All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec

The Temporary Bride: A memoir of love and food in Iran
Jennifer Klinec
Virago Press
2014, 270p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“A relationship was a mathematical formula: the correct variables of age, beauty, morality and finances were entered and the output was a successful, peaceful marriage. It couldn’t be, therefore, that their Iranian son could feel desire for someone six years his senior, someone who didn’t come to him pure and untouched. I was an amusing visitor from another world and soon enough I should return to it, fading quietly into an anecdote …”

In her thirties, Jennifer Klinec abandons a corporate job to launch a cooking school from her London flat. Raised in Canada to Hungarian-Croatian parents, she has already travelled to countries most people are fearful of, in search of ancient recipes. Her quest leads her to Iran where, hair discreetly covered and eyes modest, she is introduced to a local woman who will teach her the secrets of the Persian kitchen.

Vahid is suspicious of the strange foreigner who turns up in his mother’s kitchen; he is unused to seeing an independent woman. But a compelling attraction pulls them together and then pits them against harsh Iranian laws and customs. 

Getting under the skin of one of the most complex and fascinating nations on earth, The Temporary Bride is a soaring story of being loved, being fed, and the struggle to belong.

I can’t remember where I first heard about this book but I knew I had to read it. I couldn’t find it anywhere locally and my library didn’t have it either so I ended up ordering it from overseas. I read it before I got sick but I’m so behind in reviews that I’m only just getting around to writing this, almost three weeks later.

This is a memoir of a woman named Jennifer who lives in London who ditches her boring corporate job to launch an intimate cooking school in her flat. She sources all the ingredients and designs the menus herself and people pay to come and learn how to cook interesting dishes. She’s always looking for ways to absorb more food knowledge and tries to travel extensively learning about the food of different nations. But when she goes to Iran, her life changes.

I’ve only read a few books set in Iran so I was really interested to learn some more about the dynamics and culture. Iran is a fascinating place to read about, it has been through a lot of changes in the past 50/60 years and its fair share of wars, economic recession and civilian oppression. I loved Jennifer’s portrayal of her time there, learning local dishes from a woman who would eventually become her mother-in-law. It actually gave me what I thought was a very clear picture of what it might be like to travel through Iran.

I’m not overly sure about the relationship however. It reads as somewhat awkward – Vahid tends to say whatever pops into his head perhaps because English is his second language and he doesn’t understand what’s tactful, perhaps because he’s a man and he can say whatever he likes, I’m not sure. There are times when he insults Jennifer quite horribly and it’s clear he’s very confused by the sorts of feelings he’s having toward her. He’s a virgin, as is traditional there until marriage and she isn’t, which is an interesting dynamic. There were times when I thought some of their interactions were quite sweet and other times when I was like why is she doing this? What on Earth does she see in this guy? She doesn’t seem to really give him much thought in that way until he begins to query his weirdness around her (which I think is supposed to perhaps be sexual desire). I would’ve also liked a bit more in depth talk about their culture divide, because that’s glossed over quite a bit, especially in the latter part of the book when it becomes clear that they’re not just temporary. The title of the book comes from a sort of marriage in Iran that allows a man to take someone to wife for a specified time and then dissolve it, which they undergo in order to be able to travel together and spend time together unchaperoned. Some parts of the country are more conservative than others and even after this temporary marriage is granted, they are often stopped and questioned extensively by police as to why they’re together and what they’re doing in public.

I loved the food components of this and also Jennifer’s talk about her childhood. She had a very interesting one, living on her own in different countries from a very early age and teaching herself to cook different meals. Her love of food is something that really dominates this book and I love reading about food, watching cooking shows etc so that part was really fantastic for me. There’s lots of descriptions and talking about food and I admired her for changing her life and doing something she’s really passionate about and also having that mindset where she’s always wanting to learn more, explore different cultures and their dishes.

But I think I wanted the same level of devotion to her relationship. Eventually Vahid moves to England after some time of her returning to Iran and also the two meeting in different countries and that covers like a paragraph in the book (the epilogue) when I really would’ve liked to read more about their situations being reversed and him being in the new place with very different ways of life to what he was familiar with. I know it is her story, rather than his but I think it’s something that would’ve been interesting. The journey of him coming to live with her in England permanently.

Still, I really enjoyed this. Gave me I felt, quite an interesting insight into life in present day Iran from the point of view of a Westerner and also Jennifer’s obvious devotion to food and preparing it.

7/10

Book #179 of 2017

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Double Review: The Diablolic & The Empress by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1)
S.J. Kincaid
Simon & Schuster UK
2016, 403p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Nemesis is a Diabolic. Created to protect a galactic Senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The girl who has grown up by her side and who is as much as sister as a master. There’s no one Nemesis wouldn’t kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the galactic court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.

She must become her.

Now one of the galaxy’s most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corruption and Nemesis has to hide her true abilities or risk everything. As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns that there is something stronger than her deadly force: the one thing she’s been told she doesn’t have – humanity. And, amidst all the danger, action and intrigue, her humanity might be the only thing that can save her, Sidonia and the entire Empire…

I had seen this book around since its publication last year but I’d never gotten around to really checking it out until I received a copy of The Empress, the second book in the series, for review. I decided to give it a go and picked up a copy from my local library.

