at times the subject of hatred, violence and the occasional assassination plot from the public, who feared anyone who was not a Protestant. And to have a Papist as the first in line for the throne….definitely cause for panic.

A bit like Nell Gwyn in The King’s Favourite, Katherine is known and applauded for her wit and intelligence but unlike Nell she is not in any way beautiful. Instead we’re kind of beat over the head with how ugly she is with even some of the ‘wits’ at the castle writing poems about her lack of looks. It forms a huge part of the book with Katherine falling prey to a man who doesn’t want her, only her money. She’s often ridiculed by the Court, shunned by the ladies in waiting to the Duchess and ends up falling out with her father over her relationship with the Duke. He introduced her to life within the Palace but did not react well to her becoming a mistress, in a display of hypocrisy that I couldn’t help siding with Katherine over.

The thing that most struck me about this book was that unfortunately, it’s quite sloooow pace wise. It starts when Katherine is about 9 or 10 and although we do skip forward in time occasionally, it’s basically a long time before anything of note happens. She doesn’t become the Duke’s mistress until she’s about 20 or so, maybe even older so it’s a lot of her just wandering around Court in its various locations being ‘witty’ and observing things that are going on. It’s 200 or so pages in to a 400 page book by the time she sleeps with the Duke and from then on it’s much more interesting. I think it might have worked better if the whole book revolved around her relationship with the Duke of York and the political situation of the time, with him being a Papist and the paranoia and hysteria this whipped up. That is all covered, but I get the feeling there could have been more depth to some of the aspects, such as the flippant remarks about Mary of Modena losing yet another baby. The first 200 pages do end up reading like a bit of a waste of time once you reach the really meaty part of the story.

7/10

Book #201 for 2011

I did it! The Countess And The King is the final novel for the 2011 Global Reading Challenge, being the 3rd novel for the seventh continent and the 21st novel read for the challenge overall. YAY!

Books Read For The Challenge:

Africa
African Dawn, by Tony Park (Zimbabwe)
The Delta, by Tony Park (Botswana/Namibia)
Blood Safari, by Deon Meyer (South Africa)

Asia
The Bronze Horseman, by Paullina Simons (Russia)
The Betrayal Of The Blood Lily, by Lauren Willig (India)
Peony In Love, by Lisa See (China)

Europe
The Orchid Affair, by Lauren Willig (France)
The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht (Balkans/Serbia)
India Black And The Widow Of Windsor, by Carol K. Carr (Scotland)

Australasia/Oceania
The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas (Melbourne, AU)
Past The Shallows, by Favel Parrett (Tasmania, AU)
The Secret Ingredient, by Dianne Blacklock (Sydney, AU)

North America
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (Minnesota, USA)
The Pirate’s Daughter, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson (Jamaica)
Edge of Survival, by Toni Anderson (Labrador, Canada)

South Africa
Every Bitter Thing, by Leighon Gage (Brazil)
Temple, by Matthew Reilly (Peru)
A Thousand Lives, by Julia Scheeres (Guyana)

Seventh Continent
The Empress Of Ice Cream, by Anthony Capella (Restoration Period)
The King’s Favourite, by Susan Holloway Scott (Restoration Period)
The Countess And The King, by Susan Holloway Scott (Restoration Period)

I do wish that I’d found a little more variety in my books set in Australasia/Oceania and not just read 3 set in Australia but 2 of them were just sitting on my shelves and the third I read very late in the year when I was running out of time to get this challenge done! I’ve enjoyed the Global Challenge immensely and credit it with helping me discover some really amazing books and authors that I would otherwise never have read! I’ve completed it two years running now, at medium level last year and at the hard level this year. I’m taking a break from the challenge next year to try a couple of other challenges but I might be back in 2013 if it’s still around.

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Scarecrow And The Army Of Thieves – Matthew Reilly

Please note: This review will contain ***SPOILERS*** for the previous Scarecrow Schofield novel, simply titled Scarecrow.

At the top of the world in the Arctic Circle there is a secret base known as Dragon Island. Once the pride of the former USSR’s research into biological warfare, these days it maintains only a skeleton crew. By the time the rest of the world notices something strange has been going on at Dragon Island, it seems that a bunch of random events around the world have come together with a purpose at the arctic base. Prisoners broken out of Chile, American army equipment such as helicopters stolen, the disappearance of a Russian tanker loaded with machine guns and ammunition – they’re all connected. An army is rising – the Army of Thieves – and they’re going to use the technology the research facility on Dragon Island developed to basically destroy most of the northern hemisphere.

Unfortunately for the Army of Thieves, they neglected to notice one thing. Already up that way, is a small military American team consisting of just a couple of operatives and some research people who are testing gear in the extreme arctic temperatures for future use. They and a US Navy tanker are the only people in the world who can reach the facility on Dragon Island in the 6 hours before the leader of the Army of Thieves plans to put into place his attack. Even though the military group testing equipment is very small, as soon as the President of the United States hears who is leading that group, he wants them directed to Dragon Island. Immediately.

