All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: 99% Mine by Sally Thorne

99% Mine 
Sally Thorne
Piatkus
2019, 368p
Copy courtesy Hechtete AUS via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Crush (n.): a strong and often short-lived infatuation, particularly for someone beyond your reach . . .

Darcy Barrett found her dream man at age eight – ever since, she’s had to learn to settle for good enough. Having conducted a global survey of men, she can categorically say that no one measures up to Tom Valeska, whose only flaw is that he’s her twin brother’s best friend – oh, and that 99 percent of the time, he hasn’t seemed interested in her.

When Darcy and Jamie inherit a tumble-down cottage from their grandmother, they’re left with strict instructions to bring it back to its former glory and sell the property. Darcy plans to be in an aisle seat halfway across the ocean as soon as the renovations start, but before she can cut and run, she finds a familiar face on her porch: house-flipper extraordinaire Tom’s arrived, he’s bearing power tools, and he’s single for the first time in almost a decade.

Suddenly Darcy’s considering sticking around – just to make sure her twin doesn’t ruin the cottage’s inherent magic with his penchant for chrome. She’s definitely not staying because of her new business partner’s tight t-shirts. But sparks start to fly – and not just because of the faulty wiring. Soon, a one percent chance with Tom is no longer enough. This time around, Darcy’s switching things up. She’s going to make Tom Valeska 99 percent hers.

Two and a half years ago, or thereabouts, I read Sally Thorne’s debut novel, The Hating Game and it became an absolute favourite. I re-read it obsessively – I absolutely adored those characters. I’ve been waiting quite eagerly for her next book although I know it obviously won’t be another The Hating Game. However the weight of expectations plays a role in how we feel about books, so I’m stating upfront that quite possibly that has contributed here.

I didn’t love this. I actually really struggled with it and considered DNF’ing it more than once. It’s not the writing per se, I think for me the biggest problem I had was just the characters. I didn’t connect with either of them (the main two, Darcy and Tom). I found Darcy very abrasive and overly, deliberately quirky, which is something I never enjoy in a character. So much is made of how ‘different’ she is – her hair, her dress, her jobs, her inability to settle down, her free spirit. She’s also very forward and a lot of the way she thinks/talks/acts towards Tom made me think vaguely of sexual harassment and objectification. I tried role switching, making it like Darcy was a man, thinking/saying etc these things towards a female character and it made me pretty uncomfortable. Darcy also has a heart condition, which is referred to every other page or so but don’t ask me what it is because the book never makes it clear because Darcy mostly ignores it. It’s serious enough that she should be having regular visits to her cardiologist but she doesn’t bother because she doesn’t want to know, and she’s a free spirit etc. Everyone keeps talking about how this heart condition could literally kill her but she just pretends it isn’t there for almost the entire book and then at the end it’s fixed mostly off page almost as a by-the-way type of thing, which was a bit weird.

Tom is mostly pleasant, although sometimes his character seems inconsistent. At first he’s this super nice, shy, blushes-at-everything-Darcy-says sort of guy but at some stage he Hulks out into some possessive, over-protective Alpha male when the book tries to make it super obvious that Darcy can handle herself (she works in a bar frequented by types that need handling) except when she can’t and needs help. There’s a lot of unnecessary drama surrounding Tom’s quote on the renovation and how he’s Darcy’s twin brother’s best friend and the whole ‘my sister is off limits’ thing has never really done it for me. Darcy’s brother is mostly a jerk until suddenly he’s completely not and the random way he turns out to have a relationship with someone is really bizarre. In fact, if I had to think of one word to describe this book, it’d probably be random. Things just happen randomly, things are randomly not explained, the entire conflict for the last part of the book makes no sense and I found the resolution very weak.

There were parts of this that I did enjoy – some of the banter was funny, I liked the home renovation stuff (I enjoy reading books set around that sort of thing) and I really loved Darcy’s friend and her underwear business. That was amazing. But I think for me the book needed more scenes to share the background of Darcy, Jamie and Tom, flesh out their childhood and teenage connection. It didn’t really seem to translate well to the current day setting without that and I just wanted a bit more. I didn’t really feel much chemistry between Darcy and Tom unfortunately and they just weren’t a couple that I felt myself passionately behind. This just wasn’t my sort of story.

6/10

Book #194 of 2018

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Review: Fight Or Flight by Samantha Young

Fight Or Flight
Samantha Young
Piatkus
2018, 361p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A series of chance encounters leads to a sizzling new romance from the New York Times bestselling author of the On Dublin Street series.

The universe is conspiring against Ava Breevort. As if flying back to Phoenix to bury a childhood friend wasn’t hell enough, a cloud of volcanic ash traveling from overseas delayed her flight back home to Boston. Her last ditch attempt to salvage the trip was thwarted by an arrogant Scotsman, Caleb Scott, who steals a first class seat out from under her. Then over the course of their journey home, their antagonism somehow lands them in bed for the steamiest layover Ava’s ever had. And that’s all it was–until Caleb shows up on her doorstep.

