All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Sweet Tea And Spirits by Angie Fox

Sweet Tea And Spirits (Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries #5)
Angie Fox
Season Publishing
2017, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Southern girl Verity Long is about as high society as her pet skunk. Which is why she’s surprised as anyone when the new head of the Sugarland social set invites her to join the “it” girls. But this is no social call. Verity’s new client needs her to go in undercover and investigate strange happenings at the group’s historic headquarters.

But while spirits are whispering hints of murder, the socialites are more focused on Verity’s 1978, avocado-green Cadillac. And when Verity stumbles upon a fresh body, she’s going to need the long-dead citizens of Sugarland to help her solve the crime. Good thing she has the handsome deputy sheriff Ellis Wydell on hand, as well as her ghostly sidekick Frankie. The bad thing is, the ghosts are now whispering about the end of a certain ghost hunter.

One of my favourite recent discoveries, this series is funny and feel-good and the perfect thing after a few books that I just haven’t clicked with. Verity is really starting to settle into her role conversing with spirits and she’s gaining confidence in dealing with them and also I think, in the direction she wants to take this. She’s really interested in getting closure and finding out what happens, especially when someone who hired her ends up dead. She’s also getting better at dealing with Frankie, the somewhat temperamental gangster ghost tethered to her property who allows her to access the ghostly plane with his powers.

Likewise Verity is also settled in her relationship with deputy sheriff Ellis Wydell, the brother of her former fiance. Ellis’ mother continues to be a thorn in Verity’s side but in this book she’s an inconsistent thorn, suggesting the two women can occasionally find common ground. I love Ellis and Verity together and I think the author does a good job attempting to portray Ellis’ struggle to balance his desire to be with Verity versus the loyalty he feels towards his family. His family have never been particularly good to him, since he decided not to become a lawyer and instead became a sheriff. His mother clearly sees his profession as beneath him and the family name and she’s incensed that he’s also begun dating Verity, who left his brother Beau at the altar after discovering he was unfaithful. Verity was stuck with the bill and Ellis’ mother would’ve been happy to see her bankrupted paying for it. She has a lot of antagonism toward Verity for not “toeing the Southern line” – marrying him without fuss and then maybe quietly separating at a later date. Instead she caused a scandal, humiliated the Wydell’s.

I always enjoy the mysteries in these books, getting to know the different ghosts and hearing their stories. I like Frankie too although there are times his heartless attitude gets a bit on my nerves, especially toward Verity. I know he is a gangster and is probably relative for his time but sometimes it just gets a bit irritating, especially when he and Verity have the same argument several times in every book. He’s always all about the money and Verity is always all about the story, she wants to know what happened and she doesn’t care if she doesn’t get paid sometimes, as long as she gets the answers/justice/closure/etc. However we did see a different side to Frankie in this book which was really good and definitely about time. He’s certainly still a man of mystery in many ways and I look forward to finding out more about him over time.

This was another really fun installment to this series, I really like the way it’s going and I always can’t wait for the next one. I also really appreciate just how quickly the next one does seem to appear! I think I read the first book about two years ago so the gaps between books aren’t long.

8/10

Book #77 of 2017

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Review: The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster

The Hidden Hours
Sara Foster
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 367p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Keeping her secret may save her family.

But telling it may save her life.

Arabella Lane, senior executive at a children’s publisher, is found dead in the Thames on a frosty winter’s morning after the office Christmas party. No one is sure whether she jumped or was pushed. The one person who may know the truth is the newest employee at Parker & Lane – the office temp, Eleanor.

Eleanor has travelled to London to escape the repercussions of her traumatic childhood in outback Australia, but now tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. To her horror, she has no memory of the crucial hours leading up to Arabella’s death – memory that will either incriminate or absolve her.

As Eleanor desperately tries to remember her missing hours and uncover the events of that fateful night, her own extended family is dragged further into the dark, terrifying terrain of blame, suspicion and guilt.

Caught in a crossfire of accusations, Eleanor fears she can’t even trust herself, let alone the people around her. And soon, she’ll find herself in a race against time to find out just what happened that night – and discover just how deadly some secrets can be.

This is Sara Foster’s fifth novel and it immediately sounded intriguing. A death in a publishing house – so much potential!

The narrator Eleanor is young, early twenties and in London for the first time. Although her mother was English Eleanor was born and raised in Australia, including for some time on a relatively remote property while her father was building them a house. Pretty much immediately the reader is privy to the fact that there was some sort of traumatic event in Eleanor’s past, something that haunts her still and it’s for that reason that she’s in London, attempting to get her life back on an even keel. She’s staying with her mother’s brother Ian, a work-from-home architect whose formidable wife Susan is someone high up at the publisher where Eleanor has scored a job as an assistant. Eleanor attends the Christmas party hoping to get to know some of her colleagues and she wakes hungover and disoriented the day after, uncomfortably aware that she has some significant gaps in her memory of the night before. One thing she does remember though, was socialising with Arabella, the woman who was found in the Thames the next morning.