It’s set in a futuristic world where most of the population now lives in space on various constructions and vessels. Technology is restricted, but at some stage alternatives to humans were developed called diabolics, mostly as servants and protectors. They look human and can ‘bond’ to a human but they are lethal killing machines and generally don’t possess the human emotions or empathy. However, the more time they spend with humans, the more their brain ‘learns’ so it’s difficult to know what is possible. All diabolics were ordered destroyed but Nemesis was one of the lucky ones. She’d bonded so much with her owner Sidonia, a Senator’s daughter that the family agreed to hide the fact that she hadn’t been destroyed so that Nemesis might go on protecting her charge. The Senator is at odds with the ruling family over his scientific beliefs and when Sidonia is summoned to the galactic court, her mother sees immediately that this is a way to punish the family and concocts a plan to disguise the fact that Nemesis is a diabolic and send her in her place.

For that, Nemesis must act human. Cleverness can hide the features that distinguish her from humans, as most people tend to alter their real selves anyway but Nemesis must be able to interact with various people without causing suspicion. When she meets Tyrus, the Emperor’s nephew who is believed to be mad, the fact that diabolics can’t feel as humans do is sorely tested. Tyrus is different and in him, Nemesis sees a future for the empire….and for her.

I enjoyed this – I was surprisingly way more into the journey of Nemesis and Tyrus than I thought I would be. They go through a lot in this book. Tyrus thinks Nemesis is Sidonia and she thinks he’s probably insane. I loved the character of Tyrus, loved their interactions and Nemesis’ examining of her “diabolicness” and what her connection with Tyrus means.

I did feel that the book had an extraordinary amount of twists and turns, so much so that by the end I was a bit fatigued with all the plans and crossings and double crossings and backstabbing taking place! Once I finished this though, I was really looking forward to The Empress and seeing what happened.

6/10

Book #182 of 2017

The Empress (The Diabolic #2)
S.J. Kincaid
Simon & Schuster UK
2017, 378p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.

Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?

Second books in a series. Hmmm. They can be a bit of a struggle.

After finishing the first one, I went right on to this one but I have to admit, I did struggle with it a little bit. I think because the first book spent so long building something and then this one just went and blew it apart and when things like that happen in second books, it tends to really bug me. I know that when it’s a series, there’s an arc and you have to spin it out for several books and nothing is easy and there’s got to be personal conflict etc. But sometimes, you can just see something coming a mile away and it feels really contrived and inorganic and like a complete 180 for a character.

A large part of the book revolves around Tyrus wanting Nemesis for his Empress but there is a strong resistance to that because Nemesis isn’t human. A Diabolic can’t be an Empress. Tyrus isn’t willing to take no for an answer though and this is an issue when it comes to him exerting his control and dominance as the new Emperor.  There’s quite a lot of politics in this volume and probably even more twists than in The Diabolic. The ending….well the ending pissed me off and also upset me! I wasn’t expecting that at all and I was actually quite cranky about it too. I found myself cursing the fact that I read them both before the next volume was out because I really need to know what happens next and whether or not certain characters can be redeemed or if what has happened is the end of something. Surely not? Surely there must be some sort of master plan from the Grand Planner of them all, some reason why this happened and it’ll all be made clear and then the grovelling can start. Because there needs to be grovelling. Lots of it.

I wasn’t sure what to rate this because even though I had some err, issues, with the way things played out there’s no denying that it was a heck of a journey getting there. I wasn’t sure I liked it as much as The Diabolic – apparently The Diabolic was originally a stand alone and reading it, that made a lot of sense. It clearly could’ve been. And then obviously a decision was made to go on with it so then there needed to be a plot. But however I felt about that, there’s no doubt that it’s made me pretty desperate for the next book to see what happens. So in that case, I guess it did it’s job as the second book, even though I finished it annoyed!

6/10

Book #184 of 2017

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Review: The Attraction Equation by Kadie Scott

The Attraction Equation (Love Undercover #2)
Kadie Scott
Entangled Publishing
2017, 197p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

FBI agent Max Carter lives his life by a strict set of rules—rules that don’t allow for distraction, deviation…or a relationship. But tell that to his matchmaking mama. To avoid yet another set-up, he announces he has a girlfriend. And now has to produce said girlfriend at Christmas dinner. Maybe Santa has a suitable actress in that red bag of his…

Gina Castillo is about to break her building’s iron-clad “no pets” policy to give her little brother the perfect Christmas gift—a dog. Too bad Max, the most inconveniently sexy tenant in the building, catches her red handed. Gina expects to be evicted, but instead finds herself blackmailed into playing the role of his girlfriend.

Two lies plus one dog should equal a hot mess of a holiday, but attraction and Christmas magic might just defy the rules…

As seems to be my way, I didn’t realise that this was part of a series when I requested it but it was perfectly fine as a stand alone. The previous couple do appear but you don’t really need to know their entire background story. My Kryptonite is an opposites attract story between a free spirit type of woman and an uptight or repressed type of man so this one sounded right up my alley.

Max is an FBI agent specialising in finance analysis and he definitely prefers things to be done a certain way. He lives his life by a very strict routine and he tends to restrict his romantic interactions to very brief encounters. He never tells women what he does or invites them to his apartment. Max thinks that people will only want to change him.

In contrast, Gina is a very creative type working multiple casual jobs to supplement her income. She’s subletting an apartment on the same floor as Max and her first interaction with him is when he catches her attempting to take the dog she’s purchased as a present for her younger brother out for a toilet break. The building forbids pets and Max is very much a rules person but there’s something about Gina’s manner that leads him to assist her, rather than dobbing her in.