When pure chance pulls Ava back into Caleb’s orbit, he proposes they enjoy their physical connection while he’s stranded in Boston. Ava agrees, knowing her heart’s in no danger since a) she barely likes Caleb and b) his existence in her life is temporary. Not long thereafter Ava realizes she’s made a terrible error because as it turns out Caleb Scott isn’t quite so unlikeable after all. When his stay in Boston becomes permanent, Ava must decide whether to fight her feelings for him or give into them. But even if she does decide to risk her heart on Caleb, there is no guarantee her stubborn Scot will want to risk his heart on her….

Okay so I’m in two minds about this book. The blurb is right up my alley – I really love interesting meeting situations, especially forced proximity like people being seated together on a plane. I also like hate to love style romances where characters clash but have awesome chemistry. But the blurb is just one part and sometimes the story doesn’t live up to it.

It starts off relatively promising but wow, Caleb is rude. Like not just abrupt or a bit cranky because his flight is cancelled/delayed or whatever. He’s aggressively antagonistic and just a jerk not just to Ava (which maybe I could’ve understood when it was explained much later, except the level of aggression seems disproportionate) but he’s also rude for no real reason to flight attendants and just generally people doing things for him because he doesn’t believe he needs to thank people whose job it is to do what he wants. Wow, okay. Thankfully Ava gives him a couple of really crushing put downs about this.

I liked Ava and I liked her backstory. She’d had quite a rough upbringing and it had definitely shaped her adulthood and her dedication to working and providing a stable environment for herself. She’d also been damaged by a previous relationship which makes her wary of being involved with anyone. So when she’s attracted to Caleb, she’s okay with it being a one night stand in a strange city with them never having to run into each other again. But things are more complicated than that and soon Caleb finds himself temporarily in Ava’s city (he’s Scottish, Ava lives in Boston) and they’re connecting every night. But both remain stubborn about what it is they’re doing, especially Caleb. It’s pretty clear there’s something going on in his past that’s made him ‘like this’. However when it was revealed, although I understood that it was something that might upset Caleb in terms of deception, I couldn’t really support his opinion on it and it seemed to make him bitter towards everyone who looked a certain way, rather than just the one person who had done something he found hurtful.

So while I did like certain elements to this story, I just couldn’t ever really warm to Caleb. He’s so rude in the beginning and although he kind of improves a bit in some ways, there’s just other ways where his character didn’t really work for me. The one thing that I think he did do well was help Ava in respect to some closure with her previous relationship that had ended badly – it was a bit of a shame he couldn’t apply that rational clarity to his own situation. I get he was upset but he really did let it twist him as a person and it was something he had no control over, nor should he rightfully have any control over. He seemed to really dig his heels in against admitting that he had anything in the way of feelings for Ava and this overall just felt like a bit of a let down. I wanted more from their chemistry and connection and less of Caleb being a bit of a twatwaffle.

6/10

Book #202 of 2018

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Man Booker Shortlist #5 – Thoughts On: The Long Take by Robin Robertson

The Long Take
Robin Robertson
Picador
2018, 237p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Walker, a young Canadian recently demobilised after war and his active service in the Normandy landings and subsequent European operations. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and unable to face a return to his family home in rural Nova Scotia, he goes in search of freedom, change, anonymity and repair. We follow Walker through a sequence of poems as he moves through post-war American cities of New York, Los Angles and San Francisco.

What is with these Man Booker books and such brief synopsis’?

This is a really hard one to review because it’s written in verse and they’re not really my preferred type of story. I’ve only read a handful and if it weren’t for reading the shortlist, I probably wouldn’t have ever looked at this type of story, both because I’m not into verse and I am not particularly drawn to stories about veterans.

Walker by nature…..he’s Canadian, but finds himself in America after returning from some arduous conflicts serving in WWII. He settles first in New York but then makes his way to California, collecting his veteran’s pension and finding a job as a journalist. He wants to focus on features about veterans, the careless way they are treated once back in the country and the problems and difficulties they face returning to society. So many end up homeless, with drinking or drug addictions and nervous conditions that would be umbrella’d today under PTSD. Walker himself struggles with things like fireworks  which remind him of shelling and he drinks pretty much every day. Still, he manages to hold down his job, travelling up to San Francisco to document more veterans.

The further we get into the book, the more flashbacks we get of Walker’s time serving in the war and the become more detailed each time. It’s like as time gets more removed from the time he spent in the war, the more the memories creep in and permeate everything. We learn the stories of others that he comes across as well and eventually, most of Walker’s traumatic past is revealed, including what he shunned after the war and why he’s in America.