What follows is a convoluted attempt by Eleanor to retrieve her memories and make sure that it wasn’t her that killed Arabella, be it accidentally or otherwise and figure out who did, before she potentially becomes their next victim with what she can piece together. She seems to make a rather convenient scapegoat and as she stumbles around lurching from one disaster and troubled moment to the next, it’s honestly not hard to see why someone might want to use her that way. Eleanor is pretty much a mess. She’s intimidated by almost everyone. She has something quite important and she basically tells everyone she knows that she has it, even though it’s incredibly incriminating. She trusts people she shouldn’t for the weirdest of reasons and she deliberately puts herself in dangerous situations in misguided attempts to discover information like she’s a private detective.

As well as the current day story revolving around Arabella’s death and Eleanor’s missing memory, the book also contains flashbacks to Eleanor’s childhood and her father moving them into a shed on a piece of land while he builds their house. I wasn’t sure of the exact timeframe but it seems to be a task that seemingly takes much longer than anyone anticipated. Eleanor’s relationship with her parents, with her brother and her brother’s relationship with their parents is absolutely masterfully portrayed and this for me, was the highlight of the book. Particularly the orchestration of the family’s interactions with their elderly closest neighbour. I really felt a lot of dread about the way that things were playing out, because you knew from the beginning of the book that something really tragic occurs but it’s left unclear as to who it was and I sifted through several options. This part of the narrative was very strong with deliberate confusion and a real feeling of dread stitched into the story as it approached the climactic tragic event. I applauded the subterfuge, which felt refreshing.

It was for me, far stronger than the modern day portion of the story which at times, failed to hold my interest. Arabella disintegrated into a bit of a cliche and by the end I barely even cared who had killed her and how/why it happened. Eleanor was a scatty, disoriented character that was hard to really identify with or place much faith in because she was so vague and frightened of her own shadow. I understand that what happened to her was frightening but it was concerning that she even allowed herself to be in this position. It seemed she was so glad for Arabella to notice her and talk to her that she would’ve gone along with anything and it could’ve had some really awful consequences for Eleanor as well as Arabella.

Loved the story set in the past, didn’t really love the one in the present day. Idea was good, just a few things in the execution let it down a bit for me. There seemed a lack of real suspense and urgency at the conclusion of the present day story as well, which made it feel a bit lacklustre. I wasn’t surprised at the conclusion, nor did I feel as though it had much of an impact.

6/10

Book #76 of 2017

The Hidden Hours is book #25 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Remind Me How This Ends
Gabrielle Tozer
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 338p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s the summer after high school ends and everyone is moving on. Winning scholarships. Heading to uni. Travelling the world. Everyone except Milo Dark. Milo feels his life is stuck on pause. His girlfriend is 200km away, his mates have bailed for bigger things and he is convinced he’s missed the memo reminding him to plan the rest of his life. Then Layla Montgomery barrels back into his world after five years without so much as a text message.

As kids, Milo and Layla were family friends who shared everything – hiding out in her tree house, secrets made at midnight, and sunny afternoons at the river. But they haven’t spoken since her mum’s funeral. Layla’s fallen apart since that day. She pushed away her dad, dropped out of school and recently followed her on-again-off-again boyfriend back to town because she has nowhere else to go. Not that she’s letting on how tough things have been.

What begins as innocent banter between Milo and Layla soon draws them into a tangled mess with a guarantee that someone will get hurt. While it’s a summer they’ll never forget, is it one they want to remember?

It pains me to write this, but I struggled with this book.

I was really looking forward to it. I loved Tozer’s The Intern and was really excited about this. The cover is lovely and it was getting glowing reviews everywhere. I couldn’t find it in a nearby bookstore so I even ordered it in. I was so keen that I even started it pretty much right away.

It’s a split male/female point of view – Milo has just finished school, missed the cut off to apply for university because he didn’t know what he wanted to do and as a result, is still stuck in his small country town while his girlfriend and friend have moved away to bigger cities and are experiencing all that university has to offer. When he goes to visit Sal, his girlfriend, he’s rendered insecure by the raucous friendships and the closeness that Sal has developed with her fellow residentials. Sal seems to be changing rapidly but for Milo, a lot of things are still the same.

He runs into an old childhood friend named Layla who moved away some five or so years ago and Milo hasn’t seen her since. Layla is in a position similar to Milo’s in a way in that her life has become somewhat static. She’s moved out of home and is living with her boyfriend Kurt, who seems to be delving deeper into the seedier side of life for an income. Layla finds herself back in the town that is the source of so much pain for her but a bright spot is reconnecting with Milo. They were such good friends back in the day and gravitate towards each other once more now that Layla has returned. The only thing is that their friendship seems to have….become a bit more complicated, which is a bit awkward as Milo has a girlfriend and Layla has a boyfriend.

On one hand, I do find a bit of what this book explores very interesting and that is the post-high school period. A lot of pressure is placed upon year 12 students to know what they want to do, to have it all sorted out and even if you don’t, apply for something, apply for anything because once you’re in you can always switch later. Milo doesn’t know what he wants to do – he has not a single clue. He just knows that he doesn’t want to waste time and so he spends his days working in his parent’s bookshop and avoiding talks on his future. His parents seem very keen to have him do something. If he’s taking a gap year, they’re already on his back about maybe buying a house, studying this or that, doing something. His tactic is to attempt to avoid really and it doesn’t really seem like his father would listen anyway.