The two of them are clearly very different and their interactions are quite humorous. Gina is pretty laid back and she enjoys trying new things. In meeting Gina, Max sees an opportunity. He won’t tell anyone about her having the dog if she will pretend to be the girlfriend he lied to his mother about having in an attempt to stop them from constantly trying to fix him up with people. It’ll be Christmas dinner, then after that he can tell his family that they’ve broken up and it’ll all be quick and painless.

Famous last words. There’s an attraction between them as well, which definitely complicates Max’s simple idea. Gina is such a personality that he enjoys spending time with her, even when she wants him to do things like try a new coffee place or put up Christmas decorations in his apartment. He finds himself doing things with her that he’s never done before and wanting her around for much more than just a one night stand. But at the same time he still believes that because of the ‘way he is’, it would only end badly – either she’ll try to change him or she won’t be able to accept him for what and who he is.

I’m not sure if Max is specifically OCD, he’s undiagnosed and at the beginning of the novel shows no interest in seeking help for his rigidity and the discomfort he feels if this is disrupted. He’s content with his life, even though he doesn’t share it with anyone. It isn’t until he meets Gina and begins spending time with her and realises that she is someone he’d like to be around in a permanent way, that he realises he may need to do a few things in order to compromise and be in a meaningful and long term relationship.

I did enjoy this but I also found parts of it significantly frustrating. Both Max and Gina get mad at the other for basically doing the same thing  and also for things that are a fundamental part of them. Gina is impulsive and a bit crazy, she’s always going to want to do those out there things and Max is a neat freak who is probably always going to want to tidy up and have things in their place etc. At times Max was a bit of a struggle for me because he does these impulsive things that kind don’t marry up with his personality (such as tell his family he has a girlfriend and then blackmail a stranger into portraying her) and then he self-sabotages what he has with Gina in the most bonehead of ways. Gina in many ways, has the patience of a saint.

This was cute but I didn’t love it. It was entertaining though and I’d probably check out another book in the series.

6/10

Book #185 of 2017

 

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Review: The Drifter by Anthea Hodgson

The Drifter
Anthea Hodgson
Penguin Random House AUS
2016, 354p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cate Christie is a party girl, unable to commit to anything, until she is involved in a tragic accident that changes everything. To escape her guilt and her parents’ bitter disapproval, Cate leaves Perth for her aunt Ida’s isolated farm in country Western Australia.

Henry is a drifter, a young swagman-like character who wanders onto the Christie family property and takes up residence in a disused shed. With secrets of his own, the last thing he wants is to get tangled up in Cate and Ida’s lives.

Against their own better judgement, the fates of Cate and Henry and Ida inexorably intertwine and they learn to face the realities of life, death and letting go.

A witty, charming and moving debut rural romance about what makes a good death and, more importantly, what makes a good life.

Recently a friend recommended this to me with the claim that it was the ‘perfect rural’. I thought I definitely had to try something that had attracted such high praise because I’m always looking for good rurals, I find them really perfect for when I am either in a reading slump or can’t decide what to read next. My local library had it sitting on the shelves so I thought I would check it out and now I am definitely going to have to buy my own copy for my keep shelf because I absolutely loved this.

Cate is a party girl, living up life in the city in a blur of nights out with her friends and temporary jobs that don’t really go anywhere. She’s about the experience and her parents have expressed their frustrations at her lifestyle but Cate doesn’t care because she’s too busy having fun. Until a tragic accident sends her fleeing the city to her aunt Ida’s isolated farm. When Cate arrives she realises that her idea to stay at the farm and ‘help out’ might not be such a bad one. Aunt Ida is clearly struggling with some things and she could definitely use a hand around the place. And someone to deal with the fact that there’s a stranger bunking down on the property.

Cate negotiates the stranger, Henry’s help around the farm for some of the more muscle jobs in exchange for staying in residence. Both Cate and Henry have secrets but almost against their will they build a friendship with a definite undercurrent and it is amazing. I loved both of them together so much. Cate is in a real state of almost breakdown and she’s suffering from both grief and guilt in equal measures. She is forced to reevaluate her life and decide if the way she’s been living is the way she wants things to be or is this a good reason to find something that she really wants to do? To make a commitment to something, instead of just drifting from one temp job to the next, banking enough cash for cute outfits and nights out. At first heading to the farm feels very much like Cate is hiding – avoiding her parents and their judgement and demands that she sort herself out as well as other people whom she feels she has caused pain. Cate’s journey of accepting the tragedy of what has happened and moving past it forms the backbone of the entire story. She’s able to find a place that she belongs, forge a new relationship with her Aunt Ida and truly get to know her and also get to know the farm and the local community. Cate becomes involved in the running of the farm and instrumental in bringing it back to life again and she also becomes part of the community as well, participating in bakes and church meetings. It’s a form of acceptance that I’m not sure she really had previously and it means a lot to Cate that even when some discover why she’s there in the first place, they still accept her and support her.

The characters in this novel are so full of life and realness (is that a word?). I loved the character of Aunt Ida and the way that she and Cate reconnect and her memories of her late husband. I feel as though she added a real dose of warmth and humour to the book and she was the sort of character that I believe many readers will identify with as she’d remind them of a grandmother or aunt or great aunt or someone that they know. Aunt Ida’s friends are also colourful and the sort of get-things-done country ladies that are probably the backbone of a lot of small towns. I liked the scenes with them all together, there was a real sense of camaraderie and devotion but in an understated kind of way.