I thought this was a really interesting way to showcase some of the changing and often contradictory attitudes towards veterans. On one hand, a country like America, where Walker is, is passionate these days about thanking people for their service, for making sure it’s signposted really loud that everyone is appreciative of veterans and their sacrifice and everything they do so that the country remains free, etc. But even today, with better understanding of the effects of serving in conflict, post-deployment services for veterans remain woefully underfunded and it can be very difficult for career servicemen and women in particular, to readjust to ‘civilian’ life. Attitudes towards veterans have been swings and roundabouts – the ones post the Vietnam war are an interesting contrast to the way things are now and it seems that in the late 40s and 50s of this book there were whole communities of veterans living in squats, hovels, and on the streets.

For me, the last third or so of this, was probably the best part as it really picked up regarding flashback’s and also Walker’s deteriorating mental state. It made me want more, to learn in a more depth way about him and what he’d experienced. I’m honestly not qualified to really comment on the writing on this – I’m not big on poetry, almost never read it, wouldn’t recognise good structure from bad and although I did -like- it, I didn’t love it. And maybe some of that was the verse. Because it just felt vague at times and like I wasn’t getting the whole picture and I wanted to know more. The format definitely limited the way that information was conveyed and how much of it, which is probably half the point.

This was easy to read and thought provoking but I felt unsatisfied when I finished it.

6/10

Book #190 of 2018

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Review: The Librarian Of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

The Librarian Of Auschwitz 
Antonio Iturbe (translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites)
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 423p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust.

Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.

Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.

Honestly these are some of the hardest books to read, ones that centre around concentration camps and the persecution of people in the second World War. I’ve read a few books now that deal with Auschwitz and some of the other camps. This one is set in Auschwitz II-Birkenau which was a combination internment/execution camp. On one hand, this camp had a role to play for the external world, that people were being kept safe and treated well. There was no extermination happening, there were no gas chambers, children were even getting an education. However despite that, there were still thousands being executed in the gas chambers and the conditions were far from what was being presented.

Dita was born to well off parents in Prague. Displaced during the war, first to a ghetto community and then to Auschwitz, Dita is a teenager when she arrives at the camp. She’s granted access into Block 31, where the school is being kept and Freddie Hirsch, a Jewish leader asks her to assist in maintaining the school’s library. The Nazis burn books and even being caught with a book would mean execution. The school’s library is meagre – just a handful of books in mostly poor condition but Dita takes her new role very seriously. She devises a system of storing and even carrying the books on her person so that they won’t be detected during the Nazis routine inspections.

This is based on a real story – the character of Dita is real and a lot of what happens in this book is her story as told to the author in a series of emails and exchanged communications. It’s always so shocking to me when I read accounts of Auschwitz or stories based on what happened there, just how far humanity can fall. That people can actually do these things and believe in them, to other human beings. It’s always one of the hardest things for me, that a group of people can be ‘othered’ to such a successful degree that they become less than human, treated worse than any animals. And the saddest thing is, I can see how this happens…..I see the way there’s an attempt here to demonise refugees and asylum seekers, to reshape them into something else. I don’t want to believe that it’s easy but take a country with festering, lingering resentments over the first World War, add in a desire for power and return to a dominance and what they believe is standing in their way and you start to see it. The way that over time, suddenly a whole class of people stops being seen as such. But to get to the levels in this book, that happened during the Holocaust, is just next level.

There are some examples of truly brutal treatment in this book as well as neglect. People starving to death, dying of simple illnesses that are exacerbated by the lack of hygiene, medicine, warm clothes and shelter that the camps were known for. The conditions are crowded, often 2-3 people to a bed, people often sleeping in shifts. They are worked to the point of exhaustion and further and it seems that no one escapes without some sort of horrific loss or experience, if they survive at all. But even with all that, there are beacons of hope and light, such as Block 31 and the determination of some to educate the children of Auschwitz to the best of their ability with the few things they have available to them to do so. The role of librarian is one that Dita takes very seriously, despite the danger it puts her in at such a young age. To be honest, Dita rarely seems her age, possibly due to the fact that kids in concentration camps surely grow up faster simply by means of losing pretty much everything that childhood means. She also assumes responsibility for her mother in a way, who does not seem able to cope with some of what has occurred. Dita has a very strong, often brusque manner but that’s not to say that she isn’t frightened by what she sees and hears.