Where I struggled was with the actual characters themselves and their interactions. Milo – to be 100% honest I found him bland and uninteresting, lacking in anything remotely resembling a personality. He passively sits by and watches every thing else going on around him with little regard or interest in well, pretty much anything. He even ended up in a relationship with Sal more by accident than out of any real feeling for her and he seems to view the disintegration of their relationship after she moves to university with detachment.

I found Layla more interesting – actually I felt sorry for Layla in a lot of ways. But some of those ways really didn’t get much clear resolution which I felt was unfortunate. I’d have liked one scene with Layla and her father, a bonus if he actually acknowledged the ways in which his actions had made her life somewhat difficult over the past few years. Layla has very much been left to raise herself in a way and it gets to the stage where she really needs help but feels that she can’t ask for it. Her hand ends up being forced and it works out in such a way that you wonder why she was reluctant in the first place. I felt that her relationship with her boyfriend was somewhat inconsistent – well more that he was inconsistent, attempting to be supportive sometimes and at others being completely absent, uninterested and dismissive.

But what I most didn’t ‘feel’ about the story was the sort of budding romance between Milo and Layla. I just didn’t feel that any of their interactions had chemistry. The friendship was nice, but it never really seemed believable any further than that for me. What I did like? Was the ending. It felt like that’s the way it should’ve gone, that it was the right way to go for both of them, who still had much to work through.

A mixed bag unfortunately – for me this just did not live up to the hype.

6/10

Book #75 of 2017

Remind Me How This Ends is book #24 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Boy And The Spy by Felice Arena

The Boy And The Spy
Felice Arena
Puffin Books
2017, 159p
Copy courtesy of Penguin Books AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Life has never been easy for Antonio, but since the war began there are German soldiers on every corner, fearsome gangsters and the fascist police everywhere, and no one ever has enough to eat. But when Antonio decides to trust a man who has literally fallen from the sky, he leaps into an adventure that will change his life and maybe even the future of Sicily…

Lately I’ve been trying to find books for my oldest son to read, who is 8. He’s an advanced reader with good comprehension but he also bores easily so he needs books that are either funny (and kind of silly) or something that is quite quick and has some action in it. It’s been a bit hit and miss with getting him into books – I think in theory he would like to be a reader but in reality it seems like it’s really more of an option when the devices are put away. To be honest, I’ve heard all I can stand of Dan TDM narrating Minecraft videos so I’m really starting to try and push “reading time” where the kids have to be either reading or drawing, some sort of activity not revolving around gaming. It’s a bit of a balance because I also want them to enjoy reading and not feel as though they are forced to do it (which yes, I know, they are).

So when I got this book, I thought it might be a good choice. My husband’s parents both hail from Italy, Sicily in particular which is the setting of this book. My sons attend a very multicultural school where a huge majority of the children have parents or were even themselves, born in another country. Hunter has definitely really embraced his half Italian side, which gives him something in common with a lot of his friends and he asks a lot of questions about the language, the location, the food etc. He likes to tell people he’s half Italian and is always super impressed when he finds things that are Italian. I can get him to eat certain food by telling him it’s Italian and he prefers to identify with the Italian side on things like multicultural day, where you come dressed in traditional cultural clothing or in the colours of the flag. I honestly hope that this interest continues as he gets older – there’s a lot of interesting things for him to learn and he’s also eligible for dual citizenship, should he choose to pursue this at a later date.

But back to the book, which is about a young boy named Antonio who lives on the island of Sicily with his mother and who, at the beginning of the book, is being chased by German soldiers for a drawing he has done of Hitler  and Mussolini. He makes a quick decision to jump off a cliff, an almost unsurvivable drop and in doing so meets an American spy holed up in a cave and ends up becoming a sort of junior spy himself, getting information to the American (named Chris) and then helping him escape the cave and the local area. It’s quite action packed and there’s a lot of stuff going on – Antonio’s mother is sick, he meets an interesting girl, he’s caught up in plenty of dangerous stuff and there’s potential for a lot of stuff to go wrong. I think a lot of kids would find it very exciting to be “included” in such things….Antonio is in the thick of things from the very beginning and there are numerous ways in which he showcases the ability to think quickly (and ahead) in order to get the information that he wants. He also does end up needing help in several instances and there are a few times where he seems to get lucky but it all helps the story keep moving forward.

Not going to lie, for adults there’s definitely a few things that mean you have to really put aside any disbelief and just go with it and don’t ask questions about it. Whilst I could do this, I was pretty disappointed in the end, which involved a skip ahead in time, a glossing over of quite a lot and a very unlikely event – even if it did happen, the ease with which it occurred seemed incredibly optimistic. I’d imagine that there would’ve been a lot of red tape and protocol and restrictions – a war was just ending after all. It made me think about the importance of the happy ending, particularly at this stage in a child’s developmental reading. Hunter recently watched a kids movie that involved the death of a dog and he was distraught about it. The dog was only a peripheral character, glimpsed a few times throughout the movie but it’s the one thing that ended up sticking in his mind from the whole plot. I think that to give them closure and resolution is probably important in order for them to want to keep reading and try other stories. If they feel that the characters they’re connecting with are going to be left in limbo or suffering at the end it might be enough to turn them off – they have all their adulthood to deal with that. So in a way whilst I don’t have a problem with the ending, I think it needed a bit more to flesh it out.