Because the person leading that group is Captain Shane, callsign “Scarecrow” Schofield. Regarded as a bit of a loose canon since the price on his head that resulted in brutal death of his girlfriend Elizabeth, callsign “Fox” Gant, Scarecrow has been taken out of active duty as such to give his psychological healing more time. With him is Gena, callsign “Mother” Newman and a couple of others with military training and four research developers. Three of the researchers choose to go with Scarecrow but one refuses, remaining behind at the base camp.

If there’s anyone in the world that is up for this monumental task, it’s Scarecrow Schofield. But since the death of Fox and his almost suicide when he heard about it, he’s had four months compassionate leave and has been removed to a remote location of the world because his superiors fear for his mental health. Will he be able to carry out this task against all the odds? Or will he lose yet another person that’s close to him and thereby shattering the rest of his fragile mind.

The Scarecrow novels are a guilty pleasure of mine. I read Ice Station a couple of years ago now after having bought it on a whim not knowing anything about it. It wasn’t really the sort of book that I’d normally choose to buy, I have a feeling it was on a Borders 3 for 2 table and I needed something to be the 3rd book. I really enjoyed it and the feeling of my heart being in my mouth the whole time! I read Scarecrow which is actually the 3rd Scarecrow novel (oops, as Reilly killed off Scarecrow’s girlfriend, known as Fox) and then downloaded Area 7, the 2nd novel, to listen to as an audiobook. Reilly took a long break from writing Scarecrow novels after Scarecrow and I think fans of the books have really wanted to know how the poor guy has been fairing since Fox was beheaded so brutally.

Scarecrow and the Army of Theives is typically action packed with character development generally being very thin on the ground. Reilly does touch on Scarecrow’s mental health (it’s mentioned he’s seen several psychiatrists) and he’s watched carefully by Mother, who seems to be taking it as her personal role to keep him on track and sane. He has nightmares about Fox’s death despite not actually being present when she was killed and it seems like he is coping by being assigned to the testing. He snaps into action in true Scarecrow fashion when he learns of the impending disaster though and before long he’s swinging off his Maghook, avoiding many machine guns and coming up with more plans than a city architect. There’s a little added complication of a French assassin team that haven’t forgiven him for various slights against their country and countrymen but it’s nothing he isn’t able to make work to his advantage!

Given then nature of these books, there was never going to be a really in depth analysis of how Scarecrow was coping, nor would we get scenes with him and Mother having D&M’s. I assume they do, just that Reilly doesn’t write them! Instead we’re pumped full of fast paced action, quick thinking military tactics and Scarecrow and his buddies avoiding death (or not, as the case may be) a million times. There’s also a super cute little robot named Bertie who might’ve become my favourite character.

Fans of the series should enjoy this one.

7/10

Book #200 for 2011

I’m counting Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves towards my What’s In A Name?4 Challenge. It is the last book I needed to complete this challenge, fitting into the category of read a book with something evil in the title. Thieves are pretty evil (especially the ones in this book) and army’s often are too. So it’s a bit of a double whammy.

Books Read:
Jewellery/Gem in the title: Tears of Pearl, by Tasha Alexander
Life Stage: Dead Reckoning, by Charlaine Harris
Travel/Movement: The Girl Who Chased the Moon, by Sarah Addison Allen
Number: Smokin’ Seventeen, by Janet Evanovich
Size: The Tall Man, by Chloe Hooper
Evil: Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves, by Matthew Reilly.

Yay! 2011 What’s In A Name?4 Challenge COMPLETE!

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Ruby Blues – Jessica Rudd

Note: This review will contain general ***SPOILERS*** for the preceding book, Campaign Ruby. If you haven’t read that one (and plan to) you might not want to read ahead.

It’s two years after Ruby fled London for Australia after losing her banking job and scored a job as a financial analyst on a prime ministerial campaign. Although their candidate was voted in, now he’s not doing so well in the polls and Ruby is busier than ever. After the Leader Of the Opposition won the election and became Prime Minister, Luke quit his position as Chief of Staff so he and Ruby no longer work together, but they have been dating for time between books. Luke, having already lost one marriage to the hours he worked when he was on staff, is starting to make noises about Ruby cutting back, coming home earlier, maybe spending more time together. But Ruby can’t even find the time to sit down and decide where she wants to go on holidays (despite Luke putting together a brief, with possible destinations alphabetized and pros/cons listed) and she loves her job. She definitely can’t see herself cutting back any time soon, and she definitely won’t be taking any extended time off.

With Luke on the way out due to conflicting opinions, Ruby throws herself even more into her work, mounting a campaign to help the Prime Minster’s desperately sliding poll numbers. Doing the rounds of talk shows, dealing with potentially career-ending scandals and blackmail threats, Ruby’s life is never dull. Her personal life is hectic as well, with Daphne and Debs expecting a baby and Ruby’s sister and niece flying in for a visit. Add in the arrival of one very attractive vet and also the return of a former flame (or is that adversary?), an iconic birthday looming (the big 3-0) and a big formal event, the Midwinter Ball looming on the horizon, there’s still decisions to be made like where is she going to get the perfect dress?

