All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Queen’s Tiger by Peter Watt

The Queen’s Tiger 
Peter Watt
Pan Macmillan AUS
2019, 353p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Peter Watt brings to the fore all the passion, adventure and white-knuckle battle scenes that made his beloved Duffy and Macintosh novels so popular.

It is 1857. Colonial India is a simmering volcano of nationalism about to erupt. Army surgeon Peter Campbell and his wife Alice, in India on their honeymoon, have no idea that they are about to be swept up in the chaos.

Ian Steele, known to all as Captain Samuel Forbes, is fighting for Queen and country in Persia. A world away, the real Samuel Forbes is planning to return to London – with potentially disastrous consequences for Samuel and Ian both.

Then Ian is posted to India, but not before a brief return to England and a reunion with the woman he loves. In India he renews his friendship with Peter Campbell, and discovers that Alice has taken on a most unlikely role. Together they face the enemy and the terrible deprivations and savagery of war – and then Ian receives news from London that crushes all his hopes…

This is the second in a series revolving around colonial blacksmith Ian Steele and his pretending to be Samuel Forbes in Her Majesty’s army so that the real Samuel Forbes can inherit his share of a family estate. Serving was Ian’s dream and pretending to be Samuel has opened up opportunities for him that he would never have been able to take advantage of otherwise.

Okay, here’s the first rule to pulling off a deception: the less people that know, the better. Ideally it should’ve been kept to Ian, the real Samuel and about 2 others that knew for necessity’s stake. Then Ian ran into someone he knew from Australia in the army, so he knew as well but swore to secrecy, the two of them forging an unlikely friendship.

Now?

Now pretty much everyone knows *shrug*

There have always been people that suspect, including Samuel’s older brother Charles, who seeks to rid the world of Samuel so that he may inherit the entire family estate himself. Charles is greedy and quite a despicable character and he’s had his suspicions of Ian from the start. It doesn’t help when Samuel (the real one) decides that he must return to England for personal reasons, instead of staying in America, where he’s supposed to be living his life. As soon as he’s in England he begins running into people who have either met him previously or are aware of his family and considering Ian, pretending to be Samuel, is serving overseas, he shouldn’t be seen anywhere in England.

I spent a large portion of this book wanting to smack Samuel (the real one) for his blindness and stupidity. He came up with this idea now he keeps doing things that put it in jeopardy and threaten Ian’s life even more than it was already in danger! Despite the fact that five minutes after he arrives he runs into someone that knows him, he doesn’t get on the first ship back to America and get the heck out of there. No, he keeps travelling around England visiting people and graves and basically being seen in a whole bunch of places where he shouldn’t be, drawing even more suspicion and it is sort of ridiculous. I know London upper society is really quite insular but honestly, Samuel’s steadfast refusal to do the sensible thing and get the heck out of there before everything goes pear shaped was really quite frustrating.

Meanwhile Ian is off overseas pretending to be Samuel, fighting Persians and later Indians and basically running into people who now know that he’s not the real Samuel. He’s also fallen in love again, despite the fact that he’s still trying to find out what happened to the last woman he fell in love with. Ian is proving to be an excellent solider and leader, he cares for his men and treats them as his equals even though under his assumed identity, they are considered beneath him. He has earned their respect and even though they still call him the Queen’s Colonial, it’s with affection rather than derision. His commanding officer is still full of resentment, also determined to bring him down but to his eternal frustration, Ian keeps surviving seemingly impossible predicaments.

There’s still something like seven years that Ian has to serve pretending to be Samuel and with the amount of people that know now, it just seems impossible that this is something he’s going to be able to successfully complete. The amount of people that know just keeps increasing and Charles Forbes, the brother of the real Samuel is so determined to prove that Ian is an imposter and there’s something strange going on that he’s willing to stop at nothing to secure the information that he requires. Charles is an easily hated villain, he’s so hypocritical – determined to see Ian punished for his crime of being a fraud, yet his own activities would see him in far more trouble. Their father is also detestable but less so than Charles, who really does assume the bulk of the resentment towards Samuel/Ian and his greed in wanting all of the family estate to himself, despite the fact it could seemingly adequately support many people, is the flimsiest of motives. It’s impossible not to want Charles to pay for what he has done and even though Ian and Samuel are doing the wrong thing….they aren’t actually harming anyone by doing what they are doing.

There are some other plots in here, I probably could’ve done without Peter and Alice in India, especially with the stuff concerning Peter’s brother. There’s also that thing where the opinions and thoughts of the time are pretty abhorrent for today, so Alice is sort of a Lone Ranger in having different and more modern thoughts. I enjoyed the reappearance of the Russian and the consequences of that as well. All in all, things are kind of precarious for a long time for both Ian and the real Samuel, so I am actually quite looking forward to seeing what happens next.

7/10

Book #200 of 2019

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Review: Heartstopper Volume 2 by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper Volume #2
Alice Oseman
Hodder Children’s Books
2019, 296p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. An LGBTQ+ graphic novel about life, love, and everything that happens in between: this is the second volume of HEARTSTOPPER, for fans of The Art of Being Normal, Holly Bourne and Love, Simon.

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

Heartstopper is about friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.

This is the second volume of Heartstopper, with more to come. Volume two collects all of chapter three from the ongoing web series.

Recently I read the first volume of this and thought it was one of the cutest things ever. I had read it for a challenge I was participating in but I’d requested both of the volumes together from my local library. This one was either still on order or was checked out and I was 2nd or 3rd in line, I can’t remember which. However it only became available for me last week but I couldn’t wait to get to it after reading the first volume.

Charlie is one of, if not the only openly gay teen at his school. He was outed before the volumes begin and faced quite a bit of backlash for it. It’s mostly died down now though and he is pretty much left alone by the student body. His school changed their homeroom-type class which put him with Nick, a year above him. They became firm friends with Charlie trying to avoid falling for ‘the straight guy’. He failed though and volume one ended with the two of them sharing a kiss and then Charlie bolting, afraid he’d ruined their friendship.