And then there’s Henry. Man did I love Henry. He’s a mysterious, possibly even slightly shady character in the beginning, living in an unused outbuilding, helping himself to a spare fridge. He’s basically minding his own business but has helped Ida out in unseen ways but then finds himself confronted by Cate. Their abrupt interactions give way to something deeper and honestly, I was on board for the whole thing a ridiculous amount. They have oodles of chemistry and deep down, they have a lot in common. I had a fun time guessing Henry’s secret (as well as Cate’s actually) and thoroughly enjoying the ride of their relationship. They both made mistakes but there was also true acceptance between them.

This book made me bawl my eyes out like a million times, so maybe read with tissues! But it’s absolutely amazing, probably one of my favourite reads for the year. Can’t wait for Anthea Hodgson’s next novel, The Cowgirl. The good thing about it taking me so long to read this? I only have a couple of months to wait for that next book.

9/10

Book #178 of 2017

The Drifter is book #54 of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: One Thousand Hills by James Roy & Noel Zihabamwe

One Thousand Hills
James Roy & Noël Zihabamwe
Omnibus Books (Scholastic AUS)
2016, 229p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Agabande, Rwanda, April 1994.

Life is simple but good. Pascal and his brother go to school with their friends, their parents work hard and their little sister is growing up, and on a Sunday almost everyone they know goes to church to thank God for his goodness. But lately there have been whispers and suspicious glances around town, and messages of hate on the radio and people are leaving…. Then in one awful night, Pascal’s ordinary life in the land of a thousand hills is turned upside down.

When I was in primary school almost thirty years ago, Scholastic did book club catalogues which we took home and used to order books. I think a school got a percentage of the sales to perhaps use to get books for the library as well. I was always an avid reader, so I loved getting the new book club catalogues and picking out books. I didn’t always get something but pretty often my parents would try and get me one from my wishlist. When my own kids started school, I was pleased to see that they still do this and always try and encourage my kids to choose something that interests them. I admit to also looking myself – there’s a YA section and when I saw this book, I immediately ordered it for myself. I’ve never read anything concerning the Rwandan genocide before and certainly nothing from a child’s perspective. I was 12 when the genocide happened and like most kids my age, probably completely oblivious that it was even taking place. At that age, something like that is incomprehensible.

Pascal is a child in 1994. I’m not sure of his exact age, probably somewhere around 10-12. He has two older brothers, the oldest of which has gone to Belgium to study at university. His other brother Jean-Baptiste is mostly a pain in the way that older brothers are, putting dead rats or broody hens in Pascal’s bed of a morning and constantly lording it over him. Pascal is envious of Jean-Baptiste because his job is to ring the church bell and that’s a job Pascal desperately wants. He also has a younger sister who turns 5  and the family live a happy life. The boys have chores to do such as collecting eggs, tending the goat, helping their father in the garden. Thanks to the generosity of their brother studying abroad, they also have a water tank which means they do not need to trek in order to collect water for their household use.

Pascal is oblivious to the turmoil building in the country until he hears a broadcast on the radio, a sneering derision of the “cockroach” infestation in the country. Because of his youth, he takes it literally as a bug infestation rather than seeing the metaphor. It doesn’t take him long to pick up on the unease though and the fact that some people are acting differently to before. Their neighbours leave abruptly and Pascal’s father is clearly uneasy but reluctant to discuss the details with his young sons. On the night the bloodshed begins, they are completely unprepared and Pascal is left hiding for his very life and wondering about the fate of the rest of his family.

Because this is essentially a book for probably young teens and up, there’s no portrayal of brutal violence or graphic descriptions of the aftermath as such. It’s all very much through the eyes of a child and instead the reader is left to read between the lines and pick out the danger and imagine the horror. I found this actually surprisingly effective because it seems like such a genuine experience – you can imagine that there were probably thousands of children just like Pascal in Rwanda who had no idea of what was coming and were mercilessly slaughtered along with their families. Over 100 days some 800,000 (and possibly as many as a million) people are believed to have been killed in Rwanda in 1994, 8000 people a day. Those sorts of numbers are very difficult to imagine – it wiped out about 70% of the Tutsi population but the Hutu also executed moderate Hutu and those married or engaging with the Tutsi. It also created long lasting effects on the population – millions of people were displaced and ended up in refugee camps and it spiked a HIV epidemic due to the relentless use of rape as a part of the warfare. Many people were killed by people they probably knew, or at least were familiar with and others were massacred seeking shelter in places like churches.

I think the thing that I found most disturbing about this book was the way in which Pascal’s peaceful, happy life changed so quickly. He and his family have such a good dynamic – his kind but still quite strict father paired with quite a bossy mother who is making sure that she keeps the boys in line, doing their chores. His younger sister, the baby of the family gets away with a lot which makes Pascal good naturedly resent her because she has yet to be assigned chores. Pascal and his brother Jean-Baptiste have a believable acrimonious relationship rife with sibling rivalry but also possessing a few moments of brotherly connection. For Pascal, perhaps his father’s desire to keep them in the dark of the turmoil about to swallow their country means that they’re unprepared but I don’t think they believed that it would happen the way that it did and they sought to protect their children from hatred and judgement and perhaps keep that childhood innocence as long as possible. Unfortunately for Pascal, that innocence was brutally stripped away from him as he hid for his life in his secret spot, was betrayed by someone he trusted and was forced to bear witness to the atrocities that had happened in his village as he tried to escape.

And if it seems so realistic, it’s probably because on some level, it is. One of the authors, Noël Zihabamwe was a child in 1994 in Rwanda. His parents were murdered and he ended up in a Catholic orphanage before coming to Australia not speaking a word of English. His life story is truly remarkable and he now works tirelessly with refugees in Australia, helping them settle into their new homes.