I went straight on to Ruby Blues after finishing Campaign Ruby. The second novel is often lauded as the trickiest one, especially after a successful first one. Fortunately, Ruby Blues is just as enjoyable and amusing as its predecessor with likable heroine Ruby Stanhope back and busier than ever and getting herself into more situations than before! After falling asleep during a rather hmm, intimate moment with boyfriend Luke, things come to a head (haha) in that relationship with Luke venting his frustration at the endless late nights, take away dinners, lack of quality time etc. Ruby immediately fires up given that Luke knows exactly what her job entails (after all, he was the one that hired her) given he used to work as Chief of Staff and with neither backing down, it ends with Luke leaving.

But Ruby can’t dwell. Men come and go but the nation is a fickle minded beast and they’re not happy with their current Prime Minister. The honeymoon period is well and truly over with the PM sliding to record lows so it’s up to Ruby and the rest of the team to get in there and try and fix it. Jessica Rudd isn’t afraid to give Ruby some glaring flaws and throw her into some horrendously embarrassing situations but it makes her so easy to love, laugh at and relate to. Let’s face it – who hasn’t tried a home waxing kit that went hideously wrong? The fact that Ruby has somewhere important to be on the night just makes it even more cringe-worthy! I can sympathize with Ruby, I can laugh at her, I can cheer for her and at times, I can shake my head at her in disbelief.

I get book crushes a lot. The amount of reading I do, quite a lot of the series and novels I enjoy have at least a thread of romance running through them, so there’s always interesting guys popping up here and there. I think I can go all the way back to being about 9 and reading the Anne series by L.M Montgomery and having my first book crush on Gilbert Blythe. And my latest book crush happens to be Luke. I was into him when he first appeared in Campaign Ruby and bit my nails nervously as he hovered in the background wearing revolting ties while Ruby dithered over a good looking political reporter. But because these novels aren’t really romance as such and Ruby is not the sort of girl to stay at home and iron her man’s shirts, we don’t get a lot of them as a couple in this one. But my crush only grew as the book went on, despite his absence. Even nice guys can act like tossers. But they don’t always finish last!

Ruby Blues is a worthy sequel that gave me a chance to get another fix of characters I’d come to love whilst also giving me a good laugh. I hope I haven’t seen the last of Ruby.

8/10

Book #198 of 2011

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The King’s Favourite – Susan Holloway Scott

Nell Gwyn was born poor and a commoner. Her mother and older sister were both prostitutes and Nell herself worked in the brothel at barely fourteen, singing for the punters to earn her coin. Despite the location, Nell held onto her virginity until her mother sought to auction it off – Nell was bought and paid for and went to become the mistress of a tailor.

Whilst she was his mistress, he took her to the theatre and Nell became enthralled with the acting, the stories, even the beautiful girls that walked around selling oranges to the theatre-goers before the commencement of the play. Always one with a quick retort and a sassy remark, Nell was pretty sure she could act on stage even though she could not read. She had a good memory and she knew that she could earn her lines simply by hearing them. She went for the owner and asked for a tryout but he would not touch her while she was still mistress to his friend. Eventually the man who kept her married and Nell was free to move on – first as an orange girl, and then later as an actress.

There she saw the King, Charles the II, who was a frequent theatre-goer, often with his long-time mistress the Duchess of Cleveland, Lady Castlemaine Barbara Villiers and more rarely, the Queen. Nell, who was both beautiful, smart and famously witty, caught his eye first as a girl who sold him oranges and then later when she was up on the stage. Charles would often stop by and see the actors backstage after a performance and his banter with Nell became well known.

Always knowing that fate had something high and special in store for her, Nell becomes one of Charles II’s most devoted mistresses and probably was his mistress for one of the longest lengths of time. She becomes of his favourites (yes I know this book is technically titled The King’s Favorite but refuse to spell it that way) and during their long liaison she bears him two sons and survives the rivalries and intricacies of a Court recovering from the Puritan era of Oliver Cromwell and moving into much more sexually freer one. Charles is well known for his roving eye and large sexual appetite but he also remains faithful on one level to his barren wife, Queen Catherine of  Braganza, who was unfortunately barren (which often seemed to be the way of Queens!). Despite urging from several advisers, he refused to divorce her and take another wife and Nell never expected him to.

A well known figure of the time in history, Nell Gwyn rose from total poverty to become mistress to a King for more than half her lifetime, earning herself houses and riches beyond belief. However despite this, Charles never granted a title to her (unlike two of his other significant mistresses, the aforementioned Duchess of Cleveland, and Louise de Karouaille, who was later granted the title Duchess of Portsmouth) and rumour has it she had to beg for her sons to be granted titles of their own. Despite this, she remained loyal and faithful to Charles until the end, believed to be the only one of his mistresses to do so.

I’m so glad Marg recommended this time period to me to fill the seventh continent of my 2011 Global Reading Challenge because I have to say, I am really enjoying it. Up until last year I wasn’t really a reader of any historical fiction at all, reading mostly contemporary novels but slowly I am filling in some gaps in the timeline. This is the second novel I’ve read set in the court of King Charles II and the protagonist here was an antagonist in my previous book which is always interesting. Sometimes you can develop an opinion of a character taken from history and nothing can change it but because I didn’t particularly enjoy Louise de Karouaille in the previous novel and she was one of my narrators, I was mostly ambivalent towards Nell Gwyn when I started this book.