This book is more so about Nick trying to figure himself out. He’s always thought he was straight but the more time he spent with Charlie, the more he admired him for handling being outed and what came of it. He is also quite protective of him and has intervened with people giving Charlie a hard time. Nick slowly came to realise that he might not be exactly straight and now he’s still trying to figure out what he is. He knows that he likes Charlie but he isn’t sure he’s ready to out himself yet and he just needs a bit of time to figure out who he is and how these new feelings fit in.

Despite the fact that Nick isn’t ready to tell people about what is going on between them yet, that he’s attracted to Charlie and wants to explore that, be with him, it’s not like how it was in the first book with Charlie and the boy that hooked up with him in secret. Nick isn’t ashamed or reluctant, he’s just figuring out his feelings and he and Charlie speak openly and honestly about how they are feeling, what they are feeling, what they need etc. Charlie has no issue with keeping things quiet for Nick to recalibrate his sexual orientation. I really appreciated seeing them have such open and honest communication, even after things kinda go a bit wrong. They can’t stay away from each other for long!

I’m amazed with how much gets conveyed here in the format. I don’t read a lot of (ie any) graphic novels and these have such sweet drawings that successfully showcase quite a lot of words and feelings. There’s a lot of kissing, Charlie and Nick establishing some new friendships and Nick realising just what Charlie would have experienced when everyone found out that he was gay. I think for Nick, he gets a bit of a wake up call as to how horrible his friends can be, which was perhaps a good thing to learn so that he can be ready for dealing with it when he decides to go public with his and Charlie’s relationship. Nick is a strong character, he’s just confused and there’s nothing wrong with taking the time to sort through your feelings and be sure of them, feel comfortable, before you involve other people.

I enjoyed this just as much as book one and now I can’t wait for book three. Unfortunately that’s a much longer wait as it doesn’t come out until February of 2020 and then I need to make sure my library gets it in and that I’m high up in the queue!

8/10

Book #199 of 2019

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Review: The King’s Men by Nora Sakavic

The King’s Men (All For The Game #3)
Nora Sakavic
Self-published
2014, 556p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Neil Josten is out of time. He knew when he came to PSU he wouldn’t survive the year, but with his death right around the corner he’s got more reasons than ever to live.

Befriending the Foxes was inadvisable. Kissing one is unthinkable. Neil should know better than to get involved with anyone this close to the end, but Andrew’s never been the easiest person to walk away from. If they both say it doesn’t mean anything, maybe Neil won’t regret losing it, but the one person Neil can’t lie to is himself.

He’s got promises to keep and a team to get to championships if he can just outrun Riko a little longer, but Riko’s not the only monster in Neil’s life. The truth might get them all killed—or be Neil’s one shot at getting out of this alive.

And so here we are. The end of this trilogy and I have to say – this was by far the best book, both writing and plot wise.

I think because for the most part, most of what the reader needs to know has been revealed and now it’s more about whether or not Neil can successfully dodge the speeding trains coming at him from both directions. It’s less about the made up game, although that is still a presence in the books as the Foxes steamroll their way to finals and focus on beating the Ravens and taking them down once and for all. But that’s more like background noise. The games aren’t described play by play, it doesn’t dominate the ins and outs of the story.

Neil is recovering from the vicious three weeks he spent at Castle Evermore, the home of the Ravens, because Neil is an idiot and constantly does stupid things. He’s benched by Abby, much to his chagrin, forced to watch the Foxes train from the sidelines. But Neil has to heal, lest he do himself even more damage and end up being ruled out for longer and miss more games. They are at the important end of the season now, the Foxes are looking better and more cohesive than they ever have before. For the first time they are an actual force to be reckoned with and everyone who bet against them is starting to rue the day. Only Riko and the Ravens remain disbelieving.

This book is by far the most violent – in the previous two, most of the violence, the real violence, has occurred off page. Neil’s stay at the Ravens, the abuse of Andrew etc, hasn’t been explicitly described. However when something comes home to roost for Neil, it’s brutal, it’s explicit and it is shocking to read. Because even though this series has been violent, most of it has been quite brief or implied. This is prolonged, sustained torture, things done to hurt someone enormously but not in a way that will significantly damage them. In fact, the opposite. It will hurt a lot and it’s something that will be able to be kept up for quite a long time. It definitely wasn’t easy to read and it’s a scary thought that there probably are people like that out in the world.

In my review of the first book, I mentioned that there was an eventual romance in this series and I wanted to keep reading to find out how that came about. Well, I kept reading and I’m still not really any the wiser how it happens? It just….kind of does. Sort of. In that it’s not really a romance in the traditional sense, what I’m used to. Because both of these people are not your typical college kids, both have had messed up lives, both definitely have trust issues, one has physical touching issues and barely appears to flicker with emotion at all. So it’s weird in a way, because it’s very understated and very subtle, especially the lead up. And there are definitely no deep and meaningful discussions – there are barely words. There’s some kissing, but little else. I have mixed feelings about it. In some ways it sort of works. There’s some hints beforehand, there’s definitely other people that figure it out and use it in order to get one of them to do what they want. But it didn’t feel like the payoff was something to slog through 3 books and over a thousand pages for! I was hoping for more, I’m not going to deny that….but perhaps ‘more’ wouldn’t have worked for those two and the tone that the books have set. Nothing about it was easy and I suppose it wouldn’t have suited the books to have this grand love story.

This series felt very slapdash in the first book, a mishmash of ideas that the author had and didn’t know what to do with. It was like she threw in every single thing that popped into her head and then had to use book 2 and 3 to sort through the mess of tangled storylines and to her credit, it eventually works. There are still things that I feel were tossed in for little or no reason and things came together in ways that felt quite neat but something was always going to have to give in a miracle fashion if Neil wasn’t going to end up riddled with bullets or chopped up into small pieces. There were some things that I wanted to happen and one of them most definitely did in this book and it was equally satisfying as it was horrifying.