I find this a very understated book with a powerful story to tell and I think it’s been well written for its intended audience. It gives children a chance to be educated and to ask questions, to try and understand terrible real life events at younger ages. And for  me as an adult, it was a good platform to begin – since then I’ve done a lot of reading on Rwanda and the genocide from non fiction sources and I also plan to look for some adult fiction books as well because even though it’s weird to say “I enjoyed this” about a book with such a brutal subject matter, I did enjoy it. I’d like to read more books set in Rwanda, those that tackle the genocide as well as ones that don’t.

8/10

Book #176 of 2017

 

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Review: Another Woman’s Husband by Gill Paul

Another Woman’s Husband
Gill Paul
Headline Review
2017, 439p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two women, divided by time, bound by a secret…

1911. Aged just fifteen, Mary Kirk and Wallis Warfield meet at summer camp. Their friendship will survive heartbreaks, continents, and the demands of the English crown, until it is shattered by one unforgivable betrayal…

1997. Rachel’s romantic break in Paris with her fiance is interrupted when the taxi in front crashes suddenly. The news soon follows: Princess Diana is dead. Trying to forget what she has witnessed, Rachel returns home, where the discovery of a long-forgotten link to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, will lead her to the truth of a scandal which shook the world…

I still remember where I was and what I was doing when the news broke that Princess Diana had died in a car accident in France. I was 15, it was a Sunday morning and I was having breakfast at my grandparent’s place. We used to go there every Sunday morning while my brother played a round of golf at the course that was 5m away from their place. My grandmother would cook bacon and eggs and inevitably there’d be some news/sports show on and I remember they did the “breaking news” thing. That’s 20 years ago now but I still remember it pretty vividly. I also remember that what came after it was just….mind boggling. Perhaps being so far removed from it over here in Australia and also not at all a monarchist, I was baffled by the outpouring of hysteria that seemed to come from millions and millions of people.

I’m a big fan of a historical and contemporary blend and this book fits that situation perfectly. Half the story follows Mary Kirk from the point in her life meeting Wallis Warfield (who would later become Wallis Simpson) at a summer camp. Mary is from a well-to-do east coast USA family and although Wallis is compelling, her family situation isn’t the greatest and they don’t possess a lot of wealth. Mary is Wallis’ gateway into society and the two form a very strong friendship even though Mary’s family aren’t entirely approving of the connection.

I know who Wallis Simpson is – someone abdicated for her, that’s something that most people would know I would imagine. But after reading this book, I didn’t realise how much more there was to her life story and I found that element of the book fascinating. I was definitely really invested in the historical aspect of the story and Mary and Wallis’ intense friendship that was rife with betrayal later on and ended very acrimoniously. I discovered that Wallis Simpson has a memoir and there are also many other accounts of her life written by others and I’ve added a few to my wishlist because I found this account of her life so interesting that I’d love to read more. This is told from Mary’s point of view so it’d be really keen to read something more focused on Wallis because it seems like her life was incredibly fascinating and there was so much more to it than I knew. I liked Mary as well, was astounded at her patience sometimes with Wallis and really wanted her to get what she wanted out of life.

I had less interest in the modern day story. I thought Rachel was great and loved the job she had. Rachel ran a vintage clothing store but really classic, often designer pieces that she picked up at estate sales or dispersals that she often fixed to restore to mint condition herself. She was really into her fashion and it was interesting reading about that. But her fiance was a complete twat and I spent most of the book wishing she’d come to her senses regarding his selfish behaviour and find someone who appreciated her more. And because a lot of that modern story revolved around Princess Diana, I found my attention wandering sometimes during it. I just don’t find Princess Diana all that interesting. I’m actually nearly the same age as the Princess when she was killed in the car accident and although I do see it as a tragedy that two boys lost their mother so soon, that she isn’t around to see them grow up, experience her grandchildren etc, that’s kind of the extent of my feelings about her life. I was never really into the Queen of Hearts ideal or the way that she was portrayed a lot of the time, nor am I a conspiracy theorist. The insertion of the characters into the scene of the accident did make me feel a bit uncomfortable though.

Despite that, I did really enjoy this book overall. As I mentioned, the historical component was fantastic – really enjoyed that and it’s made me determined to learn more about Wallis Simpson and her life and the circumstances that led to a King abdicating the throne just so he could marry her. I also liked the way it all tied together and Rachel’s determination to find some answers for her friend, and her loyalty to her fiance even after the way he’d behaved. A very enjoyable story and I will also look for other books by Gill Paul to read at some stage.

7/10

Book #174 of 2017

 

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Review: The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns

The Greatest Gift
Rachael Johns
Harlequin AUS
2017, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mother: female parent of a child

Mum: the woman who nurtures, raises and loves a child

Radio host Harper Drummond lives for her career. Every day she meets fascinating people doing extraordinary things, but has begun to wonder whether there could be something more for her out there. She’s financially secure, happily married to Samuel and has a great group of friends – what more could she want? It’s only when she interviews one special couple that she starts to think about whether she could make a different kind of contribution.

Claire and Jasper Lombard are passionate about their thriving hot air balloon business and know they’re lucky to find such joy in their work and in each other. But while Jasper has accepted that he will never be a father, Claire has found it hard to come to terms with her infertility. She doesn’t want Jasper to regret choosing her over a child in the years to come. Is there a way to give themselves a real chance at being a happy family? Can they find someone who will give them the greatest gift? Or will it come at a greater cost?