Nell is noted throughout history for her famous wit and quick tongue and if you didn’t know this before starting the book, then you will certainly know it by the end. Much is made of her famous banter, especially with the King and at Court and often with Louise de Karouaille as the butt of her jokes. In this novel the two are bitter enemies and given it’s from Nell’s point of view, she often gets the better of Louise, particularly in verbal stoushes. It seems the only time Louise triumphs over Nell is a point taken from fact in that she was granted a title, the Duchess of Portsmouth and Nell never was. I actually didn’t find a lot of the much-lauded funny moments funny but it’s evident that many did.

Although I don’t have anything remotely resembling her background, I found that it wasn’t too much trouble to relate to Nell – she was a normal, low-maintenance sort of woman who rarely ever harassed the King unless it was about securing rights for her children. She certainly wasn’t flawless, at times she is portrayed as rude, nasty, and quite frankly, a bit of a bitch – not someone that you’d particularly want to go up against! But Court is a tough world and she played it with everything she had, ensuring the King’s favour for well over a decade, succeeding where many others had failed. She was a go-getter, keeping up her acting for as long as she could before giving it up due to her status. You got the feeling throughout the novel that she wasn’t mistress to the King just because he was the King (although that probably did help) but because she genuinely loved him. She wasn’t just a kept woman, she had her own interests and life and could live independently of the King.

I notice that Susan Holloway Scott has written novels on all of Charles II’s notable mistresses including the Duchess of Cleveland and the Duchess of Portsmouth so in the new year I’ll be looking at tracking them down and reading them to further flesh out my picture of the Court and its workings. I’m sort of interested to see which mistress I’ll like the best when I’m all done!

8/10

Book #198 of 2011

I’m counting this novel towards my 2011 Global Reading Challenge, for the seventh continent which was free choice. My particular topic was 1600s historical fiction. This is the 2nd novel read for the continent and the 20th overall. ONE MORE BOOK TO GO! There was a time when I really worried that I might not finish this challenge….but I’m home free now!

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Campaign Ruby – Jessica Rudd

Ruby is an investment banker in London. When she gets an email from HR during the latest round of ‘corporate restructuring’ that advises her that her position has been made redundant and can she please return all work items on her way out thank you, she doesn’t take the news lying down. She types out a return email that goes viral in hours, goes home and gets tanked on a couple of bottles of the finest Australian pinot noir.

When she wakes up the next morning, Ruby discovers that she’s managed to book herself a trip to Australia that’s going to cost her an arm and a leg to get out of. Luckily her aunt happens to live in Victoria, Australia so that’s some accommodation sorted. Her aunt Daphne and her aunt’s live in partner Debs beg off a local event at a nearby winery and send Ruby in their place. There she meets Luke, terrible taste in suits and ties and Chief of Staff to the Leader of the Opposition. Despite assuming that Luke and the Leader were at first, gay lovers, Ruby manages to score herself a job working for the LOO (Leader of the Opposition) as a spill topples the current Prime Minister and an election is called. Ruby finds herself travelling the length and breadth of Australia in mere days on a publicity trail, working her butt off to get the public to vote for the LOO.

Despite knowing nothing about politics, particularly the Australian variety, Ruby is thrust in at the deep end, fulfilling a number of roles. It’s all about votes and candidates and making their party seem like the strongest option available in a myriad of airports, hotels, publicity events, interviews and scandals. And then there’s that ridiculously good-looking political journalist who’s appearing everywhere with his charisma….

Despite falling into this job with no experience whatsoever and decidedly not looking for work, Ruby discovers that she loves the frantic pace and variety of challenges that working in high level politics brings. She never knows what she will be doing from one day to  the next it could be meeting with ill kids or visiting a local member with a blog about alien sightings.

And then Ruby and the rest of their team have done all they can – it’s election day and out of their hands now.

There’s something really special about a book that can make you forget yourself and laugh out loud. Not just a little snort, but a full on proper laugh. And Campaign Ruby was that sort of book for me. Ruby is hilarious, from the time the novel opens and she’s reading the email that is basically telling her thanks very much, but you’re fired now. There are so many moments in this book that had me in hysterics on the couch.

Jessica Rudd clearly knows her politics (and she would, given she’s the daughter of Kevin Rudd – a former Opposition Leader, a former Australian Prime Minister and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs). And although the whole novel revolves around politics, given Ruby slots into her new role working for the Leader of the Opposition very early on in the book, Rudd somehow manages to make it both enjoyable and fascinating as well as humorous and warm. Politics is a subject often lauded as boring (I have a degree in political studies and international relations so I don’t always agree, but I can see why people think that) but by making politics merely the way in which Ruby gets a job and continues well, being Ruby, a lot of the tediousness is removed. We get to see mostly the interesting side, with exhaustive publicity tours, tricky interviews and awkward situations with local members of parliament and given Ruby is English she knows almost nothing about Australian politics herself, so we’re not treated to any long-winded internal dialogues on the rights and wrongs of the system or the intricacies of it. It’s the perfect use of less is more.