Dita lived a remarkable life and this book has made me want to learn more about her. It’s made me want to read more stories about people like her, despite the fact that I find them so hard at times. It’s about pushing myself out of my comfort zone and learning from this sort of thing because I feel like if we don’t learn from these things in history we are doomed to repeat them. To become complacent is to allow it to happen again. Recently I was talking to my son’s 4th grade teacher who mentioned that he was interested in concentration camps and wanted to know about them. Tell him, I said to her. If he’s asking questions, tell him. And let him learn and understand what happened to kids like him who should’ve been at school. Because sometimes, like a lot of kids, he lacks empathy and it can be hard for him to see what life is like even just in a pre-iPad and PS4 era let alone during a war. This book is perhaps not right for him just yet, but one day it will be.

It’s hard to say something like I loved this because this is a book of so much heartache and pain. But I’m glad I read it.

8/10

Book #198 of 2018

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Review: Life On The Leash by Victoria Schade

Life On The Leash
Victoria Schade
Allen & Unwin
2018, 343p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cora Bellamy is a woman who thrives on organisation. She’s successfully run her own dog training business for years, perfectly content with her rescue pitbull as the main man in her life.

But all that changes when she meets Charlie Gill, the hottest client she’s ever had. The only problem? Charlie’s taken. Luckily, Cora has a new friend — the lovably geeky Eli Crawford. He’s always there to help Cora with her problems, including her love life. That’s why she’s shocked to realise that, even as things start heating up with Charlie, there might just be a spark between her and Eli, too.

As Cora’s life gets more tangled up than a dog walker’s leashes — and as she prepares to audition for a dog training TV show that may change her life — she has to figure things out before it all goes straight to the dogs.

Charming, witty and warm-hearted, Life on the Leash inspires you to cheer for every underdog looking for love.

I was really intrigued by this when I read the synopsis. I’ve been involved with rescue animals before – I’ve adopted dogs from a rescue organisation and I’ve fostered cats/kittens for another. Having an MC as a dog trainer sounded really interesting, not something I’ve come across many times before.

Cora is passionate about animals and about helping people get the best out of their dogs. She doesn’t want to “fix them” but rather work with dogs and their owners to incorporate positive training and a connection that help them get the best out of the relationship. Her methods are very gentle, in direct contrast to a popular TV trainer who is more about pack control and dominating them and teaching them who is boss. Cora despairs of dog owners who follow this TV trainer and she’s up front about those not being her methods and if that’s what people are after, she’s not the trainer for them.

After being single for a while, having broken up with her former fiancé Cora is now ready to kind of get back into the dating game. This part of her life is greatly complicated by a handsome client Charlie, who is charming and seems just as passionate about animals as she is. However Charlie comes with a girlfriend which puts Cora in a difficult situation.

Okay so a lot of this was cute. I really liked Cora’s approach to her clients and how she felt about dogs and her bond with her own dog, a rescue pit bull. Her relationship with her best friend was supportive and really enjoyable as well. I also liked a couple of her clients, including an Aussie named Fran but unfortunately, that was kind of all I liked. Oh wait, I also liked Eli, I think he was fantastic. Even if his little freak out at the end was a bit weird.

Charlie is a predator from first appearance, hidden behind a charming smile and an affable demeanour. It’s almost embarrassing how clueless Cora is when it comes to him. The fact that Cora was even looking at him as an option was really off putting, because she first meets Charlie’s long-term, live in girlfriend. Cora almost completely loses her mind over Charlie, continually trying to convince herself that he’s special and a good guy, despite all evidence to the contrary. It honestly did Cora no favours every time she was near him, she seemed to completely lose herself just because he was cute. It made me struggle with her as a character, because it seemed so at odds with the other parts of her.

Ultimately I feel like this book was just trying to include a little too much and as a result, several of the plot lines suffered because it was so busy. The whole reality TV show with Cora’s ex-fiance could probably have been excluded because in all honestly, it added absolutely nothing to the story line save a way to introduce Cora auditioning for her own reality show, but that could’ve quite easily been done without needing that. It takes up far too much of the plot for zero pay off as well. Also there is a lot about the TV dog trainer that Cora doesn’t like which also really doesn’t get any pay off. Cora writes a blog that lambasts him but there’s no confrontation or conversation between the two, there’s no culmination of this energy spent on him.

Life On The Leash showed promise and there were a few things that I really enjoyed and I particularly liked the message about working with your animals and Cora’s training techniques. I appreciated her devotion to her own dog and her dedication to trying to save as many animals as she could, in as many ways as she could. However Cora herself was often frustrating as a main character, distracted by something shiny and inappropriate. I would’ve liked more time spent on the built of a genuine romance with someone who didn’t have a girlfriend instead of a hasty tacked on bit at the end. So a bit of a mixed bag here – some good moments and some positive stuff but also quite a bit that didn’t work for me as well as I had hoped.

6/10

Book #197 of 2018

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Review: I Can’t Remember The Title But The Cover Is Blue by Elias Greig

I Can’t Remember The Title But The Cover Is Blue
Elias Greig
Allen & Unwin
2018, 224p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Hilarious, unpredictable and, at times, touching, this compilation is the perfect gift for fans of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and The Diary of a Bookseller.