I think what I enjoyed the most was the evolution of the Foxes. By the time we get to the end of this book, they’re a team in pretty much every sense of the word. They have come together time and time again to protect each other and support each other in the best ways that they know how, sometimes the only ways in which some of them will allow themselves to be protected and supported – on the court. But off it too, especially for Neil, who has lied to them and lied to them, over and over again, they continue to show up for him, to hear him out, to forgive him his transgressions. And for that he brings them together and makes them a cohesive unit, which is something that no one has been able to do before. In some ways, some of the players will never have standard, stereotypical friendships. What we think about in terms of being friends with someone. But they’ll have each other’s backs and defend each other until the end. And a bunch of misfits went all the way. So that was fun.

I found this one a satisfying end to the trilogy and even though I had my issues with it, I enjoyed this one enough to be glad I read it. It’s still weird. There’s still a bunch of stuff that doesn’t make sense. But it was entertaining.

7/10

Book #197 of 2019

 

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Review: The Queen’s Colonial by Peter Watt

The Queen’s Colonial
Peter Watt
Pan Macmillan AUS
2019, 416
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sometimes the fate for which you are destined is not your own…

1845, a village outside Sydney Town. Humble blacksmith Ian Steele struggles to support his widowed mother. All the while he dreams of a life in uniform, serving in Queen Victoria’s army.

1845, Puketutu, New Zealand. Second Lieutenant Samuel Forbes, a young poet from an aristocratic English family, wants nothing more than to discard the officer’s uniform he never sought.

When the two men cross paths in the colony of New South Wales, they are struck by their brotherly resemblance and quickly hatch a plan for Ian to take Samuel’s place in the British army.

Ian must travel to England, fool the treacherous Forbes family and accept a commission into their regiment as a company commander in the bloody Crimean war…but he will soon learn that there are even deadlier enemies close to home.

I received the follow up book to this, The Queen’s Tiger, for review and when I mentioned that I hadn’t read this one yet and would that impact on my reading of the second, the publisher kindly offered me a copy of this one. Which now, having read it, I think is probably necessary for reading the next book as it is a direct follow on with a lot of plots from this novel unresolved and continuing into the second.

Ian Steele is a blacksmith taking advantage of the steady migration of men to the goldfields in the Blue Mountains. Although he’s thought to go and seek his fortune himself, instead he knows that all those doing the same will be needing tools and there his trade as a blacksmith comes in. Ian makes a steady income, enough to support his widowed mother and also think about taking a wife. He has someone in mind, but she is far above his station in life. Ian meets Samuel Forbes, whose family purchased him an Army commission that he has since left. The two are startlingly similar and when Samuel hears that Ian wishes to serve in Queen Victoria’s army, he comes up with a plan. Ian will serve as Samuel, in his place, in an agreement that will benefit both of them. Samuel will get to live the life he chooses and Ian will get to live a life he only dreamed of. He spends a month learning to be Samuel, memorising his life and family and then travels to England to take up his new position.

It’s not easy. Ian was raised in the colonies, not as a gentleman like Samuel, who is from a wealthy family. They explain much of Ian’s different manner from his time in the colonies fighting Maoris in New Zealand having ‘toughened him up’ and Samuel’s family find him a more formidable and assertive character. Ian learns that being Samuel isn’t easy – and in fact, some people might actually want him out of the way – permanently.

Honestly, I think that this is probably not something I would’ve chosen myself to read. But the beauty of getting sent books to read is that sometimes you get sent things like that, things you wouldn’t pick for yourself but they turn out being great reads that push you out of your comfort zone. I’m a person that needs pushing sometimes. And I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. I was curious from the very beginning – Ian and Samuel are quite different but they also share several interests and participate in good conversations. Ian, although not a gentleman, has been brought up well and is educated. When he arrives to become a soldier, his ‘roughness’ at first draws a bit of ridicule from his men. They call him ‘the Queen’s colonial’ for his accent and his way of treating those below him as equals. In the army it’s apparently split into two different sorts of factions – those that purchase a commission and those that are recruited. Generally those that have purchased a commission are wealthy second or third sons, perhaps not needed to run the family estates but serving is a way of bringing distinction and ‘making a man’ out of them. Recruits come from the lower classes of society and serve under those who have purchased their commissions. Although it seems possible to advance in rank from good deeds it’s also possible to purchase higher ranks as well.

Ian faces immediate danger in portraying Samuel because there’s a caveat attached to Samuel’s serving in the army and there are people who definitely want to make sure that he doesn’t serve out his time. Ian is clever and resourceful and he has to deal with these dangers in a way that doesn’t arouse suspicion as it would be disastrous if it were to be discovered that he isn’t Samuel after all. He proves himself a capable army man, levelheaded in a battle and good with the men. They come to admire him, those from all walks of life except for one man he exposed as lacking and made an enemy of. That is now another person who seeks to ruin him and Ian definitely has to watch his back. There’s a lot of intrigue in this and I didn’t know much about the time period and the Crimean war that Ian is fighting in and I’m pretty sure I haven’t read anything else that deals with it. I enjoyed the way Ian makes himself a valued member of the ranks, overcoming the disadvantage of his background to prove that men of his birth are capable in the ways of the gentry although he’s only given the chance to do that because he’s pretending to be someone else. Were they to know who he really was he wouldn’t have gotten close to leading men. He makes interesting friendships and inspires loyalty and both he and another are able to overcome some really difficult circumstances to build a friendship.

Negatives for me are I am not really into reading lengthy battle scenes, so I ended up skimming those but if they’re your thing there’s a couple late in the book. Also Ian’s love interest was random as anything and he just immediately gave up to her that he wasn’t really Samuel Forbes. She didn’t betray him but Ian, you’re going to have to not do that. Still I found this an interesting and engaging read and as I mentioned there are many things left unresolved, particularly Ian’s safety as Samuel which presumably will carry over to the next book. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

7/10

Book #198 of 2019

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Review: The Raven King by Nora Sakavic

The Raven King (All For The Game #2)
Nora Sakavic
Smashwords
2013, 423p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

The Foxes are a fractured mess, but their latest disaster might be the miracle they’ve always needed to come together as a team. The one person standing in their way is Andrew, and the only one who can break through his personal barriers is Neil.