The characters are the really strong point in this novel – Ruby is funny and likable and despite a love of high fashion, very down to Earth and not afraid to jump in feet first and get dirty. The cast of supporting characters are just as well done, ranging from Ruby’s highly precocious niece (Clementine Genevieve Gardner-Stanhope) to the various colourful characters taking part in the campaign to the lovely Luke with the disastrous fashion sense. Even the LOO himself is more than just a cardboard cutout with a lovely wife and typically bored and embarrassed-by-her-dad teenage daughter.

If I had to describe Campaign Ruby in one word it would be fun. One of those books that you snatch up, settle down somewhere and let a couple hours pass in a blur of laughter. I read this from my local library but it’s pretty cheap for Kindle so I’m buying it in order to have my own copy. I love books that I can see myself re-reading in the future and I think this is definitely one of these.

8/10

Book #197 of 2011

** I originally wanted to read this is part of my participation in the Australian Woman Writers Challenge of 2012 but it was due back on the 16th of December to the library and I was unable to renew it as it had requests on it. But consider this a promotion of Australian Women Writers, just a little early!

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Legend – Marie Lu

June is a jewel of the Republic. She scored a perfect 1500 on her Test, enabling her the best university education the Republic can provide and then an accelerated passage into their armed services that work hard to protect the Republic from the Colonies. She is from a wealthy, privileged background in what was once the west coast of a country known as America. Now divided up into districts, some gifted with everything, others little more than slums, June, 15 and with a rebellious streak, still believes in the truth and superiority of the Republic and she is ready to serve.

Day is from the other side of the tracks, so to speak. Also 15, he didn’t pass the Test set out and therefore didn’t qualify for any further education or decent working opportunities. Day doesn’t believe in accepting the fate that the Republic has dealt him though and instead he remains one of their most wanted citizens. They don’t really know what he looks like, but approximations of his face fill the public billboards listing his various crimes. He’s a criminal they desire to bring to justice as he undermines their various efforts in the war against the Colonies. Day has grown up at the other end of the spectrum and he doesn’t have June’s unwavering trust and devotion to the Republic. Far from it.

These two polar opposites’ world’s collide when June’s brother is murdered during one of Day’s daring raids and Day is the chief suspect. June is graduated early from her college degree to take up active duty and go undercover in the poor areas to try and draw Day out. She wants revenge for her brother’s death and when she meets Day and he helps her out of a bad situation, despite that hunger for justice, she can’t help wonder if this boy is really capable of murder. After all, in all his previous crimes, he hasn’t killed anyone. They’ve been crimes against the authorities and crimes against the wars themselves. He doesn’t murder people in cold blood.

The more time June spends with Day, in his world, the shakier her beliefs become. She isn’t sure who she can trust anymore, especially when it looks like there might be a lot more to her brother’s murder than those in charge are telling her. June thinks that even through apprehending Day and bringing him in, she can still do things her way and that no one will get hurt.

June is about to learn some hard lessons.

I went to an event for PenguinAU teen imprint Between The Lines a couple of Sundays ago which was around the time that Legend was released. To help drum up a bit of interest, there was a live video chat conducted with the author, Marie Lu where she talked a little bit about where the ideas behind Legend came from, her writing processes, etc and also a few tiny sneak peaks about what to expect in the as-yet-untitled sequel, due out towards the end of 2012. I hadn’t yet read Legend although it was on its way to the local branch of my library for me. I picked it up a couple of days after the event and read it almost right away.

The movie rights have been sold and it’s been heavily hyped towards fans of The Hunger Games etc but I went into it with an open mind because it isn’t the first time something has been hyped as the next The Hunger Games and I’ve come out the other side thinking that it’s nothing like The Hunger Games!

Legend starts off slowly, as we are introduced June and Day and are given a glorious contrast on just how different their lives have been growing up. June is cosseted, wealthy, privileged with a fantastic education thanks to her perfect score of 1500 on her aptitude test. She’s a little rebellious, pulling pranks, bucking the system just enough so that she won’t be punished too severely. Her parents were killed in an accident so it’s just her and her older brother Metias and the two are very close. In contrast Day grew up very poor, in a very poor part of town where plague runs rampant and where the citizens don’t receive the vaccinations that those in the wealthy areas do. He has two brothers, one older and one younger, but his mother believes that he is dead, Day’s rationale being that if she doesn’t know anything, she cannot say anything. These two could not have had different lives.

Halfway through the novel, there is an event that is like a punch to the face and from then on there is action, intrigue, romance, everything. The pace totally changes as June starts to come to startling realisations that things are not what they seem and Day starts to come to some realisations that time may be running out for him. From there it becomes more than just another story where two teens from different backgrounds meet somehow and fall in love.