I enjoyed this and perhaps my criticisms come from adult eyes, I’m not sure. But I just think there were a few instances where I would’ve liked some more details. Hopefully I can convince Hunter to read it – it might give him a bit of an idea of what life was like for his grandparents before they left there as young people and came to Australia and I’d like to hear what he thinks about the ending as well.

6/10

Book #70 of 2017

 

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Review: The Shape Of Us by Lisa Ireland

The Shape Of Us
Lisa Ireland
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Four different women. The same big problem. One magical solution?

Mezz is overweight and overworked: she’s convinced it’s only a matter of time until her husband starts to stray.

Jewels is fat and fabulous, but if she wants the baby she craves, the Tim Tams have to go.

Ellie’s life looks perfect to her London friends on facebook: she keeps her waistline out of the photos and her loneliness to herself. 

Kat will do anything to keep her daughter Ami happy and safe. If she can just lose that baby weight, she’s usre Ami’s dad will stick around. 

In this heartwarming, heartbreaking story, four women who meet online in a weight loss forum learn that losing weight might not be the key to happiness, but believing in the ones you love -and yourself- just might be. 

It’s hard to know where to start with this amazing book. I’ve read Lisa Ireland before, she’s an author of several rural romance novels but this is a step into the women’s fiction or “life lit” genre that has become one of my absolute faves to read. It’s the story of four women who have little in common other than joining a weigh loss initiative (called WON or Weight Off Now!) and coming together in the section on the forum for those who have 30+ kg to lose. After a condescending couple of posts from a WON-veteran who is at her “goal weight” after losing far less than any of the four women have to lose, they take their burgeoning friendship off the official forums to a private blog where they can talk freely.

The way in which these four women develop a friendship really spoke to me. I have been an internet addict since around 1998, when we first got dial up (oh the days) in my parent’s house. Over the years I have made so many great friends online – some of whom I’ve been friends with for over a decade and a half and we’ve still never met physically. Others I’ve met in person as well and catch up with or hang out with on a regular basis. I enjoyed the way several of the women didn’t really intend to “get personal” with the others but the blog becomes an outlet for them to spill out things from their personal lives which they perhaps cannot share with anyone else. Mezz has insecurities about her fit husband straying with one of the Lycra-clad “Pony-tails” at school drop off, Jewels has insecurity issues against her seemingly perfect sister, Ellie finds herself alone in a country not her own with a partner she may never be able to truly be a family with and Kat just wants to give her beautiful daughter the dream childhood she never had after the Bosnian war, with a home of her own. All of their lives kind of start to come apart in different ways even as the women are knitting together this strong, honest friendship which isn’t without its imperfections as they all try different things in order to lose those kilos.

I’ve read books tackling weight loss issues before and so many of them involve characters finding the “magic” combination that works for them but this book serves up some grim realities when it comes to the statistics for losing weight and keeping it off. I felt that each of them had reasons for wanting to lose weight that revolved around another person – Mezz wanted to feel as though her husband would find her attractive again, having no idea that it wasn’t her size that was keeping him distant from her, Jewels has been told to lose weight in order to get pregnant so it’s her desire for a child that fuels her but her love of baking makes it quite difficult for her to even get started, Kat wants to keep her boyfriend and Ellie likewise is determined to look better for her fit other half. What I enjoyed was the realism that sees them struggle, fail, backslide, try radical things etc. It felt genuine, including the usage of one of those fad shakes/cleanse things where you consume only a certain brand of liquids and it can only be bought through a consultant that feels almost like some sort of cult. What the underlying message is for these women is that they need to come to terms with themselves, the problems in their lives and ‘love the skin they’re in’ before they will ever be happy. Losing weight isn’t going to magically make the other problems they have go away. Mezz will still feel as though people look sideways at her and ask what her husband sees in her, Jewels will still feel as though her sister steals the spotlight….unless they have that self confidence to stand in their own spotlight.

I was forewarned about the darker turn the book takes in the final quarter or so as it’s a topic I often struggle with but I felt as though it was very well handled and really did help to not only cement the way in which the women had built this friendship but also explore the different ways in which they dealt with such a serious topic. It was really heartbreaking and it’s something that I think about a lot, it’s probably my greatest fear. I had a lot of admiration for the character it concerned – actually she was probably my favourite of the four although I loved them all to be honest.

This is a superbly written, very powerful book that I think will find a home on many people’s favourites shelf. I know it definitely has on mine. It’s the sort of book where I’m still thinking about the characters days later, mulling things over in my head and reflecting on different parts of the story. Definitely one that will stick with me.

9/10

Book #74 of 2017

The Shape Of Us is book #23 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The North Water by Ian McGuire

The North Water
Ian McGuire
Scribner
2016, 326p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A ship sets sail with a killer on board….

1859. A man joins a whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. Having left the British Army, his reputation in tatters, Patrick Sumner has little option but to accept the position of ship’s surgeon on this ill-fated voyage.

But when, deep into the journey, a boy is discovered brutally killed, Sumner finds himself becoming a reluctant detective. Soon he will face an evil even greater than that he had encountered at the siege of Delhi, in the shape of Henry Drax: harpooner, murderer, monster…

Well, this book was interesting.