Except Andrew doesn’t give up anything for free and Neil is terrible at trusting anyone but himself. The two don’t have much time to come to terms with their situation before outside forces start tearing them apart. Riko is intent on destroying Neil’s fragile new life, and the Foxes have just become collateral damage.

Neil’s days are numbered, but he’s learning the hard way to go down fighting for what he believes in, and Neil believes in Andrew even if Andrew won’t believe in himself.

I said in my review of the first book in this series, The Foxhole Court that I wanted some answers. So I thought I’d read this one and see how that went. Look, I got some answers. But I think overall I just got more questions?

This picks up just after the end of the first book. The Foxes are in turmoil after the death of a teammate. For a lot of them, he wasn’t particularly well liked, but he was still a part of the team. Now they are at the minimum number of players to be considered a legal team in their division so everyone needs to be on their guard. The Ravens game is coming and they’re going to get slaughtered but they have to try anyway. It’s time to rally the troops, to really start to actually begin playing as a team, not as a bunch of people who play the same game who just happen to be on the court at the same time. And that’s where Neil comes in.

Because Neil is the specialest snowflake that ever snowflaked. He straddles the team divide – he’s “family” now with Andrew, Aaron, Nicky and Kevin. And he’s also getting close to Matt and Dan. He can’t look Allison in the eye and Renee makes him uncomfortable but he’s the only one that might be able to get Andrew’s crew to play nice with Dan’s crew. It starts off small but suddenly the team is having dinner together, standing in solidarity at sporting events and even going to Halloween parties together. For Neil, he’s also the one that people come to whenever they want Andrew to do something. Because apparently that is his magic quality too.

A whole bunch of weirdness happens in this. There’s a dinner for all the teams in their division where they’re seated with the Ravens, because of course they are. Riko, who is the cartooniest villain I have ever seen immediately drops that he knows who Neil is really but doesn’t really say how he knows. Even Kevin didn’t know. However the fallout of people knowing who Neil is is pretty much well, nothing. No one cares. I can only assume his father knows where he is but maybe not. There’s also a bunch of stuff about why Neil’s mother took him on the run and how he nearly ended up a Raven. Which brings me to the hive mind that is the Ravens. They are so weird. They live underground beneath their stadium instead of in the dorm they keep “for appearances” because could they resemble ants any more? They dress in black. Everything in their hive is black – walls, sheets, clothes, gear, everything. I know this because Riko demands Neil go there for three weeks over Christmas because he unveils the shock thing of this book was actually orchestrated by the Ravens and if Neil doesn’t comply someone else will end up dead. And Neil goes. I just….like….at this point of the book I was like why is anything even happening? Clearly Riko could murder anyone whenever he damn well chooses (or whenever the Master chooses, whatever) and why are they playing these games? Just kill the person and be done with it. The Foxes wouldn’t be a legal team anymore and that’d be that. There’s no actual reason for why what happens, happens. Instead Neil goes like the complete dumbass he is and we get a brief taste of the violence he’s going to experience for the next three weeks, then a fade to black, then he’s in the airport after they just….let him go. And he goes home, well back to the Foxhole with a lotta bruises and some sweet, fresh new ink.

I feel as though I’m in an unhealthy relationship with this trilogy. I still want to know more answers. Is Riko going to get what he deserves, the arrogant little shit? Is Jean as bad as he seems or is he just a dude trying to make the most of what has to be an undoubtedly awful situation? Why do people even sign with this team? Surely someone who has graduated and gone pro is basically like yeah, we all lived underground in a cave, all wore the same, it’s weird. Don’t do it! Maybe they don’t because the Japanese Mafia will kill them. Who knows? But you’d think something would’ve leaked about how hella weird that whole Raven set up is.

I don’t even know what to say about the whole mess the Ravens Mafia connections orchestrated that is Andrew’s story in this book. Andrew’s medication continues to completely baffle me – the dude who punches someone just for politely shaking him awake, is completely brutalised in this and he just laughs maniacally while it happens. There’s some power play bully/victim mentality here and this is perhaps the only person who can hurt Andrew because he’s done it so many times before but that isn’t really made clear. And Andrew immediately vacates the book after it happens so we don’t actually get to hear his side of what happened and how it happened and why he is how he is. The reader is given crumbs and is supposed to make bread out of them. But the dude who almost beat four guys to death and who the whole series has been building up is invincible is torn down in this, perhaps as a catalyst to get him off the meds, perhaps as a way to show how truly horrific his childhood must have been in places. It’s clear that Andrew has suffered for a long time and he was still willing to be adopted into the family that was abusing him. The end game is Andrew, so I guess the author had to start humanising him at some point because up until now, he’s just come off as clinically insane and incapable of any feeling whatsoever other than his “medication induced mania” which I don’t think is how medication is supposed to work.

The book ends with Neil a beaten and bloody mess, being cleaned up by a man who has to be the most unlikely college sports coach ever, Coach Wymack, father of illegitimate children, saviour of the children who are disadvantaged but can play this game to the very elite of levels. Wymack breaks the law in regards to Andrew’s court-ordered medication, turns a blind eye to his athletes drinking (a lot of them are underage, this is America and the drinking age is 21, at least four or five of them are still teenagers or 20) and taking drugs and just generally seems incompetent at keeping them together or getting them to do anything really. You can’t deny he cares but oy, he does not seem at all good at his job. Also are there anti-doping authorities in Exy? They’re out all the time taking these cracker things (I don’t even know what they are, I’m not a drug person, they could be made up like the actual game of Exy for all I know) and the NCAA bands “cannabinoids”, stimulants including cocaine, methamphetamine, ephedrine and narcotics such as fentanyl, morphine, methadone, oxycodone and pethidine. I know, this isn’t a real sport but I’m assuming it operates like real sports do with all the rules and regulatory bodies. But what are rules in books like these? There are no such thing. Nothing makes sense.