Where do I even start with this book? There’s a reason why books by Rachael Johns take up one of the largest sections when my books are arranged by author on the shelves!

At first glance, Harper Drummond and Claire Lombard would have little in common or to draw them together. Harper is a focused career woman, 34 and living and working in Sydney. She works as a radio host, interviewing a wide variety of people – famous people but also interesting people. She does a lot of research and clearly loves her job. She’s married to Samuel, a lawyer who works long hours with the aim of obtaining partnership at his firm. Very early on in their relationship, Samuel and Harper agreed that they never wanted children. They were very happy having a life where they were free to work long hours, socialise and not have much in the way of commitments. They’re even too busy for pets, so there’s no way they’d be able to fit a baby into their lives.

Claire on the other hand, has always wanted to be a mother but a childhood illness stole her fertility. Now she knows that in order to live her dream, she’ll need a very precious gift from someone. But in Australia those gifts are hard to find – egg donation and surrogacy for profit are illegal in Australia and anything done must be altruistic. Claire wants to carry and nurture a baby so surrogacy isn’t the best option for her. Instead she needs someone who might be willing to donate a piece of themselves to her so that she might live out her dream of becoming a mother. Harper is struggling with finding a way of leaving her mark, of doing something to make a difference and so these two women are brought together by a desire to change something.

This book is made to be discussed. It would be such a fabulous option for book clubs or groups of friends. There’s just so much in here that is perfect for a bit of spirited debate. I find egg donation and altruistic surrogacy really interesting because I once offered to be a surrogate mother for a friend of mine and I truly believe I would’ve done it, had circumstances played out in a way that would have allowed it. There’s a lot to unpick about the legal rights and what happens if one person suddenly wants to play more of a role than was previously agreed or circumstances change drastically in the case of the people accepting the donation. Rachael Johns really goes about this book meticulously but also with warmth and sympathy towards all the parties involved. When I was reading this I would find myself frequently pausing just to stop and think about things that the book was throwing up – what would I do in that situation? What would my husband think/say/do if I wanted to do something that was happening? How would we go about it? I found it so interesting on so many levels but this book will also tug at your heartstrings. There’s a lot of emotion in the story, all brilliantly told without feeling overly dramatic. This book is a reminder that life can be cruel but also deliver the greatest joy.

I feel as though I say this in every review of a Johns book but with each new novel she really does grow as a storyteller and writer. As she moves more into the women’s fic/life lit genre she is really tackling some powerful issues and examining different parts of society and life experiences. This book is beautifully written, a page turner from the get go but for me it was just definitely the way the book made me think about my own beliefs and the ability I had to so easily put myself in the characters shoes that really made it such a good reading experience.  I love a book that can really make me consider my thoughts and opinions on various topics and ones that spark a good conversation. This is a fantastic read – definitely a must for Rachael Johns’ fans and if you haven’t tried her books yet then this one would be an excellent place to start.

9/10

Book #175 of 2017

The Greatest Gift is the 53rd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Turtles All The Way Down
John Green
Penguin Random House UK
2017, 286p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

I’m not a die-hard John Green fan. In fact I’ve only read one of his books, The Fault In Our Stars but I really liked it. I hadn’t gotten around to reading his backlist yet and I also didn’t really know this was coming out until it basically dropped and I was pretty curious. It’s been 5 years since his last book. And I have to be honest – if I hadn’t found a bookshop selling it for a “special” price I probably wouldn’t have bought it. RRP is $27.99 and I know it’s a hardback and all but….nope. I wouldn’t have paid that and I’m not afraid to admit it.

I think the biggest thing I noticed about this book is that the plot is really, really flimsy. So flimsy it’s almost not even there. There’s the vaguest of ideas of main character Aza and her best friend Daisy searching for a missing super rich businessman, Russell Pickett, a fugitive with the idea of collecting the $100,000 reward. They use a tenuous connection that Aza has with the man’s son Davis in that they went to camp together years ago when they were like, 11 or something. I really disliked the plot, especially the part with the money which I found incredibly unrealistic, insulting and pretentious.

But – I did mostly like the characters. In particular I really liked Davis and I felt a lot for him and his brother Noah who were going through something very difficult. Not only is their father missing but their whole future hangs in the balance given the complicated instructions of their father’s will. At the same time, even though their father is a terrible father, Davis admits that’s it better he be there than not, especially for Noah. As the days roll on and there’s no sign or word from Russell Pickett, it becomes less and less likely that the boys will ever see their father again.

The main character Aza suffers from crippling anxiety specifically revolving around germs and contracting things that will kill her, such as C diff. She has a complicated ritual of treating an infection that doesn’t exist in a cut and then opening it up again just to be certain. She becomes so concerned about her possibility of contracting something that will kill her that she begins doing something incredibly dangerous in an attempt to destroy any potential bad bacteria. Even something as simple as eating for Aza is a complicated spiral of thoughts about bacteria and chewing and what is happening in her body when she eats. She mistakes grumbles in her stomach that signify she is hungry (or presumably that she is digesting food) for signs of terrible illness like C Diff and constantly reads about cases online, comparing the symptoms those patients have to her own. Despite the fact that she’s on medication, she doesn’t take it consistently, not wanting to believe that she needs to take medication to be her ‘true self’ and also because she doesn’t think it’s working. However she’s not taking it correctly so it’s hard to know whether it would work or not. From what I’ve heard/read, Aza’s experience is very similar to John Green’s experience with anxiety, particularly in the way that he writes her spiraling thoughts and how difficult it is to extract yourself from them, even though there’s a part of you that knows what the thoughts are telling you aren’t true. Aza knows she doesn’t have C diff but what if she does? And that’s all it takes. I think it was amazing how this was written and now I know why it felt so authentic and also, so exhausting and confusing to read. Because if it’s exhausting to read about it, I can’t even imagine how exhausting it is to actually live it. #OwnVoices are always a positive thing in literature and removing a stigma from mental health issues, showcasing it in fiction and also people like John Green being open about their own struggles help to shine a light and also indicate that it can be something that anyone can experience at any time in their lives, no matter what else is going on. So for that, the book is certainly important to the readership.