And I say that in a good way. It’s one of those books where I’m not sure I could say wow, I absolutely loved that, because it’s a gruesome, twisted, savage book. In more ways than one. I picked it up to read on a lovely sunny day when I had a few hours to kill before I had to pick my kids up from school. It was the words ‘Arctic Circle’ that drew me in. I love anything set either there or Antarctica – I find both landscapes pretty fascinating and will pretty much pick up anything to do with them.

This is a very brutal book, everything about it is brutal. The men are coarse, and with the exception of Patrick, seemingly uneducated and borderline savage (some have definitely crossed that line). The language, whilst perhaps quite accurate for the characters, is confronting and the actions even more so. The ship Volunteer is heading out for a whaling expedition but the tide is turning. There are faster, cheaper methods of heating now and blubber is becoming a thing of the past. The captain of the Volunteer, a man who already lost a ship and most of a crew is dubious of his current crew, put together by a sly man with an ulterior motive. Among them are Henry Drax, a man who has zero morals and pretty disgusting proclivities, and Patrick Sumner, a surgeon fresh from discharge from the Army after conflict in Delhi. Sumner is the odd man out here – he’s a surgeon, he’s more polished and civilised than the others on the ship and he’s unwilling to turn a blind eye to bad behaviour when he’s presented with the evidence of it. Sumner for sure does have his faults – an addiction to laudanum, a dubious departure from the Army, a vague story about an inheritance coming to him that is probably untrue, but he’s a world apart from some of the other men on this ship.

The book is rife with lavish descriptions of the harpooners clubbing baby seals, skinning them, shooting polar bears and harpooning whales. To be honest, it’s not for the fainthearted. The actions of the men and the resulting horrific effects on the animals go on for pages and pages and it makes for uncomfortable reading. It can be hard to immerse yourself in a time so different to the one you live in, when normal actions for that time are so objectionable to the current time. The men are crude, tormenting animals for sport and entertainment, chuckling to themselves over distress or savage self-defense.

Despite this, I found the story itself of the voyage of the Volunteer fascinating. The machismo power plays, the ulterior motives, trying to piece together what was really going on. There were definitely some unexpected moments, things that happened that made me really interested to see where it was going. And when everything seems hopeless, I was hooked to see how any of the men might get themselves out of what had happened. Patrick was an interesting narrator. I’m not sure I admired him – I felt sorry for him, when his story unfolded. I think he’d certainly been through quite a lot, some really horrible stuff and then he was betrayed. I wasn’t sure if the laudanum came from his injury or was for some other reason and I’m not sure it’s ideal to have the ship’s surgeon dependent on substances either but at least he cared for people’s welfare and well-being. His meddling did actually end up making things worse in a way but it came from the right place and he was determined to see that the right person was punished for it. The other men on the ship were happy to believe the first person accused but Patrick wasn’t so complacent and he never gave up investigating, asking questions until he had the right man. From there things really escalate and the pace is fast and really kept me hooked.

Part of my desire to read on was I think, a need to see that person punished. To make sure that justice was served in the end, because it could’ve gone either way for a large portion of the story. So I really wanted to see that out to it’s natural (or unnatural!) conclusion.

So like I mentioned earlier….I’m not sure I can say I really enjoyed this book. But I certainly found it really intriguing and I was kept interested the whole way through. The subject matter and most of the characters make for some depressing reading at times and it’s very gory and there’s a lot of usage of my least favourite word but I’m sure it’s authentic to the time and setting. But it’s set in a harsh and unforgiving part of the world too, so I’m sure that to survive, you have to have some sort of harsh, unforgiving side. It’s not for the weak or faint at heart – kill or be killed, do what it takes to survive or perish. The atmosphere is superb – McGuire definitely nails that be it the rough taverns before setting sail, the close quarters of the ship or the vast whiteness of the North. So a lot definitely impressed me and I think this one is a prime example of a book I can read and appreciate the quality of writing, attention to detail, skill of setting, etc, even if it isn’t precisely the kind of story I enjoy reading and would naturally gravitate towards.

7/10

Book #73 of 2017

 

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Review: Lord Of Chance by Erica Ridley

Lord Of Chance (Rags To Riches #1)
Erica Ridley
Self-published
2017, 300p
Copy courtesy of the author via NetGalley

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Disguised as a country miss, Charlotte Devon flees London, desperate to leave her tattered reputation behind. In Scotland, her estranged father’s noble blood will finally make her a respectable debutante. Except she finds herself accidentally wed to a devil-may-care rogue with a sinful smile. He’s the last thing she needs…and everything her traitorous heart desires.

Charming rake Anthony Fairfax is on holiday to seek his fortune…and escape his creditors. When an irresistible Lady Luck wins him in a game of chance—and a slight mishap has them leg-shackled by dawn—the tables have finally turned in his favor. But when past demons catch up to them, holding on to new love will mean destroying their dreams forever.

I’ve read a few of Erica Ridley’s Dukes of War series and this book, the first in a new series, is very loosely connected to that in that the hero Anthony is the brother of one of the heroines from that series. This was a little different to what I expected….some of that was in a good way but some of it was also in not so good a way.