And yet. I am in this for the long haul, so hit me with book #3 and give me the answers I seek.

6/10

Book #195 of 2019

 

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Review: The Queen Of Nothing by Holly Black

The Queen Of Nothing (The Folk Of The Air #3)
Holly Black
Hot Key Books
2019, 306p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After being pronounced Queen of Faerie and then abruptly exiled by the Wicked King Cardan, Jude finds herself unmoored, the queen of nothing. She spends her time with Vivi and Oak, watches her fair share of reality television, and does the odd job or two, including trying to convince a cannibalistic faerie from hunting her own in the mortal world.

When her twin sister Taryn shows up asking of a favour, Jude jumps at the chance to return to the Faerie world, even if it means facing Cardan, who she loves despite his betrayal.

When a dark curse is unveiled, Jude must become the first mortal Queen of Faerie and uncover how to break the curse, or risk upsetting the balance of the whole Faerie world.

This was my most anticipated book of 2019. After the shock endings of both The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King, I needed to know how this was all going to end. The first two books had so many unexpected and twisted moments. Jude was one of the most interesting character perspectives I’d read from in years. A human living in a world of fae, who had carefully honed her skills, gathered and cultivated power, elevated herself to a position where she controlled the King. That all came tumbling down around her at the conclusion of the second book and I was anxious to see how Jude was coping with her exile and how she planned to rid herself of it.

This book isn’t a thick one, it’s only 300p so it opens up right into action. Jude has been back in the mortal world a little while, taking odd jobs for some of the fae who occupy this realm. But it isn’t long before her sister Taryn appears to beg a favour from Jude – immune to glamour, she needs Jude to take her place at an inquest at Court. Jude will be able to answer truthfully what would be a lie for Taryn and even though Jude still has conflicted feelings about her twin, she can’t deny that she doesn’t want to return to the faerie world – and to Cardan, even though he made her trust him before betraying her and then banishing her.

This series has always been so clever – I knew the title of this book before I knew the ending of book 2, so it was such a moment where everything fell into place. There’s a moment like that in this book too, where the cover suddenly makes sense and everything kind of comes together. It’s good to see that actually, Jude and Cardan at not at each other’s throats here. They’ve spent the last two books alternating between hate, fascination and something else. He refused to acknowledge her as his Queen when she asked him to at the end of the previous book. He can’t lie but he can just not answer and so Jude doesn’t trust him when they come face to face again. But they have a common enemy who is getting ever closer to taking Cardan’s crown…..and therefore Jude’s as well.

Jude has always been really clever and sneaky and brave and has always used everything she has at her disposal but she’s still always felt inferior. I mean, she is inferior. Humans lack a lot of what the fae possess but she’s allowed that sometimes to overwhelm her, even as she’s manipulating and besting them. She’s not sure that they will ever accept her as a Queen, even if Cardan does. But she comes into herself in this book, she assumes her role and grows into it with strength and confidence and also fear and mistakes. Because she is human and she’s going to make them, she’s going to mess up sometimes, she’s going to be outplayed and outmanoeuvred. But she bounces back every single time, she regroups and thinks again and gets right back into it.

I raced through this, because I was so keen to get my answers and see how it ended. But I think I’d like the time to sit back and read all three books back to back, slowly this time and allow a lot of the game playing and strategy and the like to sink in. There’s a lot of cleverness going on that I think I mostly skimmed over but will be more absorbed in a second reading. I just wanted to find out what was next for Cardan and Jude, whether they were ever going to be able to salvage something from betraying each other because I am total trash for these two kids just working it all out and putting their heads together and scheming against the rest of the world. And I’ve read some reviews, some of which are highly critical of the ending. Which I won’t spoil but all I can say is…after the previous two endings, the drama and intrigue, the shocks and betrayal, I’m okay with something a little different. It’s a different tone, because things have changed. Moved on. And it might be a bit cheesy, but I don’t mind that. And I’m not ashamed to admit it!

I have really enjoyed this series. I’d love to see more from it again one day in the future, maybe from a different perspective or something, but if not, this has been a roller coaster reading experience.

9/10

Book #196 of 2019

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Review: The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic

The Foxhole Court (All For The Game #1)
Nora Sakavic
Self-published
2013, 237p
Free copy via iBooks

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Neil Josten is the newest addition to the Palmetto State University Exy team. He’s short, he’s fast, he’s got a ton of potential—and he’s the runaway son of the murderous crime lord known as The Butcher.

Signing a contract with the PSU Foxes is the last thing a guy like Neil should do. The team is high profile and he doesn’t need sports crews broadcasting pictures of his face around the nation. His lies will hold up only so long under this kind of scrutiny and the truth will get him killed.

But Neil’s not the only one with secrets on the team. One of Neil’s new teammates is a friend from his old life, and Neil can’t walk away from him a second time. Neil has survived the last eight years by running. Maybe he’s finally found someone and something worth fighting for.

This is one of the weirdest books I’ve read in a long time.

I found it scrolling instagram posts about Baz & Simon from Carry On and Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell. There were a lot of posts tagged with this series and the characters mixed in so I thought they might be similar. The first book is free, I needed something to read on my phone while I was at an appointment, so I thought why not.

The book revolves around Neil Josten, who has been on the run from his violent father for eight years. He was on the run with his mother but she’s dead now so it’s just him. He plays some sort of made up sport known as Exy, which appears to be mostly like lacrosse but with the body checks of ice hockey. Despite only being invented about thirty years ago (the people that invented it are still alive) it has a popularity that rivals the NFL and NBA. There are multiple levels, from professional to college down to small school or local leagues. Playing in a tiny Arizona town, Neil is recruited by Palmetto State University to their team.