But there’s just so much else that’s so hard to ignore. Overly eloquent but yet awkward teens stargazing and holding hands and talking about their thoughts in relation to W.B. Yeats’ poetry, especially The Second Coming. I studied Yeats in year 12 (an embarrassingly long amount of time ago now) and that poem as well and I can remember bits and pieces: the ever-widening gyre part, falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart etc. It’s quite a heavy handed piece of imagery. But mostly I just wanted more from the plot. A lot of it felt like filler – the stuff about the lizard, the fan fiction, etc. I get the references, they just seemed to take up a lot of pages in what is quite a slim book. There were times when I was honestly a tiny bit bored, turning pages waiting for something to actually happen. When I finished it, I really agonised over what to rate it because I was struggling to really decide how I’d felt about it. I didn’t love it. I admired parts of it, particularly Green’s brutal honesty about mental illness, anxiety and OCD. I liked Davis and the situation he and his brother experienced tugged at my heartstrings. But I also struggled with a lot of it as well and then end left me feeling a bit dissatisfied. I don’t expect a perfect ending by any means, but I wanted a little more. Which I think kind of sums up my whole experience with this book.

6/10

Book #171 of 2017

 

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Review: Her Outback Surprise by Annie Seaton

Her Outback Surprise (Pickle Creek #2)
Annie Seaton
Entangled Publishing
2017, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Angie Edmonds is content with life in her small town. Being alone doesn’t bother her. Really. Until Liam Smythe, the man who broke her heart, shows up at her vet clinic with an injured puppy. Unfortunately, he’s just as irresistible as she remembers. In an attempt to prove to him that she’s moved on, somehow a little white lie begins…

When Liam returns to help run the family farm, his enjoyment of the slow life in Spring Downs surprises him. After all, he’s used to the thrill of chasing the next big story. Running into the girl he’s never been able to forget is unexpected, and he’s shocked to learn she’s getting married–to someone who’s not him. She’s off-limits, but Liam can’t stop thinking about the gorgeous vet and what could have been. But convincing her he’s changed will be harder than finding a needle in a haystack.

Recently I read and really enjoyed Annie Seaton’s Porter Sisters trilogy so I jumped at the chance to read this one when it was offered to me. I didn’t realise at the time but it’s actually the second of a quartet revolving around four cousins who are “called home” by their grandparents to help take care of the family farm. In the first book, which I haven’t read, the cousins come to an agreement that Liam will stay on and take care of the farm whilst their grandparents enjoy a well deserved holiday. This book begins in London where Angie is leaving to come back to Australia after her visa has run out. She and Liam have been in a relationship for about two years and she wants him to come with her but Liam is far too busy with his job to consider such a thing. Then we skip to recap Liam being called home and cover the decision to stay on, which is probably done more in depth in the first book but was definitely more than enough for me to catch up on what is happening. Fast forward to Liam having been on the farm for a while and he discovers a puppy on his farm. It doesn’t belong to him and appears to have an injured leg, so he takes the dog to a vet in town. Expecting the same vet he’s always known as having the practice, Liam is surprised when he realises that the vet is Angie. And Angie is equally stunned when she realises that her former partner has returned to Australia, something that he wouldn’t do with her.

I found this a really relaxing and enjoyable read. I liked the setting although I did find that Liam seemed to have a lot of free time on his hands for someone who seemed to be almost singlehandedly running a farm! But the small town community feel was definitely there and I found the vet practice to be a fun and interesting setting too. A large portion of the conflict in the book revolves around the fact that Liam believes that Angie is dating someone and in order to protect her heart, it’s a misconception that she doesn’t correct. However the two of them have a very difficult time staying away from each other. They seem to be attempting to do the just friends things but both of them are still very invested. Angie doesn’t want to get involved again because she feels this is a stop gap for Liam, a brief period before he chases his career again and heads for a big city. Angie doesn’t want to be left behind – breaking up with Liam the first time was very painful for her and very difficult and she doesn’t want to have to go through that all over again. And so for a while she allows Liam to continue thinking that she has some vague boyfriend living somewhere else. She knows that she does need to tell him the truth eventually but I sort of didn’t blame Angie for not bothering to correct Liam in a way. She wanted him to return to Australia with her but Liam was too caught up in his career however he did drop that when his grandparents recalled him to the family farm. But to Angie, some year later finds Liam back in Australia – he’d been back for quite a while and hadn’t let her know (presumably because he believed her with someone else).

Liam is a bit pushy for someone who believes that Angie is dating someone else, probably seriously. He’s always trying something – definitely the sort of guy who doesn’t let a chance go by! If Angie had of actually been dating someone I would’ve found it off-putting but she knows she isn’t. Liam does come across as quite torn, despite his taking chances. He frequently muses to himself about her boyfriend but he can’t seem to help himself when it comes to her. Their coming back together is sweet and low key, rather than sizzling hot romance. They do fit well together though and both of them have moved on and changed from what they were in London. For Angie, who doesn’t have a family, she’s come to realise that she could be an accepted part of a big and loving one as Liam’s cousin has definitely taken her under her wing and wants to include her in events and celebrations. And Liam makes a change from big shot city career guy to a slower pace and a reorder of his priorities and what he wants out of his life. When he realises that he could lose Angie all over again, he’s spurred into action.