As any retail or service worker will tell you, customers can be irrational, demanding, abusive, and brain-scramblingly, mind-bendingly strange. They can also be kind, thoughtful, funny, and full of pathos. Something about the often-fraught interaction between customer and worker, with the dividing line of the counter between them, loosens inhibitions, and has a kind of hot-house effect on eccentricity.

In I Can’t Remember the Title But the Cover is Blue, veteran bookseller Elias Greig collects the best, worst and downright weirdest customer encounters from his years working as a Sydney bookseller. From ill-behaved children to nostalgic seniors and everything in between, this hilarious and unpredictable book is the perfect gift for anyone who’s ever been on the wrong side of a counter.

When I was younger, my dream job was owning a bookstore. Like the ones in books or tv shows/movies that are half new books, half secondhand with a coffee machine or something and I could spend most of my day reading books and the other portion helping people find the books they want. Now when you’re about 10, that sounds perfect. It’s also incredibly unrealistic. Despite my love of books and how much I enjoy talking about them and recommending titles to people, I’ve never worked in a bookstore. I’ve never worked in retail because actually I don’t have that much patience and I’m not the sort of person to be polite when someone is rude to me. To be honest, books like this are just another hilarious reason why I don’t see a career in book sales.

Elias works in a bookstore on Sydney’s North Shore and decided to keep a bit of a diary, some daily interactions with customers. Some of the best are detailed here and there’s a bit of everything – customers who are irritatingly vague about a book they’re after, expecting him to read their minds to intuit it, customers who don’t keep their little darlings in check, customers who want him to google things, or print things or do other things that have nothing to do with books. Some of them are funny, some are thoughtful, others are downright bizarre and some are infuriating. I especially got a kick out of things like where someone comes looking for the latest Mark Latham or something and Elias is delighted to inform them that no, they don’t have that in stock today! There’s also a customer whom he suspects might possibly be a Nazi sympathiser based on his orders through the shop and he wavers back and forth throughout conversations with him.

The author has a very laid back and engaging style and the drawings that accompany many of the stories are simple but really well done and give a nice visual. Each of the customers is given a bit of a snappy name too, relevant to why they’re there, or what they’re looking for or the type of customer that they are. The format is really fun – each interaction is only a page or two and it’s short, snappy conversations and wry observations. It’s the sort of book you can read in a single sitting (like I did) and it won’t take you too long at all and it’s also the sort of book you can pick up and read a couple pages here and there whenever you have a spare few minutes, like in the car at school pick up, waiting for an appointment etc. It’s the perfect little companion for any book lover or person who appreciates the challenges of working in retail!

8/10

Book #196 of 2018

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Review: The Summer Of Secrets by Barbara Hannay

The Summer Of Secrets 
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Michael Joseph
2018, 384p
Copy courtesy of Michelle from Beauty & Lace

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sydney journalist Chloe Brown is painfully aware that her biological clock isn’t just ticking, it’s booming. When her long term boyfriend finally admits he never wants children, Chloe is devastated. Impulsively, she moves as far from disappointment as she can – to a job on a small country newspaper in Queensland’s far north.

The little town seems idyllic, a cosy nest, and Chloe plans to regroup and, possibly, to embark on single motherhood via IVF. But she soon realises that no place is free from trouble or heartache. The grouchy news editor, Finn Latimer, is a former foreign correspondent who has retreated after a family tragedy. Emily, the paper’s elegant, sixty-something owner, is battling with her husband’s desertion. Meanwhile, the whole town is worried when their popular young baker disappears.

As lives across generations become more deeply entwined, the lessons are clear. Secrets and silence harbour pain, while honesty and openness bring healing and hope. And love. All that’s needed now is courage…

I’m on a bit of a roll with books read at the moment – this is the third book in a row that I’ve rated 5-stars on Goodreads. I always love Barbara Hannay books, so to be honest it was no surprise how much I ended up enjoying this. Her books are feel good reads for me but always with depth and an intimate look at human relationships.

Chloe is 37 and after devoting the past 7 years of her life to a man who is never going to be on the same page as her, she finds herself leaving Sydney and her job at a girl’s magazine for a post in far North Queensland at a rural newspaper. Before Chloe arrived there was basically a staff of one – former foreign correspondent Finn Latimer, who is used to doing things his way and not having anyone else around. He’s a Serious Journalist and not particularly interested in having someone that he thinks probably wrote quizzes for Dolly magazine helping him out.

Chloe finds herself settling into the small town almost immediately, which is preoccupied by the disappearance of the young man who owns the local bakery. Ben went out for a jog one morning and never came home and the fear is that he stumbled on a meth lab. There’s not much to go on and Chloe befriends his girlfriend Tammy as she gets to know the locals for a series of articles she’s preparing for the local paper. She finds herself accepted into this community, enjoying the change of pace and beauty of the local area. It’s a far cry from inner Sydney and it’s growing on her. As is Finn himself.