It was a very nice surprise to see the dystopian element was strong in Legend. The citizens of the Republic are strictly controlled, with those in charge monitoring everything and deciding their futures based on these so called aptitude tests (with scores for some being fiddled…). They also control health issues in a way that is truly chilling and although there is civil unrest in the poorer areas, many of them are like June – steadfast in their belief and trust in the Republic and its leader (sworn in during the book for his nineteenth term or something equally remarkable!) and ready to serve. There’s an unseen enemy in the Colonies, other locations in what was America which June believes to be ruthlessly attacking the Republic for no good reason.

As Legend is a first novel in (I think) a trilogy, there’s a leisurely pace the beginning of it as Lu takes her time to set up her story and her characters. Once that is done, the story line really shifts into high gear and I expect that the next installment will be as action packed as the latter half of Legend. Lu has created a truly interesting world as her setting and you don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to place yourself within it. The action in this one is very localised but Lu did say in the video chat that in the next installment we will be seeing/hearing more from the rest of the world (she dropped this piece of information when someone asked her if, due to the polar ice caps melting in the world of Legend, Australia still existed at all. It does apparently, split into East Australia and West Australia). I’m interested in finding out more about the world in the next installment because June is no longer the little darling of the Republic by the end and she won’t be programmed to basically spit out their propaganda. There’s also a very intriguing secondary plot involving the government and its interest in Day’s younger brother, which was left dangling at the end of Legend so I definitely want to see where Lu goes with that one.

Legend isn’t perfect – there are a few issues with distinguishing between the voices and sometimes if it weren’t for the different fonts, it would be difficult to know if we were in June’s head or Day’s. But it is honestly one of the more promising dystopias I have read this year (and it feels like I have read a lot, dystopia is the new black). I also like that it wasn’t too long – and we didn’t get bogged down in unnecessarily angsty moments between June and Day and their torture over their feelings for one another. Day is refreshingly non-broody and June has got some skills. She’s not hanging around waiting for her man to take care of her, and I think that they can compliment each other well.

The sequel of this one might be one of my most anticipated books of 2012.

7/10

Book #196 of 2011

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The Empress Of Ice Cream – Anthony Capella

Carlo is from a background so poor that his family sell him into slavery under a prolific maker of ices for the deMedici family. Despite being forced into this line of work, Carlo soon develops an affinity for ice and a vision, longing to experiment with different methods and flavours, much to the chagrin of his boss who works strictly from a book of recipes handed down in his family for generations. There is to be no deviating from the book and Carlo soon grows bored. When a charismatic stranger gives him a chance to escape to the court of the Sun King, Louis in France, Carlo takes it.

In Louis’ court, Carlo rises to prominence, making delicious ices, sorbets and ice creams for the King. He is free to experiment with flavours and textures at will and the King is an appreciative audience. However when Carlo inadvertently commits a faux pas he finds himself on a ship bound for England and the court of King Charles II as a sort of ‘gift’ from King Louis of France. Louis and Charles are in the midst of delicate negotiations and treaties, Louis needing Charles’s support in a war against the Dutch in return for swelling of the English coffers. There in England he finds a niche for himself even more, creating elaborate ices and creams for the King…and Louise de Karouelle.

L:ouise de Karouelle was a favourite of Charles’s sister (known mostly as Madame) in Louis’s Court. When Madame dies, Louis sends Louise over to England to King Charles’s palace as a ‘gift’ as well. She was famous in the French Court for her chastity, being from a very old prestigious (but also very impoverished) family and needing to make a good match. Louise is reluctant to give up her innocence, even for a King but she soon finds herself swept up in the politics of Court and the rise to power that being a favourite of the King gives her.

Louise’s path before the King and her rise to being one of his favourite mistresses is carefully orchestrated, firstly by others and then by Louise herself as she fights to keep his interest whilst she is with child and afterwards. She knows that there is always another pretty, willing woman to take her place so she needs to always be at her best. Despite the fact that she doesn’t love the King, not really, she isn’t willing to give up her status for the possibility of happiness…and love.

I’ve finished the known continent components for my 2011 Global Reading Challenge which just left the seventh continent,which was free choice as I think all the repeat challenge participants were struggling to keep finding books set in Antarctica. I wasn’t really sure what to do for this part but eventually decided on some form of historical fiction. Marg, from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader (and historical fiction expert) suggested I focus on the Restoration period of Charles the II and his successor and as she had books readily available that met the criteria, I was all for that! It’s not a period I’ve read anything from in the past (at least not knowingly) and having developed a bit of a taste for historical fiction this year (mostly novels set during the Victorian era) I thought it was time I expanded!

I started reading this book on quite a hot day and all the descriptions of the ices, and later on, the sorbets and ice creams made me very hungry! Even though I didn’t enjoy a lot of the flavours Carlo experimented with, I enjoyed reading about the process, especially with the added complications of a lack of refrigeration. I thought it was incredible they were able to store ice for such a lengthy period of time during all seasons, even in Italy with its warm climate.