The team is ridiculous. They are split into factions and are constantly warring with each other, often punching on in games. The team is woeful, last in their division but with the potential to be good if they could actually put it together on the court. This year they will have not only Neil but also Kevin Day, who used to play with the best team in their league. For mysterious reasons and injury, he’s left them behind and joined the Palmetto Foxes. He comes with his own entourage and also a bodyguard, Andrew.

Oh yes, Andrew. Where to begin with Andrew. He’s all of five foot nothing but despite this, everyone is afraid of him. He’s court-ordered to be medicated because of violence however taking his medication seemed to result in him being more violent, not less at least once during this book. Anyone who wakes him up immediately receives a beating. What exactly Andrew’s diagnosis is isn’t discussed but this book talks a lot about medication and withdrawal and symptoms and cause and effect without actually sounding like it knows anything about mental health and/or illness. And/or medication. Andrew is a sociopath douchebag who orchestrates horrific acts on other people, including Neil in this book. In fact I almost DNF’d it when they forcibly drug him (using the openly gay guy to physically and sexually assault him, forcibly transferring drugs from his mouth to Neil’s in a kiss when Neil is incapacitated). He’s like every cliche misunderstood bad boy come together – surrendered to foster care, juvie, epically violent, compellingly attractive somehow, weirdly emotionless, amused by weird things. He’s also the Foxes goalkeeper which he’s phenomenally good at but doesn’t give a fuck about Exy or anything else really. He doesn’t bother to try unless he feels like it and a lot of the consensus about Andrew seems to be “wow he’s incredible, imagine how he’d be if he loved the sport and actually tried.”

I don’t understand the game but it’s okay because I don’t really care. What I do find incredible is that Neil, who has spent his entire adolescence on the run, hiding from his violent father who will most certainly kill him when he catches him, signs a contract in a highly publicised league. Like if you’re trying to lay low and hide mate, that is not the way to do it. Neil has played this game all his life so it probably isn’t too much of a stretch to assume his father keeps an eye out on any players who may be new/gifted/etc. Neil has changed his name a dozen times, so probably when anyone digs into the background of this “Neil Josten” they’re not going to come up with much. And that raises some red flags. I think it’s framed that he loves the game so much he just wants to be able to play it but dude. You’re going to end up dead. Except it’s okay now because he gets accepted by Andrew and co and now Andrew will protect him too, because Andrew is a five foot, 100lb impenetrable wall by even the baddest Mafia dudes out there.

Because did I mention this book also has the Japanese Mafia? It does.

It’s an epic hot mess. For the first maybe quarter of it, I felt like I’d been dropped into the middle of a series, not reading the first book. A lot of it was confusing, such as what Exy even was and also keeping Andrew and his identical twin (because of course he has an identical twin) straight and the others was a task. There are just so many things that do not add up. How did Neil even graduate anything when he’s been on the run for eight years, enough to get any offer to a college? Why would he sign with a team that he has connections to in his former life, the one he’s trying to escape so much? Why does he have that weird binder? Why didn’t Andrew tell any of the others any of the things he learned about Neil that are suspicious as hell? Why didn’t Neil nope the fuck right out of this situation when they assaulted and drugged him?

And yet. I finished this book and I kind of want to know what happens in the next ones? Although the first quarter is a total muddle and the next two are an epic clusterfuck, the last quarter was actually kind of interesting. Because it’s the first of a trilogy, there are so many questions raised in this but actually very little in the way of answers. I also know there’s a romance that crops up in later instalments (because of the tags on the instagram posts, which is why I read this book in the first place) and I want to see how that happens? Because from where I am right now, it seems impossible, improbable and completely and utterly fucked up.

Look the next two books are only $1.99 each. I’m not going to be out much to get my answers.

5/10

Book #194 of 2019

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Review: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

The Blue Rose
Kate Forsyth
Vintage (Penguin Random House AUS)
2019, 368p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Moving between Imperial China and France during the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution and inspired by the true story of the quest for a blood-red rose.

Viviane de Faitaud has grown up alone at the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, for her father, the Marquis de Ravoisier, lives at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles. After a hailstorm destroys the chateau’s orchards, gardens and fields an ambitious young Welshman, David Stronach, accepts the commission to plan the chateau’s new gardens in the hope of making his name as a landscape designer.

David and Viviane fall in love, but it is an impossible romance. Her father has betrothed her to a rich duke who she is forced to marry and David is hunted from the property. Viviane goes to court and becomes a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette and a member of the extended royal family. Angry and embittered, David sails away from England with Lord Macartney, the British ambassador, who hopes to open up trade with Imperial China.

In Canton, the British embassy at last receives news from home, including their first reports of the French Revolution. David hears the story of ‘The Blue Rose’, a Chinese fable of impossible love, and discovers the blood-red rose growing in the wintry garden. He realises that he is still in love with Viviane and must find her.

Viviane escapes the guillotine and returns to the ruin of Chateau de Belisima to rebuild her life. David carrying a cluster of rosehips finds her there, and together they decide to grow the fabled red rose of China in France.

Historical fiction is actually a new genre for me, relatively speaking in terms of my reading. I’ve mostly started reading a lot more of it since I began blogging but I haven’t read a lot set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. This book centres around a difficult time in France – the monarchy is struggling for popularity and a starving general population are clamouring for more rights, a bigger slice of the pie. Aristocrats like Viviane and her father are on a collision course with a new machine known as the guillotine, named for the man who invented it.

Viviane is the only child of a Marquis who spends much of his time at Court, ingratiating himself with the King. Viviane embarrassed herself the only time he took her to Court and so she’s been banished to the country estate she will inherit from her deceased mother through the female line. The Marquis has little interest in the estate, other than to take the money it earns but he leaves an Aunt of Viviane’s to keep an eye on her and report back any transgressions in behaviour ill-fitting of the daughter of a Marquis. When he marries again, his new wife has a hankering for an English garden, all the rage with the wealthy in France at the time, so the Marquis employs David Stronach, a Welsh gardener to create a masterpiece. Viviane and David fall in love during his time on the estate, despite Viviane knowing that a future can never be theirs. Her father would never permit her to marry someone not of equal status and this is proven when her father eventually returns to the Chateau with news that Viviane will wed a man he is in debt to, an ageing Duc with a cruel temper.