I loved the small town feel. I’ve never been to far North Queensland so I appreciated the descriptions of the local farms and the forests, as well as the brightness of the stars at night and even a little cameo by some of the (perhaps not so palatable) wildlife.  Chloe is at that stage of her life where she has to make a decision – she’s already late-30s, which is considered advanced maternal age, especially for someone who will be undertaking having their first child, even though more and more women are having children later. She has recently ended a long-term relationship and if she wants to have a baby before she’s 40, she’s probably going to have to go it alone. I think being somewhere small and quiet gives her time to think, reassess and gain some clarity. It will also give her more freedom to be a working mother as well. However…..now there’s also Finn in her life and the two of them definitely have a lot of chemistry and I really enjoyed the way she and Finn interacted – it was a bit of a rocky start, with Finn not really buying into her credentials, but Chloe brings a breath of fresh air and colour to the local paper and Finn doesn’t take long to see that she’s really quite valuable. And very helpful when they get a strange clue about Ben, the vanished baker, that leaves Finn free to pursue that line of enquiry. A future together requires both of them taking a strong leap of faith and for Finn, letting go of the past and his guilt over it.

There’s a few other local characters populating this story. Emily is the owner of the paper, who took over from her mother a very formidable woman who is almost 100 and still going strong. Emily and her husband are going through something quite traumatic and they’re both dealing with it in different ways – or trying to. Jess, a young woman Chloe met in the airport after her flight landed, was also leaving to find a new life and I really enjoyed the way her story played out. It was nicely done – I only really started to suspect her true reasons for being in the area shortly before it was revealed. I also liked the inclusion of Emily’s mother’s early life as a pilot in WWII for Britain. This also made me realise that somewhere along the way I’ve missed a book from Barbara Hannay so I’m definitely going to have to rectify that.

Also? I’d kind of like to see Hawk in a future book….

9/10

Book #193 of 2018

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Review: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4)
Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)
Sphere
2018, 649p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“I seen a kid killed…He strangled it, up by the horse.”

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott-once his assistant, now a partner in the agency-set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been-Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

I’ve only read the first Harry Potter book so really my experience with JK Rowling, who writes this adult crime/mystery series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is purely the result of these Cormoran Strike books. I read the first one when it was published but only read books 2&3 this year, before I watched the BBC adaptation, Strike. That turned out to be a good decision because the wait for book 4 after the ending of 3 would’ve been torturous.

We get a brief description of what happened after the end of Career Of Evil and then we skip forward in time 12 months. Cormoran and Robin are partners in the agency now and Cormoran’s publicity from solving the Shacklewell Ripper case has led to a steady supply of work, so much so that Cormoran has had to hire a few more people to cover it. The resulting publicity does also mean that he’s quite recognisable now, which can be a hindrance to being out undercover so when Jasper Chiswell, the Minister for Culture expresses an interest in hiring the agency about someone blackmailing him, it’s Robin that is sent in undercover to work in Chiswell’s office. Robin can be smoothly unobtrusive, it’s far easier to disguise and change her appearance and she has people skills. It’s an added bonus that this case seems to cross over with the troubled man named Billy who confessed to Cormoran that he witnessed a murder as a child, but fled before Cormoran could get any details out of him. With Robin on Chiswell, Cormoran works on tracking down Billy, fearing for his safety and wellbeing, as well as wanting the rest of his story.

I love this series. The first three were all really solid reads for me but this one for some reason, is my favourite so far. I think it’s the combination of a really, really intricate mystery with a cast of many and the simmering tension between Cormoran and Robin as they attempt to negotiate this working relationship after what happened at the wedding. They almost fall over each other in an attempt not to step on each other’s toes, ask personal questions or perhaps cross an invisible line unwittingly which would change everything. Despite this avoidance of a million and one things, their thoughts are constantly tied to the other  and Robin’s paranoia that her job may vanish at any second if she even so much breathes a word of an inner struggle to Strike strongly motivates her choices to keep everything locked up inside and her personal life just adds to her stress and state of mind.

There’s no denying this book is long. It’s about 650p in large paperback form. It begins with a visit to Strike’s office from a young, mentally disturbed man named Billy who claims to have witnessed a murder as a child but then we don’t see Billy again for probably another 500p as it sinks into the investigation for Jasper Chiswell and his complicated, moneyed family, which is connected to Billy’s family (definitely not moneyed). Quite often large books annoy me because I can see huge chunks of irrelevancy that the editing process should’ve cut through but I honestly never once had that thought with this book. It took me a couple of days to read it and each time I had to put it down, I could not wait to be able to sit down and pick it back up again. There’s so much going on, in both Robin and Strike’s personal and professional lives. Some of it is signposted so well for the reader but it takes the characters longer to put the clues together.