So while I enjoyed that particular part of the story, I have to say that I didn’t much like the characters themselves. I found Carlo a bit sulky and petulant and a bit full of himself and his own importance as the King’s Confectioner (firstly Louis, then Charles). He didn’t take rejection well and seemed to rank a new concoction of flavours among the highest of priorities for the King(s) which is actually how he gets himself sent over to England! He becomes enamoured with Louise de Karouelle in the French court and although she shows him little interest there, he continues to pine for her, even after they are both sent across the channel to England.

Louise herself is, I think, even less likable than Carlo. Very concerned with her superior lineage and purity, she scorns Carlo’s feelings for her and actually entertains herself as the future Queen of England, despite the fact that she’s the double barreled negative of being both French and Catholic. She takes all the trappings and bonuses of being the King’s mistress as her due without actually giving up the one thing that the King wants! She holds out as long as she can before giving in, a calculated method that seems to work well with Kings in historical novels (Anne Boleyn etc). But it does make her pretty unlikable as a character, at least for me! And what she does to Carlo towards the end of this book is a pretty low act resulting in a pretty disappointing (but probably realistic) ending to the story.

Interestingly enough the next book I’m reading for this challenge involves one of Louise’s rivals/antagonists, Nell Gwyn, also a favourite of King Charles II. The chapters narrated by Louise in this novel mention a real rivalry with Nell so it will be interesting to see  how that is played in a book that is narrated by Nell.

7/10

Book #195 of 2011

I’m counting The Empress of Ice Cream towards my 2011 Global Reading Challenge! This is the 19th novel read for the challenge and the first novel completed for the seventh continent, which is free choice – England in the1600’s for me!

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The Adoration Of Jenna Fox – Mary E. Pearson

Jenna Fox has just awoken from a coma that lasted nearly a year. She was in a horrific accident that has left her with virtually no memory whatsoever. But she is recuperating in a strange way – one day she cannot do something, the next day she can, easily. Her mother says she is some sort of miracle, recovering when it was believed she wasn’t. But Jenna has questions. And it seems that no one is giving her any answers.

Her mother is vague and somehow smothering all at the same time, praising Jenna’s every growth and regain of ability or memory. She has given Jenna a stack of discs to watch which are the years of Jenna’s life in glorious technicolour, recorded by her parents. As Jenna watches them, she sees a girl who is loved by her parents almost to the point of obsession – not a single moment goes unrecorded, not a single birthday uncelebrated. Jenna is watching them in order but her grandmother makes the casual remark that maybe she shouldn’t. Maybe there’s one she should skip straight to.

In contrast to her mother, Jenna feels that her grandmother almost hates her. Yet when she confronts her about it, her grandmother denies it, stating that she doesn’t hate Jenna, she just doesn’t have room for her anymore. Bewildered by that, Jenna seeks to assert some independence from her overprotective life by insisting that she be allowed to go to school. She’s unsure why her parents moved her from her old life in Boston, but it almost seems like they are hiding her now – secreting her away from the world. Her mother doesn’t like letting Jenna out of her sight but her father doesn’t even live with them, staying in his old job to avoid ‘suspicion’.

Jenna’s father invented BioGel, a way in which organs can be stored indefinitely and no longer have a shelf-life before being transplanted. But more than that, it is a substance that mimics perfectly – a person can be rebuilt with BioGel after horrific accidents, after illness. It raises ethical questions of how much must be left of a person in order for BioGel to be used to fix them? How much brain loss before you’re cloning, not rebuilding? Jenna is about to find out some terrible truths about herself and the accident that resulted in her coma.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is set in a not-too-distant future but after some sort of plague/apocalyptic type event that wiped out a significant number of the population and an earthquake on the west coast of America that had a devastating effect. Jenna’s father made a fortune by creating BioGel and as a result there is an ethics committee whose job it is to rule/oversee the use of BioGel and exactly what it can be used for. It’s the sort of book that would raise some pretty interesting discussions based on these ethical issues – if you had the ability to rebuild a loved one basically from the ground up after a devastating injury that would have otherwise have killed them, would you? Even if so much of them was gone that really all you would be doing was making a copy? A clone? It makes for interesting conversation, given the technical advancements in the field of cloning. And given Jenna’s suffocating parents, who smothered her with love and affection, the idea that they could have a prettier, better Jenna, a Jenna 2.0 was a dark shadow on the idea that they just didn’t want to say goodbye to their daughter. They broke rules, they hid her away all to serve their own agenda, rather than Jenna’s. And that in itself raises another issue – when people are given the power to make these decisions, are they making them because it’s what they want, or because it’s what the injured party would want? How do we know? How can there be a way to best serve someone who cannot at that moment, answer for themselves?

Whilst I enjoyed the story line and the ethical questions which it did raise, I have to admit the characterisation left a little to be desired for me. I get that Jenna was a blank slate when she woke from her coma, so her stiltedness and awkwardness and  well, blandness was to be expected. But I felt that enough wasn’t devoted to Jenna’s parents, who made these decisions, who made this call. Her father, the creator of this wonder product was pretty much absent for the entire book other than a couple of cameo appearances and her mother was portrayed as a bi-polar nervous wreck who alternatively disappeared mysteriously and smothered Jenna. The whole “Jenna, go to your room” element was creepy in the extreme and really turned me off the mother. I also felt that some characters in this book seemed pointless, such as the school antagonist. I’m not sure what on earth the point of him being in the book at all even was, as he really had no role, other than to be slightly obnoxious at school but it felt very half-hearted on the part of the author. There were characters that weren’t as fleshed out as they really could’ve been, that could’ve contributed more to the story but somehow didn’t.