Anthony Fairfax needs to earn himself an obscene amount of money to pay back the creditor who purchased his debts. If he doesn’t, he risks going to jail. He finds himself in an inn in Scotland playing cards – hopefully the distance will help him evade his creditors until he has the means to repay them. What Anthony doesn’t bargain on is Charlotte Devon, whom he invites into the game. She promptly wins his entire pot and then to make matters worse when he tries to play the gentleman, an obscure Scottish law means they’re married….for real.

This is awkward for many reasons – they don’t even know each other. One night playing a couple of hands of cards is the extend of their interaction. Also Anthony’s precarious financial position could have negative repercussions for Charlotte – as his wife, her property is considered his. She could also become a target if Anthony cannot repay his creditors within the deadline. And for Charlotte, there’s plenty she hasn’t told Anthony about her background, which for many people would definitely be reason for rejection.

What I liked was that both Anthony and Charlotte are quite different to a lot of characters in historical romances. Anthony, although apparently referred to as rakish, didn’t really display much rake behaviour and he’s not rich. Not at all. He’s very kind and considerate, not at all arrogant or lordly, he doesn’t try to boss Charlotte around or tell her that she can’t do this or that. He’s also very adamant about nothing she owns being used to pay his debt or taken from her and when he hears of her background, he’s incredibly judgement-free. Probably few people in his circumstances would’ve been and I’m not entirely sure how realistic his attitude was but it was refreshing nonetheless. His family is quite unconventional (his sister was almost nine months pregnant when she married in her book) so perhaps it wasn’t that unlikely.

Charlotte was in Scotland on her own searching for her father, whom she’s never met. I think this could’ve been explored a bit more – she had very little information, what was she going to do, attempt to search every tavern in Scotland? I also would’ve liked more about her card playing, which is a rather big part of the beginning of the book as it serves to bring them together and then just basically disappears. Despite the fact that Anthony and Charlotte are both kind of down on their luck when they meet – Anthony owes an astronomical amount of money he doesn’t really have much chance of being able to repay, Charlotte wants to meet the father she’s never known despite really possessing no knowledge of him, there are a lot of things that kind of fall into their laps in order to wrap up the novel and it felt unbelievably convenient, especially as they happened pretty much simultaneously.

This was a pleasant read but I didn’t love it. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and the pacing felt a bit off, especially towards the end. I didn’t really feel any chemistry between Anthony and Charlotte (it’s a very chaste romance, the sexual chemistry felt like it was at 0 and even the romantic chemistry was lukewarm at best) and there were a few loose plot threads. Just okay for me. Not quite as enjoyable as the other books I’ve read by this author.

5/10

Book #71 of 2017

 

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Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, Approximately
Jenn Bennett
Simon & Schuster
2017, 388p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bailey “Mink” Rydell has met the boy of her dreams. They share a love of films and talk all day – Alex is perfect. Well, apart from the fact that they’ve never actually met… and neither of them knows the other’s real name.

When Bailey moves to California to live with her dad, who happens to live in the same town as Alex, she decides to use her sleuthing skills to find him. But tracking someone down based on online conversations alone proves harder than Bailey thought, and with her irritating but charismatic colleague Porter Roth distracting her at every turn, will she ever get to meet the mysterious Alex?

This book was freaking adorable.

I could totally relate to Bailey because I am also the type of person that would want to go in to meeting someone I’d talked to online armed with knowledge. Bailey used to live with her mother but when she moves to California to live with her dad, she’s armed with plenty of information about her online friend ‘Alex’ so that hopefully she can track him down and just check him out in person before they meet properly. She knows that he works for a family business and a few other things but it isn’t until she attempts to pin down precisely where that is that she realises it’s not going to be as easy as she thinks.

Bailey calls herself the ‘Artful Dodger’ – she avoids conflict and confrontation almost obsessively. She has a reason perhaps, for being this way. And to be honest, it’s probably about the best reason there ever could be for someone fearing confrontation. She could just tell Alex, whom she has a real connection with online, that she’s moved to California. He wants to meet her, he’s asked her many times. But what if the online groove doesn’t translate to the offline? What if it’s awkward and weird? Better that she scope things out first….if ‘Alex’ isn’t who he claims to be or if things look strange, then he never need know she moved to California.

Distracting Bailey from her task of tracking down Alex without him knowing about it, is Porter Roth, her gorgeous but incredibly annoying colleague at her new summer job. Porter definitely gets Bailey’s back up, so much so that she finds herself lashing out when normally she’d stay quiet. Despite the fact that he sometimes infuriates her, she also finds him very intriguing…and the more she gets to know Porter and spend time with him, the less she thinks about Alex, the less they talk online.

Oh, Porter. I have a bit of a crush on Porter – ok, it’s quite a large crush. A surfer good enough to go pro who works two jobs, who put his own life at risk in a terrifying situation to save someone else…..what’s not to love? Okay he can be a bit of a ass at times, he’s a teenage boy. They do that. The thing about Porter is that he provokes a response in Bailey, be it a positive one or a negative one and I’m not sure many people have been able to do that for a few years. She seems to have been drifting, not really having any real close friends due to moving schools several times for different reasons. Alex is probably the closest thing she has to a real friend but their interactions are online, mostly about the classic films they both love although there are more personal things sprinkled in there. They’ve never confided their biggest secrets to each other though…..