Everything about this worked for me. It’s long, sure but it keeps busy, uncovering small clues that honestly, just ask more questions for a while and then something happens which changes the entire focus of the investigation and everyone has a role to play, no matter how minor a character they seem when first introduced. I actually felt like that Galbraith/Rowling did an amazing job planting some of the clues here to lead the reader in the right direction about several things but ultimately the way that Strike connects the dots is a thing of beauty, about everything. I liked that Robin sort of didn’t really know where he was going with everything and how he’d done it because although she’s got great instincts, she’s still learning and Strike is kind of a tactical wizard so far and it just felt more real instead of Robin looking at the clues Strike gave her and going oh yes, I see exactly what’s going on here.

This book leaves things in a very interesting place, where I’m not sure they’ve been before. I’m really looking forward to the next book, for both the mysteries that Cormoran and Robin investigate together and also their growing personal relationship. I think they established a more intimate connection here (and I don’t mean physically) and I’m keen to see where that goes. I hope it’s not another 3year wait for the next book and that they hurry up turning this one into new eps of the tv show.

9/10

Book #192 of 2018

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Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Lost Man 
Jane Harper
Pan Macmillan
2018, 362p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Timesbestseller Jane Harper.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.

So Jane Harper has written two books I’ve really enjoyed, revolving around a police detective named Aaron Falk. This is a stand alone but I was already pretty confident I was going to like it and that was before I went to see her at an event at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville last week. I bought the book at the event and even though I’ve got a million other books ahead of it in my pile, sometimes you just have to forget about the pile and go for the one that you want to read the most.

The Lost Man is set around 1500kms west of Brisbane, in Queensland. Unforgiving territory, relentless temperatures, dry and dusty land sparsely populated and home mostly to cattle on stations the size of entire European countries. In this story the local police officer is responsible for an area pretty much the size of Victoria, so when Cameron Bright is found dead in the outback at the base of an unmarked stockman’s gravesite, the local authority is several days away and someone else is sent to investigate.

That doesn’t fill Cameron’s brothers, Nathan and Bub, with much confidence. This is a bizarre situation. Cameron spent his entire life in this area and he knows how to survive. The fact that he seems to have abandoned his perfectly working car in 45 degree heat (113*F) is not something an experienced local would ever do. You stay with your vehicle and your supplies, you call for help be it via radio or flare and you wait. Cameron isn’t like Nate – he’s married, with two children, running a thriving property. A far cry from Nathan, the town outcast, who was messily divorced, barely sees his only teenage son and struggles to break even on a patch of land not worth a pinch. He had no reason to do this on purpose and yet with someone of his knowledge, the other option is even worse to consider. What happened to Cameron that he ended up dead from dehydration 9km away from his car?

If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be compelling. It’s not filled with action. Instead it’s a slow burn, character driven novel that just makes you want to know what happened. How it happened and why. With every page, Harper peels back a little more about this Bright family – they’re kind of like an onion. There’s just so many layers to them, mysteries and secrets and hidden betrayals and conflicts. Nate is the main character, we spent the time in his head learning about his life and we see most of the other characters through his eyes. Nate has not had an easy time of it, not growing up and not in adulthood either. He’s a loner, spending almost all of his time running his property on his own, often going months without seeing his own family. Although technically they live “next door”, I think it’s still a drive of several hours for him to reach the house he grew up in that Cameron now lives in with his young family and also Nate, Cameron and Bub’s mother. Nate has been ostracised from the small but tight knit society for a mistake he made years ago and it’s a role he seems to somewhat relish, hiding himself away and not realising just how many people are quite worried about him. I get the feeling that most people thought that perhaps it would be Nate who met a gruesome end, not Cameron. He’s somewhat determinedly stubborn, kind of wallowing in his isolation and the wrongs of his life, including this failed marriage and his struggling relationship with his teenage son Xander. When he does come back to the family after Cameron’s death, it’s fraught with tension with most members, including Bub, the brother 12 years younger than him that he really barely knows.

The area where Jane Harper roughly sets this book is around 31 hours drive or 2200kms from where I live. Most Australians will probably never see terrain the likes of this, unless they undertake a deliberate drive through the outback, taking in parts of remote Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. I’ve never experienced it but this book brings it into such brilliant colour. The heat, the unrelenting flatness and vastness of the landscape, the isolation and loneliness, the sheer mechanics of living in such a place. Having enough food to last months, because you get deliveries 2-3x a year and hey, there’s no supermarket within a thousand kilometres. The fact that despite the terrain being mostly desert, it still floods due to the rainfall up north, which I did not know. Even knowing about it is not to live it and this book gives an understanding of what that sort of life might be like, for just a brief snapshot. I think it’d be difficult to truly understand the isolation without living it and there probably are few people truly cut out for it.