I liked this – a very nice rural read to escape into for an afternoon. I’ll be looking to finish the series for sure.

7/10

Book #169 of 2017

Her Outback Surprise is book #52 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Pool House by Tasmina Perry

The Pool House
Tasmina Perry
Headline Review
2017, 465p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A summer to die for

To Jem Chapman, it’s the chance of a lifetime. An invitation to join a group in an exclusive Hamptons houseshare, who could say no? But when she discovers what happened last summer, Jem can’t help but feel a chill.

A young woman was found drowned in the house’s pool. The housemates said Alice was troubled. She’d been drinking. She couldn’t swim…..

A secret worth killing for

As Jem gets to know her glamorous new housemates, she realises each has something to hide. What really happened last summer? And who would go to any lengths to keep a person quiet?

This book was so good!

Jem is a young woman in her thirties who moved to New York with her husband Nat from England a few months ago. Nat is a super ambitious and very good looking associate editor at a men’s magazine who saw this move to New York as an opportunity. Jem had her own catering business in England but hasn’t been able to find any work in New York and is becoming lonely, especially with the long hours Nat works and his dedication to appearing at pretty much anything he can. When a colleague of Nat’s invites them to come in on a houseshare in the Hamptons with them, Jem has reservations. For one, she doesn’t really know these people and isn’t sure they’ll have much in common with wealthy-for-generations New Yorkers and the house will be something they’ll use mostly only at weekends and eat up all their savings. But Nat is determined to take the next step in New York society and so Jem gives in, hoping that the relaxed atmosphere might help them reconnect. It isn’t until it’s too late that Jem finds out that they’ve been asked to replace another couple, David and Alice, after Alice’s tragic death. Not only did Alice die but she also died in the pool at the Hampton’s house. When Jem finds out that Nat knew about Alice, she can’t believe he wouldn’t tell her such a thing but it seems that Nat will do anything it takes to get involved in this group and become a part of them and their influential, connected circle.

Despite her reservations, Jem is taken in by the beautiful house and it’s excellent kitchen. At first the group seem fun and welcoming and the summer looks good. But Jem can’t get the thought of Alice and what happened to her out of her head and finds it strange that none of the others want to talk to her. This was someone they spent a summer with and they seem to have wiped her from their minds without a care in the world. It makes her curious and when she meets someone locally who also finds it a bit out of the ordinary and also a bit strange how quickly the investigation was wrapped up, Jem finds herself doing a bit of investigation.

This story had me intrigued from the very first page. We begin with a prologue from Alice’s point of view that takes place the night of her death and then switch to Jem for the majority of the set up. Then we go back to Alice and get to know her a little bit more, learn her connections to the other people in the house at the Hamptons and what exactly was going on in her life and it becomes more and more clear that numerous people might have had motive to do Alice harm in some way. The relationships are quite complicated with marital infidelity happening everywhere and people having secrets, some of which would have dire consequences if they were to come to light. It becomes a bit of a tangled web and I was having a lot of fun trying to decide who would’ve benefited the most from Alice quietly disappearing into the pool in her drunken stupor.

This is a bit of a glimpse at how the super rich live – paying tens of thousands for a quarter share in a holiday house for the summer that most of them will only use two days a week, three at most as they’re still working in the city. It’s art gallery events, product launches, designer labels, gym sessions and discreet work being done. It’s a foreign world and Jem is very much a down to earth girl from England who wasn’t wealthy growing up and isn’t particularly interested in being super rich or being accepted by this inner circle even if she doesn’t admit to herself that some of it is nice. Jem cares far more about a person she never met than any of the people who actually knew Alice did and the fact that she’s not willing to sacrifice herself in order to be part of this group causes real cracks in her relationship with Nat, who definitely does want to be a part of it. Nat is very ambitious and has shed his poor background with scholarships and working hard and he wants to go all the way to the top. He’s still a long way from the serious money of this crowd but he wants to be accepted, shoehorn his way up to the top levels of New York society. Jem and Nat have very different goals in life and the more she talks about the things that she desires, the more he tries to put her off and the two of them drift apart.

I thought Jem was a really well fleshed out character in that she was a very middle class person thrust into a very upper class situation and she had a lot of struggles over that. It was impossible not to enjoy some aspects – a very beautiful house in a sought after location, invites to interesting and fun events and after months of being lonely, the thought that maybe she might be able to make some friends and be part of something, feel at home. She has been mostly exploring New York on her own without really meeting anyone to hang out with, or finding a job. Being in the Hamptons leads to an interesting part time job and the chance that maybe she could find her place but it is also a world that she’s not accustomed to, dominated by money (which she doesn’t have) and very misleading. I don’t want to give anything away but I also admired the way that the author handled a friendship between a woman and an older man, which was done respectfully and positively. So many times I’ve seen the older man – younger woman dynamic demonised in fiction with the men painted as mid-life crisis jerks and the women as vacuous trophy wives and stereotypical gold diggers. It doesn’t have to be this way and this book definitely showcases that and I liked that.

Really enjoyed this. I’ve read a couple of Tasmina Perry’s long in the past but she has a very extensive backlist that I’m looking forward to exploring.

8/10

Book #168 of 2017

 

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