I loved Porter and Bailey together. All of their interactions made me squishy inside, be they good or some of the ones that are a bit angry or painful. The way in which they click is obvious in so many ways – in fact far more ways than Porter and Bailey at first realise especially Bailey. She does seem to kind of put Porter in a box after their first interaction or two that seems to prevent her from ever considering him as an option despite several things that fit right away – he’s the right age and he also works two jobs.

The reader doesn’t really get to see Bailey’s life in New Jersey and Washington DC before she moves to California but it seems like the move really does help her grow as a person and shake off perhaps the lasting effects of a trauma she experienced some years ago. She makes a good close friend in Grace, a girl she works with who also goes to the school that Bailey will be starting at in the fall. She meets Porter and becomes friends with him with the whole ‘something more’ hanging over them. She has a great relationship with her dad which read as so genuine and real and again the reader doesn’t see her relationship with her mother prior to her move but it seems it’s not great afterwards. It seems as though in California, Bailey has found a place where she fits in. A home.

When I was reading this book, my husband stopped me and said, “You’re really loving that, aren’t you?” and I said yes, but how did he know? Apparently he’d been watching me and I had this {probably} super dopey smile on my face all the time because there are just so many super cute moments. Porter and Bailey have this amazing back and forth chemistry where they have some really feisty, argumentative type interactions interspersed with some really sweet (or sexy) ones. The whole thing is just super feel good adorable and I loved it a lot.

*Note to self: Find the old movies mentioned in this book and watch them.

**Note to self: Buy everything else that Jenn Bennett has ever written.

9/10

Book #68 of 2017

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Review: Twist by Kylie Scott

Twist (Dive Bar #2)
Kylie Scott
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 272p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When his younger brother loses interest in online dating, hot, bearded, bartender extraordinaire, Joe Collins, only intends to log into his account and shut it down. Until he reads about her.

Alex Parks is funny, friendly, and pretty much everything he’s been looking for in a woman. And in no time at all they’re emailing up a storm, telling each other their deepest darkest secrets… apart from the one that really matters.

And when it comes to love, serving it straight up works better than with a twist.

Love with a modern ‘twist’.

The second book in the Dive Bar series is here and the wait is definitely worth it. This book focuses on Joe, bartender at Dive Bar and Eric’s brother. Joe set up an online dating account for Eric but quicker than a match burns out Eric lost interest. Joe only meant to go in and shut it down for him but then he saw a message from Alex Parks, graphic designer and home renovation enthusiast. He couldn’t help responding and the two of them built a really solid friendship, confiding secrets, sharing dreams. Then Alex makes a snap decision to ‘surprise’ her online friend by showing up to his birthday at Dive Bar….only to discover that Eric literally has no idea who she is and all this time she’s been conversing with his brother Joe.

Alex is hurt, humiliated, angry. She hates being lied to and she wants nothing more than to get the heck out of town as quick as possible and forget this ever happened. But Joe, the person she has been conversing with, wants her to stay, so he can explain, so he can make her see that everything they were sharing is still real.

This book gave me all the happy feels. I loved returning to this world, catching up with the characters from Dirty and getting to know Joe a lot better. Alex was super kick ass but with a bit of an appealing vulnerable side as well. She has the guts to take a risk, to travel across the country without warning to meet Eric, a guy that she’s really ‘clicked’ with online. But with all online interactions comes a risk – and Alex discovers that actually she’s been talking to Joe, Eric’s bear of a brother who reminds her of a giant lumberjack.

Joe is a delicious sweetie who made a very big mistake unintentionally and now he really really wants to fix it. Even though he pretended to be Eric physically in that he just didn’t tell her that he was Eric’s brother, he was still himself in messaging her, in sharing things with her. He’s so contrite and so earnest that it’s hard not to feel for him, even though what he did was a bit wrong. In his defense though, I don’t think he ever expected that Alex would get on a plane and just turn up! It goes to show that you should probably watch what you give away online…Joe told her all about Dive Bar and the people in his life so when Alex shows up, she proves to them that she has a very good background knowledge of them all and she’s not just some psycho stalking Eric, when he claims that he doesn’t know her.

Because things in person got off on such bad footing, their relationship almost has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Although she was attracted to the personality of Joe, she was focused on the physicality of Eric. It’s interesting that the more Alex gets to know Joe in person, the more she finds him attractive – and the less effect Eric’s looks have on her. Alex wasn’t really on the dating app for anything permanent and she has some commitment issues but the longer she stays in town, the more things deepen. Kylie Scott has the most unique ways of developing and nurturing a friendship between her characters as well as a relationship that has sizzling chemistry. I loved the way that Joe sucked it up and apologised to Alex and then tried to do everything he could to explain and make it up to her and the way that their online connection carried over, despite the fact that Joe was a different physical person to the one that Alex thought she’d been talking to.

I’m sure a lot of series’ readers appreciate glimpses into the lives of past couples and the closeness of the characters in the Dive Bar series is great for this. We get to catch up with Vaughan and Lydia and of course the heartbreaking story of Nell and Pat continue in this book and despite the fact that it’s very much in the background (still think it should’ve been its own book) it’s an incredibly powerful part of the story. Nell and Pat are responsible for some of the most stomach-dropping angst I’ve read in ages. I love their story though and it’s amazing what has been done with the smaller amount of page space devoted to them.