I always say this – but the ending? I did not see it coming. And it blew me away, the slow puzzle coming together, the staggering reveal, the explanation, the heartbreaking finality of a choice made. It was brilliantly done. This is my favourite novel from Jane Harper yet and I want it to be 2019 already so there can be another one.

9/10

Book #191 of 2018

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Review: A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery Of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)
Deborah Harkness
Viking Penguin
2011, 579p
Copy borrowed from Marg @ TheIntrepidReader.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

I borrowed the first two books in this series an embarrassing number of years ago from Marg over at The Intrepid Reader. By best guess it was somewhere around 2012/13 and they’ve been sitting on my shelves ever since. Moving house made me reorganise all my books and I ended up putting them into a bookcase I keep for books that have been on my TBR a while but that I want to get to sooner rather than later. When I started seeing ads for the tv adaptation of A Discovery Of Witches coming soon I figured that it might be a good time.

It starts so promisingly – in fact I was so engrossed that I almost forgot to go and pick up my kids on Friday afternoon. Diana is the last in a long line of witches but due to a tragedy in her past, she doesn’t use her powers – or so she thinks. One day unwittingly she calls up an ancient manuscript in the library at Oxford. The manuscript has been spelled and no one has been able to catch a glimpse of it in a long time…..and all three of the supernatural creatures, vampires, daemons and witches are all desperate to get their hands on it. Because she was able to summon the manuscript (although she sent it back without realising its power and the fact that it was sought after) she now finds herself followed by a little variety of creatures, including ancient vampire Matthew Clairmont.

I love a lot about this book – the backstory of daemons, vampires and witches, the divide between the three different ‘species’ and the Covenant that prevents them from intermarrying or relating. I liked Diana’s background and how what happened to her parents informed her decision as a young adolescent in terms of her magic and the further we got into the story, the more we learned about that magic and how her parents had played a role in it too. This is a multi-layered story and each new reveal, each layer peeled back built and expanded upon the story really nicely. I was really intrigued by the idea of the spelled manuscript and Diane’s innocent ability to call it because she didn’t really know what she was doing or understand what she was even accessing.

Where the book kind of loses it for me (and this is unfortunate because it becomes a rather large part of the story) is the romance. Matthew is a 1500year old vampire and he’s basically a grown up Edward Cullen. This is Twilight for big people. He follows Diana, he breaks into her room to watch her sleep, he’s ridiculously possessive (wrapped up in vampire bullshit and hierarchy and being obeyed and whatever) and he’s bossy and orders her around and wants to protect her from all the other weirdos stalking her but he’s just as big a weirdo as the rest of them. They fall in love ridiculously fast, instalove on steroids and it’s because theirs is a special snowflake sort of love which is going to forever change things for the species’ because of course it is. He spends a lot of time growling at the back of his throat and refusing to have sex with Diana in case he loses his mind and kills her or something I suppose. And then for -other- reasons.

On one hand, there is so much about this that is just a really great, detailed and intricate story. The history is awesome, the settings are fantastic and I like a lot of the secondary characters and the way things are pieced together and the different species’ around Diana and Matthew are coming to terms with working with each other in order to figure out the manuscript and also because there’s kind of a war coming about Matthew and Diana being in love. But this is also quite a long book….there’s a lot of pretty extraneous stuff in here about what Diana wears, what she eats, what she drinks and the author seems to really like wine because Matthew likes wine and he’s been alive for over a thousand years so he’s super rich and knows a lot about wine and has an extensive wine collection and we get a lot of stuff about the wine he likes and why and where it’s grown and he makes Diana smell things and tell him what she smells which is a bit weird. Also Diana takes an awful lot of naps. Like, a lot of naps.

It took me four days to read this book – for a lot of reasons. Like I mentioned, it’s long. I also was quite busy over the weekend as it had been my husband’s birthday on Thursday and we had family over on Saturday, plus swimming lessons, shopping and that sort of stuff. I’ve also been in a bit of a reading slump and keep picking books up and putting them down without opening them. I think it’s partially just ‘that time of year’ where you’re getting to the end, everyone is getting a bit tired, the kids have plenty of things on and Christmas is looming (and I still haven’t done a single thing about that, not a present bought, not a single thing organised, oops). I did enjoy it, despite my skepticism on the romance and the Matthew character as a whole. And I’m ready to watch the tv show now when it airs, which is actually this Thursday evening. I also have the second book here and I am definitely planning to continue on with the series because the historical and witchcraft stuff is so interesting to me. I’m hoping it might be a bit less kinda angsty than this one, but we shall see.

7/10

Book #189 of 2018

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