I think that this book was a mixed bag as far as I was concerned – the pacing was a bit slow and the reveals often lacked punch. But I think that it’s a great subject, futuristic yet relevant and the sort of thing that young adults can really relate to and discuss.

6/10

Book #194 of 2011

 

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The Bridge – Jane Higgins

Nik is a high school student in ‘Cityside’, divided from ‘Southside’ by a bridge. The hostiles live in Southside, making raids every now and then, blowing up Cityside landmarks until the Cityside army forces them back and retakes their territory. Citysiders believe they are on the privileged side and that the Southsiders live in poverty and squalor.

Nik doesn’t remember his parents, he assumes they died in a former uprising when he was small. He was delivered to the boarding school at which he is just about to complete and has dedicated his everything to working towards getting recruited by ISIS – the Internal Security and Intelligence Services, who are behind the war. They take the very best – the smartest in maths and physics, the strongest, the mostly religiously pliable. Nik is one of the smartest in his graduating class and it’s widely assumed that ISIS will recruit him.

When they don’t, everyone is stunned, most of all Nik. He tries to seek answers from some of his teachers but they refuse to talk about it, saying that it’s not for them to say. That tells Nik that there’s a reason that they didn’t choose him and he’s desperate to find out what it is. Before he can, Southside bomb the school and some of his friends are killed and the younger brother, Sol of one of them is kidnapped and taken over the bridge. Nik and Sol’s sister Fyffe travel into Southside, determined to find Sol and bring him back. Nik is able to speak a little of the language due to his time hanging out with one of the security men at the boarding school, who spoke it and Fyffee has a rudimentary knowledge of the language as well from the servants her wealthy family employs. They know Sol will be being held for ransom and Nik and Fyffe want to find him in Southside before any offers and deals can be brokered. Nik and Fyffe seem to fit in easily to Southside society, Fyffe beginning to work in the infirmary caring for the wounded and Nik working with some of the technology which allows him access to the sort of information he needs to find out just who might be holding Sol.

That’s not the only information that Nik finds in Southside. The mystery of his name and his parentage will be brought to the surface and Nik will discover that things are not as they have seemed whilst he has been safe over in Cityside. Not only that, but he himself is not who he has assumed he is all these years either.

The Bridge was the winner of the 2010 Text Prize which is an award for an unpublished manuscript. The author is a Kiwi so it fits nicely into my almost forgotten Kiwi YA Challenge so I borrowed it from my local library. It was only published a couple of months ago but I hadn’t heard too much about it, other than the fact it had won the Text Prize. Billed as a dystopian (what isn’t, these days) it deals with a divided society, both physically and mentally and once you scratch the surface, there’s a lot more going on than just a couple of kids on a crusade to rescue yet another kid.

It deals with issues and the ending of the book raises some very important points about war and the fact that sides will put peace second behind revenge, justice and the chance to hold the advantage. Before negotiations for peace can even begin, one side always wants the other to abide by conditions and everyone always believes they are in  the right. When they attack, it’s in retaliation for something, when they kill it’s revenge for an injustice caused to them. To leave these ideas behind and move forward in a way that would genuinely bring peace, gets lost. People don’t always want peace, they want to be right. They want to be the victors, the righteous, coming out on the side that is pure and good and beating back the evil influence and cowing them into submission into their way of life. It was a very good ‘talking point’ type of book, the sort of book that might be a good choice as a school text. Given the war (and it can be quite graphic) this book could hook teenage boys and girls alike in quickly and work in the more subtle themes before they even notice!

The world building started off well – although we could have been anywhere in the world, I got a feel for the new society and how it might have slowly disintegrated into what it had become by the time the book started. However as the story went on I found myself wanting to know more which was frustrating because Nik didn’t seem to know much and he had other things to worry about rather than how what was had become that way. There’s a sequel in the works (isn’t there always?!) which may help to answer some of the questions that I had upon finishing this novel. Nik finds out a lot about himself over the course of the book but in learning these things about himself, he also finds that it raises many, many more questions.

There is identity, racism, social structure, war, economics, all at play here in this novel. It’s by no means perfect – I think the conflict could’ve really been developed more and played a bigger role in the novel. I would have liked to see a little more character development by Nik – I think the most impressive character development wise in the novel is Fyffe and I hope she appears in the next novel, which I’ll definitely read whenever it is published. I’m very interested to see what is next for the world Higgins has created here.

7/10

Book #192 of 2011

As previously mentioned, The Bridge fits in nicely for my Kiwi YA Challenge, which has sort of been neglected by me in the past 6 or so months! It’s the 5th novel I’ve completed for the challenge, so I only have one more to go – Karen Healey’s The Shattering which is waiting for me to get to it.

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