I really enjoyed the character of Viviane and I think if she’d been left to manage her Chateau the way she wished, she probably would’ve had a lot of very happy people who relied on her. She is quite daring and a bit of a tomboy, she’d much prefer to play with her ‘milk brother’ than sit and embroider or whatever young ladies are supposed to do. She enjoys walking through the woods, riding her horse and raising her doves. When David comes, she’s eager to learn about plants and the gardens and also where he’s from and what his life is like. She has been sheltered I suppose, other than her briefly disastrous time at Court and having him around is something of a novelty as she doesn’t seem to associate with many people her own age. David is sweet and quite lovely but he’s also a bit naive and thinks them being together is just as easy as Viviane telling her father no or running away with him. It takes him a long time to realise exactly what her father will do to separate them and make sure that Viviane lives her life according to his bidding.

After they are separated, the book takes a grim turn. Viviane ends up in Court and has a front row seat as the revolution starts and the ending of the monarchy is called for and gathers steam. She witnesses its downfall, the callous way in which the King and Queen are treated and sees countless people being sent to the new blade. The streets just about run red with blood as anyone deemed an aristocrat or sympathiser is beheaded, often all their families and associates are beheaded as well. Viviane however, manages to survive the relentless purging. In a moment of orchestrated chaos she is able to escape and eventually find her way back home, where her aim is to rebuild her beloved Chateau and restore it and its surrounds to their former glory, free from the tyranny of her father. This part of the book felt like Forsyth built the tension very well, the descriptions of the jail and the uncertainty of every day were very well done. No one knew what their fate was until their name was called, so there was a real sense of hopelessness and doom hanging over every one. Some would try to be stoic but generally most lost their composure when faced with the new weapon.

Meanwhile David was in China, supposedly searching for a red rose but I found this part of the book to be a bit of a drag – a lot of it revolves around their party just waiting for an audience with the Emperor and then not much happening as their efforts of friendship and trade don’t go to plan. Then at the end David makes a very convenient friend which grants him access to the very thing he seeks and makes his quest quite easy to complete. It felt quite out of step with the other parts of the book as this is happening as Viviane is watching France descend into chaos around her so to be yanked out of that and go to China where not much is happening at all wasn’t so much of a respite as it was jarring.

Overall I enjoyed this but it’s not my favourite Forsyth book.

8/10

Book #193 of 2019

The Blue Rose is book #73 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

The Poppy Wife
Caroline Scott
Simon & Schuster AUS
2019, 492p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Until she knows her husband’s fate, she cannot decide her own…

An epic debut novel of forbidden love, loss, and the shattered hearts left behind in the wake of World War I.

1921. Families are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many survivors of the Great War have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He is considered ‘missing in action’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph taken by Francis in the post, hope flares. And so she beings to search.

Harry, Francis’s brother, fought alongside him. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last things they ever said. Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is that which brings Harry back to the Western Front. Hired by grieving families to photograph gravesites, as he travels through battle-scarred France gathering news for British wives and mothers, Harry also searches for evidence of his brother.

And as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth.

An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history, The Poppy Wife tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins, and the even greater number of men and women desperate to find them again.

It’s several years after the end of the First World War and almost four since her husband was reported missing, believed dead when Edie receives a photograph of Francis in the mail. It’s posted from somewhere in France, there’s no accompanying letter, there’s no indication of who has sent it. Showing it to Francis’ brother Harry, she begs Harry to find Francis for her, to take a photo of his grave. To prove that he’s never coming home.

Harry is a photographer who works for a newspaper who accepts requests from families to take photos of the graves of their loved ones. In most cases, they have the details of when and how they died, they just want to see their loved one’s final resting place, as they are generally unable or unwilling to travel there themselves. Armed with a slew of requests, Harry is in France to provide those grave photos but he’s also trying to find his brother Francis. Harry knows Francis is dead, that the wounds he took were not the sort one would recover from. But Edie, his wife and even Harry himself needs the closure of knowing where Francis lies. There’s only Harry left now, but he knows that his mother would want it as well, to know.

Both Harry and Edie are in France, looking for Francis. For Edie, she’s not sure whether she’s looking for a grave or the man himself. Part of her feels that only Francis himself could’ve sent that photo to her. Who else would? And why not include a note? There’s no denying that the last time she saw Francis, in 1917, he wasn’t coping very well and had become a shadow of the man he once was. And there are many stories of men so traumatised or injured that they’ve forgotten their names, their wives, their everything.

I think what Harry was doing, although surely traumatising, was a really kind thing. I have to admit, it’s not something I’ve ever put much thought into, not having lived through such a war. But so many young men were killed overseas and buried, often in mass unmarked graves. For some families, travelling to see their final resting place was just not an option – poor health, poor circumstances, trauma themselves…. Harry’s job provides them with closure and a memento of their precious person, be it a husband, son, brother, etc. But I don’t know how Harry wasn’t more of a mess than he was – he had a few nightmares but he was more put together than I would’ve thought, returning to places he’d been as a soldier.

Although this book was interesting in terms of what Harry was doing and how hard it was, to track down those people who were missing, feared dead I have to say, I found it incredibly wearying. It is quite depressing and just kind of keeps piling more things on you as you move through it. There’s a lot of false hope and then hopelessness, a lot of death, which is to be expected, it was the Great War after all. But I did find that I got quite bogged down in it and it was making me feel pretty wrecked and like I just wanted to get it over and done with. Books like this are perhaps very much mood-influenced and maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read something that contained such horrific scenes. There are battles scenes as well, from Harry’s point of view and the connection between the brothers that signed up together and that you just know ends in tragedy. I found the story of Edie and Harry not at all particularly inspiring and even a bit……uncomfortable, considering she’d been married to his brother. I do wonder if this was sort of common as an expected or understood thing of the time……but it felt a bit Henry VIII for me. Harry meets a lot of people along the way during his search for Francis and his photographing of the graves and occasionally I felt as though these meetings bogged the story down. One connection he makes in particular really does take up quite a bit of the book and at the end, I have to admit I wasn’t really sure why it was such a large portion, or what it contributed. It felt like it honestly could’ve been left out and not have really affected the story at all.