Once again Kylie Scott has proven that she’s the worthy of the vote of Australia’s favourite romance author because she’s delivered another incredible story that flips everything I think I prefer upside down. Before reading this, I’d have said Joe wasn’t my sort of guy….after reading this? Yes to Joe. Yes to everything about Joe. He’s the sort of character that would win over any woman – not just Alex.

Bring on Chaser, the third installment in this series. Eric doesn’t look the most redeemable character based on his actions so far…..so I’m pretty keen to see how that plays out.

9/10

Book #65 of 2017

Twist is book #21 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Locked Box by Eve Dangerfield

Locked Box
Eve Dangerfield
Liquid Silver Books
2016, eBook
Free on Amazon Kindle

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Julia Bennett isn’t having a great day. Funding for her video game is low, her day job is sucking her dry, and to cap it all off she’s locked in a police station with the very handsome, extremely married guy she’s been avoiding at all costs.

Max Connor isn’t having a great year. He’s getting divorced, his best friend is squatting in his house, and his inappropriate crush on the IT girl is getting way out of hand. And that was before he locked the two of them in an evidence room. Surrounded by three decades’ worth of drugs, guns, and floppy disks, Max and Julia are forced to confront the heat that lies between them with dangerous, funny, and occasionally toe-curlingly sexy results.

Ok so this was fun!

I downloaded this based on a tweet from Kat @ Book Thingo, master of all things romance. Despite having approximately one zillion and one books to read, I couldn’t resist this one because it has some of my favourite things. I am a one-click demon for a story that involves the hero/heroine being forcibly stranded or locked in somewhere together.

Locked Box is a smart, well written story about Julia, a 24yo IT worker who works at a small police station. Asked to organise some confiscated computer paraphernalia in the evidence room, some mistakes lead to her being locked in there for a long weekend with Max Connor, the sexy cop she’s had a crush on. Although Max is in the process of getting a divorce, somehow Julia has managed to miss hearing this piece of office gossip and she’s determined not to act on the attraction – she doesn’t want to be that person, even if it’s going to prove almost impossible in such tight confinement.

Julia has some commitment issues – she was raised by an alcoholic mother who had a succession of boyfriends that drew police attention. Her dad left when she was young and hasn’t played a role in her life since. She’s never had a real relationship and thanks to her proximity to her sister’s bedroom, she also knows that she’s never had really good sex in her whole life.

Max is 33 and kind of stuck. He’s still at the same small station, his marriage has ended and his best friend, a 16yo boy in a 32yo body has crashed his place apparently to provide “company” but mostly to just provide a mess. He’s been fighting an attraction to the IT girl for the longest time – way too long and it makes him uncomfortable because she’s younger than him. Faced with not being able to remove himself from any temptation, Max discovers that Julia is a perfect match for him in more ways than one.

This book is pretty hot – Julia aggressively owns her sexuality and once it’s established that Max is no longer married and is getting a divorce, it’s really only a matter of time until the chemistry wins. I enjoyed their banter and their game of ‘two truths and a lie’ which they play whilst hocking into some contraband moonshine-type stuff. I really liked that the author took time to construct ways in which to explore their characters, get them to share things about themselves prior to giving into the sexual attraction. It’s obvious that the chemistry is off the charts between them and that they both are interested in similar things but this gives the reader a bit of a chance to see just how something deeper could be established. Max is greatly interested in Julia’s work outside of her IT job – she and a friend are trying to get enough funding to get a first person female-oriented shooter game made. It sounded pretty awesome and I would’ve liked to hear a lot more about it. Julia does talk about negative backlash from male gamers and trolls online which you can apply to women attempting to do pretty much anything considered by males to be a “male dominated” industry, profession or past time. It’s nothing I haven’t seen towards feminists on twitter etc and I think it was an important thing to address regarding her secondary profession, which is something she wants to become her primary source of income at some stage.

If I had any criticism, it’s that the dialogue is a tad bit cringy at times (Max’s ginormous dick makes up most of those) and the fact that the bdsm element wasn’t really needed or desired on my part. The sex scenes were hot enough and I didn’t mind the fact that Max was super bossy during sex but quite a bit different when they weren’t interacting in that way but I just get bored of so many books I pick up having that bdsm element to them that’s almost like bdsm by numbers. They all pan out the same way with the same kind of scenes and triggers and it just feels really repetitive. The whole “say my name” is really porny and it just kind of makes me laugh and pulls me out of the moment. I understand that it gave Max some conflict in his marriage and the fact that Julia not only accepted that part of him but also complimented it with her own desires, I’m just over reading about that same thing so often. I also didn’t think the age gap was that big a deal but it was something Max freaked out with a lot and it went on for a bit. But they are just little personal preferences really and probably would only add to the story for some.

There’s a book featuring Julia’s sister Ashley, who features in this story and I think I’d like to read that, especially as Max and Julia appear too. Think I will add that to my wishlist.

8/10

Book #66 of 2017

Locked Box is book #22 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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