Some of this was interesting, some of it was a bit of a chore and all of it was a struggle. However this has many glowing reviews and I fully admit that it was probably a case of it’s not the book, it’s definitely me.

6/10

Book #192 of 2019

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Review: Up On Horseshoe Hill by Penelope Janu

Up On Horseshoe Hill
Penelope Janu
Harlequin AUS
2019, 390p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A kiss can change your life …

Jemima Kincaid loves her home, her horses and her job as a farrier. Life has not been kind to her, but Jemima is happy in the close-knit rural community of Horseshoe Hill, which rallied around in her hour of need. Even so, she is fiercely independent and will never rely on anyone again.

Particularly a man like Finn Blackwood.

An infuriatingly attractive geneticist and wild animal vet, Finn threatens not only the serenity of Jemima’s present, but that of the future she has so carefully mapped out. But as their paths continue to cross, she finds her attraction to Finn impossible to counter, even as the trauma of her past threatens to undo her. Finn is fascinated by Jemima’s solitary nature and unique vulnerabilities. But Jemima knows all about loss, and how to avoid it. Don’t let anyone get close in the first place …

As the past begins to cast long shadows, Jemima and Finn discover that a kiss can bring worlds together-or tear them apart. Will they finally face their fears and find love on Horseshoe Hill?

I love Penelope Janu’s books. I’ve read four of them now and every single one of them appeals to me like they were written for me. They’re also the sort of books I like to re-read and I don’t re-read a lot these days.

Jemima (known as Jet) lives in a small rural town out of Dubbo in Western NSW. She’s lost a lot in her life and she lives in a mostly solitary way now, with only a few friends or people she connects with regularly. She works as a farrier for ponies/horses and local animals – things like alpacas. And occasionally she gets called in to Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, to help take care of some of the animals there that have hooves.

Jet’s rather comfortable life is turned upside down with the arrival of Finn Blackwood, an international big animal vet and animal geneticist. Her uncle has hired him to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of a handful of his prize thoroughbreds years ago. Jet has tried to put that traumatic incident and her role in it out of her head for a long time now and Finn’s presence and questions stirs up bad feelings and the nightmares that plagued her after the event. She doesn’t want to talk to him, especially about that night. She definitely doesn’t want him renting the property close to the small cottage where she lives. And she definitely doesn’t want him to make her fear losing him either.

There are some similarities in these books – the male love interests are foreign, incredibly capable and often in a position of authority or investigating something the female character did or has done in the past or may have done or is pretending they didn’t do or know about. The women have usually suffered loss, trauma or both (sometimes those two are deeply connected) and tend to live that sort of more solitary life. But for me, that’s what I love about them. Because the male love interests are always characters I really enjoy reading about – their jobs, their histories, how they came to be involved in the heroine’s life. They always have such interesting jobs and Finn’s is no different. He’s worked in Africa on conservation with rhinos and is currently working for the Western Plains Zoo as well as helping out Edward, Jet’s uncle. And the ways in which they get tied up in knots around the main characters are totally my thing!

I went to Western Plains Zoo a long time ago now – I was about 12. It was a 7hr drive I think, from where I lived and my dad doesn’t believe in wasting a day driving, so we left at like, 1 or 2am. Got there at 7am, left our stuff at the hotel and went to the zoo. Look the zoo is BIG. So big it’s recommended you take your car around it (which we did) or hire bikes. We were there all day and fell into a coma in our hotels that night before 8.30pm. What I remember about the zoo is minimal – I attended the lion feeding. I remember walking. Everything else is a bit of a blur, but I’d love to back one day and take my kids. So I loved the inclusion of the zoo in this story and the fact that Finn and Jet both do work there. Giraffes and rhinos and elephants are actually 3 of my favourite animals, just behind little penguins. We are members of the Zoo here in Melbourne and try and visit all 3 regularly. Despite the fact that I can see the argument for not keeping these sorts of animals in captivity, there’s also the reality that without it, they all won’t exist at some stage in the future. They’ll just be a picture in a history book. Rhinos are hunted relentlessly for the properties their tusks are supposed to possess. Elephants are hunted for their ivory tusks too. And other animals like giraffes and lions are hunted just to be big game trophies, heads mounted on rich people’s walls. Zoos have moved away from animals in cages and places like Western Plains and Werribee Zoo (and many others around the world) have tried really hard to replicate a more open, savannah like experience for their big animals where they can roam but without the threat of predators. Or hunters. There’s an emphasis on minimal keeper interaction as well, just enough for them to be able to do necessary medical checks. I’ve fed giraffes at Melbourne Zoo as a part of their behind the scenes experience and the emphasis is very much on the giraffes only coming over if they want to (we have food, so they usually do) and not ever touching them. Giraffes look so inviting, with their big brown eyes and their long eyelashes and docile expressions. But for me, it was just enough to be able to be that close to one, I didn’t need to have to touch it to make the experience real.

I digress! What I really loved about this book was we get to see a vulnerable side of Finn as well when he suffers a medical emergency. I really like how time is taken to show some of these capable, intimidating men in positions of weakness and relying on the female character albeit reluctantly! Finn is also an exercise in patience and persistence because Jet really does have a lot of trust issues and she’s also traumatised by the incident at the barn and potentially her own contribution and how that will make her feel, if it all comes out. She stonewalls Finn again and again but he can’t walk away from her. And watching Jet realise that she doesn’t want him to is so good.

I loved this. It makes me want to reread all Penelope Janu’s books again in a row and just indulge myself in the dynamic.

9/10

Book #189 of 2019

Up On Horseshoe Hill is the 72nd book for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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